by Veronica Viscardi
Veronica Viscardi is a researcher, an activist, and a writer. Born in Naples, Italy, she moved to London where she started working in the field of social justice. This is her first published story and it is of a special significance to her as she started writing it on the day she knew of Sir Terry Pratchett’s passing. She lives with her husband, two flat- mates, and a black tomcat.
20 March 2099
We celebrated my birthday one week earlier. Mum thought it would be nice to have one last, big party to say our goodbyes. Nana baked the cake and we invited all our friends and neighbors on the estate and, of course, Adie and her parents.
It was Adie who gave me the nicest of presents: a journal made with real paper. Dad made a face when he saw it, and said something about spending too much on a child’s gift, but Adie’s parents can afford it. I’m to record my travel, Adie said.
One is supposed to start a journal with an introduction, so, hi, my name’s Bree White and I’m ten years old.
The party was going well. The cake was an amazing chocolat-y thing, and we had plenty of food. We were so lucky that there wasn’t acid rain for the day; we opened the shutters for the first time since forever. The fresh air smell was Earth’s goodbye present, Mum said.
Then, Nana started to cry. One moment she was chatting with Dad, the next she was making this awful, choking noise.
“I’m so sorry,” she kept saying.“I just can’t believe that you’ll be gone.”
After that, there was no more party. Mum hugged Nana, and Adie took my hand to lead me to my room. Micah, one of the estate boys, tried to follow us, but Adie slammed the door in his face.
“Everyone’s acting like we’re dead,” I told her as we sat on my bed.
“But you’ll be gone, Bree. It’s like Mr. Foreman told us, remember?”
Of course I did. I was so happy that we got to skip Math for a special lesson on the Proxima Centauri colony. Mr. Foreman had prepared some holo-slides and explained what he called the Twin Paradox. The spaceship travels at the speed of light, and it takes one year to reach Proxima. One year on the ship, while time on Earth goes much slower; all because of the re-la-ti-vi-ty. I hope I spelled it right. Anyway, the holo-slide showed us cute twin baby boys. One twin left on the ship while the other stayed on Earth. How cruel, I thought, to separate them. Anyway, by the time the space-traveling twin reached Proxima, his brother had aged one hundred years.
I felt so bad for them.
A month later, Dad told me that our family was selected to move to the colony.
“You’ll call me, though, won’t you? You promised.” Adie asked.
The spaceships make scheduled stops on the route. It’s the only time when the passengers are able to contact Earth through Ansible. The company provides each passengers aged ten or over with a receiver Ansible to give to family and friends. I chose Adie, even though Mum said that it wasn’t a good idea. I don’t care; I can remember being Adie’s friend before anything else. I won’t ever give up on her.
“I will. Don’t forget to wait for me,” I said, holding her fingers. She still had the lime-green nail polish, now chipped, that we’d put on the last Wednesday.
“Never. You’re my favorite thing in the whole world.”
6 April 2099
Me and my parents are Family Unit 451-B. My boarding code is 19-78-05. They printed all this stuff on my wrist, but it’ll fade in one year.
The name of our ship is the Good Queen Bess. We can call her Queenie, for short, as long as we remember to refer to her as a “her” and never as an “it”. Queenie is huge. Humongous.
There are 500 passengers and 80 crew members on board. We have a school, a gym and even a bowling alley. The rules are strict but not too bad. So far, the worst thing is the food: mostly, we only get this mushy protein and vitamin ration, although they promised us real chocolate on special occasions.
Things are fine now, but it was scary on the day we left. The London City Spaceport was packed with people, either passengers or family and friends. There was a lot of shouting, crying and praying. I saw a group dressed in black head to toe, like they were at a funeral. They even had a priest with them, an old man with a bald head who was giving some sort of blessing to a young couple. Later, Dad told me that he was administering them the last rites, but I am not sure what that mean.
I was afraid the most of the young men and women with the signs. They were the one shouting the loudest, waving their signs and chanting things like: If you quit on Earth, Earth quits on YOU!
I was walking through the gates when I heard a loud BANG coming from behind me. Then more. BANG! BANG! And screams. I wanted to watch, but Dad grabbed me tight and wouldn’t let me.
We’re weeks away from Earth, now. Soon, Queenie will make her first scheduled stop. The queue at the Ansible booths will be terrible, so I best make sure to get there early. I miss Adie like crazy!
18 April 2099
She almost missed my call! I waited almost three hours to get into a booth, almost peed myself, and then Adie wouldn’t answer the Ansible. I was already two attempts down and with only one more to go when she picked up.
It must have been night in London, because she was in bed, and her face was all puffy with sleep. She looked at me, blinked one, two, three times, and her eyes grew so big that they covered half her face.
