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25th November 2709
It’s been a long time since I’ve talked to you (if you can call our conversations talk) and I’m sorry but there’s been a lot going on. Hiding has been ever harder and we’ve barley been able to move for the past few days. Brandon put the shields up again so I couldn’t contact you, but you’d probably know that already. I hope you haven’t tried to contact me. If you’re too constant then they’ll figure it out that I’m talking to you and I don’t know how much they’d value my life THEN. My point is, be careful. PLEASE.
Jala has been kicking up a fuss again. We can’t get her through the tunnels… just like last year. We thought it wouldn’t be a problem this time round, but your Ferrets have been probing the force-fields too intensely. She really wants to go on Hajj but it’s just not looking possible. Have I explained Hajj to you yet? I don’t think so.
Hajj is this Pilgrimage (religious journey) that Muslims go on only once in their life. You’d be surprised how easy it is to still do Hajj under the circumstances; there’s hardly any noise because they’re either in silent prayer or too scared for their lives to make a noise. I think they’re so convinced to keep up their faith that they’ll do anything for it. I, myself, gave up on faith as soon as this whole new system started, but the intense religions haven’t stopped yet, and don’t look like they’re going to.
Anyway, Hajj is one of their five pillars so they feel that it’s important to keep it if they can. Jala wanted to go A.S.A.P. but she’s always been too young to walk the 6I7 tunnel in one go or, like in the past few years, it’s been so heavily monitored that absolutely NO-ONE is allowed through. Makkah must be a really quiet place now, what with no body throwing rocks at pillars to ward spirits off or people killing cattle as rituals (as they have no way no to send the meat around to poorer countries) ect.
They’ve had to change a lot of things about Hajj: they can’t circuit around the Kaaba anymore (that would start up the sensors you’ve all put up there, as it’s the few places we hadn’t managed to lock before the Close); they can’t stand out in the sun all day either, otherwise you’d detect the difference in heat from your radars; they can’t say anything out loud at all in their prayer and have to mime (that also limits preaching to strictly underground and even then it can’t be as loud as they want to be).
The mass of clothing and tools are in short supply and, in the years when Hajj WAS possible to practice, most of the people going just wore things that were plain in an attempt to keep their symbol of unity and equality as strong as possible. One of the few things they HAVE been able to keep is the ‘shaving their heads’ ritual, although it hardly shows up as a sacrifice anymore; everyone looks like that.
Nobody’s bothered with keeping their hair long, because there doesn’t seem to be any point. There used to be some hope of ‘afterward’ and ‘when this is finished/over’ but people have stopped saying that now – even the Jews (and they NEVER give up hoping, not after they’ve pulled through so much slavery and cruelty, some of the stuff that was even worse than this).
Everywhere you look, you see people secretly broken behind the shells. But to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me that we’re not getting out of here; what bothers me is that it took us 7 years to figure it out! We’re always going to be trapped underground, just below the surface, getting probed harder and harder each day by your Ferrets, your hunters. It’s a good thing that we’ve got more advanced blocking technology than you do or we’d be goners already.
Most Muslims, Jala included, believe that God has chosen them as the important ones. As do Jews, Hebrews, Catholics and every other seriously religious person you happen to meet. Apparently, it was a near on impossible task to keep the religious people from having silent feuds or becoming separated from the rest of us. Everyone who came to this underground system all had one thing in common, setting apart their many differences – survival.
We all survived the technology battle on the surface of the earth between you and us. I so hate it when I have to refer to us as separate when I know we aren’t, not really anyway. Not to me, and it shouldn’t be to anybody else, either. The world has wronged itself greatly.
Also, we all managed to filter our way through the rest of the crowds towards to fast closing gates towards the other side. Not everyone made it before the gates closed. Many were lost: Some friends, some teachers, some neighbours, but most were complete strangers to me. Still, that doesn’t take away the screaming.
Anyway, the leaders that got through before the Close (that’s the phrase we use; we find it more dignified than ‘before the explosion melted them to nothing’ and we’d rather not think about it) they decided that it was of “the up-most importance to keep the rest of humanity together”. We know there are other sectors out there – YOU know there are other sectors out there – but we still like to think of ourselves as the last pocket of people left under the surface (no, not ‘under the sun’ anymore; we felt the need to change it). We were all devising methods of keeping the peace, or so I’m told, as we’d seen examples in History of times when large formations of people started fighting each other in disagreement, and we didn’t like the look of what happened to them.
