As the shuttle launched at a speed I cannot describe, I imagined us as a Phoenix burning through the Earth’s atmosphere. Our ashes would be taken to Mars on the orbit of stars and we would be reborn. Transformed. So I clenched my jaw so tightly in anticipation that I didn’t notice when I cut the inner side of my cheek and started bleeding into my mouth. In minutes we were pulling into Demeter’s docking bay. I moved, or noticed I had finally moved, when I swallowed a mix of blood and saliva. The taste had an odd familiarity, as did the rush of nausea. Too many broken lips in too many altercations. I turned to the nearest portal to steady myself — the smogged yellowish haze over Turtle Island. The dead oceans. A different kind of nausea. Rebirth and death require a similar pain. I had to set it aside. All the love and loss and grief. I had to in order to remember my ancestors came from the stars. I was returning. Returning to the hope of a new life together.
“Piskewëni,” Adelaide kept repeating until I responded. “We made it!”
“We made it,” I said. She took my hand. I didn’t mean to pull away. To recoil from her. But I did. So I covered by holding my hand to my chest, over the locket my Grandmother gave me, and breathed deeply. It wasn’t a total lie — I was overwhelmed — and Adelaide was too arrogant to believe anything but that I was as enthralled with her as she was with herself. The atheist’s conceit. She tapped my hand like comforting a lost dog and leaned over to look out the portal. It is a good thing narcissists make for horrible mind readers.
The docking bay hatch closed behind us with a loud thump and we could hear, even through the shuttle’s thick shielding, the bay pressurize and fill with oxygen. Several minutes later Apone appeared from the cockpit and announced, “Prepare to disembark.” He hit a button and the door opened with slow, loud deliberation. I released the belt and stood. Space legs took a minute.
Every moment was beginning to feel like the one I’d waited for — the one we had dreamed and planned together — for so long. I was so grateful.
Apone, Ferro, and Dallas stood at the opened door as the rest of us, all 158, disembarked. As I stepped onto the bay, I held onto my Grandmother’s locket. “Thank you for seeing this for us,” I said. “Thank you.”
The locket contained a few heirloom seeds from her garden, the rest were in storage with the others. After we assembled our new city out of the manufactured modular structures that made up the Demeter, I would plant them in her honor. Grandmother would be so proud — the Three Sisters on Mars. “Imagine that,” she would say as she shook her head. “Just imagine that.”
“We’re here, Piskewëni,” Laylah walked up beside me. “We’re really here.”
“Yes, dear friend.”
“I know I keep repeating myself but I can’t believe we made it. I am so thankful for you. You never gave up.”
“We never gave up. Our Grandmothers never gave up.”
Laylah’s eyes watered and she held my hand. Zandra joined us. Then Petra and Bernadette and Hilda. “We are here, sisters.”
“If everyone can keep moving,” Apone waved us to move on. “We are on a tight schedule for take off. 34.8 million miles. 39 earth days. No time for wasting.” The laughter of children running by made me smile. 158 of us. Families of all kinds.
“We have to find our living quarters,” Zandra said and motioned towards the door heading into the station. Ferro was already ahead of us.
“What’s the hurry?” Laylah asked.
“You know the Marines. Everything’s got a bell,” Adelaide said as she stepped in between us.
“I don’t want to spend our first hours in space locked up in our bedrooms,” I said. “We should all check in and make sure they delivered our lockers. But then I’m off to watch our departure from the atrium. I hear it is a wonder.”
“I’m with you, sister,” Zandra nodded. “No time to waste cooped up. And we should check in on the animals.”
“Okay Seeders, keep it moving,” Dallas said, rushing us down a hall that was almost too narrow.
“I see your quarters are as luxurious as mine,” Laylah said as she entered.
“Come in. Just don’t try to turn around.”
“They said we’d be cramped.”
“Yes they did.”
“Shall we head down?”
“Yes. Just need to move this under here,” I said as I shoved a second locker under the bed.
“You need help?”
“No. I’m good.” I pulled out some tape from my jacket pocket and put it on the back seals of both lockers. To tell if anyone tried to open them. To tell if anyone opened them.
