Shanee takes a deep breath and presses her hand into the membrane of the InstaBubble. She expects it to cling to her fingers. Instead it coats her hand like a large glove. She has come so far. Spent her family’s last credit. She checks the pockets of her jumpsuit - hydration capsules, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and most importantly her data pad. There is no reason to delay.
The atmosphere inside the IB is the same as outside. Temperate. Dry. Metallic.
‘Destination?’ The voice is computer generated. Female.
Shanee is disoriented and can’t remember.
Is there a note of impatience? Can a machine be impatient? Sharee pulls off the jumpsuit hood and shakes the thought out of her head. Auburn curls bounce about her shoulders and she finds the word. ‘Greenacres. Earth.’
The membrane of the bubble hardens. There is no sound, but Sharee knows that she is moving from the familiarity of Colony Zaros to Earth. Moments later the IB is again transparent. She steps out onto a green lawn, inhaling perfumes she can’t identify. Her eye implants automatically adjust to the brightness. A woman, draped in a long white robe, stands waiting. She inspects Shanee’s ID card, comparing the hologram with her face.
‘Shanee Entobale,’ the woman bows deeply. ‘Welcome to Earth.’
Shanee is unsure what to do. She does not know the woman’s name so she cannot bow to her. On Zaros it would be impolite to ask. The woman is obviously waiting and eventually Shanee says, ‘Thank you. I have come to view Aronsell Bark’s personal effects.’
The woman motions for her to follow.
Shanee’s feet bounce on the springy lawn. She wants to take her boots off and feel the grass between her toes. Perhaps later, on the return trip to the IB. It is hard to imagine anyone choosing to leave this fragrant planet for dry, inhospitable Zaros, that after three generations still resisted terra-firming. Shanee glances in wonder back at the IB. Her family were amongst the first settlers, arriving after a deep sleep of over a hundred years.
The woman leads her along invisible paths. ‘Here.’ She touches a band on her wrist and a pedestal supporting a glass dome rises slowly from the ground.
Shanee knows what to do. She touches a pad at the base of the dome. A needle pricks her. She sucks at the blood and is reminded of the metallic taste of the air on Zaros. They wait while her DNA is being processed, providing proof that she is a direct descendant of Aronsell Bark.
The dome opens us and the woman moves away. Shanee is grateful for the privacy. This is the tricky bit. If she gets caught she is dead. Her body will be used as fertilizer and her effects confiscated by the state. She risks a look up. But they cannot take my soul. There is one item on display. A gold locket. Nothing can be removed. That is the law. Shanee reaches out and picks it up. An alarm will ring if she does not replace it within five minutes. Using her body as a shield, she opens the locket, removes a microchip and slips it into a secret pocket. She takes the full five minutes to examine the locket before returning it. The dome closes. She has another ten minutes. Fifteen in all. Not enough and yet, for her beating heart, too much. Shanee bows her head. Thank you, Aronsell. Thank you, Master of the Universe.
As the dome disappears back into the ground Shanee turns to the woman. There is one more thing before she is safe. The woman taps her wrist band and Shanee is enveloped in a halo of light. A strident alarm brings a dozen foot soldiers, stun guns point at her. The halo is glowing red around one of her chest pockets.
She is stripped. Her pockets emptied onto the grass. When they come to her data pad another alarm rings. The pad is passed to the woman. She opens it, examines it carefully. She reopens the dome.
‘Nothing is missing. The data pad may be malfunctioning. She turns to Shanee. ‘I cannot let you take this with you. We will send you the contents.’
Shanee has practiced this. ‘I understand.’ She dresses and is lead to the departure bay.
When she exits the IB on Zaros, her father is waiting. She nods. ‘At last.’ He whispers. ‘We have the words of eternal life.’
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