Thoughtful - Chapter 11
Opening her eyes, Persephone sat up in bed and looked around her. Sleep still clouding her mind as she smoothed down her blankets and sighed. She was back in her own room. In her parent’s apartment, in the city, safe and sound. No more tiny, metal room. No bookcase, obviously. No submarine. It was just a nightmare. Yes, of course it was. There was no way in the world that there was a secret society of Underworld submariners, sailing around the polluted depths of the planet’s waterways, salvaging alien technology and saving throw away people who didn’t fit in. Only her active imagination could have created something so fantastic. It had been so vivid though. Still, she remembered the fear, and the finality of it all. She could almost taste the stale, acidic water of the Thames, which she had swallowed as she drowned. In the dream. Relief wrapped around her, holding her tight, reassuring her. She had imagined it. The people she had met, the Anhinga, Lady, Sagan. All of it. Of course she had. Her parents wouldn’t throw her away. No one would do something like that. No one could be that awful. The dream must have been her subconscious trying to warn her that she had become careless. From now on, she would have to work harder to be normal, be more careful to hide the books she had been borrowing, the knowledge she had been growing. Perhaps she should just stop it with the books completely. She didn’t want to end up in one of those Reprog Centres her parents kept mentioning, in a threatening sort of way. That’s where they sent you to be put right. To blend you back in to Society. To make you productive. Subservient. Pliable. Dumb.
‘Vacants,’ Persephone whispered to herself under her breath, a chill hitting her body though the room was quite warm. Where did she get that term from?
‘Persephone! Time for school!’ someone called out suddenly, breaking her chain of thought before it could go any further.
It was her mother’s voice, calling from the direction of the little kitchen in their tiny sanc-dwelling. The sound travelling loudly through the small space. That was one of the benefits of being poorish, thought Persephone. The Government Politick provided housing for everyone. Small apartments, built on top of one another in large high rises. They were simple, but comfortable. Fabricated quickly, rolled out immediately after the war. Concrete towers with an Asilium core. Asilium, a super strength metal that was abundant and easy to manufacture, and was discovered shortly before the war ended. Essentially you could feed it directly out of a machine on site, mould it to any configuration required, and then when it cooled it would be as sturdy as steel, if not more so. Builders could then simply slather concrete directly over the construction and smooth it into shape. It meant that entire tower blocks could now be built in a few weeks rather than months. Something that proved to be very important when the war finally ended, and so many people were left with no place to go, forced to live in the remnants of cities past if they could find shelter at all. In truth, everyone suspected that Asilium was really an alien alloy, which would technically be illegal to use, but they were thankful for it. Sometimes you had to bend the rules, or ignore them completely in order to survive. For the good of the Society.
Throwing back the covers of her bed, she placed her bare feet on the floor. The carpet tiles felt warm but firm beneath her feet. Just as she remembered them. Standing up she stretched her arms towards the ceiling, and as if on auto pilot turned back to her bed, pulling the covers into place. Her bed made, she walked the short distance to her wardrobe, taking a moment to check the watch on her wrist as she went. The clock-face said 6:35am. Shaking her head, she smiled at herself, recalling her mother’s words. Yes, she had to get ready for school.
Absently, Persephone opened her wardrobe and shifting some hangers aside pulled out a light, summer dress. It was white, like most of her other clothing. Undyed, as were the clothes of the people of the city wore. Simple clothing that was easy to produce, and denoted their place in the system. Colours were expensive, and only available to the Excellencia. They simply could not afford such an extravagance. Her father was a clerk after all, and her mother only worked part-time at one of the local schools. Women were forbidden to work full-time once married, earning less than half of what men would have been paid for the same job, yet it was understood that they still needed to work. In order to keep up consumption, keep the economic wheels turning, keep Society stable. Occupied and placid.
Pulling on her clothes quickly, Persephone promised herself she would return the borrowed books she had hidden under her bed today, and then she would never go back to that sunken library. As much as she loved it, it was just too dangerous, and she knew it. Picking her school bag up off the floor, she headed out into the short hallway and headed towards the kitchen, where she found her parents. They both looked up and smiled at her as she entered and sat down at the table next to her father, while her mother was busy serving pancakes. This was her favourite breakfast. She loved watching her mum flip the small, battered discs in the air, to cook them on both sides.
‘How many ‘seph?’ asked her mother wandering over with the frying pan in her hand.
‘Two please mumma,’ she answered, smiling and wondering how she could be so lucky to have such great parents.
