Authors: Kristine Kathryn Rusch,Dean Wesley Smith
Tags: #SF, #space opera
Dean Wesley Smith
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Story by Rand Marlis
and Christopher Weaver
A Del Rey® Book
THE BALLANTINE PUBLISHING GROUP • NEW YORK
They had exactly eighteen minutes to abandon the station and drop the shuttle out of orbit before the alien spacecraft would be on top of them. If the aliens were true to form, they'd drain the energy from this place. If Banks and her crew stayed, they would die here. Their air would run out first or they'd freeze to death.
She wasn't going to die that way.
None of them were.
Making sure everyone was ahead of her, she gave one quick glance around the control room, then reached down and keyed in one last command.
The computers would track the incoming ships. When they were almost close enough to drain the energy from the station, it would explode with enough hydrogen bombs to level half of Europe.
The ISS had become just another weapon in the many that Earth would be throwing at the aliens this time. But if the ISS took out even one alien ship, it would be worth it.
Quickly she headed behind her crew toward the shuttle. Twelve minutes to board, release from the station, and drop into the atmosphere. No one had ever done that in under an hour before.
But they would.
They had to.
They had no other choice except death . . .
By Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group:
THE TENTH PLANET
THE TENTH PLANET: OBLIVION
THE TENTH PLANET: FINAL ASSAULT
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A Del Rey* Book
Published by The Ballantine Publishing Group
Copyright © 2000 by Creative Licensing Corporation and Media Technologies Ltd.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Ballantine Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Del Rey is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 00-107309
Manufactured in the United States of America First Edition: December 2000
To Brent and Stephanie,
who were there when it all began.
October 11, 2018
7:04 p.m. Central Daylight Time
30 Days Until Second Harvest
The ancient El train shuddered to a stop. Kara Willis grabbed the metal bar to keep herself from being flung into the man next to her. His overalls smelled of grease and onions, and his hands were filthy. He obviously had some kind of job that required maintenance work. This was not her crowd, from the tired, overweight women who clutched large purses against their old overcoats to the men with haggard faces and exhausted eyes. They made her uneasy.
A garbled announcement sounded around her. She made out “tracks” and “closed” and “wait.” The announcement was repeated in Spanish, and the words were much clearer. But even though she was in her third year of high school Spanish, she could only make out a few words. Most of them were extremely unfamiliar.
Around her the crowd groaned.
“What was it?” she asked the man beside her.
He blinked, his eyes blue and red-rimmed. “Trouble down the tracks. They’re closing this line. They suggest waiting for a different train.”
“Which one?” she asked.
But he just looked at her, and shook his head slightly.
“Probably better to walk,
,” the woman across from her said.
Kara’s eyes widened. She couldn’t walk. They had stopped at Superior and State, right downtown, and she lived in Lake Forest. Walking was not an option, and from what she’d seen through the scratched and dirty windows the last half hour, she knew she wouldn’t find a cab.
It was her fault. Her friends had driven her home from school, the BurpeeKins blaring on the CD player, so she hadn’t been prepared for what she found when she got to the house.
Her mom had been sitting on the couch, hands in front of her face, shoulders shaking.
The wall screen had been pulled down and ten channels appeared on it, all of them with the volume on, so that a bunch of voices blasted her. The newscasters, usually sprayed and combed to perfection, looked frazzled. On the screen below them or above them were the words “Breaking News,” and a few of the images showed a round blackness coming around the sun.
She recognized that image—she had seen it enough since the president’s speech last summer. It was the tenth planet, and it was coming back toward them.
The first time it had come, it had destroyed various areas all over the Earth. One of them had been in California, where her cousin Barbara had lived. She had gone to the memorial service that her grandparents and aunt and uncle had held for Barbara. There hadn’t been anything left of her cousin. Someone had had to go to court in California and have Barbara—and everyone who had lived in the ruined areas of Monterey—declared legally dead.
