(Eighty Years Later)
The soul of East Ocean whispered to her on the breeze as it did before on previous visits to Haven. The cool salt water teased and tickled her toes while the tidal surge lapped against her shins, undermining the sand from beneath her feet. Cristina looked down, her feet half-buried in the blue-green sea foam as the brine water swept back only to flow again, wrapping around her ankles.
She glanced up, and then averted her eyes from the directness of the sunrise, not daring to strain her efforts. Her eyes were intensely sensitive to such brilliance. Still, it had been worth the effort to walk out across the causeway to the barrier island, risking exposure outside of Haven’s dome.
She returned to the beach and sat down on the towel she had spread out on the hard pack. Looking out across the ocean, she was mesmerized by the ever-undulating surface that at low tide left a trace line on the sand where the water had previously been. She tried to breathe in the air from the sea, but the filters that protected her from the poisonous gases constricted her ability to fully experience and savor brine air.
In a few years, the Colonial Authority promised, the atmosphere would be fully breathable. Even now it probably was good enough in most places, but she did not feel it was worth the risk to venture beyond the domes without wearing a breathing filter.
The excitement of dawn’s first light was over. Standing, the shook the sound from the towel she borrowed from her hotel room. One last look she took as the risen sun continued ascent into a bank of low-lying gas clouds. Between the horizon and the shore, swirling red and green poisonous gas mixed and mingled, attesting to the still tentative nature of the world’s transformation.
She walked back the way she’d come, accessing he pressure lock for the walkway that would eventually allow her to reenter the domed city.
A strong vacuum sucked away the air around her, purging any possible noxious gas from the air. Momentarily, an equally strong flood of fresh, cooler air that she could breathe unfiltered replaced what atmosphere she brought into the lock with her. Even so, she knew better than to take off the filters until the auto-sampler tested the mix of air and audibly confirmed that it was safe. Only then did she pass through the inner airlock door.
She walked alone in the silence, except for the annoying din of the air handlers that piped re-circulated air from the mainland dome. As a couple of men approached her, she shivered with an odd sensation that left gooseflesh on her exposed arms and legs.
Feelings came to her from time to time, the sort that serves to prelude an event. She always paid attention. It was not a bad feeling but something more along the lines of impending, imperative importance.
The elder of the two men walked right past her, carrying his bang-stick, apparently ready to fish the waters for his share of the abundant aquatic life that existed ready for the kill just beneath the surface. Because the foulness of the gaseous poisons in the atmosphere had for the most part been effectively neutralized from the surface of the ocean, several species of fish had been successfully introduced into the native environment. Although there were strict quotas on harvesting, there were several species that flourished. Few of the edible species remained on the restricted list.
The younger man paused and smiled at her. He removed the protective goggles from his eyes, apparently wanting to get a better look at her.
She continued to ascend of the sidewalk toward the bridge’s crest. The younger man greeted her, and despite the brightness he left his goggles resting on the top of his head as he looked directly into her eyes as she passed by. It unnerved her a little.
“It’s a lovely morning,” he said in the wake of her passing.
“Yes, it is,” she replied over her shoulder continuing to walk.
“I take it you were out, at the beach,” he called after her, following her.
“Yes. It was very nice.” She proceeded walking as she conversed.
“Are there any waves?”
“There are, but only some very small, ankle-deep ones.”
“That’s great news,” the older man said through his breathing filter as he had turned to follow the younger man, seeing what he was up to.
“My name is Paul,” the younger man offered as had finally caught up to her, reaching his hand in an effort to halt her.
“Mine is Cristina.” Stopping, she turned abruptly, glaring at him. “Without an ‘h’.”
Recoiling, he offered the best non-threatening smile he could manage. “Well, Cristina without an ‘h’, we are well met. But I ask, why is there no ‘h’.”
“Why is it necessary? Besides it is how my father named me.”
“Well, I suppose it was unnecessary then.”
“Obviously, you fish.”
“Yes, my uncle and I are quite good at it, actually.” He glanced to the older man who, having returned up the causeway to join them, stood several paces behind the younger man. “Have you ever tried fishing?”
“We’ll have to do it sometime.”
“I won’t have the time. I don’t live here.”
