Copyright 2015 by T.J. Seitz
The Council of Elders banned most fiction books soon after they officially proclaimed that The Plague had ended.
Everyone is taught that The Plague began in February of 2017. It was initiated by a Middle East terrorist group called ISIS a few months after they captured the country of Israel and gained access to some of that country’s top secret research.
A scientist associated with the extremist organization hastily manufactured genetically-mutated germs in one of their hidden laboratories. Many of those parasites were resistant to all antibiotics and could live on surfaces or airborne for extended periods, until a suitable host was found.
One in particular caused nearly every human who came into contact with it to lose all body fluid. The bacterium behaved like a microscopic sponge that rapidly reproduced and literally sucked the life from its victims.
The biologist and his sponsors were not the sharpest tools in the shed. They obviously didn’t put a whole lot of thought into what might happen after the specimen was removed from their lab.
I wonder if the leaders of ISIS believed that the tactic would result in a quicker victory, in the lines of when America dropped a-bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan during World War II.
Instead they killed off seventy-five percent of the world’s adult population over thirty and around fifty percent of those under thirty years old within the first eighteen months of the catastrophic event.
The microbes were especially fatal to males who were vaccinated for chickenpox or never endured the disease as children. Having high cholesterol, diabetes or being malnourished was also a death sentence. Oddly, most women of Native American origins who were menstruating or pregnant were not affected by the organism. Their children (both boys and girls) who nursed for at least the first year of their lives were also resistant to the infection.
I find it ironic how the same group of people who were nearly annihilated by common illnesses, such as the flu, when Europeans started living in the Americas fared much better than the rest of the world. The Plague was a form of celestial karma for my ancestors.
Before getting too far ahead of myself I should probably take the time to stop and introduce myself.
My birth name is Teresa Rider. Most of my friends and remaining family members back on Earth called me Terri. However, here on Mars everyone thinks my name is Lilith.
I was born twenty six-years ago but am only considered around twenty-three because of all the time I spent in stasis on a transport ship.
There’s nothing outwardly exceptional about me.
I’m five foot, six inches tall and weighed one hundred and thirty-two pounds (on Earth). I have short brown hair, brown eyes and recently started wearing glasses.
I’m not good at math or building stuff and don’t really have much to say. Crowds make me feel anxious.
My memory and tendency to over-analyze things are probably my most apparent traits. I’d consider those two qualities both a strength and weakness.
I like to observe and help people.
I was raised on a small family farm (if you could even call it that) inside the Creole Quadrant of Louisiana by my maternal grandmother Abigail.
Abby McKay was a stubborn, independent old woman who spoke with a thick Cajun accent. She was born and raised around the bayou.
Granny was half French-Creole (She claimed to be more Ishak or Atakapa than French though.) and half Scotch-Irish (Which was probably an oversimplification on her part because her mother’s family was actually one-hundred percent Cherokee. They adopted the family name of McKay at some point before leaving the reservation in Oklahoma for better job opportunities in Lafayette, Louisiana. ).
She complained a lot and rarely said anything nice about men. Both of her common law husbands left her for other women long before I was born.
The lady was just four feet nine inches tall and fat. She waddled around with a limp because her hip needed replacing but she refused to do the surgery because, “She wanted to leave this world with all the parts she came into it with at birth.”
Her hair was naturally curly, long, thick and dark brown, without a trace of gray. It was impossible to tell how old she was; she always looked the same as far back as I can remember. Her plump round face hid any wrinkles she might have had if she were skinnier.
She always wore simple homespun housedresses with a frilly apron tied over them and walked around barefoot. I’m pretty sure she was half blind but she instinctively knew her way around her house and property by feel (and sound) making it unnecessary for her to wear glasses.
My mother, Fran, ran off with a guy whose last name was Redman when I was two years old. I don’t remember either of them. My dad died before I was born. His name was Jessie. I think I have an uncle but he was raised by his father and his second wife.
My grandmother did not talk much about any of them. I have a feeling that Granny thought my mother abandoned her just like my mother’s father did years before.
I’m unsure about the circumstances regarding Gran’s son. Whenever I tried to talk about any those subjects she’d choke up a bit, say things like, “I’m an old woman honey, my memory is not as good as it used to be, “or “Let’s leave the past alone and worry about something we have more control over like now or the future, “then change the topic to something less disturbing for her.
When I turned thirteen, Granny enrolled me in a five year vocational boarding school near Atlanta, Georgia. She didn’t want me spending the rest of my life living in a backward community where most people only had two choices to improve their lives; marriage or the military. Both were big gambles in Granny’s mind so when government recruiters offered me a scholarship that paid full tuition plus room and board she quickly seized the opportunity and signed me up.
After graduating and completing my apprenticeship there I was assigned to work at a health care facility in Eugene, Oregon.
Auntie Helen, Granny’s sister, and Helen’s daughter Esther moved in with my grandmother soon after I left. Helen’s husband died and they needed a place to live. Granny offered them my old room.
My colleagues and I talk a lot about food and our past lives. Melancholy or homesickness is a common problem here, so. Nearly everyone I know is in therapy or taking some kind of anti-anxiety medication because of it. I miss my home life but not my home.
It’s easier for me because most of my family is either dead or were never around to begin with. There’s not much to long for. Someday though I hope to have kids of my own and recreate the feelings I experienced living with my grandmother.
Our solar-powered modular home was full of smells and sounds.
There were four lazy Tom cats (Granny preferred male cats because she liked their disposition better) who were better at shedding fur than catching mice and a black labra-dork dog named Molly who liked to eat poop and thought she was a person. (Granny was always chasing her off the furniture and away from the litterboxes.)
When I was eight, I remember setting a spot for the dog at the kitchen table (for fun). She got right up onto the chair and waited patiently to be served. I put a bowl of dog food on the table in front of her and she refused it. I then put some mashed potatoes, green beans and a hot dog on the plate and she carefully ate it. Granny saw what I did and yelled at me to not waste food.
I had to keep my bedroom door shut at night or all the animals would try to get onto the bed with me. Molly was a bed hog, had stinky breath and snored when she slept. The cats would wrestle with each other and pester me to get up and feed them at all hours of the night.
Despite her arthritis and frozen shoulder, my grandmother used to bake bread at least twice a week, can the vegetables we grew in our garden, knit and make a lot of the clothes we wore with an old sewing machine that her grandmother bought her when she turned ten. She claimed it was to save money but I think it was because she needed to keep busy and avoided shopping at most of the larger retail stores because she thought they exploited poor people.
I hated feeding the chickens and weeding. We lived in swamp country. It was almost always hot and muggy. The bugs drove me crazy. It would not bother me in the least bit if I never saw another snake or alligator for the rest of my life, which is quite possible now since I live on Mars where there are none.
There weren’t many neighbors. We were surrounded by marsh and farm land.
Outside of school I only had a couple of playmates. Sabina and Caroline Taylor were twin sisters who lived across the road. They were almost a year older than me but in the same grade. We all spent a lot of time together, avoiding their four older brothers who liked to terrorize us until they were old enough to join the army and move away.
Those boys were always trying to get us to scream or chasing us with gross stuff like dead fish or rotten eggs.
I remember sleeping over their house one time and being woken up in the middle of the night by Dickie, the youngest of the bunch, standing over me with a pitcher of slime water. I screamed so loud that I woke the whole house up. Before he could dump the sludge on me his father appeared out of the shadows and grabbed his ass. He got the beating of his life and never dared bother us again.
We could hear him getting yelled at, spanked and crying in the next room over. Mr. Taylor came out with the red faced boy afterward and politely apologized for the drama. Dickie also told me that he was sorry, while holding back his tears.