Kara’s mother didn’t even seem to notice that she was home. Kara put her purse on the couch and picked up the remote. Her mother continued to shake. For a moment, Kara put her hand over her mom’s frail back, then pulled away. She had not seen her mom like this, not since the aliens had attacked the first time.
Kara muted nine channels, leaving only the handsome guy from CNN. Only he wasn’t so handsome now. He looked as upset as her mom, except that he didn’t have the luxury of burying his face in his hands.
The aliens had launched a new fleet of ships at Earth. They were going to attack again.
Her father came out of his office at that moment, his feet bare, his hair tousled. He looked like a man who had been punched in the stomach.
“Turn it off, Kara,” he said.
Her mother lifted her head. “No—”
He grabbed the remote and shut off the entire screen. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “This time, we’re all going to die.”
“But we attacked them,” Kara said. “We bombed them with every nuke on the planet. We won.”
“They’re more powerful than we are,” her mom said. “They can survive anything.”
Kara’s father met her gaze. His dark eyes were sad.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” he said to her, and then dropped on the couch and put his arm around her mom.
Maybe it was his apology that made her leave.
Or maybe it was her mom’s shuddery “What are we going to do?”
Or maybe it was pure fear.
Whatever it was drove her out of the house, down the lawn and into the street.
Inside all the other houses, people were standing or shouting or shaking their heads. But no one else had come outside. She needed company—and not her parents. Her father’s look had said too much, just as he had said too much last April.
If we had known this was going to happen,
she had overheard him saying to a friend,
we never would have brought a child into this world.
And then, that afternoon,
I’m sorry, honey.
Not for going to her mother instead of her, but for bringing her into a world with no hope.
She had run down the street, fists clenched. There was nothing she could do, but she felt like she had to do something. She didn’t want to sit around and calmly wait for death.
Somehow that impulse had brought her out of her neighborhood to the El. She had gotten on, thinking she would go somewhere else, where people stood outside and stared at the sky, where they were discussing the future instead of cowering inside their homes.
Instead, her impulse had turned into a long, nightmarish trip on the El. The people on the train looked tired and sad. They had been hopeless even before the aliens had come.
And then the train went through neighborhoods she had never been in alone.
As she looked through the scarred windows, she saw people flooding the streets, but they weren’t people she wanted to mix with. These people were angry. They were breaking windows and shaking fists at the sky. At one intersection, she saw boys younger than her carrying beer out of a liquor store—through the shattered windows.
Then, as the sun set, an orange glow filled the skyline. The glow hadn’t come from the fall sun. It looked unnatural. One of the men farther down in the El car had said, “Fire!” and everyone had looked, heads moving in unison.
Just as quickly, they looked away, pretending to see nothing, shoulders huddling inward, trying to keep as much personal space between them as possible.
The kind woman across from Kara had touched her shoulder, shaking her out of the memory. “They do not want us on this train.”
Kara stood. She gripped the metal bar tightly and wondered what she was going to do. She had planned to ride to the Loop, change trains and go home. But this train was stopping before they got to the Loop, and now they were making her get off.
Passengers filed off the train in an orderly fashion, looking as defeated as her father had. She had run, but there had been nowhere to go.
She hadn’t realized until just a few hours ago that she was trapped here—not in this train, this neighborhood, not in Chicago, but on Earth.
Suddenly the world seemed very, very small.
Her eyes burned. No wonder her mother was crying. No wonder people cowered in their houses. They had already figured out that there was nowhere to go.
As she stepped onto the platform, she saw a chubby man in a blue Chicago Transit Authority uniform guide the flow of people down the stairs. There were other CTA employees scattered along the track, most of them looking tense. It wasn’t the kind of tense she would have expected—not the kind she was feeling. It was a more immediate thing, as if they were expecting her—or someone—to jump them.
She followed the people down the stairs, their feet making rumbling sounds as they went. In the distance, she heard shouting and screaming and gunshots. The air smelled of smoke. She shivered. She hadn’t even remembered to bring a jacket.