ENGAGE • ENLIGHTEN • INFORM
ISSUE 5. SUMMER 2023
The Galaxy Between Us
By Daisy Baker '25
I’ve almost memorized the scene outside—inky blackness, partly lit up by stars. We’re so far from the sun that the only things we’ve seen out there are shapes in the dark. Apparently Ithea has a sun, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I've been stuck in this room for a little over a week, since we boarded. I can’t bring myself to leave this room and be reminded that this whole thing is real. I got bored by the end of the second day. And now, on the morning of the ninth day, every page in my sketchbook has been used, the skin on my fingers is tender and bleeding, and my paints are almost gone.
I could go out; there are plenty of things to do here. They sent us on a spacecraft with only the best—a game room, an art studio, a cafeteria, and a whole bunch of other things. But I can’t leave my room because doing so will make this entire journey seem real. So instead, I’ve locked myself in here, spending my day painting, reading, and cleaning. There’s no point in doing anything now, though. We’re leaving pretty soon.
Many other families in the West got the notice, too. The President had his best scientists investigating space travel for a while. It was easier to start sending us off to some other planet than it was to fix the food shortages, clean up the acid puddles, or prevent the natural disasters that threaten to destroy what’s left of our planet.
Luckily, it didn’t take long to find a planet that would fit our needs. The President calls it “Ithea,” a small planet with the luxuries of clean water and an abundance of food, plants, oxygen, and people. And so now, three-fourths of my family are on a huge spacecraft powering toward some mystery planet. We’re supposed to be landing there this afternoon; and although I am against this whole plan, I’ll be grateful to leave this spacecraft. It’s huge, but transporting what must be more than thirty families while providing a wide variety of amenities means that space is limited. I’ve been sharing a room with my brother for the past week, and it’s been a struggle not to tear my hair out. You wouldn’t expect much different from a five-year-old, but it’s getting on my nerves.
I gather the last of my books and put them neatly into my suitcase. I zip it up, lift it off my bed, and place it on the floor. My brother runs in and jumps on his bed, and I watch him undo all my hard work. My mom follows my brother as I grab his suitcase and put it next to mine. My mom grabs my suitcase, takes it to the door, and puts it next to my brother. I stick my pinky fingernail to the skin behind my thumbnail and pick at the skin as my mom starts to talk. “We’re leaving in a few minutes, all right? Elisabeth, check to make sure your brother didn’t leave anything behind, okay?” I nod and look around the room for the last time.
I feel the ground shake, and Elias jumps into my arms. He tries to be tough and fearless, but he’s still only little. I hug him tight. “Hey buddy, do you want your Rexy? He can help you when we get off the spaceship,” I ask him. Rexy, his prized possession, has gotten him through this whole journey to Ithea, though I don’t think he’s much fazed by the move. After a while of living on Ithea, he’ll probably forget all about life on Earth. He nods, and I turn him around and get the stuffed dinosaur out of his small, army-green backpack. He holds the dino with one hand and grabs onto my purple top with the other.
A strangely monotone voice comes over an intercom: “We have arrived at Ithea. Proceed to Security for screening before exiting the spacecraft.” I grab Elias’s hand and take him to Security, where I see my mom waiting in front of the huge doors with our luggage. We get in line with everyone else as we walk through metal detectors and security workers go through our bags. I notice a girl from my class, Christabel, being patted down. She’s a few people in front of us. I didn’t even know she was here, though I admit I haven’t left our room other than to get food from the cafeteria. I’ve mostly just tried to ignore that this whole thing is happening. It’s nice to see a familiar face here, even one that I don’t know very well. It’s my fault anyway, for not knowing her. They had weekly group meetings for different age groups, but I never went to mine. She turns around and her blue eyes spot me. She smiles and waves. I wave back, painfully aware of how much more put together she looks. She doesn’t look like she spent a full nine days in her room.
By the time I get patted down, the workers have been through so many people that I’m surprised at their thoroughness. I walk a little farther to a metal detector, which is the last phase of security before we’re headed off the spacecraft. By now, I’m an expert at these. There are metal detectors in every doorway. After a while of bringing my meals to me, my mom insisted that I go out to the cafeteria by myself, so going through metal detectors has become second nature. I hear the familiar alarm and take a small thimble out of my pocket. My mom has me keep it to stop myself from picking the skin behind my nail; but it’s some sort of compulsion, so the thimble stays in my pocket, and I continue to pick at my skin until blood fills the underside of my nail. I hand a stern woman with a tight bun the thimble, which will now be disinfected and thrown away. After the metal detector, I catch up with Christabel, who is waiting in another line to be let out of the spacecraft.
