150,000 Years Ago
Jarill snuck out of bed. Her sleeveless yellow vest and tight pants looked good in the reflectiveÂ walls. The contrast with her long black hair and light purple skin made her smile. She crept pastÂ her sibâ€™s bed, hoping not to wake her.
Â Â â€œShall I tell Maz you are going out?â€
Â Â Jarill jumped and glared at Aronna. â€œYou want your secrets kept?â€
Â Â Her sib smiled. â€œFair enough. Be careful.â€
Â Â Sliding the door of the suite manually, Jarill squeezed through to avoid the quiet hum, tiptoedÂ past her originatorsâ€™ rooms, and through the dimly-lit central living chamber. One moreÂ door. It hummed and she rushed into the maze of the spacescraftâ€™s transit tubes.
Â Â She dared not use her IPT unit to relocate. Tarron warned her that the shipâ€™s censors wouldÂ 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 toÂ run the ship.
Â Â Moisture seeped down her neck. Stupid nerves. She could not possibly be hot. No Ice LordÂ ever suffered heat, accustomed to the frigid lands of their home planet, Zirrekk.
Â Â Jarill swallowed the bitter taste in her throat. Her originators leaped at the opportunity toÂ explore space. Her fourteen seasons of life had carried little weight when she protested. TheyÂ ignored her, ripping her away from her fonds, her elders, her home, and forcing her to live with aÂ thousand strangers. She might have accepted the decision if Zirrekk were a dying planet,Â diseased or overpopulated. But never their voluntary exploration of the universe.
Â Â She scowled out the massive windows of the transit tubes into unlimited space. Two seasonsÂ of her life already stolen. Star clusters and several bright planets surrounding a sun did nothing toÂ appease her. Nor the beauty of their spaceship, a hundred giant, crystal pillars jutting in everyÂ directionâ€”a luminous ship hurtling at tremendous speed to an unknown destination. SheÂ hurried
away, hiding in the shadows of dark space that crept across the metal floor.
Â Â Nerves trembled through Jarill. She raced toward the tunnels that led to her meeting withÂ Tarron: the only one she felt who understood her, the only one who made her life worth living.
Â Â She finally reached the almost-hidden door and removed her three-star crystal earring toÂ light her way. Smaller, quiet tunnels led her deeper and deeper into the belly of the ship. SheÂ reached the entrance to the Secondary Interface Stationâ€”a perfect place to meet away fromÂ prying eyes. Smoothing her hair, she took a deep breath and slid through the door.
Â Â Two chairs faced the wall-to-ceiling electronic sections. Color-coded lights, indicatorÂ switches, and levers perched between dozens of monitors that displayed space from every angleÂ of the ship. Insignificance shuddered through her.
Â Â â€œLate as usual,â€ Tarron whispered pulling her into his arms.
Â Â She stared into the violet eyes of the handsome son of Ambassador Ryokk. Cropped silverÂ hair, high cheekbones, and a muscled body tempted every unattached fem on the ship.
Â Â She smiled. â€œWorried I would not come?â€
Â Â Â Â He chuckled and pulled her closer, gently kissing one cheek, the other, her nose. HeatÂ streaked through her body in waves of longing when he crushed his lips against hers.
Â Â Â Â She forced herself to pull away first. He must not know how much she needed him.
