This is your captain speaking to let you know that we have arrived near the Avery 5 atmosphere. Please wait for the green light as the ship synchronizes from an Earth gravity of 9.8 to the Avery pleasant of 9.6. I hope you had a great sleep in the Sagittarius Driftlines. Next time you drift, think Sagittarius, dream Sagittarius.
From within the loud noises of the busy space station, Alexander wanted to curse at the top of his lungs. Moonlanding! The one year long cryogenic sleep gave him a headache. He had flown through the Milky Way galaxy in a Sagittarius drift. He tried to remember what idiot said riding a Sagittarius drift from Earth to Avery 5 would be amazing. Not that he could punch that person in the face because he was already light years away from the solar system. The trip to Avery 5 was, most definitely, not a school trip to Mars.
Alex tightened his grip on the handle of his suitcase. His father entrusted him with the most important product of his company, and he would not fail him.
It angered him that nobody else noticed how slow they were walking. The hallway to the pick up terminal was long and the women in front of him sauntered as if they were taking a night walk.
Never in his 20 Earth years of life had he seen so many ladies. On Earth, there were more eagles than women, and those were going extinct.
Then, the annoying girls became lost sweethearts who needed help to find the exit. The suitcase was now a shield for his half erection.
But all that went away when a giant figure impelled him against another traveler. Alex didn’t have time to look up as he crawled back to his suitcase.
“Yabnuk,” he heard somebody call him.
Long arms lifted him up by the armpits.
"I’m sorry, man. I’m still a little sick from the drift," said the man who had torpedoed onto him.
Alexander dusted his leather jacket with one hand.
The tall man moved near a window where everyone was safe from his long, awkward limbs.
He observed the impeccable hip length leather jacket of the boy he had knocked over by accident. Long polished boots — expensive. Soft fingers that had never picked up an ax. There was a yellow sticker on his wrist. Most likely put there by the driftline attendant to state that his reason for traveling was to find a wife. Even rich boys with high cheekbones were subject to their reproductive duty.
“That’s all right,” replied Alexander, “If you hadn’t pushed me, I could’ve passed out, anyway.”
The tall one fixed the scarf around his neck and pushed his head forward to get a better view outside the window. It was a pitch black space with a large glowing blue sphere.
“You know, I traveled a lot as a kid and out of the many homes I’ve had, the departure from Earth was always the hardest.”
“Alexander of Singapore,” Alexander smiled and extended his hand.
“Mischa of Russia.” The tall man frowned and tightened his palm around his. “Haven’t I heard the name before?” He squinted. “Right, Of Singapore. You’re the son of Hammond of Singapore. Your grandfather invented the metabolic pill.”
Alexander scanned the perimeter. If everyone knew he was there, television cameras would follow him everywhere.
“I’m trying to keep that on the down low, if you can understand,” he raised the wrist with the yellow sticker on it.
“Well, it’s nice to meet royalty once in a while,” Mischa chuckled.
“All right, Mischa, I’m much better now.”
“Yeah, you take care, Alexander.”
Both men shook hands again and Alexander began to follow a floating red arrow along a group of men. The young Earthians walked down a silver hallway where large doors slid open at the end.
“This way, Sr. Thank you for drifting with Sagittarius.” An attendant in a ruffled skirt guided the men into a colorful hall.
Humans, robots and other species like the Xans roamed the place. They were natives of the Dorian galaxy who had peach colored skins and preferred walking in four legs.
As Alexander scanned his arm on a booth, he jolted through the busy crowd in an unknown direction.
“Alexander of Singapore,” a young woman with silver-colored hair waved at him from his right.
“Ms. Stone?” He scurried toward her and shook her hand. For a second, he froze, hypnotized by her big brown eyes and small, puffy lips.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I know Ms. Stone was going to welcome you to Avery 5, but she had a family emergency. I’m her assistant, Sadie of Raleigh.”
“Of Raleigh? Earthian last name.” He shook his head, bringing himself back to reality.
“My grandfather was from Earth,” Ms. Raleigh said.
“Great. Are we waiting for anyone else?” Alexander looked back at other confused men.
“Actually, Ms. Stone never picks up her clients at the space station. Robots usually do that, but she told me that your mother requested that Ms. Stone herself pick you up.”
