I woke up to the blaring of my alarm clock, feeling as if I had only just fallen asleep. I glanced over and saw the burning red numbers reading “3:00”, and my mind clicked into place. Suddenly, I was wide awake and packing my bag. I tied my hair up in complete darkness and put on my uniform. My grey duffel bag lay on the floor, packed with spare clothes and snacks that I had stashed away for the past month. I slung it over my shoulder and patted my bed one last time, staring out the window. It was time for me to escape.
The window opened quietly and I stepped out carefully, my right foot balancing on my balcony. I heaved my bag over the ledge and stood there motionless. As I stared out into the winter night, I shivered. This is it, I told myself. Now or never.
I closed the window and locked it from the outside, a hastily-written note taped to the glass. Hopefully my family wouldn’t worry when they came to check on me in the morning and found me gone. I shuffled along the balcony to the ladder that I left leaning against the side of the house the day before in anticipation of my plan. I scurried down its cold rungs, my shoes squeaking softly against the worn metal. I landed on the soft ground of my front yard and began to run, reminding myself that there was no turning back now. The hazy orange streetlights at every intersection caught my shadow and chased it.
Panting, I stood at the front of a tall blue house, a place I’ve known since I was a child. I had only walked for ten minutes, but the cold night air burned in my lungs. I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my sweater sleeve, my hands feeling hot on my knees. I heard footsteps behind me and I stopped breathing, my heart caught in my throat. Immediately my mind started racing. They caught you, my brain kept telling me, and now you’re going to face the consequences.
I heard a whispered “Hey!” and expelled all the air from my body, my thoughts flooding with relief. Leda met me on the street, armed with a backpack and a briefcase. Her short blonde hair was arranged neatly in two ponytails tied at the nape of her neck with matching red ribbons. She wore a heavy white turtleneck underneath her uniform sweater, a crimson red fashioned with our school crest. My sweater was identical, except it was a deep cerulean blue. I had on the school-issued slacks, charcoal with a crease down the sides. Leda wore a pleated dacron skirt that hung almost to her knees, with long socks and heavy leg warmers. We sported the same boots that everyone on Paaliaq had: moon boots—fitting, as we lived on one of Saturn’s many moons.
“Are you okay?” Even in the darkness, I could see that Leda was concerned. She tilted her head to the side and put her hands on my shoulders. “Elara, don’t worry,” she said calmly. “Everything’s going to be fine. We just have to pick up Vega and then we’re free.” We began to walk, and she gripped my hand firmly. I didn’t realize I was shaking slightly until I stopped. I focused on the road ahead of me, the old white paint used to separate the bike lanes, the identical-looking doors with a deep walnut colour, the wilted daisies on someone’s porch.
Leda sighed. “It’s crazy that we’re finally doing this, huh?” She tilted her head back and looked up at the stars, the constellations reflecting in her hazel eyes. I looked down at the ground and watched my feet walk the road to a new life. No chance to turn back.
“Yeah,” I spoke only one word, but it carried a lifetime of meaning with it. We had finally decided to find a way off of Paaliaq and onto Saturn, where no one had supposedly been before. In all of our science lessons about Paaliaq, history lessons about the destruction of Earth, and astronomy lessons about the galaxy we live in, there wasn’t much information about Saturn. Paaliaq was slowly deteriorating and our community couldn’t hide it—less food, fewer houses, even fewer people. We asked our teachers, family, and community leaders, but no one would give us an answer as to what was happening. Moons don’t offer as much as a full planet, so we decided to build a ship to travel to Saturn.
Leda’s footsteps stopped and I finally looked up from the ground. We weren’t at Vega’s house yet, so why did she stop walking? I looked at Leda and saw that she was looking upwards. I followed her gaze and saw a streetlight up ahead. Nothing seemed unusual until it flickered once. Leda caught my eyes and I could tell we were thinking the same thing. All of the streetlights were connected in Paaliaq, so the only way it could have been flickering independently was if someone was messing with the wires. Leda continued walking, but at a slower pace and with lighter footsteps, as if she was worried that any sound might give us away. I followed her example and we slowly approached the streetlight.
As we got closer, I could see a shadowy figure perched on the top of the streetlight, looking like they were cutting the wires from the light. Leda retrieved a flashlight from her bag and clicked it on. The figure froze as she moved the beam to the top of the streetlight, but when I looked closely I saw we were in no danger.
“Vega!” I called softly, and Leda moved the beam so that Vega could see. She climbed down the streetlight carefully, the treads of her shoes gripping onto the metal post. Vega embraced us and sighed with relief. She took a couple steps backwards and leaned towards the ground, retrieving a small cloth bag stuffed to the brim with food.
Vega ran a few fingers through her hair and pulled the bag over her shoulder. Before I could ask, she blurted, “This was all I could get. My dads found me sneaking out, so I had to run. I didn’t have time to take clothes, I just grabbed whatever I could find in the cabinets and left.”
