Some myths are true
My grandmother died last week.
On top of everything else, I lost my best friend in the whole wide world. What’s left of it, that is.
She didn’t come into my life until I was five years old, or so. My parents just said she’d been gone. A lot of people are leaving; heading out to colonies and outposts splattered across the asteroids and moons here, and if they don’t mind the trip, to several nearby systems.
I hear stories about some of them. Bleak, desolate places that I just can’t imagine wanting to go to. Others sound quite nice, with breathable air, plants, peaceful people, and plenty of farm work available.
Then there are the wild stories, myths almost. Beautiful, warm, lakes and rivers, so much like Earth once was you’d think you stepped back in time. And people don’t get sick! Like, they live forever in bliss. And no freaking police telling you what you can and can’t do! Ah, not likely. Humans don’t live that way.
As I got older, Gram would tell me stories. I believed her stories. Places she’d been, things she’d seen. She was off-world when she was younger. She used to tell some of the stories to my parents and their friends. But they all said she was just making stuff up. That she probably hadn’t even left the planet. Gradually, she just stopped mentioning her past. If someone asked her where she was, she’d just kind of nod and smile. But she’d tell me.
Over the last year or so, she’d give me things every so often. Beautiful pins and lockets (I don’t wear lockets), photographs and souvenirs she’d collected over the years. I treasure them. One of the lockets I keep in my pocket all the time. My pocket locket, I call it. To me, it’s like a good luck charm, though I haven’t gotten a whole lot of it lately.
I’ve been thinking lately. Since Gram’s no longer around, I might leave, too. I studied biology and horticulture in college, so I knew a lot about growing things. I’d always wanted to see what I could do on one of those terraformed worlds. I’ve seen some of the ads and flyers about a few of the colonies looking for horts (that’s what we’re called). They usually sounded okay, but none of them really got my blood going.
A couple of days ago, though, I ran into one of my friends from the university. He asked if I thought about going off-world. Well, YA! He then told me about a colony called Peace Haven, that they needed a horticulturist. A friend of his had just sent him a message about it. Well, ‘just sent’ doesn’t really work for messages from colonies. Sometimes they can take ten years to get here, so you don’t really hold conversations. But then, everything takes that long, so if they needed someone then, they still need them now.
We agreed to meet the next day, and he’d see if he could get any more info on it. I talked to a couple of my friends later that night, and one of them reminded me of a place he’d told me about a couple of years ago. It was one of those ‘mythic’ utopias, and that it was also called Peace Haven. Oh, oh! Is this place real? Is the guy putting me on? Just how well does he know this old college buddy of his?
When me and Kevin got together the next day (oh, ya, that’s his name), I was feeling really skeptical. I told him about the stories, and he said, yes, he’s heard them, too, but that some of those stories were true. He knew the guy was off-world (his college buddy), and that they’d been exchanging messages before. (Not very often, I imagine.) It really was a wonderful place, but the catch is that it’s a very long trip. You’re put to sleep, sort of stasis, and everything slows way down. They only use the fastest ships to go there, the ones that can get up to a decent percentage of light speed. So your time slows way down, anyway.
Well, I thought, if it’s real, it’s now or never. He gave me an address I was to go to, and that they would interview me; more like an audition. I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and then found the place. It was just an office in a very plain office building; 9th floor. The sign on the door said, “PH Communications, LLC, by appointment only”. I didn’t have an appointment, but I knocked anyway. A guy in a suit came to the door, and I told him about my friend Kevin. He then said, “Yes. We’ve been expecting you”. That gave me the chills!
A very long interview. Evidently I told him what he wanted to hear, and at the end he gave me a slip of paper with a date, time, and place that I had to absolutely, positively show up at. Oh, yes, and I could bring one piece of luggage.
It was quite a complicated trip just to get to the place on that slip of paper. Kind of in the middle of nowhere, there was this massive launch facility. I’d been to a couple of them to see friends off, or pick someone up, but I’d never been to this one. Rather than having huge ships, holding hundreds of people, all the ships I saw were small; like maybe ten or twenty people could fit into them. My little slip of paper was thoroughly scrutinized. The number on it was checked against their data cache, my ID was checked against two or three places, and they looked through my carry-on bag. A-OK! I was directed to one of the boarding area lobbies, and I was shaking.