‘Where did you get the books under your bed?’ her father asked suddenly serious, looking at her over the top of the thin newspaper he had been previously engrossed in.
‘Huh?’ responded Persephone, feeling the heat instantly rising up her neck, reddening her face.
‘The books, sweetheart, I found them when I was cleaning your room,’ added her mother gently.
‘They’re not ….’
‘Did someone give them to you? Does anyone else know you have them?’ asked her father, calm anger turning his voice into a low growl.
‘No, no one, I just found them, I haven’t read them, I just liked them, so I brought them home,’ Persephone stuttered, the lie came easily.
As she stared at her parents, the horror inside her growing she wished fervently for something, anything to break this moment, to take away the awful sick feeling in her stomach, the bile rising in her throat. She thought she had been so careful. She had just promised herself she would stop. Now it was too late.
‘OK good,’ her mother sighed in relief, ‘not too much harm done then, your father will dispose of them on his way to work and we won’t speak of this again.’
‘Have you found any other books? Or is it just these ones?’ asked her father, not willing to let this go so quickly.
‘No, of course not, it’s just those,’ sobbed Persephone, the tears flowing quickly now. The guilt overwhelming her. She could have put her whole family in danger.
‘You haven’t been showing signs of … intelligence … in school have you?’ her father said with a grimace, the word intelligence rolling over his tongue like it had a fowl taste.
‘You know I’m not clever father,’ said Persephone quietly, composing herself, ‘if I was you would have gotten rid of me by now, sent me to one of the Reprog centres, or worse…’
‘Maybe you’re hiding it, like you hid those books…’ stated her father coldly, cutting her off.
Persephone could see his simple mind working, weighing up his options. Trying to decide how he should deal with his only child. Was it worth the risk, keeping her? The awkward silence hung in the air like poison gas. No one wanted to breathe. The noise of the city carried through the walls and windows. It was familiar, and almost comforting. Persephone’s mind latched on to it, holding it close, letting it be her focus while she waited for her parent’s to say something.
‘I’m sure she’s not Arthur, now leave it, we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves, her teachers haven’t noticed anything or said anything, and I’m sure Persephone is telling the truth,’ her mother smiled at her in a way that was almost painful.
‘Fine, fine … yes, you’re right Virginia, of course you are, Persephone wouldn’t do that to us,’ said her father pointedly, staring at his daughter as though he might find the holes in her story written across her forehead, ‘we’ll say n more about this to anyone, and do our best to forget it ever happened.’
‘Thank you for believing me,’ Persephone said quietly, wiping away her tears and looking down at the table. This really had gone too far. Her quest for knowledge ended now.
‘Of course darling,’ said her mother walking over and placing a plate of pancakes in front of her, ‘but you do understand you can’t bring things like that home, even if you think they look pretty, it’s too dangerous, we could lose everything … you understand don’t you?’
‘Yes mother,’ she answered, forcing herself to pour syrup on her pancakes. Though she no longer felt hungry, she knew she would have to try to eat them. Wasting food was a sin.
‘Now I’ve given the books to your father, and he will drop them off somewhere on his way to the office.’
‘I hope you are listening to your mother ‘seph, we don’t want to have this conversation again,’ said her father finally, putting an end to the reprimand.
Persephone pushed a fork-full of pancake into her mouth and silently wished the earth would open up beneath her, and swallow her whole. It was at that moment that the Universe decided to comply. Beneath her chair the linoleum split in two, accompanied by a huge cracking sound followed by an explosion. The room rocked to the side, tipping to an improbably angle as the world gave way beneath her. Contrary to what she expected her parents made no move to grab her and the last thing she could remember was their happy faces staring down at her as she fell through darkness, the floors beneath their apartment seemingly disappearing into the vastness of the abyss.
Persephone screamed in terror as she continued to fall, before finally landing on what appeared to be a soft mattress. Opening her eyes, instantly she knew where she was. She was back in her new room aboard the Anhinga. So that had been the dream, her old life flashing before her the way she had hoped it might have ended had her parents been different people. Yet instantly she knew something wasn’t right in this waking world either. Her room was on a slant, books and other objects littered the floor, and above her bed a red light flashed on and off accompanied by a wailing alarm. Getting out of bed, she stood helpless in the centre of the small rectangular space, she was too new to know what to do but she didn’t want to stand around waiting to discover what had happened either. Looking down she realised gratefully that she was still fully dressed, minus her boots, which she pulled on roughly.
‘Well at least that saved some time,’ she murmured to herself, before taking off into the corridor in search of anyone who might be able to tell her what the hell was going on.