Laughter. Aria Bekhit hadn’t heard the sound for a long time – perhaps not since leaving Earth. It was a good sound, a refreshing sound. The wash of the waves and the squawks of some vaguely seagull-like birds provided provided a fitting harmony to the laughter on this warm mid-day celebration. Almost the whole of the civilian population of Moreau Town had turned out here today. Consequently, there was very little beach visible. A sea of humanity hugged the shore of the ocean.
“Well this is quite a party isn’t it,” Laura Banks said, her face beaming with a wide smile.
“Yes. It even makes your wedding reception look small.” Aira shielded her eyes from the glare of the nearest sun.
“Well, it was the first wedding on this planet. We didn’t have any family to invite so we wanted to make it an event for the whole colony. Of course we’ve had more settlers awakened since then.”
“And more to come. In fact, a whole group should be in the process of waking up on board the Endeavour right this minute.”
“You’ll be welcoming them onto the surface tomorrow no doubt.”
“Yes, it’s already scheduled.”
“Oh Honey,” Neal Spearwood said, tugging on Laura’s arm. “The Barrowsons are over there with their new baby. You wanted to to see him.
“Yes!” Laura’s face lit up even further – if that were possible. “You coming Aira?”
“No thank you Laura. I met the infant several days ago. You go ahead though.”
Laura and Neal wasted no time in heading over toward the cluster of people who were cooing over the child. He was the first human board into their settlement so everybody was pretty excited. Eric was his name, or was it Ethan? Aria couldn’t remember. Western names were often difficult for her to remember. As a successful business woman in her native Egypt, Aria had forced herself to pay careful attention to the names of foreign contacts. Here on Xinju, she hadn’t bothered so much. The old nationalities no longer existed. They were all part of a new nation – the nation of Xinju.
This party wasn’t about the Barrowsons’ baby though, everybody was eager to celebrate the first two months since settlement on Xinju. Life had been difficult, but despite the challenges, they were thriving.
Aria hadn’t managed to catch a glimpse of the baby today, but it didn’t matter. She’d met him several days earlier. He had looked healthy and strong.
“Nice day for it, right Ms Bekhit?”
Aira turned around to see the smiling face of Captain Anderson Bell – Governor of the colony. He seemed to be letting his hair down a little today. That was good. Nobody wanted a stuffy leader who was too full of his own importance to enjoy himself with the normal people. Back in Egypt, Aria had trained herself to be just as comfortable in the cafeteria with her employees, as in a corporate lunch with international business partners.
“A little bright perhaps, but nice,” Aria replied.
“We have a lot to celebrate. It’s hard to believe that it’s already been two months since we dug those first foundations. The town has come so far in such a short amount of time.”
“Everybody has worked extremely hard.”
“And you’ve been pretty instrumental in all of that Ms Bekhit. I know that you’ve taken on a bit of a leadership role amongst the civilians.”
Aria shrugged. “We do what we can, putting our relative gifts and abilities to good use. I spent most of my previous life leading others. It seemed natural to step up and take charge.”
“Well, I appreciate all that you’ve done.”
“Have you seen the baby yet?”
“I did. Yesterday. He is the first of a brand-new generation who will never know any home other than this planet.”
“You know I’m a little jealous of them.”
“Jealous? How so Governor?”
“They won’t carry the emotional baggage that the rest of us are burdened with. Leaving a home can be difficult.”
From the distance, somebody called out Bell’s name. “If you’ll excuse me.”
Aria acknowledged Bell’s departure with a nod, and turned her attention to the ocean. The noise of the crowd was starting to get a bit much for her. A group of people about a hundred metres away had launched into an impromptu sing-along. She would have preferred that they hadn’t. This beach was usually such a peaceful place.
She began walking away from the crowds, down to the water’s edge. She removed her sandals and strolled north, just in the water enough to let it lap around her ankles. The sky was a deep blue today, and there were only a few wisps of clouds. Aria had seen plenty of beaches on Earth, but none had held the unspoiled beauty of this place. It felt ancient – a land that had not been touched by people. Aria began to wonder if Xinju had ever been home to intelligent life. They’d found plenty of animal and plant life here, but never anything that resembled a human being. Were they really the first people to ever walk this beach?
