"Just a fairy tale." Always just a fairy tale. Wasn't everything only a story? Elena couldn't remember a time when people hadn't been telling her not to be silly, because that was just a story. This was just a story. None of it was true.
She thought that they had to be wrong about some things. The moon had to be true - she'd read all about it, in the old books at the back of the library. So you couldn't see it any more, but that wasn't surprising. You couldn't see anything, not the stars either. Mind you, they said those were stories too.
And the sun. Had it really been hot enough to give summers where people went outside in t-shirts and shorts? She couldn't believe it. People only ever went outside now if they were dressed in atmosphere suits and had plenty of heating coils to keep them warm. The dust was too thick to let the heat through, the scientists said.
"Mama," she'd asked once, when she was very small and still called her mother 'Mama', "why don't people live on the surface any more?" But her mother told her not to ask so many questions. Surface-dwellers were just a fairy tale. People never had lived up there.
Of course, this wasn't true. Elena had read about them. Not in fiction, either. She'd seen the photographs of their cities from the air, and seen the way they had fields with cloud-shadows, and looked at the mountains. And as for the oceans ... well, she had never seen something so blue.
I wish I could see that, she thought to herself. But she never could, because it was too dark outside for her to look, and she would never survive.
As she grew older, Elena began to realise that many of the adults who told her 'It's just a story' were not lying. They truly believed it - or rather, they had made themselves believe that things like that could never have existed, so that they didn't have to admit what they had lost. And what had they lost? Only everything. Only their entire way of life, just a hundred years ago.
She wondered if they had ever asked their parents questions like this. "But Mama, what happened to the grass? Why can nobody go outside any more? Why is it so dark all the time?" She wondered if they had ever felt betrayed, lied-to, used. She wondered if they had ever looked at pictures in the backs of old libraries and known that, once upon a time, people had had gardens, with trees and flowers and paddling pools.
Did they even know what paddling pools were?
Moving from childhood into adolescence and from her teenage years into adulthood, Elena worked out that asking questions was going to get her nowhere, because nobody would speak of it. Either they did not know, or they pretended they didn't. Someone as curious as her would be told off, perhaps even imprisoned.
Nobody liked a troublemaker. Once, somebody had been arrested just because they asked one too many questions, and Elena's mother had turned to her and said, "That is what will happen to you, my daughter, unless you learn to think before you speak."
If there was anything she wanted to know, Elena realised, she was going to have to find it out for herself.