“You’ve really never been to Earth before?” Anna asked.
She’d been in the seat next to me for the whole flight from the jump gate, well beyond Earth’s atmosphere. I’d been too nervous to talk to anyone, never mind a sophisticated looking woman with glittering hair and a knowing smile, but in the last hour she’d taken pity on the poor guy from the outer colonies.
“Never.” I shook my head, grinning with excitement. Gravity had hold of us, and if the shuttle had windows I’d have been watching the ground approach outside. “Been saving up for this for years.”
“But you could have gone anywhere.” She waved a hand, as if gesturing at the entire universe. “Venus, Centauri, the Ajax Cluster. Earth’s just a bunch of old junk and a crappy atmosphere.”
“It’s where we all came from, at the start.” I shrugged. “There’s something amazing about that, you know?”
She shook her head. “I hope it’s not too disappointing.”
“What’s that?” I pointed at a poster of what looked like the universe’s clumsiest telecoms mast.
“Eiffel Tower,” Anna answered. A self-proclaimed veteran of the galaxy’s spaceports, she’d let me tag along as she navigated the customs barriers, legal paperwork and transport tunnels that followed disembarkation.
“What’s it for?” I asked.
“Nothing, really.” Anna shrugged. “Just to show that it could be done.”
I gaped in amazement at the picture. Nothing in the colonies got built without a purpose. Everything was infrastructure, survival or planetary engineering.
Anna laughed and I looked away, embarrassed.
“Come on.” She grabbed my arm. “I’ve got four hours until my connecting shuttle. I’ll show you your stupid tower.”
“It’s amazing.” I stared out across the rooftops of Paris, hands clutching the cold metal of the Eiffel Tower’s guard rail. I’d never seen so many buildings in one place. Was this how my ancestors had lived, before the diaspora? My head spun as I tried to comprehend it all.
Anna laughed. “I tend to take it for granted.”
“How can you take this for granted?” I coughed, the back of my throat feeling raw and painful.
“You were right about the atmosphere.” I scratched at the spreading itch on the back of my hand.
“Air really clean where you come from?” She looked at me with concern.
“Of course.” I gazed across the skyline, then pointed at a strange, blocky building stood in an open space. “What’s that?”
“Arc de Triomphe.”
“Does it do anything?”
“Just sits there and looks fancy.”
“Then let’s go see it. Let’s go see them all!”
The breath caught in my throat as I stared at the carvings around the Arc de Triomphe. Stunningly rendered heroes stepped out of a mythical past, vast figures grandly carved from ancient stone. Excited breaths turned into a rasping cough, and when I brought my hand away from my mouth it was speckled with blood.
“That’s it.” Anna stood facing me, arms crossed. “The air here’s no good for you. I need to get you back to the spaceport, maybe even a hospital.”
“No!” My head was spinning with excitement. “I have to see them all. All these wonderful, pointless things.”
“You could spend your whole life wandering the Earth, and still not see all that crap.”
“But I came to understand.” I pointed at the arch. “To see all this. To connect with my past.”
“If you don’t change your plans you’ll be part of the past.” She ran her fingers gently across the back of my hand. Skin peeled away at her touch, leaving another red, painful patch.
“But I’ve come so far,” I wailed, my thoughts as muddled. “I want more to remember when I go back to my life, to being just one more worker on a backwoods farming colony.”
Anna’s eyes shone.
“Then come with me,” she said. “I’m catching a connection to the Moon. The air in the domes is clean. There’s less pointless junk, but sometimes beautiful things have a purpose as well.”
“I want to see Earth.”
“And from the Moon you can see it all, hanging in space like a jewel in the night.” She looked again at my reddened hand. “Please.”
This shuttle had windows. Through them I could see the planes and craters spread out before us, and the surface of a habitation dome gleaming up ahead. I grinned, then winced as the expression crumpled the skin of my face. Recovery would take a while.
“It’s amazing,” I said.
Anna looked at me, then leaned in close to watch the landscape below. Now she was smiling too.
“You’re right,” she said, surprised. “It really is.”
* * *
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