Leda patted her shoulder. “That’s fine, Vega,” she said reassuringly. “We’re the same size, so I’m sure you can fit into my clothes.” Vega shrugged and gave a sad smile. “It was hard leaving Emilio, but I know we’re doing the right thing.” Emilio was Vega’s older brother who died from a chronic illness a few years ago. They were quite close, from what I remember. Her family keeps a portrait of him in their living room so that he can look over them, so I know it must have been hard for Vega to leave her home without a piece of him.
“Let’s keep walking,” I said quietly and linked my arm through Vega’s. We walked along the empty asphalt road, our footsteps echoing through the cold night air.
. . .
We arrived at the bunker just as the sun was beginning to rise. The metal structure shone brightly against its rocky landscape; the black brass doorknob standing out from the rest. Leda approached the door first and entered its access code, a 16-digit number that only the three of us knew. There was a quiet buzzing sound and then the door opened, revealing a small room with scraps of furniture. Since we had to be secretive about our bunker and the items we stored in it, we weren’t able to ask the community for a large loan or multiple items of furniture. We had to be careful and cautious, not asking for too much while still getting the necessities.
A small white mini-fridge stood in the corner next to an outdoor grill. A pewter-coloured folding table sat next to the grill, a stack of plates resting on it. Across the room we had our bedroom area; three sleeping bags on top of a large air mattress. A few duffel bags lay on the floor filled with money, medicine, and first aid supplies that we had stashed away the past few months.
We dropped our bags on the floor and headed over to the beds, relaxing as soon as we sat down. I glanced up at the wall and saw a large piece of paper taped to it, filled with a detailed map of the city and its borders. There were lots of things we had put up on the walls, like escape plans, what to pack, and what parts we needed to build our ship. This one was new, though, the paper clean and crisp compared to the rest of them.
“When did you make that?” I asked Leda, motioning at the map. She was the only one in our group with decent cartography skills, and the city was well-drawn. Vega preferred to work with her hands, and for that reason, she was the head of the mechanics. She had already tracked down some pieces for our ship, although we would need to venture out of town to find everything.
“A few days ago,” Leda replied, following my gaze. “My parents were preoccupied with my sisters. They’re thinking of moving away when they graduate, which my parents aren’t ready for.” She shot me a look and then looked down at her feet, tapping her shoes slowly on the cold metal floor. In that split second, I could tell what she was thinking. If they aren’t ready for my sisters to leave, how will they react when they realize I’m gone? I walked over to her and sat down, taking her hands in mine.
“They’ll be fine,” I reassured her. “You left a note for them, right?” Leda nodded, looking up at me, her hazel eyes connecting with my indigo ones. “They’ll understand that what we’re doing is the right thing for the community. I mean, someone had to do something eventually.” Leda nodded and we stood up and faced Vega, who was analyzing what parts of the ship we needed to buy.
“So, what do we need?” Leda asked. Vega stood up from her crouched position, holding a sheet of paper in each hand. She handed them to us, and we read them over while she continued to talk. They had handwritten lists of parts and diagrams of the ship, with mathematical calculations scribbled in the margins. “Well, we have the exterior,” she responded. “We just need to insulate the interior. We also don’t have the most important part.” Vega added.
I looked up from the papers. I turned to Leda, and she shrugged. “Which is…?” I prompted. “Sorry. I’m not very good with mechanics.” Vega smiled and tucked her dark brown hair behind her ears, reaching her hands out for the papers.
“The engine,” replied Vega. “I can build most of it, which will save us some money, but there are some parts we still need to buy.” She turned around and reached for the tape in her pants pocket, attaching the designs to the wall. Vega walked over to the new map of Pirresdom, our town, that Leda had drawn.
“Here,” she said, motioning to the bottommost part of the drawing, “is where Pirresdom ends. Right past the mall. I’ve heard that in Minserdom, the next town, there is a mechanic who takes apart vehicles and sells their parts. One car engine won’t be enough to power our ship, but about four or five should do the trick.”
“How long do you think it’ll take to get there?” I asked, analyzing the map. It had taken us about three hours to walk from our neighbourhood to the bunker, and that was only about half of the map.
“Well, if we walked, probably around five to six hours,” Vega answered. “Without breaks.” She turned around to face us and pulled a folded piece of paper out of her back pocket. “But…we’ll have to leave now if we want to be back by night,” said Leda, concerned.
Vega unfolded the paper and turned it around, revealing a sketch of a car. It was an ash grey colour, complete with scratch marks and dents on the side. From the aerial view, it looked like it had five seats and a big trunk. It was the opposite of the sleek white cars that were a common sight in Pirresdom. Leda looked up from the paper, confused. “We don’t have to walk,” explained Vega. “We can drive.”
I spoke up, concerned. “We’re only thirteen–we can’t drive!”
