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Welcome to gulmohur
A young teacher at a school for gifted children is looking forward to getting her first student.
A young teacher at a school for gifted children is looking forward to getting her first student.
Madina is walking down the hospital corridor when a blueish light envelops her. The hospital’s walls fall away, and she is in a meadow surrounded by flowers. Madina blinks, confused, then realizes she has entered an advertising cocoon. She’s not used to the ways of the outside world. The sound of children laughing and playing fills her ears. Then a female narrator speaks in a soft voice.
‘Tap into the joy of giving birth, a truly unique experience. Don’t worry if you cannot take care of your child. We are here to support you. Communities can take partial to full responsibility for their offspring, and you will be fully compensated for your service. Let’s grow the next generation together.’
The meadow vanishes, and the image gets fuzzy. There’s something red lying on sand… a desert, and… is that a woman in a pool of blood reaching out to her? Madina stretches her arm, but the image clears again, and now she sees a woman in a red dress playing with a toddler in a field of yellow flowers.
Bewildered, Medina steps out of the advertising cocoon. She picks a handkerchief from her sleeve, wipes sweat from her forehead, and then tosses her long curly hair over her shoulders. The heavy silk of her white overall, the uniform of the caireens, sacred mothers and teachers, feels cold and clammy. Madina presses a hand on the sandstone orange Delonix regia flower—the emblem of gulmohur, the school for gifted children—embroidered above her heart and recites the gulmohur prayer that helps strengthen the spirit: The flame of your heart is deep-rooted like a Phoenix tree. She takes a deep breath and tunes in to her surroundings. The wing for gifted infants is usually empty, but a unique guest will be brought in today. And that’s why she’s here.
At 26, Madina is five years late in starting her service as a caireen. But the headmaster ordered her to wait until a high-potential female infant would be matched with her skills. ‘Depending on her natural inclinations and intellectual capabilities, your pupil will be under your training between 7 and 21 years. Do not take this decision lightly,’ the headmaster had said.
For five years, Madina watched how, one after another, the young caireens were matched with infants and started teaching. And she waited. Patiently. The first year passed, then the second, and Madina was getting ready; the third passed, then the fourth but to no effect. And by the fifth year, she started to be suspicious of the headmaster’s intentions. Was she really waiting for a particular infant? Or was she stalling her? Making her linger, letting the years pile on each other like lifeless bodies until it was too late and all her potential was rotten, and the most brilliant and promising hiruko, student, to ever cross the golden gate of gulmohur would fade into oblivion.
But one morning, as she meditated in her one-room capsule apartment, the intercom implant buzzed in her ears, and Madina’s heart missed a beat. During her meditation, only one communication line had been open for the past five years: the headmaster’s. And indeed, Madina was summoned to her office, where she received the happy news: there was an infant for her. She will get an exceptional girl. Madina’s heart was filled with hope and pride once again. Ultimately, the headmaster kept her promise. Thus Madina can fulfill her destiny.
She stops in front of a door with a little golden plaque: Room no. 2, Special Maternity Yard. She feels the heat emanating from human bodies. Regular folks don’t care about neutralizing their presence. Judging by the intensity, two persons must be in the room, male and female: the infant’s parents. Madina mentally checks the time; she is a quarter of an hour early. She sits on the white bench across the hallway and listens. She cannot hear any sounds from the room. The door must be soundproof. She mentally turns up the volume in her ear implants and listens again.
‘Not bad. Wanna try some?’ the male says.
Madina doesn’t like that the parents are there. But the headmaster told her it was part of the protocol and firmly instructed her to follow it. ‘A caireen’s behavior must be exemplary,’ she said. There’s silence in the room for an instant, and she only hears the male’s loud chewing and the tight breaths of the female in the back: the mother.
‘Are you ok?’ he says.
‘I’m not hungry!’ the woman says, and Madina can hear her irritation.
‘Since when?’ he says.
‘I was pregnant, you asshole!’ she says.
He gulps down a drink and lets out a satisfied burp.
