Chapter Fifty-Five

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Diana pulled over and grabbed the road map from the glove compartment and spread it out over the steering wheel in front of her. The cars navigational device had long since stopped directing. It was as if the Flawed areas were invisible, with the device instructing her to stop immediately and turn around. The device informed her that the area she was now in was deemed "not recommended for visitation." Even the monotone, electronic voice was a Percentagist!

Starting at her own sleepy neighbourhood, she traced the route she has taken so far; from the luxurious domestic idyll of the Top- Five, to the steel and glass maze of the central business district and on through a succession of ever deteriorating housing estates. Noticing a chip in the magenta polish on her nail, she inspected her finger closely and picked at the varnish a little more. It flaked off in large pieces and she watched it fall onto her lap; the nail bed beneath, revealed to be stained and cracked. Diana would need to get veneers added next time to hide away the imperfections. .

Having located her exact position, she looked for the Green's address. Diana had asked for their address on the day that Hannah was relocated. At the time John had suggested sending them a fruit basket or something equally useful by way of a thank you for raising their daughter. But now she was grateful she'd forgotten to do so, realising how horribly inappropriate such a gesture would have been. Thanks for looking after my daughter, here have some fruit in consolation. Diana closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. The contents of the bottle she had consumed earlier were making their presence felt.

Having found the location, Diana put the car into drive and pulled out, her steering wheel jerking in her hands as she drove over the badly maintained road surface. Diana had never been to this part of town before and it was far worse than she'd imagined. Small, boarded up terrace houses lined each side of the streets, their walls covered with graffiti, providing a striking, colourful contrast to the grey and depressed. The slogans ranged from the relatively polite, "people not points" and "parity not percentages", to vulgar and downright menacing threats against General Briggs and the Top- Five in general. Diana wondered why the Council hadn't come along and cleaned it up.

Diana approached an old school building. The original, ornate structure must have been stunning in its day, with its high arched windows and round stone columns. The former schools motto, "Learning for all, is progress for all" was carved into the stonework above the main entrance. A large sheet of metal now in front of the old doors bore another motto. Scratched into its surface were the words, "Learning for the few, means the rest of us are left to rot". Diana was reminded of her own schooling at Moreton Academy. The building had been equally impressive, but there she was given every opportunity to learn alongside her privileged peer group, but unlike her school which still educated the privileged, here every window has been broken and the roof had even caved-in further along. Now the school before her sat eerily empty, surrounded by a high wire fence, barbed wire atop. Feeling chilled, Diane, turned up the heating in the car.

Further on, Diana passed a grocery store. A line of people queued out of the door and along the pavement. The road surface degraded further and she slowed her vehicle, carefully steering to avoid the holes and miscellaneous objects that lay strewn across it. Barely faster than a walking speed, she looked at the people waiting to buy provisions. Mothers held onto their children tightly, an old woman with a cane swayed a little and grabbed hold of an over spilling refuse bin, so not to fall down. On the empty street, the purr of her cars engine seemed to attract attention and many in the queue turned to look at her. A young man caught her eye. His penetrating stare made her feel a little more nervous and she pressed down on a button and the door locked itself. The young man must have heard the lock click shut and he shouted something at her. Diana averted her eyes, focusing on the road ahead. Something collided with her rear window; the heavy thud causing the glass to implode. Too scared to worry about the sharp shrapnel that now covered her, she pressed down hard on the accelerator and the small black coupe surged away. In her rear view mirror she saw the young man stood in the middle of the road laughing. Fighting her basic instinct to flee home, Diana drove on, gripping the steering wheel tightly so that she couldn't see her hands shake.

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