Chapter 2: Home Is Where The Nightmares Are

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TERRA
The Mended World
Carbon Sector
22-11-2337

Map of the Thames Delta, circa 2336

The transport ship glided down around the Crystal Palace, a tall glass spire piercing the heavens, with the EEO neon sign standing proudly towards the top. I watched the waves lick at Streatham Island’s flood defences as the ship queued to dock at the local shipyard.

This city had changed a hell of a lot over the past few hundred years. Until the mid 2100s, London was one of the largest capitals in the world. Of course, the Climate Crisis soon put an end to that, with large swathes of city being taken over by the sea. It wasn’t just in the continent of Europa, either. The capital of the Americas, Rio de Janeiro, was completely wiped off the map, with locals being relocated to the higher lands of Brasilia.

Where the Americas still had empty space, Europa did not. It had already grown hugely overpopulated by the time of the Climate Crisis, and so there was no land left on which to relocate anyone. Instead, we built upwards – towering structures pierced the skyline, and none peaked higher than the third Crystal Palace.

A long, winding bridge protruded from the northwestern-most point of Streatham Island, connecting the north side of what used to be London to the remaining strongholds in the south. This bridge snaked around the heavily-fortified Buckingham Palace, which was abandoned long ago, even before the last days of the monarchy. Then, it proceeded to the southernmost tip of the Great Willesden Estates, skirting around the now-uninhabitable Soho Marshlands.

‘Marshlands’ was an informal name, of course. There was nothing particularly marshy about Soho nowadays, except perhaps for the high water level. Instead of tall reeds and fine grasses, it was rubble that sprouted from the water – bricks, metal and the like.

We finally touched down at the Streatham Shipyard, and I joined another long queue: customs. It was almost laughable, the idea that a Terran might try to smuggle something into the planet. No Terran I’d ever known would have been capable of breaking the law in such an overt manner. How would they reconcile that with themselves? In fact, the worse I had ever seen a Terran do was drive their shuttle through a yellow light – and that was enough to elicit audible gasps from everyone in the vicinity. Full disclosure: I was that Terran.

It was visitors, I supposed, that the Terran government was concerned about. Who knows what such immoral species might bring on to their wonderful (if half-destroyed) planet? But they couldn’t just wave the Terrans through, of course. Treating species differently like that would have caused international outrage. Understandable, really. So we had to suffer through it in silence.

I brought up my console while I was in the queue, gave my mother an estimated time of arrival. She read the message and sent no reply. Typical. Or maybe she was just busy.

I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt this time, Mum.

When I eventually got through the shipyard security, I summoned a shuttle, threw my lightly-packed bag in the back, and programmed in my mum’s address. This was the last time I would see this place, I noted; she was moving home tomorrow. I thought of those younger years spent in that home, in that cramped, dim space, and of staring out the windows that faced only other apartment blocks. It held a special place in the heart that was reserved only for a childhood home.

The shuttle wound through the overly-complicated shipyard transport network, until, finally, it brought me out on to the main road heading north. My Mum’s place – my Mum’s old place, I began to condition myself – wasn’t far from the shipyard, just a few miles north. This would be the last time I would have such an easy journey. The transport network around the Woolwich Peninsula, on the other hand, was nowhere near as smooth – not that anyone on Terra would be so negative as to admit such a flaw.

I exited the shuttle outside the block of flats that had paid host to my childhood home, and I looked up at it, taking it in one last time. Every few floors were painted a separate colour, each relating to a certain profession. The idea had been that neighbours who worked in the same industries would have more in common, and it would make for a more civilised living arrangement. This was classic 2290s New Age nonsense.

I took the transmat to the thirty-first floor (which was a pale fuschia, signifying that artists lived there), and the front door sensor alerted my mother to my presence. The door, recognising me as a trusted user, opened automatically, revealing my mum crouching beside a pile of hovering metal crates.

‘Syl! You’re here!’ she called out, acting surprised, as though her Home System hadn’t already told her this.

