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By Roger A. Legg
He looked at the picture as the rocket slowly climbed into the sky. The roar was getting louder as Apollo 17 inched its way into space. Storm had watched this photo a million times. But it always fascinated him how something so small started all this. The rocket finally cleared the top of the picture and was about to reset when Storm’s teacher stepped up behind him.
“Amazing isn’t it?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“I guess,” was all Storm gave back.
“Didn’t your great, great, grandfather fly that mission?” Mr. Anderson asked.
“Yeah,” Storm said and wished he could walk away. He hated being asked that question. Like he had anything to do with it. It happened so long ago that it was in the history books they had to study each year.
Mr. Anderson looked down on the boy. “You probably get that a lot.” He paused to allow the moment to pass. “Let’s get down to the far end. I hear they have a tree now.”
Storm turned from the picture. “Yeah. I’ve seen it already.”
“Really. How big is it?” Mr. Anderson asked with fascination.
“Well, maybe three meters,” Storm said, not really wanting to encourage a conversation about anything. Especially with the teacher. It was hard enough being the first minister’s son, but also being the teacher’s pet. Well that just wouldn’t do. He would have to push this pretender away just like all the rest.
Mr. Anderson didn’t want to push too hard on the first day back to school so he walked away to look at a few more interesting artifacts from Earth. Some fossils and arrowheads from a place called Wyoming. Then over to the Mastodon and Saber-Toothed Tiger on display. It was the largest collection of Earth Things ever assembled in one place.
Storm went to the far wall near the entrance. The cold, stone surface felt good against his back. He would do his best to stay here while others roamed around to look at all the things that were no more. Some of these items were the only ones left in the whole universe. The last kangaroo or ostrich. None of these things were alive. No, some were stuffed, and some were just representations of the real thing. A vast room full of stuff to remind us of what we had lost. Or gained, depending on how you wanted to look at it.
From his left a girl leaned against the wall as well, and without turning to him said, “Hey.”
“Hi Tera,” was all Storm said as he stared out into the room.
“Father said that you needed to mingle more,” Tera said softly so no one else could hear.
“They’re all just pretenders,” Storm shot back.
“But they vote,” Tera said. She pushed herself off the wall and stepped in front of Storm. “They vote and we stay put. Or they vote and we have to move again. I for one am tired of moving.”
“You’re going to move eventually.” Storm was referring to her going to university.
“That’s different. I want to go there.” Tera stiffened.
“Because that muscle-headed brute is going there.” Storm was trying to push her away as well.
Tera smiled and turned to leave. Just as she left, she said, “You could do better than that ragged old bitch you hang around.”
That was Tera, always digging. Most likely dad sent her over because he is under some diluted idea that she cares for her little brother. But she’s just like all big sisters. Mean, self-centered and totally stuck on what others think.
Casandra wasn’t like that. She cared for him. Not who his dad was or that being his friend would make her better. No, she just loved to be with him. She loved heading to the surface where they could watch the stars and if it was late enough, maybe even get a glimpse in the telescope. Storm wished he was with her and not stuck here in the museum. What is with this place anyway. Earth is dead. After a few hundred million years, we puny humans managed to destroy it in, what, twelve thousand years. Now we wander the solar system in these astromech cities. Just a few hundred million inhabitants from a world of billions. And we are going to do the same thing to them as well. Use them up and discard the waste. We haven’t changed and maybe we never will.
Storm’s mood darkened still. He just couldn’t understand why people refused to change. Refused to accept that things were finite and that eventually they ran out. Oh, sure we had fusion power and we could actually move our great cities around like blundering boulders, but this place was only going to support us for a few thousand years, then what. Where would we go? Mars? They’re all dead there too. The virus was so contagious that it killed everyone in a matter of years. Almost half a billion people. Titan? We still don’t know what dwells in the depths of that moon.
Oh stop it, Storm rebuked himself. What could he do about it? He was only sixteen.
Mr. Anderson returned. “That was amazing. It’s huge,” he said with a grin across his face. “And it’s still growing. Imagine that.”
“Yeah, imagine,” said Storm.
“What’s eating you?” Mr. Anderson asked.
At first Storm thought about ignoring the question, but if he truly wanted this pretender to go away, he might as well unleash his anger and make this pretender sorry for trying. “Well you see. We humans took a beautiful and vibrant planet and turned it into a cesspool of rotting waste and rot in just a few thousand years. And now we roam around in these rocks acting as if this is the greatest life ever. Hell! We have to make an appointment to sit on the grass and have a pick-nick and marvel at things that use to grow wild, like trees.”
