My digital diary begins.
Charlotte Blacksand, first entry, 8/24/2702.
The computer, a thin, foldable touch screen monitor flat on the table, glows with a faint, bluish light. Shining letters appear as my fingers fly over the holographic keyboard hovering just below the screen. My diary is set to private mode. In a brisk motion, I adjust the wired glasses that allow me, and only me, to see what is on my screen.
My fingers drum on the desk as I type. Just arrived on the new planet, Tylius. No sign of resistance from the government so far, but I’m trying not to worry. I’m going to attend safety classes very soon, prerequisites to living here on a man-made planet. It is early morning, and the city is quiet. I will update more information about the life on this planet as the week progresses.
My thick window shows the usual view: a vast expanse of gray-white dusty ground, matched with the dark sky that always shows the stars. I stop typing to peer at the empty scenery.
Before my arrival, I imagined the planet to be pristine, with trees and running water, but I suppose a man-made planet can only offer so much. Housing is even closer than that on Earth. Cities, advanced by innovation, consist of one giant building within a dome. Travel technology is unchanged, and with the help of gravity machines, even the feeling of this planet is the same. Still, I find Tylius different from Earth, beautiful in its own strange way. The thought of making Tylius my new home is a comforting idea. For some reason, ever since I learned about this planet, I am drawn to it with something that I cannot put words to.
Of course, it wasn’t easy to come. As I continue typing, I remember the trouble it took to get to Tylius...
To begin with, years back, I was not the same person I am today: a sixteen-year-old government orphan.
Someone like me normally wouldn’t be treated with the attention I received, and yet the government housed me and gave me special treatment as if I was more than just a young child. Even now, I never found out why I’ve been guarded my whole life in luxury instead of being placed in a typical orphanage.
It never mattered if they believed I was special, because I still had the tendency to get into trouble and plot wicked things against my superiors: Broken projectors, misplaced documents, and other means of humiliating my captors were all done by yours truly.
All the minor things I did were nothing compared to the biggest stunt of all: getting myself onto Tylius and escaping the tight clutches of the government.
Standing in a dimmed meeting room, I stick out easily. I’m the girl who’s staring everybody down with violet eyes, the color of a thousand poisonous butterflies in sunlight. I’m not sitting down at the long, wooden table like those with morose faces of aged men and women; I’m leaning casually against the wall, arms folded, and looking around the room for the person who is coming to address me. Finally, the door opens, and the whispers in the room quiet into a hush as a familiar middle-aged woman strides into the room, her streaked, white-red hair lining the sharpness of her chin and cheeks.
“Sit down,” she snaps in my direction, and I seat myself down at the end of the table, taking my leisure. She goes to the other, sits, and glares at me through her glasses.
“Ms. Blacksand, could you please remind us why you have been summoned to this meeting?” The small woman has a curled-up nose, and she pushes her glasses into place and frowns, her gaze boring into my eyes and studying their color with disgust. “And please introduce yourself to those that have not met you.” She gestures to the people sitting around her.
The usual routine of nonsense. I stand from my plush velvet chair and put my hands on my hips, evaluating my audience with calculating defiance. Two spies, one intern, and a scattering of minor officials. They know why I’m here. Every eye in the room is locked on me by the end of my analysis; every person is, in some way, intrigued by the girl who was said to have hacked into a government computer.
“I’m Charlotte Blacksand,” I state with mock reverence. “I am here because I tried to bypass a computer’s firewalls to download something. That failing, I attempted to hack into the computer’s system to shut down the firewall.”
The adults in the room murmur with apprehension, astonishment, and even some respect. It’s a mix of everything. The intern lifts his eyebrows and glances up at me uncertainly.
The small woman clears her throat and shuffles a few papers. “Now, Charlotte. It seems that you have attempted to hack into one of our computers to download a …a game?”
