Fear No More

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Jonte faced playtime with mixed feelings. When the bell rang, the others would rush into the open air, laughing and chattering. He felt left out. Yet these were also times he enjoyed. He could daydream about how things might have been.

Sometimes, though, he would watch the play − not directly, that would have been impossible − but on the big screen in one of the classrooms. Cheering on his friends made him feel part of the action. Even through the screens, however, watching for long often made his eyes hurt. Sunlight reflected strongly off the silvery turf, and even more from the trees around the ground. Players in motion trailed flashes of light which left black spots in his vision.

It was during a tense game that the summons came through. The shelter Principal, no less, wanted him at once in his office. Jonte uttered a mild swearword, though realising that he had already been watching too long − his head was aching. He made his way to the admin sector; signalled his arrival; and went in.

The Principal was behind his desk directly opposite the door. He was a small man, with metallic black hair cut short, silver-grey hands in constant fidgety motion, and an expression of perpetual irritation. He waved in the direction of a chair placed in front of the desk.

But to Jonte's surprise, there were several other people in the office. It was difficult at first to see them all clearly: not only had the effects of watching the match still to wear off, but the lighting was poor. Perhaps the Principal had only remembered at the last minute to close the heavy shutters and switch on a lamp.

As his vision returned, Jonte's surprise grew. The six men and two women, who sat in a half circle to one side, judging by their job tags, were senior...very senior. Four were from the administration. The two women and the other two men seemed to be scientists from different research bodies.

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Jonte was used to the fact that other people were inscrutable. He would have been able tell from gazing in a mirror into his own eyes, with their blue irises surrounding dark pupils, how he was feeling, even if he hadn't known already. But other people's eyes were silver discs, giving away nothing. He could sometimes see from the rest of their faces whether they were happy or sad, smiling or frowning; but their skin reflected the light, so that he could never be quite sure. From the way they were sitting, he thought, the visitors seemed anxious.

"Jonte", the Principal said, "these people have a favour to ask, and I hope you can help them. Please sit down."

Jonte's surprise grew. What possible favour could these people want from someone like him?

"I'll help if I can", he said.

"You know," the Principal went on, "that you have had to grow up here because going outside would be dangerous. Your body wouldn't be able to withstand the radiation, even at night-time. Ordinary people are born with protection; but in your case...."

"So you see", one of the women interjected quickly, "you are really a very interesting young man. We want you to let us get to know you better."

"The people here," the Principal resumed, "are from the government's science and research council. They would like to take you to one of their centres in the south, where the facilities are supposed to be better than we can provide...."

"But I'm quite happy here," Jonte felt he should say. "My friends....."

"....and in any case, "the Principal insisted a trifle sourly, "you wouldn't be able to stay much longer. The shelter is being closed down."

Jonte took this in. "So when do I have to go?" he asked.

"If you can pack your things together quickly, "one of the men replied, "we should like to move you this evening...say in an hour. Is that all right?"

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