Authors: Beth Revis
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Shades of Earth
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Copyright Â© 2013 Beth Revis
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For my readers, who followed me across the universe.
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.
“Wait,” I say, my heart clenching.
Elder's finger hovers over the launch button. He glances up at me, and I can see the worry in his eyes, creasing the corners and making him look old and sad. The planet shines through the honeycombed glass in front of usâblue and green and white and sparkling and everything I have ever wanted. But the emotion twisting my stomach is fear.
“Are we ready for this?” I ask, my voice barely a whisper.
Elder leans back, away from the launch button. “We've moved everything from
into the shuttle that we can take,” he says. “Everything's been strapped downâ”
“Even the people,” I say. We used the big, heavy-gauge tethers like the one Elder used to go outside the ship in a spacesuit to wrap the people as best we could around the cryo chambers, against the walls, anywhere we could to make sure they wouldn't be tossed around like rubber balls when the shuttle lands on Centauri-Earth. It's makeshift at best. I'm worried that our jerry-rigged seat belts won't be enough, but it's all we could do. We are as prepared as we'll ever be.
But that's not what I meant when I asked if we were ready.
I meant: are we ready for what's down there?
Probes were sent to the planetâmany of them before
even arrivedâand they all said Centauri-Earth was habitable. But there's a big difference between habitable and home.
And there are monsters.
I shake my head, trying to clear it from the disturbing thought. The last probes all reported some sort of unknown danger, something Orion called “monsters.” Something so bad that the first Eldest decided it would be better to trap everyone on
rather than land.
What's worse? MonstersÂ .Â .Â . or walls?
I spent three months trapped, the walls of the spaceship more cage than home. But at least I was alive. Who knows what the planet will hold, what new dangers we will face?
All I have now are questions, fear, and a big blue and green and white planet looking up at me.
We have to go. We have to face the world below. It will be better to die quickly with only the taste of freedom on our lips than to live long lives pretending not to see the walls that imprison us.
I tell myself, it
be worth it. No matter what price is paid, it
be enough to escape
. I tell myself these things, and I try to believe them.
Lights blink up at me from the control panel. Elder and I sit directly in front of it, a huge metal lever set into the floor between us. The main Bridgeâthe big room designed to control the entire shipâhad six chairs and dozens of control panels, but this smaller bridge has only two of each. I hope it's enough. I hope we're enough.
I reach upâtoward the window with the shining planet beyond or toward the control panel, I don't know whichâand Elder grabs my shaking hand.
“We can do this,” he says, no doubt in his voice.
“We have to,” I say.
Both of our fingers press the
A computerized female voice fills the bridge.
“Initiation of shuttle launch.”
Amy sucks in a shaky breath.
“Probe relay with directional input detected. Manual or automatic landing sequence?” the computer asks. Two new buttons light up on the control panel in front of me: one illuminated with a red
, the other with a green
“Automatic launch sequence initiated,” the computer says cheerfully.
A grinding metal-on-metal, thunking, crashing noise reverberates throughout the shuttle. It sounds as if giant saw-like teeth are gnawing on the roof.
“What is that?” Amy squeaks. She holds onto her seat as if it will anchor her to safety. The metal arms of the chair are smudged with her fingerprints, her body pressed into the heavy foam padding.
My mind spins through the possibilities. The noise sounds like something breakingâominous and terrifying. My stomach lurches as the entire shuttle shifts down and forward, as if on a giant arm swinging it from the rest of
. I'm pressed against my seat, breathless. Screams and shouts of fear from the other side of the shuttle door leak onto the bridge. Amy glances up at me, her face pale and worried.
“That was normal,” I say, not sure if I'm trying to assure her or myself. “We're separated from the main ship now.”
Something above us goes
, and the entire shuttle sinks a few feet before stabilizing.
“We're separated from the main ship
,” I say. Amy laughs, but the sound is high-pitched and nervous, dying quickly on her lips.
“Detachment rockets initiate,” the computer says matter-of-factly. A burst of three small rockets built into the top of the shuttle pushes us down, and our view shifts, the planet looming in the window, filling our vision.
