X53Za Part 1

The footpath was teeming with commuters, pressed so tightly that Sam was carried along with the crowd. He sighed. This would add at least an hour to his travel time and he was already exhausted. By the time he finally manoeuvred his way out of the crowd, his feet ached and his head throbbed with each step he took.

As he turned back the way he had come, he noticed a large booth he had never seen before. Inside was an average looking woman, dark hair framing her smiling face. She was well-dressed, though not in a ‘flaunting her wealth’ kind of way. In fact, she looked like one of those government flunkies you always see surrounding the politicians on the television.

What really caught Sam’s eye. though, was the posters plastered all over the woman’s booth. ‘Explore the frontier’, the brightly coloured letters proclaimed above pictures of pilgrims and cowboys and wagon trains, ‘Your ancestors did it, Why not you?’. He paused for a moment, undecided. Today’s air was particularly thin and his lungs felt tight and unresponsive. Couple that with his headache, and he wanted nothing more than to go home to his oxygenated apartment, swallow a tablet and relax in a steaming shower.

Internally rolling his eyes, Sam recognised that was never going to happen. He was far too curious for his own good. He knew if he walked away now, he would never get any peace of mind. Struggling through the warm bodies, he proceeded to push and shove his way towards the booth, to the amusement of the woman standing within.

“Hello,” she greeted when he finally arrived. “Are you looking for an adventure, then?”

“Actually,” Sam replied, “I was just wondering what’s going on. I couldn’t help but notice your posters as I passed and, I must admit, I allowed my curiosity to take hold and made my way over to find out what you are advertising.” His gaze fell upon stacks of pamphlets and forms, as well as cups full of key-rings and pens.

“What are all these posters for?” He asked. “Why are you here? You mentioned adventure?”

“Well,” the woman said, “The short answer is that this is a recruitment stand.”

“Recruitment?” Sam interrupted, “Recruitment for what? As far as I’m aware we aren’t at war right now.” He looked at her apprehensively. “We aren’t, right? They haven’t declared war while I was slaving away at work?”

She laughed. “No,” she said, “To my knowledge we’re not at war with anybody right now. I’m recruiting for something quite different. You are aware, of course, of the underlying cause of all those wars you are so worried about?”

Sam nodded. “Overpopulation, right? Too many people, not enough space or resources. There just isn’t enough food, clean water or breathable air for everyone alive today.”

“That’s right.” she said. “What you may not be aware of, though, is that the United World Conglomerate have been working towards a solution. Did you take Global History and Culture in school?”

“Yes, of course. It was compulsory by the time I attended.”

“Good. Then, do you recall how our forefathers coped when food or living space became scarce?”

“Well, yes, of course. Some remained behind and continued on as best they could, but the more adventurous would pack up and explore unclaimed or wild land, settling down when they found a suitable place or could go no further.” Sam stated enthusiastically. GHC had, after all, been his favourite subject. “But I don’t understand. That can’t be what you are suggesting. Every inch of this planet is populated. There’s nowhere left to move to.”

“On the contrary, that is exactly what I am suggesting.” She replied, with a cheeky grin. “It hasn’t been widely advertised until now, but several years ago, the Global Science Authority discovered a habitable planet in our solar system. The UWC has spent a great deal of time and money since this discovery, developing a method of mass transportation in space.”

“Are you shitting me?” Sam said. “Why hasn’t any of this been on the news?”

“Everything was kept classified until they could be sure of success and, for once, the top secret information managed to stay top secret. However, just last week, it was decided that everything is as ready as it can be, and colonisation may begin.”

“So that really is what these posters are on about?” Sam asked. “Your looking for pioneers? People willing to just pack up and leave the only planet they’ve ever known in order to establish settlements on a completely alien and, quite probably, hostile planet?”

“That’s exactly why I’m here, sir.” she said. “Why don’t you take a pamphlet home and read about it in more detail? I do think this is something you would be interested in, given that you couldn’t even pass by my booth without stopping to explore.”

He hesitated and she gave him an encouraging wink. “Go home. Think about it. Read the pamphlet. I really do think you’re perfect for this and this isn’t an opportunity you want to pass up. How many people alive today can say they’ve seen places no other human has seen before them?”

