Monday 31 December 2012

My Predictions for 2013

So, now that 2012 has bitten the dust, and the Mayan apocalypse didn’t quite come off, what’s going to happen in the big, bad, wonderful new year ahead of us?

Don’t bother about all that’s going to happen in the world of geopolitics or high finance. It does not matter who wins the next election. It does not matter if you don’t get that raise. It does not matter if the sky falls on your head tomorrow. Because it isn't going to.

Don’t even bother about your personal life. You aren’t going to have one.

Why am I saying that?

This is the reason: at this very moment, while you’re reading this, alien warriors from the Xglfth system in the Andromeda galaxy are on the way to attack earth, riding UFOs shaped like huge red glowing seagulls. In a few days they’ll arrive in the skies of earth, and quickly and efficiently eradicate all human life with the sole exception of politicians, fashion critics, celebrities and professional other words, they will destroy anyone who is of any use at all.

This they will do with a clear conscience, because the Prime Directive of the Xgflth people goes:

“Do not exterminate another race, for genocide is a sin; but if they collapse under the weight of their own incompetence, that is all right with you.”

Since the collapse of human civilisation will be inevitable, and shortly followed by the extinction of the race, the earth will be ripe for takeover by another dominant species. Which will it be? Which???

On land, it’s going to be the naked mole rat.

Behold the New King in Town

From their homelands under the African savannah, these rampaging rodents will bite, gouge and burrow their way across land and under ocean until, in a matter of mere months, they swarm across all the continents of the globe. Being long-lived, they will have the time to make individual progress in the sciences and arts. Being social animals, they will be able to pool their resources and construct gigantic subterranean cities. And, because they don’t need anything like as much food as bigger mammals like...a certain recently-extinct hairless ape, for instance...they don’t have to ruin the world with agriculture.

And they will have their gods. In the casinos of the world, the lines of fruit machines will lie unattended, their bells and lights forlornly awaiting the gamblers who will never come. Instead will come the swarms of naked mole rats, who will dig them into the ground, and make temples around them, in honour of the Great God Who Blinks and Jangles. 

Take off thy shoes, for thou standeth on Holy Ground

This religion will last unchallenged until certain base heretics will seek to shift their allegiance to Coke dispensing machines, which, they will dare pretend, are every bit as good as the Great God Who Blinks and Jangles.

The Evil One

And that will be the start of the Great Mole Rat Crusades, which will so shake the foundations of the Naked Mole Rat civilisation that it will totter and almost fall. Only the advent of the Great Enlightened Rattva Herself - who will invent a new, unified religion without gods - will save the mole rat from going the way of the human, the Stellar's Sea Cow, and the dodo.

In the meantime, the oceans will be ruled by the swarms of vicious, intelligent Humboldt squid, with their vast brains and ripping beaks.

And they will worship Great Cthulhu. Who worships nobody except himself.

This is Great Cthulhu:

Don't worry, you won't be alive for him to eat you.

Happy New Year.

Happy New Year From The Raghead Crew

 I'm posting both the original (above) as drawn by me, and the computer-processed (below) version. Choose whichever you prefer.

They'll still kill you, though.

Happy 2013

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012/13

Friday 28 December 2012

"An Indian Love Story"

He saw her in the evening, wrapped in dusk –
On the way home from work, at the bus stop
Poised like a gazelle in flight. Her eyes
Dark pools of promise, he thought, watching.

So he followed her, remembering
The way the hero of last week’s Bollywood film had followed the girl of his dreams.
He followed her home, that evening
He followed her the next
And the day after that.

He called her on the phone, and hung up when she answered. He waited
For her to fall for him – like they did in the films –
But she did not even look his way. So he waited for her, near the bus stop
And stepped out in her path
Suddenly. “Marry me,” he said. “I love you,” he said.

She looked at him with eyes full of fear. She turned to run – so he grabbed her by the arm –
She screamed, in fear, and tried to pull away.
He had a knife in his pocket, because his friends all had one too. He took it out, and stabbed and stabbed.
If he couldn’t have her, nobody could.
And she died
There in the street, frightened, bleeding.

He made the bottom strip in the TV news. He was famous.
People heard his name.

And people said
“That’s the way they are
Those people, you can’t expect any better of them.”
The newspapers called it an unrequited love story
And gave it ten lines on page six, next to an ad
For washing machines.

A politician said, “This is what happens
When we give girls too much freedom, and let them dress how they like. Women should be in the kitchen.”
Women’s groups condemned him
And got on TV, too.

And her mother sat in the dark and cried
Remembering the hopes that would never be.
But nobody thought of her at all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Raghead 28/12/2012: The Rage Of The Reaper

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Wednesday 26 December 2012

A Controversial Take On The Delhi Rape "Protests"

Some years ago, there was a little incident in the town where I live. A few young men were drinking one night, and then went cruising in the taxi belonging to one of them. They picked up a young woman (who imagined she was getting a ride home) and drove out to the forest outside town, where they raped her for hours, beat her half to death, and then dumped her on the roadside like a piece of garbage.

The city went ballistic. The incident made the national news, too, and the country could talk of nothing else. The rapists were hunted down, arrested, and, after a dramatic trial, locked up for the rest of their natural productive lives as examples to others of their kind. The victim got the sympathy and help she deserved to recover from her terrible ordeal, and even the criminals’ mothers came forward to apologise to her for what their sons had done.

No, wait. What actually happened was that the rapists got all the sympathy of “society”. They were called poor misguided youth who had made a “mistake”; their mothers marched, along with women’s’ body representatives, demanding that they be let off the hook. The victim was called a whore who deserved everything she got. As for national news, you have to be kidding – they didn’t even mention it in passing.

New Delhi, December, 2012. A 23-year-old female physiotherapy student boards a bus late one night, accompanied by her “male friend”. The bus isn’t on a regular route – it’s actually being taken on a joyride by the driver and five of his friends. They proceed to beat the woman and her “male friend” with an iron rod, rape her for almost an hour, and then throw them out of the moving vehicle before driving away. At the time of writing, the woman is alive, minus part of her intestines; she’s still in critical condition, but off a respirator and it’s becoming more likely that she’ll survive.

This time the nation – or, rather, a part of the nation – did go ballistic. The media, for one thing, made the rape its top news. “Protests” – more in a moment about them – started in many cities, asking for the rapists to be executed. Most especially these “protests” were in Delhi, where the “protestors” attempted to storm the Presidential Palace and demonstrated near India Gate, the heart of the government district. Most of the “protestors” in Delhi were young – college students from the middle class.

A question: is the different response to these two rapes a sign of India’s changing social attitudes? Not exactly. Because, while these protests were going on, a woman was stripped naked, tied to a tree in the state of Tripura and beaten, but nobody said a word. In Manipur, a Naga insurgent belonging to a banned Baptist terrorist group (the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, Isak Muivah faction) beat up an actress on stage, right in front of an audience full of military and paramilitary personnel, and nobody outside the state gave a damn. Elsewhere in this country, a woman continued to be raped about every fifteen minutes, and nothing happened to catch anyone’s attention.

But in Delhi, the “protests” continued.

If you’re thinking that I think there’s more to these “protests” (note the quotes) than meets the naked eye, you’d be right.

