It's hard to leave home...
“Patti, Calm down, we’ve been over this! It’s all going to be okay. Your friends from school will be there too.”
Patti stood in the door of their empty house, cheeks puffed out and face turning red. She’d been holding her breath for almost a minute and holding onto the doorknob.
“Phil, can you please just grab her, we don’t have time for this.” Her mom said.
“I’m not going! I wanna stay here. I don’t care what you want!”
Patti shouted, then took another big breath and held it. She could do this all day. When she was four she she didn’t want to go to her cousin’s birthday party. She held her breath until she fell over.
She didn’t like change. Leaving home forever was the biggest change there was. It didn’t help that her brother Bobbi was excited about it.
“I’m not leaving Teddy here, I’m staying with him and you can all go away forever!”
The ratty old stuffed bear was her best friend, her grandma gave it to her for her first birthday! But it was too heavy because of the voice box, and they were only allowed 2.5 kilograms of personal items.
“We can print you a new Teddy once we are on the ship” Her mom had said. That just made it worse.
Holding her breath wasn’t working today though. Her dad grabbed her around the waist and slung her over his shoulder.. He got her buckled into the back of the car beside her brother.
“Calm down sis, it’s going to be fun, a big adventure! There’s going to be aliens and space monsters and robots!” He said to her.
“No there won’t. It’ll be cold and scary and boring and I DON’T WANT TO GO!”
“That’s enough!” Their dad said. “You will both be silent until we get there. Not another peep out of either of you!”
They both slumped back in their seats. Patti stuck out her tongue. Bobby did it back. Patti stuck her thumbs in her ears and wiggled them while crossing her eyes. Bobby pushed up his nose and snorted like a pig. Before Patti could respond, Mom interrupted.
“Enough! Here, you can play math games until we get there.”
She handed them each a small tablet. Their screen time was tightly controlled, Mom and Dad thought it was bad for kids to stare at screens all day. Which made no sense, since that’s what the adults did.
The Space Elevator is the tallest object ever made by humans. It reached up above the clouds. It was one of four elevators attached to departure station, moving thousands of people and cargo up and down 24 hours a day. The kids stared out the windows at the long thin cable for the last 15 minutes of the trip.
“There, there’s the elvator!” Patti shouted as she spotted a box descending through the clouds. They piled out of the car and grabbed their bags.
“I don’t wanna carry it, lets get one of those carts!” Bobbi shouted after they walked 10 steps.
“It’s not that heavy, just take the bag. When we get to Proxima you’ll have to carry your weight while we build the colony. You can start right now!” His dad said.
Bobby bounced away, his bag bouncing behind him. Dad just shook his head and lead the family chasing after.
Once they got through the baggage check things got better. She spotted her friend Daisy in the waiting lounge and ran over to her.
“Daisy! What are you doing?”
Daisy just kept staring at the painting on the wall.
“DAISY!” Patti shouted at her.
“What? Oh, Patti!” The friends hugged and high-fived. “Mom said this is what the ship looks like. One big round sausage.” Daisy pointed.
“It’s ugly and stupid. I don’t wanna go, do you?” Patti replied.
“I don’t know. It might be fun. We get to go where no people have ever been! I’m hungry, do you have any snacks?”
All the kids were grumbling about food. No breakfast before departure. 200 people all throwing up as the gravity changed wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good time.
A man in a blue dress shirt with a bright yellow tie tapped a button on his shirt and spoke. His voice rang out through speakers around the room.
“Welcome intrepid travellers, it’s time to board the elevator. Once we get through the hallway beyond this door I’ll ask you to find a seat and strap yourself in. Make sure you don’t have anything loose in your pockets, gravity gets interesting on the way up!”
Bobby pulled his dad’s sleeve.
“What does that mean?”
“Well, Bobby” his dad started, “You know how gravity pulls us down to the earth? Well once we get far enough off the planet, that gravity gets weaker, and we’ll start to float. But don’t worry, once we get to the station there will be gravity. The station spins to create gravity for us, just like the ship will!”
“Aww, I wanted to fly around like on TV!”
His dad laughed. “Don’t worry, there’s a low-g section of the ship, you’ll have plenty of time to play Batman.”
“Dad, not Batman, he can’t fly. That’s Superman!”
His dad laughed and tousled his hair. The crowd was moving into the hallway and it was time to follow them!
The corridor opened to a landing pad with 20 octagonal elevator cars. The first one was full and being connected to the thread.
“We are in car number 13.” Mom said, dragging the kids towards an blue line on the field with the number 13 written beside it.
