by James Van Pelt
Bri told me the lift ships to Terra Station took off Tuesday and Friday mornings from Campbell Field. They made the cabin look like an old-time luxury liner, like a zeppelin crossing the Atlantic, with wooden wainscoting and brass fittings. She said stewards in white jackets and white gloves served champagne in souvenir flutes engraved with your takeoff date.
The ship held five hundred colonists, chosen by an international lottery, but because separating loved ones was cruel, the lucky could choose three people to go with them. It could be family members or friends. Lottery winners had all debts paid, and if their leaving deprived a family of income, the corporation provided absentee pensions to prevent suffering.
Much of the ship's hull became transparent during the flight so passengers could see the flame that enveloped them at takeoff, and then the ground receded so fast that before they knew it, the sky grew dark and the horizon curved. What a joy, she said, to discover for yourself Earth's true size. In one way, the Earth was huge. The continents and oceans unrolled beneath you. Day became night and cities glowed like Christmas lights. The size, the grandeur, startled you and filled you with joy. At the same time, you saw Earth all at once, a blue and white marble, a falling soccer ball, a crystal sphere that shrank as the ship rose to its high orbit. That tiny planet held humanity, held within its history all that had happened to man, and if you raised your fist, you could eclipse it, the Earth was so small.
I told Bri that doctors had found cures for human suffering. While I traveled to the stars, diseases were being eliminated. Accurate genetic testing guaranteed medicines custom tailored. Cancers, of course, would vanish first, followed closely by communicable disease and inherited conditions. Finally, they would remake the deformed. The lame would walk, the deaf would hear, and the blind would paint new glories.
Bri's lungs would inhale fully and suck in flowers and mountains and summer storms. She'd stand from her wheelchair. When I returned, I'd put my hand in the small of her back and twirl with her on the dance floor. She would tell me about Earth's advances. Not in the whispery, painful way she spoke now, but with a full voice. She'd laugh and not cough. She'd learn to sing.
She held my hand and told me about Zeti Prime, the Earth-like planet orbiting Zeti Reticuli. Oceans lapped silver beaches circling tropical islands. Lizard-birds nested in the blue trees, and at dusk took off as one. She said they filled the sky, then swept low over the waves, hunting the tentacled fish. Zeti Prime enjoyed a lighter gravity. Colonists reported the spring in their step lasted for months before they grew used to it. Zeti Reticuli's light healed depression and it didn't promote carcinomas. Crops grown there contained more nutrients and vitamins. No one on Zeti Reticuli had died of old age yet. Colonies were small. Wherever you walked, in a few minutes you would be in the frontier. Rivers, mountains, and lakes were yet unnamed.