Sarah flicked the switch and waited for the screen to warm up; she’d never done anything like this before and doubted she would have if she hadn’t won first prize in the new agency’s Date Across The Years Competition. It was certainly an original concept, but just because an idea was new didn’t mean that it had any merit at all. Suddenly the screen flickered and the agency’s emblem, a bright orange chevron on an even brighter turquoise background flashed into her living room.
“Welcome”, boomed a deep male voice, “Welcome to Dating Across The Years. I am your host, Graham Millet, and I would like to introduce you, Sarah Robotka, to your date. You don’t know anything about him yet, except that his name is Peter, though he shortens his name to Pete, as was customary many years ago. It is the agency’s policy to allow clients to find out about each other rather than to issue lengthy profiles, and as you are our first competition winner this year, we would like you to find out about your date for yourself. So here he is!”
The screen erupted in a bright yellow flash which made Sarah blink; when it cleared, she found herself staring into the face of a man who, to all appearances was a couple of years younger than herself, but in reality was very much her senior. His face filled her screen, just as her face filled his. He stared directly at her, or rather, he appeared to stare directly at her. Really though he was staring at her hologram on his screen.
Sarah felt herself gulp involuntarily then she threw her head back and did her best to smile at him, but her nerves had caught up with her. He was obviously feeling nervous himself because she noticed a slight twitching at the side of his mouth. Suddenly he brightened, realising perhaps that this was every bit as much a new experience for her as for him.
“Hello,” he said, “so you’re Sarah. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“Oh, yes,” she blushed, “and you’re Peter.”
“Pete,” they said simultaneously, and laughed.
Then he said, “You first,” just as the words jumped to her lips.
Again, they laughed, and he said, “Great minds think alike.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “but yours came first.”
“Well, that can’t be helped.”
The ice had been broken, and both her nervousness and her fear fled her. “Is my head too big?” she asked.
“Looks all right to me,” he said.
“On the screen,” she laughed, “yours fills my screen.”
“Do you want to see the rest of me?”
“Yes please. Provided you’re decent,” she added as an afterthought.
“I think so, we’re not all savages here.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it like that,” she apologised, afraid that she’d hurt his feelings.
“No, only joking,” he said, “but I suppose I seem, well, a bit primitive to you where you are.”
“Oh no,” she hurried, “I’m no cultural chauvinist.”
“Glad to hear it, all my friends think I’m a bit of a Neanderthal.”
“It’s the beard”, he said, tweaking his whiskers, “and the moustache of course.” He brushed that also as he moved backwards from the screen slightly so that she could see a fuller image of him. She responded likewise.
“I thought hairy faces were in fashion where you are”, she said, curiously.
“Er, not at the moment”, he hesitated, “but don’t let’s talk about me.”
“Why not? You’re my prize!” she said.
He blushed, “Nobody’s ever won me before; I feel like a goldfish.”
“That’s a curious thing to say.”
“You know, you go to a fairground, win a goldfish then take it home in a plastic bag. Haven’t you ever seen one?”
“Yes. I mean, I’ve seen a goldfish, and I know what a fairground is, but I’ve never been to one. We don’t have fairgrounds here.”
“Is it true you live underground all the time?” he asked anxiously.
“Not all the time, but the Moon is not the same as Earth; you can’t just put on a spacesuit and go outside.”
“No, I suppose not,” he sympathised, “and you were born on the Moon too, I gather?”
“So you couldn’t ever come to Earth, even if you wanted?”
She shook her head sadly, “When you’ve grown up under one sixth gravity you can’t just go and live on Earth, the human body can’t take it. Even in the old days when men first set up bases here they had to exercise on special machines for weeks before they returned to Earth.”
“Yes, I do know about that,” he said, “you’re teaching your grandfather to suck eggs.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to...” suddenly she realised he was laughing.
“That’s not a bad joke, is it? I’m not exactly known for my sense of humour.”
She laughed too then asked thoughtfully, “Why have you never married?”
“Because the girl I love has not yet been born.”
“Why haven’t you married?”
