Affie gripped the cool metal railing to steady himself as he looked up at the dark sky. The stars were dimly visible through the thick smog and haze that hung over the landscape. He could see the brightest stars, but they seemed so few. He remembered a few years ago there had seemed to be so many more. He stared at the distant points of light, lost in his thoughts and memories until he felt a jolt as someone bumped into him. Pulling his gaze from the stars above and refocusing his eyes and thoughts, he turned his head towards the source of the jolt. “Hey, sorry man” said a tall, brown-haired boy about his age, “it’s crowded here, and I tripped into you.” “No problem” Affie replied, “I shouldn’t be day-dreaming anyway. Which one are you headed for?” he asked, nodding at the three silver ships below them. “Far one on the right, I’m told it’s called The Star Cruiser” said the boy, “You?” Affie shrugged and said, “Me too. But I’d rather not be going. What’s your name?” “Tullie” the boy said proudly, “and I’m glad to be going. Nothing here for me anymore. Well, see you on the ship.” “Sure” said Affie, turning away. He and Tullie stood for a moment watching the crowd of youth funnelling down the walkway, confined by the metal railings on each side. Affie thought of the school videos they had once watched about livestock moving through the stockyards and felt they weren’t all that different. Tullie saw an opening in the crowd and stepped away, heading down towards the spaceships. Affie sighed and looked out into the crowd of bodies again. He hoped he would see some of his siblings or his friends, but he didn’t have much hope.
Affie shifted back and pulled himself up onto the top railing, perching on it and looking out. He saw a flash of green hair that could only be one person. “Hey Sarrah!” he yelled. The green hair flung around as its owner turned her head quickly towards him. She began pushing her way through the crowd and popped out next to Affie. “Hey Affie” she said, “how come you’re not down at the ships yet?” “No rush” he said, “I’ll have to get there sooner or later, so why fight the crowd?” “Good point” Sarrah agreed, pulling herself onto the railing next to him. They sat side-by-side, waiting for the crowd to pass. “What do you think of all this?” Sarrah asked him, “Do you think it’s really necessary?” Affie became lost in thought for a moment as he considered Sarrah’s question. It was a strange situation. A great war was being waged on all continents and the landscape was being torn apart, so the decision was made to send all of the children away to other worlds “for their own safety” as the propaganda put it. Affie’s parents believed it was the best thing to do, so had signed up all 5 of their children right away. But without any specific relations or friends on other worlds, they didn’t have anywhere to send them to. In these cases, children were being matched with willing families who would host them, but there was no telling where they would end up, as this was not shared before they left. Instead, they would board a ship and arrive to be parcelled out to waiting host families for who knows how long. Sarrah was lucky, she was being sent to her Aunt and Uncle, so she knew exactly where she was going. Affie’s parents had decided that it was safer to send their children on multiple ships just in case of a disaster. Affie was to board The Star Cruiser alone. His younger siblings were to go in pairs aboard the other two ships, The Comet and The Star Searcher. Affie looked over at Sarrah and said, “I don’t know if it’s necessary, but we don’t have a choice. Our parents made the choice and we just have to live with it, don’t we? I’d rather not go, but maybe it will be an adventure.” He forced a smile at Sarrah, “Maybe we’ll even get to see each other, maybe even go to school together again.” “I hope so.” said Sarrah, “It would be nice to start with a familiar face. I haven’t seen my Aunt and Uncle in years. They are supposed to have a farm”. “Cool,” said Affie, “I’d like to see it. Hey, it looks like we’d better get going. We’ll be the last ones down.” Affie and Sarrah slid off the railing bar and started walking down at the tail end of the crowd of young people. Reaching the entrance to the ship, they looked up in awe at the silver and white sleek shape. They both reached out for the others hand and stood for a moment hand-in-hand. Then they broke contact and headed up the ramp, towards the smartly dressed woman at the top of the ramp.
The woman smiled down at them as they reached the top of the ramp. “Names?” she asked. Sarrah stepped forward and said “Sarrah Tollen”. The woman checked the pad in front of her and tapped it a couple of times. “Yes, here you are. Seat 14F. Just head in and look for row F, you’ll be on the right-hand side. And your name?” she said, turning to look at Affie. Affie swallowed nervously and said, “Affie Bassen”. The woman tapped on her pad again and looked at Affie. “Yes, here you are. Seat 29A. Lucky, you get a window seat!” she said, smiling at Affie. It was pretty obvious she was trying to make him feel more relaxed. Affie appreciated it, but it didn’t really help. He was about to be rocketed away from his family and the only home he had ever known. Not a lot would make him feel relaxed right now. He pulled his shoulders back and straightened his 14-year-old frame as tall as he could. He smiled back and said, “Thank you. That will be on the left, then?” “Yes dear” the woman said, smiling, “close to the back, you don’t have far to go.” Affie and Sarrah stepped forward to find their seats in the ship. Sarrah headed towards the front of the ship and Affie found his row pretty quickly. He scooted past the other seats in his row and slid into the black seat with the silver ovoid shell. With a sigh, he turned towards the small window beside him and peered out. The area was quiet now, with only one or two people moving around between the ships. All of the children and teenagers had been loaded onto the ships. It was happening. Soon they would leave the planet. Affie wondered if he would like the place he would end up. Would it be clean? Would there be grass and trees and water? And animals and birds? He hoped so. It would be very cool to see those things without the pollution and destruction here. He leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes, daydreaming about green grass, tall trees and cool blue water.
