CHAPTER 1: Last Gasp
I can’t believe this is the last time I’ll actually see them in the next 7 years. I wave farewell to my father and mother from the shuttle window. The silent laments are manifestly evident on their faces. They try to conceal it as best they can, nevertheless, their grief drizzles through. I know they are immensely proud of me, but they will miss me immensely as well. An internship on a United Earth Ship is enough to make any parent elated. But 7 years in space doesn’t fly by as fast as you would think.
It will take 2 years to reach the Parist 1 solar system and 5 years to even begin to colonize such a vast, distant world. The UES Amalgamation will be accompanied by the UES Gumption on a 7-year journey to explore and colonize planet Avon of the Parist 1 system. There were multiple seats open for interns- fresh college grads were actually encouraged to book a place on the trek ships.
Ever since the National Education Act of 2076, education has been free and accessible to everyone on Earth. We may be “united” with the best education system in the solar system, but this Earth is still plagued by money and economics. Money has always come first in these types of universes, but at least education comes 2nd in this one. I’ve visited some multiverses where the America’s and Europe were all developing countries and the only developed country was Haiti.
“We love you, good luck!” I hear my parents yell after I set my window on audible transparency. “I’ll call you every day!” I promise, although after a certain number of light years the signal degrades. “You don’t have to do that…” My father sympathizes with my work schedule. “But I will.”
The shuttle lifts off the ground, leaving a cloud of dust in my front yard. A pang of anxiety flushes over me, and I feel my eyes and nose choke up as if I’m about to sneeze. “Not in public.” I beg my body.
“Alright, passengers” The driver announces through the loudspeaker, “We’ll arrive at the Interplanetary Earth Space Station in about 10 minutes. Please keep yourself seated and all of your belongings in place.” The gruff voice of the shuttle driver distracts me from my doleful farewell. I take a deep breath, and recline in my seat to stir in my now pensive mood.
The shuttle halts to a stop as the docking clamps lock and the engine shuts off to a low hum. “The shuttle has arrived at The Interplanetary Earth Space Station. There will be a 7-minute intermission between arrival and departure. Please exit the shuttle in a quick, organized fashion— single file please.” The pilot announces.
I promptly collect my backpack, suitcase, and carry-on bag before exiting the shuttle and allowing the guard to scan my ID tattoo. Everyone has to stand in a long, tedious line to confirm their arrival to or departure from the IESP. In this universe, on Earth, when you’re born you have an identification bar code “tattooed” onto the inside of your wrist. The government says it’s merely for protection and security, but everyone knows it’s exclusively for the purpose of keeping track of each cog in the futuristic, “united” machine. The Mimas Moon colony tried to resist the authoritarian hand of the United Earth Government, but I guess that’s the reason why no one lives on Mimas anymore—what a “democracy”.
I scramble through the extensive crowd of travelers and merchants of the lobby to the nearest window. Since the intermission between shuttles is customarily brief, to say the least, there is never enough time to appreciate the view of Earth. However, the perspective from the space station is so much more panoramic, I’d rather wait until after I depart from the shuttle.
Colors of blue, green, brown, and white dance all about the stunning glass ball I call home. Wispy swirls of white decorate the Christmas trees we call landmasses. A deep blue, salty ocean cascades across the Earth, filling the land with life and knowledge. It doesn’t get any better than this— no other planet can compete with this superb, mesmerizing blue marble.
Several worldwide organizations sprung up on Earth to combat climate change and global warming. The annual March for Earth holiday, which began in 2020, ushered this abrupt change in Earth’s governments. Since then, every year on Earth Day people don’t just buy a card anymore. There are celebrations and festivals all across the world celebrating the health of my planet and the changes we’ve made since the 21st century.
That was my last breath of Earth air—just before I left. That was the last time I’ll ever breathe natural, genuine oxygen again for the next 2 years. “I’ve just arrived at the space station and I’m already missing the atmosphere.” I scoff at myself. I’d better get to the Amalgamation, it should have docked by now. I begin to back away from the window when I bump into something.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Nzinga.” I’m greeted by a 5 foot 9 man dressed in a class 4 engineering uniform. It’s a navy blue jumpsuit with a red stripe around the shoulders. There are absolutely no wrinkles in his uniform and his boots appear to be superbly spit-shined. What’s odd is that I notice he doesn’t have a rank next to the United Earth Space Administration insignia on his collarbone. However, he obviously serves aboard the ship.
“That’s quite alright. Do I know you? I think you have the wrong person.” I explain. “No, you do not know me and I do not ‘have the wrong person’.” He imitates me. “I am here to escort you to the UES Amalgamation. It is customary for interns to be addressed by their father’s last name if they do not share it. Shall we go?”
