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Toward the Dark Sea

Something is awake

By Vanessa GonzalesPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 11 min read
Toward the Dark Sea
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

“Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say.”

“Is this how you answer calls when I’m out, Alexander? Sorry, excuse me–” Faith elbowed her way out of a packed lift and onto the lower mezzanine, joining a stream of jumpsuit-clad workers headed downward to their jobs on the mechanical and engineering levels.

“Not always." Her assistant sounded like he was grinning. Probably he was. "Sometimes I tell them you can’t call them back because the gravity’s failed and you’re out there drifting in the vacuum.”

“That sounds relaxing actually." The crowd thinned out a bit, and Faith tilted her device up and switched the screen on so she and Alex could see each other. "Look, I’ve had a change of plans for the day. One of the selenology team leads wants me to come over to Cognitum and watch a presentation on some core samples they’ve taken. I won't be back until 1600 at least.”

“You can watch a presentation from your own desk,” Alex pointed out. "No need to go to another dome for it."

“I said that, but they’re dead set on me being there in person, so if you don’t mind…?”

“Sure, I’ll meet Rory at school.”

“Thanks,” Faith said, relieved. “I let her go on her own because we were in such a rush this morning, but I didn’t like doing it. Just see that she gets in safely and then straight back to the office, all right?”

“Will do. Enjoy the core samples.”

“Ugh.” Faith switched off her screen and shoved the device into her pocket before clattering down a set of metal stairs. A high-speed transport was waiting in the tunnel; if she could catch it, she'd be in Cognitum in less than an hour.

The early colonists on this rock had thought they were being cute, naming the cities after the lunar maria. Cognitum was where the research labs and university were; a good place to go if you wanted to bump into insufferable academics and drunk, haggard students. Tranquillitatis was a resort area with limpid turquoise water, a man-made beach of pale sand, and ranks of expensive day spas where people got massaged with imported oils and had anorthite crystals passed over their third chakras.

Crisium was where the lunar government had its offices. Now that one was really apt, Faith thought. Their jobs were one crisis after another, even for mid-level officials like her.

She slipped through the transport's doors as they were closing and took a seat before the acceleration could knock her down. At least not much could go wrong on a boring day of listening to scientists drone about minerals, she thought. She just hoped Rory got to school on time.

There was nothing to worry about, Rory told herself. She wasn’t a baby; she would be eight soon. She was old enough to go to school on her own, almost as old as her friend Ella, who did it all the time. On another day, she and Ella could have walked together, but this week Ella was visiting her grandmother in Imbrium. That was all right, though. The corridors had colored lines to show the way, and if you took a wrong turn, all you had to do was ask the nearest screen how to get back. Easy peasy.

She waited outside the Level Twelve lifts, clutching her school tablet in its case. School was on Level Two, facing out towards the dark blot of Mare Crisium in the distance. Her mother said Mare Crisium was as big as Great Britain on Earth, but it looked small, so small through the tough pressure glass of the classroom window. Sometimes during a boring history lesson, Rory would find her attention wandering that way, until she caught herself staring out at the mare instead of doing her work. She'd been in trouble for it before, when her teacher caught her first.

When the next lift arrived, she squeezed in and was instantly surrounded by the anonymous legs of adults on their own business. They crowded her into the middle of the compartment, hemming her in so she couldn’t see anything, and inadvertently blocking her when the lift stopped at Level Two. By the time she found her voice to say she needed to get out, the doors had already closed again and they were on their way down to the plaza level, giving her a moment of panic.

It's all right, stupid, she said to herself. It's only one level. You can get out and take another lift back up.

"Plaza level," the automated voice announced, and all the remaining people in the lift piled out, sweeping Rory along with them. She was left alone in the plaza, dotted with fruit trees growing in planters, and still mostly empty under an arching roof of steel girders and skylights. Stars gleamed through the glass; this side of the moon was in its two-week night at the moment.

Rory looked around. She should get straight back into a lift going up, she knew, but she was rarely on the plaza level and the shops looked so interesting, even when they were shut up tight. She thought about Ella's new necklace, bought in one of these shops for Ella to wear on her big trip to Imbrium. What if she could get one like it? Then she and Ella would be twins. Of course the shop wouldn't be open, and what credit she had was only good in her Solar Quest game, but she could look and see if there was a necklace, couldn't she? It would only take a minute.

She wandered along the gallery, trying to remember the name of the shop Ella had told her, but when she had made a full circuit, she still hadn't found it. A few of the shopfront barricades were beginning to roll up, but there was no more time; she would be late.

Rory turned to go, and then drew in a sharp breath as she saw a figure in the darkness of one of the archways along the gallery, almost within arm's reach of her. It was a man, but he was standing so still that he might have been one of the trees, or a block of metal; a thing that had never budged and would never budge.

She backed away a step. The man took a step forward to match her. Ambient light from the dome fell across his face.

"Oh," Rory said weakly.

The man regarded her with what would have been a steady gaze, if he could have gazed. His mouth didn't move, but somehow he was conveying information to her anyway, delivering a message right into the center of her mind where it revealed itself whether she wanted to hear it or not.