They eventually came to the conclusion of getting us all marked with tattoos. I can only guess at the people’s reaction (I was seven so I can’t really remember political aspects of life; I was more concerned with my hair, or rather the lack of it) but I know there was complete outrage. The world before the Experiment in Japan was split in half – one half oh-so pristinely traditional, and the other half tamed only for show (there was also a wide split between too fat and too skinny, or too rich and too poor, but I won’t go into that now). Unfortunately for the first half, the majority of the people who made it through the Close were the wild, and slightly unprincipled, people. So, obviously, the tattoos were in. Mine’s on my right shoulder. It’s of an eye inside a circle; it’s to remind us to check if we’re making stupid mistakes or not. It adds and extra degree of claustrophobia to our already cramped situation. I don’t like the way it feels like we’re constantly being watched by it… but if it’s necessary to keep us together, then I’ll put up with it. Everyone has one done at 14.
Now, even though there were petty and spiteful comments for at least a year afterwards, the tattoos kept us combined enough to stop us straying too far away from each other. This connection makes me think that this is what Muslims must feel when they realise how connected they are to God. Or even like a football fan feels when they were at a match. I’ve seen Caddy while she’s watching the copied versions of the games and, although she’s seen them all at least million times over, she still mimes exited roars whenever they ‘unexpectedly’ score.
She sits there just once every other week, listening to the commentary with our half-broken headphones, a faded red scarf and T-shirt on, a vacant smile set in, and sometimes, her mouth drops down just a little bit in that ‘tense’ moment before her team scores. But she doesn’t wrap herself in a cotton wool dream (only really little kids do that here) and she watches the ones her team looses in, as well.
Every since the Experiment, people have been asking themselves what it means to be human; what it means to be different from you, Fordon, and the rest of your kind. She’s settled on the fact that we make mistakes. You can’t be human if you don’t make mistakes. She holds onto that fact that, while she loves it when her team wins (won or whatever), they also have to loose. The way she sees it, you have to slip at least once before you reach the peak of the mountain. I agree with her, but to an extent; here, if you make a mistake, it’s accepted as long as it isn’t the WRONG mistake. Accidentally turning off the power switch to the main force shields IS the wrong mistake. But then, we’d all probably die before we had the chance to punish you.
I feel very left out sometimes. Jala has her faith, Caddy has her football – what do I have? Both my room-mates have strong (but not clashing) opinions and I have none. All three of us go to work in the food-banks (work meaning slavery, since we don’t get paid for jobs. Money no longer exists here.). All three of us come back to our room without a word, as we’re in a non sound-proof area at the moment. I hope we move soon.
We sometimes have typing conversations, but the keys are frustratingly slow for gossip. Instead, we dream. Not proper dreams; none of us believe them. They’re just stupid little fantasies that we make up off the top of our heads, but for some reason, they always seem really well thought through for just random thoughts. Mostly, they include chocolate and sugar (I was seven when I last tasted any) and us three going away. We talk about being able to sing and dance and shout again without having to worry about the people controlling us or the Strangers hearing us. Where we would go, I have no idea – just somewhere else.
Caddy once suggested the Arctic, seeing as no-one did much travelling there before the Close and it must be quite an ideal temperature due to the ice melting. Your people haven’t gone there yet, I don’t think. Have they? I’d hate it if we had to burst our small, insignificant bubble.
I think I’d enjoy travelling with Caddy and Jala because they’re so supportive. The pacing would be ideal for a holiday – that’s exactly what it would be like, a holiday. As soon as we were past the 8J9 tunnel and in the Arctic Circle, it’d be plain sailing. Of course, we’d wait there for a while until it was time for Hajj so Jala could finally go and, by then, we would have found a way to get to Mecca through a tunnel other than the 6I7. We think that tunnel will be called ‘FR33’. We’ll also find a secret plantation of coco trees and sugar cane; it’s not hard to guess what we’ll do with that… but those fantasies never last long. We’re all too scared of believing them too much.
Sometimes at night, when everyone else is asleep, I dream about what I would do if I had the choice to really leave. Travelling alone would be spiritually different to travelling with Caddy and Jala. Together, we would laugh every day, every hour and every minute. It would be so much easier to handle under the pressures of being constantly tracked by Ferrets. We would share equally what we found and gained without having to spread it too thinly. It would just be us three, supporting each other when things got bad. It was so desirably tempting; I’ve had to stop myself from dreaming about it now.
Despite the obvious attraction of leaving with Caddy and Jala, I think I would prefer to go on my own. I wouldn’t have to worry about saving two more people’s necks for a start, and what I gained I wouldn’t need to rip evenly into three or weigh it up fairly – it would just be mine, no question. I wouldn’t HAVE to go to the Arctic; I wouldn’t HAVE to find FR33 tunnel; I wouldn’t HAVE to do anything. For all the gains of our society, over the past millennia or more, the one thing we still don’t have is complete freedom. And that is the one thing I long for.
