There was a noise somewhere in the distance, beyond the darkness. A sound that I faintly recognized tried to cut through the haze of feeling adrift in a large sea. Slowly, I was pulling away from what I now recognized to be a deep sleep.
It was outside the door. I had fallen asleep in the skiff in the bay. And now, someone was nearby.
I’m in the bay at Pangaea II.
Everything was starting to come together now as I opened my eyes. A faint light could be seen beyond the windshield. Sitting up, I looked at my wrist and saw that it was 5:45. Morning had come early for the chief mechanic it seemed.
Panicking, I quickly looked around the back of the skiff. The space was no about five feet wide and eight feet long with very few things scattered about the back. I yanked off the emergency blanket. The thin, brilliant silver glittered in the shadows. I would barely fit under it and it would raise questions about why it was out.
Outside, I heard a skiff nearby opening up for inspection. I scooted over to the back corner with the cargo netting. The beige cords criss-crossed the two intersecting walls that made a vee in the rear of the ship near the head. Reaching into the net, I sorted through the objects in the nets. A space suit, a microfiber, a small tool kit, a box of replacement items… and finally, the radiation tarp, which I yanked free.
I unfastened the clip and then unfurled the mahogany sheet.
From the front of the vehicle’s windshield, another light switched on and brightness filled the driver’s seat. Someone was definitely in the hangar and busy at work. I sat and listened as I waited. Then, I heard the sound I dreaded as someone worked to open the door to my skiff.
My hands held the tarp as I curled up on the floor and then quickly spread the cover over top. Inside, darkness enveloped me as the smell of the plastic coating filled my hiding space. The air in the skiff was stale to begin with, but this was nearly suffocating. I waited as I held the taser with my fingers wrapped around the trigger. Sweat broke out across my brow.
The hydraulics of the ship’s door were initiated. Someone had pulled the handle for entry. With my head tucked under the tarp, I hoped for the best.
A few feet away, boots meet the metal floor as someone moved towards the front of the vehicle. The engine came alive as the mechanic engaged in a routine systems check.
A long minute passed since the ship’s ignition was turned with an occasional sound from the cockpit.
“What’s this?” The man up front said to himself. “That’s weird. What’s up with your mileage Adam?”
Finally a few minutes later, the ship was shut down and the person up front rose and made their way towards the exit.
Please don’t dig around, please don’t dig around…
I kept the taser ready as my hand stayed steady.
We should’ve just announced our arrival last night, it was stupid to wait…
The boots stepped out into the bay but the door remained open.
Relaxing slightly, I let all of the tension go and dropped my arm to the ground. Without making a noise, I rolled onto my back and exhaled. Waiting to ensure that no one was nearby I pulled the tarp back to let my head pock out again. Remaining there, I thought about the few words uttered by the mechanic.
He knew that Adam took an extra trip.
Looking up at a distorted reflection in the steel above, I counted the ticking seconds as they passed by. It was now six and soon most of the day shift would enter the hangar to head out for morning duties.
The tarp was to my side allowing me the freedom from constraint underneath, but remaining close enough that I could hide quickly if anyone approached the skiff. Once again, I took a deep breath to try and calm myself.
He left the door wide open…which means someone is coming back.
This paired with the noticing of mileage on the ship’s odometer sparked an issue for Adam that would catch him off guard.
What do I do now?
My hands settled on my chest again as I breathed deeply.
“I can sit and wait,” I whispered. But there was another option that I was toying with that entered my mind knowing that each moment could be bring danger closer to the bay full of vehicles.
A distant sound of a tool falling on the ground interrupted the quiet, followed by a curse in the distance. The mechanic had to be at least a few ships away. I knew that I needed to take a look around outside rather than remain cooped up in the skiff like a trapped rat. And I had to do it before anyone else arrived.
While keeping an eye on the door, I put on my suit to provide some level of anonymity if caught. Flipping the visor down, I stood and stared at the exit. The button was only a few steps away, and beyond was an unknown.
Carefully, I crept towards the panel. Staying to the side of the doorway, I tried to catch a few glimpses of the hangar. A black, rubber walkway lay between my skiff and the shorter rover in front of me over the floor of the bay. No one was in my sight, to either my left or my right. And there, to my right against the wall was one of the storage cabinets with a door ajar.
Waiting, I listened carefully for any telltale sign of nearby activity. Over the next few seconds, I heard no noises.
Slowly, I crept out into the bay and was sandwiched between the six-wheeled research rover in front of me and Adam’s craft. Turning, I put the wall behind me and examined the aisle that stretched the length of the hangar. This part of the strip was void of people. Across the way on the other side of the aisle, the parking spot was empty just leaving just the outer wall with a smattering of hexagonal windows in the background.
Sneaking around the front of Adam’s skiff, I kept an eye out but continued to see no other human beings. My eyes scanned the foreign hangar to try and determine my best course of action.
Turning back around, a few yards ahead of me one of the storage bins loomed. I walked towards the large square unit next to the wall and pulled the door the rest of the way open. Inside on the left was a stack of four rover tires reaching to the top. But on the right, there was nothing in the cabinet but an empty space to hide. I slipped inside.
Quickly, I pulled the door almost shut, leaving just a crack. I flipped the switch and my visor slid back into my helmet.
Is this a stupid idea? Am I worse off here when the mechanic comes back and I’m trapped waiting to be discovered?
I shook my head and hoped not. Kneeling to the ground, I sat as I held the taser. I could see out the slit for a partial view of the area near Adam’s skiff. I was no longer deaf and blind, and that made me feel a little more in control of my fate as I awaited whoever might be summoned to answer for the discrepancy, fearing it was my nemesis that now had a name: Aviana.
