art by Melissa Mead
by Stephen Gaskell
It had been two years since Zhen Dao had seen the sky.
Her family had leased her to one of Beijing's biggest gold farms when she was eight. Every day she would rise at dawn (she knew it was early for she always woke to a cockerel's cry from beyond the thin walls of the dormitory) get dressed in standard coveralls, eat a thin tasteless gruel in a bare mess hall, then head to the shop floor.
The place was always dim, the only light coming from the flatscreens that occupied the dozens of evenly spaced desks. It was neither too hot nor too cold, and the air never smelt of sweaty bodies even though kids like her spent their whole day there. Sometimes her mind played tricks on her, and she imagined strange sights in the corners. Déjà vu was common.
Zhen wanted not for food or drink or warmth, but she did miss the clouds--and her family, of course.