“Bree?” She looked pale.
I couldn’t stop staring at her. She had the same small, heart-shaped face with the big brown eyes and the mole on the chin. Only, her lips were fuller, her cheekbones sharper. She looked beautiful.
Then she sat halfway up.
“You have boobs!” I screamed. Couldn’t help it.
” Sssh! Stop yelling,” she said.
“Let me see ‘em!”
“No! And keep it down or you’ll wake everybody.” Adie’s shook her head. “It’s really you.”
I must have made a “duh!” face, because she rushed to explain.
“I waited for you. For months, years, I used to live glued to this thing.” she brushed her fingers on the Ansible screen. “You never called.”
“It’s the first chance I got.” I was hurt. Had she forgot everything I told her?
Adie kept staring.“You hair is short.”
“The crew shaved all of us, for the lice. Gross.”
“And you‘re all still there. You, your parents, everybody else. You’re all alive up there.” She had this strange, little smile on, and her eyes were still wide. It was like she was shocked and happy at the same time. “They gave your old flat to another family, you know?”she said, then.
“What? How did it happen?”
“The Government redistributed all the Drifters’ houses. No point in keeping them empty.”
“What’s a Drifter?” I was yelling again and Adie winced.
“Be quite. If my dad sees us talking he’d make me throw the Ansible in the rubbish.”
That stung. I thought Adie’s dad liked me.
“It’s not you. It’s because of the Drifters.” Adie said, with an all -sweet voice.”It’s what they call all of you. Because you drifted away.”
I felt cold. I just couldn’t understand.
Our house was gone.
“I’m fifteen now. I got my GCSE. And Micah, do you remember him from the estate? He’s got a crush on me. I can’t believe you’re there,” she repeated.
I didn’t know what to say, but that was okay because the booth alarm started to sound. My time was up.
“You’ll call again, won’t you?” Adie asked. She looked so sad.
“Will do. Just, next time pick up quicker,” I said.
She nodded. “Oh. And, Bree?” she shook her boobs to show me. I giggled all the way back to my cabin. What a dork!
8 May 2099
The crew organized a bowling tournament, today. It was fun and it lifted everybody’s mood after the Drifters news.
Mum said that she understands why people on Earth don’t like us. We took the easy way out, leaving everyone else to deal with the bad economy and pollution. I don’t think we have it easy here, all cooped up as we are. Yesterday I saw some lady walking up to one of the bulkheads and starting to bang up her head. She kept screaming that she needed to get out.
Mum’s been really cranky. I think it has to do with Nana. I heard my parents talking last night, when they believed I was asleep; I didn’t catch on everything, but they said how it was unlikely that Nana would be there to answer the next call.
Really, we don’t have it easy.
20 May 2099
Adie kept her word and picked up on the first ring. She told me that she was twenty-seven now. So old! But she looked even more beautiful.
She had gone to University, but not to be a doctor, like it had been her dream. She did something political. I didn’t get what, really, but it sounded boring.
She did it for me, she said. “Knowing you were up there, still a little girl and so far away, it really inspired Me. Your ship was only the second passenger cargo to leave for Proxima. Since then, twenty more have left. Twenty-two ships full of people whose lives are on hold.”
“I’m not on hold. I grew up three inches since my birthday. I just finished a diorama for my History class.”
Adie smiled. “You’re right. It’s such a wrong way to think of you.”
She was sharing a flat with five girlfriends, now. She had left the estate after a big fight with her dad. I remember the last time I went to visit her flat and he played hopscotch with us.
“I’m sorry about your family,” I told Adie.
She shrugged.“It happens between grown-ups, sweetie. My father is stubborn and backward, and doesn’t approve of me or my work.”
She had started a support organization for us Drifters. There were votes for new laws, in countries all over Earth, to declare us legally dead. On the ship we were all worried that, by the time we made it on Proxima, we would be cut out.
Adie wasn’t going to let that happen. “Someone has to keep all of us together,” she told me.
I had a few minutes left in the booth, but I said my goodbye early.
Adie was engaged. She would get married in July, Earth-time. It was the very first thing she told me.
I am flying at the speed of light, while she‘s left behind. How come her life’s not on hold?
19 July 2099
I was thinking about the dates that I put on my journal. Are they correct? Is it really August? There are no seasons on the ships, of course, and I have no idea if it’s summer or winter back on Earth. On the Queenie we keep marking the days from the time we left, but I wonder what will happen when we reach Proxima. Are we gonna stick to our own time or change it to Earth’s? If we stay in 2100 and they are in 2199, it’s gonna be so weird.