Â Â He grinned. â€œNo one can hide their feelings from me, Jarill. Especially you.â€
Â Â â€œYou cannot read my mind.â€
Â Â He laughed. â€œI have no need.â€
Â Â With burning cheeks, she pulled away when he tried to kiss her again. â€œYou cannot trespassÂ into my feelings.â€
Â Â Tarron raised one silver eyebrow. â€œIt is as natural to me as breathing.â€
Â Â â€œNot everyone has your gift. Would you like it if I invaded your feelings?â€
Â Â He ran a finger down her cheek. â€œYou have.â€
Â Â She glared at him. â€œIt is not the same. What you do is dishonorable.â€
Â Â He stiffened while his eyes searched hers. â€œNo one speaks to me like that.â€
Â Â â€œSomeone has to.â€
Â Â He threw himself in a chair, eyes dark with anger. â€œNo one would dare risk it.â€
Â Â She grabbed his hand. â€œExcept me. No one taught you how to control your feelings?â€
Â Â â€œSeveral tried. My faz encourages my gift. He considers it vastly useful in his position.â€
Â Â Jarill shook her head. â€œIt must be difficult to be the Ambassadorâ€™s son.â€
Â Â He pulled her on his lap and whispered into her hair. â€œHow I envy your freedom. It is not myÂ choice to inherit my fatherâ€™s position.â€
Â Â â€œPerhaps it will be different when our Commander decides to colonize a planet instead ofÂ flying around in space.â€
Â Â â€œYou do not know my faz.â€
Â Â She knew enough to be glad the Ambassador was not related to her. Thoughts of his stern,Â sharp-face were interrupted by an almost imperceptible beep.
Â Â Jarill reluctantly moved out of his arms. â€œDid you hear that?â€
Â Â He smiled. â€œThe beating of our hearts?â€
Â Â She whirled to locate the offending sound. â€œThere.â€
Â Â One red light pulsed on a lower corner section and beeped irritably.
Â Â Tarron barely considered the panel. â€œNothing to concern us. Central Control will take careÂ of it.â€
Â Â â€œWhy have they not done so?â€ She stared closer at the section with growing discomfort,Â trying to discern the meaning of the flashing light. She scrolled through the timed entries withÂ growing dread. â€œThis started seven suns ago!â€
Â Â â€œAre you sure?â€
Â Â â€œI grew up watching my maz transcribe interstellar phenomenon. I think this section relatesÂ to what is going on in deep space.â€
Â Â Tarron chuckled. â€œBeauty and intelligence. What a delectable combination.â€ His handÂ caressed her cheek before he kissed her.
Â Â She pulled away, annoyed. â€œThe ship might be in danger.â€ She checked the sections untilÂ she found the shipâ€™s communication system and entered Mazâ€™s private code.
Â Â â€œDo you have any idea what the Ambassador will do to me if he finds us here?â€
Â Â Several new lights flashed. Afraid of the increased beeping, she said, â€œThen leave.â€
Â Â His face hardened and he yanked her toward the door. â€œNot without you.â€
Â Â She slugged him in the arm. He released her in surprise.
Â Â Her mazâ€™s voice boomed from the communicator panel. â€œYou are not in your room, Jarill.Â Where are you?â€
Â Â Jarill could not lie. She took a deep breath. â€œThe Secondary Interface Station.â€
Â Â â€œYour daz will be furious.â€
Â Â She forgot it was his turn to pilot the ship.Â â€œMaz, listen to me. There is a flashing red light on the section that warns of interstellarÂ anomalies.â€
Â Â â€œI will call you back after I check with your daz.â€
Â Â Nervous as one of the jaguarats onboard, Jarill flinched when more lights beeped on theÂ same section.
Â Â Tarron turned her to face him. â€œIâ€™m sorry for not taking this seriously.â€
Â Â Look at me like that and I can forgive you anything, she thought.
Â Â Time dragged while she paced.
Â Â â€œJarill?â€
Â Â She hardly recognized Mazâ€™s watery voice and knew she had been crying. Chills snaked upÂ and down Jarillâ€™s back.
Â Â â€œHere, Maz. What is happening?â€
Â Â â€œThe corresponding section malfunctioned in Central Control Navigation. They missed theÂ warning. After quick calculations, the crew discovered the problem. A fast-moving black holeÂ crashed into a planetoid thrusting it toward us at nine hundred million miles an hour.â€
Â Â â€œIs the ship in danger?â€ Tarron asked.
