Sarah Dixon writes of a man’s desire for home.
‘Confirmation from the PharmaCo Court today, that judges have not yet made a determination in the case of Mr Ronald Balcock, the so called ‘last man in England’. A decision is expected before close of business today as to whether Mr Balcock will be forcibly evacuated, or allowed to remain to face the incoming tide.’
Ty sighed. His parents were glued to the viewscreen, like all the older generation. He didn’t get it. Why were they still so obsessed with what happened on Old Earth? They should move on, look to the future. That’s why they’d left, after all: So there was a future.
The tablet computer in his lap showed the same footage as the viewscreen on two thirds of its display, the remaining third showed thumbnails of related vids with more information. He clicked on the top one, turning up the volume so he could hear the narration over the noise of the room.
‘The PharmaCo Fleet left Old Earth on June 30th, 2045, transporting colonists from the polluted and dangerous conditions of their home world and out, to create a better life. When National and Global Government failed, the Corporations stepped in, funding the development of space craft and the colonisation of new planet-’
Ty rolled his eyes. Yes, he’d heard all that before. He glanced up and checked the room, making sure his Grandparents hadn’t heard the voice over. The last thing he needed was his Grandad going off on one about how the Corporations had them over a barrel; how they were all slaves now, bought and sold. His Dad would only get angry, shouting about how freedom didn’t mean a thing if you were dead.
Ty didn’t get why they all got so upset about Old Earth. He knew it had been a nice place once, he’d seen Vids of the animals and their habitats. He especially liked Tigers and Lions, and all the other big cats. The thing was though, Old Earth wasn’t like that anymore. There wasn’t even much left of it now, the water levels were so high. Grandad had come from England, and now there was barely enough of that left for one man to live on. Ty tapped the screen to start the next Vid.
‘Who is Ronald Balcock, and why won’t he leave?’ a slick woman presenter said, as a picture of the old man who was the cause of all the fuss appeared on the screen.
Ty thought he looked quite nice, not a stubborn old fool like his Mum always called him. The presenter was talking about how Balcock came from a family of farmers who had always lived in the same place. That he felt a tie to the land. Fidgeting, Ty looked back up to the main screen, just in case anything had changed.
It hadn’t. The cameras still showed a derelict looking farm house on the top of a hill, surrounded on all sides by water. There were evac copters circling, waiting on the order to take the man from his property. Ty huffed, sending a strand of hair puffing away from his face. Boring.
On his personal screen, the presenter was talking over some of the reasons people had given in the past for staying on Old Earth. There were a few groups who had been given permission to stay. Lunatics, Dad called them. Grandad agreed with him for some, the ones who were staying because they thought it was God’s will, but not for others. The ones who agreed with him that colony life was nothing but slavery.
Ty didn’t think it was slavery. They had a nice life here, a good home and plenty of food. He went to school, and he had a job all lined up for when he left too. He was contracted to work for the company, so were his kids if they didn’t pay off the debt the family owed for being brought here. What was wrong with that though? They wouldn’t have got here without the help from the Corporations!
The population of Old Earth was now just a few thousand people. Cranks and crazies, clinging on to the past in the high places, his Mum said. She always sounded sad about it, though.
A noise alerted Ty to a change on the main screen, and he tapped pause on his own device to give it his full attention. One of the evac copters had flown down and landed outside of Balcock’s house. The old man came out of his front door, waving his arm in a clear gesture that he wanted them to leave but the uniformed officers of Corporate Enforcement didn’t take the hint.
The screen cleared without warning, the camera view changed to a first person perspective; the camera of the officer approaching the house. The wind sounded fierce through his microphone, and Ty leaned forward on his seat as he got a close up view of the terrible conditions of Old Earth.
‘Get away! Leave me alone!’ Balcock was shouting.
‘Mr Balcock, The PharmaCo Court has instructed me to ask you a series of questions. Your answers will be live broadcast to the court and serve as your testimony where it will be used to determine whether you may remain on their property.’
‘It’s not their property!’ Balcock argued. ‘It’s mine, my families! Always has been.’