“It smells like shoes in here!” Patti said, squeezing her nose. Laugher burst out from the people nearby who clearly had the same reaction. The inner and outer walls were lined with comfy looking chairs. Everything was a warm blue and grey. The family found four seats together and got them selves strapped in.
“How long is this going to take!” A kid said a few seats over. Someone else called out “I need to go potty!”
A voice came over the intercom.
“Everybody please pay attention to the following safety announcements. We are in line to attach to the ribbon and head up to Departure Station. Please do not unbuckle yourselves for any reason once the red light comes on. If you feel like you’re going to throw up there’s a bag immediately to your left. Anyone failing to use the bags will be very unpopular for the next few days.
Everyone Looked around for the bag. Somebody started crying.
“The trip up The ribbon will take approximately 8.4 hours. There is a restroom facility in the hub of the elevator car, please use it when you need to, but don’t take too long. There are a lot of us and only 2 bathrooms. Once we are up to speed underway you can get up and move around. I know you are hungry, we’ll bring around some snacks once the initial acceleration is done. That’s when the most people get sick. Your tablets can connect to the ship and you can enjoy a variety of videos and games provided by Starfare International, our network sponsor this month. If you have an emergency, please push one of the red buttons. Otherwise, sit back and relax.
People went to the bathroom and strapped back in. Whoever was crying finally stopped, but there were are few sniffles.
Launch was exciting. 30 cars launched up the cable. Everyone was pushed down against their seats as the cars got going, then the felling disappeard. Thirty minutes of boredom later the crew brought around food bars and drinks in spill-proof containers. The kids settled in to watch vids and wait for the trip to be over.
Chaos broke out 3 hours later.
As the ship got further from the earth, everyone started to feel lighter. Anyone not strapped in tight floated a little against the belts.
“Patti, I don’t feel good.” Bobi said to her.
“Get your bag out and use that if you need to throw up.” Dad said from beside them.
Someone else beat him to it. They were quick enough to get their bag out, but it started a chain reaction. Before long have the adults we’re also pulling out their barf bags.
“Aaaaaaaahhhh!” Patti cried as she watched partially digested breakfast shoot out of a kid two rows over. Someone didn’t get their bag in time. Before people got too worked up, a loud machine sound filled the room. The air in the room all got sucked towards the roof and bit’s of breakfast. After a minute the air went back to normal.
“That’s a good reminder about how important it is to follow instructions kids.” Patti’s dad said. “There are going to be a lot of new rules, but they are there for a reason!”
Patti just nodded and went back to trying not to throw up.
Someone else started crying.
An hour later people had recovered from the barf-fest. A trio of robot carts made their way around dispensing trays with three options. You either got Oatmeal and yogurt, pureed rice and vegetables, or “Facon and Almost Eggs (TM).”
“Why is it called that?” She asked her Dad.
“Well, you used to be able to eat the actual eggs of a Chicken, and meat cut from the flesh of a Pig. But Earth got too full for us to use land to raise food animals, so people got used to making food out of plants that was kindof like what they used to eat.”
“Ewwwww.” Bobbi said. “I don’t wanna eat an animal, that sounds gross!”
His dad laughed. “You ate your dinner pretty fast yesterday, and it was “Almost Steak and Beans (TM)”, and steak used to come from a cow! But you are right, most people these days would get sick if they tried to eat animal meat. We don’t have the right gut bacteria to digest it properly.”
Dad loved to read journals about health science and then lecture the kids about it. Lately he’d been learning all about bacteria. He said it was important for farming when we get to Proxima.
“Ewww, bacteria!” Bobbi laughed.
The crew members handed out little bags with a valve in them.
“How do I eat this? It looks gross!” Patti said.
Mom smiled, “They can’t hand out loose food in low gravity or it would float around.” She showed the kids how to squeeze their food out of the valve without spilling.
After breakfast they settled in for the ride. Mom loaded a card game on the tablets, and the family filled half an hour playing “Go Fish”. They tried playing speed, but Bobbi always won. A never ending chorus of kids whining about the boredom finally broke.
“We’ve reached the halfway point. As it’s approximately 9pm based on departure time, we will be dimming the lights. The recline feature on your seats is now activated if you’d like to sleep. Meditation headsets are available on request if you or your children need help getting to seep. Please be sure to fasten your safety harness as gravity will gradually lighten as we ascend. If you need to use the restroom please use the safety lines that are now lowering from the ceiling.”
All around the room chairs flattened up against the walls as the lights dimmed. Patti’s Mom and Dad both ordered meditation headset and stuck them on the kids.
“It’s too tight!” Bobbi complained.
