by Lady H
It's the year 2562, and humans have long since abandoned earth. Will they ever return?
I’ve always been fascinated with Earth. Up here on Anima, we have a whole library filled with books and newspaper clippings and maps, all from about 300 years ago when we used to live on the planet. It’s hidden right in the depths, amid dark, narrow tunnels and areas that are strictly off limits to the public, locked behind a key-card, foot-thick metal door with a complex system of locks, bolts and a fingerprint scanner.
Luckily for me, I have Trix. One of the brightest of the 5th generation and the youngest of The Auctoria at just eighteen. Oh, and my best friend since we were tiny. She’s head of her own research team and therefore has the right level of clearance to enter said secret room. She also has enough rebel in her to take me in there every so often, so I can cram facts and figures about our old planet into my information-hungry brain.
Needless to say, it’s my favourite room. Trix tends to let me in for a couple of hours every other day, but I always end up begging her for more time. I feel majorly guilty because she could get into so much trouble if someone found out, but I can’t help it. That room is my life.
Right now, I’m heading straight for Trix’s office. I know right; she’s eighteen and she’s already got her own office. I can so see her a President of The Auctoria one day.
I pause for a second in front of the metal door, bold green letters printed right across at head height. Then I give two short taps, pause for two, and then three more taps. It’s our secret knock; it lets her know who it is just in case she’s pretending she’s not in so she can avoid her team.
Instead of the usual door-swinging-open, Trix grabbing me and exploding with the usual gossip she pours out as soon as I enter, I hear a tight, clipped, ‘come in’. Unsure of what I’ll find, I grab the handle and twist, then stand in the door way in shock.
Trix’s office is normally totally tidy. Everything has a place, and is usually in that place. It’s all alphabetised, colour coded and beaten into order, down to the last pencil sharpened. Even though we hardly ever use pencils. And then when she got that all organised, she shuts it all behind big metal cupboard doors, so the room always looks empty. But not today.
Three Omnis screens are laid out flat on the floor, and a much larger one taking up the whole of the wall to the left. On the larger one is a 3D display of Anima, showing each layer and the positions of each and every person – I know this because the little text boxes, presumably with our names in, are moving around constantly, striding up and down corridors, running from room to room, just like what I imagine ants to look like in an ant farm (I’ve only ever seen still pictures in books). I’ve seen something a bit like this display before, except this time where most of the names and blobs of people are black like normal, about 10% of them are red. The three screens on the floor have different images projecting into the air above, the one I’m most drawn too is a holographic projection of planet earth. She’s got wooden boxes stacked up around the room, and what little furniture she does have is shoved to once side to make room. Right in the middle of all this mess, holding a hand held mini Omnis and wearing the typical Auctoria uniform of white, is Trix. Except today her crisp shirt is buttoned up wonky, and her favourite white court shoes that she’s rarely see without are nowhere in sight. Which is very unlike Trix.
She fixes her bright blue eyes on me, not saying a word, just looking at me expectantly.
I’m so freaked out by what I’m seeing it is a full minute before I can close my gaping mouth and summon some real words.
“Trix?” She blinks at me owlishly. “Trix, what on earth is happening?” She looks around her, as if surveying the mess for the first time. But she doesn’t offer me an explanation.
“It doesn’t matter.” She jumps up, moving her arms in a sharp downwards motion that clears away all the holograms and making her way towards me and trying to shield the rest of her room from my view. Because I’m a foot taller than her this action fails miserably. “What is it you wanted, Juliet?”
She already knows what I’m going to ask though, and I grin sheepishly.
“Really? You need to go to the Book Room right now?” She’s looking really stressed out and flustered. It’s so unlike her.
“Yes but it doesn’t matter; you’re busy. I can wait till tomorrow. Are you okay?” Something unrecognisable flickers in her eyes and she grimaces. But she shakes her head then offers me a very fake and unlike-Trix smile.
“I’m fine! Of course. And no, it’s okay, I’ll take you now.” She starts searching the room. I presume she’s looking for her shoes and point to them resting on the edge of one of the open crates, half hidden under its lid.
“No really it can wait.” I start backing out of the room as she retrieves the buried shoes.
“NO!” She shouts. Trix never shouts. I freeze. “I’ll take you, honestly its fine.” She gives me a more realistic smile, but it’s still tense. She has dark bags under her eyes and I suddenly remember that she wasn’t in the dorm when I woke up to get a glass of water at four o’clock this morning.
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” I ask once more after she’s practically shoved me out of her room and locked it, and we’re making our way down into the lower decks.