“Wow,” was all Mr. Anderson said.
He would leave soon. Or so Storm thought. But he just stood there pondering his student’s words. Then after a few minutes, he said, “You know it’s still alive.”
Storm didn’t know what he meant and if he responded with curiosity, he would never get rid of him. But the words kept playing in his mine, “Still alive.” Still he kept his cool. Mr. Anderson could not be talking of Earth. It was dead and brown. They showed it to us in their books. But what if? What if it was a lie? Should he take the bait and ask what was still alive? No. He didn’t want this pretender to think he cared about something. No… but what if it were true?
Mr. Anderson didn’t say anything more. He was going to wait for Storm to come to him.
Storm finally caved. “What is still alive?”
“The Earth.” Mr. Anderson delivered his message and was free to leave. He suddenly took interest in something on the far side of the room and walked away.
Storm watched him. He wanted to know more, but that would mean he would have to pursue that pretender. It must be a trick. Earth was dead. Or at least that’s what he’d been told all his life. He looked at Mr. Anderson, who was looking at something in a case. He never looked back. He knew he had placed the hook deep in his mind. He didn’t need to come to Storm any more. In his mind Storm would come to him.
Storm fought off the ideas that were pushing him to pursue Mr. Anderson. It was a lie and that was that. But that night his dreams were violent. They had to escape the city, but no one knew where to go. The other cities were overpopulated and would not take them in. Their supplies would only last about a year. Certainly not long enough to build a new city. Then a blue planet appeared in his mind. Not brown, or red or grey, but blue with white swirls. It was so inviting. They set their course and headed to the blue one. As they approached missiles started coming at them from orbital platforms. Someone else was already there. And they weren’t friendly. Storm woke up with a shock. Could it be?
Storm got up and put on his coveralls. He needed to go for a walk. Maybe he could get a glimpse in the telescope. Or maybe he could sit on the grass. It was late and most would be sleeping. He grabbed his pad from school and walked out of the apartment. He was going to try the telescope first, well maybe second. He changed his course and headed to the lift. When it arrived he pushed level 12. The lift went down, way down. When it was done, he left. This place was dirty and smelled of oil, filth and mold. It was the lowest of the worker levels. Everything else was machinery. The very bowels of the city. Storm didn’t like to spend much time here, so he quickly typed something on his pad and walked towards a large grey structure. By the time he got there a small door opened and Casandra stepped out.
“I was hoping you’d call,” she said with a smile.
Storm just grabbed her hand and pulled her along. She didn’t fight him but was confused by the silence. They quick-marched back to the lift. He hated being down here and he hated that she was. But again, there was nothing he could do about that. They made it to the lift and were on their way when Storm finally explained himself. “I need to check something, and if it’s true, I want a second pair of eyes to confirm it.”
Casandra thought that this might be “The Night,” but it sounded like it might be something else. Or was it. She had put on her clean jumper and neglected to put on any undergarments as they would just slow things down. But now they were going up. All the way up. Even in her best jumpsuit she would stick out up there. And the fact that this coarse garment was rubbing on all her tender spots only made her more self-conscious of her lack of fineries. Hopefully there wouldn’t be a lot of people up there and no one would take notice of her. Storm certainly didn’t take notice of her. He just grabbed her hand and pulled her along. Not looking at her much or even talking. They were headed in the direction of the observatory.
About halfway there Casandra had to stop. Her jumper was uncomfortable, and she needed to adjust it. The crotch was riding up and she had to adjust it. Storm looked annoyed. And had a questioning look on his face.
After a second attempt to pull the offending garment from between her legs, she looked at Storm. He looked angry. He didn’t understand why she was keeping him from their destination. She needed him to slow down and understand her predicament. She took a quick look around and saw that they were alone and out of sight of the cameras. She then reached up and pulled the zipper down on her jumpsuit just far enough for Storm to see that she was not wearing a bra, then zipped it back up again.
Storm was shocked, pleased but shocked.
“I thought,” she said.
“Oh,” Storm said, not knowing what else to say.
“But,” she asked.
“Oh.” Storm still couldn’t say anything else. His mind was racing about all the possibilities. But was this the time? He had to choose. The thought of trying to do both in one night crossed his mine, but which would be first? And where?
The fact that he hesitated so long annoyed Casandra. “Forget it,” she finally said. Then asked, “What did you drag me up here for?” with a heavy emphasis on the drag.
He stammered at first. “I needed…” His mind was still lamenting the lost moment. His body was screaming at him for its loss or perceived loss. But slowly his mind was pulling out of the tail spin she had put him in. “I need… to see something on the telescope.” He stepped closer and put his mouth to her ear. “I heard a rumor that Earth is alive.” He pulled away.