Sam reluctantly accepted the pamphlet the woman was holding out. He’d probably just throw it out, but he figured it couldn’t hurt just to have a look. Nodding his thanks, he fought his way through the dwindling crowd and trudged the lonely route to his tiny apartment.

After dinner that night, Sam sat staring out his window, contemplating the pamphlet he had just read. He had to admit he was intrigued. The idea of leaving the drudgery that was his life and embarking on a grand adventure was certainly tempting. He knew it would be hard work but he was used to working hard. It would be a dangerous, thankless task exploring an entirely new world, preparing the way for those settlers who would come after.

Could he do it?, he wondered. Could he leave everything he knew, the almost comfortable life he was leading, for a life of uncertainty and hardship, never knowing if he would survive from one moment to the next? Yes, he decided. What was there for him here? A job that was slowly killing him? An empty apartment at the end of a long day? A world in which something as simple as fresh, clean air was a precious commodity? No, the question he should be asking himself was, did he truly want to stay?

Having made up his mind, though if he were honest with himself his decision had been made the moment he saw the recruitment booth, Sam retired to bed. Tomorrow, before work, he would approach the recruitment woman.

Sam woke earlier than usual the next morning, knowing he needed to go well out of his way to find the recruitment booth. The woman gave him a smug look as he approached. “I knew you were a sure thing,” she said, as she handed him the paperwork and a pen. “You just seem the type.”

He grinned at her, then proceeded to fill in the paperwork, pausing occasionally to clarify what was being asked. Handing her the finished forms, Sam asked “Do you know how long the approval process is?”

“It takes two days to file the paperwork, and another two days for it to be processed, so you should know in about a week. If you are approved, you will be given information about when and where to meet, and what you can bring with you. The first convoy leaves in two or three months, I believe. I honestly don’t think you’ll have any problems, though. You are perfect for this.”

“Thanks,” Sam replied. “You’ve been quite helpful. I have to go or I’ll be late, but thanks again.” The woman nodded and Sam hurried away, hoping he could make it on time. He couldn’t afford to have his pay docked again.

Sam spent the next week ready to jump out of his skin with anticipation. When his letter finally came, his hands shook so badly, he almost couldn’t open it. Open it he did, though, and proceeded to read it aloud to his empty apartment.

Mr. S. Bletchley,

Congratulations!

We are pleased to announce that your application to take part part in Pioneer 1, the first expedition to Planet X53Za, has been successful. Accompanying this letter, you should have received the following:

  1. Form 1A, detailing what you need to bring with you, as well as items that should be left behind.
  2. Form 1B, a letter to be provided to your employer, explaining your reasons for terminating your employment and detailing penalties for terminating your employment early, or creating an unsafe or unwelcoming working environment as a result of your acceptance into this program.
  3. Form 2A, to be filled out by your GP and returned as soon as possible.
  4. Pamphlet, “How to Say Goodbye”, containing advice on how to tell your friends and family.
  5. Form 2B, detailing how to inform various government departments about your inclusion in this program.
  6. Form 1C, containing departure and contact information.

If any of the above forms are missing from your package, please present this letter to your local UWC centre, and a replacement will be provided to you.

We, here, at the United World Conglomerate hope you enjoy your journey and wish you well for the future.

Yours Sincerely,

J. Cooper
UWC Representative for the United States of America

“Yes!” Sam shouted, pumping his fist. “I’m in! I’m in, I’m in, I’m in! I can’t wait!”

The next two months passed quickly in a blur of activity and anticipation. At times, time seemed to almost crawl as Sam looked forward to escaping the wreck that Earth had become. At other times, he wondered how he was ever going to get everything done in time. Slow or fast, time did pass, and eventually Sam found himself facing his departure with a combination of excitement and apprehension.

*************************************************************************************

This story became longer than I intended, so I decided to write it in parts. Part 2 will be posted for next week’s Fiction Friday. I won’t post what my prompt was, yet, because it would spoil the rest of the story. Rest assured, I will post the prompt when the story is finished.



Categories: Fiction Friday

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