An hour after Warrior Team practice ended, on Tuesday afternoon, members of the HS L-1378-55 Warrior Team and the Cheerleading Squad, had gathered at the Glad He Ate Her Lounge, a teen hangout, three blocks from H.S. L-1378-55. The floor was half a level below the street entrance, which was reached by steps going up from the floor, to a landing just inside the entrance.
Here under the bright fluorescent lights many students were seated at tables, or in booths along the sides. Others stood in line, to get carbonated blood drinks from a bank of vending machines in the rear. Some of their classmates crowded around the video games. High on the wall above the vending machines, a giant screen TV was turned on.
Alyce Vanderland and Jimmy Haskins were seated in a booth, across the table from each other. Sarah Denski and Larry Landis sat with them. Each one had a plastic bottle of carbonated blood drink in front of him or her.
Jimmy spoke. "Avery had me come to his office today. He wanted to know if I did anything to tamper with the noose, that I hanged Karen Bennet with; and if that's why she came back."
"The noose wasn't tampered with!" Alyce said emphatically. "He's pulling the same thing with you, that he did with Karen and with Dave Krendell; but he's wrong. Just look at the photo in yesterday's Student Newsletter. You'll see it was a good hanging. Nobody did anything wrong."
Jimmy said, "What he told me was that if I did do 'anything wrong', I should keep my mouth shut about it; or I'll lose my extra rations."
Alyce said, "That means that any of us can lose them, if we don't keep our mouths shut"
Now Jimmy said, "Hey it's Avery."
The others at the table looked around.
Larry asked, "What's he doing here?"
"Not here. There." Jimmy pointed. "On the TV."
Everyone in the Glad He Ate Her turned and looked at the giant screen above the vending machines. The Principal was on screen, speaking with a TV News reporter.
The music was turned all the way down.
Avery was saying, "...know how anybody could believe such a ridiculous rumor. The girl we hanged didn't die. We were using a very old rope, that was badly frayed, and it jammed. The wrong photograph was printed in the Student Newsletter. They mistakenly reprinted the photo of a girl who was hanged two years ago.
"And since the girl who we actually hanged didn't die, she did not come back to life. She received proper medical treatment at our infirmary. That's why her neck went back to its normal shape.
"Then yesterday morning, she was killed in a gym class punch fight. There was nothing mysterious. There's really no story here."
Jimmy said, "That's what everyone's supposed to say. It'll be easier to explain what can't be explained in a scientific way, if everyone just pretends it didn't happen."
Larry asked, "Does anyone have an unscientific explanation?"
Alyce said, "If anyone does, it ought to be Karen; and maybe Dave Krendell too."
Jimmy said, "And speak of the Devil-Man himself."
Dave stood on the landing, just inside the entrance. Louise stood beside him. They came down the steps, and made their way through the crowd, to the booth, where Jimmy and the other three were seated.
"Hey Haskins!" Dave said "What the hell were you and Landis here doing, ganging up on me during practice like that?"
"Just part of the training Krendell." Jimmy told him, "If you can't take it, you don't belong on the Team."
"What do you mean 'if I can't take it'? That wasn't part of the training. You were both trying to beat me into doing something that can get me permanently expelled."
Larry said, "Could you not talk about that so loud?"
"I'll keep quiet, if you don't try it again. If I get expelled, there'll never be any extra rations for me, or my family, and I'll never be able to get a good job, after I graduate. Those are the things that matter to me."
Jimmy shrugged. "Same with us. Welcome to the Team Krendell."
Then he and Larry shook hands with Dave.
Sarah asked, "So how's your head Louise?"
"Same as your jaw."
"So you gonna be keeping away from Larry now, Louise?"
"No problem Sarah. Last year it was a mistake, that I'm not gonna repeat."
"Then welcome to the Team girl."
She and Louise shook hands.
Alyce said, "Now here comes the Devil-Woman. Do we shake hands with her?"
