Free Story

150,000 Years Ago

Jarill snuck out of bed. Her sleeveless yellow vest and tight pants looked good in the reflective walls. The contrast with her long black hair and light purple skin made her smile. She crept past her sib’s bed, hoping not to wake her.
    “Shall I tell Maz you are going out?”
    Jarill jumped and glared at Aronna. “You want your secrets kept?”
    Her sib smiled. “Fair enough. Be careful.”
    Sliding the door of the suite manually, Jarill squeezed through to avoid the quiet hum, tiptoed past her originators’ rooms, and through the dimly-lit central living chamber. One more door. It hummed and she rushed into the maze of the spacescraft’s transit tubes.
    She dared not use her IPT unit to relocate. Tarron warned her that the ship’s censors would know immediately. It was a long way to her destination deep inside the vessel. She could be discovered easily, even though it was required zizz-sleep for everyone except those necessary to run the ship.
    Moisture seeped down her neck. Stupid nerves. She could not possibly be hot. No Ice Lord ever suffered heat, accustomed to the frigid lands of their home planet, Zirrekk.
    Jarill swallowed the bitter taste in her throat. Her originators leaped at the opportunity to explore space. Her fourteen seasons of life had carried little weight when she protested. They ignored her, ripping her away from her fonds, her elders, her home, and forcing her to live with a thousand strangers. She might have accepted the decision if Zirrekk were a dying planet, diseased or overpopulated. But never their voluntary exploration of the universe.
    She scowled out the massive windows of the transit tubes into unlimited space. Two seasons of her life already stolen. Star clusters and several bright planets surrounding a sun did nothing to appease her. Nor the beauty of their spaceship, a hundred giant, crystal pillars jutting in every direction—a luminous ship hurtling at tremendous speed to an unknown destination. She hurried
away, hiding in the shadows of dark space that crept across the metal floor.
    Nerves trembled through Jarill. She raced toward the tunnels that led to her meeting with Tarron: the only one she felt who understood her, the only one who made her life worth living.
    She finally reached the almost-hidden door and removed her three-star crystal earring to light her way. Smaller, quiet tunnels led her deeper and deeper into the belly of the ship. She reached the entrance to the Secondary Interface Station—a perfect place to meet away from prying eyes. Smoothing her hair, she took a deep breath and slid through the door.
    Two chairs faced the wall-to-ceiling electronic sections. Color-coded lights, indicator switches, and levers perched between dozens of monitors that displayed space from every angle of the ship. Insignificance shuddered through her.
    “Late as usual,” Tarron whispered pulling her into his arms.
    She stared into the violet eyes of the handsome son of Ambassador Ryokk. Cropped silver hair, high cheekbones, and a muscled body tempted every unattached fem on the ship.
    She smiled. “Worried I would not come?”
       He chuckled and pulled her closer, gently kissing one cheek, the other, her nose. Heat streaked through her body in waves of longing when he crushed his lips against hers.
        She forced herself to pull away first. He must not know how much she needed him.
    He grinned. “No one can hide their feelings from me, Jarill. Especially you.”
    “You cannot read my mind.”
    He laughed. “I have no need.”
    With burning cheeks, she pulled away when he tried to kiss her again. “You cannot trespass into my feelings.”
    Tarron raised one silver eyebrow. “It is as natural to me as breathing.”
    “Not everyone has your gift. Would you like it if I invaded your feelings?”
    He ran a finger down her cheek. “You have.”
    She glared at him. “It is not the same. What you do is dishonorable.”
    He stiffened while his eyes searched hers. “No one speaks to me like that.”
    “Someone has to.”
    He threw himself in a chair, eyes dark with anger. “No one would dare risk it.”
    She grabbed his hand. “Except me. No one taught you how to control your feelings?”
    “Several tried. My faz encourages my gift. He considers it vastly useful in his position.”
    Jarill shook her head. “It must be difficult to be the Ambassador’s son.”
    He pulled her on his lap and whispered into her hair. “How I envy your freedom. It is not my choice to inherit my father’s position.”
    “Perhaps it will be different when our Commander decides to colonize a planet instead of flying around in space.”
    “You do not know my faz.”
    She knew enough to be glad the Ambassador was not related to her. Thoughts of his stern, sharp-face were interrupted by an almost imperceptible beep.
    Jarill reluctantly moved out of his arms. “Did you hear that?”
    He smiled. “The beating of our hearts?”
    She whirled to locate the offending sound. “There.”
