Below is the first short story post of the new website. For those new to the story, the PDF of the story to date is under the ‘Stories in Progress’ page. Alternatively, should the PDF be too large to absorb in one sitting, click on the link here for the for snack-sized morsels of the story previously posted on the djkeyserv140 site.
Without further ado…
– X –
Barnaby always made certain he had a window seat for his flight home.
The view of Arnhem Land, as the plane flew from Darwin to Gove Airport, was a sight he had longed to behold again for so long. The rusty red soil, sharing the land with the pale bark and green foliage of the trees, seemed to call to him. Moments like these made him begin to understand the sense of belonging to the land that the elders spoke of, though he could likely never feel it as deeply as they did.
The plane crossed over large inlets of the Arafura Sea as it flew towards its destination. The many hues of Arnhem Bay, from almost midnight blue to almost electric blue, were a sight to behold after working on the mountainous, yet perpetually yellow Venusian surface and atmosphere. The variety of colours made this world feel alive.
As the plane began its descent, Barney looked out of the window to his left. Another inlet of the Arafura Sea greeted him. Melville Bay was shallow compared to Arnhem Bay. He could see the tiny pair of Granite Islands, the larger Strath Island and the larger still Drimmie Head. Each was almost completely covered by trees. Beyond these parcels of isolated land lay the mining operation.
The mine had been established in the 1960’s, and had become the focus of the first ever native title case brought before an Australian court. The Yolngu peoples of the land had protested the mine, citing the desecration of ancient lands, and made their own claim as owners of the land due to their ancestors having lived there for over thirty thousand years. The Yolngu lost the case, with the land deemed uninhabited before the arrival of European settlers in the 1700’s.
It was later revealed the judge, despite his ruling, believed that Aboriginal land rights should be recognised under law. The ongoing issue came to a conclusion in the early 1990’s, with the High Court of Australia recognising Aboriginal title under common law, and rejecting the notion that no-one had occupied the land before the settlers. The decision had helped the Yolngu assert their rights to the land, and also to provide avenues to address other issues facing their people.
The plane touched down on the pitch black runway. Walking across the tarmac towards the terminal, Barney turned his phone back on. A message tone immediately played. Human Resources were requesting that he call them at his earliest opportunity. He had called them while waiting at Bangui M’Poko International Airport, but no update on Léana had been available.
He hastily called the number as he collected his luggage. After three rings, a softly-spoken female voice answered.
“Hello, Human Resources.”
“Hi, this is Barney Puyngu. There was a message left for me to call you.”
“Yes, Mister Puyngu. We are sorry we could not tell you more about Miss Stirling’s condition the last time you called. However, there is news.”
He felt his chest tighten for a moment. “There is?”
“Miss Stirling’s condition has been given the all-clear. She was discharged this morning, and is on her own way home to Ireland.”
Barney breathed a sigh of relief. “That is fantastic news. Thank you very much for letting for letting me know.”
“Our pleasure, Mister Puyngu. We hope you enjoy your Earth leave.”
A wide smile crossed his face. “It’s off to a great start. Goodbye.”
Barney hung up as he walked out of the Gove Airport terminal. He thought to message Léana, but realised with dismay that he did not have her contact details. He made a mental note to contact Human Resources in a few days, and request they pass his contact details on to her.
The road from the airport to Nhulunbuy was just under thirteen kilometres long. Cars drove past him, likely headed towards the same destination. Barney did not care if it took all day to make it to Nhulunbuy; he just wanted to bask in the simple joy that was being home.
As he walked amongst the trees beside the road, he took off his shirt and stuffed it into his carry bag. He wanted all aspects of the surrounding nature to imbue his body. Rubbing his hands in the ochre red soil, he ran them across his chest. He inhaled deeply, the prominent eucalyptus smell provided by the stringybark and woollybutt trees held in the air by the humidity flowing into his lungs.
The one thing that had always disappointed him about Venus was the inability to truly take in the world around them. Every aspect of life on the planet was tantamount to living in a protective bubble. The floating colonies needed protection from the caustic atmosphere, and walking on the surface was only possible by the AMRD suits. One never felt a part of Earth’s evil twin world, but a style of invader.
In a way, that had also allowed him a peace of mind when it came to mining the Venusian surface. He, along with most of the Yolngu inhabitants of this portion of Arnhem Land, resented the destruction of any part of its natural wilderness. But, when it had become obvious that no life could possibly exist on its hostile surface, Barney had been able to placate his conscience and perform a role that would have disgusted him if he did it on Earth.
But now, after his interactions with Léana back at Cloud Colony Number Nine, and then his time spent in Bangui, even that assertion could be in question.
Barney shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts from his head. He was back home, and work could wait until he returned.
He could not wait to walk along the white sandy beaches that looked out over the Arafura Sea, or to swim and fish in the amazingly blue inlets and sea. Most of all, he would treasure the time spent doing these things with the family he had been apart from for so long.
– X –