"Mama, why are there no stars?"
A toddler looks up from playing with toy bricks to stare at her older sister. "Don't be silly," she says, only just old enough to talk. "We're in a tunnel. You can't see stars." Her mother frowns and tells her to be quiet, for she has not been asked to speak.
"Elena, don't ask such questions," she adds, looking back at the older girl. Well, hardly older, really, just six years old. She is too young for such thoughts. "You know there are no stars any more. It's all just a story."
The girl is not satisfied with this answer. She looks back at the floor and pretends she is happy with her toys, which she is not. They make no noise when she squeezes them and they do not react when she throws them down - she wants friends, she realises, people who are not silent.
But this is a silent world now.
"So what about music?" she asks, brushing golden hair from her eyes.
"I've told you not to ask questions like that!" said her mother, pulling her to her feet with a firm hand. "Come on, Elena, it's time for bed. Yes, you too, Mara. I won't have the two of you sitting here and getting delusions of grandeur. Folk like us can't ask questions, you know that. So stop it."
"Mara wasn't doing anything," said Elena, looking at the three-year-old. "She doesn't know anything yet."
"That's as maybe, but you do. Now go to bed, or I'll tell your father about this." Elena was frightened of her father. He was a scientist, and even when he was home he did not think to spend time with his little daughters. He spoke to them only when they need reproving; turned to them only when all other avenues are closed. For this reason her mother used it as a threat - he was ideal to punish them, for he would feel nothing.
Today, however, Elena was feeling brave. "Would you ask him for me? About the stars and the music? Perhaps he would be able to give me some answers."
"You are too fearless, Elena. Go to bed."
Contrary to appearances, her mother was not angry. She was just worried. Everybody knew around there that nobody was supposed to ask questions about their living - it just wasn't the done thing, and although there were history textbooks that would supposedly tell you the truth, nobody but the higher classes could get their hands on them. They probably didn't need it anyway. They were probably allowed to ask questions.
"She worries me," she said to her husband that night. "Always asking me. Today she wanted to know about the music. Music! It's nothing but a story!"
"It's more than a story," said the scientist, lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. An inquisitive daughter could be a problem, but she could be an asset too. It no doubt meant that she was very intelligent. Perhaps she could be taught, and he could make her his apprentice? "But it's not something she should be asking. Remind me, how old is she?"
"Six," sighed his wife. "It's not natural."
"It's the silence that isn't natural," he replied. "All these people that don't ask questions. The one person that speaks out is the natural one. It is everyone else that frightens me..."