Authors: Susan Waggoner
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LAST DAY ON EARTH
“You don't have to do that.” David came up behind Zee and wrapped his arms around her waist as she stood at the sink, washing out their cereal bowls. “Someone will come and groom the place after we leave.”
“I know,” Zee answered, leaning back against him and, for a moment, losing herself in the encompassing warmth of his body. “But I don't want to leave dirty dishes behind. It just seems wrong. The wrong way to leaveâ” Her voice caught. She couldn't say the word
David's chin settled into the curve of her neck. “You can still change your mind, you know.”
Zee set the bowls on the counter and turned to face him. “Never,” she answered.
“Are you sure?”
So many things in that one little question.
Are you sure?
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
It seemed to Zee she'd always been sure about David Sutton, but that wasn't true. The first time they met, when he was a patient and she was the empath sent to A&E to treat him, there had been an initial ping of attraction, followed by confusion when she discovered that he was one of the aliens from the planet Omura. But bit by bit, flashes of David's goodness had come through, along with the way he could make her laugh and the way he was always there for her. The day her best friend, Rani, died, the only comfort Zee found was in the circle of David's arms. It was a safe haven Zee never wanted to leave.
“Are you sure?” David had asked when she told him that she would go with him.
“I'm sure,” she'd answered.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
And then he'd told her the cataclysmic truth. He wasn't from the planet Omura at all. None of the supposed aliens were. They were time travelers from Earth, fifteen hundred years in the future. His mission, he explained, was to copy Earth's literature and return to the future with it, for within the span of Zee's lifetime, Earth would be devastated by a series of catastrophic meteor strikes. Much of the population would die, and humanity would struggle for survival in a period marked by starvation and destruction.
Zee remembered the shock of it, the cold fear that knifed through her body, and the flash of angerâat David for keeping such a secret, at herself for loving him so deeply, at the meteors that were years away in the night sky, speeding steadily toward them. But even as she thought these things, Zee knew that she would follow David into the future, to the place he called New Earth.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
“I'm sure,” she told him again now, and saw the light of relief in his gray eyes. Had he really doubted her? Or was he just as nervous as she was?
David saw the car glide silently up to their building. “Looks like our ride's here,” he said.
Now it was Zee's turn to show relief, although she wouldn't really relax until they arrived at the H-Fax facility and she was scanned one final time and approved for transmission.
“Let's go then,” she said, swallowing the lump that had risen suddenly in her throat, the lump of knowing she would never see her family again.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
At first, Zee had thought she might not be able to emigrate at all. David had explained that each would-be time immigrant had to be approved as an “Inconsequential”âin other words, someone who wasn't vital in rebuilding civilization after the meteors. And David's research had revealed that Zee's name was on the list of Essentials.
“That's impossible,” Zee had said.
“Your given name is Elizabeth, isn't it? Elizabeth McAdams, daughter of Amanda and Guthrie McAdams?”
David continued to read from the report. “Survived, along with her parents. Vital in rebuilding computer networks and pioneer of the concept of remote technology re-creation. Born early in the twenty-third century, probable redhead, small strawberry birthmark on left instep.”
Something in his words penetrated the veil of despair that had engulfed her. Leaping to her feet, she repeated, “Small strawberry birthmark? That isn't me, David! It's my sister, Bex.
the one with the birthmark.
the computer skills.”
David's dark eyebrows drew together. “But it says Elizabeth McAdams, not Bex.”
Now Zee was laughing. “It's an old family tradition. All the daughters are named Elizabeth, then they choose their own nicknames. Zee and Bex are both nicknames for Elizabeth. My father's mother was Lissa, her mother was Betty, and on and on, way back to the first Elizabeth McAdams. Bex an Essential! How awesome is
It was odd knowledge to possess, but it made it easier for Zee to leave her family behind. Yet deep in her heart, she still found it hard to accept that she would never see them again.
There was still light in the sky when they reached the space elevator, a taut, immensely strong cable anchored above the atmosphere near the equator. Through the small porthole of the pressurized capsule that carried them up, Zee could see the last of the sun's rays. Then they rose above the atmosphere and the light vanished, filling the porthole with dark space. Just above them was the object everyone on Earth believed was an Omuran spacecraft. In reality, it was H-Fax, the human fax facility that would destroy every cell in her body after copying its molecular data and sending it fifteen hundred years into the future.
