“Did you know that glass is basically indestructible?” Sandy asks. Shiloh sets her bottle on the piano top and looks at him, waiting for the monologue.
“I mean glass doesn’t decay,” he says, swivelling on the bench to the piano. “So after human civilization is gone and the last skyscraper is rotted away and the space stations have fallen into the oceans et cetera, et cetera …” he plunks out a tuneless cluster of notes on the piano, “there will still be glass bottles.” More plunks. “Or at least fragments, little shards with ‘Coca-Cola’ on them.” Now he presses one key softly. “I can imagine an alien anthropologist or something finding a glass shard with a Coca-Cola serial number on it and wondering what the hell it means.”
“The Earth will fall into the Sun before then.”
Sandy strikes a quick arpeggio and then stands up without closing the piano lid and grabs his bottle off the bench. “Either way, it’s time to go. Hope the trip was worth it.”
Shiloh turns around and follows him through the house of her childhood. It is dusk and she feels her despair coming on.
And as the car slides through the neighbourhood she sees house after house that looks just like the one they are leaving: dilapidated, sagging, with weeds towering in the front yard and obscuring the porches where, once, old white men sat sagging in their poverty and boredom, drinking beer. Shouting to each other. She remembers that from the old days.
“I can’t believe that old piano was still there,” says Sandy. “You know when it was made? Nineteen eighty-three.”
“How do you know that?”
He taps the back of his head, at the base of his neck, where a little light pulses.
“Oh, yeah. I forgot.” Her eyes are pounding now.
“I just can’t believe it’s still there. What a blast from the past.”
Shiloh sees the Lincoln skyline emerge over the sagging suburban rooftops. Its obsidian glass glimmers like a black hole.
Sandy sees her getting twisted up. “Look, this is the last trip. After this we don’t have to come back to Earth ever again — my god, Shiloh, are you crying?”
“Trying not to.”
“You should have got all that out at the funeral.” Pause. “It kind of inspired me. The funeral. Remember when the pastor said that bit from Shakespeare? ‘Love is not love which …’ or whatever it was. The way he said it really inspired me. So I powered up the widget and had it write a piece from that feeling. Anyway, maybe I’ll dedicate it to Dad.” He glances at her. “Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“They lap up all your music like it’s ambrosia. I don’t think they’ll care about the dedication.”
“No, but I mean do you think I should?”
“I don’t know, Sandy,” she bursts out. “Why should you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what’s the point? We haven’t seen Dad since we were nine years old and here we are signing all his worldly possessions over to the state, and then we’re leaving his planet behind, probably forever — God knows I’m never coming back to this dump — and then we’ll probably forget all about him and Nebraska and everything else.”
“Geez, Shiloh, the whole point is to not forget him, by dedicating something to him.”
“I just think it’s too late for that.”
Sandy doesn’t answer. He bends his head and looks up through the windshield at the burgeoning skyscrapers that tower over the highway like the horns of a colossal crown. The widget in his brain warms and rustles in his cortex and floods his brain with teras and teras of information, instantly comprehended, of the histories of the darkling giants: construction dates, expenses, exact amounts of materials used, blueprints, methods of construction, political manoeuvrings behind their erection; the exact electricity consumption of each tower, the percentage of the Centaurus solar fields that are used to power them, the exact shipping dates of every thousand-tonne battery shipped from the Moon to the Lincoln spaceport; names of architects, names of their wives and children, their salaries, their deductibles, their criminal records, their dental expenses, their dates of death and the locations of their graves; the name, weight, height and eye colour of every single construction worker who ever sat on one of those sable beams during a lunch break and gazed out over the sprawl of the city. He wonders, while filing absently through the terabytes of information, what a construction worker might have felt, sitting there, fingering his laser drill, on top of one of the most expensive structures in the Midwest, looking out over a dying metropolis, a city whose last lifeblood was sucked into these gargantuan vanity projects. After a bit, the widget cools.
Shiloh’s eyes are still closed. She wants to ask him something. She wants to ask if he remembers the first day, 16 years ago, when he held her hand on the landing dock of Centaurus. How scared they had been, not knowing they would never see their father again. She wonders if he wishes Dad hadn’t spent his savings to send them to the ‘New World’ — as he envisioned it. She wants to know what his augmented brain, bearing its Promethean passenger, has told him about the old house, about its history, about who had lived there before them. She wonders if he remembers how small he had been. How much he had trusted her.
“What’s your favourite piece you’ve ever written?” she asks.
Sandy thinks quietly about that for a while, as their car slips into the shadow of the skyscrapers.