“Dad, will you tell me a story?” The boy begged.
“It’s time for bed now, Malcolm,” his father said sternly.
“Pleeease?” Malcolm smiled the warmest smile possible, a smile he knew his father could not resist.
“Well, alright then. Any preferences tonight?”
Malcolm thought deliberately.
“Come on now, or the story will be very short.”
“Tell me about Earth, Dad.”
His father’s expression became gloomy, then he composed himself.
“Alright then. I think it is about time you got to know a bit more about it, you’re old enough now.
Almost twelve years ago I embarked the spaceship, the one that you’ve seen in Town Square. On that spaceship were 214 people. As you know, that was the only ship that made it to our home. To Mars.
I inhabited Earth for 32 years. I was born in 2018, the same year as your mother. I had a relatively quiet and carefree youth. Your grandfather was one of the wealthiest men in the world you know.”
Malcolm interrupted his father, “What does ‘wealthiest’ mean, Dad?”
“Being wealthy means you have a lot of money. In my dad’s case, more than we could ever spend. But you never have to worry about money. It doesn’t exist anymore. You know when Mom visits people and makes up laws with her colleagues? In return, we get potatoes from someone, other vegetables, or a knitted sweater. I repair people’s electricity or computers and we always get something back in return. Or, we lend our stuff to each other. It’s called bartering. It’s really easy, and carefree.”
Malcolm had not really thought about it. To him it was natural.
His dad continued. “We could buy stuff with my dad’s money, everything we wanted. We were a family of privilege – that means we had many advantages in comparison to other people – and your grandfather was a man of high status. He was well respected throughout the world – as we called Earth when we spoke of the entire community of diverse people and species living on it.
Dad was an innovator…”
Malcolm looked puzzled.
“That means he was always one of the first to come up with something new, something people didn’t even know they wanted or needed. Your grandfather developed and built the spaceship in Town Square, the ship that brought us here.
My father’s company, fLife, developed great products. It started out with producing satellites, which were more efficient and sustainable than the ones that were already circling the orbit. The company made a fortune with the satellites, allowing my dad to pursue his more audacious dreams to build a better and more ecological world.
On every continent he had a large plant built, producing solar panels and renewable batteries for cars, trucks, airplanes or boats. Besides that, he had built a device people could integrate into their house, making energy cheaper and more durable.
He cared for our planet and he was a strong advocate for a greener planet, reducing vehicles running on gasoline, promoting vegetarianism, altering the meat industry. He was a compassionate man. Unfortunately for him and the rest of humanity, his efforts alone couldn’t avoid earth’s deterioration. He knew that.
So, secretly, my Pops installed a facility in the desert where we were working on a plan to leave Earth. We were building spaceships, gathering materials, research and the like. And your mother and I were part of that team.”
Malcolm’s eyes became bigger, showing a hint of pride. Then Malcolm wondered about something else. “What did you do when you were my age, Dad? What was playing on Earth like?”
Malcolm’s father thought about this for a while, memories flashing before his eyes. He grinned.
“Well, there were a great many things you could do on Earth. When I was your age I was in school like you. Only my school was bigger and had more students. I liked to play games on my phone – you could speak to someone who wasn’t there with you – as well as playing with my friends. We hung out like you do with Brian. Before school, I swam in the pool or the ocean for about an hour every day. At that time, I wanted to become a professional swimmer, you know.”
“What is swimming?” Malcolm asked.
“Imagine you are in a large space with only water and you can move around going from one side to the other. It is a great exercise and it relieves your muscles from any tension. You do know about the oceans, though, right?”
“Yes, that was where you had boats that drove to other places? And there were beasts in them!”
“Almost, they sailed through other places, gliding through the water. And yes, there were fish and other types of animals that lived in the oceans. Thousands upon thousands of species lived there.”
“Are they all dead, Dad?”
“I am not sure, Mal. You know, when I was a teenager, things changed quickly. Overfishing led to a disturbance in the ecosystem. Water levels increased due to climate change. Oceans were polluted with oil and plastic.
The earth provided everything for us, and we repaid it with disrespect.”
Malcolm pulled a sad face. Even though he could not understand all his father was saying, he felt that it was bad. He would have loved to try swimming and see fish! He had only seen fish in some of the books that were brought from Earth.
“Did you have to wear a suit when you were outside, Dad?”
His dad laughed. After a while, he answered. “We didn’t have to wear a suit outside. It was liberating. Walking in the woods, playing with friends, we never had to worry about our oxygen supply. There was plenty of it!
Trees and plants provided all the oxygen. In the woods lived different types of animals. Did you know we had animals at home too?”
Malcolm shook his head, desperate for his father to continue.
