This story is for ages 10 and up.
I starred at the letter in my hands.Mother and Father were watching me,waiting for me to tell them what it said.My little sister Priscilla was watching me as well.Finally I did my best to overcome my shock and read it out loud.
“By decree of the Cosmic Congress,an endeavor of settlement is to be made on Dorsel,the planet of farming in the Ice-o-sphere.By the third order of the Cosmic Law,this endeavor must include ten children of age fourteen,twenty womenfolk,half married and half alone,along with the husbands of the ten and twenty other menfolk.
“The planet Dorsel shall be respectfully carred for by the laws of the Cosmic Congress.Being the twenty-fifth planet this day to be settled,it is not the first time a trip of this proportion is made.In the past these projects have failed due to unknown species and illnesses,though these failures have taught us much.It is in this knowledge we send people to the planet Dorsel,which has been proven a peaceful place for human life.
“Therefore it is that this day,February 1,90087,The Galactic Project has been established.Ten children have been assembled as follows: Terra Smits, Josephine Evans, Thomas Evans, Rutheford Evans, William Joneson, Lucy Belle Smith, Charlie Hartson, Petunia Rivets, Rusha Lank, and finally Claudia Voldsdeen."
After that I couldn't keep reading.It wasn't important,just the lists of all the men and women going along with us.But,watching my parents faces,I knew it killed them to hear my name on that list.Priscilla said nothing.
Finally,Mother broke the unbearable silence,saying,“Claudia,just be careful.I heard that these trips are as safe as can be,but..."It was here that Mother broke down in tears.
Suddenly I noticed something.“Wait,there's a second page!"I exclaimed.Maybe hope wasn't lost,that I could bring my family or something.
I began to read.
“After the bitter failure of the settlements of Gregadore,"I paused here,remembering that my brother,Ethan,had been among the young men on Gregadore.The planet was no longer habitable due to the accident.There hadn't even been a body to bury.“After the bitter failure of the settlements of Gregadore,Dorsel is to be a small settlement instead of the attempted plantations of Gregadore.A simple villiage is to be built upon arrival,and is to be called Fosserville after President Foster of the Intergalictic Affairs Commity.
“The Galactic Project is to be launched next week on the fifth of February,the anniversary of the founding of the Cosmic Congress and the writing of the Law that still stands to govern our space travel and anything affected likewise.The new colonists of Dorsel are to bring a bag filled with clothing,a pack of any nessacary items they may need on the trip,and as much preservable food as they can fit in their packs.It is suggested that farm supplies be packed as well,as the planets in the solar system of Tillersa are fertile for crops.May you do well."
I was dumbfounded.The whole second page,just to tell us what to pack.
Father sighed for a moment.I passed him the letters,and he skimmed them.“Go pack.Now."
Immediately I ran into my little room that was just off the study,where I had been sitting with Mother and Father and Priscilla.I heard my younger sister's feet stomping up the stairs,probably pouting about not getting to listen.
I could hear Mother and Father talking as I threw some clothes into my duffle bag.
“George,she is so young!It-it isn't fair,she needs to stay here!"Mother was saying,on the verge of tears once more.
Father hushed her.For a while,nothing was said.Then he drew a deep breath and said simply,“She is fourteen.The same age as all the other children."
“Ethan was older,"Mother pointed out,sobbing openly now.
I could picture Father shaking his head,his bushy eyebrows knitting together as he frowned.“But remember,Olive,no children went on that voyage because when the planet was scouted-"
“See,the Cosmic Congress knew it wasn't safe and sent them anyway!"Mother interupted.
Father said nothing.
After a moment their conversation drifted to other things,and I continued to pack the things I knew I would need.I would have to pack food before the trip to help support me as the settlement grew,but that could wait.
I wish the trip could wait,that I didn't have to go.But I did,so there was no use complaining.
Soon enough,I'd be one of the first colonists of Dorsel,the planet of farming.
My heart was in my throat as I looked out the window of the “Galactic Plane."We have always called them Space Ships,so we do,but the Congress insists on the term they adopted when President Foster came to power.
I could see Mother,Father,and Priscilla among the sea of people,waving at me.I waved back feebly.
A mechanical voice rang through the speakers.“10 seconds till launch."
We had to sit in the special airplane seats until we exited the atmosphere,to put on a show for all the people watching.News reporters had cameras,snapping photos.Our families were crying our screaming in excitement or both.
The Ship was so crowded with all of us there.There were sixty people on board,and only ten of them were kids,including me.All the kids sat in the back,while all the adults just picked a random seat.
Across the aisle from me was a tall boy with blond hair.It was slightly long and wild.He obviously hadn't had a haircut in a while.A long section of his bangs hung in his eyes,and he had a michevious grin that told me he was a trouble-maker at heart.
In front of me was a short little brunette.I couldn't see her face from behind her,but her hair was in a long braid down her back.
And behind me was a red-headed boy with freckles.His eyes were green,and he hadn't smiled since setting foot on the ship.
I hadn't gotten a good look at any of the other kids on board the ship when the countdown began.
A huge blast of air hit me in the face and through the window I could see the crowd growing smaller.Up and up we went...
The ship was well controlled so that we didn't float around in space like in those old cartoons that are so innacurate with modern science that it's funny.So after exiting Earth's atmosphere,we could unbuckle our seat-belts and walk around.
It took me a moment to find the cabin for the children.But when I did,I was so surprised.
The cabin was huge.It was divided into four rooms,one for the boys,one for the girls,a bathroom,and a living space.Our bags had been carried to our dormitories ahead of time,so I went into the room to be shared by all five girls.
Five duffle bags were on the floor in a heap,and immediately it was like a shark in a feeding frenzy.We all rushed to grab our bags and pick a bunk.
I got stuck with the bottom bunk,underneath a super tall giant of a girl named Josephine Evans.Josephine basically took over our chest-of-drawers,and filled over half of the drawers with her clothes and things and whatever all she brought.I had to fight to get the ample space I had.
The other girls were all nice enough,though remembering all their names was a pain.To start with,I decided,I would just try to stick with Josephine and work from there.
Almost as soon as we had unpacked,the speakers blarred in that same mechanical voice,“Meet at mess hall.Captain's orders."
I was the first out of the dorm,and in the living space I nearly ran into the blond haired boy who had sat across from me.“Sorry,"I mumbled as he turned to face me.That was when I noticed how much he looked like Josephine,the same green eyes and blond hair,the same pointed nose,the same faint but distinct freckles that dotted their noses.They had to be related.
Josephine rolled her eyes as she walked past.“Don't mind Thomas.He's the clumsiest out of all of us."Looking at him she said,“Isn't that right,little brother?"
Thomas glared at her.“You aren't any older than us,Josey!"Another boy said.This one had brown eyes and he didn't have freckles,but otherwise he looked about the same as Thomas.
“Ford's right,"Thomas said,crossing his arms.
Josephine rolled her eyes once again and stomped off to the mess hall.And that was the end of the conversation.That was also one of the few times I saw the Evans Triplets in the same room together not trying to kill each other.
In the mess hall all sixty of us colonists were hard packed to find a seat.The tables were plastic,the chairs chrome.The walls were solid white and it reminded me of a hospital.
The Captain stood in the middle of the room,a tall man with snow white hair and a beard to match.His eyes were brilliant blue,and his eyes crinkled at the corners,the mark of someone who has lived a life filled with smiling.
“Hello,"The Captain greeted us kindly.He looked around the room at everyone there.“I am Captain Connors,and I have flown many missions for the Cosmic Congress."
I stiffened as I heard the name.It remind me of a darker time,about two years ago.
It was just a few days after my twelth birthday,and I was so excited.Then I reminded myself of how far away Ethan was,how I missed him so.
Mother turned on the T.V. and immediately she burst into tears.Looking up from the book I had recieved for my birthday,my heart nearly stopped.
The news headlines read “Explosions Kill Thousands on Gregadore."
The newscaster lady was interviewing a captain.The last person to see the colonists before the accident,he had been asked to speak.Underneath him,it showed his name: Captain James Connors.
Mother yelled for Father and Priscilla as the last surviving photos of Gregadore were shown.I swallowed hard,hoping against hope that somehow there were survivors.
There were none.
For about a week I refused to accept it.I checked the mail twice,three times every day for a letter from him.I complained that I hadn't seen him in too long,that he needed to visit.I made presents to send to him,so that he knew I was thinking of him so far away.
But when we went to the memorial - there was no body,the explosion had destroyed everything - I couldn't deny it.
