Kira checked off the last school visit on her list, and that would finally conclude the 3 month long outreach initiative. It was momentous and required a celebration. The local school teachers took the team out for drinks and thanked her for imbuing hope into the young ones as well as themselves. The program was an immediate success, from family events to fun-runs, dinners and conventions with the occasional celebrity appearance, it was like working on the election campaign again. Only this time it was closer to Kira’s heart. It had always been her vision in line with Parliaments’ to create awareness about a so called, ‘Greener Universe’- a term that was once highly sacrilegious under the previous administrations but thanks to Kira and like-minded people,local governments had finally taken notice on how both politically and economically sound the ‘Greener Universe’ initiative was and now that the Liberation Party had finally taken office, it was on full force. Kira who was vastly known for spearheading the efforts in Altis-4, along with a team of experts, who just within 5 years ( 26.4 Ages Altis-4 Time) managed to terraform the vastly dormant planet into a stable, industrial powerhouse, was now the Cabinet Minister’s right hand under the Ministry of Exploration & Discovery.
Kira skimmed through her schedule on her pad. ‘Not one day for myself,’ she sighed. Her posse was no exception, riding the travelator together with all heads to their devices until the end of the walkway. As soon as they arrived at the Immigration counter, Kira smelled a hint of burnt Cedar, and immediately figured who it was. She tilted her neck up to see a few feet away, Mr Hendricks, her boss, the Cabinet Minister himself, with the widest of smiles above his aged burly chin.
‘Good morning! Morning?’ he checked with his assistant before turning back to face Kira. ‘You’re looking absolutely stunning as ever my dear. 3 months grounded on a world tour and it is as though you never left’
‘You don’t look so bad yourself, sir. I see you are keeping the beard,’
‘Well what the missus wants…’
‘She sure gets,’ Kira sneered. Her associates carried all their belongings and headed to the exit gate cleared specifically for them.
‘You brought the cavalry?’ Kira asked bemused. ‘And you are here yourself. This must be important.’ Mr Hendricks nodded and patted her on the back. ‘Let’s go,’ he ushered her while his eyes continuously scanned the terminal. A few photographers got glimpse of them, ‘Quick, quick’ he rushed.
Outside across the tarmac, parked in the distance was the ‘AirStrider,’ modeled off the classic F-22. Mr Hendricks made sure to take possession of it as soon as he held office. He would constantly stop employees at work and bring it up while in casual conversation, geeking out about the specifics, how it could make 10,000 km/h speeds, how it housed the very best military grade missiles and every now and then the story of how he almost lost to it to a bet; that last bit was only made known to his closest most trustworthy of allies. She had heard so much about the jet, she was glad she was finally going to be able to experience it for herself. She turned her head back to the aerodrome, signifying her last look at the planet before she boarded. ‘Well it beats taking the Airbus,’ said one of her assistants before he climbed aboard.
All strapped in their seats, masks, headphones, and emergency jackets, the onboard 7 passengers and 3 crew members individually had to signal a ‘thumbs up’ to the pilots with the voice command, ‘Ready,’ before preparing for take off. The engines roared loud, unable to be completely silenced by the padded ear muffs. They initial jerk was startling and they slowly started to move. Mr Hendricks winked at Kira, ever so proud of his vessel. ‘We are ready for take off!’ called out the co-pilot. The ship increased speed over the runway as the engines roared louder and louder and smoothly transitioned to float. Kira felt her stomach sink just a little. No matter how many times she had done this, she was never grew accustomed to it.
‘We hope you enjoyed your stay in Sunny Springs of Dune-23, a subsidiary of Zhen-Morrison Inc.’ the pilots joked as they finally breached the stratosphere and the pull of gravity was beginning to lose them. And then, there it was, the black of space pierced by daylight illuminating them and half the surface of Dune-23 creating a glorious horizon.
‘Well, this is my favorite part,’ Kira mumbled under her nose in awe. ‘Mine too,’ said one of the others behind her, together they peered out the window as the pilots flew prograde with a slight inclination to take them off trajectory. It was always the best time to marvel at mother nature. Kira saw her work, the blinking lights of homes, plants and industries gradually turn on as dusk engulfed the skyline beneath them.
The Airstrider gained speed, made the tangent and was now no longer riding the gravitational waves of the planet. Dune-23 got farther and farther into the distance as the jet sped on, burning her thrusters, nose diving into the psychedelic clouds of space, propelling themselves in space dust for at least 8 hours until finally in the distance another marvel appeared from hiding.