The officer ignored him and carried on, ‘Mr Balcock, do you believe that it is the plan of a higher power that you remain here?’
‘Mr Balcock, do you believe that humanity is a contagion that should be confined to earth?’
‘Mr Balcock, are you a member of any group which has been granted legal permission to remain on Old Earth?’
‘Mr Balcock, do you identify yourself with the group FirstEarth?’
Ty pricked up his ears at that question. FirstEarth were a group of terrorists, they carried out attacks in the colonies because they were so angry about the Corporations helping people get away.
‘No, you bloody idiot! Why don’t you stop asking questions and just…go away?’
‘Mr Balcock, do you have any comments for the court to support your decision to remain here in the light of the clear and present danger to your life by the rising water levels and atmospheric pollution?’
The old man switched in a moment from being angry and aggressive to a slump shouldered rag doll.
‘Fights gone out of him,’ Grandma said quietly.
The whole family fell silent, all other screens muted as they watched the drama unfolding on the main viewscreen.
‘This is my home,’ Balcock said, his voice breaking. ‘A man should have the right to remain in his home, to die there if he wants to. You don’t have a right to just take me away from the place I love. My heart’s here.’
‘Your heart?’ the officer asked, puzzled.
‘My whole life, my memories…’ tears formed in the old man’s eyes, his voice breaking. ‘My wife. My wife is buried in the back garden. Please…please don’t make me leave her. I just want to stay here. I’m not bothering anyone.’
Ty watched, frozen, as the old man fell to his knees and sobbed. He’d never seen a grown up cry like that before. It made him feel uneasy. He looked around the room for comfort from his family, and saw tears were rolling down all their cheeks too.
‘I think that concludes Mr Balcock’s testimony,’ the officer snapped, and the camera cut back to the long view. The old man appeared tiny, knelt before the large man in his bulky uniform.
‘And now we wait for the Court’s decision,’ the news presenter said smoothly. ‘Balcock has received invitations from all of the groups legally allowed to remain on Old Earth but he has refused them all. He has made no statement as to why, but we presume it is because of this man’s extraordinary attachment to his native land.’
Silence fell then, only the whirring noise of the evac copters as they continued to circle the building. Ty wriggled over on the sofa to sit closer to his Mum who wrapped an arm around him and pulled him in tight.
‘And the Court’s decision is in! Mr Balcock will be forcibly evacuated from his property for his own safety.’
His Grandparents exploded into angry words, his Father immediately arguing with them. They all spoke at once so Ty couldn’t make out what was being said, but in any case, his attention was focused on the screen.
The Corporate Enforcement Officer seemed to be speaking to Mr Balcock, but the old man was still knelt down and shaking his head. The Officer pulled a weapon from its holster at his waist, checked a setting and then leveled it at the old man. He said something else, and Ty wondered why they weren’t playing the audio this time. Then there was a dull, popping noise and the old man slumped to the ground.
Immediately the officer moved towards him, checking his pulse and then signalling to the copter. More officers came out with a stretcher, loading Balcock onto it and carrying him back towards their craft.
‘Well, that’s it then,’ said Grandpa. His voice was cracked; his cheeks damp with tears. ‘Last man in England, and he’s gone.’
‘God bless him,’ muttered Grandma.
Ty rested his head against his mother and watched, hearing her let out her own sad sigh. She kissed him on the top of the head and gave him a squeeze as she whispered, ‘Last man in England…’
Sarah Dixon is a prolific writer of short stories, usually Science Fiction or Fantasy but always with a hint of wonder. After spending her life wanting to write, but never reaching her own lofty standards she read the advice ‘Finish first, edit later’ and finally made it to the end of a chapter. She hasn’t stopped since. A wife and mother of two, it was the desire to write stories that challenged the lure of video games that led her to write her first children’s novel. Alfie Slider vs the Shape Shifter is an action adventure for 9-12-year-olds, coming late 2016 from SilverWood books. When not writing, Sarah enjoys working with schools to engage children with creative writing including delivering her workshop about social commentary in Sci-Fi titled ‘How Aliens Changed the World.’