The three ships landed fifty meters outside of the settlement known as CenCast3 and I could see a crowd forming. A disembodied voice began to inform us that the atmosphere was not sufficient. Tikk walked back to the wall that had secured us during flight, which slid open to reveal storage. I mimicked Tikk by picking up one of the clear masks that hung on the wall. As I examined the translucent mask, I considered what I would say to my brother. I had been a long time away from home.
"The mask should fit you. Hold it in front of your face and it will shift to fit your small features. It will allow you to breath on planet."
Tikk was putting his mask on as he said this. Les and Urral already wore theirs and were watching me. I lifted the transparent mask to my face and could see it come to life. It flexed and reached for me while it shrank to fit snuggly around the edges of my hair line and jaw. As soon as my mask was on, the door opened and we all stepped out into the light.
I brought my hand up to shield my eyes as they adjusted to Kepler's sun, which is slightly closer than Earth's and Qualittia ʼs. The colony had to move the settlement twice a year in order to stay on the area of the planet not tilted directly toward the star. On paper Kepler was a perfect planet for terraformation. The climate was mild and livable, but in reality the soil was useless and needed thousands of years in order to be ready for sustaining oxygen based life. We were never able to grow anything and had wasted millions of gallons of water, shipped from Earth, in the process of trying. The small aquifers native to the planet had dried up within a couple years, and the suns proximity made rain nearly impossible.
I looked out on a dwindling settlement made up of three cylindrical-shaped tent structures. There had been over one hundred tents in the original colony. What appeared to be the entire population of CenCast were huddled together in their bulky walking suits about ten meters from the three ships. No one spoke and I pushed my way past the Par in order to make myself visible.
My brother was the first to recognize me. "Elinor!" Judas ran towards me and threw his long arms around my shoulders before I had a chance to respond. His walking suit made it an awkward hello but I didn’t mind the cumbersome embrace.
"Elinor, what are you doing here? What the fuck are you wearing?” His light blue eyes whipped about as he tried to take in the Par and me at the same time. “Who are these guys? Are you ok?"
Judas had stepped back but still had a grip on my shoulders.
"I'm fine, and these guys are here to save us,” I said, awkwardly tugging on my shorts as I motioned to the colorful giants standing behind me. “They’re called the Par. They’re from a planet called Qualittia, and I really don't think they want to hurt us, but… I did it…I found something.”
Everyone else was starting to crowd in now. Les and the other Par backed up towards the rear of their ships. The eyes of every human followed them.
“So… so, this is it.” Judasʼ eyes widened and his arms followed suit. I could feel another hug on the horizon. “You did it El. You fucking found something....someone." And there was the hug. He looked at the gathering crowd. "Hey, back up. It's El! She found these guys! She brought them here to save us!" He was screaming and waving his hands above his head at this point. I could see familiar faces but had been off planet for eight years. Everyone had gotten so old.
I saw my one friend, Ming, in the crowd and reached out for her. I hadn’t grown close to most of my fellow CenCast residents. I had been raised very separate from them, and when everything came crashing down I signed up for the Searchers and spent most of my life off planet. My brother had earned the love of these people but I never even tried.
"Look at you, beautiful girl." Ming pulled me into her small, soft body. "You have returned to us, and brought our salvation with you." When she pulled away there were tears in her almond eyes. Ming touched my face and began to laugh. "Are they going to say anything to us, or just scare everyone with their big, black eyes?" Her hand swept towards the colorful monstrosities lingering in the background.
I turned to see Tikk, Urral, Innc, and Bryyl inching closer to the murmuring crowd. I broke from Ming's grasp and made my way toward them.
"Wait a second." I put my hand on Tikk's chest and heard a reaction from the crowd of on lookers as they heard me speak Parian.
I told Tikk, "I still don't really know the general consensus yet.”
Then I turned back to the group of nervous humans and shouted, “As you can see I have come back from my Search with a solution, our only solution. The Par have offered to take us with them, back to their planet, which they have assured me will sustain us. They do not want to stay here longer than a few hours. I know this is sudden, but you need to prepare yourselves to leave now.” I looked back at Tikk to find Les behind me.
"What have you said to them?" He again placed himself very close to me, and my right shoulder was currently brushing against the center of his chest. I made no attempt to move away but instead leaned my head back in order to meet his eyes.
"I told them to pack and be ready to leave soon. I said you were going to take us back to your planet which is life sustaining." I was looking up at him and felt his hand rest on my lower back.
"How do we know these things don't just want to eat us or something? I know Kepler can't sustain us but what if we go with these guys and end up dinner?"
I didn’t know the woman that vocalized our fears, but she made her point and murmurs rose up around her. A middle aged man with a hooked nose added, “Look at her. They've probably brain washed her by now."
I stepped away from Les and moved in the direction of the thin man. Judas spit out the man's name as he stepped between the crowd and me, “Luke, How dare you make assumptions about my sister after she has brought us an answer; a solution to our problem. It's go with these guys or stay here and die. Yes, itʼs a risk leaving the planet and neither El nor I can make any promises, but staying on Kepler is death. This is our only chance and you all know that. I bet they know it too.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the Parʼs direction. “Do you really want to start this interaction with a fight?"
"I'm with Judas," Another older woman spoke up. "I want my children to have a chance to live, and to have the possibility to have children of their own. Come on boys." She said the last part to the three men standing beside her. There were no more children in CenCast. Judas was the youngest person on planet and yet he appeared to hold quite a bit of power over these seemingly broken people. Other groups concurred and broke off towards the living chamber.
Judas nudged my shoulder with his. "Come on sis. Let’s go grab my stuff. What’s the weird thing between you and the purple guy?" I attempted to interject but Judas ignored my look of indignation and pulled me into him as we walked. "Then you can give me a tour of one of those crazy ass spaceships."
