The Gap Generation

Year 11, Day 3

Yoon Min-Jung braids her daughter’s hair while she doodles a picture of Earth. When she was younger, Min-Jung loved to draw with her colored pencils, the Faber-Castell ones her grandmother gave her for her tenth birthday. But there are no colored pencils on board the spaceship, so her daughter uses her finger on an old tablet app.

Bo-Young draws a slightly lopsided circle--still impressive for a six-year-old by Min-Jung’s standards--and colors the ocean blue and the land purple.

Min-Jung laughs into her daughter’s hair. “The ground is green, silly, not purple.”

Bo-Young turns around and her braid slips from Min-Jung’s grasp. “No, the big map says it’s purple!” she whines.

Min-Jung stops laughing as she recognizes the misunderstanding. The map in the community chambers at the center of the spaceship, in which the water is pale blue and the landmasses are purple, is the only depiction of Earth her daughter has ever seen.

That’s how it will be for all of the children of the gap generation. Born after the Vestige took off, and who will inevitably die before it arrives at its final destination, the children of the gap generation will never touch foot on a planet.

Eleven years ago, Min-Jung had been one of the fifty thousand remaining people on the planet to board this spaceship, the Vestige. The Earth had been dying, so ravished by pollution and so torn by nuclear war that it was no longer habitable, and so the world’s leaders came together and packed the last remaining bit of humanity onto a spaceship headed for the closest viable planet for terraforming, Proxima b.

Proxima b is forty trillion kilometers away from Earth. At this speed, it will take a hundred and forty years to reach it. Which means that Min-Jung will die on this ship. And so will her daughter.

When Min-Jung first found out she was pregnant, she was devastated. Knowing her daughter would never see Earth, her home, that she’d never hear the bustle of Seoul at night or burn under the heat of the sun or color with real Faber-Castells…she thought she pitied a child that would never experience this.

Min-Jung faces her daughter forward and begins re-braiding her hair. “The big map lied,” she says. “The ground on the Earth was green.”

Bo-Young pouts. “Purple is more pretty.”

“Purple makes it look like a plum.” Min-Jung wraps a hair tie around the end of the braid and lets it fall against Bo-Young’s back. She pokes her daughter’s cheek, still plump with baby fat. “A plum--soft and sweet like you!”

She tickles her daughter’s sides and Bo-Young collapses into giggles. “I’m not a plum!” she shouts. “I’m a girl! A girl human!” Min-Jung tickles her and their laughter echoes off the walls of their Unit. When her arms begin to tire, and Bo-Young looks like she’s had enough, Min-Jung lets up. Bo-Young curls around her tablet and Min-Jung lies down next to her. Min-Jung wants to cradle her daughter, wrap her up tight and safe in her arms and never let go. But her daughter deserves better than crushing, controlling love. So Min-Jung lies in a semi-circle around her, a few inches of free space between them, and strokes the smooth hair of her braid.

“You will live a beautiful life among the stars,” she whispers her daughter. “Can you promise me that?”

Bo-Young ignores her, or maybe she doesn’t hear, too wrapped up in doodling her surreal version of Earth.

Unlike so many other parents of gap generation children, Min-Jung does not pity her daughter. How could she, with Bo-Young smiling and laughing and bringing beautiful things into the world?

#

Year 15, Day 96

Michael Whitley dashes into the sunlight room, since that’s where his mother always is at this time of the day. He passes by a hundred sunbathers lying in identical plastic recliners under the dome of pulsating heat. The dome is really really big, taller than any other room Michael’s seen. It’s a little bit scary to be in such an open space, so he keeps his eyes on the blue-tiled ground.

Michael finds his mom in her usual spot, directly underneath the light in the middle of the dome, her dark copper skin shining with sweat. “Mom mom mom mom!” He runs over and tugs at her arm. “Get up! You gotta see this! There’s this cloud of space dust and--”

“I’m tired of space, Michael,” his mother says. She tugs her arm from out of his grip and pushes her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose. “I miss sunlight.”

“But sunlight’s just starlight,” Michael says. “And there are lots of stars in space!”