The moment flashes back to me, into the computer department and into a black, leather chair. I worked feverishly fast with the knowledge that my actions were timed, my fingers dancing while the sensors in the light caught my typing. I’d pulled a few strings, faked an identity, and opened my home-made program to tear the computer from the eyes of security. The camera on the desk scanned my eyes and correctly identified the real color, but I managed to get ahold of that before it was sent and changed the information. Next, I found the file I wanted to steal, replaced one of the government’s files, downloading the replaced file onto my USB drive. With my program in place, I had the control to send a false security message saying that I had downloaded a video game. I went undetected for a while, but a hole in my program had apparently leaked the color of my eyes even after I changed it; since I am the only human left with my color of irises, it wasn’t difficult for them to find me.
I nod at the woman. “Ms. Mortini,” I address her sincerely, “I am but a child. You must forgive me for wanting to access such a novelty. It was a harmless game, I assure you. It contained no viruses or bugs; the computer scanned it thoroughly before beginning to download. No information was lost or gained. Well, except for the knowledge that the computer is rather resistant to the downloading of gaming software.” A few chuckles from the adults, quieted by a brisk snap from Ms. Mortini.
I’ve lived with the government since I was five. I had memories of my life before, but they were hazy, as if they were a dry-erase marker drawing, blurred with the sweep of a hand. Ms. Mortini was the one who oversaw my actions over the years. When I made a mistake or misbehaved, she would call me into her office and allow me to explain myself before punishment was decided. I used to avoid her prickly gaze by lowering my head every time she spoke. Now, I can confidently meet her gaze without flinching, and her voice cannot constrain me any longer.
Ms. Mortini asks me a few more questions, to assure that I did not download anything besides a harmless game. An hour passes, but it is not an hour wasted. I manage to persuade Ms. Mortini that I am only a kid, and the government overlooked my actions...again.
As I walk back to my rooms with my USB in my pocket, a small smile plays across my face. Any other person walking by might assume that my smile is because I had avoided trouble, or I’m planning mischief. Both assumptions would be partially correct. Tomorrow, the government shall see what I have planned.
The morning of the next day I rise and dress quickly.
Everyone would be watching the news at this instant, witnessing the official completion of a man-made planet. The project had been going on for nearly three centuries. It all started when thermal pollution, caused by our early ancestors, forced the world’s twenty billion people to live in domed cities. Venus and Mars were tempting candidates for human relocation, but the inconvenience of waiting months for each shuttle launch because of the different orbital paths ousted the idea from scientific minds. An alternative was created instead, using pieces of stray asteroids and other gathered materials to create a habitable planet that revolved around the moon: close enough to Earth to make communication and transport unchallenging.
My head is groggy from sleep, but I need to fill out the document I stole before security admins snap to alert. I place my USB on my glass desk and put on my private mode glasses. The invisible words light up on my desk, along with a keyboard and a holographic screen. The previously and recently stolen files on the USB show up on the translucent monitor. I tap the newest one with nervous excitement, and it glows and expands until it looks like a sheet of paper on my desk.
I read through the first few pages before taking a glance at the time in the corner of my desk. It is 3:30 AM. By 4:00, internet security offices will be stationed with actual people, and they’ll notice immediately what artificial intelligence cannot: Charlotte Blacksand preparing to go to space.
The document is a pass to ride the space shuttle over to the new planet of Tylius. I am to leave at 10:00 in the morning on that shuttle. To complete the file, I fill out a fake identity and paste a signature at the bottom. If those security guys found out how frequently I broke rules, I wouldn’t have been the government’s precious possession anymore.
After I’m done, I transfer the pass to another USB and attach it to my ring as a fat emerald. I grab a backpack, throw open my pantry, and rummage through the food, deciding which foods to bring: which spoils slower or doesn’t spoil at all.
My apartment, connected directly to a government building, is not very spacious. However, it still takes me a while to pack my bags and prepare for a permanent leave. I’ve always dreamed of living in a different place with a new identity, and while I’m there, I can start planning a new future for myself--one that is my own to live and create.
I enter the bathroom and pull out my case of contact lenses. I quickly sort through the colors: red, maroon, pink, violet, green, blue, indigo, golden, dark brown…
There is a reason I change the color of my eyes nearly every day. Each different color distracts from the true color of my eyes, a mystery to me and a secret to others.
