In that year, the twentieth, it all went wrong. First, there was the Collapse. We all heard it, hell, we all felt it. A great rumble from the Leisure Sector. The doors closed automatically, but a wet, dusty smell floated through. An engineer went to investigate and came back very dirty and sad. The whole Leisure Sector had collapsed. I can remember the Chief Executive’s face.
‘This can’t have happened,’ he kept saying.
But it had. We’d lost the whole Leisure Sector. That seemed bad at the time. But that Collapse led to another collapse, which was worse.
A disease spread among The Saved. I can remember Sab, the nurse, sounding like the Chief Executive:
‘This isn’t possible!’
But it was—first, just some coughing, but it wouldn’t stop. Then the infected person would get hot, maybe be sick and their eyes would go watery. Sometimes they weren’t able to taste or smell anything.
Sab gave them pills and injections, while muttering:
‘But this is a protected environment… The air is purified, the water monitored…’
Something invisible had got in. Whether it was connected to the Collapse, I don’t know. The grown-ups stayed in their pods. My mum and dad were almost the last ones to fall ill. I think my dad realized what was happening and he gave me some lessons on the Hub, pulling up things I’d never seen before. But he spoke too fast and I was only a ten-year-old girl, I couldn’t follow. There was one thing I understood. He explained why one part of the Big Room looked different.
‘It’s a door,’ he told me. ‘It leads to a corridor. That takes you through another door, and then Outside. It’s locked now and can only be opened if the Chief Executive orders it. But in five years that’ll change. Anyone will be able to open it then, if they do this.’
He showed me. Open up this file, choose this option, click here, type in OPEN, put in your pass card. It was linked to the Hub’s clock. In four years, eleven months and a few days, anyone could get out. Then he remembered something else: something special about the date.