Birth of a Planet

by Ytasha L. Womack

This story is a prequel to the Rayla 2212 series and explores the early years of a new colony turned independent on Planet Hope, the first Earth colony beyond the solar system.

This story is part of the Race in Space Conference initiative first launched at Duke University with Ytasha L. Womack and William Darity  to support equality in space settlements.

“We gonna take it to the moon, take it to the stars. How many people you know can take it this far?” – Beyonce

Year 2093

Obama City, Planet Hope

School of Demeter

Periodic table. Check. Map of the constellations. Check.

Cartola da Silva didn’t like it when I entered his classroom.

The bubble shaped room was rose-tinted; a light spawn prism effect that Cartola believed elevated the consciousness of those who walked in. I wasn’t a fan of the effect and his face went flush when I arrived, so much so, that the dozen or so teenage students turned around and stared at me.

“Attention,” Cartola said firmly. A thorough teacher with an adoration for quantum physics and music, he was a student favorite. “Good day, Ice,” he said with the lukewarm tone of a man who just met me.

While they liked his easy ways and fluid disposition, they knew he was not one to play with. The former Brazilian soccer star, once known for his angry rants on the field, made a yogi conversion of sorts here on Planet Hope and became one of the planet’s leading philosophers. The students were as entranced by his lessons as they were by his mythic athletic past. They snapped back to attention at his request and didn’t give me a second thought.

 “Can we speed up time, Cartola?” one curly haired boy asked, his eyes peppered with question marks.

“Some think we already have,” he said, looking my way. I smiled quickly and surveyed the room.

This particular course was a tailor-made Cartola special where he taught the three dimensionality of music as applied in the quantum realm.  The son of a club deejay, pulsating electric rhythms and conga beats lined his veins. As a child, he found himself drawn to the stars and he believed fervently that music was a gateway to the next galaxy.

But we were already in the next galaxy and music, I reminded him, didn’t get us here.

I’d known Cartola for some years now. We arrived on Planet Hope on the same ship, both of us awaking around the same time, some 9 months into our two year long trip to this new galaxy. The other dozen or so on our trip didn’t awake until the day we landed. Cartola and I spent three months shedding anxiety as we shared our tender hopes for a new world.

Rayla 2212 -Cyberface_CWe were from two different walks of life. He was a world-class athlete who hailed from Brazil’s tough favelas in Sao Paulo and shot to superstardom the year he carried Brazil to its first of four straight World Cups in a row. His svelte silhouette was inked on everything from leather jackets to air lift kicks.  I was a rogue anthropologist from a cozy neighborhood in Chicago, chosen amongst a pool of cut throat academics and scientists aiming for funders pot of goal, an opportunity to shape the cultural development of a new world. Forget those lush art curator jobs; this gig trumped the discovery of Einstein’s theory of relativity, the acclaim of the Higgs Boson and even man’s first trip to the moon.

This job was one to die for and in many respects I did, leaving the familiar haunts of the city, friendly faces and family behind.

Cartola bought his ticket with a cool $8 million and the funds were allocated to build and develop Planet Hope. His hefty payment funded my work. He was the reason Planet Hope had a culture department in the first place, a task that positioned me nicely post-independence to become Planet Hope’s first minister of culture, responsible for the development and preservation of humanities and the arts. Cartola was our famous, rock star of a patron. He was one of many “space tourists” whose early interest in space funded Planet Hope’s colonization, long before the planet lottery granted average citizens a chance, and long before Earth’s depositing of the “undesirables” that ultimately lead to our revolution in the first place.

One day on our flight, Cartola and I were overlooking the cosmos from the observation deck, just the two of us, sailing through the calming sea of blackness and comforted by the brilliance of distant stars. We were steeped in silence, blanketed by the quietness of the unknown, and that’s when Cartola stepped out of his own shadow.

“I’ve been here before,” he said softly, his gaze locked in the black essence of space.  The words didn’t register at first; I was hypnotized I think by the awesome blackness, this permanent night that swallowed our tiny vessel in the infinite space of time. “Really,” I said, waiting for the punch line for his joke.

