5: Probes (part 2)

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5.2 Happy Birthday

Lussac Observation Dome, Roosa Section: 3 January 2115

Andrew March's mum and dad had taken him to the public observation dome for a birthday treat. This was his third trip in as many years and now, aged ten, they might let him operate the large telescope controls by himself. After his dad had authorised the deduction of the admission fee from his account they entered the lift and started to ride up the levels to reach the surface.

The dome, when they finally reached it, was sparsely occupied. Used to the crowded passageways down below the surface under Gay-Lussac A crater, Andy was again mesmerised by the dome's enormity. Below ground, every inch of space was at a premium even though he knew that new tunnels were being bored, rendered airtight and made habitable daily. The rooms he and his family called home were deep beneath them, squashed in with hundreds of identical ones. Here, the concourse spread out in all directions and was only dwarfed by the roof that arched some twelve metres overhead.

Apart from the length of the queue for the telescope, nothing seemed different since his last visit. On his eighth birthday he had been the only one but in the past two years, with the unexplained occurrences taking place on Earth, many more people wanted a first-hand view of the place they had once called home.

Today's queue consisted of fifteen adults. Some appeared to be alone while a few were talking together in small groups. Andy could hear conversations in several languages. He caught and understood the occasional phrase of Russian and Spanish, but the dialect of Chinese was meaningless. School wouldn't be teaching that for a couple of years yet.

There was only one other child present, and not one Andy recognised. She was on the far side of the dome traipsing after a woman he presumed was her mother. The older woman's red curls contrasted with the girl's straight blonde locks that floated behind her as she tromped behind. She was probably a year or so younger than him. She appeared bored and eyed her feet, ignoring the starkness of the view to be had through the porthole windows. The woman, he thought, was someone he recognised from the TV. Oh yes, wasn't she one of those LSA people investigating the Earth – a Janet somebody-or-other?

Andy's parents moved to join the telescope queue and gave him permission to explore the rest of the dome on his own while they waited. He watched the woman and girl enter one of the lifts to the lower levels. As the doors began to close the girl noticed him watching her and stuck out her tongue before smiling. Andy smiled back. Her mother turned to chide her daughter but the doors closed, cutting off his view.

He tried to forget about them and, instead, rushed to the nearest window, his Moon-adapted body leaping the distance in a few steps, hands outstretched to brace him upon impact. An older, thickset man, seated at a desk reading from a real book, struck him with a disapproving frown. His gaze passed from Andy to his parents before returning to the pages before him.

Face pressed against the double layer of transparent plastic, Andy's imagination allowed him to feel the cold seeping in from outside, despite the inches separating him from vacuum. It was early morning, and would be for a couple more days. He gazed across to the shadows sharply delineating the crater edge. Picked out in the low sunlight, they looked as if they could slice through flesh like a knife. Andy shivered. Below him and to one side of the crater, a vehicle displaying a Core Zero logo on its side spat dust from its voluminous tyres as it bounced along. The crater floor was criss-crossed with tracks laid down by similar vehicles; a spider-web pattern traced between the smaller grey domes that dotted the plain below the crater walls. Leading from a building close to the telescope dome was a proper road whose length spanned the crater; it gleamed in the rising sun as perspective reduced it to a thin thread in the distance. There, after ascending a shallow slope in the far wall, it disappeared off into the Lussac A crater and the launch pads. Andy watched for a few minutes; there were always three or four vehicles lumbering along its surface along with smaller pods that darted in between.

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