Ethan was dead.
I knew I shouldn't blame the Captain,but he reminded me of that dark time,when I was told my brother was dead.I didn't even bother listen to what he had to say.
I followed the other kids as if in a trance,barely ever thinking for myself.And when I did think,it was always about simple things,unimportant.
I was sitting in the living space one day,reading a book.I had only brought the book because it was the last present I recieved from Ethan,and I couldn't leave it behind.Anyway,I was sitting,reading the book,when Rusha Lank,the tall black-haired boy with the green eyes and Rutheford Evans ran in screaming bloody murder.
Right behind them was Thomas.He was trying to smack his brother and Rusha,screaming that they filled his pillow with mustard.Sure enough,when he turned around,his fair blond hair had been colored bright orange.
Josephine couldn't help herself,and burst out laughing.
Thomas turned on his sister.
Rutheford,whom we all knew better as Ford,went to help his brother beat their sister senseless.Meanwhile Rusha used this chance to escape,hiding behind the armchair I was sitting in.My book forgotten,I watched eagerly to see the outcome.
Terra,the quiet brunette with the long braid,was throwing pillows through the dormitory doorway,trying to knock down the Evans brothers.She succesfully took down Thomas,but Ford was able to tackle Josephine.
“I got you,Josey!"He yelled,as if it wasn't obvious enough,while his sister squirmed under his grasp.
I stifled a laugh and stood.My bad mood in rememberance of my brother's death gone,I carefully stalked over to Ford.Thomas was still struggling under the pile of pillows.
Jumping on Ford's back,he was so surprised that immediately he let go of Josephine and tried to get me off.I clung like a tick,and for good measure I yelled in his ear at the top of my lungs.
Josephine stood in the dorm doorway,laughing at me as I swung from her brother's back.And,I noticed,Terra was sitting on the pile of pillows that hid the screaming Thomas.It also muffled his protests.
Petunia Rivets was rolling on the floor laughing,with Lucy Belle Smith joining her.
I'll admit,it was probably some of the most fun we had on the ship.
When Ford finally got me off,I knew I was in for it.
Luckily I'm faster than him.
I looked out the window and sighed.We had been travelling for over two weeks now and were just leaving the Milky Way.At this rate,we wouldn't reach the Ice-o-sphere for ages.
I drummed my fingers on the chest-of-drawers beside my bunk,till finally Terra couldn't stand it anymore.“Can you be quiet for once,Claudia?"
I gave a snort.“She isn't bothering anyone,Terra."Petunia said in my defense.
“I'm trying to go to bed,"Terra protested.
Finally I sighed and stopped drumming,and fell into a restless sleep.
I felt wind run past me.It had to be artificial in the dome in which I was to be living,but it was wind nonetheless.Tall grasses rubbed against my legs.
I turned back to the ship,but it was gone.Panic began to set in.The wide open space was so empty,so solitary.I was utterly alone.
Then I heard the explosion.
I sat straight up,banging my head on the bunk above me.I flinched and rubbed my forehead.Glancing at the clock on the wall,it was only eleven o'clock.I hadn't been asleep long.
I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep,not after that dream.I had had the same nightmare several times over the last few days.
Since I couldn't sleep,I decided to go to the living space and read with a small lamp for a while.Grabbing my book on the way out,I exited the dorm silently so as to not wake the other girls.
I was just about to turn on the lamp when I heard a voice behind me whisper,“What are you doing?"
I swear I jumped ten feet high.Scarred out of my wits,I turned into the face of Rusha.
Rusha Lank wasn't tall,nor was he short.His hair was jet black,his eyes sea-green,but the most noticable feature of his face was the unique scar on his forehead,from his temple to just above his right eyebrow.
“I-I was j-j-just coming to read,"I stuttered.He had scarred me pretty bad.“I couldn't sleep."
Rusha nodded.Then a thought accoured to me.“What are you doing here?"
“I always come here at night.I don't like being in the dorm with four other people."
We sat for a while in uncomfortable silence,till finally I blurted out,“What sort of name is Rusha,anyway?"
If Rusha was offended by my statement,he didn't show it.Instead he gave it a bit of thought.Then,confidently,he said simply,“My father is a history professor on Calamarrua.He always loved to study ancient countries of Earth,so..."He stopped for a moment.“What kind of name is Claudia?"he said teasingly.
I gave a snort.
Rusha walked over to the window.His fingers pressed against the glass,he had a look of longing.Without saying a word I went to stand beside him.
“My sister was supposed to go,"he said at last.“She openly refused."
Rusha remained silent for a moment.Then,drawing in a shaky breath,“They postponed the trip,hoping she would change her mind.She didn't.She said she wasn't going to come to some far off planet all alone."His voice became a whisper,“The Congress arrested her.And by then I had just had my fouteenth birthday."
“So they sent you."Rusha gave a brief nod.I could see his shoulders trembling.His normally confident sea-green eyes were so distant it was hard to believe it was the same boy who had spent the last week antagonizing Ford Evans,started The Great Pie War in the mess hall.
Now I understood why he came to be alone.Not because the dorm was crowded,but because he wanted to be alone with with his thoughts.
I took a deep breath.“My brother Ethan was killed in the explosions on Gregadore."I said quietly.Rusha didn't acknowledge me,but it was as if a dam inside me had broken.Once I began,I couldn't stop.I talked about the last present I recieved from Ethan - the book that I realized I was still holding in my hands - and seeing the news report and how Mother cried for days and how much I missed him,how the Cosmic Congress had scouted the planet and not warned the colonists,how they allowed technology into the colony that ended up destroying the factory that maintained the dome protecting the settlements,how the Captain reminded me of that time.I was just getting to describing how Priscilla didn't eat for three days afterword when Rusha looked at me.
“Claudia,you're scarred,aren't you?"Normally I would have lied,made up something.Said I was fine.But something in Rusha's eyes,his honesty,he was so trustworthy.I couldn't help but nod.
And then,out of the blue,he hugged me.I struggled and tensed,but I stopped.I relaxed in his arms.
And I didn't pull away.
At some point during the night I must've gone back to my dorm,as did Rusha.I woke to Terra laughing as she attemted to smack William Joneson with a long plastic stick.I recognized it as a Trulling stick.I wasn't sure why the quiet girl would bring that on the voyage,but it sure made a good weapon.
Will ducked and ran into the living space,straight into grasp of Thomas.Just as the sandy haired boy got a grip of him,Ford dove into the fight to rescue Will.
Charlie,who was,if even possible,less talkitive than Terra,tackled Will next.After being taken to the floor for about the tenth time that morning,things began to go well for him.He pushed Charlie off,and before he could regain his footing,Lucy Belle was on the offensive,pinning him to the floor.
Rusha ducked out of the shelter of the armchair,shoved Lucy Bella off of Charlie,then flickered back into hiding without so much as a whisper.
Petunia fell,literally head-over-heels after Ford shoved her into Josephine,who shoved her into Will.
Someone must have realized Rusha was simply behind the armchair,because Charlie and Thomas tipped the chair over,causing Rusha to scramble out from underneath,where Charlie caught him.
I gave a snort.“You can't hide the whole time,genius."I said from the doorway.
Rusha looked at me from where he was held to the ground by now three of his roomates.“What about you?"He retorted.He mocked anger,but that fell apart when a crooked grin appeared on his face.“You aren't doing anything.I'd like to see you do better."
I laughed as I ran into the chaos.“You know what,Rusha?"I yelled over the growing noise,“Watch me!"
I ducked under pillowfights,leaped over Josephine and Thomas beating each other with Terra's Trulling stick,and Lucy Belle screaming that a chicken was after her.I had reached the other side of the room.Ducking underneath a table,I waited.No one really noticed me.
There!Soon enough,I saw the figure of Rusha Lank fighting his way over towards me,his green eyes aglow.His hair fell into his face,coverring pretty much everything except his scar.The scar wasn't ugly.I couldn't picture Rusha without it,and it suited him.Made him....Rusha.
I jumped up,almost banging my head on the table.I was surrounded,so,I did something stupid.I jumped up onto the table and vaulted across to the couch.My brown hair flew into my eyes,and I barely had time to brush it away when I saw Rusha coming towards me.
Standing up on the couch,I took a flying leap and took Rusha to the floor.“Did you see me do better,or do I have to do it again?"I asked with a grin.
His face told me he wasn't mad.It was all part of the fun.He said with a laugh,“Funny,Claudia,now let me up,will you?"
