Through her window Meiki still heard the party on the rooftop. The sky drizzled a little but that didn’t seem to dull their spirits or the noise. Gates hosted a population of nothing but seeds who were content to hang out on a roof and listen to terrible music.
It wasn’t that Meiki didn’t like music. She could hear all she wanted through her book. Every song ever recorded on old Earth stored there, every movie, every story. Everything a person could want was at her fingers. Still, she wanted more. Soon she would have it. This wasn’t some pipe dream. Meiki had been planning. In two days the delivery from Sagan was coming. She had been watching the delivery every month for close to a year. Dav, the driver was clueless and predictable. She would wait until he had finished unloading the truck. He always left it wide open and would stop at the cafe for a sandwich before heading back to Sagan. When he wasn’t looking she would slip in between the crates with her invisibility cloak. When he reached Sagan she would sneak out and make her way to Newbright.
The drizzling rains evolved into a steady hissing patter.
She decided to watch an old Earth movie about a kid her age who had magic powers and went on adventures. It was her favorite movie and where she got the idea for the cloak and her plan to run away in the first place. Then she would sleep. Her opportunity to get away from this tedious life was only two days away.
On the roof Phel strummed his banjo and tried to sing a love ballad. Leggy was mindlessly whipping up a beat in the wrong tempo. They had practiced this, but Leggy was spontaneous and preferred to make the music up as he went along. It forced Phel to sing faster than appropriate and skip half of the the words. Not that it mattered, because the girl he was singing for had already disappeared down the stairs.
After the song he addressed the audience of disinterested teens who mostly milled about nowhere near the stage.
“Uh, that song was called ‘Princess of the Mist’. Umm...next one is a little more upbeat number called, ‘Tofu Hoedown’. We hope you like it.”
Phel plucked up a lively tune full of twang and Leggy’s bongo playing was less noticeable. The lyrics he sang were silly and all about dancing in the soy fields under the rain. A few of the kids actually got into it and edged up toward the stage. Some of them were even dancing.
Oh wow, this is actually happening! Thought Phel. They’re digging it! He played with more energy and his singing became clear and confident.
Sleep didn’t come easily to Meiki. The rain ramped up to a constant tap-a-tap and eventually became a hail of watery bullets against her windows. A mutter of thunder rolled through the sky.
Meiki tried to ignore it, but as she drifted off the mutter became a rumble. It seemed like she was in for one of Naya’s rare thunderstorms.
At least the party will be cut short, she thought as she pulled her pillows over her head to shut out the crackling storm. The image of that rude girl and her friends running inside cold and soaked made her smile a little inwardly.
The music reached a crescendo and Phel’s heart rate soared with it. Stray droplets of rain fell from the sky. The wetness of the night air of Naya added vitality to the moment. The dance song finished strongly and over a dozen kids had gathered around the small stage cheering and chanting for more.
Then he saw her. Ker popped out of the stairwell door onto the roof. She glided toward the stage and sat down atop an old barrel.
“Um,” said Phel, “So, uh, we only got two songs...want to hear ‘Princess of the Mist’ again?”
Phel had the audience in the palm of his hand. They were eager for more. Ker was looking up at him and he began to strum the opening notes to the ballad he had written for her.
Thunder crashed through the sky. The droplets of rain were replaced by a sudden torrent. As if the water would destroy them the kids raced to the door into the shelter of the dorms. Before Phel had realized what was happening Ker had disappeared as well. For several seconds he stood in the pouring rain unable to move.
The sky flashed brighter than daylight for a tenth of a second and the loudest thunder Phel had ever heard came right after. If he’d had the strength to look up he may have seen a bright object flaring through the night before it disappeared past the orchards. Instead he stomped down from the stage and made his way back to the dorm. His moment of stardom had come and gone.
The wind began to whip and hoot and the regular flickers of lightning transformed into brilliant startling flashes. The windows of the dorm were strong, but they rattled against the bluster as the wind frenzied and crashed against the tempered glass.
A night-shattering streak of lightning filled the sky followed immediately by a terrible peal of thunder.
Meiki ran to her window and could have sworn she saw a shooting star dart below the clouds before the coming of a horrid thunderblast and a flash past the tree line near the soy fields. The rain fell frantically for another ten minutes or so, but eventually settled back to a polite drip-drop.
After that came only silence.
Meiki awoke to see the world had not drowned in spite of the ferocity of the storm. There were no classes that day and Meiki’s only duty was to go to the soy farm and run maintenance on the machinery. After a sonic shower she threw on her overalls and buzzed Phel with her linker. He messaged back saying he had already arrived at the farm and needed her to get there immediately.
Phel was usually the first to show up at a work site, but he didn’t normally give her any grief about it. Something must have happened, thought Meiki. It’s probably just some damage from the storm, but something must be wrong on the field.
Breakfast would have to wait. The fields were a twenty minute ride from the dorms, just past the orchards. She stuffed the book into her backpack before running down to the garage and hopping on her bike. Meiki rode a sleek model she had assembled herself from parts forged in the local maker machine. It had been painted sky blue- a fact Meiki found ironic considering that the sky over her home never looked blue.