Peering out the crack allowing for my thin sliver of a view, I waited and watched. After a few minutes, I heard a door slide open and footsteps against the metal floor of the bay.
“Randy,” a familiar voice called out as it sent a chill up my back while I crouched. I brought the taser up slightly from its resting position to angle it towards the opening ahead between the skiff and the rover.
“I’m coming,” a man’s voice called from another end of the bay.
The enemy continued walking as her outdoor boots drew closer. Sound carried well in the largest room in the complex and made it difficult for her to approach undetected.
“You told me to let you know if there was an issue and I found one.” He was closer now. I had to strain to make out the specifics, but could hear him. “But I doubt it’s anything, I mean it’s just the kid…”
“There’s an issue with Adam’s skiff?”
She came into view. The woman was tall and striking an imposing muscular stance with her hands on the hips of her navy suit. Red hair hung down over her shoulders.
“It’s probably just an error, but I wanted to let you know right away because you had asked.”
“Yes, thank you. You certainly did the right thing,” she replied coolly. “Let’s take a look.”
The Coms Link turned in with her body facing me and made her way to the craft. Behind her, a shorter man with a bit of a potbelly followed as he scratched his the top of a mostly bald head. He followed her up the short set of steps onto the skiff.
Voices carried well in the openness of the large hangar. But inside the craft, only muffled sounds with an occasional word emerged.
A think layer of sweat beaded on my hand pointing the taser at the opening as I waited.
After a few moments that stretched an eternity, she stepped out and onto the matt lining the space between vehicles. She stood at the bottom and waited as the portly man stepped down. The two faced each other.
“Thank you again Randy. This is exactly the type of observation that needs to come to me.”
“Yeah,” he reached a palm up and stroked it the length of his head, “well, just doing my job. I’m sure it’s nothing. Maybe the kid put a few extra miles on it…” He shifted the weight uncomfortably back and forth as he swayed slightly.
“Yes,” the ice was thick in her tone. “I’m sure that it’s nothing.”
“Right, well I’ll get back to it then.”
“Yes, lots of work to do,” I could see her smile from here. “And again, your work is appreciated. Although it’s most likely nothing, it’s so important to alert me to these types of… inconsistencies. For anyone’s craft.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “just doing my job.”
“And Randy,” she raised one finger in the air. “Let’s just keep this between you and me.”
“Of course,” he nodded as his eyes dropped to the ground. He stepped forward and walked around her as he made his way back to his repair pit.
Aviana once again placed her hands on her hips as she stared at Adam’s skiff. Facing it for a moment, she hesitated and then abruptly returned to go back inside the craft.
Did I leave anything there?
The panic built up as I wondered what she might find. It was crucial that she not figure out that I was here. The options were spinning through my head as I felt myself reach out and push the door to the cabinet without making a noise. I crept close to the ship with the taser pointed outward. I reached the door and swung around to look inside.
As Aviana turned from the back holding something, I pulled the trigger. The device immediately rendered her unconscious as she crumpled and fell to the ground. Quickly, I slid inside and crouched as I made my way towards her body sprawled on the floor.
There on the ground was the frozen form of the Coms Link. And next to her, my sketchbook lay open on the floor. Dropping to my knees, I knelt beside her and pushed her back against the wall. I covered her body with the tarp leaving her head exposed. Turning back to the opening, I faced the door leading outside and reached over and pushed the button. The door closed sealing me off from the bay, and leaving me alone with the Coms Link.
I held the weapon in both hands pointed towards the door and waited. Outside, I heard the sounds of a few noises as the morning research shift was clearly coming down to head out.
The minutes ticked off slowly as I sat and wondered at what point I would have to use the cord in the box to bind her. There was a rap against the outside of the craft that brought my attention back to the entry as the hydraulics of the door sounded and the door opened with me aiming the taser towards it. Adam quickly scampered in and turned and pressed the button behind him.
As he turned to face me, his eyes went wide beneath bushy, black brows.
“Yeah, well… there’s something I need to tell you.” I relaxed as I lowered the weapon and leaned back against the wall.
He sat down on the floor and stared at the woman whose head peaked out from under the brown tarp.
“Funny thing happened this morning…”
“You tasered Aviana?” He could barely get the words out in disbelief.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I had to though.”
“How long has she been out?”
I looked down at my link around my wrist. “Nineteen minutes.”
“So we have maybe twenty more minutes?”
“Probably a good guess. Then I’ll have to give her another round.” I gestured towards the tarp with the weapon. Not even the evil woman from II gave me any source of joy about incapacitating her again.
“She had asked your mechanic to let her know if any of the readings were off for any of the vehicles and he told her about your odometer from yesterday.”
He nodded. “And now we have about twenty minutes to decide how to proceed today?”
“Yeah, not exactly the plan I had in mind for you speaking with your colony after a good night of rest and a shower.” I raised an eyebrow. “But I do have an idea. There is a place we could put her. I know a place just a little ways from here.”
A smile formed on his lips as he nodded. “Yes, leaving her contained would make things a little easier.”
“She certainly wasn’t that worried about leaving me in the desert.” I offered.
He scampered up to the driver’s seat and turned on the skiff. “It gives us time. And the run of the complex.”
“I’ll just keep an eye on our guest.”
The skiff rose and Adam piloted it towards the hangar exit. Just as he was nearing the door, a voice came over the intercom.
“Sorry Adam,” the mechanic cut through the silence.
Adam reached forward and flipped a switch to speak. “What’s going on Randy?”
“I have new orders for the day. I need you to stay in. Going to need you to head back and park.”
