The Keep #atozchallenge
Albert Sweeney banged the gavel on the table. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please. Can we have some order here?”
The crowd, bundled in layers of coats and clothing, calmed their voices. They wrapped frozen fingers around hot cups filled with coffee or tea, and stared up at Albert with worried faces.
“Thank you,” Albert said as he stood up at the head of the table. “We, the Keep, have some important decisions to make. We have families counting on us. I will list our concerns and then we can discuss them civilly. Agreed?”
The crowd slowly nodded their heads, although a few huffed and folded their arms in front of their chests. Albert sighed. He didn’t ask to be their leader. They had elected him. He didn’t even like his role. He was but a simple Irish farmer.
“It has been three weeks since the collision failed to strike us. We witnessed the flyby together. We endured the earthquakes and the tsunamis together. Now we must collectively decide the fate of those who deserted us.”
Albert paused and watched the faces of those huddled before him. He’d seen so much strength and determination on their faces in the previous months. These men and women had fought to maintain order in a chaotic world. By the time news had filtered down to the common man and woman about the rogue planet’s collision course with Earth, the rulers and the wealthy had fled in secret space ships, destroying their businesses before they left. They’d been so sure that Earth would perish, but wouldn’t leave anything for those who might have survived.
“Concern number one,” Albert said as he read from a sheet of paper. “Do we allow the deserters back on Earth? And if not, how do we prevent their return?” A few in the crowd shouted out, but Albert struck the gavel again. “Concern number two. Do we punish those who left us behind for criminal abandonment? And if so, what will be their punishment?”
A young woman sat quietly in the back of the large room. She listened as Albert continued to list their concerns. All she wanted was food for her children. When Albert finished, she stood up.
“I have a simple solution,” she stated. “There is an arsenal of weapons back in the US. I’ve seen them. We fire upon any ships that attempt to return. If we shoot down enough of them, the others will not risk their lives too. Let exile be their punishment,” she concluded and sat back down.
A man jumped up from his seat, his face red with anger. “They deserve a worse punishment than exile!” he screamed.
Another man stood up. “Let them land and arrest them all. Put them into our worst ghettos and see if they can survive like we’ve had to survive the last three months!”
“Have we learned nothing from history? You know what happened in ghettos in the 21st Century! Are we to become barbarians like those who left us?” a professor asked in a raised voice.
The crowd broke out into shouts and cries. Some favored severe punishment and others exile. They shook their fists at one another, their faces reddened, their eyes bulged. Albert struck the gavel several times on the table. When the crowd calmed down again, he directed his attention to the first woman who’d spoken.
“You say you’ve seen an arsenal?”
“I have, Mr. Sweeney. It was buried under the airport in Denver, Colorado, but the earthquake there gave us access.”
“And the US Keep has this arsenal secured?”
“We do, sir.”
“Very well. Let’s call a vote. All of those in support of exile, raise your hands,” Albert declared as he nodded to his assistant who would tally the votes.
The room exploded with raised hands. The assistant made rounds counting the hands and scribbled notes on a piece of paper.
“All of those in favor of severe punishment, raise your hands.”
Fewer hands were raised, but Albert noted that they were the ones who claimed they’d lost the most in the past three months – those who’d worked in the industries that had been destroyed, those who’d lost money on Wall Street, and those who’d owned land that now laid in waste. Though not the poorest among them, they felt entitled. Albert had had his hands full with them for months.
“Sir, exile has been chosen,” the assistance said as he handed the paper to Albert.
Albert turned away from the crowd and entered a message on the make-shift computer linked to the ships circling above Earth.
“We have chosen exile. If you attempt to land, we will shoot you down. We suggest you leave Earth’s orbit and find a new home.” Albert didn’t wait for a response. Instead, he terminated the link between Earth and the ships.
Those who left Earth had made a series of fatal flaws. They hadn’t armed their ships. They hadn’t considered that Earth would survive. And they had never guessed that the common people of Earth wouldn’t need them again.
Albert pounded the gavel on the table. “Weapons will be dispersed throughout the Keep for the sole purpose of shooting down space crafts. Anyone who violates the laws of the Keep by using those weapons against your fellow Keep members will be punished. We will meet here in Versailles again in ten days,” Albert paused as he stared out at those who represented the Keep throughout the world. He smiled warmly at them. “Go be with your families and keep an eye on the skies.”
Ten days later when the Keep reconvened, the ships circling Earth had dispersed. The Keep had no idea where they went nor did they care. They had an Earth to rebuild. Food to grow. Families to watch over. And they would do it collectively, as one people. Neither rich nor poor. Common, all of them.
©2016 Lori Carlson. All rights reserved.
The Prompt via Mandy Wallace: A diaspora of humans evacuate Earth before a catastrophic collision. When the collision date comes and goes without incident, those left behind must decide what to do with Earth and whether to let the evacuees get away with criminal abandonment.
Each day for the A to Z Challenge I will be writing a 500-1000 word Science Fiction story. I hope you will enjoy them.