Karen stood on the landing, just inside the doorway. Then she came down the steps, went through the crowd, and came over to the booth, where she stood on Dave's left. Louise stood to his right.
She asked, "What do you mean 'Devil-Woman'? Am I still welcome among the living?"
Alyce spoke. "Tell me something Karen. I'm curious. I've got as good a chance, as every other girl on the squad, to be the cheerleader who gets hanged the next time we lose a game, and I'd like to know. What'll it be like when I die?"
Everyone around the table, and beside the booth, stared at Karen.
She said, "Dying wasn't as bad as it looks..."
Sarah said, "Wait a minute Karen. I work on the Student Newsletter, and I'd like to take this down."
She reached beneath the table, into the handbag at her feet, and took out her edu-computer. She put it on the table in front of her, and switched it on.
Then she said, "Go ahead Karen."
Karen began again, "Dying wasn't as bad as it looks."
Sarah began typing.
Karen went on. "Once I stopped squirming around, and gave myself to it, it was very comforting. Then once it was over, being dead was an eternity of totally comfortable contentment."
Alyce said, "That's good to know."
Now Sarah asked, "Do you have any idea why you returned?"
Karen told them all, "All I know, is that while I was being hanged, Dave prayed for me. He said that he loves me and God brought me back. Then yesterday Louise killed me, and He brought me back again."
Louise sighed. Dave looked very uneasy.
Karen went on. "Just before I revived this second time, I heard Him say, 'Karen arise and choose life, so that you and your children will live, and possess the land, which the Lord your God has given you.'"
Everyone seated at the table looked startled. Louise looked angry.
She spoke sharply. "Children? Aren't there too many of us to feed already? We have to kill each other constantly, just to prevent famine, and God wants her to add more? And what's this business about 'land'?"
Now Alyce said, "I think I know what's going on. God brought Karen back to Dave, so that he can be the father of those children."
Karen, Dave and Louise were horrified.
Karen said, "Please don't say that!"
Dave said, "Children? Alyce. Karen and I are only 17. We're much too young to even think about marriage, let alone children. Besides, everyone's forbidden by law, to get married or have children, before they're 21."
Alyce said, "That's what I was talking about Dave. After you're both 21."
"Then let's keep it that way." Karen said, "If both of us manage to live until we're 21, we'll discuss it then. Not before."
Louise said, "Right. Not before."
"Okay." Sarah spoke, "Let's get on to something else. Karen. Could you tell us what your final conscious thoughts were, while you were being hanged?"
Karen thought it over. "My final thought...was...'I'm having an orgasm'."
Everyone around the table howled with laughter.
"Forget it!" Sarah chuckled. "There's no way, we're gonna be allowed to print that! Avery'd have a fit."
Larry said, "Well they wouldn't allow you to print any of it anyway."
"Yes they will," Sarah told him, "if we call it speculative fiction. I'll say, 'If it did happen, here's how.'"
Dave now noticed that Louise was no longer beside him. She was climbing the steps. Then she went out the door. He moved away from the table, and followed her up the steps, through the doorway, and into the corridor street outside.
He found Louise standing beside the doorway, a few steps to his right, keeping herself back from the surging crowd. Dave went over to her. She had tears in her eyes.
She told him, "Go back to Karen Dave. I'm not gonna risk having God strike me with leprosy, or turn me into a pillar of salt, for getting in your way."
"Don't say that Louise." He told her, "Alyce was only guessing. We're all just only guessing; but there's one thing I know for sure. I'd rather be with you than with Karen."
"Thank you Dave, but if she's gonna be your future..."
"I have no idea what's gonna happen in the future. Karen may have received a special message from God, but I haven't. He did not say who the father of her future children would be. Like I said, Alyce was just guessing, but no guy has been identified yet."
Louise asked, "Just how much does Karen mean to you Dave?"
"Not as much as you do Louise. I know she would never fight over any guy, but you fought over me. You did kill her in a fight over me, and you did come to claim me as your reward. I know Karen wouldn't have done either of those things; so it means a lot to me. You mean a lot more to me than she ever did, or ever will."