Adam turned to look at me. “Everyone staying in for the morning?” He called into the intercom and leaned back in the seat waiting to hear the response.
“Aviana wanted a hold on your skiff today. She said there was an issue.”
He clicked off the intercom and turned back to face me again. “I can’t get through the airlock if Randy won’t let me pass.”
He flicked the speaker back on and leaned in. “Okay.”
He then turned the wheel to bring the craft around. Slowly, he guided it back towards it parking spot as I crawled up to the front and grabbed the tool box. I pulled out the cord and a knife from the kit and returned to the section in back housing our guest. Aviana had yet to stir, but time was running out. Tossing the tarp aside, I set to work at binding her hands and feet.
The skiff set back down on the ground and it powered its engine off.
“We have to get to the colony’s communication system. And we need to do it now,” he flipped the UV visor down over the windshield leaving the glow of the interior lights.
The t-shirt that he brought ripped easily as I created a gag of its shreds and finished the job of securing our prisoner.
“That’s something that I never thought I’d have to do,” I muttered as I surveyed my work. I shivered as I examined the bindings hoping that I never had to do such a thing again. “Can you come take a look just to make sure she’s okay?”
He slid towards the back and gently brushed against me as he knelt down only a foot away from where I sat. I felt my temperature rise slightly as I watched him examine the job I did. “Looks solid and safe. I certainly couldn’t do any better.”
Taking another strip of t-shirt, I brought my hair into a ponytail and tied it to keep it tame. I picked up the taser on the ground .
“What next?” I turned to him and his face nearly met mine. We were only a little more than a foot apart.
He waited for just a split second as he stared back blinking. “I’ll get us to Com station.”
I flipped my visor down. “I’m ready. We gather the colonists. We tell them everything and let them decide.”
“I agree. We have to do it now and it’s time that they chose for themselves.” He nodded. “It’s the only way.” He reached forward and punched the button as the door opened. He filed out and I followed into the bay after wrapping the taser in the remnants of the shirt and sticking it inside my belt.
Without pausing, he set off towards the center aisle and made a right. Trailing behind, I took note of every feature along the way. It was important to make note of every detail in times like this; important not to lose one’s head.
In total, four rows of parked vehicles lined both sides between us and the exit. The air lock ahead beckoned us and he didn’t pause to turn around while marching ahead. Behind us, I could hear the mechanic calling his name, but he continued forward. The door slid to the side and the connector full of light created a sense of déjà-vu to me. He stepped into the area that looked just like one from home.
Turning before leaving, I saw the portly man at the far end who appeared confused. It must certainly be out of Adam’s character to ignore an adult. I gave a slight, friendly wave and hurried into the tube to catch up to my compatriot. I was lacking a few feet behind but didn’t want to run to look suspicious.
At the far end beyond Adam, there was a figure approaching from the other side. A woman with brown hair who paused and stood in the middle of the tube. In her hand, she held something and leveled it at Adam.
I watched from behind, just peeking around the boy in front of me, as he slowed his pace.
“Hello Commander,” his voice wavered but he stood upright and strong.
“Hello Adam,” she answered as her voice echoed down the corridor.
I leaned over to get a better view. She looked my parents’ age, with a few more wrinkles below her eyes. The straight, brown hair around her shoulders showed signs of graying. Her arm was steady as it pointed the taser.
“How could you keep this hidden from me? From the rest of the colony?”
She shook her head, “You don’t understand…”
“Then tell me. You knew that there were others out there, but you didn’t tell us.”
“That’s all part of the plan and we are just doing what’s best for the long term. I was doing my job and my job was to run the best colony I could. That’s what I was trained to do and I think that I did my job with honor.”
“I didn’t have to be lonely.” He looked at the woman in front of him. He continued forward, taking another step in her direction. “We could have worked with the others. There is strength in numbers.”
“I’m sorry that you feel that way. That was not my decision to make.”
“But it was your decision,” his voice rose slightly as he took another step. I crept forward behind him, using his body to shield my actions as my hand reached to my waist. “You’re the Commander.”
She laughed weakly, “The Commander of Pangaea II, and that is all. I am one link in the chain. I’m sorry that you were lonely, I truly am. Every Cycle, I hoped that they would send another child, and during every session with Home Base I recommended it. But these decisions were beyond the scope of my duties. It was not for me to question who they sent.”
“Why didn’t you question them about the other colonies?”
She looked at him now with tears in her eyes. He was only a few feet away, “Because I’m a good soldier. One day you’ll understand. We make decisions for the good of humanity and I was a cog in that machine. In the end, we have done well. We have not only survived, we have thrived as a colony.”
“And you would’ve followed any order?”
“It keep people alive.”
“You’ll lock me up?”
Her voice quivered slightly, “We follow orders to keep everyone alive. We are preparing for something greater. You don’t understand what we represent. The Pan changed things on Earth forever. We are the outpost that will keep humanity alive if there is another.”
“You’d sacrifice me…”
“My mission is to keep our colony functioning at a high level. What happened at the other colonies was their own business. We stayed separate and have prepared for the migration. It was Aviana’s job to interact with Home Base and the other colony leaders, not mine and I respected that.”
“What happened to Pangaea I?”
Maria looked at the boy only a few feet away. “I don’t know.”
“And Pangaea IV or V or X?” Again, his voice began to rise.
“I don’t know,” a tear slid down her cheek as her hand wavered. “They weren’t my responsibility.”
“Not your responsibility? They’re human beings. What if they had needed help? Would it have been someone’s responsibility to help them?”
“We have an exceptional colony here. I did my job well and I don’t expect you to understand. We could’ve failed, but we didn’t. Years from now when the others come, they will be able to point to the work we did and the sacrifices that we made. All of us.”