“No, really, Ice. I’ve been here before. And I’ve been to Planet Hope,” he said.

“Really,” I said, my eyes still fixated on the ether. I was hearing him, as they say, but not listening.

“I rode between the notes of a song that circled the Milky Way. My father and mother taught me,” he said. “Have you ever steered between the notes of sound?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“I guess you don’t remember,” he quipped, the words tickling me enough to break my hypnotized state and he continued. “But this way of traveling, this ship, this engineering, is so in the present,” he added. “It’s so now. Now I get to travel and take my body with me. That’s why I’m here, Ice. That’s why I came on this journey. I like the challenge of having my mind and body in sync. Do you?” he asked.

I didn’t know what to make of Rocky’s revelation. His black eyes mirrored the view in the window.

“But I’m still afraid,” he said. “Are you afraid?” he asked me.

“There’s no point in thinking about that now,” I quipped.

“I am,” he said. “Do you want to know why?” he asked.

“No, because that would make me afraid, too” I said. He smiled, much like a mischievous boy who’d just yanked a girl’s ponytail and proceeded to tell me anyway.

“I’m afraid,” he continued. “Because in this new space, I know I will become someone else. And I don’t know who that someone else will be.”

“You’ll be the same ole Cartola, whoever that is,” I joked. I’d spotted his omnipresent commercial; his cool athlete’s arrogance sold many a sweat suit, not that that meant much where we were going. Maybe that was his point.

“Space changes you,” he said, holding my gaze in his. “Where you physically are completely reorients you as a person. I can’t be Cartola from Bahia if I’m on the other side of the galaxy.”

“You’ll be Cartola in Planet Hope,” I said.

“No, I won’t be Cartola at all. And you won’t be Ice.”

 “That we’ll soon see,” I said.

Our friendship was sealed that night. Cartola was my best friend on Planet Hope, my sometime lover, my sometime friend. We kept our closeness under wraps for political reasons mostly. Planet Hope’s politics were nuanced and we’d learned early on that it was best to walk the road of friendship amongst our peers. Creating a new government is tough work and Cartola and I had our battles. Sometimes, we were on the same side of the council’s issues, like when we pressed for a classless society to be one of the planet tenants, alleviating the need for currency and being interdependent. Other times, we were sparring partners, like when the planet voted to allow the Originals to create their own city with their own rules. Rocky was for it, I was not.

But Cartola was a generous soul. When the planet planners asked him what he wanted in exchange for his hefty investment, instead of pressing for one of the crystal vacation homes outside of Obama City, he said he wanted a life lab to pursue his own research, some ideas he’d been working on around music and time travel. He wanted the opportunity to teach them. The council obliged.

“We were just wrapping up our physics lesson with a brief discussion on time,” he said to me, hiding his annoyance of my visit with a congenial smile.

I nodded. “Perhaps one day, we will know just where the future and past meet,” he told the students.

I surveyed the classroom. Again, there was no map of Earth. Of all the high tech digital gadgets to ensure our Planet Hope students received the best our scientists had to offer, this glaring oversight of our homeland was likely intentional.  But it wasn’t Carlota’s choice, I’m sure. I made a note on my tablet and headed outside.

Green Peters, the planet’s revered head of education greeted me with a smirk. A thin man with a runner’s build, he was tickled by my frustrations with the planet’s childhood education program.

“What is it this time?” he said, the two of us walking through the organic garden the students cultivated this year. Rose blossoms were in full bloom and the elderberries, it appeared were ripe for picking, just in time for our Masquerade celebration.

“Is there a reason our classes don’t have maps of Earth?” I asked. Peter sighed.

“I suppose the new chemistry laboratory for the students doesn’t compensate,” he said. “Did you see the virtual lab?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And what about the state of the art workout facility?”

“It’s not a map,” I said.

“Ice, since independence, the Council feels that we should emphasize our new home, our new culture,” he said. “Waddling in the past will only confuse things. Especially, since we won’t be going back anytime soon. No point in creating false hopes.”

The Council, our newly formed governing body had elevated me to Minister of Culture, but integrating this role into our new government’s governing policy was rife with more politics then I’d bargained for and some of their decisions were infringing on my duties.

