Day 230 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Write about a community of strangers living together.
Shannon: “Why do you always have to be such a jerk,” I questioned, taking the toothbrush out of my mouth.
He took a gulp of water and made me sit through his gargling before he acknowledged my question. “I’m not being a jerk, this is who I am. Get used to it,” he flashed his teeth before turning to walk out.
“No,” I argued, but spit into the sink quick before following him. “You don’t get to rule this house just because you have a temper,” I pointed my toothbrush at him. “None of us want to be here,” I looked around at our housemates watching my hissy fit, and lowered my arm, “Why do you have to make it worse?”
“Am I making it worse?” He looked to group he had bullied since we got here.
“Sometimes,” Carol spoke up nervously. “You can do a better job of sharing,” she admitted.
“And compromising,” Eric added.
He huffed, “We’ll at least I say what’s on my mind. Nice to finally know how you all feel.”
Erin: Living with an entire community of peers felt strange. I was used to nosey old lady down the street who brought over cookies periodically. Then there was the little neighbor girl who would always get her toys in our yard. The newlywed couple we watched slowly wear on each other until it was just the divorced thirty something man. I liked the variation, it made me remember where I had been and where my life would potentially end up. The first day of orientation we were all fresh from high school, starting college, looking for friends, and in a vacuum. I decided I would stay aware of the world outside of our bubble, so my culture shock stayed at bay in four some years.
Who are these people?
I didn’t even bother to learn their names because I didn’t want to get too attached; there was a good chance that at least twelve percent of our current residential area’s population wouldn’t make it the year. So, out of our total of fifty people making the trip, it was likely only forty-four would survive long enough to become friends. Even after all the trained we’d gone through together, all the stupidly mundane exercises in teamwork, and the lessons in basic home economics I couldn’t tell you anyone’s initials. On the other side, it had become apparent that most of my colleagues had formed strong connections with each other on the long-ish journey to Mars, the new and improved future home planet of humans.
In every single iteration of our mission there had been the prospect of having status pods for us on the two-week trek through space to the red planet, but at the last minute that part of the plan had been vetoed. By that time every one of us had already made arrangements to never return to earth, so there wasn’t another choice. Though it seemed my associates weren’t too perturbed by the change, I’d already written out three versions of a letter proclaiming my dislike for the obvious financial oversight that must have been the cause of me being awake for three quarters of our trip.
The ship itself was a run-of-the-mill cargo carrier with bunks retrofitted into the walls and enough resources for the first three years on Mars to keep us company. It was piloted mainly from our headquarters on earth, but we did have two fully-trained pilots onboard; Joe (that wasn’t his real name, but he looked like an average sort of guy) and Raven (her hair was so black it shone blue in the florescent lighting). At least one of them had to remain in the driver’s seat at all times or the ship would go into panic mode. As we’d already done that three times over the course of two week, I was entirely certain it was a smart safety measure lest something happen while neither of them was available to take the helm. Raven had made fast friends with several of the other women, so they frequently kept her company during the long stretches of time that Joe was taking personal time.
A large cluster of people spent their days and nights holed up in the ship’s relatively large library room, which held first editions of hundreds of classics as well as some modern literature for pleasure reading. Back home several large institutions had pooled their resources in order to send these hardcover books to the new planet, proving that humans require at least a bit of fiction in their day-to-day lives. There was also a large wing dedicated to the sciences, earth history and other important factual resource books. I tended to steer clear of this area as Four-Eyes, Blue-Shirt, Dingo and Hippy weren’t my favorite people on the mission, and they could almost always be found in there.
There really wasn’t any privacy in the enormous ship, though that hadn’t been sugar-coated back home; a large part of our training had been in close-quarters co-habitation with a large number of others just to make sure we could handle it. That time hadn’t prepared us for the crippling loneliness you could feel when everyone you’d ever known was on a blue dot that was barely even a dot. The real emotional toll this was going to take on me had come crashing down on the third night, and it wasn’t getting any better.
