The cosmic dust cloud tinted sunrises and sunsets in parfait hues we’d never seen in the sky. Weeks passed before the most eminent scientists deduced that the dust’s radioactivity sterilized all human adults and boosted the brainpower of our progeny. The news shocked grownups but not the crumb crunchers. Our little darlings developed from cradle-bound to genius in a matter of days. Their decision to abandon us was as inevitable as gravity. No one had expected that space dandruff would eradicate civilization before we could do the deed ourselves.
Rockets and launch gantries outnumbered trees. A few mothers salted handkerchiefs with their tears, as did at least one daycare operator. We’d soon close our eyes and not be able to discern the difference between playgrounds, classrooms, and cemeteries, but the majority of us oldsters said good riddance to the brats, who showed no compunction while boarding the transports — which pundits pointed out that the kids conceived, designed, and built themselves –to leave us forever. The countdown began on a day between winter and spring; the one in which the afternoon is mild, the evening is tolerable, and the insects have not yet awakened.
The Governor appeared on TV and we were uncertain whether he intended to bid farewell or beg for another chance. He’d done both for his entire political career and to good effect. Twenty stories tall on the ubiquitous vid-screens, and warming the portable device in everyone’s pocket, the Governor’s image winked and grinned at those soon to embark, as well as the rest of us who would stay. Despite the pleasant weather, he wore his trademark sheepskin-lined jacket. His left eye was smaller than the right, a fact first made apparent by well-circulated police lineup photos.
“Fledgling citizens!” boomed the Governor’s voice, exaggerated by hidden loudspeakers. “Go if you must, but our doors and hearts remain open to you in perpetuity. You are strong and brave, and we are so proud of you. Do not forget us, for we cannot forget you!”
The travelers streamed along their boarding-catwalks in impeccable order; unhurried and almost wholly without backward glances or welling tears. Emptyhanded, as if toys or juvenile treasures offered meager comfort on this daunting journey. Also departing were the Governor’s own three minor offspring — on his best days he struggled to recall their names.
The Governor’s lungs crackled as oxygen rushed in. His eyes gleamed, albeit one more brightly than the other.
“Children of Earth, wait! What if I were to propose an increase in your allowance? A moratorium on household chores? If school is too burdensome, I’m sure we can make an accommodation. My powers are considerable. Please, I can’t do anything for you if you don’t say what it is you want.”
No hint of reply. The Governor’s shaking hands covered his face.
“Oh, sweet blossoms born of our domain! Why cast your young lives against the rocks of interstellar travel? How do we bear losing you?” His words uncoiled in a fissured shout: “If it proves to be there is no afterlife, I promise we’ll traverse the void it might have occupied, and find you, and return you to our embrace.”
Silence descended as the ankle biters seemed to hesitate; to weigh the plea they’d just heard, suffused as it was with leveraged emotion. The shuffle of foot on sidewalk and street, catwalk and ramp, became still as sleep. Even the pundits shut up for a damned minute. Breathing in percussive gasps, the Governor peeped between his fingers.
Thunder and drums ruptured the quiet. A shup-shup-shup of footsteps displaced the world’s air. All of the youngsters marched in perfect time; the ground throbbed with it. The thud of this slow heartbeat was the only response the Governor would receive — that and the singing.
We’d never hear their voices again, but the shouty music battered our ears until anxiety overwhelmed regret. No one understood the song’s words…none of us past a particular age, at least. We wondered if the precocious refugees had invented a new language, or maybe the lyrics were irrelevant. To be clear: both proved true.
Hatches snapped shut and engines vented puffy vapors. Lights strobed and sirens hooted. The Governor, from a safe distance and in a voice that shrilled like sheared steel, issued the command for troops to move in and abort the liftoffs. His directive was as ineffectual as it was tardy. Innumerable spacecraft boiled the atmosphere and overthrew our planet’s bounds.
Observation stations across all seven continents began to track the fleet as it ascended towards the stars. We’d placed wagers in regard to the prospective destination; although cliché due to its proximity, the Alpha Centauri system persisted as the bookies’ favorite.
The first surprise was when, instead of attaining escape velocity and soaring onward to distant galaxies, the armada transitioned into low Earth orbit. Every living human child crowded the ships’ portholes and vid-screens to gaze back at the only home they’d known. The second surprise was when hidden reservoirs of gas erupted in magnificent plumes all around the globe. A few pundits managed to wheeze that the gas was lethal although its fatal effect was painless. The Governor nodded. No technologist himself, he grasped the concept fully.
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, The Airgonaut, formercactus, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, and other publications. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.