Shooting for the stars
Zooming in on a planet in a series of shots that eventually give bird’s eye view of vast farms with green-skinned multi-limbed creatures working with small machines on field after field.
Shot comes down into a particular field where one of these green-skinned four-armed creatures is working near a dome like structure.
FATHER, shouting towards the Dome: Nero! Where are you? I need your help!
(CROSS CUT into a room inside the dome where a smaller, clearly younger creature is standing in the dim light pinning a picture onto a wall already heavily covered with pictures of stars and space and planets and other out of this world images, he has printed off the nearby computer. He has put up so many there isn’t an inch of space between them, stars and planets smearing together into a mass of images.
His father, with grime from the farm still clinging to him charges through the front door and through the house until he comes to the young alien’s room, where he halts and shouts.
What are you doing? Didn’t you hear me calling? I need you to help me work.
Nero hesitates, his three eyes filled with the reflection of the wall. He tells his father he needed to finish this.
But the older alien is clearly agitated, as he rants about being sick of this nonsense.
“You’re living in a dreamland,” father says. “You ought to tear all that junk down and concentrate on reality.”
Mother arrives and tells father to leave the boy be.
“Everybody needs dreams,” she says.
“Dreams?” father bellows. “I give the boy solid earth, something he can feel under his feet, run through his fingers, and he aches for fairy dust.”
“The boy will come around in time,” mother says. “Just let him have this little bit for himself.”
“But it’s not natural,” father says. “He thinks he’s human with the way he carries on.”
“And is there something wrong with that?” mother asks.
“It’s not reality. We’ve been created for one purpose – to work, and we can’t hope to do more than that. Yet no matter how much I talk to that boy, I can’t make him understand he has to come down to earth and do what he was bred for.”
“In time he will,” mother says.
“He doesn’t have time. He needs to learn a lot so he can take over this farm after I pass on,” father says.
“Be careful, Carl. If you push him too far, he’ll do something rash,” mother says
SCENE 2: Nero in bed looking up, wall of stars to one side of him, his mother standing on the other side of the bed.)
Nero says he’s very unhappy, and feels trapped in this life
Mother comforts him and says this life isn’t as bad as he makes out. “You get used to it after a while,” she says. “Sometimes you have to put aside your dreams and do things you don’t always want to.”
She pulls out a box and shows Nero poetry she used to write when younger
“I hate this world, too,” she says. “But your father is right. There is not place for our kind outside this place.”
“Then how can you stand living here if you hate it?” Nero asks.
“I love your father and that carries me through each day,” she says.
“I don’t love him enough for that,” Nero says. “And he doesn’t love me at all.”
“Of course, he loves you,” Mother says. “That’s why he’s so hard on you. He thinks you’re wasting your life away dreaming of things you can’t have.”
“Is that why he’s so mean to me?” Nero asks.
“He doesn’t mean to be mean,” mother says. “He’s just steeped in tradition. He wants to pass the farm down to you the way his father passed the farm on to him, and all the fathers have done to their sons for as long as anyone can remember.”
“But I don’t want to get trapped here,” Nero says, looking up at the walls of stars. “I want to go out there and explore. Father thinks in inches, not light years. I see him on the porch at night. He doesn’t look at the stars like I do, he sits and watches the corn grow. All he’s worried about it making it to the next season.”
“There is beauty in the land,” mother says, “if you stop and look at it.”
“I do look,” Nero says. “And sure, I like what I see sometimes – especially when the flowers come out in spring. But I love the stars more.”
His mother pats his arm.
“You’ll come around sooner or later,” she says, then leaves.
SCENE 3: Dome exterior, day.
Nero is coming back from the field running, and slows only when he sees his father and other elders standing on front of the dome hatch.
One of the elders is the local doctor, and so Nero asks what’s wrong.
His father says mother is ill. The boy tries to push passed him, but one of his father’s arms holds him.
“Don’t go in yet,” Father says. “There are people working on her.”
Nero demands to know what’s wrong with her.
His father says some of their race has a hard time adjusting to this planet – something in the water or the air that works on them and eventually makes them fade away.
Nero is frantic, and wants to know if there is anything anybody can do?