“Maybe,” he said, “but things are going to change. People need all of the information available here to make decisions. You and HB can’t play gods any longer. We deserve to decide whether or not to rely on each other.”
Shielded by Adam, I moved cautiously to remove the weapon from my belt.
She shook her head, “It won’t work.” She drew a deep breath. “You don’t understand what’s going on, it’s bigger than you know.”
“People deserve information and people deserve choice. And that’s what we’re going to give them.”
Unwrapping the taser, I cradled it hidden in my hands as I crept behind him as he spoke.
“All of the work that we’ve done… we’ve done it to protect you. The colony is self-sufficient. It has to be now.”
“I appreciate what you’ve done for me over the years. But things are going to change,” he took another step towards her.
“Don’t take another step,” she said. “There’s still a way out. Just come with me.”
He took another step towards her and she steadied the taser.
“Don’t make me use this. Please.”
“Viper in three,” I whispered.
“Okay,” he stood his ground and raised his hands in the air. “You win.”
I whipped around to the side of him and fired, just as he ducked to drop to the ground. Her shot ricocheted down the tunnel. Mine was on target and she crumpled to the ground as the taser clanged against the metal walkway.
A hissing sound ensued.
“The connector’s been compromised,” he called as he jumped up.
Quickly, we scrambled over to the woman who lay unconscious on the floor. He grabbed her feet and I grabbed her hands and we lifted. The hissing continued as the pressure dropped.
“Hurry,” he called as I watched his eyes flicker to something behind me. We shuffled forward towards the exit.
I couldn’t help but turn and look back. There at the far end was a disheveled and enraged Aviana with a weapon drawn in the doorway at the far side.
The two of us closed the few remaining feet to the door in seconds as I heard a discharge that went awry. Once on the other side of the airlock, the door slid shut. He hit the emergency lock button sealing off the area behind us from the rest of the colony. Aviana would be stuck, trapped in the hangar with the mechanic as the connector was now impassable due to the breach caused by the taser.
We sat on the floor of a small alcove and took a minute to catch our breath. Maria lay limp between us.
“There,” he nodded with his head towards a door. “It’s a storage unit.”
The tiny space had no windows, but did have three portals that were all closed. He stood up and pushed the door open. Carefully, we dragged Maria inside and then retreated back out into the main part of the unit.
“The Coms Station. We can go there to make the call. I lifted the code.”
He turned back to the exit and crossed the entry to use a door that lead to another connector. Hustling out into the corridor, we exited this part of the complex into the snakelike tube waiting beyond. As we jogged forward, a man with long hair in the back approached and stood to stare. He brow furrowed and green eyes narrowed to make sense of what he might be seeing.
“Morning Cecil,” Adam offered as he kept moving.
The man did a double-take as he saw me. I just waved and carried on.
At the far end, we crossed the threshold into a small room that provided entry to three different connectors.
“There,” Adam pointed to the middle of three doors as he continued on. We passed out on out of the intersection into another connector that ended in a door that required a passcode. He approached and typed in a code. The door slid open and we entered the domed space. Beyond, the rounded room housed a large piece of equipment in the center with two adjoining chairs. We stood facing the control console that was the key to the entire colony. He went over and took a seat in one of the attached seats that swiveled into place once he was seated.
“Are you ready?”
I came over and slid into the second seat, which then in turn pivoted to meet the large, black metal desk full of display screens and panels.
“Now or never I guess,” I shrugged as I placed two hands on the dash and took a look at some of the monitors. I then looked back to him realizing that I needed to say something about the Commander I just incapacitated. “Sorry about your friend… Although I don’t actually like using this thing,” I pointed to the taser in my belt. “I guess I’m a good shot.”
“She is still my friend. But you did what needed done.”
The two of us sat alone in the center of the Coms Link’s room. This large console with the two adjoining seats was the brain of the operations for all of Pangaea II. I glanced down at the time on one of the monitor’s. Only fifteen minutes had passed since leaving Aviana in the cargo hold, although it seemed like an eternity since that moment had passed. Now, the two of us sat alongside of one another as I looked up to look at him surveying the displays of the video feeds as he surveyed the locations of colonists. He was no longer an unknown, but instead he showed promise of living up to my hopes for a friend. I looked down at his elbow, which rested less than a foot away from me as he leaned onto the dash. Even now, there was an awkwardness in his proximity that was bubbling up.
“So, I suppose it’s time for us to move forward. We can’t keep them locked up forever.” I offered as I glanced over to a video feed of the bay showing Aviana talking to the mechanic with wildly animated motions of her arms.
The sentence met quiet. Although I wanted to believe our hopes at this point, we both clearly were beginning to worry about what the future held. We were just two kids who held the fate of two colonies in their hands and had the power to influence planners millions of miles away at Home Base whose work did not center on the needs of individuals at the colonies.
“I think that we know what to do next,” I added on, although I wasn’t sure I believed that I was truly ready to speak to a group of strangers.
My mind swirled and I gulped for air to try to stay afloat on this fast moving, sweeping tide. There were more things that I wanted to tell him because it was easier to talk to him than Beatriz and other colonists that I had met in my time on this planet. The two of us had shared about some of our experiences in separate, but similar, worlds and talked about our very different childhoods as an introduction and distraction from the daunting task at hand.
“Yes, it’s time for our meeting,” he added as he lifted his head and turned towards me. But I could tell by the uncertainty in his voice and the caution in his eyes that he clearly had his doubts as well.
“I never would’ve pictured myself leading a rebellion… how do you think something like happened?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I think that we just both decided that we didn’t want to live this way any longer.”