I learned later on that Mr. Taylor had been doing double shifts at the dairy he worked at for extra money and was not getting much sleep lately. He apparently warned all four boys to not wake him up or there’d be Hell to pay. I guess Dickie did not believe him or forgot. He was not the brightest bulb in their family.
I liked going to their house because they had better Internet access. Granny was not a big fan of the Internet. The woman was always suspicious of it and thought people should not be so dependent on it. She refused to apply for additional data rations (even though she was qualified to) and only subscribed to the cheapest service so that I could do my schoolwork which meant that streaming video did not work well at our house.
The Taylor girls preferred spending time at my place because it was air-conditioned; one of the few luxuries my Grandmother chose to afford.
My room was small and pretty plain but I loved it. I spent many hours in there studying and thinking about life.
The walls were painted light pink. I had one window that looked over Granny’s flower garden (She loved sunflowers and gerbera daisies). My twin bed was covered by a hand sewn patch work quilt. There was a purple shag throw rug at the foot of my bed. The night stand next to my bed had a small clock radio and an old refurbished brass lamp shaped like a cherub. I had a desk and chair but never used it because I usually just worked on my tablet computer while sitting on my mattress or the floor.
Nighttime, after dinner, before I went to bed, was my favorite time as a child. Granny would sit down in her chair with her embroidery and tell me all the stories she grew up hearing.
I learned about Uncle Remus and Briar Rabbit, Aesop’s Fables, Mickey Mouse, The Knights of the Round Table, Frodo Baggins, Rocky and Bullwinkle, H.R. Pufinstuf and someone called Batman just to name a few. Sitting quietly and listening to her narrate a seemingly endless supply of fairytales was a gift for me. The only string she attached to the occasion was that I was not to repeat what I heard to anyone until she had passed away.
Initially she acted like the stories were magic and that I could not tell them to anyone until I had kids or else their special powers would be lost but as I got older I realized that a lot of what she told me was considered questionable in the post-Plague world and that she did not want her or I to get into any trouble. I respected her wishes.
A number of studies were conducted by the International Center for Disease Study and Control between 2021 and 2026. It was determined that all Plague survivors had or developed immunity to the deadly organism, causing it to essentially die off in the end. However, the details of those investigations were never published so it’s not very clear how or why officials came to that conclusion.
Interestingly enough, the counties of the world most devastated by The Plague were way overpopulated anyway. The crisis was almost a blessing in disguise for the planet.
Because of the astronomical death toll in places like China, India and the West Coast of Africa there was not enough time to bury or even burn the dead. Survivors were forced to just flee those regions, especially cities, before other serious health problems associated with endless piles decomposing bodies could prevent them from leaving.
Thousands of locations were quarantined. No one was allowed to re-enter them until over a decade later in some cases when it was deemed safe to clean up and rebuild.
Humanity got a grip back on itself between the years of 2020-21, but it still took another fifteen years or so before all the civil unrest elapsed and economies healed. Throughout the Redemption Period (2020-2035) governments united then reorganized themselves. Order was slowly reinstated, putting Society back on track, similar to what happened after the period between 1945 and the early 1960’s during the previous century.
To boost citizen morale, government and religious leaders redirected everyone’s attention towards the stars, instead of the past.
Several undisclosed multi-national exploration posts were established on both the Moon and Mars during the early 1990’s. The governments of Russia, China and the United States quietly sent soldiers, geologists and engineers to those locations for over twenty-five years before anyone credible noticed.
In late 2015 a large natural gas field was detected underneath the Martian surface. The availability of fuel made it feasible to send more than a handful of people to live there.
The Plague occurred during a very inopportune time. Everything fell apart several weeks after the findings were made public. The discoveries on Mars were quickly overshadowed by the chaos on Earth. Misfortune put a wrench in Earth’s colonization efforts and brought planetary travel to a standstill for almost five years.
By the late-Summer of 2020, soon after The Plague ended, new private and publicly funded programs were hastily created and existing ones augmented to expand those military-science bases into fully functioning colonies.
Sending humans (and other life) to Mars and the Moon became just as important to world leaders as rebuilding the Earth because everyone knew that the human race would not endure a similar blow. We needed to inhabit other places besides our home planet to guarantee long-term survival of the species.
By 2026 regularly scheduled supply flights were launched every six months from Earth to off-planet communities. A year after that transport ships where being sent to the moon annually and then Mars every eighteen months to two years, when the two planets are closest to each other.
I’ve always been wary of humans living in outer space. The idea sounds reasonable in theory but becomes problematic when practiced. It makes me wonder if we are just another form of invasive species within the context of the universe.
In biology class we learned that many of the creatures that currently live in the Florida Everglades and Louisiana Swamps are not native to those regions. Exotic pet owners released their snakes, lizards and monkeys there after they became too much of a hassle to properly care for. Those abandoned animals easily adapted to their new homes, killed off native species and thrived.
Did something similar happen with us? What if humans didn’t originate on Earth? Did ignorant aliens dump a bunch of people off on Earth after becoming overwhelmed by the responsibility of keeping them captive?
The deed would be equivalent to leaving an unneutered cat on a farm in the country.
Allowing a healthy pet to continue living is easier on the conscience than euthanasia. Former owners often trick themselves into believing that their opportunistic felines will simply live out the rest of its life as an idyllic barn cat catching nuisance rodents, not fathering lots of feral kittens, suffering from malnutrition and serving as a host for infected fleas and ticks.
After being left behind to fend for them-selves humans multiplied and overran the planet, forcing native life to adjust to those changes or become extinct.
Humans are also naturally curious and very ambitious, given enough time they will figure stuff out. Technology, science and civilization advanced together over time causing humans to eventually outgrow Earth and start looking towards the heavens for new opportunities and endeavors.
My crazy theory proves that both science and religion (Evolution and the stories in the Bible) are simultaneously true in a symbolic sense but I’d never dare say anything because it would cause too much controversy.
History lectures are a fundamental part of elementary school, along with math science and some universal skills like cooking and sewing. Anchorpeople and journalists reporting on the news also discuss the past regularly. The average person has little choice but to trust what they are told.
Sometimes though I can’t help but to wonder if a lot of the footage posted on View-Tube is just propaganda fabricated by the government to quash scrutiny and panic after fifteen years of uncertainty.
Only a quarter of the world’s population over thirty survived The Plague after all was said and done. Of that number more than half were women.
Those individuals, by default, became acknowledged by the honorary title Elder or Elders (for more than one) and the ten oldest members of that group were deemed the Council of Elders or the Council for short.
Some believe that our Elders survived because of good genes, others claim it was just blind luck. The Religious Leaders of The Four Recognized Faiths insist it was the will of God or Fate.
A lot of people depended on their guidance. It didn’t matter whether it was nature, chance, providence or destiny because in the end the task of rebuilding the world was left up to them. Circumstances obligated that elite group of men and women to figure out how to jumpstart development and get human civilization moving forward again.
Unfortunately for citizens who are more free-spirited and abstract, the original Council of Elders was a practical lot. They were very literal-minded, pious and saw no value in intellectual pursuits that were not vocational, mathematical or scientific in nature.
The first Council was made up of three migrant farmers, an iron worker, two clergy (a Buddhist monk and a Roman Catholic bishop), a business woman, a mason, a maid and a retired math professor.
No one can say for sure if it was just timing or that the assemblage of leaders entirely supported what they decreed.
The concept of banning of controversial books, sports, games and music was nothing new at the time.