Three bad things happened. First, we had to evacuate our bridge because of an ammonia leak in the air conducts. The crew moved us to another sector, until they could fix it, and it was so crowded. We had to share a cabin with two other families! One of their babies had diarrhea, and she cried and pooped all the time. That’s the second bad thing that happened, the disease. I don’t know how it started, but it hit the babies. The ship medics tried to keep the healthy ones away from the sick ones, but there was just not enough space. There was crying and the smell of poo everywhere, until the babies either got better or died.
The third bad thing happened to Mum. She had been sad since our last scheduled stop and, a week ago, she stopped talking altogether. Now she spends all day lying on her side, staring at the ship’s bulkhead.
Dad took me aside yesterday and told me what I already suspected but didn’t want to know. They had been right about Nana: she hadn’t been there to pick up the last call.
I have missed Adie so much. I really can’t wait to call her again, even if she’s a wiseass grown-up who calls me a little girl.
14 September 2099
I saw some girls playing hopscotch. I remember when I used to like it, a lifetime ago. They were singing a rhyme I never heard before. It went: There was a girl named Bright, Whose speed was fast as light, She set out one day, In a relative way, And returned on the previous night.
Bright sounds a bit like Bree. I have to ask Adie if she knows this song, when I call her tomorrow.
18 September 2099
I’m never, ever, going anywhere near that stupid Ansible again.
It’s just horrible.
1 November 2099
Mum started to talk again!
It was one night, after she heard me crying. She lied in bed next to me, like when I was little and I had a nightmare. She held me tight, and I told her everything.
She convinced me to write in here again. It would help to get things off of my chest, she said.
A few days ago I called Adie and her great-aunt took the call. At least, that’s who I thought she was. I had met the lady only once and liked her a lot, with her gentle, wrinkled face and her soft grey hair.
Then I took a better look.”Adie?”
The lady smiled.”Nobody had called me like that in a very long time.” she said. I think I made a face, because she got all concerned.”I’m sorry, Bree. This must seems so strange to you, but everything’s fine. I have just gotten a little older.” Her voice was so kind. She reminded me of Nana.
I felt my butt bumping against something hard and only then I noticed that I had back up to the booth door.
“Please, wait!” Old-lady Adie said.” There’s something I have to tell you. Something wonderful.”
I turned my back and ran. I ran, ran, ran, all the way to my cabin, still with her voice ringing in my ears. I didn’t want to listen; I didn’t want to look, not ever.
It’s not fair. They told me it would happen, but still it’s not far.
Adie is two months younger than me.
14 December 2099
Things have been great. Mum is happy again. She started to eat, talk, and laugh like a normal person. Everyone on the ship is happy, actually, even the crew. And it’s all because of the news.
It seems that there’s a new law, approved by many countries on Earth, which gives us Drifters rights as citizens. We can keep our property on Earth, and we can vote. They call this law “Pandora’s Gift,” from the name of the Prime Minister who proposed it. Thanks to her, we will still belong to Earth, even when we reach Proxima.
There is only one more scheduled stop before we complete our travel, and Mum wants me to call Adie. She says that I’m gonna regret it if I don’t try.
Now I’m afraid that she won’t be there to answer.
20 January 2100
Adie answered, and it was just in time. She had been waiting for me.
Strange thing was she looked more like the Adie I left than ever before. Her hair was brittle, whiter than the pillows on the bed where she was laying. Her face was carved with many wrinkles; so much that she looked like a tree’s bark. Still, her eyes were wide and bright.
“So glad I could see you,” Adie said. It sounded like talking hurt her, and I wanted to tell her not to stress herself, to be quiet.
She tried to sit up and someone put the Ansible closer to her. There were so many people around her, but they were all out of focus. Only Adie mattered.
She reached for the screen, like she wanted to brush my face. Her fingers were bony, covered with brown spots. I remembered the chipped lime-green nail polish she had on when I last held her hand.
“I had a wonderful life. Many friends. A few husbands, children and grand-children,” said Adie. “But you gave me my purpose, made me look to the sky.” She was smiling. “You’re still my favorite thing in the whole world, Bree.”
I was crying. I had cried in front of her so many times. When Micah pushed me and I bumped my head. When Dad lost his job. When I was told that we were leaving Earth.
“You’re my favorite thing, too. Always,” I said. Or at least I think I said, because I couldn’t hear my voice.
A young man with a heart-shaped face pulled the screen to him and said that Adie needed her rest. He was kind, and I didn’t even say thanks or goodbye. I kept mute-talking, until someone knocked on the booth door.
Everybody on the Queenie had heard about her. Pandora “Adie” Williams. Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Protector of the Drifters, and the first president of a united Earth. Dead at the age of one hundred and eleven.
She was my best friend, and she kept us together.