“You’re Elisabeth, aren’t you? I think you were in my math class back home!” She grins. That’s the thing I’ve always noticed about Christabel. I’ve never really made an effort with anyone, and no one besides Christabel has ever made an effort with me. She makes an effort with everyone; she’s not the type of person to leave people to be excluded. I feel horrible for not having noticed that she was here, especially since she’s always been the closest thing I’ve had to a friend. When you’re mostly ignored by everyone all the time, the one girl who smiles at you sometimes means a lot.
I nod and say sheepishly, “I didn’t know you were here, or else I would’ve said something to you. But to be honest, I barely left the room.”
She smiles and waves me off. “Don’t worry about that! I saw you in the cafeteria a few times. You didn’t seem very happy to be here.” I nod as Elias runs up to me and grabs onto my shirt. Christabel looks down at him and giggles, “Awww, who is this little one? He’s so sweet!”
Elias looks at her sternly, which only makes her giggle more. “I’m Elias and I’m five and a half and I’m not sweet, I’m actually like a dinosaur.” He bares his teeth, and Christabel pretends to back away, scared, as Elias smiles confidently.
She looks back at me and smiles. “He looks exactly like you,” she observes. I nod. I’m used to hearing people say that about us. I can see it, too. Aside from our noses and ages, we could be twins. We have the same dark brown skin and tightly coiled hair. But what strikes me the most is our eyes. We have the same dark brown, almost black eyes, framed by dark lashes. We have the same round face, but where I have a mole under my eye, he has nothing. Before I can say anything back, a tall boy with reddish-brown hair and beady eyes walks over and slinks his arm around Christabel’s waist. He starts to kiss her, but Christabel pulls away quickly. She mouths “sorry” to me as she becomes fascinated with her fingernails.
“Stephen!” Elias squeals. He goes in for a high five, but I pull him back. Elias doesn’t understand it right now, and I’m not sure I want him to, but Stephen isn’t going to be a good influence on him. Elias got attached to him too quickly and was devastated when he broke up with me, but the inordinate amount of relief I felt was worth a few tears out of Elias. Plus, he’s only using Elias to get back at me, and that’s a lesson I don’t want Elias to learn right now. Stephen glares at me, then turns back to Elias and gives him a high five, looking at me pointedly. I roll my eyes and turn away from them as my mom comes to stand in line with us. Christabel takes her place in front of us, and Stephen goes back to where he came from.
The door opens, sending in a rush of fresh air, and the security guards usher us off the spacecraft. The cool air hits me as I step off the spacecraft, and I’m surprised by how beautiful everything looks. The grass is so green, and there are patches of vibrantly colored flowers growing everywhere—white, pink, blue, and purple with dainty gold designs on the petals. I’ve never seen anything like it. There seems to be a purplish tint to everything, making the light not too pigmented, but gentle and cool on the eyes. It’s hard to see, but houses in the distance, far, far away, are painted faint yellows, blues, and greens with large windows and neatly kept gardens. Like a perfect suburbia. We step onto a gray sidewalk that glitters faintly in the sunlight. It looks too perfect, too good to be true. When I look up, there are sparkling stars in the sky that look close enough to touch, but when I stretch my hand up, I can’t reach them.
The sun, light, and stars are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’ve never seen both a sun and a star in the sky at the same time; and although I’ve never imagined it, I doubt whatever I might have imagined would compare to this. The sun gives off gentle rays, so when I look up, I feel a gentle heat on my face instead of the slow burning the Earth’s sun causes. There are more stars than you could ever count, and I can see them clearly too, all silver and glittering in the sky. The ground under my feet is smooth and perfect. Everything is perfect; nothing is out of place.
We’re on a clean, white sidewalk, with the spacecraft behind us. There are a few white buildings around us, but they’re not very close. From what I can see, they’ve got flat roofs and large floor-to-ceiling windows. Nothing like on Earth; but from what I’ve seen so far, nothing on Earth is going to measure up to here. There’s more sidewalk, leading to other buildings, but there’s no way of telling them apart. Maybe we’ll live there. Even if we don’t, I’ll probably be able to explore later.
I look down at myself. I look too imperfect to be here. My clothes have been stuffed in a suitcase for a week and haven’t been ironed, so they’re wrinkled. My faded purple top with ruffled sleeves seems dull against the vibrant colors of this world. Suddenly, I notice all the discolorations on my white skirt. My black fabric shoes look scuffed up, and their white laces and soles are grayish and dirty. I feel along the cornrows in my hair, making sure that they still feel neat. My mirror is packed in my bag, and I can’t get it out, so this will have to do. I try to make sure that my natural hair looks all right. Spending multiple days in a spacecraft has not made me look my best. I gently feel over my edges and make sure they’re neat, too. My cornrows meet my natural hair at the crown of my head, and from what I can feel, it’s fine.