“I doubt I would be good at it, anyway. I don’t like killing things.”
“They’re only fish.”
“But they are alive,” she said.
“You have a point, of course. But we fish for food not sport.”
“I suppose that is more acceptable than merely wasting life.”
“Do you eat fish?”
“Yes, I do and I know what you are going to say. But somehow that feels different than if I killed the fish.”
“I see. Well, the offer is open. I can teach you if you like, if you are staying long enough, that is.”
“I doubt I have the necessary patience. There certainly will not be enough time for that anyway. I leave today.”
“We need to be going,” Paul’s uncle prodded.
“How am I going to find you again?”
“Was that a goal for you?”
“I would like to continue know you.”
“It would be difficult. I am in a band. We tour a lot. So usually I am not home.”
“You must be very good, then.”
“We do okay,” she allowed modestly.
“I detect a slight accent,” he said. “You’re from New Milan, I’ll bet.”
“Yes. My father and aunt spoke fluent Italian, so they taught me my heritage first. I learned other languages since so that I could function in other places.”
“My uncle and I are from Italian heritage as well.”
“Really? That is interesting, I suppose.”
“We really must go,” Paul’s uncle insisted.
“What is the name of your band?”
“From Latin for ‘Two Moons’. I like that.”
“Like our nighttime sky.”
“I’ll come to see you perform next time you are in the city.”
“I’d like that,” Cristina permitted.
“Maybe we can talk more, then.”
“You’d better go before your uncle gets mad at you.”
“Come on,” the uncle groused as if to reinforce her gentle brush-off.
“You are very attractive,” he said as Cristina started to walk away.
She laughed as she turned around and walked backwards. “Is that the best you can do?”
“I’m being sincere and you laugh at me?” he asked.
“It’s a little awkward first off, you know?”
“What if I never see you again? Who is going to tell you how beautiful you are?”
“Would the world end if I never knew?” she asked.
“Maybe not but I prefer a world where at least I know I warned you. I think others notice, too.”
She continued to walk on.
“Cristina without an ‘h’,” he repeated as she headed away. “I’ll look forward to seeing you again.”
A floater coach was heading toward her. She recognized it even before it arrived. Glad to see Chase, she waved, hoping Paul would take the hint.
As friendly as Paul was, he also unnerved her. He started off looking directly into her eyes. She always avoided that, but for some reason she looked back and their gaze lingered for a moment. She worried that he might have misread it as a signal, or maybe he learned something about her. Then, she thought it was silly. After all, what could he possibly have learned in such a brief interval?
“Who was the kid?”
“I saw you talking to someone as I came over the bridge.”
“His name’s Paul. He’s of Italian descent.”
“Really, maybe he’s a relative then.”
“From what my father told me, Italy did not fare well after the wars on Earth. I suppose it’s possible that all who remain are related in some way, but it seems unlikely.”
“Ah but there were Italians other places in the world, so the blood and the culture still endures,” Chase said.
“I thought your heritage is English.”
“Actually, it’s Welsh. I suppose it was nearly the same difference in the latter days of Earth, but I doubt you’d find anyone Welsh that ever wanted to be mistaken for an Englishman.”
“That sort of nationalistic pride nearly destroyed the Earth.”
“Regardless of any differences that originate from whatever tribes or nationalities we came from, we are all just humans now.”
Chase was impressed with the strength of her conviction.
They discussed many things in the past several months of the tour, becoming close friends. She was well educated and highly informed, but this was the first time he drew out such a firm revelation of belief.
A couple of moments of silence lingered awkwardly between them until Chase asked, “You couldn’t sleep again?”
“It’s always the same,” she replied. “Now, I’m tired. That’s the crazy part. Once the sun rises I’m ready for a nap.”
“Perhaps in a past life you were a vampire.”
She smiled in response. “I love reading books about vampires and werewolves. Some people say they really existed on Earth.”
“There is some truth in every legend,” Chase allowed.
“Well, I don’t need a coffin to sleep in. A bed or a couch will do just fine.”
“We have some time before we leave. Sleep all morning if you want. We aren’t leaving until mid-afternoon.”
