One Tiny Leaf

Short stories and poems

In the past two years, I have written at least three alternate future/post-apocalyptic stories. I'm not sure why I occasionally circle back to that topic, but this one is the most tame of them.

On the nights we face home with our surface totally exposed to neighbors, friends, family, and pets, the observation deck is always full of people. We stand beside each other and quietly murmur about the minutiae of our lives before Bravo Colony, and we smile knowing that on nights like these, all those we’ve left behind can see us clearly almost without the help of a telescope. In the pristine compartments of the colony, not an inch of space was spared for anything as indulgent and potentially hazardous as a window. The observation deck was the ICAP design team’s great concession to the artists in the colony. No one regrets this decision now, as it is the only place where the fuss and rumble of daily living pauses, and we can be lonely together.

On nights like these, an oblivious young couple may meet under the vast limbs of genetically modified maple trees, fingers entwined, eyes and lips locked in blissful acknowledgement of only the present. When eventually they pause to see the people gathered around them, they would smile at each other in brief recognition that tonight we are full. On nights of waxing or waning, the couple would have had plenty of privacy, but on a full night, no one can bear to miss the sight of a continent drifting by or the Atlantic with a swirling storm moving unobstructed from the African shores.

It may be a broken place now, full of filth, disease, and chaos, but we don’t speak of what we don’t know. The saccharine smell of the maple sap and blooming honey suckle on the walls offers a sweet incense that only magnifies our memories of home. Under the enormous transparent dome, we quietly wonder if the daffodils have bloomed in our gardens yet, if the neighbors have ever bothered to repair their side of the fence, if the children have started using our front yard for impromptu soccer tournaments. We think about apple pie from the farmer’s market or the tart taste of the earliest picked strawberries. A vigorous debate hatches over which of our favorite monuments is the best, but no one asks which is likely to remain standing without intentional care.

Ten years ago, we gathered on a full night after the last transmission from home, and we clung to each other in silence only broken by heavy breathing and the throaty gulps of withheld sobs. Even the livestock workers who were still covered in the grime of the day had a hand to hold. We witnessed the surface North America disappear under a glowing haze. After the initial gasps and murmurs faded into aching quiet, a pregnant musician dropped her guitar, and the discordant twang of the strings hitting the tile floor filled the room with fragile, breaking echoes. She stood instinctively holding her protruding belly next to the Colony Surgeon General, who fell to his knees peering through his fingers at the eastern seaboard. A normally stoic man with a frigidity that inspired unquestioning obedience, he shook with visceral heaves, and none of us moved. The newly planted maples were lost in the crowd, and everyone stayed until each smoking continent had passed. We were onlookers of a great funeral procession except that we didn’t know for sure that our loved ones were dead.

In the months preceding that night, the Prime Minister had always called our attention back from staring at earth to the work at hand, survival, sustenance, and the project. During the weeks following his election, he had starting giving cryptic inspirational speeches that hinted at some new progressive goal. Formerly a nuclear physicist, he’d only been elected by a narrow margin against the very popular Chief of Food Distribution. In the end it was the physicist’s promises of an attainable goal in the near future, an all-encompassing project that would benefit all of humanity, if we could only trust him with our labor, resources, and time, that won the day. The majority saw a man who could provide for tomorrow versus the food distributor whose primary concern was the present and the status quo.

The new president encouraged us to lay aside the marginal duties of our original goal of making a future home for surplus populations from Earth and devote our spare time to the new project. We had each been hand selected by our respective governments for our abilities, cultural value, and genetics in order to build a sustainable proto-colony as a model for future endeavors. With the president’s promises of impending hope and peace, we readily quit our pet projects and focused on the task at hand.

The coming months were laden with surplus hours of work on the Bastien Project, as it became known. Named after the engineer who birthed the idea after weeks of calculation and labor, it caught like fire, and soon every department was engaged in the details and bringing it to fruition. The project first targeted the areas of the Earth most harmed by the earthquake that caused the later power vacuum in the United States. We agreed that the damage from the quake trumped the political fallout from the ensuing war because surely some sort of stalemate would follow as a natural result of our plan. The Prime Minister even hinted that we might be able to broker a lasting peace agreement between all of the opposing sides.