“Green, these kids have to know where they came from. Yes, we’re citizens of Planet Hope, but we’re also humans from Earth. The first humans, mind you, to inhabit a planet in a distant star. Our Earth origins have to be a part of the core curriculum. Regardless of our tense relationship with Earth, our citizens need to know where they come from”

“No one’s going to forget that this wasn’t home,” Peter affirmed.

“I spoke to one child who didn’t know his mother was from the US. I spoke to another that thought the War on Terror was a part of a fable. We’ve only been on this planet for 50 years and already, generations are forgetting.”

“We’ve extended the life cycle. Now we just have to work on enhancing memory. Perhaps a new pill is in order,” he said. We exited the garden and were now on the city walkway. A few shiny hovercrafts buzzed by and the clouds parted just enough for me to see the rooftops of our growing urban landscape.

Green quickened his pace, but I stayed at his side.

“Green,” I said. “This is serious. What’s the resistance?”

He stopped walking and looked me squarely in the eye.

“This is a new beginning, Ice. Can we just enjoy the beginning? Earth was filled with strife and division. We just achieved independence a year ago and we’re feeling our way through this thing. The Council wonders if we should be talking about these things. Really, do we want to talk about racism, sexism, classism, homophobia? There’s no place for it on this planet.

“If we don’t talk about it, we’ll repeat it,” I said.

“We’re just starting to get everyone to let go of their ties to nationality,” Peter said. “And you know the problems that caused when we created our court system. And let’s not talk about the constitution.  My goodness, what a headache it was getting that thing drafted.”

“So your resolution is no map of Earth? No history.”

“I didn’t say that,” he added. “Planet Hope’s history begins now. Document our story. Tell our story,” he said. “Surely, that’s worth teaching, don’t you think?”

“Life didn’t begin with this planet,” I said.

“And it didn’t begin on Earth either,” he countered. Another hovercraft buzzed by. Green watched it disappear into the clouds.

“We’re meeting with the council tomorrow. Bring your concerns there. But don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he said before flagging down a taxi craft and slipping inside. “Good day, Ice,” he said. “Good day, Green,” I chimed and he flew off.

Ytasha L. Womack, author, filmmaker, dancer and futurist.

Ytasha L. Womack, author, filmmaker, dancer and futurist.

Ytasha L. Womack is an author, filmmaker, dancer and futurist. Her book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi and Fantasy explores black sci fi culture, bleeks, black comix, and the legacy of futurism.

She is author of the critically acclaimed book Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity and 2212: Book of Rayla. She is also the coeditor of the hip hop anthology Beats, Rhyme & Life: What We Love and Hate About Hip Hop. Her films include Love Shorts (writer/producer) and The Engagement (director).  Ytasha is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University and studied media management at Columbia College in Chicago. She resides in the Windy City. Read her work at iafrofuturism.com Find her on Twitter @ytashawomack  or @iafrofuturism

This short story is a prequel to the Rayla 2212 series and explores the early years of a new colony turned independent on Planet Hope, the first Earth colony beyond the solar system.

This story is part of the Race in Space Conference initiative first launched at Duke University with Ytasha L. Womack and William Darity  to support equality in space settlements.
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3 replies

  1. This is brilliantly written! I don’t read much fiction these days (unfortunately for me), but this has definitely captured my imagination. Most of us ponder our origins, and this prequel has definitely piqued my curiosity in terms of where the story goes next…

    One day I’ll get round to reading the Rayla 2212 series, it’s on the wish list! There is something inspiring about reading negated narratives in fiction. I guess for someone like me, knee deep in non-fictional writings, it’s easy to forget how important fiction can be.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    • I need the reminder too! Keep rediscovering thanks to wise people & great writers that fiction can be radical loving activism… and show/create what is worth fighting for…

      Like

  2. This is brilliantly written! I don’t read much fiction these days (unfortunately for me), but this has definitely captured my imagination. One day I’ll get round to reading the Rayla 2212 series. It’s easy to forget how important fictional writing can be.

    Like

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