“Juliet! I’m okay. You know I’d tell you if something was wrong.” I do know that. But as she says it she looks so guilty, and I’m not so sure if she does share everything with me all the time. I mean, there must be stuff said within The Auctoria that they’re forbidden to tell others. Then again, she does let me into the Book Room.
We get there without seeing a soul, so avoid having to create complex cover stories.
I’m just about to step inside once she’d unlocked it all when she grabs my arm. I turn around and look at her, and she launches herself at me.
“You do know you’re my best friend, right?” She says, her voice coming out muffled as she’s buried her head in my jumper.
“Of course!” I laugh, hugging her back.
“Good.” She sniffs, pulling away and turning back into official, I-have-an-important-job-to-do Trix.
I step inside and she shuts the door behind me, locking me in. I’m plunged into darkness and its a few moments before I locate the light switch.
I stand for a moment and take the welcoming sight of the library in. Well, at least I think the room is a library (Library: ‘A building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or the members of an institution’). It sounds like the ones featured in the books, with shelves from floor to ceiling, isles and isles filling the massive room, all crammed with every kind of book you could ever imagine. But I guess in the end I can only assume; I’m never going to get to visit a library in my lifetime.
We don’t produce books any more. Omnis’ have replaced them; with a large touch screen that understands voice commands and the ability to project holograms, the Omnis holds every bit of information anyone could ever ask for about life on The Craft. It just has nothing about our old planet on it.
I get that thousands of others have done the same things for years now. I get that it’s just the way we live, and that I should just get on with it. But now that I’ve seen how humans used to live, the sense of adventure and need for change has planted a seed inside of me, and I’m dying to escape.
The image those books paint in my mind is so different to the life we lead up here. It’s like, we live up here, but we’re not really living. We’re just surviving. In the most boring way possible. There’s no fight, no bigger aim, nothing to survive for. And now that I’ve realised this, it’s slowly driving me insane.
When I’m not locked in here my life is like one big, boring, endless cycle.
Trix doesn’t understand. She keeps begging me to leave it alone, knowing that if I mention the slightest thing to anyone, they’re going to wonder how I came to know that, or have those feelings, and eventually they’d find out what we’d been doing. But I’m careful, I only talk to her about it when we’re alone. She’s definitely the only one who knows.
Well, that’s not the complete truth. I think Trix’s older brother has a pretty good idea of what’s going on. But Ethan would never tell anyone; it would get his little sister into trouble. Besides, Ethan’s harmless, he has one of the gentlest personalities I know. I just can’t picture him going up to one of The Auctoria to turn us in. In fact, I can’t see him going up to The Auctoria to tell them anything at all. He’s just one of those people who prefer to keep themselves to their selves, and wouldn’t want to make a name for himself. He’s like an anonymous bookworm.
Heading for the ‘hunting’ section – my latest favourite – I brush my hands along the spines as I walk past, feeling like I am finally at home. Or at least, what I would imagine ‘home’ feels like.
Up here there’s no room for us to have individual houses. I don’t have a home like in the books; families don’t live together. To us, family is nothing more than a shared second name. It’s just a label. We live with others our age in dorms. It’s not that bad, because I don’t know what living with my blood relatives would feel like. I’m not missing anything, and yet after reading so many books over the years, I have a vivid idea of how a human feels when they’re at home (Home: ‘A dwelling place together with the family or social unit that occupies it’ or ‘A valued place regarded as a refuge’). And that’s exactly how I feel now, in this room.
But today there’s something wrong. I slow down, back tracking. Looking at the shelves, I realise that there’s gaps. Lots of gaps where books used to be. It’s really noticeable, as these books were crammed, and I mean crammed, onto these shelves. Now some of them are missing.
I start walking again and reach the hunting section only to realise that the book I’m currently reading, which had my bookmark in it and everything, is also gone.
What on earth? I realise that I’ve picked up this phrase from someone. I’m not sure who, and it’s completely lost it’s meaning over the years. What is on earth now? Although I guess now it kind of fits more than it ever did before. It’s all a mystery.
I don’t know why I’m thinking about this now. I have an even bigger mystery on my hands. I’m walking around the library now aimlessly, trying desperately to figure out what was going on. Why was Trix acting so shifty? Where have the books gone?
I’m not paying attention to where I’m walking at all, and suddenly I walk straight into something, something that was moving towards me at quite a speed, and I fall over backwards, ending up sprawled on the floor. I just walked into another human. Another human! In my room! Well, it’s not technically my room, but, another human! I have never met anyone in here before, in all the years I’ve been visiting. Which is mostly down to Trix checking beforehand if anyone has clocked themselves in; I obviously can’t come in if someone else is. Which means this person is sneaking around too.
This person, who is now staring down at me, with an extremely shocked expression which I presume I’m mirroring.
