DBO stood at the same “no need to shut” gate Vegas had stood at.
She inhaled the damp air.
She knew the moment the shed exploded that there was no turning back. And did she care?
Not one jot.
She felt excited, liberated, a new woman. All her life she had been waiting for something big to happen, something better than, well, anything so far, and here she was—out into the unknown, advising Vegas, the biggest Voted In since Hilda herself.
She stopped for a moment to take it all in . . .
This was her chance to make her mark, change things, and the thought thrilled her.
“I am going in,” she said to Verruca. “When there is saving to be done, you can’t hang around.”
“And Vegas,” said Verruca. “She knows you’re coming.”
“Vegas is in panic mode—I think Hilda may have made contact,” said DBO.
Verruca chuckled. “Don’t you worry about Hilda, I have her in hand.”
* * *
Vegas waited for the so-called fairy godmother on the veranda. Squinting into the distance, she wondered how she was making it through the fields. She hadn’t heard a pickling word for ages.
What was taking her so long?
* * *
Unlike Vegas, DBO’s curiosity gave her no time for fear. She was making her way through the fields like a scientist, taking notes. To her, the fields were a thing of fascination. She had, like many, heard little of what was outside the city and, like a few, often wondered what it was like. She had asked many times, but no one seemed to know apart from Verruca, whose only comment was “All in good time.”
She moved across the stony footpath like an expert walker, her tough shoes impervious to the dry stones and odd mud patch. Her clothes, hard and scratchy, were similar to the workers’ and gave her protection against the rain and wind. In fact, the fieldworkers assumed she was one of them, lost from another field. She had the walk of a worker, she took notes like a worker, and she didn’t wave, even when the odd head appeared from the high hemp crops. Workers never waved; they had been brought up to be invisible.
DBO carried on, her imagination in full flow as her face was pelted by the rain, followed by a biting wind, then a scorching sun. It was a continual cycle of hot and cold that had her pondering how anyone could work in such conditions—conditions that made the shed seem like a palace.
“Which field you heading?” shouted one of the workers.
DBO looked up. She saw three weather-beaten faces peering from the high hemp grass.
“Or are you lost?” said another.
DBO stopped. “You talking to me?”
“Don’t see anyone else on the road,” said a worker.
DBO stopped and smiled. “Well, that is true.”
* * *
Vegas looked at the sun making its way down toward the horizon. How long did it take to walk through the fields?
“She’ll be there a while,” muttered Prudence. “Those workers are a curious lot; seeing nothing but hemp can do that to a woman.”
“Women? Those workers are women?” said Vegas.
“Of course, what did you think they were?”
“Well, workers . . . never really thought about them being all feeling, all moaning women . . . like, well, me.” Vegas eyed Prudence. “You sure? I mean aren’t they another more, you know, robotic sort of thing?”
“No, just women,” muttered Prudence.
Vegas squinted into the horizon. “I couldn’t even last an hour in that field. How do they stand it?”
“They don’t,” said Prudence. “They usually squat.”
* * *
DBO stood at the edge of the field as three workers made their way onto the road. They eyed each other as the wind died down.
Up close, DBO looked nothing like a fieldworker. Her skin was white and smooth, a sight new to the fieldworkers. Worker One reached out to touch her pale cheek; the rough skin of her forefinger scratched against DBO’s cheek, but DBO didn’t flinch. Instead, she touched the face of the worker and felt the leathery face.
DBO had seen brown wrinkled skin on women at the market stalls, but these women were blacker, muscular, and much taller. Worker One’s gnarled finger moved to DBO’s hair as Worker Two blurted out questions.
Soon, DBO was explaining like an animated storyteller the life of a shed Operator as the sun came out (yet again) and began to burn her skin.
“You work inside?” said Worker One.
“Yes.” DBO squinted at her.
“In a shed?”
“She said that already,” said Worker Two.
“The shed is for communicating?”
“We put tools in ours,” said Worker One.
“We did have tools, but not anymore,” said DBO.
“Yeah, that’ll be right,” said Worker Two. “A worker with no tools.” She pulled a face. “A worker ain’t a worker without tools.” She turned to Worker Three. “Ain’t that right?”
Worker Three didn’t answer. She, pondering such curious ways of using a shed, was scribbling notes.
“Too right,” said Worker One.
DBO talked of her footman (leaving out the massages) and how she recycled old equipment to intercept the enemy (bragging just a little) and finally ended with, as she called it, “the phantasmagorical explosion of the shed” with an illustrative capow!
The fieldworkers looked unimpressed.
“Our tools are incombustible.”
“Really?” said DBO, breaking out in a sweat.
“Need to be, you should try working with hemp effluent under this sun.”
DBO, who had never heard of hemp effluent, was about to ask what it was when Worker One began a barrage of questions on why she was here and where she was going.
DBO, trying to keep Verruca’s plan hush-hush, talked of Earth, Beryl’s landing, and a dwarf named Woody, who “once seen could never be forgotten.”
The fieldworkers’ eyes widened. Even Worker Three stopped writing, pencil hovering.
“A dwarf?” she said. “That’s the stuff of legends.”
“And Beryl is our leader?” said Worker One.
She turned to Worker Two. “We have a leader, is that too the stuff of legends?”
“You have more than one,” said DBO.
“More than one? That’s taking it too far,” said Worker One.
“Ridiculous,” muttered Worker Three.
“Hilda,” said DBO.
“Beryl and Hilda,” scribbled Worker Three.
DBO began to describe the Voted In and the much-talked-about room with a view.
The three fieldworkers looked from one to the other and started to laugh.
“And this woman with those stupid gloves for shoes, she is one of those?” said Worker Three.
“Well, yes?” said DBO. “Apparently the room with a view is so high that we women below look like ants.”
Worker Three began to scribble. “. . . look like ants . . .”
“Well, they know nothing about walking, I can tell you. Her shoes were as ridiculous and two leaders.”
The three workers chuckled.
“Those shoes were as good at being shoes as I am a man,” said Worker One.
Worker Two let forth a roar of laughter, startling Worker Three from her writing.
DBO didn’t see the joke.
“You don’t like puns?” said Worker Two.
“Puns?” muttered DBO.
Worker Two let out a louder roar which echoed across the field.
A sea of heads popped up from the hemp field. DBO started to count and stopped at twenty.