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Rissa and her brother — Ivan Marchant, three years older — were born to free parents. David Marchant and Selene Kerguelen, married oldstyle, worked as a Tri-V reporting team. Rissa could not remember a time when she had not watched the Tri-V news, hoping to see them reporting an item from the field. When she did see them, she waved — and took it as a matter of course that when they finished speaking they usually waved back.
She did not know what "condominium" meant, but she knew she lived in one — a massive building of many levels, bounded by streets. One level was for school, but even when she was too young for school, she was never lonely. First there had been the men and women who tended the creche, and later the ones in the Flat-V beside the kitchen — if she needed something she pushed the button and asked for it, and the person talked to her and usually sent or brought it. Occasionally someone came and helped her when she had not asked, so she knew they could see and hear her, regardless of whether she pushed the button. She liked these people well enough. But she loved David and Selene and Ivan and was always glad when they came home from work and from school.
Rissa was five and had begun school herself the day her parents did not come home. Voris Kerguelen, her uncle, came instead. He prepared a meal for her and Ivan — it was past dinnertime — and refused to answer questions until the children ate. Rissa did not protest; she was hungry.
She was wearing a favorite red dress; her long dark hair was in pigtails. Ivan wore green coveralls; when he grinned he showed new front teeth too big for his young jaws. But when Uncle Voris told them what had happened, Ivan grinned no more. He cried instead, and so did Rissa. She also threw up her dinner.
On assignment, covering a Total Welfare Center riot, David and Selene had been taken hostage. When Colonel Osbert Newhausen ordered his Committee troops to gas the entire block-building, they had been killed with the rest. Tri-V had not shown that incident.
One arm around each child, Voris said, "It happens; they knew the risks. Those murderers — there's no safety anymore." His arms tightened. "But don't worry. I'll take care of you."
He stayed the night, sleeping with a child held close on either side. Rissa slept with an arm across his body, holding Ivan's hand.
The door buzzer, next morning, interrupted breakfast. Voris admitted a stocky, uniformed woman. She brushed unruly graying hair back from her eyes and said, "Welfare Agent Compter. I have a pickup order for two kids — Ivan Marchant and Rissa Kerguelen. These them?"
"Wait a minute! You can't do that — these are my sister's children. I — "
"You're the uncle?" She presented a document. "Here's the pickup — read it and sign it. Or don't, for all I care. Consent isn't legally necessary — just makes it neater."
Voris began a violent motion, then checked it and took the papers. "Hold on a minute, will you, Ms. Compter? I said these children are my sister's. I'm ready and willing to take the responsibility, so your good offices aren't required."
She took back the folder, thumbed through it. "Voris Kerguelen?" He nodded. She shook her head. "You know better than that, Kerguelen. It says here — not married, oldstyle or freestyle — authorized bachelor quarters only, no children allowed. What do you think you're trying to pull here?"
"Damn it, I can get married. Or arrange for child care. I —"
"It won't work — the kids aren't yours and you can't afford it. So sign the pickup or don't, but quit holding up my schedule. I'm busy, even if you're not."
Rissa looked from one to the other, not understanding, and began to cry. Ivan came to hold her, and Voris to hold them both. He said, "Compter — can't you give me some time? Schedules —" He shook
his head. "Sure — I know. But these are children — and Total Welfare is no more than legalized slavery. I can't let you —"
Flat-voiced; "You can't stop me. And watch your mouth, Kerguelen — or you could be next. Total Welfare is an accepted principle; when the government takes over all your debts and responsibilities and provides subsistence, what more can you ask?"
Voris's fists clenched. "Did you ever hear of choice? That's what I ask — for these children. In your hands they'll never have it."
The woman sneered, but spoke formally. "As you well know, when Clients are old enough to be sent out to work, their earnings go into their personal accounts. Thrifty Clients who pay off their obligations and achieve a positive balance have the right to buy out at any time."
"If they don't eat! How many ever make it?" He shook his head. "No
— the only ones who ever get out are the few who win big in the lottery." "We can't help it that these people are basically lazy. That's the reason for Total Welfare."
"If you say so." He leaned forward. "And how many are on it now? Fifteen percent? Twenty? The way it's growing, you'd think UET wanted everyone Welfared."
Without expression she looked at him. "That's not such a bad idea, Kerguelen — within limits, not bad at all. And the percentage is nearly thirty. Now — are you going to sign or aren't you?"
He held up a hand. "Wait — you pushed me too fast — I wasn't thinking. What about my sister's estate, and her husband's? I'm executor of their wills; surely I'm authorized to use the money for the children's care. So —"
Compter laughed. "Estates? Those two were charged and convicted of helping instigate the riot. Their assets are forfeit."
"Damn you! I'll appeal that — and sue in the children's name for damages, for their parents' deaths. You'll see —"
"I see you're as reckless as you are ignorant. Do whatever you please — after I get these kids to the Center, where they belong."