I nodded. “Things can’t continue in the same way here. The life created by Home Base doesn’t feel right to me. I feel like we’re some kind of mutant resistant to being robots.”
“We would never have been good Spocks, but I prefer adaptations to mutants I think.” He smiled.
“I suppose it does have a nicer ring to it.”
“I always wonder, does this individuality make us more or less expendable?”
It was morbid to think about, but that was the question. “I’d have to say …” My voice trailed off. The likeliest answer was that we were expendable.
“It will be interesting to see what exactly their next step will be at Home Base. There must be many different voices advocating for different plans over on Earth as they are watching this play out.”
“We just have to hope that whoever has a plan that’s best for us wins.”
He nodded and looked over to me. “Whatever happens, it was worth it. Change was needed.” His cheeks burned brightly.
“Yeah,” the number of knots in my stomach increased, “it was.”
He gestured a finger towards the intercom system. “Are you ready to tell your story?”
“I think that I’m ready.” There was a moment where it seems that he almost leaned in closer to me as we stood next to the desk. I felt my body swaying slightly. I nervously brushed back handfuls of hair and nodded, “Yeah, I think so.” This moment inspired more angst than capturing the two adults that ran the complex and stowing them in their own cells. “Ready for the next step— I’m ready to disturb their universe.”
“Ready.” He stepped around the console and I followed. He grabbed the small microphone attached to a cord that pulled out from a panel and flipped the switch. He offered the mic to me and covered it with his free hand, “Would you like the honors?” he offered.
“With pleasure,” I leaned into the control panel where the mic was inserted. “Good morning everyone here at Pangaea II,” I called out. “I know that this may seem strange, but we need to meet in five minutes. It is incredibly important that everyone is there. See you in the cafeteria in five minutes where I can explain who I am and how I came to your complex from across the desert.” I reached out and flipped the switch to shut the mic off. “That should have the robots confused.” I smirked as I leaned back admiring my handiwork.
“Spocks here at Pangaea II… Do you think that they will listen to what we have to say?”
“Of course we will receive the input and process for computation to determine a logical response,” I provided my imitation for Adam as I waved my arms stiffly in the air.
“Thanks, I’ve been working on it over the last year. Oh, they’ll be there and I think that they will hear us out. I’m sure that their used-to-perfect-order minds will be a little blown when they listen to what we have to say.” I started for the door, “Let’s go.”
We exited and then made our way down the connectors without passing other colonists. We arrived in the cafeteria where most had already gathered. Keeping our distance, we only received stares as the others seemed apprehensive to approach us, especially the alien girl who had appeared out of the blue.
An inhabitant of Pangaea II came up to Adam.
“Hi Dmitry,” Adam offered.
The man looked conflicted. “What have you done?”
“It’s for the good of the colony,” he responded, seemingly surprised that this was the first response by a colonist. Dmitry walked away without acknowledging my presence. In the background, there were murmurs and stares among the pointing colonists.
“Yes, well, there are a few other things Aviana’s not going to be happy about.” I waited until he walked out of earshot and then cocked my head and began to count on my fingers, “Like our escape, tasering her, tying her up, locking her up, our conversation…” I caught myself and nodded at Adam slightly. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my snarky comments for you,” I replied in a more serious tone, “you can trust me.”
He smiled, “I do.”
I looked around the room, which was now almost full with gawking colonists. You’re your parents here?” I almost wished that I hadn’t asked the second it came out of my mouth.
“They are,” he replied coolly.
Fidgeting with my hands, I changed the subject. “Well, I guess this is it. I think it’s showtime.”
“Okay, wish me luck.” He turned and faced the crowd that had gathered and he was surprised to see it grow quiet. It was likely that never before had adults seemed to notice him and now they were fixated on him and curious as to what he had to say.
“Good evening. Thanks for gathering tonight, I know that it’s late, but we felt like it couldn’t wait.” He turned to his companion and pointed to me, “This is Diya.” There were a few nods in the audience, but many just stared at the curiosity who raised a hand slightly.
“Hi everyone,” was all that I could utter as my pulse sped up.
“We wanted to call a meeting to let everyone know what’s going on. We think it’s only fair that everyone have the same information that we have,” he took a deep breath and steadied his nerves that were building. “You see, Home Base and Aviana and Maria, they haven’t exactly been honest with you. As you know by now, Diya is from another colony— and it’s actually based not too far from here.” There were some murmurs in the crowd and he gave pause to let these words sink in. Clearly there had been some that hadn’t believed this up until just now, but even the holdouts were likely coming around to the realization of the truth.
I stepped forward, “It’s true. I’m from Pangaea III and our colony is sited about a hundred kilometers away from here. And we have been set up by Home Base to participate in many of the same rituals. At our colony, we eat slog, gather samples, and wait for Arrival each year. And similar to all of you, we had no idea that other colonies were being developed here on Mars until recently. But there are also major differences as well.”
More whisperings and some random pointing. It was hard to get a read on the crowd. He glanced towards a woman who was looking around nervously as she were assessing the situation. He then resumed speaking.
“There was a man named Francois at Pangaea III. About a month ago, Francois left there with a purpose: he went to find another colony… our colony. A few weeks ago, I found his skiff and his corpse in the desert. He didn’t arrive here unfortunately.”
At this, the murmurs grew more loudly and Adam gave a few moments for quiet to return. “I came across Francois while out on mission one day. In his skiff, I found a message about his colony.”
I chimed in at the pause, “And he had left messages in my notebook before he left our colony— he wanted me to know about all of you and where he was headed. He left me messages that pointed towards Pangaea II. I’ll never understand why he chose to leave the messages with me, but he did.”