Music was often censored by radio stations by either beeping out provocative lyrics or not playing songs altogether. Jewish composers and Jazz was banned by the Nazi’s during their regime. Writers, actors and musicians who were accused or admitted communists were blacklisted throughout the 1950’s and denied opportunities to work. During the early 1990’s Parental Advisory labels were placed on many compact discs and cassette tapes sold in stores because of influential lobbyists like Tipper Gore.
A number of conventional and video game series like and were shunned and criticized by the Media because they promoted violence and crime. Sports, mainly football, hockey, boxing and basketball were heavily regulated to help prevent needless injuries, discourage overly aggressive behaviors, illegal activities like gambling and drug abuse.
Works such as and were often removed from libraries by school boards. Religious leaders forbid followers from reading and .
Between 2019 and 2024 a number of unusual accidents were reported on in the news that caused a lot of concern amongst people. Several little kids were seriously hurt on school buses and in cars because they or someone nearby was reading a book. Those occurrences were exploited and sensationalized by the Media in the same fashion as mass shootings in schools were when most Elders were young.
I remember watching a video in my junior year social studies class. It described how a toddler was blinded by the sharp corner of the picture book she was looking at. She tripped while walking with the open book and fell on the pointy edge. Soon afterward five boys were injured when the school bus they were riding in had to quickly stop. They were not sitting down and all gathered around a classmate who was reading a popular graphic novel. One of the boys slammed his head into the side of a seat and broke his neck. Lawsuits for back injuries caused by students being forced to carrying heavy textbooks in backpacks had also been commonplace for many years at the time.
The costly problem directly associated with books was initially resolved by many communities by outright banning them in certain places and/or restricting their possession, similar to what was done with tobacco products
The four men and six women who comprised the original Council of Elders upheld the popular notions that artistic or recreational undertakings associated with music, games, dancing, non-documentary type movies and sports were a waste of time. They also agreed at the time that reading’s sole purpose for relaying information (facts and instructions) not fun.
Measures were quickly taken by lawmakers to reflect and enforce those sentiments. .
Broadcast TV was replaced by existing live-streamed channels on the Internet where programming content could be monitored more rigorously. Twenty four hour news, ask the expert hotline and voyeuristic themed online channels became the standard when weekly prerecorded episodes of most non-family orientated popular Prime Time shows ceased to exist.
Radio stations continued to operate traditionally as well over the Internet. Individual stations became the responsibility of the Congress of the Four Recognized Religions. Radio programming is predominantly spiritual in nature or talk show based so young people like me hardly listened to it.
Nomenclature was even updated to reflect new attitudes. Approved reading material became known as text. Illegal writing was referred to negatively as a book.
A new branch of government service was also created. The Guardians of Morality were jointly conceived by the Council of Elders and the leaders of the Four Recognized Religions to help enforce change.
Few openly protested the new edicts. The decision to outlaw books and leisurely behavior was easily justified by the fact that the human race was nearly wiped out and that those who survived needed to spend their time productively focused on rebuilding, not fantasizing or playing games.
Everyone had bigger problems on their minds than reading novels or watching soccer on TV. The Masses just assumed that the new rulings were made for the “greater good” and moved on with their day to day lives, unaffected for the most part.
Individuals were encouraged to channel their creative urges towards homespun or utilitarian aims such as building furniture, cooking/baking/preserving foods, knitting, embroidery, quilting, growing vegetables or planting a tree garden. Exercising, yoga and martial arts also became popular pastimes for teenagers because they were social activities that encouraged fitness, stress management and mental discipline.
I used to attend daily Tai-Chi sessions in the morning before going to school and earned a blue belt in Judo by the time I was seventeen. I learned how to cook by necessity because I’m so picky about what I eat but never learned how to do more than crochet scarves, baby blankets and an occasional hat. My Granny used to joke that I’d make a lousy wife but a great mother (just like her).
Religious leaders who survived clearly remembered the past and knew that it would probably be repeated if they didn’t act.
To put themselves in a more advantageous position they proactively worked together to gain an upper hand by brokering an alliance with the Council of Elders. No one wanted another pogrom, Holocaust or Inquisition on their hands so it was better for Church and State to cooperate when rebuilding Society.
Representatives from each of the major faiths came together and formed the Congress of the Four Recognized Religions or the Four Recognized Religions. The four revered domains overseen by that consortium are Christianity-Judaism, Islam, Buddhism-Hinduism and Paganism.
Along from being exempt from the new laws associated with possessing paper and wood items, The Four Recognized Religions were also allowed to oversee other longstanding traditions associated with their churches. Music, dancing, philosophy and certain types of literature became church regulated after the government instituted its restrictions on those diversions.
Priests, Rabbis, Druids, Shaman, Mullahs and Monks in training are all taught to read old texts, play instruments, sing and dance for the benefit of their congregations. As those individuals advance and progress within their belief system hierarchy they are introduced to more complex concepts and additional material that is supposed to help them achieve their celestial goals. It’s their job to interpret what they learn for the benefit of their congregations, not share directly because most of what they are exposed to is beyond the comprehension of common folk.
I mentioned the Guardians of Morality earlier. This is probably as good a place as any to tell you more about them. My gut wants me to give you a simple description; the group of goons conceived by the Council and Four Recognized Religions to operate within the grey area between those two branches of government. It’s responsible for all the dirty work (re-enforcing and demonstration of appropriate social behaviors) that neither institution wants to be bothered with, but that might seem a bit biased so I’ll tell you a longer version instead.
The Guardians of Morality, also referred to as just “Guardians,” is an organization supported by both the government and religious leaders of the world. It was sanctioned to assist Post-Plague Society with the enforcement of all the new rules and laws. The order was modeled in principle after similar traditional arrangements (Iran’s Basij, the Knights Templar during the Crusades and Japanese Chōnaikai neighborhood associations).
Membership is exclusive and obligatory if conscripted. Recruitment is done through appointment. Only high ranking officers, Elders or religious leaders can nominate inductees. Approval of recommended individuals is based on passing a thorough background check and a secretive voting process.
“Guardianship” is considered a great honor and not taken lightly because it becomes a person’s lifetime duty to “safeguard the three pillars of a stable society.”
Those standards are good intentions, prospering family and community service. Confucian Analects are used to instruct and support those values.
To accomplish those objectives, individual and squads of Guardians dressed in their drab, easily recognizable tan or gray uniforms, patrol public areas (parks, communals, malls, schools, places of employment) looking for individuals to chastise and/or remind (teach) about proper etiquette/ behaviors. They often perform citizen’s arrests and detain those who refuse to comply or have obviously committed a crime.
Those people are usually interrogated into a confession. Afterward their family is called (a form of shaming) to pay a release fine or turned over to the police for a more formal arrest.
As a kid I remember hearing about a few people having minor ‘run-ins’ with the organization. They were reprimanded for absurd stuff that they had no control over such as possession of forbidden books that they inherited from a relative’s estate or being seen congregating in public near a person with questionable integrity (a common catch-phrase for routine activities like standing in line at the grocery store or sitting in the crowded waiting room at a health clinic where you practice common curtesy and politeness but have no idea who you are interacting with).
All got off with just a verbal warning and/or being forced to attend a boring presentation on civic duty for a few hours.
Knowing what I know now though, I believe that those individuals were just low hanging fruit. They were easy targets for Guardian’s to make examples of in front of others to perpetuate organizational scare tactics.
My Granny and I were better than most at keeping below the radar and not drawing any unnecessary attention.
The area I lived in as a child is located in a backwater parish where people have a natural distrust for government, don’t appreciate being told how to behave and for the most part keep to themselves (are very private).
The couple dozen or so Guardian members who are assigned to that region are usually kept busy in and around New Orleans. They didn’t spend a lot of time in our neck of the woods (or more like swamp).