Voris squatted to hold both children tightly. "All right. Ivan — Rissa — you'll have to go with Ms. Compter now. But it won't be for any longer than I can help." He stood again. "Very well. I'll get their things together — it won't take long."
"They take nothing." She unzipped her tote bag. "Get them out of those clothes, into these jumpsuits and sandals. That's all they need, where they're going."
Saying nothing, Ivan exchanged his clothing for the shapeless blue-gray garment. Voris undressed Rissa, but as he fastened the jumpsuit, she reached out.
"My pretty dress!" Voris looked at the woman; she shook her head and put the dress aside. Rissa evaded Compter's reaching hand and ran to a closet; when she turned back to the room, she held a doll. "My dolly — I need my dolly."
"Take it away from her, Kerguelen."
Voris gestured, entreating. "But a doll — just one doll? Why?"
"No personal possessions. The others steal them; it causes fights." Voris did not move. Compter shrugged and slapped the small girl, then took the doll and tossed it away. Voris started toward the woman; she laughed. "Touch me and you're Welfared — you know that."
Tears wet Rissa's cheeks. Compter said, "Come on, crybaby."
"She is not!" Ivan's voice raised. "Don't call her that! She hardly ever cries."
Fists clenched, Voris said, "She's always been ... a happy child."
"Then she shouldn't have much trouble adjusting. All right — let's go."
Voris crouched before Rissa, hands cupped near his chest. "Rissa? Look, Rissa." She stopped crying and nodded. "Rissa, this is a pretend doll. See how I hold her? Now I'm going to give her to you, and nobody can ever take her away."
He reached out, and Rissa did; and then it was she who held the doll-sized space of air. "What's her name, Uncle Voris?"
"You name her, Rissa."
"All right." She thought. "She's Selene — like Mommy."
Foot tapping, Compter opened the door. Voris kissed both children and let them go. When he would have followed, the woman shook her head. Rissa looked back and saw him standing, gaze downcast. She waved, but he did not look up.
Then the door closed.
First the familiar corridor, then a moving walkway, then an elevator that sank past many levels to a vast, dimly lit space. Rissa and Ivan followed the woman past massive concrete pillars to one of many parked groundcars, and entered it. Compter drove along aisleways and up a spiral ramp to outdoor sunlight.
They rode for a long time, but Rissa paid little heed to what they passed. Softly, under her breath, she hummed — and in her arms she rocked Selene.
The car slowed. Rissa looked outside and saw they were approaching six massive, grouped buildings, each covering a city block, and connected by enclosed overhead bridges. She saw no windows, only blank slabs colored blue-gray, slightly darker than her jumpsuit.
High fences blocked the perimeter streets; a guard checked them through a gate. Compter drove to the second building on the right, parked and took the children inside — through a lobby, along a large hall and then to a smaller one, and into an office.
Behind a desk sat a fat man whose voice wheezed. Before Compter could speak he said, "Wrong place. Admissions — Division Male, Juvenile, Prepube — that's in 7-A. Female, 9-C. Down to your left and —"
"I know how to find the rooms. I've been on other work lately and didn't know they'd moved Admissions."
As though she had thanked him, the fat man waved a hand and said, "Anytime." She nodded and walked out; the children followed.
In another room, Compter handed papers to a slim black woman. She said, "Ivan Marchant. His docket's in order."
Surprising Rissa, this woman smiled. "All right, Ivan — we'll get you a physical exam and have you settled in no time."
Compter's hand on Rissa's shoulder. "Come on."
Rissa pulled away. "No! I have to be with Ivan!" She ran to hug him.
"But you can't, honey," the black woman said. "Boys and girls live in different divisions." Rissa looked at her, made an effort, and did not cry. She kissed her brother and turned to go.
Ivan called after her. "I'll come see you, Rissa. I'll make them let me!" Then she was in the hall, the door closed behind her.
Along the hall, up flights of stairs to another office — the man Compter greeted was thin, pale-faced, and red-haired. Unsmiling, he looked from papers to Rissa and said, "It's all in order." With a nod Compter turned away, giving Rissa no word or look. When she had gone, the man said, "Five, are you? Young enough to adjust. This time next year, you won't know you ever lived any place else." Rissa clenched her jaw, thinking, No! I'll never forget! — but she said nothing.
A brown-haired woman, plump in white uniform, took Rissa to another room. White uniforms meant doctors and nurses, so Rissa was not surprised to be undressed while the woman looked and listened, touched her with cold instruments, and felt and thumped here and there. When she was dressed again, the woman finished marking a sheet of paper and said, "You'll do." She called a younger woman in. "Take her up to Dorm Eighteen, will you, Theda? Is she in time for dinner there?"
Theda took papers in one hand and Rissa's hand in the other. "I think so. I'll see that she gets something." They walked out; an elevator took them up several floors to an anteroom that led to a larger room filled with cots. The woman sat and typed on a small card. "This is your nametag. Can you read your name? We'll put it on the head of your cot."
