"What's the surprise, daddy?" the young boy asked.
"You'll see here shortly," the father responded.
The pair walked along the beach, ocean waves lapping a few yards to the right of them. Underfoot, the sand felt like soft pillows, and the breeze from the sea made the California hot summer night a little more bearable. Above, stars speckled like rubies in the sky. No clouds were in sight. As a matter of fact, there was nothing of great importance in sight… yet. Higher up the beach, large rocks blocked the view of a small California town, and luckily, the town did not radiate too much light pollution. A few people were in the distance, but they were nothing but walking shadows to the father and son due to the night. Muffled words and laughter could be heard, but the lapping ocean waves blocked most of the sound. They were grateful for this.
"Why can't you just let me in on the surprise now?" the boy questioned.
"Because," the father started with a laugh, "it'll ruin the surprise if I tell you."
The father stopped walking and sat down in the sand. He said to his son, "Sit down."
The son obeyed, saying in a confused tone, "Is the surprise here?"
The father shook his head. "Do you remember how last year I gave you a telescope for your birthday?"
"Yeah!" the son exclaimed. "My favorite birthday present ever!"
"Well, I had something a little similar in mind this year."
"Another telescope?" the son asked. Though the boy did not say it, there was an obvious sadness in his voice. He lowered his head towards the sand, then fingered it.
"You don't want another telescope?"
"I already have one. Why do I need another?"
The father chuckled- more like guffawed- at his son's question.
"What?" the son asked. He raised an eyebrow at his dad and bit down on his lower lip. He brushed the sand off his finger by rubbing it against his jeans; then, he raced his hand through his sun-bleached blond hair. "What's so funny?"
"I have good news," his father said after he finished laughing. "You aren't going to get another telescope, but your birthday surprise this year has a similarity to the telescope."
"I don't understand, daddy."
The father checked the glow in the dark Mickey Mouse watch on his wrist, a gift from his son and wife, who was… well, who chose to no longer be in the picture. The only reason he still wore the childish thing was because his son would be hurt if he took it off, and if he wanted to be honest with himself, sometimes the glow-in-the-dark aspect came in handy. When he checked it, the watch read 9:44 p.m. as the time, way past his son's bedtime. However, birthdays were an occasion where bedtimes could be broken. He glanced away from the watch and stared out at the roaring sea.
"Well," the father said with a smile, "if my time is correct-" which it was because before leaving their home, he had triple-checked the time to be sure- "you should find out your birthday surprise any-"
A sudden bright orange-red light illuminated the sea, and there, amongst the inky black sloshing waves, a small island became visible. Smoke filled the tiny land, and a circular beast of a machine rose to the sky. Under it, a beam of light emanated, which projected it forward like a missile. The son immediately thought of the science fiction movies his father had started letting him watch, the ones where astronauts were sent up into the night sky in rockets to explore the solar system and the rest of the galaxy. A thundering sound reached their ears like a shotgun blast. The son covered his ears with his hands, but the father kept his hands in his lap. Together, their jaws dropped at the marvelous sight. The orange-red luminescence bled into the sky, and the darkness became overwhelmed by the light. The rocket was clearly visible for the first few minutes after launch, but it lost itself soon after.
"Woah!" the son exclaimed after his awestruck silence dissipated. "What was that?"
"A rocket," his father chuckled. "That was a rocket, Danny!"
"Where's it going?"
"Now that," the father said with a wide smile stretching ear to ear, "is a good question. You just witnessed the first supply rocket to ever sail towards Mars. They're dropping supplies at Mars for when we send astronauts there."
Farther along the beach, the black figures from earlier were clapping and shouting their excitement for what they had just witnessed. Danny turned his head towards the other rocket launch onlookers, then returned his focus to his father. His eyes were filled with inspiration and dreams.
"Do you think me and you will ever be able to go to Mars, daddy?"
The father glanced towards the ocean, where the orange-red color had faded and returned his eyes to his son. He took a deep breath and said, "Well, to be honest with you, I'm not sure."
Danny Wein reminisced his first rocket launch as he strode through the hallway, one of his favorite hallways because it was flanked by complete glass walls used for observation. He wore a black suit with a crucifix necklace in plain view, along with a Rolex watch around his wrist. A pair of Maui Jim sunglasses were in his front jacket pocket because he had just finished inspecting the rocket sitting on the launch pad outside. In fact, turning his head to peer out the glass hallway, he could see the sparkling beauty standing straight with the air of a Greek temple. He smiled as he turned away from the machine and checked his watch. It read 9:58 a.m. He was almost late for his meeting with Ms. Xia. He quickened his pace.