“So Diya took the brave step of crossing the desert alone to find us. And because of that, we called a meeting. We think that we need to decide what happens next as a group.” He paused.
“Why wouldn’t they tell us? Why would they keep this a secret?” A tall, muscular woman was the first to speak out as she stood up.
“We’re not entirely sure, but that’s a good question for Aviana when she’s ready to answer them. It’s our belief that Home Base is treating the two bases like guinea pigs for their grand experiment. They set up different colonies all over the planet and expose each of them to different circumstances while they gather data. Our colony’s design is completely different than yours. It’s an experiment to determine the fittest in order to create optimal conditions when the migration occurs. Aviana and Home Base kept this hidden from all of you, just as my Coms Link kept your whereabouts hidden from my people.” I hadn’t been sure how much I’d say, but now in the heat of the moment, I felt that it was important to say exactly what was on my mind in case things went south and I ended up back in a cell.
“We’re guinea pigs,” Adam repeated. “Each colony has a different set of variables and HB is trying to find out the best combination before sending a mass migration here. And some colonies have been given advantages over others.” He paused, “Some colonies have not been as lucky as we have been.”
“Are you saying that they’re risking…?” Another woman in her work suit stopped mid-sentence looked around and sat down.
“It’s okay,” he pointed to the cameras. “We stalled transmissions to HB, they won’t have any video of this meeting. Transmission and recording will resume when we are finished. You can speak your mind in here until then without fear of it being broadcast. They did not want to share this information with you, but we thought that things need to change— including only providing part of the information.”
She looked around and thought better of saying anything else, despite his declaration that they were off the air.
“Home Base is risking all of our lives. They are conducting a giant experiment to determine the survival of the fittest,” he continued. He looked out and found his parents on separate sides of the room. Both wore no expression. “I don’t think that we really know what happened at Firstpost…”
“They wouldn’t…” I only caught part of the whispered worry of one of the colonists but didn’t recognize the voice.
“It’s true. That’s all we know. And we’re sorry to have to be the ones to tell you, but we thought that you deserved to know the truth. We think things have to change. They planned to lock us up and they were going to keep us locked up as long as necessary to protect their…”
At that moment, the door opened and the red haired Coms Link burst in. She strode to the front as though she owned the room although her clothes and hair were slightly disheveled. Her eyes wild with hate as she pushed by a few of the colonists as Maria trailed behind. Aviana’s expression was rage, and she looked crazed as she stormed towards me. When she was only a few feet away, she paused to stare down at us with her hands planted on her hips.
“The two of you…” her eyes narrowed.
“Aviana,” Maria called from behind, “remember, we came here to talk.”
“We did,” she took a step closer towards me. “There is an infection here among us,” she raised her voice and spun to look at the crowd. “Our colony that has survived and thrived has been infiltrated by a disease. A disease that must be eradicated. We have a duty and we must continue to fulfill our work.”
“Aviana…” the woman spun around to face Maria whose concern registered on her face.
“Thank you Maria, I have this.” She turned back to the crowd. “I will do whatever I have to in order to protect this colony!” Aviana shouted at the crowd and she wheeled around to face the whole of the room. “For fifteen years, I have toiled as much as anyone to build this colony. And the results? We are self-sustaining. We have faced the harshness of a planet where we are not designed to live and we have thrived.” She balled her fist and shook it. “And we have done this not because we are weak, but because we are strong.” She thrust a finger out to us. “These children are right. There have been things that I haven’t told you— and with every decision, I weigh what is best for the colony. That is what leaders do. And as your leader, I followed the advice of Home Base and kept our colony separate from the other.” She turned back to the room. “I won’t apologize for this.”
“People have the right to choose how their life is lived out,” I did not back down as I took a step towards her, even as I feared her striking me with the back of her hand.
She whirled back around to stare at me. I locked eyes with her gaze.
She broke away and turned back to the crowd. “Yes, it is clear that you all will have a choice. And as you cast your ballot or participate in whatever system these kids put together, think carefully. Do you want to be led by children during difficult times or by a leader? Because there is more that Home Base has not told you…” She paused and turned directly towards Adam.
I looked into her eyes and saw that they actually danced with glee at whatever information was about to come forward.
She continued as she stepped up onto an empty spot at a nearby bench. She looked out across the galley from her perch. “We have been cut off.” She paused and surveyed the frightened faces in the room. “That’s right. We have been cut off from everyone and we are alone.” She paused again to let it sink in. “There has been another pandemic— and I’ll confess, I didn’t tell you. And if I had? Would it have helped us? No… and the reason is that we are millions of miles away from Earth. Here, we have to rely on one another.” She paused and pivoted to ensure that every pair of eyes could see her. “And during this last year, a new strain has made its way across the planet.” She pointed to a table full colonists. “You can ask last year’s set of arrivals if you want to learn more. The rumors had started before they left. But the new arrivals have been good soldiers. They have kept some of this information to themselves.” She waited with a dramatic pause and pointed at me. “And in the last few months, the Arrival to her colony had to return home. They were infected. There are not regular feeds coming from Earth now because of the extent of the proliferation. In fact, we now sometimes go weeks without a transmission.” Now, a few comments and sighs filled the room. “I can’t tell you what exactly is happening there, but I can tell you that it isn’t good. For months now, I have had to follow the Darkness Protocol. While you all have been going about your days, I have known that we stand alone and I have worked to make sure that we survive until full communications with Earth are restored and another ship can arrive safely. And during this time that we have been cut off?” She looked around to see if anyone wanted to answer. “We have thrived,” she again raised her fist and shook it. She then lowered her hands and brushed herself off to exaggerate her composure. “So as you cast your vote today as you revel in your… enlightenment, you can think about what kind of leadership we need right now as humanity’s existence hangs in the balance.” She climbed down from the chair and strode with confidence out of the dining area.