That was why, on the evening before we were slated to dock, I slipped out of the celebratory feast of rehydrated apple slices and some sort of poultry and into a deserted corridor. Sliding down the metal wall, I put my head in my hands and breathed deeply, feeling my body shuddering against the cold surface at my back. “Christine?” I asked the empty hallway, sniffling quietly.
“Yes, Jason?” responded our horribly-named artificial intelligence companion in her sultry voice. One of the tech guys back home thought it would be hilarious if we were all killed by a bloodthirsty computer program, apparently, and figured it would be a waste if she was named something obvious.
With a sigh, I murmured, “Can you play me one of Rachel’s songs please?” Though I could feel the tears dripping down the side of my face, I had no intention of wiping them away; they reminded me that I wasn’t leaving her behind.
“Of course, Jason,” she answered promptly, taking a few seconds to find the song I wanted and turning it on to the speakers near me. A woman’s soft, eerie voice echoed hauntingly through the hall as though she was standing right in front of me, and I let the tears flow even more freely. With a catch in my throat, I quietly hummed along with my late wife’s stunning opera voice as she sang in a concert just a few years ago. The day she passed, after a short fight with late-stage cancer, I signed up for this trip away from the planet that had killed her. Something about leaving earth far behind made me both deathly sad and joyful to not spend one more minute in my old life without her.
After the song had finished, Christine asked for another request in her idly-creepy way, but I ignored her and just sat on my own feeling the dread settle into my heart like I knew it would. I knew it a little while everyone would be heading off for a last, horrible sleep in the uncomfortable, cramped ship cots and some would be passing through here, so I jumped to my feet in a hurry. Peering around the corner, I hurriedly wiped my face on my shirt to get rid of the remnants of waterworks and strolled down the next hall in search of the others.
After two weeks living in the colony on Mars I can finally say for certain that some people are simply annoying regardless of which planet they’re on.
When we landed at one end of the establishment, where any and all spacecraft docked to let off crew and crates, we were greeted by the original skeleton crew who’d been sent to set the place up. These people hadn’t seen a new human being in over four years, so they were pretty excited to meet us all and show us around; meanwhile we all just wanted to know where we could shut a door between ourselves and the rest of our colleagues. Terese, Johnson, Meave and Andrew were the first four we met (yeah, I learned their names since they’d already made it through four years on Mars and would likely outlive me). They’d taken us around to visit every landmark under the dome before stopping in front of a plain residence with a welcome home sign hanging on the door; while that was a little unnecessary, it was nice nonetheless.
After we all slept off the last two weeks of travel, which was somewhere between twelve and thirty-six hours, there had been a large party to celebrate the new arrivals. At this dinner we learned that there were now several factions of the crew who didn’t even address each other if they passed in the halls. While this was moderately concerning, we figured it was just a part of assimilating into a new surrounding and went along with it. People who were doing science projects were sent to one corner of the habitat where they had labs set up in their dorms, explosions regularly rocked the buildings nearby and there was no such thing as sleep. The gardening staff who actually knew how to grow plants and were learning how to help our crops grow better were sent to the far side where they tended the fields, were asleep by five in the afternoon and might bite your hand off if you asked for seconds. The tallest buildings in the center of the colony were the domain of the engineers; they were probably the least reliable of them all with their random curfews, occasional power failures requiring emergency actions and caffeine addictions. The rest of us were general crew and we didn’t really have the same kind of divide with the others, though we had our own block of cramped housing.
Between then and now everyone got acquainted with their surroundings and have been creating their own oases in the common spaces as well as separate rooms. Terese headed up the females-only dorm building where the single women tended to cluster with their tinkling wind chimes and romantic comedies that could be heard down the street. With Andrew in charge of the dudes lounge, which was just a grouping of common areas with pool and card tables, video gaming consoles, televisions set up with hour-long-lag sports and a highly-illegal bar in the back room. A third grouping of residential building, the largest, was co-ed and had co-superintendents in Meave and Johnson; most of us lived there since it made the most sense. Though there were common areas, every room was large enough for a bed, desk and dresser, which was more space than I had in my spare room at home.