“I can’t see anything, take it off!” Patti cried.
Then they turned on. An ocean scene rolled in front of their eyes, a calm emotionless voice rattled off random facts about dolphins and sea life. It took all of 2 minutes for the kids to pass out.
They woke 4 hours later when the elevator car slammed to a halt.
“What’s that?” Asked Patti as she got her mask off.
“I think we are at the station!” Dad replied. A few people undid their harnesses then almost flew into the opposite wall when they got up too fast.
“Cool, check it out, I’m floating!” Bobbi said, levitating off the seat in the loose harness. He started to undo the harness when Dad stopped him.
“That’s enough, everyone stay still.”
Patti let go of her meditation headset and watched it start to float away from her. It didn’t get far, a little light blinked on the side and it snapped up to the ceiling.
“Woah! How’d you do that?” Bobbi asked.
“I dunno, I just let go of it.” Patti replied.
Bobbi let go of his headset and watched it float away briefly until it too snapped up to the ceiling.
“Awesome! Hey mom, did you see that?”
Mom replied. “Yes, they have a motion sensor built in. If they float too far a magnetic receiver in the roof engages so they don’t float around and hurt anyone.”
“Mom knows EVERYTHING!” Patti said to Bobbi. He nodded in agreement.
“Passengers, we have arrived at Departure station and are in the queue to unload. Please stay seated and be patient.“
As the message stopped a child close to Patti’s age almost kicked her in the face as he floated by.
“Timmy! Timmy you get back here right now. Somebody grab him please!”
Timmy kept giggling right until a hand reached up from a nearby chair and grabbed his ankle. Instead of stopping, Timmy swung around in a circle and shot back towards his mom when the hand let go. He crashed into her and they both flew backwards. Luckily an empty seat was right behind them and a moment later (with a rather loud ‘oof!’) the two were seated. Timmy giggled and shouted “again, again!” As his mom just looked stunned.
Bobbi looked at Dad and said “Can we try? Please please please?”
Dad just stared and shook his head, then went back to reading his book.
“Thank you for riding the North American space elevator! If you’ve enjoyed your trip, please remember to leave us a 5 star review! Please remember to move slowly and use the guide ropes as you exit. Once you get through the docking tunnel, Departure Station spins fast enough to give you the feeling of gravity but it’s less than you are used to on Earth. Just move slowly until you get there.
Passengers heading for the colony ships please follow the red line on the floor. In system traffic the green. Your bags will be waiting for you at your destination ship. Have a wonderful day!”
Author – J.D. McKay
“Catch!” Ollie ducked just in time, glasses sliding down over his nose. Sam’s paper airplane swooped by and hit Ms. Myrtle on the arm. She paused to glare, then picked it up and walked over and dropped it in the recycler. She walked over, took away the rest of Sam’s paper, pointed to his printing book and walked away. Sam sighed in relief. He’d been sure he was in big trouble!
“Pssst.” Caleigh poked Sam in the back. He turned as she brushed the curl of blonde hair out of her face. It didn’t matter how her mom tied it up, braided it, or pinned it down, that curl always popped back out.
“No throwing airplanes in class! You’ll poke someone in the eye.”
Sammy laughed, “no I won’t, besides, they don’t really hurt.”
“Oh Yeah?” Caleigh replied, “My sister had to wear an eye patch for three weeks after she got hit with a paper airplane.”
Sammy gaped. “Really? No way, you’re making that up!”
Caleigh shook her head and got back to work. She was drawing a picture of her family in space suits.
Sammy picked up his pencil, really determined to do his letters today. It was the second week of Kindergarten, and he really wanted to do well.
Mrs. Myrtle played tune on a small xylophone.
“Alright everyone, put your drawing books away and join me on the carpet.”
Sammy was the last to the carpet, just like every other time. He didn’t understand how everyone else cleaned up so fast! He was lost in thought and didn’t see Artie’s foot until he tripped on it, nearly kicking Carrie as he caught his balance
“Thank you for joining me so quickly and quietly! Tomorrow is a special day; it is the big leaving ceremony. Captain Peterson asked me to find two responsible students to help him with the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Hands shot up and shouts of “Mememememe” or just grunts of excitement filled the room.
“Hush now, put your hands down. I know you are all responsible children, so I put your names into this basket. I’m going to choose two at random.”
Ms. Myrtle made a big show out of mixing up the names. She pulled out two pieces of paper.
“Our lucky winners are...Sam and Oliver! After lunch the principal, Mr. Wallace, will come and get you to explain what’s going to happen. The rest of you will be on your best behaviour at the assembly. Some very important people will be there, including the United Nations Minister of Space Exploration!”