His mother smiles at him, but it’s not really a smile. Her mouth is smiling but her eyes are sad. “Real sunlight is different. You wouldn’t understand.”

Michael looks up and squints at the ball of light on the ceiling looming above them. “Isn’t it just like this?”

She looks up at the light, too, and purses her lips. “Kind of.”

“How’s it different?”

His mother shrugs. “I don’t know, it just is.”

Michael rolls his eyes. That’s what the adults always say. You wouldn’t understand. Earth was just different. You’re part of the gap generation that will never get to see a sunrise or sunset. Poor you!

Michael leaves his mother to stare at the artificial sun and runs back to the window on the south side of the ship. Maybe it isn’t as pretty as a sunset--whatever that is--but the space dust sure is beautiful.

#

Year 19, Day 292

“When are you going to have kids?”

It’s the fifth time Mom has asked her this week.

Ellyn Espinoza shrugs. The strap on her left shoulder falls down. “When I’m ready.”

“You should start thinking about it,” Mom tells her resolutely, as if Ellyn hasn’t thought about children every single day for the last three years. Children are a constant topic of conversation for her and her friends. How could it not be when they are constantly reminded by their parents and teachers and leaders that their sole duty in life is to procreate? “It’s your legacy, after all,” Mom says.

Ellyn bites her lip. She turns around and asks, “Can you zip up my dress please?”

#

The dance is just one more encouragement for them to procreate. They don’t say it outright, but everyone knows. They’re twenty now. “In your prime,” Mom likes to remind her. Some of her friends are more excited than others. Kimiko has been talking about the dance nonstop for a week, while Lucia outright refuses to go. Ellyn isn’t sure how to feel.

She stuffs two condoms into her bra just in case. She doesn’t plan to use them, but her mother gleefully informed her what could happen at dances like these.

The dance is hosted in the community chambers of their Unit Block. All the furniture has been pushed to the side, all the computers cleared out, all the books gone. The lights are low. There are snacks in the corner. Music plays from invisible speakers in the wall. She’s reminded of the movies Mom loves, the ones from the 1980’s, with high school dances.

Ellyn stands in a group of her friends. One by one, they are picked off by other boys from their Unit Block. It happens so quickly, with such order, Ellyn swears they rehearsed it.

Eventually one comes for her. Erik, she thinks his name is. She recognizes him from soccer practice. He has dark, hooded eyes and large ears. He’s taller than her, but holds himself meekly. He reminds her of the cows her mother volunteers to milk on the weekends.

He holds out his hand. “Are you ready to dance?” He sounds just as nervous as she feels.

Ellyn takes a gulp and nods. “I’m ready,” she lies.

As she dances, she feels the condoms chafe against her chest. The sharp edges scratch her skin. But she keeps them there--just in case. Because she’s not sure if she’s ready to leave behind a legacy yet.

#

Year 21, Day 81

Lonzo Aguilar-Katz can’t decide which is uglier: the Large Magellanic Cloud, or the Small Magellanic Cloud. He stares at both for hours through the reflective telescope in the library until, like every other galaxy, the smattering of stars imprints on the back of his eyelids like a food stain that just won’t go away.

There’s nothing more beautiful than the clear, night sky, his father used to tell him.

To Lonzo, the night sky is just the sky. No, it’s not even the sky. He doesn’t really understand the concept of a sky. None of the other gap generation do, either. Life spent on a spaceship does that to you.

Lonzo dreams of the sky. He looks through the Vestige’s omniscient database for photographs and paintings of a clear blue view, of angry grey clouds and orange dreamsicle sunsets and black lightning storms and pink morning wisps and imagines he’s back on Earth. And that he lives a life of purpose where he has to work a day job because androids don’t do everything for him, and that when he comes home tired but satisfied by the work he did, he sits on his porch and watches the sky turn from blue to purple to black.

But he doesn’t have a purpose, and he doesn’t have a job, and the only porch he has is the porthole in the Unit he’s lived in for nineteen years where the view is always black black black and the stars never change and he’s forced to realize that this ship will never move fast enough for him to ever see a sky.