Vega shrugged and sighed. “I know that,” she responded. “But if we want to get this done, we don’t really have a choice. And anyways, Leda–haven’t your parents been letting you test drive their car in the mall parking lot?”
Leda handed the paper back to Vega. “Well, yes, but I don’t think that really counts. I just drive in circles at a really low speed.” Vega stuck the car design up on the wall next to the list of pieces we needed for the ship.
“I can drive, then,” Vega suggested. “I saw this car parked in the back of the run-down neighbourhood beside the convenience store a few streets over. No one was in it or near it, and it looks pretty beat up. I think someone drove here from a neighbouring town and left their car here, so we can probably borrow it for a day or two.”
Leda sighed, running her fingers through her hair. “No, it’s fine. I can drive,” she offered. “I’m probably a better driver than you, anyways.”
Vega quipped, “I guess we’d better get going if we want to find that car, then.”
. . .
We had been walking for almost an hour when we finally reached the convenience store, its windows filled with faded “Closing Soon!” and “Everything is on Sale!” signs. This neighbourhood was once filled with liveliness and colour, but it wasn’t anymore.
“I think it’s right around here,” Vega announced, turning down a narrow street. The asphalt was no longer opaque black with mustard-coloured lane dividers, but a greyish bumpy mess that was heavily weathered. Leda and I followed in Vega’s footsteps, avoiding rocky areas and muddy patches. We passed a small red building, and then turned left into a grassy area. There, in the middle of the field, lay the beat-down grey car.
“Yesss!” Vega cheered. She ran towards the car and tried to pull the door open, only to find that it was locked. “Elara, could you pass me the crowbar?” Leda and I caught up to her and I handed her the tool. We stood back as she levered the door open, thankfully not setting off any alarms. She climbed into the driver’s seat and rested her hands on the steering wheel. Her feet dangled above the pedals, and when she noticed she turned to Leda and said, “Yup, you’re definitely driving.” Leda chuckled and sighed, motioning for Vega to move out of the driver’s seat. I heaved open the trunk and looked inside, expecting a much larger space than what there was.
“Do you think this is enough space?” I asked Vega, who turned around in the passenger’s seat.
“For the engines? We should be good,” she reassured me. Leda found the keys in the glove compartment and put them into the ignition, the car rumbling to start. I climbed into the backseat and fastened my seat belt, looking around the inside of the car. There were tons of papers scattered across the floor, filled with writing that looked like nonsense. One of them caught my eye and I picked it up, examining it.
The paper was a pale yellowish colour, clearly dated. It had a series of straight lines intersecting each other at 90-degree angles. I turned it around in my hands, trying to get a sense of what it was showing. Once I turned it upright, I noticed there was a small rectangle drawn at the top-left corner of the page with the marking “Vir”. I didn’t know any places or people named Vir, but maybe someone else did.
“Leda, Vega?” I asked, just as Leda was figuring out how the gear shift worked. The car lurched backwards quickly but then it stopped, Leda’s foot pressing hard into the brake.
“What is it?” questioned Vega, turning around to face me.
“I found this paper in the backseat,” I said, handing it over to Vega. “There’s something marked ‘Vir’, do you know anyone–or anything for that matter–with that name?”
Vega scratched her head, trying to examine the writing. “Are you sure that’s what it says?” she inquired, handing the paperback.
“I think so,” I responded. “The handwriting is a little messy, but it looks like it spells ‘V-I-R.’” Leda took her foot off the brake and we began to move forward slowly.
“Maybe it’s in another language,” Leda suggested. “There aren’t many languages that people speak here, so it shouldn’t take you long to figure out which one it is.”
Just then, my mind clicked into place. “What if it’s not a language people speak?” I probed. “What if it’s a language that’s just written?” I caught Leda’s expression in the rearview mirror, her eyebrows pressed together in confusion.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Do you think it’s a code of some sorts?”
“Not a code,” I responded. “But there are a few languages which are mainly written, not spoken.”
Vega caught on and simultaneously, we said, “Latin.” I turned around towards my bag, digging inside. Finally, my hand felt a small device, only about three inches wide. My auto-translator. I was fluent in four languages, but Latin wasn’t one of them.
I turned it on and it whirred softly, a bluish glow emitting from its small screen. When it prompted me with the “Ready?” screen, I pressed the white button in the centre and spoke “Vir”. A spinning circle appeared on the screen and then a sad face appeared, with text reading “Bad read. Please try again.” I pronounced it differently this time, sounding it out like “Veer” rather than “Virr”. The spinning circle reappeared, and then the translation popped up on the screen.
“Mall!” I exclaimed. “Vir means mall!” I began to study the lines and the other shapes on the screen, but there were no more words written. “I think this is a map.” I said to myself.
“A map?” asked Vega. “We don’t need it, then. We already have the one that Leda drew.”
“No, no,” I responded. “Look. This doesn’t look like our city. I think this is Minserdom.”