“If they got through security…”
“I know. I’m being paranoid.”
“It’s what we love about you.”
And off we went to check out the atrium, an assemblage of various stage growth plants in a deep bed of soil, the room surrounded by a thick glass shielding. We could watch our departure from Earth surrounded by Earth’s smells. And history is nothing if not about smells.
We stopped for Zandra, Petra, Bernadette, Hilda, and Adelaide on our way. We were all together, enjoying our slosh of anticipation — a delicious mix of excitement and apprehension. And then we were stopped. Two armed Marines stopped us at a juncture of four narrow halls. Adelaide stepped forward.
“What is this about?”
“Everyone is to stay in their quarters,” Dallas said as she stepped forward.
“It is for your safety. We can’t have you moving about the ship as we depart.”
“That was not part of our agreement.”
“We have our orders.”
“Can you tell the Captain we wish to speak with him? The Council wishes to speak with him.”
“I will send him your request. Now please,” Dallas gestured and we complied.
“It’s starting already,” Adelaide said as we entered my quarters, almost too small for all seven of us at once.
“Yes it is. Earlier than we expected,” I replied.
“Everyone is ready.”
“I want to repeat my objection to this course of action,” Bernadette said.
“I agree,” Petra said. “We can negotiate a civil resolution.”
“At what point?” I asked.
“When they contaminated our food and water and air and land and then tried to sell it back to us?” Hilda asked.
“When they threw all of their military at us for refusing their pesticides and collecting rain water and growing our own seeds?” Laylah said.
“When they threw us in prison for treason?” Zandra replied.
“When they planned our enslavement on this prison barge? So they could do this all over again to another planet?” I asked.
“This has all been asked and answered and debated. We had consensus.” Laylah said, frustrated, and turned to Bernadette and Petra. “Are you breaking consensus?”
“No,” Petra said. “No.”
Bernadette nodded in agreement, “We just wish it weren’t…”
“Necessary?” Zandra had been exasperated with Petra and Bernadette for some time. “Only someone who lives outside of the state’s violent repression has the luxury of thinking non-violent resistance is an option.”
“They don’t even call it resistance. They call it disobedience. As if we’re children refusing to put on our jackets in the cold,” I said.
“Can we move on? We’ve had this discussion too many times. We need to figure out what we do next. If we’re going to push up the plan or wait until we arrive at Mars.” Laylah was always constructive.
“We need to wait. If we try to take the ship too soon, they’ll turn it around. Take us back to Earth,” I said.
“They’ll put us back in prison,” Zandra said.
“We’re already in prison,” Adelaide responded.
“They just don’t think we know it,” Laylah said. “And if they find out they could blow us out of an air lock. Remember what they did to MOVE in Philadelphia, or the protest camps along the pipelines, or our food cooperatives up and down the west coast?”
“We can’t risk it,” Zandra said.
“I agree. Are we in agreement? We wait. We bide our time. We lay low.”
“I’ve just always assumed that if people have a problem with me, it is their problem,” Adelaide said as she paced.
“Isn’t that convenient.” Zandra replied.
“What does that mean?”
“You never do anything wrong?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You kind of did.”
“We’re off point again,” Laylah observed. “Besides, Dallas has been throwing attitude at all of us — at the Council, all along. So it is not about you, Adelaide.”
“A lot of people think we think we are better than them,” Bernadette said. “That our vision sets us apart as better.”
“When they don’t think we are an armed cult,” Petra agreed.
“I think something else is going on with Dallas,” I said.
“She probably feels guilty for her part in our imprisonment,” Adelaide said.
“No. Not that. It is not guilt. She genuinely does not want to be here. The question is why, given the competition for assignments on the Demeter, she would be here if she didn’t want to be.”
“You think she knows something we don’t?” Zandra asked.
“I don’t know. I will reach out to her again.”
“Better if it is two of us,” Laylah said. “I will go with you.”
We fell quiet together.
The stars we passed caught my eye. I didn’t think I’d ever grow accustomed to flying through space. To the feeling that stars could be caught by hand like a token on a carousel. They were so close, and so familiar.
“Tomorrow is twenty days. Half way there,” Hilda said. “They can’t just turn the Demeter around.”
