My legs dangled over the edge of the cliff as I watched the sun setting over the valley. The sand beneath my fingers was red and shiny. I picked up a handful and crunched it in my fist. It bit into my palms sharply, but didn’t draw blood. The grains felt like tiny glass shards and rocks that didn’t want to conform to the shape of my hand. I let the sand fall back to the ground.
Down below in the crevices of the valley, between the blue and green of the tree leaves and the orange of the grass, were glowing lights speckling the shadows. As the sun set more and more they began to take over the job of illuminating the land. It was a soft glow that barely let you see past the shadows, but it was beautiful. The effect was similar to the Christmas lights I had seen in a book once. The picture shone with such a beautiful warmth even from a flat and stained page. It made me smile to think of simpler times when people could just do something for joy. Here the lights were a bit more cold and dim, but still lovely. They were mostly purple and blue, but some were a faint yellow. The glow came from the various plants that inhabited the area. I believe back home we would call them bioluminescent, but I didn’t know what they called them here. I didn’t even know what here was called. This new planet I was stranded on was as nameless and empty as I felt.
I looked down at the name badge I wore. It said Julie Anderson, 15. Yes, I had a name, but it meant little to these people. Just an efficient categorization of all the captives. I shook my head and looked back over the changing landscape, then turned and glanced behind me. There was a collection of plain white buildings that were utterly square with no unique features, just painted cinder blocks like you'd see in a prison or school. Each building was close enough to the next to touch it, cramped into a city block’s worth of land and surrounded by a thick metal gate. It remained open, but guarded during the day. In about an hour they would lock the whole thing up until the morning. I didn’t want to go in yet, though, so I turned back to the sun set.
It had been three months since I was brought here. They never told me the name of my new home they brought me to. They just rounded us all up and shipped us off with no consideration.
I assumed the adults had known what they had gotten into, but the teenagers were the captives. We were collected, blind folded, put onto some sort of spacecraft, and flown here. While we were in the spacecraft we all slept in a giant corridor with bunk beds.We were brought food on trays and only permitted to leave the room when going to the bathroom which was just outside the door.
When we landed we were escorted single file past the gates and into a building directly to the right of it. Inside the walls were as drab as the outside with off white paint and no attempt at color to make the space comfortable or artistic. The carpet was gray with short fibers that barely seemed to lend to the comfort either.
We were led to a room that looked like a theater or a lecture hall. I had only been inside a theater once when my family and I bunkered in an abandoned school for a short time. The seats here were clean and intact, though, unlike the one I saw. There were twenty rows of seats in front of a stage that had a projector screen pulled down over it.
Once we were all seated, someone walked onto the stage in front of the screen. He looked like a skinny middle aged man with balding hair in the middle but short brown hair on the sides. He wore a gray sweatshirt and khaki pants. The expression on his face seemed sad or maybe just unenthused.
“If you’d all quiet down, please, I will start the presentation,” he said.
Not one of us had been speaking before he said this, but the room felt even quieter now as if everyone was holding their breath.
He nodded and walked off the stage as the lights dimmed and the projector screen came to life. Scenes of terrain I’d never seen panned by. Giant forests with strange plants, red sand dunes that stretched for miles, an ocean of green water, and then the buildings surrounding us.
“We brought you all here to help colonize this planet,” said a woman’s voice from the speakers hung around the room above us. Scenes of the Earth flew across the screen now. Fires, piles of garbage, broken down buildings, and run down cities turned into barren forests, dried up rivers, and leaking volcanoes.
“As you know, the old planet was crumbling from within,” continued the narrator’s voice “and it was estimated to be completely depleted in one hundred years. The Earth was rapidly deteriorating and would become too unstable to live on. We gathered all the youth that we could in hopes that we could populate this new world. We tried to bring the people we considered examples of a new society. Since the time of school tests and social media had long passed, we could only briefly observe everyone as they went about their life.”
I was perplexed. I couldn’t imagine my nonexistent social life and knack for staying indoors led to me being viewed as exemplary. When I did go outside I doubt I made any big decisions that could prove myself either.
“This new society,” the voice continued, “will be full of mild mannered, considerate, and respectful individuals. There will be no showboating or endangering behavior that could impact the fellow citizens around you. We will grow as a whole and bring this new society to great heights.”
“Great, so I was chosen because I’m boring,” I thought to myself. ”Why would they want boring people to populate the new world? I mean, I get respect, but people with no definable characteristics seem odd.”