Vega reached for the map again, studying it closer. “You’re right,” she said slowly. “None of these lines–which I’m assuming are roads,” she explained, “look familiar. This looks like a pretty even grid, but Pirresdom has lots of curved roads and dead ends.”
“And look where the mall is on the map,” I pointed out. I reached over and tapped my finger on the page.
“Right at the top,” Vega realized. “If this is drawn with North pointing upwards, then this has to be Minserdom.”
“Do you think we could use it?” asked Leda, her eyes focused on the empty road as she made a left turn. “I mean, is it helpful, or is it kind of vague?”
“It seems pretty precise,” I responded. “There’s really specific spacing between the roads. Some of the lines are even thickened–more important routes, maybe.”
“Or wider roads,” suggested Vega. “Like the highways people used to have on Earth.”
“That’s a good point,” I added. “But I thought highways weren’t being made anymore? I mean, after what all that air pollution did to Earth…”
Vega shrugged and handed the map back to me. “I don’t know,” she pondered. “I know they were used in bigger cities, but I don’t think any cities on Paaliaq are that big.”
Leda turned onto the road our bunker was on, slowing down the car a few seconds later.
“Why are you stopping?” asked Vega. “We’re still further down the street.” Leda parked the car and unbuckled her seatbelt, reaching to open the door.
“If we park it in front of our bunker, someone could track us easily,” she responded. “We have to be careful.” We hopped out of the car and collected our bags, Leda pocketing the keys. “I know we won’t be out of the car for long, but we need to make sure that no one follows us.” she continued. We opened the bunker doors and stepped inside. “Now, let’s pack,” Leda offered. “If we want to be back by night, we’ll need to leave in less than an hour.”
. . .
About forty minutes later, we had loaded up our bags and were carrying them to the car. We wanted to bring enough in case we got stuck or in case the car broke down; it seemed pretty old, and we didn’t want to take any chances. Leda carried in the last two duffel bags of food and set them down in the trunk, brushing her hands off on her jeans. Vega walked out from the bunker, carrying an open bottle of water. She drank from it and then held it out towards us.
“Want some?” she asked. Leda graciously accepted and took a sip, sighing.
“It’s really hot today,” Vega commented. “Maybe not the best day to be in the car.”
“Yeah, I know. But we have to go today if we want to leave Paaliaq in the next week or so. We don’t have enough food to stay longer,” Leda replied.
“How much money do we have?” I asked. “Do you think we’ll have enough for the car engines?”
Leda pulled out a small white wallet from her pocket and opened it, pouring out the coins into her hand. About twenty coins fell out, a mix of copper- and silver-coloured pieces, each engraved with our community’s emblem: the lotus. On the opposite side, a series of numbers were stamped in with the year it was made. I walked over to Leda and took some in my hand, counting. All of my coins were made pretty recently, stamped with numbers between 48 and 51 PY (Paaliaq Years). This year is 52 PY, apparently, a low number compared to the thousands of years people on Earth counted. In our history books, the destruction of Earth was about 18 years PPY (Pre-Paaliaq Years), approximately 3000 AD. To this day, we still don’t know what AD stood for in their language, but our historians assume it had some sort of religious connotation.
“Elara?” Leda tilted her head and looked at me. “Are you okay?” I realized I had been turning the same coin over and over in my fingers mindlessly, getting caught up in my thoughts. “Yeah, of course,” I responded cheerfully. “Just got a little distracted.” I quickly sort my coins into copper and silver piles and add them to Leda’s, and she adds them up in her head. “13 copper and 8 silver,” she said, looking up at us. “You think that should be okay?” she asked Vega.
“Hmm…” Vega ran her fingers through her hair. “It should be okay if they don’t overcharge. Generally, they go for about seven copper or two silver if you buy new, but they cost less when you buy them used.”
“Maybe we should wait a few days and get some more money,” I suggested. “Just in case it’s too expensive. We don’t want to have to make two trips.”
“True,” Vega added. We turned to face Leda, who shook her head.
“It’s too risky. We need to leave soon in order to keep suspicions low,” she said, placing her hands on her hips. “Now, let’s go! Vega, you kept the maps out of the bags, right?” Vega nodded, handing over the maps. “No, you keep them,” Leda replied, walking around to the driver’s seat. “I’ll need you to direct me to our destination.” Vega hopped in the passenger seat and buckled her seatbelt.
“The first thing we need to do is to drive further down this street and turn left at the Centre,” Vega instructed, lightly tracing her finger across the map. I sat in between our bags in the backseat, pulling out a book for the ride. There weren’t many books in Pirresdom, but the Centre had a few shelves. The Centre was where our community would gather for meetings and where the few government officials worked. My mother was the mayor of this town, making it that much harder for me to leave. She was the best leader Pirresdom had ever had, but she didn’t have much to live up to. Our first leader was Arnold Gates, a descendant of Bill Gates, a wealthy human who previously lived on earth. Arnold was the scientist that forced all of us out of Earth before the destruction began, so naturally, we chose him as our leader. He only served twenty years, though, before he was kicked out of office for trying to enforce rules that would make him be worshipped as a deity. My mother was the next one elected.
