Authors: Brenda L. Harper
Was this part of the test? Did they want to see if she could find a natural source of water out here, on her own? What if she couldn’t? Or, what if she did, and it was still contaminated from the war that had ruined this sad landscape?
She looked at the empty bottle she still clutched in her hand, ran her tongue over the slender opening to soak up the few drops of moisture that still clung there.
She wasn’t sure she could do this.
Her lips were beginning to crack in the corners, her tongue felt as though it had suddenly become sandpaper instead of the muscle it once was. She licked her lips, but it did little to soothe the aching pain that had settled there. And her skin…there was nothing to describe the soreness that had settled
. It was hot to the touch, her face particularly. Her arms were an odd, red color that reminded her of the red paints in the arts and crafts room back at D dorm. She wanted to cry, but a part of her knew she should not waste even that little bit of moisture within her battered body.
Dylan carefully stowed the empty water bottle back in her bag, drawing on every ounce of self-control she had to keep from dragging out the other bottle for a single, long drink. She closed the top of the bag and sat it behind her, making a lumpy, but better than the dirty ground, pillow out of it. The cool breeze offered a limited amount of relief to her aching skin. She lay there, looking up at the stars, drawn out of her self-pity enough to enjoy the sight of those amazing dots of light without having to view them through the distorted concave of glass that was the dome over Genero.
Exhaustion quickly settled over her. As her eyes slipped closed, her aching skin became an issue once more. The pain seemed to overwhelm every inch of her body, every single thought that filled her mind. So she began to imagine what it would be like if the pain simply disappeared. It was a trick Davida had taught her once.
When you have a problem,
imagine what it would be like if the problem resolved itself. Perhaps you will find a way to fix it.
Dylan imagined that her skin was not that horrible, red color, that the pain had simply disappeared. She imagined herself the way she had been that morning as she dressed one last time in the silence of her dorm room, her skin the perfect glowing peach of a natural blonde. Slowly, the pain disappeared, and Dylan found herself drifting off into a dreamless sleep.
She wasn’t sure how long she had been asleep when the noise woke her. Minutes or hours, it didn’t really matter. All she knew was that something unnatural had sounded in the night near her.
Dylan sat up, reaching for the knife that still dangled precariously from her waist. She tugged at it, taking too long to pull it free. The noise came again, a huffing that vaguely reminded her of the noise Cook made when she moved a heavy box from one end of the kitchen to the other. As though something in the darkness was recovering from an act of great exertion. Or sniffing the ground for something…for Dylan herself, perhaps.
She closed her eyes as she moved into a crouch, allowing her ears to become the dominant sense in the absence of sight. The sound came again, to her left. She opened her eyes, straining to see what it might be, but all she could see were different degrees of darkness. When the noise came again, it was behind her. She stood and moved around the perimeter of her little raised platform, searching the ground below her for something…movement, maybe. But there was nothing.
“Go away!” she cried at the top of her lungs.
She knew it was probably not the smartest thing in the world to do. But she thought that if it were a wild animal, maybe the sound of her voice would frighten it. If it was a human, well, she figured there was no way she could protect herself. She was pretty sure it no longer mattered.
If she survived this test, it would not be because of her awesome survival skills.
Dylan spent most of the night in a crouch, listening intently to the night around her. She never again heard the odd huffing sound. There were a few other sounds: the skitter of something moving across the pebble-filled dirt, the tweet of a bird, the heavy footstep of some unseen creature. But nothing ever climbed up on her small platform of rock.
She regretted not sleeping. Although her skin no longer ached as it had before, her muscles were sore from walking the previous day, especially her calves. She walked around her little platform for a while before setting out her clothing, including the heavy piece she had taken off the day before, wrapped tight against her to protect her from the cool breezes of the morning.
She knew she could not spend the day here, as much as a part of her really wanted to. She had to find a source of water. She had denied herself the refreshment of the second bottle of water all night, but her willpower was quickly fading. She had to have more water.
Dylan carefully climbed down the edge of the flat platform and began to walk again. She pulled her compass out of her pocket and watched the dial spin until it settled in a single direction. It amused her to watch it move with her movements. She was not sure she was still going in the direction the short, round woman had told her to go, but she continued to walk in basically a straight line. It wasn’t like there was a lot in her path, just those short, green plants with their sinister thorns.
She heard noises behind her a few times, felt movement in the air around her as though something big and quick was rushing past her. But each time she stopped and looked around, she saw nothing. It was beginning to spook her, these things she did not understand.
Only a short time after she began to walk, the heat began to rise. She slipped off her outer clothing only to discover that the odd redness on her arms was gone. Must have been exertion, she told herself. Like Deena, one of the younger D dorm girls, whose cheeks always turned a bright red when she played outside. Or maybe she’d simply been so tired that she had imagined the pain and the odd color.
Or maybe she was just going crazy.
As Dylan walked, she found herself remembering things Davida had told her late at night. Dylan had trouble sleeping as a small child. She often had nightmares that caused her to scream out in the dark. Davida would come and cradle her in her arms, tell her stories that helped to calm her.
There was one story in particular that Davida told her often. Every girl of Genero learns about the founding sisters, Annie and Alicia. They survived the ravages of war to create the first dome, the first protection from the radiation that permeated the world left behind after their society was destroyed in the war. Others came to them, sought refuge from a world that no longer offered the resources required to support life. Together they built Genero.
Davida’s story was a little different.