I personally would have never known that the group existed at all if it weren’t for the occasional roadblocks they conducted in conjunction with local police agencies along some of the paved federal roads where representatives help check identification and vehicle registration cards.
Even as a teen I did not have any serious problems with the group.
At vocational school, my freshman dormitory mates and I all received an infraction after an old deck of playing cards was found underneath a chest in our room during an impromptu inspection. It was obviously not ours and hadn’t been touched in years but we were still punished simply because it was in our room.
Each of us were questioned but nothing conclusive came of it so we were just given an infraction and made to do extra chores around the campus for a couple weeks to pacify the Matron in Gray.
Matron in Gray is the term given to female Guardian resident assistants assigned to girls’ dormitories at boarding schools. Men are referred to as Masters in Gray. They are titled as ‘gray’ because traditionally those individuals are only supposed to wear gray uniforms but over time they have been given permission to dress in tan, dark blue and forest green depending on the facility they are assigned to.
The one other time I had dealings with a Guardian was just before graduation. I was getting ready for final exams and to start my first internship.
My judo lesson had just ended and it was getting dark outside. I was in a hurry to get back to my room and study.
A tall creepy looking guy approached me from behind. He was wearing gray but it was not the usual plain looking outfit worn by most Guardians I saw, it was much fancier, probably made by a tailor. He was obviously from a more well off family that could afford those kinds of luxuries.
I initially thought he was attempting to attack me and prepared to defend myself but he quickly identified himself, “Stop walking away from me and show me your identification card. I am a corporal with the Guardians of Morality. I demand that you comply or I’ll take you in for disobeying my request!”
“Oh wonderful,” I thought. “This one sounds like he memorized his cheesy lines word for word right out of his lessons at school.”
He spoke with a slow sleazy sounding drawl that had a hint of a lisp. It was hard to not laugh at him. I wondered for a second if all he was trying to do was put on a show so he could get my phone number and ask me on a date later, but I never have that kind of luck, he was really serious.
Unfortunately for me I didn’t have my ID card at the time because I accidently left my purse at my teacher’s house. I stopped walking and let the novice continue talking.
“Why are you in such a hurry? Are you running away from something? What are you hiding from me?”
I replied, “I’m not running away or hiding or breaking any rules. It’s late and I’m just in a hurry. I need to get back to my dorm room so that I can study for a math test.” I then added, “I accidently left my ID at the class I just finished so I can’t show you that.”
He did not believe my explanation, “I insist then that we go back you your class and retrieve the card so that we can clear this matter up quickly.”
I reluctantly complied.
When we arrived at my sensei’s place, Barney Fife (Many pre-Plague TV shows like The Cosby Show, Andy Griffith and The Brady Bunch are still popular today. They were not banned because they clearly model “The Three Pillars” of a stable society.) knocked loudly on the door, interrupting a lesson in progress. The elderly instructor took his time, which annoyed the corporal who was detaining me. He continued to bang on the door and yelled several times for someone to come to the door.
After answering the door my teacher smiled and calmly asked, “Good evening son. What is your name and please tell me what this business is about that you need me so urgently for?”
The Guardian curtly identified himself, “I’m Corporal Neidermeyer from the Guardians of Morality. This young lady claims to have been here earlier today and that she left her ID card in your class. “
“Yes Terri was here and she accidently left her bag behind after she was done practicing. I believe that she was concerned about getting back to her room and studying for a final exam.”
The old man then handed me my pocketbook which was sitting on a table right by the door.
As he passed it to me he commented, “I figured you’d just come pick it up later on without so much of a spectacle considering you know the door is almost never locked.”
I smiled nervously and shrugged my shoulders. There was no need for me to say anything at this point. He knew what was going on.
Just before ending the conversation Sensei acknowledged that he recognized the Neidermeyer family name, which caused a huge smile to appear on the young man’s face.
“I remember your grandfather, Major John Neidermeyer. I knew him as Jackie, his nickname, before he became a high ranking Guardian. We worked together on several projects during the later stages of the Redemption Period many years ago. I’m also pretty sure that if your grandfather learned from an old work pal how rude and conceited his grandson treated me and my hard working student that it might rock the boat some for you down the road…”
The grin was suddenly wiped right off his face. He apologized to both of us for the misunderstanding before excusing himself. The corporal then as a second thought offered to escort me home to make sure I got there safe. I thanked him but said it would not be necessary.
The humbled man then proceeded to walk away in the opposite direction I went.
He was so embarrassed by the incident that he never bothered to ask me for papers in my purse before leaving, which was a good thing because they weren’t there. I forgot that I took them out for something and left them on my desk back at home.
My teacher also told me later that Niedermeyer’s grandfather was an even bigger jerk and it was hard for him to keep a straight face through the whole incident.
Only three of the original ten Council of Elders members from 2020-21 were still alive in 2032. Since 2024, other, in some cases, younger, men and women were appointed to fill the vacated seats of diseased Elders.
To reflect those changes, the group decided to rename itself The Council of Ministers at its annual conference. They also decided to add an eleventh position; electing a President from their ranks every five years.
The President represents the symbolic face of the entire Council of Ministers. It’s their job to serve as unified public voice for the group as well as assisting them with making important decisions.
It was the first President who proposed sending convicted low risk, non-violent offenders to the Mars Colony to assist with its expansion.
President Margaret J. Fields-Turner, whose deceased husband was a distant relative of Frederick Jackson Turner, was a traditional housewife until all three of her children were in High School. Instead of getting a part-time job or volunteering at Church to occupy her time she decided to enroll in college and earned a bachelor’s degree in geology. Afterward she continued her studies in graduate school acquiring a master’s degree in Public Administration and then a doctorate in Astronomy.
Soon after her husband died, Ms. Fields-Turner, two surviving children and several grandchildren waited out the remainder of The Plague by living in a remote section of Ontario, Canada. The family owned a piece of property along the shores of Lake Opinion. It was purchased the year before she got married.
A descent sized cabin was built on two acres of land with the intent to use it year round and maybe live there someday. It had everything they needed to survive in relative comfort, including electricity and space for a garden.
While living in Canada she spent a lot of time thinking and applied her education, expanding on ideas and theories that she initially conceived before going to college.
President Fields-Turner believed in the 19th Century concept of Manifest Destiny and that it was a human birthright to colonize other planets besides Earth. To promote her sentiments and describe how those goals could be achieved she wrote out several letters, articles and essays that simplified and clearly expressed those viewpoints for everyday people. They were published on several popular internet and news sights over the years and got her noticed.
Her collected works became known as the Space or Second Turner Thesis.
Using low risk criminals to help colonize Mars was just one of her visions. She created a number of high profile public works programs that put a lot of people back to work rebuilding large metropolitan areas like New York City and Rio De Janeiro that were abandoned and neglected for many years after The Plague. Fields-Turner also introduced measures to promote population growth such as making birth control illegal, lowering the legal age of consent for sex to thirteen and offering incentives (cash, ration and/or housing) to single mothers.
Mars Colonization proponents appealed to both sides of public opinion when painting their picture. It did not make sense for the government to spend tax dollars on housing criminals who were not a major threat to anyone. Sending petty-criminals to Mars (or the Moon in some cases) was obviously a win-win solution. Individuals would be given their freedom back in exchange for helping with colonization efforts. Australia was used as a historical an example to justify the initiative, noting that it was initially used by the British as a penal colony during the late 1700’s.
The Council of Ministers and most citizens unanimously agreed with the idea.
What the public was not told is that living on Mars is not much different than living in a prison. Martian colonies are crowded and very restrictive. There are almost as many security and military personnel here as there are ordinary colonists.