For the moment, I’m not going to go into the phenomenon of India and the treatment of women here; I’ll just say that it’s not exactly a surprise. A country where men are indoctrinated from birth to think of women as an inferior species can scarcely expect anything more. It’s hardly as though cruelty towards women is a new phenomenon – it’s been going on at least since the late Vedic period, circa 1000 BCE. From the brothels of Bombay to the forest hamlets of Central India, rape by the powerful male (be he the brothel madam’s pimp or the Indian paramilitary trooper) is happening right now, even as you read this. But nobody even wants to know about that.

There are reasons why the Delhi rape drew so much attention. The first is the simple fact that it took place in Delhi. To Indian officialdom, the media and the Great Indian Muddle Class, only what happens in Delhi, Bombay, and to a lesser extent in Bangalore matters – they are the centre of their version of India. What happens elsewhere makes no difference to them. But other rapes happen routinely in these same cities, daily – and nobody says a word.

That’s where the second reason comes in.

I have repeatedly characterised the Great Indian Muddle Class as incredibly self-absorbed and selfish, to the extent that to it, nothing matters but its own immediate interests. The Muddle Class sees itself as superior to the masses from which it has emerged, and it aspires to separate itself from them as far as possible. Unlike the middle class in other parts of the world, it doesn’t see itself as preyed on by the upper class; the upper class is its ideal, the realm to which it aspires. That’s why the corruption, decadence and dissipation of the upper class don’t fill Muddle Class people with revulsion. That revulsion is only reserved for politicians, whom the Muddle Class excoriates but whom it votes for anyway.

On the other hand, the Muddle Class hates and fears the underclasses. It feels threatened by them – by their increasingly uppity demand for a place in the sun and by their competitiveness. To the Muddle Class, the underclass isn’t PLUs (People Like Us) – they are PLTs (People Like Them). It’s the underclass who threaten the Muddle Class’ upwards march. It’s the underclass which reminds the Muddle Class of the morass from whence it sprung, and where it’s terrified of returning.

So when six members of the underclass rape a woman of the Muddle Class, it’s not a crime against an individual woman. It’s a strike against the Muddle Class. Think of it as a serf raising his hand against a nobleman, and you won’t be far from the idea.

It’s significant that the last time the Muddle Class reacted in such a way was after the Bombay terrorist attacks of November 2008, when it was the Muddle and upper classes which were the focus of the assault. The ordinary people were killed, sure, but the media focussed almost exclusively on the rich set’s hangouts targeted by the terrorists, and it was the Muddle Class which held candlelight vigils to condemn the attacks, signed pledges to “give their lives for South Mumbai” and threatened not to pay their taxes if their security couldn’t be assured. There have been terror attacks before and since, but the victims were of the masses, so the Muddle Class wasn’t particularly stirred.

It’s an absolute certainty that if the victim of the rape had been of the labourer set, there would have been as little reaction from the Muddle Class as there is when (as happens routinely) rich kids driving SUVs get drunk and crush homeless people to death. The Muddle Class doesn’t care about anyone but itself.

Accordingly, whatever the “protests” appear to be, they are not actually against the rapes – they are protests against the Muddle Class being made to feel vulnerable. No more, no less.

And, that being so, therefore, the “protests” will last until the Muddle Class feels reassured of its own position. Currently, the government is talking of making the anti-rape laws stricter, to enhance punishment. The “protestors” are demanding nothing less than the death penalty for the six rapists, even though no such law exists on the books now. They claim to be willing to settle for nothing less, even though they are well aware that laws can’t be made retrospective.

Now, as I’ve said before, the death penalty always works against poor people selectively, because they can’t afford good lawyers. Also, the judges are from the Muddle Class and routinely look down on poor people. So, suppose the laws are changed to make death a penalty for rape. Will the Muddle Class be willing to put its own members’ lives on the line? Will it be content to send to the gallows the rich man’s son who rapes his neighbour’s teenage daughter? Of course not.

The demand for the death penalty for rape is meant to be used against the lower classes, and the lower classes exclusively – just as the death penalty for murder is used exclusively against the lower classes in this country. I can’t even think of the last time I heard of a rich person being sentenced to death for murder, no matter how gruesome the crime. It’s always the poor guy who hangs. Just as the six rapists in this instance have been convicted and sentenced to death in advance, even though they have not yet been put on trial and so in the eyes of the law are innocent until proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt.     

And that is exactly the point, because the “protests” being primarily against the threat from the unwashed masses, the demand is for the law to be used to keep said masses in their place. The Muddle Class is frightened, and like a cornered beast, it’s lashing out.

I'm far from the only person to have noticed that the "protests" are restricted to the Muddle Class. As one newspaper editorial said:

Why are the weaker sections of the society not participating in these protests? Especially, why have those, who live in the slums where the main accused of this gang rape lives, (not) come forward? Indian society is divided and everyone is fighting their own battle. 

It’s not even as though the death penalty could be an actual deterrent. From the point of view of the rapist, it just gives him a powerful incentive to kill his victim instead of just violating her. If he’s going to hang anyway, at least killing her gives him a chance of getting away with it. Making the death penalty a punishment for rape merely dooms the victim.

That’s just logical. But cornered beasts don’t think logically. But, of course, this isn't a protest - it's a glorified lynch mob.

Speaking about lynching, the “protestors” don’t exactly have clean hands either. They’ve managed to kill a Delhi Police constable – a member of the underclass, as it happens – who collapsed and died of a heart attack after suffering injuries including three broken ribs. The Muddle Class and its media are unrepentant, of course – they claim that if such a thing happened, the police was at fault for putting a man with a bad heart into riot control duties. Because, you know, beating some poor cop till he dies is all fine if you’re fighting for a law to keep the other poor in their place.

The conflict is going to get worse. As the so-called economic boom continues to fall apart, and the infrastructure and environment continue to disintegrate, the Muddle Class’ grip on its niche will come under ever increasing threat. Since the Muddle Class relies on the underclass to be its hewer of wood and drawer of water, it can’t isolate itself from them like the ultra rich with their gated communities – it has to interact with the lower class, depending on it while hating it. More violence is inevitable, with lower class criminals (many of whom are poverty migrants to the cities, and forced to live in teeming slums with no facilities at all) preying on the Muddle Class, and the latter lashing back.

We will live in increasingly interesting times.

Meanwhile, I’d like to say something about the victim of the rape that started the whole thing off. All the “protestors”, the Muddle Class media and the politicians are concerned about her, and they want justice. Good. So do I. Try the accused rapists, and if they’re found guilty, lock them up by all means and throw away the key.

But I want to know something – why is it that they don’t mention the fact that we still don’t know the young woman’s name? The answer is that if her identity is disclosed, she’ll be publicly stigmatised as a rape victim and will probably not find anyone willing to marry her, ever.

But all those people so concerned about women’s rights don’t even want to talk about that.

Thursday 20 December 2012

On The Result Of The Inquiry Into The Defeat At The Battle Of Spatterloo

Gentlemen,” said the Admiral, “you must understand that what we are about to hear is absolutely top secret.”

He glared round the big table, his bloodshot eyes and the braid on his uniform complementing the red-gold colours of the Imperial Space Fleet on the wall behind him.

“Our defeat at the hands...I mean tentacles...of the unspeakable !ulrq, as you all know, has been so comprehensive that we had to sue for peace – even though we are in every way superior to those slimy, cowardly, craven, misbegotten things.”