The theater faded from my memory as the valley came back into focus, but that question echoed in my head. Perhaps, boring is better than being problematic. So many people back home would tear down their neighbors for an extra slice of bread. It was quite disgusting to see how some people acted. But, there were also wonderful loving humans who sacrificed some food or risked their safety to help other families. It wasn’t the charisma that mattered. It was the lack of empathy and kindness that seemed to be the issue. There were people who stuck to themselves and didn’t help. That was fine. It was neutral. It wouldn’t lend itself to a society, but it wouldn’t necessarily hinder it either. Although these people feel it would lend well to a new society I guess. But, there were also people who laid traps to get what they wanted from other families. They sought out better weapons, more food, better shelter, and other luxuries if they could find it. When they did find it, they hunted, tricked, bullied, or whatever it took to steal that commodity. They yelled at the top of their lungs that they were the apex predator, the alpha, the best humanity had to offer. I did not see it that way. Sure they could strong arm their way into some things to provide for the few inside their circle, but they were not the overall best of humanity. There is much more to a person than brawn. I’d also wager that it takes way more strength from a person to sacrifice something for another. Imagine having something you need or want in front of you and letting it go so another could live. That’s way harder than taking things from others.
My family kept to ourselves except when we could do a few silent acts of kindness. We didn’t do daring deeds to save people like some families did, but we tried to help in small ways when we could. We weren’t heroes, but we certainly weren’t bullies. I suppose that’s why I was here.
I sighed heavily. Here I was given a new chance in a new world with a whole new society, and I was complaining. They told us this was an opportunity, yet it felt like something was still missing. What kind of life would this be? We were surrounded by crazy beauty, but we couldn’t even enjoy it. I looked down at my gray uniform and grimaced. It seemed a bit extreme to want people to be quiet and timid, but is an unproblematic society that bad to aim for? They were trying to keep people to a higher standard here. They were trying to prevent the bullies from taking everything. But, why did it feel like much more than that? It felt like we were being stifled and stuffed into a rigid adherence. Is this truly the way we should go about this new existence? In any case, it wasn’t up to me. I wouldn’t have the first clue how to form a new society even if I did have the option to voice my input.
I sighed once more and stood up to begin my solemn trudge back to the compound and my drab lifeless room of four walls, a bed, a desk with nothing on it, and a closet full of gray.
In my room I sat at my desk imaging what was outside the compound because I didn’t have a window. I wished I could at least explore a bit of this new planet at least. It was supposed to be my home now, so shouldn’t I know about it first hand.
I laid my head on the desk and closed my eyes. I missed my true home. It may have been a chaotic, crumbling world full of narcissistic, mean people, but it was what I knew. More importantly, it was where my family was.
I lived with my dad and my little brother, Henry, in a broken down shack of a house. There were holes in all the walls and the windows were boarded up loosely, but it worked to keep us relatively warm. The nightly fires helped. The tiny worn out mattresses we had on the floor and the dirty old blankets were comfortable. It was almost pleasant there, actually. Dad was a serious man all day. He was quiet and vigilant. But during the night at the fire he cracked stupid jokes to make us laugh before we fell asleep. Henry would giggle his head off and I would smile and chuckle. The decay of the world didn’t matter at that moment when we were together.
He used to whistle as he whittled a piece of wood in the candle light and we’d fall asleep to the sound of it. He never kept what he made, though. He just threw it in the fire with a sigh when he was done and went to sleep himself. He did make us a few wooden toys for birthdays here and there that we could keep. My favorite was the horse he gave me two years ago. I had it by my bed.
A tear rolled down my cheek onto the desk. I held my breath thinking somehow they’d find out and punish me for causing problems. No one came to get me though and I relaxed. I couldn’t help being sad. I missed them so much. I missed the garbage world I came from, too. At least I could do what I wanted there. I didn’t do much, but I was free to do what pleased me when it came up… unless it called attention to the family and got us hurt. I suppose it wasn’t much freer than here, but it was certainly more pleasant and warm.
When I first got here I was angry that they had scooped us up and taken us from our home to a brand new place for whatever agenda they had. I’m sure some kids fared better here than they did there, but they didn’t get a choice. I didn’t ask for this. They decided this for me.
I clenched and unclenched my fists. It didn’t help to be angry. It only hurt me in the process. I had to let go of the anger and try to move on. I had to figure out how to live this new life imposed upon me. Perhaps there was some happiness for me to find here.