“They cancelled all outdoor work today. We just found out,” my father continued to eat his breakfast. A forkful of scrambled eggs made their way into his mouth.
“I’m not sure,” he offered as he gathered up a few more bits of eggs from his plate.
“Probably weather related,” my mother offered as she sipped from her mug. “That’s what I heard.”
“Or probably not,” I muttered. “It’s perfectly sunny out this morning.” I pointed to the porthole above the table next to theirs. “Even their own weather reports on the screens say sun.” I lowered my hands knowing that they might wonder why I cared so much about the decision.
My mother leaned in over top of the trays, “Could be something stirred up on the radar.”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. “Which we never have access to,” I grunted and returned to eating the last few bites. As I finished, I looked up at my parents. “May I be excused?”
“Of course,” my mom responded and my dad nodded.
I stood up and carried my tray past the other diners. Looking around, no one seemed concerned. Although most of them liked the work, the rest of the colonists probably relished the extra day off. And none of them would question why.
After clearing my tray, I headed out the door into the connector. The skies outside were as blue as I had seen in a while. The sun glistened on the morning sands. “Yes, weather,” I waved a hand towards the outside world.
Secrets on top of lies.
I marched towards the end of the connector wondering what today’s cover up entailed. Just as I neared the door, something caught my eye. Outside, there was one rover rolling over the dunes. Although I had an idea of who it was, I headed towards the cargo bay to try to confirm.
Walking through the sliding door, I entered the hangar. I took a look at the line of rovers and skiffs. There at the end, the short man with the spiky, black hair was hauling a dolly with grey tanks. He looked up as I approached him.
“Hey Dee,” he paused. “You heard the news right?”
“I thought no one was going out today, but then I looked out and saw a rover rolling out of sight.” I stopped as I stood only a few feet away from the man holding the cart.
“Oh that. That’s just Roy and Pablo doing a perimeter sweep. You heard right though, no one else is going out today.”
“No, they said that they’re having problems with the tracking system on a couple of units and needed to test out the radar.”
“Oh,” I nodded. “That makes sense.” I gave a slight wave and he tilted the dolly back. “Okay then, I’ll see you later.”
“See you later Dee.” He pushed the load and continued on his way towards the hold.
I turned and headed towards the exit wondering what Pablo and Roy were up to.
Had they discovered the skiff in the desert?
Or were they just taking the day to investigate?
Or was it something else entirely?
The rows of skiffs and hovers parked in lines making an aisle for me had no answer. I paused at my own skiff to stare at the vehicle that had taken me out in the desert. If they did locate Francois, they would eventually make the connection to me. It was likely only a matter of time now if Roy had already figured out my joyride, and this put my family and I in danger.
I hurried out through the door that slid into the wall and briskly walked through the connector. I headed back to my room where I could sit and gather my thoughts. Although the clock was ticking as my time was likely running out on being caught, I still had hours before I could possibly speak to Adam about the desperate plan that had taken shape. In my mind, I went over a quick checklist in my head and realized that I was prepared to do the unthinkable. I climbed up onto my top bunk and opened my hatch to eye all of the contents that I possessed in this world. It would take no more than a minute to load a backpack to go.
Tapping my leg, I stared ahead playing out my trek in my mind. My supplies here were ready, and the rest of the items that I needed were safely tucked away in storage. Now that I had the combination, I could quickly grab what I needed from the bay.
For the rest of the morning, the clock marked a very slow passage of time as I spent time in my room being that I was still confined to inside the complex. Sunlight still filled the room as 1700 was still so far away. I pulled out my tablet and flicked it on to kill time as I leaned against the wall.
The image of the smiling girl filled the screen.
“Hi there!” She waved. In the background, her computer-generated bedroom displayed an Arsenal pennant proudly in the background.
“Hi Simone,” I offered to my distraction. I needed someone to talk to, so she would have to do.
“How are you feeling today?”
“Okay,” I offered up. It was the truth in an odd sort of way. “You?”
“Better now, it’s good to see you. It’s been a while.”
“Sorry about that,” although I didn’t feel guilty at all. “I’ve been pretty busy.”
“Sure, I totally get it.”