If I travelled by myself, I would have the space that every teenager needed and wanted; if I travelled with Caddy and Jala, yes, I would have support, but who needs support when I can stand perfectly well on my own two feet? I have long since forgotten the sun, but I still often dream of the moon, of the cold.
Our world is blisteringly hot, as you know, and when you handed me that cool, silver receiver through the bars of the vent, I clung to it tightly. When the cold faded, consumed by my skin, I then consumed your face beside the moon into my memory. The cold of it never fades, and neither does the image.
I sometimes wonder: what if I hadn’t climbed up there, to the top of the chute, to catch one little glimpse of the world I’d forgotten? What if, by chance, someone else had gone up instead, would I still be thinking these thoughts? Would you have given the receiver to someone else? Would I still be able to survive in my own head? That’s the reason why everyone has something to hold onto here: Jala and her faith, Caddy and her football.
I remember you telling me through the receiver, the first time you ever talked to me, that you’d come to this place because it was near Bethlehem, the place where Christ was born. I was so shocked that we’d walked that far from the UK and also that the Strangers were even interested in our religions. You told me that you weren’t strangers at all; you were just a different kind of people. How was that so strange? You also told me that different people can still believe in the same things. And, for a while, we did believe in the same things; but I stopped when Brandon first put the new shields up. A real God wouldn’t deprive you of the one thing that keeps you sane, right? I’m now resorting to writing you letters leaving them at the top of the vent in some small hope you’ll find them. I hope this doesn’t endanger anyone else’s survival. I’d never forgive myself if it did.
In a way, I wish I could go on a pilgrimage like Jala, but there wouldn’t be much point – if you don’t have a God to believe in to make sacrifices for then the aim of the whole journey is lost. I haven’t really talked much with Jala about Hajj, all she really said is that you go to make your faith in God (or, in her case, Allah as well) even stronger than it was before.
I now wonder, if I could go up to the surface and visit the place of Jesus’ birth, it might make me start to believe again. Like God has left some kind of trigger in your mind and, when you visit a certain place, the trigger gets pulled and suddenly you believe again. It’ll probably never happen – the trigger or me going up to the surface.
Although, I might try comparing the cave maps with the surface maps, that way I can pin-point the places I’d normally go if I WERE free to roam the surface. If I go to the exact place of Jesus’ birth, just the odd mile deeper, would that work? If God’s power can run so deep inside people’s hearts, then surely they can run this far under-ground.
I realise (loosely) what I want now, I want something to hold onto; I WANT something to believe in. It feels like everything has deserted me – my father in the Close, my mother I lost a year ago to aids, my younger and unnamed sister that went about 7 years ago, and my best friend 8 months ago to cholera. Disease spreads fast in these humid conditions and I find it hard to think of Caddy and Jala as proper best friends when I can’t even talk to them normally anymore.
I look at those who have faith in these times with envy. They know that, even if God doesn’t save them, he will save SOMEONE. They believe in this so strongly, even when they’re forced to make do with their half-broken traditions and their un-kept promises, they still believe. I wish I could place my soul in the hands of another knowing not what they’ll do with me, but knowing that, whatever happens, the outcome will be as it should.
I place not only MY life, but EVERYONE’S life, in your hands, Fordon – a Stranger, an enemy, a so called ‘freak’ – and all without their knowledge. By even noticing you, I have put myself in the gravest danger. But I trust you. And I realise that talking to me is just as dangerous for you, and yet you trust me, too. We both long for peace – I remember you telling me – but we both can do nothing about this world we live in. We are both powerless to another’s desires.
If they were still re-making dictionaries, they’d probably have to change the definition of ‘FREEDOM’ from ‘to be FREE’ to ‘see CAPTIVE’. Sometimes, the world becomes an empty place, but then the next second, it becomes an unbearably cramped one.
I hope we manage to take control of tunnel 6I7 again. Jala should be able to go on Hajj. I think she deserves it for her unwavering faith and strength.
I hope we manage to piece together the football team for Caddy. Only 5 of her team players are left after the Close and the copied matches must be getting repetitive.
I hope our people make a truce together, Fordon, so we can live together in one community and not try to wipe each other out at every chance we get. We started badly; it doesn’t have to end that way.
And, probably most of all, I hope I get to see you again. Because, although the memory of you that one night, through the bars, is as solid as granite in my mind and will never wear away; seeing a picture of a truly special place always falls second to actually being there, right in the middle of it, breathing in the scents of the air around you.
We can hope together,