There were a lot of scrambles like that on board the ship,and right then,I was looking forward to every single one.
The mechanical speaker blared,“Breakfast in mess hall!"
Immediately everyone picked themselves up off the floor and scrambled to get dressed.A few were already up and ready to start the day,so they went down the hall.
Somewhere in the twisting halls of the ship,I wound up walking beside Ford.He kept glancing behind us till finally I couldn't stand it anymore.“What are you looking at?"
I turned my head,and behind us where Rusha and Terra.Her long braid bounced down her back as she walked,and her face was filled with laughter.Rusha was grinning.
A pang of jealousy touched my heart.What did she think was so funny about Rusha?I rolled my eyes and turned back to Ford.
I gave a teasing smile.“You like her,don't you?"
Ford's eyes widened in panic.“No...yes...no-yea.I do."He stammered.His face flushed.“Don't tell Thomas or Josephine,please?"
“I won't,"I promised.I knew he was thinking about her lagghing with Rusha the whole way to the mess hall.I knew for certain,because I felt the same way.
The mess hall was crowded wtth people as they filed in.I took one of the grey plastic trays and was given my breakfast - a waffle,some strawberries,a banana,and a cup of milk.
As I searched the lunch room for a place to sit,I felt something bump my arm,and turned to see Rusha.“Hey."
I smilled.All of my jealousy from before had melted as I took a place at the table beside Rusha.
And,I noticed,Ford and Terra sat at the other end of the long plastic table.Josephine was with Petunia and Lucy Belle,and Charlie,Thomas,and Will were using spoons as catapults to fling strawberries at the girls from where they sat.
Rusha was the most excited person I've ever met.His eyes sparkled when he talked,and he was almost never bored.
And he wasn't bored.But there was definetely something on his mind.Instead of speaking nonstop,Rusha sat in silence as he ate.Probably thinking.What about,I had no clue,and I was dying to know,but I didn't really want to ask,either.
So I left him be.I didn't think of it again till the next morning.
After the daily chaotic struggle in the living space,we were heading to breakfast.In the hall,Rusha sought me out.His calm expression was gone.
“Claudia,I need to tell you something."He looked around to see if anyone else could hear us.“I....I wasn't honest wtth you."
I cocked my head.“Honest about what?"I asked.
Rusha looked at all the people in the hall.“I can't tell you here.Tonight?"
I crossed my arms.“Why should I?"
“Because I need to tell you this,Claudia!"Losing his patience,he snapped the last bit.That told me for certain he was dead serious.
“I'll be there."
I looked into Rusha's sea-green eyes,waiting for him to speak.He walked over to the floor to ceiling window and stared out,his fingers pressed against the glass.
“Claudia,I wasn't honest with you."He murmured at last,so quiet I could barely hear him.“I'm sorry,but you have to listen to be."He swallowed and then added,“Your life might depend on it."
I gulped but said nothing.I pushed my brown hair out of my face,pulling strands of it behind me ear.
Rusha continued.“My sister didn't....she wanted to come.More than anything."
“Then why'd she refuse?"I asked.He did not answer right away,just continued on with his story.
“She wanted to go,but had to stay behind.If she protested,she knew the Intergalactic Affairs Commity would make me go.Neither one of us thought the Congress would arrest her...but it was important that I was the one to come."
I cocked my head slightly,and starred out the window.Rusha didn't even glance at me,just watched the passing stars,the bright orbs that seemed to hang in the evergoing nothingness.Then he said,“What I tell you next,you must never tell to anyone."
He turned to me.His eyes were wild with fear,as if just us talking here late in the night was enough to get us into such trouble as couldn't be imagined.“Promise me!"
Solemnly I said,in a quiet voice,“I promise."
“The Congress has declared that none of the alien species,none of the natives of these different planets,are worth protecting.They let the Intergalactic Affairs just do what they like,kill off so much life..."He shook his head slightly,looking to the floor.“The Trilihounds of Gregadore were wiped out by the explosion," - I winced - “The Proteracts of Fethamoo killed by the artificial tempuratures,the Minkedons of Glasii were hunted to near extinction...the list is endless."Rusha's face filled with anger for the first time since I'd met him.
“If the Cosmic Congress won't protect all the wildlife that might be of use to us,someone has to!"His hair fell into his face once again,but he didn't even really notice.
I sort of sensed what was coming next,at least partially,but I asked anyway,“And that would be...?"
“The Planetary Alliance."Rusha brushed the hair out of his face and crossed his arms.“We don't really even need all these settlements,the Congress just took over.We didn't want them in charge,they stole the power after the technology was developped.And the wildlife of these planets are being wiped out for unnessacary reasons!"
“I'm guessing this ties in with why you had to come?"
He nodded.He tensed then and lowered his voice.Uncrossing his arms,he pulled me close.“Listen carefully,Claudia,"he said,almost a whisper.I gave a nod.
“The Alliance is planning to do their part to safe what is left of Dorsel - the technology and the dome are in place,there may not even be anything left to save - and this ship,and everyone on it are in danger.As soon as we land,hurry to get off.It is important you get off."
“The Alliance is trying to keep everyone safe,but the mission is touch-and-go.You can't hesitate.Run.Get as many people off with you as you can - the sooner the better.And get as far from the ship as possible.That is the most important thing you can ever do,Claudia."
His serious mood broke instantly when he smirked and said,“Claudia is such a formal name.I need something else to call you by."
I laughed.“What's wrong with my name?"I said between giggles.
Rusha shrugged.His green eyes glittered,the exact color of the ocean.Then he said in a teasing voice,“I will call you Chloe."
He shrugged.Then he looked away.“It suits you."I'm not sure,but I swear I heard him whisper so quietly I almost couldn't hear it,“And...it was my sister's name."
It was two long,dreary weeks before the planet that was to be my new home came into view.Everyday we did the same thing,wrestling till we were exhausted,ate breakfast,did our daily activities,and so on.
Rusha hardly ever called me by name.Always “Chloe."A couple of the others asked why,and we just shrugged.Sometimes Rusha would tell them,with a twinkle in his eyes,that it was an inside joke.
Ford and Terra were so happy on board the ship and sometimes I couldn't help but laugh.Something told me that Josey had figured it out and just didn't say anything to Thomas,but Ford wasn't aware that she knew.
I looked out the window,watching the planet come into view.A huge dome covered a section of land.Inside the glass bubble,grass and trees grew,but otherwise the place was empty.On one end was a field,on the other a forest.There had to be at least a couple alien creatures in there.Maybe good enough to hunt.
I thought back to the archery lessons I had taken back on Earth.I smiled.Archery was my skill,and I had enjoyed it.
We were gathering our luggage.Today was the day we would land.My mind flitted back to the night two weeks before when Rusha had told me to hurry.
You can't hesitate.Run.
It is important you get off.
I shuddered.Packing my stuff back up,I moved a bit faster.
The speaker we had become so accustomed to over the last - what?Month? - blared,“Head to loading dock."
On the way there,I was shoved between crowds of people,both kids and adults.Josey and Terra pushed past me,and I think I saw Thomas in the sea of people.
There was a jolt as we docked.A few crew members began ushering us out like a cattle herd.I was almost out the door when I heard a few crew members whispering.
Who set it?
Can it be put out?
Has it spread?
It's in the fuel storage.
How long till-
By then I was out onto the ground.I swallowed hard.It sounded like they were talking about a-
The cry was loud as thunder,and immediately the crowd surged forward,trying to get out as fast as possible.
I tried to scan the crowd for Rusha,but it was too big.As I thought of him,I remembered his warning.And I ran.
I was at least a hundred yards away when I heard the explosion.
Shouts,screams,cries.The air was filled with noises of grief and shock.Immediately the crowd began to drift apart.That was when I noticed how sickeningly small it was.
As the ship burned on,I could hear people searching for loved ones,close friends,trying to find out how many had survived.But from where I stood,it didn't look to be more than twenty,at most.I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd - Lilian,the lady from the mess hall.Joshua,the loudest guy on the whole ship.Josephine and Terra. - but not the one I was looking for.
“Rusha!"I yelled,joining the ranks of searching people,sinking into despair as my voice was lost in the crowd.There was no response.He had to be here somewhere.
I heard someone say behind me,“What is you name?"
I turned into the face of a tall man with redish-brown hair.He had found a scrap paper somewhere,and I guess someone had a pen since their was writing on it.“Claudia.Claudia Voldsdeen."
“I'm trying to compile a list of survivors,"He explained.
A brief bit of hope flared in my chest.“Is there a Rusha Lank on that list?"