It’s not like I can just walk out of my assigned compound and take a stroll outside whenever I please or hop on the monorail to go visit my cousin on the other side of the planet. Everything here also involves filling out a lot of paperwork and getting appropriate approvals; including getting a roll of disposable toilet wipes.
These events all happened over thirty ago years, before I was born. As much as I might complain, I really don’t know any different.
Young people on Earth who are caught (usually by Guardians or their teachers) indulging in non-essential activities that are not associated with one of The Four Recognized Religions such as listening to jazz music, playing baseball, tap dancing, reading inappropriate books and writing for pleasure are publically shunned by their parents (who are also obligated to pay a small fine) then punished with extra chores or community service.
It’s considered normal for rebellious children and teens to be curious and partake or experiment with anti-social behaviors once in a while, but there are limits
Those under eighteen caught with banned music or books usually get off pretty easy in my opinion. After receiving several firm warnings (both unofficial and official) from Guardian associates, habitually defiant teens are sent to rehabilitation camps where free time is significantly restricted and sentenced adolescents are watched more closely by trained professionals. Anyone who spends time at these kinds of facilities is not considered a criminal; they are treated like special education students with individual education plans that require more intense forms of supervision.
However, anyone over the age of eighteen who is convicted of intentionally possessing illegal materials or (like in my case) was determined to have been an accomplice of someone who intentionally possessed banned books are not given second chances. They get sent to Mars Row, no exceptions.
Mars Row for most inmates is not much different than getting sentenced to life in prison, except that there is a small chance that your name will get drawn in the CLS, Colony Lottery System. If that happens your sentence is rescinded and they send you to Mars or the Moon. Only harmless offenders like me are placed on Mars Row.
Authors of banned material have it the worst of all. Writing those kinds of books is the socio-legal equivalent to treason. After being convicted they are tied to a stake and burned alive. Their execution is live-streamed then achieved for future viewing. It’s done to discourage other people from doing the same. I only know of one instance of this happening during my lifetime but I’ve seen videos listed for at least five other writers in the past.
Upstanding people don’t waste their time anymore on purposeless endeavors such as reading and writing fun, especially when there are so many community vegetable gardens that need tending to or numerous opportunities to volunteer.
I find it hypocritical how it’s OK for a teen to get drunk, high or have sex now but illegal for them to read or listen to recordings of once famous musicians like One Direction or Lady Gaga and God forbid dance to it.
Granny used to get frustrated when she learned about kids in our community getting punished for doing things she was encouraged to do when she was young. Her father used to chase boys who were interested in asking her out on a date away with a baseball bat. Today parents have no problem with teen pregnancy or smoking marijuana.
As I stated earlier; single mothers qualify for special government benefits and programs.
Those who live with one or both parents get extra food, energy and Internet data rations for their household, along with free daycare. Girls that want to just have a baby so that someone can adopt it are given a cash stipend after the child is born and are placed on a special list that qualifies them to purchase a single family house, the next time they are pregnant (with or without a partner).
Unmarried men and women with children whose parents are deceased live in special housing facilities called Communals. Communals are residential campuses where tenants are provided with a furnished two bedroom apartment. Elementary and vocational school classes, religious services, a cafeteria, a health center, public transportation, daycare and job placement assistance are all within walking distance of those living complexes.
Religious services were not included in the first Communal project plans.
Most religious leaders don’t approve of anyone having children out of wedlock and have been petitioning to lower the marriage age to fourteen from eighteen for years. They were also not very fond of the idea of grouping so many young people together in one place without some form of ethical or spiritual support.
Conservative Islamic and Christian-Jewish representatives were especially concerned that Communals would become breeding grounds for subversive behaviors amongst the young people living in them. What came to be known as The First Great Compromise, the government granted each of the Four Recognized Religions authorization to maintain a regular presence on Communal campuses and freely recruit new members from the ranks of residents living there.
In exchange for being allowed to promote their religious beliefs, practices and traditions within Communal communities each of the Four Recognized Religions are also expected to pay taxes and contribute additional funding to help support the Communals that they have chosen to establish themselves within.
The average Communal usually has two or three places of worship. The only locations where all four are equally represented are in very large multi-cultural cities like Hong Kong, London or Constantinople.
Unfortunately this Church-Government arrangement had caused problems in some Communals where orthodox and conservative practitioners of the Four Recognized Religions have become more prevalent. Crimes against non-members or members who do not choose to strictly follow church doctrines are committed and the local police are forced to intervene to resolve problems; which is not looked on highly by religious and government authorities.
Individual branches of the Four Religions have been temporarily banned from operating on specific Communal campuses for up to five years because of these instances. It’s also not unheard of for controversial ministers and imams to be removed from their Communal positions as a means to avoid penalization.
Guardians of Morality satellite offices are sometimes opened in these locations too. They help keep the peace, foster stability and encourage goodwill between residents and religious organization by enforcing positive universal behaviors and overseeing small scale group projects.
In the past literacy and libraries were almost synonymous. Possessing a book usually meant that one could read. Historically libraries were places where collections of books were kept and people could go to those places to borrow those books and read. There were libraries in schools and towns supported them. Individuals even had private libraries in their homes of all the books they acquired for their families to read.
Today that is not so. The only traditional libraries that exist now are under the strict control of the Four Recognized Religions and not accessible to the public.
Being illiterate or only reading at the level of a fourth grader has no stigma anymore especially if you know how to do math; the universal language.
Nearly every physical library disappeared during The Plague. They were all looted or destroyed in the chaos of that time period. Virtual libraries however remained predominantly unaffected. Rather than wasting time and precious resources rebuilding to accommodate an obsolete institution it was decided to bolster and support existing electronic repositories instead.
Digital libraries today mainly contain user manuals, textbooks, historical documentaries and instructional videos that teach viewers how to do anything from sewing a dress and fixing a car to preparing a certain kind of meal. Reading complex material today is mainly for religious and government leaders or maybe high level corporate business leaders; whom many are also religious and/or government leaders.
What I forgot to mention earlier was that along with humans The Plague also affected most trees, causing individual trees to dry up and die a few weeks after being exposed. Experts assumed that infected humans carried and transmitted the fatal bacteria to trees when the two came in contact.
Trees in very remote locations where people didn’t live were not affected. The Plague stopped killing trees about the same time it stopped affecting humans, making it easier to replant them.
There are many major efforts going on right now to reforest Earth; thanks to the Norwegian Svalbard Global Seed Vault and another storage facility in Antarctica. However, it will take hundreds of years to fix the damage done, especially to the atmosphere.
To discourage everyone from harming trees, all paper and wood products were confiscated and have been forbidden for all but religious purposes. Everything manufactured today for people to use is predominantly made of plastic, metal and ceramic materials.
Modern Society had no choice but to be paperless and anyone caught with and/or using anything made with paper or wood is duly punished (usually a hefty fine but in some cases hard labor or jail time).
The law though is pretty much obsolete in my eyes because just about everything that was made out of paper or wood was stolen, sold or burned for heat during The Plague. The only remaining books or wooden items I’ve ever seen were either in museums or a church.
I live in a world where everyone is dependent on their smart phones and tablet computers for access to just about all information that isn’t easily memorized.
We are being dumbed down by technology. Almost no one reads above a fifth or sixth grade level anymore because you don’t have too. Reading isn’t necessary anymore. Why read a recipe for cooking when I can find a video that will show me the same thing. The same goes for lessons in school. Watching a movie on The Civil War is more interesting than reading about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t give up my tablet computer for the world, it’s like an extension of my brain but there is also something to say about reading from bounded paper materials.
