Guy Salvidge

Guy Salvidge was born in England in 1981 and moved to Western Australia in 1990. In 1996, he won the Roy Grace English Scholarship for short fiction. In 1998, he won first prize for his first novel, Maklorian in the Children's Book Week Make Your Own Story Book competition. A year later, he won the Katharine Susannah Prichard (KSP) Short Fiction Award (Young Writers) and was Highly Commended in the KSP Speculative Fiction Award (Young Writers) in 2000. While studying English at Curtin University, Guy co-edited the magazine M/G during this period, later embarking on a career as a high-school English teacher and has worked at Northam Senior High School for the past four years. Guy has written eight novel-length manuscripts since 1998. The seventh, The Kingdom of Four Rivers, was published in 2009 by Equilibrium Books, and the eighth, Yellowcake Springs, won the 2011 IP Picks Best Fiction Award. Yellowcake Springs was shortlisted for the 2012 Norma K Hemming Award for science-fiction.


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1. Welcome to Yellowcake Springs

Sylvia Baron was dreaming, but not without assistance – she was in Controlled Dreaming State. Her body was strapped to a soft chair in her office. There was a veil over her eyes and a skull cap on her head, allowing the CDS console to interface with her brain. Sylvia was working on a new 3V ‘vert for the town. In her dream, she floated high above Yellowcake Springs.

“Play the opening,” she said.

The words Welcome to Yellowcake Springs! flashed up in a gaudy yellow font in the sky over the town’s main gate. Was that exclamation mark really needed? She’d discuss it with her supervisor Peters later.

“Welcome to Yellowcake Springs, the first of CIQ Sinocorp’s Complete Communities to be opened on Australian shores,” the voice-over said in a smooth and comforting tone. A corny tune played in the background. “Yellowcake Springs is a Green Nuclear initiative fuelled by yellowcake uranium mined right here in Western Australia,” the voice-over said. Now the perspective zoomed in on the reactor complex. “These are the engines of the future. Nuclear energy – clean, efficient and one hundred percent carbon neutral. Here we harness the power of the atom, the quiet worker!”

A little overzealous, Sylvia thought. That last phrase could go.

She knew the script by heart – she had written it – so she concentrated on the visuals instead. The camera hovered at a respectful distance while the reactors’ main features were pointed out. After all, the potential residents weren’t going to be living inside the reactor complex. The realism was supreme. There were a hundred finishing touches: a coach load of new residents arriving for a guided tour; the gentle breeze buffeting the leaves on the trees; the sun emerging from behind a cloud as the voice-over honed in on a key selling point. They had done something to the smell, too – was it pine? Something earthy and clean, as though the reactors had emerged from the earth through some organic process.

“This is the two kilometre exclusion zone, known as the Red Zone,” the voice-over said as the perspective panned out. Aside from the tree-lined drive at the entrance to the reactor complex, the terrain was barren and windswept. “Inside the Red Zone, you’ll receive no more radiation than on a summer’s day. The reactors aren’t merely safe: they’re infallible. Fourth generation reactors render a meltdown a statistical impossibility.” In actual fact that was a white lie. But the chances of a meltdown were remote. That word ‘infallible’ though; should they hedge their bets a little more? Would ‘virtually infallible’ seem like an admission of vulnerability? Peters would have to be the judge of that.

Zooming back beyond the fence of the Red Zone – over a checkpoint complete with helmeted guards, their rifles discreetly hidden – the perspective swung around to take in some of the sights and sounds of the Amber Zone. “This is the five kilometre exclusion zone,” the voice-over glided. “The Amber Zone is the industrial and administrative hub of the community.” Down to street level, they were fleetingly placed among the workers bustling to and fro. Lost for a moment, Sylvia didn’t hear a word of the spiel about the prospect of new residents joining the ranks of the technological elite.

Next on the agenda was the Green Zone, where Sylvia and her husband David lived. “This is the residential area,” the voice-over said. “This is where you and your family, Yellowcake Springs’ newest initiates, will live. Here you will be more than just valued employees. You will be part of the CIQ Sinocorp family. An inclusive family, made up of citizens of every nation and creed, each member firmly committed to the principles of industry, harmony and equality. In Yellowcake Springs, you’ll have nothing to fear.”

There was no need to mention the defensive perimeter. The fact that the residents themselves would be obliged to join the ranks of the security force was small print, unmentionable at this first pitch stage. Sylvia disliked guns, but what she detested most of all was the compulsory ‘Preparedness’ training that chewed up four weekends a year. It seemed like more. There were other unmentionables, such as the fact that new residents would be required to submit to implantation as part of their citizenship ceremony. It was for their own safety, of course – if a citizen was abducted or otherwise became lost, then the security forces would be able to track them using their implants.

She paid scant attention to the rest of the ‘vert, her mind reliving the previous night. A hard, angular face – not her husband’s – swam into view. His name was Rion. A sun-drenched beach, a secluded lagoon. It was all horribly clichéd, but what did it matter? Their tryst had been impossible, unreal. And yet Rion existed; of this she felt sure.

Years of Controlled Dreaming State use had taught her to differentiate between human users and computer generated simulacra. The bots were getting better every year, and one of these days someone would design one that really did behave like a human being. These wraiths roamed CDS as its native population, making human users feel that they were not alone down here in the depths of their own minds. But the bots betrayed their unreality in a myriad of ways, from their clumsy pick-up lines to their brilliant but dead eyes. What had Rion said?

“I want to meet you for real.” And then, if that hadn’t been clear enough, he’d added: “Outside of CDS.” For real? Was this not real? She had said something to that effect and he had shaken his head impatiently. Bots were never impatient.

A clumsily constructed excuse later and Sylvia had disconnected. For real? What had she looked like in that scenario, anyway? Still a bronzed goddess with straight blonde hair and perfect legs? And what about him? What would he look like in the real world? Her life – all of this – was boring, but it was safe. And Rion, as attractive as he had been, had seemed anything but safe.

The ‘vert was ending.

Waking from Controlled Dreaming State was a process of unravelling, of unwrapping. First there was the sensation of corporeality, of being strapped into the chair. The veil over her eyes and the rhythm of her breath. You couldn’t rush it; awareness came slowly.

“Peters said he wants to see you,” her workmate Tiffany Cramer said the moment Sylvia opened her eyes. “He said it was important.”

Sylvia shuffled downstairs, still groggy from her morning spent in CDS.

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