I see Christabel running her fingers through her straight blond hair, adjusting her blush-colored headband. She stands with two other people—her parents, from the looks of it. They share her blond hair and blue eyes. She stands stiffly, her head high and her posture perfect. They mirror her, standing stiff and alert. Her mother looks down at Christabel and redoes her hair and headband. I can see Christabel saying something, but I can’t make out what it is. It’s not much out of the ordinary, though; my mother is doing the same thing.
My mom fixes my brother's hair with her fingers while he tries to push her away. Everyone else is brushing themselves off, feeling the perfection of where we are and not wanting to tarnish the beauty. A woman with pale pink skin and dark black hair pulled into a tight, low bun, wearing a gray suit, walks up to us. Everyone is so silent, I can hear her small heels make quiet clicks against the sidewalk as she walks. The talk and energy of our crowd immediately drain as she walks to the front and clears her throat. She stands stiffly in front of our group, her face expressionless and her lips in a tight line, and says in a monotonic voice, “Good afternoon, new residents of Ithea. I will be leading you to your new housing unit. You must clean up and adapt to your new community accordingly. Guardians of children under eighteen must go to the Institute of Learning to enroll them in courses. Children ages thirteen to seventeen are obligated to go to the Community Center and meet with your Student Advisors.”
The woman starts walking, and everyone starts to follow her. Elias, probably not understanding a word she said, skips along holding Rexy. I fall behind him and my mom, wondering what she meant by “Student Advisors” and “Community Center” and the “Institute of Learning.” I assume that the Institute of Learning is some sort of school, but what could school be like here? Do they do the same things we did or is everything different? And the Community Center? We’ve just been dropped onto this new planet; I don’t know how this lady expects us to know our way around already. And the Student Advisors? I’m sixteen, meaning I have one, but what is that? Is it some sort of alien like her? The President said that there were “other life forms” that would help us get situated and accustomed to our new home, but he never said anything else about it. Am I even allowed to call them aliens? Everyone else was taught about it on the journey here; but I was barely coming out of my room for food, so I missed the how-to-be-nice-to-aliens presentation. While everyone else knows what aliens look like and how to address them, I’m out of the loop. I could ask my mother, but she told me to go to the presentation and I refused, telling her I’d be fine. I can’t ask her for help now; and judging from the firm expression on the alien woman's face, I don’t think she’s in the mood for questions.
We start to follow the pink-skinned woman, none of us having any idea where we’re going. There’s nothing besides grass, flowers, and sidewalk. We landed on an airstrip and had to walk down an unstable flight of stairs from the spacecraft. It was kind of thrilling the first time, boarding, back on Earth. Although I didn’t want to be there, I had never seen anything like it, and we were so close. The President launched many spaceships, each one looking a little bit closer to the passenger carrier that we arrived on; but we never saw those in person, and our ship was the first to carry humans. They were faraway things on a small, old television screen. I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing our ship for the first time. It was big and gray, with protection on every surface. It was self-driving, with a route already programmed into it, so no one had to pilot it. We were just a bunch of people on a large spacecraft that was being managed from Earth.
We continue walking for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, passing all the buildings and ending up in a more suburban area. There aren’t many people walking around, which I’m not used to. “The workday has already begun. There will not be many people. This is for your comfort. It was decided that overwhelming you with our residents would not be beneficial to the effort of integrating your kind into society,” The woman says to the group, not turning around as she just about reads my mind. We pass by many streets, all with large fences and gates. The houses are multicolored—yellows, blues, and greens—not like the buildings we saw before. Despite how perfect they are, the colors make them feel welcoming. I’m not used to how anything looks here. Where we lived, there weren’t any houses. Instead, we lived in apartments. But those were bad, too. Not completely unlivable, but definitely run-down and old. The outside paint was peeling, the walls were crumbling, and the insides often were worse.
Finally, after about twenty minutes of walking, we come to what must be our street. The large, ornate, iron gate blocks our street just like the others; but instead of walking by, we stop. The woman presses a button on the gate, and it opens. Once she is inside the street, she tells our group, “Press the button on the gate to register your print. The gate will open, and you will be let in.” Everyone scrambles to be first to be let in but is quickly pushed back as the gate surges with electricity, shocking everyone nearby. Luckily, I wasn't very close to it, but a shock still runs through me, slightly numbing my arms and legs and making my brain foggy. We all look around, wondering how the gate became electrified so quickly, but the woman has no answers for us and motions for someone to go first. The gate goes back to normal, and a stocky man in a button-up shirt and green tie steps forward and presses the button.