‘Yeah, I’m here, Mum. How are you?’

‘I’m good sweetheart, I’m good,’ she replied, wrapping her arms around me. ‘And how is my little girl?’

‘I’m twenty-four, Mum. This “little girl” business has to stop at some point.’

‘Oh,’ she replied, waving dismissively at me, ‘Let me have that one.’

I looked around at the apartment, which was still, largely, unpacked.

‘I see it’s going… well,’ I said.

‘I know, I know! I’m behind. What’s new? That’s what you’re here for, though, isn’t it? To help?’

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. ‘Yes, mother. Can I at least get a cup of tea first?’

Mum asked the house for two cups, and the machines in the kitchen whirred into life. In my youth, the equipment had been new, operating silently but for a soft purr. Now, after years upon years of use, the gears in the machines were beginning to grind, the pipes were slightly clogged, and, to be honest, it could all do with being ripped out and replaced. But we don’t do that, not on Terra, not any more.

‘So how have you been? Really?’ I asked.

She shrugged. ‘I don’t want to say things have been hard. I mean, we live on Terra after all. It’s not like there’s anywhere better out there.’

‘You’d be surprised, Mum.’

‘Maybe there’s places for you, Syl, but not for an old girl like me. Terra’s the only place I’ve known… it’s too late for me to start anywhere new. Right now, though, this just doesn’t feel like home.’

‘Turknan is supposed to be nice at the moment? Since the droughts ended.’

Mum shook her head. This was a pointless exercise, it seemed.

‘Is this anything to do with the move?’ I asked.

She looked me in the eyes, a pained expression on her face, and nodded. ‘There’s just no work for me, here, not any more. The whole floor is moving – art isn’t important to Terra like it used to be. Government’s preoccupied with standard of living, but what’s the point of living in a world without the arts?’

‘I know, Mum I know…’

‘It was that…,’ she paused, bent towards me conspiratorially, her hand partially covering her mouth, and whispered a word I’d never heard her say before. ‘…bloody GMU business, wasn’t it?’

‘Woah, Mum, no need to swear like that!’ I responded, in both jest and horror that my own mother would use a word like ‘bloody’.

‘I’m sorry, Syl, I’m just so wound up by it all. Didn’t know I’d lose my home, did I? Thought leaving the GMU was just about preserving our culture, it wasn’t like they explained all the nitty-gritty trade details to us. Not like I knew that Terran arts were propped up by GMU subsidies…’

She shook her head, forced a smile, and continued, ‘Sorry. You don’t want to hear about something as boring as trade agreements when there’s a whole galaxy of adventures out there, do you?’

‘No, Mum, it’s OK, honest. I get it. I’m sad to lose this place too.’

‘The new place will be nice, too, though,’ she replied, her voice wobbling in that way it did when she was lying to herself.

‘Have you seen it?’

‘Yeah. Set up the transmitter there yesterday.’

‘You got a transmitter? Very posh!’ I said, encouragingly.

‘Comes as standard with state-provided housing, don’t you know! Saves you loading all your stuff in a shuttle, which, let’s face it, is the worst thing about moving.’

When I needed a break from my mother, as all daughters often do, I offered to start packing in the study. My mum, grateful for any help that I could give her, told me to have at it.

I remembered Dad using the study a lot. It was one of the few memories I had of him. He would position himself in the corner of the room, in a large armchair, sat facing the very left hand side of the window, where you could see a small slither of the view to the south. I never knew what he was pondering so deeply, but even then, I could tell from his body language that it was important.

Nowadays, Mum had set up shop in there for her art. A huge digital tablet, her pride and joy (even more so than me) sat on an antique wooden easel.

Now, you have to be careful with this, Syl, it’s very old, from the twenty-second century. Do you know how long ago that was? That was over a hundred years ago! You’ll be careful, now, won’t you?

Yes, Mum!

I trod slowly about the easel, heading first for the desk in the corner of the room. Mum kept it tidy – really, she had little need to use it – and so I was surprised when I found an old journal in the drawer.