Of course breathable air would be an issue, since the tectonic shifting from the earth quake caused a volcanic eruption and consequential ash cloud. However, the atmospheric regulation team had already been working on a way to chemically engineer the molecules of our own enhanced breathing air, and they felt certain that with some tweaking, it could be applied planet wide. They were joined in this venture by the Terrain Development team who proposed population shifting and soil redirection as possible solutions to finding livable ground.

As the plans continued to develop, we exchanged smiles and high fives in passing. We became more familiar with our coworkers and more jovial with our friends. A sudden spike in pregnancies elated us further, and we felt confident that our children would one day feel wind and rain, see waves hitting golden shores, smell fresh cut grass, and all the simple joys of earthly existence. We began telling the young ones stories of seasons and change, mountains and sky, and they returned our stories with empty stares that we knew would one day be filled with all the beauty of a home they’d never known.

When the plans were nearly complete, we began our attempts to communicate them with the leaders of our respective countries. The Bravo Colony had never been able to communicate with the surface. It had been part of the sacrifice of choosing a stable location. When the Alpha Colony’s atmospheric regulators had been hit by a small meteor, we immediately moved Bravo to a sheltered valley beneath the crest of a crater. The ridge did not allow our signal to reach the satellite with clarity, and after the wars on earth, we had never received much communication from home anyway. So we continued our work of maintaining a sustainable lunar colony and assumed they’d contact us if anything changed.

Our first several hundred attempts failed, but the blinking transmitter lights from the observation deck and the visible but garbled response from the satellite told us we were not far from the answer. Six months passed from the first attempt, and the other departments began testing for their roles in the salvation of our neighbors. It was Christmas time when the first complete signal reached us from the satellite. We were still unable to call out to home, but we were able to see the recording our administrative contacts had sent. In his excitement, the Prime Minister decided that we should air the feed in the dining hall as inspiration for the final push on the Bastien Project.

When the first feed was projected on the wall, we turned from our table talk and familial chatter with bated breath. It was our first sight of home since our arrival in Bravo. The general commotion dimmed as a battered blonde scientist in a lab coat flickered on the eastern wall. She was standing at the fault line covered in sweat, dirt, and bruises. She gave her name and rank in the International Colonial Aerospace Project, and then she directed the camera to pan the landscape. It was pockmarked with smoking craters. The air was yellow and hazy. When the camera returned to her face, she said:

“This is not the epicenter. This is not even ground zero. This is just one of hundreds of ruined places here. The wars have not stopped. We have been bombing each other for years now, and intel reports state that the nukes are equally spread between all the sides here. From what we understand, the President intends to fire ours next week in the hopes that it will end the war. I’m sending you this message because we at ICAP do not believe in the success of a nuclear war. We believe that if he stays the course with this plan, there will be nothing left here.”

Here she paused to wipe away the rivulets of sweat pouring down her brow. She swallowed audibly and shook her head as she continued, “ Bravo, you are now officially on your own. We charge you with survival, with peace, with prosperity, with freedom. Use the technology that you have to find new resources elsewhere, but you cannot come back here unless you only wish to die with us. You are officially released from ICAP authority. It was a pleasure working with you all.”

“My God,” the Prime Minister said. “That transmission was dated five days ago.”

We rushed to the observation deck with panic that would not yield to any rationalization that there was nothing we could do. Not now, not months after trying to save them; we could not give up hope yet. It was the full night we have never escaped, and North America’s scarred face was partially hidden under clusters of smoke laden with radioactive debris and pieces of what some of us once called home. The guitar crashed to the ground, the Surgeon General fell to his knees and covered his face, the Prime Minister aged one hundred years with tears magnifying his wrinkles, and the rest of us could hardly look at each other. We could only stand together in communal agony and stare at the vanquished world we had hoped to save.

Ten years and two prime ministers later, we have expanded the colonial housing units to accommodate the next generation of adults. We have developed our technology and transport carriers to take us further faster in search of alternate fuel and food sources. While we know that we can never go home, we have never stopped telling our children stories about rain and wind, blue skies and wet grass, colorful birds, and all the terrestrial beauty forever out of their reach. Though we hardly speak of it, our most vivid dreams are haunted with lost senses, smells, sights, sounds and tastes that, upon waking, leave a residue of longing that carries us each full night to the observation deck.


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About One Tiny Leaf

I see my writing as one tiny leaf on a great big tree of budding authors. While I hope to one day publish professionally and find a community of writers and readers, for the present this blog allows me the space to put my work to the test. I welcome any constructive comments and feedback.