25: Tears (part 3)

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25.3 The Dome

Roosa Section, the Moon: 6 June 2128

Ellie snapped awake yet again.

"Damn it, Rick," she sniffed. "Get out of my dreams if that's the only place you still exist. I can't go on like this."

She didn't know whether to hurl something at the wall or cry. She did neither but sat there trembling and feeling sick.

Two days ago, the others had persuaded her to see one of the local doctors. She had been connected up to some sort of medical device – like AI but a lot more stupid and limited. It had attempted to analyse her, asking idiot questions about the state of her relationship with her parents. It had also taken some blood and a urine sample but had failed to indicate whether or not she was pregnant. Finally, it decided she was depressed and issued some pills.

They hadn't helped her sleep, mainly because she had thrown them away at the first opportunity. Rick kept appearing in her dreams and she would wake with every occurrence.

The clock said it was just gone two in the morning. She got up and pulled on a tunic – one of those strange, ill-fitting artificial things they'd been issued – and left her cubicle. The corridors were almost deserted and she wandered aimlessly for an hour. Several times she felt tired enough to head back but, having failed to bring her navpad, had no idea where she was. She could have asked one of the few people she passed but was in no mood for human contact of any sort. In a strange way, it felt good to be completely lost.

She came across an open lift door and entered. It was hardly big enough for more than three people. She hit the top button, too tired to notice a message in red next to it. Closing her eyes she enjoyed the sensation of slightly more weight as the lift rushed upwards.

When the doors opened she peered out. She was in a dome – the largest open area she had encountered here. There were several windows that looked out over a crater that was mostly in darkness, the occasional artificial light doing little to hint at how large it was. She approached the nearest window and stared out across the grey expanse to the far crater wall. A vehicle with ridiculously large wheels made its way slowly and silently towards a gap in that wall, bouncing unnaturally as it went. Beyond the crater walls a light in the sky that was much brighter than the stars dropped towards the surface.

There was a noise behind her.

"Excuse me, miss. Bit late to be wandering around, isn't it? Do you have clearance or a ticket?"

The man was old, with brown leathery skin and a mouth surrounded by white whiskers. Maybe Phil will look like this when he gets old, she thought.

"Oh, sorry. I didn't know. I'll just go back down if it's not allowed."

"You didn't know it– ah, you walk a bit funny. You're not one of them NewGen lot from Robot World, are you?"

"Er, yes."

"Right. No, it's okay. You can stay – it's not as if I've actually got much else to do at the moment."

His smile felt friendly enough, Ellie thought.

"So, must be a bit of a shock. All this," he said, waving an arm around at nothing in particular.

Her eyes followed his arm and then she said, "I'm Ellie."

"Oh, yes, I should have introduced myself first – excuse my manners. Dzingai, that's me – D, Z, I, N, G, A, I. Not the easiest name to spell, I know – you can blame my parents, of course. So, what made you come here?"

"What, to the Moon?"

"No," he laughed. "I know why you're on the Moon. I meant up here to the observatory."

"Sorry, I couldn't sleep. Went for a walk and got a bit lost. Um, what's this, er, observatory observing then?"

"Well, why don't you come and see, young Ellie."

He led her to a seat and fitted the viewer over her eyes after demonstrating how it worked on his own face. She gasped as it wriggled to fit itself snugly against her face.

"What do you want to look at? Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Earth? Some of the images will be relayed by satellite, of course, but the Earth will be a direct view unless you need a close up."

"The Earth," Ellie said.

"Thought it might be. At least there's only one of them now. I was here the first time we had more than one." He sighed. "I've been here a long, long time."

Ellie spent the best part of an hour mesmerised by the planet of her birth. After a short while, with Dzingai's help, she mastered the controls, and could zoom in and out, and skim across the Earth's surface almost at will. She didn't notice when the indicator in one corner changed from live to satellite view and back again. After a while she found London and zoomed in, switching to a different option when cloud cover obscured the direct view.

"Hyde Park," she said, as she located it. The details were fuzzy but she could see the wreckage where the Tree had collapsed, taking with it many of the buildings on the eastern edge of the park.

"I went there once when I came over to England. Merely a boy of twenty-three, I was then," Dzingai said.

"I'm twenty-one," Ellie said. "Is that young? I feel old. Worn out."

Dzingai nodded, even though he knew Ellie couldn't see him with the viewer clamped to her face. This girl, he thought, sounds like she holds the weight of the whole Earth on her shoulders.

"There is someone back there?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, adding, "well, probably not there anymore. Probably nowhere, now. Except in my head. Only in my head. Oh, Rick, where are you?"

"Ah, the boy who brought you all here."

"Y– Yes," Ellie sniffed.

"Much has been lost," he said, patting her arm. Then, watching how her shoulders no longer held the weight of the Earth but merely trembled, he removed the telescope eyepiece. He sat down beside her and, producing a clean tissue from a pack in his pocket, began to dab at her tears. She leant into him, resting her head on his shoulder and let her emotion flood out. He held her closely.

"Maybe I'd better go," she sniffed, much later. "You probably have better things to do."

"No, it's all right, young Ellie. This time of day it is often only me and the telescopes up here. Even when there's daylight out there and the clock says it's night time."

He spent a few minutes trying to explain the Moon's rotational period and its relationship with Earth. He wasn't concerned whether or not she was taking it in, it was just something to say to put her at ease.

After a while her eyes closed and, as she finally fell asleep, he inclined the seat back and found a blanket to cover her with. It was still several hours before the official opening time – she'd be fine there until then. Once his shift finished, he'd find out where she was billeted and deliver her back.

"Ellie," Rick said.

But this time she was too tired to wake up.

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