#

Year 26, Day 233

Nighttime on the Vestige is artificial, just like every other thing on this godless ship. The hallway lights go dim at night but that doesn’t even matter because if you walk outside your Unit, the lights will turn on for you anyway, so what’s even the point? Power isn’t a problem. It’s just another feature meant to make the Earth generation feel more at home.

Caiden Johnson jogs through the hallway as the lights chase after him. He likes to make it difficult for them. He runs through the Unit ring on the outer part of the ship, past the playgrounds and the sports courts, past the classrooms, the mosques and churches and temples and other centers of religion, the medical bay, the library, the laboratory, the animal pastures, past those little things that made the Vestige ‘more Earth-like.’ He feels like an intruder. A mis-stroke on a majestic painting of the old planet. Where is his place in all of this? He’s just an alien in a world that wasn’t built for him. A spaceboy tarnishing a perfect Earth-world.

He reaches the underbelly of the ship where the farm is. The crops stretch out for miles and miles, rice paddies blending into wheat fields blending into to fruit trees and vegetable patches. It’s farmed by an army of machines and volunteers. No one, machine or human, is up at this hour, though. Good.

Unbridled anger and bottomless fear have burned hot in Caiden’s gut for a long time. He can’t remember when the sparks first flew, or where they first came from, only that the fire within him now burns bright, and the sparks keep coming. The elder’s nostalgic stories of Earth. The “dances” and the meet ups. The demand for children. The emptiness of death. When the elders look at him, they look right past him onto the next generation. They never really see him. He can’t take it anymore, knowing that his life is pointless, that he is the empty space between two words full of meaning.

So Caiden will punctuate his existence.

He pulls a lighter out of his pocket and squeezes it in his fist. It’s an ancient artifact from a different generation, passed down from his grandfather who once used it to smoke back on Earth. The square edges bite into his palm. It’s painful, living is painful, Caiden hates living but he’s terrified of dying, and he’s angry and he’s angry and he’s afraid.

Caiden flicks back the lighter’s cap. A tiny orange flame dances in his hand, more real than anything on this ship, more real than the people, more real than himself. Where is his place in all of this? He doesn’t have one. Live, fuck, die. Be forgotten. The forgetting part is never spoken but Caiden knows the truth. He knows that as soon as the Vestige touches the surface of Proximia b, the only ancestors that will matter are the ones who lived on Earth. Purposefully or not, the gap generation will be erased from humanity’s history. How cruel is it to tell them that their only point of living is to birth the next generation? How cruel is it to tell them that only their children, not themselves, can do great things?

Caiden won’t be remembered for doing great things, but he’s going to make damn sure he’s remembered.

He holds the flame to the tiny green spines of a rosemary plant. The flame catches and spreads with a vengeance that parallels his own. The land ignites in a supernova. Caiden watches it burn.

#

Year 27, Day 344

“Welcome to the first meeting of the Caiden Johnson Society,” Chimamanda Olawale says, looking to the four other gap generation kids in front of her. “Our purpose is to ban together and leave a lasting legacy on humanity, so that they will never forget the gap generation.”

“But what--”

“How will we do this, you ask?” Chimamanda powers through the interruption. “We will improve our technology, make beautiful artwork, and do good deeds to improve the lives of those around us. We will encourage innovation by commissioning STEAM related projects. We will dedicate our time to improving the lives of both those on the ship and future generations on Proxima b.”

One kid raises his hand. “Wait, uh…I like the idea of the club and all, but why are we named after…you know…that guy?”

Chimamanda doesn’t like the dismissive tone he uses, but from the curious looks of the other kids, Chimamanda knows they must be wondering too, so she explains it anyway. “Caiden Johnson was misguided, but he was misguided because he was like us.” Her voice cracks when she says ‘us.’ She takes a moment to adjust the language translator in her ear and prays no one noticed. “He felt like he wasn’t wanted, he felt so powerless that the only way he could think of to be remembered was to do something bad. How many of you have thought of doing the same thing?”

No one raises their hand, but they all avert their eyes. Chimamanda knows she’s made her point. “I named this society, not club thank you very much, after him because I don’t want us to forget him. I don’t want us to forget how easy it is to…to go down the path that he did.”

