Sam kicked the gravel on the ground as he walked with his family to the large building in the middle of the town square. It was Sunday morning on planet Spero. Everyone knew that it was time for the Weekly Message, or the W.M. It was Spero tradition for everyone to gather in the town square’s hall every Sunday morning to watch it. Eighteen-year-old Samuel was currently following this tradition with his large family.
A dull roar filled the room as everyone walked around to find seats. Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and the giant screen in the front lit up.
“Earth. The year 2057,” a deep voice boomed over the crackling sound system, the message the same. It told of how the U.S. sent spaceships of the most promising citizens to different planets to create more resources. The message always ended with “…But our hard work is not over yet. Now that you are on the planets, it your job, as an American, to bring the planet to success. Remember, citizen, you can change the world,” and the screen went dark.
* * *
Sam let out a pleasant sigh as he left the town square. Sam loved Sunday, the one day a week the entire town would rally together for their pride in Spero. Even as a simple farmer, Sam felt that even he was important. Sunday was also the day he could see his best friend, Opal James.
Sam closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He lay in an empty field, grass tickling his sides, wind grazing his body. Sam always felt most relaxed alone with the grass and the sky. With one exception.
“Hey Sammy,” Sam opened his eyes, grinning as he saw Opal.
“Hey, O,” Sam said softly.
Opal moved to lay down next to Sam in the grass, her movements were graceful and refined. She was so complex, Sam had a hard time figuring her out. The daughter of scientists, and herself well on her way to becoming one, she was smart, yet silly, rough, yet graceful. How Opal could be so complex was a mystery to Sam. But Sam always wanted to know more and more about her.
Opal put her hands behind her head and closed her eyes, looking radiant as always. Time passed too quickly, as always with Opal. As the sun started to set, they talked about all sorts of things, family, school, or anything that made them laugh. The only bothersome thing about her was her doubts about the Spero government, especially the head founder, Malcolm Willouby. Spero was too small for a traditional government, those duties were taken over by the founders of the planet and a small group of trusted peacekeepers. Willouby was strongly revered as the head scientist and leader of the colonization project.
Opal thought Willouby was too generous with rationing. Sam completely disagreed with her. As a farmer, Sam worked with the other farmers, who handled nearly every aspect of Spero’s food. Most was produced through the farmers, but meat was taken care of with tremendous care to prevent any livestock illness—only the elite founders were to handle the production of meat. There was no worry over the quality of meat: the founders would regularly announce during the W.M. the good or bad seasons for livestock. Though it made no difference, a full ration of delicious meat would always reach everyone’s table.
Opal wondered if maybe the founders were using hormones or steroids to make the livestock bigger and feed more people. Sam had no reason to question the founders’ announcements, and felt uncomfortable with how fervently Opal questioned them. Their political discussions always ended with them agreeing to disagree, for the sake of their friendship.
Stars materialized as the temperature dropped. Sam scooted closer to Opal, hoping she wouldn’t notice. To Sam’s surprise, Opal didn’t pull away, but came closer instead.
Sam’s heart was beating a million miles an hour. He had never felt this anxious in his life.
The stars flooded the sky. Sam couldn’t care for them, he could only focus on Opal. Her smile, her small nose, tipped red from the cold, her beautiful face…
Opal glanced over catching Sam’s eyes briefly before she leaned her head against his chest. One ear to his racing heart, and another to the gentle wind around them.
* * *
Opal looked so fragile lying on her hospital cot, Sam desperately wished for color, a window…anything besides this patronizingly white room.
It had been less than a week, only six days, when Sam had heard that Opal collapsed in the marketplace, and was in the hospital. Sam was terrified. Getting sick in Spero was rare, and now suddenly this disease appears, taking lives, and Opal was infected. Sam dropped next to Opal, quietly sobbing.
“Sam?” Sam turned around and saw Opal’s father, Noah James.
Sam quickly wiped his eyes, “h-hello sir, how are you doing?”
“My only child is lying sick in a hospital bed…I just…ever since this sickness started, I’ve been really uneasy about its origins,” Mr. James replied.
Sam sniffed, “Why sir?”
“I’ve noticed that a lot of the people getting sick…are those who have disabilities,” Mr. James deduced.
Sam glared at Opal’s dad, “And why do you think that’s happening?”
Mr. James paused, sensing Sam’s anger and distrust. “I think that the founders are poisoning their people,” he concluded.
“No—no way that’s true!” Sam refuted, too angry to listen.
“Sam, please,” Noah pleaded, “you have to believe me, this is the only logical conclusion! Why are a majority of the people that are getting sick disabled? The only people brought to Spero were genetically perfect, and I believe that the government didn’t expect their children to be born with problems—”
“That’s crazy!” Sam exclaimed, “the government doesn’t treat those people any different! I’ve been in school with them since I was little, one of my closest friends has Down’s syndrome!”
