The sky, the stars and the constellations

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“They must never find out about us, JK.” RM whispers, his grey eyes like steel.
I know. “Don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me.” I smile a little.
He nods, and seems to bite back a scolding (‘This is not to be taken lightly, kiddo!’) “Back to work, then. You leave first. And wipe that goofy smile off your face.”
I let the smile linger, and then fade, as I push open the door to storeroom 993 and confidently stride along the hallway. I embrace the cameras, sleek and silent in the crevices of the ceilings, and mark my pace at a casual, yet productive 60bpm. My uniform matches the fellow subjects I pass by and my eyes do not waver from my path. I’m used to this now, but in the first few days I thought my heart was going to break out of my chest. I think back then and my heart swells again, but now in joy.
It started because I was singing in the storeroom, searching for a spare 6mm screwdriver. What I was singing I cannot name, because it wasn’t a song I have ever heard before – we know what music is here, but we don’t listen to it. I must have come up with it in a dream, somehow, but I let myself sing it, alone in the storeroom. But I wasn’t alone, even though the lights were off when I came in, and I heard a man drop something metal and curse over my song.
“Who’s there?” I called in fear, and he emerged, looking sheepish, with a 6mm screwdriver in his hands. RM1209, a senior engineer from generation 94, and now my ‘friend’. It is a strange, old-earthly concept, but we are both strange, un-earthly people, as much as he tries to deny it.
I have to forcibly wipe the smile off my face as I seat myself at my usual bench. JK0109, junior mechanic. I let the familiar parts empty my mind and the grease stain my hands.
I see him again three days afterwards, seeking a pair of wire clippers, and again four days after that. He sets the times perfectly randomly, to avoid suspicion, but we never change the storeroom. Every time I let myself be myself it becomes a little bit harder to avoid suspicion in the hallways, and every time I leave the storeroom the stakes are a little higher. I have something else to lose – someone else, because we both know that there is no mercy for rebels.
After our 51st encounter this is ‘hammered home’ (an old-earthly expression, we do not use hammers nor homes anymore). As is protocol, all subjects are mobilised upon an escape attempt, and the institute is plunged into chaos. Loud voices fill the hallways and the siren blares. We are instructed to move and cover as much ground as we can, seeking the rebels. In the confusion, I allow myself to slip off into storeroom 993 and the almost pitch-black darkness embraces me like a ‘mother’. Like ‘music’, we know the subject but do not have one. I stumble over to the corner where we meet and see familiar steel eyes.
“You too, huh.” He mutters, voice low and loud in the quiet space, a haven amongst the sirens and commands. We let ourselves be ourselves again and talk about dreams, and music and home. He has a beautiful, creative mind and he knows much more than me. He found a book from old earth on their science and what they thought of space. Did you know they made arrangements of stars into these funny things called constellations, which they thought looked like ‘animals’ and ‘gods’? They even gave them cute little names. It’s such a strange tradition, but so much like old earth that it’s endearing to me. That romanticism is what ruined them, but I think it’s what made their lives worthwhile.
We don’t have this ‘sky’ here at the institute but I do have an overactive imagination and it finds itself on the topic of bears and Virgo sometimes. And whales – I like them. RM tells me that they were huge and grey and swum and sang – but what I love the most about them is that way that they make his eyes light up and warm and focus at me.
It takes an old earth year and a half before anything big happens. We have near misses and there are times when we have to hide in the dark storeroom from the others – who aren’t like us, who don’t love old earth, both fanciful and doomed.
There’s a big break, chaos, shrill alarms and announcements at the institute. A large group of 22 rebels are trying to escape from the institute. Again we find ourselves in the storeroom. But this time he hisses to me, “Follow me”, and he pushes through the door into the light. I follow him blindly, through alarmed doors and to the exit bays. He breaks the camera in a swift movement and turns to me, steel eyes sparking. “It’s time to go, JK.”
I stare blankly back at him.
“There are only two possibilities: yes or no. Yes – we break out of this hellhole, or die trying, or no – we live striding through the hallways and hiding in Storeroom 993. It’s up to you, JK.” He holds out his hand. “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I want to be with you and I want to be free. And I don’t want to make weapons anymore, and I want to see what’s really out there – I want to see the sky and stars and constellations.” His hand wavers. “I want them to be out there, but we need to see them to make them real. And I want to see them with you– ”
I take his hand.
As one being in two bodies, we enter the unknown.

About the Author: 
Just a physics student trying to make sense of the world.
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