Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Short Story: Mercy

For several years friends have been urging me to write a novel during the month of November as part of the NaNoWriMo movement, but I rarely have the time or motivation. Instead, today I have taken ten minutes to sketch out a picture of a short story, remembering that good stories have begun with less than this.

A Short Story: Mercy 

When we left the Earth we thought we had escaped. We were the wealthiest people on the planet, and we had access to the best technology in history. People were willing to do whatever we wanted because we paid well.

We planned a thousand-year trip, a one-way flight to another home. We made arrangements for terraforming ships to arrive a little more than a century before we would, and we took the slow route so that the world would have time to get started before we got there. We knew it would be hard, that after a long sleep we’d wake up to colonize uninhabited territory. We knew there was real risk, but we also knew that the risk on earth was growing with the population. We wanted a new life for ourselves and for our children. We were young, and healthy, and strong.

What we did not count on was the way technology would change. We thought we were leaving a dying world, and we were. As we left the planet the trail of smoke from our burning fuel was our last goodbye, our last contribution to an increasingly unbreathable atmosphere. We meant no harm, but we had to burn some fuel to escape gravity.

Who knew that when we left, the world we left behind would undergo such changes? The population collapse that we expected took place, and we were lucky to escape before it did. That much we foresaw. But we did not think anyone would survive long after we left. When the population decreased, the air and the water started to clean themselves up, at least a little, and the people who made it through that first year of suffering came out of it stronger and more committed to never letting in happen again. They moved more slowly and more carefully than we did. They focused their energies on cleaning up the mess we left behind. And they were pretty good at it, but not good enough. Some of what they did allowed them to survive another few decades, but they saw that the damage was done and the planet was not a place they could stay for long. So they came up with a new plan, to help not just a few people but the whole surviving population of earth to head to the only known survivable exoplanet, one that had been discovered by our investments, and that was already on its way towards being terraformed. They headed for the same planet we had already claimed for our own.

And they arranged to get here first.

I’m writing this while my husband is on the radio, talking with the military patrol that was waiting for us. They say we cannot come down to the surface, and I am trying to hold back my tears. We worked so hard for this, we bought this, we sacrificed everything we had for this, and now they are refusing us entry. They knew we were coming, and they have been waiting for us.

How can they do this to us? We’re the same people, the same species! Humans are nowhere else in the universe. There is no other home for us. The place we all left is uninhabitable, but now they are telling us that we must turn away. I don’t know what this will mean. Do they want us to go back? We cannot; nothing is there waiting for us. Have they found a new place for us to go? My husband has shushed me. The military officer is saying they do not know of other planets. Why are we not allowed here? Why can we not land on the other side of the planet? I know, I’m sorry. I’ll keep it down.

We are traitors, they say. We left them in their time of need, and we left destruction in our wake. They don’t trust us, and they will not let us land. Hasn’t enough time gone by? Can’t we bury the hatchet? Why won’t they forgive us? What are we going to do?

They say they will refuel us. This is their idea of kindness. We are being given enough fuel and supplies to return to Earth. Another millennium of sleep, and perhaps the Earth we left will welcome us home, they say, but we are not welcome here.

My husband is angry. He says that when our ship is refueled he plans to crash it into their city below. They say that they will stop us. They have boarded our ship and sedated my husband. They are about to sedate me, but they are letting me write this last sentence so that when we get back to Earth we will remember their mercy.

Copyright November 10, 2018 David L. O'Hara