“Simone, did you ever see the movie Pinocchio?” I paused, staring at the rectangular device in my hands as I sat on my bunk alone. The light crept further into my room as the sun continued its arch across the morning sky.
“Yes, I’m familiar with it.” The voice of a teen responded from the silver tablet while I sat listening with my back against the wall. No one else had come to the room yet and the dorm was quiet other than the conversation between the two of us. “That’s the old Disney film about the marionette.”
“That’s the one.”
“What made you think of that?” The voice specifically designed to grow as I grew answered and it was interesting how much the voice comforted me. I made a mental note to make sure that I brought her along with me.
“You remember what he wished for right?”
“Yeah, I do,” Simone responded as she nodded a head full of braids. “He wanted to be a real boy.” There was a pause similar to that which a human might provide. “What made you think of that?”
“Sometimes, being here… you know. It just feels like I’m missing out on things. It just doesn’t feel all that real. I just feel like there’s certain experiences you need to have to really be a kid…”
“You’re having amazing experiences…”
“Sure,” I didn’t feel bad cutting her off. “I’m doing things that some people only dream off. And of course I know that I’m real and I’m here sitting on my bunk right now. And I’m holding my tablet talking to you.” I drew a deep breath, “but sometimes here I feel like that’s not enough.”
“I get it…” Simone offered from the screen as she shifted her weight as she sat on her bed.
“Thanks Simone, but I’m not sure that anyone really understands.” I paused and stared at the computer-generated image of the teen. Simone stared back, blinking her dark, black eyes. “I’ve got a lot on my mind lately. And part of me is thinking about the safety of the complex as a whole, and part of me is just thinking about me.”
“You’re allowed to feel two things at once. Or even more than two. It’s normal.”
“I’m not sure I even know what that means anymore here.” I paused. “In the movie, the puppet gets his wish and is transformed, but I wonder if things were any better for him?”
“Well, he looked more like the other kids… and he could eat food… and he didn’t need his strings anymore. That seems like a better life.”
“Sure, all of those things on the outside were different. But I wonder if he felt any different when he was like the others…”
“You’re as real here as you were on Earth. You know that…”
“I do know that Simone, in some senses of the word. And I understand that I’m going through the same growth stages and changes as other teens have for millions of years. But sometimes here, I feel a little less real…” This would probably show up on Beatriz’s radar and would come up in counseling, but it could be easily explained away as teen angst.
“You’re real, and you’re whole. You’re just different, but everyone is different in some way.”
“But you have to admit that I’m much more different than other kids.”
“Sure, there’s no one else with the experiences that you’ve had. But that’s not a bad thing. Not many other kids could’ve excelled here like you have.” The image raised a hand and brushed her braids to the side.
“I hope that you’re right.”
“I am. You know that the best parts of my days are our talks.”
“Well, even though you’re just a bunch of pixels I actually enjoy pulling you out once in a while and getting things off my mind.” There was another long pause. “Are you happy Simone?” My brow furrowed as I posed the question.
“I’m always happy to talk to you Diya and lucky to be a part of this outpost.”
“Yes, I know you are. And I’m lucky to have you so I can complain sometimes about things that really aren’t that big a deal in the great scheme of things. I just found myself thinking of that stupid puppet tonight and wondering how much longer I’m going to be here alone.” I smiled, “A bit melodramatic....”
“I like to hear what’s on your mind and I’m glad that you shared it. I think that you were just looking forward to Arrival that’s all.” Simone tilted her head and flashed a smile.
I nodded my head, “Yeah, Arrival.”
I wondered what really happened with Arrival.
“Well, I need to get ready for my shift. Gotta go. Have a good day Simone.”
“Have a good one!” She waved. “I look forward to talking again soon.”
I flipped the switch and turned off the closest thing that I had to a friend somehow feeling better. The next time I talked to her though, I would likely be alone in the desert. I stared up at the clock and slowly marked the passage of time until I’d speak with Adam. My fingers drummed impatiently on my knee.
“I’m going to go crazy if I sit here…”
Swinging my legs over the bed, I climbed down and headed to the fitness room to join my team for a game as a wait to release energy.
The countdown until I would set out from the colony into the desert continued its slow march forward.