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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


H. A. Swain

Feiwel & Friends




HOLOGRAM OR REAL? I think-text to Kepler, who’s scrunched in the seat beside me as usual, his limbs folded like telescoping landing legs to fit in the cramped space of the small MUSC auditorium.

Hologram, duh. He shifts, trying to get comfortable. The designers of the Moon survival colony didn’t account for humans getting taller as they evolved off Earth. If anything, they thought our species would get smaller. But none of this is a problem for me. I’m a short terrestrial transplant on the Moon, and my legs fit just fine.

“Greetings, Cohort 54! This is the final Moon Utilitarian Survival Colony lab assessment for G3C54!” MUSC president Dr. Valentine Fornax announces from the center stage, where she is surrounded by forty-eight kids I grew up with here. Her voice reverberates through the auditorium, making the event feel strangely hallowed, since it’s in real time and not on our Streams.

I squint past Kep’s thotz on my Lenz to study Dr. Fornax, who paces the stage, surrounded by our entire cohort in this circular mini arena. As always, she is stunning. Tall and strong with a square jaw and nearly black eyes under her thick shock of steel-colored hair. Although she’s at least twelve years older than my mother, she looks younger. Something in the way she holds herself, shoulders down and back, head high, and a mischievous twinkle in those eyes, as if she perpetually has a great idea she can’t wait to unleash. She’s my hero for all of those reasons, but also because, like my family, Dr. Fornax was born on Earth and emigrated to the Moon.

As Dr. Fornax moves across the stage, I look for the telltale holo shimmer, but she looks solid from every angle.

Real, I think to Kep.

We’re not important enough for the president/CEO to show up IRL.

“You are the best and the brightest of the human race,” Dr. Fornax proclaims. “You have worked diligently through the last decade of superior education. You are the future of our colony.”

I raise both eyebrows at Kep. We are the future.

Gad help us all. He blinks me an image of Gemini Chen-Ning, sitting across the auditorium from us, glassy-eyed and slack-jawed, most likely blasting alien Viking serpent creatures in some Torrent VRPG on his Stream.

I snort a quiet laugh, barely audible, but of course, Micra whips around from her seat in front of me to give us an evil side-eye glare. The kind lizardlike aliens give their next victim in the archived 2-D Earthling sci-fi movies Kep and I watch from our hacked Earth connection.

“Shush,” she hisses as if spitting acid that will melt my skin. Then she tucks a silver strand of hair behind her ear and turns away with an expert eye roll, no doubt thotzing something horrible about me to Cassio and Alma, her satellites sitting on either side, forever in her orbit.

When my parents and I moved to MUSC ten years ago, those three made my life a living hell. You would think Third Gen Moonlings who are the children of the greatest living scientists in the universe would master compassion, but Micra and her minions are just as mean as any earthly primate troupe threatened by an interloper.

It doesn’t help that on top of my hereditary skin pigmentation, gravity-defying curls, and prominent facial features, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me a communication implant, and for some reason—maybe the dry MUSC air—I’m prone to ear and eye infections so I can’t use an iEye or HearEar, which means I’m the only person in my cohort with an external communication device strapped to my head. I might as well be sporting a centuries-old plastic prosthetic leg. Needless to say, those girls have been merciless since the moment I showed up on the Moon.

The only saving grace of my cohort placement was having a last name that starts with J. Since children are always arranged in alphabetical order, I have been smack-dab in the middle of Kepler Jackson on my right and Fermi Kaku on my left since the day I showed up. Lucky for me, Fermi is intensely introverted and Kepler is the nicest person in our cohort. Even luckier, Kep and I both have the same goofball sense of humor and taste for bad Earth Streams.

Without missing a beat, Kep sends a scribble to my Lenz of Micra standing on Mars, alone. I swallow another laugh and add the Dark Overlord from our favorite Earth sci-fi movie, Howard the Duck, sneaking up behind her, its toothy maw open and crab claws ready to attack. Kep puts me in a space pod, ray guns blasting toward Micra as she’s being chased by the Overlord. We pass the doodle back and forth from his mind to my Lenz, each adding more stupid details until we’re both shaking from trying not to laugh while Dr. Fornax yammers on about how we are standing on the precipice of our futures.

Then Dr. Fornax proclaims, “Childhood is behind you, and a Life’s Work Assignment is on the horizon!”

I gulp and stop doodling. Is space rodeo clown an option for my life’s work? I thotz Kep. Maybe evil quark hunter?

A little muscle in his jaw twitches. A happy little dance. The one part of his body that won’t obey the no-laughing edict his brain has issued. Kepler knows as well as I do that there are very few job options here that fit my “skill set.” Other than creating beautiful bacteria colonies for fun, I haven’t exactly excelled at much on MUSC.

How about comet badminton diva? Kep thinks. I snort. Micra glares.

Kep and I exchange a glance. He’s also the only person in G3C54 who finds Micra as annoying as I do. When we were twelve, I plucked a hair from her head and convinced him to help me sequence her genome in his mother’s immunology lab. I was determined to find out what accounted for her moon-dust-colored hair and bright yellow eyes blinking like two suns, spaghetti arms and itty-bitty bump of a nearly nonexistent nose. I thought if I could scientifically prove she was the anomaly, not me, people would be nicer.

But it didn’t matter because genetics are only half the story. Experience and perception are the other half. No matter how many anomalies I could locate on her genome, Micra remains the standard for Moon beauty, and I will always be the freak of nature up here.

“Tomorrow is Leap Day, when each of you will embark on a twenty-eight-day personal journey during the month of Sol,” Dr. Fornax says. “This is a time for you to explore new worlds of experience before you settle into your young adult life.”

My stomach burbles with excitement. Only three things have made my life at MUSC bearable the past ten years: 1) knowing that as long as I’m here, my mother will be safe, 2) being friends with Kepler, and 3) holding out for Sol of my sixteenth year, when I can go back to Earth for twenty-eight days, which will happen in approximately twelve hours, forty-eight minutes, and nineteen seconds. Not that I’m counting or anything.

“At the end of Sol, you will return to MUSC as young adult members of our colony,” Dr. Fornax reminds us, as if we could forget. “At that time, you will receive your Life’s Work Assignment, which will support the MUSC corporate mission of interstellar colonization!”

Everyone breaks into wild applause.

Except for me. My stomach turns sour, and I have to swallow down a nasty taste. There is nothing I dread more than receiving my LWA. Everyone else believes that’s when life starts, but for me, it will be the end. No more watching banned Earth Streams with Kep. No more time to work on my bacteria botanical garden. No more dreaming of the day when I return to Earth, because that day will have come and gone. From the moment I receive my LWA, my life will be all work, all the time, and there’s not a job up here that could make me happy.

“The future of our species depends on each of us. So work hard and make us proud!” Dr. Fornax says.

No pressure there, I thotz Kep. In return, he sends me an image of the moon exploding.

“And remember, Cohort 54…” She waits as we all inhale and sit up straight, ready to proclaim our colony’s motto.

“Science will see us through!” we all recite in unison. Then Dr. Fornax’s image blips off the stage.

Copyright © 2018 by H. A. Swain