Green is for Silence, Blue is for Voice, Red is for Whole, Black is for Choice
by Damien Angelica Walters
Leda sleeps within a nightskin.
From the outside, it appears featureless, a chrysalis connected to the machinery below with tubes and wires. When the stitches dissolve, she knows it's time to emerge. A week? A month? She doesn't know. Time slips while inside the nightskin. Slips and falls away.
She wakes in stages. First, there is a subtle awareness, a shift in the light perhaps, as the stitches begin to give way and the skin loosens around her. The synthetic framework holding her muscles and tendons in place acknowledges the new space. Her limbs stretch out, pushing the gap open. The nightskin falls open; Leda within, like a peeled grape.
The nightskin chamber is a vast hall of shrouded forms--wombs of artificial skin bound together with black stitches. The life-sustaining machines give a low and steady hum; acoustic ceiling tiles steal the sound away before it can echo back. Beds line the walls. White lights beneath each one push out a pale glow, the only illumination in the sterile room. Her footsteps make no sound under the hiss and pull of recycled air--air holding the scent of antiseptic tight in its grip, an ever-present reminder that that they're still healing. Yet even after they heal, the smell will be their home. Where else can they go?
As she makes her way out of the chamber into the short hallway leading to the sewing room, her rebuilt eyes adjust in a millisecond to the lights overhead. The air is still and silent in the hallway; her feet tap softly on the tile floor, like a gentle raindrop on a windowpane.
Does it even still rain?
She banishes the thought as she enters the small room where the black-robed seamstress waits with a dayskin and a green robe folded on the table beside her. Leda never sees the face of the seamstress, nor does she know if it's the same one each time, yet in spite of the hooded robe and the mask hiding all save her eyes, something in the set of the woman's shoulders makes her think so.
The dayskin is thin, yet strong; as artificial as the framework it covers. After pulling it into place, the seamstress opens her sewing kit, threads a needle, and with tiny, perfect stitches, closes up the skin.
She finishes and Leda dons the green robe. The color reminds her of the small patch of grass that grew outside the apartment building where she used to live. When she had life instead of existence.
She nods her thanks and leaves both room and seamstress behind. She will not see her again until it's time to sleep once more. Sleep and wake, sleep and wake, an endless cycle.
In truth, she hates to wake. At least in the nightskin there is respite from the inescapable boredom. When she is fully healed, things will be better; she will be able to work in the food labs or be taught to sew. That knowledge is the only thing that keeps her looking forward.
She heads down a long hallway the color of weak tea, through a door, another hallway, and another door, passing into the area called the apartments. Her roommate, Victorija, sits on the edge of her bed, her hands folded in prayer.
Leda no longer prays.
A clock in the hallway chimes and they leave the apartment, nodding at the others emerging from theirs. Most nod back, save for Saule, but she nods to no one. Soon, they become an ocean of moving dayskin, green robes fluttering around their ankles, bald heads bobbing back and forth, as they make their way to the dining hall.
The hall itself hums with movement and sound--the swish-swish of robes against tiles, the metallic tick of silverware onto trays, the rustle of paper napkins, the gentle susurration from the overhead vents. Black-robed figures stand behind the counters, handing out food.
The ripe scents of the hydroponically grown fruit and vegetables are punctuated with an undertone of damp leather, the scent of the dayskins. Beneath that, the smell of blood and bone and antiseptic. And beneath that, stale air.
Leda suspects most of them don't even notice the smells by now. She wishes she didn't. They leave a slick taste in the back of her throat no amount of food or water can erase.
After they've eaten and returned their trays, Leda and Victorija leave the dining hall. Victorija moves two paces ahead and turns away from their apartment. Leda follows as Victorija travels with quick steps down a series of tiled corridors, until they come to a sealed door, the door separating Green and Grey. Victorija presses one hand on the door and bows her head. Leda waits, her hands clasped together, until Victorija is done.
On the way back to their apartment building, they stop once when Victorija needs to catch her breath. She only has one lung.
Leda is fortunate; she has two.
A week later, according to the calendars in the dining hall (But Leda wonders. How do they know it's a week? And is a week in this world the same as it was in the old one? Time slips, even in the dayskins.), notices are posted for the lottery.
On lottery day, everyone in dayskin streams out of their apartments, heading for the meeting room. Leda stands in line behind Victorija, and they shuffle forward as tickets are handed out. Some of those in line use sign language, their fingers twisting into words. Leda has been in Green long enough to understand a few; she sees "maybe" and "I hope" on more than one hand.
No one pushes. There's no need. Everyone gets a ticket.
When it's her turn, she keeps her eyes down, holding out her identification card to the man in the black robe. Her name is found, checked off the list, and a ticket returned with her card.
She and Victorija head to the sofas to wait. Saule sits nearby. Leda watches her from the corner of her eye. Saule is new; the adjustment to life in Green after spending long lengths of time in Grey is hard for many, especially if, like Victorija, there are friends or family members still on the other side of the door.
Leda has no one to miss or mourn. She was an only child and her parents died in a car accident three years before the war began.
It's better that way, she thinks.