They said the ship had always been, and would continue to be forever. With no propulsion system, it floated through space. It was said it was bigger than the moon, even though no one now would have thought about the silvery orb of the moon hanging in the Earth's sky. Lumpy and misshapen through the countless millennia of repairs and upgrades, the ship had been drifting away from the Earth for so long Earth and its moon were just stories.
Gregox was hurrying home, winding his way through the complex and narrow halls he thought of as streets in the inner ship. The source of all the ship's power came from the Deep, were people worked in pitch-black conditions, keeping the generators and replicators running smoothly. Gregox was lucky enough not to work in the Deep, the very centre of the ship. He was a rail-worker. From the Deep to the Hull, every part of the ship was connected by the trains. Gregox and the rail-workers were the veins that kept the Deep's heart beating.
The streets here had been built up with homes and merchants, fluorescent lights hanging from the ceilings and walls. The crowds made it almost impossible to walk in a straight line without being jostled. Gregox liked it though, liked hearing the rhythm of people after spending all day listening to the electric whirl of engines and machinery. He stopped by one stall and bought a synthmeat kabob from a pretty girl, her left eye a robotic implant.
Most children were free of upgrades, but by the time you were an adult everyone had some piece of themselves that had been replaced by machine, either through disease or an accident. Gregox had a mechanical right arm after losing his in a loading accident. Years of being around heavy machinery had made him nearly deaf by twenty-six, so he also had implants in his ears. Now he could hear conversations through walls if he wanted to, and also pick up the local radio waves, but he would also be in debt for the rest of his life.
Gregox was just finishing the tangy synthmeat when he heard the sniffling. With a cock of his head he isolated and enhanced the sound until he could recognize the sound of a little girl crying. He looked around the crowded alley, he pushed through the people, following the sound, until the found the little girl curled up behind a dumpster.
"Hey there," Gregox crouched down. "You lost?"
She was young, no more than seven or eight. She looked like she had been living on the streets for a while, dirty with black matted hair. She sniffed and looked up at him, nodding as a glob of mucus hung out of her nose.
"I was looking for the garden."
Gregox laughed. "What garden? There are no gardens here."
"I wanted to see the garden..." she held out a picture to him, and Gregox nearly fell backwards in surprised.
The picture was worn out, folded and crumpled, torn and dirtied, but he could still see the smiling family members, two adult men and three young children. Behind them was a large glass dome looking up onto the stars. They stood on grass, with flowerbeds around their feet, apple trees flanking them.
"Is this you?" he pointed to the youngest of the girls. In the picture she wore a honey yellow dress, and her hair was neatly done in cornrows, a far cry from the street urchin in front of him, but the eyes were the same.
She nodded, still sobbing, and Gregox felt like jumping up and down for joy. This was a family obviously living along the Hull, with access to windows and gardens and food that just hung down from trees. Just imagine how happy they would be to see their little girl again. Just imagine the reward.
"Come on, we'll get you home," he took her cold and shivering hand, and helped her up, she was heavier than he'd expected, and he turned back the way he'd come - to the railyard. "What's your name?"
Her mouth hung open to answer, but suddenly the features on her face began to twitch, until she frowned and shook her head. "I don't remember."
What had happened to her? Judging from the photo too much time couldn't have passed. Definitely no more than a year. But trauma could destroy a person's mind. He saw that enough in the people around him. Old men and women, too weak to continue work in the Deep, were just tossed onto the street like garbage. They would mumble to themselves, blind from the light, forced to crawl around looking for scraps of food. Inevitably they were collected, their limbs and good organs recycled into others. That could have been this girl's fate.
Written byGuenevere Lee
This Story Won
- "Boundless Night" Second place.