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[london]

You're young, far too young for this, and you have no idea how you'll care for the wailing baby boy in your arms.

Lots of mothers go through this. Your own mum told you about how, hours after giving birth, a well-meaning uncle tried to give her some advice on child rearing. All she could do was stare at the far wall in silence, tears slipping down her cheeks, too exhausted for panic but too terrified to stop crying.

You share this panic, you and your son. He's upset over how much everything's changed, how sudden it's all been, too. But how can you calm him when you can't calm yourself? You're his mother. You have to do something.

Shh, you try. He sobs louder. Shh, I know, I know.

You can't stop crying, either.

I'm scared, too, baby boy. I'm sorry. Shh, shh, shh. Edgar, shh.


[boston]

Courage, you heard once, doesn't mean a lack of fear. All it means is putting the fear aside for a moment.

When your son stumbles home past curfew, fear burns a tunnel through you at the keys in his hand and the bleary lack of focus to his eyes. You try to tell him, you can call me whenever you want if you need a ride, I promise I won't be mad, but you're scared he won't do it: that his own fear will combine with his pride and send him into a telephone pole after a party.

You're not afraid of the parties, really. Curtis is about to start his senior year of high school; teenagers will be teenagers. All you want is enough honesty to calm your nerves a little.

So being scared, and pushing through it anyway? No, that's not courage, you think. That's just parenting.

Courage comes after the first breaking news updates flash across your TV.


[cheshire]

The experiment worked too well, you hear, and it's as if the CW-7 sank into your bones to chill them as well.

Someone has thought to hang one of their computer speakers out a window so passerby can hear the speech. Not the Prime Minister's speech; that offered a mockery of reassurance, its words keyed not to incite panic, not to tell the truth. This man's an American, and he speaks with a calm, open honesty that draws everyone on the street closer, like an embrace to chase off the cold.

Your teeth chatter so hard they nearly knock the glasses from your face, but the more he speaks, the less you find it in yourself to be afraid. For though he speaks of terrible things, he also speaks of a way to avoid them. To save you.

Your parents died some time ago and left you a sizable sum -- the single act of caring they ever displayed toward you. Enough money, maybe just enough, but if it's not, this man says there will also be a small lottery: fifteen hundred tickets available for free, divided among every nation according to their population. The leaders of each will choose how they wish to distribute those tickets. Draw from a hat. Gift them to the most prominent citizens. Toss them out a window on a given day. They are a gift, he says, the generous gift of life that he will bestow upon this freezing planet.

And you will not disappoint him, this man, this savior -- Wilford -- should he bestow that gift upon you.


[london]

You have no idea what to do with your son until you hear the news. Then you know: you can do this much.

There's no way you'll get the money. You try. God, you try. Even after you take yourself out of the picture and decide you'll just hand Edgar off to another passenger with his ticket clipped to his chest, you don't have enough, and there's no way you'll ever get enough. Lottery it is, and you can't imagine what it'll be like if neither of you get chosen.

The fear gnaws every day, but you hardly feel it any more. It's as if you are the world, and are slowly growing numb and dead even as you fight to sustain the life you brought forth.


[boston]

The president decides that the United States will hold a lottery, their small quantity of allotted tickets distributed to random Social Security numbers. Identification will be checked. Those chosen are advised to keep it secret. If one of the chosen has a dependent under the age of sixteen (which will also be checked), the president has negotiated with Wilford to allow that dependent to board as well.

Curtis turned seventeen last month.

Your husband finds you at three-fifteen in the morning, digging through the Internet in search of document forgers. Silently, he covers your hand with his own, stilling it against the mouse; the two of you exchange a look, and even before you say it aloud, you know he understands.

We have to get him on there if they pick one of us.

He draws you away from the computer, but you lie awake for another two hours to talk about it. You can't be the first to think about forging a Social Security card or a birth certificate. The officials will be combing over everything brought forth by the people they pick. And what will they do if they find a forgery? Shoot on sight?

Can we just gift it to him? you whisper. Will they hand out the tickets the same day they board, or will we have it long enough to just...give it to him first?

I don't know.

Forty-eight hours remain until the drawing. You don't think you'll sleep for any of them.


[cheshire]

You sell everything you own. Everything you inherited after your parents died. Even the dentures from your mouth go to Wilford, the man who will shield you from the storm.

All you have, the day you dial the number that allows one to purchase one of the coveted tickets, is a single pair of clothes, a fur coat, and your glasses.

You don't need anything else. Wilford will take care of you now, as your parents never could.


[london]

The day of the boarding is chaos, a rumbling earthquake of people trying to swallow the train whole.

Everyone who has a ticket keeps their head down. Those who don't figure out quickly enough that if you're keeping your head down, it means you have a ticket. You wrap yourself around Edgar as he cries, terrified of the crush surrounding both of you, the hands grabbing, the angry snarls as you forge onward.

But by luck, you have saved your child. You haven't failed. You just have to keep protecting him from the grabbing hands as you move, step by step, into the last car of Wilford's train.


[boston]

All of the contingency plans turn out to be unnecessary. Curtis receives a call on his cell, and you watch as all the color bleaches from his face until it matches the deepening snow.

They picked me, he says at last, two minutes after hanging up the phone. His voice cracks: Oh my god.

It takes no courage at all to embrace him alongside your husband, as icicles hanging from the eaves creak, as you wonder how much longer the electricity will hold and how swiftly your own deaths will come.

Hypothermia's like going to sleep, they say. Maybe you'll even feel warm at the end.


[the front]

They host a grand departure ceremony for the paying travelers, the likes of which you've never witnessed up close. These are people who paid for their tickets like some pay for a loaf of bread; you feel grubby and ashamed next to them, sucking on your remaining teeth and trying not to fidget with your glasses.

You deserve to be here as much as they do, you tell yourself. Maybe more than. You have given everything in service to the man who stands before you, his benevolent smile warming the room, while they have only given the merest fraction of themselves. Who among them can say they are as devoted as you?

His eyes settle on you, hold for a long moment, and you feel an electric thrill race up your back, not chilling -- not any more, so removed are you all from the cold -- but exciting. Your pulse quickens as he makes his way through the crowd, clasping hands, murmuring more kind words, responding to every thank-you with a gracious you're welcome.

You are welcome. All of you are.

When he reaches your side, you open your mouth and find as few words as teeth. His smile dims; you press your lips together, bow your head, step back and away from the presence of your protector --

Only for him to reach out, like a declaration of unconditional love, to touch your wrist.

I heard about you, he says. You gave up everything to be here.

Your heartbeat jitters. You look up.

Thank you, he says. He's thanking you, not the other way 'round, and you fear for a moment you may sob with gratitude. Everything you gave, my dear...it's fair you get something back.

That is the first time you see the sacred engine. After, just before you return to your quarters, he gives you a small box, and a knowing nod, and when you open it you find a polished set of teeth that gleam like elephant ivory.


[the tail]

You give without expectation. You give to benefit more than just yourself.

You give, and know all you will get in return is death.

The knife falls, and the last thing you hear is Edgar sobbing.


[the beginning]

(A week later, Gilliam, his arm and leg still bandaged tight, nods to you to pick up the child.

You're young, far too young for this, and you have no idea how you'll care for the wailing baby boy in your arms.)