Louise said, "Then I really wasn't wasting my time. Those gold stars haven't lost their sparkle."
"All I know about the future," he said, "is that we might both be dead after our the next Combat Game; so I'd like to make the most of the time we've got, with the woman who means more to me, than anyone else."
"Why thank you Dave. What a wonderful thing to say."
They went into each other's arms, and kissed warmly again.
Once they released each other, they saw Karen standing beside them.
She said, "Dave. We have to talk."
Louise told her, "I thought you just said you'd wait 'til you're 21."
"That's not what this is about." Karen told them both, "It's more important that this little squabble we're having. I haven't told this to anyone else yet. Something of very great significance is happening here."
"What is it Karen?" Dave asked, "Do you know something for a fact, or are you just guessing like the rest of us?"
"This isn't a guess about the future." She told them, "I saw something yesterday, right after I revived.
"I woke up in the meat packing plant, where I was about to be dumped into a gigantic meat grinder. Well I just jumped up and ran, and the guards started shooting at me. I managed to get to a fire exit. I ran through the doorway, and down the steps. One of the guards followed me, and hit me with a laser blast. It was a weak blast. He thought he'd killed me, so he went back inside, but I was only stunned.
"The thing is, that when he fired, he also shot out a part of the wall, that was actually a painted over window.
"Then I got up and looked through the window, and I saw the world outside the City of Manhattan Building."
Louise said, "You saw the world outside?"
"Yes. The world outside is beautiful. Things are living out there. I saw trees that were green and growing. I even saw a flock of birds flying. Just like you see in old movies."
Dave said, "You saw birds flying?"
Karen nodded, "Living things exist outside. The air is not polluted. That means that we can exist outside, and raise non-human food, like our ancestors did. That means that the kill quota can be decreased, or even eliminated entirely; and we won't need rationing anymore."
"Non-human food?" Louise said, "Eliminate the kill quota? No more rationing?"
Dave said, "The world outside the City is supposed to be so badly polluted, that any exposure to it would cause immediate death. That's why the City Buildings were constructed in the first place. They were meant to be places of refuge for the entire Earth. Once they were completed, everyone on Earth entered the City Buildings. Then the pollution was sealed out, and everyone on Earth was sealed in, and this is where we've been living since then."
Karen said, "The City Buildings were constructed during an environmental crisis, 1,300 years ago, but has anyone taken a look outside lately?"
"Take a look outside the City Building?" Louise wondered, "Is it possible?"
"If it is," Karen said, "I'd like to see for myself. There's no Combat Game this Saturday, and that's when I'd like us to go and take a look."
Louise said "Us? If you mean just you and Dave..."
"No! I meant you too Louise, and a few others; like Alyce, and Jimmy and Larry and Sarah. Is that okay?"
"Sounds good to me." Dave asked, "What do you say Louise?"
"This Saturday," Louise said, "I have to take the College Entrance Exam, so I can't go with you; but as long as you've got Alyce along, to keep an eye on both of you, it'll be okay with me.
"There's just one thing." She added, "Is it really possible to go outside? All I've ever heard is that we're sealed in. Is there any way at all, to reach the outside?"
Dave told her, "I'm wondering that myself. I've seen maps of the entire City Building. Down on level 1, there are the entrances to the old tunnels that went to the world outside. That was before the City Building was built. If we can get to one of those tunnels, we might be able to reach the outside."
"Can you get to one of them?" Louise said, "The Elevators go all the way down to Level 10. Below that it's off limits to the public."
Dave told them, "That's where all the City's power plants, the waste disposal units, and all the other centers of operation are located. Only people who work in those facilities are permitted access."
Karen said, "What about the fire stairs? Don't they go to all Levels, even those below Level 10? Wouldn't they go all the way down to Level 1?"
"That's possible." Dave told her, "Let's give it a try on Saturday."