Sisters, p.1Greg Bear
But you're the only one, Letitia." Reena
lay a light, slender hand on her shoulder with a
look of utmost sincerity. "You know none of the others can. I
mean..." She stopped, the slightest hint of awareness of her
faux pas dawning. "You're simply the only one who can play
the old--the older--woman."
Letitia Blakely looked down at the hall floor, eyes and face
hot, then circled her gaze up to the ceiling, trying to keep the
fresh tears from spilling over. Reena tossed her long black hair, perfect hazel eyes imploring. A few stragglers sauntered down
the clean and carpeted hall of the new school wing to their
classes. "We're late for first period," Letitia said. "Why the
old woman? Why didn't you come to me when there was some
other part to play?"
Reena was too smart not to know what she was doing.
Smart, but not terribly sensitive. "You're the type."
"You mean frowsy?"
Reena didn't react. She was intent on a yes answer, the
perfect solution to her problems.
"Or just dumpy?"
"You shouldn't be ashamed of how you look."
"I look frowsy and dump.,,'! I'm perfect for the old woman
in your lysing play, and you're the only one with the guts to ask
"We'd like to give you a chance. You're such a loner, and
we want you to feel like you're part--"
"Bullmusk!" The moisture spilled over and Reena backed
away. "Leave me alone. Just leave me alone."
"No need to swear." Petulant, offended.
Letitia raised her hand as if to strike. Reena swung her hair
again defiantly and turned to walk away. Letitia leaned against
the the wall and wiped her eyes, trying to avoid damage to her
carefully applied makeup. The damage was already done,
however. She could feel the tear-tracks of her mother's mascara
and the smudged eyeshadow. With a sigh, she walked off to the
bathroom, not caring how late she was. She wanted to go home.
Coming into class fifteen minutes after the bell, Letitia was
surprised to find the students in self-ordered discussion, with no
sign of Mr. Brant. Several of Reena's drama group gave her
frosty looks as she took her seat.
"TB," Edna Corman said beneath her breath from across
"RC you," Letitia replied, head cocked to one side and
tone matching Edna' s precisely. She poked John Lockwood in the
shoulder. Lockwood didn't care much for socializing; he seldom
noticed the exchanges going on around him. "Where's Mr.
"Georgia Fischer blitzed and he took her to the counselors.
He told us to plug in and pursue."
"Oh." Georgia Fischer had transferred two months ago
from a superwhiz class in Oakland. She was brighter than most
but she blitzed about once every two weeks. "I may be fat and
ugly," Letitia said for Lockwood's ears only. "But I never
"Nor I," Lockwood said. He was PPC, like Georgia, but
not a superwhiz. Letitia liked him, but not enough to feel
threatened by him. "Better pursue."
Letitia leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes to
concentrate. Her mod activated and projections danced in front
of her, then steadied. She had been cramming patient psych for
a week and was approaching threshold. The little Computer
Graphics nursie in whites and pillcap began discussing insanouts
of terminal patient care, which all seemed very TB to Letitia;
who died of disease now, anyway? She made her decision and
cut to the same CG nursie discussing the shock of RoR--replacement
and recovery. What she really wanted to study was
colony medicine, but how could she ever make it Out There?
Some PPCs had been designed by their parents to qualify
physically and mentally for space careers. Some had been
equipped with bichemistries, one of which became active in
Earth's gravity, the other in space. How could an NG compete
Of the seven hundred adolescents in her high school
training programs, Letitia Blakely was one of ten NGspossessors
of natural, unaltered genomes. Everyone else was the proud bearer
of juggled genes, PPCs or Pre-Planned Children, all lovely and
stable with just the proper amount of adipose tissue and just the
proper infusion of parental characteristics and chosen features to
be beautiful and different; tall, healthy, hair manageable, skin
unblemished, well-adjusted (except for the occasional blitzer)
with warm and sunny personalities. The old derogatory slang
for PPCs was RC--Recombined.
Letitia Brown, slightly overweight, skin pasty, hair frizzy,
bulbous-nosed and weak-chinned, one breast larger than the
other and already showing a droop pronounced enough to
grip a stylus--with painful menstrual periods and an absolute
indisposition to athletics--was the Sport. That's what they were
called. NG Sports. TBs-Throwbacks. Neanderthals.
All the beautiful PPCs risked a great deal if they showed
animosity toward the NGs. Her parents had the right to sue the
system if she was harassed to the detriment of her schooling.
