Those Who Trespass: Part 1

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Excerpt from the Authorized Biography of Janelyn Ride

Janelyn Ride stared out the thick, fused glass window of Atlas 6 and prepared to die. It had been on her mind since she was selected for the mission, encroaching more so in the days leading up to launch. She’d never had time to think about death before. She’d been busy thinking about how hard learning both Russian and Chinese were, about how easy it was to pilot a space shuttle in 2085. Computers did all the work, she just monitored the data coming in, made minute adjustments, conjugated Russian verbs. Then she’d been thinking about being selected for a mission, waiting, wishing, wanting. Conjugating.

Then she’d been selected.

            She hadn’t thought of her great aunt Sally. She hadn’t thought of her friends or her cat. Instead, she had thought умирать—to die.

            умира́ю. I die, she had thought.

            умира́ешь. You die, she had thought.

умира́ем. We die, she had thought.

And now, she and the other two astronauts aboard Atlas 6 would die. They had been hit by space debris just past Jupiter. The engines were overheating. The cabin was hot now, powered by furnaces that would eventually burn out. She wished for a stray spark of oxygen so that they could at least explode.

Anything was better than dying slowly.

Out of the window, a green light winked. Wondering if it was really she who was blinking, Janelyn rubbed her eyes and fixed her gaze. No, it was definitely the light. And it was slowly growing larger, coming closer.

“Isa,” she whispered to the Russian scientist, her throat dry. “Isa, look.”

Isakova floated to the window portal next to hers and drew in a sharp breath.

Mei, the unflappable Chinese navigator, pushed himself across the room to the radar screen they hadn’t bothered to look at since the navigation system had failed. “It’s not showing up on the screen,” he said.

“Rescue mission?” Isa muttered. She ran a hand over the bristles of her close cropped gray hair, anxious.

Janelyn shook her head, “Can’t be. We don’t have ships that look like that.” Then she realized that Isa or Mei might know something about their countries’ space programs that she did not, and asked, “Do we?”

They both shook their head, and Janelyn believed them, even though theirs was a joint mission by necessity—only with their resources combined could the three countries send a ship this far into the solar system.

“It’s not showing up on the screen,” Mei said again, patiently.

“No, but it is showing up out there,” Janelyn said, jabbing her finger into the glass. As she said it though, she began to wonder. Perhaps it was a mirage, a group hallucination brought on by depleting oxygen levels. Or perhaps they had already died.

умира́ла, she thought sadly, and I didn’t even realize it. There was no white light. There was no long tunnel. But there is someone here to greet me. She pressed her face closer to the portal. But who?

“Anything from Earth would show up on this radar,” Mei said, clearly not sharing Janelyn’s concern that the United States or Russia had technology that China was unaware of. “That is not showing up. That has a cloaking system that is beyond anything we have on Earth.”

He kept enunciating it, Earth. Janelyn stared out at the unearthly light. They were not just green pinpricks in the distance now; the vessel had pulled alongside their drifting coffin, and she could see that it was made up of hundreds of slate gray tiles that each had strange circular patterns carved into them. As she watched, the tiles shuffled apart and the vessel yawned open, revealing a loading dock. Large squares of light shot out, and their ship shuddered slightly.

“They’re loading us,” Isa said tersely, although she said it in Russian and it took Janelyn’s bewildered mind a moment to translate.

The lights were acting as cables, somehow attaching to the smooth, sleek sides of Atlas 6 and pulling them slowly, steadily, and inextricably closer. Artificial illumination flooded through the window portals as they were fully swallowed by the gaping gray mouth.

“Oh God,” Janelyn gasped, as Isa and Mei whispered their prayers in their own languages. But strangely, death was the furthest thing from her mind, and she leaned forward rather than shrinking back as the sealed, locked door of their cabin began to slowly crank open.

Beside her, she felt Isa straighten, saw her face go carefully blank the way it had when Mei had told them the engines were shot. In the chair across from her, Mei himself steepled his fingers together and rested his chin on them. His black gaze swept across her and Isa, and then back to the great, heavy metal door as it  lifted up and slid to the side, leaving a rectangle of the bluish-yellow light that was coming in through the portals.

Janelyn shut her eyes reflexively at the brightness and saw the afterimage of a figure burned into her eyelids. A person, she thought. Or at least, almost a person. She opened her eyes again. Yes, she thought dazed, two legs, two arms, one head.  A rescue mission after all? Could Japan have a secret program? Would Japan bother coming to their rescue?

