With all the A-Z challenge posts in April, I’ve been feeling the short story itch. And when I got an idea for a response to Chuck Wendig’s prompt this week, I decided to scratch it. Our task: write about real estate.
Don’t worry. It’s not as boring as it sounds. At least I hope not.
The New World
“There it is.” I gaze at the projection screen. Our potential new planet, Egrora, looks about how I expected. Like Earth once did. Or how it looked in the old texts, at least.
I weave my fingers through my long, charcoal hair; it must have grown a foot during hypersleep. I may have to cut it before putting on my suit or my helmet won’t fit.
“Kyra,” Donnie says from behind me. “Get something to eat before we reach orbit. No way to know what we’ll find there.”
Or who will find us, I think. “I ate already. Weren’t you starving when you woke?”
“Not as much as you, I’d say.” Relenia laughs. “I think your nutrient drip all went to your hair.” She puts her feet up on the console, sucking peaches from a foil pouch.
“Good to see you haven’t changed.” I focus on the orb on screen, steadily growing larger. “Let’s get suited up.”
Donnie and I head for the airlock, leaving Relenia to pilot. She drew the short straw. If we could, all three of us would take the first steps on Egrora, the payment for leaving our families on Moon Colony in search of new real estate, a home closer to how Earth was.
I mentally review the data gathered during our hypersleep–oxygen and nitrogen concentrations on the surface similar to Earth’s in its pre-industrial-revolution days, though we’ll wear full gear just in case an alien element didn’t hit our sensors. Temperatures look comparable, too. After decades of searching and exploratory missions, this might be it, finally. Egrora, our refuge.
I get my hopes up in spite of my better judgement.
“Ten minutes until we reach orbit,” Relenia says over the intercom.
I twist my hair into a bun and shove it into my helmet, securing it to the body of my suit. It holds, no problem, and I’m thankful. I rather like my new look. Donnie and I check each other’s suits, double check the levels on our oxygen tanks, and buckle into our jump seats.
In twenty minutes, we’ll be on the ground, assuming our gravity sensors were correct.
The ship pitches to the starboard side. Relenia is steering us to a landing spot that will experience sunrise shortly after we land, so we won’t have to move around in the dark. Egrora has no signs of civilization. A primitive population may live there, but there is no electricity or radio waves that our sensors could detect.
In the small monitor, something familiar catches my eye. “Donnie, look.” I point with my gloved hand.
His helmet tilts along with his head. “Kinda looks like Florida, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah.” The peninsula is rotating out of our view as it reaches daylight, but the similarity to Earth’s feature is undeniable. “Maybe that’s a good sign.”
The monitor goes black. We’re entering the atmosphere now, and we won’t see Egrora again until we step foot on her.
“All right, you two. Try not to have too much fun without me.” Relenia says a moment before the airlock hatch opens, revealing an orange orb cresting over the horizon. A warm glow blankets the grassy landscape.
It reminds me of how my grandmother described Earth. It’s so beautiful I want to cry.
Donnie steps ahead of me, bouncing a little, as if he’s testing the gravity. “Feels normal.”
I follow his example, stepping as best I can with the bulky suit on. I check the sensor on my arm. “I think the air is breathable.”
“Let’s keep helmets on until we’ve explored some. It might not be safe everywhere.”
We head away from the ship and toward the sunlight. After a minute, something flies over our heads.
“Was that a bird?” I twist around, keeping my eyes on the creature until it’s out of sight.
“Looked like one. I wonder what they call those here.”
“There might not be a ‘they’.” Though with a planet so similar to Earth, I would be surprised if there were no human-like animals around.
We crest a gentle hill, and what I see in the distance stops me in my tracks. “Oh my God.”
Teepees, like those I’ve seen in old Western movies, dot the land. Smoke rises from three fire pits, and around all of that are people. Native American-looking people. At my feet are two parallel grooves cutting through the grass.
“What the hell?” Donnie says the words before they escape my mouth.
I unlatch my helmet and remove it, allowing my hair to cascade over my shoulders. I take a breath, bracing myself for a coughing fit if the air isn’t right. “It’s good.”
For comfort, we opt to remove our heavy suits and wear only our jumpsuits. A cool breeze meets us, sending goosebumps up my arm. “Let’s get Relenia.” I point to the grooves. “And then, we’ll follow these.”
“Follow them where?”
“Wherever they go. This place has to be more than a coincidence.”
It takes all day, but around sunset, we reach our next sign of humanity, or whatever they call it on Egrora: A small town, with buildings made of clapboard and with horses tied outside them. Stagecoaches are parked on the edges, one of them being tended by an older man wearing dirty, brown clothes and a cowboy hat.
“Is this . . .” Relenia says, but instead of finishing she simply walks toward the town.
“Is this what?” I jog to catch up to her.
The old man looks up, and I brace myself for his reaction. No one around here is dressed in silver jumpsuits, so we probably look, well, alien.
“Can I help ya’ll?” he asks.
“Uh . . . yeah, I think we got lost. Can you tell us where we are?” I ask.
“Sure can. This here’s the Brandywine settlement. We’re fixing up a stop for folks heading west.”
“Sure, ain’t you heard? So much land over there the government’s just giving it away!” He laughs and walks around the wagon, continuing his work.
“Wait.” I run to him. “What year is it?”
“Year?” He scowls at me from under his thick eyebrows. “You are lost if you don’t know that. It’s 1847. And where’s your gear, anyway?”
He goes back to his task, leaving me standing frozen in place.
Egrora isn’t like Earth. It is Earth. Only it’s almost five hundred years ago.