He skimmed the list.It took him a few moments but then I heard him sigh.My hope died.“No,sorry."Seeing the crestfallen look on my face,he added,“I haven't gotten everybody yet.Maybe..."
I sighed and shook my head as I walked deeper into the crowd,calling his name.
Time passed,I don't know how much.Surely the survivor list was done now.But when I went to search for the man,I couldn't find him.
The ship was still aflame,and I knew that by now if anyone was coming out of the burning pile of wreckage,they would have been rescued by now.If he wasn't in the crowd,Rusha was dead.
Someone had climbed the low hill top.I could tell it was the man who was making the list.“QUIET!"He yelled.It took him a few tries,but eventually he silenced the crowd.“We need to make note of what tools we have.And food."
A couple murmurs of agreeement rose up,but mostly all there was,was silence.
“Does anyone have an axe or saw?"About five hands rose into the air.“Seeds?"Maybe ten hands.“Shovels?"
The list went on and on.It seemed to me that we had enough to build a decent settlement,but we still had a problem.Food.The crops would needs time to grow,and we didn't have time to wait.Everyone had some meager supplies to support them for a while,but not long enough.
“Maybe,"someone suggested,“There is prey in the woods!"
Someone snickered.“The dome and forests are artificial.Prey would die out in the new conditions."
“Actually,I heard that the wildlife of Dorsel adapts well to new enivironments,and can breath oxygen well enough.Most of it should have lived."Another countered.Instantly I thought of Rusha,but I knew it wasn't him.
The man,still standing on the hill top,was scribbling down as much of what we all said as he could.“We need to build houses,first."
The people with screws,nails,and tools were called up onto the hill,as were the people with axes and saws.Everyone had,at this point,accepted the redish haired man as the unofficial leader of the group.
A couple groups were organized that day.There was the house-building group,the farmers,and most importantly the explorers.
I had been mulling an idea over in my head for most of the day,and now,I had decided,was the time to ask.
The red haired man,whose name was Clark,was standing at the edge of the spot was had picked for the first house.He was helping set up a tent made from blankets and duffle bags,testing the design to see it if would work.It would take a while to build houses,and we needed somewhere to stay.
“Clark,"I said softly.
He looked up at me and smiled.“Hello."
I looked towards the forest.“I want to go hunting,"I blurted.Before he could say anything I began in a rush,fearing he would say no,“I don't have a bow,but I'm sure I could make one,and I'm really good at archery..."
Clark laughed.“When the explorers come back,we'll see.It might not be safe."
I nodded in understanding and waited.
Dorsel is unnaturally bright.There isn't really “night" on Dorsel,more just “not day".In fact,since there isn't really weather in the dome,the only reason we actually needed houses was to block out the light.And so,as the hours passed,the sky stayed about the same.
When the explorers and the housebuilders finally returned,the sky was barely dimming.They were carrying huge pieces of wood on their shoulders,except for one,who was carrying an armful of sticks.I assumed it was for firewood,to cook food.
I was about to ask if I could make one of the slender branches into a bow when the explorers began recounting their story.
“The woods are so deep,the only place on the planet where light doesn't shine,"One said ominously.“We heard rustlings all around us - in the trees,in the brushes,in the undergrowth.But we didn't actually see what it was till-"
“It was like a deer."Another cut him off bluntly.“It was a deer,but bigger.And with thicker fur,and a shorter face,and no antlers."
A third added,“I was about as tall as....it was twice as tall as you,"he said,pointing out a tall lady in the crowd.“And it had a long tail.And it's hooves were really wide."
“But definetly a deer."The second repeated.
Clark cocked his head and went to stand beside them.“Do you think it's edible?"
The three looked at each other,then the first spoke for the whole group,saying,“Probably."
Clark scanned the audience,then stopped when he saw me.“You up for hunting really big deer?"
I nodded.My eyes were probably as wide as Dorsel.I hadn't actually expected to be allowed to go.“I'll need wood to make a bow,and string,and wood for arrows."
The firewood guy pulled out good,green wood from a sapling.It was long and still flexible.He turned to me.“Will this do?"
He brought me the wood,and handed me a pocketknife.
Time to get to work.
My thumb was just at the corner of my mouth.Steady....I released the arrow.
Just as the arrow flew towards it,the lumbering creature moved.“UGH!"I yelled in frustration,probably scaring off all the prey in the forest.
With a sigh I went to retrieve my arrow.It wasn't a great arrow anyway,but I needed to spare as many of them as I could.They were small sticks that I had whittled to a point.I shaved on the bark so it would be smoother,and I had cut a notch on the back to fit it to the bowstring,which was thick,braided thread that I had fashioned to the bow.
I sighed and looked up.Through the trees I could see the slight dimming of the sky and knew I need to head back.
The settlement was taking off.In a little over a week,we had built two houses and ten tents.The tents had been covered in the hides of the deerlike creatures we had dubbed “redivops."The blankets and luggage had since been taken down and been moved inside.
The houses had been given to two young farmers,so they could work on starting their farm in comfort.
The house builders worked day and night,and the third home was almost finished.
The redivops,as the explorers had claimed,were edible.I hunted them daily and we were quite well fed.The meat was thick and chewy,but if it was cooked well enough,it almost tasted like bacon.We still had plenty of the supplies we had brought with us,so we could afford a day or two without prey.No one in the settlement would starve.
Of course I wasn't the only person who hunted,but a majority of our food was my catch.And,I repeatedly reminded everyone,we couldn't risk hunting the redivops to extinction.They were our primary source of food.Not too many cared,but I insistenly protestested.And,every time I fought for the redivops,I was reminded of Rusha and his passion for wildlife.
I had looked for days,even after Clark told me that his name wasn't on the list.But I had given up hope.He was gone.
It had been a year.
We all thought that help would come for us.But no,we were on our own.Maybe the Congress thought we were dead.Maybe they didn't even know about the explosion.But that didn't even matter.
Besides,we were doing fine on our own.
Finally we had enough houses to accomodate us all.I had been asigned a cabin with Terra,Josephine,and some lady named Christa.
Christa was an exciting person with a cheery smile.Sewing was her favorite hobby,and with the sewing kit she had brought with her,she helped make clothing and blankets and things for the settlement.She had made a jacket by hand out of redivop fur,which I had sincerely thanked her for,despite the fact that temperature was regulated inside the dome.
I woke early one morning to the bright light in my window.Terra must've forgotten to close the curtains again.But when I sat up and rubbed my eyes groggily,I noticed that she wasn't there.Josephine wasn't in bed either.
Joesphine and Terra slept in bunk beds on one side of our room,and I on a bed on the other.Across the hall was Christa's room,but she would be outside by the campfire,making breakfast.
Then I jumped up and pulled a shirt and jeans out of my drawer.I had overslept,and Christa hated it when we overslept.
I rushed out the door of the tiny house we all shared,and,sure enough,they were around the campfire,eating breakfast without me.I smelled patatoes frying in a pan over the fire,and the tang of strawberries.On the side there was something I couldn't recognize,but it smelled delicious.
“She lives,"Josephine muttered around a mouthful of the mystery dish.
Christa rolled her eyes and arranged a plate for me.I lifted a chunk of what appeared to be bread,but tasted different.It didn't smell like bread,either.“What is this?"
“Wheat flour,patatoes,and water mixed together with a little bit of redivop meat and fried."Terra said simply,lifting a slice of fried patato.
We didn't say anything for the rest of the meal.
I stood,brushing the crumbs of the meal off of my shirt,and went into the house.Leaning against the wall I found it where it always was - my hunting bow,quiver of arrows,and a simple brown jacket I always wore when hunting.
No one ever questioned me as I left the settlement.The boots I had fashioned from redivop hide were soft against the grass.The animal was useful in all sorts of ways.Now that we had shelters and crops growing well,I hunted less to protect the animals.If they went extinct,we probably would too.
I held an arrow nocked against my bowstring,ready to draw.
I stopped.A brief rustling in the leaves,a cracked branch.A redivop was nearing.Gingerly I moved through the shadows,so slow that I was barely moving.It was tedious,but I had to catch something.Nothing had been caught for about half a week.Fresh meat was important.
In a small patch of sunlight,I could see the thick furry hide of my prey.The beast lowered its head to graze.I lifted the bow.Steady....
I drew back the bowstring.My thumb brushed the corner of my mouth.
Tightening my grip on the bow,I released the arrow.