This wasn't a private school where all parents paid astronomical
tuitions; this was an old-fashioned public school, with public
school programs and regulations. Teachers tended to nuke out
on raggers. And, she admitted to herself with a painful loop of
recrimination, she wasn't making it any easier for them.
Sure, she could join in, play the old woman--how much
realism she would contribute to their little drama, with her
genuine TB phys! She could be jolly and self-deprecating like
Helen Roberti, who wasn't all that bad-looking anyway--she
could pass if she straightened her hair. Or she could be quiet
and camouflaged like Bernie Thibhault.
The CG nursie exited from RoR care. Letitia had hardly
absorbed a thing. Realtime mod education was a bore, but she
hadn't yet qualified for experience training. She had only one
course of career study now--no alternates--and two aesthetic
programs, individual orchestra on Friday afternoon and LitVid
publishing on alternating weekends.
For pre-med, she was a washout, but she wouldn't admit
it. She was NG. Her brain took longer to mature; it wasn't as
She thought she was incredibly slow. She doubted whether
she would ever be successful as a doctor; she was squeamish,
and nobody, not even her fellow NGs, would want to be treated
by a doctor who grew pale at the sight of blood.
Letitia silently told nursie to start over again, and nursie
Reena Cathcart, meanwhile, had dropped into her mod
with a vengeance. Her blissed expression told it all. The
realtime ed slid into her so smooth, so quick, it was pure joy.
Mr. Brant returned ten minutes later with a pale and
bleary-eyed Georgia Fischer. She sat two seats behind Letitia
and over one aisle. She plugged in her mod dutifully and Brant
went to his console to bring up the multimedia and coordinate
the whole class. Edna Corman whispered something to her.
"Not a bad blitz, all in all," Georgia commented softly.
"How are you doing, Letitia?" the autocounselor asked.
The CG face projected in front of her with some slight wirehash,
which Letitia paid no attention to. CG ACs were the jams and
she didn't appreciate them even in pristine perfection.
"Poorly," she said.
"Really? Care to elaborate?"
"I want to talk to Dr. Rutger."
"Don't trust your friendly AC?"
"I'd like some clear space. I want to talk to Dr. Rutger."
"Dr. Rutger is busy, dear. Unlike your friendly AC,
humans can only be in one place at a time. I'd like to help if I
"Then I want program sixteen."
"Done, Letitia." The projection wavered and the face
changed to a real-person simulation of Marian Tempesino, the
only CG AC Letitia felt comfortable with.
Tempesino had no wirehash, which indicated she was a seldom-used program, and that was just fine with Letitia.
"Sixteen here. Letitia? You're looking cut. More adjustment
"I wanted to talk with Dr. Rutger but he's busy. So I'll
talk to you. And I want it on my record. I want out of school. I
want my parents to pull me and put me in a special NG
Tempesino's face didn't wear any particular expression,
which was one of the reasons Letitia liked Program 16 AC.
"Because I'm a freak. My parents made me a freak and
I'd like to know why I shouldn't be with all the other freaks."
"You're a natural, not a freak."
"To look like any of the others---even to look like Reena
Cathcart--l'd have to spend the rest of my life in bioplasty. I
can't take it anymore. They asked me to play an old lady in one
of their dramas. The only part I'm fit for. An old lady."
"They tried to include you in."
"That hurt/" Letitia said, tears in her eyes.
Tempesino's image wavered a bit as the emotion registered
and a higher authority AC kicked in behind 16.
"I just want out. I want to be alone."
"Where would you like to go, Letitia?"
Letitia thought about it for a moment. "I'd like to go back
to when being ugly was normal."
"Fine, then. Let's simulate. Sixty years should do it.
She nodded and wiped away more mascara with the back
of her hand.
"Then let's go."
It was like a dream, somewhat fuzzier than plugging in a
mod. CG images compiled from thousands of miles of old films
and tapes and descriptive records made her feel as if she were flying back in time, back to a place she would have loved to call
home. Faces came to her--faces with ugly variations, growing
old prematurely, wearing glasses, even beautiful faces which
could have passed today--and the faces pulled away to become
attached to bodies. Bodies out of shape, in good condition,
overweight, sick and healthy, red-faced with high blood pressure:
the whole variable and disaster-prone population of humanity,
sixty years past. This was where Letitia felt she
"They're beautiful," she said.
"They didn't think so. They jumped at the chance to be
sure their children were beautiful, smart, and healthy. It was a
time of transition, Letitia. Just like now."