I pulled the diary from the desk, and fumbled for the on-switch on the top. It whirred into life, and I was shocked when I read the lock screen.

Diary of Leya Raynor, 2331 to 2336.

I remembered the moment Mum had rung me, back in early ‘32. I remembered the tears when she’d told me that Leya was missing; both hers and mine. I remembered us agreeing that we would do our bests to find her.

And yet, this journal was here. How could this have been? How could-

‘Mum?!’ I shouted. ‘What on Terra is this?’

When my mother poked her head around the corner, her face soon dropped. She lunged towards me, meaning to grab at the journal, but I pulled it away from her.

‘You have Leya’s diary? From while she’s been missing? And you didn’t tell me?!’

‘I knew if I told you, you’d want to take it. And didn’t want you losing it.’

‘I’d lose it? What are you talking about?’

‘Well, you know… since you started drinking you haven’t exactly had your life completely in order, have you?’

‘Mum! You can’t say something like that to your daughter! Not like you don’t have your own vices, is it? And to keep something like this from me?’

I paused, realising that maybe I’d gone too far by referring to her Stirlik addiction. ‘What does… what does it say?!’

She shrugged.

‘I don’t know. I’ve tried decoding it. I’ve taken it to every specialist on Terra, but… nothing.’

‘Can I try?’ I asked.

Mum looked at me with sad eyes. ‘I… she sent it to me…’

I could see that this diary meant more to my mother than I had realised. It was her last remaining memento of my sister, and I could see the parallels with her losing the journal, too.

‘Please…,’ Mum continued, holding out her hand.

Repressing both sadness and irritation, I gave the diary to her. She held it to her chest, close to her heart.

‘You could have told me you had it.’

‘And you wouldn’t have tried to take it from me?’

I said nothing; we both knew the answer to that.

‘I need some air,’ I said suddenly, surprising even myself.

I took the transmat down to the ground floor and allowed myself to walk around the area one last time.

Like everywhere on Terra, the streets were pristine. So clean were they, in fact, that I could see that their spotlessness even in the dark of the evening light. Long had issues like littering been eradicated and the cleaning process itself perfected.

Where once my mother’s street had been full of art galleries, restaurants, bars, there was now nothing. All commercial enterprises had been placed by more residential properties. The charm that this area once had was now gone.

It was the lack of bars that particularly frustrated me.

A Terran man turned the corner in front of me, heading towards me. I waved him down as he grew closer.

‘Hey, do you know where the nearest bar is around here? I used to go to the Woodsman, but…’

‘The Woodsman?’ he replied. ‘That’s not been around for a few years now. You want a drink, you’re better off heading to the main road.’

The main road was a good half hour walk away. I hadn’t been expecting my search for a drink to require so much physical exertion.

‘Thanks,’ I told the man, letting him go… and then I called after him again. ‘Hey, do you work round here?’

The man shook his head. ‘Not any more.’

‘What were you, a waiter, barman?’

‘Something like that. Why’d you ask?’

‘Where do you work now?’ I grilled him, completely ignoring his own question.

‘EEO. Ethics Export Office. Down at the Crystal Palace.’

I pursed my lips. ‘Yeah, I know what it stands for.’

The man smiled at me. ‘I suppose everyone does.’

With that, he turned away from me, and continued on with his life without me in it.

My quest for a drink turning out to be unexpectedly convoluted, I instead turned back, heading for my childhood home.

When I returned, Mum was already asleep. I poked my head into her bedroom – to see Leya’s diary sitting on the pillow next to her.

I resisted my very un-Terran instinct to steal it from her while she slept.

Instead, I went to Leya and I’s childhood room, which was preserved exactly as it had been when we’d lived here, and fell straight to sleep.

I awoke in the night to screams.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened in this apartment. During my childhood, I’d often be rudely awoken in the night by the sound of a woman shrieking. Always, the source was my mother.

I rushed to her room to find her sitting bolt upright in bed, slowly coming back to the land of the conscious.

