I remember the day my parents were shot out of Earth’s orbit. My Grandma held my hand. It was cool and wrinkled. Her skin felt like paper. I knew I was supposed to feel proud. I was supposed to raise my jaw and salute and maybe cry a bit.
But I couldn’t.
I’d already cried everything out as they’d packed. They took stupid trinkets and tiny mementos to remember my sister and I by as they crated up our life to get ready to search the huge abyss of space for some semblance of life. To find the Others. To happen upon some place to make a new home.
They were giving up everything for me, for my sister, for our whole race. For humanity.
But still, I was mad. So mad.
I threw empty glass bottles at the dog in our back yard and I screamed into my pillow. I dug deep cuts into my thighs with empty pencils and I tried to curse them. I bent knives in the kitchen sink and spit on my grandmother’s pills when no one was around. I cried into hot showers and wept onto cold shower tiles.
How could they leave us? With papery Grandma and dumb Cera, my little sister, whose crusted eyes in the mornings and bawling nightmares at night made her an emotional oil spill I’d have to clean up. I wanted none of this.
On Launch Day, Grandma held my hand tightly as mom and dad’s shuttle took off. 2258 people on each and every shuttle. I could tell Grandma wanted to break down, but she didn’t. She watched as the white, smoky sky evaporated into the atmosphere and then she took two deep, heavy breaths.
“She’ll find the Others.” She said, more to herself than to us. I watched Cera’s mouth fall open and her watery eyes fill up again and couldn’t help but knock her in the head with the back of my hand as I turned.
“They’re gone,” I snarled. My limbs were lanky and shaky and I hated touching anyone. I let my hair fall over my face and turned around against the crowd and all the anger in me made me feel like my cheeks were glowing hot and then suddenly, I felt like puking.
The Seven — there were seven planets that could hold life or hold potential for us humans when Earth wasn’t an option. We were running out of time. Every week, 2258 of us from every major Port on Earth shuttled out. From 32 different command centers, previously known as the Old Guard Country Centers, adults were given their assignments and then shot deeper and deeper into space to scout The Seven out.
No one had come home. Yet.
Because, everyone said, they must have done it. They’d found it. The Utopia, the paradise we’d been promised for generations. It just took too long to relay the news via our little satellites to tell us back on Earth. They knew where to send us all along, we were told. So we trusted them and stayed on Earth. We grew, we learned, we bred and we traveled. Always looking to the Others.
Earth’s resources dwindled. Lots was underwater and too many species were dying off, and too quickly. Tides were unpredictable, and we all had to move to Continent Centers. Trade was shut off physically. There was no way to navigate the high seas and the hot rivers anymore.
The promise of A Life with the Others was the only thing we were taught. Different languages and hand motions. We studied that damn golden disk from 400 years ago… that Golden Record? We made those every week, now. We learned it all. Speech, gestures. Physics and astronomy. Some learned the Old Books. Some learned Water travel. Others learned Metals. Some learned Medical. Or even how to navigate a huge, engine-less ship, should we ever find ourselves in one and with no one to help us.
My favorite class was how to grow plants under a UV blacklight. My second favorite was how to pull teeth. How to un-train domesticated animals and how to kill a friend: these were the hardest. I always got sick during both lessons.
We were taught the Keys to Life in the galaxy’s Wild West. Our Manifest Destiny was following our parents into that honorable and fateful beyond. I hadn’t spoken in a year. I forgot how my mother smelled. I forgot the songs she sang when I was young. I couldn’t tell you how my father’s face looked. Life was a heavy blur. I almost felt relieved when they left; blasting off into that great unknown. Towards the Others, surely. They did their duty. Had two kids and left Earth to search.
I only had 2 more months in school and our teacher, Ms. Hellmuth, was more of a den-mother to us than any of our parents. She’d be with us until we needed to be shuttled out to search for the Others. Her hair hung in thick, red-gold sheets and I remember watching her thin skin crinkle around her eyes. Papery, like Grandma. Wet-eyed, like Cera.
I sat dead-eyed through lectures about finding The Keys to saving humanity. Wrote papers about how we could live on as our oceans, hot and oppressive, raised themselves inch by inch and destroyed ports and lives. I rolled my eyes and ate lunch far away from everyone. I was always a bit of a loner.
Our parents had been Heroes. We were told they were sent into the Ether and found planets and built homes and worked and worked with Extraterrestrial Life and signed treaties and probably had a little house built for us on some misty red planet far away. Did they, actually? I was mad. And so bottles still broke. And still I cut my thighs and slapped my sister when no one was looking and felt a heat rise in me that no one else could feel. No one could have felt it; not like me and not as deep. No way; no one could have felt that heat and that bottled up pain. No one saw the bleak, bright, no where distance, empty void heat, like me. No one, none.
I didn’t buy it. I couldn’t. I hated everyone and I never believed my parents before they left anyways. I resented my thin, old Grandma for years. I fought everyone in school. My little sister was a watery, boggy mess and I yearned to be angry and shoot things in our old yard and wanted to put my fist through every painting I’d ever seen. There weren’t many around.
Until She came into class. Only weeks before graduation. With a silken sheet of white hair and big eyes that soaked up everything like a sponge. Her skin wasn’t thick or thin. She was older, I could just tell. She lied. Her eyes were deep. She knew Things. She was crisp in ways that could make you pained. I couldn’t understand how She could be so precise. Precise in Being.
She didn’t open her mouth, or speak. She had a name badge that read “Lav”. She was small, but seemed old- maybe wise?, and She talked back to Mrs. Hellmuth. When I finally caught Her gaze, She was calm and it stung.
I have no idea why I blushed. She had lived Up There. I knew it. I felt it.
She knew more than we would have ever know from our thick, dull classrooms. From our heavy grandparents and jingoistic siblings.
She’d been Up There. Her heavy eyes knew the truth. Salvation lay in something closer. Our promises and our futures; lives and families; had all been lost in vain. I saw it right at that moment. When She moved Her hair across her shoulder, and when She caught the edge of my eye.
She was ageless. There was something cruel about her. But she was a guardian or a guide; something my family could never be. And all at once, my empathy and sentiment overwhelmed me.
“I’m Jay. You’re Lav. Hello…” And that’s when it all began.