“You think we can take the ship now?” Zandra asked.
“I think after tomorrow it is safe for us to talk about it.”
Adelaide was pouting, even though she would later claim this was her idea. She pretty much claimed everything was her idea. I threw more medicine into the flame to help burn away the tired feeling I had with her. As my mind cleared it hit me. In the flames, in the smoke, the thought that if it was the no turning back point for the Demeter, it was for us as well.
Dallas approached us, standing in between two Marines. We had fought against the squad being on-board but the President, once he agreed we could leave, insisted. For our own safety, of course.
“We need everyone to return to their quarters.”
“Any reason why?” I asked as I stood.
“Captain didn’t say.”
We were still on good behavior. We feigned willing compliance and left the atrium.
By the time we returned to our quarters, the Captain announced a meeting for the following morning. We had already agreed in Council that if anything broke the routine over the next 24 hours, we would initiate our plans to take over of the ship. We exchanged our sign — a hand to the heart and the phrase “many blessings” — as we returned to our quarters.
There are no prophecies. No stories about the future.
Our stories don’t work that way. They never have.
We reimagine our lives, ourselves in future tense. It is the only tense that matters.
In prison I had to stop keeping a journal. It was too dangerous. Too risky, before and after our trials, for everyone. I had been documenting our journey and recording Grandmother Lauren’s stories. I felt they created the path we took and I didn’t know where we were going without them. But I had to destroy them. All of them. I feel now I can return to the writing, start over with it. On the eve of our revolution, the pen is mightier than the sword! Tomorrow we take up the sword.
Grandma was not what everyone expected of a Lenape grandmother. She was rude, argumentative, and cruel. I figured it was because she was the youngest of nine children and the only girl. Her father, John, died when his horse bucked him off and he fell into a flooding creek. He cracked his head open on a rock and drowned. Her mother, Elizabeth, was left all alone to raise nine children. She worked near all day every day cleaning other people’s homes just to pay the bills. They were so poor they quickly ate through her small garden and turned to weeds and squirrels until her brothers were old enough to quit school and work. That was when Grams started collecting seeds — she gathered them from everywhere she could and with her mom’s help learned to grow and harvest and tend a garden. Her mom told her she saved them.
Grams was always criticizing me for being a book worm. After my parents and brothers were killed by pipeline contractors during a protest, I moved in with Grams and all I did was read. I read too much and was too much in my own head. That’s what she would say. She grabbed at my books and read random paragraphs out loud and told me the words were pretentious or detached from people’s lives. She was worried I wasn’t dealing with reality. She made fun of me for always scribbling in my journals.
“You need to get out of the house.”
If I delayed or shrugged for even a millisecond, she would have me working with her in her garden. That’s what she called our backyard. It was not the first or only or even biggest garden in the neighborhood but it was distinguished. We grew stuff no one else did. Grams had collected seeds her whole life and cared for them as if they were precious stones. Several varieties of corn, beans, and squash. Foods that kept us alive and healthy even after oil and the droughts and the floods killed off or ruined most of the farmland and water in the country.
By then our neighbors had knocked down their fences and Grandma’s garden extended into several backyards, then the entire block. We learned we weren’t the only ones doing so, which took away from the glamour of it. But it was still something to see and be a part of.
When they started raiding our neighborhoods for contraband and fire arms and randomly locking up people as terrorists, we were genuinely confused and shouldn’t have been. Grams and the other grandmothers weren’t and had warned us all along. “They will come for our seeds next,” they always said. “Like they came for our lands and waters and women. The seeds will be next because the seeds free us from them and their system.”
“The old people are always so paranoid,” Gordon, my cousin, would say. Until they came and destroyed our neighborhood. They destroyed a couple dozen up and down the west coast under the guise of looking for drugs and guns. A coordinated raid of the headquarters of The Seeders. That’s what they called us. A radical terrorist socialist organization because we grew our own food and traded with one another. Grams thought it was a good name because most of the hoods and the rural groups we were connected with were organized by women — straight, queer, trans, and otherwise. “Whatever your biology,” she would say, “it is the women who carry the people.”