“Take a right here,” Vega said, pointing at the road we were approaching. “And then you travel straight for a pretty long time. Close to forty minutes, I think.” The car slowed down and turned, all of our bags shifting to the left. I grabbed onto the bags, and thankfully nothing fell as the car continued to putter on. Vega turned on the radio and it played a quiet tune, a calming lyrical number that I hadn’t heard before. I cracked open my book titled The Destruction of Earth from the Eyes of Arnold Gates and began to read.
. . .
“Okay,” said Vega, pulling my attention away from my book. “I think we’re here.” I looked out the windows and saw that the rocky landscape of Pirresdom was nowhere to be seen–instead, there were gravelly streets layered with cobblestone. The houses were made of a deep red brick, each fashioned with a pale white door. These houses were spread quite far apart, with fences separating properties.
“This must be Minserdom,” I spoke quietly, amazed at the differences between our communities. Our town was small and consisted of many similar buildings, all grey and white tones, while this community seemed to be less modern.
“Where did you say the mechanic lived?” asked Leda, parking the car. We began to grab a few of our bags and get out of the car. I hoisted my backpack over my shoulders and passed Vega her bag. Leda sported two cloth bags, one red and one blue, on her shoulders. One contained food and the other necessities: first aid supplies, money, and extra clothing.
“I think it’s the one with the newer stairs,” replied Vega. “I heard that their house was more recently built.” None of the houses had numbers or any markings that differentiated them from their neighbours, so we began walking down the road and checking the stairs on each house. Most of them were a greyish colour with a black railing, each leading to a short path that connected it to the road. There were minor differences from house to house: one had different trimmings on its windows, one had a wooden doorknob instead of a brass one, and one had cleaner stairs. Wait–one had cleaner stairs!
“This one!” I called out, stopping at a house where the bricks were richer in colour, the door wasn’t as beat up, and the roof wasn’t as weathered by the constant rain on Paaliaq. Leda and Vega turned my way, and we began to walk on its path. Leda dug in one of her bags and pulled out the white wallet, re-counting the money to make sure we had enough. She zipped it up and placed it in her back pocket, cutting her strides short as she turned around to face us.
“Okay, remember,” she started. “We won’t let them overcharge us. We’ll say we’re from the town over and need a few car engines because we have an unexpected shortage,” Vega and I nodded. “If they ask who we are, make up fake names. We don’t want to give them any clues as to what we’re doing or where we live,” She turned back around and took a deep breath. We climbed up the stairs and Leda reached forward to knock on the door. “Ready?” she asked quietly, turning her head slightly.
“Yeah,” breathed Vega. I caught Leda’s eyes and nodded, and she went ahead, knocking on the door three times. When there wasn’t an immediate response, she tried again.
“Excuse me?” she asked loudly. “We’re here to see the–”
The door swung open to reveal a young girl with pale skin and orange hair styled in a short ponytail. She was slightly taller than me but shorter than the rest of our group, so I assumed she was around our age. Her face was covered in light brown freckles and her eyes were a bright green. She wore a pale grey tank top underneath an unbuttoned, short-sleeve, checkered flannel shirt. Her jeans were ripped at the knees and her white shoes were scuffed, and she wore blue fingerless gloves that were stained black at the palm, likely the result of extensive hands-on work.
“What do you want?” she asked abruptly, a hint of a lisp showing while she spoke. Her eyes looked bored and her eyebrows were raised, clearly showing a sign of disinterest. Her left hand held the door open halfway as if blocking us from seeing inside the house. Her right hand gripped a thick stack of yellowed papers, each messily written on with a black pen.
“Hi there. Is this where the mechanic lives?” Leda asked politely. Her hands rested calmly at her sides, showing no sign of nervousness. I envied that–my hands were clasped in front of me, trying not to fidget too much.
“You’re looking at her,” the girl grunted. She looked outside briefly and caught a glimpse of our battered-up rental car and sighed. “You want me to fix that up?” she asked, nodding her head towards it. Vega and I turned around to look at the car, but Leda maintained eye contact.
“No thank you,” replied Leda. The girl began to close the door and turn away, but Leda caught it and held it open. “We heard you sell engines?” Leda smiled and the girl looked even more bored if that was possible.
“Yeah,” she responded. “Your car break down?”
“No,” Leda replied sweetly. “But our community needs some extra engines. We ran out a few days ago, and we were wondering if you could give us some.”
The girl opened the door wider and motioned for us to come in. “Sure,” she answered. “But I don’t just give them out for free.”
