Tankborn Deleted Scenes - Coffee House

In the Coffee House Scene, I wanted to show Devak's life, what it was like to be a high-status trueborn in Loka's society. I'd already shown how the GENs lived in deprivation, crowded together in cramped housing, in fear of what the enforcers might do to them. Devak, on the other hand, lives a life of luxury and security like any high-status trueborn. He's part of a group of high-status and demi-status teens all being educated together. Some of them, like the beautiful Anjika, he's only interfaced with via computer network. He'll be meeting the high-status girl for the first time in the coffee house and he's convinced himself she might be interested in him.

In this scene, I also show the consequences of Devak coming to Kayla's rescue in the first chapter of the book, what a huge violation of societal norms that action was. His rescue of a GEN at the expense of a trueborn (demi-status Livot) turns Devak into a pariah and impacts how Anjika views him.

I also introduce some of the dynamics of the relationship between Devak and his mother. In the final versions of the book, this scene is described in a paragraph or two of summary rather than scene.

The Deleted Scene

The morning the GEN was due to start the Assignment, Devak had plans to meet with friends from his Academy network for an end of the term breakfast at a local coffee house. He'd woken up late, had to rush Grandpa Zul through his morning routine and left it to Senia to bring him his breakfast. Then Devak raced back to his own room to agonize over what to wear to the gathering.

Anjika would be there, slender and exquisite, her smile brilliant, her intelligence dazzling. He'd been trying to catch her eye for weeks. He was certain that when she asked him a question during netcam connectivity discussions or spoke his name before making a point in gen eng class, she was showing her interest in him. This would be his first time meeting her face to face.

So he pulled on his best kurta, midnight blue shot with gold, and a deep blue pair of churidars. The dark brown knee boots were a trial to lace up, but they were brand new and perfect. When he checked himself in the mirror, he felt a bit like a peacock, but if it impressed Anjika, it would be worth it.

He'd nearly made it out the front door when the rattling of gemstones warned him his mother was in pursuit. She laid a hand on his shoulder to stop him, then scrutinized him from head to foot.

"For once you don't look like some lowborn ragpicker."

He turned to shake her hand free. "Thank you, mother."

If she heard the sarcasm in his voice, she let it pass. "I want you here when the GEN arrives."

"What time?"

"How would I know? This is your father's doing."

Time pressed on him—he was already ten minutes past the agreed meeting time. But still he asked the question he'd avoided for fear it would make her angry. "Why a GEN? Why not another lowborn?"

Her dark gaze narrowed on him, but she didn't raise her hand to strike him. Her voice was full of bitterness when she said, "Ask your father."

Devak had. His father had said, "Ask your great-grandfather." But Grandpa Zul would only say he wasn't worth the cost of a lowborn caregiver, why not save a few dhans?

"I'll be home before mid-day meal," he told his mother, then hurried out.

He took his Bullet to Coffee Reborn in towncenter. It wasn't coffee the café served, but a hybrid the gene-splicers cooked up combining DNA from old Earth plants and the hardier Loka claspberry bush. Devak could barely stomach the bitter black stuff, but he'd find a way to choke it down if it offered a chance to see Anjika.

The place was packed with high-status and demi-status students craving the face-to-face that netcams just couldn't satisfy. They crowded into deep red plasscine leatherette booths, leaned elbows against the genned purple heartwood bar. Genetically recreated exotic plants from Earth—rhododendron, orchids and azaleas—hung lavishly from the walls and competed for floor space.

Devak had to all but shove his way through the crowd, making his way slowly to the back where his friends had agreed to meet. He considered stopping for a drink—he'd never squeeze through the hordes at the order station—but pushed on instead, eager to see Anjika.

When he finally reached the table and saw her, his heart lifted, light as air. An instant later, it turned to stone when he spotted who sat next to her—Livot. Devak had not seen him since that day at the river. A demi-status like Livot didn't usually travel in the same circles as Devak, even though he downloaded the same Academy lessons Devak and Anjika did.