Late at night, Davida would whisper in Dylan’s ear the true story of Annie and Alicia. Of how they were beaten and abused by those who would rage war. How they hid from the darkness, so determined were they to survive. Society could be rebuilt, they believed. If it was done right, if everyone followed the right rules, society could thrive and never have to face the darkness of war again. It was for this reason they built the dome, for this reason that they developed the council. Society is about the children, Davida told Dylan. If the children were loved and educated in the right ways, war would never have to be a reality again.
It took someone special to create a new society. Took someone special to create children who could be worthy of love, who could learn the things they needed to learn. In the former society, children were born at random. Davida explained that in the former society children came into the world in a different method than in Genero, that women produced women from their bodies, had them to fill their empty lives or to experience a role in life that others in society expected them to experience. Children were not brought forth out of love. Most children were ignored by those women who brought them into the world, treated as a nuisance instead of a life full of potential. The sisters knew this was something that had to change to avoid future wars.
Annie and Alicia found another way to bring children into the world. And they created a city where children were the most important element. Children were to be loved, to be raised in a community where everyone took responsibility for them. They were to be taught gently, encouraged to explore those subjects they enjoyed the most, and not forced to pursue things they found uninspiring. The skills they learned in childhood would be used in adulthood to benefit future generations of children.
These were Annie and Alicia’s intentions.
But, Davida told Dylan, somewhere things began to change. Children were born with odd features, with deformities that only worsened as they aged. Children were born with abilities that were not like others’. And when those children were identified, they were taken away. To maintain the purity of the children of Genero.
“This is why you must not let them see what you can do, Dylan,” Davida told her each time she whispered this story in her ear. “You must not let them see that you are different.”
“Am I different?” Dylan had asked.
“You are special,” Davida said as she ran her hand slowly over Dylan’s silky blonde hair. “You are my special little girl.”
So Dylan hid her gifts. And encouraged Donna to do the same.
She regretted now that she had not been able to stand up for Donna that day. Maybe if she had said something, if she had told Demetria that she, too, could do something different, they would not have taken Donna away. Or maybe she and Donna could have gone to the Administration building together, faced whatever tests they had for them together. Maybe then she and Donna would be together to face whatever came next.
She felt like she had let Davida down.
Dylan paused in her walking, her neck so damp that when she lifted her hair from her neck it was damp too. She stretched slightly, moving her spine this way and that to relieve some of the ache that had settled in her shoulders, her hips. As odd as they felt on her body after a lifetime of wearing shapeless coveralls, Dylan found herself appreciating her new clothing. The material absorbed the sweat and used it to keep her body cooler than it might have been otherwise. The coveralls would have acted as a heavy lump of wet cloth, a weight to add to her burden.
Again she felt the sudden breeze of someone, or something, moving past her quickly. Instead of searching for its source, she simply closed her eyes and whispered a quiet thanks. The breeze was refreshing. And, as though in response, the breeze moved over her again.
“What now?” she wondered aloud.
The landscape had not changed since she began walking that morning. The sun was now to her right. She thought she might have a few hours until it disappeared all together, but she was not sure about that. Not that it mattered. The problem was she had not found any water and she had another full day before she would be taken back to Genero. Her water was nearly gone.
She had to find water before the sun went down.
Her body hurt. Her legs did not want to move anymore. She was exhausted beyond words. And her tongue, despite conservative sips here and there of the water, was beginning to swell a little again.
She needed water.
When the breeze moved over her a third time, she found herself staring up into the sky. “I don’t suppose you could show me where there is a lake or something, could you?” she called out, not sure if she was talking to the phantom breeze or the soft, billowy clouds.
And then she laughed at herself, forcing her legs to move, one step after the next.
She was beginning to lose her grasp on reality.
She closed her eyes as she walked, her thoughts again moving to Davida. She wished that she was here, that she could tell her what to do next. Had Davida gone through this test? Did she find water? How?
Dylan began to hum under her breath, a song Davida sang to them sometimes. But her throat hurt, and the movement only made the pain more intense. She tripped over a rock and landed on her hands and knees. “Great,” she muttered as she inspected a dozen tiny scratches on her palms. One of her knees ached as well, but she did not want to stop long enough to pull up the legs of her broken coveralls to see how badly she had bruised them. Just another ache and pain to add to the others.
She climbed to her feet and began to walk again.
She passed a small cluster of those green plants. Some of the leaves were broken, lying discarded on the ground. She wondered what might have done that. The breaks were too clean for it to have been a large animal running past. She wondered if there was another human out here, another girl from Genero. She had seen footsteps several hours back, but told herself then that it was her imagination. She wondered now if another girl was doing this test, if she was doing it better than Dylan.
Dylan found herself rooting for that mystery girl.
One of us should survive.
As she passed the plants, she felt that breeze again. But this time, something hit her shoulder. Hard. Dylan spun around, but there was nothing there. Yet, it came again, that same tap on her shoulder, as though something was trying to turn her. To make her walk in a new direction.
Dylan turned around, moving in the opposite direction of the taps. It came again. When she turned in that direction, the breeze stopped. Dylan looked around herself, studying the empty air, the blue and white sky that hung heavy above her. She saw nothing. But she couldn’t dismiss that feeling that something, or someone, was trying to tell her something.
She walked for nearly an hour without anything happening. She had nearly convinced herself it was only her exhausted, water-deprived brain that had touched her, had moved her in a new direction. Then it happened again.
That breeze. A tap on her other shoulder.
, someone was telling her.
Dylan turned without hesitation. Did it really matter what direction she moved in? Her water would be gone by nightfall. She would not survive another day out in this heat.