Imagine one of these to live in
but without it showing on the outside
Kosi Lionhair lives in a future of legal and illegal children, Life Lotteries, and vast urbs with their footings in the sea. Australia has become the Australia Archipelago. The setting is the largest and most populous island, Eastralia.
I was born a Between and as long as I stayed a Between I was supposed to be referred to only with love-names like Sweetie and Honey Dumpling. As soon as I knew how, I made up a proper name for myself, from bits I heard through the louvres into Father’s real house. “I am Kosi,” I said to Hen, the woman who cared for me.
She said, “It suits you very well.”
When he came, one hour a day, my father said, “Why Kosi? When not Belle, or Pretty, or Melissa?
“Because I am strong,” I said according to Hen.
My father laughed. “Strong is for soldiers and house guards.”
I tried again, “Because my hair is like a lion’s hair.”
My father frowned. He said, “I need you silent while you live in the Between house.”
I wished he’d said no lion’s roars allowed.
I was young then. A child of five or six. I learned to be as quiet as a mouse so I could peer through the louvres and spy on my legal brother and later, my legal sister, at their play. The Between house was a row of narrow secret rooms beside my father’s legal house.
But today is my 13th birthday. Hen and I ate my birthday cake without my father. He’s out, taking my legal brother somewhere. “I’m not important to my father,” I complained.
Thirteenth birthdays are for choosing a proper name. Hen said, “You’ve already chosen your name. He’ll be here to tell you your adventure.” And she said, “Betweens are a family’s treasure. Insurance in case something happens to the legals.”
“What could happen to them? They are so … protected.” My father hired two soldiers. One woman to guard him and one to guard his children.
“These days, the Life Lotteries target the families of the government’s enemies.” Then Hen pressed her lips together and I knew I’d have find the rest out for myself.
I had my milk-tea. Hen her coffee. We ate and drank under the air scrubber so the smells, or rather, the aroma of the birthday cake went straight outside.
Tomorrow is the day I get to go outside and on my own, both for the first time in my life. The theory is that the government doesn’t know Tweeners exist, so we’re safer running around on our own than with family. For which you have to be more than a clueless little kid.
When I stand on the closed down toilet lid I can just see out of the ventilation grill. It’s the only window I have out into the world.
There are two bars that I hang onto to pull myself closer to the outside air. This morning it smells deep green and mysterious.
“That’s the smell of the sea,” Hen said. “A breeze of wind carries the smell up the side of the building.”
Hen is my nurse. She’s squeezed beside the toilet, beside me, standing on the stool I used to need to get up onto things.
“Look to the right and what do you see?” Hen says.
I looked along her pointing finger. “The corner of the building called 5N.” I rattle off what else I know, “I live on Level 6, in the south-eastern corner of 5W, one of the four dorm stacks surrounding Parra 5 Central.” Then I realise. “So, 5N is part of Parra 5?”
“You’ve got it.” Hen was wearing her left-side quarter head computer, with one magnifying eye-piece and one magnifying ear piece and a sniffer. She toggled an input/output key above her ear to boot up the eye-piece. “You put these on.” She gives me the magnifying goggles she brought for me from outside.
“Don’t tell me it’s my birthday already?”
“I try to make every day new for you, pipkin. It’s a good day for seeing far. Not too misty.”
I can see a kilometer across the water. “Two more dormitory stacks.”
“The one parallel to 5N is 6S and the one in a line with us is 6W.”
Suddenly I notice a sort of a tower behind them. “What’s that flashing light for on the tower behind them?”
“Parra 6 Central, with its navigation lights on.”
“I don’t believe it, that there’s a whole other Parra Centre, the same as ours. I haven’t even seen this one. I want to get down.”
Hen held me at the grill. “Going left one kilometer from Parra 6 is Parra 10. Going left from Parra 5 for one kilometer is Parra 9. Twelve urbs all told. All of them standing in the sea.” She let go of my arm and I was free.
I threw the goggles onto my bed and grabbed hold of the acrobat-harness hanging in the doorway between my bed and the dinette. Meaning Hen would have to stay in the back of the house, dusting or wiping, while I worked off my frustrations.
I input my routine into the keypad on the jamb and standing impatiently still, allowed the harness to strap itself around me. Then I rolled into my favourite sequence of forward and backward paces, turns, tumbles and back-flips. Not getting anywhere. That was the whole point.
“It’s here,” said a voice loud on the outside of the building.
“I reckon. With the amount of noise in the pipes!”
Hen was at the doorway punching the keys that froze my harness, and me too.
We listened, like a couple of prey animals before they start running. What I’ve seen on nature videos. There’s nowhere to run in a Tween House.
After a long time Hen pushed me in front of her, slow as snails, past the dining nook that had an air-scrubber above the tabletop microwave. Into Hen’s bed-nook. Luckily she hadn’t folded her bed to the wall. I said it was early. Meaning we had somewhere to sit out of sight of the grills.
We’d practiced these manoeuvres every day of my life. This was the first time in my living memory it was for real. What? I asked by raising my eyebrows.
Hen used signing to explain. Maintenance personnel on the gangway above the grills. The desalination pipes on the outside of the building for that express purpose, ease of fixing.