The year 1781 Thalassar calendar | the Year 2033 Earth calendar
Liam woke up in his best friend’s apartment, feeling groggy and disoriented. His head throbbed with a dull ache, the after-effects of another night of hard partying. He sat up slowly, rubbing his bleary eyes and surveying the dimly lit living room.
The California heat was already seeping in through the open windows, making the air thick and heavy. Liam glanced at the battered sofa he’d crashed on the night before, feeling a twinge of regret for his wild behavior. He and his friend Mathew were fresh out of college and on a tight budget, but that didn’t stop them from cutting loose on the weekends.
Liam stumbled across the living room, trying to shake off his hangover. He headed to the tiny kitchenette, where he poured himself a glass of water. The liquid was cool and refreshing, and he downed two and a half glasses before he finally started to feel the effect.
Feeling a bit more awake, he wandered back into the living room and peered into the bedroom, where Mathew was still sound asleep. Liam smirked, remembering the wild antics of the previous night. It was a miracle they hadn’t woken up the entire building with their rowdy behavior.
As he settled back onto the couch, Liam noticed his phone blinking with multiple notifications. He groaned, knowing that he’d have to sift through countless messages and social media alerts. But then he spotted an email from ICEC, the Interplanetary Cultural Exchange Commission. His heart leaped in his chest as he realized that this might be the acceptance letter he’d been waiting for. With trembling fingers from both excitement and hungover, Liam clicked on the email and began to read.
We would like to inform you that you have been accepted into the Citizens Exchange program. Congratulations! You have been selected from a pool of highly qualified applicants on our side and accepted by the Thalassar commission as well to participate in this unique opportunity for cultural exchange.
The Citizens exchange will begin in less than two months, and we kindly request that you confirm your attendance within the next seven days. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about the program, and we will be happy to assist you in any way we can.
You will have to be at our location (disclosed after the confirmation and delivered to you three days ahead of the start) one month before the Citizens Exchange program begins for the curse on Thalassar culture where we will provide you with a comprehensive introduction to the Thalassarian customs, and way of life to best of our knowledge. You will be divided into groups that we will be sending one at a time into this fascinating world.
Please note we will be responsible for your travel arrangements to the program location.
You can confirm your attendance by answering this email, after that we will send our representatives to your location to sign a contract and give you further instructions.
We are excited to have you join us for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we look forward to hearing back from you soon.
The Interplanetary Cultural Exchange Commission”
Liam laid back on the couch, his mind racing with possibilities. He had never imagined that he’d be selected for such a prestigious program, what was so special about him? So he didn’t even consider what would his final answer be. He couldn’t help but wonder what made him stand out among the countless other applicants. Lost in thought, he didn’t realize that he had been holding his breath until he let out a loud sigh.
Before contemplating his answer to the program’s invitation, he decided to share the news with Mathew. He pushed himself off the couch and walked into the bedroom. Mathew was still sleeping, snoring softly with his face buried in the pillow. Liam kicked his feet, but it only made Mathew stir slightly and turn to another side.
“Wake up,” Liam said, a bit louder this time.
“Leave me alone, asshole,” Mathew mumbled, still half asleep. “Just because you can’t sleep in the heat doesn’t mean you have to ruin it for me.”
“I got in,” Liam blurted out without hesitation, excitement bubbling in his voice.
“Into what? Loony Bin?” Mathew grumbled, still not fully awake. He kicked Liam’s shin with his foot. “Could you be any more vague?”
“Into the Citizens Exchange program, you idiot,” Liam replied, chuckling.
Mathew shot up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, and grabbed his phone. “What? Are you kidding?” he asked, scrolling through his emails.
“Did you get it?” Liam asked eagerly, his heart beating faster.
“Hmm…wait a second,” Mathew said, continuing to scroll. “Dear Matthew, thanks for applying, but you have been rejected, blah blah…” He trailed off, mocking the rest of the email before tossing his phone aside.
“Well, that sucks,” Liam said, his disappointment evident in his voice.
“You know, it’s good,” Mathew said, trying to make his friend feel better. “I’ve never really wanted to go there.” He said, admitting the truth. “So, what have you decided?”
“I have no idea,” Liam answered truthfully. “I didn’t think I would be accepted at all. They say I have seven days to confirm my attendance.”
Mathew nodded, barely lifting himself out of bed. “Let’s get some coffee into our system first,” he said, sniffing under his armpits and grimacing. “Maybe a shower before coffee, and then we can talk about it.”
Liam nodded and left the room to make coffee for both of them while Mathew took a quick shower. Fifteen minutes later, they were both seated on a small balcony overlooking the street, with coffee on the table and their legs resting on the balcony railing. Matthew walked inside and brought out a crumpled pack of cigarettes from last night, offering one to Liam.
“I quit last night,” Liam said smiling, taking one out of the pack and immediately lighting it to go with his first sip of coffee.
“Me too,” Matthew said, doing the same. “So, what are you thinking?” he asked, exhaling the smoke.
“I don’t know,” Liam said, pausing. “Honestly, I am still in shock. What do you think I should do?” he asked, inhaling another puff of smoke.
“If you’re going to go, do it for yourself. Don’t do it out of some sort of desperation,” Matthew said honestly.
“What do you mean?” Liam asked, inhaling another smoke.
“You know what I mean,” Matthew answered, making a small pause to make Liam uncomfortable. “You made us apply because of her.”