Ordinary people are born with brown or gray or green or blue. Me? White eyes, as white as the moon on a clear night.
I exit the bathroom with grayish-blue eyes while my previous vivid violet contacts are stowed away. The rest of my colors I cram into my backpack, along with my other essentials.
The truth is, I can’t remember how my sheer white irises came to be. I didn’t have them when I was sent to the government. I had plain brown eyes, eyes that in today’s world would be considered ugly. Most people would change their color into something fashionable, like sapphire, or magenta, but I was too young to apply for injections and thought nothing of it. When I first moved in, they sent me to one of the many lonely apartments I’d be living in for the next decade and kept me there for a long time. That’s the farthest memory I can recall. People came in to deliver food and soap and clothes, but I remained alone for quite a while.
Then the door unlocked one day and a neatly dressed official strutted in. He surveyed the plain little room and the messy bed, and then his eyes turned to me. Our gazes locked. It seemed for such a long time that we stayed that way before he cleared his throat and rumbled to me, “It says on your record that you are Charlotte Blacksand. A pleasure to meet you, dearest.”
I shied away from his outstretched hand, my heart thumping at the sight of the guns at his belt. After a pause, he awkwardly put his hand back.
“I am here to inform you that you are to begin school at the capitol in one month. Your uniform and books have been purchased. Upon your tenth birthday, you will begin physical training alongside your regular studies. You are now the property of the government.”
The words sent a chill down my spine. Tentatively, I asked, “What about Mom and Dad?”
He smiled apologetically. “We control your future. they’re planning it as we speak. Don’t worry,” he added, seeing the expression on my face, “your parents may not be here, but we won’t let you down, little Charlotte.”
That man wasn’t lying about school. It was difficult to be in class and sit still, listening to topics that made my eyes heavy and my heart listless. My mind was anywhere else but in the classroom; I often came up with little fantasies that involved me running out of the school and out of the country. I’d run fast and jump off the cliffs overlooking the stormy seas. Flying...flying into the sky and onto the moon, where I would sit on the curve of the crescent and laugh up at the stars, which would be twinkling into my eyes and teasing me. I would go to the empty, emotionless space, where I would be happy and alone.
Unfortunately, I learned the truth about the crescent moon and my daydreams plummeted. The crescent and its beautiful curves were only an illusion. Darkness engulfed the barren and lifeless moon. The moon was nothing like what I’d imagined, so I stopped imagining.
On the year I turned eleven, I made friends with a young cadet named Mark. He was five years my senior, and he tutored me in national history. Like me, Mark was also “property of the government.” He attended military school and was training in preparation for war against the East Alliance. He had soft caring eyes that carried intensity and warmth. They were brown, like my own back then, and he didn’t care what people thought of his brown eyes. “Your eye color doesn’t define you,” he said to me once in response to my asking. How ironic.
The day we discovered my eyes’ true color was the same day I was pulled out of my tutorials with Mark.
We were quietly studying with a reading tablet he gave me. Multiple history textbooks were downloaded on it, and we read through chapters of RSA history, pointing out areas of interest. The room was empty except for the two of us, crouched over the long black table. He looked up at me casually and saw something. “Charlotte!” he gasped, nearly overturning the table in an effort to scramble away. “Charlotte! Your eyes! Your eyes!”
“What?” I stared at him in bewilderment as panic took hold of me. “What about my eyes!? What?”
Gingerly, I brought my hands to my face, and my fingers felt around my eyes. As far as I could tell, nothing was wrong. I stood up quickly and Mark jumped.
“Mark, whatever’s wrong with my eyes, I’ll go check. Don’t worry about me,” I replied as I ran for the nearest bathroom.
In the hallways, I made sure nobody saw my eyes. I sprinted with my head down, looking at only the gray tiles ahead of my feet. The scene I had witnessed played in my mind over and over again. Mark’s horrified expression burned deep into my soul. What had happened to my eyes that frightened him so terribly?
The bathroom. I looked up briefly to identify the correct bathroom, and I hurried in.
The mirror. I looked in the mirror and screamed.
