Idly Gretchen opened a chest and found a collection of vids. She got to watch vids on the big white screen in the recreation hall on Friday and Saturday nights, and she loved them—all of them: the romances and the comedies and the adventures, and even the documentaries that ran before the main feature. She saw that in the chest there were some documentaries she hadn’t seen, on the little cards that somehow contained the moving pictures and sounds.
Athena and You: What is the sky-star?
Athena and You: Who are the elites?
Athena and You: What are the enclosures?
Athena and You: What is the Taking?
The documentaries Gretchen had seen now seemed to her like perhaps they had been preludes to these. She remembered how fascinating she had found the Journey to the Sky series, which had mixed dramatic re-enactment with a kindly sounding narrator talking about how much the sky-people regretted having to leave Earth. Though she sometimes heard Jerry and her mother talking about how if the sky-people hadn’t left the collapse might not have happened, the vid seemed to make it clear: her ancestors—the ancestors of everyone in the wild lands—hadn’t wanted the advice of people like the ancestors of the sky-people. The vid showed the first sky-people trying over and over to get the leaders of the nations to do something about the environment, and those leaders saying again and again, “The nation won’t support it.”
She took the card marked What is the Taking? and looked around for a screen, finally noticing that there seemed to be a slot in the wall right next to the chest in which she had found the vids. As soon as she put the vid card in the slot, the blank wall came to life with a picture of the sky-star—Athena—much closer than you could see it from Earth, though of course Gretchen had seen pictures and vids that showed it from nearby. Suddenly, though, now that she knew she must go there as a relict girl, it seemed both a more complicated and a more menacing place: an enormous ring turning around a central axis on shining spokes—a marvelous, frightening wheel in space.
A pleasant female voice said, “This viewer responds to voice commands. To pause, or unpause, simply say those words. To raise and lower the volume, say up and down.” Then the vid began, and Athena’s wheel began to turn as a male narrator said, “In the Earth year 2988, by plebiscite of the citizens of Space Station Athena and act of the Athenian Council, what we call the Enclosure Act, or the Taking, became law. In this video, we will explain what that law means for you, whom we call relicts, who have become subject to its taking provision.”
The image changed to what looked like an aerial view of the enclosure: a fence, studded with weapons controlled automatically from the info center, with a big square compound in the middle, ringed with the prefabricated dwellings the sky-people had brought for the families in the enclosure to inhabit. Gretchen thought it looked as if the picture had been taken years earlier, before they had widened the enclosure greatly, as more families had come to live there.
“Whether you found this vid while waiting for the completion of the auction, or you are watching it in the orientation center on Athena, we think you will find it answers many of the questions you naturally have about the Taking. The most important thing about the Taking is that it’s part of a bargain we Athenians made with the people left behind on Earth—that’s what relict means. That bargain is about the enclosures, which we hope will become a new foothold for civilization.”
Images of elites helping unload equipment from one of the big space shuttles followed.
“As you have already seen, in the enclosures it is possible to live a productive life of the kind that has not been seen on Earth in more than two hundred years.”
Fields, tilled by agricultural machinery, then children watching a cartoon vid in the recreation hall.
“Hope has returned to Earth, but if that hope is to grow, the Athenians must ask a great favor of the relict people of Earth.”
Girls, standing naked, in a big room like the one Gretchen had just come from. Elites moving among them, talking to them. Gretchen felt the blood drain from her face at the sight, and then rush back again.
“What are you watching?” a timid voice said from her right. Gretchen turned with an open mouth to see a girl with dark hair and dark eyes, naked like herself, standing just inside the doorway.
“Pause,” Gretchen said, and the vid froze where it was. “It’s about the Taking,” she said, trying to decide whether the new girl seemed nice. “I’m Gretchen.”
“I’m Beth,” the girl said. “Did you… I mean, did they… those things…?” Beth had turned bright pink. Gretchen decided yes, she definitely seemed nice.
“Touch me?” she said softly. “And ask terrible questions?”
“Yes,” Gretchen said. “Did you, um, get… spanked, or anything?”
Beth’s eyes went wide, and she shook her head. “Did you?”
“Well,” Gretchen said, “I tried to fool them.”