But then it said something in a pleasant voice that none of the three astronauts could understand, and Janelyn knew she had been wrong. No person could sound like that, the language was ancient, formed in stardust. The vocal cords that produced it made the words hum as if reverberating from another galaxy. When Janelyn and the others stayed frozen in place, it cocked its head slightly and tried again. With her ear trained for languages, Janelyn felt sure that it had spoken in a different one than before. It was still unfamiliar, though, still ancient, and she felt herself slowly shaking her head.

“English?” she asked. “字中国?”

It shook its head to both English and Chinese, but when Isa cleared her throat and introduced herself in Russian, it began to nod. And Janelyn had thought in a rush of relief, my budem zhit'.

We will live.

Jake REDACTED: Prompt 1 Response     

Prompt 1: How did you feel when you learned your town was chosen to be one of the Host locations for the Exchange?

I’m supposed to be training right now. I’m a runner, and this is my season. Coach picked me to be team lead, and that means even he knows this is my season. Last year he didn’t, and I kept trying to tell him, and he kept putting me on the sidelines. Well, here I am again, because Coach got an alert that I hadn’t filled you out.

Some of the team look like they wished they hadn’t filled theirs out, too, because Coach is making them run suicide drills. But that nuke Clive is shaking his head at me and talking up coach.

I bet he thinks this is his season.

Prompt Reminder: How did you feel when you learned your town was chosen to be one of the Host locations for the Exchange?

Man. Is someone reading this in live time, or has the program just not seen enough keywords yet? I hope these things are as private as they say. It’ll definitely make the Feeds if it gets out that I used that word, which isn’t fair now that I think about it.  

Prompt Reminder: How did you feel when you learned your town was chosen to be one of the Host locations for the Exchange?

ALL RIGHT. I get it.

When I learned that our town was chosen to be one of the Host locations for the exchange, I felt fine. <Submit>

Rejected: Insufficient

    INSUFFICIENT?! You’re not supposed to tell us we’re insufficient. Don’t get me wrong, I’m used to it. But people don’t usually just come right out and say it like that. The educators usually start by telling me I could be getting better scores, and then they break it to me that I’m lazy and generally useless. Even my ex, Sophie, started off, “I like you a lot, Jake,” before she got to, “but you’re a--”

Prompt Reminder: How did you feel when you learned your town was chosen to be one of the Host locations for the Exchange?

    CAN I FINISH MY SENTENCE?

--loser.”

Great, now coach is coming over.

You have been inactive for three minutes.

    Actually I’ve been actively trying to keep Coach from aborting me from the relay team. He’s an in-your-face, spits-when-he-yells kind of guy, so I’ve also been toweling us off.

You’re welcome.

    By the way, he calls me insufficient all the time, so don’t think you got to me.

So, as I was saying, when I learned my town was chosen to be one of the host locations for the Exchange, I wasn’t surprised. I was resigned. Like, of course we were. One of my greats was a space pioneer who was on the ship that made the first contact with alien civilization. The Common Laws of the Universal Government are named after her. No way were they going to pass up the opportunity to put the Exchange students in the same school as her only direct descendants. The Feeds had been calling it from the minute this Exchange was announced.

So maybe it’s because I’ve been expecting it, or maybe it’s because I’m not really into politics, but no, I’m not excited. I get that reestablishing 511820-H2 into the Universal Government is a big deal to some people, and we’ve never been a host location for any of the other planetary exchanges before, so I guess it will be cool to see foreigners in person, but a pretty big part of me thinks this is going to be a show. And not the good kind, like the kind I should be putting on for Coach right now. Like the lousy kind, because I don’t know if you guys have taken a look at the Feeds lately, but reestablishing 511820-H2 doesn’t exactly seem to be the most popular proposition. And I get it. I don’t want to get heavy about this (because I have things to do), but I get it.

So, in conclusion, I think this is probably a bad idea, made worse by the fact you’re sending the best looking girl I know to a planet whose inhabitants probably aren’t all that sanitary, based on their track record.

Speaking of track records, this had better be sufficient, because I have to go wipe that smirk off Clive’s face.

<Submission Accepted>

 

Dorwen REDACTED: Prompt 1 Response     

Prompt Reminder: How did you feel when you learned you were chosen for the Exchange?

I was lit.

It’s actually a little more complicated than that. There was a lot going on at the time. I’d just made the track team. My friend’s older brother had just died in a freak accident on his Service. People weren’t feeling too great about the Exchange, or U-Gov in general.  The principal called me in, sat me down, told me the news, and I thought, cool. And I was definitely lit, but it was complicated because I was also thinking, What have you gotten yourself into now, Dorwen? Because some people weren’t going to be so lit, like my family.