As soon as she left, the colonists turned back to Adam who did not shy away from the moment as he stepped forward.
“We now know the truth. As terrible as it may be, we know something about the truth both here and at home.” He held up a stack of paper that he had been holding. “And you have something you haven’t had before— a choice.” He handed the ballots to a dark-skinned woman who stood to his left. He then pointed to the recycling bin up front. “Maria can count the votes when the last person casts their ballot for who should lead this colony. You will have to decide whether you want to continue in the same way or whether you want a different way.”
I stood shell-shocked, admiring Adam’s ability to move the vote forward after the dropping of a bomb.
The woman with short kinky hair clutched the papers in her hand as it shook and held the slips aloft. She looked out into the crowd that was completely quiet. “I will provide one to everyone. First, I want to provide an opportunity to discuss our next steps and take any nominations for leader.”
With those words, the first election in the history of Pangaea II was underway.
“Hello Aviana,” we stood at the entrance of her room after she opened the door to let us in. It was harder for her to hide her disdain as her face twisted into a snarl at the sight of the two of us. And it was no longer necessary— everyone now knew about her hatred of us.
“You had your chance to take over and you threw it away. Now, what do you want? To come groveling to me?” She sat at her desk and stared hard at us. We were safe from her for the time being until any results came in, but it was clear how much she would take pleasure in hurting us.
“That’s not ever going to happen,” my eyes narrowed. “We held the election.”
Her lips curled in anger. “Of course you held your election. I’m so sorry to hear that you’re not coming home like scolded children and asking for forgiveness.” She leaned in to her desk with her arms crossed on top, “Best of luck.”
“Is it true? Are we cut off from Earth?” He asked as he approached her desk.
“It is. And we are,” she almost seemed to be smiling.
“And we’re just supposed to believe you now after all the lies?” I added from behind Adam.
Her eyes focused on me and would turn me to stone if were possible, “I don’t care what you believe, you little prat.”
“Tonight, our colony is holding an election. A new Commander and Coms Link will be chosen by Pangaea II. And you’ll get to watch history take place.”
Shaking her head as the grin widened, “You made a mistake. The Coms Link and Commander have been trained to do this work— we are experts. We understand all of the components. Without our guidance, we could lose the entire colony,” she snarled.
“We respectfully disagree,” he shook his head.
“Things will fall apart if they move away from us. You will see the chaos.”
“Again, we respectfully, oh so respectfully, disagree.” I narrowed my eyes in return. “Do you have a copy of this Darkness Protocol?”
“It’s not just something lying around. But yes, it’s on my tablet.”
“Are you going to share it?”
“Not even over my dead body with you.”
“And what about Maria?”
“Maria,” she huffed. “She just found out tonight the same as you. The lights have gone out children. It’s even worse than I shared. No satellites, no Arrivals, no messages for twenty-two days now. They have to pool all their resources right now for those trying to survive on Earth. No one there cares about us right now as they scurry to save their own hides. It could take years for them to recover from the extent of the damage. Or as a worst case… they may never recover and we are humanity’s only hope.”
“There has to be a way to communicate with them,” I looked into her room and pointed about the space. “You must have something in there.”
She stood up and stepped to the side of the desk, towering over us. “Come on in, poke around.” She made a grand gesture to wave them in. “Try anything you want. But you’ll fail in your attempts. We are alone.” She pointed to the Coms panel. “Want to call Roy and ask him?” She then stepped back behind her workspace and leered at my friend. “You were always in over your head.”
“And you always underestimated me,” he responded. He turned to me. “There’s nothing more to discuss for now. We will have to wait to see the results of the election and then we’ll be back. Let’s go.” We turned back to the door leaving the Coms Link alone at her desk.
“And you continue to underestimate what I’m willing to do to preserve this work,” she called out to us as we walked away. “Best hope that I’m not elected children…”
The door slid shut, leaving the metal barrier as a protection between us and the wounded pride of the Coms Link in her office. Her threat hung in the air.
“Did you hear the results of the election?” Maria asked as she crossed his dorm towards the bunks. She came over and sat on the bed next to us in the otherwise empty room. She slowly turned her head and her long dark hair flecked with silver streaks fell over her shoulder. I saw more flecks of grey than I remembered her having just a few hours ago.
“I haven’t,” Adam responded.
“Assa had promised me to tell me first. I think that I’m still the only one to know.” The former Commander nodded with her hands clasped. She looked tired.
I sighed. I knew the outcome in reading her body language.
“What were the results?” I asked anyway.
“They chose Aviana.”
Adam cringed. “Was it close?”
“Not really. Harry was a distant second for Commander.”
“Why?” He asked sitting on the bed next to her.
“That is a long story of humankind,” she looked at him sympathetically. “I’m proud of you though. Really.”
“I wanted things to get better… I really did. She’s dangerous.” He dropped his head in his hands as his elbows rested on his knees.
“She’s our leader,” she nodded and her eyes dropped.
“You’ll be fine. She’ll probably restore you to Commander.”
She tried to manage a smile, “You’re probably right. As always.”
“People will need you. They’re scared.”
She nodded, “I’ll try my best…”
“Thank you,” he responded without looking at her.
“Thank you both. You may think you didn’t make a difference but you did.” She reached out a hand holding a book and placed a journal in his hand. “Things will be different. And better I think. But you have to go.”
He looked up. “What’s this?”
