The last piece for Oxy. The real thing will be here someday, promise.
Robert turned the flower over in his hand. A lily, pale white, stamens heavy with pollen. He held it up to the light, catching the delicate tracery of veins in the glow from the phoslight.
“And you found this... where?” he asked.
The young man sitting on the other side of his cluttered desk gulped down air. He was one of the furthest patrols in the area and there was no telling how far or fast he had run to get this back to base.
“It was about,” he said, then smoothed his hands over his face. “About ten K, sir, due east.”
East. Off in the direction of Dome Seven. But that Dome had been ruined for years...
“Describe to me exactly what you found. Lewis, isn’t it?”
The man, almost a boy, nodded and smiled. His breathing was slower now, Robert noticed as he gestured towards a bottle of water and a glass on the side table. The phoslight flickered slightly as Lewis got up and disturbed the air currents, throwing shadows that seemed to move of their own accord over the map-strewn walls and dirty carpet tacked down with rusty nails.
“It was nearly dawn; I was up on one of the Dome supports, you know...” he waved his hands expansively. Robert nodded. Dome Seven was ruined since the oxy-riots of 2066, shortly after completion. Not enough security forces, too many unfortunates.
“I was under one of the bridges; dead quiet it was, couldn’t find anyone. I was supposed to be rendezvousing with some of us from up under Dome Nine but... there was gunfire. I heard it. I...” He squirmed wretchedly.
“Go on,” Robert said.
“I hid. What could I do? Just one person. Anyway, there it was, against a wall; must have got some sun every day, and a bit of water, enough to keep it alive. It’s not a perfect one, like they had in the olden days, but it’s a sign, right?” He smiled, his eyes a bit too wide.
“Who else have you shown this to?”
Robert sighed. He placed the lily down and folded his arms, looking directly at Lewis.
“Listen to me, Lewis. This is something that cannot be shared with the others. It will... distract them from what they are doing, and we cannot have that.” He looked expectantly at the boy. “Can we?”
Lewis’s eyebrows crashed together as he frowned. “But sir, this means that the outside might be ready for the Norms again soon. I mean, that’s good news. Isn’t it?”
Robert was shaking his head. “Take my advice; let me deal with this as it should be dealt with. When I’m ready, I will show everyone this wonderful piece of evidence you have found. Until then, I strongly suggest that you keep this to yourself.”
“Take that as a direct order, Lewis. Dismissed.”
His training kicked in and Lewis stood, bowed and left the office. Robert scrunched his thumbs into his eyes and then sighed again. Picking up the lily he held it against the light one last time, then took out the lighter from his desk drawer and clicked it on. The flame was slow to take at first, then the petals wilted, curled, blackened, vanished.
What would the Norms do with the news that one tiny pocket of the world could sustain plant life? Move, pollute, die. The freak condition that allowed one small speck of life to cling on were hardly reasons to allow more contamination of the world.