The redivop staggered on its long,thick legs as the wooden projectile pierced its coat.The animal gave a grunt before sinking to its knees.I dropped my bow in the leaf litter,and I had my knife out in a second.
It was my first catch in a week.We had needed the animal for it's meat.And I always saved the pelt.For clothing,bedding.
The creatures were huge,but I could drag one by myself.After slinging my bow onto my back,I began the steady trek home.
The forest was seperated from the settlement by several rolling hills,which was the most difficult part of the journey.The redivop's hooves tore up the grass in its wake.
I looked up to see what time it was.It was slightly brighter than before.About eleven thirty,maybe.
Then I saw a figure atop the hill.I couldn't see who it was,but I knew it wasn't anyone from the settlement.At his hip was a blaster,and only members of the Cosmic Congressional Task Force carried them.
“Who are you?"I yelled,my voice carrying over the hill.
The person on the hill took a few shaky steps forward.My catch forgotten,I unslung my bow.“WHO ARE YOU?"I yelled again,walking slowly forward.
Suddenly he stopped.“Chloe?"His voice wavered slightly.As I got closer,I noticed he was taller,and his hair had been cut,but it was definetely him.
“Rusha?"My voice was thick with emotion.I'm sure my eyes were as wide as moons and I dropped my bow and ran towards him.
I was breathing hard when I reached the hilltop,but I didn't care.“Where have you been?!It's been a YEAR,Rusha!We all thought you were dead!"My eyes filled with tears as he wrapped his arms around me.
“I'm fine,Chloe,"He whispered.
I pulled away.“How did you get out?The ship-"
“It's a long story."He looked behind me at the redivop that I had left in the grass.“I assume you were trying to get that back to the village?"
“Leuitenant!"A deep voice came from a different hilltop.
Rusha looked at me.“Stay here."He went slowly to where someone else was waiting.
Then I noticed he was limping.
The sky was blinding.Noon.
As much as I wanted to wait for him,if Rusha didn't hurry I would have to take my prey back to the village so it could be cooked without him.
Finally the two figures on the opposite hilltop began to make their way towards me.As they came closer,I could better see the stranger.He had curly brown hair and blue eyes.He looked like he was maybe in his thirties.
“I'm Davis,"he said politely.
I smiled.He seemed nice.“I'm Claudia."
At his hip was a blaster identical to the one Rusha carried.On the side was a symbol I'd never seen before - a circle with the silhouette of a space ship in the center.
I lifted the head of the redivop,digging my fingers into its woolly pelt.Rusha gripped the coat around the spine,helping hoist the animal into the air.Davis followed his lead and lifted the skinny legs off of the ground.And off we went.
We weren't too far from the villags,but at noon travelling was always harder.I guessed that the explosion tampered with some of the important technology that regulated temperatures,as it had been growing increasingly warmer.
The glowing light of the Dorsel skies sent huge amounts of light through the dome,and some of the heat of the suns in this solar system must have been leaking through the glass.I could feel sweat beading on the back of my neck.
Rusha's limp had grown steadily worse as we went on under the weight of the redivop.He could barely walk.Worry pricked at me.
Finally I couldn't stand it anymore.I stopped studdenly,causing the steady rhythm we had been walking in to cease.Rusha almost fell over,and Davis stumbled to a stop.
“Why are you limping?"I asked him.I dropped my prey for maybe the third time that morning and turned to face him.
“That's a lie."Davis added in.Rusha glared at him.
I folded my arms over my chest.I don't know for sure if I looked serious or stupid with my bow on my back,my hair pulled back with a leather band like something out of a movie,except way too pathetic.“What happened?"
Rusha rolled his eyes.“It's nothing.I'm fine."I knew he wasn't fine.He could hardly stand,let alone walk.His face was slightly pale.But I didn't press him.Not then,anyway.I would later.First,we had to get back to the settlement.
It wasn't far anyway,just another hill.I was sure he could make it that far.And I was right,but barely.
As we carried the redivop into the tiny group of houses,we dropped it with a loud thump.Rusha leaned against the wall of one of the houses.He was breathing hard,and I noticed he wasn't putting any weight on his left leg.
“You aren't fine,"I said rolling my eyes.
Rusha snorted.“Really?I hadn't guessed."
Davis had gone to help prepare the redivop so it could be cooked,so it was just me and Rusha.I asked him once more why he was limping,and then he finally told me.
“The Planetary Alliance goes beyond protecting different species,"He began.“We go against everything the Cosmic Congress stands for...they abuse the ability to found settlements.The Alliance is fighting for a claim on a planet so we can build a place outside of the Congress.They....they aren't so eager to let us go."He paused here.Introduction aside,he started his story.
“Davis and I were scouting out a planet for the Commander.We called it Apergoz.It has a decent atmosphere and plenty of water.The wildlife was what we were scouted for - to see if it was dangerous.
“We found these huge lizard things there....huge,cobalt blue lizards with stubby claws.They didn't look harmful,just tough.We were proved wrong pretty quickly..."Here Rusha bent and pulled his pantleg up to about his knee.Around his calf was a thick bandage.As he unwound the white cloth,I recoiled in horror.The wound was a wide gash down his leg.The edges were ragged like teeth marks,and the bandages were stained with blood.
“You were injured that badly,and your Commander let you come here?"
His green eyes glittered as his face took on the familiar crooked grin.“I didn't exactly tell her..."
In spite of the seriousness of the situation,I couldn't help but burst out laughing.“You're such an idiot!"I exclaimed between bouts of laugher.
That only made me laugh harder.I had missed him so much,and here he was.I had to wait a year...
...but it was worth it.
I noticed the sky dimming slightly,the equivalent of a sunset on Dorsel.Dinner would be prepared soon.I had just finished setting up the campfire for Christa and was walking through the settlememt.
It was actually very pretty.The log cabins were arranged in neat rows with small feilds behind them,laden with crops.Each house had curtains made of old blankets or redivop pelts,but mostly the deer's hide was used for clothing.The fur could be stuffed into pillows,and the leather was used for boots and pants and hunting jackets.
Rusha and Davis had made camp at the edge of the little village.Several people had offered them a place to stay,but they had refused them all.Instead,they had pitched a small tent just at the foot of the hill at the edge of the settlement.
The sky was as bright as a noon day on Earth.Christa would be wondering where I was and why I was so late.Immediately I ran back towards the simple cabin we shared with Terra and Josey.
Davis fiddled with a device that looked like a cross between a telephone and a television.“The ship comes for us tomorrow.They want us at the landing docks at sunrise."
“You leave tomorrow?"I asked.I struggled to keep a whine out of my voice as Rusha nodded.
“Things with the Cosmic Congress are getting bad...this goes beyond saving the animals.The Congress is destroying their own government,just for the sake of power."He sighed.Rusha began twisting a bracelet around his wrist that I hadn't even known he was wearing.A simple metal disk was the only decoration on the plain bracelet.The disk was decorated with two swords crossed over eachother.
I looked over the horizon.“There isn't a chance I can come with you,is there?"I said sarcastically.But I surprised myself by realizing I truly meant it.
“Lieutenant!"Davis interupted,“The Commander has a ship in the area.They can pick us up tonight."
“That's great!"Rusha's face lit up at the unexpected surprise.
Rusha and Davis had been in the settlement for three days.It didn't seem long enough.And now they were leaving.
“Tell the Commander I'll be there..."He paused and looked at me,then Rusha said,“And tell her I have a friend coming."
I gaped at him.“Are you serious?"
Rusha shrugged.“You asked if you could come.Why not?"
I laughed.“I guess I better tell Christa I'm leaving."Rusha nodded,so I turned and ran to the cabin.
I opened the door,breathing hard from the run,and walked inside.
“Why are you panting?"Terra asked,looking up from where she and Josey were playing a game of checkers that had been made from a leftover piece of wood from when the houses were built.
“'Cuz I ran,"I panted,“Duh."
Terra rolled her eyes.
Across the room on the rough wooden table we had,Christa was doing some sewing.“Hey Claudia."
“Hi."I paused,thinking about what to say.“I'm leaving Dorsel,"I said finally.
“What?"Josey jumped up,almost kicking over the checker board.
“I'm leaving,"I repeated.
Terra wrinkled her eyebrows as she,too,stood.“Why?"Christa had stood too.Head cocked,she looked at me questioningly.
I shrugged.“I....I'm leaving."I couldn't quite figure out how to explain why I wanted to go.Because I didn't want to loose Rusha again,I wanted to know I was doing something instead of sitting around,because I knew the Alliance offered me a better life than the Congress?It was worth it if Rusha was willing to be injured for it,and I knew that.Entirely,I believed I should join the Alliance to help him and all the others who didn't like the Congress's rule.
