Drawing of a spacecraft approaching a yellow planet. Caption reads: "I don't go back."

Return short story by Iris Carden

I don’t go back. I don’t ever go back. I don’t go to family gatherings or reunions or anything. I never go back, and I never want to.

When I think about my life and when and where I’ve been happy, it’s here and now, not there or then. There’s nothing to go back for.

Here, when I tell people I’m an astrophysicist, they’re impressed. Where I come from they say, “So you’ve got a basic education, but what are you actually doing with your life?”

Here, I get by on my brain, not on my connections. Oh, I had connections back there, but they didn’t benefit me in anyway, just made my life miserable.

Here people are basically OK. Most of them live fairly basic lives. They eat, sleep, work, procreate, and play, and just live their lives. They don’t eat each other, well most of them don’t. Sure, they’re destroying the planet they live on. Gases that make the place hotter are out of control, and there’s an unhealthy level of radiation everywhere because of atomic weapons and nuclear accidents. So people here are more likely to die of cancer from the excessive solar radiation or nuclear radioactivity than they are to die from violence. Their lives aren’t ruled by interplanetary power plays.

I know what you’re thinking: “How could anyone love a species so primitive they get their power by burning carbon and splitting atoms?” What can I say? I just do.

I could live the rest of my life on Earth, trying to get nations and corporations to cut back on the emissions that are going to end most kinds of life on this planet. I am happy here. I have my little house on the edge of a forest, and I grow most of my own food, and I am happy with this simple life.

Today, I received the message from home. “My dear cousin Cos: You will immediately report in person to Space Command. If you do not, I will have you arrested, brought here in custody, and then roasted medium rare. Then I will have that self-destructive planet you love so much harvested for whatever meat it will produce. Blurg.”

Yes, Cos is my actual name, even though I go by Charlie Maddox here. Blurg is my cousin, but he’s also Leader of Space Command. That’s the most powerful faction on my planet, because it’s in charge of interplanetary trade. And yes, he would eat me. He wouldn’t think twice. Protein’s not all that easy to find on many planets in the known universe, including ours. That makes eating disappointing relatives, underperforming employees, and whoever else you consider worthless, unacceptable, easy. And sadly, yes, he would send forces through this entire planet and harvest every living thing for protein for our home planet and for trade. He believes Earth will self-destruct before ever reaching a level where it could be part of the Interplanetary Network. If you’re not advanced enough for trade, you’re not worth much.

My job here was to help the advancement of the Earth. Instead, I’ve been working on fighting the decline. I have been failing at even that. That’s why to Blurg, I am a disappointing relative, an underperforming employee, worthless and unacceptable all in one.

I have no choice. I’m going back.

I’ve thought about how I would do this, how I would just step out of the life I live here, if I was ever forced to leave. So now, I have to put the plan into place. First, I’m getting a tribute for Blurg. I’m not going back empty-handed. He could just eat me even if I do follow orders.

My spacecraft’s always kept at the ready, in a large building that looks like a stable near my house. I’ve calculated how much extra I can carry in it.

So step one of my plan is my tribute to my insane cousin. I’m ordering it from a specialist butcher. Two full cattle carcasses, two pigs and two sheep. All butchered into standard cuts, and flash frozen, and packed in a great deal of dry ice. I’m paying premium prices so he can have his staff work the overtime required for me to pick it up tomorrow.

Next, I go though everything I own, and get out documents showing ownership of my house and land, my electric vehicle, bank accounts, everything. All my bills are up-to-date. I won’t leave any problems for others. Now I write my suicide note and a will, which will remain unwitnessed, but there are enough exemplars of my signature around. I allocate everything I own on this planet to friends, workmates, and charities.

The final part of the plan is to load up the tribute and fly back, to the reunion I never wanted. It will take me about two Earth days. No, the speed of light is not the fastest way to traverse space, although Earth scientists looking at theories of wormholes are getting close to the answer.

I am taking one last walk through the forest, before I collect my tribute and leave in the morning. I will miss this planet which has so much beauty, and these beings who don’t do what’s in their own or their planet’s best interests. Whatever life is left to me, before my cousin decides I am more useful as food than working for him, I will advocate to protect this planet I love.

While you’re here…

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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