There is definitely a difference between reading a traditionally printed newspaper or magazine and its electronic version. Physically turning the pages of a book and having to figure out the meaning of a word through its context in a sentence rather than just looking it up in an online dictionary is a unique experience for me that is hard to explain to someone else until they have tried it themselves.
Paperless systems have also made it a lot easier for officials to track and control what people access.
There are lots of government, religious and private sponsored internet web sites for downloading material.
Everything a person reads, writes and saves is stored remotely and monitored daily by security officials or automated computer programs, thus discouraging individuals from propagating inappropriate material.
Paper based printed material offers its reader a form or privacy that does not exist on a tablet computer. Government people can’t monitor your memories and thoughts. I can read a paper manuscript then destroy all physical trace of it but still enjoy remembering it, it’s not that easy to do the same with a tablet connected to the Internet.
Possession of any book (versus a text) is considered a criminal offence in the lines of being caught with narcotics.
Children’s literature, ancient philosophy and mythology type texts are now the responsibility of spiritual leaders associated with The Four Recognized Religions.
Albeit some classic works like all of Shakespeare’s plays are still easily found and legal because of their historical and universal nature. They are considered historical representations of the past, not pleasure reading.
No one in their right mind reads narratives like for fun, even in the past, because they promote treating women like property and glorify violence. Ancient texts provide tangible lessons(descriptions) about how people used to behave and what it was like to live in a particular society, nothing more.
Religious writings by Saint Augustine, C.S. Lewis and Thich Nhat Hnah, along with sacred books such as , and are readily available on most religious sites.
Biographies of famous people like George Washington, Bill Gates and Cesar Millan can be purchased on Applzon.com. Math, science and vocational education textbooks are easily found in most school repositories. User manuals for most IBM, Microsoft and Samsung products are also relatively easy to acquire electronically.
Lately, non-religious poetry, essays, memoirs and autobiographies have been losing popularity and are becoming difficult to come by. Those writing styles are perceived as a form of vanity or ‘navel gazing’ by ordinary citizens. Businesses see no value in creating, keeping or distributing those kinds of books anymore.
The masses are gradually forgetting how to read and write above grammar school levels. Big chunks of Past Society’s collective memory are being forgotten.
In time I’m pretty sure most people will think Plato is just a colorful modeling clay that children learn to use in elementary school before being introduced to ceramics when they are a little older, versus a famous Greek Philosopher. Utopia will become a word that refers to a fictitious place with a negative connotation like Hell, not a book written by Thomas More. The average person will believe that or are just vague references to something that happened during The Plague, instead of two popular book series. As older people die off, the more this kind of information becomes lost because there’s no one around to remember.
The Plague killed people and trees but it did not stop progress. It only slowed it down a little.
New kinds of technologies continued to be developed between 2017 and 2035 that helped improve space travel and off-planet settlements. The basic premises of Moore’s Law remained in effect.
The Internet expanded into outer space for the benefit of people living on off-Earth Colonies and space stations. The first second generation colonists were born on the Moon and Mars, gradually increasing those populations from within. It became possible to grow plants native to Earth in other places.
Internet services amongst Earth and its Colonies have become for the most part negligible compared to what it was in the beginning. It used to take a long time for data to travel back and forth but now speed is no different here than it was back on Earth.
I’m allotted ten gigabytes of data each month and almost never come close to using it all. My co-workers however are always texting, sending pictures and talking on video-phones to their friends and families on Earth and at both Colonies.
The variety of things we are able to buy, legally (and illegally), is slowly expanding.
Better food and clothing are at the top of nearly everyone’s wish list here. Amazon.com was recently given permission to start shipping authorized items to colonists. As soon as I can afford it I plan on buying myself some fancy fabric from the website so that I can hand sew myself a few nice scrub tops for work.
It’s too expensive at this time to send people back to Earth. Currently, Colonies are a one way trip for settlers who volunteer to come here. Only military flights are authorized for round trips and they are far and few in-between
Communicating regularly with family and friends is usually not a problem, but until business and industry becomes more established within off-Earth colonies, which is estimated to not happen for at least another twenty-five years or so, all colonists are basically on their own once they reach their final destinations.
There are about three thousand immigrants presently living on the moon and four thousand five hundred on Mars. The number on Mars is expected to increase to a little over forty eight hundred within the next six months because there are two colony transport ships currently en-route that have not yet arrived.
Right now there are no plans to build additional facilities on The Moon, despite having so many residents. The Moon Colony is a huge telecommunication’s compound and just about everyone there works for AT&T, Verizon or the ISA, International Security Agency. Everyone else is considered support staff (the people responsible for repairing/keeping things running, ice harvesting and hydropod-farming).
Leaders are in the process of deciding if they want to abandon enlarging the colony altogether (focusing their efforts entirely on Mars) or if they want to build a research facility that’s purpose would be to build new types of spacecraft and explore the feasibility of colonizing Jupiter’s moon Europa.
Mars is a whole other story. A total of thirty portable subsistence hydropod-farming operations are up and running here, along with two ice harvesting facilities, three solar powered monorail lines(for transporting people and materials) and an excavation project at the Pavonis Mons site where a permanent residency complex is being built.
There is not a lot of meat available to eat on Mars. On special occasions like Christmas and Easter we are given eggs and goat’s milk products (like yogurt and cheese) when (if) they are available to change things up a little.
Specially bred goats and chickens are being raised here with the intent to help supplement all the powered and dried food supplies sent from Earth. Those farms are still in the experimental stages but have been very successful so far.
Two small herds of goats graze in specially outfitted caves on wild mushrooms and Colony scraps. At least two dozen kids were born last year and there’s talk of adding a few ounces of cabrito or chevon meat once a month to our food rations.
Perdue is developing a large fowlery where turkeys and geese are raised for eggs, meat and feathers. They also want to grind dried bones and other waste products to make more feed for other kinds of farm animals being reared on the planet.
Most of the food we eat is produced in cafeteria pods on 3D printers. It’s cheap, efficient (requires a minimal amount of water) and is fortified with all the basic vitamins and minerals needed to stay healthy but has no flavor or consistency.
Imagine eating plain rice or corn puffs with no sugar for three meals a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty-five days a year. You get sick of it pretty quickly. There is major incentive to add new things to our diets, especially items with more flavors.
To curb waste, eating outside mess hall areas is shunned but not illegal, especially if you are working though lunch periods, breaks or community service time in sections where food is being grown on-planet in gardens.. No one complains because nearly all those plants are genetically modified. Leaders and researches want to know the long term effects of eating those new plants so when a colonist helps tend those areas and happens to eat some of the food there they are essentially volunteering to be a human guinea pig.
Many Colony units have meadow or forest pods where a few small trees, flowers, ferns, shrubs and grasses are grown. Hens and roosters are often allowed to roam freely in these places. Residents feed them a mixture of seeds and food scraps produced by their communities. Any extra meat or eggs created by those birds are shared amongst the people living in those locations.
Monsanto recently announced that it will be expanding its operations in the Warrego Valles after successfully creating five new plants species (two that are edible) that don’t require much water and thrive in Martian soil.
One of those is a fruit is unofficially called ‘Mars Meat’. I participated one of the trial studies.
It grows on a bush, looks like a kiwi and had a thick skin. When peeled raw the inside has a runny consistency similar to an uncooked egg. After poking some holes in it and cooking on high for three minutes in a microwave oven the inner part congeals to a texture like liverwurst or spam. The food smells like oatmeal but basically has no discernable taste at all, kind of like a plain baked potato. However if you put salt or yogurt on it it’s much more palatable.