I didn't have to worry about putting that all into words right then,becauae Christa didn't question me any further.I said qucck goodbyes and took off again,realizing that Rusha hadn't told me what time we needed to meet the ship.
The ship was very different from the one that had brought us to Dorsel.The only landing dock on the planet was damaged from the explosion,but the saace ship was still able to land safely.On the side of the ship was the same design on the side of Rusha's blaster.
The door slid open and an automated ramp slid to the ground.A tall woman appeared in the doorway.Her red hair was streaked with gold highlights.She looked to be in her twenties.At her hip was a blaster identical to Rusha's,and from the look on her face,I knew she knew how to use it.Still,she looked kind,despite her tough attitude.A gold badge was pinned to her shoulder.I couldn't see the design because of the glare of the light.
“Davis,Lieutenant,and..."She paused and looked at me.
“Claudia,"Rusha said.The look on his face told me to remain silent,at least for the moment."
The woman nodded.“Davis,Lieutenant,Claudia,you have permission to board."
Rusha and Davis bowed,and I did the same.Something told me this was someone important.As Rusha began to limp up the ramp,Davis and I followed.
The inside of the ship was so much larger than I thought it would be.The walls were white,the floors black.On one wall the emblem from the side of the ship was once more.Dozens of doors led to different places towards the back,and the cockpit up front.A television screen was hung on one wall,and a shuttle race was playing.
Not for the first time,I missed home.Mother would clean and cook with Priscilla while I watched shuttle racing with Father.He loved shuttles.He kept up with every race,every shuttle and its pilot.And when the annual Mars Orbit began,Father was ready.
The tall woman told us that we would be heading back to the space station soon,and then went into one of the dozens of doors.
Davis flopped onto the couch to watch the races.Rusha limped over to join him,but he more collapsed than sat down.
I looked around a bit before I joined them to watch the race.Most of the pilots were ones I'd never heard of before.A little red ship called the Firework was in the lead.Her pilot switched direction suddenly,spinning her onto a side course.The Millionaire turned after her.The pilot of the Queen's Boat ignored the second track and continued the course,somehow pulling ahead of the Firework and the Millionaire.The Queen's Boat had won.
Shuttle racing was an exciting sport.
“Someday I am gonna win the Quadrouple Wing,"Rusha said smugly,crossing his arms.
I snickered.“Like that will ever happen."
“I will!"He insisted.
The Quadrouple Wing was a combination of four races - The Mars Orbit,The Moon Run,The Jupiter Jump,and the Rings of Saturn.The Orbit,being the first race,determined if you had a chance.It was also the longest race.Either the shuttle couldn't handle another race or the pilot was too exhausted to win the Moon Run.No one had ever won the Quadrouple Wing.
Shuttle racing is about strength.Shuttles are purposefully hard to fly.Very little autmation is added to the cockpit of a shuttle.Rusha Lank would never be able to race one.He was so skinny.If he set out to win a footrace,that might be a possibility.But not in a shuttle.
He glared at me,though I knew he didn't mean it.“You don't think I can fly,do you?"
“Not one bit."
This made him laugh.“I can,and I'll show you when we get to the station."
“Fine.At the station,"I agreed.
I looked over the room.A cot was bolted to the floor.A dresser beside that.There was a window on one wall with a plant on the sill.I had a cabinet for supplies,and a chair and desk.The walls were a nice creme color and the floor was dark brown.A black and white floral blanket covered the cot.It was a nice room.
I leaned my bow against the wall,and sat down on the bed to look at the crisp white paper in my hands.On one side was my schedule for the next week,on the other a map of the expansive station.I was glad for it.
A digitial clock glowed on the wall above the desk.I glanced at the time to see where I needed to go.I had free time for about two hours so I flipped over the sheet to see if there was anywhere I should go.
Hangar,cafeteria,blaster range,archery range....
The range was open from 4 in the morning till 5 at night,with the exception of the archery classes around lunch.Excitement filling me,I folded the paper and shoved it into my pocket and picked up my bow.My quiver slung over my shoulder,I set off.
I made it halfway down the hallway before I had to look at the map.
After twists and turns and two sets of stairs,I found a large open space on top of the station,covered with glass.Two wide fields were divided by laserproof fencing.The grass was neatly mowed.A sign like on a road told me the right side of the field was the archery range.Targets were at one end of the field from a ton of different lengths.A few people were practicing,and I noticed immediately how different my bow was.Instead of plastic reinforced with iron and adjustable strings,my bow was a wooden curve with one string tied tightly to it.My arrows were even worse.
I decided I wouldn't let that bother me.I pulled an arrow from my quiver and nocked it to the bowstring.
A tall girl a few feet away from me lowered her bow and turned to watch me.I ignored her.I took a deep breath and released the string.The stick fell just short of hitting the bullseye,and I was shooting from twenty feet.I'd never shot from that far away before.
“You're new,aren't you?"The girl asked.
The girl snickered slightly.“And you call that a bow?"
“I made it myself."I told her.I wasn't going to let her bother me.I drew another arrow and pulled the bowstring back.A perfect shot this time.The aooden arrow thudded into the heavy target.
The girl rolled her eyes.She didn't speak to me again.
I licked my lips and concentrated.The next target was farther away.I missed and groaned inwardly.I shot at the same target for a while,practicing over and over,till I realized I was out of arrows.I went to retrieve the ones I had shot before.
I felt something pass over my head as I bent to pick up an arrow and looked behind me to see a plastic arrow imbed itself into the target.
“Hey!"I yelled,turning to see who had fired the arrow.“Who do you think you are,shooting when you can see perfectly well that I was right there-"I stopped when I recognized the stupid grin on his utterly stupid face.“You're such a dork,"I muttered under my breath.
“That isn't funny,"I protested,“You could have hit me."
He shook his head.“Nah,I stink at archery."
“Then why'd you come?"
He smirked.“'Cause I knew you'd be here."He laughed again.“And I was right."
I rolled my eyes and walked towards him while I stuffed my arrows in my quiver.“Well,"I said,“What did you want?"
“I told you that when we got here I would prove to you I can fly a shuttle."His sea colored eyes glowed.“You got time?"
I set my bow in the grass and pulled out my schedule.“I don't need to go to training till 10.What time is it?"
Rusha glanced at his watch.“9:30."
“Then I've got time."
Three flights of stairs,ten different doors and hallways,and an elevator.Rusha was still limping,and I could tell it was getting worse.On the last set of stairs I was scared he was going to collapse.He was so pale...
“Rusha,are you okay?"
No,he wasn't.And he knew that.It was getting worse,and still I doubted he had even told anyone how badly he was injured.He needed help.
“Rusha,"I said.He turned around.“You can show me another time but you can't ignore how bad your leg is."
“I'm fine, Chloe,"He protested.
I shook my head.“You aren't and you know it."
He sighed,realizing I wasn't going to let this go.“I'll go to sickbay in the morning,alright?But I'm telling you I'm fine."
I rolled my eyes.“You're so stubborn,even when you know you're wrong."
“I'm not wrong."
Rusha rolled his eyes.But he kept walking down the hallway.
Reluctantly,as much as I wanted to stop him,I followed him down the hall.
Towards the end was a huge garage-style door.Rusha flipped open a control panel,then paused.He leaned against the wall or a moment.Again he put no weight on his leg.Rusha groaned slightly.
“Chloe,"He muttered through gritted teeth,“You were right."
Then he collapsed to the floor.
I held the blaster up,adjusting it slightly to aim for the target.I squeezed the trigger and watched the laser line up with the bullseye.I lowered the weapon.A week had taught me how to fire it,and I was pretty good.But I would always favor the bow.
I looked at my watch.11:45.Lunch.I holstered the blaster and ran through the halls.
Quickly I had learned the way to certain places.Still,if I wasn't careful,I could get lost.Down one hall,up some stairs,down another hall.The Cafeteria.
The skyblue walls added some color to the mostly white interior of the station.The floor consisted of grey tile.White tables filled the room and chrome counters served different styles of food.
I grabbed a yellow lunch tray and was just getting a plate filled with ham and different vegetables when I felt a tap at my shoulder.I turned around.Rusha smiled at me.He was still pale and he was on crutches,but he didn't seem to mind.
“Hey,"I said,smiling.“You're up."