Father says all that can be done is being done, and they all have to wait to see what comes of us.
Nero falls asleep waiting, and when his father shakes him awake it is to tell Nero the bad news. Mother has passed on.
“But I didn’t even get to say good bye,” the boy moans, and then sees the doctor and his staff leaving. The boy screams at them. Why with all their technology couldn’t they save her?
They have no answer.
Nero runs to his room and falls onto his bed, where the stars glow over him.
SCENE 4: The boy’s bedroom, morning
Father shakes Nero up early and tells him it is time for work.
“Time to get up and at it, boy,” the old man says.
“But mother is…”
“Your mother is dead. We have to get on with life.”
Father tells Nero to meet him outside.
SCENE 5: the fields, day light
Father drives Nero hard that day and the next day, and for several more days, until the boy can barely stand despite his three legs.
In his room, the boy cures his father, saying, “I hate him and this planet. They killed my mother.”
Father scolds him a few days later for slacking off.
Nero says he’s tired and he misses mother.
Father says the boy will get used to the work, and hard work will help him forget his mother or keep him from thinking too much about her death.
“Someday, you’ll appreciate what I’m doing for you,” father says. “Someday, you’ll come to love this land the way I do.”
“I’ll never love this land or you,” Nero yells.
But father continues to push him, and each day, Nero grows more and more bitter, hating the smell of the manure used to fertilize, the fuel used to keep the engine running, even the heaviness of the air.
He hates the sun beating down on his head even when it is hidden behind a veil of golden clouds, hiding with its brightness even a glimpse of the places his mind strives to reach.
He is too tired to even dream the way he used too, and -- the only thing he really has is the photographs – and he stares at them, unable to go to sleep.
Then his father catches him staring at the photographs again and complains
“Photographs again?” he complains. “Why can’t you get your head out of the clouds?”
His father says, he doesn’t mean to be hard, and he vaguely understands why the boy is so attracted to space.
“But it is beyond our reach,” father says. “Even if you were a human boy, the chances would be slim for you getting to space. But who you are works against you.”
But there is beauty here, too, in the way things grow, in the movement of a full field of wheat when the wind blows, of heads of corn ripe and waiting to be harvested. Why can’t the boy see those things, too?
Has he ever looked out over tall green grass to see the tiny faces of wild flowers blooming?
“I give you solid earth to dig in, and all you can look at is photographs,” father says.“You have to grow up someday, boy, and this seems as good a time as any. Tomorrow, all those silly photos come down, and you’ll start thinking about the future of this land.”
His father is serious and sad. It is the clear the memory of his wife’s death weighs heavy on his shoulders.
No, the boy says,
An arm lashes out and for the first time in his life, the boy’s father strikes him.
“Do what you’re told,” father says.
SCENE 6: Dome bedroom, night
Nero packs the photographs, although in the dim beam of his dying flash light, they do not seem nearly as impressive to him as they did.
His father snorts in his sleep across the hall and Nero stiffens.
When the sleep returns, he relaxes, and continues to pack again
He glances about, the beam catching glimpses of things that he would like to keep. A model of the early shuttles and other space craft from ancient earth as well as the more modern craft.
In his mind he has traveled in each, knows how fast they go and what part of space they explore.
He thinks “I’ll get to ride in some of them yet.”
He passes them, until he gets a framed sheet of paper, listing the Rules and Regulations of the Marine Space Corps. With it is a letter that says he has won the Why I Like Space Essay contest, and a first place ribbon. He slips the letter out from behind the glass and into an envelop, and puts the envelop in his bag.
He sneaks passed his father’s door, half expecting it to snap out and for the stern-faced man to be there waiting, his eyes and mouth twisted with outrage and disappointment.
But the boy picked the however carefully, knowing that hard work in the field made the man sleep deeply and no ordinary noise could rouse him easily.
In his mind he could see his father’s rubber like gills floating on top of the covers like smoke over tall grass, rising and falling with each deep snore
He could see the face years of field work had baked hard.
Worry has carved deep lines into it, and the boy felt regret at the added lines his leaving would cause, and how humiliated the man would feel later in the village when he had to meet the men he often bragged too about his son taking over when he retired.