One of the junior officers cleared his throat, as though about to speak, but fell prudently silent when the Admiral glared at him. The room was so silent that one might have heard a drop of sweat plink on the polished table.

“Before I go into the reasons for the actual defeat,” the Admiral continued, “I should tell you a little about the background of the battle, because except for my immediate staff, none of you will have been told more about it than was released to the media and the masses.”

He turned and pressed a button. The wall behind him lit up with a space map marked in lines of dull green and blazing yellow.

“As you all know, we have been – for years now – expanding our Empire in the direction of the realms of the unspeakable !ulrq.” Everyone waited politely until he had stopped coughing. “Sooner or later, of course, this would mean that we would have to either crush them and take over their territories, or else...” he shuddered “...negotiate with them over a common border.”

Everyone present shuddered in sympathy at the thought of negotiating with the unspeakable !ulrq.

“Since the second option was of course out of the question, and since the !ulrq are obviously far inferior to us in every way possible, we decided to defeat them in battle.” The room filled with appreciative murmurs, which gradually tailed off into silence. “It shouldn't have been difficult, because being a peaceful race, they hardly have a space navy worth mentioning. But, still, we made preparations, including constructing our mighty new battle fleet, of which there has been so much reported in the media.”

With another touch of a button, he threw up an image on the screen. “Here is one of our top secret new battleships. You will of course have heard that they were under construction, but I can wager you've never seen one before.

"As you can see, it’s not the sort of metal and ceramic ship you're used to. No, it's got wings to fly on currents of charged particles, it's got faceted eyes to see throughout the spectrum, and it’s even got ears to listen to radio waves in space. In fact, it’s not so much a ship as an organic, spacefaring, living creature.”

He indicated a thin, nervous-looking man in a white coat. “Professor Mensaman there is the genius behind the idea. He and his team decided that living, intelligent ships which could repair and reproduce themselves were the weapon of the future. Of course, the whole thing was incredibly expensive, but it was worth the effort. Imagine having a self-replicating, self-repairing fleet of sentient warships at one’s beck and call. Who could oppose us then?”

“What do the ships eat?” someone at the back asked. “They need food, don’t they?”

“They eat anything.” The Admiral waved a hand dismissively. “We carried enough organic matter to feed them on the way out, and once there, they could be fed on all the corpses of the unspeakable !ulrq after the battle was over. Food wasn’t a problem.”

“What about the crew?” the officer who had cleared his throat asked. “There was a crew, wasn’t there? Or have we gone all autonomous already?”

The Admiral shot him a dirty look. “Of course, we selected and trained the crew too. They were the very best, and all volunteers. Naturally, they were only concerned with fighting, not with running the ships. The ships ran themselves.”

Everyone murmured further appreciation, glancing approvingly at the man in the white coat. “Once we had the fleet ready, we just needed a casus belli. As you remember, that wasn’t hard to arrange. We just waited for a meteor that we knew was going to strike one of our outer colony worlds, and declared that it was sent as a weapon by the unspeakable !ulrq. All it cost us were the lives of three thousand expendable colonists.” Everyone nodded, except the officer who had cleared his throat. The Admiral made a mental note to have him demoted to Ordinary Sailor and set to scrubbing toilets as soon as the meeting was over.

“So, we had our fleet and our war. We decided to strike straight for the !ulrq home planet, Spatterloo, so-called because the unspeakable !ulrq spatter their...uh, never mind. If everything had gone according to plans, in one fell blow, we’d destroy their centre of government and reduce them to slavery. The war would be over before it had even really begun.” He glared at the rows of officers before him. “We decided, reluctantly, that we had to preserve the !ulrq as a species because only they could mine their hellholes of planets for resources for us, and because our commercial sponsors...” he bowed respectfully at a group of men in dark business suits seated at a table across the room “...insisted that they be kept alive as a captive market for our products.

“The fleet set out, and until the midpoint of the voyage everything seemed to be going well. At least, the reports from the ships and from Rear Admiral Gutsnglory spoke of absolutely perfect performance, with not the slightest glitch, even from the newest equipment. And the ships were happy, too.”

“They had been neutered for the duration of the voyage,” the Professor murmured, “so that there wasn’t any sexual jealousy to cause trouble.”

The Admiral ignored him completely. “The last message we had from the Rear Admiral was that the ships were in orbit around Spatterloo, had apparently not been detected, and were preparing to launch weapons. And that was all.”

 He looked around at the assembled officers. Nobody said anything, not even the throat clearer.

“We made attempts to communicate with them, of course. We tried everything we could. But there was no response. Our distance sensors found the ships – yes, they were in orbit, right around Spatterloo – but there was not the slightest response from them. Nor did we see any of the mushroom clouds rising over the planet that we were expecting.  

“We finally had to admit,” the Admiral continued eventually, “that we’d been defeated. In some horrible, mysterious way, the unspeakable !ulrq - despite their racial and military inferiority - had vanquished our wonderful, sentient, living fleet and our valiant sailors. We had been so badly beaten that we had to make peace and agree to negotiate.” He paused to allow all present to gasp in horror. “But we didn’t know how we had been defeated, and the !ulrq didn’t say. In fact, they didn’t even admit there had been a battle at all.

“So we convened a top-secret inquiry, chaired by myself, the Professor here, and of course representatives from our sponsors.” He bowed again, reverently, to the men in the suits. “The Professor will present our findings.”

Twitching with nervousness, the Professor leaned forward to speak. “Since we had no clue at all about what had happened, and since the !ulrq wouldn’t give us permission to check, we had to send a spy telescope as close to Spatterloo as we could, to take a look. It found the ships still in orbit, as we’d expected, but surrounded by clouds of tiny dots. And when checked in full magnification, we realised that those dots were bodies. To be more precise, they were the corpses of the crew.”

There were more gasps of horror. “Of course,” the professor went on, “after that it all became clear. It’s a wonder that we’d never thought of it before.

“As the Admiral told you, the !ulrq live under conditions which make their planets, to us, hellholes. The temperature, pressure, gravity, everything in their world is intensely unpleasant by our standards. And so is their atmosphere, which is composed largely of ammonia and sulphur dioxide. If you’ve ever attended a chemistry class, you know what those smell like.”

He looked around at everyone. “Spatterloo’s atmosphere is thinner than ours, and extends rather further into space. When the ships reached attack orbit, they were inside the outer envelope of the atmosphere.

“Yes,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion, “our ships breathed in that noxious mix, and of course when that happened, the same thing happened to them as would have happened to you or me. And that is why we lost.”

Everyone’s attention was focussed on him, even the Admiral’s.

“The ships sneezed,” the professor concluded. “They sneezed, and kept sneezing. They kept sneezing till they literally sneezed the crew right out.”

Wiping away a trembling tear, he tottered from the room.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Wednesday 19 December 2012

The Sunshine Mine

The day Mimi was sent down to the Sunshine Mines began just like any other.

Mimi’s grandmother had sent her out early, to scrape up a bucketful or two of frozen sun before anyone was about. They desperately needed the sunshine, to melt out slowly and fill the little house with a bit of warmth and light. They had almost none left, and no money to buy any from the corporation.