Noah’s face turned to shock, “Do you mean Lauren Donaldson? The apple farmers’ daughter?”
“Yeah,” Sam tentatively answered, “why?”
Noah’s face once again turned into one of sadness. “Follow me,” he asked.
Sam hesitantly followed Noah to a room a few doors down. He watched as Noah opened the white door and stood shocked as he instantly recognized the dead girl on the bed as Lauren from agriculture class. She had been fine on that past Sunday.
It wasn’t true… What happened to Lauren and… What Opal’s dad was saying… it couldn’t be true…
Sam stood back, his breathing heavy.
“Sam please,” Opal’s dad put his hands on Sam’s shoulders, “please just listen to me. The founders are already too suspicious of me, I think they infected Opal to silence me. But they don’t know I have you. Samuel, you have to sneak into the Founders Building and find out what they’re up to, and see if they’re behind this sickness,” he pleaded.
“I don’t—I can’t—” Sam didn’t know what to do. Mr. James sounded crazy, this was too implausible! But… the more he thought on it, the more merit it had. But Spero was such an amazing planet, where Sam had never had to worry about anything in his life.
Sam wriggled out of Mr. James’ grasp and sprinted out the door to a nearby clearing. He sat down, head in his hands, revisiting every thought in his mind. Opal…Lauren…Spero…this sickness. Sam didn’t know what was right.
Sam jumped up, startled, when he heard a rover behind him. Vehicles were only used sparingly by the government.
Sam quickly spotted officials wheeling a gurney to a solar powered rover. He could see blond hair and could tell that they were transporting Lauren.
Curiosity took over, and Sam followed the now-moving rover. The sky grew dark, and following became difficult, but Sam found the distinct rover parked just outside the Founders Building. He watched as they took Lauren out of the back and brought her inside. He entered the building, following far behind the peacekeepers to avoid suspicion.
Sam felt on edge as he entered the building. He was casual as he walked, and passed a couple of peacekeepers, none of whom seemed to pay him any mind. Sam eventually lost sight of Lauren, and wandered through the Founder’s Building aimlessly. The farther he got, the more he began to doubt his suspicions.
Suddenly Sam stopped dead in his tracks. He thought he heard something, a sound maybe, coming from the air vent on the ceiling. Sam walked closer, trying to hear it again, to no avail. Looking around, with his heart pounding, Sam opened the vent and crawled inside. As he moved, Sam glanced through passing grates into the offices below, nothing out of the ordinary.
Sam stopped again, his blood ran cold as he heard the voice again: a moan of pain. He followed the moan through the vents. As he passed the offices, they turned to cold sterile rooms, with metal walls,
floors, and tables.
Sam’s blood ran cold as he saw Lauren on one of the tables. There was a boy on another table next to her, moaning. Sam vaguely recognized the boy as a neighbor child whose parents made clothing, and he had lost three of his fingers once in a manufacturing accident. Sam was puzzled as to why those two were there. The door opened with a bang, and in walked a man, covered in scrubs, carrying a tray full of equipment.
* * *
Sam scurried through the vents as fast as he could. He had to find tangible evidence of what he saw. He checked vent after vent and found a bare room. Sam tentatively poked his head from the vent, noticing a single wall covered in monitors—yet another rarity in Spero aside from the W.M. He grabbed a nearby remote and pressed play.
The video started. A woman was chained to a table, looking frightened and confused. An older-looking scientist appeared.
Day one with patient zero, the scientist said. We are about to inject the patient with Disease X. The scientist held up a large needle with this strange liquid in it. They injected the shot into the woman’s neck and she struggled, then slumped into unconsciousness.
The patient has been rendered unconscious, and will have no memory of being injected, the scientist continued.
Day four, the patient will begin to feel the symptoms, and will faint, signaling the sickness has entered her body. Once the patient has hospital care, the second injection will begin, the scientist said, injecting her again, and death should occur within days.
The scientist appeared again. Day seven. Patient zero is dead. I will now demonstrate the next process—
* * *
Noah ran down the road, dirt puffing up behind him, sweat beading from his face, tears starting to form. It was Sunday morning. He stumbled several times as he ran toward his destination: the town hall. But instead of running through the front door, Noah slid to the back. It only took a brief struggle to subdue the peacekeeper guarding the W.M. Weird, such a large message being kept on a small disc. Noah put the disc Sam had given him inside. The people rumbled in confusion.
The video started. A woman was chained to the table, looking frightened and confused. An older-looking scientist appeared.
Noah opened the window divider between the back room and the crowd. “How many of you have a loved one, a friend or even an acquaintance you’ve known get sick, never to return?”
The crowd mumbled quietly to each other. “Go on!” Noah shouted, “raise your hands high!”
Slowly, hands began to rise. Soon a majority had their hands raised.
Day four, the patient…will faint, the video said.
