“That bird flew right into the window! Phroom, kasplat. Bye, bye Birdie!”
The tell-tale cackle of insanity echoed through the darkness. Tallis grunted and snored in his sleep, undisturbed by another Splinter. The shuffle next to me indicated I wasn’t the only one up. Soon enough the shuffling stopped and a snort took its place.
“There goes the fifth one this week.”
Val. I would know that nasal rasp anywhere.
“The lad sounds young.”
That would be Macha. Her voice made death sound exciting. Still, even in her dull, dry monotone, I could hear disinterest. She cared as much as Val did for Splinters.
They kept up their whispers. They didn’t care if they woke somebody else or if a Splinter heard their jokes about the sound effects, the Pit, and the inevitable night when something in you snaps and your sanity splinters. I didn’t join them. They knew I was up, I always was, but they didn’t bother to lure me in. Instead I laid with dirt under my fingertips, staring up at the only sign of an outside world. It’s close to ten-thousand feet away but I believed in it.
Some say the pin light is artificial; that it’s meant to give us hope in the unknown. Probably to make us believe in some God or something. I didn’t believe in a higher power but I did believe that light was real. It changed during the days. Sometimes it was brighter and at others, it was darker or duller. There were no night or mornings for us; I never knew what those looked like, but that light, that small, flickering light was something. I knew it.
In the Pit, there were no windows or birds or life really. Just us. We were the “Purged Ones”; a necessary sacrifice for prosperity. The Splinters were crazy but even they knew better. We were nothing more than unwanted crust. The tribes rounded up the outcasts and tossed us down in the Pit with full intention to let us die. We were each branded with a sigil of our “sacrifice.”
“Tomorrow the horn sounds.” The whispers ceased when I added my voice to the mix. The strength of it surprised me too. I hadn’t spoken in days since the announcement.
“Do you think we got a chance?” Val sounded as unsure as I felt. “Only the Ancients and lame get picked.”
“And the Gorillas.” Macha added. “They’re why the cameras turn on.”
“We have till the second alarm.”
They murmured a shared, “Right.” Our fates were taken from us long before we were born. That was what tied the three of us together; we were the true sacrifices, the ones born in darkness and captivity. But we were also the true future. We thrived despite our ignorance.
We heard of the outside world from the Ancients. Topsiders were spoiled with everything they wanted and still complained. They had six different food times: breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snack, and brunch. We had one food drop a week. They were the scraps of Topsiders and it was never enough. We were cast off to die so any food we or help we got were a cursed blessing. That was the only lesson my mother taught me. She died when I was eight.
I closed my eyes and tried to see her. She always looked like death with her sunken features and frail appearance. I remembered her bones first. She still stole and hoarded the food she could so I was fed. She never told me why but I eventually understood it. She meant for me to survive. Her hair came next. It hung thinly and framed her dirty face. The white uniform given to us was a sack on her skeletal body. It lost its whiteness long before I doomed her life. There were holes and tears but it never looked as stern as she did.
I opened my eyes. Macha had sided up next to me in her sleep again. She got to know both her parents. She also got to see them get picked for Ascension. They fought and climbed for their lives but, ultimately, Macha got to bury them with the other lucky ones. I rolled away from her. Ascension only happened once every nine years. The odds of us getting picked were against us so we made a decision to finally live. We’d partake in Ascension and we’d make it topside. It hadn’t been done in seventy-eight years since the creation of the Pit. But we’d change that and the outside world. We had youth, health, the Ancients, and a plan on our side. We would make our own fate.