She was shocked and a little angry.
He looked at her in confusion. “What?”
“My mother thought that you would… well, take me,” Casandra said.
“Your mother?” Storm was really confused.
“Forget it,” Casandra said in a huff.
“What?” Storm realized the moment was gone. He was not prepared for what she was saying. And could not grasp why her mother would have anything to say about it. Not that she couldn’t be her mother, but what did she mean by taking her. There was more than sex implied with that statement. He was only sixteen, well almost seventeen, but the idea of setting himself up as an individual and applying for an apartment was the farthest thing from his mind right now. However, the idea of sex had an appeal that his brain was not willing to let go of so quickly. Sure, he had thought about it with Casandra, but he enjoyed their friendship and sex seemed to be there, but not in the forefront. Then there was the whole Romeo and Juliet thing, as his father would not approve. Who needed the drama? He certainly didn’t, so it was, in his mind, shelved. But seeing the bareness of her chest between her breasts was so exciting. She had offered herself… to him. He needed to say something to fix this. He just didn’t know what to say. He needed to think. “I just wanted you to see something I was told about. I needed a second pair of eyes I could trust.” He paused. “From someone who wouldn’t lie to me just to win my favor.” He paused again. He wanted Casandra to know that he trusted her. That when it came to honesty in both emotions and in facts, he depended on her. “I need you.” He stepped closer, hoping that she would not step back or turn. She didn’t. “Right now, I need to see this and then we’ll talk.”
She didn’t say anything but nodded her head “yes.” She was still embarrassed. Self-conscious of her attire and wanted to go back to her apartment, but she would follow. She would put his needs above her own.
Storm slowed his pace despite the desire to get this over and sit down and talk with Casandra. He needed to confirm what he was told and what his dreams were nagging him about. “Was Earth still there? Were they being lied to?”
The trip to the observatory took about fifteen minutes as Storm had shortened his stride twice to accommodate Casandra and she had to stop and adjust her jumpsuit once more. Needless to say it took a great deal of concentration for Storm to keep his mind on his objective. Casandra may have been the offspring of workers, but she was beautiful by most measures, she just kept it hidden with her oversized outfits of black and grey. And kept her hair oily and over half her face so as to obscure her beauty. For the most part, it worked, except to him. He could see it. However, what drew him in more was her intelligence and honesty. He loved that he could depend on it. Now more than ever he needed it.
They reached the observatory and found it empty. Storm brought up his pad and made a few notes. He looked in the telescope to see where it was pointed. He needed to adjust it so that it would sweep across a certain area of space. But first he needed to figure out where it was and how to get it to sweep in a certain path. From the looks of it, it was pointed out of the solar system, so the first step was to swing it almost one hundred and sixty-seven degrees and adjust its altitude by twenty-eight degrees. That would put it in the general area he needed to start with. Once the coordinates were typed in, he let the whirl of the gears move the massive optical device. He consulted his pad again. He needed to know where the planets were right now and how he could move the telescope to move across that spot. This was such a tedious activity and so unnecessary except for the fact that the telescope was programmed to block Earth from its observers. They didn’t want people to lament over it. It was gone, no reason to long for it, so they just erased it. Which was a complete contradiction to the museum. There they showed off all the dead things they once had.
Once the telescope stopped, Storm typed in the next set of coordinates. This time he placed the camera on his pad over the eye piece. Let it focus and then pushed the record button. He had Casandra hit the execute button on the star drive. The telescope moved. It swung past stars and rocks and Mars but kept moving. Storm asked, “Can you increase the magnification by six?”
He did and the objects on his pad got bigger but moved faster. “That’s perfect.” Then he adjusted the frame rate on the pad to maximum and waited. Suddenly the picture went black and then a few seconds later it returned to the stars zooming across the lens. Storm stopped the recording. Saved it and then rewound it. He went back to a point, one half second before the blackout. Then frame by frame went forward. Ten frames, fifteen, twenty-seven, thirty-six. Then there it was. Just at the edge of the frame. A blue smudge. He typed in a few commands that cropped that area of the picture. It was very blurry. A few more commands and the pad compensated for the speed that the object was traveling at. When the image was done rendering, it clearly showed a blue planet with water and swirling clouds. Still a little out of focus, but it was clear enough. His father had lied. They all lied! Earth was still there! Not brown. Not used up. But blue with oceans and white swirling clouds!
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Please visit Roger’s blog at https://ralegg.blogspot.com