“Our government has been poisoning its citizens! Poisoning them, to kill them!” Noah shouted.
The crowd gasped as the video continued.
Certain death will occur within the day, said the scientist.
The crowd erupted in screams, “And the reason the government is killing them—”
Now, I will demonstrate the next process—
“Is so we can—” Noah continued.
Preparing the body for consumption.
“Eat them!” Noah shouted.
* * *
Noah needed to know why. He and the crowd of angry citizens behind him. The mob charged through the doors, destroying the Founders Building. But Noah knew the one place Willouby would be. He separated from the mob, and sprinted to Willouby’s office.
Noah crashed through the door, and there, in the large room, stood Willouby, stoic, beside the communications relay with America. Noah glared, grinding his teeth in rage. Staring down the calm, collected man who had poisoned his daughter.
“Well, if it isn’t James. Lovely for you to drop by,” Willouby said, his voice smooth—like he was talking to an old friend. Noah knew better. The sounds of screaming and chanting were clearly heard through the room. Willouby knew something was up.
“How?” Noah could only mutter, “how could you do something this terrible, this selfish, this—”
“Cold-hearted?” Willouby questioned, then chuckled, “yes, to everyone out there in a rage, they think I’m evil, or a monster!”
Noah snarled, “you’re killing people for us to eat them! You poisoned—” Noah choked back the lump forming in his throat, “you poisoned Opal, and for what? You’ve let our mission of Spero down.”
“Don’t talk to me about this mission!” Willouby shouted back, the first Noah had ever seen him lose his cool, “I was the one who proposed this mission. After I graduated college and began to work my way up, I noticed how those rodents of people were letting the world fall apart, slowly crumbling to nothing. I spent my career—no, my life working on this mission. Me and the five lead founders of the other planets. I spent my life working to save humanity.”
Noah could only open his mouth before Willouby interrupted him.
“But you know as well as I, all that expanding humanity crap was a lie. Yes, we came here to develop renewable resources, but whatever we did it couldn’t fix what those maggots on Earth were doing. Their time flew by while we were here. Countries began to fight with each other and go to war, pollution grew worse as they lost focus on their lives and devoted themselves to war, it wasn’t long until they realized they were doomed,”
Willouby motioned towards the transmitter. “Do you know when the last time I used this thing was? Over two years ago. The last message was from the president. I was informed that we are Earth’s last surviving colony. The world’s population was quickly dwindling, and soon even earth would be devoid of any life whatsoever,” Willouby took an unusually long pause. “Could you imagine, the weight of such a decision? Sure, it sounds evil, but I don’t know of many leaders who were okay with the killing of so many people unless they thought it was necessary for their survival. These people had killed their planet, they were destructive. What would have happened if they came here? They’d destroy everything we’ve worked so hard for!”
Noah clenched his teeth, “Well if you cared about your people, why are you killing them off?”
“The livestock couldn’t keep up with our needs. We needed more and more, but it was never enough. People shouldn’t have to worry if they are going to get enough of this or that. I sacrificed the weak and the troublesome to sustain us. This was only meant to tide us until the livestock births could meet demand. Your daughter was very bright and had your smarts. I had great hope for her and her future, but unfortunately, her mind was too much like yours. She was chosen for the same reason I started distancing you from the founders. You were too curious. Everyone was happy, with only your family questioning why. Your daughter was chosen to stop your influence and silence you.”
Noah lost control. Charging at Willouby, his fist landed squarely on the older man’s jaw. Even once Willouby had crumbled to the floor, Noah refused to relent. Needing to know why didn’t matter anymore—he only wanted Willouby to suffer.
Noah tied Willouby’s wrists and ankles, and dragged him to the balcony at the end of the room. Noah thought of the countless instances Willouby had looked off this same balcony, seeing the people prospering and their tiny planet building new life. Now the view was obstructed by billows of smoke from the torches of those down below screaming in fury for Willouby’s death.
Noah threw Willouby to his knees hoisting him by his hair and forcing to confront the crowd. “Here’s what humanity thinks of your sacrifices,” Noah taunted.
Willouby turned to Noah, face full of anger, “You know what, James? I know my fate. I devoted my life to saving humanity, and in turn, humanity will not save me.” Willouby struggled to stand up, his face once again cool and composed. “You want my last sacrifice? Well here it is.” Willouby threw himself over the balcony’s edge.
The crowd below gasped, falling into shocked silence, then quickly re-awoke with cheers over its leader’s corpse.
But as Noah looked down at the remains of the town’s once-beloved founder, he found no satisfaction in what he saw. The harm Willouby caused was permanent, and no matter what happened, it would never change what happened to Opal.
As the adrenaline and anger began to wear off, Noah collapsed to his knees and a profound sorrow hit him. Opal was dying, any family on earth was dead too.
Noah was vindicated. He was revered by the people. He was completely alone.