“Maybe I’ll just crash for a while, then. I was going to write a song. The mood struck me when I was on the beach, but I guess it has faded now,” she said, as she reached across the console that divided them and touched his thigh. “Why are you so good to me?”
“Because you are one of the rarest of all women,” he responded. “You have a wonderful gift.”
She looked away and out the window at the navigable channel beneath them. They were almost back to the mainland shore. She remembered back to her schoolgirl times, learning about the extended plans that the engineers and Architects were executing to near perfection as they transformed the world to be more suitable for human habitation. Despite the hostility of the environment with which they began, everything they built had the same forward thinking designed into it. They intended to remake Pravda in the image of Earth and permit it to be used for centuries as one of the many homes for mankind inevitable colonization throughout the galaxy.
“Did I say something wrong?” Chase asked in response to yet another lingering silence between them.
“No, of course not. I was just thinking, about the world and how much it has changed in my lifetime.”
“This is the great frontier, as they say. As deep into the galaxy as human civilization has yet ventured, we are part of the cutting edge. It says so on all the colonization brochures.”
“Yeah,” Cristina smiled as she looked over at him. “And we are still looking for the paradise they promised our parents and grandparents.”
“Well, maybe we haven’t look closely enough.”
“I meant what I said about you, though. Your voice is a special gift. It is only one of the many things that combined make you uniquely Cristina.”
“You say nice things to me. Maybe that’s why I keep you around.”
“Oh, is that why?”
“There are some other things.”
“I wish we had met a few years earlier,” Chase said.
“I might have been able to shorten the span of obscurity for you and the band.”
“There is only ever room for a select few. I feel we are very fortunate to be where we are on the path. Our music is being heard. That’s all that matters to us.”
“What about you, Cristina – is that all that matters to you?”
“Music gives people hope as well as inspiration. It conveys what others are experiencing so we don’t feel quite so alone. Maybe all our hopes are false, though. It would be tragic if that proved to be true but sometimes it seems that way.”
“Maybe some hopes are false but I think usually they’re not,” Chase countered.
“I want to believe that. That is a better world to live in than the one where everything is a lie.”
“There is someone that you must meet, in Star City. He’s an artist and was very famous at one time. Here he is obscure, but mostly that is his choice.”
“He sounds mysterious and aloof.”
“I suppose he can afford to be. I have known about him for a while but have only spoken to him, never really met him. I have seen a picture of him, but it was a picture from a long time ago, before we were born.”
“Is he really old then?”
“Yeah, but every time I have spoken to him he does not impress me as being an old man.”
“What do you consider old?” she asked. “I mean you and I are close to the same age.”
“Most consider us young.”
“Age is an attitude.”
“At our age it seems to be. Frankly, I don’t know what to consider old anymore.”
“What’s his name? I studied the arts. Perhaps, I’ve heard of him.”
“I know him only as Raven. He sends me messages every now and again. I asked him to sample your band’s music. He said he likes it very much.”
“Despite his apparent age, he has progressive tastes.”
“For an old fart, you mean.”
“I’d never say anything that disparaging.”
“I was just making the statement.”
“I’ll not prejudge him. Maybe he wears his age well. I’ll bet he looks distinguished.”
“Neither of us should make assumptions about anyone anymore.”
She looked away.
“Except for him, I have not mentioned to anyone what we confessed to one another about our differences from others.”
“You told him?”
“It was necessary. Raven is a Courier. He and others like him seek those of us with the attributes. You need never worry about me telling another soul. In fact he contacted me. He told me there was someone with the attributes close to me that he needed to meet.”
“That worries me. How would he know?”
“Look, he’s strange, but I think it is the artistic uniqueness more than anything else. He sees everything differently.”
“As any good artist would,” Cristina said.
“You know, you’ll probably like him.”
Their coach pulled up to the curb in front of the hotel. After the door opened they both stepped out. Chase remotely docked the coach, and then escorted Cristina toward the lobby.
“Is everything ready to go?”
“Yeah, the equipment’s already on the way. The road crew should be set for a sound check by the time we reach the venue. Everyone else in the band and stage management is still resting.”
“I’ll take a nap, then.”
He nodded as she pressed the button to call the elevator.
“Wake me in time to shower and dress.”
“I always do.”