All in all, I came to realize that if we were going to survive on this airless planet for any length of time, we’d need to learn to live together and work through our difference. There have been rumors floating around, though, that earth has found out about the divide between the workers here and we now worry about the consequences of those who’d come before us. Our crew still meets up regularly for dinners just to keep the connections we made alive, even if the others are in danger of expulsion from their factions. It has certainly been strange cleaning up the labs where no one will even make eye contact with me, but I don’t find it such a strange thing anymore.
Every night when I go home to my room, I lie awake looking out at the stars and listen to Rachel’s voice carrying me off to sleep. It’s some kind of peace to be around all these people in a completely new world, but still keep that little part of my old life, the good part, with me. Christine still works outside of the ship, though she keeps glitching out and setting alarms to go off while everyone is trying to sleep; the scientists think it’s hilarious while I think the gardeners would kill us if they knew we’d brought our own AI with us.
Raven (she likes the name, actually) and I have been going out for a few days now, since we’re both widowers and took this opportunity for the same reasons. Even though she’s an engineer, we get along well and as long as we stay clear of the other engineers no one bothers us. I think Rachel would be happy that I’ve found someone who understands what I’ve gone through and how much different it is for me to have left earth. There aren’t any strict rules about relationships, I checked, as long as we report it in our logs, so I suspect this will last a long time.
It still boggles my mind that we started out as a large cluster of strangers who came from completely different backgrounds and living situations and lives, and yet we’re now the pioneers on a new planet, taking the first steps for humanity toward reaching out to the stars. In a few hundred years this whole planet could be full of colonies just like ours, though hopefully full of people who speak to each other and acknowledge each other’s existence. Perhaps one day we’d all be able to get along, but I won’t be holding my breath on that one; even on a new planet we can’t seem to work out our differences.
August steps out of the car, looking at the college campus house he’s going to live in for the next nine months. Josh is helping him move in, but he has a different housing situation. August vaguely knows his housemates; like, their names and where they are from.
Josh helps load August’s stuff into the house, and up into his room. When August comes out of the room, he sees one young man with a lean build and light brown hair. “Hi, I’m Finn. I’m guessing your August?”
“Yep,” August nods. They stand there a little awkwardly.
The final young man, with a mop of reddish hair and a stocky build, comes out of the kitchen, “Finn, did you bring the- Oh, hi.”
“Hi.” This time, he is offered a hand. “August Evert. And this is my brother, Josh.”
“Rick, nice to meet you.” August nods in return.
“The housing application said it was a three person house,” Finn says slowly, looking at Josh.
“I’m just helping move Gus in,” Josh says. August rolls his eyes.
“We were moving some furniture around,” Rick states, “let us know if there’s any suggestions.”
Rick turns to Finn to ask his previous question. August goes back to his room to put stuff away. Josh comes back with some more stuff. They work in silence, listening to the other two. “You’ll be fine, August,” Josh states.
“…How are you feeling?”
“I know I was nervous when first coming to college-”
“Josh, I am not a freshman,” August states, looking at Josh, “I heard this speech already.”
Josh smirks at his brother, “You seemed like you needed it again.”
August sits on the bed, looking around, “It’s different, but I’ll be okay.”
“Make friends, have fun, and study hard,” Josh states. August stands and gives his brother a hug. “And call me. I’ll be around.”
“No problem.” Josh walks out the door and takes the car with him. August hears Finn cheer in the kitchen, so he turns to see what he’s so happy about.
“…So, August,” Rick asks, “do you have any hobbies?”
“Uhh… martial arts,” August states.
Finn’s eyes bug out, “What? That’s so cool! I…” he polishes his fingernails on his shirt, “am an artist.” He points to Rick, “apparently Rick builds stuff.”
Rick rolls his eyes, “inventor, Finn. I’m an inventor.”
“Have any of your inventions worked?”
“Yes, actually, they have.”
“The first time?”
“Nothing ever works the first time.”
August watches the two, smiling to himself, ‘We’ll get along just fine.’