Chimamanda knows exactly how close she has come to pulling a stunt like Caiden’s. It’s too easy for her to imagine what he was feeling when he lit up the fields. For Chimamanda, the Caiden Johnson Society isn’t just about helping others--it’s about saving themselves.

“When the next generation touches down, they won’t just remember all the bad things that happened on the ship. They’ll remember the good things we left behind for them, too.”

Chimamanda doesn’t know if Caiden would be happy or angry that this society dedicated to doing good was named for him. She thinks that he’d be glad his name is immortalized, at least.

“But to do that, we need to do good things first,” Chimamanda says. She claps her hands together. “So, anyone have any ideas for a project?”

#

Year 32, Day 167

“I hear you haven’t taken a partner yet.”

Sleeps-around Cyrus leans against Felix Goldstein’s doorframe, all heavy lashes and smiles dripping with sex appeal. His hair swoops over his eyes like a model in one of the paperback romance novels his grandmother used to read. A red cashmere sweater dips low on his chest like an open invitation.

Felix is unaffected. “I haven’t,” he says. “And I don’t plan to.”

Cyrus’s nickname is well earned. He’s gotten around to every uterus-owner in the Unit Block. Except Felix. Felix intends to keep it that way.

“That’s a shame,” Cyrus says. “We’d make such beautiful children.” Cyrus leans forward, hand posed to stroke Felix’s cheek. Felix dodges and pushes Cyrus’ hand away.

Ironic that Cyrus is criticized for the very thing that’s demanded of him and every other gap gen child. While procreation is highly encouraged, cultural and religions values of monogamy and prudishness have roots that run deep. Even torn up from Earth, those values have lived on in the next generation, even though they don’t notice it. It reminds him of something his mother used to say: History doesn’t live in a place. It lives within people.

“Look Cyrus, I don’t want children.”

“Why not?”

Three reasons. One: Felix has no desire to have sex. Two: He absolutely does not want to experience the body dysphoria that would come from being pregnant. And three, the most important of them all: he has no interest in being a father. He’s watched his friends around their kids. It’s easy to tell which ones truly wanted to be parents and which ones had simply given in to society’s demand for children.

Felix doesn’t have the energy to explain all of that to Cyrus, so he redirects the conversation.

“Does it bother you,” he asks, “what they say about you, Sleeps-around Cyrus?”

Cyrus’ expression goes cold. “No.”

“Not even a little?”

For a moment, Cyrus doesn’t say anything. “I don’t care what they call me, I don’t, but…” Cyrus stops. A moment ago, he was so collected, like a character straight off the set of a movie. Now Felix notices details he had missed before. The pills in his sweater. The slight asymmetry of his nose. The flecks of mascara under his eyes. “They don’t understand. It’s not about pleasure. I’m being…responsible. I’m leaving behind my legacy.”

So, it seems that Sleeps-around Cyrus isn’t as interested in sleeping around as people think. Felix flicks him in the middle of his brow. Cyrus jumps. “Hey!”

“Genes aren’t the only thing you can pass on, dummy,” Felix says.

Cyrus raises an eyebrow.

“Children need something to fill their heads, right?” Felix says. “So learn a language. Like, actually learn one, not let the earpiece do the translating for you. You can learn about a culture. Their history, their mythology, their food. And then you can pass that knowledge on.”

History lives within people. Cyrus’ children may carry his genes, but all the children on Felix’s Block will carry his culture. Instead of putting his time into raising children, he’s been teaching them Hebrew and feeding them challah bread and remembering the Holocaust. He’s gotten a lot of shit from his parents for not “procreating,” but the neighborhood children love him, so who’s really the winner here?

“I was just going to try making latkes,” Felix says. He opens his door a little wider. “Want to join me? It’ll be more pleasurable than sex, I promise.”

Felix isn’t arrogant enough to think Cyrus will change because of this. He just wants to show Cyrus that there’s another option.

“Okay.” Cyrus smiles at him, not a manufactured sexy smile, but a genuine one. “Though, I don’t know if I believe you about the sex part.”

#

Year 48, Day 304

Eva O’Hara loves her children without question. She has five of them, two short of the Vestige’s seven-child limit, each of them with hair as red as her own.

She loves her children, but she is tired of being nothing more than a breeder.