“Yeah."He awkwardly attempted to lift a yellow tray and ended up dropped it.I adjusted the way I held mine and picked the piece of plastic up off the floor for him.“Thanks."
“How's training going?"He asked me as we went to find a place to sit.
I shrugged.“Good,I guess."
“Learned any swordfighting yet?"I shook my head.“Doesn't surprise me.The Alliance doesn't favor swords much."His voice was filled with disappointment,and I could tell swordfighting was something he enjoyed.
“How long do you think you'll be on crutches?"I asked.
I nodded.We didn't talk much for the rest of lunch.
The paper in my hands felt heavy as I dreaded the outcome.An uncomfortable deja vu feeling passed over me.I sighed and dropped the paper onto the desk.I'd worry about that later.
I rifled through the dresser for my fur jacket Christa had made me.I smiled as I realized I would need the thing after all.I looked to where my bow was hung up on the wall.I had repaired the broken string,and it shot well.The other members of the Alliance thought I was crazy for not trading the rough,home-made bow for a lethal weapon,but my bow suited me.
I counted and recounted my arrows,then slung the quiver onto my back after donning the jacket.I would reread the letter that I had thrown onto my desk before I left.
Claudia Voldsdeen,Trainee of the First Battalion,
You are requested by Commander Jade in the Meeting Room at 3 o'clock this afternoon.The Commander wishes to prepare a scouting party,and you have been chosen for the group.Good Luck.
I had only been training for a month.Why me?Some Trainees had been preparing for missions for almost a year,and she chose me.
I glanced at the clock.2:42.I should be on my way.I pulled out my map as a quick reference to where the Meeting Room was.
I took off through the halls and went past some different places.The Meeting Room was down tons of halls.Sometimes I truly hated that space station.
My watch read 2:59.Should I knock?Then,just as my watch read 3 o'clock,the door swung open.
The Meeting Room had five small benches against one wall,a desk in front of each,and a chair up front that I assumed was the Commander's.The chair was oak with white swirl designs on the back.
From a room off the side of the main Meeting Room a tall woman entered.Her green eyes matched the emerald streaks down the right side of her hair.In between bits of the green was golden red stripes.She wore a simple blue dress with green accents made up her outfit,with a white jacket and matching flats.The woman's eyes darted around,reminding me of a cat.
The Commander took her seat in the large,oak chair.She smiled.She was likeable,I guess.But distant.
“Claudia,"She said simply,as if my name told me why she had wanted me here.
I nodded respectfully.“Hi."
“There is a planet that has had some scouting missions before.Most were successful.After some extensive work and research,we believe it may be habitable."She paused and let that sink in.“The wildlife has been relocated to an environment that can support them without a danger to humans."
I nodded,showing her I understood.Commander stood and walked to a computer area at the end of the room.After she tapped some buttons,she swiped a screen,causing a holographic image of a planet.The planet was dark and small,but from the satellite image,I could see forests and deserts near each other,and ponds and rivers that ran through.
“This is Apergoz."The Commander announced.Something about the name sounded familiar,but I couldn't place it.“We make it important here to send no one alone.Especially a Trainee."She turned back to me.
Footsteps echoed in the hall.“Actually,"The Commander announced,“I believe that is the rest of the team now..."
Two people walked in.I recognized neither one,but the station was so big I barely knew anyone.
The first was a tall boy about 17.He was super tan and blond with a bright smile.His gold eyes seemed to glow.
The second was a girl,about the same age,with dark brown hair and green eyes.Her face was freckled,and she was kind of short.
“Claudia,meet Emma,our best scout,and Garrison,our head mechanic."Commander turned back to the hologram.“I don't know why he's late,but the Lieutenant should arrive soon..."
I stood,admiring the room a bit.Emma pulled two simple knives out of a sheath and began sharpening them.Her hair fell into her face and she swatted it back.She slouched slightly as she stood.
Garrison was the opposite,with the straightest posture I've ever seen.What I had first thought was a birthmark,I realized was a smudge of grease from working in the hangar.
Finally footsteps sounded on the hallways tiles.
“Lieutenant Rusha,"The Commander said with a smile.“Glad you could join us.Late,as usual."
I thought my heart would stop.Immediately I spun around.Sure enough,in the doorway I saw the tall boy who was the most stubborn,most stupid,dorkiest person I had ever met.
His eyes locked on mine,and he knew what I was thinking.He had just gotten off his crutches and now the Commander wanted to send him on another mission?This had to be some sort of joke.
The Commander didn't notice.Instead,she zoomed in on the hologram,showing a rocky terrain.“We need this area,Sector 10,scouted.All dangerous animals we could find have been moved and relocated,so this is the most likely place for a settlement."
“Commander,"Garrison said,“Is there any evidence of other dangerous animals on the planet?"
“No."Commander Jade closed the hologram and brought up a second - a list of all known species in the world.Hundreds of hundreds of pages.She pulled open a menu to sort by planet.Then she typed in the name of the planet.A-P-E-R-G-O-Z.
Rusha took a step back.
Garrison glanced at him,but then turned back to the screen.Emma didn't even look up.
The Commander flipped through a small list of animals.Squirrel-like animals at the bottom of the food chain,coyote-like predators,and a bird that keeps the lizard population down.
Then I remembered.
Back on Dorsel,Rusha had told me that lizard creatures were what cause his injury.And he told me the name of the planet had been Apergoz.
Rusha swallowed hard as Commander Jade flipped to the last page.
A huge blue lizard filled the screen.It looked like a species of Earth Lizard called the Kimono Dragon,except a brilliant shade of cobalt.No true claws,just stubs where the claws would be,but fangs like a wolf.Its skinny but heavy body was covered in a thick skin,practically invincible.
I tightened my grip on my bow.
The Commander noticed the action.“Claudia,you should visit the armory and get a better bow.That stick isn't going to help anyone."
“I like my bow,"I protested.
Emma looked at it and snickered.“The angle the string is tied it will make the arrow fly crooked over time,meaning the farther the target,the less accurate the shot.And your arrows are to heavy to get good elevation."
I glanced at the string,then the tips of my arrows.“Fine,I'll get a new bow,but I'll need to have some target practice with it first."
The Commander nodded and dismissed us.We were to meet at the hangar tomorrow morning.
Out in the hall,I went to walk by Rusha.“You okay?"
“You don't want to go back there,do you?"I knew the answer before I asked.I had never seen Rusha look scared before.
He stared at the floor as we walked.“I would do anything to not go..."He sighed.“Any planet in the world,any one but Apergoz."He shuddered slightly.
I wished I could have said something to help,but I had nothing to say.“I'll see you tomorrow,"I said softly as I turned down a different hall,headed towards the armory.
I gripped my new bow tightly.It wasn't too fancy,but it was more effective than my old one.It was a simple wooden bow with a thin band of metal running down the back and a leather grip.My arrows were similiar,simple wooden sticks with metal tips.
Garrison did a last run-over of the ship while Emma sharpened her knives.Rusha was twisting his leather bracelet.
After examining the landing gear for the ten thousandth time,Garrison stood.“Good to go."
The trip was so boring.Other than technology for taking soil samples,water samples,et cetera,there wasn't anything really in the ship except a couch and a coffee table - with nothing on it.
I set my bag down on the table and leaned my bow against the wall.Inside the bag I had an extra quiver of arrows,some bottled water and canned food,a first aid kit,a tent, and blankets.I counted and recounted the arrows,24 in each quiver.
Rusha took a seat on the couch and put his feet up on the table.
“Were you raised in a barn?"I snorted.
He grinned.“Yeah,actually,I was.I grew up on a farm."
“And farmers have no manners?"
He snickered.“You just said-"
“I know what I said."I rolled my eyes.Dork.
Emma totally ignored us.She moved restlessly back and forth from the window to the testing equipment and back.Occasionally she would mess with something,figuring out how it all worked.
“We entered the solar system,"Garrison called from up front.
Rusha stood and looked out the window.
Each of the planets in the system were a different color,as if color-coded.Red,Yellow,Green,Blue,Black.The sun blazed a brilliant orange.
Rusha backed away slightly as we drifted past the planet covered in shades of blue.Teal water reserves dotted the blue terrain.Forests with greenish leaves towered over rocky plains in shades of cerulean and cobalt.
I could feel the ship turn,confirming the thought.Garrison called a quick warning before we entered the atmosphere.
Rusha never took his eyes off the window.He gripped the sword he wore at his waist,next to his blaster.I grabbed my bow and slung my bag over my shoulder,bumping my quiver,almost spilling arrows onto the floor.