‘Just saying. This kiddo was supposed to earn us some credit, not dry out our account. I’m dying for a dive!’ he says.
Madina knows he is talking about the deep dive, the virtual world where regular people spend most of their time.
‘I’ve had enough forest walks. This eco-reality bullshit is too damn pretty and fucking boring! I need action!’ he says.
Madina despises the way people use the deep dive, a technology that, at its origin, helped restore Earth’s ecosystem and now maintains it. The deep dive was invented by the tech moguls—the forefathers of the seven clans—who donated the technology to society. Some people think that it wasn’t a human creation. But it’s forbidden to talk about that. Beyond its utilitarian function, the deep dive developed into a mecca of entertainment. Since material possessions and human activity were to be kept to a minimum in the real world, the seven clans, the most privileged people on Earth, built their empires in the deep dive. A brain implant facilitated total sensory immersion, and the outrageous entertainment offer kept everyone engaged. The deep dive was fun. If fun was all that you expected from life. Madina decried the wasted human potential. People had to be coaxed into having children like these two.
‘So, when do we get paid?’ the man says.
There’s a pause.
‘I’m not giving her away!’ the woman says.
All of Madina’s senses are suddenly alert. Can the mother change her mind?
‘What are you talking about?’ he says.
‘I am her mother!’ she says.
‘Come on, don’t be ridiculous! You never wanted to be a mother!’ he says.
Madina hears the woman’s heart rate going up.
‘You didn’t give birth to her; I did!’ she says.
‘So the bitch pops out the runt and gets to call the shots, huh?’ he says.
There’s a loud sound followed by shards of glass falling.
‘Are you out of your fucking mind? You hit me in the head!’ he says.
There’s the sound of a slap. Of furniture falling. The man screams out loud.
‘You fucking moron! Touch me again, and you can forget about the girl. Understood?’ she says.
Is this couple fit to raise children? She feels a sickening sensation in the pit of her stomach. Madina doesn’t know her parents. She was brought to gulmohur when she was six months old. She doesn’t know their circumstances and why they decided to keep her after listing her for adoption upon birth. But it seems like they both died six months later. Everyone at gulmohur was reluctant to receive her despite her exceptional DNA results. After all, she had lost six months of training, and her brain was partly formed outside. But the headmaster, already retired from teaching, decided to take Madina as her last pupil. And Madina didn’t disappoint. She was the only one of the headmaster’s seven pupils to become a caireen. And in due time, she will become the headmaster of gulmohur once her teacher retires. For the first time, she wonders if she has what it takes to follow up in her teacher’s shoes. She taps her forehead with a handkerchief, shakes her body loose and recites the gulmohur preyer for steadying the mind: Shed your thoughts like a Phoenix tree sheds flowers.
‘Look around! Think a little. Why do you think they gave us such a good room three days after her birth?’ the woman says. There’s a pause. ‘Exactly, we won the jackpot. Now, she must be quite something if they pay so much for her. So why shouldn’t we keep her? Think about all the money she could make for us in the dive. Our daughter could turn us into superstars. You know how children are a sensation!’ she says.
The man gives out a long whistle.
‘No wonder she came out so smart, honey; you’re a genius!’ he says.
Madina is about to knock at their door but then thinks better. The headmaster forbade her to interfere in any way. And her rigorous education forbade her to disobey her teacher. What should she do? She tries to contact the headmaster, but the line is busy. Why does she feel so agitated? Her chest is tight, and she has difficulty catching her breath. Does she have a panic attack? She closes her eyes and takes deep breaths in her belly.
‘Is everything alright?’
Madina opens her eyes and sees a middle-aged woman with short gray hair and glasses with golden frames standing before her. She scans her quickly: It’s the hospital director.
‘My name is Madina. I am from gulmohur. It is an honor to meet you,’ Madina says and takes a deep bow. She feels the hospital director crawling through her data.
‘We’ve never had such a young caireen on our premises before. We heard… that you’re not allowed to leave gulmohur. Is the headmaster indisposed?’ the director says.
‘I am the headmaster’s latest pupil,’ Madina says.