Mimi stuck her head out of the door and looked around carefully, the way she had been taught, left and right, and left again, and then upwards at the steel-grey sky. She squinted slightly – the warmsuit’s visor was old and scratched, so that everything had a slight halo – but couldn’t see any watchers, not even the speck of a drone glittering coldly in the light of the dawn. What was left of the previous evening’s sunshine lay in shallow red-golden pools and ragged sheets on the frozen ground. It wouldn’t be there much longer before it began to evaporate; and, besides, as the temperature rose and the air began to thicken, people would begin to stir and then it would be too late.

Mimi glanced back over her shoulder at her grandmother, who was all she had left in the world. Life had aged and bent the old woman, and she was far too slow now to harvest the sunshine. Stealing sun was a job for children.

“Nothing,” Mimi reported. “I’m going out.”

“Be careful,” Mimi’s grandmother replied, her eyes worried. Some of the last of the sunshine they had glimmered dimly in the lantern, throwing into relief the nest of wrinkles which made up her face. “I hate to send you out like this.”

“I’ll be all right,” Mimi said with the confidence of eleven years, wrinkling her nose. “I’ve been doing this for months and months, grandma.” With a last look to left and right, and a glance overhead, she hurried into the street, holding the buckets so the scrapers inside wouldn’t rattle.

At this hour the village was still sleeping, the houses blank-faced humps of stone and earth sheathed in gleaming blankets of frozen air, their little doors all sealed tightly shut. Mimi bent beside the nearest pool of frozen sun, scraping quickly with both hands, feeding both buckets at once. Speed was of the essence, but she was hampered by her warmsuit. It was too small for her, the material stretched tight over her growing limbs, and she knew that in a few more months she could no longer put it on. What she would do then she had no idea, because they certainly couldn’t afford a new warmsuit, and she couldn’t use her grandmother’s because she was already taller than the old woman.

Just as, she thought, scraping away furiously, they couldn’t afford to move. She wished they could, if only to a house with a yard, one which caught a bit of sunshine. They couldn’t do anything to you for harvesting the sun which fell on your own yard. But nobody who had a yard would ever give it up, for that very reason.

She had almost filled both buckets, the warmth of the sunshine beginning to seep through her gloves, when she heard a slight – very slight – sound. Quickly, she glanced up, her muscles tensing, but it was already far too late to run.

They must have been watching her for a while, almost from the beginning, and had moved carefully to cut off her retreat. There were four of them, their warmsuits camouflaged in white and grey to match the dawn, except for the small blue and red Corporation insignia on their chests. Mimi looked at them and quickly kicked over the buckets, sunshine spilling red-gold on the frozen ground.

“It won’t do you any good,” the nearest of the men said. “We’ve got you on film.” His hand shot out and grabbed Mimi by the upper arm. “Let’s go.”

Mimi struggled, knowing it to be useless, feeling the motorised fingers dig into her flesh through the warmsuit. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said.

“Tell that to the judge,” the man said. “You kids think you can get away with anything.” He began to pull Mimi down the street. Looking over her shoulder, she saw one of the others pick up her buckets and scrapers, while a third was making his way to her grandmother’s door. So they knew where she lived, as well.

“My grandmother...” she said, still trying to pull her arm out of the iron grasp. “She needs me.”

“Should’ve thought about that before you went stealing sun, shouldn’t you?” the man snapped. He’d pulled her past the bend in the village street, and now she saw the hovercraft, sitting squat on its thick skirts. They must have been waiting since the previous night, then, for harvesters like her. The man pulled her up the ramp and pushed her into a seat. “Sit there and don’t talk, if you know what’s good for you.”

Mimi had never been in a hovercraft before, though she’d seen them often enough, their heavy bulks hissing as they passed. Under other circumstances, she might have looked around with interest. But now she could only hunch in her seat, miserable and increasingly afraid.

In only a few minutes, the hovercraft’s engine started up and it moved off, across country, the frozen fields rushing by beneath. From her seat, Mimi could only see steel-coloured sky and an occasional glimpse of the distant hills. Once a drone buzzed past overhead, spray attachments visible under its long wings. She knew what that meant – it was on patrol against unauthorised agriculture. Only the Corporation was allowed to grow food.

Her captors sat on both sides of her, not talking. “My grandma...” Mimi ventured at last. “What will happen to her?”

The man who had caught her shrugged. “Why should anything happen to her? She wasn’t the one caught stealing sun.”

“But she’s so old, and she needs me.”

The man did not answer.

“What will happen to me?” Mimi asked at last, working her tongue to moisten her mouth. She remembered the tales of other children having been caught harvesting sunshine and being taken away, never to be heard of again. “Can you tell me that?”

The man glanced at her again. “The judge will decide,” he said after a pause. “But I can tell you what she’ll say.”

“What?” Mimi asked.

“It’s the Sunshine Mine for you.” He turned away and would say no more.

The hovercraft rustled across the fields.

The tons of rock overhead seemed to grumble and heave, like a fat old man settling himself in bed and trying to find a comfortable spot.

Mimi paused, hoping desperately that it was only her imagination, that the tunnel would not collapse on her and crush her flat. She had just about drawn a cautious breath again when she felt an impatient tap on the sole of her boot. “What are you waiting for?” the supervisor snapped, crossly. “Get going.”

Mimi clenched her eyes shut and began to crawl along the tunnel. It was so narrow that she had to squeeze along on her side part of the way, fumbling with her hands for the supporting struts. The coldsuit she wore was thick and padded, but the rock was so rough that she could feel the scrape of stone on her chest and thighs right through it.

Though she had been in the mine for days now – how many, she could no longer recall – Mimi had not been able to get used to the crawlspaces in which she and the other children had to operate. These crawlways could not accommodate an adult, but the supervisors were always watching, their cameras scanning every bit of the tunnel right up to the seam of sunshine ore.

The dull glow of the sunshine ore began to show red through Mimi’s eyelids, and she cautiously opened her eyes. Once she could see a little, she felt less afraid of being buried under tons of rock – though, of course, the ore face was the most dangerous point, where too much cutting might cause a cave-in. Mimi had already heard talk among the older workers of collapses and deaths. The mine management didn’t care particularly. As long as the ore kept coming, the workers could drop dead, she’d heard.

After all, as long as there were laws for people to break, there would be as many workers as the Corporation could want.

Mimi had not worked this particular section of the seam before. It was a new crawlspace, by far the narrowest she’d ever been in, so narrow that it could only accommodate her if she lay on her side and hacked at the ore with her arms over her head. It was exhausting work, and the coldsuit ensured that she received no warmth from the ore as she cut out blocks and passed them down between her legs to the next in line. Mine workers were not entitled to any of the mined sunshine. It belonged to the Corporation.

Mimi had long since passed the point of tears. The first couple of rest periods in the ill-lit dormitory had taught her that sleep was far more important than grief, and she no longer hesitated in swallowing the lumpy, tasteless food either. Sleep and food – these were the necessities of life. Mourning the past was a luxury.

The judge had been a large woman in a thick, quilted outfit, heating panels glimmering dimly with packed sunshine. She had glared down her pudgy nose at Mimi. “You knew you were stealing,” she’d said. “Your behaviour proves it.”

One of the men who had caught Mimi had played the video they’d taken, showing her poking her head out of the door and peering cautiously about, then her frantic scrabbling at the frozen pool of sun. “”Well?” the judge had demanded. “What have you to say for yourself?”

