Chapter 77

The echoes of the booming door faded away to be replaced by the cries of the fallen, accompanied by shouts of surprise as gravity switched back on, bringing people and objects crashing to the ground. Then Hannah’s voice rose above the crowd.

“Leave the injured where they lie! Those who can walk, make your way to a seat near the front. Doctor’s apprentices, tend to their wounds, while doctors, come with me to those in most desperate need. Elisha,” she shouted and pointed to her personal apprentice far back in the crowd, where she stood with her own family, “bring the medical carts to me, both of them. Let’s go, now!”

Former members of the school Hippoc darted out from among the crowd, brought to life by Hannah, weaving around chairs to the ranks of Lear that were producing pools of blood near the door. Airomem stood over her father, shouting at Hannah as he clutched a knife that had pierced his shoulder, then shouting at him as he waved the healers away to tend those more wounded. And I stood as the center, my mouth dry, whispering a name in final homage.

Tom.” Perhaps the one among us who most deserved to arrive at the new planet, and who would now never make it. Tom, the true porter, who had carried us upon his shoulder. Tom, who –

“Horatius!” came a small voice by my side, and I looked down, wiping away a forming tear only to smear blood from my hand upon my face, then saw Ruth tugging at my shirt. “Horatius, you have to move! This area is for the injured and the doctors. You can’t stay here!”

I blinked, realizing that doctors were actively swerving to avoid me, and let her pull me towards a seat a few dozen feet away. In front of us, Elliott was systematically combing through the crowd, splitting those with minor injuries and those in full health who needed to be seated.

“Let me see your hands,” commanded Ruth, and I nearly smiled at the authority in her voice, one that seemed misplaced for one so young. I obliged, holding them outwards, nearly retching as I saw the damage. Two fingers on each hand sliced to the bone, large scabs still oozing blood starting to form over the gashes, while the cut continued in a much more shallow fashion across the remaining fingers.

“There’s only so much I can fix,” said Ruth, her eyes concerned. She unrolled a bandage from her pocket. “I’m not sure how useful these will be once they’ve healed.”

“You are a gardener; I wouldn’t expect much in the way of healing,” I said, then stopped, my thoughts spinning, my head tilting, a long overdue thought crossing my mind for the first time. “Wait, Ruth, why are you a gardener?”

Maybe it was how preoccupied I had been with the events leading up to Segni’s death, or maybe it was my appreciation of having such an astute learner in my classes. But Ruth was the daughter of a cook and a doctor, both the head of their fields, both members of the council. And yet somehow, she was a gardener, a position entirely unfit for someone of that status.

Ruth began to wash and wrap my fingers with practiced hands, her eyes on the work, speaking as she applied the bandage.

“You weren’t the only one with secrets, Horatius. Not at all, not at all. But I had to promise my parents not to tell, though I still told her,” she said, and gestured towards Airomem. “Not even my parents knew that, but it felt right.”

“Told her what?” I asked, perplexed, biting the inside of my cheek as Ruth tightened the bandage. “And how did you learn to do this?”

“Horatius, my mother is just under the head doctor. She taught me,” she said and knotted the bandage before standing up. “I’m still not allowed to say anything, but I can help you think. You are not the only reason Pliny fought for farmer representation in the council all those years ago. And you are not the only one who disapproved of Segni’s actions, though our methods would take far slower. I’ll answer your question with questions of my own. Who is on the council for head cook? And who for head doctor?”

“Elliott, your father,” I said. “And I suppose she started attending meetings prematurely, but your mother was soon to take the role of head doctor.”

“Correct. And you, for head gardener. When it came time for you to choose someone to train to be on the council, would I not be in your top prospects?”

“That’s rather bold,” I said, “but yes, objectively, you would.”

“And so it would be a council of Segni’s family against a council of my family. And as the years passed, and Segni grew old, the title of chief would come into question. Segni, being childless, would have to pass the responsibility to someone outside his family. And our family just so happens to lead every main class of the ship.”

“You,” I stuttered, coming to the sudden realization. “You became a gardener, to try to become a chief? By gaining the support of all the people?”

“I said nothing,” replied Ruth with a sweet smile, “but I do happen to have a talent for medicine and cooking, which may prove useful in gaining their support. Of course, it just happened to be that I took an interest in those things.”