Aria stared out toward the horizon. The sea was calm. She couldn’t deny that as much as she missed her life on Earth, she was very happy with her new lifestyle. The work was hard but there was a sense of restfulness to it, as contradictory as that might have sounded if she’d said it out loud.
As she stared and contemplated, she became aware of movement out in the water. It was quite a distance away so it was hard to make out, but Aria was sure that she could see somebody out in the water. It was probably just an overly enthusiastic merry-maker who’d gone for a swim, and yet it didn’t look entirely like a person. Was that a greenish tinge to the skin? It was hard to tell from so far away. Whoever it was, they seemed to be staring back at her. For several seconds, they looked at each other. Then, without warning, the figure dived under the water. There was a splash as something that mildly resembled a fish’s tail broke the surface of the water, and then it was gone. Aria kept staring for a good two minutes, but no sign of the creature appeared.
If Aria wasn’t mistaken, she may have just spotted a local – an indigenous life form!
* * *Kerri Meyers looked out through the wide floor-to-ceiling windows, at the planet that they were currently orbiting. Apparently it had been named Xinju. It was Chinese, or something like that. She had been awake for hours, but it wasn’t until she saw the big blue ball beneath her that she finally grasped the reality of her situation. She had come to an alien planet to make a new life for herself.
Until now, her experience since waking had been nothing but tests. The android who had brought her around had poked and prodded her all over. It had insisted that she eat something. “You’re in good health,” it had proclaimed. That was fine – but it wasn’t her own health that she was worried about. “Both of you are in good health.” That was what she’d wanted to hear. Kerri didn’t matter anymore. It was all about the baby. When she’d been informed that the lottery had picked her to be a settler on the Ark ship, and escape the inevitable doom on Earth, she had been afraid. How would the baby cope with long-term stasis? How would she, as a teenage mother all on her own, raise her child on an alien planet, with no family to support her? Then again, it wasn’t like she had any real family to speak of back on Earth. There was her mother – but they didn’t speak very often any more. She’d never had a father, and the guy that she’d thought had loved her was the one who’d left her in this mess.
She felt the faint pangs of withdrawal. It would get worse soon. She didn’t care. The baby was everything now. Her discomfort was irrelevant.
“If I could have your attention please.”
The voice mercifully draw Kerri’s thoughts away from her own problems. She turned to look at the short Asian woman who was addressing them all.
“I am Commander Lin, Acting Captain of the Endeavour. I’d like to welcome you all to the Xinju System. It’s always a joy for me to meet new passengers who have been awakened. I wish we could just wake everybody up at once, but we have to take things slowly. The colony down on the planet cannot sustain the influx of too many new people at once.
“Our settlement on the surface is called Moreau Town. We’ve been building it for about two months, so you haven’t missed much yet. In a few minutes you’ll be escorted to the hanger deck where you will be shuttled down to the surface. Then your new life will begin.”
The woman paused and her demeanour went decidedly somber. “Unfortunately, our journey took a lot longer than anticipated. Five hundred years have ellapsed since we left Earth. I’m sure this will be quite a shock to many of you, but be assured that nothing has changed. We are survivors and we’re here to make a new home for humankind.”
While surprising, this news didn’t really shock Kerri as much as she might have expected. Fifty years or five hundred made little difference. Earth, and everyone she knew, was so far away that the extra time meant nothing.
The Commander’s face perked up again. “You will be given a proper orientation when you arrive on the planet, so you don’t need to fear that we’re just leaving you to your own devices. I hope you enjoy starting a new life here. You are the future of humanity.”
The Commander sounded genuinely excited about their predicament. That was good – perhaps in time Kerri would also be able to view this all as a grand adventure. She placed her hand on her stomach and stroked it affectionately. “You hear that little one. We’re the future of humanity. There’s a nice town down there waiting just for you.”