HABITATS FOR HUMANITY • by Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr.

Listen up, children.

You too, Shannon.

Derrick, no pushing.

Class, we only get one field trip to the space elevator. Don’t ruin it with misbehavior.

Leon, grab Susan before she floats back up the hatch. Maintenance is working on the dome. You don’t want to get lost up there. Thank you. Is everyone holding on to something? Good.

Before we go into the elevator, I want you to look out the window. See the thin cables? They run from the elevator, through the volcanic clouds, all the way to Old O’Brien’s farm on Earth.

That’s correct, Shannon. Just like the song, Old O’Brien Had a Farm. And before you correct me, Derrick, we know our neighbors in the Canadian habitat still sing Old McDonald Had a Farm, but we live in the O’Brien Habitat. He was the first person to ride up the elevator from Earth. One way to remember a person is to sing a song about him or her.

Yes, Derrick, it is also a way to remember Old O’Brien’s cow, too.

Watch your fingers as I open the door. We won’t be riding down the elevator. Only the terrainnauts get to explore the surface. In you go. Susan, I know you get claustrophobic, so if you’re going to float by the door, use your tether.

As you can see, kids, the space elevator is simply a giant yellow box with two buttons; up and down. That’s all there is to it. Nothing to be afraid of. If Old Man O’Brien could ride up it, then when the time comes, you’ll be able ride down it. Would you like to hear the story of Old Man O’Brien, the real one?  It’s full of wonderful and strange words, the same ones we studied on this week’s vocabulary list. You would?

Okay, try to imagine the world before the volcanic clouds covered the earth. A place green and teeming with life. You live alone on a dairy farm. The sun has set. You have fallen asleep when suddenly the windows shake. That was when Old Man O’Brien woke up. His first thought was that someone was trying to steal his cows. People who did that were called cattle rustlers.

He swung his legs off the bed and slipped his feet into his well-worn Wellingtons in one easy motion. “I may be old,” he told himself, “but I’m still spry.”

He grabbed his father’s shotgun from beside the bed. He placed his blue Vietnam Veteran ball cap on his head. Then he marched toward the front door in his bright red long johns. The mere sight of him was usually enough to scare away the cow-tipping kids. But if he caught a rustler, he intended to shoot him on sight. Not that it would kill anyone. He always loaded his gun with rock salt instead of lead pellets.

 Old Man O’Brien stepped out his front door and stopped on the porch, stunned. Normally, the Milky Way bathed the farm in ‘pixy light,’ as his mom used to call it. Tonight, a city-size shadow blocked the stars.

 “A spaceship!”

A droning sound drew his eyes toward a box descending from the sky. It was this very elevator. The one we are in right now.

“Sweet God almighty,” thought Old Man O’Brien. “First contact.”

At the same time, Vern, his favorite milk cow, stepped under the path of the elevator and stopped. “Vern!” he yelled. “Get out of the way.”

He raced down the steps and across the yard to the pasture gate, knowing he would be too late. Fortunately, the elevator stopped about five feet from Vern’s head. It waited. Old Man O’Brien waited. Vern simply chewed her cud as if the world hadn’t changed forever. Then bright landing lights flashed on and off. The cows in the pasture stirred and Vern mooed. She moseyed out of the way. The elevator landed and a door opened. Curious, Vern stepped inside.

“Them aliens are cattle rustlers!” shouted Old Man O’Brien.

He pushed the gate open, hurried into the cab, and began to lead Vern out. Before he could, the door shut and the elevator rose into the sky.

And that, children, is how Old Man O’Brien became the first person to enter the American habitat and why Vern’s skeleton is on display in the park. Without the habitats, humanity would have gone extinct when the super volcanoes exploded a few months later.

No, Shannon, we don’t know who the aliens are or why they saved us, but I’m glad they did. What is exciting is that the terrainnauts believe your generation will be the first one to return to Earth. So you must study hard and prepare. One day you’ll ride this elevator for real.

Leon? You’re right. The echo in here is perfect for singing a song. What should we sing? Of course, that song is perfect. Together now, one, two, three.

Old O’Brien had a farm, E-I-E-I-O
And on his farm he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O
With a “Vern-Vern” here and a “Vern-Vern” there
Here a “Vern,” there a “Vern”
Everywhere a “Vern-Vern”
Old O’Brien had a farm, E-I-

Oh! Has anyone seen Susan?

Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr. is the co-founder of the Oberlin Writers Group and MindFair Poets, and the founder of the Infinite Monkey Sci-fi/Fantasy Writers group. His works have appeared in many venues including, 365 Tomorrows, Every Day Fiction, Every Day Poets, A Long Story Short and the North Coast Review to name a few. The Ohio Arts Councils has awarded him two Individual artist grants for his fiction.

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