“No,” she tells her husband when he asks her to bear another child, “no more.”

“Just one, Eva,” Derek pleads, voice soft so as not to wake the baby cradled in Eva’s arms. “Just one more. Don’t you want to bring more beautiful redheads into the world? We’re a dying breed, you know.”

She knows. The amount of stars she could count out her window is fewer than the amount of times Derek has only told her they’re a dying breed. You’re Irish. Be proud to be Irish, her parents had told her. But it was hard to be proud of something she had no context for. The Vestige wasn’t separated into regions, there were no borders or language barriers any more. No matter how hard she tries she can’t feel anything more than vague interest toward the little purple blob on the community map where her ancestors came from.

Eva holds her youngest son closer to her bosom. A patch of red fuzz blooms on his scalp, just like his siblings. “There are a lot of dying breeds,” Eva says. Her aunt told her tales of them--the people who didn’t get to board the Vestige, the thousands of people and cultures and languages lost and abandoned back on Earth. Her best friend Margaret is the only person of Cree descent on the entire ship. Eva can’t imagine what Margaret feels about all of this, about what kind of pressure she’s under to pass on her genes.

“And we’re one of them. Besides,” Derek says, “don’t you want to be important? Don’t you want to matter? Because this--” Derek pats their sons head, “--is the only way we can matter.”

Eva wonders if that’s true. She has dedicated her entire self to being a mother, to nurturing her children. Is this the only thing she's meant to do? To be a mother? There's a part of her that's okay with that. And there's a part than yearns to be more. But she shushes that part (as a mother, she’s gotten very good at shushing).

“Are they nothing more than a vessel to you?” she asks. “Just a way to pass down your genes? Mark your territory like dog pissing on a hydrant?”

“Don’t pretend you’re any different.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’ve seen you flaunt them to the neighbors. You brag about them. They’re your legacy, too,” Derek says.

The baby suddenly feels heavy in her arms. What are her children to her? The pride she feels for her children, is that because she loves them, or because they are her trophy? Her legacy to leave behind?

Before Eva can respond, the door to their Unit slides open and a dozen footsteps patter inside. “Moooooom we’re home!”

A deep sigh blooms in her chest, but Eva holds it in as she hands the baby to Derek and digs her language translator out of her pocket in preparation for greeting the hoard of kids. She used to go many months without wearing the earpiece, but now that her children are bringing their friends over, Eva wears it for hours. Her ear hurts. It’s difficult to keep up with the lag.

But she does it for her legacy, her family, because she loves them, and because without them, she would be nothing.

#

Year 54, Day 212

A text notification appears on the screens of everyone born within twenty years of the Vestige’s launch:

_If you have a story to tell, please come to Unit 34449 and share it with us.

- Yoon Bo-Young, VP of the Caiden Johnson Society_

#

Year 61, Day 364

The line on the graph trails upward like the incline of the mountain in the painting hanging above Adi Antigua’s desk. The higher the line climbs, the lower Adi’s spirit drops.

These are the facts. The rate of suicide attempts in the past sixty-one years has risen starkly, enveloping almost a third of the gap generation. How many have died because they thought their life was meaningless? How many had been told that by their parents, or their children, or by society itself?

Adi had known they wanted to be a volunteer therapist ever since their first psychology lesson. One of the few things the androids were still incapable of doing was emulating human empathy and warmth, so people were asked to fill the role instead. But it is hard to fill that role for the gap generation. Especially since Adi is one themself. Watching their friends disappear year by year was devastating, knowing that they failed so many people is crushing. Staring at the graph on their wallscreen, Adi has never felt more powerless.

There’s a knock on their door. Adi quickly closes the graph. “Come in.”

An older man steps inside. The tension leaves his shoulders as he steps into the room and he smiles when he sees Adi.

Adi smiles back. Even in the face of horrifying statistics, the only thing they can do is keep trying to survive.

#

Year 78, Day 225

“Today is a wonderful day to be living,” Sanam Khan tells her wife on her sixtieth birthday.

Rowan flicks her arm. “How poetic of you.”

