Gabriella Hawk limped though the skywalks of The Hall. She could have slung her body into her metal skeleton to move quickly and easily, but Gabriella was determined to make use of her waking hours when she could. She wanted to make her body move under her own power. There was no use in being Awake if you couldnâ€™t take advantage of the limitations of the body.
The metal walkways glowed with the soft green light of the thousands of tanks that hung suspended on giant hooks, linked to each other in marvelous chains. When Gabriella first started working in The Hall, she had been amazed at the silence with which the machines could move the great chains of people around in their glass cylinders. She could call any particular person to her, to inspect their pod personally for damage or computer errors. There were never any problems; the system had been automated perfectly for almost a hundred years.
There used to be thousands of Halls, but now, with everyone within the Halls, there were only eight. Eight halls for three billion sleeping people. Gabriella knew all the other caretakers by name. In the World, everyone knew her name, Gabriella the Martyr, giving up ten years of her life to watch over The World.
Inside their cylinders, everyone dreamed a communal dream of The World, where they lived in palaces, worked on art and literature and science, where they sculpted their own bodies and modeled their own sensations. Gabriella found herself trying to adjust her own body for its aches and pains, but the limitations of being Awake meant that her sensations were not under her control.
She noticed things, being Awake, like how dust settled in the metal edges of the walkway and how her hair looked much more fluid than in The World. She learned what bile was after eating some food that didnâ€™t agree with her, and how boring regular bowel movements were. These little things make the experience seem surreal. Most things felt like they were the same, her fingertips still felt the same textures, and he feet were still shocked by cold floors and comforted by soft socks.
Gabriella called the cylinder of the young man to her station. Calling his cylinder was part of her daily ritual. She checked his diagnostics, and compared his time to hers. In her time, she had moved six months; in his it was five years. She watched a day tick by for him on his timer.
She could have called up a video image of what he was doing, but she didnâ€™t have to look to know. He was with his wife and their child, a rare thing in The World, the fact that children were always planned made them more of a rarity, and the birth rate had plummeted.
Here, on the outside of The World, she did not have to watch him be happy with someone else. Gabriella folded her heart up and left The World to be Awake, cold, weak and losing years of life. To the people in The World, she was a saint, giving up years of her mental life to care for them. Their adoration afforded her a strange comfort. She did not need to touch his skin or smell his boy smell or sleep with her head on his chest. Saints do not need dreams. Saints were for sacrifice.