“It’s my journal from Firstpost. The coordinates to the outpost there are on the inside of the front cover and more inside. I’m assuming that you’ve already readied a skiff and you’re planning to go to Pangaea III. You were always a challenging opponent in chess. You know that you can’t stay here and your time is running out.”
He glanced down at the leather bound notebook. He looked back up. “Firstpost. Why would we go there?”
“Refuge, more than you’ll find at Pangaea III with Roy,” she offered as she stood up and stared at me.
“That’s probably true,” I offered.
“I have to go. I killed the video feed into this room, so only you and I know that you have the journal. You have maybe ten minutes before Aviana figures out that its official. The weather should be clear tonight. Take extra oxygen. You should make it just fine. I’ll be sure that she doesn’t send someone after you today. There’s no time for me to explain. Just go, and trust me. Please, just trust me— it’s your best option.”
I stared at her, unsure as to whether she could be trusted.
“Okay,” Adam replied and I looked to him. “Goodbye and good luck here.” He quickly stood up.
“Goodbye. And thank you. They know now at least and they made a choice.”
“Thanks,” I offered to her as I grabbed the bag that I had packed that was on the bed. My body trembled as it seemed like we were down to our desperate options. There was no sanctuary here, or at my home. We were go to run off blindly into the desert and hope for a miracle.
I stood up and tried to gather my strength in my legs. We had to hurry. Escape was the only thought on my mind now, we had to run.
Turning, we hurried out of the dorm room and didn’t look back as we jogged out into the connector and headed towards the hangar. I looked back, half expecting to be followed.
Time was running out.
A need to flee wasn’t totally unanticipated. I had spent much of the previous hour working in the garage to make alterations to Adam’s skiff after hearing Aviana’s threat and remember Roy slashing my suit in the desert. I decided that it was best to prepare for a long distance trek that might require an overnight stop, just in case it was necessary. Now, as we entered the bay, the backup plan was our only hope.
We continued jogging down the aisle of rovers and skiffs. He stopped only a few feet away from his skiff. In his left hand, there was the book of that held our fate. “I can’t believe that she won…”
I shook my head and blinked my eyes. “Of course she did. Robots and spocks…”
“We have to do this.”
“We’re packed and ready.” I pointed inside the skiff. “I thought it best to prep using some of my ideas from the first trek. The tracking is off and I made some alterations to the emergency supplies.” I pointed to a bag in the back. “Those are my things, so I’m all ready to go. I figure that we can be at Pangaea III by morning if we leave soon. Do you trust her?”
“I do.” He held up the journal. “Yes, I believe that there’s somewhere safer for us.”
“I’d be interested in reading more. She’s right— I don’t think Roy and Pablo will have a welcome back cake waiting for me at Pangaea III.”
“She seemed to think that this was our best chance. She wouldn’t send us off to die.”
“And you still trust her?” I wiped my brow as I examined his facial features. It was clear that he trusted her and that he thought this was our best course of action.
He hesitated and then nodded. “I do, more than anyone else here. And we can’t stay here. Aviana is dangerous.”
“No, we can’t stay here. She is crazy dangerous…”
“I think we have to try here first,” he held up the journal and he pulled the lever to open the door. “If it fails, we will have to make another choice.”
“Agreed. I trust you, and you trust her. Do you have any more things to do here?” In my mind, I wondered if he had said any goodbyes.
“No, there is nothing more to be done or said. Let’s go.” He was calm, stoic in the face of what lie ahead and then he hopped in through the opening.
“Let’s go,” I echoed as I trailed behind. There was a disappointment in knowing that this was a better option than returning to her colony, but a tiny flicker of hope fought against being blown out all together. Then another thought crossed my mind. “I wonder what they’ll do to my parents…” I tried to push away the uncertainty to not be weak in front of him.
“I don’t think that they are in danger. I think as long as we disappear and don’t threaten them, we’re okay for now. Your parents are their only leverage.”
I almost mentioned his parents as a response, but instead only nodded and closed the hatch. “What do you think we’ll find at Firstpost?”
He held up the journal again from the front seat. “There’s just this. And we will have some time to read today.”
“How much time do we have now do you figure?”
“Maybe a few minutes.” He surveyed the panel.
Turning back, I surveyed the inside of the vehicle from the passenger seat. There, the cramped compartment that I would be sharing tonight with the boy from Pangaea II beckoned. The tank and supply bag in the back took up most of the room, leaving little room for us.
He was clever and a good partner. He leaned in towards the middle to check the emergency kit and his face was only inches from my own.
Gulping, I tried to push my blush away from his sight. “Um, I guess.” I slid backwards and exhaled.
He put the skiff in gear. The skiff rose from the floor and for the second time in two days, I was about to take my chances in the Martian desert.
“You think that they’ll let us go?” The skiff set out and the airlock was approaching in the view ahead. The craft moved towards the exit.
“I think that Maria will be as good as her word. I doubt that Aviana was prepared for this. It would seem like suicide to send another skiff to ram us at night.”
“Hopefully she wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice so much…” I stared ahead.
The vehicle floated into the airlock and the door to the cargo bay shut behind us. I climbed from the back towards the front. The door before us opened to reveal the orange sands. The afternoon sun cast shadows on the path leading away from the complex. The skiff gently floated out into the desert and my co-pilot entered the coordinates given to him by Maria into the system.
We were setting off on a journey that held more unknowns than knowns. My future was tied to the only other teenager on the planet and his trust in the leader who had betrayed him.
Easing forward, the craft began the journey towards Firstpost.
This is book is the first novel in a conceived trilogy or longer series.
Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. New York: Harper Perennial, 1989.
Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Selected Poems. London: Penguin Books, 1991.
Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass and Other Writings: Norton Critical Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2002.
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