‘It is an honor to meet you. I’ve heard that you are a remarkably gifted student. But the little girl is exceptional. So maybe you’re fit for the challenge, and maybe you’re not. Let’s see,’ the director says.
Madina straightens herself.
‘I think that we might have a problem. The parents seem to have changed their minds,’ Madina says.
The director looks at her.
‘Have you talked to them?’
There’s a rush of blood to Madina’s face.
‘I see,’ the director says.
Even without reading the director’s emotional sensors, Madina can feel that her first human connection outside of gulmohur was a colder dive than she had anticipated. The director knocks at the door and enters.
‘Good to see you again. I hope that you’ve enjoyed the suite,’ the director says.
Madina scans the room involuntarily: a red stain on the wall opposite them, drops of blood on the white bedsheets, the woman’s red cheek that she’s trying to cover with her blond hair and the man’s bloody finger.
‘Everything is very comfortable, thank you,’ the male says.
The voices sound distorted in Madina’s ears, and she feels like she is drowning in a thick red liquid.
‘This is Madina, the caireen that will be in charge of your daughter’s education in gulmohur,’ the director says.
Madina hears her name and focuses her eyes on the object in front of her. She realizes she’s been staring at the man’s bloody finger this whole time. She looks at the man’s face, and he carefully adverts his eyes from her, as men are wont in the presence of a sacred mother. The woman is staring at her with wide eyes. She has never seen a caireen before.
‘My name is Madina, and I am a teacher at gulmohur. It is a pleasure to meet you. Thank you for bringing such a wonderful gift into this world. I vow to care for her and train her to her fullest potential. She will be of great service to our society,’ Madina says. ‘If you allow me to take her to gulmohur.’
Her voice sounds strangled, and she wonders if anyone can hear that she’s losing her mind.
‘Pleasure meeting you as well, but I’m afraid that we decided not to continue with the adoption after all,’ the female says.
‘So I’ve heard,’ the director says.
Madina feels the blood draining from her body.
‘A high-potential child like yours needs special training to develop her abilities,’ Madina says.
‘What a child needs is her biological mother,’ the female says.
Burn your anger to the ground and take birth from its ashes like a Phoenix tree. Madina recalls her Shadow, the male psychologist in charge of her mental training. ‘There is too much anger in this girl,’ he told the headmaster. Torin Vesper of the Vesper clan. Genius and elite. An amortal who looked like a young man in his late teens but was over 40 years old. Indeed, anger was her greatest weakness.
‘You did sign an agreement,’ Madina says.
Unlike Madina, the woman doesn’t care about showing her anger. She shakes when she turns to the director.
‘Are you going to take my child by force? This can’t be legal!’ the woman says.
The man places a hand on her shoulder.
‘It’s alright, dear. I’m sure that the hospital director here is used to parents changing their minds all the time. Am I right?’ he says.
The director frowns.
‘Give me a moment. I’ve got someone on the line.’
A hospital guard enters the room.
‘We are truly sorry; there seems to be a terrible mix-up. We did a second analysis, and the DNA potential of your baby does not meet gulmohur’s requirements after all. Please accompany my colleague to the hospital nursery. You may take your daughter home anytime,’ the director says.
‘So our baby is not high potential DNA?’
‘She has the perfect genes of a healthy baby girl.’
The couple is escorted outside of the room.
‘Excuse me, if we change our mind, can we still give her up for adoption?’ the mother’s voice echoes in the corridor.
Alone in the room, the hospital director and Madina look at each other.
‘I don’t fully understand what just happened. Is there or is there not a child that I should bring to gulmohur?’ Madina says.
The director activates a call, and the holograms of a woman with snow-white hair and a young man with black hair and almond-shaped eyes appear in the room. The woman is wearing a sandstone orange silk overall with a white Delonix regia stitched above her heart, and the young man is wearing a white kimono with a black under kimono.
‘Good morning, headmaster, Torin Vesper. Thank you for joining the call,’ the director says.
Madina’s eyes open wide with surprise. She feels her pulse racing, but her voice is calm when she speaks.