My Mum looked up to see me standing in the doorway.

‘It’s OK,’ she reassured me, ‘It’s OK.’

I sat down on the bed next to her. ‘I think I’m the one who is supposed to be saying that to you.’

Mum laughed gently – that kind of laugh where you breathe ever so slightly harder than normal out of your nostrils. Clearly her heart wasn’t in it.

‘I thought you weren’t having these nightmares any more. Not since…’

I trailed off, but Mum finished the sentence for me.

‘Not since the ‘Liks. It’s OK, you can say it.’

‘I mean… yeah. I thought whatever memory was causing these nightmares, they’d overwritten.’

‘Once upon a time that was true. But one of them has been coming back to me. Over and over, every night.’

‘For how long?’ I asked.

‘Months now. Three… maybe four.’

‘Mum…,’ I began. ‘You could’ve told me.’

‘Oh, I didn’t want to worry you. I know you have lots on your plate already with that job you have.’

‘What is it? The memory?’

‘I don’t know if I should say, Syl. Some things you’re better off not knowing.’

‘First the journal, now this. Mum, you can’t protect me forever. I’m not that little girl you still seem to think of me as.’

My mother paused, looked at me for a moment as she processed this information.

‘I know,’ she said at last, ‘You’re right.’

‘Tell me.’

‘I don’t know if you’d believe me.’

‘Trust me, I believe all kinds of things.’

‘It’s about your father. I…’

She trailed off. I prompted her to continue.

‘Go on.’

‘I remember him… controlling Leya. I don’t mean verbally. Or even physically. But like… a puppet master might control a puppet. Or a brain might control its body. But it wasn’t his body, it was her’s.’

‘You’re talking about telepathy. Telepathy doesn’t exist, Mum. It’s a myth. We’ve known this for decades.’

Mum looked at me, tears in her eyes. ‘I knew you wouldn’t believe me.’

I felt my gut wrench in the way that only disappointing a parent can make happen. ‘Sorry. I believe you. Go on.’

‘I would’ve thought I was imagining it, too. But Leya… before she left, she told me, she remembers it happening to her. It was innocent things at first, like stopping crying fits, but then it got more sinister. He stopped her from going out, from having friends, until all her free time was spent in the house. Here. With him.’

‘How…,’ I began, not quite sure if I wanted to hear the answer to the question I was about to ask. ‘How does she remember being made to stop crying? Wouldn’t she have been a bit young?’

Mum burst out in tears. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I should have stopped him sooner!’

‘It was me, too, wasn’t it?’

Mum forced the sobs to stop, and nodded, her eyes red. ‘You were too young to remember, Syl. But Leya… she wasn’t. She has to live with it.’

‘And you think these are the memories you overwrote with the ‘Liks?’

‘Yes. Well, some of them, at least. But how can I know for sure what I’ve erased from my mind?’

This was getting all too much to process.

‘So… you made Dad leave? Because of this?’

‘I…,’ Mum began to reply through sobs, ‘I think so.’

‘Mum, this is…’

I trailed off, and we sat in silence for a while, processing everything that had been said.

Eventually, Mum piped up again. ‘There’s something else…’

I looked at her with wide eyes, afraid to ask the necessarily question.

‘What else?’

‘Leya, when she left… She told me she was going to go looking for him. Get answers about what he did to her. And to you.’

I touched at my cheek and found that it was wet. I’d been crying.

‘She went looking for him?’

Mum nodded.

‘You need to give me that journal, Mum. I need to find out where she went. You can’t protect me from this any more.’

She nodded again, still remaining silent, but reached for the diary, passing it to me.

I took it, and stared blankly into the distance for a few moments.

‘You’ll tell me what you find, won’t you?’ Mum asked. ‘I promise I won’t use again. I’ll live with the truth this time.’

‘When I find anything, I’ll tell you,’ I lied.

The console on my arm began to vibrate. It was the agency again:

Holiday’s over. We need you in. ASAP.

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