The third chapter...
|“Mabel,” said Skylie, yawning. “Mabel, get up.”|
Her little sister turned over in their bed. They lived in a three-room apartment. There was the common living area, a bedroom, and the bathroom. Their mother slept on the couch in the living area, and the bedroom had just enough room to fit Mabel and Skylie’s bed, a dresser, and a desk overflowing with papers.
“Mabel, it’s almost 0630, I can’t be late again,” Skylie said, more impatiently this time, and shook her sisters’ shoulder.
Mabel was four, and she needed to learn to be more independent. After all, she would enter class school next year.
Mabel let out a little snore.
“Mabel, if you don’t get up this instant, no breakfast for you.”
That got her up in a hurry. Mabel sat up, her curls in a frizzy mess all over her face.
“None,” Skylie said solemnly.
Mabel sighed and crawled off the bed, her pudgy legs waddling toward the bathroom. Skylie hurried to the stove and set the porridge on heat. She poured a cup of juice for Mabel and water for herself. Juice was scarce. Skylie ran a comb through her hair, not much caring how it looked. A few minutes later, Skylie scraped porridge into two cracked bowls, and Mabel came out of the bathroom, looking proud.
“I dressed myself, Skylie.”
Skylie sighed. She had put her clothing on inside out. Mabel saw Skylie’s impatience, and her bottom lip began to tremble.
“No, it’s alright, Mabel,” Skylie said quickly. “You did a good job.”
Mabel beamed, and let Skylie help her put her uniform on correctly. Then Skylie put Mabel on her stool, and she began eating greedily. Skylie gulped her porridge down, and put the bowl in the rusty sink. Everything in their apartment was falling apart—the pipes, the paint was peeling, the floors cracking—but no one had the energy to do anything. Her mother worked so long in the greenhouse, and ever since their father had died—
No, don’t think about it, she told herself sternly.
She busied herself with cleaning up the breakfast table and getting both their bags. “Time to go, Mabel.”
She grabbed her sisters’ hand and they left their apartment, down four flights of echoing staircase and out the entranceway into the corridor. She wasn’t going to be late today.
Everything seemed to go well that day. Skylie got a perfect on her vocabulary test, she understood everything in algebra, and they even had fruit with their lunch today—a treat. But Ms. Reynolds was asking Skylie to stay behind, so she could talk to her. Skylie stood, puzzled, in front of Ms. Reynold’s desk.
“Skylie, are you going to the Formal next week?” Ms. Reynolds asked.
Skylie felt even more nonplussed than ever. Why did it matter, anyways, the Formal?
“No, Ms. Reynolds,” Skylie said slowly.
“I—I probably have to watch my little sister.”
“Ms. Reynolds frowned. “Skylie, you should really be more involved in school. Relax. Try to have fun. All the upper class students are going to attend the End of the Year Formal. I insist that you consider attending.”
“I don’t know, Ms. Reynolds…”
“Is it because you don’t have a date?”
“No,” Skylie said, feeling slightly embarrassed now.
“Ms. Reynolds, I think I really need to baby sit my sister.”
Ms. Reynolds sighed. “Alright, Skylie. Just think about what I said.”
In the cafeteria, Cole stood with Tyler and the other guys in line. The cafeteria was dark and dimly lit, like all the other buildings in Diana. As always, he could hear the faint music underneath the loud chatter from all the students. Cole glanced at the line, which curved around the back of the large room, and then back at Tyler.
“…the alien picked up the last astronaut and hurled him off the meteorite,” Tyler said, waving his arms in the air in an imitation of the alien from the latest Fiend from Outer Space movie.
“Sounds fascinating,” said a voice behind them, and Tyler jumped.
“Hi, Cordelia,” he said with a sheepish smile on his face, as the other guys around him guffawed. Corelia’s normal entourage tittered.
“Did you read the news this morning?” squealed Angelina.
“You read the news?” Tyler said, a faint expression of surprise on his face.
“But we’ve all heard about it,” Cordelia answered. “The explosion on Meteorite XR-17.”
Cole frowned. Now that he thought about it, he could remember his father mentioning something about that during breakfast.
“It killed three miners,” Angelina announced importantly.
Cordelia threw Angelina a little look that silenced her immediately. “It killed three miners,” Cordelia repeated, smiling smugly. “But that’s not the interesting part. Did you know—” she lowered her voice, so that everyone leaned in a bit closer to hear, “It said in the news there was a similar explosion four years ago in the same meteorite belt. But that time only one miner died: Aaron Sander - Skylie Sander’s dad.”
Vanessa gasped a shrill little gasp, and Cole felt a sudden pang of pity for Skylie. Cordelia motioned towards Skylie, who was standing a bit ahead in line, tugging on her too-short uniform.
“Her dad was going to be promoted, too,” Cordelia said with a little snigger in his voice. “Maybe if he didn’t get himself blown up, she would be able to afford a uniform that fits her.”
Everyone else laughed uneasily, but Cole did not.
Cordelia noticed. “What, Cole?” she said with a little impish grin. “Do you feel sorry for poor wittle Skylie Sanders?”
“I guess,” Cole muttered to the ground.
He didn’t like the fact that Cordelia was making fun of Skylie, but wasn’t brave enough to actually say anything about it. There was another uneasy ripple of laughter, and Cordelia abruptly switched the topic to the upcoming formal, which of course brought on a fresh wave of talk, laughter and gossip.
Skylie stared at the ceiling. Or however much she could see of it in the absolute darkness. She shifted uncomfortably and bumped into Mabel, who let out a little grunt and settled against Skylie’s side, her warm body curled in a ball under the thin blanket.
It was always colder at night. Lights out on the Second Level meant lights out, and it was completely dark albeit the very rare safety lights in the deserted corridor. From overheard conversations in her classroom, she had deduced Fourth Levels didn’t have such stringent lights out; apparently they still had access to light even after all the lights were supposed to be out in the city.
A dark discontent welled in Skylie’s stomach, and she rolled out of bed, landed on her knees and began to crawl with one hand outstretched until she hit the wall. Then she slowly crept upward, her free hand searching the wall in the absolute darkness for the light switch. After a minute of searching, her fingers fumbled onto it, and flicked the switch.
Skylie sighed and sat back down, her back sliding against the wall. She didn’t even know why she had bothered. She brought her knees close to her chest and rocked silently, tears flowing down her cheeks. For some reason she was forcibly reminded of her father.
He had always been outspoken against the different Level Strata. As a prominent Third Level citizen with the potential to go Fourth, his words had carried a lot of weight among the disgruntled folk who couldn’t understand why the Fourth Level families should have such greater privileges.
He had been one of the best explorers, according to Skylie’s mother. One of the best. So naturally, when the next mission rolled around, her father was heading it.
But he had never returned.
From the bed Mabel started to squirm and cry in her sleep, and Skylie started to crawl back to the bed, wiping her face as she went. Mabel had been suffering from nightmares for the past couple weeks, and Skylie would hate it if she woke her mother up. She pulled herself back into bed and pulled her little sister close to her chest and rocked her until she stopped whimpering and fell back asleep, her snuffly breathing strangely comforting against her neck.