This is a serial novel, so if you’re new to Sol, it’s best to start at the beginning.
Back to Chapter 5
Oxide – Day 17
I think I will always yearn for a fresh bagel from Zabar’s, a late-night slice at Famous Ray’s Pizza (or was it Ray’s Famous Pizza?), or those little blue and white coffee cups. Hell, I’d take any cup of coffee right now. It’s been several weeks of living in this burnt orange desert city, eating the protein bars the Hensie call food, and I’m positive I’ll never lose the thread that pulls me back home. Maybe that’s because you’re not here and the last place you were is where I want to be. I feel unsettled. Probably why my dreams are so fucked up, too.
Ray is adjusting. For the first few days, she was sullen and quiet, the exact opposite of her usual bouncy self. A perfectly reasonable response. She just lost her father, the only planet she’s ever known, the only city she’s ever known, and everyday, she talks with a big, ugly, sweet smelling alien. If I weren’t keeping up appearances, I would sit in a corner blubbering. I don’t think I could have kept it together like her.
On Day 3, she stood up and announced to Francy and me, “I’m going to find friends.” She pulled on the door made for something five times her size with all her might until it opened up just a crack and slipped outside. Francy and I got up and followed her.
She knocked on every door on our floor until she had collected a small menagerie of children. Out of the 400 apartments, she found only 10 kids, and 5 of those started following us around. The other 5 stayed behind with their parents. She wasn’t satisfied, so we kept going floor by floor. By the time, we reached the first floor and the lower city, the friend collection mission had snowballed into a raucous cacophony of 100 or so kids. At this point, there was no need to knock on doors. People emerged from the lower city houses, and the kids streamed onto the common throughway that cuts the middle of lower city in half (what we call The Avenue). There were thousands of kids, from toddlers to pre-teens laughing and giggling, running wild in pockets and calmly sitting and talking in others. The whole crowd of children surged with energy, ebbing and flowing in the center of the bewildered and despondent parents and onlookers.
I could see a lot of kids searching for their parents on the periphery of the crowd. But I realized some weren’t glancing off to the side at all and there were no adult eyes searching for them. You could feel the loneliness weighing down their shoulders. They milled about with very little mirth. Ray and I climbed up on a raised roof and looked over the crowd. The entire city was collecting around us, and I put my hand in the air to get everyone’s attention. I used the old schoolteacher trick of not speaking, just standing silently. Eventually it worked. Eventually. Turns out that’s much harder with a crowd this large.
I yelled out into the massive crowd of kids, “Can every kid here go stand by your parents?” I heard parents call out to their children and slowly, very slowly, the kids begrudgingly took their places. In the middle of the ever growing crowd, an island of hundreds of orphans bunched together tightly. The younger kids stood up front and the teenagers stood in the back jostling to form a protective barrier. Girls, boys, young men, young women. All alone. The adults surrounding them looked on, some sadly, most holding their own children even closer than before.
I asked for the oldest kids to come forward. A seventeen year old blonde named Madeline came forward with her twin brother Steven. Ray called them Maddie and Stevie immediately. That was alright with Maddie, but Stevie preferred Steven. I asked them both to enlist the help of the other teens to get the kids up to the 30th floor. As a mother, I couldn’t leave these kids to fend for themselves. Some of them weren’t getting any food at all. I could tell just by looking at them. Over the next day, I gave each teenager a room on the 30th floor of the Cliffside and then spread out the remaining kids by age, so they had an older kid to look after them. Sometimes I had to kick out a current resident of the apartment, but seeing as how we have no material goods at all, moving doesn’t require a call to a Two Men and a Truck so few people protested. Those that did, didn’t necessarily want to be on the kids floor anyway. I could have given them to other adults, but I don’t know anyone well enough yet to trust them with children. So I decided to look after them, all of them, for now.
By day 4, I had adopted 513 Orphans. Ray had hundreds of friends, and Fitter who is The Hensie governor of Oxide gave me the title of The Mother, the ultimate matriarch of Humanity on Oxide. He had apparently watched the whole thing unfold from his perch above the city. I blame Ray, really.
Being the Mother means I’m in charge of everything regarding humans. How we live, how we organize, how we eat (or don’t really eat as the case may be). I’m not necessarily prepared to make any of those decisions, nor do I have any experience running a civilization stuck on a faraway planet, but I can’t give up the title. I’ve protested and even volunteered to find someone else, but every time, Fitter garbles something like “The Mother does not change” or “it’s your destiny.” I’m pretty sure he’s trying to shut me up by regurgitating some pablum from movies and TV shows they know we watched on Earth. I can’t imagine another species has the same concept of destiny as we do. After days of protesting to no avail, I gave up trying to give up and got to work. There isn’t much else for me to do, I guess, so I’ll do this. I’ll figure it out or I’ll need to find people who have already figured it out and get them to help.
First thing first, I needed to get us all physically organized and then find some people to lead smaller portions of the population. People have been sleeping wherever they find space and they’re generally clustering in areas that seem like they’re most desirable. This generates arguments over everything roommates squabble over: sanitation, sleeping arrangements, food distribution, privacy concerns. There have been more than a few people getting it on in full view. I guess they wanted to be some of the first people to have sex on a different planet. That’s all we need right now, pregnant Oxidizers (not sure if I want to call us Oxidizers, but I’m trying it on. Not bad. Not great).
The entire city is situated in the terminating curve of a large mountain range. At the center of which is a plateau that rises some thirty stories above the lower city. I named the plateau neighborhood Cliffside. Every apartment in Cliffside is carved directly out of the rock and only accessible through the middle of the mountain (thankfully there are elevators). Ray, Francy, and I happen to live at the very top of the plateau, just under the six block wide plain the Hensie use as a space port.
