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Just a Number
Natalia was going to run away. She hated this place, too dull, too blue for her to live, too blue for anyone, really. She didn’t understand how all those other Angels could live in The Halo, A city-society where everyone thought, behaved, and in result, acted the same; and still not know. Not know that their own government was corrupt. The citadel’s authority stopped interacting with the Angels a long time ago, leaving them with auto-pilot like robots called drones, who could only perform what they were programmed to do. The Engelics set curfews and daily sweeps for anarchists, and Natalia seemed to be the only one that felt trapped. She hadn’t had anything fresh in years, for nothing but Blue Fescue grass could withstand the chemical-based oxygen and grow inside the filters. She couldn’t remember what the sun looked like or the feel of its warming rays on her skin, for the thick mass of uncontrollable blue clouds, which always filled the sky, blocked her view. She hadn’t seen a television or, in fact, anything that communicated or connected with the outside world in ages, and had never, ever, heard of an Angel leaving the Halo.
Natalia could see the edge of the BroodHub from where she was sauntering. Once a long time ago, before she could remember, the Angels could live in separate houses, in privacy away from the Engelics. But when it turned to the 28th century, they weren’t to be trusted and had to move into the small, metal boxes stacked upon each other, with hovering `surveillance bots monitoring each room every hour. Natalia and all the other Angel tots lived in the center-most ring of the Halo, also known as the BroodHub. When they reached the age ten, they were transferred farther away from the center of the government, to where Natalia herself, lived. And they would stay there until they turned 30, when they moved to where the Adult Angels lived, where the apartments had a faint view of the filters- some 36 miles out, and were the farthest from their monotone civilization, some ten feet from the glow of the Blue Fescue grass. She remembered reading stories she had found in the waste compounds about the normal lives earthlings had lived, with family units called fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters. To her, they had seem like fairytales, too good to be true, but truly, they were real- just so far in the past. Why can’t we be like them? And they had real names given to them by their parental units at birth, but on the Halo, they were numbered. Numbered as they came into the world in the Halo, numbered by population- never counting from zero again, but only continuing from those who had passed into a better world. They had to name themselves if they wanted to feel human. Most of the Angels used names they had heard of from earthen fame, but Natalia switched her numbers into the letters of the alphabet, to be more unique. And 1412011291 directly translated to the sweet, buttery name, Natalia.
The government told them that they took the children away from their parental units so they could learn to fend for themselves like a lioness would do to her cubs. Natalia knew that was BS. She knew that when an Angel got too close with another, the Engelics separated them so they couldn’t bond with each other, so they couldn’t think twice about the governments’ twisted ways, so they wouldn’t even think about escaping. So they’d feel alone. But no one resisted. That was just the way it was. For a couple of years, she had thought that her government was corrupt. The fact that the ‘citizens’ weren’t allowed to leave the Halo, had stringent curfews, and didn’t have the sought out ‘families’ that Natalia longed for, only added to her suspicion. It was the reason she was leaving. It was the reason they should all be leaving. If they were harming the other Angels, there was nothing she could do about it but run. She couldn’t let them control her, for she was stubborn enough as it is, but it was pointless to fight them.
It was early, minutes before the break of dawn and the sky was a creamy cerulean blue, but still too light to be wandering the streets. Everyone was supposed to be in bed. Natalia felt like she was floating, for inside the Halo, there was no wind. There had been no records of sleet; rain or snow, and the monitors in her personal capsule had read 74 degrees for the eighteen years she had lived. The Halo was lifeless except for her small suit-covered feet making soft plodding noises as her heels connected with the porcelain matter of the road. She tottered exhaustedly down the boulevard, through the streets of identical apartment capsules. Her built body was being weighed down by the many imported aluminum foil packages of pre-cooked and powdered meal packs that were stuffed into her storm surge suit. The ebony black cover-up was made for tough nature, so it could withstand Natalia’s escape. It was made out of a living material, the tag had mentioned something about silkworms and micro-fibers before she had ripped it off, so the suit could move with her body, heat her up on command, and could stretch to fit her curvy body like a second skin.
Natalia walked hurriedly trying to reach the greenbelt or bluebelt rather that, before the sky grew too bright with hazy blueness. She would feel more reassured when she reached it, for she was safer from being caught in the field even though there was nothing to hide behind. No one ever looked out at the filters from their capsules, because no one ever thought of escaping. All the tot fieldtrips to the filters were at the beginning of the month, and she had strategically planned her escape well into February. Natalia had always looked forward to those filed trips, and she remembered them now as she stepped into the prickly strands of grass that crawled up her calves as she walked. She was knee deep in the blue, itchy blades that would lead her to her freedom.