As the ship pulled into the atmosphere,the impact on the ground shook the ship.Through the window I could see a rocky plain near a thick,shadowy forest.The soil reminded me of colored sand,so blue and grainy.But as the door opened and I stepped outside,I could tell it was softer than I thought it was.Despite rocks around the place,it didn't remind me of deserts much.
Emma hopped out of the ship,her thin boots making a soft thump on the ground.“This isn't a good place to camp."She announced after looking around.“Too rocky."
“And we can't move the rocks,because...?"Garrison countered,dropping his bag to the dirt below and then climbing down after it.
Emma shook her head.“The land itself is rocky.The ground has to be smoother for tents to be pitched."
Reluctantly,Rusha joined us,but the way he hovered by the ship told me he wasn't comfortable being here.His gaze darted over the landscape.
Emma rolled her eyes.“Just follow me."She took off at a brisk pace,her hair flowing behind her in the wind.I shuddered as I realized I hadn't felt actual wind since I left Earth,over a year ago.Rusha,Garrison,and I followed her blindly.I hoped the Commander had been right when she had told us Emma was one of the best scouts.
After walking us in a total circle,Emma stopped.Just a few feet from where we began,she said simply,“We set camp here."
“So what was the point of the huge circle?"Garrison asked,crossing his arms.
Emma snorted,then said in an obnoxious voice,“To see if there was anywhere better.There isn't.So we camp here."
I rolled my eyes and dropped my pack to the dirt,pulling out the tent packed inside.
It took us less than ten minutes to have the tents pitched in a little square,the shape of the space ship towering over us.
Of course Garrison somehow managed to get covered in the blue dust doing a simple task like setting up his tent.I wondered,not for the last time,why we let him pilot the ship.
I looked over the plains,my bow in my hand.
“See anything?"Emma asked.I shook my head.
She sighed.“Me neither.All this place is is a pile of rocks and trees!"
I shrugged.“Could be worse."
“You could talk louder."
Emma glared at me.“You think you're so funny,don't you?"
I turned to her.“I never said I was funny,"I said calmly.“In fact,I think you're the funny one."
“It's funny when you get mad."
She rolled her eyes.Then her hand went to her knives.
I followed her gaze.Movement caught my eye,just near a pile of boulders in green mosses.The eerie light of twilight was beginning to darken the horizon.
A bird hopped away from the rock,a piece of meat in its beak,and took off towards the sky.
I snorted.“Just a bird.Let's head back to camp."Emma nodded.
I tried to place the bird in the list of animals the Commander had shown us.A bird of prey,it ate....those lizards.But the Commander had assured us the area was safe.The bird must've adapted to the squirrels or something.
It had to of.I hoped it had.
I looked at the water and it's unnatural color.“There is no way that stuff is drinkable."
“We won't know 'till we test it,"Rusha reminded me as he filled a small plastic bottle with riverwater.
The rivers glistened an odd shade of navy blue.Turqoise waterlilies floated on it's surface,green flowers budding on top.But,I noticed,the only difference between the scene before us and a river back on Earth was the color.It was almost exactly the same.
Rusha shoved the container of water into his bag,along with rock samples,soil samples,dust,plants,et cetera.Then he looked up and saw the fading light.
He swallowed hard.“Come on."He went as quickly as he could without running towards the little camp we had established.
“What is it?"I asked.
I rolled my eyes.“Stubborn!"
The next morning I woke early.The first bits of sunlight were just coming over the horizon,casting orange light on the ground.The trees glistened in the morning light.
I stood outside my tent and wandered just a few feet away from camp,towards the forest.A lone tree stood just at the edge of the rock-filled wasteland.With a grin,I went back to my tent to grab my bow and quiver.
I placed an arrow on the string and pulled back,feeling the thickness of the cord,knowing there would be huge power behind the shot.The bowstring snapped forward as I released the arrow,watching it head for the thick bark of the tree.
The metal tip of the arrow lodged itself deep in the wood.
I went towards the tree and pulled the arrow carefully out of the wood.The arrow's head was designed to be easy to remove so it could be reused,but stronger so that the impact would cause more damage.
Placing the arrow back to the string,I backed away,ready to aim.steady....fire!
I heard the satisfying sound of the arrow hitting the wood,splitting the bark.Again and again I fired the arrow,watching it splinter the wood.
I was about to fire again for the eleventh or twenth time,when I heard footsteps.I glanced over my shoulder to see Rusha coming towards me.
“Why up so early?"
I shrugged.“Getting in a little extra target practice never hurt."
Thump!The metal arrowhead hit the trunk again.A deep notch was cut into the wood of the tree.
I retrieved the arrow and placed it back in the quiver with the other 23.Glancing at the sky,I could tell it was maybe around 8:30 or so.It would be good to start on breakfast.
After setting up the campfire in a ring of stones,I prepared breakfast as best I could.Emma and Garrison were up soon and we ate breakfast before making plans for the day.
“I'll head south,"Emma said,“We did little work over there yesterday."
“I'll take north,then."I stood,taking my bow.It would be easy,since so much had already been explored over that way.Rusha stood to join me,so Garrison headed with Emma.
I looked over the rocks.“There's nothing to see over here,"I groaned,thinking I would spend the whole day watching absoloutely nothing.
“Wait,"Rusha said.I turned to see where he was looking.Just at the edge of Sector 10,on the border of Sectors 9 and 8,I could see movement.
One of the birds,its grey wings flapping furiously,dove behind a rocky outcrop.The dusty blue colors of the rocks hid whatever the creature was after.The bird's claws glinted with blood whenever it rose enough for me to see it.Cuts grazed one wing.Finally the bird settled down,its prey ready to be eaten,I assumed.The bird rose moments later,pieces of whatever the animal it had been fighting in its curved beak.
Rusha cautiously stepped forward,his hand on the hilt of his sword.I tightened my grip on my bow as I followed him.
Behind the rocky hiding place was the body of an animal that shouldn't habe existed anywhere near Sector 10.A skinny,thick body with a long tail,a neck covered in wrinkles of skin.Its blue hide was so thick I doubted an arrow could pierce it.
The bird had torn the neck and back to shreds during the fight,but the lizard was otherwise unharmed.
“Come on."Rusha said hoarsely,turning away from the dead lizard.
I glanced back at it.What if the Commander had been wrong?
I looked up from the screen where I was working on the water samples.The container had been placed under a microscope so I could examine it.It seemed normal,but we would have to take it back to the station for further testing.
Through the window I saw Emma coming into camp.
“More water samples from a lake just east of here."She said.
I nodded and took the bag from her.Setting the river water aside,I began to look at the new sample through the microscope.“Did you see Rusha and Garrison on your way here?"
“They aren't here already?"Emma asked,surprised.“They said they were heading back like an hour ago."
“Weird,"I said.“They probably just got distracted by something."
Emma went to the campfire to prepare lunch while I finished testing the samples.Everything,for the most part,was similar to Earth,except for the blue color.
Maybe an hour and a half after I finished testing the samples and we had lunch,Garrison ran into camp.His face was filled with excitement.“You'll never believe what we found!"
“What?"Emma asked,standing up from where she had been sitting by the fire.
“There is a huge canyon just south of here.Rusha is mapping it right now."
I shook my head.“There isn't a canyon on the map."
“No,"he agreed,“We discovered it!"
I stood and grabbed my bag,which I slung over my shoulder,and my bow,which I grasped firmly in my hand.Emma retrieved her bag from the shuttle and made sure she had her knives.“You gonna show us or not?"She said roughly.
“Garrison,I think we are walking in circles,"I said after a while.
He glanced back at me.“Why do you saw that?"
“Maybe because I am following my own footprints?"
He rolled his eyes.“Ha ha.I know what I'm doing,Claudia."
“Sometimes I doubt that,"Emma muttered.
“And,"Garrison retorted,“Sometimes I doubt your sanity."
“As if you have the right to doubt my sanity."
“Yes,go on,Emma,lead us to the place that you dont know where it is,"He challenged.
Emma groaned.“Fine,Keep going."
After we passed a rock,then a tree,Garrison said,“Almost there."
I rolled my eyes.“I hope so.It feels like we've been walking forever."
“It's been twenty minutes,Claudia,"He muttered.
“Yeah,"I said,“But I have been listenening to you two speak,which makes twenty minutes into an eternity."
Rusha was messing with a holographic projection of the canyon.He glanced up.“Hey."
“How's the mapping going?"Garrison asked.
I walked over to the edge of the