Danny reached the meeting room a minute after his ten o'clock appointment and gathered his breath before entering the office space allotted for the meet. Although he did not know what Ms. Xia wanted with him. Danny gathered it must be important- not to brag, but he knew not many regular people were able to attain meetings with him. Danny Wein was an important businessman with a lot of things to tend to, especially restarting the Mars missions under his own company he had built within the last ten years. After gaining control over his breathing from his jog through the workplace, he forced a smile and opened the door. Ms. Xia, a rather small Asian woman with dark black hair and a youthful face, sat at a desk with several folders spread before her. She sat with her legs crossed. She smiled as Danny entered.
"Sorry I'm a couple of minutes late, Ms. Xia," Danny started, extending his hand. "I got caught up examining the rocket on the launchpad out there. I lost track of time, but I rushed all the way here, I promise."
Ms. Xia shook his hand. "It's quite all right, Mr. Wein. You're only late by a minute."
Danny smiled. "You can call me Danny."
"And you can call me Abigail," she replied with a smile of her own.
"Thank you," Danny said, taking a seat on the other side of the table. Upon seated, he glanced at her breasts, barely visible as they were mostly covered by her blouse, then he stared into her dark brown eyes. Her lips were still curved into a pink smile. "What is that you wanted to discuss?"
"Well," Abigail Xia started, "I was hoping we could chat for a few minutes before we jumped right into the problem, but I understand you're a man of importance and need to get back to work as soon as possible. This might be a bit awkward to jump into, but here it is: if I tell you what I'm about to say, do you swear to keep it all a secret?"
Confused, Danny chuckled. "I'm not sure if I understand."
Ms. Xia repeated the question: "Do you swear to keep all of what I'm about to say a secret, Danny?"
"Do you?" Ms. Xia pushed. "The sooner you agree, the sooner we can discuss the whole subject matter."
Danny nodded, still showing a confused expression. "Okay."
"Good," Abigail Xia responded. "Sorry to have to push you like this, but it's necessary. It is also important to note that you risk being shot dead if you break the promise you have just made. Understand?"
"Wait!" Danny exclaimed with a slight laugh. Though he maintained a smile, his limbs started to shake, and his thoughts began to pick up speed. "What is this all about? Shooting me dead? Who the hell do you think you are? Do you know who I am? I'm Danny Wein!"
"I know perfectly well who you are, Mr. Wein. That's why I asked for this meeting."
Danny scoffed. "What is this all about?"
"If you let me continue, I'd be glad to tell you."
"Go ahead," Danny laughed nervously. His legs expressed a desire to shake, but he held it in. His back started to sweat, and his cheeks grew hot. Since starting his rocket company, he had not been embarrassed the way Ms. Xia was embarrassing him. He felt like a child, or a dog with its tail tucked between its legs.
"Well," Ms. Xia started again, "I was granted this meeting to inform you of classified knowledge only a select few on this planet know about. As you very well know, you are the man who has established a new rocket company. With that, you are going to be granted a lot of new secrets to the universe that you were unaware of until now."
Danny leaned forward in his seat. Now, instead of feeling like an embarrassed child, he felt like a curious child, the same way he felt on the day of his first rocket launch viewing. He said, "You have my attention."
Abigail Xia smiled. "Well, that's good. There is going to be lots to explain."
Danny indicated with his hands for her to continue. She did.
"What you know of the universe is a whole fake," she said as plain as she could. "From the moment every citizen of this world is born, they are fed a spoonful of nonsense. Citizens of this world believe the universe is an expanding bubble or plane of existence. As far as I know, the universe is still expanding, but we are set to believe that the Earth is floating in a space of blackness. And we are, though not in the way everyday people think. Above our sky, Danny is not an open space filled with darkness, but instead, our planet is set deep in an expanding black ocean. Somehow, the sun is a light within the ocean, and it warms the waters around this world. Our sky is not made of an atmosphere. Instead, our sky is a see-through dome. The sun's able to be a light in the waters of the universe, and the blue we see above us is just water pushing against the dome of our world. Gravity is holding us in the center of this dome. It's hard to completely put all this into words, so I'll let you ask the questions you need to have answered, but the thing is, you cannot send up rockets, Mr. Wein. If you do so, you will break the dome of this world and kill everyone in it. A rush of water will swallow us whole and kill all of humanity."
Danny sat in silence for a moment, contemplating what Ms. Xia had said. All of it made no sense to him. He chose to laugh rather than say anything. Tears even sprung from his eyes at how hilarious Ms. Xia's joke was. Ms. Xia, on the other hand, sat in silence.
"This isn't some prank, Mr. Wein."
"Call me Danny," he responded. "If you're going to joke like that, at least call me by my name."
"It isn't a joke."
"Sure," Danny laughed. "Monsters are real, and so are aliens!"
Ms. Xia did not laugh, nor did she crack a smile.
"If the planet is in the center of a dome in the sea of a universe, then explain how when I was younger, my dad took me to a beach to see a rocket launch. Explain to me what I saw."
"A hologram." Ms. Xia shrugged. "Easy to fabricate a rocket launch."
