Seeking the sun
Sunlight was a rare commodity in the Alexandria Slums. There were some people who spent their entire lives without seeing it. Of course, they were particularly unfortunate; most Slummers managed to get out to the Barrens at least once a week to feel the sun on their skin, to breath free air, to simply get out from under the weight and oppression of the Citadel that squatted above them.
But there was one corner of the Slums that was always bathed in sunlight; where children ate cake for every meal and played all day long. At least, that was what the rumours said. Skrapz and his younger sister, Grabby, had travelled to all corners of the Slums and, finally, they had found the sun. Now was the moment to find out if there was cake for tea.
They had returned home from a week hiking with their cousin, Dill, who was from another Clan, to find that their Clanhouse had collapsed one night while they were away. There were no survivors. His first thought had been to go to Dill's Clanhouse but he knew that they were full to bursting. There was his father's birth Clan but there was some sort of trouble about who was going to be the next Clan Mother and he was not keen to walk into that. But they had to go somewhere. They were just two kids; they could not survive alone.
Now, they stood close together outside the largest building they had ever seen. The bright sun showed up all of the stains and broken mouldings but it seemed solid enough. In particular, the great wooden door that stood in front of them seemed an impenetrable barrier. Suddenly, the postern opened and out popped a little girl, a little younger than Grabby.
She was about to run down the steps but then saw the strangers and stopped. “Are you here to join Uncle's Clan?” she asked.
Skrapz shrugged. “I guess so...”
“Well, Uncle's gone. Won that big tech competition and just upped and left us. Bastard.” She spat on the step.
“Hey, you shouldn't use language like that at your age,” he said, suddenly feeling far older than his years.
“It's what Glintz says. She's Clan Mother now that he's gone.”
“He? Oh, this 'Uncle'.”
“Well, I can't stop. I'm late setting out this morning already. Just go inside and you'll find Glintz.”
Then, just as suddenly as she had appeared, she was gone again. Skrapz took a step forward but Grabby hung back.
“That building looks ready to eat us!” she said.
As much as he admired his sister's imagination, there were times when he wished it had an off switch. “Look G, we've been over this and over it again. There's nowhere else for us to go. It's the Kidz Clan or the Orphanage.”
“But the Orphanage would be able to find us a new Clan. That's the whole point!”
“Not together. How many Clans do you think have room for two kids our age? Come on. Now that we're here, let's at least find this Glintz girl and see what the set up is.”
“I just want to feel the sun for another minute, OK? The warmth makes me feel alive.”
He sighed but gave in. She was right – just feeling the warmth on his skin made him feel better. At some point, he was going to have to let himself feel the pain of losing his home and all the people who he had shared it with but for now he still had the business of getting himself and his sister to somewhere safe to focus on.
“OK, I'm ready, now,” she said and skipped up the steps ahead of him. Inside was dark after the brightness outside and their eyes had to adjust. But it was still lighter than most Slum streets. A broad corridor stretched away ahead of them with doors opening on each side. At the far end was another patch of light and they moved towards it instinctively. As they drew nearer, they could hear a voice giving orders.
The patch of light came from an open doorway and stepping through it, they found themselves in a square that was enclosed by the building. There was rough grass underfoot and a few trees dotted about. A dry fountain stood in the middle and leaning against the basin was a girl of about his own age, her bright yellow hair glinting in the sunlight.
She finished giving her orders and the small group of children that she had been speaking to scurried away. Before she could move away herself, Skrapz stepped forward.
“Are you... Glintz?” he asked awkwardly.
“Who wants to know?”
“Er, me. I'm, er, Skrapz and this is my sister, Grabby. We were in Gull Clan...”
“Oh, right. I heard about that. But the word was that there were no survivors.”
“We weren't there at the time. We came back and... And now we have nowhere to go.”
“Well, there's always room here. Especially now that our great and wonderful leader has pissed off to 'make something of his life'. Doesn't he understand he was our life?” She was scowling now, lost in the middle of some internal dialogue that sounded well trodden. “Sorry...” She looked up at them as if seeing them for the first time. “Uncle may be gone but we are maintaining the Principles.”
“The... Principles?” Skrapz was confused. “I thought there weren't any rules here?”
She laughed at that. “Yeah, I heard that, too. You try living with fifty kids and no rules! But the Principles are more guidance for getting along together. Let me run through them:
“One: all kids are equal.
“Two: all possessions are to be shared.
“Three: working together is its own reward.
“Four: theft is its own punishment.”
He stared at her, waiting for more. “Is that it?” asked Grabby at last.
Glintz nodded. “And when we say 'theft' we don't just mean food or possessions, we mean time, effort... everything. If you sit around doing nothing all day but expect to share the meal someone else has prepared, you are stealing. Get it?”
“So, you don't eat cake for every meal and spend all day playing?” Skrapz said with a rueful smile.
“Well, sometimes all we can scrounge up is cake! And work done with a light heart can feel like play,” replied the Clan Mother. “Look, you're welcome to stay if you're willing to make yourselves useful. There's plenty of room, here, as you can see.”
Skrapz and Grabby exchanged a glance but they already knew what they were going to do.
“We'll stay,” they said.
Author's Note: Uncle is a character I created some years ago and is perhaps the most elusive I have ever come across. This story was supposed to explore his past and he even managed to duck out of that!