My eyes. I stared into a jarring reflection of myself, my shining eyes burning into me. They were half-brown, transitioning into pale, colorless snow that dotted my irises with bleak emptiness. They were changing into white, a white as bright as the moon.
When I returned to the classroom, Mark was speaking with the government official in charge of the school. He pointed at me and said something, but the words didn’t matter so much as what I heard in his tone. The official turned around, saw me, and something lightened in his face at the sight of my white irises. Without a word, I was hustled out and escorted home. From that day forward, without explanation, I was expected to continue my studies alone in my room, on a computer.
I heard about Project Planet Immigration back when it was still mostly kept secret because friends I made within the agency leaked out the government’s files and reports. That’s when I made up my mind. When the project was complete, I would move to Tylius, to the planet where there would be peace and solitude, a place where my eyes didn’t need so much hiding.
I shift my eyes to the clock over the door. It is 5:00. I’m done packing, so now all I need to do is wait and stay out of people’s way. I can’t do any more here; by now, security would be fully awake and on the lookout for strange behavior.
I curl back up on the bed and close my eyes, running through my plan. To get to Tylius, I need to get to the shuttle station of Aeolia and board the space shuttle. From there, I’ll disguise myself as an ordinary citizen. Once we get off the shuttle, the air should have oxygen in it, and it should be cleaner than what we normally live in. For a planet that revolves around the moon, time and days will be measured differently. The moon will be a larger presence in the sky. Lots of things that I’ll have to adjust to.
My plans are vague after that, but escaping the government is all that matters. Sitting up, I turn on the projector to the 6:30-morning news.
“Good morning, citizens! Today’s major headliner is one that has been anticipated for nearly three centuries, since the beginning in the year 2420. Three nights ago, at 11:34, Project Planet Immigration officially reached completion and been secured with the label as stable; we now have a new planet, Tylius, that orbits the moon. Scientists say that the new planet is ready for civilians to live in, and the atmosphere is filled with oxygen and supplies will be delivered weekly by the combined efforts of governments. The RSA currently has two cities completed. If any citizens wish to make comments and ask questions about Tylius, please check the website at www.projectplanetimmigration/tylius.com…”
I listen a little more, losing interest. Finally, I turn off the projector to get ready to leave. My backpack goes on my shoulders and I test its weight. Money? Check. USB? I snatch my emerald ring from the desk and slide it neatly on my finger. Check.
This is the last time I will ever see this room, if I am lucky. I survey the apartment with satisfaction and take a deep breath. If I survive today, my life begins.
At last, when I sneak through the building and get outside, it is 7:00 AM. By hover-scooter, it may take me nearly an hour to get to the station.
Moving swiftly along the streets, I soar in my hover-scooter over the pedestrians. A few civilians are walking, exercising, or jogging, but most people are driving hover-cars or riding the polished monorails. My brown hair is pulled tightly into a high ponytail as the wind lashes across my face. The sky is the usual dull gray with a belly of brown. The clouds hang low in the sky, darkened and filled with smog, and I tighten the mask on my face. Higher in the sky are the floating air bases and planes reeling in clouds of smog, transporting the smog into a rotating energy wheel.
Technology took a new turn this past century. Our ancestors left behind them a world clogged with smog and pollution. We cleared the water easily enough, but rather than disposing of air pollution, smog became a good thing; it can be reused at a minimum five times before having to be condensed and thrown away. The smog also helps keep the ozone layer weak and irrelevant so that the sunlight hitting the Earth’s atmosphere is powerful enough to generate enormous amounts of solar power. However, the promotion of smog has slowed down efforts to clear the skies. I hear that people in Europe have already invented city domes that clear the air in the city, allowing bits of blue sky, and that filter ashy and sticky rainwater. Our near-invisible domes can only protect us from the harmful sunlight.