    One red light pulsed on a lower corner section and beeped irritably.
    Tarron barely considered the panel. “Nothing to concern us. Central Control will take care of it.”
    “Why have they not done so?” She stared closer at the section with growing discomfort, trying to discern the meaning of the flashing light. She scrolled through the timed entries with growing dread. “This started seven suns ago!”
    “Are you sure?”
    “I grew up watching my maz transcribe interstellar phenomenon. I think this section relates to what is going on in deep space.”
    Tarron chuckled. “Beauty and intelligence. What a delectable combination.” His hand caressed her cheek before he kissed her.
    She pulled away, annoyed. “The ship might be in danger.” She checked the sections until she found the ship’s communication system and entered Maz’s private code.
    “Do you have any idea what the Ambassador will do to me if he finds us here?”
    Several new lights flashed. Afraid of the increased beeping, she said, “Then leave.”
    His face hardened and he yanked her toward the door. “Not without you.”
    She slugged him in the arm. He released her in surprise.
    Her maz’s voice boomed from the communicator panel. “You are not in your room, Jarill. Where are you?”
    Jarill could not lie. She took a deep breath. “The Secondary Interface Station.”
    “Your daz will be furious.”
    She forgot it was his turn to pilot the ship. “Maz, listen to me. There is a flashing red light on the section that warns of interstellar anomalies.”
    “I will call you back after I check with your daz.”
    Nervous as one of the jaguarats onboard, Jarill flinched when more lights beeped on the same section.
    Tarron turned her to face him. “I’m sorry for not taking this seriously.”
    Look at me like that and I can forgive you anything, she thought.
    Time dragged while she paced.
    “Jarill?”
    She hardly recognized Maz’s watery voice and knew she had been crying. Chills snaked up and down Jarill’s back.
    “Here, Maz. What is happening?”
    “The corresponding section malfunctioned in Central Control Navigation. They missed the warning. After quick calculations, the crew discovered the problem. A fast-moving black hole crashed into a planetoid thrusting it toward us at nine hundred million miles an hour.”
    “Is the ship in danger?” Tarron asked.
    “Who is that, Jarill?”
    Jarill cringed. “The Ambassador’s son.”
    Maz sighed softly. “The pilots conferred and decided to use SurgeThrust to implement a gravity assist trajectory around the nearest sun hoping to lessen the impact.”
    Jarill quivered with fear. “It is going to hit us.”
    Tarron paled. “What is the projected survival rate?”
    “Sixty percent if the ship survives the collision and lands safely.”
    Jarill’s heart lurched. “Four hundred of us will die?”
   “It is only a projected number, Jarill.”
    “How long, Maz?”
    “Not nearly long enough.”
    “I will be up as fast as I can.”
    “No! Stay there.”
    “But, Maz, I want to be with—”
    “As an officer on this ship, I command you to remain where you are. It is the safest place.”
    Panels, screens and colors whirled before Jarill’s eyes and she almost collapsed.
   “Careful,” Tarron said, catching her.
     Maz’s muted voice floated into her unaccepting mind. “Secure yourselves. And Jarill?”
    “Yes, Maz?”
    “You have the strongest will in our family. Never forget that. You can do anything. Whatever happens, always remember that I love you.”
    Jarill’s stomach twisted. “Me, too. Tell Daz and Aronna.”
    She staggered toward the deep space monitor to observe the deadly planetoid. It hurtled toward the ship—a gigantic, irregular mass of ugly gray rock.
    She buried her face against Tarron’s shoulder.
    He held her tight. “There is always hope. We will survive.”
    She took comfort in his words, even while hearing the lie.
    The ship hit SurgeThrust, slamming them to the floor. They scrambled to lock themselves into the chairs.
    Jarill stared at the monitors. Deep craters gouged the lethal asteroid that charged closer.
    “Where do you think it will hit us?” Tarron asked.
    “Depends on our velocity and its relationship to the planetoid’s speed.”
    “You are very young to know this.”
    She bit her lip. “Too young.”
    The spacescraft shifted sideways under them.
    Jarill’s eyes raced across the monitors. “We reached gravity assisted trajectory.”
    Tarron clutched her hand. “Does that mean we are out of danger?”
    “No. It changes the equation now that the sun’s gravity is involved. That monitor displays the connection.”
    He gasped. “The planetoid is closing in on the back thrusters!”
    The monitors suddenly went black, the planetoid so close it filled every screen.
    “Hang on, it is going to hit us!” Jarill yelled.
