Chapter 3

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The grass swayed loudly in the summer breeze. It hissed and rattled as it danced, forming a shimmering yellow carpet over the empty plain. The Lagos skyline stood at the end of the carpet, a wall of dark blue haze and slim, flowing skyscrapers. A paved highway receded into the grass, a black ribbon against the gold.

James Masozi looked in the exact opposite direction, toward the wall of grey cement. Perfectly uninteresting, but good enough for him. It was interesting, James thought, that this material should still be in use, through the millennia. One would have thought some other, flashier one would have come into popular favor, but it seemed that cheap old concrete would outlive everything.

James finally decided to turn back toward the impressive panorama out the window. The city, one of many very new ones, had been designed to look pleasing from almost any angle. The twists and curves of the buildings, the soft, mountainous slope of the skyline, the green spaces, all that which defined the modern city, with a hint of personality that set it apart from all the others while simultaneously and unintentionally installing it into the grand theme. The grasslands were part of this personality, a legally required donut of bare, natural land to remind visitors and inhabitants alike what the Nigerian wilderness was. The Lagos Spaceport was built on the far edge of the grasslands, to afford a good view of both the savannah and the city.

Standing squarely in the center of the room stood a UDS transport shuttle, plastered all over with corporate logos. It bore the scars of a hundred orbital round flights, its underside charred with re-entry heat and its engine nozzles yellowed with residual fuel. But it meant much more to the people gathered around it now. It meant opportunity, freedom, escape. For James, it was pure confusion. He felt the small body beside him as it stirred in sleep, looked down to stroke its hair, before returning his gaze to the shuttle. As he followed the bullet shape with his eyes, he felt a pang of fear.

How did he end up here? It was a long road, anyone could see that at a glance. There was the burning passion for discovering the unknown, still glowing in his chest even now. His convoluted path to adulthood, leading him to the doorstep of the Exonavis Corporation. What he learned there was too much for any man. The result of his weakness lay beside him now, but he wore it proudly.

They said the Facem mission would be the ultimate opportunity, to leave the whole world behind and start anew on a fresh, untouched planet. And what an opportunity it was. All criminal charges dropped, monetary compensation for all family members on Earth, and the promise of a simple life on the other end. Yes, there was some selectivity in the process; out of the fifteen billion stuck on Earth, only two thousand would have the chance to leave it. Those that did saw only hope in the future.

For James, the situation was much more complicated. Yes, he certainly wanted a better world for his daughter. And yes, he personally yearned to see something no one before him had seen. But there were other reasons, well beyond his control. Better to convince oneself that choice was meaningful and move on.

A feminine voice echoed through the spaceport, calling the waiting masses to their shuttle. Moving as one, the passengers rose and boarded the spacecraft, silenced by excitement, fear, or resignation. As he approached it, James noticed that the shuttle was shaped like a bullet, its nose pointed and its base flat.

There was no countdown. James frowned slightly as he listened to the shuttle creak and shift in preparation to launch. He looked to the drowsy girl sitting beside him, and wondered what he was about to put her through. He leaned into the central corridor, and looked up to the sun shining through the cockpit windows. James squinted at it and sighed.

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