A menacingly urgent beeping accompanied the countdown screen on the display which Learo was facing from the seat the Space Authority had buckled him into as he protested and fought against them. The sound was so penetrating that he could feel his own skull oscillating at its obscene frequency. High to mid range with some kind of chorus or tremolo.
Then the engines began to rumble, and a subterranean bellow about a thousand octaves below baritone joined the unbearable countdown klaxon in a full on assault against his consciousness, and just as he feared he could no longer avoid an involuntary bowel movement, he got lucky and passed out.
He dreamed he was back in the ghetto, where he had attempted to hide from the Space Authority, and obviously failed. He floated just above where children played in the streets, the girls singing and tiktiking, while the boys played bounce shot and chased autocars full of gawking tourists on their bourgeois slum safaris. He smelled forage stew coming from the block kitchen, and could almost taste the rabbit and wild roots, flavors he had grown fond of during his short time in the sanctuary of urban castaways. Just as a sense of comfort and security came over him, some distant clamor pulled him away, and he woke up to the terrible tumult of alarms and engines.
After a few moments trying to compose himself in this terrifying tomb of over-stimulation, he noticed the display seemed to indicate that he had nearly arrived at his destination. Learo wondered if he had been unconscious for a very long time, or if the trip to the moon was just much faster than he expected it would be. When once again the assault on his senses threatened to overcome him, fortuitously, the engines shut down and the sirens faded into a manageable annoyance. The display screen said Landing Mode and indicated that he had about a minute and a half before touchdown.
Rumors about what became of those sent to the moon ranged from horrifying instant deaths to post-human immortality, and from the most brutal dystopia to the most harmonious Shangri-La. Since none of the people who had been sent had ever returned, nobody knew for sure, and the Space Authority sure wasn't saying anything. Over the last forty seven years every country on Earth had sent one randomly picked person from among their population to take the trip. Some considered it a great honor, while others more to his own way of thinking believed it was a death sentence, at best.
A soft thud suggested he had landed and the display read Hatch Opening, and gave a countdown from ten. His restraints loosened and the clasps broke free. He braced for the doors to open and reveal the worst. Some kind of macabre graveyard of past journeyers each fallen dead of asphyxiation in the exact spots where they had been ejected from their shuttle before it returned back to Earth. When the countdown reached zero a hiss and whoosh signaled the opening of the hatch, and he was temporarily blinded from a sudden intrusion of daylight.
It took about three seconds for his eyes to adjust enough to recognize the smiling faces that stood there greeting him. "Welcome to Sacrifice Island!" they sang out to him in unison. His entire being shuddered in relief as he became suddenly grateful that the spacesuit he was wearing obscured the evidence that he had peed himself somewhat more than a little during the last few moments.
"Hey," he whimpered softly back, half expecting them to suddenly bare fangs and lunge at him like a long anticipated meal. Instead the woman closest to him reached in towards him and took his hand.
"Here, let me help you out of there. Trust me, I know how disorientating this is. My name is Min-ji," her voice was soft and soothing, but with undertones of command, as though she were one of those leaders people naturally flocked to out of a moth-like attraction to their charisma. "Lets get you to the complex so you can clean up and grab a bite."
As he stepped out of the craft, he was shocked to see what looked more like a subtropical paradise than a barren planetary satellite. "This is the moon?" he asked, and heard a few giggles emerge from the crowd of about twenty people gathered around him.
"Technically, no," Min-ji answered. "But it may just as well be as remote and inescapable as it is. I will explain it all on the journey," she gave him a reassuring look and then spoke to the others. "I am going to take..." she paused and then asked, "What's your name?" He told her his name and she continued, "I am going to take Learo back to the complex while you unload the supplies from the ship. When you get back be sure to bring me the inventory so I can upload it to the board."
There was a small four-wheeled vehicle parked nearby which she gestured at for his benefit, and as he walked toward it she followed, and he could swear he felt the warmth of her smile shining on the back of his head. Her charm had penetrated his defenses and he slowly began to feel his anxiety give way to curiosity and wonder. He suddenly realized he was even smiling as he took in the rich sights, smells and sounds of the jungle which completely surrounded the clearing they were in.
When they arrived at the vehicle she guided him into the seat and warned him it was going to be a bumpy ride, as she pulled a safety harness over his torso and buckled him in. He panicked for a moment, recalling the scene at the Space Authority where they had strapped him in against his will, but then noticed there was no locking mechanism and relaxed. Minji hopped into the seat next to him and began fiddling with the machines controls, and without any further warned the carriage lurched to life and they were on their way.
"First of all, let me reassure you that this is a good place, and you still have a long and happy life ahead of you. The only thing is, you can never go back. Everyone who dedicates their time here to escaping eventually washes up dead on a beach. You are welcome to try but it is severely ill-advised, though nobody will try to stop you."
Learo felt an urgent need for some kind of definitive answer, so he asked, "Where are we?"
"Sacrifice Island," Min-ji replied. "As far as we can tell it is a remote island somewhere near Earth's equator, but beyond that we might as well be lost in space. It is a very exquisite island though. Likely better than wherever you came from."
He laughed at the suggestion, considering he had most recently been living in a ghetto. Though they were supposedly the worst places on Earth, he found the sense of community and culture to be profoundly more gratifying than the dull hypoburb he had spent the rest of his life in. She gave him a curious look and then continued.
"Let me get straight to the point. The technocracy which began in the mid 20th century was built upon a huge lie, which was the possibility of space travel. Every mission beyond the planet's atmosphere was a hoax intended to convince the public of that lie. Trillions of dollars were diverted from the public to the technocrats through bogus space programs conducted on sound stages and in special effects studios. The domination of the ruling class became predicated on the public's belief that their existence made the improbable completely possible through the wizardry of gadgets. When manned missions to space were no longer being performed, people began to grow skeptical. As a result of the growing doubts and fomenting anger in the face of socioeconomic ruin in the early 21st century, the Space Authority formed, and began 'colonizing the moon' with randomly selected people. And those people, each and every one, are scattered across this small archipelago - having previously arrived in exactly the same manner you have." she stopped to breath and let Learo drink all that in.
After a minute of considering the information, and deciding to trust in its authenticity, he asked, "Okay, well, what's with the name? Sacrifice Island?"
"A man named Arthur Clank devised the entire scheme. He lived among us for many years until he died of old age. The island you are on, one of fourteen in this chain, was the first homestead. He called it Sacrifice Island, as sort of a joke that the residents were all sacrifices the modern world had made to justify and perpetuate itself."
"Sounds like a real psycho," Learo announced firmly.
"Quite the contrary. Clank was a very good man. His colleagues wanted to just send the supposed moon colonizers into space to be instantly ravaged by the radiation and debris that make extraterrestrial travel impossible for carbon-based life forms. But Clank devised this alternative so that we may live. So that our sacrifice would be symbolic, not literal," Min-ji revealed in a tone that revealed some kind of deep reverence for the man.
In the distance Learo saw a large building, or rather, a large complex of buildings. They were dome shaped and appeared to be made of polished plascrete, which would make solid, enduring shelter against the harsh storms that must regularly visit this place. And judging by the size of them, from this distance, they must have been able to house thousands of people.
"Any chance a weary traveler can get a cocktail in this place?" Learo asked, resigned to letting further explanations unfold in his near future, rather than force his reeling mind to try understanding everything right now.
"You like saki?" she asked? "Rum? Mead?"
"Absolutely," he responded. "Those sound like a good start."
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