The moon rose.
The same Earth moon that had risen when the name had been announced. And a knock had sounded on her door. She paced the empty room, her mouth dry, and her hands damp.
She had been given a final meal of choice.
A suitcase had been packed with whatever she pleased. She packed it, but she didn't please.
She had dressed on earth for the last time. Famous designers had been at her disposal, she could have chosen to wear a silver dress, with embroidered asphodels made of diamonds.
She finally decided to wear a favorite sweater, and fleece pants, that that she had worn many times before. It would be under a suit that would be put on her for the first and last time, before she entered. They would photograph her in that suit.
She wished that someone would have photographed her at her home in the clothing she wore now.
But the officials were there, as they always were, since her name had been called. To make sure she didn't run away, she supposed.
Where they thought she would run, she didn't know- after all, anywhere on earth they would find her, and anywhere else, she didn't want to go.
She had thought about suicide, a fast, clean end, instead of the one that awaited her.
However, the law was, that if the chosen one commited suicide, the next of kin would be chosen.
Her mother had begged to take her place. Her father had in a low voice reminded her mother of the internationally- decided- upon law that mandated that no one was, in any circumstance allowed to take the place of the chosen one. For no amount of money, no amount of love, no one was allowed to take the place of the chosen one.
Not that she would have let her mother do it anyway.
A key turned in the door, and a head popped in. " It is time to go. "
She got up, and followed the assumed security guard outside.
There was the launch pad, behind a gate, and on it was the rocket. The moonlight glinted off it, contrasting it from the dark blue night around it. It was fully automated, and pre -programmed to land on Periculum Moon. The most recent name.
Decades, and decades before, when Mars was found uninhabitable, rovers, and drones had been sent to other planets, and other planet's moons.
One such moon, previously thought to have only oceans under ice, was discovered to have fertile land, and running water.
It had three different three names, from it's first discovery. The first name, long forgotten had been given when it was first discovered through a telescope. The second name was a hopeful name, given when it was discovered to have fertile land, and running water.
The third name was of course Periculum Moon.
Standing in front of the rocket were many officials. Government representatives, from her country, and from around the world, space experts, and news reporters. None of her family, none of her friends were allowed here. Last farewells were given before she was put in the empty room to wait for last minute checks. They had by now reached home, and were anxiously sitting, crowded around the television, like the rest of the world.
Newsreporters rushed up to her, but the security guard held them back. A space expert put a space suit on her. According to a large digital clock in front of the rocket, it took a long time to be put on. She didn't notice.
After it was securely put on, the security guard allowed the news reporters to come closer. The president of her country came next to her, and shook her hand.
" Well, Ms. Hyssop- are you excited? This is a historic moment. Half an hour before midnight, you will board the, " Diana" And at midnight you will leave. Anything you especially want to say?
The other world leaders looked a little shamefaced at the president's, ( and their ) gall. Invite the press, name the rocket Diana, ( oh how witty it is ), launch at midnight, what an affair, what an event, the president's smile seemed to say.
" My name is Aloe Tess Hyssop. I wanted people to know. " She said.
The line seemed foolish upon looking back, for obviously he knew her name. From the moment it had been arbitrarily chosen from the list of Earth's population, the whole world knew.
But it didn't matter, no one but her close family would remember her as anything but the girl chosen that year to be sent to Periculum. Foolish, or witty, or homely, or comely, or young. She would only be remembered, ( though no one spoke so ), as unlucky. The winner of the misfortune Lottery.
The president smiled at the reporters, and told them they were allowed a few questions.
The press never had a shortage of gall.
" You only turned 18 a month before the drawing, correct ?" " This is the third time a name has been pulled from your country, while other countries have yet to be pulled from at all, do you suspect foul play, in the drawing? "
" Yes. I don't know about foul play. "
Other than the fact that the words were coming out of Aloe's mouth, she wouldn't have known that she spoke.
" What do you think is up there? " A reporter asked.
" That's enough! We don't have much time now, best be hurrying on."
The president said, fidgeting with his tie, and hustled her to the gate. A space expert jogged over, and unlocked it, and the president, the expert, and Aloe stepped through, to the Diana's launch pad. The president patted Aloe on the back, and said,
"Well, Ms. Hyssop, this is Katherine, she'll put you safely in, and at midnight they'll launch you to Periculum Moon. You have done the world a great service."
He then took out a phone. A regular phone. And took Aloe's officially last photograph, that would be plastered over the media for the next few days.
He then walked through the gate back to the "safe" area.
Katherine, a smartly dressed woman, who looked intelligent in her glasses, and sleek black bob cut, looked at Aloe and told her she was a brave woman, and that she'd give her a minute for her last breath of fresh, earth, air.