Â Â â€œWho is that, Jarill?â€
Â Â Jarill cringed. â€œThe Ambassadorâ€™s son.â€
Â Â Maz sighed softly. â€œThe pilots conferred and decided to use SurgeThrust to implement aÂ gravity assist trajectory around the nearest sun hoping to lessen the impact.â€
Â Â Jarill quivered with fear. â€œIt is going to hit us.â€
Â Â Tarron paled. â€œWhat is the projected survival rate?â€
Â Â â€œSixty percent if the ship survives the collision and lands safely.â€
Â Â Jarillâ€™s heart lurched. â€œFour hundred of us will die?â€
Â Â â€œIt is only a projected number, Jarill.â€
Â Â â€œHow long, Maz?â€
Â Â â€œNot nearly long enough.â€
Â Â â€œI will be up as fast as I can.â€
Â Â â€œNo! Stay there.â€
Â Â â€œBut, Maz, I want to be withâ€”â€
Â Â â€œAs an officer on this ship, I command you to remain where you are. It is the safest place.â€
Â Â Panels, screens and colors whirled before Jarillâ€™s eyes and she almost collapsed.
Â Â â€œCareful,â€ Tarron said, catching her.
Â Â Â Mazâ€™s muted voice floated into her unaccepting mind. â€œSecure yourselves. And Jarill?â€
Â Â â€œYes, Maz?â€
Â Â â€œYou have the strongest will in our family. Never forget that. You can do anything.Â Whatever happens, always remember that I love you.â€
Â Â Jarillâ€™s stomach twisted. â€œMe, too. Tell Daz and Aronna.â€
Â Â She staggered toward the deep space monitor to observe the deadly planetoid. It hurtledÂ toward the shipâ€”a gigantic, irregular mass of ugly gray rock.
Â Â She buried her face against Tarronâ€™s shoulder.
Â Â He held her tight. â€œThere is always hope. We will survive.â€
Â Â She took comfort in his words, even while hearing the lie.
Â Â The ship hit SurgeThrust, slamming them to the floor. They scrambled to lock themselvesÂ into the chairs.
Â Â Jarill stared at the monitors. Deep craters gouged the lethal asteroid that charged closer.
Â Â â€œWhere do you think it will hit us?â€ Tarron asked.
Â Â â€œDepends on our velocity and its relationship to the planetoidâ€™s speed.â€
Â Â â€œYou are very young to know this.â€
Â Â She bit her lip. â€œToo young.â€
Â Â The spacescraft shifted sideways under them.
Â Â Jarillâ€™s eyes raced across the monitors. â€œWe reached gravity assisted trajectory.â€
Â Â Tarron clutched her hand. â€œDoes that mean we are out of danger?â€
Â Â â€œNo. It changes the equation now that the sunâ€™s gravity is involved. That monitor displaysÂ the connection.â€
Â Â He gasped. â€œThe planetoid is closing in on the back thrusters!â€
Â Â The monitors suddenly went black, the planetoid so close it filled every screen.
Â Â â€œHang on, it is going to hit us!â€ Jarill yelled.
Â Â The impact ripped off her restraints. Explosions reverberated through her. She crashed into aÂ wall section and screamed. Blood dripped from the gash in her head. She curled in a ball, holdingÂ her wound as the ship spun out of control. Monitors shattered. Shrill alarms assaulted everyÂ sense.
Â Â Tarron shouted.
Â Â She struggled against the centrifugal force an inch at a time to reach him. Sweat trickledÂ down her face along with the blood.
Â Â He buried his head in his arms.
Â Â â€œTarron, are you hurt?â€
Â Â Agony distorted his face. He gasped tight breaths. â€œI cannot stop the pain.â€
Â Â She maneuvered her body so she could face him. Their bodies slammed together.
Â Â â€œTarron. Look at me. Look at me!â€
Â Â His eyes were glassy with horror.
