Finally Eloi declared that we had completed the first phase of my mission. Total elapsed time in the “real world” since the Trumps sounded: just over three weeks. Inside the pyramid: 2,078 days, just three and a half months shy of six years.
I didn’t personally experience all of those years, of course. Especially after Donna left, I spent more time out in the world than inside the pyramid. Even this odd leapfrog arrangement started to feel almost normal. I’d return from Paris or Libreville or Sao Paolo and set up the new communication arrangement with Jake and his ever-expanding staff; there would be a slight shift of policy as the Angels granted some insignificant boon (or rarely, a significant one: heavy farm equipment was finally restored worldwide), and then the familiar pattern would resume.
The cabin fever of the early months had been all but cured by the Open Pyramid day; after all, everyone was now here by choice, Hobson’s though it may have been. The biggest problem was the Utopian Dilemma: there was no real productive work to do, and idle hands, as my old shop teacher used to say, are the Devil’s playground. (Or was that workshop? Either way, you got trouble, my friend.) For a while, I spent far too much of my pyramid time settling the pettiest possible disputes. But over time, various passions found more productive outlets.
By the end of the second pyramid year, there were dozens of clubs and teams and “societies” all around the park: everything from quilting bees to baseball to light opera. Joel Blum found his Armageddon Gazette had competition, one called The Main Street Rag, the other simply The End Times. At least three community theaters, half a dozen comedy clubs, and several discos and nightclubs popped up. There weren’t enough stills and winemakers to keep up with demand. This led to a Citizens’ Patrol, volunteer peacekeepers who kept a lid on overindulgers and other rowdies, with the noble goal of avoiding situations that might require the Ishim to intervene.
My “kids” grew up; reckoned by Mickey Time, they were all between twenty-two and twenty-four years old—even little Moesha, the sudden orphan the other girls had adopted on Day One, was fourteen now. In the eternal way of young lovers, some bonded so strongly it was impossible to imagine them apart; Geoff and Danielle for instance. Others broke up and regrouped like characters on a soap opera; Jake and Kimberly broke up so often even they laughed about it, then one day Jake up and married a Japanese girl he’d met named Kazuko. But all of the Strays always stayed in touch, like a big rambling family; many continued to live at the Diamond Horseshoe, and it would always be home base.
And as Jake had once predicted, there was a considerable population explosion inside. It would have been worse, but within the first Mickey Year I had successfully bargained for contraception options, which Donna and a few other health professionals administered to anyone interested. Still, several of my original batch of female students now had babies; one, Mary Beth, had three!
Most of these young mothers, and many more around the park, found themselves homesick for their own moms, and so it was inevitable that eventually a delegation came to me asking if there was some way they could be sent home, if only for a visit. Even I didn’t think this was a good idea; although it would be easy enough for me to escort my own little group down to Oceanside, there were other petitioners from all over the country, and as far away as Australia. And if young moms were allowed, what about all the men separated from their families?
Even so, I took the matter to Eloi, mostly as an excuse to delve into the Angels’ rationale for maintaining this separate pyramid environment. We had a number of rather circular discussions, and ultimately I did learn a little, although as usual I wound up with still more questions and precious few actual answers.
I discovered that there were hundreds of other pyramids around the world, but that ours was apparently the only one set up specifically to house a human population. (Most were over power plants, especially the nukes. Some were just odd, though; for instance, there was one about two miles north of Cleveland out on Lake Erie, and another straddling I-30 between Dallas and Fort Worth.) The purpose of our own pyramid had always been a favorite topic of discussion inside, and the subject of many letters to the various editors. Consensus opinion was that we were being held apart as a potential reboot population in case everything went to hell in a handbasket on the outside. It was as good a rationale as any; no matter how many times I went round and round with Eloi on the subject, whether I asked directly or tried to sneak up on it from some oblique angle, I never got any answer.
The answer to the young mothers’ request was simple enough: No. It was the answer I’d anticipated, even privately supported, but it was still hard to disappoint these poor girls. I made them all promise to drop the idea and move on; no good would come from dwelling on it, and they all had their babies to think of first.
I felt guilty about it, but even as I relayed the Angels’ refusal, I realized that I could probably visit home if I asked. And as soon as the thought formed in my head I was anxious to go, check on Dad, see if he knew where Gareth was. If only it was that simple. Dad still lived in the old house in Mira Mesa, north of San Diego proper; assuming he had survived the Trumps he was probably still there, living off the cans in the pantry, maybe doing a little hunting in the canyons off Sorrento Valley. Unless the neighborhood had gone completely medieval he was probably okay. I had no desire to come beaming in to Dad’s front yard with my usual compliment of seven silver giants. It would draw attention I was sure Dad wouldn’t appreciate.
But my options were limited; when I brought up this trip home idea with Eloi, he was adamant that I could not go alone, and that I would only be allowed to travel by Transition. In the end, I suggested a compromise that he reluctantly agreed to: I would go to Dad’s neighborhood with two armed Ishim escorts. They would verify that the area was safe, and I would be allowed to approach Dad’s house alone. They would keep the house under surveillance and wait until I came back for them. Eloi would monitor through my eardrop. This left me still chafing at my leash a bit, but it was all the freedom they were likely to grant me, so I decided to count my blessings and go for it.