We passed a small kitchen and a table with two chairs and two closed doors until we got to her garage. “What’s your community called?” the girl asked, looking over her shoulder as we entered her workspace. We stopped walking once we entered, but the girl continued to walk slowly and look around as if trying to find something.
Leda and Vega turned to face me, clueless as to what to say. “U-Uh,” I spoke quietly. The girl’s attention turned to me, and she waited, her hands folded in front of her. “Wallasdom,” I said louder, cringing inside. The girl raised an eyebrow slowly, but then shrugged slightly.
“Cool,” she responded. “Never heard of that.” She turned around and walked over to a shelf with lots of large drawers. I closed my eyes and sighed, relieved that she didn’t ask more questions. Leda patted my shoulder and smiled at me when I opened my eyes. I returned her smile wearily, grasping her hand in mine.
“What kind of engines d’you guys want?” the girl asked. “I’m Aries, by the way.” Leda smiled at her and reached out to shake her hand, saying “Leda” as she did so. She then motioned to Vega and me, introducing us. Aries nodded slowly and then motioned at her shelves filled with engines.
“So…” she prompted. Vega stepped forward and pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket, unfolding it and showing her a diagram of the engines we were looking for. Aries nodded and Vega followed her to the back corner of the garage, where she started sorting through another shelf.
A few minutes later, Aries and Vega returned.
“Here you go,” Aries said, carrying a bin of car engines towards us. Vega followed behind her, carrying an identical clear bin, but this one was full of wires. They set their bins down on a table against the wall, and Leda and I joined them.
“I think these engines should work,” Vega explained. “They’ve definitely got enough power for our…cars,” she said, glancing over at us.
“You’ll also need these wires to attach them to the rest of your car,” Aries said. “Vega says you guys have a pretty universal system, so these wires should work.”
“Thanks,” Leda said and pulled out her wallet. She shook out the coins into her hands and then looked up at Aries as if asking how much she wanted for them. Aries leaned forward and inspected the coins, looking somewhat confused.
“Nah, it’s fine,” she said, and stood up straight as if she knew what Leda was asking. “I don’t think your currency would work here anyways. We’re a pretty small town, so our community probably wouldn’t find any use for your money.”
“I thought Minserdom used the same currency as us,” I mumbled, looking at Leda. Aries heard what I said and raised her eyebrows.
“Minserdom? This isn’t Minserdom,” she said, confused. My eyes widened and I glanced over at Vega, who reciprocated my expression.
“Minserdom is huge,” Aries continued. “We’re right on the edge of Pirresdom, but we call our community ‘Atlas.’ Where did you say you were from, again?”
I was silent. This is Pirresdom? I thought worriedly. What if she figures out who we are? Leda smiled politely at Aries.
“Um, Warres–I mean, Wallasdom,” Leda said, clasping her hands behind her back. I smiled nervously at Aries, trying to look truthful and innocent.
Aries scanned our faces suspiciously, but then shrugged and started pulling engines out of the bins.
“I have a bad memory,” she explained. Then she looked up at Vega, and then at me and Leda, and asked, “How many engines?”
Vega quickly responded, “U-Um, six?”
Aries pulled out a third engine and placed it on the table slowly. She sighed and dug her hands into her back pockets.
“Look. You clearly aren’t from this ‘Wallasdom’ place, and I don’t think you need these engines for cars.” Leda caught my eyes and we didn’t speak. Aries shrugged her shoulders. “You don’t have to tell me what you’re doing. It’s fine.” We sighed in relief collectively, and my shoulders instantly relaxed. I didn’t even realize they were tense.
“But, if you did tell me what you were doing…” Aries suggested. “I could probably make sure you had the right engines and wires,” she said. Leda, Vega and I glanced at each other nervously, and then Vega finally spoke up.
“Okay, so…we’re from Pirresdom. But not from around here. More northern. And…we’re trying to build a ship. To get off of Paaliaq,” Vega said slowly. “That’s why we need the engines.”
“Oh,” Aries said. There was a long pause. “Why’re you leaving Paaliaq?”
“Well…” Vega paused. Leda glanced over at her, and then back to Aries. “Our community is running out of resources,” Leda explained. “And nothing’s really being done to fix that. So we’re going to try to get off of Paaliaq and find another moon, or maybe even a planet, that we can live on.”
“That’s cool,” Aries responded. “Yeah, our community has been sparse in clothing recently. This,” she motioned at the clothes she was wearing, “–is some of the only stuff I have.” We all nodded, the silence more powerful than words. After what felt like hours, I spoke.
“Hey, did you…want to come with us?” I suggested, and Leda and Vega immediately turned to look at me, concerned. I glanced at them but then continued. “I mean, only if you want to. You know your way around engines and stuff, so you could probably help to speed up the process of building our ship. And then we can leave Paaliaq together,” I explained.
Aries seemed to think for a minute, tilting her head up slightly and folding her arms in front of her.