I’m still on the floor, but I can’t move, a million thoughts rushing through my head at once. Is he going to turn me in? Should I turn him in? Should I tell Trix? Should I run away? Try to reason with him?
He hasn’t moved either, still looking down at me with his deep brown eyes, his dark hair flopping over his forehead.
Before I can study him further, or either of us says anything or moves at all, the siren rings out and is followed by an automated announcement.
“Can all citizens of Anima please make their way to the Grand Hall as soon as possible. There will be an emergency meeting starting in ten minutes that is mandatory for all to attend. Thank you.”
We share an I-won’t-tell-if-you-don’t look, or at least I really hope that’s the look he gives me, because in seconds we’re already out of the room, running along the corridor and up the many flights of glass stairs, before we merge in with the crowd in the Grand Hall and I lose sight of him completely.
These emergency meetings are rare. Practically non-existent. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever been one since I’ve been alive. There must be a link in all this. Meetings at the last minute, missing books, unorganised Trix… I look for Trix in the crowd now, but even though I’m taller than her I’m still not tall enough to look over everyone’s heads and struggle to look about me, failing to spot her before the President of The Auctoria takes to the stage.
With his startling white hair and tall frame, he looks every inch the man in charge standing up their regally looking down on his subjects. He’s been the president now for almost thirty years, and earnt the respect and trust of all of us on board with his firm but fair ruling.
The crowd fall silent as he begins to speak. “I know there’s been rumours for a while now that we are returning to Earth. I stand before you today to tell you that this is true.” There is a collective gasp that ripples through the audience. Anyone that was only partially listening to him before now gives our leader their full attention.
“Three hundred and four years ago our ancestors left Earth to travel through our solar system in hope of finding a better place for us to live. Over the years we have searched many planets but none have been suitable to inhabit. A while ago, Anima started heading back to Earth.” There was more muttering after this, angrier than before. I listen to a woman next to me complain to her neighbour about them not telling us this major decision. But it doesn’t surprise me that they kept something this big from us.
I guess generation zero, the people that left the earth on Anima in the first place, must have known what state it was in. But the first Auctoria ruled that it was forbidden for anyone to mention life before Anima. If an official overhears earth being mentioned, the unlucky gossip will earn themselves a night locked in the bottom of the ship. Trust me when I say it’s not a nice place to sleep.
It’s a stupid rule, probably the most debated one in the whole book, but it still stands. The official statement is that we left earth to find a better place to live. That’s it. We’ve all been kept in the dark for so long that by now, a lot of people in my generation don’t bother with it. No one, except those high up in The Auctoria, knows the real story. And there must be a real story.
Of course, there are rumours. But how will you ever know which ones to believe?
“Now we have finally reached Earth. The Auctoria and I have been discussing for days how to go about the next step.” We’re all metaphorically on the edge of our seats, wishing he’d talk faster, dying to know what they have decided. It’s not excitement. More giddy a mixture of horror but the need to know the ugly truth.
“We’re going to send down three hundred and four of us, one for each year that we have been up here, down to Earth, to see if it is still inhabitable. These have been chosen completely at random. Once they arrive on earth, they must send a signal back up to the ship if it is safe for us to land. There is minimal risk involved in this trip and if everything goes to plan, we should all be walking on earth before the next month is up.”
A cheer goes up from the crowd, but I don’t think anyone knows why we’re celebrating. The President made it sound like a positive outcome, but really, none of us know what we’ll find. We don’t even know what we left behind all those years ago.
Something is still wrong, I can feel it. He said minimal risk, but what I can’t get out of my head is why did we ever leave earth in the first place? They say it was in search of a better place. But what was wrong with earth? They are still, after all this time, keeping something from us. Something must have happened before we left; there must be a reason we went up into space. And they must still be weary of whatever went on, otherwise we’d all just land there now; if there was no danger, why only send a few of us?
While I’ve been thinking about all of this, they’ve started reading off the list of people chosen to go down to earth. They’re reading them out in alphabetical order, but are only on ‘F’. When they reach ‘S’ every muscle in my body tenses, although I’m not 100% sure why – Do I want to go down to earth? Am I hoping they read out my name, or not? I don’t know what I want and can’t decide; torn between safety and everything I’ve ever known, and the idea of breaking free and finally doing something with my life.
Before I can choose, the choice is taken away from me. After ‘Mathew Safridge’, they read out ‘Juliet Samuel’. It looks like I’m finally going to get to see all of the things and places the books I’ve been reading for years have teased me about.
I’m going to earth.
Thank you for reading the first part of Juliet's story. I'd appreciate if you could take a moment to rate and review, let me know what you thought, what did and didn't work, if you liked our protagonist, and anything else that springs to mind!