“Lissa, wake up.”
The child opened her eyes, night goggles hid her father’s eyes, mirrored ovals glowed on his face. “Come on my love, get up”
“Baba, the siren didn’t sound, we are early.”
“Yes, but it’s time.”
“Michael, she’s frightened, don’t alarm her.”
“Hush woman.” The tall figure turned to his wife, he reached out, the gesture softening the impact of his words. “Are you ready?”
“Bring the clothes for Lissa, don’t forget the gloves and the headset.”
“She doesn’t need those yet, I think we should wait.”
“Yes, yes but fetch them, she can try them before we leave.”
“Baba, where are we going?” Lissa rubbed at sleep crusted eyes. As her father leaned in towards her sleeping pod she raised trusting arms in the dimness. She had been aware for a while of whispers in the dark, hushed voices and slipping glances.
“Lissa, you must be quiet. It is early and the dawn patrol are not walking yet, we have to be careful. We have to catch a transport. Now be good and dress quickly.”
“Baba, can I wear my pink dress.”
“Today you must wear the clothes that Mama gives you sweetheart. You know I love you don’t you Lissa?”
“Then do as Mama tells you and it will be alright.”
The clothes were stiff and dark, thicker that the child was used to wearing and she wriggled and rubbed at the seams and edges. “Mama, I don’t like them.”
“They are for your own good child. Here put on this hat.” The woman lowered a soft helmet over the downy hair and pulled the tinted plastic shield over wide eyes.
“Michael take a photograph. So that we can always remember?”
“Yes, I have the camera, turn out the dark lights. Lissa this flash will surprise you, it won’t hurt.” As the bulb popped and the moment was recorded the little girl cried out in delight. “Baba I saw you, I saw you Baba, lighted up and Mama I saw you also. You are so pretty Mama.”
“Hush sweetness and hurry now.”
They left their living unit, Michael opening the door carefully. He swept a glance left and right. With the patrols not yet started there was danger in the corners and threat in the shadows, but all seemed well and they heard the transport rattling towards them.
In the quiet of the morning they climbed aboard. Already most of the seats were taken, they nodded at the adults, smiled at the children.
It wasn’t far. The passengers spoke in whispers, the air brittle with thrill and a hint of fear. As they passed the end of Main Street they saw a group of night trawlers scuttle from a doorway and into the dark of a tunnel. Michael drew his daughter closer. She could feel the thud of his heart and the whisper of breath on her cheek. She shuffled across the seat, tears were close but while she could feel the warmth of him against her and the rasp of his early morning stubble against the hand she raised to caress his face then she could be brave.
The building was huge and outside the walls of The City and as they turned into the gates a shudder of excitement passed through the passengers on the slowing bus.
The door flung open, standing in the sudden brightness was a tall figure. He was dressed, head to toe in shining foil. He stepped into the front of the transport.
“Hissing and fizzing
And spitting and steaming
Clanging and banging
Rocking and Reeling
Shaking and Crying
Puking and Screaming
Hissing and fizzing
And spitting and steaming”
He let go a screech of laughter.
Michael had risen to his feet. “Hey, you will frighten the children.” He took a pace forward. It was hard to be truly angry with this creature, he had after all volunteered for this, knowing that his life expectancy would be short and his end would be painful. Michael held out a hand and shook the great paw encased in foil mittens.
“Sorry, sorry man, I thought it was adults, they like it – like the atmosphere. It’s alright little ones don’t be afraid, Casius will take good care of you. Now give me your data stick as you pass and then I can print out the lottery ticket. It is time now to give the children the pills. ”
Lissa swallowed the tiny blue capsule without question, she was used to pills and potions, vitamins, minerals, supplements.
Now Mama and Baba stood by. Mama had tears gleaming in her eyes and Baba couldn’t speak, he bent and hugged her. The fear had gone now to be replaced by a sense of anticipation such as she had never known.
“Baba, am I going up top?”
“Yes, my love, you are going to see the sun, Happy birthday. Remember this forever.”
The great elevator clanked and rattled, the heavy chains strained dragging the little car upwards. They could see below them stokers feeding the greedy engines, The glow and flash receded slowly as noise faded into the pit.
The elevator doors slid backward, children filed onto smooth grassland. In the distance the ocean shone and glittered, far below the summit on which they stood birds wheeled and turned. The foil wrapped monitor spoke “You can take off your jackets and headsets when the bell rings, when it rings again you must run, run into the shade.”
The bell chimed and Lissa peeled off the heavy clothes, she stood naked and unashamed, the sun washed her in warmth and kissed her with its deadly heat. She had never known such bliss.”
All too soon the chime rang out again, her time in the sun was done, she would have two more in her lifetime but this on the occasion of her seventh birthday would always be the most precious.