How had he caught wind of this gathering? And how had a demi-status boy like him so thoroughly claimed Anjika's attention? The way she was showering the pasty-skinned Livot with her smiles, you would think he was her most prized friend. Those flirting glances she'd sent Devak via the netcam must have been lies, or fantasies, considering she barely acknowledged Devak as he reached the group.

But Livot's pale blue eyes zeroed in on Devak, and his mouth stretched into a smile. He raised his voice to be heard over the clamor of the crowd. "If it isn't the jick-lover. Too busy saving tankborns to get here on time, I guess."

Of course now everyone at the table focused on him. He could hear titters of laughter from several of the dozen or so of his friends.

"I don't think stopping you from throwing perma rocks at a defenseless GEN male means I'm a..." He couldn't finish the sentence, couldn't bring himself to speak the hateful word.

Livot smirked. "What about crossing the river to speak to that jick sow?"

Even in the noisy coffee house, there was no missing the horrified gasps, nor the shock on Anjika's face. Devak stood there, stupefied, heat searing his face. He'd been sure Livot had left before he'd crossed the river. He'd never have gone over to speak to the GEN if he'd known he had witnesses.

He struggled to formulate a response to Livot, but what could he say? That it was a lie?

When he tried to catch Anjika's gaze, she looked away as if she was embarrassed to see him. He wanted nothing more than to run, to fling himself through the thick mass of bodies and escape. But that would be even more humiliating.

So he pushed around the teardrop shaped table to the far end where his best friend, Junjie, sat. He could barely see Anjika through the press of bodies between them, but maybe that was just as well. Livot had ruined any chance Devak had had with her.

As Devak settled on the last few inches of the booth bench, Junjie leaned toward him. "Livot's mother heard from my mother where we were gathering. If I'd had time, I would have changed the meeting place."

"It doesn't matter," Devak said.

Junjie slid a cup toward him. "I ordered you a drink. Probably cold by now. Want me to reheat it?" He gestured toward the flash warmer in the center of the table.

Devak shook his head. The oily black stuff would turn his stomach, hot or cold. He picked up the cup to give his hands something to do and wished he could just die right there.

Junjie leaned close enough to speak into Devak's ear. "Did you really go into the GEN sector?" Devak shrugged his affirmation. Junjie asked, "You talked to a GEN female?"

For the first time, the practice of referring to GENs as male and female, instead of calling them boys or girls, men or women, irritated him. They might not be human, but they weren't animals.

"Yeah," he told Junjie.

At first, Junjie held his tongue, then his avid curiosity got the best of him. "What was she like? Was she old, or...?"

"A little younger than me."

"How did she look close up?" Junjie asked.

An image jumped into Devak's mind—the wild hair, the vivid gray eyes, the glitter of her DNA mark on her left cheek. He wouldn't have called her beautiful, couldn't compare a simple GEN to a high-status girl like Anjika. But he couldn't forget the sharp lines of the GENs face.

"She looked like...a girl. Have you never seen a GEN close up?"

Junjie shook his head. "No one I know has a house GEN. And I don't go to the warehouses like you do. So Livot threw rocks at her?"

"He and Cef were trying to hit the boy with her. Her nurture brother, I guess."

Junjie considered that, then said, "Livot's the one who should be stoned. I'm glad you stopped him, even if it was only a GEN."

Only a GEN. He wanted to call his friend on the faint slur. But he'd already lost the respect of everyone else at this table. He couldn't risk alienating Junjie, too. Junjie was only demi-status himself, but the best friend Devak had.

Junjie was the only one of this group who had been to Devak's house, who had met his great-grandfather. Who knew about the tattoo paradada had on his cheek. Even though Junjie would never reveal that secret to this gathering, Devak felt sick contemplating what someone like Livot would make of it if he knew.

Although no one but Junjie said another word to him, Devak stayed until the bitter end, hoping against hope to lure one of Anjika's smiles his way. But he might as well have been one of those exotic potted plants for all the attention she gave him. As the party broke up, it was Livot's hand that helped her to her feet. It was Livot she stood beside as she said goodbye to the table at large and Livot she walked with toward the exit.

Joining Scene

Flood Scene

Coffee House Scene

Zul's Journal