On Lottery nights Maren Hart ran the tower stairs. Her comscreen sleeve remained strapped to her forearm, with notifications muted.
While the Lottery opening credits were broadcasting onto hundreds of millions of screens, Maren pushed through the fire door at the end of the corridor on the fifty-eighth floor of the Atria Tower where she lived. The stairwell air tasted stale, recirculated, due to inadequate fresh-air vents.
You could get used to bad air, as you could to almost anything else.
She placed her foot on the first tread, rocked back and forth, and launched herself, charging up the first flight, turning, running up the next.
Because she was running, Maren missed the raising of the rebranded flag and the playing of the revised national anthem. She didn’t hear the co-hosts—Marshall Kent and Victoria Thiem—adhering to their script about honor, equality, and sacrifice. They welcomed America to this week’s broadcast and introduced the American Patron who would choose tonight’s Lottery dates prior to his reporting.
Maren didn’t watch the recitation of the Lottery rules, which everyone knew word-for-word anyway, and often repeated along with Victoria, as if the rules were a chant that could protect them. Four dates of the year will be chosen at random, after which the official calculated coefficient for the week will be announced, followed by the delivery of notices.
Resting only for a moment at the top floor to catch her breath, Maren began the trek down from seventy-six. She could descend faster than climb, but while the ascent burned her muscles, the descent stressed her joints. When she reached sub-seven, she stopped to rest. There was a parking garage here for those who could afford their own autonomous vehicle. There were rows of secure residential storage units, one of them belonging to Maren, where she had packed away mementos, first of Peter, and later of Hollande, and not once has she unlocked the door and looked through those boxes, but neither could she toss them away, much like her memories of her husband and daughter: too painful to ponder, too cherished to forsake.
The other sub floors housed retail stores, offices, and even apartments now that sub-residency was becoming popular. For a while, she and Peter had talked about selling their unit on fifty-eight and moving sub. You gave up windows. You lived underground, like moles or worms. But you saved money, important at the time, after Peter lost his position as a history professor. Maren, a director at a charitable foundation, earned a decent salary, although the future of the foundation was at risk. Then Peter came up with another plan to help support the family.
She began the grueling climb back up to her apartment. She didn’t hear the name of the American Patron as he was introduced. He was young for a Proffer, only twenty-two, and appeared healthy and educated. He was likely chosen for this role because more young volunteers were needed to balance the numbers and his presence might encourage others.
Maren missed the American Patron’s allotted one-minute speech during which he dedicated this honor to his sister and her children, for whom he was proffering. He remained remarkably poised, until the end, when his voice broke, but he didn’t collapse or embarrass himself. When finished, he stepped forward, flanked by Marshall and Victoria, and pressed the computer key to randomly choose four dates—and the citizens of the United State of America collectively held their breath, rubbed their charms, and prayed for luck.
Maren ascended past the commercial floors—the businesses and markets and services. Her legs wobbled, her lungs strained for oxygen. Ten more flights to the residential floors. Sweat spilled down her face, her heart hammered, adrenaline pumped—this much she had in common with those watching the Lottery.
She wasn’t watching when the four dates were selected and didn’t know that her birthday—February 5—came up as the third of four dates drawn.
She didn’t hear the announcement that this week’s Lottery coefficient was .07862 and above. Maren’s coefficient was currently .07878, and therefore by birthdate and coefficient she qualified for this Lottery. She didn’t know any of this because whenever the Lottery broadcast, Maren ran the stairs. She had two years immunity remaining. For now, she was protected. That much she knew.
However, she didn’t know the rules about submitting immunity credentials had changed: you now had only a 30-minute grace period from the time you were notified of your Lottery selection to the deadline for applying for immunity.
On the last few staircases she grabbed the railing and staggered. The point was to mentally numb herself through physical exhaustion. This is how she battled her anxiety and grief, and it was effective for as long as she was running and for a short while after, the endorphins silky in her system.
She finally reached her floor. She pushed through the stairwell door and shuffled along the quiet corridor, her legs protesting each step. She turned the corner and encountered a group of five people coming the opposite way toward the elevator banks, laughing and heading out for a night of celebration. It must not have been their birthdates chosen.
Only when she reactivated her comscreen sleeve to unlock her apartment door did she see the official notification from Command she’d been selected in the Lottery and had twenty-four hours to report. Despite her immunity, the notice carved a hollow well of fear into her chest, a sinking, paralyzing feeling.
She thought of Peter, which was not the same as thanking him for proffering and earning her a period of immunity.
Her door swung on its pressure hinges to electronically lock behind her. Unaware she had less than a minute remaining in her 30-minute window—if she’d paused to get a drink first, or go to the bathroom, her fate would have been quite different—she tapped in her immunity code and received confirmation she was exempt from this Lottery drawing.