The shuttle trip from the Endeavour to the surface of Xinju seemed to elicit excitement from many of the other passengers. For Kerri it was just routine. She had lived in space as a young child and had spent plenty of time in shuttles. Despite this, even she had to admit that the glorious vista that greeted them upon entering the atmosphere was impressive. Kerri had landed on desolate moons, and in smog-covered cities, but never before had she seen a pristine world like this, it was so untouched, the green of the forests and the deep blue of the ocean. Perhaps life wold be good here. One thing was sure, it would be a lovely place to raise a child.
After the shuttle touched down, she waited for her turn to disembark. Too many others were in a hurry to be first. She was content to wait. By the time she was out, most of her group were gathered in a large circle on the dirt. A woman who looked middle-eastern was gesturing to get everybody’s attention. Slowly the group hushed.
“Hello everyone. Welcome to Xinju. I am Aria Bekhit and I’ll be taking charge of your orientation here. If you’d like to follow me it’s just a short stroll into the centre of Moreau Town.”
The woman droned on about the history of the colony so far. The choosing of a suitable site, something about a wedding and the birth of a child. Kerri wasn’t interested. The symptoms of withdrawal were already getting worse. It was very distracting. Soon the distraction would turn to craving, and then it would drive her crazy.
“We are currently operating on martial law. It was always intended that Captain Bell would serve as a military governor to lead the colony until we got up and running. Then, a civilian government will be appointed to take over.” This was met with a few murmers from the crowd. It should not have been news – even Kerri remembered this from her briefing back on Earth.
“We do not yet have a currency-based economy. Food is rationed equally, but everybody is required to do their bit. We’re like a very large family in that regard.
“You will all be assigned a small room in our dormintory building where you can sleep. It’s not much but you’ll be comfortable and safe. We encourge people to build homes of their own, but first, each civilian has a duty to spend two weeks on the construction of town infrastructure. We’re currently laying the foundations of what will one day be a hospital. After your two weeks are up you are welcome to build your own home. We will help you choose a suitable plot of land.
“We encourage you to get together in friendship groups, and help build each other’s homes one at a time. Afterall building a house is not a one-person job.”
Bekhit held up a large bucket. “Now if you’ll all come and take a sheet out of here. It will contain your room number in the dorm as well as a work assignment.”
Kerri tried to concentrate as Bekhit went on to discuss the location of various facilities and how they could get other information. When she pointed out the location of a public toilet block Kerri knew she had her escape. Trying not to draw any attention, she strolled toward the building and slipped into the ladies’ room. All the cubicles were empty. Kerri chose the one on the far side of the room. She latched the door behind her and heaved a sigh of relief.
Kerri reach down the front of her shirt and fished around for the small package she knew was there. She retrieved a small plastic bag containing a white powder. This would either be her life line or her destruction. It had been surprisingly easy to smuggle the drugs here from Earth. Security hadn’t exactly been looking for contraband.
Again she sighed. Kerri had a turblent mix of conflicting emotions. On one hand she was desparate to rip into the bag and get at its contents. One othe other hand, she knew that any relief she would get from the drugs would be temporary. Once her supply ran out she’d be right back where she was now. Then there was the baby to consider. These drugs could be harmful to an unborn child. Could she really pass her adiction on to an innocent baby?
With trembling hands, she ripped the bag open. She had made her decision. There was no turning back now. If she didn’t go through with this immediately she would loose her nerve and give in to the temptation. She quickly tipped the drugs into the toilet, pressed the flush button, and watched her life-line spin and gurgle down the drain. It was time for a new beginning.
* * *
Aria Bekhit enjoyed welcoming new citizens to the planet. It didn’t seem so long ago that she had been given the big speech herself. Of course back then the town had been in it’s infancy. At that stage the dorm block hadn’t even been built, and they’d all been sleeping in tents. There had been a lot of eager and excited faces in the group today. She hoped that life would pan out well for each of them.
Her destination was a small log cabin on the outskirts of the town. It was a cute design – not exactly her taste but charming in its own way. She knocked firmly on the door and waited for it to open.
“Aria, come in,” Laura Banks invited.
She stepped inside was took a seat at the table. “It certainly is nice what you’ve done with this place Laura.”
“Well, most of this is Neal’s doing. He’s been passionate about making a good home for us.”
Aria smiled. “And how is marriage treating you both?”
Now it was Laura’s turn to smile. “Quite wonderfully actually. I’ve never been so happy.”
“I’m pleased for you, and a little jealous as well.”
“Oh I’m sure there’s a nice bloke out there somewhere for you Aira.”
She scoffed. “I think it’s a little too late for that. Besides, I’m married to the town. Seeing everything function well is my passion.”
“And how is that going?”
“It is looking quite promising. We had a large group of newly-awakened colonists arrive today.”
“You just don’t stop do you huh? You’ve gotta make time for a little rest once in a while.”
Aria laughed. “That is rich coming from you Laura.”
Banks shrugged. “I guess romance has slowed my pace a little in recent weeks.”
“Well I did enjoy the party on the beach yesterday. In fact, I think I saw something unusual.”
“Unusual in what way?”
“Promise you won’t think that I am crazy.”
Laura’s face suddenly went all serious. “Of course not.”
“There was something alive out in the sea. It was vaguely humanoid but I’m sure it had a tail.”
“What, like a mermaid?”
“A little like that.”
Laura scratched her head thoughtfully. “You should talk to Toledo about it. He’s been cataloguing many species on the planet. He might know what it is.”
Aria nodded. “I think I will.”