It wasn't on his list, but Cei came by, and he hadn't seen Cei in a while. He wasn't thinking about the distances of space, this time, he was drinking tea in a Victorian Mansion under some dusky full spectrum lights, watching people go by in the streets. He hadn't heard that Cei was coming by, and he didn't know if Cei had gotten wind of him being out and about, but then Cei just pushed out a chair in the cafe and ordered coffee and a croissant. Cei was big and had shaggy curly red hair flowing down. Unlike Theophyllis, Cei didn't have natural parents. Cei hadn't selected a gender yet, for good. Theophyllis thought of him as he, and Cei didn't object to that. Cei hadn't selected a career path either. Both of those things that were, as much as the society of The Domes suggested anything, should be chosen by a person's 100th birthday. Cei was 95 and hyper and still drinking coffee, a kid's drink. They had met 50 years ago, when Theophyllis had bumped into Cei taking a widdershins train trip around The Domes. Theophllyis had also guessed that Cei would go into ground transport.
Which worked out because today Cei was asking about the pingos. One thing about Dome 27, it had a horde of pingos, out past Delta, a little cluster of them a few dozen feet tall, a few hundred feet above the surface. It was what passed for relief on Icechalk, frost heaves in the talc and ice that made up the planet. The surface would warm and cool just enough to heave them up in places. Cei's voice went on in a rolling drone about what he wanted to see, and Theophyllis couldn't argue, the list, such as it was, could wait for another day. They just walked out of the little neighborhood of Victorians and sunflowers and dusky lights and people talking on a simulated warm evening, and after a short hour or so walk, they were at an airlock. It was attended, and they all recognized each other as they logged the equipment and slid out the airlock. The last words drifting out of Cei's mouth as the room emptied of air.
Not emptied, of course. Emptied of bioair. Then out to the seemingly perfectly smooth surface of Icechalk. They started walking. Oxygen tanks softly humming. Backups ready to concentrate the thin oxygen of the atmosphere if need be. And then, just footstep after footstep. He couldn't see Dome 27 behind him. There were no outbuildings. After a few minutes? A few dozen minutes? He stopped checking back to see Cei. Cei had more energy, usually, but they moved at a measured pace, mile after mile. The ground had, every once in a while, a black splotch or shadow, differences in dust or mineral content or some of the slow, slow growing algae that had popped up even here. The patterns danced and seemed to form a path, arrows pointing him towards the pingos. An optical illusion for someone moving at an even pace between a dark grey ground and a black sky. The galaxies that he had been thinking about were not in sight, instead just the smattering of stars that made up the cluster, old dull stars. Tiger's Claw wasn't in the sky. And he started thinking about how his feet moved forward...after all, he didn't specifically tell them to. They just did, left right left right, his boots having just the right grip into the talc of the surface.
The pingos came to view, and then full height, very suddenly. His audio in his left air squawked to life. Cei was a little bit subdued compared to earlier, but he commented on the beauty of the pingos. Some were small enough to scamper up, others were steep, none were over a few dozen feet tall, but they spent the better part of an hour going between them. They saw crannies, some of them green red or purple with the filamentous algae that would slither if it ever warmed up enough. It had been a whlie since Theophyllis had been out to the pingos, he liked them, they took his mind off of things.
He looked back towards Dome 27. It didn't seem as far as it should, for how long they had been walking. He had felt truly alone out here. He saw the light streaming out from it, could even pick out sectors inside of it. He saw the rescue ports, where, if they had had an emergency, a planar could have been here in under a minute. The pingos, which a minute ago had been possessed of such a mysterious and varied form, seemed rather paltry next to the massive structure of (what had been) an intergalactic civilization. And that, of course, was only Dome 27, the cold Dome where nothing happened. He looked down at a little purple filament algae, wondering if it would hiss at him if he woke it up. Cei was saying something else, about this is why they had the spiral and hubwards railways. It was true, and they walked around for longer, but Theophyllis was getting tired. They headed back.
As close as Dome 27 looked the first time they turned around, when they were walking back to it, it seemed far again. And not getting bigger. But nothing to worry about, they knew they could make it. The patterns on the ground looked different with the light of The Dome. He started telling stories, seeing moving and changing forms on the clear, clean ground. His boots still sunk in exactly as they should. Towards the end, Cei got ahead of him, the buzzing energy of a 95 year old man. And then, back into the airlock, suits off, and Cei's voice rolling out again, full of thoughts, which they could relate over more cups of tea, for the adults, and coffee, for the children. And Theophyllis was hungry again.
A Winter's Night next to an Oblique Equator <--Footfall after footfall, out to the pingo--> They had built the Unrecordable Sculpture again last night