    The impact ripped off her restraints. Explosions reverberated through her. She crashed into a wall section and screamed. Blood dripped from the gash in her head. She curled in a ball, holding her wound as the ship spun out of control. Monitors shattered. Shrill alarms assaulted every sense.
    Tarron shouted.
    She struggled against the centrifugal force an inch at a time to reach him. Sweat trickled down her face along with the blood.
    He buried his head in his arms.
    “Tarron, are you hurt?”
    Agony distorted his face. He gasped tight breaths. “I cannot stop the pain.”
    She maneuvered her body so she could face him. Their bodies slammed together.
    “Tarron. Look at me. Look at me!”
    His eyes were glassy with horror.
    She fought the swirling and pounding in her head. “Tell me. Are you hurt?”
He shivered and closed his eyes. “So many dead and dying.”
    “Control your feelings.”
    His heartbeat pounded next to hers, much too fast.
    “Tarron, I am sorry.” She strained to pull back her fist and slugged him in the face. He passed out.
    Every light flashed off. Sirens stopped blaring.
    She felt safer in the darkness. Refusing to think of anything happening outside the room, she concentrated on Tarron’s heart as its beating slowed.
    The spinning seemed to last forever. She wavered between throbbing headaches, nausea and blackouts. During short terms of consciousness, she felt Tarron’s steady heartbeat and kept repeating, “We will live. We will live.”
    The lights glared in what seemed like an eternity later and Jarill squinted in pain. The ship lurched and stopped spinning. A brilliant sun pulsated in the remaining monitor.
    Jarill gently touched Tarron’s face, fighting the stinging pain in her head.
    “Tarron, wake up.”
    He opened his eyes. Confusion crossed his face. “What happened?”
    “Your heart beat fast enough to burst. I knocked you out.”
    He grabbed his head and moaned. “All the agonizing deaths . . .”
   “This is not the end of it.”
    He shuddered and heaved himself off the floor. “We must help the survivors.”
    “Let me try the communication system first.” She dragged herself up and punched in Maz’s code.
    “Jarill?” Maz said.
    Jarill burst into tears knowing her maz was alive.
    Tarron said, “We are safe, Officer Ryz.”
    “Praise the Stars,” Maz said.
    “Daz? Aronna?” Jarill asked.
   “Safe. I do not have any information about your family, Sub-Ambassador Tarron.”
    “Tell me what is happening,” Jarill said.
    “There is too much damage to our spacecraft. The pilots are setting a course for the nearest habitable planet in this solar system.”
    “How will they land?” she asked.
    “They cannot.” Maz paused. “May the stars give you life, Jarill.”
    “Maz!”
    The communicator fell silent.
    Jarill sank to the floor.
    “We need to find a way to secure ourselves,” Tarron said. “I need your help.”
     She looked up at him through blurry eyes. “Why?”
    “Because we must survive.”
     She dragged herself from the floor and checked the belts on the chairs. Unsalvageable. She yanked open the doors under the broken monitors and carefully pulled on the cables.
    “How did you get so smart?” Tarron asked.
    “We’re crashing into a planet this time.”
    “We survived the planetoid,” Tarron said. “I prefer not to give up hope.”
    Jarill did not have the heart to contradict him and checked the one remaining monitor. A shining blue and green planet shimmered in front of her. Beautiful as it was, it was not home. If they survived it would be. She doubted that the ship could ever be rebuilt after the collision. The spacecraft covered the distance in much less time than she wanted. The planet grew larger and larger until a great expanse of water and a small island of land filled the monitor. The ship jerked and slowed.
    Tarron seized her hand. “That island is our new home.”
    “If we survive.”
    The island enveloped the screen before the ship smashed into the planet with a tremendous explosion. The impact slammed Jarill against her chair. She watched in terror as the spacecraft ripped through mountains, trees, and dirt. The ship bounced, inverted, flew into the air, and smashed into the ground, jarring every bone in her body. The lights went out and only the horrendous grinding of crystal and metal filled the darkness. Then came deathly silence.
    Jarill undid her cables with shaking hands. Felt for Tarron. He lay crumpled in the chair. She touched his cheek, slick with blood. “Tarron, Tarron!”
    “Can you release me?”
    She kissed him through tears. Fumbled with his cable and carefully helped him to the floor.
    It was then that she noticed one message blinking on the wall.
    “Passenger Survival Rate 4%, Passenger Survival Rate 4%, Passenger Survival Rate 4%.”