“He is the Raiser of ranks, the Possessor of the Throne, He sends the Spirit by His Command to whichever of His servants He wills so that he may warn mankind about the Day of Meeting.” (Koran, Surah Ghafir, 40:15)
“Your sister’s going to kill herself,” says Hamesh. He throws dice against the wall. “Dead today. Fourteen years old.”
“She won’t do it,” explains Abe. The dice show a six, a one and a three. Abe takes the money and jams it into his pouch. “It was just a dream.”
Hamesh glances at Abe’s pouch. “Buy me a drink?”
“Like they’ll serve us…”
“They will after your sister kills herself. Then they’ll feel bad for you, and your friends too. They’ll tell us out of respect that we can buy a drink. Just like that.”
“Just like that,” says Abe.
On the way to the hatch, there are people in the corridors. In one corner, a little band has started. There’s a guitar player and a girl with a keyboard. A little kid is singing – her face is covered in curls, eyes invisible. Abe and Hamesh stop to listen. Beyond the little group, a window looks out onto the craggy surface outside. The ground dips and rises, and then bends out of sight. Stars talk to each other. They talk to Abe too, who watches them as the music stops on a sour note and starts again, better this time. The little girl puts out her hands, as though she’s pulling the song out rather than singing it.
“What was this dream of Lyla’s, anyway?” asks Hamesh.
They pass under a section of fans. The rotors whir, beating air down on the boys. “She saw an angel in her sleep. It told her that this is her last day here. That she’s leaving. That he’s going to take her away, to a place where she can meet the thing that made us. She’s going to learn about living properly. How to do it. And one day she’s going to be sent back, to teach us too.”
“Are you going to tell Lionel?” says Hamesh, as they reach the hatch and the door slips open.
Lionel’s at the table. He’s separating pills from different bottles into clusters, then mixing them together in pouches that are strung to his belt. His helmet is sitting on the table. Across the top, written in dark ink, is a large ‘Fuck You’.
His hands are shaking. “Got stuck in a cave today, boys. Went right to the end and got stuck. They had to pull me out by my feet. Took them an hour. I had twenty minutes of air left when I got back. Twenty minutes. You should see that place. I should have taken a photo. But I got out – and when I did, I ended up back here.” He looks around the apartment, at a ceiling just high enough for him to stand, at the cubby-holes where the beds are left unkempt, at the window to the outside that is barely the size of his head.
“Are you okay, dad?” asks Abe.
“Sure,” he says. “It was just a cave a mile deep. Twenty minutes of oxygen left. It’s a big universe, boys. Really big, but I work in a cave and I live in here…” He takes a pill. Looks left and right and takes another one.
He’s shaking. “I saw something in a cave once, you know? Wasn’t human. Wasn’t from here. Was watching me. Told some people about it. They said I should keep it to myself, that it was a trick of the dark. Bad air. But it was talking, some language I couldn’t properly hear through the helmet. Couldn’t make out the words.”
Abe feels words about to spill out – where’s Lyla? Have you seen her? Did you talk with her today and do you know what’s about to happen? But Lionel’s shaking, worse than before, and Abe has to get him a drink. He beckons Hamesh over, and together they lift him and take him to a cubbyhole. His eyes widen as he approaches the little space, and he moans as they put him into it and cover him with a blanket. Finally the pills kick in, and he’s gone.
“Sorry Abe,” Hamesh says, for no real reason. They get some food from the cupboard, little cans that open with a whoosh and smell like blood.
“Time’s coming,” says Hamesh, finally.
“The angel said 33 hours,” returns Abe. “But she won’t do it. She won’t.”
“Don’t you want to be there, just in case?” He’s pouring the contents of the can into his mouth. He goes for a second one without asking.
“All right,” says Abe. “Fine. Finish up, and we’ll go.” Lionel is still asleep. The little window into the outside world hasn’t changed. It’s black. There’s stars, chattering to Abe. Maybe even singing. “But she won’t do it. I know that for sure.”
The corridors are empty now. Shutters all around the facility are closing, because starlight is still light, and suns even if they’re far away are still bright. The boys make their way to the port. They can hear noise in the distance, enough to realize that news of Lyla’s dream has spread, and that people have come to watch. When they reach it, the port is full of kids. To the side, the same band is playing, only now the little girl is standing on a metal drum so that she can see everyone – either that or so that they can see her. Her voice is low, just enough to squeeze its way through the crowd, where it reaches Abe and tells him to hurry up. To just move faster.