I turned and looked behind us at Les who was standing akimbo looking very disheartened. I answered his disgruntled stare by saying, “We’ll be back quickly. Everyone is going to get their belongings. Just wait a bit.
I wrapped my arm around Judasʼ waist and allowed him to lead me away before Les could open his mouth. Judas led me toward the tent on our right while everyone else headed toward the tent on our left. "Got your own place or something?" I nudged him in the rib.
"Kind of; I set up a cot in the medical bay to be close to the radio in case you needed to communicate."
He opened the hatch and we entered the air tight chamber.
"Guess that feeling in my gut was legitimate after all." He patted some of the equipment and asked, "So you only found those guys yesterday? How did you get back here so quickly? Was their planet one of the ones on the scan?"
He spoke as he started to throw random items into a blue satchel. I thought to tell him all of these things were pointless now but I didn't want to thrust him into the reality of the situation just yet. Judas was excited and when we got excited we started to talk very fast, but even when no one else could, my brother and I always understood each other.
"Actually, they found my ship about twelve hours ago. Obviously they have crazy technology that I can in no way understand or explain, and part of that technology involves bending space. I'm sure Tikk will be happy to give you a run down when we get back to the main ship."
Judas cocked his head at me from the other side of the room.
I said, "Tikk is the green guy. The purple one is Les and the pink is Urral. Bryyl is the giant orange guy. There are only twelve male crew members on board this massive ship. I don’t remember all their names.”
"You've never been good with names. I bet you don't know anyone but me and Ming out there." Judas zipped up his bag and I followed him out.
"I've spent maybe a total of eighteen of the last forty-eight years on planet, and most of that was spent locked away in the old house."
He sent me a disapproving look as he opened the outside hatch. “No excuses; just own it. I love you but you can be a bit of a cunt at times." I punched his shoulder as he swung the door shut. "Guess there’s no point in locking up or anything now. Probably never see this rock again, huh?" He swung the small bag around in a circle and let it go. "I'll never need any of that stuff again either will I?" He motioned toward the bag as it landed behind him in the dust. It would sit there until the dust covered it.
"No, I don't think our tablets would work on Qualittia. I think everything is about to change." I nudged him in the ribs again because it made me feel like things weren't as serious as they were. "Oh crap, I forgot I was the only one that could communicate with them." I spotted a small group of people creeping closer to the waiting ships, with fear plastered across their faces, and rushed over to help Tikk corral them into the back entrances.
"Let me help. Where do you need them to go?" I asked Tikk as I approached the ship I had arrived on.
"Thank you. I was concerned they would reach us before you did, and I did not know how to tell them I needed them to leave all their belongings here. Clothing, food, shelter will all be provided for them once they are settled on Qualittia-- or Trallcore, and their waste will be used to charge a Zorb.”
He swung his head around and walked toward the back of the ship. Their arms were full of the same things Judas had originally thought to bring. All the useless crap we put meaning into because it was ours. I locked eyes with the woman closest to me and said, "You can't bring any of that with you. I'm sorry. I know I said to get your things, but the Par said that you will not need any of it anyway." More people with random, useless stuff cradled lovingly in their arms were arriving. Judas was telling everyone to drop their bags.
"Come on guys. There’s really no point right? The tablets have been useless for years now. We’re going to have new identities when we get there. Be new people." Judas always said things in the right way.
Ming tossed her bag to the ground and walked up to meet me. "What do I need any of that for anyway? I want some of those tiny shorts you’re wearing." She stuck her index finger into the top of my shorts, pulled it towards her, and let it go pop back onto my hipbone. She raised her eyebrows and whispered, "Sexy." I couldn't help laughing, but as I pushed her away because I was thoroughly embarrassed.
“This is all they have.”
"If you think I'm crawling into those teeny tiny things you are bat shit crazy," Judas said coming between us, satisfied that everyone was calmly discarding their now worthless belongings.
"Don't focus on the clothes right now, ok? Think about stuff like oxygen and the ability to cultivate crops, and help me organize everyone into three equal groups." Judas broke into action immediately, and I saw Les step off the ship to my left and catch sight of me. "We're separating everyone into groups, are you ready for us to load?"
Les walked toward me as I spoke.
"How did you learn their language so quickly?" Ming remained by my side and was watching our exchange in awe.
"They injected me with this stuff. Not pretty but it works. I think you are all going to get injected at some point." I shifted my attention back to Les.
He stopped further from me than I had expected. "We are ready. Have the… what do you call yourselves?" Les looked at Ming then back at me. "You are young compared to the rest of your species."
"I didn't age normally while I was out on Search. This is Ming." I waved my hand between his torso and hers. "Ming, this is Les.” I was able to jump between our languages with ease now. “He's kind of in charge around here."
I wrinkled my nose when I said this as much to put her at ease as to annoy him. Then I turned back to Les and said, "We call ourselves humans. I'll have everyone line up outside the cargo chambers.”
Les called after us as we made our way to the back of the ships. "Inform them of how to secure themselves into the walls. Also have them remove their bulky suite and throw them out for the Zorb. Then you return to this ship. You will be riding back with us in the main chamber."
I screamed from about ten meters away, "I’ll stay with them. In case they get scared, or want to ask any questions." I slowly walked backwards as Ming joined Judas in his attempts to keep everyone calm and coordinated.
Les took a couple steps forward and said, "No" in a low, vehement tone I had not heard before. It suited him. He closed the gap between us and continued. "I will help you organize the… humans," The word was difficult for him to say. "Then we will return to the main chamber." He walked past me before I could say another word.
- R.T. Kilgore