Camouflaged in deep space, glittering a fair distance away in all her glory was ‘The Grand Admiral-5’, a government freighter. At 22,000km², this magnificent beast housed over 1000 offices, staff housing, shopping malls, recreational centers, gyms, hospitals, etc. It was a self sustaining metropolitan with it’s own greenhouses & poultry farms and has been harboring civilians for almost a millennia. It was in a truly incredible feat what the ancients had left them with to protect and from then on only more of such vessels were engineered. As far as government records show, there are 120 such documented freighters in the observable universe. Rumor still exists that the undocumented ones outnumber them but a rumor it has stayed. As the shadow of the ‘Grand Admiral-5’ loomed over their tiny little jet, Kira winked back at Mr Hendricks, who of course pretended not to notice. The Airstrider offed all engines in submission and cruised until they passed the southern gate, along with a hundred other cruising vessels and eventually docked. A airlock jet bridge approached them connecting the door to the terminal. ‘Ladies and gentleman, it was a pleasure having you onboard,’ the pilot gestured and their harnesses came off.
The doors opened and they were greeted home. ‘BEEP’ the scanner rang and an annoying siren soon played. ‘Kira turned to the screen that read, ‘Recommend to disinfect,’ she blew a raspberry and nodded at her boss passing her by. ‘I’ll see you at briefing in 15minutes.’ he exclaimed. ‘Fine,’ she yelled back. She turned back to her posse behind, ‘time to get sprayed boys,’ she laughed as they were ushered to ‘Disinfection’ by security.
The fast-rails took them past all the major districts. ‘Wow, so many tourists,’ Kira noticed passed the windows. ‘New government, new laws,’ retorted one of her assistants. ‘He was right’, she thought. Things have been changing drastically since the elections. So much money was being pumped in to realize the party manifesto, and it was obvious that the government had much to prove. Still, there was a shaking suspicion internally. What was this rushed meeting for? Why did the MP come all the way down to collect her in his personal vessel? What was just so damn urgent?
Parliament was vibrant and filled with dynamic blood; young, eager blood, excited to create a difference within their first 100 days. All this ‘new’ in a building so ‘old’. It still had that vintage decor. She headed to the briefing room where Mr Hendricks and several other newly appointed cabinet ministers were gathered. She wasn’t given 2 seconds to catch her breath before he urged her to sit. She found herself at the end of the very long table while he began his presentation. He started speaking about the vision of the new government and all they had to do to win voters trust. There was much pomp and self congratulatory rhetoric that the room was still waiting for the point he was trying to make. Kira couldn’t piece together how she fit in to all of this but she gave her boss the benefit of the doubt nonetheless.
‘It’s imperative that we put our best men and women at the forefront for all things, especially the harder the challenge. Wouldn’t you agree Miss Okeke?’ Kira paused as everyone turned to her. ‘Yes?!’ it took her by surprise. ‘I’m glad you agree with me, that is why, I am presenting to all of you, our next venture,’ he clicked on his pointer as a video came on zooming in on rotating planet. ‘Martian -4, ladies and gentleman, also known as Deep Red,’
‘No!’ Kira interjected. All eyes were back on her. Mr Hendricks stopped his video. ‘That place was rendered inhabitable eons ago, and the survivors were immediately evacuated after solar flares burnt half the planet to crisp.’ Some attention was drawn to a few of the men in front. They adjusted their collars and prepared to answer.
‘NO?’ she jumped before they could. One of them gestured her to calm down, which she immediately took as a sign of patriarchal condescension. ‘It’s true that the previous government had some secrets,’ he uttered.
‘I’m sorry and you are?’
‘Jeffrey Hopkins, MP for Sigma-19, Andromeda’
Kira was not impressed. ‘Long time since anyone has been there, even you I doubt. And weren’t you of the previous administration?’ she asked.
‘So you do know me,’
‘OF you, yes,’ she replied. ‘So you are telling me there are still people living there?’
‘Are there other such planets that you might want to enlighten us with?’
Mr Hopkins cleared his throat. ‘To be frank, countless, and the records are…messy,’
‘So, you have orphaned them,’ she bluntly accused.