Last year BP employees conducted a number of geological surveys (via satellite initially then eventually on the ground) that revealed additional natural gas and a uranium deposit on the planet, making colony expansion in several proposed locations much more feasible.
Scientists are working on new ways to reclaim or create water from elements already found on the planet’s surface. The availability of more water would help speed up the process of creating an artificial atmosphere as well as expanding the variety of plants being grown for food.
Archeologists also uncovered what appear to be abandoned ruins deep underground in seven undisclosed locations. It’s been rumored that they resemble Mesopotamian ruins back on Earth and that there are hieroglyphs that refer to the Sumerian Anunnaki gods.
After studying photos and video of those locations The Council of Ministers commissioned both the National Geographic Society and The Smithsonian Institution to investigate. Three colonists were sent in response and are passengers on the two transport vehicles due to arrive soon. More experts will be sent if they deem it necessary.
All colonists who are healthy, over the age of eighteen, not in school or caring for young children and under the age of sixty-five is expected to work eight hours a day, six days a week.
Soon after arriving on Mars I was assigned to work in the orthopedic and rehabilitation ward at the Sector Three Medical Clinic. My official title is rehabilitation assistant but because I took some continuing education classes in radiology after finishing vocational school I was also given the responsibilities of an x-ray technician since there are not a lot of people here that have been trained to use that equipment.
I was a home health aide for elderly people back on Earth.
I’d visit the residences of people listed on my daily roster to check in on them and make sure they were okay.
One of the homes I visited was previously owned by an Elder. The woman was a well-regarded regional leader who worked as a store clerk before The Plague. Her younger brother, Charles, lived with her there and inherited the property after she died at the age of eighty-five from cancer.
I used to visit him regularly because of his illnesses.
Charles, was in his late sixties when I first met him. He was nearly bald and walked very slowly with a cane. His arms and legs were almost skeleton-like. A little belly hung over his belt.
He had severe arthritis in both of his knees and could not move around much many days because of the pain. He declined recommendations for replacement surgery because he wanted to go out of this world with everything he came into it with.
His sentiments reminded me of my Granny, which is probably what prompted me to grow closer to him over time more than any of my other clients.
I’d go to his home to make sure he took his medication and help him with his prescribed stretching or exercises. Sometimes he’d ask me to do chores that he couldn’t do that day for himself like laundry and grocery shopping. I didn’t mind because I felt appreciated and enjoyed talking to him.
Looking back I’m not sure if I was supposed to be doing so much for a patient. I was barley eighteen, fresh out of vocational school and very naïve. I simply assumed all was well and I was doing what I was supposed to because my supervisors said nothing and did not seem to notice all the extra time I was spending with the sick man.
Charles said that he liked having me around to talk to. Young people were more interesting to him than most individuals his own age.
He said, “Old men and women dwell too much on the past and their day to day aches and pains. My mind and body remind me every day that I’m elderly and in pain. I’d rather be alone than waste my time listening to the same boring stories and complaints over and over again.”
He also missed his family. I was the same age as his granddaughter who moved away to London with his daughter and son-in-law two years ago.
During one of my visits to him he asked me something out of the blue.
We were in the kitchen. He was drinking a cup of green tea while I was putting his prescribed medications into his daily pill dispenser for the week.
Lilith was Charles’ nickname for me. He said it was from something he read a long time ago and it suited me better than Teresa or Terri. The name made me uncomfortable at first but eventually grew on me.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“Because I have something I want to show you that might get you in more trouble than me.”
I replied, “What would a well behaved gentleman like you possibly have that is that’s so scandalous?”
He smiled and said, “You’d be surprised.”
After agreeing to keep the secret, he brought me into the basement of his home and asked me to open an old chest freezer in the far corner. For a moment I was worried that there might be a dead body inside but it turned out to be something far more complicated.
The whole thing was stuffed to the top with paperback and hardcover fiction books.
I was speechless for a few seconds but eventually spoke, “Ugh, errrr, Charles where did these come from? I’ve never seen so many in one place before, not even in a museum. You could go to jail for a long time if someone caught you with all these. Aren’t you afraid that the Guardians might find this?”
Charles calmly responded with his devilish grin, “I’m pretty sure you won’t snitch on me. Besides I’m an old man. My wife died years ago and my only child lives on another continent. I can’t walk very much anymore. What difference does it make to me if I die in my home or a jail cell.”
He then explained to me that they were his sister’s (the Elder) and how she swore him to secrecy that he would never let her former peers know she had them.
When she was appointed to the government position many years ago her supporters only knew that she was a store clerk, no one asked what kind of store. They all just assumed it was Walmart or Target. It turns out she worked at a used book store.
During the Plague she quietly rescued books from her former employer’s shop and the local library when no one was paying attention then hid them carefully throughout her house soon after they were banned. If his sister’s supporters learned that she owned and read so many of these kinds of books they would no doubly wipe her name from history.
I started at the freezer’s contents for a minute or two and noted works by W Somerset Maugham, Jonathan Swift, Aristotle, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Dashner and John Green. I slowly shut the lid after my initial peek, looked at Charles and said nothing.
Charles broke the silence by telling me, “There are a lot more books hidden around the house than what what’s in that freezer. Those are the easiest to access. There are boxes of them hidden behind false walls in the attic and spare bedroom. I also have my sister’s old tablet computer. It has a tiny sim card with at least ten thousand forbidden books saved on it.”
The only thing I could say at that point was, “Why are you showing me all of this?”
He responded, “Because I trust you and someone needs to remember all of this.”
I was in shock and needed time to process what I just experienced. I quickly thanked him and went on to my next client for the day.
A few days later I went back to check on Charles again, hoping to avoid the subject of his secret.
While I was folding a load of his laundry he asked me, “Are you interested in reading any of those books I showed you?
I reluctantly said, “Yes, of course I do but I’m feeling torn at the same time. I have no idea where to start or who any of those authors are. I also feel guilty about the thought of wanting to read any of them, considering I’d be breaking the law if I did.”
He assured me, “You have nothing to worry about. As long as you read every book here at my house and never tell anyone, no one will ever know.”
I answered, “I guess that sounds doable.”
His response reminded me again of my Grandmother and the promise I made her about not telling anyone about the stories she used to tell me when I was little.
The old man then offered me a few title suggestions and I started with a book by a writer named Arthur Koestler called . I declined and read a book of funny short stories titled instead.
For the next nineteen months I’d spend at least an hour or two every other morning at Charles’ house reading, even when he was not on my daily roster.
At first I’d just read to myself on an old recliner in his living room. After a few weeks, Charles asked me to read out loud to him. He said that his mother and sister used to do it when he was a child and he missed it a lot.
I told him about the tales my Granny used to recite to me when I was little.
Sometimes I’d visit Charles after work under the guise he needed extra help with chores around his house but in reality I just wanted to read more. He didn’t care that I was there so much and appreciated the company since he hardly had any regular visitors other than me. I lived by myself in a studio apartment so there was no one at my place to notice I was not home.
During those months I read books by Vladimir Nabokov, Anne Rice, J.D Salinger, Markus Zusak and a number of essay and short story compilations.
All things must eventually come to an end though.
Charles was obviously getting sicker and it was not just his rheumatism that was affecting him. The doctors at work said that he was getting too old and forgetful to live by himself. It was believed that he might have the beginning symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. I learned that he would be moved from his house to an assisted care facility sometime during the next two weeks.
On my last visit to Charles he asked me to read him an essay by William Maxwell titled “Nearing Ninety.”
I asked him, “You’re nowhere near ninety. Why are you so interested in that piece?”
