ORDINARY PEOPLE don’t take to me, I don’t know exactly why. Whatever it is, it’s not done on purpose. Honestly.
A man called Johnson came to St Asaph’s one day. He interviewed most of the residents, but it was me he chose to undergo the selection process. I thought, why not? What’s not to like about seven years in another solar system? No one to stare at me, no one to point, no one to laugh behind their hands, and best of all everything automated.
I like everything automated. I am a very orderly person.
‘I am tasked,’ said Mr Johnson, ‘with identifying potential candidates for this vital position. You would be surprised, Maurice, how few potential candidates there are. A Caretaker is a big investment. We can’t afford to waste our precious resources on an individual who thinks he can hack it, and then goes and does a raving loony on us after a month or three. Get my drift?’ At the time I thought I did. Now I am not so sure.
‘The work is very simple, Maurice,’ Mr Johnson said. ‘Stores arrive and are replenished by drone ships. It’s just a matter of unpacking it all, checking it against the Manifest, storing it, and then gradually using it up’. I liked the idea of having a Manifest, and checking things off against it. If you can have a list and check things off, you feel that you have achieved something.
‘Food hoppers to be refilled for the various livestock, hydroponics to check and keep in good order, the occasional button to press. Bit like Noah’s Ark, you know.’
I did not, in fact, know about Noah’s Ark, but Mr Johnson explained it to me. He told me Noah was a man who lived quite a long time ago. Noah and his three sons built their own huge spaceship in a workshop at the back of their house.’
‘It must have been a pretty big workshop, Mr Johnson.’
‘The biggest, Maurice! And then guess what they did? They filled it up with animals, two of every kind of animal, all except the Unicorn. That got left out because it turned up late when there were no stalls left in the spaceship. And then the eight of them, Noah and his three sons Shimm, Shomm and Jayfess, also Mrs Noah and the wives of Shimm, Shomm and Jayfess, who had to come along because somebody had to do the cooking, blasted off into space with all those different animals except the Unicorn to find a new planet for them all to live on. And when they finally landed on the new planet, guess what Noah did first?’
‘Checked the Manifest?’
‘He checked the Manifest, Maurice. And after that his three sons, guess what they had to do?’
‘Feed the animals and check the hydroponics every day.’
‘Exactly so, Maurice. You’re obviously a bright boy. I reckon an orderly person such as yourself, an individual of your logistical capabilities, would be able to do it with his hands tied behind his back.’
THE JOURNEY to Alph took seven years and thirteen days on one of their drone ships. This sounds like a long time but they sort of suspended me so I’m not any older. Well, I am older: five years, two months, eleven days and four hours older, to be exact. But that’s not any more old than I would have been if I’d stayed at St Asaph’s.
The drone ship docked automatically, woke me automatically and fed me automatically. I had a really nasty headache and a sort of queasy feeling to start with but those wore off soon enough and I started unloading the stores they sent with me. There was a very clear list of Initial Instructions, and a Manifest just like they promised.
I located my sleeping quarters, clearly marked on the Dome Plan, included with the Instructions and the Manifest, and slept my first natural sleep since my journey to Alph began. In the morning I discovered that the drone ship had left me.
JUST RECENTLY I have noticed two strange things. The first strange thing is the dust. There isn’t much else to see here on Alph, except for Marta. Marta is Alph’s twin, a silver disc about as far away as Earth’s moon is from Earth. The planet Eden has six moons, which rise in this order: first Krista, then Marta and Alph, then Shem, then Shan, then Menem.
Mr Johnson and his organisation have thought of everything. There is a chart etched into the clear wall of the Dome, right next to the observation window, in case you forget which moon is which; not that I am likely to forget because I have a very good memory and each moon is a different colour. Of course I can’t see what colour Alph is; for that I’d need to be standing on Marta or Eden, and I’m not.
The Dome, according to the Dome Plan, is constructed a bit like an orange. Each segment of the orange – except that it’s not in fact orange, but see-through – is kind of welded together, except it’s more complicated than that: fusion-something. Nothing is supposed to come through the welds, but I notice some dust is, now; it’s making little anthills all around the perimeter. Alpha dust has bigger grains than Earth dust. If you tilt your head to one side it tends to look blue, but if you put your head straight up again it looks more red. Funny stuff. I decided not to touch it because it could be poisonous. Dust does not feature in my Instructions.
The other thing I noticed is that the Dome is talking a lot more. There’s this little machine at the back of the hydroponics section. It’s like a black box with dials and rows of red lights on it. I don’t suppose I was intended to find it, since it is not in the Instructions, and I didn’t find it on purpose. But by the time you’ve lived inside a Dome for five years, two months, eleven days and four hours you tend to have found everything there is to find.
Every once in a while I’d notice the red lights flashing on and off in some kind of sequence, but not all that often. I like to work things out, and I worked out it must be having a conversation with somebody back on Earth, with Mr Johnson maybe. But the red lights are flashing on and off all the time now and the sequence has got kind of messed up. Also the box is starting to make a little bit of a humming noise, which it never did before.
When I was on the Caretaker Induction Course I remember them telling me that this was a Mark 5. Because mine isn’t the only Dome. There are others on other moons, ninety-six of them to be exact, most of which are even more advanced in design than my Dome. They go up to Mark 9, or at least, they did five years, two months, eleven days and four hours ago. I suppose they might be up to Mark 12 or even Mark 15 by now.
I remember asking them what the Domes were for, exactly. They explained that it was so that if, say, there was a giant comet coming towards the Earth, or their climate got completely messed up because of all the greenhouse gases, the human race would have a nice new home to go to; a Dome similar to the one I’m Caretaker of now, but much, much bigger; a refuge for the human race, an environment with Proven Sustainability.
‘What exactly does Proven Sustainability mean?’ I remember putting my hand up and asking.
I don’t think they ever told me the answer to that one.