My hover-scooter zooms over the building rooftops, and I relish in the sensation of flying over the ground. The flash drive sits snugly in my pocket, protected from the ashy air, and the other USB hidden in my emerald ring is safe enough. I carry both, for reassurance. I glance at my watch, which I’d hacked to turn the hidden tracker off. I use one hand to steer the scooter and the other to select the map option on the watch. A hologram appears on my arm, a blue map of the streets around me, with red spots of people moving around. I turn on the multitasking mode of the microchip in my brain so that I can steer and look at the watch at the same time, but then I feel a warning buzz in my head. I jolt to a halt and stare at my watch. At least ten large red spots are speeding across the map on my arm, headed towards the green dot of where I am.
I curse under my breath, start my scooter, and speed off over the street. I should have known that turning on my microchip would send a tracking signal towards me. It was impossible to have done anything about it. Now I have ten pursuers on my heels, preparing to ask where I was going without protection or permission. I turn off the microchip with one hand, but then the scooter, going at such a fast speed, swivels with a lurch and spins around in midair. I yelp and grab the scooter handle with my other hand and stomp down on the back end of the scooter. Taking the mechanical command, the scooter accelerates straight ahead.
It is 8:30. I still have a whole hour left of my trip to the space station, and I have to do that with ten people chasing me! Ugh, this is exactly what I needed. Right as I think this, a splash of grimy water hits me in the face. I glance at the weather section of my watch and curse again. Soon, the clouds will open to downpours of ashy rain, which means that hover-vehicles cannot operate.
The map section of my watch also shows the ten pursuers slowing and stopping. I stop my own hover-scooter and watch it fold up into a big cube. I lift the heavy cube and place it into a special hover car parking lot, clicking the latch tight and the password panel shut. I’ll never need this hover-scooter again. I snap the multipurpose hard drive off my watch and fling it into a trash bin, where it lands with a weak clang. I don’t care if it was hacked. I can’t take the risk. The people will no longer be on my tail now.
Silently, I blend into the crowds of people walking past just as the storm blows in onsets of gray water. So many bodies huddled together, both the poor and the rich, moving slowly under large umbrellas that have opened up overhead from the sides of the street. The hover-vehicles, having stopped, meant everybody was to either walk, take the subway, or ride the monorails. I head towards the monorails. Without a hover vehicle, the sky city is only accessible by the high-speed “sky trains.”
My pursuers are not following me anymore, so I have time to adjust to my surroundings. The monorail sky station is a block away. As the large heavy droplets of rain pound down, I am completely sheltered by all the people and their umbrellas. I enter the packed elevator and zoom up towards the monorails in the sky.
I step off the elevator into a gray, high-ceiling room with large screens displaying times of the next monorails. People clutching their bags hustle and hurry around the screens, stopping at the desks in front of the large screens to check the forecast. The blue words show up bright, and next to it is a live stream of the current weather forecast. “Hurricane moving up towards the shores of Virginia. Washington D.C.’s storm gates will close on Sunday, August 19, 2702. Air pollution in D.C. may clear for two days after the rain. Plan accordingly and do not be caught outside closed storm gates after Sunday…”
The hustle of people are mostly heading downtown towards work areas and offices. Some of the monorails, scheduled for the sky-city of Aeolia, are taking off at breakneck speed on tracks in clear tunnels sloping upwards, while another monorail pulls into the station. I head for the Aeolian one, blending into the crowd that streams into it through its shining glass sliding doors.
The doors close behind me. The monorail pauses before lurching forward into a sky-tunnel. Violet lights glow from within the tunnel, and before the people can get a good grip on the safety bars around the car, we are launched into speeds of over 900 miles per hour, steadied only by a friction reducer fanning out from the sides of the train.
We ride for about five minutes when a voice overhead on the speaker announces solemnly, “Arriving at Antonio Johansen’s Aeolian Station. Doors opening…”
My first thought is of awe; my mouth falls open a little in astonishment. I’ve never been allowed to travel into the city of the sky, the most successful city that man had ever been able to accomplish. The station is smaller than the one in Washington D.C., but the view! Thick and clear windows surround the floor, revealing the floating city. Tourists are gazing out of the windows and posing for pictures. I stop at a window and look around, amazed at my surroundings.