Meiki glided past fruit-heavy apple and pear trees. Their sweet smell hung in the air. As she rode closer to the fields the odor shifted from flowers to smoke. There must be a fire, thought Meiki. She pedaled harder.
Phel stood next to an enormous automated harvester. It almost never broke down and required minimal maintenance. This behemoth had been knocked on its side and looked like a mess of bent metal and smoke. The machine lay twisted and nearly severed in half. Four centimeter thick strips of hull curled inward and black exhaust poured out from a massive hole in the side. Spanning fifty meters behind it stretched a trail of scorched soil. It marred several perfect rows of bean plants. Phel was talking into his linker.
“...won’t touch anything until you get here. Don’t worry. We’re just gonna do our routine on the other machines. Yeah, they don’t seem to have been touched. yessir. We’ll be here.”
He hung up and looked at Meiki while gesturing to the demolished harvester.
“What happened?” she asked.
“I dunno. Figure it was the storm.”
“You can’t be serious, Phel. Look at that thing. Five tons of synthetic tungsten but it’s shredded up like confetti. And what about that trail of ash? It looks like something fell from the sky and burned a path through the entire field.”
Meiki pulled her book and switched to camera mode. She took a few shots of the wreckage and the scorch marks.
“I thought I saw a meteor last night.” she said as she put the book away.
“A big ol’ rock from space?” he said, squinting up at the sky, “You think that’s what hit the harvester?” Meteors were rare on Naya, but not unheard of.
“Well, something hit it.”
“Probably just lighting," said Phel.
“Whatever," said Meiki, rolling her eyes.
A low hum came from around the tree line. Both kids recognized the sound of Charlie’s car. Charlie seemed like the sole citizen in gates who didn’t ride a bike everywhere.
He was old even if one couldn’t tell by looking at him and his legs were no longer as strong as they had once been. No one around really had the knowledge needed to repair androids other than the androids themselves and most of the parts required were unavailable. Because of this Charlie took precautions with his mechanical body.
The car was a bright yellow egg-shaped two-seater. The kids all called it “the lemon”. Its battery powered engine propelled the lemon just a tiny bit faster than a bike and it couldn’t cover rough terrain well, but it remained the single luxury Charlie allowed himself.
The lemon stopped beside the field and the doors opened with a woosh. Charlie and his assistant, Soosa stepped out. Charlie stood precisely one point eighty-three meters tall. He weighed exactly eighty-two kilograms. Nearly everything about Charlie was exact and precise. He looked like a man of thirty-five with immaculate sandy blond hair. The only detail about Charlie that did not seem perfect was his left eye. He never discussed how he lost it, but a black eyepatch had covered it for as long as anyone could remember. When they were younger the students swore he was a pirate.
Soosa came out on the driver’s side. She rose a half a head shorter than Charlie and appeared to be half a life older. Soosa seemed to be almost always beside Charlie, book in hand. None of the students quite understood what her job was, but she could be seen tapping furiously away at her device whenever Charlie spoke or listened to anyone.
“Phelliam, Meikaya, good morning children," said Charlie in a voice that was mechanically clear and yet somehow still warm and amiable. Soosa nodded to the children but said nothing.
Phel nodded at the grownups nervously and said, “Good morning sir. I suppose you wanna look at the wreckage.”
Charlie ambled over to the harvester. His eye narrowed, then whirred and clicked a few times like a camera. He glanced at the scorched ground.
“Lightning.” was all he said.
“See?” said Phel to Meiki. “Heh...meteors you thought it was.”
Charlie’s head tilted ever so slightly, “We still have the other two harvesters. Most of the soy crop is undamaged. I’ll send a crew in to remove the debris. Finish your maintenance review and try your best to work around the wreckage until it is cleared away.”
He paused and added, “Luckily no one is hurt.”
“Charlie...”, said Meiki.
“Um...I’m real excited for class tomorrow. I just wanted to say that.”
“I’m glad to hear that. Teaching chemistry is one of my favorite duties. I am interested to see this new explosive formula you have been working on. It may prove useful to the miners in the Atwood colony.”
Soosa silently returned to the driver’s seat of the lemon as Charlie stepped over to the passenger’s side.
“Good day, children.” he said before pulling down the door. The lemon hummed off into town.
Meiki looked at Phel and said, “Why do you think he lied to us?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Charlie lied. He knew it wasn’t lightning. No way it could be lightning. He didn’t even examine the wreckage to be sure. How would he know just looking at it what caused this mess?”
“He’s real smart,” said Phel, “knows everything. You said so yourself.”
“Yeah, but I also said he doesn’t tell us everything.”
Phel watched the lemon disappear past the trees. He sucked his teeth for a long while, put his hands on his hips and said, “Well, whatever. Don’t matter to me what made this mess. We don’t gotta get it fixed so we just gotta finish up here and then we have the rest of the day off.”