Mimi had had to begin speaking twice before the words came. “We had no light or heat in the house,” she’d said, “or money to buy any. We needed that sun.”

The judge had shaken her head in grim amusement, and pointed at the blue-and-red insignia on the wall. “The sunshine belongs to the Corporation,” she’d said. “You were stealing from it. What would happen if everyone stole from the Corporation whenever they felt like it?” She paused, as though expecting an answer. “Well?”

Mimi had said nothing. The judge had glanced around the room and grunted. “The Sunshine Mines,” she’d said, and clicked on a keyboard on her desk. “Hard labour for...” she peered at Mimi. “How old are you?”


“Eleven,” the judge had repeated, and looked speculatively at Mimi. “Three years,” she’d decided. “That should be enough to teach you a lesson.”

Now, Mimi understood why the judge had decided on that sentence. In three years she’d be getting too large to enter the narrow crawlways, yet too small and weak to handle the heavier machinery and tools. Three years wasn’t that long, she’d been told. If she’d been smaller, it might have been a great deal longer. She was lucky.

She didn’t feel lucky. She felt alone and scared and cold and hungry, and her arms ached as she gouged another blocked of fossilised sunshine out of the rock.

As she worked, she wondered if she would ever see the real sun again.


Here.” The word was a scarcely audible murmur. “Quick.”

Without looking, Mimi extended her hand, and felt the hard, jagged piece slipped into her palm. It was still frozen, but the surface was already warming slowly, sublimating into light and warmth, so that it felt soapy and slippery to her fingers. Still without looking, she slipped it under the hem of her rough uniform cloak and next to her skin. That was not a good thing to do – the heat of her body would cause it to evaporate quickly – but it was the only way she could hide it until she got it back to the dormitory. Once it was safe in the hiding place she’d found beneath a loose slab of stone, she’d break off fragments whenever she needed. Properly utilised, it might last half a week or more.

“You’ve got it?” The voice murmured, impatient to be gone.

“Yes, just a moment.” Mimi fumbled the package of food out from the pocket she’d sewn in the cloak’s lining and pushed it back into the doorway behind her. The brightly lit passage before her was still empty, but at any moment someone might be along. It wouldn’t matter if it were just another worker – nobody sentenced to the mines could have survived without the black market – but if it were a security detail she was dead. At the least she’d get solitary confinement and round the clock supervision for the duration, and that was as good as a death sentence. Without the chance to get hold of smuggled sunshine, she wouldn’t last three months, let alone years.

It was a fine balance, she’d learnt early on – to starve herself of enough food to be able to trade for sunshine, yet not so much as to become too weak to stand the workload. Some of the others traded for a lot more than just sun, and had become quite wealthy in the barter currency of the mine, but Mimi hadn’t the ability or the desire for that. Survival was good enough for her.

With every day – marked off by the clock in the mine’s invariant artificial light – that passed, she felt herself changing, growing harder. Not only in the physical sense, though her muscles turned strong and wiry even as her hands became rough with callus; but she had begun to learn to put her own interests first. Cooperation was of use only when it furthered her own survival.

“I’ll be here again three days from now,” she said, not moving her lips. Talking without moving one’s lips was another skill one learnt early in the mines, where security cameras were everywhere.

“Next time,” the voice murmured, “I want two.”

“Two?” Mimi squawked, despite herself. “Two!”

“Keep your voice down! Or do you want the security on us?”

“I’m sorry,” she replied. “But two is not possible. I’m already saving nearly half my rations for this.”

“Suit yourself,” the voice replied, in a tone that implied a shrug. “It’s not worth my while risking this for just one packet. There are plenty of others who would be glad of my business.”

With despair, Mimi knew the unseen person was not bluffing. Those who worked in the ore processing section, where they handled the fossil sunshine, ruled the market. “Is there anything else you’d trade instead of food?” she asked, not very hopefully.

There was a long pause, so long that she had begun to wonder if the owner of the voice had left. “A warmsuit energy pack,” the reply came at last. “Get me a warmsuit energy pack and I’ll keep to the old price. It’s up to you.”

Mimi felt despair wash over her. “If I give you one packet,” she said, “will you give me half the sunshine at least?” Half the sun would be not nearly enough, but it would be better than nothing.

“Not worth my time,” the voice repeated, implacably. “I’ve customers willing to pay much more, and without the risk of coming all this way to this passage either. So, what is it to be? Two packets, or a warmsuit energy pack?”

For the first time since the first days in the mine, Mimi felt her throat tighten with unshed tears. “I’ll get you the energy pack,” she muttered, blinking furiously.

“In three days, then, same time, same place,” the voice said cheerfully. “Always nice doing business with you.”

Of all the contraband traded in the mine, warmsuit energy packs ranked near the top. They were few, in great demand, and so expensive that Mimi knew well enough that she would never be able to buy one on the black market. There remained just one way out.

She would have to steal one.

There were only two places warmsuit packs could be found. One was the mine’s stock room, where equipment was locked up behind reinforced metal doors and guarded round the clock.  The only way to get something from there was to have high-level contacts among the security guards; contacts a low-level prisoner like Mimi couldn’t even dream about.

The other way was to steal a pack from one of the other prisoners.

This would be an extremely difficult and hazardous procedure, because not only did those who possessed warmsuit packs hide them with care, so that she had no idea who might have one or where it might be found, but if she were caught stealing one, retribution would be immediate and lethal. No owner of a pack could risk letting her live with her knowledge. But then without one she would die soon anyway.

Unhappily, she trudged back down the passage, feeling the chunk of sun flooding her with its thawing warmth.

That night, lying in bed, she stared up at the ceiling. Though her limbs ached with the day’s exhaustion, she felt unable to sleep, or even to think clearly. In the dim cold light of the dormitory, the other workers were humped, snoring shapes. She hardly knew any of them. She hadn’t wanted to know them. Any one of them might have a warmsuit pack – or none. It was impossible to say.

And then, at last, she took the decision she had subconsciously been mulling all day; she decided to try to escape.

Escape from the Sunshine Mines just did not happen. It wasn’t just the security, or the problems inherent in making one’s way out of a subterranean labyrinth of passages. Suppose one did manage to make one’s way to the surface. What then? Without money, food, or clothes apart from mine prisoner uniform, where could one go? And without a warmsuit, one would freeze to death on the first night. Mimi knew all that.

But she did not see an alternative. If she escaped, she would probably die. But if she stayed in the mine, she certainly would.

Feeling much older than her eleven years, she lay in her bed, clutching a fragment of sunshine under the covers, planning her way out.

The next day, after being issued their coldsuit and work tools, the work party she was assigned to was sent to a new tunnel, one she had not been down before. The passages down to the working levels had several branches and for the first time Mimi tried to take a good look at them – without being too obtrusive – as she followed the others down the shiny lines of ore car tracks. She knew that several of the tunnels had been worked out and abandoned. If she could find one of those, she might be able to locate a passage to a natural crevice or cave which would lead up to the open air.

It was a forlorn hope, but it was all she could think of.