The bell rang for recess and the kids shot up and rushed to the cloakroom. Mrs. Myrtle made a mental note to practice calmly getting ready for recess. A crash followed by loud crying from the cloakroom brought her back to reality.
“Pssshhhhhhhwahhhhhhhhh boooom!” Sammy said, jumping up from the ground, pretending he as a rocket ship. He launched right into the recess supervisor. He fell on his bottom and sat stunned. Ollie walked over and helped him up.
“Sorry Mr. Sachar, it was an accident.” Sammy said once he was on his feet.
“Apology accepted, this time. But next time I’ll have to pick you up and launch you into outer space myself!
Sammy ran off, laughing. Ollie stayed by Mr. Sakar.
“Did you know that it’s going to take 187 years to get to Proxima Centauri?” Ollie asked the recess monitor. “That’s 68255 days! My dad helped me figure out on the computer.”
Mr. Sachar smiled at Ollie. “It sounds like you’ve been learning a lot about the trip! It’s always good to know where you are going. Well except when you are going to the dentist!”
Ollie shook his head. Mr. Sakar said the strangest things.
“Yup. My dad read me the plan for the trip. Fifteen million people are coming, that’s more people than the whole school!”
“I think you mean fifteen thousand, and you are right, that’s a lot of people! It sounds like you’ll have plenty of new friends to make. On the trip!
“Don’t be silly, we’ll be asleep the whole time!” replied Ollie.
“Ha-ha, that’s right! You really have been doing your homework! You’d better go get some exercise in, here, have a ball, I saved one just for you.
Ollie looked at the dirty, slightly deflated ball and said, “No thanks, I’m going to watch the soccer game so I can count the goals.”
Ollie took off and left Mr. Sachar smiling.
The Principal’s office was...busy. He’d covered every wall space with brightly coloured posters. “Think happy and you’ll be happy!” and “Kindness doesn’t grow on trees; it grows in hearts!” One bulletin board was covered with art kids gave him. You could tell because most of them were pictures of houses. His bookshelves were overflowing, and his was desk piled up with folders and loose paper. Sammy and Ollie sat waiting for Mr. Wallace to come back.
“Here you go boys, the official ribbon cutting scissors!”
The tall man held a brown box in his hands. He placed it on the low, round table in the middle of the room. He opened it an pulled out the biggest pair of scissors the kids had ever seen.
“Cool!” Sammy said. “Can I try them?”
Mr. Wallace laughed. “Actually, yes! I’m going to show you boys how to hold them and we are going to practice cutting this piece of ribbon. Tomorrow at the ceremony Captain Peterson will give his speech then you two will help him cut the ribbon to celebrate the beginning of our great journey!”
The next 15 minutes was full of fumbling around and failing to cut ribbon. Sammy kept pulling too hard to the side while Ollie pushed up. Finally they managed to cut a ribbon three times in a row.
“Well, I’m glad we managed that without any lost fingers. You have no idea how much paperwork I’d have to do. I’m happy to say that you two are ready to go. Now, I’m trusting you with the scissors. Bring them to Ms. Myrtle. She can lock them in her cupboard, so you have them for tomorrow. Off you go now.”
He closed the box, snapped the latch in place and handed it to the children. It was big enough they each had to take an end and wobble down the hallway awkwardly. When they got back to class Ms. Myrtle told them to put it on her desk and join the class for a story.
“Today I’m reading you a non-fiction book about space travel. Here we have a diagram of a spaceship very much like the Tyson which will take us all the way to Proxima Centauri in.”
“Why is it so lumpy?” Carrie asked.
The ship was a long skinny cylinder labelled “The Spine” with a series of 5 rings spaced along it’s length.
“Please remember to raise your hand first Carrie. The rings are there to creative gravity. Remember last week when we did the experiment with the bucket and golf balls?”
Sammy stood and mimed swinging a bucket in big circles.
“That’s right Sam, but please sit down. Just like the golf balls stayed in the bucket when I swung it in circles, even though it was almost upside-down, the rings will spin you in circles, keeping your feet on the ground.”
She continued to read through the page, answering questions. And there were a lot of questions! You’d think these kids just found out they were leaving Earth forever!
The next day the class all lined up for the big ceremony. The auditorium was packed full. 6 classroom groups, many parents, staff, and important people in suits lined up to be part of this event. Captain Ephrem Peterson stood at the podium and raised his hand for silence.
