It was metal and rivets and magic.
And it was leaving.
The great sloppy thing shuddered and wobbled its way up into the night sky, headed for who-knows-where. Someplace better. Julia didn’t feel sad not to be going with them. She knew she’d get on one eventually. She’d been working hard on her imagination. Her older brother, Trevor, said it was almost there. No, Julia was a little sad because it was Becky rising up there into the speckled darkness. Her good, big sister-style, always there when she needed her, Becky. She’d miss her terribly.
“C’mon, Dinger, she’s gone. Lets go home.” The black cat simply blinked and didn’t move.
Julia gathered up her sketchbooks, filled with pictures of strange creatures, silly poems, and colors she’d mixed, named, and cataloged. Trusting that Dinger would follow at his own pace she headed across the roof to the ladder to the bridge-way. She needed to get back. If she hurried, Trevor might not notice she’d gone out to see Becky’s departure. Trevor never wanted her to leave. He said it was “spirit crushing” to go out. He said it had happened to him.
“I was just like you Julia,” he’d say. “I was my daydreams that were going to guide one of those ships up, to help people, to take them into new amazing places. But I spent too much time looking around here, around Earth. It’s not good for you. Earth is a cage and it’ll trap you. Try to ignore it.”
And Julia did try to ignore it. Even now, she kept her eyes on the ground, only occasionally peeking at the crowds of people in lines, the cracked domino stacks of buildings, the serpentine florescent streets. Dinger watched all of it, of course. When they got home, he’d tell her what they were. Dinger was an expert. Just last week, when she snuck out, she’d smelled something that made her stomach growl and resisted the urge to look. Dinger had told her that it was, in fact, the aroma produced by a fish in a robotic suit. It normally lived on the bottom of of a lake near a strange factory. All the industrial runoff settled to the bottom and, by amazing coincidence, made the fish smell wonderful! It had come out of the water on holiday, so it could sight-see the Vast, and everyone was glad it had. The squealing she’d heard nearby had been excitement.
She always had the most interesting conversations with her cat.
She crowded into an elevator with about forty other people and went up three levels. She had to shove to get off with all the new passengers trying to get on. She tried to imagine they had good reason for pushing a little girl and almost trampling a cat, but couldn’t. Maybe Dinger could explain it to her later. She was only three blocks and a nexus point away from the Insparium when she smelled it. That smell. The fish.
She knew she shouldn’t. She wasn’t supposed to look around. She was only out because she’d wanted to see Becky off. To watch her ship float up on fire and daydreams. And those other times, to visit her. And… well, it couldn’t hurt to peek.
The smell came from a stall, not a fish in a robotic suit. It was equipped with a grill and deep frier and manned by an overweight fellow in a stained apron. The area was piled high with cages containing live rats. Squealing rats. He took one out, held it by the tail, and swung it so its neck snapped on the counter. He quickly removed the head, limbs, and guts, skinned it, and dropped it into the deep frier. Several already cooked rats, impaled on sticks, hung from a clothesline.
Julia gawped. It was nothing like what she’d imagined. It was brutal and horrible and…
“Dinger, why did you lie to me?”
The cat sat there and gazed at her silently.
If this had been a lie, then what about the rest? She turned to look. Before she could make any sense of things a figure burst in front of her, blocking off the spectacle.
“Julia! You shouldn’t be out here. You know this!” Trevor took her by the arm. “Come on. We’ve got to get you inside.”
Caught in the act she immediately dropped her eyes to the ground and let him lead her. “I’m sorry Trevor, I just wanted to say goodbye to Becky.”
Trevor sighed heavily. “I know. I’ve been looking for you for an hour.”
She felt the tension in her sibling and had an idea of what was at stake. It was only dreams, random imagination, and unfiltered creativity that completed the inter-planetary drive calculations. It was only her that could get them on a ship, up, out, and away. He’d failed. Becky hadn’t. She wished more than ever she was still here to tell her what to do.
“You didn’t see much did you?”
“No.” she lied.
“Good.” he said.
Dinger, the no longer trust-worthy, followed them home.