Life On The Edge

Alessa struggled with the buttons on her pyjama top. The last one finally slipped through its hole.

“There you are. I thought you’d still be in the bathroom.” Her mom stood in the doorway, the light from the hall framing her outline. “Did you get a glass of water?”

Alessa lifted her head and looked at her mom. “Not yet. I was just going to get it.”

“You get into bed. I’ll get it for you.”

When her mom returned Alessa had the sheets pulled up to her chin; her long brown hair spread out across the pillow.

Iseul placed the glass on the small table next to her daughter’s bed. “There you go.” She looked over to the screen on the far wall. “Do you want me to put a story on for you?”

Alessa thought for a moment. “Who was that man we saw today?”

“Which man?” her mom asked as she sat down.

“The one who said he needed food.”

“Him? He was just hungry. Probably didn’t have a job.”

Alessa shifted under the covers. “Will he starve? I didn’t think anyone died now.”

Iseul gave a quiet laugh. She reached out and stroked the top of her daughter’s head. “I’m sure he’ll be fine, but people who aren’t residents don’t get all the same things we do. Remember that even with all the clever things we have not everyone lives forever.”

“Like when the news says people have been killed in accidents?”

“Yes, just like …”

Iseul’s words were cut off by a siren. The bedroom was thrown into bright relief as all the lights came on and wall screens started flashing. For a moment Iseul was frozen where she sat, then she snapped into action.

“Quick,” she told Alessa, “you remember the drills. Put on your dressing gown and sneakers.”

“But, what is it?” Alessa asked. A look of fear had spread across her face and she had pulled the covers tighter about her.

“There’s no time to explain. We have to put the suits on and leave?” Iseul pulled the covers back from her daughter as she spoke.

Alessa swung her legs out of the bed. “Can I take Crater Crawler?”

“Yes, but hurry.” Iseul was already passing Alessa her dressing gown and at the same time picking up the purple soft toy.

They rushed through the apartment, Alessa trailing behind her mother. When they reached the front door, Iseul popped open the small closet and retrieved the two helmets from the shelf at the back. Alessa was passed one and without thinking she slipped it over her head.

The thin film that flowed out from the neck of the helmet passed over her body, clinging to the contours of her robe. Alessa felt her feet rise up as each leg of the newly formed suit was completed. The process had taken seconds.

The front door was already open and as her mother took hold of Alessa’s hand.

“Come on, hon,” Iseul told her. “Pick up CC.”

Alessa grabbed her toy by one of its six arms.

They walked quickly with the others while arrows of red flashed on the walls urging them forward. All the time the siren echoed in their ears. Alessa did not know exactly where they were going. She remembered the drills, but not what happened next.

Rather than take the normal left turn towards the shopping concourse, Alessa followed her mom, and the press of people, down a winding corridor to the right. It began to narrow. The walls closed in and before long there was only enough room for Alessa at her mother’s side.

The woman in front of them stepped into a small square room and immediately passed through an opening on the opposite wall. The instant she did so it closed. At the same moment another door opened; the arrows pointing them to this new exit.

Part of the drill came back to Alessa as she followed after her mother. There were rows of seats in this room and they had to stay in them and be quiet until the siren stopped.

“You sit here,” Iseul told her, ushering her daughter into a seat against the wall.

Alessa let go of her mom’s hand and placed Crater Crawler on her knee as she fidgeted to get comfortable. On her left was a small circular window, but as in all the other drills there was nothing to see, just blackness. Other people continued to fill up the seats behind them. Alessa remembered she had not been to the toilet before they left and now she needed to go.

“It’s going to stop soon,” she told her toy. “When it does we can both go for a pee.” CC seemed happy with that.

At the back of the room the door closed. Something flashed by the window and Alessa realised they were moving. There was a jolt. Through the window Alessa would see a long wall stretching away from the room they sat in. She leaned closer to the glass and tried to look where they were heading. There was blackness and the white twinkling of stars.

“That’s space, mommy.” She turned away from the view. “We’re in space.”

Iseul gave Alessa’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “Yes. We had to leave, but we’re safe now.”

“Oh.” Alessa went back to looking out of the window. Then a thought occurred to her. “Do you think that man will be okay?”

“What man? Oh, that one. I’m sure he’s fine.”

Alessa’s large eyes were filled with worry as she turned back to her mom. “But you said he wouldn’t get all the stuff we get. What if he didn’t know what to do when the alarm sounded? He might not have had the drill.”

Iseul looked over her daughter’s head at the blackness of the space outside the escape pod. “I’m sure someone will have made sure he was alright.”

—————

16 October 2009
On Sunday a massive fire torn through a slum of Sao Paulo, Brazil destroying the homes of 300 people.

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