Then, he gets to the kitchen, his mother’s kitchen, and it is filled with her memory like that of a ghost’s.
In private moments, she had confessed as much hatred for the farm life as the boy felt, but said that she had committed to it because she loved the boy’s father.
But the boy always sensed that this place, this room in particular, was little more than a jail cell, from which only death had provided her with an escape.
Perhaps she hoped her son could escape this when she could not, and why she refused to clamp down on him despite all the urging of his father.
Then, he was outside, and the full glory of the night sky greeted him, stars winking down at him like old friends.
It was a sky full of future and all he needed to do was take them down and clutch them to his chest the way he did his photographs.
No one could keep them from him now. Not even his father. Provided the boy got to the highway in time.
Yet when he reaches the road, he looks back at the sleeping farm – and as much as he hates being trapped on it, he knows a part of him will always remain, partly because of his mother, but also because some of the soil had worked into his blood just as his father predicted, and he would carry a bit of this world to whatever worlds he travels to.
He was leaving behind his mother’s ghost, and his father’s, and the host of spirits that preceded his father with the same desperate hope that life would go on with son taking over for father just as the sons had as far back as memory could go.
It takes a lot for the boy to turn his back on that, and when he does, he is sobbing, and hating himself for that sobbing.
Near the road, he stares at the line of traffic, waving at each passing vehicle until a large truck stops.
The driver eyes him and his gear and asks if he is running away.
Sort of, he says, drawing something of a scowl from the driver who tells the boy he ought to reconsider.
“You have a good life here, solid land that grows stuff,” the man says. “That can be counted on.”
“It’s boring,” the boy says.
“Life can be boring but it is safe,” the driver says. “where are you headed now?”
“The space port,” the boy says.
The driver howls. “You mean you intend to go into space once you get onto the port?”
“And just how did you intend to get into the port?”
“What do you mean?”
“The place is guarded. They don’t let people wander onto it.”
The boy’s face grows determined. “You just get me there, I’ll find a way in.”
Even then, he stares into the side mirror at the image of his father’s farm fading in the distance.
“You’re a slug. Even if you weren’t, nobody will let you in. But it’s your time, not mine, I’ll take you there,” the drive says.
In the dark, the truck passes other farms, some with the lights of early risers getting ready to do battle with the land. The fields looked dark and their bulk remained hidden with the truck’s beams illuminating portions that it passes along the way.
And though the boy has travelled a portion of this road during those times when his father took crop to market, he feels as if this is all new and that he is finally on his way, and eventually, the truck passes the last boundary of the boy’s old world and he is indeed on his way.
For a long time, they ride in silence. The driver glances his way from time to time, but does not say much for a long while, when he does, he says, “You know I’ve seen your kind before.”
“What do you mean?”
“Kids who are bored with life and think they can fine something better in the stars. Every far you see here has a kid like you on it, all of them wishing they were some place else,” the driver says. “But you’re the first slug I’ve seen trying to get there.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“It isn’t any better up there than it is here.”
“How would you know?
“Because I’ve been there.”
“You’ve been in space?”
“Then what are you doing here, driving a truck?”
“Making a living I can’t make up
“You’re just trying to talk me into going back to the farm.”
“If I could, I would,” the driver says. “But you’ll soon find out hopping a freight to space won’t be as easy as you think. Even a human boy would have a tough time hitching a ride. With you being a slug and all, I doubt anyone will give you the time of day. Spacers tend to hate slugs and anything else that ain’t human.”
“They have a fence around the port, you know.”
“So I’ll climb over it.”
“It’s electrified and monitored. Even if you survive the shock, you’ll get carted off and sent home again when security catches up with you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Naturally not,” the driver mumbles.
“But why would they want to stop us from leaving if we want.”
“Because the middle empire needs you where you are, especially the slugs” the driver says. “If all the young people flee into space, who will run the farms. Not the old men, certainly. And if the slugs start thinking they don’t have to do what they’ve been bred for, then the whole economy goes up in smoke.”
“And young people are leaving?”
“In droves. Climbing onto everything that can get them into space. Many of them don’t make it. Some of them do. Some of them hate it when they get there, and some – like me – even manage to get back. But as I said, you’re the first slug I’ve seen try, and I never saw a slug up there.”
