GENRE: Science fiction
Mama never ate a Citizen child. No cheat in her group ever killed and ate kids, and nobody in Ranger’s group did, either. I have never known a cheat who did, so I think it’s a story Citizens tell each other to make what they do to us seem necessary. We did eat cats and dogs, and some Citizens think that’s just as bad as eating their children.
I’m sitting at a wooden table next to a fish’n’chips place by the water, in a city far from Oregon, writing this in a notebook I took from a bench in a coffee shop. I don‘t know what year this, I don’t ask anymore. But I’m sure it‘s at least a generation before the gamma trick. The day is so bright, the water out there brilliant blue, with little sailboats, and a gigantic boat, a ferry, crossing by. Until now, I’d never seen the ocean. It smells so wild, full of life unseen. In a hundred years, even before I’m born, the green islands out in the Sound and the place where I‘m sitting now will be under water. The ocean will cover the fish’n’chips stands and all their wonderful smells, the streets behind me, now busy with the cars of people who think things will always be like they are now, and lap at the hills, drowning the trees. I came to understand this, but it won’t help me. Or anybody. It will happen.
Maybe nobody will ever read this or believe it if they do, but I have to give the truth, for Mama and all the rest of us, because I don’t think I’ll be allowed to stay here much longer. Dr. Charlotte will be yanking me back. She still owns part of me
The first time she sent me, I landed in the right park, but came in too high. The fall knocked the breath out of me but didn’t break anything. Nothing in my kit was breakable. I scrambled to a tree and sat against it, hoping nobody had seen me fall.
I was instructed not to talk to anyone in this time, but I did. On the first day of the first trip. A plastic disk sailed toward where I was sitting under the tree and a boy chased after it, a boy with brown speckles on his face and shoulders and arms, pale legs below striped shorts.
He stopped and stared at me, and I knew he was a Citizen. Cheats don’t do that. He talked to me. Said, “Hi.”
I raised my eyes and looked at his face. For what seemed like too long, we looked at each other. He was bigger than me, almost a man, but Citizens are always a little scared because cheats are dangerous. This one just looked like he wanted something from me.
A woman yelled, “Hey, you kids better come finish these sandwiches.”
The boy jerked, like he’d been startled while poking at a snake. So he was scared of me. I don’t remember if he said anything before he walked away. But I saw him stop for a second or two before he went on.
I sat in the shade with the kit on my lap and waited for dusk. There was a strange sound high in the air, the sound of a machine. Through the branches of the tree above me, I saw a little airplane. A hundred years from now, aircraft are almost silent. You have to be alert or they’ll sneak up on you.
I should have hidden myself, to avoid more contact, but I didn’t. The boy came back.
“Brought you a sandwich.” He squatted on his haunches in front of me and held out something wrapped in clear plastic. Doctor had instructed me to talk to no one, to eat nothing until I had finished my task. I was not allowed to take food. But I did. I held out a hand and let the boy put the sandwich in it. He looked satisfied.
“My name’s Casey,” he said, watching me hold the plastic-wrapped food on my kit. He said, “What’s your name?”
I gave it to him, disobeying again. “Lil.”
“Hi, Lil,” he said. “Where you from?”
A strange look came over his speckled face. “I know,” he said, and seemed to be waiting for me to give him more. He said, “I saw you pop out of the air, right about there.” He pointed up at the branches.
He would tell the Citizen Protection Patrol. But what could he tell that anybody would believe?
“Casey,” a man yelled, “time to go!”
“I have to go,” the boy said, standing up. “You wanna come with us?”
I didn’t understand what he wanted. I would be killed in this time because I didn’t know what Citizens meant when they said ordinary words.
The boy went away with his group. I stuck the sandwich in my kit and waited, sitting against the tree on the bristly grass, waited until shadows spread and melted together, and trees, bushes, firepits, and tables were black shapes over the grass. Other people, too, way over there, talking. I got up and walked down to the river and waited there, turning my back on the wide, pewter flow of water, watching the road. The sky was purple, faint stars showing.
In the dusk, twin lights appeared, and the red car. Standing in deep shadows, I watched it come to a stop. Watched a blond woman get out of the car and go around and bring out three little blond kids. The children were very quiet as their mother, talking fast and breathy, took the tiny boy and the older girl by the hand and led them toward the water, the air full of her voice. My scalp prickled when the older girl looked at me. Charlotte.