“Okay,” she said finally, and I grinned.
“Awesome!” I said and then turned to see Leda and Vega. They were smiling too, and I felt relieved. We grabbed our bags and Vega began loading the engines back into the bins. “I’m gonna go pack some stuff,” Aries said. “Just give me a minute.”
True to her word, Aries met us outside about five minutes later, carrying a duffel bag. We walked to the car together, and we packed it up again. Leda checked her watch and looked up at the sky. “It’s already 16:40,” she said, worriedly. “I don’t want to drive when it’s dark. Maybe we should wait to leave until the morning.”
Aries agreed. “We can stay here,” she suggested. “After all, if we leave before 5:00, we shouldn’t run into my dad.”
“I think that should work,” Leda said. “Are you sure you have enough space for us? We can always sleep in the car and then meet you in the morning.”
“It’s no problem! We have a spare bedroom, so there should be lots of space,” Aries responded. “And you don’t have to unpack the car fully, just grab what you need for tonight. I have lots of food in my fridge too, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
We followed Aries back inside, carrying a few bags each. The day quickly turned into night, and soon we were climbing into bed in the room next to Aries’. There wasn’t an alarm clock in the spare bedroom, so Aries volunteered to wake us up when her alarm went off. Tired after a long day of work, we fell asleep quickly and awaited the next day.
. . .
My eyes opened slowly as the sun beamed in through the windows of the spare bedroom, feeling well-rested from a long night of sleep. Vega and Leda were on either side of me, fast asleep. I rubbed my eyes and looked around for a clock, wondering how early I had woken up. When did Aries set her alarm to, again? I thought as I climbed out of bed slowly.
I opened the bedroom door quietly and then walked down the hall a few steps until I reached Aries’ room. The door was closed, which was weird. Didn’t Aries leave her door open last night? I wondered, but then shrugged it off. I knocked twice on the door, then opened it slowly. “Aries?” I whispered. “Are you awake?”
But when I opened the door fully, Aries wasn’t there. Instead, I saw a man sleeping in the bed, snoring softly. I was confused at first, but then I saw he had the same orange hair and pale skin as Aries. This must be Aries’ dad! I realized, and was about to close the door, thinking I had the wrong room, when I saw the alarm clock sitting on the table beside the bed.
The red numbers read “8:04”. I was frozen. 8:04? I thought. That can’t be true. But then I remembered that Aries had said her dad got home at 5:00. Aries forgot to wake us up early before her dad came, I thought initially. But when I looked around the room and looked quickly around the rest of the house and found no trace of Aries, I realized: she left us here. On purpose.
Immediately, I ran to the spare bedroom. I shook Leda and Vega awake, who groggily ignored me and tried to go back to sleep. “Leda! Vega!” I said loudly. “Wake up!” Finally, Leda sat up and looked at me confused. “Wasn’t Aries supposed to wake us up?” she asked. “What are you doing awake?”
“It’s 8:04,” I said, my voice shaking. “Aries didn’t wake us up when she said she would. She left without us.”
“What?” Leda was wide awake now and was pulling Vega out of bed. “What do you mean?” As I tried to explain, she walked over to the window. When she turned around, her eyes were wide in horror. Mid-explanation, I stopped.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know the answer.
“Aries…” Leda said slowly. “Aries took the car.”
In a flash, the three of us were up and packing our bags. We didn’t have much on us: some clothes and snacks, but not nearly enough food to last us a day. All of our food was in the rest of our bags, in the car. We got dressed fast and ran downstairs, stressed as to what to do next.
“Aries said she had food,” Vega remembered. “She said she had food in the fridge!” We ran to the kitchen and opened the fridge, grabbing fresh fruits and water, leftovers and canned goods. “What do we do?” I asked frantically. “Do we get another car?” Leda shook her head. “We can’t,” she said. “If we ask someone for their car, it’ll only make them more suspicious.”
“So you’re saying…” Vega trailed off. Leda nodded sadly. “We’ll have to walk,” she said. I slung my backpack over my shoulders and grabbed a bag of food, walking towards the door. “Vega, you still have your map, right?” Leda asked, carrying two cloth bags and slipping her shoes on. Vega nodded, pulling the rest of our bags toward the door. She pulled it out of her back pocket and held it out. “We’ll have to follow the route we drove,” Vega said tiredly. “It could take us the entire day.” Leda sighed and opened the door. “We don’t have a choice,” she said. “So let’s start moving.”
. . .
We finally arrived back at our base, panting and gasping for air. The sun was scorching, beating down on our backs as we fanned ourselves with our hands. Vega sat on the ground, wiping sweat from her forehead, as Leda used the wall as a crutch for her head, trying to calm her breathing down. I leaned over and pushed all my weight into my hands, which rested on my knees. This journey was a lot harder than we had expected.