“I'm glad we have the window,” Amy says, staring through the honeycombed glass in front of us. The stars glitter, and the planetâour new homeâshines brightly up at us. In some of the old texts from Sol-Earth, the planet is referred to as a blue-and-white marble. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Maybe in a picture, the planet looks like a marble. But here, with it hanging in front of me, it looks almost
. The colors are vibrant, a stark contrast to the nothingness-black of the universe.
But even if it is beautiful, we're not there yet. The shuttle lurches forward again, and shouts and screamsâshort, muffled sounds of people who cannot contain their fearâerupt from beyond the bridge door.
“Let's get this over with,” I say grimly.
“Orbital maneuvering system check,” the computer chirps.
Amy gasps as a thunderous
fills the shuttle.
I want to grab her, wrap her in my arms, and whisper that everything will be fine. But I can't move. My heart is pounding in my ears, thudding so loudly I can't hear anything else. The shuttle knows what to doâprobes were sent from
to Centauri-Earth that are now sending signals to the shuttle's systems, guiding it to the safest landing point with the best environment for us to land in. All we have to do is be strapped down for the ride.
A sick feeling rises in my stomach and radiates out, the same feeling I getâused to getâwhen I'd free-fall for that moment before the grav tube would kick in and suck me down to the next level of the ship. My head feels light. My brain screams at me:
I panic, my arms and legs flailing, trying to hold onto something, anything, but there's nothing but air, and it doesn't matter anyway because I'm
falling. I'm floating.
“Shite!” I shout, staring down at my now-empty chair, just out of reach as I hover several feet above it.
A nervous giggle escapes Amy's lips, but her eyes are wide with fear. “Didn't you strap into your chair?” she asks. Her hair is floating around her face in a cloud of red, but the wide, foam-covered belts across her lap and chest keep her rooted in her seat.
“IÂ .Â .Â . forgot,” I say. My arms and legs swing wildly, but I'm not moving.
the grav replicator was on the main ship. I twist my head toward the closed bridge door. I wonder how my people feel now, when I've taken everything from them, including gravity.
“Hold on!” Amy says, laughter still in her voice. She unbuckles her own seat belt, and, as she starts to rise, she slips her foot into the strap and reaches up for me with both her arms.
“Stupid hair,” she mutters, blowing a stream of air out to make the gold-red-orange strands fly away from her face. Her hair floats around her head like a halo of soft tendrils, reaching up and out. It reminds me of when I first saw her, when her sunset hair swirled around her face like a cloud of ink.
“Probe communication detected,” the computer chirps. “Probe indicates suitable landing area. Target shuttle to probe? Select yes or no.” Two buttons light up: a red
and a green
“Frex!” I say, reaching for the control panel. It's uselessâmy body is a weightless mass, and the control panel is hopelessly out of reach.
“Hold still!” Amy shouts at me. Her ankle is barely hooked around the twisted strap of her seat belt. It's not enoughâshe's straining to grab me, but I'm hovering just out of her grasp.
“Please select: yes or no,” the computer reminds me.
“Oh, damn,” Amy mutters. She wiggles her foot out of its grip, kicks up from the chair, and launches into the air.
She slams into meâI fly up against the roof of the bridge, and she bounces off me, toward the floor. I ricochet down, missing my seat by several feet, but my fingers slide over the metallic edge of the control panel, and I punch the blinking
Amy growls with frustration as she bounces from the floor to the ceiling again. She kicks off, aiming for her own chair.
I pull myself hand over hand along the edge of the control panel until I reach my chair, then slide in and tighten my seat belt around my lap and over my chest.
“Initiate orbital maneuvering system,” the computer continues automatically, ignorant and uncaring, oblivious to the way my body is shaking so badly that I don't think I could stand now even if there was gravity.
The shuttle glides into motion. The stars dip out of view, and the planet fills the entire honeycombed-glass window. It feels as if my entire body is put on hold as I drink the image up with my eyes. It's different, somehow, seeing the planet without the blackness of space around it. As if the colors will wrap around us and swallow us whole.
“Oh,” Amy breathes, barely audible as she grabs the armrest of her seat and pulls herself down. She wiggles back into the seat belt and straps herself in.
A monitor blinks on in front of her, showing three bright red dots over an outline of the shuttle. “These must be the rockets moving us,” she says. She touches the screen, and her fingertips glow red from the lights.
