by Almosa Pierla-Jones

July 28, 2095 was a day that Zo had long awaited. Turning twenty-one was, after all, a rite of passage. When she woke that morning, she rushed to the mirror to check for any of the rightful signs of womanhood. Finding nothing, she threw on an oversized hoodie and an unflattering pair of sweatpants. Her outfit was all gray. Her bed, her carpet, and the clouds and the grass outside: all gray. And the one ray of color Zo had expected to find on this day had failed to manifest.

Zo gathered her gardening tools and walking stick and shuffled out of her room as quietly as possible. A whiff of sizzling meat shot through her nose, and she frowned.

“I don’t know why you insist on eating that,” Zo said. “It’s not safe.”

Her roommate, Di, sat cross-legged on the couch with a solar-powered hot-plate perched at her side. Some poor creature—perhaps a squirrel or a rat—lay skinned in the pan, wide-eyed and mouth agape.

“I’ll take my chances,” Di said, snapping off a piece of the tail and popping it in her mouth. “How’s that class of yours, Mother Earth?”

Zo felt her chest puff out a bit, and the slump in her shoulders corrected itself. “We’re experiment using a new methodology, and I think it’s working. One of the tomatoes has a red patch.”

“Waste of time if you ask me.” Di squinted, looking Zo up and down. “Your hair is still gray. I thought today was your twenty-first.”

“There’s still time,” Zo said. She tried to sound confident, but it came out as more of a squeak. Di had never had to worry about such things. She was an early bloomer—her perfect curls had turned to a pleasant shade of gold two weeks before her sixteenth birthday.

Zo grabbed her trenchcoat off the hook by the door and slipped inside. As she fumbled with her gasmask, she noticed it had a slight tear in the side and made a mental note to secure some tape. She pulled on her lucky gray gloves, thankful for the excuse to cover her cracked hands.

When Zo flung open the door, a gust of arctic wind rushed inside. She ignored it, eyes toward the sky. Her grandmother used to tell stories about the things that lay beyond the clouds. A white floating rock called a moon and hot white lights called stars. She once told her a story about a very big star—a Sun—that kept the arctic winds tied to a northern pole. In school, none of Zo’s textbooks ever mentioned any of these things, but sometimes, she liked to believe that they did exist beyond the imagination of a batty old woman.