Finally, someone spoke. “I think we have water inside,” rasped Leda, motioning to the door. I nodded a sign of agreement and stepped over to the keypad, my vision hazy from overheating. I leaned against the door while I was about to type on the keypad, but the door opened anyway. That’s weird, I thought to myself. I thought we locked it when we left.
I opened the door fully and fell to the floor, my body coming back to its normal temperature with my hands pressed against the cold metal. I heard two pairs of footsteps follow in after me, but they abruptly stopped a few seconds later. Without opening my eyes, I grumbled, “Vega, could you pass me some water?” When there was no response, I tilted my head to the side, only to see Vega and Leda staring straight ahead in total shock. I stood up numbly from the floor, rubbing my eyes as I did so. When I finally blinked my eyes open, I saw our parents in front of us.
I froze. No one uttered a single word. My mom, Leda’s parents, Vega’s dads, and Aries sat at our dining table, their hands in their laps, staring directly at us. I heard a loud thump, only to see Vega’s arms completely numb, her bag laying on the floor. My mom stood up and adjusted her shirt, her hands flat on the table. She didn’t say anything for a few seconds but then walked towards us slowly. She paused, her piercing blue eyes meeting my own.
All of a sudden, the silence was broken and she embraced me, saying “We were so worried!” and “What were you thinking?” Vega and Leda rejoiced with their parents, breaking down the minute they hugged. The bunker was full of emotions: loud ones, unforgettable ones. I squeezed my mom tightly and cried into her arms, trying to talk but no words would form.
I glanced over my mom’s shoulder and saw Aries sitting at the table, looking guilty. She looked at me warily, and I could see the fear in her eyes. What was she thinking? I wondered. We had everything planned out. If she didn’t want to come, she should have just said so.
After a few minutes, we broke away and joined them at the table, where we pulled out the remainder of our food from our bags. The room was filled with conversation–everyone was curious as to why we had left, where we were going, and what had happened since we left.
My mom motioned towards our bags and asked, “Were you trying to escape?” All eyes turned on us, and I felt compelled to speak.
“Not escape, really,” I said nervously. “More like…trying to leave.” I glanced over at Leda, and she took over.
“It’s no secret that Paaliaq doesn’t supply enough resources for our community,” Leda said calmly, and the adults murmured in agreement. “So, we decided to do something about it. We had planned to find a way off of Paaliaq. We gathered the equipment to build a ship so that we could travel to the other moons, hopefully finding one that would be able to house a population as large as us.”
“But we ran into some trouble,” Leda continued. “We were missing an engine for our ship, and we needed to find someone who could supply it to us without asking too many questions. We planned to go to Minserdom, but we didn’t know where exactly we were going, and we ended up at a different mechanic, where we found Aries.”
“Long story short, we stayed the night at Aries’ place, but then had to walk home. We planned on driving, but, um,” Leda glanced at Aries, who avoided her eyes. “That didn’t happen.”
Leda shifted in her seat so that she was facing Aries. “Why’d you leave?” she asked, annoyed.
Aries tried to explain. “I saw the designs for your ship. There’s no way that would have lasted more than five minutes after takeoff,” she responded. “It was too dangerous. I had to do something.”
“We’re just glad that you’re all safe,” reassured Leda’s mom. “We were so worried when we saw your note yesterday morning,” she said, turning to Leda. The rest of the adults nodded, and my mom squeezed my hand.
“You know,” my mom said, “although leaving us unexpectedly wasn’t the right idea, I’m proud of you girls for doing something.” She smiled kindly at me. “To be honest, Pirresdom has been trying to conserve its resources for our future journey off of Paaliaq, which I’m sure you’ve noticed due to the shortage of food and water. We’ve been planning a trip for a while, but we weren’t sure when was the right time to act on it.”
One of Vega’s dads, Martin, who was a member of the community council, spoke up. “We didn’t want to admit to the rest of our community that we weren’t being responsible with our resources.”
My mom nodded, adding, “We tried to keep our plan a secret. But now that you girls tried to go on a trip yourselves, I think it’s due time that we get the rest of the community involved in working on this trip.”
Vega spoke up. “When were you planning for us to leave?” she asked.
“In about six months,” Martin responded. “But with some extra hands on deck, I’m sure we can be good to go in less than a month.”
“How about this,” my mom suggested. “I’ll make an announcement to the community tomorrow morning, and we can collaborate with Minserdom and Atlas–” she smiled at Aries, “–to find a more reliable habitat for everyone on Paaliaq.”
“That sounds good,” I said and smiled at Aries, who nervously returned it.
That night, our families discussed detailed plans over dinner. Leda, Vega, and I reconnected with Aries. We chatted about lots of things, but mostly what it would be like to live somewhere other than Paaliaq. Leda couldn’t stay angry at Aries for long, especially when she agreed to help with the mechanics of the ship. Although things didn’t work out the way we thought they would, we were glad change was on the horizon.
Why I Wrote This Piece