“But you’re forgetting something,” I said, raising a hand. “Segni and Vaca were both young. They could easily marry and have children, and they would have had children, had the ship not come back together.”

“Oh, Horatius,” she uttered and shook her head. “Married or not, there are herbs to prevent such things. As a doctor, my mother would have the knowledge. As a cook, my father could blend them into meals quite nicely. Perhaps this was one time we were grateful for Segni’s appetite.”

Then she squeezed my hand so hard, I yelped, and whispered in my ear, “But remember Horatius, I said nothing. Some things are best left secrets.”

Letting go, and before I had a chance to comment, she shouted over my head to Airomem where Praeter was still fending away doctors.

“Bring him here; I can help! It’s bad, but not so bad! There are others who need the professional help more than him.”

“Your family, they planned all this from the start?” I asked as two Lear soldiers carried Praeter with Airomem leading him towards us.

“Planned what?” asked Ruth, a sweet young girl once more, rummaging through a small bag at her side for more medical supplies. “It’s all just bizarre happenstance, a lucky combination. Who could have guessed it? Icertainly never would.”

Then Airomem arrived with her father, and Ruth started to inspect the wound as Airomem looked on, her hand on her father’s forearm.

“I’ll be fine,” Praeter protested, but Ruth’s small hands pushed him back into his chair.

“I’m just here until one of the experienced doctors is available,” she said, “All I’m doing is making sure your condition is stable. Which it is – the knife hasn’t hit any arteries, and we’ll have it removed soon.”

The last few words were directed at Airomem, and the muscles in her neck loosened a fraction as she heard them.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked Ruth.

“We need more water; find someone who can help you carry it,” she responded, and Airomem’s attention turned to my hands.

“Horatius!” she exclaimed. “What happened? I never had a chance to ask in the commotion! Your hands; I assumed you would be the one to record this journey. At least, that you would want to.”

“I’m no worse than the others, and better than many,” I said. “As for recording, it can wait until the story is done.”

“Yes, it can,” she answered. “And I owe you a thanks, Horatius, a thanks for your quick thinking with the door shield. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. Without it, I wouldn’t be here.”

She wrapped me in a hug, her hair drifting across my cheek. As she pulled away, our eyes met, and her cheeks flushed – and I smiled, realizing that as the Lear princess, nearly all of Airomem’s outward actions had to be political. But maybe this one, a rare occurrence among many, was not meant to be.

“Go, help him with the water,” said Praeter. “Be seen among your people, old and new. I was chief of the ship, but my hair continues to grey, and new challenges lay ahead. I lie here weak, but it is time for you to be seen in a different light by everyone. Go.”

Together, we walked, delegating the task of fetching water to one of the doctor’s apprentices, Airomem casting quick looks back towards her father in between settling the general population, helping the injured, and calming those still shaken by the events.

And without you, I wouldn’t be here, I thought, looking sideways at Airomem as we worked, helping in any ways I could without my hands. We aided as the doctors rounded up the last of the wounded, transporting them to seats, while forming a small pile of less fortunate near the exit. Three bodies in all, consisting of those claimed by their injuries after the doors shut, the rest of the dead claimed by the Agrarians. Left behind in the void of space.

“Airomem!” came a shout behind us, and we turned to see him and Hannah approach.

“Elliott, Hannah,” Airomem exclaimed, breaking into a smile, “you should be proud of your daughter. It’s her cry for help that made this possible.”

No, Airomem,” responded Elliott as Hannah clutched his hand, “it’s you who made this possible. As resting chief of our side of the ship, I realize that there is much I do not know. That we do not know. And while I am not willing to give you the same level of authority as Segni, I give you my gratitude. More than that – I give you my allegiance.”

“As do I,” added Hannah with a nod. “We have observed your character over the past few weeks. So long as we remain on the council, we will ensure you have the full support of our people.”

“For a unified ship, and a unified people. I will not betray your trust,” said Airomem, inclining her head as they nodded.

Then without my attention on it, the timer reached three minutes, and a short siren played from above.

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Chapter 78

“To your seats, to your seats!” shouted Airomem as we walked back to her father, and she stood by his side. “And hold on! This could feel just like the jolt when the bridge opened for the first time, and we want to avoid any additional injuries.”

