I say supposedly because no one still living was around back then to confirm or refute what actually happened. Some believed without questioning that the events of 2075 happened exactly as they had been documented in our books and records. Others stated that these records were works of fiction or that they were metaphors at best, but not to be taken literally. All I knew was that in two hours, on December 31, 4084, the hatch would be opened and anyone wishing to take his or her chances Above could leave then. But they would not be allowed to come back. Ever.
I was one of the ones leaving. So were my brother and his wife. We had packed all our things the day before, not that we had much.
My family’s genetic makeup had somehow retained some pigment in the irises of our eyes so they contained a vestigial ring of turquoise instead of being solid white surrounding a large black pupil like most of the other dwellers of SubEarth, district 7. We had heard a rumor of a family in district 12 that had brown rings around their eyes but no one from that district had opted to immigrate, as they euphemistically called our decision to strike out. My brother and I thought that our colored irises might give us a better chance of survival and this was one of the comforts we placed our hopes in after we made our decision to leave. His wife had no pigment, however, and it was only after she begged him to go and to take her that he finally agreed to come with me.
We knew a few things and had a few ideas of what to expect. Our skin and eyes would not be able to tolerate the sun’s rays. They issued everyone leaving special glasses and clothing to at least give us a fighting chance but nothing else other than what we already possessed, including food and weapons. We had limited supplies of those.
Many warned us of the certain death outside the hatch. “If the sun’s rays didn’t kill you,” they said, “the radioactivity or wild animals or who knows what else is up there will surely do you in.” And then there were others who had sworn that someone that their brother’s friend’s cousin knew had snuck out years earlier and never returned. There might be a whole race of people living the good life Above. No one knew. No one.
They lined us up at 5 PM, the pre-scheduled time of our departure. Hopefully, the sun would have already begun setting and we’d have the darkness we knew and understood to greet us.
Some came to say prayers and to wish us well. Others came out of sheer morbid curiosity because they’d heard rumors that we’d burst into flames the second our feet hit the ground above. We returned the smiles of the first group, did our best to ignore the other group.
I climbed the stairs behind my sister-in-law toward the hatch. My ticket was number 7, lucky number 7…I hoped. I hadn’t heard any shrieks and no one who had stepped outside the hatch into Above had tried to re-enter. Not that they would be allowed to. Sentries with knives waited at the bottom of the ladder to execute anyone trying to return. I knew my chances Above had to be better than 0% at this point so I moved forward with purpose.
My turn. As I placed my hands on the ground and then pulled myself the rest of the way out of the hatch, I searched for my brother and his wife. They stood waiting for me, their arms extended to help me rise to my feet. Ticket holders 1 through 4 also stood waiting for the rest of the immigrants to enter Above. We planned to stick together, all 50 of us, as long as we possibly could, assuming there would be safety in numbers.
The first thing I noticed was the smell. I breathed deeply, filling my lungs to capacity. I had never experienced anything like it in my life. No one could have prepared me for that scent. I had no words to describe it other than it was the smell of life. The second thing I noticed was the openness of the place, how large everything looked. When I looked up, the space above me extended forever into twinkling lights. What were those lights? How far away were they? Could I ever touch them?
I removed my protective shroud since there was no energy source to burn my white skin or my eyes. I felt the air moving around my face and head, alive and welcoming, like a lover’s caress. I removed my jacket to feel more of the wind. I heard a few gasps and murmurs at my foolishness but I didn’t care. If I was going to die Above, I wanted it to be like this–in the breeze and with that wonderful, life-renewing smell. No one knew if we’d live the night or through the next day, let alone any period of time longer than that. I only knew that if I died now, I would die with one foot already in heaven.