Mave was in the viewing room when she heard the first shouts from the main elevator chamber. Normally she would go there for a bit of repose, eating her special for the day while looking out at the stars and wondering about the worlds that might orbit any one of them. Then, when she was beginning to feel sad that it would not be her, but her great, great, great grandchildren that would see even one of those worlds, she would take a big bite out of her special to feel a little better.
Today she looked down at her sandwich with a sigh. Fights always became more common during lottery season. She picked up her small synthetic fiber satchel and made for the rarely used stairs to avoid the ruckus.
Leaving the large round room, she headed down a darkened hallway to stair door. When she heard the voices enter the room she dashed toward the door so fast that it barely had time to register her presence and open. It wasn’t that the men were dangerous. Mave, with few exceptions, preferred solitude to company.
As she climbed the stairs the stair lights followed her, powering on as she approached and shutting off as she passed. The special material in the ground here and on most of New Cradle absorbed the energy from her footsteps to assist in powering the surrounding lights. When she got to the maintenance door, she opened it and moved toward the elevator.
The maintenance floor itself was dusty and dim. Pipes ran along the wall and strange sounds hummed and gurgled through the shafts. Maintenance elevators, unlike public elevators required a pass or a code. What were the numbers Harper had used?
The panel beeped its assent and the large, steel elevator doors opened. While riding on the elevator and letting her thoughts drift, her holo-bracelet began to vibrate. It was normally worn around the wrist, but the new generation of teenagers were wearing it around their palm between their pointer finger and thumb to around below their pinky. Mave had decided to try it.
“Mave, where are you? Your aunts are here and they want to talk about your prospects.”
Mave tried to make her sigh inaudible to the bracelet.
“I’m on my way.”
There was no getting out of it, now. The elevator opened onto a dingy tram platform with a maintenance bot busily picking up trash as people waiting for the next vehicle. She kept her head down as the odd person gave her a look up and down. Mave’s clean white uniform stood out too much among the beaten, downtrodden people.
Most maintenance elevators led to poor or deselect neighborhoods, and that was part of the reason she tried to avoid using them. She traced a finger in a circle below her collarbone to drop the color of her clothing to black. Hopefully less noticeable. It was also getting chilly outside, a sign of the changing season. Unfortunately she hadn’t thought to bring her hooded cloak.
She left tram platform and headed toward the main byway. The road appeared to be smooth stone, but was made of the same material as the maintenance stairs. No energy was wasted carelessly on New Cradle. Opening her palm she prepared to hail an autocar when she spotted a figure on an electric scooter approaching. When it arrived closer she recognized it as Mr. Turing.
“Hello Mr. Turing. How are you, today?”
“I’m fine, young lady. Fine. And yourself?”
“I’m well,” she said, smiling. Mr. Turing never chidded or scolded her, but always took everything with a good sense of humor. That was why she had always liked him. That, and he was Harper’s uncle.
“Would you like a ride. I shudder to think of you walking about in this part of town.”
Mave held onto his portly figure, a comic scene on the small bike. He wore aviator goggles and had a large, bushy mustache that waved in the wind as the humming scooter rode along the road. She closed her eyes and imagined flying outside of the ship in one of Cradle’s companion ships, her father in the seat while she looked excitedly all around them.
It was a distant memory, but one she visited often. Her father had promised her that he would sneak her on again when she was sixteen cycles, and her birthday was the next day. She had no interest in the birthing lotteries, but knew that she mustn't make her mother angry before then.
“Here we are, madame. Your destination,” Mr. Turing said as the scooter came to a halt. As Mave got off he raised an eyebrow. “Out of curiousity, exactly what were you doing in that area?”
Mave shrugged. “Avoiding trouble.”
Mr. Turing seemed to find this to be an acceptable answer. “Alright. Take care.” And as she turned to walk away “And come by the lab tomorrow, Harper is very proud of the new thing he cooked up.”
Mave agreed and turned to her home, a hundred by hundred foot cube, and walked up to the entrance over the green lawn.
“Identified: Mave Longborn,” the house a.i. Chimed as the door slid soundlessly open.
“Mother, I’m home,” Mave said, hoping her voice didn’t sound weak. She could hear her mother and aunts gossiping away in the next room and steeled herself for what came next.
“Over here, dear! Prepare something on the tray and bring it over for us all to share. Whatever you like.”
The food prep area was a ten by ten foot area with a light shining down on a tray. Mave waved her hand under the light, bringing up a list of favorite items to prepare. She’d had everything on it a million times, so she instead accessed the full menu: a list of every dish from every culture compiled before New Cradle had left Earth’s orbit on top of every new dish created in the ten generations since it had left.
