7: Connections (part 1)

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7.1 Looney Tunes

Shepard Hospital, Shepard Complex, the Moon: 10 June 2120

Melissa Davidsen was bored. She stared at the wall, through the door, at her hands, at the ceiling, her feet – anywhere apart from the patients. She also tried to ignore the drone emanating from the boring idiot explaining to the class all about the hospital in general and this section, known as L-Squared, in particular. The seven patients in this room sat in chairs or lay in beds and, in general, did very little. One whimpered quietly to himself while another, a woman of indeterminate age, stared from child to child with a malevolence that was almost tangible, Melissa certainly didn't want to look at her.

"What does it mean? The L-Squared bit?" piped up one of the younger kids during a momentary lull in the drone.

Melissa sighed audibly, prompting a poke in the ribs from classmate Laurinda, standing next to her. The source of the drone also glanced disapprovingly in her direction which caused Mr Gulrajani, the teacher on this trip, to purse his lips and wag a finger in her direction.

Anyway, surely everyone knew what it meant – it was a joke, a bad joke. The 'L' was short for 'looney' – as in person who lived on the Moon – not a term used much nowadays. It was also slang for lunatic. The patients here were therefore looney loonies – or L-Squared, as someone had dubbed the section many years ago. The name had stuck.

Once children reached twelve years of age the educational system arranged visits to potential places of employment with the hope that it would spark interests that would eventually turn into careers. Melissa found many of them boring – this one was even worse than the trips to various factories producing steel, paper and plastics that she'd endured over the past couple of years. She already knew what she wanted to do – she was her mother's girl. Her father's job of Regolith Engineer was interesting, and she always enjoyed some of the tales he came home with, but it all paled into insignificance when compared to her mother's role. The enigmatic planet hanging a mere quarter of a million miles away was finally growing to be as fascinating to Melissa as it was to her mother.

She picked at her nails while the drone continued – she certainly had no interest in becoming involved with nursing, caring or anything to do with L-Squared. The small number of dribbling wrecks who resided here made her shudder. They were some of the Moon's few adult inhabitants who didn't work, and she found that almost repugnant. There was always work to do; it was a constant battle to extend the tunnels, to house the growing population, to produce enough food to feed them, to increase the precarious safety under which everyone lived. The Moon was a harsh, unforgiving mistress who rewarded laxity with sharp lessons in the form of accidents, many of them fatal. Moon quakes, depressurisation, low gravity accidents, carbon dioxide build ups, breakdowns – there were a seemingly endless number of surprises this so-called dead world could conjure up at a moment's notice. Everyone needed to work to keep the whole place running – everyone, that is, except the residents here.

The drone producer was about to take them along to another batch of inmates when one of the patients, a woman with a smooth face and almost white hair, changed from being a silent mannequin into an animated gossip. Her sudden, shrill outburst made Melissa and several others jump.

"They're back. Hundreds. Song. Singing. I remember. Ross. He went. I stay," she babbled. "Join song. Silent now. So far away. Hello. Ross. He went."

Melissa, who had been quite close, edged towards the door.

The woman continued her monologue of gabble and unsteadily hauled herself out of her chair and to her feet. She cornered one of the twelve-year-old boys. Melissa had to suppress a giggle as Ezekiel's eyes almost popped out of his head as the old woman harassed him, "Ross. Hello. You know Ross? He took the song. Went. Took it away. Where did it go? Ross!"

The boy let out a whimper and hid behind Mr Gulrajani to escape the woman clutches. By the door Melissa could hear a similar babble coming from another room – the voice there kept shouting about a song as well. Two nurses came along the corridor – one tutted and entered the other room, while the other swept past her to attend to the babbling woman.

Melissa watched the nurse guide the woman back to her chair but the babbling continued for another minute or so before shutting off abruptly. At the same time the noise from the other room also halted.

"They seem to set each other off," the idiot drone said, by way of explanation to Melissa's piercing, questioning gaze.

"Even when they are in separate rooms?" Melissa asked.

"Er, yes," he replied.

"Which one starts it?"

"They always start and stop together."

"Well, if they start and stop simultaneously, when they are not even in the same room," Melissa persisted, "then how can you say they set each other off? Something else must be doing it."

The drone shrugged his shoulders, adding, "They started about five years ago – just the occasional bout for a few seconds. Always together, even when they're kept separate. It's getting progressively worse – several times an hour now. No one knows what causes it."

"Five years ago? How long have they been here?"

"Thirteen years. Ever since the Earth... you know..."

"Oh, right," Melissa said, nodding. "But who were they? Before they came here?"

"Patient confidentiality, miss – I don't think I'm allowed to..."

Mr Gulrajani intervened, "I think that's enough, Melissa. We need to move on."

As the column of children moved down the corridor Laurinda said, "Thought you weren't interested in this place."

"I'm not," Melissa replied, "but, those two... well, it's really weird."

Laurinda shrugged. "They're just loonies."

"Yes," Melissa agreed, "just loonies."

But, in her mind, something nagged.

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