Friends With Wings
Date Published: September 26, 2014
What if you were stranded on another planet? What would do? How would you live? And how would you deal with the intelligent native winged species on the planet?
The year is 2102, the earth is in crisis, and Trina, a gutsy young woman from a poor family, is forced to sell herself into slavery to pay off her family’s debt. To her surprise, she ends up being sent into space to help colonize a star. Her future seems bright until crisis strikes the colony – leaving Trina the only human being left alive on Planet Johannes. Another spaceship is slated to arrive in a decade, but how will Trina survive alone for ten years? And even if she does, how can she keep the next colony from meeting the same fate?
The Very Beginning: December, 2102 As Trina walked through the narrow alley leading to the street, she looked up and saw only concrete and glass, then finally, dull grey sky. She missed the trees desperately. She missed seeing the leaves turn, missed hearing the breeze blow through them. She missed being able to feel the bark under her hands as she held on to branches, hefting her weight as high as she could go.
They’d lived in this neighborhood in the northern part of the Bronx for almost five years, after having been forced to move because their old neighborhood in Queens was flooded by the encroaching ocean. She liked the old neighborhood a lot better. She’d learned how to climb trees there, an activity she’d greatly enjoyed. Here, the only things to climb were fire escapes. It wasn’t the same, but she liked climbing up high, and spending time looking down.
They lived in a big apartment complex full of tall, drab, gray buildings built in the ‘70s and ‘80s, as other parts of the city were increasingly underwater. They didn’t really care how many people they could squeeze into the spaces left. She shared the small 2 bedroom apartment with her extended family of seven. In Queens, they’d shared a whole house. It wasn’t big, but it was a lot roomier than what they have now.
She considered herself lucky, though. At age 6, she won a lottery spot to go to school, something her little sister hadn’t. They both worked to support their family, but at least she didn’t have to work as many hours as her sister did. And since her sister was so young, her work was only drudgery. At least Trina got to sit in a relatively quiet cubicle, while her sister was in a noisy factory.
As she walked down the street to her school Trina got lost in thought. She had been encouraged by her math teacher, who thought that Trina had promise. But they both were realistic—the chances that Trina would be able to win a scholarship to college was quite slim. More likely, she’d spend the rest of her life doing what she was doing now. But somewhere, deep inside, Trina knew her life would turn out differently. She didn’t know why she knew, but she did.
As she approached the school, called “Bronxwood Preparatory Academy.” Trina thought the name was antiquated, like the big thick columns in front. It was from another era, an era that didn’t exist anymore. When there was something to actually prepare for. All but a tiny number of her fellow students would emerge from this school, prepared to do not much else except be a cog in the vast wheel that made other people rich. A wheel she was a part of, and hated already.
Her first class of the day was physics, her favorite subject at the moment. She had stayed up until 3 a.m. this morning finishing her homework on fluid dynamics after she got home from work last night. As usual, she did all of the extra credit problem sets. They had been working on Pascal’s law.
She walked into the classroom and sat in her seat, near the front. As her classmates entered, she watched equations appear on the front screen.
Her teacher, a light-skinned woman with tight black braids tied behind her head said, “Alright, people. Settle down.
“Today, we’re going to make sure that you all fully understand Pascal’s law. Can someone summarize for me what it is?”
Trina’s hand shot up.
“Pressure exerted on a liquid in a confined space is transmitted equally in all directions such that the pressure ratio stays the same.”
“Good. Someone give me the equation.”
George, who sat next to her, raised his hand.
“Delta P equals p times g times delta h.”
The equation went up on the board.
Trina knew, but she waited a while before raising her hand.
“Delta P is the hydrostatic pressure, p is the fluid density, g is gravity, delta h is the height of the fluid.”
The class went on, but Trina’s mind wandered to one of the extra credit problem sets that she’d worked on last night. The question had been whether or not the Earth’s atmosphere obeyed Pascal’s law, and if not, how might one determine pressure depending upon where in the atmosphere one was. It had been a fun problem. Trina always enjoyed problems that involved things like that. She liked thinking big: things like how did the atmosphere work, and how might it be different if it was composed differently?
The rest of the day was a blur of mostly boring things. Her math teacher was out sick, and the substitute just handed out problems for all of them to solve. Problems she solved with lots of time to spare. She felt lucky to be in school, but she also felt frustrated by it. There was so much she wanted to learn, but she knew that she’d probably never get the chance.
She left school, and walked to the subway to make her way to work. She climbed down the stairs, through the automatic payment aisle, then to the platform, and looked at the display. The next subway was due in 5 minutes. She leaned against the wall, thinking. It was almost time for Christmas, and her mother had already started to put out the decorations. Her mother loved Christmas. Trina always tried to get into the spirit to please her mom, and generally enjoyed the holiday, even though she didn’t really feel it like her mother did. She hoped her mother wouldn’t force her to go to church too much. It was the season her mom spent at church a lot.