He cuts through the crowd with Hamesh. Voices are rising, because it’s nearly time. Abe is swearing. When people get in his way, he pushes them aside. The airlock is surrounded by a ring of people who don’t want to move. They’re standing with hands together, fingers touching their foreheads. Abe can’t hear what they’re saying. It’s 33 hours, Hamesh whispers. It’s time.
Abe bursts through the ring of people. Lyla is standing next to the door. She’s staring at him, as though she’s been watching him come through the crowd.
“You’re not going to do this,” he says, suddenly sure of it. He remembers two years ago, when she said she was going to jump from a tree in the gardens, or when she was six and said she would eat a spoon. Or a few days ago, when she said was going to marry an explorer and go off with him, to the faraway places she dreams about. But none of these things has happened. Abe looks at her, and he’s sure she won’t do it. Even though she’s smiling at him, even though she reaches for his hand and squeezes it goodbye, he’s sure of her.
Lyla reaches for the door to the airlock and opens it.
“Are you going to say anything?” asks Hamesh. The crowd is quiet, except for that little girl singing.
“It’s fine,” says Abe. “She won’t do it.”
“She might…” he returns. Lyla steps into the airlock. Hamesh darts forward. “Wait, hey Lyla. Just a moment please. What are you doing?”
“What the angel told me to do,” she says.
Hamesh snorts. “You mean what your dream said? You’re going to hurt yourself. You’re going to die, Lyla.”
“It’s okay, Hamesh,” says Abe. “Come back. She’s not going.”
Hamesh reaches for Lyla’s arm, but she’s already in the airlock. Her white dress swirls. She’s smiling, “Don’t you like your dreams, Hamesh? Don’t you believe them? If not them, then what?”
The little girl is singing, louder now. Abe steps back, until he’s with the praying people. Hamesh is shouting at Lyla, trying to get her to come back. He’s the only one trying. But Abe knows Lyla. He knows that she won’t listen to him, but also that she won’t go. She won’t.
Hamesh stumbles back. The airlock door closes. Lyla is inside, visible through the window. She’s smiling right at Abe. And her mouth is moving. The little girl is singing about memories of sunshine, as though she knows what that is. Lyla’s at the outside door. She’s still facing Abe as she touches a button and the metal opens.
And Lyla floats out. The vacuum takes her, raises her. Abe runs to the port’s window, pushing aside the others who’ve crowded there. Hamesh is crying, “She did it! Abe, she went, Abe!”
But Abe isn’t listening. He’s pressed against the long pane of glass, staring at stars that don’t know that he even exists. And Lyla is floating out there. Her white dress is stuck to her body, and her eyes are open. She’s staring at him again. Then her arms are waving, as though she’s swimming. She’s kicking upwards, rising. She should be dead, thinks Abe. She should already be frozen. Starved for air.
“We need suits, go out and get her!” screams Hamesh. He’s the only one screaming. Abe hears him pushing through the crowd. But it’s already too late, because Lyla is far off the ground, kicking ever upwards. Stars surround her, give her handholds that she grasps to push herself higher. And there’s a light above now, something new. Not a star, thinks Abe, but something more immediate and directed. It’s moving down through the heavens, until it’s next to Lyla, and all around her. She’s floating upwards with it. This thing has no face. It has no shape. In that, it’s just like a dream, a bright shining dream that only knows how to rise.
The airlock door closes as Hamesh runs outside in a suit. But Abe’s watching the circle of light rise into the stars, and he’s listening to the little girl sing. And then the song ends, leaving him cold. He presses against the glass, wondering what it would take to break it. It doesn’t seem like much – he thinks he could manage it, if he really tried. He puts a finger on the pane and pushes – and that is when the weight of what’s behind it pushes him back.
That night, Hamesh is in his bunk. Lionel is still sleeping. Through a window barely the size of his head, he can see stars. When sleep comes, there is a light before him. It has a voice. It has a shape. And when it reaches out to him, Abe thinks no, he will not listen. He will not hear this song or go take that hand. He won’t do it. He knows, deep within, that now or tomorrow or any day that comes after, he just won’t.
“You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.” (Bible, Nehemiah 9:16)
“I am fucking crazy. But I am free.” (Lana Del Rey)