The city spreads before me, all of it in the blue sky above the heavy smog. The bubble of the city dome glistens beyond the floating islands. Towers and buildings made from shimmering, black glass float on top of large, terraced platforms. Extravagant highways from one platform to another are enclosed within clear tinted barriers for sun-protection, yet I can still see the traffic moving within it. Below it all is a sea of dark pollution, which almost looks serene in the backdrop of the skyline. I must admit, the city is gorgeous, but I can’t stay to sightsee. I turn away from the giant window and head towards the exit, which is located on the first floor of the station.
I enter another elevator and descend along with a few other people. The doors open, and I step out.
I freeze. There are two men dressed in black, approaching me from either side. They know who I am. They have been called to come and get me.
“Miss, are you Charlotte Blacksand?” the taller one asks. His voice is smooth, his gaze unfailing. This is a man who is used to his work, a man whose certainty makes his type deadly.
I hold my chin level and meet his eyes with my own. “No sir,” I reply with the same evenness in my tone. “You’re mistaken. And I’m late, so thank you for kindly stepping aside and allowing me to be on my way.” I take a step forward quickly, and they hold up their arms to block me.
“I’m afraid we cannot let you go.” The two men shift a bit so that they have me cornered. The witnesses that walk around us glance at me nervously and pretend that they see nothing.
“Ms. Blacksand, I suggest you follow without resisting,” says the first tall man.
Not a chance. Not after this far.
The best thing about being “property of the government,” however much they might regret it, is that I am trained to fight. My hand itches to deliver the first attack, but my mind acts faster and forbids me from making a move until necessary. The air sings with intense silence.
Right now, causing attention is probably the worst thing I can do, but the situation is not in my control. If only these men would let me go without a fight; they are used to following orders without question and will try to stop me by force if necessary.
I mask my own nerves by speaking slowly and steadily. “I am not going with you. Now let me go.”
One of the men charges forward to grab me, and I duck underneath his outstretched arms and leap away. The tall man swings at me, but I sidestep the brutal blow with ease.
I throw down my backpack and shove it aside. I swing my foot up and strike the first man’s forehead, and then I sweep his legs out from under him. He falls heavily with a grunt and stumbles the second man in the process. I hurl a hand to the second man’s face and it whams into him with a satisfying crack. The man gasps, clutching his face in agony, and I see a hand reach for his tranquilizer, located at his belt. One step ahead, I jam my elbow into his stomach and neatly sidestep the first man’s next charge, but he’s been trained too. He whips around and attempts to grab my arm, but I twist out from between the two of them, slide underneath the second man, and appear behind him. I reach behind me to snag his tranquilizer and leap away just in time to evade another attack, tripping one man while aiming the tranquilizer at another. While he’s vulnerable, I shoot the other man as well and throw the tranquilizer to the floor as they collapse in a heap.
Then I turn, snag my backpack, and run, pushing the bystanders aside. The alarm hasn’t even been set off yet, so I still have some time to reach the shuttle station. Maybe a minute or less to get out of here. My heart races, and my breathing quickens as the realization of what I just did sinks in.
As I’m sprinting with my heavy backpack weighing down on my shoulders, my thoughts spin like a smog wheel. I need to get to the next level of monorails. The alarm will go off any second now. People will be waiting to ambush me if I’m not faster. The sky monorails that lead to the space station are just a few doors ahead. When I reach it, the oblivious lady admitting passengers tells me to show her my ticket. She stands behind a wide, smooth computer podium.
I place the USB ring on the podium, flat on the side of the emerald, and it glows. A single bar appears for me to enter my password and the documents open on her podium. I have carefully put all the documents that I need for this trip in one place so that the illegal documents are unseen. I tap the ticket and the lady bends over it, scanning and inspecting the signature.
“Alright! You are ready to go.”
I close my files and slip the ring over my finger, thank her casually, and try to keep the adrenaline levels inside me balanced. Then I diffuse into the crowd that’s shuffling through the sliding glass doors. The doors close and lock behind us. Too late, four people dressed in dark gear walk past the glass, looking for me in the station. They have no clue that I will not be on Earth anymore. They will not find me. By beating them by a mere two seconds, I’m on the train, seated and ready to move to the shuttle station, leaving my captors behind. I tighten the straps on my backpack and breath a small sigh of premature relief.