Affie opened his eyes and felt disoriented. Looking out the window, he realized it was all black with white streaks. They were in space! He wondered how he could have missed the take off. He hadn’t been that tired! As he struggled to make sense of everything, a video screen snapped on in front of him and a computer-generated image of a woman appeared. The same image had come up on screens in front of every passenger on the ship. “You may be feeling slightly disoriented” she started, “this is completely normal. Once all passengers are seated, localized aerosol sedatives are pumped to each seat to allow for a smooth and easy lift off. The takeoff process can be stressful, and we have found this is the best way for all passengers to enjoy the trip. This wears off shortly after takeoff, as you are now experiencing. We will be travelling through deep space for approximately 14 hours to reach our destination. While in flight, please feel free to get up and move around the ship.” A diagram of the ship appeared on the screen in place of the woman. “You will find a lounge area in the center of the ship where you can play video games, socialize or sit comfortably. There is an eating area at the rear of the ship. Bathrooms are located next to these areas.” These areas lit up on the map as she spoke, with red lines appearing to show the way from Affie’s seat to each area. “Please do not attempt to go to the flight cabin area at the front of the ship. This area is off limits and it can be dangerous to distract the pilot. If you have any questions, simply tap any screen panel like this one and I can be of assistance, or a flight crew member can come to assist you. Enjoy your flight.” The screen went dark. Affie wasn’t hungry and didn’t really want to socialize, so he simply settled back into his chair and looked out the small window, watching the stars streaking past. His mind wandered again to what might be waiting for him, for Sarrah, and for his siblings. He did hope they would be okay. As the oldest, he felt like he should be protecting them, but his parents thought they would be safer apart. Affie didn’t agree and he and his parent had argued about it. But in the end, it was their choice and Affie didn’t really have a say, so he had to go along with it. At least he had their IDs so he could call them once they all got to wherever they were all going. Affie was enjoying the hypnotizing effect of the stars streaking past and didn’t even notice his eyes drooping again as he slipped into slumber.
Affie’s eyes snapped open as he felt the ship jerking around him. He turned his head to look out the window, but it had been obscured by something, perhaps a screen had come down. Affie was confused and tried to reach out to press the panel, but his arm was jolting around so violently he couldn’t even steady it enough to touch the right area. Not wanting to get injured, he pulled his arm back and gripped the sides of his chair. As he did so, the violent shuddering of the ship worsened. An alarm started to sound and Affie could hear the whimpering and crying of children around him. Many of the children were a lot younger, and while they were excited about traveling in space, this was not what they had expected! Affie wondered what was going on. There seemed to be something really, really wrong. The alarm cut out and a voice rang out, clear and penetrating, “The emergency system has been activated. Ship integrity has been compromised; evacuation is in progress. Please ensure your arms and legs are within your seat area. Rescue pods will activate row by row.” The message began to repeat again. Affie saw red lights around his seat, with the words “seat area” in black letters within the red light. The ovoid portion of the seat in front of him began to expand outwards, encircling the passenger. It sealed itself shut, the passenger enclosed within the silver and white ovoid. Affie saw his chair begin to do the same and soon it closed over him, blocking out all sound, light and noise from within the ship. Affie heard a hissing noise and then felt the propulsive force, feeling like he was being hurled away from the ship. He was jolted and jounced around, but he was safe and uninjured. Soon, everything steadied, and he felt as though he was floating. Affie wasn’t sure how long he floated for, but after some time he felt a change in the air around his capsule. He began to feel like he was falling, and the jolting started again, bouncing him around as he fell. Then all of a sudden there was a huge crash and he was thrown forward, sideways and backwards in quick succession. Then he stopped and everything was still. Affie sagged forward in relief, unsure of what to do next. The capsule solved that for him, splitting open to reveal the dark outside to him.
Affie climbed out of his capsule into the dark, scrambling over the rough ground. He remembered the emergency pack that was stowed under his seat and reach back into the capsule to grab it. Unzipping the pack, he pulled out a flashlight and turned it on. He shone the light around him and saw he was surrounded by rock. He was in a cave! Turning back, he took stock of the pack before him. A small pack of rations, a medical kit, a utility tool and knife as well as some water packets and three emergency blankets. The emergency blankets could be used to fashion shelter or clothing, as needed. He zipped the pack back up and hung it from his belt. Standing, he surveyed the cave he was in, looking back along where his capsule and crashed into the side of the planet and punched a hole into the cave. There was very little light coming through the hole, so Affie figured it must be night here. He picked his way along the plowed swath his capsule had made, heading for the hole. He knew he had to get out onto the surface to get a better idea of where he was and what he should do. The going was rough, and the surface was warm, hot in some places. He had to be careful where he stepped. Some of the rock on this planet obviously heated up easily and stayed hot. As he approached the hole, he realized he would have to climb up the edge of the hole. Struggling and slipping, he managed to get a grip on the edge and pull himself over and out onto the landscape. He landed face-first into a clump of vegetation, scratching him. Cringing, he rolled over onto his back, exhausted. He rolled flat and looked up, gasping at the wonderous sight in front of him – a vast, clear blackness filled with thousands upon thousands of brilliant white stars! Affie had never seen the like of an expanse like this. His mind in awe of the sight as he starred up at the stars – stars he had never seen before.