‘Good morning,’ Madina says and bows her head.
‘You might wonder why we’re here,’ the headmaster says.
‘The child’s DNA test was a false positive, headmaster,’ the Madina says.
‘We already know that,’ the headmaster says.
She feels her Shadow crawling into her head, searching. What does he want?
‘You realize you cannot remove a child from the parents against their will, right? The first rule to live as a caireen is detachment. Most of your pupils will spend seven years with you. Afterward, you must let them go wherever their education is taking them. And you will most probably never see them again. You might think that you know best what’s good for them. And you might even be right. But it is not for you to decide,’ the headmaster says.
Madina opens her mouth to answer, but blood comes out of it instead of words. She looks at her hands, and they are bloody. And tears are running down her cheeks, but she doesn’t know why. Then everything goes black.
The director catches her before she hits the ground.
‘I managed to extract all the memories triggered to the conscious level. More was bubbling under the surface, but I couldn’t catch it. Sooner or later, she will have to face her past trauma,’ Torin Vesper says.
‘It was not her fault,’ the headmaster says.
‘Hooking a six-month-old with her capabilities to the deep dive… how irresponsible!’ the director says.
‘Shush, she’s coming back,’ Torin Vesper says.
Madina opens her eyes and sees the director’s face smiling at her.
‘What happened?’ Madina says.
‘The nurse is on her way with the infant,’ the director says.
‘But the DNA, the parents…’ Madina says.
‘The DNA is fine, and the parents changed their minds about the adoption,’ the director says, winking at her. ‘We have our ways.’
A nurse walks into the room, pushing a baby stroller. The director lifts the infant girl and places her in Madina’s arms.
‘I place her in your care, sacred mother, to guide her and mold her mind to her highest potential. May she be of service to us all.’
Madina receives the tiny warm body in her arms and a sense of calm washes over her.
‘May we all be of service,’ Madina says.
‘May we all be of service,’ the headmaster and Torin Vesper say.
The hologram call ends.
‘Ready?’ the director asks.
Madina nods, and her body follows the director’s movements mechanically, but her mind is wholly absorbed by the little peaceful face resting in her arms. Before she knows it, they are standing on the departure platform, and her flying pod is ready to take off. She places the infant in her baby’s alcove, then thanks the hospital director for her hospitality.
‘May I ask, do you already have a name for her?’ the director says.
Madina thinks for a moment.
‘No, not yet,’ Madina says.
Then she jumps on the pilot seat, and the pod ascends and rapidly disappears into the horizon.
It’s almost sunset when the pod lands on a tropical island. Madina comes out holding the little bundle in her arms and walks to the golden gate, the only entrance to gulmohur. Next to the gate, there’s a Delonix regia, a Phoenix tree in bloom. Madina looks at the bright red flowers, and something stirs in her, like a long-forgotten memory. The gate opens slowly, revealing a long alley paved with stones and lined up by giant sequoias. Madina shakes her head and steps in with the baby. The golden gate closes behind them. A smile brightens her face as she looks at the familiar scene: two ovaloid capsules connected by a staircase are attached to each tree trunk, one at the base and the other a little higher. There are 80 classrooms, one for each caireen and her hiruko.
In the quiet alley, Madina can hear the baby breaths of her pupil: ‘Of course, I know your name. I always knew your name. Welcome to gulmohur, my little Runa.’
Ten years ago, I had an idea for a utopian novel called The Deep Dive about an elite school for educating gifted children. Without reading anything on the topic, my idea of cultivating genius was one-on-one tutoring from a very young age, focusing on a few subjects, and starting an apprenticeship as soon as possible.
This utopian world is the sequel of my current dystopian collection of stories, There Is Hope. The worldbuilding for The Deep Dive was developed in detail over five years, and I already wrote a screenplay for a feature film based on The Deep Dive storyline for my screenwriting masters thesis. I decided to use Elle’s utopian prompts to explore the world and the main characters’ backgrounds through short stories. These stories will not be included in The Deep Dive novel.