“I wasn’t aware of that.”
“Well, here I am in her place. I’ll take you to the office and we’ll get you set up in no time.”
Alexander followed Ms. Raleigh into a spiral-shaped parking garage for small spacecrafts. The surrounding people didn’t stop to impress him. As an Earthian, he had never seen so many robots and women in one place. Still, none of the humans there were as beautiful as the one walking in front of him. He took a deep breath, watching her rear bounce under her ruffled ankle leggings. Her hair undulated like silk, almost reaching her wide hips.
“Wel-come, to, Avery 5. May I take your suit-case, Mr. Sing-ah-pore?”
“Excuse me?” Alexander frowned at the metallic figure. Its body looked like a skinless human being with muscles made of metal and plastic.
“It’s all right,” said Ms. Raleigh. “He’s an AI-way. He’s programed to help.”
The man nodded, still disconcerted. On Earth, they had integrated all machine aids into the environment. Floors had self-cleaning tiles. Cars did not need drivers to drive them. Bedroom closets kept clothes clean, organized, and even suggested outfits.
“Right, I saw some of them when I was on vacation in Gamma 800. How does he know my name?”
He handed his suitcase to the AI-way. The robot slid opened the side door of a small blue craft and pointed inside.
“Your pass-port data was uploaded into the planet’s AI-way system after your arrival.” The strings connected to AI-way’s face contracted, imitating a human smile. “Don’t worry. Your personal in-for-mation is secure.”
AI-way’s eyebrows came together over his nose and three dots began blinking on his forehead. “Mr. Sing-apore, you do not own a flight permit.” His eyebrows went back to their original position. “It would be my pleasure to safely transport you to your destin-ation.”
“He won’t be needing a driver,” said Ms. Raleigh. “I’ll be flying myself.”
“Excellent. If there’s any-thing else I can do—”
A loud screech emitted from the robot’s chest and its abdominal muscles began to slide in all directions. Its jaw dropped to the floor, causing Ms. Raleigh to gasp.
“Take cover!” She yanked Alexander’s t-shirt and pulled him down behind the air craft.
The AI-way exploded into pieces.
The screeching became a bang. Then sharp metal torpedoed into the columns of the space station’s parking lot. Alexander covered his head as an eyeball bounced off his knees and rolled away from his feet. Humans and Xans shook under the air crafts.
All was calm for exactly twenty seconds after that. Then, ceiling lights started blinking in many colors. Everyone stumbled up, looking back at the place where there used to be a robot. Only a black shadow remained in place. From its center, a triangular device foamed and hardened into a standing white spear.
The loveseat in front of Alexander was as comfortable as the one where he was sitting. But nothing was comfortable about his situation. Floating on the wall beside him, a painting turned bright pink and turquoise to lighten his mood.
He frowned at it and looked at the holographic panel over his forearm. It was a letter from the government.
Dear Mr. Alexander of Singapore,
This is a notice from the Census and Population Department of the Human Federation. As your 21st birthday approaches, you must follow your human duty of marriage and reproduction. If you do not find a suitable mate by the 16th of May 2500, you will be put in a cloning waiting list and will be fineda minimumof 26,150 Saggitarian Bitcoins (SB).
We understand that financial hardship and female Earthian underpopulation might make it difficult to comply withyour duty. That’s why we have set up a fund for all applicants who wish to travel free to one of four planets available: Cancri, Avery 5, Kepler 186f, and Rembrandt.
If you choose to benefit fromthis program, reply to this email within the next 24 hours and attach a copy of your human blueprint and Earth citizenship.
Please, notice that because of the Organic Advancement Laws we can not accept Naturalized Robot applicants, clones, and or androids.
Jabulani of Mozambique,
President of Census and Population Department -Human Federation.
Tap your wrist twice to exit message.
Touch the corner of your left eye to reply to this message.
The floating canvas turned into a ball of gas and lowered itself toward the Earthian. A dim red light began shining from its center, getting Alexander’s attention.
“Moonlanding! I don’t need therapy,” he punched the arm rest.
The ball rushed back and collided with the wall. Then paintings of flowers and butterflies began to appear all over the surface. Alexander rolled his eyes and reached into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. In his hand, there was a red rectangle made of a thin, flexible material. His index fingers traced over the golden strokes printed on it.