Some of the abandoned tunnels were still in use – the Corporation had turned them into storage space, and they were filled with nameless crates and boxes, the dim white light casting their grotesque shadows on the wall. A few others, though, were empty, and these were easy to make out. They were completely dark, since the Corporation thought it uneconomical to illuminate them, and their floors showed the marks where the rails had been ripped up. Mimi counted three on the way down to the work face. One wended off fairly level to the left. The other two fell off more steeply to the right, into profound darkness.

She could take the left hand tunnel, she decided unhappily, but it was far too obvious. Once her absence was noticed, they would definitely follow, if only to make an example of what happened to escapees. She had no time to explore other workings of the mine. Nor could she be seen on other levels without someone asking questions. It had to be one of the two right hand tunnels. And she would try to get away today, while she still had enough sun to last awhile. The precious fragment lay snug under her coldsuit, its warmth spreading slowly against her chest, but unable to escape due to the insulation.

The shift proceeded agonisingly slowly. Another team had been carving out a new access tunnel through the rock. It was only a crack so far, a dangerous crack liable to close under its own weight. So of course the supervisor ordered Mimi to crawl down it to move it along. She was the smallest worker on the shift, wasn’t she?

“Don’t worry,” the supervisor said, grinning under his mask. “If anything happens, we’ll name this tunnel after you.”

By the time the shift was over she was in a cold sweat, the muscles in her limbs fluttering with exhaustion. Coming back up the tunnel it was no effort at all to fall behind so that she was trailing the rest of the shift, until a curve of the passage hid her from the others. And when the open mouth of the first of the abandoned tunnels came up, she slipped into it without hesitation. The shadows welcomed her; it was almost like coming home.

The floor of the tunnel was covered with loose gravel and rock dust, and her feet left smudged prints which she had to pause to scuff away, apprehensive of someone coming along. Then she walked away into the darkness, feeling her way with her hands. Soon the wan light from the main passage had faded, and she was enveloped in complete darkness.

It was a long time before Mimi dared to take out a fragment of the sunshine from under her coldsuit to light her way. The piece was very small, and it scarcely threw enough light for her to see where she was placing her feet, but it was all she could afford to use. After a while it guttered and faded, and then she walked on through the velvety darkness, until she began to be afraid that she would step in some hole or fissure and break an ankle. Then she found herself walking slower and slower until she was hardly moving at all; so she took out another piece and lit her way for a little longer until the same thing happened.

Little by little she lost all sense of direction. She had passed side tunnels and passages, and had seen shafts leading vertically to other levels, but they were quite impossible to climb up or down. After a while she no longer knew if she was perhaps retracing her own steps. Every glimpse she caught of her surroundings seemed the same.

Mimi didn’t know how much time had passed when she began to feel hungry. She had saved as much as possible of the previous night’s supper and the morning’s breakfast, and carried the food under her coldsuit. When it got too insistent she stopped to eat, propping her tools against the nearest wall, holding a speck of sun up so she could see to unwrap her provisions.

Dully, she wondered if she would starve to death in the tunnels once the food gave out. By now, the search would have begun, but she had no desire to be found by them and taken back. She’d rather die down in the dark.

An overpowering weariness took over her, and she slept.

She dreamed. In the dream she was back with her grandmother, in the dark old house, and she had brought back a load of frozen sunshine, enough to keep them in comfort for months. But she realised suddenly that the sunshine was all locked up inside her coldsuit, and however hard she tried to open it up, the suit’s fastenings refused to cooperate. And as she struggled with increasing desperation, the house grew colder and darker, and she had to get the suit open before her grandmother froze to death. But the more she struggled, the tighter the coldsuit fastenings grew, until, filled with frustration, she took up a knife from a table and began cutting and hacking at her breast. And her grandmother caught her hands with surprising strength, so that she could not move, and shone a bright light in her eyes.

Her eyes snapped open. Someone was holding her hands so she could not move them, and shining a light in her eyes.

“Who are you?” She could make out the speaker as a silhouette behind the light. “What are you doing here?”

She tried to raise an arm to shield her eyes, but her hands were held down too securely. “Let me go,” she said. “Please.”

“Let her go, Najma,” another voice said. “She’s just a kid.”

The first person hesitated a moment, and then stepped back. Mimi sat up, squinting her eyes against the light.

“Well?” the woman named Najma demanded. “Answer me.”

“She’s run away from the mines.” The other voice spoke with finality, without the least bit of doubt. “Haven’t you?”

Mimi nodded, her mouth and throat dry. “Yes.”

“And where did you think you were running to?” Najma asked. “Were you looking for us?”

“I don’t know who you are,” Mimi whispered.

“Maybe she’s a spy,” Najma said.

“Don’t be silly, Najma,” the other person replied. “If she’s a spy she’s the most incompetent one that ever lived. Wandering around in circles like this!”

“I’m not a spy,” Mimi whispered. “I was just looking for a way to get out.”

There was a long silence.

“You’d better come with us,” Najma said finally.


Eat this,” the other woman said, pushing forward a plate. Her name, she’d said, was Shraddha. “You must be cold and starved.”

They had walked a long time, down twisting tunnels, rappelling down vertical shafts, and now were in a little room carved out of the tunnel wall, lit by a piece of sunshine in a heavy lantern. The walls were covered with heavy hangings, which trapped enough warmth to let them take off their suits.

“Eat first,” Shraddha repeated. “And after that we’ll talk.”

Mimi peered at the food dubiously. In the dim light it appeared to be a shapeless brownish mess. “What is it?”

“It’s not poison,” Najma snapped. Her eyes glittered like wet stones. “I’ll wager it’s better than anything you got up there in the prisoner barracks.”

“We eat the same thing,” Shraddha said, touching Mimi’s shoulder and then her forehead. Her voice filled with concern. “Najma, the child’s burning with fever!”

“What? Let me see.” Najma touched Mimi’s forehead and throat. “You’re right. Why didn’t you tell us you were feeling ill, child?”

“I’m not feeling ill,” Mimi said, but suddenly her voice seemed to be coming from very far away, like the end of a tunnel. The small room wavered, the two women greying out, She clutched tightly to the table so as not to fall.

“Catch her, quick!” she heard Najma shout, from an infinite distance. “She’s fainted.”

She woke on a bed of rolled blankets laid over the rock, with more blankets over her. Even so, she felt intensely cold, as though freezing waves of water were washing over her. When she blinked her eyes open, she saw Shraddha bending anxiously over her.

“Oh, good, you’re awake,” she said. “Najma, she’s awake.”

“Here,” Najma said, reaching past her to hold a spoonful of liquid to Mimi’s mouth. “Drink this.”

It tasted so horrible that Mimi sputtered. “It’s just medicine,” Najma said soothingly. Her earlier animosity seemed to have vanished with Mimi’s illness. “You’ll need to rest a while. You’re badly weakened. Didn’t they feed you up there?”

Mimi worked her tongue in her mouth to try and get rid of the taste. “There wasn’t much food,” she said. “And I had to keep a lot of it to buy sun with.” Slowly, without prompting, she explained what had forced her down into the abandoned tunnels, from the time she had left her grandmother’s house to fil a couple of buckets with sun. “So here I am.”

The two women glanced at each other. “So it’s true the rumour we heard,” Shraddha said at last. “It’s getting much worse up in the mines.”

“Either they’ve more prisoners than they need or they’ve simply stopped caring completely.” Najma felt Mimi’s forehead again, nodded, and rose. “I’ll be back,” she said. “You try and sleep if you can.”

