Front line reports from the Artic war. The light from Proxima Centauri. ‘This is my Husband. Have you seen him? Can You Help?’ The first images from the wastelands of Tehran. A blue whale cub, swimming in the Atlantic. A pod filmed from the ground, its vapour trail unzipping a clear blue sky…
The alarm worked its way into Morgan’s sleep. When he opened his eyes, the bells sounded out in the corridor. Approaching the door, he felt like a crossover had been achieved between two distinct worlds. Outside the residents moved down the corridor towards the stairs; the evacuation happened quietly, without complaint. Probably there was a small fire somewhere in the building. The retreat took its responsibilities very seriously; Morgan had signed a release form when he’d first arrived. ‘Just because we’re searching for something higher doesn’t mean we can ignore our legal obligations,’ the elder had said, the same man who had asked for Morgan’s handset. As he joined the procession down the corridor, he thought of how much simpler this would have been if they’d allowed him to keep it. The thought felt like a pleasant rebellion. Probably it’s time for me to leave.
The sky was clear as Morgan walked outside. Maybe it was the last trace of the pills, but as the crowd swarmed around him, he felt elevated and removed. His mind turned to three months before, when he’d sealed samples of his hair, blood and semen into a small plastic vial and transferred all of his savings to an account based in Mumbai. His insurance, his secret: he’d pushed it to the back of his mind, not sharing it with his daughter or with his friends, trying to hide it from himself. Now, as he stood under the dramatic arc of stars, Morgan pictured those pods as they drifting through the cold and the dark of space, for years, for centuries. Most would certainly fail, but there was always the chance… He thought of something Elena had said. ‘How does it feel to be one of the kings?’
People ahead of him were chattering excitedly. At first, Morgan couldn’t see what had caused this flutter of panic, but as everyone moved around the side of the house, he found himself on the edge of the crowd. Across the back garden, a section of the coast had given way. The wall had simply disappeared and half of the maze had been ripped apart as the earth had given away. A couple of elders waved the residents along the narrow shale-filled path, while the alarm continued inside the building. ‘Make your way around the front,’ one called out. ‘And keep calm… there’s no reason to panic.’ As Morgan shuffled along, he glanced over at the ruined maze. To be on one side, you would see its shape as exposed, ruined and open, but that side was now only the space between the sky and the sea. To enter into it now only meant finding a convoluted path towards the void.
One of the elders stood on the path, hurrying the crowd along. He looked anxious, distraught. Morgan was thinking about his expression when the man next to him nudged his arm. ‘You know what’s happened, don’t you?,’ he said. ‘People were over there when it gave away…’
As they moved around to the front of the house, Morgan looked out for Elena, but the path was too narrow and each time he stopped, the crowd pushed him on. Once he thought he saw her further ahead, but when the woman passed under the lights from a downstairs room he saw that he was mistaken. His group were among the last to emerge onto the lawn. The alarm continued to sound from inside while the crowd milled around, friends looking for one another under the light from the greenhouse. Morgan had been walking towards the front of the crowd when someone reached out for him. It was the Bangladeshi woman.
‘I’m so glad you’re safe…’ she said.
‘I’m fine,’ Morgan replied. ‘I was sleeping in my room and then the alarms sounded.’
They’d moved to one side. The woman stood very close to him. ‘I heard the ground fall,’ she went on. ‘And I knew, I knew that something terrible had happened, even before the alarms.’ She looked up at Morgan, her fingers tight upon his arm. ‘People were killed. You know that, don’t you? They came here to escape. And this happens…’
Suddenly, she grasped at Morgan’s hand. Her fingers felt fragile, her skin cold. They stood together, awkwardly, almost surprised to be in one another’s company. A group of elders took position on the raised ground in front of the greenhouse. One held a handset, the cold square of light giving a blue tinge to her face. As the crowd continued to murmur, she waited for quiet: the quiet which would allow her to speak, and the quiet which would answer her call. Underneath the night sky, holding onto a stranger, Morgan waited for the names.