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« The Obvious Child | Main | Every Day is New Year's Day »
Thursday
Jan052012

The People Who Dwelled In Darkness

Another story for Chuck.

I feel like this one didn’t quite come together. I’d love to take another crack it with some more time and a few thousand more words.

***

“We found their camp just across the river,” Lyssa said to her mother across the white plastic breakfast table. “They obviously weren’t expecting pursuit.”

Sandra nodded, poking her spoon at the cereal Lyssa had carefully weighed out. During her pregnancy, the Overseer was entitled to an extra half ration. The rest of the time — despite the opulence of her quarters — she ate no better than the rest of the Dwellers.

“And when you found them?” her mother asked as she lifted the spoon to her mouth. The diffuse light from the overhead fixture disguised the lines on her face, adding to the effect of pregnancy by softening her normally harsh expression even more.

“We waited until moonset and then slaughtered them in their sleep,” Lyssa replied, taking a spoonful of her own breakfast. The protein liquid tasted off.

“Good, good,” Sandra said. Her mouth puckered, and she looked at her daughter.

“I’d seen reports from Production that they’ve had a few bad batches recently,” Lyssa said.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” her mother said, dipping her spoon into the bowl for another bite. “The occasional funny taste beats starving out in the Wild.” She chewed thoughtfully for a moment. “So?”

“We waited until sunrise, then brought the stolen food crates back to the Dwelling with us.”

“Had they eaten much?”

“About fifty daily-rations worth.”

“And there were only a dozen of the thieves?”

“They were hungry,” Lyssa said. “If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have been desperate enough to try something this bold.”

“Yes, I suppose so,” her mother said. “I don’t know why you must always go on these dangerous missions yourself. You could just as easily send one of the Culled to oversee the business.”

“They would just as likely join those thieves as hunt them down,” Lyssa said, pushing the empty bowl away from her. “Most of them would think they have as good a chance in the Wild as they do here.”

“Nonsense. So long as the Culled continue to pull their weight in the Dwelling, they’ll continue to have a place,” Sandra said, and Lyssa heard the voice of the Overseer return.

Two days before, Lyssa had overseen the Reclamation of twenty-six Culled men who had been declared a Drain on Resources. She did not share her mother’s optimism about the Culled’s loyalty.

“I go because I need to see all parts of our society,” Lyssa said. “If you wish me to succeed you as Overseer, I need to understand the whole, not just pleasant parts that Dwellers see every day.”

“The beasts of the Wild are hardly part of ‘our society,’” her mother said. “They have no laws or rules to speak of.”

“We are defined by how we treat others.”

There was silence for a time as the Overseer pushed her still half-empty bowl away and sipped her tea.

“Have you picked a Stud yet?” she asked at last, placing her hand instinctively on her swelling belly. Her daughter’s was lean and taught.

“No.”

“I know, it can be so hard to choose between good options,” her mother said, smiling. “Which ones have you tried out?”

***

When they lay spent and naked under the canopy of trees, their bodies glistening in the waning crescent of the moon, their breath coming smoothly again, Lyssa finally spoke.

“You told them how to get inside, didn’t you?”

Her dark-eyed, bronzed-skin lover did not reply. Instead, she rolled to face away from Lyssa, pulling the edge of the blanket over to cover herself.

“I was worried you were with them, Moira,” she continued.

“And if I had been?” Moira said over her shoulder. “If you had found me with them? Would you have killed me as casually as you did them?”

“Of course not. How could you think that, after all of the clothing and medical supplies I’ve smuggled out for your band?” Lyssa said, reaching a hand out to stroke Moira’s bare back. “That’s why I had to lead them, to make sure nothing happened to you.”

The Wild girl did not respond to Lyssa‚Äôs touch. “What would you have done if it had been me?”

There was silence for a time between them. At last, Lyssa rolled off the blanket, stood, and began to dress.

“It’s time for me to bear a child,” Lyssa said when she was clothed again.

This time Moira rolled toward Lyssa, still clutching the blanket around her.

“What?”

“If I don’t, the Arbiters will declare me a Drain on Resources.”

“They would murder the Overseer’s daughter for not bearing children?”

“It’s not murder. It’s maintaining the balance. If we don’t breed, humanity will die out. And there’s only so much food to go around.”

“Which is why you murder nine boys out of ten before they are a month old,” Moira said, turning away. The shadow of a tree branch cast a jagged shadow across her back.

“How many bulls does one herd need?”

“You’ll need to practice your moo-ing, then.”

***

“It is the judgment of the Arbiters that you are a Drain on the Resources of the Dwelling,” Sandra said. “You will be taken to Production for immediate Reclamation.”

Lyssa bowed her head. “I submit to the judgment of the Arbiters,” she said. “And now, you will yourselves be judged.”

She touched the button on the transmitter she had concealed within her jumpsuit, and the first of the bombs exploded, shattering the ceiling of the cavernous central hall of the Dwelling and tearing hole in its side. Sunlight streamed in, dazzling the crowd as it began to panic. The second detonated a moment later, bringing the remainder of the supports down, and creating a cascade of structural failures that quickly spread throughout the complex.

***

Two days later, when her band of Wildlings scavenged the remains of the Dwelling, Moira found Lyssa’s body lying face down, not from the corpse of her mother. When she turned it over, she found a smile on her dead lover’s face.

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