Customary? Customary! It is customary in Egypt to be addressed by the name you were born with and were given by your parents. I am not my father and he is not I. “Sir, it may be customary on an Earth ship, but I prefer to be addressed by my real last name, Hatshetarizinga. Now that this has been established, yes, we shall go, now.” I begin to walk towards docking port 1C, but he doesn’t advance as well.
“Are you coming?” He replies with a puzzled look but promptly leads the way.
What an unprofessional, rude officer. Why is an engineering officer escorting me anyway? More importantly, why doesn’t he have a rank? I plan to speak to his superior as soon as possible.
I step onto the ship after waiting in the extensive confirmation line, and I’m greeted by Commander Caucus, the second in command of this expedition. “Mrs. Nzinga, please take a seat right over there.” He points to a chair in the left section of the auditorium. “Yes, thank you, sir, I will." I clear my throat, "Sir, I would like to say that it is custom-“ My escort cuts me off. “Mrs. Hatshetarizinga has requested that she be called by her real name, instead of her fathers.”
I anticipated that Commander Caucus would be slightly annoyed with my request, but instead of glaring at me, he scowls at my escort. “Mrs. Nzinga, please, go sit down.” He orders with his teeth clenched. “I need to confer with your escort. I exit the premises before I’m the subject of his ire, and wait until the presentation begins.
“T1, what is your purpose of your talking over your assignment?” Caucus asks indignantly. T1’s expression goes blank, as if his heart has just dropped to his feet. “The Interplanetary Law and Code book for E type Androids states that there is no valid reason for resisting, disrespecting, or inflicting harm upon organics of any kind.” He responds. “That’s right,” he approaches him menacingly, “And what is the punishment for disobeying that rule?”
“Circuit persecution…” He answers, almost apprehensively. T1 promptly drops to the floor holding his head and grunting in pain. “Take this malcontent to The Mechanic. Don’t make him stay too long, either. We’ve still got work for him.”
“Yes sir.” Two operations officers obey is command and begin to drag T1 away. “Oh, and tell em’ to execute the highest command.” He condemns the naïve android.
“What the heck did he do to him?” I mumble. “Rookie escort, huh? Yeah, the new ones typically screw up.” Another intern sitting to the left of me interjects. I draw my attention away from the Commander, to look my shipmate in the eye. “Sorry,” she offers her hand to shake. “Name’s Dje (pronounced “zay”).” I shake her hand. She must be from one of the lunar colonies because her skin is slightly mutated. She has white, vertical ridges on her hands and her irises are silver.
“Pleasure to meet you. My name is Adanya, you must be interning for engineering too?” I introduce. She nods her head, “Yes, I’m a software engineer.” I smile and gesture to myself. “Computer engineer.”
“So alike yet so different.” She jokes.
“Ahem…May I have your attention please?” The hum of the auditorium fades as a dark-skinned, 6 foot man dressed in a uniform fitted with countlessly colorful ranks and ribbons on the right breastplate begins the inauguration. “I am Captain Zulu, first in command of this expedition and this…”
He gestures for Commander Caucus to come up to the podium. “…Is Commander Caucus, second in command of this expedition and the director and administrator of Interns Tern Organization—bringing you knowledge and education since 2076. Please show him as much respect as you would I.” As he steps up to the podium and bows, the auditorium bursts into blandish applause.
“Now, usually the director of ITO does not accompany the interns on their journey but, as some of you may know, this is the largest assembly of interns we’ve had on one ship for one expedition ever.” Another applause, but in sincere jubilance. “Yes, it is quite an accomplishment for a ship this large to make a voyage this long with as many rookies there are here.” A wave of slight amusement sweeps over the audience.
“Now, I understand the youth here are only interns and not official officers of UESA, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be working as hard. As most of you know, Commander Caucus’ late father was the original director and admin of ITO, until he passed away in late December of last year. He grew ITO from the ground up with the hopes of providing the next generation with courage, education, curiosity, and ambition.” He pauses for effect. “With ambition to explore. With curiosity to wonder. With courage to ask the questions that everyone else is afraid to. And, of course, with education so that you all could know how to take care of us when we’re old.” Another hum of giggles ripples from the audience. “His father would want us to face this mission with enthusiasm and honor. So let’s make him and yourselves proud.” The audience rewards the inspiring speech with a standing ovation.
“Thank you, everyone, thank you. Your dorm and assignment information will be sent to your United Earth Space Administration accounts, promptly. Welcome to the next incredible years of your lives.” With that, Captain Zulu excuses himself from the podium and the audience begins to shuffle out of the auditorium.