Then she cleared her throat and looked down at her father, waiting.

“Go on,” he said, gesturing to his shoulder. “I can’t be expected to usher in the new world with an injury like this. And besides,” he said, and a darker expression crossed his face, one of regret, and of guilt, “you are the reason the Nectians are here today, Airomem. How can I call myself a leader among them, when I once suggested we leave them behind? While I can call myself the chief of the Lear, I cannot do so for the Nectians. It is not my place to unify the people. It is yours.”

“You did what you thought was best,” she protested, but he shook his head.

“We will have plenty of time to speak to that later, Airomem,” he said, “But now, we have but minutes. Speak. For me, for them, and for those we left behind.”

She nodded and turned, surveying the room. My own eyes tracked hers as they flicked over the audience that was now staring at us, as well as the sheer number of empty seats that dwarfed our numbers. For every one occupied, there were at least twenty empty, ones that seemed to stare inwards around us, as if they were filled with the ghosts of those who should have claimed them.

The timer on the wall reached two minutes, and she climbed to stand on her seat, her head the highest in the vessel. And from her pocket, she pulled out a piece of metal, one I recognized from the first time I had visited the bridge. One she must have removed with the Omni-cutter before I had arrived, from the inside of our territory above the door.

A simple square, with Necti engraved into it.

“Separate we fly, together we land,” she began, holding the square high for all to see. “Many died to give us this moment. Those today, whose memory is still imprinted vividly upon our thoughts, and those long before, so long they may now be nameless.”

From her other pocket, she pulled out one of the stun guns and continued to speak.

“Before the Hand of God struck, there were those who numbered far higher than us, our distant grandfathers and grandmothers. We remember them!”

She brought her hands together, striking the metal against the stun gun, the resulting clang tolling like a bell.

“We remember those who the Hand of God claimed, those who died in the hours after the tragedy!” Clang, rang the metal, calling out to the spirits long before.

“We remember our brothers and sisters who did not die physically, but in their own minds. The Agrarians and Aquarians who lost their way long ago and sealed their own fate.” Clang, sounded the bell, louder and more aggressive this time, as the volume of her voice continued to rise.

“We remember those who died from hunger and thirst and war in last few centuries. Those who were claimed by hard times, by dwindling resources, and those who are our direct ancestors, and were claimed by age as we too will be.” Clang.

“And we remember those who fell today! Those who died to directly save us. The Lear soldiers, the porters, and those lost along the way to departure. For Tom. We remember them most of all, and they shall live in our hearts, and their sacrifice shall not go to waste!” Cheers intermingled with sobs among the crowd, whistles with tears as Airomem’s own voice broke, and she paused, regaining composure, then holding the writing on the metal for all to see.

“This name on this metal,” she continued, her voice now level. “This was carved by Beatrice, the wife of Necti himself, as she waited at the door for him to return. To be reunited with the husband she lost. Today, we are united as brothers and sisters. Today, we cover the gap created long ago, and we become one. On our arrival, Lear will be engraved on the back of this metal as our tribes merge, as we are renamed and reformed. As we take those whom we remember and we make them proud of their sacrifice. Together, we share this accomplishment, together, we shall prosper, and together, we will be remembered just as those before us!”

The crowd erupted as she finished, holding the metal rectangle high, leading Nectians and Lear alike in a clamor just as the timer reached zero, and a buzzer sounded, the ship itself joining in the applause. But then the crowd gasped, jerking backwards in shock from something unlike anything they had ever seen.

The uniformed figure on the wall before them moved and spread his arms wide. And above them, a compartment in the ceiling burst open with a pop.

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Chapter 79

“Congratulations!” exclaimed the figure on the wall, spreading his arms wide as one of the front row children shrieked. “Congratulations upon your arrival, upon your great accomplishment for humanity!”

Above, strips of colored plastic rained down, showering us in a swirling mixture, sticking to freshly applied bandages and forming a small pile atop the dead. The figure opened his mouth once more and raised a hand as the entire front row joined the child in screaming, fighting to back away from the enormous human.

“Hey, hey!” shouted Prometh as he walked up to the figure, and turned to face the panicking crowd.

