Martina and James were holding hands walking slowly and silent towards the barriers of the Seven Towers. Today it was permitted to trespass the barriers, as it was the Vaporisation Day. Today, in fact, all persons who had reached the age of 120 were supposed to be vaporised. Martina and James, being young children, didn't know about the legal and political fights that had attended the promulgation of that law. The rational was that with the modern age too many people had become amortal, namely they would not die by natural causes. And the society was going in the risk of becoming formed in majority by people above 90 of age. Therefore, the Central Government of the Big City had decided, so long ago, to pass that law - at the beginning so unpopular and hated by everybody - to let people go to a kind of euthanasia. But it was a forced euthanasia, you had to do it. Extermination? No, nobody would never use this word - it was a necessity imposed by evolution and by the preservation of a healthy society - so the politicians were saying. And it has been transformed in a nice public ceremony, a kind of popular feast, with music and banquets. Three times in the year.
Martina and James only knew that their beloved bis-bis grandfather, whom they called uncle Bob, was destined to be vaporized that day. They could not even remember well the degree of parental relation with him. Let's see, there was their now real grandfather Sammy, who lived with his father John in the red plastic cabin at the end of the robot factory; and uncle Bob must have been the father or the grandfather of John. Difficult to know or to remember. But it was not important for Martina and James. They loved him more than all other grandfathers, and used to go and visit him in his white plastic cabin, the second raw after the line of the red cabins, as most of the old single people lived. He used to tell them fantastic stories of old time, stories attended by his shining eyes and the calm movements of his hands.
-Father and mami will be there, I hope they don't see us. We promised not to come.
-Oh, there will be so many people, they will not see us. It will be in the big sport pavilion, you know, and father said there will be over one thousand old people being vaporised, and there will be all their relatives...
-Really so many, James? I feel so scared. Vaporised means... dead, right? My heart is pumping hard...
-Maybe you want to go back?
-No, no, we will go. We are big, now. But tell me, James, what... what they do with them?
-I do not know, Martina. Father said that at a certain point after the feast, the Venerable Old Ones - so they call them - will remain alone in the big pavilion, and they will be vaporized all together. All in one second.
-What does it mean, James?
-It means, Martina, that they will disappear.
-Where do they go?
-You do not understand, Martina, you are really small! They will become... smoke, or powder. Father says, molecules and atoms...
-Yes, but where would uncle Bob go? He is here... he cannot disappear! It is impossible!
-Wait! What are you doing now? Do you cry? You are really a baby still!
-I will be ten next month, James! - answered Martina regaining her strength.
-But I am twelve already. And I tell you, do not cry! It is just like that. It is Vaporization Day.
They were close to the barriers now, and several people were trespassing.
-You small ones! - cried one policeman - be careful: when you hear the order to leave the pavilion, you run away... fast, very fast... understand? And do not eat too many cakes and candies in the feast, understand?
Martina and James run fast towards the entrance gates, turning their head left and tight, in fear to see and be seen by their parents. Once entered, they remained aghast: the enormous room was full of light of all colours, the ceiling was full of splendid candlesticks in paper and silk, and all the walls were enriched by gigantic, splendid statues they had never seen before. And in the middle of the room there were gigantic tables full of all kind of food in elegant shining plates, like gold or silver. With a good, fantastic smell pervading the air. And the music. There were four orchestras, one in each of the corners of the enormous hall. Each orchestra playing a different kind of music, and people dancing, in each of the four corners. Somebody singing loudly.
So many people around. And among them, one could easily distinguish the Venerable Old Ones: they all were wearing white long robes, like priests. They were moving around, much slower than all other people, you could see that - but were not for the white clothes, one could not tell them apart from all other people.
Martina and James were holding hands, not to be divided by the mass of people. They felt very excited by that colourful, animated atmosphere - they almost forgot why they were there.
-Have you seen the ice cream table?
-Yes, let's go there. But look around for mami and father.
-Have you seen uncle Bob?
-No, there are so many of these Venerable Old Ones. They all look alike.
-There are several women too - said Martina.
-Mostly men. Men are stronger, you know.
-Women suffer more during their life, James, and that is why there are more men reaching 120 of age.
-Yes, yes, no arguing on that now, Martina. Rather: did you spot uncle Bob?
-No, but I keep looking. Probably father and mami are with him, with all the rest of the family.
-Too many people, too much confusion, I do not see our family.
-I look at all these people in white clothes, now - Martina said - and I am thinking that they will disappear soon. They... seem normal... but if you look well, once they stop their smile, at their relatives or friends, there is a heavy shadow coming down their faces...
-Yes, Martina - said James, and all of a sudden, he too became serious and sad - Soon the feast will be over.
-Did you get those cakes with yellow cream?
There was an abrupt sound of a bell-repeated several times. All eyes were now concentrated on the high stage at the end of the room.
-It is the major of the Big City! It is really him! - cried James.
All the noise ceased, slowly, and the big, fat major begun to talk. It was not important for Martina and James to understand what he was saying. The usual talk, repeated so many times. That in the Big City there were almost half million live birth every year, one half of them due to the flourishing Cloning Factory, in the fourth Tower; and that - thanks to the good administration - ten percent of those new babies reached the age of 100, and ten percent of those centenaries would then reach the age of 120, becoming the Venerable Old Ones. That the good administration would provide facilities to the partners left as widowers after the Vaporization Day. Men and women. And these people, real heroes, were now going to yield the supreme sacrifice to the country, leaving space and resources to the younger ones. There was here a long applause, everybody clapping hands and yelling positive words.
The city major stepped down the stairs, the music went silent, there was only a soft whispering all over the large room.
And all of a sudden, again the sound of the bell, and then a strong female voice:
All visitors are asked to go out. Immediately. Only the Venerable Ones remain.
The noise in the room rose again, as people were beginning to move towards the four doors in agitation.
The voice in the loudspeaker repeated the demand, this time in a harsher way. And then, in a succession of rapid commands, again and again; and each time louder and louder. People now were scared and racing towards the doors without any order, also Martina and James, holding hands tighter than ever.
And now the strong female voice was roaring, yelling:
Get out! get out!
So loud, that Martina terrified began to cry. They were at the door now, and before getting out, Martina turned the head to look inside. Tears were running out her eyes and what she saw was confused as in a fog; but she could see that all Venerable Ones were now in the middle of the large room, making an enormous cluster of white figures, and they were all embracing each other, kneeled, and, so seemed to Martina, trembling and looking down to the floor.
Martina and James with all the others kept running towards the barriers, and all stopped there, turning their eyes towards the pavilion. Nobody spoke. All eyes were fixed on the large glass windows.
At a certain point, there was a soft thunder, and all windows were suddenly illuminated by a rapid lightening - only for a few seconds. Then a terrible silence.
-Goodbye uncle Bob - Martina said at herself, crying.