“Margaret,” she called to the house a.i. “Find me something simple and quick that everyone will like.”
The a.i. Buzzed for a second. Mave could hear things happening in the small compartment in the middle of the kitchen. Margaret was an low-tier intermediate a.i., and could only prepare some parts of the recipe. But after seeing what Harper had to deal with she was, nonetheless, grateful.
“Item selected: pizza. Crust prepared. Sauce prepared. Please combine ingredients.”
A hole opened in the compartment and out came a round slab of dough with the edges rolled up, a bowl of red sauce, and a bowl of cheese, and slices of what appeared to be some kind of sausage.
Following the direction of two translucent hands just above hers, she poured the sauce onto the dough and spread it using a spoon from a side compartment. She then added the cheese and meat slices on top. The compartment then lowered the combined ingredients back into the middle compartment where, after a few moments, it was raised again fully cooked.
It certainly smelled delicious, anyway. From the sound of it neither her mother nor her aunts had slowed down on the topic of birthing lotteries.
“I hear that Chatting boy has been deselected,” her Aunt Bertha said, smirking coyly.
“Well, it’s no surprise. All of that outer hull work was bound to mix up his genes,” Aunt Clara said. “Oh, no offense, dear,” she added, patting Mave’s mother on the hand.
“None taken. The sister ships all have excellent hull and field shielding, on par with New Cradle itself,” she said, holding her head high.
Mave was grateful that her mother defended her father, but as she placed the pizza on the center table she prayed their hunger would interrupt the conversation. It didn’t.
“I’ll fetch us some plates. You tell your dear aunts about your prospects.”
“Yes dear, do tell us,” Bertha said excitedly, clapping her white gloved hands.
“I’ve gotten two proposals. One from the Stevens in sub-sector 12 and another from the Hearts at the east end.” Technically it was three proposals if you counted Harper, but she had no intention of telling them about that.
“Oh, lovely. That Stevens boy is so handsome. Their whole family is. To have nieces and nephews that beautiful…”
“Stop it, Bertha,” Clara said. “You know full well the Heart family has better prospects. And they aren’t bad looking.”
“Aren’t bad looking? I wouldn’t use that Heart boy’s face to wipe my floor.”
Mave suppressed a smirk at the comment. She might have agreed, but didn’t want to encourage them further. She took a slice of the pizza and bit into the pointy end. It was absolutely delicious. She was going to have to tell Harper about this.
Harper. Mr. Turing had asked her over, but Mave wondered if he knew about Harper’s proposal. She’d just been complaining to him about the whole process, which she hated, when he had started to get very irritated for some reason. Then, out of the blue, he proposed to her.
“Mave. I - I think we should be together. I mean, this works, right? I know I’m from a lower pool then you, a step or two above deselect, but -”
“Harper,” she had stopped him. “I’m not sure I want to be with anyone. I don’t think its fair to have to make that choice five years in advance of the fact. What if I want to change my mind? What if I want to get to know different people?”
Then he’d exploded in anger.
“Fine then! Enjoy exploring other people. Must be nice to have a lot of high pool options. Should have known I was nothing more than a stupid farmboy for you to talk to about your suitors!”
They hadn’t talked for three days, as measured by the atomic clock entangled with its sister back on Earth.
“Mave. Mave dear, did you hear your Aunt’s question?” Her mother’s voice brought her back to her current reality.
“I bet I know what she’s thinking. Keep your thoughts pure, young lady.” Bertha said, with a conspiratorial wink.
“Bertha!” her mother admonished, blushing.
“Well it’s a bit late to get shy now,” Bertha said, taking a slice and a plate to eat it on. “The time for that was before sweet little Mave was born.”
“I’m home!” It was her father’s voice with its cry of relief and freedom.
“Hi father, she said, as he entered the room.”
“Hello sweetie. What are you doing indoors? There’s still holo-light left. Go outside and play with your friends some.”
“Oh Jeffrey, are you serious?” Bertha interjected. “We are on an enormous ark out of sight of civilization for generations, now. How much more ‘outdoors’ do you want?”
“Do what you like, Mave. I’ll handle the trio,” he said. It was their little nickname for her mother and aunts when they got together. She nodded, trying not to look too happy, and gave her mother and aunts a kiss each before heading out the door.
Outside Mave looked up into the ceilinged sky. Up above she could see the other neighborhoods of Cradle curving overhead. Other people, other worlds. The only ones she’d ever see.