The light of a nearly full moon crept into the corridor through small, rectangular windows. Shades partly covered them, projecting eerie protrusions of shadows onto the rounded walls and across the metal plates covering the floor. The low, steady hum of air recycling units was broken only by faint footsteps echoing from further down the narrow corridor, lit only by the cold moonlight. A lone figure walked slowly along the shady walkway, taking careful steps almost as to not disturb the peaceful silence.
The figure arrived to its destination, a small round hatch attached to a wall. Above hung a lit sign: "OBSERVATION DECK 12". An oddly shaped, rusty keycard slid into the slot of a reader and the pressure locks which kept the hatch closed opened with a loud hiss. Pale light flooded in, revealing the silhouette standing at the door to be a young man, who couldn't have been older than in his late teens. His face was thin, dark bags had formed under his large but narrow eyes. Loose, dark gray cargo pants and a simple blue collared shirt concealed his body, except for slender hands and fingers.
Black leather boots, obviously several sizes too large for the feet that were shoved into them, stepped over a high threshold which separated the corridor from the square-shaped observation deck. The deck, not larger than a few square meters, was cold. A bitter breeze blew through the round holes drilled into the walls and ceiling made out of a hard, transparent, glass-like material. The young man sat down in a corner, closing his eyes, lettting the wind blow through his light brown hair and caress his pale skin.
He sat perfectly still for hours - or that's how it seemed to him - merely listening to the cries of the breeze and enjoying the smell of the chill, dry night air. Finally he opened his eyes, taking in the scenery opening in the front of him. The night was perfectly clear, without a single cloud in sight. The growing moon took up a lion's share of the sky. It was surrounded by a myriad of glimmering stars, peering down from the unearthly black void that hung over the gray landscape. Grim and wavering shadows dragged along the dry riverbeds that disappeared into the horizon. Around them a lifeless plain stretched as far as the eye could see, with small hills that gradually changed into looming mountains in the south. In the east, just plainly visible, were white and shining monolithic cliffs, reaching out towards the sky. And in the middle of all this, between the dead land and cold stars, the massive airship slowly glid forward.
Sitting on the cold metal floor, leaning against a wall, the young man watched the indiscernibly slow movement of the celestial bodies, trying to make out all the constellations he had been taught about. Eventually his gaze moved lower, into the barren plains. His eyes ran along the arid ex-rivers and sterile hills while he pondered what kind of life they had once supported. What sort of animals had lived down there? What kind of plants? Maybe there had even been humans here, before they either withered away or escaped to an artificial, pointless existence on their floating platforms.
He was so entranced in his thought, that he didn't hear the slowly closing sounds of metal banging against metal until it was right behind him. Startled, he twirled around, falling flat onto the floor. Before him stood another person, whose tall and slender body was clad in a skintight suit of thick, black, rubbery material, except for the left leg, which had been replaced with a shining, metallic prosthesis from mid-thigh downwards. Several different kinds of strange gadgets and pouches hung from a utility belt attached to the suit. But the most startling feature about the person was the rusty metallic mask. It had no features, merely narrow, darkened gaps for eyes and mouth.
"Oh, it's just you."
"Jess. Thought I'd find you here."
I looked down at him as he pulled himself up and sat back down against the wall. I had lost count of how many times he had now snuck out of the cabin after I had fallen asleep. Why he did it, even when moving around the ship during the night hours was now forbidden, I didn't know. The scenery does explain some of it, I thought as I walked to the wall and glanced around, though I doubted that Jess would go through all the trouble of sneaking up here just to marvel at nature.
"You shouldn't be here," I said, glancing over my shoulder.
"Neither should you. Still you come after me," Jess looked up at me, "every time."
I smiled for the first time in weeks, though Jess couldn't have seen it from behind my artificial face. He was right, though. I followed him each and every time he snuck out. I guess I was just looking for an excuse to do a little nighttime adventuring myself.
Jess stretched out his arms and yawned as I limped up to him and painstakingly sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall.
"It sure is pretty up here, though," I said. "I think I see why you always come here."
"No you don't," Jess replied, shooting me quick glance.
I didn't show it to him (how could I have, as far Jess knew I didn't even have a face), but his words stabbed me deeper than he probably had intended. And again he was right. I didn't know why he came here, and most likely never completely would. The thought hurt me. I had grown strangely attached to the boy, ever since he had been placed under my care a couple years back. I had thought it strange at the time, since he wasn't that much younger than myself. I had soon accepted it, though, as had he, and we got along just fine. However, he had never really told me much about himself, which was what I really wanted to hear. I wanted to know who Jess was and where he came from. I wanted to know whether his parents were still alive. I wanted to get to know him.
We sat beside each other in silence for a long time. Jess kept staring up at the sky, while my eyes wandered around from him to the moon, back to him, then to the mountains in the distance.
"What do you think about it?" Jess asked me suddenly.
"About what?" I asked in return, surprised.
"This. The way we live."
I didn't quite understand the question. Furthermore, I had never thought that he would be thinking about things like this. It just didn't seem like him.
"What about it?" I said. "It's not easy, but it's the only way we'll survive."
"Survive. Do we?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do we survive?" Jess asked. "I think we're just delaying the inevitable. All this... I think we're just lulling ourselves to believe that we'll survive like this, but we won't. We're just chasing a fairy tale."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to say anything, I feared that whatever I'd say would break what little spirit he had left. For a long time, we just stared at each other. The cold wind blew through the observation deck, making Jess's hair flutter around his ears. On a whim, I took him by the hand. He didn't seem to mind, so I kept holding on.
"Look, Jess. I've been on many ships, okay? You know it, so there's no use in denying that some of them are failing. Those ships are doomed, and there's nothing anyone can do. But then there are ships like this, ships that have succeeded. I know there are others too, I've seen one myself. Just think about it, even if half of the ships failed, the remaining ones would be more than enough for re-colonization. Imagine what we could do. We might receive a signal saying 'All nearby ships with activated cores, report in' tomorrow! That's all we need."
Jess looked straight into my eyes - eyes he couldn't see - and I suppose he said something, but I never heard it. The expression on his face completely blocked out everything else around me. His eyes were so empty, it felt like I was staring into the deepest abyss of space. It had begun to rain, freezing drops fell from the sky and splattered on the glass cage around us. Jess said something, but I never heard it. It was as his empty eyes had drained all voice that was left.
There was nothing for me to say. I put my arm around his shoulders and hugged him. He didn't try to get away and that was enough for me. The rain pattered in the walls around us.
"I'd like to have wings," Jess said after a while. "Then I could just fly somewhere, wherever I wanted."
"But we are already flying. And we can never land."