Refugees

Author : Patrica Stewart

The little boy was sitting in a chair that was clearly designed for an adult. His feet, which didn’t quite reach the floor, swayed back and forth like two tiny crisscrossing pendulums. His arms were wrapped tightly around some sort of red stuffed animal as his saucer-like eyes darted around the interior of the spaceport. His eyes finally came to rest on a man wearing a uniform sitting across from him. Comforted by an official looking adult, the little boy smiled sheepishly.

Captain Pluvia smiled back. “Hi there, buddy. Is this your first trip to the asteroid belt?”

“Yes, mister. This is the first time in my whole life that I ever even left Mars. But I’m a little scared that the spaceship might crash.” He looked down. “But, Daddy says we have to leave. It’s not safe to live here any more.”

“You don’t need to be scared, son. You know, I’ll be flying the ship, and I’m the best pilot in the entire universe. I’ve flown this ol’ ship at least a thousand times. I’ll make sure you get there safely. And don’t be sad about leavin’ Mars. You’re gonna love it on Vista. The gravity is so low that you can practically float. There’s hundreds of kids your age there already. You’ll have so much fun, you’ll forget all about Mars.” He stood up and grabbed his flight bag. “Well, buddy, I have to get ready for liftoff. But listen, if you get scared during the trip, you just tell the flight attendant that you’re a personal friend of the Captain, and to come get me, OK. There’s no need to worry. I’ll take good care of you.” As the Captain started to walk away, he noticed that the boy had relaxed his vise-like grip on his stuffed animal, and his smile became broader, and a lot less apprehensive. Captain Pluvia wished that it were always that easy. As he headed toward the bridge, he thought about how desperate their situation really was. The chance of long term survival on Vista was very slim. But, hell, a slim chance is better than none, right.

As the ship lifted off from the surface of Mars, the captain stared at the dry, barren landscape through the view port. It seemed that the tan colored rocks were turning a little redder every trip. The surface water on Mars had disappeared centuries ago. They’ve been living underground for generations, conserving what little water could be extracted from the permafrost, and recycling every precious drop. But it was a losing battle, and everyone knew it. They’d all have to leave Mars. They started establishing settlements on the asteroids, or the moons of the large planets, wherever water was available. The evacuations were almost complete, but the hardships were just beginning. The refugees would have to survive for thousands of years in their remote outposts, until the third planet cooled enough to start the rain cycle. The scientists say that the third planet is still too young, too volcanic, and too hot to live on. But, hopefully, when it settles down in a few thousand years, it will become a paradise, like Mars was centuries ago. It will have lakes, and rivers, and oceans. And rain! Captain Pluvia had never seen rain, just read about it. He could only imagine what it would be like to stand outside when it rained. Water, falling from the sky, like a gigantic, cold shower. Tiny droplets, splashing off his upturned face, running down his antennae, and collecting in his pouch. He knew that he’d never live to experience rain. But maybe, with a lot of luck and perseverance, his descendants might survive long enough to relocate to the third planet. A very, very slim chance, perhaps, but it’s better than no chance at all.

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