“My dad bought a ranch for us to live on. Sometimes we went to the house in the city when dad had important business to do. But we spent most of the time on the ranch. We had cows who provided milk for us, and chickens for eggs…”
“I know those!” Malcolm said in excitement. “They are here in the Ecofarm. I like eggs.”
“Yes, we brought cows, chickens, pigs, lambs, and other animals to our settlement. It was all part of your grandfathers’ great plan for our journey into space. Not only did we bring cattle, we also brought books, maps, art and other earthly inventions in order for us to always remember. However, it is time for bed now Malcolm. Tomorrow will be your birthday. I can continue the story after I come back from work, how does that sound?”
“But I want it now.” Malcolm replied upset. He had become enthralled by his dad’s story of life on earth.
There was a sound of a hissing and puffing door, followed by a loud thud.
“Ah, do you hear that, that is your mother coming home. Off to sleep now, please.”
Malcolm’s dad kissed him. Before he could leave Malcolm’s room, his wife had already entered, fuming.
“Why isn’t he asleep yet, Ralph?
Oh, I had the most gruesome day. Poppy is doing all in her power to thwart the new food production legislation. One day I will tear off her helmet when we’re outside!”
Malcolm gasped, but his mother laughed and told him she was only joking. She was still wearing part of her suit. She gave Malcolm and her husband a kiss.
Malcolm’s mom was the Mayor of Mars City Council. She led the community and did everything in her power to build, grow and protect the settlement. Ever since they arrived on Mars, she and her husband were destined to be in charge. As the son of its inventor, and commander of the ship, it seemed only natural for Ralph to lead the people he took to Mars. However, he had never wanted any of that. In the months prior to launch, he met Miranda, an audacious woman with a knack for guiding and helping people. They had a rough start, but they had to spend much time together in preparation for the launch. Against anyone’s expectations – including their own – they fell in love. Some time on the journey towards their new home, after they had fled Earth and its decimated society, Miranda got pregnant. Twelve days after they arrived on Mars, she went into labor. That’s how young Malcolm became the first-born human on Mars.
“And on top of that, there’s been a glitch in our heat sensors. It keeps saying that something is coming our way, but when we use the satellite or even my own built Omnioscope, we can’t see anything. Our technology seems to be invented during the Renaissance. Anyway, what are my boys up to this late?”
“Dad was telling me about Earth, about swimming and not wearing a suit outside. About nature and animals. But also that people didn’t take care of Earth.”
“And what did your dad say about that?” His mother asked grimly.
“Nothing yet, he told me to go to sleep. I want to know why you needed to leave Earth.” Malcolm put on the saddest expression he could fathom.
“We might as well tonight, Ralph. Malcolm deserves to know. He’ll turn twelve in a couple of hours. He’s old enough.”
Malcolm was overjoyed and sat up again. His mother quickly changed into something more comfortable and sat on her son’s bed. Ralph continued his story.
“Well, life on Earth might sound ideal to you based on what I’ve told you. However, not having to wear a suit or being able to swim and play outside couldn’t hide the fact that Earth, its people, and other species were about to enter the toughest two decades imaginable.
I only started noticing when I entered high school. In primary school, I used to have a teacher. Whereas in high school we were taught in Virtual Reality environments. We sat in classrooms with other students, but everyone was wearing some type of goggles and learning in their own electronic world, at their own pace and according to their own needs. There was no real interaction. Everything we learned happened virtually and all that was taught was pre-approved by the government. I even spoke to my classmates and friends in the virtual world.
In school, we were being prepared for specific jobs, based on our skillset, not on what we dreamt of doing. You were to work for a big corporation and contribute to society. It was really my father who taught me to play, to wonder, to dream and to explore.
I always enjoyed animating, both digitally and on paper. But if I wanted to work in animation I had to animate according to a set of rules, propaganda if you will. I was not allowed to create anything on my own. Luckily my dad kept an attic full of canvases, paint, pencils, and charcoal. It was great, but if anyone would have found out I was doing that, we could get into real trouble. If you wanted to be an artist for a living you had to comply with the guidelines set by the government. Basically, you drew, wrote, sculpted, acted or generally made what you were told. Self-expression was forbidden for it might lead to wrong attitudes or even uproar.
But it got even worse…”
Miranda shot her husband a worried look. She knew what was about to come, and it was not pretty.
“In 2031 people had the opportunity to get a chip implanted in their wrist. The little device contained all the data for that individual: passport, bank accounts, keys, passwords, you name it. Because of the simplicity and ease of use, many people swapped to this new and efficient system, oblivious of what they would give up. The more people who used it, the more companies that jumped in to serve those people. What happened was that, slowly, people had no choice but to follow. You weren’t allowed to travel without a chip by 2034, payments were impossible to transact without a chip a year later.”
Both Ralph and Miranda held up their right hand and showed Malcolm a similar scar.