“I’m serious!” Sanam says. “I’m grateful that we’re living, that we get to live in such a safe and prosperous environment and, and we can basically do whatever we want, and chocolate still exists and we have all the Earth’s knowledge at our fingertips and that we get to be together. So what if we don’t get to see a planet? So what if my parents disowned me for refusing kids? I get to see your beautiful face every morn--ack!”

Rowan smothers her hands over Sanam’s mouth. “Stop it! You--you’re so sappy!” Sanam bats Rowan’s hands away from her face and holds them close to her chest. Rowan might complain, but she can’t hide her smile from Sanam.

She leans over and kisses Rowan’s cheek. Rowan’s ears flush. Sanam loves to embarrass her wife. Her laughter had to be more beautiful than anything a planet had to offer. That laugh has supported her through all the turmoil a childless existence has brought them, and it will support her until the end.

Rowan strokes her cheek. “I’m happy to be alive, too,” her wife says.

#

Year 99, Day 149

Mitali Ranganathan coughs the words out of her mouth like a particularly sticky clump of phlegm. “She’s. Ahem. Lovely.”

Her best friend’s baby--it’s her fourth baby--stares at Mitali with its beady blue eyes, a look that turns her heart to paper and stuffs it through a shredder. Mitali chews her lip to keep from puking all over it. She hates this baby. She hates its slimy gross skin and its weird wrinkled feet and its too soft head. Somehow it’s even uglier than all the other babies. This unsightly baby will be part of the future. Mitali isn’t part of the future, she isn’t part of the past, she exists in liminal space at the center of a black hole and sometimes she doesn’t mind that but most days she does. Days like this, when she is reminded of her failures, she especially minds.

Her friend is too preoccupied with the tiny human in her arms to hear Mitali’s praise. She is reminded that nothing escapes a black hole, not light, not sound, not unbearable pain it takes to be there in that room with that baby.

“If you’ll excuse me,” she tells her friend who has already forgotten her. No one told her how lonely it is in a black hole when your uterus is so fucked it scares nearly all your fertile friends away. And if Mitali leaves to cry in the bathroom--again--it’s no one’s business but her own, because her existence is a black hole and she is trapped in here with her tears and her loneliness and the baby that will never grace her womb.

#

Year 102, Day 193

Hong Li Qiang floats. Weightlessness is a gift the stars have given him, and it is a gift he uses generously. He is the most frequent guest of the zero-gravity room, but he is far from the only guest. Today, he is joined by a few children who play a game a dozen meters above him. Li Qiang tucks his hands behind his head and watches them. Lucky for him, they don’t seem to mind his presence.

The first and only time Li Qiang had been told he was lucky was by his seventy year old neighbor when he was six years old. “How lucky you are, to live in a time of peace, without work, without money, with a plethora of resources,” he’d said. Before they died, his parents always talked about the good things they missed back on Earth, but they hardly ever talked about the bad. War, famine, prejudice, homelessness, discrimination, corrupt governments, unbreathable air, rising waters, overcrowding, stereotyping, the inability to communicate with everyone, wealth inequality. Was it worth the blue skies to live in poverty? Was the feeling of patriotism worth fighting with other nations?

It’s true that not everything is perfect here. The Vestige was designed to be neutral, from its randomly assigned, identical apartments to the banishment of capitalism, but Li Qiang knows there are some ‘isms that linger. He is reminded of them every time he leaves his Unit and is met with stares. It’s frustrating. But he has learned to endure it.

At the very least, he always reminds himself, he can float.

Once he has had his fill, Li Qiang floats down towards the door and allows the artificial gravity to lower him into his wheelchair. He looks up one last time at the children soaring above him, gleeful smiles on their faces. Lucky, he thinks. We are quite lucky.

#

Year 110, Day 110

Fernanda Canto-Yamashiro watches her granddaughter receive the Caiden Johnson Society’s award for Most Potential and wishes it were her on stage instead. But she buries those feelings and she claps her wrinkled hands and asks for a picture of Berenice standing next to her invention, a watch that tells atmospheric pressure, oxygen levels, and radiation levels. It will be helpful on Proxima b, the presenters had said in their congratulations speech.

Most Potential. She’s not sure exactly what that means. Fernanda has never been told she has potential.