“Your eyes. Something’s wrong.” Rory gripped the handle of her tablet case with a sweaty palm. “You ought to go to the hospital. It’s on Level Three. They can–they can–” She faltered, not sure what even a doctor could do for injuries like this, but the man didn’t seem to hear her anyway.

“I’ll be late for school,” Rory whispered. Her throat felt dried up, like the ancient dust in the craters. “I’ll get in trouble with my teacher if I’m late. Level Three. The hospital."

The man stared at her.

"I'm sorry," Rory said, and ran.

Alex spent a quiet morning in the set of small offices he shared with Faith Nakamura, taking advantage of the solitude to catch up on work before she could heap any more on him. He'd been Faith's assistant for years now, hand-picked by her during a recruiting trip to his university on Earth. He loved working for her, even when it meant taking on random tasks like childminding, but that didn't mean she wasn't often a pain in the ass. The price of being able to tell her so to her face was accepting that the situation would never change.

Rory's school let out at 1500, and at five minutes to the hour, he was waiting in the corridor on Level Three, watching children of assorted sizes spill out and either run to their parents or head off together in small, chattering groups. Rory was one of the last few out, not with her friend Ella as usual, but walking slowly and alone, seemingly lost in thought. The red band on one of her braids had fallen off, lost during some game, and her soft dark hair was starting to unravel in wisps. He saw she was about to walk right past him and put out a hand to stop her.

"Hey, short stuff, where you going?"

"Alex!" Rory looked up, both surprised and oddly relieved to see him. "I thought I was walking home on my own. I did it this morning."

"I heard. Your mum didn't want you to walk alone both ways, though, so you're stuck with me. How was your day?”

“Okay. Can you carry me?”

Carry you?” He couldn’t remember the last time Rory had asked to be picked up or carried; certainly not within the last year. “What for? Do you feel sick?”

“No, but can you?” Rory turned hopeful eyes up to him, and he yielded. He was no more of a match for Faith's daughter than he was for Faith herself.

“All right, but you’ve got to hold onto me, help me out. Your pal Al’s not as young as he used to be, you know.”

Rory transferred her tablet to her left hand and looped her right arm round his neck as he hoisted her up. “How old are you?”

“Thirty. Oof, you’re heavy. Have they been feeding you rocks for lunch at school?”

Rory giggled a little. “No, soy chicken stew and flat bread. Maybe we’ll have rocks tomorrow.” She leaned her cheek against his–cool, not feverish, he noted to tell Faith later. “Mummy’s forty-three. That’s thirteen more than thirty.”

“Yeah, she reminds me about that a lot.” The lift nearest them made a soft chime and its door slid open, letting them into its empty blue-lit interior. “Lift, Level Twelve. Ready to get down now?"

"Not yet." Rory tightened her grip on him. "Did she go to Cognitum today? She said she was going to."

"She did," Alex confirmed. "She's watching a presentation about geology. Sounds like it's a long one."

"Scientists," Rory said in a long-suffering tone he'd heard Faith use many times on the same topic. She rested her head on Alex's shoulder as the lift slowed, stopped, and disgorged them onto Level Twelve. Most of the people who lived on this level were also civil servants, and the corridor stretched out clean and quiet, its soft flooring recently cleaned by automated vacs and its wall-mounted screens flickering with news and advertising, as it waited for the inhabitants to come home.



“Have you ever seen a scary-looking person?” Rory’s voice was muffled, her face half buried in the collar of his jacket.

“Well, yes, but most scary-looking people can't help looking that way." A thought occurred to him. "Have you seen someone who scared you?”

Rory nodded against his neck. “This morning, when I was going down to school. I went through the part where the shops are because I wanted to see if there was a necklace like the one Ella has. It’s a crystal bubble on a chain and there’s a tiny, tiny purple flower from Earth inside. It’s so pretty.” Her voice was soft with awe at the thought of the coveted necklace. “I couldn't find the shop, but I saw--I saw a man."

“What man?”

“I don't know. I never saw him before. I would remember if I did because of how he looked. He said he lives in the big crater in the mare.”

“No one lives in the crater, Rory. It's just rocks and dust.”

“I know. We went there for a field trip last week, in one of the transports that goes above ground. You signed the permission thing for me because Mummy was busy.”

“Yes,” Alex said cautiously. He added Faith's electronic signature to forms all the time, and Rory had wanted to go on the trip so much, he hadn't thought anything of it. Now he wondered if she'd seen something there that had taken root in her imagination, and what Faith would say when she found out.

“At the edge of the crater they switched on the lights so we could see, and the inside was all white where it was lit up, but where the light didn’t go there was a big black shadow. That’s where the man lives. He doesn’t breathe air because there’s no air to breathe, and…”

“And what?”

Rory’s embrace tightened into a near stranglehold. “And he hasn’t got any eyes. Just holes where his eyes ought to be. Holes like craters.”

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Vanessa Gonzales

“Rule one, you have to write. If you don’t write, nothing will happen.” - Neil Gaiman

When I'm not writing, I take photos. You can see them here.

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Comments (2)

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  • Hassan2 years ago

    Excellent writing! Gave me chills!

  • Omg, that was so scary! I would never wanna meet that man! I hope you continue this. I loved this story!

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