“It’ wasn’t like that,” Liam answered.
“Don’t lie to me, I’ve known you your whole life, you know it is. You’re impulsive like that, you always were,” Matthew said. “What are you feeling right now? What is your gut telling you?”
“Honestly?” Liam paused, tapping the table with his fingers nervously. “That I should go.”
“So, you’re going to leave a planet because of a breakup?” Matthew said, teasing Liam. “That’s a little bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“Fuck you,” Liam said, smiling. The two of them continued to drink coffee and discuss the decision that was ahead of Liam.
Liam knew that Matthew was right. He had applied for the Citizens Exchange program impulsively after the breakup with Cait. They had been together for almost five years but drifted apart in the months before the breakup. Liam told himself he didn’t know the reason for the breakup, but deep down, he knew. He was not happy with his own life, and he loved Cait with all his heart but became passive, unhappy with the direction his life was going, so she became his lifeline, and that was not the person she fell in love with or wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
When Cait called it all off and took a job on the other coast in the following, Liam was stunned. Months later, he was still licking his wounds, drowning his sorrows in heavy drinking and non-stop partying. However, the root of his problem went deeper, and he was aware of it. Maybe it was time for a change, for a drastic change, a change of a planet.
“So, whatever you decide, I support you,” Matthew concluded. “I think you should go. It’s only a year away anyway, and it’s literally a once-in-a-human-history opportunity. I’ve known you my whole life, and I’ve never seen you like this past year or so. Even before the breakup, you’ve changed. I think you a change of scenery will be good for you.”
Liam pondered his answer for a second. “I think you’re right,” he said, looking up at the blue sky. “But I need to speak with my family first.”
“Yeah, your mom won’t be happy about it,” Mathew said. “She barely let you move 50 miles from your home.”
“Yeah…” Liam said knowing Mathew was right, him going into a Citizens Exchange program would worry her mother to death. “Wanna go grab something to eat and change a subject for a bit.”
“Let’s go,” Mathew answered right away. “I am starving.”
After they finished their breakfast, Liam drove to his parent’s house. He called his sisters on the way, asking them to meet him there. Once they arrived, they spent the day together, catching up on each other’s lives and reminiscing about old times. Liam didn’t mention the letter of acceptance to anyone, he wanted to spend the day clearing his mind for the conversation that was ahead of him.
As the day turned into night, Liam and his father lit the barbecue, something they had done ever since Liam was a little kid, and started preparing burgers. The mood was jovial, with everyone laughing and chatting. Liam savored the moment, knowing that things would change as soon as he brought up the subject of the Citizens Exchange program. So, he prolonged the start of the conversation until after dinner. When his youngest sister brought them beers and wine, they settled into their chairs and only once the first bottles and glasses were downed did Liam have the courage to broach the subject.
“Guys, I actually wanted to tell you something,” Liam said, trying to compose himself.
“What is it, honey?” His mother asked, her voice soft.
“I’ve never mentioned it before because I didn’t think I would get in and didn’t want to worry you, but I applied to the Citizens Exchange Program,” Liam said, pausing briefly. “And today, I received the answer. I have been accepted.”
“Holy shit!” his youngest sister, Alicia, exclaimed.
“What?” his mother said, taking a sip of her wine. The words Liam had just said had not hit her yet.
“Yeah,” Liam said, his chest swelling with pride. “I’ve been accepted to go to Thalassar for a year as part of the program. I need to confirm my decision in the next seven days.”
Silence took over the backyard, and nobody spoke a word. Liam’s father looked at his mother, whose face went pale as a ghost. His sisters knew better than to speak before their mother started.
“Liam,” she said, composing herself. “What is this about?” The mood around the table had now completely changed from jovial to tense.
“Nothing, Mom. I applied and got accepted, and I think I am going to go,” Liam said, now sure of his answer.
“I don’t think that’s smart, son,” his father chimed in. “We killed thousands of their people; they’ve killed thousands of ours, and we barely know anything about their planet,” he said with a worried look.
“I know, but this is the first step towards our two planets trying to learn about each other’s history and cultures and working towards something better for both worlds, and I can be a part of that,” Liam answered, his mother still silent.
“So, you are going?” Alicia asked.
“I think I am,” Liam said.
“Oh, my boy,” his mother said. “Why are you like this?” She asked. “You’ve finished college; you are a grown-up now, and you are acting out like a child again.”
A wave of frustration washed over Liam. He loved his family, his parents were supportive and loving, and they tried to provide everything for him and his sisters, but sometimes they were a little too old-fashioned, too dense to understand the problems of the new world. They were stuck in older times. Liam wanted to pursue a different path in life and was forced to go to college by them, and the result of that was that he found himself at a point in life where he did not know what to do next.
As Liam’s frustration grew, his father spoke up again. “Son, we just want what’s best for you. We don’t want you to get hurt or put yourself in danger.”
“I understand that, Dad,” Liam said, his voice calm. “But I need to do this.“
His mother remained silent, staring down at her wine glass. Liam knew she was worried, but he hoped that she would eventually come around. They continued to discuss the program for a bit before changing the subject. His mother had hoped that it would blow over until the next day.
Liam decided to spend the night there and as he lay in bed and thought about it all, he took his phone out, opened an email, and started writing.
“Greetings The Interplanetary Cultural Exchange Commission,
Thank you for your acceptance, I wish to inform you that I accept your invitation…“