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I see myself walk out into the backyard. It is late at night, past my bedtime, but my parents let me stay under the twinkling stars. Their telescopes, scattered all over the backyard, point in a dozen different directions, but my parents ignore them. Instead, they point up at an angle to a bright, twinkling star. That’s the North Star, they say. Follow that and you’ll never be lost.
Their voices fade to ghostly echoes. When everything came into focus again, I am in a strange room. My parents are crying, but I don’t understand why. I am handed over to two men in strange white uniforms. “Be safe,” whispers my mom. Then they leave, and I am whisked away to a gigantic building. I see myself leave the planet in the building, set adrift in the cosmos.
When I look back at the planet, the blue, green and white comes together into an ugly grey. In an instant I am back at home, or what was left of it. As I watch, the ashen forms of a man and woman collapse into a heap, indistinguishable from the charred and lifeless ground beneath them. Their last echo grows louder.
I sit up, gasping for air, trying to clear my head of the nightmares. My clock reads 03:59 AM. Those last two letters are the only way to figure out when a new day begins. Here, in the light and darkness of space, there is no night or day.
That dream… I never know what is worse about it: the truth, the fiction, or knowing that the fiction occurred.
I go out in my night clothes, white like the rest of my room, down the hall with the three green stripes. At the end of the hall I encounter a door, shimmering in the starlight. There is a keypad but I know the code. 122553. The day I was born. There used to be a celebration on that day at my home. Now, there are no celebrations.
The door opens and I walk into my favorite place the whole starship. It is adorned in color, from the huge green leaves of the banana trees to the soft red apples. I stand alone in the ship’s gardens, feeling the soft green moss underneath my feet. Suddenly, my stomach rumbles rebelliously against the strict mealtimes imposed on us. I look around and, satisfied that no one will know, reach out to pick one small apple.
“I thought you’d come,” says a voice behind me. Startled, I jump and turn around, only to relax again when I see Sarah peeking out from behind a field of corn. Her parents had been astronomers, too. They were our neighbors.
“Why are you here?” I ask. She simply looks into my eyes and in an instant I know what happened to her last night.
“They never go away, do they?”
“Never,” I agree. “See you at the hall in a few hours?”
“Of course,” she tells me. We part ways as I try to block out the images haunting both of our minds.
Commander Argon is at the dining hall today, right in front of a large silver screen. Everyone quiets down, even though we all know what is going to happen.
“As you all know,” Argon begins in a low, gravelly tone, “Only four scanners survived Earth’s nuclear annihilation. We receive broadcasts from them at regular intervals. Today, we received something unlike that which we have seen before.”
A huge volume of hushed chatter spreads throughout the hall.
“Could it be?” I whisper to Sarah. She shrugs, but her eyes tell another story. They remind me of what the Earth used to look like: blue, green and white all swirled together. Right now, hope shining out of those eyes.
“This image was received from a hill in what used to be North America from Scanner Alpha.” As the image appears on the screen, a chorus of voices, no longer whispering, break out. The image is that of a sapling. It is surrounded by a clump of grass. We’re going home.
As everyone cheers, Sarah and I lock eyes again. This time, both our eyes say the same thing; Pain.
Behind the sapling is what used to be our homes.
“Not yet,” Argon rumbles. Now everyone in the hall looks like they were just slapped in the face. “We have to run more tests. For all we know, most of the world is uninhabitable.” With that dismissal, everyone finishes their meal quickly and files out.
Sarah and I leave the dining hall together to mourn silently. As tears fall onto our cheeks, Sarah says in a shaky voice, “At least we might be able to return.”
“Yes,” I agree.
“And rebuild our homes.”
“They are gone,” Sarah whispers to me, “But they left us one last memento.”
“Hope,” I finish. Sarah kisses my cheek and walks away, leaving me two paths to take. I turn around and go back to my room.
There is one window in my room. I turn its shields off and a field of stars appear. As I look out of the lone window, I catch a glimpse of the same star that my parents pointed out to me so long ago. Gazing at the star, I feel the last gift my parents gave me. Hope. Hope that we will someday return to Earth now once the toxic ruins have stopped smoldering. Hope that I can rebuild the house I lived in over the ashes of my parents. Hope that, one day, I can show my future children the star from the point that I saw it so many years ago. The star that kept my dreams, both good and bad, alive for all these years.
The North Star.