By the time I get to the station, which is located even higher than Aeolia’s skyscrapers, I don’t have much time left. The shuttle station is packed, which is not a surprise to me, and I push through the masses to get to my shuttle. Earth is overpopulated everywhere, but the what intrigues me is the number of people who can afford tickets onto the shuttles and to the new planet. I push through the masses, avoiding suspiciously sharp characters, and stand at last before the gates of my space shuttle.
As I warily walk aboard the shuttle ramp and have my fake ID scanned, my eyes are peeled for any signs of alarm or resistance from the crowds. I enter the little room inside the shuttle alongside twenty-nine other people with my heart pounding madly in my chest, fluttering with the fear that men would storm aboard, point to me and drag me back to DC.
The people around me are mostly small families, with one child or none. There are people my age with their parents, chatting excitedly as they store their luggage and trunks in the specialized compartment. I know how I must look: too alone, too young, and too suspicious. Avoiding the questioning gazes, I take a seat, fasten my seatbelt, and pretend to look calm. Adrenaline pumps through my veins. Deep breaths, one after another, manage to slow my rapid heartbeat enough to stop my hands from trembling.
An announcement overhead warns us that the doors are closing and locking after two more minutes. As I count down the elapsed time and watch the doors, my mind begins to wander, drifting toward a subject that always seems close at hand. My parents.
All I have been told is that there were assassins involved in their murder. I struggle to remember anything more, but all I can fish out are implicit scenes. It was night, it was dark, and my parents were killed... but the visuals are lost to me. It’s as if my whole past before the government took me in was erased and layered over with other things. My brain tried to create fake memories to fill in the gaps, but I know they’re fake and I can push them away before the fake memories settle in.
But why? I wonder, looking on as people take their seats around me and click their seatbelts. Why were they taken from me? Who were those assassins that took my parents?
Finally, the doors lock shut, and the shuttle prepares for take-off. A deep sigh of relief escapes me; the government will not know where I’ve gone. Most likely, they’ll assume that I’m still in Aeolia or on Earth. They don’t know I’m on Tylius, and I hope they never will know.
My thoughts scatter excitedly when the noise around me quiets, signaling our departure. A voice comes on over the loudspeaker.
“Welcome aboard the Star Trail. We will be leaving shortly…”
After spending a day on the slow-moving Star Trail, and nearly being taken off course and missing Tylius, we arrive at the air docks of the Tylius Capitol and the shuttle lands gracefully.
I follow the group of people as we move out in a large cluster, holding our bags to our chests and listening to a plump, friendly man bellow out instructions.
“Those who are moving to RSA Tylius City A, please go to the escort waiting on the left side of the docks. RSA Tylius City B, please go to the right and follow that lady over there, waving the yellow light-card. Proceed to collect your shipped bags and parcels. Then you will all take high-speed buses to the cities. Thank you for complying, and welcome to the first man-made planet in our time.”
I walk with the people heading for RSA Tylius City B, hardly able to suppress a growing smile on my face. I’m here at last! No more Earth, no more people! Freedom! Most people applied to live in the bigger of the two cities, the first city. But one thing I didn’t come here for were crowds, so I’m glad that the second city is less populated.
The woman escorting us to collect our bags leads us to the right wing of the docks. There are no windows, so I can’t see outside. I imagine that there are features on the planet that are strikingly similar to the ones I’ve seen in virtual reality. Green trees producing air instead of synthetic compounds injected into the sky! Crystalline waters trickling in streams from towering mountains! Plants that grow on their own! Surprisingly enough, I feel no lighter than I was on Earth. The gravity machines are functioning well, I perceive, and yet something feels off. Why aren’t there any windows?
We approach the baggage claim. I have no bags to collect, so while I wait for other passengers to receive their belongings, my escort, who has been eyeing me with interest, chooses this moment to speak to me.
“You’re not traveling alone, are you, dear? Are your parents here already?” she asks.
“Yes, they are,” I lie. “They moved here early and I’m meeting up with them in the city.”
