Once in a Thousand Years [a story]

[Found this, seemingly written in the year 2000, and it seems as irrelevant now as it was then.]

Down here there’s a chill sometimes, a chill that shouldn’t be here when you think of the warm sunshine and blossom and tourists that you can still hear.  Somehow the buildings suck the heat from the air, they don’t just whistle the wind through those vortices and vertices of commercial grandeur, they actively absorb the kilojoules.  Sometimes you think that you could freeze if you stood for too long, even while the tourists are eating their ice cream.

Over there, look , the cranes are still busy, busy building buildings, busy assembling tomorrow.  It must be a work day.  One of the cranes is wearing some sort of flag: a corporate hello to those of us scanning the skyscape.  “Hello,” I call.  “Hello,” calls Sidekick.

We climb the rampart leading to the new road and gaze across the river.  Not that you can see the river from here, you just have to pretend, or imagine, or guess.  There must be a river because we know that the Dome is on the other side, but if you didn’t know otherwise honestly you could set off from here to walk in a straight line and expect to get there without getting wet.

New road isn’t finished yet, so we skirt the construction zone and head for the jetty that Sidekick particularly likes.  It always accumulates the sort of flotsam and jetsam that’s ideal for ballistic fun and games.  The tide is low, the scudding wind is less vicious here, ideal conditions for hurling meaningless projectiles at nothing in particular.  Several minutes of this leaves us temporarily exhausted, so we meander back up the jetty to a cool warm buttress for some rest.

Some tourists go by.  They are trapped with an unintelligible commentator inside one of those glass tubes that travel up and down the river.  We can see their strained faces, peering at the steel and mud and concrete and height.  They do not see us.  None of them waved.

“What are they looking for?” asks Sidekick.  A difficult one, this.  “An excuse,” I venture.  A short silence.  “I think they’re looking for treasure,” says Sidekick.  “Or monsters.  That’s why they have cameras.”

Sidekick is only about three-and-a-half feet high, so his pictures normally have an unusual angle of attack.  You forget these things, I find.

“Look at that!” Sidekick suddenly exclaims.

I’m not sure at first, because what my eyes tell me is something that my brain thinks must be wrong.  But, it’s true, the Dome is lifting off.  Or is it peeling off?  What it looks like is that the south east corner has become detached, and the whole thing is hinging on the north west corner, like a giant submarine hatch.  It’s happening very slowly at the moment, but – well, the far perimeter must be ten or twenty metres off the ground by now.

And now the other corner has lifted!  The whole thing is off the ground!  What is happening?

“Do you think we’re safe here?” I ask, since it seems to be coming our way.  “Sure, no problem,” replies Sidekick (who real-time three-dimensional trigonometry is better than mine).  I relax for a moment and watch the unfolding spectacle.

It doesn’t appear to be under the force of the wind.  It’s moving evenly, not like an escaped tent or anything like that.  In fact, it seems to have maintained its rigidity, which surprises me,  given that most of the support poles have been left behind.  Now it looks like a giant tea-cup, upside down, heading both upwards and, ahem, this way.

“It’s started spinning,” points out Sidekick.  And so it has.  It is now, I’d guess, a hundred metres into the sky, about half way across the river between where it started and where we are sitting, and it has started to rotate.  I glance back at the tourist tube, to note that they are directly underneath.  This must be pretty scary, I surmise.  You go for a wee cruise down the river, to take a few snaps of interesting historical architecture, and suddenly a £750 million white elephant nearly a kilometre in diameter is suspended – by unknown means – a few metres above your head.

“It’s still going up,” I report.  “And the spinning’s getting faster,” rejoins Sidekick. We are craning our necks now.  Very shortly it will be overhead.

There is nothing to do.  The tide takes an instant to turn, but we do not know which instant it is.  The wind still blows.  Somehow the clouds seem to have lost their significance.  The Dome looks like an immense outcast from a 1950s sci-fi movie.  Seagulls and the lapping water make the only noise.

And then, with a muted whoosh, it accelerates away, spinning and gaining height and heading north west across the great city.  Our view is suddenly blocked by the wharf buildings and we run back up to the jetty, across the road and into the park where only the trees block the view.  The Dome has almost disappeared already, you could easily mistake it for a lost balloon, and now – nothing.  Sidekick and I gaze for several moments, but there is nothing.

We look at one another.  Sidekicks raises a single eyebrow.  “It must have wanted to go home,” he says.  “Good idea,” I say.  “Let’s go and have some cake.”


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