“It’s too hot,” Gemma complained for the twentieth time. She hadn’t the energy to raise her voice above a dreary whine.
“Oh, stop complaining,” Tanya responded. “Put some more cream on.”
They were on the roof terrace of their hotel. It was the tail-end of their holiday and despite the extreme heat, neither of them was looking forward to the journey home. Home meant darkness; home meant crowded conditions; home meant artificial light.
“I’ve got so much of that gunk on I can’t hold my water bottle,” Gemma sighed. “But that’s about as refreshing as drinking piss.”
Tanya grunted and shifted on her lounger. Sweat was making the backs of her legs adhere to the plastic.
“It’s been worth it though, hasn’t it, Gem?”
“Uh…” was Gemma’s non-committal reply. She adjusted the visor that protected her head and eyes from the brunt of the solar glare.
“They’ll all envy us when we get back,” Tanya continued. It sounded like she was trying to convince herself. “When they see the colour of us, they’ll all be turning green!”
Somewhere across the resort on another rooftop a siren sounded. Tanya got to her feet and gathered her towel and other belongings.
“Come on, Gem,” she gave her friend’s lounger a kick.
Gemma groaned but didn’t argue. She put her things in her bag, giggling as the water bottle escaped her slippery clutches and bounced across the patio.
They crammed into the elevator with the other holidaymakers and stood in silence for the long, slow descent to the hotel deep beneath the city. In this respect, their accommodation was exactly like the subterranean tenements back home. Tanya was not looking forward to going back. It might take another ten years to save up the credits but she was determined to have another visit above ground before the euthanasia police came calling.
Her skin was tingling from its unaccustomed exposure to sunlight. Her arms were as pink as a slapped face and she suspected neither she nor Gemma would be sleeping on their backs that night – their last in the resort.
In a couple of days, the scalded red would change to brown, marking them out among their pallid, sickly neighbours and co-workers. They would be objects of envy. They would be bombarded with questions. They would be celebrities until their suntans faded and then they would go back to being just like everyone else.
Was it worth it? Tanya asked herself. Scrimping and saving season after season, just for a glimpse of the old world, that empty skyscraper landscape, just one hour a day before the sun became too strong to bear?
She looked over a stranger’s shoulder at Gemma who was watching the illuminated numerals above the elevator door. Poor, unremarkable Gemma who for a couple of weeks at least, would be the centre of everyone’s attention, who might even be found attractive enough for the breeding programme this time.
Yes, Tanya decided.
It’s worth it.