“The day after tomorrow we leave Earth, likely forever. We stand on the shoulders of every human who ever lived. They hold us up so we might finally leave humanities home and make a new one amongst the stars. Fifteen thousand people from all over 6arth spent the last 5 years preparing for this trip. Now it’s time to cut the ribbon and announce the start of the trip! I have with me two of our youngest space explorers from Mrs. Myrtle’s Kindergarten class here to help me. Oliver and Sam, please bring the scissors.”
He turned and looked at the boys, now with a look of panic on their faces.
“Boys, where are the scissors?” He said, hand over the microphone so the audience couldn’t hear.
Sam spoke first.
“In the classroom!”
“Please go get them now. And Hurry!” He turned back to the microphone and uncovered it. “Sorry about the slight mix-up folks, we are going to hear from the United Nations Minster of finance Ms...”
“Hurry up Ollie!” Sam yelled as he ran to the classroom.
“We aren’t supposed to run in the hall!”
Ollie yelled back, running to catch up. Ollie rounded the corner into the classroom and found Sam running in circles.
“They aren’t here! Ms. Myrtle put them on her table, but they are gone!”
“Let’s look in the lost and found” said Ollie.
The boys dashed out of the classroom and almost ran into two men in black suits wearing sunglasses.
The tall man said.
“What are you doing here?”
The shorter man said, eyes scanning the hall for other threats.
“We have to find the scissors for the ribbon cutting! Can you help us?” Sammy answered.
“Yeah, they are 47cm long and the handles are 18cm wide. I measured them. My dad taught me how.”
The short man looked at them confused. “No one is supposed to be in the halls right now! Wait, you lost the scissors?!? Who put 6-year-olds in charge of such an important job? If I was in charge, there would have been an entire security team protecting them!”
“Uh...The principal told us to. Can you help?”
The short man tapped his year and mumbled into a small button in his collar.
“Yes, two boys. Alright. yup.”
He turned to the tall man. “Alright Simmons, you check the perimeter, I’ll get these boys sorted out.” He looked down at the boys, “Where should we start looking?”
Sammy pointed down the hall. “They might be in the lost and found!” He didn’t wait for a reply, just started skipping away. The man followed; Ollie close behind. A minute later they were standing in front of a shelf filled with clothes, water bottles, unmatched shoes and one very large cowboy hat.
“Some of this looks brand new! Why does no one come looking for it?” The short man said.
“I dunno.” Said Ollie.
“You kids these days, so irresponsible! You can’t be as careless on the ship; resources will be limited!” Said the man. The boys weren’t listening.
Sammy started shoving things around on the shelf, knocking shoes to the floor. “Oh! The space defenders game I lost, cool!” Sammy turned it on and started to play.
Ollie poked him. “Focus Sammy. The scissors aren’t here, where else could they be?”
“What about the office? Someone might have found them and brought them to the office!” Sammy’s dashed off again and got about 10 steps before turning and yelling “This way!”
Halfway to the office the short man stopped at a door and held up a hand. He shout-whispered “Stop! Do you hear that sound?” Sammy bounced back and forth on his feet trying to listen.
“I don’t hear anything.” Said Ollie. “We should go.”
Just then, a loud Clang came from the other side of the door. The Man turned the handle and shoved it open with one hand, the other hand reaching into his coat for something.
“Annie, what are you doing in here?” Ollie asked. The small girl stood still, a look of surprise and ‘oh no, I’m caught’ fear on her face.
“I was trying to finish my art! I need to cut a big piece of paper off the roll, but all I could find were these stupid giant scissors. Can you help me?”
Sammy zipped into the room and grabbed the scissors off the floor. “Here they are, we didn’t lose them, she stole them!”
“I didn’t steal them, I borrowed them!” She replied.
“Children!” The short man shouted. “We have the scissors, lets get you back to the auditorium. Miss, you’ll come with us.”
“...three, two, one, cut!” Ollie and Sam cut the ribbon and the room exploded in a cheer. Principal Wallace took the scissors from the boys and sent them to join their class. The Captain raised a hand for silence.
“We all have a lot of work to do over the next few days. I wish you good luck, I’ll see you in orbit!”
The tall man and the short man stepped out of the back of the stage to escort the Captain off the stage to his waiting car. The Short man spotted Ollie and nodded at him.
As the classes lined up and filed out of the auditorium Ollie tapped Sam on the shoulder.
“That was a close one! I hope we don’t get in trouble.”
“Me too! I wonder who that man was that helped us?” Ollie replied.
“I think he was the Captain’s bodyguard. Or an assassin. Or maybe his limo driver? I dunno. When is it recess?”
Ollie looked at his watch. “In 32 minutes!” He said.
Sam’s head slumped. “32 minutes!? That’s forever!”