Author : D. W. Hughes

Yosef Strand took a moment after stepping out of the drop-pod to look once again at his home planet. It was his first time back after the vacation started, and he noticed for the first time how beautifully it had been terraformed. The plants had been mixed together in tiny little clumps and groups; quite unlike those huge fields of single species he had seen on the backwater moons.

Seemingly stepping out of thin air, Yosef exited the cloaked pod. He walked the main road to town, wearing the black hat of an adult of his people despite being only sixteen.

A man, also walking from the podport to the village, spoke to his wife behind him. Yosef could tell he was a tourist quite easily by his lack of facial hair and his accent. The man told his wife that it was ridiculous: a giant waste of government money. His wife responded that yes, it probably was, but wasn’t this a universal heritage site, and weren’t uncontacted peoples so rare these days? Yosef told the married couple to hush. He asked them if they wanted any eavesdroppers to have to get selectively mindwiped for their careless talk. They shook their heads and silenced themselves.

Yosef passed a man whom he had known very well since childhood on a horse and buggy. Yosef said hello, and the main greeted him cordially, as though he had not noticed that Yosef had been on rumspringa for the past year. In fact, he hadn’t. No one in the village had. Those Cultural Preservation Authority guys had some nice tech.

The man ignored the tourists: he couldn’t see them. Cultural tourists, made invisible by the CPA, paid for some of the government’s upkeep of this place, at least.

Passing the squat building of the blacksmith, Yosef entered the largest building in the village, made of hand-cut wood: the town hall, where town meetings and church services were held. He spoke the password his CPA contacts had given him, and the door to the basement opened up out of the floor. Everybody else in the village had forgotten it was there. After he walked down and into the basement, the door closed and became invisible once more.

In a metallic room waited the town’s pastor and mayor, Father Mendelson, along with Yosef’s CPA monitors who had checked up on him throughout his off-world journeys. They sat around a large table with a small cube on it.

Father Mendelson greeted Yosef, they and the CPA handlers chatted a little about Yosef’s rumspringa. Father Mendelson told him a couple of stories from his own rumspringa, which he alone of the townspeople remembered. The pastor then asked Yosef if he had made his choice.

It had never really been a choice for Yosef at all. Of course he would stay. Everyone chose to stay. Yosef remembered the civil war between the planets far away, of the news footage of anti-matter bombs dissolving inhabited moons. He remembered those impoverished people in the cities of the Core, who would kill for food or drugs.

Yosef said goodbye to his main CPA handler, Geoff, and joked that he would never forget him. He sat in the single empty chair and looked into the cube.

Yosef Strand woke up in his bed with his mother shaking him and telling him to feed the chickens. School would start in a couple hours, and he was to be tested on how the Amish had arrived here, in what they all thought was western Pennsylvania. In what they all thought was the late 19th century.

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