I tried to tell them at dinner, but my grandmother had cooked. You wouldn’t think that’s a problem, but she’s old enough to remember the ration years, so when I put down my fork while there was still food on my plate and said, “I have to tell you something,” her eyes narrowed into slits.

“Finish your food first.”

“What is it, Dorwen?” my mom said, but she’s a wafer-thin line of defense, especially once my grandfather steps in.

He lifted his head from his plate long enough to bark, “House rules,” which is his last word on anything. If one of us wants to argue that, well, we’d better find a new house to live in.

I picked up my fork again, because I didn’t want them angry. There’d be plenty of time for that later.

When my grandparents went back to staring intently at their plates, like the food might escape if they didn’t, my mom and I traded glances. She shrugged apologetically, but I knew it was me who should be apologizing, because I was going to leave her with them.

Finally, when his plate was empty, my grandfather relaxed his guard on it long enough to look up and nod gruffly at me. “Got somewhere to be?”  

“No, something to tell you.” There was a big grin trying to stretch my mouth, but that was no good. I had to play this down.

“Something wrong?”

“I was picked for the Exchange.”

I knew that was wrong as far as my grandparents were concerned, but my mom shrieked and laughed and applauded all at once. Then she snuck a sideways glance at my grandparents. She looked so young, my mom, like she could be my older sister. I knew this was going to be a fight, and I knew I couldn’t expect her on the front lines.

Once she got quiet, it was like I’d just sucked all the air out of the room. My grandmother’s mouth flailed open and closed, my grandfather’s drew tighter and tighter, his unblinking gaze fixed on me. I wasn’t as obedient as his dinner was. I was trying to escape. “What exchange?” He finally said.

I knew he knew what exchange, so I just said: “I leave in two years,” by way of answer.

“You can’t,” my grandmother found her voice, too. “You can’t go there. After everything they’ve done to us?”

“That’s why I have to go there,” I said, like I’d practiced. “We have to be able to rejoin the U-Gov. This exchange is a step toward that.”

“They did help us, mom,” my mom said, “They relocated the survivors.”

“Once there were hardly any left.” My grandmother had been really young when the war happened, but she remembered, and she wanted to pass the hate down. “And the way they’ve treated us since. The quarantine? The mandatory service?” We all looked at my grandfather’s right hand then, at the way the last two fingers have been neatly cleaved away, gone for as long as even my mom can remember.

My grandparents are forces of nature, and my mom wilted in the gale force winds of my grandmother’s temper. I wondered how my mom didn’t inherit any of their strength, why she couldn’t do a little better job of sticking up for me. But then I stopped, because it didn’t do any good.

“You’re not going,” my grandfather said.

“I already have approval.”

“You’re a child, you need our approval.”

“I’m her child,” I pointed to my mom. I couldn’t protect her from this one. “And she signed my application and my Permissions Contract.”

I could tell my mom wanted to say: “I didn’t know he’d actually be picked,” but to her credit, she just nodded.

“If you’re going there, you’re not coming back here,” my grandfather declared, and slammed his three-fingered fist on the table, letting me know exactly where he meant.

“So what?” I said, but I was stumped by this one. Where would I live if I couldn’t come back here? And I really wouldn’t be able to come back here, I could tell. My grandparents didn’t bluff. I felt angry and this queasy sense of loss, of things slipping out of my control, the way I do when I’m running and I can feel someone edging past me, someone better and faster, and I know I’m going to lose.

“I’ll apply for housing,” my mom said, her clear voice cutting through the maelstrom in my head. “Tomorrow.”

“He’ll have to change schools,” my grandmother said, the threat that had kept us bound there, because the school I was going to had the best Track and Field program around. The point of being in this district on this team was the hope that I would get scouted, that I’d be able to make a name for myself in running on our planet.

But I don’t want to just be known on my planet, because being known here isn’t much. I wanted the quarantine lifted. I wanted to be able to compete on the U-Sports teams. That’s where the real money and recognition was.

And I knew that once I was on the Exchange list, I wouldn’t need to be on that particular team to be noticed. I’d be able to join the track team at the host school, and once I made a name for myself there, the scouts wouldn’t overlook me, no matter what school I came home to.

I could tell my grandparents were thinking along the same lines  that maybe they were starting to feel the queasiness of lost control, too. I hoped for about half a second that they were going to back up, that they were going to say, “Now wait a minute.” But of course, they didn’t. They stubbornly locked their conviction in place, seeming to turn to granite right in front of my eyes, digging in deep and solidifying. My grandparents can’t be moved.

Sometimes I think this is why I have to.