“He’s going to eat him!” shouted one of the front children. “Watch out! Watch out! He’s dead!”

“You there, quiet,” commanded Prometh to the child, and knocked his hand against the figure’s waist, the sound of knuckles on something sturdy calming the spectators. “Sit and listen. He isn’t real; he’s like a memory. Things like this used to be common before the Hand of God. You are in no danger. Sit and listen! We will only hear this once! We are experiencing history and I shan’t have your ignorance make me miss it.”

Then he leaned back against the speaking figure, his expression calm as the front row’s faces turned various shades of red, and the figure continued to speak. Now that the room was calm, I realized that his voice actually came from behind me, similar to how the announcement of the ship coming together had come from above.

“Before I begin, ensure you are buckled in. There should be seats enough for everyone, based upon our sustainability calculations, but it will be close! Make sure you make room for your neighbors, and that no one is turned away.”

“Not a problem for us,” I muttered, looking left and right at the sea of empty seats, and the figure continued.

“Now, for introductions. I am Captain Xavier, the first captain of Dandelion 14. This message has been recorded the day before departure, about one thousand years prior to you hearing it. As you know, each captain since me will have recorded their own messages on their first and final days, messages that many of you have heard repeated in your scholarly studies. Perhaps you have even heard my own – fear not if you have not; these will still be preserved and available after your arrival and stored for access just underneath where I stand now, where as many as a hundred recordings are located in a small cabinet.”

I leaned forward in my seat, searching the area he indicated, catching sight of a small recessed handle in the wall. The early captains of the ship recorded just as this one was, true gems of history. Clues about where we were from, and what we had been like before disaster struck! Copies intended just for us, not simply leftovers found among the wreckage.

“But that is the past, and I come to speak to you of the future. The next steps in your journey are crucial – arriving on the planet, surviving on the planet, and thriving on the planet. You have nearly completed arrival – as I speak, the ship has detached, and we are entering into the gravitational field of New Earth 14. The vessel will take you to the designated entry point, which is where the survive stage begins.”

The figure stepped to the side, and a rotating picture of the planet appeared, a red target mark blinking at a point near its center. The symbol was located on a small splotch of green, much smaller than many of the other masses of green among blue, which mirrored what I had seen of the planet outside the window.

“Here is where the vessel will land and where, when the doors open, you will be. This is an island, meaning it is separated by water from the rest of the land on the planet, a method employed by us to help insulate you from potential dangers and help you become accustomed to your new way of life. The environment has been predicted to be mild, the temperatures advantageous to life, the food and water sources nearby and easily attainable. Furthermore, this is where the supply ship landed several years prior to your own arrival, ensuring that when you arrive, farms have been created, buildings constructed, and infrastructure developed. You’ll find when you arrive, you will be mildly busy, as we have based the structure to be maintained by a mere five thousand. Further details of this arrangement have been conveyed to your current captain through instructional logs, and he or she will coordinate arrival activities.”

Eyes turned to Airomem and Elliott as they shifted in their seats. “Maintained by five thousand,” whispered Airomem next to me. “Five thousand?”

“We have hard workers,” I responded. “And so long there are farms and water, we can manage.”

“What is most important,” said the figure, extending an arm and flicking a handful of yellow dots onto the planet, “is that you thrive. These are the locations of technology points, steps that your civilization will take as it matures into adulthood. We have delayed these on purpose, with the reason that many are too risky technologies to share while you are few in number. I urge you to focus upon growing stronger for several decades before attempting to reach these, as there are dangerous obstacles between you and them. Obstacles that were pieces of the original Earth deemed to be preserved, and so they were sent ahead of you.”

Things flashed where the man had been, things that stood not on two legs but on four, that bared sharper teeth than I had ever seen, some with long nails extending from their hands. Things I recognized from the descriptions I had read before, maybe not by their particular names, but by their titles. Animals.

“Again, beware, as they know no fear of you,” he said. “But no danger will befall you unless you travel off the island. Should you come in contact with other creatures on your island, know that they are safe, that they are for your utilization. Further instruction on these shall await you once you have settled in. Now, keep your purpose in mind: arrive, survive, and thrive.” Then he raised his hand to his brow in a salute.