It was then Grams gave me her locket. It wasn’t really a locket, it was a large silver broche she had made into a locket and hung on a leather strip. She put seeds inside and told me to protect them with my life. That’s how I got the locket. That’s how I became known as a seed keeper. That was about the time Grams started talking about wanting to leave Earth. “We fell from the sky. We should return. It is time to return.”
Prison was supposed to isolate and destroy us. They put people from the same area in different locations. All that did was create a space for us to connect and imagine our way free together. That’s how The Council was formed. That’s where we raised money for our defenses and how we raised funds to contract our migration to Mars. In the hood we were in survival mode. In prison we organized.
Because I couldn’t write down my Grandmother’s stories, I learned to tell them. At first it was a game of Chinese Whispers, prison version, with those whose cells were closest to my own. Poor Sky Woman was put through the ringer. At first everyone twisted and turned her into all kinds of others. But I made the women memorize her story until it returned to me whole.
And then Zandra, who was an immigrant from Greece, told us the story about Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, war, and the arts, and we did the same.
And then Laylah, an immigrant from Palestine, told us the story about the Arabic goddesses Al-lāt, Al-‘Uzzá, and Manāt, the daughters of Allah, and we did the same.
And then Bernadette, a Mexican-American, told us the story of Citlalicue, an Aztec creation goddess associated with death and darkness, and Chalchiuhtlicue, an Aztec goddess of water and life, and we did the same.
And then Hilda, who was of Norwegian descent, told us the story about Freyja, a Norse goddess of love, sex, and beauty, war and death, and we did the same.
And then Petra told us the story of her namesake, an Egyptian goddess whose name she assumed after her transition, and we did the same.
We learned each other’s stories. The stories that made us had brought us together.
And then Adelaide, a descendant of German Jews who boasted proudly of her atheism as if it were a badge of honor, told us the story of Darwin. I don’t think she ever knew how hard it made me laugh and cry. She just didn’t get it. And in the not getting it, endeared herself.
As I write these words, I remember how much I love her. That kind of love that doesn’t come with like. But a love nevertheless.
I had journaled through the night. Our plan was to initiate the take over at 0600 hours, an hour before their shift change. They would be tired or still asleep. I stood and stretched and got ready, only to find that I had been locked in my quarters and all communications had been cut off. I destroyed the writing I had done, out of habit I think more than concern, and waited.
The Woman Who Fell From the Sky
The Old Man lived in a lodge in the middle of the people’s village. He had a beautiful wife. For reasons no one quite understood he became jealous and brooding. No one could cheer him up or figure out what was wrong.
One day, a man of the village suggested that, perhaps, the Old Man wanted the rather large tree in front of his lodge pulled up and moved away. It was, after all, one of the things he complained about the most. So the people, desperate to help the Old Man, figured it was as good a reason as any and pulled up the tree. In doing so, they created a large hole where the ground fell through.
The Old Man walked over to the hole and leaned far over to look through. He called his wife to join him. “Come on, Old Woman, come see what everybody is looking at!” The Old Woman was curious but uneasy. He nudged her again and said, “You really must take a look. Don’t be afraid. I am standing right here.” The Old Woman walked over to the hole and leaned far over to look through it.
Suddenly the Old Man grabbed at her and pushed her through the hole. As the Old Woman fell through the hole, she grabbed at the roots of the tree, taking roots and dirt and seeds with her. She fell far, down through the hole, down towards the great waters far below the sky world.
She was falling when the Fire Serpent met up with her. “I am sorry that the Old Man tried to kill you. It is me that he is jealous of.”
Water beings below watched and decided to hold council. “Who will look out for Sky Woman?” they said. Turtle spoke up and said that she would break Sky Woman’s fall. So when the woman reached the waters, Turtle raised her back and caught her.
Sky Woman was grateful to Turtle and wept as she offered all that she had in gratitude. She placed the roots and dirt and seeds on Turtle’s back and danced in gratitude. From her dancing the dirt expanded and the roots took hold and the seeds began to grow until the whole earth was formed. The animals and birds were also grateful, for now they had a place to rest upon.
 Piskewëni: moon, night (Lenape).