The subway arrived, and Trina leaned against a pole on one side of the subway car. She looked at a very elderly lady, who occupied one of the two seats in the car. She was wearing an overcoat that looked too large for her. It was purple, and it looked like it had seen better days. The woman’s hair was very thin and gray, and she coughed on occasion. Trina wondered what things had been like for her when she was Trina’s age. The car wasn’t too crowded this afternoon, which felt like a relief. It took about twenty minutes for the train to get from the station near school to Westchester, where she worked.
The company she worked for, CalSpace Tours, was the leading provider of space tours. She had applied for the job on a whim, not really expecting to get it. The job she had been working before was in Manhattan, where she worked in one of the fancy hotels, delivering room service meals. The competition for this job had been fierce, but she aced their tests, and aced her interview.
The company had some ships in orbit and they did tours of the moon. She applied for the job simply because it had to do with space, but once she realized that she was going to spend all of her working hours selling space trips she dreamed of taking to people who could actually afford them, she started to hate it. It cost at least $250,000 for the most basic of trips to orbit for one day. Trips to the moon were more on the order of a million dollars. More than she could ever dream saving in her entire life. But after a while, it became rote, and her dreams of space slipped back into a pocket of her psyche, rarely to be looked at.
When she first came to the job, she was given a long list of leads, and she was supposed to contact each one through the voice network to try to sell them on the tours. It was completely disheartening at first. 60% of the people didn’t respond in any way, and almost all of the rest just took her valuable time, but never actually signed up. Her first week was a complete disaster. She was sure she was going to be fired. She’d gone through less than ½ of her list in the time she was supposed to go through all of it.
But she found a system. She wondered about what would make people take a space trip. She dug up information about who had already signed up, ran the numbers, and then instead of contacting everyone on her list, she filtered it by the criteria that she’d discovered. Soon, she had a success rate that rivaled everyone’s, and people wanted to know how she did it. She refused to tell them, because it was her security—she needed this job.
Today was a research day. She’d just gotten a new batch of leads, and she was researching them. She’d written a small program to get basic demographics for each person: age, marital status, gender, occupation and location, and filter the leads based on that data. Location told her how relatively wealthy they were. Age, marital status and gender told her about the likelihood that they might at all be interested.
Somewhat wealthy, middle-aged single or divorced men who worked in technical or engineering fields, and lived in California, Florida, Arizona and Texas, were by far the best candidates, and she always contacted them first. Anyone living in New England she didn’t even bother with—if they wanted to go to space, they would do the contacting. Her next tier were very wealthy young couples that showed evidence of adventurousness—had they gone on eco-tours, or were they climbers or surfers?
After those, she cherry picked some based on instinct. She didn’t know what it was about them that made her choose them, but she was almost always right. There were always some sorts of deals she could provide—extra time, or a cabin upgrade, or a discount. Trina knew which people would respond best to which deal.
By the end of her shift, she had a nice long list of likely folks she would contact tomorrow. It had been a good, productive day. And it was Friday. Her family would all be at home, making the weekly family dinner. That was one of the rituals of the family. Everyone was always home on Friday nights. Trina looked forward to it as she closed up her terminal, and walked back to the subway home.
The next morning, Trina was fighting with the problem in front of her. It shouldn’t be that hard, she was telling herself. She’d done plenty of problem sets like it before. This one was for extra, extra credit, but that didn’t make it feel any less necessary to solve. The solution to the theorem had been eluding her for half an hour, and she was frustrated. She heard something, and looked up to see her mother standing in the doorway, with a stern face.
“You are going to be late to work.”
Trina looked at her display, and swore under her breath. She’d been working on the problem for too long. She was going to be late to work. She was embarrassed and annoyed at the same time. She would much rather be struggling with this problem set than going to work.
“Your sister will be home from work by six, and Nana will be home by seven, so we’ll eat then.”
As she got her things together she said, “Mom, my shift doesn’t end until midnight on Saturdays.”
“Ah, right. Sorry. Well, we’ll see you tomorrow morning then. Your father and I are going out dancing tonight after work for the first time in years. And remember, we’re going to church tomorrow.”
“That’s great, mom. I hope you have fun.” Trina was talking about both dancing and church, even though she knew her mother didn’t interpret the statement that way. She was going to do what she could to get out of having to go to church with her parents. She hated it, and hated the stern, mean pastor, too.
She bolted out of their apartment, giving her mother a quick kiss on the way out. Walking down the dark, narrow hallway, she tried to avoid the garbage strewn around, but it was dim—the hall was only lit by a single coiled bulb that flickered. The tiny elevator always stank of urine and vomit; she tried to hold her breath until she got onto the ground floor. She wove her way through the labyrinthine halls to the outside, then to the subway.
As she arrived at the station where her work was, Trina realized that she hadn’t made up any time during the trip, so she bolted from the station, and ran to her building. She was going to be about ten minutes late. At the building door, she put her face in front of the retina identification system, and heard the door click. She entered, went up the stairs, and down the hall to where her cubicle was. She sat down and turned on her system.
“You’re late again, Ms. Dewing.” Trina looked up to see her manager looking down at her with a sour face.
