Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
Flickering light fills the clearing, reflecting in the wide eyes of five people in restraint sleeves laid out next to a pair of freight containers.
I wait until they turn their attentions to me.
“Good morning. Welcome to Dantalius Nine. The sunrise is particularly beautiful, isn’t it? The rays interact with tiny crystals in the thermosphere, providing a magnificent lightshow to start the day. It does persist, but is best seen at dawn.”
The mother is looking about. The father is going from scared to angry, and getting angrier because he’s been scared. Both daughters are quiet, the older one showing early signs of digital withdrawal. The son, youngest of the siblings, is watching his father with a look I’d not want directed at me.
I crouch down and continue in my best news presenter manner.
“Hi. Right now you’re wondering what’s happened.” I gesture to all of them except the father. “You four are here because he,” I point at the father, “is being given a chance to demonstrate his extraordinary skills at colonisation.”
All attention falls on daddy dearest.
“Milo Wilkins, I’m delighted to say your persistent efforts are being rewarded. Only last month on FNXN you commented at length in reply to the ‘Colonies Beg for Aid’ article. You insisted the colonists were bleeding Earth dry because they were ‘too damn lazy to work for their privileges’. Your revolutionary ideas regarding crop growing, medicine, hunting, and the frontier family attracted a lot of attention. I must admit I thought some of your counter-arguments a little weak, but the approbation your comments received was startling. Your loud lamentations about not being able to ‘get out there with my family and prove them scroungers wrong’ were noted.”
If his wife’s eyes get any wider, they’ll crack her skull.
“I also noticed you commiserating with your followers regarding how a ‘truly independent thinker’ who ‘refused to fall for government and media lies’ would never be allowed to emigrate. That gave me an idea. What better way to prove that opportunity and justice for all still exist in this century than to give you that very chance?”
He’s gone very still, and very pale.
“Naturally, this can’t come entirely for free. After all, the exploration and colonisation of space is meant to be a co-operative effort. To realise something from this largesse, we’ve established a network of monitors, so your ground-breaking ideas and techniques can be codified to create a new guide for future colonisation efforts.”
The oldest daughter is starting to show signs of shock, on top of her withdrawal.
“You see those two containers? They’re settler pods. Each one contains enough gear and supplies to sustain six people for twelve weeks, plus the basics to get hunting, gathering, agriculture, and your homestead started. The restraint sleeves you’re in can be used as sleeping bags after they’re relaxed, which is done by an injection to change the state of the material. That process takes about an hour to complete. I did that just before I woke you to watch the dawn.”
Milo glares at me. I shrug.
“I’ll be in orbit before you can move. Also, any form of rescue would be prohibitively expensive, but I’m looking forward to watching desperate crowdfunding attempts.”
I stand and stretch.
“The live stream starts in about two hours. I’d recommend getting the louder recriminations over with before then.”
Turning away, I give them a casual salute.
“You’re going to be famous. Not only that, but one of the outspoken commentators on your stream will provide the next object lesson. Good luck. Goodbye.”