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The corridor was dark and musty. Rotting crates stacked against the wall gave off a distinct odor of decay. Through the single windowpane set high on the wall radiated a thin crack of illumination. Layers of dust, disturbed after decades of rest filtered from the ceiling, sifting through chinks in a bare light socket.
Clad in a black robe and thongs, a figure stood, hand pressed against the earthen wall. The dampness of it seemed reassuring, somehow soothing his apprehension. A sense of familiarity filled him and he smiled before straightening up. Jerzel Colemus had come home. Home. The word echoed barrenly in the silence.
Gathering his flowing skirt around him, Jerzel listened for signs of activity. The air seemed so dead. Yet Jerzel knew the atmosphere had awakened on a molecular level, revitalized after twenty years of abandonment. Earth could once more support life again.
Jerzel had the urge to run, but he restrained himself. He moved further into the submerged building, feeling tendrils of dust pluck his skin. Breathing deeply, ignorant of the dirt, he spun slowly, the faint beam of sunlight playing over his pale hair and face. The light was warm and alive, the first non-artificial light he'd consciously known since childhood.
Beckoning him from the window's comfort was a wide doorway. Through it nothing was visible, and only the memory served as a reminder of what lay beyond. The black rectangle of darkness drew him forward until he stood at its entrance. Jerzel pushed back his hood and mounted the single step, immediately enveloped by blindness.
Crash! His body was airborn, flying across the room, hitting the concrete wall. Jerzel stifled a cry of pain as he rolled onto his stomach, searching for the guilty piece of furniture that had tripped him. His eyes, adjusting to the dark, made out the footstool he had carelessly left near the bed two decades ago. Picking himself up, he groped for a light switch, chuckling at the foolishness of the accident.
Jerzel stood in his room for an infinite length of time, letting his mind replay once forgotten scenes. He could remember the day his father, Gregory Colemus, had told him that the United Federation ordered Earth to be evacuated because of the abnormally high levels of carbon monoxide and the low oxygen count. It had been on holovision for months, pictures of the cities covered in black filth, then the meteorologists with acid rain reports followed by the smoking ruins of above ground homes that hadn't been fortified beneath the surface. He could envision his family perched on the couch, watching the pictures waver on the screen.
The memories were bitter of how, twenty years before, he and Earth's remaining nine billion inhabitants had taken the Federation shuttles and abandoned the planet for the safety of Space Station Galaxy. The promise that Earth would shortly be cleaned by the Federation was a lie. Jerzel was finished with college now and this was Galaxy's first return expedition.
Breaking his reverie, Jerzel walked to his low bookcase and pulled out a brown covered book. He opened it and stared at a circled picture until it blurred in his sight. The year before the Migration his science teacher had given him this faded text book, a book that teacher had used when he was a child. Jerzel had kept it because it was fascinating; it had pictures of forests in it, something he'd never seen in real life. The photo he examined now was of a lush rain forest, abundant with vegetation. He perused the caption. Brazil had had rain forests, and Washington as well. That was, he mused sadly, until the environmentalists were exiled by the Federation for their radical actions and the trees were left to die.
The final decision to leave was due to the oxygen shortage. Too many people, too much pollution, and too few trees to create the sustaining gas. Everyone had gone, that was, except the environmental radicals whose existence was only known by the infrequent radio contact maintained with Space Station Galaxy. It was the environmentalists Jerzel had come to look for, the few exiled Earthlings who had proved the planet's only hope. It was they who put the Federation to shame for being wrong and they who suffered while continuing to fight for the sake of humanity and for the dying remnants of life struggling in their habitats. Jerzel disregarded the rumors of what the environmentalists were like, knowing that insane visionists and mindless martyrs were merely stereotypes for courageous men determined to fight for survival.
Carrying the book with him, Jerzel made his way through he interior of the house/shelter and to the land above. According to the reports from Space Station Galaxy, the environmentalists were expecting him. They lived farther away, on the continent of Europe. It was a short distance in his shuttle and worth the delay to see his house again. It was worth the time to spend a short moment in reflection before embarking on the purpose of his Return. n