After a cataclysmic event irrevocably changes Earth as we know it, life finds a way and Terra Two begins.
I’m fourth generation Terra Two.
In 2225, a Deep Impact style apocalyptic event happened on Earth and wiped out almost all of the population. Some saw it coming, those who weren’t prepared were lost. High profile politicians were placed in bunkers all around the world. In the fallout, the dust killed almost all of those who survived the initial blast. In our history cards, the event was recorded as cataclysmic. Earth was unable to bounce back and within one year, scientists declared that the remaining survivors were running out of time on the planet that had sustained life for billions of years. My great-great-grandfather was one of those survivors. He wasn’t rich or powerful. He owned a small corner store with a deep basement, a ton of supplies, and a radio. When the blast was announced, he took people in until the final siren rang. Then, the Earth shook all around them.
Then there was nothing.
Waves crash at my feet and the salty air brushes against my face, the breeze a welcome distraction.
History is a funny thing. It’s a series of documents that create a timeline for those who care enough to see where it begins. I am Cassandra. I work for Andromeda History – Earth. I work with the ministers to maintain order, referring back to historical events of chaos – those we remember anyway – to avoid past mistakes.
Due to the impact… floods, fire, or dust ruined almost everything. Earth’s climate was severely unbalanced, off-tilt from the force and spiraling out of its intended orbit at a rate that would suffocate the survivors in less than two years. Anyone who could help was tasked with creating a shuttle of some sort, something that could sustain the population off planet for an extended period of time.
Time began to mean more to the people. If the survivors – those we refer to now as the Founders – didn’t figure something out fast, Earth, and the life on it, would cease to be. In the chaos of uncertainty, one thing that all of the Founders could agree on was the importance of time.
Terra Two is actually a pretty cynical name for a shuttle. There is no terra, no earth or dirt. There is metal and there is plastic and there is nothing else. Many of the Founders aboard Terra Two in its first stages couldn’t handle the differences. A significant spike of death by suicide cut Terra Two’s meager population again within the first ten years of space travel.
Sand, soft and white, leads me to the warmth of the crystal blue waters. I look up to the sun, the rays freckling my pale skin.
When the shuttle was ready, survivors were told to pack one bag – just the necessities. My family Founder couldn’t have realized at the time, the importance of his most treasured item.
A secret heirloom passed from father to son, and from his son, now to me, the only fourth generation Terra Two bloodline of the Williams clan. A daughter. My secret heirloom is the only relevant reminder of what was. And would be the only thing left with the Williams name inscribed in it, now that I was getting married. It was my most valuable, but also my most secret possession.
On Terra Two, there is no need for money, not in the way Earth knew it. What Terra Two residents realized they needed was time. In the first fifty years of Terra Two, unnatural and immoral experiments took place in a secret facility on the shuttle. These experiments were never talked about, but it wasn’t something anyone volunteered to help with either. It wasn’t long before a new form of currency began to rule Terra Two. There was a phrase on Earth, “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” On Terra Two, “money” was time, and it didn’t buy happiness, it bought survival.
Time used to be a metaphor for something that was lost in (in)action. That metaphor led to the heinous practice of time as cost on Terra Two. Everything costs something here. A hydroponic apple will cost a child thirty-five seconds. A whole chicken will cost a father with a family three minutes. Medication could cost a pregnant mother years if the demand was high enough.
My great-grandfather realized quickly the actual cost of survival on Terra Two and left notes in the secret heirloom that he passed to his son, my grandfather. His suspicions urged him to investigate the practices of the other ministers. One night, my grandfather remembers his father rushing to his side, the heirloom cradled in his hands. “It comes to you now” was all he said. He handed his son the item and left. The next day, the community learned the meaning of “Your time is up.”
Quickly enough, my grandfather learned to play Terra Two’s game. His brain worked unlike any other. He created a subconscious system for Terra Two residents that hooked up to the cerebral cortex. Users could be mentally transported to places from Earth. My grandfather’s invention was so unique that he earned years of time to perfect it. Those who used the simulators could sense everything in their “world.” This invention staved off the suicide issues on Terra Two. Restlessness eased and a utopia began. Those who questioned the time charges were silenced without protest, everyone else too distracted by their Earth simulations to see anything else.
Seagulls caw from the shoreline, looking curiously at me as I pace in the surf.
I do my best thinking on the beach. Before my father died I was given a box with metal and paper inside. He told me the story of our legacy, of how the Founders valued time in a different way. He emptied something he called a piggy bank onto the kitchen table and handed me a silver circle. “A quarter,” he whispered. “Our family Founder used this, not his life, to pay for bread.” He handed me a crumpled up piece of paper with scribbled writing on it. One day I’ll buy my girl the ring she wants. “A promise,” my father said. “This box holds our past and the promise of our future. It must remain a secret until the time is right.”
After his funeral, I spent weeks on the simulated beach. My skin pink, a path worn in the sand, the box always on my mind. “Until the time is right.” The irony of that statement has never left me.