“Good morning everyone, and welcome to day one of re-inhabitation!”. The cohort had recently woken, eyes sleepy and caved in from the long journey. They all sat upright, hair askew this way and that, nervous and palpably excited. “Today. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” The shuttle had been set up here for around six weeks, with each participant instructed to stay on the ship until they felt like they had acclimated to the kind of gravity that earth promised. They had prepared of course, and most were bulging with muscles from months of training, muscles that on this planet seemed to do very little. Today was the day of the dawn. Their commander, calling herself Chip (appropriately named, she sounded like a singing bird when she spoke), had their rapt attention. The cohorts had seen the sun before, blazing in the distance from the moon and mars and all of the other planets. They had been taken around on field trips during school, the hot burning thing in the middle of the seventh solar system. They had been told about it, like it was urban folklore, the sun and the earth and what the sun was like from earth. It had been so long, so long since anyone had gone there.
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Clouded in the shroud of promises the earth now looked like a patch of scorched toast, black lines running down it, sticking to the bottoms of their shoes. Safe, a haven, that’s how it was marketed.
The shuttle overlooked the outskirts of what used to be New York City. Each cohort had written these words down in a notebook the way we would write something like myocardial infarction. It tasted weird on the tongue.
“Today, we are going to feel the sun.”
Chip walked back and forth over and over again, the anticipation causing her to physically vibrate. She had given each of us old photos from the internet, old photos with people almost naked, basking in the sun.
“Now the first thing you need to know is, do NOT look directly at the thing, it’ll burn holes in your eyes”.
The cohort looked at each other nervously, examining the sheer clothing they were given for their excursion, sheer t-shirts with elbows exposed, pants that stopped at the knee. A totally foreign exposure, and most of them were exceptionally nervous.
“The sun is the life force of earth, and it’s the reason why we’re here.”
Chip continued to pace up and down the length of the classroom, the sweat stains under her arms visible in the grey clothing as she wiped her forehead repeatedly. The sun, it was the thing, truly, that had brought them all here. The photos of the women lying by these things they call beaches, almost naked, sitting overlooking something called an ocean in barely any clothing, the atmosphere holding her skin gently. People did that all the time in fact, walked around without suits or helmets or breathing tanks, all the time, outside.
They had all been hand-picked, from millions, the participants of the cohort. Captain Chip-the-chipper spearheading the entire thing. She was a legend. She’d come down to earth when nobody thought it was inhabitable, walking out and ripping off her helmet and taking in air, real air. It had been all over the news for weeks, with Chip being checked out by hundreds of doctors after her return to assess the true viability of the planet. She had taken photos of trees, reported things growing out of the black, and that’s how it had all begun.
Shipped here on a one way ticket, carefully psychologically assessed to weed out those with afflictions like “wanting to go home”, the cohort was meant to be the seed of repopulation of the earth, with galaxies of humans patiently awaiting their results with baited breath. The entire thing was being televised, and perhaps this was the main source of Chip’s stress. She had no idea, after all, if the rest of the cohort would take to the sun like she had. She had come back a curious colour, like milky coffee, the cohort was told this was also normal.
At oh-seven-hundred-hours they assembled right at the entrance of the shuttle, each with sunglasses on and hats on their heads. As the clock struck the door of the shuttle began to open, slowly and precariously. It was like a giant mouth, spewing out whatever inhabited it back to where it belonged. As the door came down, dust began to fill the entrance of the ship, with cohorts covering their noses and mouths. They were instructed to take steps forward but to keep their eyes down, as the harsh rays of the sun hit their faces.
Televised across the galaxy families watched and waited for something to happen, something good, something bad. Alarmingly, members of the cohort began to rush out, throwing off what little protection they had and running out into the sun. Warmth enveloped them, and their skin felt the curious prickles of wind and sand and dust.
They were awestruck, and once their eyes adjusted the feeling of warmth on their skin felt like a drug, holding them close and steady, so steady that most of them felt compelled to lay down on the scorched ground and just soak it up. It would later be described as the rebirth of civilization, the return. When asked later what it felt like to leave that ship, to touch the air, to feel the sun, each cohort without prompting responded.
“I am home.”