© Isabelle Santiago, 2010
Part I: The Raffle
It was exactly as the Professor described. A magical orb that hung from the sky cushioned by a thousand tiny, distant specks of light. He called them stars, and the orb, ever changing, was called the moon. It shined like a brilliant beacon in a stretch of black night, its pale light glimmering over the ocean, leaving a streak of silver on the rippling waves.
“It’s breathtaking, isn’t it?” he asked, as he dropped another stack of books onto his desk.
“Is that really what it looked like?”
“The moon?” he said absentmindedly, readjusting his small circular spectacles. “No. The picture does it no justice. It was far more beautiful to look upon in person.”
My fingers fell away from the delicate brushstrokes and the gilded frame. My eyes refocused, struggling to readjust to the murky library and leave behind the vivid colors of that magical world in the painting.
“It’s no wonder bards and poets throughout history have sung its praise. I’ve never seen the likes of it.”
“My dear, Luna,” the Professor smiled, stacking some of the recovery items onto the shelves carved into the rock wall. “It appears you are a hopeless romantic.”
“It isn’t romantic to state a well documented fact. The moon is a natural wonder. No doubt I appreciate its magnificence, but more than that, Professor, I am befuddled by its intricacies. Is it true that your moon did not glow?”
“How is it possible that it cast light on the Earth when it itself is dark?”
“Come,” he said, patting the seat beside him. “And bring the sky maps from the drafting table.”
I grabbed the roll of thin papers and walked across the dirt floor, feeling its cool, damp texture between my toes. He laid them out across his desk, holding the ends down with large stones.
“This is Earth,” he said, pointing to the blue and green sphere third from the sun, “and this beside it is our moon. Its surface is like an endless desert, full of sand and rock and dust.” He lifted a handheld mirror and angled it. The light glowing from the small table lamps bounced off of the glass and blinded me. I looked away, blinking the spots from my eyes.
“Oops,” he smirked, putting the mirror face down on the table. “I did not fully think through this demonstration. Are you all right?”
“Yes.” I rubbed my eyes until the blur passed and my vision resettled. “Please, continue.”
“Well the moon’s dust and rock is filled with tiny specks of glass that reflect light, like this mirror. Even when the Earth is turned away from the sun, the moon still reflects its light, to a much smaller degree, and so it appears to glow.”
I looked at the sky maps in silent awe. “How is it you know so much about so much, Professor?”
His gentle laugh betrayed his humility. “You are young yet, Luna, but you will soon learn that time is a great teacher. I’ve devoted my life to books and learning and I’ve still only tapped the surface of general knowledge.”
I opened my mouth to speak but was cut short by the male voice booming through the speakers of my built-in headset. “Lunar Unit Alpha,” it said, crackling through the static. “Report to the clock tower for your daily diagnostic.”
“I’m afraid I must leave you, Professor.” I stood, dipping my head in apology. “Duty calls.”
“Go, Luna, bring hope and comfort to the many that have lost it.”
I smiled, a new pep in my step as I rushed toward the door, stopping to call out over my shoulder, “You know, Professor, the Raffle has only just begun. Won’t you come and join the people?”
“No need. I’m not eligible for the Raffle until I can name a worthy successor. Until then, I remain an over-glorified and apparently indispensible historian charged with chronicling this dark epoch in Earth’s history.”
“Perhaps it’s selfish of me,” I said with a shrug, “but I’m relieved to know you won’t be taken from me yet.” I walked backward out of his doorway and waved goodbye. “Until tomorrow, Professor!”
I slipped easily into the steady stream of pedestrians trickling from their grottos toward the town square. There was little to mark the area as such, only the impressive, dizzying height of the stalactites hanging from the ceiling and pointed at the ground like daggers, and the man-made clock tower, roughly patched from goods salvaged above ground.
The Mayor and his assistant stood on the wooden platform at the clock tower’s base, beside an old circular lottery machine. Half of the generators powering the schools and work areas clicked and clanked as they shut down, while the residential units powered up, creating a steady hum of white noise.
Dim, sometimes flickering, lamps lined the square. The crowd gathered in the appropriate groups. First by family, then those without gathered by age and occupation. I crept along the edge of the waiting throng until I met with the others of my kind already seated at the diagnostic station at the far side of the tower.
“Good evening, Luna,” Doctor Tarik said as I sat in my usual chair. He brushed aside the ash blonde hair from my neck and plugged the charger into the base of my skull. I hung my head low and let my body relax. Electricity flowed through my appendages, settling with comfortable warmth in my stomach.
“How are you feeling today?”
“Well, thank you,” I responded, as he undid the latch of my light chamber and tested the bulb.
“Not at all. The new lights are strong and energy efficient. Since my last update, I’ve been able to illuminate at the same brightness using half the power.”
“Good girl,” he smiled, obviously pleased, as he closed the light chamber and pulled my shirt back down over my abdomen. “The less power you require the better. Our solar units are currently eating up our reserves.”
“I resent that statement, Doctor Tarik.” Sunny scowled, taking the seat across from me. She tied up her long, auburn hair, crossed her tanned, lean legs and waited for the attendants to plug her in. “Like it or not, humans need light to work, to live, to keep track of time, for their own mental sanity. Instead of trying to diminish the amount of power that we use, perhaps you should come up with alternative forms of energy.”
I tried not to roll my eyes. So typical of a solar unit to make it all about her and forget she was created to serve others.
“We’re doing everything we can. We already have the young ones taking shifts on the bicycles, Sunny, and we’re running out of oil for the generators. The blueprint for the hydrokinetic turbine was just approved, but it will be years before it’s ready for use, especially with building supplies so scarce. If we continue to demand such high amounts of electricity, we’re going to burn out our supply in less than half the predicted time.”
He sighed, gently pulling the chord from the back of my neck. My hair swung from my shoulder with a swift whooshing sound. “The truth is,” he said, his voice strained, “we still have too many people and not enough resources.”
I let my hand rest on his for a moment, offering what little comfort I could. “That’s what the Raffle is for, isn’t it?”
The very mention of the nightly event drew everyone’s attention toward the square. The Mayor read off the last of the lottery numbers for the evening. Shrieks of delight came first, before dimming and warping into drawn out teary-eyed goodbyes.
A strange thickness settled in my throat. No matter how many times I watched the town take part in the nightly Raffle, it never lessened its effect. Certainly, I understood on the most logical level why it was necessary. I understood how the people chosen were given a ticket to freedom most of us did not possess.
For most humans, life in the caverns was a test of endurance. Long days of hard work, mining, digging, searching for supplies, harvesting any plant life they could, purifying water, and a number of other tasks to make every day life livable. But they all knew that soon resources would run out. Foodstuffs would become scant, and then disappear completely, until it became a matter of war between the colonies.
It was only a matter of time before the limited energy made units like myself and Sunny obsolete. Days would grow dimmer, the people more desperate, until finally, they resorted to their most basic instincts and were nothing but animals struggling to survive in a foreign habitat.
I shivered. Yes. I understood the Raffle’s method of population control. But it didn’t make watching their goodbyes any easier. Because in twenty, forty, a hundred years, if mankind found their way back to the surface, those Raffle winners would wake to find a whole new world, devoid of every person that they ever cared about, but if mankind did not, if they took a downward spiral toward their own self destruction, these people would never be the wiser. They would sleep forever, with no knowledge or awareness of the void outside.