Flash Fiction for Saturday. I know its a day early. Enjoy!
My grandfather gave me the deeds at my twenty-first birthday party, he said it was a family joke, apparently back in the nineteen-nineties selling land on other planets had been all the rage. Someone had got it for his grandfather as a present.
In flowery language, the yellowing paper solemnly attested that the holder, Vincent Crabbe, his heirs, and assigns; having paid the registry fee was entitled to the full rights and benefits of ownership of a plot of land on the planet known as Pluto, in perpetuity. There then followed a map of the planet, really only a circle with the words ‘North Pole’ on a dot in the middle. A rectangle showed the extent of the plot, its corners marked with latitude and longitude. Then there were a lot of official looking signatures and stamps.
“Look at the other side girl,” said my grandfather, his breath wheezing. He had spent years in the modified atmosphere of the early spaceships. That had been his life’s work. And it was going to be mine as well.
I turned the creased document over and there was a list of my forebears, with the words, “passed to my heir” and a date after each one.
“There,” he pointed with shaking fingers, the bottom line had my name, ‘Byrne Crabbe,’ and today’s date. “Now it’s yours, and maybe one day you’ll go there.”
“Thanks, Gramps,” I hugged his frail body, “But why didn’t you give it to Dad?”
“I tried,” he laughed, “He didn’t want it, said I was a silly old fool for keeping hold of it.” He shrugged, “Maybe I was, but I always wondered, ‘what if.’”
That was the last time I saw him. But I kept the deeds safe. There just might be a ‘what if.’
You could be forgiven for wondering what I would do with land on Pluto. What I could do with it.
We lived in an age of expansion, we had just colonised Venus, something that created little interest after all the excitement of the Moon and Mars. Space exploration was becoming routine.
I had never heard about the deed before, nobody in my family had ever mentioned it. Yes, it was coincidental, with the way things were turning out, but surely it was just a curiosity. And like one of those songs that you can’t get out of your head, the possible implications of it got me wondering if anyone had ever exercised their “rights” on any of those other places.
I had a look on the web, sure enough, there had been claims by the owners of land certificates on all the settled bodies, but they had all failed. And the main reason was simple enough, there was no way that the person or company selling the certificates had ever been to the place to claim ownership. There was no explorer planting a flag on a beach and claiming the lands for anyone. And if that was the case on those three bodies, then my land on Pluto would be bound to be part of the same deal.
Except for one tiny thing; there was a flaw in the argument that I could exploit. As I said before, I chose a career in space and in one of those twists of fate; I was chosen to be the navigator on the first manned mission to Pluto. And because of my research, I also knew where I could buy the company that had issued the land certificate all those years ago. Even though it was nearly two hundred years old ‘The Pluto Land Agency’ still existed.
It was run by two brothers, who might have once lived well off the money made in the past by selling an asset they had never really owned. Now they were broke and open to my suggestion.
I first wrote, then went to see them in the gaps in my training and they agreed to my plan, lawyers were consulted, papers were drawn up and deposited and I acquired a directorship in the company. It cost me a bit, hopefully it would be worth it.
The next ten years passed quickly, well for me they did because I was asleep for a lot of it, and when I wasn’t I was quite busy. After all, you don’t just land on a planet; you have to pick your spot. But eventually, we awoke in orbit above Pluto’s rocky, barren surface. The sun was so far away it seemed irrelevant.
We would be here for a while; we had a prefabricated dome with us in which we would try to grow food and manufacture oxygen from plants. We had enough supplies to last us and more had been sent on ahead to keep us alive until the next group of settlers arrived. There would be regular deliveries as well, a rocket had been sent every six months since we had departed and they were presently strung out behind us; following our route. I was excited to be here; after all, I had a dream to fulfil.
The touchdown was perfect, right where I had planned it.
After we were safe and secure on the surface, we prepared to send a message to Earth. We had a lot of work coming up, building the dome and getting settled in. It would take four and a half hours for my words and video to get back, but a lot less than that for their effect to be felt. The transmitter’s red light came on.
“Hello to everyone on Earth from Pluto,” I said, “this is Byrne Crabbe.” I planted the flag I had brought with me in the soil. Beside me, Commander Dawlish muttered, “That’s not the official flag.” And indeed, it wasn’t. In fact, it was the flag of the Pluto Land Agency that I had hidden on board ten years ago.
I continued, “On behalf of the Pluto Land Agency, hereafter called ‘the company,’ I claim ownership of this planet for the benefit of the company and its investors.”
Dawlish was really getting agitated now and took control of the transmission. “I’m not sure what our Navigator means,” he said and closed the link down.
I wondered how that would be received on Earth, and how the follow-up would go down. What would be the reaction when the Pluto Land Company started submitting claims for landing charges and ground rent for the settlement? And that would be just the start. Then there were all the descendants of the other investors to consider.
“What are you saying Crabbe,” he blustered; “you can’t claim ownership of a planet by sticking a flag in the ground and saying a few words.”
“Cook once did it with a continent, Sir,” I replied, “and anyhow, we’re parked on my land.”