Shraddha and Mimi watched the hangings drop close behind her. “She acts fierce,” the woman explained. “But she’s really a good person. You noticed that she changed when she found out you were sick? She’s always like that when someone’s hurt or ill.” She turned to Mimi. “So, do you want to sleep? Should I leave you alone?”

Mimi shook her head. The little effort made her dizzy. “No. Please. Just tell me though, where we are. And who are you?”

“Well. We’re a good, long way below the mine tunnels.” Shraddha swept her arm in an expansive gesture. “All this used to be the old mine workings, long ago before the Corporation took over. It’s still got some ore left, more than enough to keep us going. As for who we are...” she smiled grimly. “We were all in the mines like you. Over the years, some of us escaped down here. There’s quite a number of us now.”

Mimi looked at her. “And you stay down here all the time?”

Shraddha shook her head. “Of course not. Where would we get food and clothing from, or that medicine Najma gave you? We do trade with the people on the surface, for ore. We just avoid contact with the mine’s black market. There’s too much danger of betrayal there.”

“But then – “ Mimi hesitated, trying to find the words. “Is that all you do? Make a new home down in the tunnels? I mean...” she stopped, confused.

Shraddha smiled slightly. “You mean, are we like rats or cockroaches, hiding in the mines and trying to avoid being noticed? Not at all. It’s going to take time, but sooner or later we’re going to form a resistance movement down here. We’re just laying the groundwork.”

“Resistance movement?” The words tasted strange on Mimi’s tongue. “Against the Corporation?”

“Yes, of course.”

“But the Corporation...” Mimi frowned. “The Corporation is so strong. How can anyone resist it?”

Shraddha grinned. “You should be answering that question, girl. You’ve been resisting it yourself, haven’t you? From the moment you first scraped up sun from the street, you’ve been resisting your own way. And then you took the chance to sneak away down here.” She ran her fingers through Mimi’s hair. “You’re a hardcore member of the resistance yourself, you are.”

“But...” Mimi paused, yawning. “Just stealing sun from the Corporation. How can it...” She yawned again.

“It’s not just stealing sun that we do,” Shraddha said. “Go to sleep now. We’ll talk later.”


You must realise,” Najma said, “that we’re far from the only resistance group down here in the mines, let alone in the whole wide world.”

It was several days later, Mimi was feeling much stronger with the combination of enforced rest, the awful-tasting medicine, and the sticky brownish food. Yet this was the first day Najma had permitted her to leave the small room.

The two of them were standing side by side on a rock platform, looking down at the enormous cavern below. At three or four points along the base of the rock chamber, Mimi could see tiny figures entering and leaving low tunnels, some of them pushing baskets of ore before them. The centre of the chamber was heaped with a small hill of glowing ore.

“We don’t have the equipment they have up there, of course,” Najma had said, pointing at the heap. “We have no trolleys on tracks, or mechanical cutters, or even hand tools of the quality you brought down with you. But at least what we mine is all for our own benefit, not for the Corporation.” She’d glanced at Mimi. “And we don’t use children for mining, either.”

“How many other groups are there?” Mimi asked now. Under the warmsuit they’d given her, she had several pieces of thawing sun. She felt almost too warm, but Najma had insisted. “In the mines, I mean?”

Najma shrugged. “We don’t know all of them,” she said. “There are many levels of these old mines, and we don’t have contact with all. But there are many of us, and the number’s growing. And that doesn’t include all those on the outside.”

“Who’s on the outside?” Mimi followed Najma down a ramp towards the chamber floor. “A lot?”

“Oh, there are people everywhere resisting now. People who harvest their own sun and trade for food with it. People who grow food where the Corporation won’t find it. There are even security people who pass on information and turn a blind eye to smuggling. The Corporation’s hold is fading fast, and they know it. That’s why they’re so desperate.”

They were down on the cavern floor, and the heap of ore towered over them now. One of the miners pulling a basket of ore stopped to talk to Najma. “And this is the girl you were talking about?” he asked. “I see she’s better.”

“Yes,” Najma told him, and they both turned to look at Mimi. “I’m just showing her around.”

The man nodded. “You’re quite a heroine, you know,” he said to Mimi. “Nobody so young has ever escaped from the Corporation before. We’re all very glad to have you with us.”

Mimi felt confused and embarrassed. “I’m glad to be here,” she mumbled.

“So,” the man asked, peering at her through his visor, “what are you going to do? Are you planning to stay in our little community down here, or...”

“Don’t push her,” Najma said. “Let her make her mind up in her own time.”

But the question stayed with Mimi through the rest of the tour, so that she barely took in what Najma was saying. For the first time, she realised that she actually had a choice where to go and what to do. And, following hard on that, she remembered her grandmother, with a pang of longing so sharp she had to grit her teeth not to burst out crying right there.

“What are you thinking about?” Shraddha asked later. It was the first time Mimi had seen her that day. “Is something wrong?”

Mimi shook her head. “I’m all right.”

“You don’t look all right. You look exhausted.” Shraddha’s eyes were full of worry. “Najma shouldn’t have let you out of bed. I told her it was too soon.”

“No,” Mimi protested. “It’s nothing. I’m all right, really. Only –“


“I don’t know what to do.” Mimi repeated what the man in the cavern had said. “All these days I’ve trained myself not to think of my grandmother, I suppose – and now, suddenly, I can’t think of anything else.”

Shraddha looked at her gravely. “Do you want to go to her?”

“I don’t know,” Mimi wailed. “I don’t know how to get back to the village. And even if I could, I don’t know if she’d still be there. They might have taken her elsewhere. Or she might be...” she stopped abruptly.

“Dead,” Shraddha finished. “Yes, there’s that, of course. But we do have contacts on the outside. If you want, we can have some discreet enquiries made. And if we find her...”

“What then?”

“We’ll see what we’ll see,” Shraddha said firmly. “Now, eat something and try and rest. You aren’t anything like fully fit, whatever you might think.”

Mimi lay down, images of her grandmother playing on the insides of her eyelids.


We’ve found her.” Najma motioned for Mimi to sit down next to her and Shraddha. “It wasn’t hard.”

It was about a week later, a week during which Mimi had been unable to sleep or eat properly. Finally, Najma had had to threaten to tranquillise her unless she tried to relax. She had done her best to pretend. It hadn’t fooled anyone, of course.

Mimi’s throat went dry. “Is she all right?”

Najma looked at her quizzically. “As far as we know, she is. She’s still living in the old house in your village.”

“They didn’t do anything to her, then?” Mimi asked.

“Who, the Corporation? No, they seem to have been satisfied with arresting you. Of course, your grandmother’s too old to be a slave labourer in the mines or on a farm. That probably saved her.”

There was a brief pause. Mimi grew aware that both Shraddha and Najma were looking at her.

“Well,” Shraddha asked, “what do you want to do?”

Mimi looked down at her feet. “If you don’t mind,” she whispered, “I want to go to her.”

“Mind?” Najma repeated. “Why should we mind? Of course you want to go to her.” Shraddha and she exchanged glances. “We’ll arrange something,” she added.

“When?” Mimi heard herself asking.

“As soon as possible,” Shraddha told her kindly. “These things take a little time, you know.”


Is that the house?” Zulfikar murmured in Mimi’s ear. “The second on the right?”