“Gong Ji Nian,” Ms. Raleigh whispered.
“Excuse me?” He turned around while putting the rectangle back inside his jacket.
“The writing,” she grinned and scurried around the love seat. “It’s an ancient Earth language called Chinese. It’s like Huowen, the language of the people of Mars.”
“I know,” he replied. “My mother’s from Mars. Do you know what the writing means?”
“Gong Ji Nian. Year of the Rooster. Can I see it?”
Alexander brought out the red rectangle again.
“Be careful with it. It’s really old. I’ve been spraying it with anti-decay matter, but I still don’t want to mess with it.”
Ms. Raleigh fell back on the chair in front of him. The hairs on her spine raised at the sight of the golden characters that Alex placed on her hands.
“Is this...paper? Is this what paper feels like?”
The young man made a half smile at the way she pouted her lips to express her astonishment. Neither of them noticed that the flowers in the back wall began to disappear. The lights in the room became dimmer and the temperature was one degree warmer. Her brown eyes turned a shade of yellow.
“My grandfather gave it to me. I didn’t know that’s what it was until I learned about paper in school.”
“Amazing.” Ms. Raleigh placed it back on Alexander’s hand as if any brusque movement could make the sheet disappear.
“Mr. Singapore, I left my meeting as soon as I heard what happened.” The back wall disappeared. A tall, middle-aged woman with straight black hair rushed inside the room.
They saw other offices behind her where women and men spoke to holograms that popped out of their wrists.
Alexander jumped off his seat and the abstract art painting appeared again.
“Ms. Stone, were you aware that Earthians are being targeted by a terrorist group?”
“You told him?” The woman widened her eyes at her assistant.
Ms. Raleigh shook her head.
“Are you kidding me? It’s all over the news,” he swiped his right arm and video of the attack appeared between them. “I wasted a year of my time to get here. I will file a complaint with the Human Federation. I can’t believe my mother trusted you.”
“And you can trust me, too.” Ms. Stone raised her arms, fanning the angry man. “I was going to memo my clients, but communication between planets travels slow—”
“Please! You know you should have instructed your assistant to tell me what was happening as soon as I got here.”
“Mr. Singapore, your Duty of Marriage notice gave you until May 16, 2500, Y.O.E, year of Earth. Today is May 28, 2499. That means you have a little less than a year to find a human female and marry her. And I can help you do that like I’ve helped hundreds of Earthian men find beautiful Aver women. Mr. Singapore, your safety and happiness is of my interest and the interest of my business. Please, let me help you.”
Alexander placed one hand under his elbow and scratched his temple. He glanced at Ms. Raleigh, whose strained face meant keeping her job depended on his decision.
“Okay, but all my clothes and my money were in my suitcase, which blew into pieces. Do you have a place I can stay until my father sends more Saggitarian Bitcoins?”
“Y...yes,” Ms. Stone opened her arms. She coughed, making time to think of a place. “You can stay at...my assistant’s house.” She pointed both hands at Ms. Raleigh.
“My house?” Ms. Raleigh frowned, but her boss gave her shoulder a slight squeeze. “Of course, you can stay at my house. I live nearby. Great neighborhood.”
“Problem solved.” Ms. Stone’s pitch increased.
Ms. Raleigh directed her aircraft toward the left, leaving a high traffic line. The steering wheel was a triangle, projecting other shapes in its center as she made turns. The small black interior of the space car was simple with two extra seats in the back and cup-holders.
Alexander’s eyes couldn’t help but gaze at the driver, whose beauty increased the longer he stared at her.
“Does your husband mind me staying at his house?” He didn’t think much before asking the question.
“My husband?” Ms. Raleigh almost choked on her own saliva. “I don’t...have a husband.”
“Oh, pardon my indiscretion,” he tried to hide his contentment, “but you seem of age.”
“I mean,” she corrected herself, “I’m 32 years old in Avery but I’m 22 Earth years.”
“Oh, right, I forgot Aver years are shorter,” he smiled.
He wondered why she hadn’t married yet. Under the Organic Advancement laws, all humans had to get married at 21 years old.