She nods. “A friend of mine has a similar situation. Her son is flying in later this week with her husband. I hope to see them both while I’m working here.”
“How long have you worked on Tylius as an escort? Not long, I’m guessing?”
“In the beginning, I came here to be an overseer of city construction, so I’m just taking up this job until someone can fill in. Afterward, I can go home.” She looks pleased with the thought.
I don’t understand. For someone to have helped build the cities, why would Earth, populated and polluted, be in any way inviting? “Excuse my rudeness, but I don’t get it. You have worked here a while, but you want to go back to Earth? Isn’t Earth lacking in so many things, and that’s the reason why Tylius was needed? Why would you want to go home?”
“Well, it’s Earth.” The woman tucks her short blonde hair back uneasily and smiles quickly as her passengers slowly get ready and crowd around us. “I guess this sounds ridiculous, but home is home, and Earth, even now, is still something special to me. I’m not ready to give it up for a man-made planet… at least, not this one. Maybe I’ll wait for a better planet.” She laughs a little at what seems an inside joke.
Her last words puzzle me, bringing forth the same uneasy feeling from before. “What do you mean? Is Tylius not a better planet?”
Then the woman turns away without answering me and claps her hands. “Is everybody ready? Very good, please follow me.” She moves towards the head of the crowd with a smile.
I try to take in her words, but my opinions are as tough to move as a boot stuck in hardening concrete. Earth is being destroyed, I think to myself. And the government has shown me that it wants to use me and morph me into one of their own, which I completely detest. I want to be away from all that, and Tylius is the place where I can be free. Tylius is now my home. How could it be worse than Earth?
I keep repeating these thoughts as we walk, but it’s not easy. When we pass through the set of double doors that lead us to the outside for the first time, all my doubts about the planet flood my head at once, clamoring to be heard. I do my best to ignore them and step outside and look around. Understanding instantly why there were no windows. My jaw drops to the floor.
There are only two natural colors outside: black and white. The colors of the eternal expanse of the universe and the dust and grit of the ground.
There are no mountains, no rivers, not a single growing tree or living blade of grass. It’s a ghost of a planet. After three hundred years of work and technological delay and sacrifice, this was the best that humanity could achieve.
I am stunned into silence, unsure of what to think. The only thing I can feel as an improvement is the cold, clear air that rushes into my lungs with each breath. It’s cleaner than any air I’ve ever breathed.
We exit the docks and walk towards the waiting bus, all of us astounded by this planet. I climb the short stairs to the foyer of what looks like a high-flying luxury hover-vehicle. I’ve never been inside one before. There are flat TVs embedded in the beautiful, curved walls of an oval-shaped area. The vehicle consists of seats and beds and tables. A large space is set apart from the rest of the bus to store luggage, and the main room has cushioned seats lining the walls and a round glass coffee table in the center, so we all sit facing each other in an oval. We settle in, admiring the TVs over the seats and watching each other’s curved, clear screens.
The escort woman makes her way up front to take the vacant seat next to the driver, and speaks in a microphone, “Please get settled. We will be moving shortly, and, as you all should know by now, all hover-vehicles do have a starting lurch, so watch your step until we are steady at high speeds.”
I cross my arms and recline in my seat, pulling up the footrest. I pretend to doze off, but throughout the course of our ride, I have one eye slightly open, watching and analyzing everybody’s movements. I wonder if the government will come for me, if they ever find evidence that I’m on Tylius. I have to keep alert.
The trip is smooth. We arrive at the city three hours later, longer than what anyone expected. The bus pulls up inside an enormous metal tunnel beneath the city, and tall sliding glass doors admit us through the side of the tunnel and upward. We exit the bus. Our escort shows us the empty city before she gives us directions to our apartments and wishes us luck in settling in. Then she leaves, back the way we came, down a long flight of stairs and to the doors leading to the tunnel, where her own transportation is waiting.
Meanwhile, the only thing left is for us is a fresh start on a new planet. As we dissolve to each find our own homes, I realize the threshold I stand on. This moment is the beginning of my life as I define it. Tylius is my home and my future.