At that moment something in Aloe shifted.
She had not been too sure of her surroundings, since the knock had sounded at her door that fateful day.
She had not noticed the color of the president's tie, or what dress the British Prime Minister wore. But, since she'd told someone her name for the last time, something had shifted. She had been broken out of the stagnant apathy she had been in, and had realized what Katherine told her was true. This brisk night air was the last she'd breath of fresh earth air.
When Periculum Moon had been discovered to be sustainable to life, a great space race ensued. The world's countries fought to put the first manned rocket on Periculum, or as it was known then, Munificius Moon. It was Japan who did it. Their victory was heartily boasted about throughout the country, and the astronauts were hailed as heroes when they came back. However, soon it began to leak through that one of the astronauts may have seen something, or someone up there. Something not human.
Rockets were planned again.
The second rocket was an American one.
Munificius Moon was a large one, almost earth sized. The crew sent to explore it had state-of-the-art technology to aid them in charting new territory, however, though the terrain was seeming innocuous, a pair didn't appear during the regrouping.
They were searched for, and the leader of the crew boldly stated that it must be some sort of volcanic vent, that hindered them, or some sort of bog that trapped them, but the others of the group trembled, and whispered of the rumors that had been spread about what the Japanese rocket crew had seen.
That was all that the crew would say, after they came back without the missing pair. That, and, " There is something up there. "
Panic, and Pandemonium, had spread throughout the globe.
Munificius became Periculum.
UN meetings were held, but it didn't hold much account. Riots were happening across the globe, people were storming government headquarters, conspiracy theories flew.
A team of international astronauts was eventually gathered, and sent to Periculum, to discover, what was up there. Bribed with promises of honour, and riches when they returned.
But they didn't return.
Terrifying recordings were released
," Engine Trouble, we appear to have been hit, we are crash landing [CUT OFF ] "
" There's something here, ground control! Most of the men and women have been taken! I am afraid! I don't want to die here, GC. [ CUT OFF ]"
[ SNIPPETS OF RECORDING ]
" Sacrifice" "Human" " Send/t * "
" Bleeding " * Audio is unclear *
Aloe only knew this from what her parents told her, as she was still in her mother's womb at the time. By the time she was born the world wide panic had tripled.
" Man- Eaters! "
"Why hadn't their existence been known before! "
" They demand sacrifice! They'll eat us all if we don't give it to them ! We have to ! "
" Who shall be sent? "
" No! We should fight! "
" The Astronauts were sent with state of the art weapons and tech ! If they were so easily shot down what can we do ! "
And so it was decided. The civilised world would send one person to die each year.
For the salvation of humanity.
The first person sent to go, Alexander Brown, had enough fuel to get back, enough resources, enough communication devices.
He wasn't heard from.
The second name chosen, the second year, committed suicide, and from there on out, the law was placed that the nearest blood relative would go in there place. The Jeramiah Farkin Law.
Isabella Farkin was sent that year.
The rocket crashed on Periculum Moon, and she wasn't heard from either.
Since Aliens didn't attack Earth, this method was stated to be successful, and year after year, people, sacrifices were sent up.
Eventually the world governments decided that as the first few people who were sent up never came back, the expense of sending communication devices, and two way rockets could be cut. From then on no one came back, and no one was expected to.
The chosen sacrifices had little freedom or privacy in the month between when their name was chosen, and they were sent up.
The rocket was always made before the month of drawing came up.
The month was just there for the chosen to get their affairs in order, to receive an offer of last wish, last clothes, last meal. And then they were sent up.
Aloe. The 18th person to go, was 18 years old. The minimum age to be eligible for drawing.
Eligible for sacrifice.
From the moment her name was announced, on live television, and her mother had fainted, and her father had shouted, and her siblings and cousins, and uncles, and aunts had cried, and officials had knocked on her door, to explain proceedings and keep an eye on her.
From that moment, Aloe had been in a sort of denial. An apathetic denial.
She had not cried, but calmly, though not clearly, thought of her options. Stuck in a permanent daze, her emotions, nor surroundings were clear to her.
Was that why Katherine had called her brave?
Because she hadn't cried?
Because Aloe had cried five weeks before, when a beautiful book edition of hers had been given back from a 'friend' all creased, she had, the Monday before that, cried, when she had a headache, and had to study.
Aloe cried a lot.
But until now, she hadn't cried for what was perhaps the biggest tragedy of her life.
She was torn away from studying, ( no matter how she had hated it, it was better than being sent to Periculum ), her family, her books, her friends, her whole world. The whole world.
