I burst through the door, waving a pair of transport tickets, “I got them Jilli, I got them!”
Jillian sat at the table reading, a cup of tea at her elbow. She looked at me quizzically, then her shoulders drooped. It was not the reaction I expected. “Oh, Nickoli, you didn’t.”
“Yes, yes I did! It took every credit I had – and some pleading – but we have tickets to New Eden. The transport leaves Thursday.”
“Nikki, I really didn’t think you were serious about that. Just another of your crazy dreams.”
That hurt. She saw it too. She got up out of her chair and came around the table to put a hand on each shoulder. “I’m sorry, Nikki, that didn’t come out right. It’s just that you have so many dreams, and so many of them are just…impractical.”
The exuberance I’d felt just moments before drained away leaving me feeling like an empty sink. “Just because I want…something better than this?”
“Oh, Nikki, we are already so much better off than most! Why can’t you see that?”
I looked around our apartment: a 10 foot by 20 foot common room with a kitchenette at one end, a table and 4 chairs, a sofa facing a wall-mounted vid-screen mounted to the opposite wall. One long wall had a single entry door joining the common room to the hallway. Each end wall had a door leading to 10 x 10 bedrooms, two more bedrooms off the other long wall. In the far corner an angled door giving access to the common storage room and in the near corner was the bathroom: a compact, efficient living space, 20 feet by 40 feet that housed four unrelated adults. One of several hundred just like it in our building.
“Nikki, we each have our own bedroom, the lower classes have as many as four to each room, remember? We started out there!”
“I remember.” I whispered, “I remember working very hard to excel so I would qualify for something better.”
“And here you are.” She gazed gently into my eyes, “And if you keep working hard, you’ll be promoted again. Maybe one day, if we both work very hard we’ll be able to have an apartment for just us. Who knows; maybe even a window.” She smiled.
“A window? To look out at what? Jillian the city is filthy and ugly. The sky is brown. I’m glad I can’t see it.”
“It’s not that bad.”
“But the world used to be so much nicer.”
“Maybe, a very long time ago. But that’s not the way it is any more. And it never will be again, you need to accept that. Put away those picture books: they’ll get you in trouble, and learn to live in the here and now.”
“New Eden has plenty of open space.”
She rolled her eyes, “Oh, yes, I’m sure. They’ve just discovered it. There can’t be more than a few thousand colonists on the whole planet. But life is so HARD there!”
“It’s the most Earth-like planet they’ve discovered.”
“Earth-like?!” Her face flushed, “The only part of this planet that that planet resembles is Antarctica! New Eden is a ball of ice!”
“It has a breathable atmosphere.”
“Yes, just barely, but it’s so cold if you walk outside the colony dome without an envirosuit you’ll freeze solid in minutes.”
“For now;” I admitted, “they’re working on that. It’s got air and water.” She opened her mouth, I held up my hand, “Frozen water, but it is water. And it has open spaces, Jillian! Clear, clean skies, fresh air. Can you imagine looking up at night and being able to see the stars?”
“Oh, Nikki, I love you. The dreamer in you has been part of what I love, but this…Nikki, you’re throwing away everything you’ve worked so hard to get, and for what?”
“For freedom, Jill, for a chance at being really free.”
“Freedom? Nikki, the same government that runs this planet runs that one. Everyone lives inside a communal dome. Do you think life is so very much different there than it is here? It is not! Except you can see the stars – IF – there are any windows.”
We stood, staring at one another for several moments. Her eyes were wide and moist, pleading with me to give up my quest. My eyes were wet too, I loved Jillian, but I hated living like a rat in a box. It’s true I had never known any other way, and my life was better than it had been when I first joined the workforce at age 14; a mere laborer. But I knew it could be better. I knew how it had been once, my books told me about a life long ago. Before unification. Before social reform.
“I’m going, Jillian.” I whispered, “Will you come with me?”
Her eyes overflowed, tears streamed down her cheeks, “I can’t. I’m scared Nikki, I just can’t.”
I beat the tickets I still clutched against my leg a few times, clamped my lips together as I nodded slowly then walked into my room and closed the door. I needed to pack.