“We had it removed six months before we left earth. It was the only way we could secretly prepare for our flight. Luckily, fLife arranged all the necessary things we needed like food and equipment.” Miranda told Malcolm.
“Unfortunately, from 2034 to 2049 we had to wear them,” Ralph continued. “You’d be an outcast if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be able to be part of society. We needed that chip to be able to work or buy groceries.” He spoke softly as he shivered at the thought of those days.
“We were being controlled in everything we did. However, the ones who thought they were in control, were merely doing someone else’s bidding. Someone or I should say, some men and women, whose sole purpose was to maintain their power and divide us. They would do anything to secure their position in the world order. These people were known as the Quartet.”
Miranda rolled her eyes at her husband. “Well aren’t your memories clouded in melancholy. There were good things going on too you know. It was not like everyone was continuously watching you. We still had some degree of freedom. We could still travel. Albeit that as time progressed only the rich were still able to do this. As an engineer, I had plenty of money. I traveled through South East Asia, Australia, Latin America, North America, Africa, Europe.”
“What are those places, what’s traveling like?” Malcolm asked curiously.
“These were all continents or parts of them, the people who lived there all different. Their food, culture, habits, and rituals were unlike ours. I visited sights, like churches and temples, beaches and museums. Sometimes with friends, but usually alone. I must say that some of the countries I visited were worse off than mine. Natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes or sandstorms would happen. There were more people living in poverty every year. It pained me to see this. Especially in Nepal. My favorite country. Together with six friends, we set up a small engineering school for children to study for free. We had a building, staff, VR glasses, everything.” Miranda quieted.
“Ok Ralph, I’m sorry, I get the melancholy. It’s just, even though everything gradually went to shit, I loved our old world. Life’s different now, quieter. We’ve built a new community, on another planet. We all went on an adventure together and have built a flourishing settlement here. We are all working on getting the best out of our lives here on Mars.
Anyway, who is up for some tea?”
Miranda went into the kitchen. Malcolm and Ralph silently waited for her to come back. Malcolm had so many questions. There were so many things his parents had said he did not understand. However, he did not want to stop them mid-story. There was one question that burned on his lips. It was the way his father had said it. The repulsed tone. When his mom got back with three steaming mugs, he asked them.
“Who were the Quartet? What did they do?”
Ralph and Miranda exchanged anxious looks.
His dad spoke, “The government and the three biggest corporations in the country had a lot of power. Together they were called the Quartet. My dad’s company was the fifth biggest company, but it had always been under scrutiny from the others. My dad and his employees were the rebels. Luckily, no one dared taunt them, for they controlled 80% of the satellite system for our country. And on top of that, they played a huge part in turning former oil, farming, gas and energy markets upside down in an attempt to save the world and its environment from further pollution. Unfortunately, it was too late. The damage had already been done, and besides, the Quartet lacked the passion to save the earth. They could only fathom passion for money, power, and control.
The three companies in the Quartet kept polluting the world through their business endeavors thinking of nothing but profit. The politicians were paid to look the other way. It didn’t matter if citizens used less energy or hot water, started driving electric cars or consumed less meat. The damage had been done. The people were being misled by the Quartet and its members. They maintained that the pollution wasn’t as severe as everyone thought. Hell, even scientists were paid off to report that the temperatures worldwide were going down, that there was nothing to worry about. The cattle and consumer flight industry, which by far produced the most carbon gas, continued to grow.
People knew but were too weak to resist. Advertising had been invented a century earlier to tap into people’s desires, to have them buy whatever companies wanted them to buy. So the vicious cycle of profit-seeking companies, gullible and influenced politicians and the misled public all lead to what happened in 2044.
Because what I’ve just told you so far isn’t the worst of it all…”
Ralph took a sip of his tea and looked at his wife. She nodded for him to continue, her expression hardened.
“Secretly, the Quartet had a plan to save planet Earth in the most inhumane way possible: by decimating the population. They did this by acting as gods and trying to make their own unnatural selection. They figured fewer people resulted in less depletion of Earth’s resources. The Quartet hoped they would be able to halt the deterioration of our former planet.
By 2030, clean water had become scarce and was only available through one of the three big companies. Ever since they had made sure to become the single largest producer of this clean water. They produced the water bottles through different shell companies – that means companies that could not be traced back to them – throughout the world. For fourteen years they had been developing an advanced biochemical virus.
In 2044 they had added the virus to all water bottles. In less than a week, the virus killed about 30% of the entire world population. Some countries were completely decimated.
It was horrible. People just stopped breathing. There was no sickbed. Fortunately, it was just like someone had switched some people ‘off’.