And suddenly that all dawned on her, and in the dark blue night, in the brisk night air, right next to the glinting Diana, and the sympathetic Katherine, she sobbed.
And she sobbed while Katherine gently, albeit awkwardly, led her into the rocket, and strapped her in.
She continued to sob while Katherine closed the rocket, walked out of the gate, locked it, and turned to face the rocket.
She sobbed while the countdown started.
And she sobbed when the rocket took off.
Eventually, weary with sobbing Aloe fell asleep. She had, like most of the people on earth, often wondered what space would be like. The stars, and the view of the turquoise and emerald planet she called home. But she did as she never would've imagined. She fell asleep while the Diana passed Earth.
Hours later she awoke.
No longer sobbing, no longer apathetic.
She was wide awake and vigorously watched the indigo universe as she passed it with, as to make up for her sleepiness before.
Spheres of fire, and crystal planets.
Were they also home to life? Intelligent life? Life that would require sacrifices from earth as well?
She gazed at the moons reflecting light from their sun's. Some were tiny, mistakable for meteors to the untrained eye, and some were almost indistinguishable from planets
A deep emptiness, expanding forever, planets, sun's, asteroids, The Diana, mere ripples in the vast eternity of nothingness. Or was it everythingness.
Aloe suddenly burst out laughing, for interrupting the midst of the suitably philosophical thoughts she had, at facing the universe, and her death, her gastronomical tract was emitting signs that it was displeased with her, " last meal of choice "
And in that way, Aloe Tess Hyssop sat in the Diana which was speeding off to Periculum Moon.
Theresa Smith stood at the head of the crowd.
It had been quite a few earth decades since she had been left behind by her crew on Munificius.
She had learned to speak the language of the locals quite fluently, and would act as a translator between them and the new comer.
She kept track, and there was a pattern of when the eighteen
" sacrifices " had been sent and today one terrified human would land, expecting to be eaten.
Decades before when she, and her partner Gabriel Timmins had gotten stuck in a Munificiun marsh while exploring the terrain, they too had been terrified when they saw the natives peering down at them.
They were strange looking humanoids, with violet skin being only one of their physical abnormalities.
And humans do tend to view difference as evil.
However, their fear subsided a little, when the Munificians had taken them to their village, and tended to their injuries. One of the Munificians set to look- out, apparently for the mode of transport from which she and Timmins had come from.
When she learnt their language, she learnt that when that Munifician was doing so, he met with several of Theresa's kind who ran away screaming.
When she, and Timmins healed enough to walk, they discovered the rocket gone, and so the Munificians hospitably welcomed them into their homes.
They had settled, and learnt the ways of the natives, when a rocket crash landed on the moon. It was hit by a meteor, and it's passengers were severely hurt, and delusional.
One kept shouting till they passed out, that they had been sent to sacrifice their life for wealth, and they didn't want to die. Theresa calmly told him he was losing to much blood, and that she'd need to "put him under" for his own good
Most of these people were saved, and slowly realized like Theresa and Timmins, that it was due to the Munifician's generosity that they did.
When the first two rockets arrived, they felt wholly abandoned.
Alexander Brown, believed Earth had turned its back on him when they sent him up. He didn't have any close family members, and truth be told, he knew no one really missed or mourned him.
When Theresa Timmins, and the rest explained that he wasn't going to be eaten, and that the Munificians were their saviors, he did a rather bitter thing. He smashed, broke and shut down all technology that could have allowed anyone to go home.
When Maria Farzi, one of the survivors of the wreck had screamed at him, and the rest of the humans, had questions in their eyes, he simply said, "It's better off that way "
Theresa felt angry, like the rest but had tried to forgive him. It was technically his choice.
However when he did the same to Isabella Farkin's ship, it was inexcusable, and she couldn't find in her to forgive him. Treated like a pariah from the fellow humans on Munificius Moon, he ended his life.
The last " sacrifice " to be sent with resources to possibly get back, was Mei Ito. She crash landed, as did many in times to come. Her resources were rendered useless, but her wounds were tended to, and she adapted very quickly to her new life soon after.
The Munificians adopted every single human to come there, and treated them like revered guests. Time after time, each " sacrifice " was treated with such care, that despite missing their families, and homes, many of them loved Munificius's maroon and blue sky. They loved it's unique fruit, they revered the gigantic blue mountains, they wondered at the stunning views of the fiery, great gas giant it orbited.
And one day maybe, they would help the Munificians advance their technology so that maybe, some human generation, would be able to go back to earth.
For now, Theresa watched, as a glinting rocket with "Diana" printed in bold paint on the side, landed, and a trembling figure stepped out.