“Sorry Mr. Wilkins. I was…”
“I don’t want to hear an excuse. Late again, and you’re gone, you hear me?”
She nodded. Of course, she knew his threat was empty. He’d given that threat a half-dozen times before. She was by far the most productive member of his crew. It would be crazy for him to fire her, no matter how often she was late. But she tried not to tempt fate.
It was a long day, but given her research yesterday, she did well, booking quite a number of people onto space tours. One particular conversation stood out.
“Hello, I’m looking for Mr. Quirin Nilsson,” Trina said in her most perky sales voice. Mr. Nilsson was an especially good lead, as he was divorced, 50-something, lived in Texas, and was a very well paid executive in a large tech corporation. There was data that he’d been in space before, care of Solar Exploratory. And he was not at all risk-averse, as he had interests like sky diving and rock climbing. He was a prime candidate for a Moon trip.
“Yes, this is he.”
“This is CalSpace Tours calling. Do you know us?”
He grunted, said, “Yes,” and nothing more.
“Mr. Nilsson, we are running a special on our trips to the Moon. I’ve seen you’ve gone into orbit before.”
“Would you like to hear about our special?”
“No, not really. May I ask you a question?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Would you take a trip like this?”
“Well, sir, honestly, I couldn’t possibly…”
“I mean, if money were no object.”
“Well, then, yes, sir, I would. No question about it. I’ve always wanted to go into space.”
“Since I was a child, and first learned that there were places people could go out there. When I learned about the moon, and that people had visited it, and about the other planets and the stars. I’ve always…” Trina caught herself.
“I’m so sorry, sir.”
“No reason to apologize. What’s your name?”
“Trina Dewing.” There was a pause.
“Ah, yes sir.”
“Just so you know, I am an investor in Solar Exploratory.”
“That means that I won’t take a CalSpace tour. I’m going out to the asteroid belt in a few weeks.” Trina was instantly jealous, but didn’t let on.
“Well, sir, I’m sorry to have taken your time. I do hope that you have a good trip.”
“Thank you, Ms. Dewing. And if you ever think about a job with Solar Exploratory, I’ve flagged your name in our database.”
“Thank you sir, but I doubt…”
“You never know. Keep optimistic, Ms. Dewing.”
Trina smiled. He seemed like a really nice man.
“Thank you sir. Have a nice night.”
She took a break to get something to eat, then started her last set of calls to California. She managed to book another few people for the Moon trip, and a couple for a trip into orbit. She looked at the clock. It was 11:47. Her shift ended at midnight. She was almost done. She flagged some people she would contact tomorrow evening, during her next shift. Sundays were good to contact certain people, and not others. Her work night finally ended, and she made her way home.
As she left the elevator on her floor in the apartment building and walked toward her apartment, she heard a commotion. She turned the corner to see people spilling out of the door.
“Ah, Trina!” Her grandmother approached her, tears in her eyes.
“What’s happening, Nana? It’s so late.”
“Come inside, child.”
She walked in to see a lot of relatives she hadn’t seen since her cousin’s wedding a couple of years ago. She realized that this must mean that someone died. Maybe her great-grandmother? She looked around for her parents, but didn’t see them. Everyone was surrounding her all of a sudden.
“What’s going on?” she said.
Her Nana said, “Trina, your parents were killed in an accident.”
“What?” She couldn’t get her mind around that. She’d just seen her mother that afternoon.
“The floor of the dance hall collapsed. They were killed along with twenty other people.”
Trina remembered that tonight was the night they were going dancing. Her mother had been looking forward to it for weeks. It was horrible to think that her parents died that way. Trina was paralyzed. How was she going to take care of her sister? How could they possibly afford to keep this apartment? She didn’t know what she was going to do.
The rest of the night was a blur. She cried, a lot, and was eventually helped to her bed. She slept. When she woke up, at first she was sure it was a dream. But then she saw her cousin Bettina sleeping on the floor near her bed. She looked over to see her little sister looking at her, sad eyes full of tears. She got up, and then sat on her sister’s bed.
“It will be alright, Mita. I’ll take care of you. I promise.”
Mita was crying, and Trina held her for a while. After a time, there was a knock on the door.
“Will you get dressed and come out here, please?”
Trina got dressed, and washed up, and went out into the living room, where her grandfather Clevon and Nana, and great-grandmother LeShawna, and her uncle and aunt were sitting.
She sat down.
Her uncle said, “Trina, your parents left a lot of debt.”
Trina was silent. She didn’t know what to say. She knew this was the truth. Her mother’s parents had died deeply in debt, some of those debts had been from their parents, and her family had been working hard to survive, and pay it off.
“The family is responsible to pay it.”
Trina said, “I’m working, I can help. If it means I need to quit school, I will, so I can work two or three jobs.”
“That’s not enough, Trina.”
“What do you mean?”
Her uncle sighed. “Because the debt is three generations old now, they are demanding immediate payment of all of it.”
“But how can we pay it?”
“We only have one choice. We have to sell the labor contract of either you or your sister.”