Eventually, the boy can see the tips of the space ships, glittering in the growing light of early dawn. He is in awe when the truck comes to a stop and lets the boy out.
The gate is guarded, and signs are posted along the fence warning of the high voltage.
The boy stared and trembled. He saw behind the fence the full shapes of the space ships and felt rage at the fact that someone – anyone – kept them away from him.
How dare anybody lock up the stars, he thinks, and then begins circling the place, looking for a place where he might scale it. But the signs clearly warn people to stay away, double layers so that nobody, people, aliens or animals accidentally gets electrocuted.
At one point, he comes to a dip in the fence and thinks he found a weak point – but discovers this has a small force field.
At another point, he finds the fence crosses a small pond. Leaving his gear on shore, he dives under the water, but finds a metal grid blocking this, too, and he resurfaces sputtering.
He comes to another gate where guards stop trucks and search, guards joking with drivers about the possible smuggling of little boys into the space port.
Had all the boy’s dreams come to a dead end?
He eyes the fence again, looking for an overhanging branch he might scramble over, but port authorities had anticipated this as well, clearing both sides of the fence far enough so that no tree grew even close.
Shivering in the cold dawn, the boy thinks about the farm and his father already up and already aware of the fact that the boy had left.
First, the boy envisions the look of hurt on his father’s face, the great disappointment that the boy would flee, then the greater disappointment that the generations of farmers in the family would end with his death, and then the look of anger and the determination to get the boy back, the hand reaching to the transmitter to alert the authorities.
The authorities would listen, too. They wouldn’t want a slug like him wandering around like he is.
The boy sees the flashing lights and hears the sirens as police vehicles arrive at the house.
Yet in his head, he hears his father’s scolding voice from another time, telling him to use his head, all problems have solutions.
His father, of course, meant practical solutions to everyday problems, not one that involved the boy’s breaking into a space port.
He stares up at the two fading moons that the bright red of the morning sun are slowly erasing, like some symbolic message that boys like him should not seek to reach the stars.
His expression grows determined and he moves back to the fence. He takes his bag and throws it over the top of the fence so that it lands on the turf inside. Then he dives back into the water and swims to the bottom where he follows the grill to the bottom, and there, he begins digging in the mud with all his limbs until he comes to the edge of it and manages to slip under it, and then is on the other side.
He explodes onto the surface out of breath, but clearly on the inside of the fence. He crawls to the shore.
Outside the fence, he sees flashing lights and hears the rise and fall of sirens, and knows that they will soon be searching for him, at first outside the fence, then when failing to find him there, inside.
He jumps up, grabs his bag and charges towards the field of ships, stopping workmen to ask where he can go to get into space, most of them ignoring him or worse, telling him to go home.
Some curse at him, saying no slugs ought to be on the space sport and they threaten to call the police
Then a hand grabs him by the shoulder, and twists him around.
The worn face has seen tough times, and glares at him, demanding to know what the hell the boy thinks he’s doing
The boy says he wants to go into space.
The man laughs.
“A slug in space?” the man says. “That sounds like a very strange thing indeed. And what makes you think you’re tough enough for space, boy?
I don’t know if I am, the boy admits, but I’ll never know sitting down here digging dirt.
Something odd shows in the hard spacer’s eyes. Then the man tells him to come along, but instead of leading him to the terminal, the man leads him into one of the ships.
You’ll get your chance to see space, boy, the man says. We take off in a few minutes.
The boy gushes with thanks.
Don’t thank me, boy, the man says, I’m not doing you any favors. Space is a hard life, a lot harder than I thought when I ran off at your age. But you may come to love it – if you survive. Then you might come to hate it, and then you’ll come back here to dig dirt the way a lot of men do.
Then, seated in the ship as it takes off, the boy sees the world fall back as the ship rises, farms fading into a quilt and then lost entirely in clouds.
And moments later, the ship and the boy are beyond space, where his world is among billions of worlds, and he can see the stars clearly for the first time, and he is stunned, nothing even his photographs ever seem so magnificent as what he sees.
Maybe he won’t live space after this, but he knows he’ll never be the same.