“You’re shitting me!”
“Hey – don’t let mum hear you talking like that!”
Damien blushed. “Well, you won’t tell her.”
His older brother smiled. “No, I won’t. And no, I’m not. Back in the old days it was.”
“How do you know? You weren’t here in the old days.”
“I read books, don’t I?”
“Yeah. Ones with paper pages and everything.”
Damien’s eyes widened. He’d heard of paper, but he’d never seen any. He squinted at his brother. Damien didn’t know whether to trust him, as the younger of the two he was used to being teased mercilessly.
“So?” Aaron looked down from the hill at the lights. “Oh! The lights. Right. Well…years ago, they had these flying machines and-”
“We have them still, Aaron. We call them Zeps.”
Aaron jumped his brother, tickling him until he gasped for breath.
“So, as I was saying until I was rudely interrupted,” he glanced at his brother who flinched and grinned back. “These machines circled the planet, out in space. And then, once every so often, they’d came back down at set places, and,” he nodded at the lights. “Those were the things that guided them in.”
“But…what did they do?”
“Lots of different things. Some were mining ships, some were communication ships. Some even took people up with them so they could go further out into The Night.”
“Wow” Damien didn’t care if he was being lied to now. Just the thought of traveling in The Night – where it was truly dark, not neon dark. If only it were possible. The Collapse didn’t even give them the power to push metal boxes around.
“So,” Aaron continued – either on a roll, or enjoying the chance to tell his story. “This one was the most special. They had sets of these lights all over the world to guide a fleet of ships in. They came from a distant galaxy, no one knew how far-”
“How could they not know? No! No!” Damien squealed, as his brother moved towards him, fingers poised for another attack. “But…how?”
“They didn’t want to know. Some things were better kept secret. I mean, sure they knew. It’s not like we used to let anything land here, but they didn’t tell the people. Instead they gave it some joke number -Galaxy 54N74.”
“Is that funny?”
“I think it was science humour. It didn’t make me laugh and there was no notes about it anywhere else.”
Damien nodded and, for a moment, both looked at the lights.
“See the orange one?” Aaron pointed to the top of the structure, at a single light that blinked forlornly. “That light told when the fleet was coming.
“See, somehow, the 54N74 system could monitor our galaxy and could determine how many people had been good. If more had been, a shipment would be sent here and, at a certain time, the lights would flick from orange to red and guide the ships in. The RU Fleet. Planet wide ships would land and gifts would be given out.”
“Gifts? They’d come and bring presents? RLY?”
“Ya, RLY. Sometimes for people, sometimes for the whole world. And people would come out to see the biggest ship me the fleet. D01F. The books say it was massive, and lit up so much it makes the Mall look like a personal lamp.”
They sat in silence. Damien let the name ring round his head. The Nightship RU-D01F. He was pretty sure he was being wound up but the dream was too beautiful to break.
“They must have stopped a long time ago if the 54N74’s checked who was good,” he whispered.
“They did. I think these lights go on now because whoever’s in charge isn’t sure what to do with them. Still,” Aaron’s voice strained as he stood up. “They look nice.”
Small white clumps started to fall from the sky, and settled on the ground.
“Come on, Day. It’s an ash storm. These things’ll kill you if you’re not careful.”
The two kids fitted their filtration masks and Aaron made sure his kid brother was sealed securely in his environment coat.
“I’m going to be good, Aar.”
Aaron smiled behind his mask. “You do that, Day. You do that.” He turned away from the lights. “Come on. Let’s get home.”
As they trudged into the night, Damien stole one last glance at the guidance system and the lonely orange light before hurrying to catch up with his brother.