No one knew what caused it. Until the leader of the company in question, Maximilian Redfield claimed their so-called victory. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done by anyone, for almost everyone drank the water and was carrying the virus in their bodies. Furthermore, Maximilian claimed he could control people’s wrist chips with just a few clicks.”
Malcolm’s eyes moved nervously from this dad to his mom. His dad looked away and his mom wiped away her tears.
“Your mom lost both her parents. Within one day, she was orphaned and alone.”
Miranda fought hard to control herself. She added: “Ever since I lost my family I’ve been so angry. But what was I to do? Start a rebellion out in the open? If I had done that, I would certainly have been killed. I needed to take a different approach. I knew if I wanted to truly avenge my family, I needed to flee and build a better life for myself and others. Away from the tyranny.
I used to work for one of the Quartet companies. Maximilian Redfield was my boss. He was the man responsible for the death of my family. Naturally, I couldn’t any longer, but in those days it wasn’t easy switching jobs. Once you started working somewhere after university, you ought to stay in that company until your retirement. The deal was that they would take over your student loans and other debts and would provide you with an attractive pension, only if you stayed. Luckily your grandpa took me in. He did so with many others like me and let us work at fLife. People who had lost everyone and didn’t want to work for that scum--, uh, evil man anymore.”
Ralph gave her a warning look.
“Your grandfather took over my contract from my previous employer and offered me a job on one of his most secret projects. To build spaceships for consumer travel. He was in desperate need of more engineers, but they were hard to come by, for they were usually lured in by the Quartet. At that moment, it was more pressing than ever since mankind was under a lot of pressure.
Further turmoil emerged. The Quartet basically controlled everything. Other governments were no more than empty “companies” working for them. Politicians became their puppets. Since they could manipulate the wrist chips, people were scared. More deaths ensued. In some parts of the world, there were floods, in others extreme drought. The issue of leaving earth and looking for a new home became more pressing.”
Malcolm gulped at his parents’ story. It was a lot to process.
“Your grandfather started working secretly on an antidote for the virus. He also produced clean water through fLife,” Miranda continued. “After three years, he had finally succeeded. He made sure everyone in his company and their families was treated. Regretfully, he couldn’t treat the entire population for that would attract the attention of Maximilian Redfield and his allies. At all costs, fLife was to remain shielded from attention.
I remember I was introduced to your father and his top-secret division on my first day. Apparently, fLife had been developing spaceships for nearly nine years. Your dad managed the whole process. I was assigned to aid in designing the entire spaceship computer system together with over seventy other engineers.
I could’ve finished the computer system about six months’ sooner than it was, had it not been for a certain arrogant man in charge discounting my ideas.” As she looked at her husband, Ralph focused on the small replica of earth lying at the end of Malcolm’s bed. It was a stress ball. The paint had slightly deteriorated. His father would usually carry one to squeeze absentmindedly when he felt stressed. Ralph grabbed it and gave it a soft squeeze.
“Anyway, we had about a year of testing ahead of us before we could safely attempt flight. However, everything rapidly changed for us in 2050. For starters, your grandpa died that winter, leaving Ralph in charge. We were barely able to grieve since the Quartet started harassing the company immediately after grandpa’s death. They feared him, but now that he had died, they sought to undermine fLife. They manipulated our regular operations by stealing our top talent, patents, and other company secrets.
It was all child’s play to what happened next. At the end of winter, a thick sandstorm terrorized the country. People were scared.
Finally, nature had truly shown its wrath.
We were stuck in the plant, about a thousand employees were unable to go home. Luckily, we were prepared for such calamities. There was plenty of food available. But we couldn’t rely on our electricity. At irregular intervals the power went out, leaving us in the heat and the dark, unable to work.
I made a decision. My gut told me I had to. The sandstorm had been going on for seven months and showed no sign of stopping. We had to go. We started out by packing four of the ships - packing food, cattle, books and other necessities. I divided everyone into four groups. And then, on November the 29thof 2050, we just went.”
Malcolm was in awe of all he had heard. He didn’t know what to ask his parents first. After a while, he asked: “Where are the other ships?”
There was no response. Suddenly, it was as if the room turned upside down. They heard a loud bang and were catapulted to the ceiling. It was over in a couple of seconds. The three of them fell next to Malcolm’s bed. The small earth stress ball rolling between them, under the bed.
“MALCOLM! MALCOLM! Are you ok? Are you hurt?”
“What was that?” Malcolm asked his mom as he rubbed his head.
“Ralph? Are you ok?”
“I’m fine, just a bruise on my . . . Wait what? Miranda, look!” Ralph’s eyes widened as he looked through the window, he beckoned the others to come over.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
And then Ralph and Miranda heard an awfully familiar voice echoing over the town's square.
“Please settle down and stay in your homes, we will not harm you.” Maximilian Redfield spoke.