A robotic voice comes out of a small speaker in the gate and says, “Print registered.” The gate opens, and the man walks in. A tall woman and a little girl start to walk with him; but when they step into the neighborhood, a metal strip on the floor shocks them. I don’t feel the aftershocks this time, I’m too far away, but a few people in the front can, and they move back quickly.
They step back, and the woman scoops up the little girl. “That’s my family, why can’t they be let in?” The green-tie man asks, accusingly.
“Step in one at a time to register prints. Next,” the woman says in monotone. It takes a while, but eventually, everyone gets in. Once we get in, we are herded into another line. The woman walks down the line with a silver pen-looking device in her hand and presses it to the inside of everyone’s wrist, going down the line. The device makes a small clicking sound as the woman takes it off one person to go to the next. I can hear people’s sharp intakes of breath as the device meets their wrist. When she gets closer, I can see that when she’s about to insert it into the wrist, a smaller part with a small blade comes out and is pressed into the wrist. Then a small red light is left underneath the skin.
I am pretty scared when she gets to me, but she doesn’t look at me as the smaller part of the device whips out and the blade inserts into my skin. At first, I squeeze my eyes shut and refuse to look. When I do look, I see the whole blade in my wrist and only the bigger part of the device out. A little bit of blood seeps out, but when the woman takes the device out, there’s a small cut. The blood gravitates toward the cut and seeps back in. I think I can feel the blood vessels take in the blood, but I don’t want to look down and see. The red light starts to pulse, and then it’s still. It feels weird, like there’s something wrong on my wrist, like my wrists aren’t even now. I start to scratch at my wrist, but it doesn’t help. Whatever it is, it is there to stay.
When she gets to my brother, he gasps and waves his arm around. “Lissy, Lissy, look!” He screams. “I have a red dot! This is the awesomest!” I look at his wrist, but I don’t see anything. No blood and no red light. I look at my mom’s wrist, but I don’t see anything on hers either. Maybe mine is gone too? But when I look at my wrist, I still see a red light.
“Your prints have been registered now. You will notice that there is a red light under your skin, but not others. Everyone has one, but they are not visible to you. This is your sensor. You will now notice that we are on your street. You will be led to your house by the sensor. This is included in the many things that are connected to your sensor. Your print is connected to the red sensor on your wrist. This makes it possible for you to have access to directions, instructions, and schedules.” The lady turns and walks away, leaving us to find our house, not asking if we have any questions.
Elias runs ahead, looking up and down the street, seemingly being pulled to our house. I wonder whether we’ll find the same one. We probably will if we are living in the same house. But so many things are different here already, so I have no idea. The idea of being separated from my mother and Elias gives me enough anxiety to start running around, waiting for my sensor to lead me to the correct house. I look around, and don’t feel anything, so I look at my sensor and it’s moving under my skin. It’s pulling itself to the left, and when I go left, it leads me in another direction, taking me to our house. As an experiment, I try walking in a direction opposite to the one the sensor indicates, but the red light vibrates and then sends shock waves up my arm. I grab my arm and squeeze to ground myself and not get taken over by pain. I turn the correct way, and the red light stops shocking me. While walking, I see families walking into houses together. I see Christabel going into a pale green house. Elias runs to the house across the street from hers and starts jumping and yelling. I take a look and realize that my sensor is leading me to the same house.
I run over to Elias and sit on the front steps. Our house is pale yellow, with big windows and a gray gabled roof. There are purple and yellow wildflowers growing on the sides of the pathway leading up to the front door. Vibrant, perfectly cut grass fills the yard, and square lengths of bushes grow around the house. I get a good look at our street now, and all the houses look pretty much the same. The only real differences are the color of the paint and the color of the flowers.
My mom walks up the pathway, looking up at the house. “It’s nice,” she says, and I must agree. It’s much better than the spacecraft, and better than what we had before we left Earth. Looking at our house makes me laugh a little, though. When we were on the spacecraft, we knew nothing about what life would look like here, and now we’re in a normal house in a normal neighborhood. We try to open the door, but a voice from a speaker next to the doorbell tells us that we need to copy our print on the doorbell to open the door. We each press our index finger onto the doorbell, and it replies that our prints have been registered.