Above them, the sky was blue and covered with slowly curling, drifting white clouds. The artificial sun shone down upon the great ocean sparkling below, which lapped like a giant silver wing just below the railing of the balcony. Seagulls cruised idly overhead, occasionally screeching unpleasantly when they spotted aerial passersby. This was the simulation. Lucky was intently watching his face.
“Wanna see something amazing?” she said.
“Close your eyes.”
She pulled on a switch in the entrance panel, a courtesy display plaque above which read, “Please leave simulation running.” Suddenly, the sky became black, and Leon could see the glass covered view of the real sky above the dome. It was also covered with clouds, but they were heavy, almost solid, and dark violet.
Lucky did not take her eyes off his face now. Leon peered over the railing: there was nothing below. Just a grey, endless-looking wasteland. Thin ant-like tracks radiated from the base of the dome. On a microscopic scale, Leon could see some Mop machines tilling the ground, going in perpetual circles – they were digging up the encrusted upper layer of the radon-contaminated ground and carrying it off to be decontaminated. Their silvery, thin power cables radiated from the central magnet like cords from a swinging merry-go-round. Smaller shiny, green haulers called Locusts took the rubble away in small batches to be detoxed back at the hub.
He stood for a while with both hands on the railing, until Lucky called him.
“Listen, I’m sorry,” she said, taking off her shades and folding them down into her pocket.
Leon looked at her. “Is that…everything?”
“No, no, of course not,” Lucky said, putting one hand on his sleeve. “That’s only the Metro. All the other Palisades got out of it just fine,” she said, then added, “more or less,” almost as an afterthought. She turned on the previous simulation, and the heavy silver tug of the ocean began lapping again below their feet.
When they had left the platform, leaving the simulation running, Lucky turned to Leon, and said: “Let’s go see where the sun goes.”
Leon looked up at the sky: the sun was in its late afternoon position, its bright disc emitting a natural enough, if somewhat reddish light. It did not occur to him that the sun went anywhere at all. “Where does it go?” he asked her.
“People say it sets somewhere beyond the West Hills, but I’ve never been there myself. Wanna go? I know a good place that rents out cheap hovers.”
They rented an old, rattling hover that was constantly making noises as if it were suffocating, and Lucky drove them out of the Metro’s downtown hub. They passed the last smoky rings of the city’s outskirts and continued into the rolling green hills of the pastures, where state of the art processing facilities were stealthily camouflaging themselves as red wooden barns. All the while, they were keeping their eyes on the bright disc of the sun as it was setting into its low arc across the late sky.
Just ahead, grey streaks began to show up jarringly in the hazy pink distance, like rough edged tears through pretty paper. All the colors were becoming somewhat desaturated here: they were entering the occlusion zone, which kept the exact size and shape of the sun and other elements of the sky purposely distorted to look more realistic from a distance. They passed through the grey mirage-like layer, and then through the feeble, flickering “No Trespassing” sign. Its face had been desecrated by a loose sprawl of graffiti, and the big, crudely painted letters read: “End of the World. Fuck the Dolls.” In a good twenty minutes, they finally began to approach the wall of the dome. The wall cropped up, finally freed from all the deceptions of the shielding occlusion layers, and rose right in front of them suddenly out of the lingering remnants of grey mist. Lucky hit the brakes, and the hover squealed and signaled its displeasure by displaying a loss of control warning panel. It grunted unhappily when it stopped, rocking gently on its brake discs.
They stepped out of the hover. The lower parts of the wall were covered with neon bright graffiti, which had also been sprayed onto the faces of the lower lying stars. An extensive procession of arabesques on one of the stars spelled out: “SinBig-Katz.”
The bright disc of the sun was sinking slowly into the ground like a gigantic coin lowering into a slot. The reddish, fading light wobbled unsteadily all around them. As soon as the sun disc sank into its black slot, the stars began to appear, one by one. They were not really stars, of course, just lamps; many of them were named after legally registered inhabitants of First City Metro. Most of them on the lower parts of the wall had been defaced or broken, and some had been completely knocked out; the dead stars lay like transparent tombstones at their feet.
Lucky tapped one of the fallen stars, and it lit up convulsively into flamingo pink.
Lovers in the Woods on Amazon