Through a thick cloud, a neighborhood of perfect cubes began to form. No backyards, no gardens. Each roof had a unique symbol that signaled where the suburban aircrafts were to land. Some could hold up to 6 vehicles.
Ms. Raleigh stopped the craft and hovered it down over one of the smaller houses. The driver put her hand into the steering wheel and their seats lowered down a hatch underneath them. As the seats stopped, they found themselves in a living room.
There were light green sofas positioned in a circular pattern around a gas sphere. Ms. Raleigh waved her arm at the ball and three-dimensional footage of the news began to appear. She drew circles in the air with her fingers and lowered the volume.
“The hunters.” Alexander stared at the TV. “Is that what they call themselves?”
“Yes.” Ms. Raleigh looked shaken. “They’ve been planting bombs inside the AI-ways, but it’s never happened in the space station until now.”
“Why are they only targeting Earthians?”
“Earthians make the laws. Anyway, are you hungry?” Ms. Raleigh went up a few steps, entering another area of the house.
Lights began turning on in front of her, giving Alexander a better view of the place. His neck lengthened and his eyebrows almost went over his forehead.
“Is that a keepchan?” He hurried after her and started touching the surroundings.
“I believe the correct pronunciation is kitchen,” Ms. Raleigh smiled. “The house was cheap but old when I bought it. I liked the kitchen so much that I kept it when I renovated it.”
Alexander ran his fingers on the bare granite counter. He opened a few empty cabinets as he listened to the melody the rusted door hinges created. On Earth that was all gone. Some were behind glass in museums, but to touch one was surreal.
He approached an area with two large holes with a tube that protruded from their center.
“This must be where the fire came from,” he whispered.
“I thought so, too, but it’s actually for water. They used it to clean and wash their hands. It’s called a sink. The fire came out of that one right there. I’m not sure what it’s called.” She pointed at a black square with four metallic circles on it.
Alexander turned around and bent over a few degrees to take a better look at the mysterious shapes. He poked the area, trying to imagine a contained fire. He admired the ancients for mastering the dangerous element.
“Did you say you were hungry?” She asked.
“Oh, yes, I’m starving.” He kept his eyes on the stove.
“I’m starving, too, baby,” he heard the voice of another man. “I’m starving for you.”
Alexander turned to a naked man, whom had Ms. Raleigh over the kitchen island as he groped her buttocks.
“Solar-flare.” Ms. Raleigh’s cheeks were bright as she pushed the man away. “Get off of me.”
“What the hell is going on?” Alexander’s jaw dropped.
“But today is Thorsday,” the naked man scratched his very defined abs. “You said, ‘Cam, on Thorsday, after work, I want you to wait for me naked and—’”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Cam.” Ms. Raleigh held her chest and took a few steps back.
“Are you sure?” Cam walked closer to her. “Your hormones are through the roof.”
“Hey, buddy, throw on some pants, would ya?” Alexander stood between them. “The lady said ‘no’ already.”
The naked man looked up and down at Alexander, then smiled at Ms. Raleigh.
“Oh, I get it. You want to have sex with him, not me. You forgot to message me about it.”
“What? No, I don’t,” the girl’s ears popped.
“My math adds up perfectly. You are horny and he is your type.”
“Enter a sleep state,” Ms. Raleigh almost yelled.
Before she finished her command, Cam straightened his back and exited the kitchen.
“What just happened?” Asked Alexander.
“That was...,” She coughed and scratched the back of her head, “um, he’s my AI-consort.”
“You mean a sex robot?” Alexander sniggered.
Her blood boiled and her fists clenched at her guest’s judgement.
“Yes, I have a sex robot. I don’t have the privilege of choosing from a pool of single humans like you do. And I’m sorry, I’m supposed to be a good host, but I won’t allow anyone to judge me in my house.”
“What do you mean? Why can’t you date another human?” Alexander ignored all other details of her statement.
“That’s none of your business.”
She opened a cabinet full of white plastic bottles. Each bottle had a simple red circular symbol on the label. She popped a cap off and pulled out a transparent ring with a sparkling liquid inside.
“Dinner,” she placed the ring on the kitchen island, then pointed at the stairs by the living room. “The guest bedroom is downstairs.”
She exited the kitchen without saying another word.