David had warned her about the pain. “You'll only feel it for a moment,” he'd said. “Thenânothing, until you're recombined.”
The cold of space radiated through the glass, and Zee turned away. David took her hand in his and did not let go, even when the elevator floated to a stop and a digitized voice said, “Docking initiated.”
The fluttery feeling in Zee's chest increased. She had officially left Earth. In less than an hour, the body and mind she inhabited would have died and been re-created somewhere in the distant future. What if she screamed when she felt the searing pain? What if the transmission went astray and she was lost forever? What if data was garbled and she got recombined in some horrible way?
Zee's pulse accelerated, even though David had assured her that accidents were “almost unheard of.” He'd explained everything that would happen and promised that, despite the pain and discomfort of transmission, she would look and feel completely like herself. Zee hoped so. She was nervous about meeting David's parents, whom they were staying with for a few days before moving to the small apartment David had in central London. “I love you, Zee,” David had assured her. “They'll love you too.” But Zee wasn't so sure and didn't know what to expect. Worse, she didn't know what
expect. David had talked about his brother, Paul, a lot, and sometimes about his little sister, Fiona. But other than telling Zee he'd grown up in the suburbs of London and his father had once been a Time Fleeter, he'd said almost nothing about them. Had she already come between him and his family? Were they angry that he was bringing home someone from the distant past?
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The digitized voice was speaking again. “Docking complete. You have now reached the H-Fax facility. Please pass through the scanners to your left, and have a successful journey home. If you are with us for the first time, please stop at the Medi-Booth for chipping.”
The doors parted, and David led her into a large, round room that resembled a crowded hotel lobby. After passing through the scanners, Zee left David and headed for the softly radiating sign that said M
Though David had told her they did transmissions in groups to conserve energy, Zee was surprised to see how many first-timers were in line with her, mostly women, but a few men as well.
As she waited her turn, she thought of the other things David had told her about New Earth. For months now, she had tried to envision the world she was about to enter, but it was impossible. Food that created itself. Computers that carried on conversations. Men and women willing to explore distant time zones, never quite certain of what they'd find. Zee was leaving her comfortable, familiar world behind, and she was uncertain of what she'd find, no matter how often David tried to describe it.
The line shifted forward, and suddenly she heard a familiar voice several people in front of her. Instantly, she was catapulted back to the empaths' lounge in the hospital where she'd trained and worked. Feelings of discomfort, rivalry, and confusion flooded her, though she couldn't immediately identify the voice. Without success, she craned to see over and around the people ahead of her.
nervous, she told herself, imagining there's someone you know here.
, stop crowding me,” the familiar voice said. “You're practically walking on my heels, and I don't fancy getting recombined with bruises on my heels!”
There was a slight disruption as the owner of the voice stepped quickly out of line and then back in. In that brief moment, Zee caught a quick flash of a profile.
Piper, who'd been so jealous of Zee's empath skills she'd often gone out of her way to trip her up. And now she was time-jumping to New Earth!
Zee pulled quickly back into line, hoping Piper hadn't noticed her. Piper would be the only person she knew on New Earth besides David. But after all that lay between them, did she even want Piper to know she was there? Before Zee could decide, the line moved forward and Piper disappeared into the Medi-Booth.
Zee waited until, finally it was her turn in the Medi-Booth. A technician fired a microchip into the base of her skull with what looked like a power drill, but hurt far less than a drill would have. When she emerged, David was waiting for her, but Piper was nowhere in sight. Zee breathed a sigh of relief.
“Can you understand what I'm saying?” David asked.
Zee realized he was speaking the swift, whooshing language she'd heard him speak twice on Earth, once when he'd mistaken her for a fellow New Earther, and again to Mia, his research partner. Only now did she realize the language was English, spoken so rapidly words seemed to almost swallow one another.
“I understand,” she said, surprised to hear herself speaking in the same rapid style. The chip wasn't just an identity tag, it would also help her make the transition to New Earth. The fact that she could both understand and speak New Earth English proved that it had already begun to interact with her brain.
“Pretty cool, huh? The chip picks up whatever language is being spoken around you and translates it both ways.”
“It's amazing,” Zee said, still getting used to the sound of her new voice. Then she noticed the air had a slight acrid quality to it, like someone was burning paper.