"The noise of the engine as it pushed the rocket forward?"
"They can form within the dome," Ms. Xia explained. The dome is massive. Weather is totally legitimate."
"Then, what's up with all this video footage of people landing on the moon?"
"Hollywood special effects. They have massive buildings dedicated for all this."
"You gotta be kidding me!" Danny shouted. He threw up his hands and chuckled some more. "You can't just march your ass in here and expect me to believe it."
"It's difficult, I know," Ms. Xia breathed. She tried to remain as calm as possible despite Danny Wein's clear defiance. It became evident Ms. Xia's job was to explain the world to other people. Not only did she have to explain, but she had to answer questions and deal with uproars like the one Danny was now having. "I don't expect you to believe as soon as you hear this, but I need you to not send up that rocket. If you want to kill everyone, then that's how you do it."
"I promised the world I would," Danny told her. "I'm not letting them down."
"Danny," Ms. Xia said in a calm tone. "You can still keep your company and work with the universe, but we ask you to send up holograms only. We can aid you."
Danny sat back in his seat and held his chin up with his hand. For a moment, a trickle of belief entered his thoughts. He held a smile, but a frown soon followed. He asked, "Who do you work with, Abigail?"
"The U.S. Government." She reached into her purse and pulled out identification. She passed it across the table. While Danny examined the plastic card, she saw a hint of belief in his eyes. It wasn't her first rodeo with trying to persuade wealthy businessmen of the dome sky, and she knew the look when she saw it. The same look had crossed Elon Musk's face, as well as Jeff Bezos's and Richard Branson's. She delicately watched as he passed the card back to her, his eyebrows sinking and his frown becoming longer.
"Why the need to fake the dome, then?" Danny asked.
"For hopeful purposes. We want to give the people hope that we can escape this world and become a multi-planetary species. Who wants to live in a world where no hope is alive?"
Danny nodded. "So it's a deception dome? The dome looks like it leads right into the universe, but when you get close to it, it really just holds us in here to be trapped?"
Ms. Xia sighed. "In a way, yes."
"Is anyone working on ways to leave the dome?"
Danny watched as the Asian woman shook her head. Her dark black hair flung side to side, and her eyes kept the look of a woman confident in what she knew. Danny glanced down at the carpet below him before returning his focus back on Ms. Abigail Xia. A multitude of thoughts raced through his head, and there were all sorts of questions. He guessed over time they would be answered. Nevertheless, a doubt of the dome could not help but be implanted in his mind. Something- though he did not know what- smelled fishy about Ms. Xia's story. Danny knew there had to be holes in her tale. There were phenomena that the dome could not explain. Also, Danny did not necessarily trust governments. NASA was an example of a ruined U.S. government space organization, and once they infiltrated SpaceX and Blue Origin, they, too, fell. Although Ms. Xia expressed confidence in her story, Danny felt maybe Ms. Xia had been misled too.
"I'll lead the way to leave this dome in a safe manner, then," Danny stated.
Ms. Xia grinned. "So, you believe?"
"Sure," Danny lied with a straight face. "Your argument makes sense."
"You're going to scrub the launch?"
Danny nodded. Soon after, Abigail leaned forward to show him an assortment of papers in the folders she had brought to the meeting. While she explained more about the dome above the world, Danny let her words go in one ear and out the other.
In fear of being watched, Danny Wein told a third of his employees to come to work in the middle of the night. He only invited the essential workers, who held important jobs, to make sure a rocket launch would not fail. He instructed them to come secretly and not to leak any news regarding what they were doing.
Danny stood in the glass hallway with his eyes glued to the rocket. His employees were still preparing it by fiddling on computers to control the inside of the beast. Although the rocket stood alone, Danny knew a lot happened in its interior. He fidgeted, wanting to put his fingers in his mouth to bite his nails, but he kept his hands by his side.
"Mr. Wein," an employee said. A skinny college-aged boy appeared out of nowhere with his hands slightly shaking. "Mr. Wein, the rocket is almost prepared for launch. It's almost all fueled up and ready to go."
Danny thanked the boy. He returned his focus back on the rocket as the kid left the glass hallway. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then another.
"Ten…" a countdown started over the loudspeakers positioned all around the launchpad, "nine… eight… seven..."
Danny Wein took another deep breath, then opened his eyes. The launchpad now looked completely illuminated, almost like the Christmas tree in New York City. Despite being lit up, the launch site was abandoned. However, inside the building he currently stood in, he knew a lot of ambitious employees watched the rocket, too. They wished for it to fly high and off the planet, while Danny hoped Ms. Xia was completely wrong. If the petite Asian woman proved to be right for some reason, Danny could kiss everything goodbye. So could the rest of humanity.
"Three… two… one…"
"Shit," Danny cursed under his breath.
"Liftoff!" the loudspeaker roared.