The other MP seated next to him came to his peer’s defense. ‘Miss Kira, I understand how all this is new, but the previous men and women in power had a different way of doing things,’
‘a corrupt way,’ she interjected, ‘and you won’t take culpability then who will Mr Hopkins. You were Minister of Defense before were you not?’
‘Which is why I think it’s a bad idea to revisit the past,’ interjected a woman two chairs from Kira, ‘we don’t even know if there are people out there. Why go now and show our faces? I think we should reserve our resources to first help the people who actually voted for us and maybe do this outreach thing our next term when we have really earned the their trust.’ she exchanged eye contact with Kira in hopes of creating a budding kinsmanship.
Kira knew that Mr Hendricks was holding back information from her. The guilt was all over his face. They both glanced at each other while the others squabbled about. ‘May I speak to you outside for a second, boss?’ she exclaimed and Mr Hendricks jumped at the chance to escape to the door.
‘You found people on that planet,’ she rushed at him.
‘We have reasonable evidence to suggest that yes,’
‘That only means it’s a self sustaining ecosystem, why go there now?’
‘Well we can do better for them. Isn’t that something you want?’ he rested his hand on her shoulder.
‘Cut the bullshit Bobby,’ his hands immediately lifted, ‘How many people are there? Are you afraid they are running the place well without us? Is this a reconnaissance mission? Come on Bobby I deserve better.’
‘Fine, close to 5 billion, and that’s just a rough estimate. The satellites are old,’
‘And you want me to do what exactly? Go there, tell them the government is going to help them and everyone is gonna sing Kumbaya?’
‘No, just observe and report for the time being, and keep a log on all things that require terraforming,’
‘Require terraforming?’ she dismissed him, ‘basically a spy for the PM,’
‘Look, if they are indeed dangerous, that would certainly help the parliament. And in the long run that is only going to help us, for the betterment of the universe. I mean come on you go and on about self-sustenance, here is an example of mother nature doing it on her own; a miracle among many others,’
Passersby noticed their intense exchange and tried to look away. Kira was boiling red.
‘Don’t mock my religious beliefs Bobby. Not now. You wish for Gaia to be true as well, and I for one will stand by it’s existence till death do us part,’ she resisted pointing her finger at him.
‘Listen to yourself Kira, a God planet? That’s a fantasy Kira, that’s not life. This is. There was no paradise where primitive humans trotted about. This is it, just ‘us’, floating about in the endless void while the entire universe gives us a big fucking NO! But here we are still standing, changing things according to our rules. We are the “Gods” here, Kira. Just us,’ he gave her a second to calm down before he continued. ‘I don’t know. If it were me, I would love to know why. I thought you were the same,’
Kira stared back at him in disapproval. ‘We are the God’s eh? So who’s the PM, Zeus? Tell me Bobby, has he already signed off on this?’
‘Well…’ the Minister hesitated to break the news to her.
‘Fuck you Bobby,’ she stormed back into the room and fell onto her seat. Mr Hendricks soon followed. ‘Please, finish your presentation. I need all the information i can get on this hellhole. And can I get some fucking coffee?’ the lady taking notes immediately felt responsible to get on to it.
The plan was set and Kira had come to terms with her new assignment. After 2 days of constant back and forth on who she wanted for the team, they finally decided to go her way. She was done fretting over it, and it was time to move on, and accept whatever was coming. The government classified it, so Kira had to tell her family and friends a different story. She shared a passionate night with her husband and gave her 4 year old daughter a tender kiss over the cheeks on the morning of the departure.
Mr Hendricks shook her hand at the terminal, just to see her off. It was obvious he was overwhelmed by guilt. The Voyager 200 was prepped and ready, with a track record of 45 successful missions & 0 failures, it boasted itself on the front page of automotive magazines as a standout in engineering. 8 members made the crew- Kira, 2 aerospace engineers, a biologist, a botanist and 3 spec-ops officers.
‘Well, aren’t you gonna wish me luck?’ she nudged her boss’s shoulder.
‘When have you actually needed any kid?’ he patted her shoulders. ‘And hey I’m sorry. We might have our differences but I’m… well WE’RE definitely gonna miss you,’
‘Age is definitely making you soft, boss,’
‘You take care now, Kira,’ dismissing her previous comment.
‘Bye, Bobby,’ she smiled as she walked up the ladder into the jet, turning back for one last look. Little did she know that she would not be coming back for a very, very long time.