“I was in love once, but”, she reached out and touched the screen, “there could never have been anything between us.”
“Except space,” he replied, reaching out and touching her image also.
She couldn’t see his hand while he was doing this, but she felt a light touch on her cheek, and, for a moment, she thought it was actually him.
“I can feel you,” he said, “I really can. You’re real. Sarah, you’re real.”
He laughed aloud. She was going to tell him that he couldn’t really feel her, anymore than she could feel him, it was a tactile hallucination caused by the special sensors which had been implanted under their holo-helmets. She opened her mouth to tell him but thought better of it; his laugh was one of joy, sheer joy. She didn’t want to shatter any illusions he might have, especially about her. Sarah had lived a very unhappy life so far; the Moon colony was very small, and although men outnumbered women by about three to one, almost all the older men were married either to other women or to their work, while the younger ones were not interested in women at all. This was a deliberate result of government policy.
Over the past thirty years, children born to Moon parents had exhibited a large number of genetic defects which could not be corrected even by gene splicing. It had been decided at the highest level that no more children would be born on the Moon, and that the present generation would be discouraged from having any emotional contact whatsoever. In future, Moonies were to be recruited on Earth, mostly from the over seventies, men and women who were just entering middle age, and who had raised their children on Earth. They would live here for three months at a time, then return home for six months. The Lunar colony would become totally transient. In a couple of years time, Sarah would be the Moon’s oldest person, an as well as its senior citizen.
“Tell me about Earth,” Sarah said.
“I don’t want to talk about Earth; I want to talk about you, us.”
“So do I," she smiled, reached out and touched the screen again, and this time she tried to pretend that she really could touch him.”
“How long will we remain in contact during our sessions?” he asked.
“At present we can have up to fifteen.”
“Everyday?” he enquired hopefully.
“No,” she sighed, “we’ll be limited to once a week; that’s an Earth week, but they’ll soon be able to provide a daily link up.”
“I’m surprised they can’t do it already.”
“They have the technology,” she said, “it’s more of a logistical problem.”
“I’m surprised there isn’t a time delay when we’re talking, you know, like you used to see when they first started sending men to the Moon.”
“No, I don’t know. What do you mean?”
“Well, because radio waves and light waves only travel so fast, when people are enormous distances from each other, there’s a delay. If you were on the Sun for example, and you sent me a message, it would take eight minutes for me to receive it.”
“I’m not on the Sun, I’m on the Moon.”
“Yes, I know, but there’s still a quarter of a million miles between us; there should still be a time delay.”
“Oh, I see what you mean, Peter.”
“Pete,” he corrected.
“Pete,” she said, “my long distance lover.”
He blushed again.
“Yes, I see what you mean, but I expect they’ve done something to overcome the time differential. They can do things like that, and time is relative, remember.”
“How could I ever forget?” he laughed.
“Time is all I’ve got.”
“All we’ve got.”
“They’ve done a wonderful job too, matching us up like this.”
“It’s all to do with personalities. Do they have a personality meter or something where you live? Something that enables them to tell that person A will like person B?”
“Not exactly, but I expect they will in the future,” she answered.
“This is the future,” he reminded her.
“Not for me,” she laughed.
“Yes, I’d forgotten that.”
“When did you die?” she asked.
“1996," he said, just as the new rocket age was beginning.”
“And you didn’t have any family?”
“Not a wife, no.”
“It’s a shame”, she said, “that someone so talented and with such a bright future should have died so young, and without marrying.”
“No it’s not! If I had married, we’d never have met, you’d never have been matched with a married man.”
“That’s true,” she said.
“And I wouldn’t have wanted to meet anyone else if I had been married; I’m a very faithful sort. I’d have made some lucky woman a good husband.”
“You still will,” she said, “a good lover anyway.”
“I hope so, Sarah”, he said.
The screen flickered.
“The session is over”, she said, “see you next week?” She touched the screen again as she spoke.
“I hope so”, he said, touching her face on his screen also as it faded out, “I’ll simply die if I don’t.”
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