The boy watched the land burn. Beside him, Tranal, his mentor stood watch, a horn in his hand. They were waiting to sound the alarm. If the methane well started leaking, he would have to evacuate. The boy knew it was a matter of time, but the elders were hopeful. Diggers were trying to patch-up the rock, fliers were trying to vent the hydrogen away.
Evacuation tubes had been built, a planet had been found that could house life. There was plenty of water, oxygen, hydrogen. But this was their land, the boy thought, looking around at the rocky hills, the squat trees. The huts, built side by side, forming the mazes of squares, towns, cities that had once brimmed with people and activities stood now vacant from its inhabitants.
A bonasky trotted far below the ridge, its powerful hooves eating ground as it trotted easily away from the fire, unaware of the dangers it posed to it.
A flier passed on down low, its whiskers like rotor blades in front of it. It was long, the span bigger than three huts together, the natural centrifuge stronger than a thousand bonaskies, its sole purpose to vent the hydrogen away from the flames. It was a big responsibility, one with dire consequences. One single wrong move and they would be venting the hydrogen straight into the flames.
It was a disaster waiting to happen.
How long would it take, the boy wondered, before the entire planet exploded into a shower of meteors?
The entire planet was made of gas. Methane in its center, covered by a thick layer of rock, dirt, plates and rocky earth. The air was full of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. It was what they breathed, the three gases combined. But the nitrogen had frozen centuries ago, the methane started leaking, and for the past fifty years the planet had gone into alert. Already entire cities had evacuated, gone into the planet far beyond that looked hospitable enough. It was closer to the sun, and the fact that no ship had returned communication once it entered the planet’s orbit was the reason a mass evacuation hadn’t been issued yet.
The man suddenly raised the horn to his lips, and the boy tensed, searching the land. He braced himself for the alarm to sound, but the man didn’t blow on it. He searched the area where he knew the layer of the well was thinner, but he wasn’t a miner, therefore, he couldn’t see the gas leak.
After a moment the man lowered his arm, and the boy loosed the breath he hadn’t known he held.
The evacuation tube named for him was parked not far from where he stood, but he didn’t want to go alone. The man had raised him, had taught him all he knew. How could he leave him? There were only a handful of tubes left, and far too many people yet to evacuate.
But the boy was the only son and heir of the late emperor, and a new civilization in another planet wouldn’t be possible without a leader. The only reason he had been left in the planet for so long was because he had yet to learn all the ceremonies, rituals, rules and orders a leader should bring to the seat of power.
The man had done a good job for an advisor, had urged the boy to leave without him. But the boy wouldn’t, couldn’t go without the man who had raised him. So he had stayed, knowing his presence kept the miners, diggers and fliers working harder to protect him.
Perhaps there was still hope.
Suddenly his mentor raised his arm and blew, a long, haunting sound that travelled and travelled and travelled and rounded the entire planet.
The boy’s heart jumped and lodged in his throat, and frantically he searched. A hard hand gripped the boys arm and began pulling him back. The fliers lowered as much as possible, as near to the boy as they could lower, formed a wall of protection behind him. Their tales twitched back and forth, a sign of exhaustion and fear.
He looked down at the arm pulling him away, the greenish webbed fingers, up at the face of the man who had raised him, his calm, orange eyes.
It was time to go, the boy knew, so he held on tight to the webbed fingers and began to run. They reached the tube together, and the man helped him buckle in. neither spoke a word.
He had begged plenty in the past, knew how futile his pleas were. The webbed fingers worked agilely, expertly, buckled every belt, hooked every tube with care, precision.
Dropped something oval into the boy’s pocket before stepping back, gripping the boy’s shoulder with his hand. the boy glanced at him, covered the webbed fingers with his pale, slender fingers.
“Come with me, Tranal.” The boy begged again, but the man only squeezed his shoulder, pulled back.
The tube closed, compressed. The boy watched the man move back and back, growing smaller by the second.
He watched as the man raised the horn again, blew on it. Heard the haunting sound as it moved by him, around the planet.
The controls ignited, already programmed, the engine hummed.
The take off was as smooth as it could be inside a three by four spaceship under turbulence, but the boy didn’t care. His eyes remained fixed on the green man below, on the fliers that accompanied him as far as they could without moving away from the planet’s stratosphere.
He was still within the planet’s orbit when the methane caught, like a small flame that grew and grew and grew, funneling down into the earth. There was a pregnant pause where he thought he caught the green of his mentor’s skin, than the force of the explosion, the brilliant light, the hellfire that punched his small tube brought him unconscious for the remainder of the trip.
When he awoke, surprised to still be alive, there was no fire trying to eat him. The land was green, luscious, fragrant. Trilling noises sounded from above, scuffling from below. The boy opened his eyes, winced at the brightness, wondered at the vivid blue above, the green below.
The tube was dead, not even a single blip showing on the monitor, and the boy had to yank everything with his trembling fingers to unhook himself.
The ground was soft underneath his feet, despite the small rocks littering the ground. He inhaled deeply, parsing the strange scents, the different gases, knew this atmosphere was different from the atmosphere of his land. He began walking, watching the sky, the land, even the far sea, determined to find and gather the ones who had left the planet before him.
Anderson rolled on the bed, blinked at the time. Five thirty pm, the digitals told him. Wearily he sat, scrubbed a hand over his face. He hated those dreams, hated what they did to him. He moved to the bathroom, splashed his face with cold water before bracing on the sink and looking up at the mirror, at his reflection. His eyes glowed a brilliant grey, his pupils yellow. Anderson closed his eyes, concentrated, jaws clenched. When he opened them again, his eyes were normal – or human grey, the pupil’s black.
Two hundred years, he thought, and the boy had evolved, adapted. And never found one single individual from his planet.
Anderson moved back into the room, opened the nightstand drawer, picked a small, oval globe. He watched the rocky hills, the squat trees, the small sized huts built side by side. He shook the globe, watched as miniature fliers appeared, slowly landed on the rocks beside a green figure.
He jolted when his phone rang, cursed loudly in the language of the people he had been watching for centuries.
“Hello.” He said in a gruff voice.
“Yo, did I wake you?” Brad, his partner asked jovially.
“No, I was awake.”
“My mistake. Should’ve called earlier.”
Anderson chuckled, leaned back on the bed, the oval globe still clutched in his hand.
“What do you want, man?”
“Just wondering what you’ll be doing in an hour or so?”
“Guess nothing, why?”
“Danny lee is cooking this big ass dinner to celebrate our success earlier, thought you should come over.”
“Alright,” Anderson agreed, returning the globe to the drawer. “I’ll be there in thirty.” He said and got up to dress.
He hadn’t found anyone from his planet, but he had made friends here, gotten multiple jobs throughout the centuries. He wasn’t a leader, but he had given himself purpose. He had made the planet earth his new home.