Calliope Jones gripped her brother Tarq’s hand as they raced up the deck to the surface breaker. Their footsteps echoed down the corridor and reverberated above them, causing the light panels to flicker. She saw Nemo Smith peering out of the porthole of 253 as they ran past, and he quickly slipped out of the pod to join them.
“When does it start?” he huffed as he tried to catch up.
“10 minutes,” Tarq said, glancing at the impression on his sleeve.
“We want to get a good spot,” Calliope added. She was faster than both of them and was frustrated to have to slow up for them.
“Why hasn’t the announcement come yet?” Nemo asked, tugging at his shift. It kept riding up as he ran, revealing a white strip of stomach. He was gaunt, like Tarq and Calliope. The power outage in the green house that season had meant hardship for everyone.
“Everyone knows already. I think we might have waited too long.” Tarq said, glancing at Calliope, and she gave him a furious look. Tarq had been composing a sonnet for Luca Gray and Calliope had waited impatiently wanting to go as soon as possible.
They were halfway up to the top level when the announcement finally came. Friend Jorge’s stern voice blared over the loudspeaker.
“The Solstice Ceremony will begin in 5 minutes. Please report to the surface breaker if you would like to observe.”
Calliope could hear doors opening all up and down the corridor.
“Come on,” she yelled to Tarq and Nemo.
This would be her first Solstice Ceremony ever. Children in Stage One weren’t allowed to participate because they found it too overwhelming. In the first years, children allowed to see the Ceremony had grown listless afterwards and some had not thrived.
Three years ago, Tarq, Nemo and the rest of the children in their stage had been granted permission to see the ceremonies. Tarq had come back to the pod telling Calliope stories of wonder. After each ceremony, they would sit on her pad, the blankets pulled to their chins, and Tarq would talk in the dark.
“The sun is warm,” he told her, “and brighter than you could possibly imagine. So much brighter than the lights in the lab.” Calliope would hold her tatty stuffed rabbit closer in her arms.
“And is it green yet?” she would ask hopefully, each time.
“No,” he would say, “Not yet.”
By the time they reached the domed surface breaker, a crowd had already gathered at the front of the viewer. The metal dome was still down.
“It’ll start to open in a minute,” Tarq leaned over and whispered to her. Sure enough, a grating sound began, followed by a loud whirring. The crowd pressed forward. Nemo grabbed Calliope’s hand and edged through the crowd, Tarq close behind. Finally they arrived at the front. The visor was about four inches open and a crack of the brightest white light Calliope had ever seen was streaming through, hitting her toes. She tried to drop to her stomach, wanting to see it as long as possible but Nemo and Tarq both grabbed her elbows.
“They’ll press forward, you don’t want to get crushed,” Nemo said, putting her in front of him. Impatiently, Calliope waited until finally the visor was high enough for her to see. She heard a collective gasp behind her as the land in front of them was revealed and they were all bathed in the golden light of the sun.
“Don’t look right at it,” Tarq reminded her, his hand on her shoulder.
The light touched everything as far as Calliope could see. She pressed herself up against the viewer, taking it all in. Nothing ended in a wall. She’d never seen anything so vast before.
Suddenly Nemo shook her. “Tarq, Calliope, do you see it?” He pointed somewhere off in the distance. Similar cries came from the crowd behind them. Calliope squinted, trying to make out what he had seen, when, like a tidal wave, the chant, “Green, green, green,” began to wash over them. Sure enough, so far away that Calliope couldn’t be sure that she was really seeing it, was the first living thing anyone had seen outside in over fifty years. A small shrub, green and low to the ground, stood out from the otherwise nearly barren landscape. Suddenly everyone began cheering and hugging each other and Nemo was swept away in the celebration. Tarq got a good grip on Calliope’s arm and hauled her back through the crowd.
“I want to see,” she protested, struggling against him. Usually the ceremonies lasted five minutes, just short enough that no one was damaged by the sun.
“Don’t you get it?” He asked. “It’s coming back. It’s all coming back.”
They burst through the edge of the crowd and Calliope stumbled down the hallway, where a few members of the crowd were already running down the hall to spread the news.
“I wanted to see,” she said again, pushing his shoulder.
“You will,” he said, and Calliope realized that he was crying, fat tears of joy running down his face. “We all will.”