He looked at me and smiled, “Silly Lil. It’s about getting old not just turning ninety. “
After I read to him I noticed a tear in his eye. I held my sadness back because I knew this would be the last time we’d be together. He gave me a big hug. Kissed me on my forehead and thanked me for being such a wonderful friend.
He then gave me a weird looking black pendant on a silver chain. I hung it immediately around my neck and gave him another hug.
Charles said, “Remember me every time you wear that thing. I had it made especially for you.”
“I promise I will.”
I kissed him goodbye on his cheek right before I left.
Six weeks later I was called into my supervisor’s office at the end of my shift.
A woman dressed in a tan pantsuit was sitting next to her. She had two black bars on each of her lapels. I quickly surmised from the pin in her lapel that she was a captain in the Guardians of Morality. I was concerned but figured I better sit down and see what was going on before jumping to any conclusions.
The strange lady had a big mole in the center of her forehead. I wondered to myself why she didn’t have it removed. It was hard to not stare at the thing. She didn’t look happy and scowled at both me and my boss. I initially assumed that she was just auditing cases.
I see a lot of people while performing my job responsibilities. Guardians are always involving themselves in other people’s business and creating problems where they don’t exist. Elderly people are easy targets for them. Two or three inquiries about reported inappropriate behaviors help pad their numbers when trying to reach their monthly quotas. It’s not uncommon for a Guardian to show up and ask a few health related questions about individuals we treat. Nothing usually comes of it.
Charlene, my manager noted, “Teresa, we had some questions for you about your visits with Charles. “
I was worried about him and asked, “Is Charles OK? Did he die or something bad happen to him?”
My boss said, “ No honey, he’s fine, but while he was being moved out of the house a lot of concerning things where discovered. Ms. Ratched and I want to know if you were aware of anything unusual going on there.”
I calmly told them, “No, not that I’m aware of, unless making cups of tea and folding laundry is considered strange.”
My boss went on to explain, “According to your submitted time cards….”
The peculiar woman suddenly became impatient. She was not satisfied with the answer I provided or my supervisor’s method of inquiry.
Charlene was abruptly cut off mid-sentence, “Enough of this chatter! Young lady, why didn’t you turn your client into the proper authorities the instant you learned about all those books?
If you were under eighteen years old I’d let you off with a stern warning and a few weeks of community service but you are twenty years old and should know better.
Please don’t tell me that you read any of that filthy rubbish that traitor kept in his house.
My head grew light. It was hard to not cry in response to what I was hearing. I tried to hide my embarrassment and looked down
Ha, it’s pretty apparent that you did, from the look I see on your face….
So shameful, you are such a pretty young girl. Society had such aspirations for you and this is how you show your gratitude for the five years of schooling it paid for!
By choosing to aid that wretched criminal you have seriously made matters more difficult for yourself!”
Ms. Ratched caught me off guard. She knew everything. It was apparent that I was guilty. All I could do was sit there in silence, holding back the tears with my eyes cast down.
When the woman was finally done scolding me she immediately called for security, had me arrested and I was brought to jail.
I guess I was lucky compared to some. After my quick trial I was sentenced to Mars Row but I was only there a couple weeks before my name was drawn by the CLS. I was sent to the Mars Colony on the next available transport ship.
I was both scared and excited to be sent to Mars. Never setting foot on Earth again is unsettling but it’s better than spending the rest of your life locked in a six foot by six foot prison cell alone with your thoughts.
Everything is thoroughly searched and accounted for before it’s loaded onto any ship being sent to a colony. They want to make sure that no one is smuggling anything illegal. Because of cost, only approved and essential items have ever been sent to either of the colonies. The policy has made it relatively easy for officials to police and control anything possessed by colonists.
There is a major black market for commonplace Earth items like spices, coffee, seeds and air freshener. People will pay a month’s salary for some of those items making it real tempting to stuff a few packs of gum or Kool Aid into your vagina or rectum before leaving despite the risk of getting caught.
I mentioned earlier that colony transport ships are scheduled to leave Earth every two years or so (give or take a few months). The actual trip between Earth and Mars is about a year. Clearance for orbiting transport ships to land though can take anywhere from a few days to up to two years in some instances. Passengers are put into a state of suspended animation or hibernation for the entire journey so that they do not age, require food, water or go to the bathroom.
Travelers are shaved of all hair, given a shot in the arm, then asked to drink this gooey concoction that looks like purple slime, smells like McDonalds French fries and tastes like dish soap. Afterward you lay down naked on a table and black out a few minutes later.
Upon arrival transport ships orbit the planet until they receive docking instructions. After landing colonists and supplies are unpacked then the spacecraft is disassembled for parts or converted into usable space. Nothing is wasted here.
There are faster ships but it’s cheaper to send large groups of people and provisions this way, similar to how ocean liners used to work when air travel became possible.
While being processed for the trip, I was stripped, sprayed with hair removal powder (my head was already shaved while I was in jail), x-rayed to make sure I was not smuggling anything inside of me then told I could only bring one personal item with me.
No one knew that Charles gave me the necklace so I asked to take that with me. After a quick examination by the staff person overseeing my preparation they approved it and let me put it on. I was then given my shot and drank the swamp water before losing consciousness. When I woke up I was laying on a clinic cot on Mars with an IV attached to my arm.
I’ve been living on Mars now for about thirty months now. My three biggest complaints are all the dust that covers everything, being required to wear unwieldy gravity shoes (that recreate and sustain my Earth weight on Mars) anytime I’m not in my sleeping pod and the lack of privacy.
My sleeping pod is six foot long by four foot wide and three and a half feet high. It feels like the same amount of space as in a small car back on Earth with the front seat laying back. Not the place for someone who’s claustrophobic. Inside it’s got a built in video touch screen for viewing things or making calls back to Earth (not that I call anyone there) and a couple small drawers for my clothes.
Married couples with children have it the best. They get more food rations and are provided with a flat that’s the size of a small studio apartment. Those quarters are usually big enough for a double bed, a set of bunk beds, a table and some chairs. There’s also additional storage space incorporated into the room’s layout to accommodate for the needs of families with youngsters such as diapers, extra clothes, craft supplies and teaching tools.
To be honest, it’s not much different here than it was on Earth for me. I have almost no social life and spend a lot of time working or volunteering. I have no boyfriends, though I do have my eye on a young (and single) Czech doctor who works amongst several of the clinics here. I think his name is Tom.
My grandmother died last year. My childhood friend, Sabina, believe it or not, lives in the same housing compound as me and one of my cousins works at the South Pole Ice Harvesting Facility, so I’m not completely alone.
Last week the news headlines were inundated with stories about several people caught growing cantaloupe in unoccupied sleeping pods. It’s illegal to grow melons on Mars because they require so much water. The group were using stolen hydroponic equipment and drinking water to cultivate trafficked seeds then selling the contraband fruit all over the planet for huge profits.
I feel invisible and I’m pretty sure most people have no idea why I’m here. I think they believe that I volunteered to move here because of my age. Only my friend and cousin refer to me as Teresa (or Terri). I tell everyone else to call me Lilith, the name Charles gave me.
The other day something interesting happened that caught me completely off guard and got me believing in Fate or Destiny.
I was fingering the pennant on my necklace when something came loose. I monkeyed with it a few seconds and suddenly a tiny sim card slid out of it
It made me remember something Charles said about having a tablet computer with ten thousand books saved on its sim card. I wonder if this was that sim card he mentioned and if he also had something to do with me getting sent here with all those books, right under everyone’s noses.
All I need to do now is to find an older tablet computer with a broken wireless connection (there are plenty of them laying around here) so that no one can monitor what I’m doing then see what’s saved on this memory chip.