“Buckle in, hold on tight. Descent begins soon as the gravity fields initiate. Captain Xavier, wishing you, Dandelion 14, the beacon in the darkness, the hope of humanity, luck.”

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Chapter 80

A vibrating hum sounded from below, and around the departure vehicle, my hair stood on end. Or rather, straight up, as my stomach lurched into my chest, and our environment transformed from normal gravity to a force pushing straight up. Beside me, Airomem reached up to gather the strands now scattered above her head into a single knot, tightening them with a flick of her wrist. The lights above dimmed as the feeling intensified, and I heard retching from ahead, turning just in time to witness a stream of vomit streak upwards to splatter on the ceiling. Quickly, I averted my gaze as others joined in, and regretted that many of them had sat together in close groups while so many seats had been available.

“Your people,” said Airomem, distracting me. “You can start them gardening? You can lead them in that aspect, as well as a portion of my own.”

“Maybe not physically,” I said, raising my bandaged hands, “but I can instruct. I plan on instructing them in far more than that, however.”

“Of course,” she responded. “I’m sure Prometh will be happy to assist. But first, critical-to-life skills must be prioritized.”

“Agreed,” I said. “And we better hope that there is some food available on arrival. What we brought will not last long, and while there appear to be prepackaged rations on this ship, we have yet to take stock of them. Or to see if they are still edible.”

“Take however many of my people you need, then,” she said, her voice growing strained as the upwards force increased marginally, “except for the soldiers. They’ll leave the vessel first, and we’ll need to make sure there are no threats ahead.”

“Be careful; let’s have a better interaction with whatever is down there than we did when we first met,” I responded. “If there is anything down there.”

Then, before she could continue the conversation, the gravity field increased further, making the blood rush to my face, accompanied by a headache. I struggled to grip the edge of my seat, the bandages preventing me from finding a handhold, and Airomem taking hold of my forearm to steady me.

I lost track of time in those moments, the edges of my vision turning red, fighting to keep down the nausea that threatened to make me join the dozens with already empty stomachs. And when I looked up, the vessel was silent. Gravity felt like normal – well, slightly heavier than normal, but not by much. I swallowed to pop my ears and jumped as I heard a sound behind me.

The whoosh of two doors opening, accompanied by a bright light that flooded into the back of the ship.

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Chapter 81

I will always remember the feeling of sunlight on my skin for the first time. The sensation bearing a warmth that the cold mechanics of the ship could not provide, an experience I never knew existed. Something my imagination could not conjure on its own.

The soldiers had left the open doors first as Airomem instructed, their eyes squinting as they first stepped onto soft grass, whose footprints were the first to ever claim the surface. They fanned out in a semi-circle as the rest of us departed, creating a barrier between us and Earth 14. Airomem, Hannah, Elliott, Ruth, and I led the others, our eyes wide as we stared out before us, taking in the setting.

Gasping.

At the sheer expanse of farmland, the absolute lack of any containment making me shiver. The feeling of a breeze with no vents, the smell of what I would later realize was the salt of the sea, the line of tall plants in the distance, their leaves reaching upwards high into the sky, their stems as thick as several torsos. At the blue above us where the black of space should be, tinged with white puffs similar to soup froth. At the earth that rose taller than I, that wasn’t flat, and hard earth where plants could not grow and I could not smush with my fingers, that I would later know as rock.

And in those beginning weeks, there were many firsts.

There was the first sunburn at the end of the first day, experienced by all.

The first taste of new species of vegetables previously unknown.

The first time entering a building, which we called minor ships.

The first ascension in climbing a tree to view the expanse of the island, the wind drifting through my hair.

The first storm, when lightning split the sky, and we feared for our lives.

The first experience of water up to my waist, wading into the ocean as it sought to drag me deeper, and I retreated back to what I had come to know as sand.

And among all these, there was the first time both Airomem’s and my hands clasped together under the stars of night, the first time our lips met as the crickets chirped, and my hand pressed against the small of her back. When we realized that New Earth 14 was not the only new life we were starting, that not only did we depend upon each other for survival, but for something else. Something more.

And that after all this time, our destination had been reached, and a new journey had begun.

Of memories and history wed together, seeking a brighter future.

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