One of the lights blinks outâAmy gasps, snatching her hand awayâand our view shifts again, lurching up just in time for us to see the home we're leaving.
It looks broken, crippled, with the shuttle missing from its underside.
Emotion clogs my throat. IâI didn't expect this. I didn't expect to look out the window of the shuttle as I left, and think of everything I was leaving behind, and wonder if it was worth it.
My whole life isÂ .Â .Â . was on that ship. Everything. Every memory I have, every feeling I felt, every important thing about me came from within those battered steel walls.
And I'm abandoning it.
And over eight hundred people who are still inside.
A crazy thought fills my mind: I want to reach out, cancel the rockets, point the shuttle back to
. I don't want to go. I don't want to leave home.
But then the red dots on the monitor light up again, and the rockets burst with power, and the shuttle dips back toward the planet, and it doesn't matter, it's too late.
I can never go back to
The red lights on the monitor blink on and off as a series of bursts from the rockets align the shuttle into position. Between it and the weightlessness of no gravity, I'm disorientedâthe only steady image in front of me is Centauri-Earth.
“It's so weird,” Amy says. “It's like we're upside down, facing the planet, but it doesn't
like we're upside down.” She swipes her hand over her hair, futilely trying to smooth it down, but it just floats up again.
“Orbit break initiating,” the computer says.
All three of the big red lights blink on and stay on. The shuttle is pushed forward, straight toward the planet. I glance at Amy: her eyes are wide with fear, her fingers curled over the edge of the armrests of her chair. But I knowâthis is what she wants. Giving her Centauri-Earth is the only way I'll ever be able to make her truly happy, to make up for the fact that my careless actions trapped her in the cage of
with the likes of Luthor and people who will never be able to accept her.
“Deorbit burn,” the computer announces.
“Ready?” Amy whispers.
“No,” I confess. I want to give Amy the planet, but I wish it wasn't at the cost of the only home I've ever known.
The shuttle picks up speed, aiming at a downward angle toward the planet. All three red lights on the monitor in front of Amy glow brightly. A few smaller lights, scattered between the bigger one, blink onâmore rockets are firing, increasing our thrust toward Centauri-Earth.
“Entry interface acquired,” the computer says.
The planet fills the window. Blue-green-white. I can just see the nose of the shuttle, a dull grayish-green that starts to glow red. Something bright silver sparkles in the corner of my eye, but as I turn my head to see it, the shuttle dips again. Flashes of orange and yellow and red flicker around the window.
I glance over at Amy. Her little gold cross floats around her neck. She snatches it with one hand, clutching it so tightly that her knuckles whiten. Her mouth moves silently, forming words I cannot hear.
Lights blink chaotically across the control panelârockets are bursting on and off, making our descent veer into an angled zigzag, designed, I suspect, to slow us down. I occasionally catch glimpses of the planet, but for the most part the windows are blurred with orange and redâflames? Or just heat from the deorbital burn? I don't know, I don't
, and by all the stars, how did I ever think we could land a frexing shuttle
Something smashes into the side of the shuttleâor at least, it feels that way as the entire shuttle wobbles and veers suddenly off course. A dozen lights flick on and off, and the computer chirps, “Landing signal disrupted. Manual mode on.”
“What's going on?” Amy yells.
Red lights on the ceiling of the bridge flick on, casting a bloody glow around us. I look to Amy, and I can tell that she realizes the same thing I have: something's wrong. “Ground impact in T minus fifteen minutes,” the computer says in a perfectly calm tone.
“Ground impact?” Amy parrots, her voice high and cracked. “We're crashing!”
My heart stops as I realize she's right. I grab the small steering wheel that juts out from under the control panel and do the only thing that makes senseâI jerk it back as hard as I can, hoping that somehow I can at least make it so we don't hit the planet head-on. The horizon wobbles on our screen, and more lights flash on and off on the control panel.
“Eighty kilometers above surface,” the computer says. “Active deceleration initiated.”
Several of the lights blink out, and the shuttle seems to dropâor maybe it's just that gravity kicks back in, slamming us into our chairs fully. Amy screams, a short burst of sound that is nothing but vocalized terror.
Somethingâa rocket failing? a computer malfunction?âknocks the shuttle off course again. I can see features of the planet's surface now: mountains and lakes and cliffs.
And we're going to crash into them.