Saturday, 24 October 2009 - 9:25 pm

The real future

I discovered another reason for Nadine and Mama Prusco to give me so much pressure to help them entertain the men. It walked into the infirmary on nervous feet this morning.

There were two of them, both girls in their late teens, sharing mutual support long enough to get inside. Then their courage deserted them and they fiddled there, not sure where else to go. I recognised them dimly from the dorm but had no idea what their names were. I saw Peter leering in their direction and took pity on them, going to intercept them. When I asked if they were okay, they looked at me like sheep who had wandered into the sheering shed and weren’t sure what all the buzzing was about.

They asked to see the doctor. I considered telling them that we didn’t have a fully-qualified doctor, but told them to wait in an exam room while I got Simon for them instead. They shuffled off, hugging their coats around themselves in a way that made me suspicious. I offered to stay when they were examined, but they declined; holding each other’s hands was enough.

When they came out, the pair was buoyed up on uncertain toes, clinging to each other’s arms. They were elated in that way that hadn’t sunk in and wound up with uncertain, stunned-fish smiles.

It wasn’t a surprise to hear that they were both pregnant. Their eyes were bright as they told me.

“We’re doing it, we’re really doing it,” one of them told me. She’s blonde and tiny, barely coming up to my shoulder. I think her name is Phoebe.

“We’re creating the future,” the other one said. Sandra or Sondra or Zanda or something, she’s got a round face and mud-coloured hair, and hands that always look raw.

They’re not wrong. This is the real future the world needs: new lives to replace all of those that have been lost. It’s one half of the reason why all the women should partake in the nightly entertainments – keeping the men happy – and peace in Haven – is the other half.

And they’re so happy about it. They’re a part of something bigger than themselves, contributing something that the men can’t. They’re a bright hope in this dark world. I found myself grinning and hugging them, congratulations falling off my tongue. They were positively squealing by the time they left the infirmary, returning to their teams brimful with the news.

They made me think about Sally, fat with pregnancy when we left her at the University. I wonder if the Sickness has taken her yet – it should have by now, if Kostoya was right about the incubation period. And what of her baby? Did the acid’s poison take it too? I wish I knew how they were, even sour Dr Masterson.

Across the room, Debbie was coughing. Each hack of the lungs pulled at me, such a loud sound torn out of a tiny body. The bombs were still stealing lives, the fallout still stripping us down one by one. Every tiny life was precious, and this one was dissolving into tears because she couldn’t stop coughing.

Guilt curdled in my belly as I went to soothe the little one. I stroked her hair and she struggled out from under her blanket so she could crawl into my lap. I hugged her and rocked her, feeling the heat burning out through her thin nightdress. I stayed with her for the rest of the day, until she was finally exhausted enough to sleep and then a little while longer.

It’s my penance.