"I can read."
"Good." She patted Rissa's head. "Now sit here a minute and then we'll assign you a bed and go get you something to eat." Rissa sat. Theda opened a drawer and brought out an electric clipper. "Hold still now." And very quickly she clipped Rissa's hair — not to bare scalp, but closely. "All right; let's go."
Rissa's head felt cool; she put her hand to it and felt the short growth, at the borderline between bristle and softness. She did not look at the wastebasket, where Theda had dropped the two long pigtails.
She followed the woman past rows of cots and saw her nametag affixed to one, then to a dining hall filled with long tables. Other small girls in jumpsuits ate silently at those tables. Rissa looked at them; their clipped heads, ears seeming to protrude, were ugly to her. Then, in a polished metal tray, she saw her own reflection.
Theda filler her tray and sat her at a table. "You'll be all right now; the other girls will show you where everything is." And the woman left. Rissa sat, staring at the tray so that she would not have to look at anything else.
She did not eat; she was concentrating totally on not crying. The girl next to her whispered, "Aren't you hungry? You'd better eat." She shook her head, and the other girl quickly exchanged her empty tray for Rissa's full one.
After the meal Rissa followed the others' lead — putting her tray with theirs, following when some visited the washroom and, although she thought she knew the way, back to the dormitory and her own cot. There she lay, saying nothing, staring at the ceiling until the lights were extinguished.
Only then, in the dark, she turned on her side and curled up into the smallest, tightest space she could manage. Holding her head in both hands she cried herself to sleep.
The Center was a simple world; Rissa's first day set a pattern for the endless time that followed. Dormitory Eighteen was one of many, each housing forty girls aged four to twelve. The older ones told the younger what to do and brusquely helped them when necessary; Rissa saw few adult supervisors.
Thrice a day she was fed. After breakfast she was first instructed and then given practice in such skills as scrubbing blue-gray walls and brown floors. After lunch she was free to play in the bare gymnasium or watch Tri-V in the auditorium. She liked Tri-V because nowhere else did she see printed words; she had been reading for a year and was proud of the ability. She was less fond of the play group because there some of the older girls bossed the younger ones, teasing them or forcing them into unwelcome competitions. When one such, from a different dormitory, tried to coerce Rissa, she ran away and shunned the gymnasium for several days. When she did return, the other paid her no attention.
After dinner, when the dormitory lights had gone dark, Rissa lay wrapped in her one blanket on the plastic mattress. It was then, before she went to sleep, that she cuddled and crooned softly to Selene, the pretend doll that Voris had given her.
Every seventh day, after lunch, her dormitory group left jumpsuits on the cots and marched down the hall to showers. Before every fourth shower, the forty girls waited in line for their hair to be clipped to short plush.
Twice, Voris visited her. The first time she was called to the anteroom to meet him, he dropped to his knees, hugged her and cried, repeating her name. Then he said, "I don't know how long it's going to take — the lawsuit to get you and Ivan out of here. The government — it's stalling, of course — is looking for grounds to Welfare me. If I don't come back sometime, you'll know they've succeeded." He blinked tears away and smiled. "But that won't kill the lawsuit, honey — my lawyer's tied it in with nearly a hundred others, on a class-action basis."
She did not understand, and asked only, "Where's Ivan?"
"Only one building away — Division Male, Juvenile, Pre-pube. I saw him, Rissa; I just came from there. He says to tell you he loves you."
"Tell him I love him, too!"
"I already did."
"Why can't I see him?"
"I've asked, but they stalled me. Next time I'll ask again." They talked a little longer. He said, "Do you still have ... Selene?"
She smiled. "Oh, yes! I do — and thank you, Uncle Voris!"
He kissed her and left. Her days continued as before; she did not see Ivan, nor hear of him. When Voris came again, she had almost forgotten that there was such a thing as the outdoors — but only almost, for she tried very hard to remember all that she could. And each night before sleep came, she repeated to Selene as much as she could recall.
This time she sat on Voris's lap. When she asked of Ivan, he said, "They wouldn't let me see him. Said he was in punishment status, whatever that means. They wouldn't say, but it can't be too serious — he's only eight. Next time —" Then, in a voice that raised prickles on Rissa's spine, he said, "There's a name — I'm going to tell you, and you must never forget. Newhausen — Colonel Osbert Newhausen. Rissa — can you remember?"
Excerpted from Young Rissa by F.M. Busby. Copyright © 1976 F. M. Busby. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted May 25, 2011
This book and the ones that follow were the reason I ventured out into more sci-fi novels and fell in love with the genre. Highly recommend.
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Posted June 28, 2012
An imaganative story and loved the sequal too. Can not wait for the third book in the series to be a nook book. I have the paperback with all 3 parts in it and I have worn it out reading the tiny print it was published in. Now, toos small for my eyes to read unless i get a microscope to use to read it.
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Posted January 18, 2010
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Posted June 12, 2014
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