By the time she reached the filters, the sky was a deep Prussian blue. It had a chilling effect on Natalia, even though the temperature was the same. She reached into her sleeve and pressed a small button to turn on her self-heater. A warming breeze immediately erupted from the nooks and crannies of the suit. She looked up. Three meters of flexible, aging-proof fabric that resembled red tent material, loomed before her. The filters. Natalia had learned about them in school, and how they filtered the air to sustain plant life to provide oxygen for the 35,000 people who lived in the Halo. They circled the circumference of the ovular greenbelt like a Halo, which is where the city got its’ name. How am I going to get over? Natalia thought. She rubbed her foot along the bottom edge of the wall looking for anything stable that may be sticking out. She placed her foot on a rock, and brought the other one up, beside her hip, and pushed upwards. She reached up and grabbed a partition in the filter to keep from sliding down. She struggled to find perches and at the same time struggled to stay up. She had to resort to pushing her body hard against the filters to hold herself. When she reached the top, she turned around and jumped, her fingers and toes trailing down the side as she went. She landed in the crouched position with her arms out to the side for balance with a soft thump!
Natalia couldn’t see a thing as she walked. It couldn’t be later than eight, but spring, as did all other seasons, lasted 40 years because of the distance from the sun. The air smelled moist, but the ground crunched dryly under her weight. She was tired. Tired from a day of walking and scaling slippery surfaces. She wanted to go to sleep. She stumbled along for thirty more minutes before making camp beside the river, the river that was the only physical feature of Neptune. It was the runoff of a hot spring; so the river was scalding hot and had a bubbling array of white tipped waves. Natalia turned off her heater, for the steam that rose from its swirling currents created enough heat as it was. She unfurled a sleeping bag that unfolded from a small pouch the size of her hand. She exhaled her warm breath into the small spigot to blow it up and she curled herself onto it and fell asleep as soon as she released the tension in her shoulders.
When she woke up, it was mid-day. In the Halo, you could never sleep in. You were forced out of bed if you didn’t get out by eight fifteen, by a timer drone who would pick you up like a child, with its uncomfortable metal limbs and drop you onto the ground. Sleeping in was a luxury she thought she’d never have. Ahh, Natalia thought, this feels so nice. She breathed in deeply and sighed, resting her head back on the memory foam mattress, with a subtle, content smile, made of her rouge lips. At least in the Halo they let you sleep on clouds, she thought, even if it was only for a little while.
She got out of bed and pulled one of the meal packs out of a pocket in her sleeping bag. The tin foil crinkled in her hand as she read what was for breakfast. IMITATION EGGS, BACON, BANANA CHIPS AND ORANGE JUICE. Here goes nothing, Natalia thought, though not very optimistically. She pulled a ceramic plate she had stolen from the food courts, out of the sleeping bag pocket and ripped open the aluminum package. Several clear bags of substances fell out. The bag of banana chips was obvious, but some of the other contents she wasn’t so sure about. She had NO idea until she read the label- that the parcel of yellow powder was the imitation eggs’ that turned scrambled when water was added to. Or that the pieces of reddish bark were strips of dried bacon. Natalia was lucky that she was next to the river, for all she had to do to make breakfast was add hot water to the eggs and bacon and they would be done, and purify and cool the water to make the orange juice, After she did that, she sat on the edge of the bed and dug in. Besides the fact that the orange juice tasted like a vitamin drink, the meal was fairly edible, and Natalia decided that maybe she could survive out there, She would have to run a few trips back to the Halo every so months to refill her food supply, but she would survive.
After she packed camp back into the mattress, flattened it and stuffed it in the back pocket of her suit, she continued to walk. Natalia noticed that Outside, as the tot teachers referred to it, was scarcely different from inside the filters. Other than the omission of blue grass and tall, boxy buildings, the two worlds weren’t dissimilar at all. The ground was darkly colored and the soil looked like ground up coffee beans. The mid-day light poured onto her face as she walked and made her look quite sickly, for the odd greenish glow that the clouds exerted didn’t blend well with the mocha freckles that dotted her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Natalia smoothed back her soft, ginger hair. The fiery strands erupted from her scalp, falling in tight pencil spun-like curls, even with her collarbones. Because of their weight, they bounced around her head as she strolled through what seemed like nothing. There were no trees. Nothing to hint her progress except for the changing shades of the blue sky.
Natalia had seen the sky change from a milky, glazed blue to a dark black, twenty one times, and didn’t have much hope of finding anything in the Outside. She had thought about everything she could to keep her from the outstretched hands of boredom, but she had been captured. She had counted the stars during the two times she had tried being nocturnal but had given up when the counting seceded seven digits. She had eaten some of each flavor of meal pack, and even deciphered her likes and dislikes of space food, but Natalia was starting to worry she had made the wrong choice to leave the Halo. But when she looked up from watching her feet scuffle against the ground, she saw something that changed her mind. In the distance was a small band of bright red the wrapped the entire length- of a city.
Her stomach filled with butterflies as she ran towards it, though there was nothing to be nervous about. Another Citadel! Natalia thought. She ran to the filters, her joy escalating by the second. She leapt onto the filters and scaled it twice as fast as before. She ran through a greenbelt, identical as her own, her mind preoccupied by thoughts racing through her head. She didn’t think to look up as she passed by short, boxy communes buildings. Who would’ve? She didn’t realize until she saw all the people staring at her as they transitioned from lunch back to work, the mistake she had made. She looked around at the familiar capsules, and the vacant-eyed and minded inhabitants, as a pair of uniformed Engelics appeared out of a metal door connected tunnel underneath the food courts. As they walked towards her, she realized.
She was in her Halo.
TO BE CONTINUED…