There were just three other people sitting in the lobby, and a short time after I got there, another showed up, and we were five. Five people? Just five passengers on the whole ship? Strange. Even weird. After sitting there for maybe half-an-hour, a nurse came in; or at least that’s what she looked like. She then explained what was going to happen. We would be given a shot, then we’d lie down in this sort of pod thing and fall asleep. We’d be awakened a short time before the ship arrived at its destination, and to us, the trip would seem like little more than a good night’s sleep.
Five years we were out, I found out later.
When the nurse woke us up, I was groggy and hungry. My hair looked like at least a year’s worth of no haircuts. I sat down next to one of the windows to see what was going on. Actually, as I found out, there were no windows. I was looking at a screen that showed what was going on outside, as if it were a window. We were very close to a planet, and everyone had to put straps on, because we were about to enter its atmosphere. It wasn’t very bumpy, but it was still one hell of a cool ride.
When we landed, I could see there was something going on. A large crowd of people, maybe hundreds, were yelling and screaming, and someone was by the main gate, speaking loudly, amplified, and trying to calm everyone down.
The five of us got out of the ship, and now we were part of the yelling crowd. Dragging my bag, I worked my way to the front of the crowd, to see if I could find out where we were supposed to go. Then I saw the sign.
“Peace Haven Closed”
“No new settlers will be allowed to enter until further notice.”
“Return to your ship to arrange passage back to your departure site.”
And in smaller type:
“Returning residents see agent at window A.”
Oh, man! This can’t be happening. All this and I can’t even get in? What the…
The main gate was this large pair of doors, maybe two stories tall. Across the top, in big fancy letters, it said, “Welcome To Peace Haven”. There were various other words and pictures on it, which I couldn’t quite read because I wasn’t that close. On either side was this design that looked somewhat familiar. I know I had seen it somewhere before. Some of the stuff on the doors looked like they could light up, but nothing was lit. It looked dark, just like a dead end.
I struggled to get a little closer. There were frustrated and angry people all around me. And this was just today’s arrivals. I managed to get close enough to read one of the other posted signs, not on the doors. It said that the oxygen levels had not kept up with the growing population, and that the terraforming had done all it could. Their scientists were working on increasing the plant life’s natural replenishment, but it could be a year or more before there were any noticeable results. Increasing the population now could have dire consequences to all inhabitants of the planet.
Wait a minute. I had worked on something like that during one of my post-docs. In fact, the nursery where I was working routinely dosed the plants we sold to increase their oxygen output. It was new, but was it that new? They didn’t know about it here? I had to get closer and talk to someone about it.
I broke through the crowd and headed for the person that had been speaking to the crowd. He was standing right in front of the gates. I could see some of the guards were now headed for me. I yelled at the guy in front of the gate, and tried to get his attention. One of the guards grabbed my arm. Then something happened.
Some of the lights on the door lit up. I could hear music. As a second guard grabbed my other arm, they started to drag me back to the crowd. Then the lights went out. That startled my handlers, and they stopped, though keeping a tight grip on me. They more gently ushered me slowly toward the doors. The lights went on again. Now I was thinking, what’s going on? The guards repeated the dance two more times, each time with the same results.
The guards guided me to “Window A”. The woman behind the counter said, “Give me your resident card.”
“I don’t have a resident card”, I said. I gave her my little slip of paper, and she checked the number against her data cache. “Hmm,” she said. “Has someone in your family lived here before?” she asked.
“Not that I’m aware of,” I said. Just then I noticed a sort of buzzing or vibrating in my pants pocket. I pushed my hand into my pocket and pulled out everything that was there. That’s when I noticed the design.
There, on the back of the little heart-shaped locket I’d gotten from Gram was that design. The same design as on the big, main gates. I touched the locket. It popped open. Never have I ever seen that locket open. I’d tried, but it always stayed shut. Very quiet music was now coming from it; the same as I’d heard as I neared the gate. Inside was a number, and some other words, or switches, or buttons, and lights. I showed it to the woman. She set it on the counter in front of her and punched some numbers into her machine.
Then she said,
Gram had been here. Had lived here. All residents get one if they ever leave. They, or an heir, can always return. Forever. All they need is the locket.
Every story she told was true.
Thank you, Gram.
About the author
I've got lots of stories in my head, but haven't written any of them down. This Doomsday contest is the first one (Peace Haven). I just wrote it last night.
Here's another one I just wrote down (Old 44). I don't know where it came from.