Mimi peered through the gloom. It was the first time she’d been out in the village at night, and in the light of the puddles of frozen sunshine the huts looked strange and misshapen, their identities disguised. She sucked in the thin air through the valve of her borrowed warmsuit. “I think it is,” she whispered back, but suddenly uncertain and filled with doubt.

They had been travelling for three nights. The two with her – the young man called Zulfikar and the woman called Susan – had come to her in the middle of the night, and woken her from an uneasy doze. “Come on,” they’d said. “Get ready. We’re leaving at once.”

“But...” Mimi had protested. “I’ve got to say goodbye. Shraddha – Najma...”

“No time for that,” Zulfikar had snapped. “We have to get going. Don’t worry, they’ll understand.”

They had led Mimi up a succession of tunnels, pulling themselves hand over hand up ropes let down vertical shafts, and then more tunnels. Finally, they had emerged on the surface in the middle of the night, crawling out of a crack on a hillside, pushing aside a heap of carbon dioxide snow.

They had walked in silence until the dawn, and then hidden in someone’s house. Whoever it was hadn’t actually appeared, just left food and beds for them.

“Whose house is this?” Mimi had asked.

“No questions of that kind,” Zulfikar had told her. “What you don’t need to know, it’s better that you don’t know.” They’d left at dusk and walked the night away, hiding in a storage barn the following dawn.

“Well,” Susan asked impatiently now, “is it your grandmother’s house, or isn’t it?”

Mimi craned her neck, and then abruptly sighed with relief. “Yes,” she said. “I recognise that rock. It’s the house.”

Zulfikar and Susan glanced at each other. “All right,” the former said. “Good. We’ll say goodbye then.”

“Wait!” Mimi said, suddenly panicky. “You can’t go! Not like this!”

“We do have other places to go, you know,” Susan told her. “We have to keep moving. There’s no time to waste.”

“Will you at least come in with me?” Mimi begged. “To meet my grandmother?”

“I don’t think that will be possible,” Susan said. “But we’ll stay here and watch till you go in safely. Will that be all right?”

Mimi swallowed. Suddenly, she didn’t want to leave these two. They hadn’t been friendly, but they were her only link to the resistance group in the mine. “I suppose,” she said in a small voice. “Thanks.”

“Keep to the shadows,” Zulfikar said. “You never know who’s watching.”

Mimi nodded slightly and raised a hand, turning away as if they could have seen the tears in her eyes.

She had reached the house before she realised that she had a problem. How could she make herself known to her grandmother? The old lady would certainly be asleep at this hour. Hopelessly, she raised her fist and banged on the door.

It opened almost at once. In the guttering glow of the familiar old sun lamp, her grandmother was a silhouette. “Yes?” she asked, uncertainly.

“Grandma? It’s me.”

“Mimi?” Her grandmother held up the lantern so that the rays shone through the warmsuit’s faceplate. “Mimi. It’s really you.”

“Grandma...” Mimi’s voice broke into a sob.

“Come in,” her grandmother said. “Come in. Quickly.”


You can’t stay here, you know.”

Mimi looked up from the soup bowl. “I don’t understand. You want me to go away?”

“It’s not what I want, Mimi.” Grandma ladled the rest of the watery soup into Mimi’s bowl. “A day or two, and they’ll know you’re here. Someone or other will tell.”

Mimi looked down at the soup, watching the thin wisp of steam rising from it. “I’ll hide,” she said. “I won’t show myself.”

“For how long?” Grandma turned away, wiping her eyes. “Besides, the security people come by nowadays, barge into peoples’ homes looking for contraband. Anything they don’t like, and it’s off to the labour battalions. They arrested people in the village only the day before yesterday.”

Mimi licked her lips with a tongue gone dry. “I don’t know what to do, Grandma. Where can I go?”

“If you only knew what it makes me feel to see you like this, so thin and pale, and have to tell you this...but there’s really no choice.” The tears were flowing freely down Grandma’s face. “They might even come tomorrow. It’s not even safe for you to stay the night.”

“But then...” Mimi looked down at her hands, curled around the bowl of soup. “Let’s do something, Grandma. We’ll go away together, tonight. We’ll try and find some other place to stay, where people don’t know us.” She could hear the note of desperation in her voice. “There isn’t anything else to do.”

Grandma shook her head, slowly and sadly. “I’m old, Mimi. I’m too old to be able to travel far on foot, let alone looking for another place to stay. You know we can’t use any transport without being caught.” She paused. “And when they find the house empty, they’ll be looking out for me. Besides, where could we ever go without papers? We’d just be running from one danger to another.”

“Then...what can we do?”

“Well,” someone said quietly behind Mimi’s back, “I have a suggestion about that.”

Mimi turned very slowly. “You,” she said.

“Who else?” Shraddha pulled a chair forward and sat down. “Did you really think Najma and I would just let you go away without a word?”

“You followed me?”

“Not exactly followed you. We arrived here earlier this evening, and were talking to this lovely lady here, your grandmother.” Mimi glanced quickly at Grandma, realising suddenly why she had been so prompt in opening the door. “Najma is keeping a lookout for danger,” Shraddha continued. “We can’t stay long.”

“These friends of yours were telling me what you’d been through,” Grandma said. “They agreed with me that it was far too dangerous for you to stay here. So...” she glanced at Shraddha.

“So,” the younger woman continued, “we thought...of course, it’s for you to decide...that you might want to come back to the mine. You’ll always have a place with us there.”


Mimi’s grandmother shook her head, smiling faintly. “It’s not possible for me to go down there. Can you imagine me climbing down tunnels with ropes?”

Shraddha touched Mimi’s shoulder. “Please don’t think we’re pressurising you,” she said. “If you don’t want to come with us, we could try and find some other place for you to go. It’s up to you though.”

“I don’t know.” Mimi said. To her horror, she began to cry. “It feels like I’m being torn in two. I don’t want to abandon Grandma.”

“But you aren’t abandoning me,” Grandma said. “Your friends were telling me...”

“We told her, Shradha said, “that she could be valuable as a contact in this village. The resistance is growing, and we’ll need all the help we can get.”

“I’ll be glad to,” Grandma said. “It’s strange, but all these years I never really thought that anyone could actually fight the Corporation. And now that I know there’s actually an organisation opposing it. I can’t hold back.”

“You can always be our link person,” Shraddha said to Mimi. “Someone will have to keep coming to meet your grandmother, you know. There’s no reason why that person can’t be you.”

Mimi looked from Shraddha to her grandmother and back. “Very well,” she said. “I don’t see that there’s anything else I can do.”

Grandma nodded. “Shraddha was telling me how brave you were. I can see she wasn’t lying.”

“We’d better be going,” Shraddha said, rising. “We have to be well away before daybreak.”

“Grandma?” Mimi looked at the old woman. “There’s something I need to do before I leave.”

“I know, Mimi,” Grandma said. “I know.”


In the faint light of the puddles of frozen sun, the hut was a humped smear of darkness. When Mimi turned to look back at it one last time, she could barely make out her grandmother at the door. She waved goodbye, and thought she saw the little figure raise an arm to wave back. She couldn’t be sure, though.

But if it hadn’t been for the glow from the pail of sunshine she’d just scraped up from the street for her grandmother, she wouldn’t have been able to see anything at all.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012