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‘You never answered Dad’s question.’
‘Divorced,’ he said. ‘Just.’
‘Jack’s father left when he was still small. He doesn’t remember him.’
‘You don’t need to tell me.’
‘I want to tell you. Jack was a glue baby, if I’m honest. You know what that means?’
‘So, good riddance.’
He liked the way the deepening light caught the planes of her face. It seemed to emphasize the strength and intelligence there.
He sneezed violently.
They walked on for a time. The path ascended and descended, a gentle switchback, as the lava sill waxed and waned in thickness.
At the end of the sill, they clambered up a steep, eroded path towards the summit of Arthur’s Seat.
At the summit, they sat on broad, worn-smooth patches of ancient agglomerate. Henry found the backs of his legs were aching pleasurably; he hadn’t been getting enough exercise, he realized.
They looked to north and west, over the city. A blue mist, sharply defined, lay across the land. The spires and towers of the city poked out of the mist. A waning Moon, thin and attenuated, hung in the sky.
‘The old folk call the mist the haars,’ Jane said.
‘On a clear day you can see a long way. All the way across the Midland Valley graben from the Highlands, fifty miles or so to the north, and down to the Southern Uplands, ten miles south-east of here, beyond the coal field –’
‘By the view?’
‘By the fact that you know terms like graben.’
‘You’re such a patronizing arsehole.’ But this time her tone was so mild it almost sounded affectionate.
‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘So what about you? How did you get into, uh, rocks?’
‘And all the other cookie-girl New Age stuff, you mean?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
She pulled at a tuft of grass. ‘Actually, it was the Moon.’
‘I read a science fiction story which shocked me. I was only ten or so – about Jack’s age, I guess.’
‘I don’t remember the title. I think it was a Heinlein. The point was, he suggested the Moon is the way it is because of a nuclear war up there. It blasted off the atmosphere, and boiled the oceans, and killed everybody.’
He nodded. ‘And Tycho was just the biggest arms dump.’
‘You know it. You don’t need to tell me it makes no sense.’
‘I wasn’t going to.’
‘It scared me to death. As I got older I started to read about all the perils we faced – still do face. Before I left school I was organizing recycling drives. I read politics and economics at university. I got into real politics later, mainly with the Greens. Not that I ever got elected anywhere. But that doesn’t pay the bills –’
‘Hence the rock shop.’
‘So,’ he said. ‘You’re what we’d call a survivalist? You think that when it all falls apart we should pack up and head for the hills?’
‘No.’ Now she did sound offended. ‘Of course not. We’re human beings. We got where we are by cooperating, by helping each other. It’s just that the future is so dangerous.’
‘We’re going to have to be smart to survive, on any timescale you care to think about. My dad says he thinks I went a little crazy, back when I was a kid. But I think I went a little sane. It was like waking up. It seems to me that everyone else is a little crazy, not me.’ She was looking out over the city, and the last of the sunlight picked out her profile, her strong nose and chin.
He said, ‘Maybe you’re too sane. Nobody should be burdened with too much future.’
‘I’m not so tough. I’m a twentieth-century baby like everybody else. Spoiled rotten. As soon as anything serious happened, I’d run round in circles.’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure.’
The light was diminishing. The Moon grew brighter, as if to compensate, and she looked up at it.
‘You know,’ Henry said, ‘the project I was working on for NASA was about going back to the Moon. Looking for water ice there. I think it’s possible there is so much ice you could actually terraform the Moon.’
‘Make it like the Earth.’
‘Yes. Somewhere else for people to live. But my project got canned, and we may never know about the ice. Nobody’s going to the Moon any time soon. Least of all me.’
‘Would you go if you had the chance?’
He grinned. ‘In those ropy World War Two rockets they fly? No, sir.’
‘So you’re a childless man who wants to build a new world.’
‘Oh. Sublimation, you think.’
‘And you’re a parlour psychoanalyst. Lucky me.’
She said, ‘You know, after I read that Heinlein story, I coloured in maps of the Moon, figuring out where the oceans and cities must once have been.’
He nodded. ‘How about that. So did I. We have something in common after all.’
‘I was just a kid …’
He stared up at the Moon. ‘It would be a beautiful thing. A terraformed Moon. It would be much brighter. A twin of the Earth. And if you were on the Moon – well, with that low gravity, it would be like something out of H.G. Wells. The First Men In The Moon.’
‘Umm.’ She stood up, and brushed down her dress. ‘And people call me crazy.’
‘I never did.’
‘But you thought it. I know why. I run a shop where people come and pick up the rocks, trying to feel their vibrations –’
‘Now they’re the crazy ones.’
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