"Everybody looks alike now."
"I don't think that's fair," the AC said. "There's a
considerable variety in the way people look today."
"Not my age."
"Especially your age. Look." The AC showed her dozens
of faces. Few looked alike, but all were handsome or lovely.
Some made Letitia ache just looking at them; faces she could
never be friends with, never love, because there was always
someone more beautiful and desirable than an NG.
"My parents should have lived back then. Why did they
make me a freak?"
"You're developmentally normal. You're not a freak."
"Sure. I'm a DNG. Dingy. That's what they call me."
"Don't you invite the abuse sometimes?"
"No!" This was getting her nowhere.
"Letitia, we all have to adjust. Not even today's world is
fair. Are you sure you're doing all you can to adjust?"
Letitia squirmed in her seat and said she wanted to leave.
"Just a moment,” the AC said. "We're not' done yet." She
knew that tone of voice. The ACs were allowed to get a little rough at times. They could make unruly students do grounds
duty or detain them after hours to work on assignments usually
given to computers. Letitia sighed and settled back. She hated
"Young woman, you're carrying a giant chip on your
"That's all the more computing capacity for me."
"Quiet, and listen. We're all allowed to criticize policy,
whoever makes it. Dignity of office and respect for superiors
has not survived very well into Century Twenty-one. People
have to earn respect. That goes for students, too. The average
student here has four major talents, each of them fitting into a
public planning policy which guarantees them a job incorporating
two or more of those talents. They aren't forced to accept
the jobs, and if their will falters, they may not keep those jobs.
But the public has tried to guarantee every one of us a quality
employment opportunity. That goes for you, as well. You're
DNG, but you also show as much intelligence and at least
as many developable talents as the PPCs. You are young,
and your maturation schedule is a natural one--but you are not
inferior or impaired, Letitia. That's more than can be said for
the offspring of some parents even more resistive than your
own. You at least were given prenatal care and nutrition
adjustment, and your parents let the biotechs correct your
"So for you, it's all a matter of will. If your will falters,
you won't be given any more consideration than a PPC. You'll
have to choose secondary or tertiary employment, or even..."
The AC paused. "Public support. Do you want that?"
"My grades are up. I'm doing fine."
"You are choosing career training not matching your
"I like medicine."
"And you're hard to get along with."
"Just tell them to lay off. I’ll be civil.., but I don't want
them treating me like a freak. Edna Corman called me..." She
paused. That could get Edna Corman into a lot of trouble.
Among the students, TB was a casual epithet; to school authorities,
applied to an NO, it might be grounds for a blot on
Co,man's record. "Nothing. Not important.”
The AC switched to lower authority and Tempes
took a different counseling track. "Fine. Adjustment on both
sides is necessary. Thank you for coming in, Letitia."
"Yeah. I still want to talk with Rutger."
"Request has been
noted. Please return to your class in
"Pay attention to your brother when he's talking," Jane
said. Roald was making a nuisance of himself by chattering
about the pre-flight training he was getting in primary. Letitia
made a polite comment or two, then lapsed back into contemplation
of the food before her. She didn't eat. Jane regarded her
from the corner of her eye and passed a bowl of sugared berries.
"What's eating you?"
"I'm doing the eating," Letitia said archly.
"Ha," Roald said. "Full load from this angle." He
grinned at her, his two front teeth missing. He looked hideous,
she thought. Any other family would have given him temporaries;
"A little more respect from both of you," said Donald.
Her father took the bowl from Roald and scooped a modest
portion into his cup, then set it beside Letitia. "Big fifteen and big eight." That was his homily; behave big whether eight or
"Autocounselor today?" Jane asked. She knew Letitia
much too well.
"AC," Letitia affirmed.
"Did you go in?"
"I'm not tuned."
"Which means?" Donald ask.
"It means she hisses and crackles," Roald said, mouth full
of berries, juice dripping down his chin. He cupped his hand
underneath and sucked it up noisily. Jane reached out and
finished the job with a napkin. "She complains," Roald finished.
Letitia shook her head and didn't answer.
The dessert was almost finished when Letitia slapped both
palms on the table. "Why did you do it?"
"Why did we do what?" he father asked, startled.
"Why are Roald and I normal? Why didn't you design
Jane and Donald glanced at each other quickly and turned
to Letitia. Roald regarded her with wide eyes, a bit shocked
Sisters by Greg Bear / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes