Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The room is spotless. There are clusters of four chairs, divided from each other by transparent acrylic screens. The walls are covered in posters, white letters stark against black backgrounds.
The grey-haired woman in the chunky-knit sweater clutches her hankerchief like a child grips a comforter. She gestures to the posters and turns to the younger version of herself sat on the other side of a screen.
“Just reading those makes me want to stop you going.”
Max smiles at her mom.
“They’re designed to scare. Nobody wants to be responsible for taking a disease through, so anyone going has to be fully immunised, and current with their periodic shots, plus being screened within the last week. That’s why we’re separated.”
“But they’re so ignorant. I’m worried what they’ll do.”
“Mom, over there still looks just like over here. Same shops, same streets, same people. The fact they’ve chosen to not be vaccinated makes no change to their lives, except for disease management. That’s why we don’t allow them in, but they allow us to visit. In their eyes, we’re the cowards.”
“But that’s silly! They’re the ones who are scared of science.”
“Mom, I’m not going to have this talk again. Just like you respect the beliefs of other religions, so you need to respect these people’s beliefs, even if they make no sense to you.”
“We should have made them get vaccinated.”
“Beatrice McEldary! Vaxgenics is a banned movement on both sides, just like VXH8. Both are extremist organisations that don’t help anybody with their attacks.”
The hankerchief disappears into a pocket and the other hand points at Max.
“Just because I use your full name when I tell you off doesn’t mean you can.”
“Just because you’re worried about me doesn’t mean you can be rude about people you’ve never met. Honestly, Dolores would love to meet you. The amount of cooking and knitting the two of you would get up to is frightening to contemplate.”
“She would?”
Max nods her head enthusiastically.
“They’re neighbours, mom. There’s a big fence in the way, but they’re only a few kilometres from our house.”
“Mister Oberhaus told me his mother said it was like Berlin in her youth.”
Max nods.
“Never thought of that. I’ll have to interview her.”
“How long will you be?”
“Six weeks work, then quarantine. You’re allowed to visit me during those four weeks: I sorted out the permissions.”
Beatrice looks about nervously.
“I haven’t received a card.”
“You don’t need one. Just come down to the place. Your identity is on file. All you need to bring is your face.”
Max grins as Beatrice chuckles.
“Can’t really leave that behind, now can I?”
Her expression turns serious.
“How long will you be doing this?”
“My contract ends next year. I’ll be there for spring, but the teachers I’m training will be qualified by the summer holidays. After that, I’ll probably drop back a couple of times a year to check in and visit friends.”
Beatrice looks out the window.
“Maybe, when you go to visit, if I got my boosters, I could come and meet Dolores.”
Max blinks in surprise, then gathers herself.
“You could. We need more people to see it’s just a different ideology. They haven’t become monsters.”
She nods.
“I’m guessing it does good for friendly folk to visit, too.”
A low tone sounds.
Max gets up.
“It does. Bye, mom. See you in ten.”
Beatrice watches her daughter step out onto at a street she hasn’t walked down in five years.
“Hate needles. Love you. Time to see the doc.”