At the base of Cliffside, there is a large, wide tunnel that runs under the full length of the plateau. Purple strips of light run the entirety of its smooth grey metallic sides. In front of the tunnel is the lower city. I have dubbed the section of the city directly in front of Cliffside and the tunnel, Downfront. I’ve called the section to the right of Downfront, the section that runs along the curving terminus of the mountain range and extends out into the ochre plains beyond, Outside. The neighborhood to the left of the tunnel, nestled mostly in shadow for the majority of the day, I call Leeward. There’s not a ton of wind and there’s no rain that I’ve seen on Oxide, so it’s hard to say if it really is the Leeward side of the mountain. That’s what I call it anyway.
When you look at Rust from far away, it doesn’t actually look like a city at all, just an interesting artifact of rock erosion with small regularly spaced pockmarks. At least that’s what it looks like when it’s all closed up, which was how it was when we first arrived. It’s mostly subterranean. Every house and apartment is carved directly into the bedrock of the lower city or the face of Cliffside.
You can only see the thousands of homes in the lower city when the ramp ways are opened. The houses themselves are enormous (double the size of a two bedroom in Manhattan), and they are completely underground, only accessible when you depress a hidden handle on the house’s roof. When you do open it, a circular hatch, about the size of two cars, lifts straight up on top of a single pillar, mounted at the rear of the circle. Once the roof is up, I can walk straight down the ramp without bending over. The majority of the rooms in the home are then exposed to the sun on Oxide, which is actually quite nice. We haven’t done a full count yet, but we do have thousands and thousands of homes, more than enough for our four hundred thousand people. Addresses are a bit hard since no house is actually marked in any way. There are a few “roads” if you can call them that, but I ultimately settled on counting from the tunnel outward. That means we have homes with an address like 2 Outside #100 and 3 Leeward #2. The house numbers go all the way out to 1,250 on some lines and 250 on others. We had to put people all the way out to number 600 on the longer lines to house everyone (with a mandate that at least 2 people are in each home).
Cliffside is a little different. You can see the homes from the ground. Actually, you can see the front windows of the homes. The apartments are smaller than the lower city homes, but they have a view all the time, which I prefer. The “windows” have been cut directly into the cliff’s face, and they peer into the main living area of each apartment much like you would expect of any large window. The windows themselves are about six feet tall and about twice that in width. I went with typical Earth numbering scheme, starting at floor 1 and counting out from the center. Ray, Francy, and I live at 30 Cliffside #400 Outside. Roughly translated, that means we’re at the center of the plateau on the thirtieth floor. It’s at the end of the very long hallway back to the elevators. If you do the math, which I did, that means there are over 12,000 apartments carved into the cliffs, and they house between 25,000 and 30,000 people.
Almost everyone wanted to stay in Cliffside or as close to Cliffside as they could, but that was never going to be possible. So I sacrificed one of the notebooks and made it the Oxide address book. I wrote every address down. It took nearly the whole day yesterday. You might ask why the Hensie couldn’t provide technology to help us organize. They obviously have computers that could do all of this for us. Believe me, I asked. Fitter just said “It comes at a cost of trade or money, and you have neither money nor something to trade.” He can be a real asshole. Sometimes he’s so forthcoming, but whenever I need something real, he’s a stick in the mud. Thankfully, there is a communication system that acts as a PA built into every home, so I can address the city when needed (I discovered that by accident). Anyway, I took that laboriously hand written and obviously free of error address book and assigned pairs of people to addresses more or less randomly. There were a few people who wouldn’t have any of my assignments and shuffled off to the ends of the city. One guy wanted to live alone and now resides at 1 Outside #1250, which is probably a good 3 football fields from the last inhabited home. It has to be lonely, but we’ve got the space so no one bothers him and no one really cares that he’s the odd man out. Mike, I think his name is.
As for the apartments and homes themselves. They were definitely not made for us. They seem ancient, but they also have functioning electricity, lighting, stovetops, a kind of shower, a kind of bathroom, beds. But it’s all slightly off. Whoever this was made for, was at least two or three feet taller than the average human. It wasn’t made for the Hensie, because they can’t even fit through the door. If Fitter comes to our house, he uses what we call a Skip Platform to lift him up to our window.
Countertops are a good foot taller than a human bar would be, which makes them practically useless to us. Beds are longer by about 4 feet, which isn’t really bad, but they are as hard as a rock. They are made of pliable material, like a dense gym mat, but they’re tuned to something that weighs a few hundred more pounds than the average human. They might as well be cement. Ray, Francy, and I each have our own room, and they’re all cartoonishly large. We often find ourselves in the main living area huddled to one side of the massive window overlooking the city. It’s just too weird to bounce around the huge rooms alone. I imagine we’ll get used to it, but that time hasn’t come yet. Right now, it’s just a reminder that we are far, far from home.
Now that everyone is settled into their new homes, I’ll start arranging the city into districts and begin interviewing appointees tomorrow. I don’t want to succumb to the democratic tendencies of our heritage as Americans. Not yet, at least. What I need right now are experts, not politicians. I need people who understand food needs. I need people who understand how to make things, how to protect us from ourselves, how to build society from scratch. Hopefully I can find a historian or two who can put into context the pitfalls humanity has made before and help us avoid them this time around.
I’ve got a lot to do. I wish you were here to help.
I love you,
Continue reading Chapter 7
Chapter 5 – Day 17 by Christopher Hazlett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://robotissmiling.com/?p=509.