Berenice’s parents host a party in their Unit. Drooping lips curved in a smile, Fernanda pretends to be happy. She truly is proud, of course, but she also envies Berenice’s youth, and intelligence, and hopefulness. Compared to Berenice, her own life feels meaningless.

At the party, Fernanda finds her granddaughter and congratulates her. “You should be grateful that you’ll get to live on a planet,” she tells her.

Berenice responds with the oddest question. “Why?” she asks.

Her granddaughter has always been cheeky. She blames her daughter-in-law’s genes. “Why? What do you mean why?” Fernanda is at a loss. It’s obvious, isn’t it? Berenice will get to live on a planet and that means…than means… “You will get to see the sun. The sky. Your world will be real, not artificial.”

“I mean, terraforming is technically artificial,” Berenice says. “I don’t get why it’s such a big deal.”

Fernanda doesn’t know how to explain to her granddaughter how important planethood is to her, to her generation. “You will get to live on a planet,” she says, hoping she can convey gravity of what that means with her tone.

“So?” Berenice says. “You’re living on a spaceship, we’ll be living on a planet. We’re still both just living. I’ll get to see and experience things you never will, and you’ve seen and experienced things I never will.”

“Like what?”

Berenice taps a finger to chin and thinks for a moment. “You got to talk to people who actually lived on Earth. You got to hear firsthand what it was like.”

Fernanda opens her mouth to protest, but she realizes Berenice’s right. She remembers a man on their Unit Block who used to tell her and all the other children stories about Earth, straight out of a book. He gave her one, a long time ago. She still has it. It’s sitting over her bed. Descriptions of Earth must be lackluster, told second hand. Maybe there’s something to Berenice’s claim.

“Yeah!” her cousin José says, bounding up to them. “Tell us a story! Something crazy you remember!”

Fernanda looks into their eyes and sees the stars reflected back. Maybe she will never set foot on ground, but she has lived for many years more than them. And Fernanda didn’t exactly live a quiet life. “Many years ago, there was a famine. It started with a boy named Caiden…”

#

Year 132, Day 1

In Unit 29011, an old man lies in bed and refuses to get up. He feels that his life is pointless. He hates waiting for the clock to catch up with him, so he’s decided to catch up with the clock by refusing to eat, bent on beating death to its mark.

In Unit 29012, an old man lies in bed and refuses to get up. Even though he yearns to stretch his legs, he knows that every time he stands, he puts his health at greater risk, and he’s goddamn determined to make it through these last few years so he can see the sky, if only once.

#

Year 0, Day 27

“What’s that?”

“I think it’s a mural. I read about them in Dad’s art book.”

“Has it always been there?”

“Dunno. I’ve never been in this hallway before.”

Waiting for the land to be terraformed is horribly boring, so Keisha and Mateo have been exploring the ship while they still can. They spend their afternoons racing each other through the hallways until they get lost, like they are now.

Keisha steps up to the mural. She runs her fingers over the wall, fingers dragging across the divots so carefully etched into the metal, cold and smooth against her skin. The mural is more massive than any screen in the entire ship. It fills all ten meters from the floor to the ceiling and stretches almost a kilometer down the hall. The pictures are carved into the wall with thick, swooping lines and uncanny detail. She sees a woman braiding a girl’s hair, a boy standing under a dome, a dancing girl in a big puffy dress, a boy staring through a telescope, a boy with a fire in his hands, a girl giving a speech, two men baking in a kitchen, a mother surrounded by six children, a person with their head in their hands, two women laughing together, a crying woman clutching her stomach, a man floating in zero gravity, an old woman speaking to a group of children, two men lying side by side as they pass away.

She doesn’t recognize any of them, but she knows who they are. All of them are gone now. Her grandpas had been part of the gap generation and they had passed only a few years ago. It’s funny--her grandpas had been worried that the gap generation would be forgotten, but here they are, immortalized on the wall.

Keisha walks the length of the mural, past hundreds of stories, until she comes to the end. In the corner, where a signature might be found, is the word Plum. Etched above it is a sentence: You will live a beautiful life among the stars.

 

 

copyright 2019 by S. E. Kessler

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