I have been selected. The correspondence from the closest transfer point arrived exactly one month ago. We opened it around the bonfire. I should have been nervous, I think. Or excited. But all I could think, sitting with the people who have influenced my life the most, people whose existence in my life from here on out, diverged in two directions depending on the contents of the letter, was “Bloody Nora, it’s cold.”
Siobhan stood with the correspondence in her hand. It reminded me of the ancient physicist Schrödinger. Until the letter was opened, I was both accepted and rejected. All we could do now was wait and see.
And then the path was set. I was to report to London with my personal belongings approved and corresponding to the listed requirements. I would be aboard the ISS HANIWA.
Silence. The fire crackled, sending light dancing across everyone’s face. A new mood took hold. Before, the possibility was exciting. The uncertainty created an infectious buzz of activity. Now that my acceptance was certain, it seemed there was absolutely nothing more in the universe worth discussing.
“I want to go to London!”
A small voice broke the silence. The youngest child in the commune, Estelle, stood and pointed at the letter in Siobhan’s trembling hands.
“I want to go to London!” she repeated, although it was clear we all heard her the first time. “I want to go with Esau!”
“The letter says they must go alone,” Siobhan replied in a quiet and wavering voice.
“Why? Why can’t we go with them?”
“It is what the letter says. Esau must make this journey on their own.”
Of course, this sent Estelle into a fit of tears. Many of the other children followed suit. They had always moved like a hive mind. Schoolmaster Oliver had to lead them away, gently, with quiet whispers of “Come now, no tears… We’re going to the school…”
We spent the next month preparing for my departure. Space was not an issue. Personal possessions were not the norm in Citadel, so the thirty kilograms in a half-cubic metre seemed like almost a luxury. I only possess three outfits: work overall, leisure jeans and flannels, and a meditation robe, all folded nicely into my blanket.
The rest, I filled with memories. Journals, photographs, sketches, books. A slightly overstuffed burlap dog the children made as a gift long ago. Most difficult was rejecting the other parting gifts they foisted on me, which, without saying, did not follow the requirements in the slightest. I doubted a rat named Toby would be welcomed aboard the HANIWA, and I told them as much. But, in compromise, I named the stuffed dog Toby. All was well.
Truth be told, a large portion of the month, I spent looking for one book in particular: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Much to my dismay, it was nowhere to be found. Bother.
Before we knew it — and I dare say before anyone was emotionally ready — it was the day of departure. It took nearly a full day to walk to the nearest Skimmer station that would take me to London. Rather than force me to make this journey alone, we decided to make an excursion of it. The irony of Siobhan telling Estelle I must go alone, then bringing the whole commune with us did not escape me.
We packed picnics, donned our hiking boots, and set off.
Around 6:00 PM, we arrived at the station with two hours to spare. I ate my last supper with my community, my friends, my family. One by one, we said our goodbyes.
“We’ll see you again real soon, right?” Estelle asked. Precious child. She may have been the last, but she was surely first in Being.
I do not tell lies. Mother used to say that this was because I am a good person. That is not true. I do not not tell lies because I am a good person because I am not a good person. I just do not tell lies. In spite of this, I could not tell a child that No, I would never see anyone at the station again. If I was lucky, perhaps I would one day meet a child with a Grandmother Estelle who existed in their most distant memories. If by that time the world had not been destroyed. In spite of my feelings, I could not bear to tell her the truth. So I simply nodded and ruffled her brown ringlets. In return, she ran her fingers through the end of my braid.
“Perfect matches?” she asked, referring to our hair. This was her favorite way to say goodbye without those specific, final, damning words.
“Perfect matches.” It was also mine.
The Skimmer touched down, spider-leg supports unfolding outward for descent. This was accompanied by oohs and ahhs, many members of the commune having never seen one before. Silently, it landed on the helipad. The door opened, and the pilot waved me in. From this point forward, only Siobhan would accompany me to London.
The crew made short work of loading up my trunk, and the Skimmer whirred to take off. I fixed my gaze out the window at my world I was leaving behind. Some were waving, some cheered. But most stood in silence, somber attitudes overtaking the joy they had been expressing moments ago.
I find people confusing.
Siobhan and I reminisced on our lives for the entire flight. Neither of us said it out loud, but we both knew if the conversation lulled, the uncertainty of silence might be enough to convince us to turn back.
Too soon, we descended on London. We grabbed hands and waded, anxious and uncertain, through the crowds to my checkpoint, from which I would go on, alone, to Lagrange-L3, where the HANIWA awaited me. It was easy to find. After the War of Religions, all unnecessary rocket-voyages ceased. Ergo, only one rocket stood in the station.
Extensive security now stood between myself and the vehicle to my new home. I turned back to hug Siobhan, only to find her holding a box out to me. It was an old box that used to come with fancy dress shirts. I opened the shirt box and… my book was inside. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
We hugged for a final time before security bustled me forward.
“Empty your pockets, please,” the guard, a young man, asked.
I obliged. Empty except for my book.
“Is this in case I have anything dangerous I could use to kill myself with or hurt a policeman?”
I had heard in the news that there were those who opposed the existence of the ISS HANIWA. That if the Earth was to be destroyed, it was inevitable, some said God’s plan. I do not believe in such things.
The guard nodded gruffly to the others, and I was shuffled along to the rocket at last. The doors slid open, and I found myself facing a room full of people looking very much like it was just a routine, leaving the planet. But behind the façade of normalcy, I could see the nervousness of the new. I took a deep breath. I opened my book, hoping to find solace in one of the great fictional teachers of the Being-State.
And in my book was a note. A note taped to the inside in a familiar and comforting scrawl.
I believe in you.
Does that mean I can do anything, Siobhan?