Â Â She fought the swirling and pounding in her head. â€œTell me. Are you hurt?â€
He shivered and closed his eyes. â€œSo many dead and dying.â€
Â Â â€œControl your feelings.â€
Â Â His heartbeat pounded next to hers, much too fast.
Â Â â€œTarron, I am sorry.â€ She strained to pull back her fist and slugged him in the face. HeÂ passed out.
Â Â Every light flashed off. Sirens stopped blaring.
Â Â She felt safer in the darkness. Refusing to think of anything happening outside the room, sheÂ concentrated on Tarronâ€™s heart as its beating slowed.
Â Â The spinning seemed to last forever. She wavered between throbbing headaches, nausea andÂ blackouts. During short terms of consciousness, she felt Tarronâ€™s steady heartbeat and keptÂ repeating, â€œWe will live. We will live.â€
Â Â The lights glared in what seemed like an eternity later and Jarill squinted in pain. The shipÂ lurched and stopped spinning. A brilliant sun pulsated in the remaining monitor.
Â Â Jarill gently touched Tarronâ€™s face, fighting the stinging pain in her head.
Â Â â€œTarron, wake up.â€
Â Â He opened his eyes. Confusion crossed his face. â€œWhat happened?â€
Â Â â€œYour heart beat fast enough to burst. I knocked you out.â€
Â Â He grabbed his head and moaned. â€œAll the agonizing deaths . . .â€
Â Â â€œThis is not the end of it.â€
Â Â He shuddered and heaved himself off the floor. â€œWe must help the survivors.â€
Â Â â€œLet me try the communication system first.â€ She dragged herself up and punched in Mazâ€™sÂ code.
Â Â â€œJarill?â€ Maz said.
Â Â Jarill burst into tears knowing her maz was alive.
Â Â Tarron said, â€œWe are safe, Officer Ryz.â€
Â Â â€œPraise the Stars,â€ Maz said.
Â Â â€œDaz? Aronna?â€ Jarill asked.
Â Â â€œSafe. I do not have any information about your family, Sub-Ambassador Tarron.â€
Â Â â€œTell me what is happening,â€ Jarill said.
Â Â â€œThere is too much damage to our spacecraft. The pilots are setting a course for the nearestÂ habitable planet in this solar system.â€
Â Â â€œHow will they land?â€ she asked.
Â Â â€œThey cannot.â€ Maz paused. â€œMay the stars give you life, Jarill.â€
Â Â â€œMaz!â€
Â Â The communicator fell silent.
Â Â Jarill sank to the floor.
Â Â â€œWe need to find a way to secure ourselves,â€ Tarron said. â€œI need your help.â€
Â Â Â She looked up at him through blurry eyes. â€œWhy?â€
Â Â â€œBecause we must survive.â€
Â Â Â She dragged herself from the floor and checked the belts on the chairs. Unsalvageable. SheÂ yanked open the doors under the broken monitors and carefully pulled on the cables.
Â Â â€œHow did you get so smart?â€ Tarron asked.
Â Â â€œWeâ€™re crashing into a planet this time.â€
Â Â â€œWe survived the planetoid,â€ Tarron said. â€œI prefer not to give up hope.â€
Â Â Jarill did not have the heart to contradict him and checked the one remaining monitor. AÂ shining blue and green planet shimmered in front of her. Beautiful as it was, it was not home. IfÂ they survived it would be. She doubted that the ship could ever be rebuilt after the collision.Â The spacecraft covered the distance in much less time than she wanted. The planet grewÂ larger and larger until a great expanse of water and a small island of land filled the monitor. TheÂ ship jerked and slowed.
Â Â Tarron seized her hand. â€œThat island is our new home.â€
Â Â â€œIf we survive.â€
Â Â The island enveloped the screen before the ship smashed into the planet with a tremendousÂ explosion. The impact slammed Jarill against her chair. She watched in terror as the spacecraftÂ ripped through mountains, trees, and dirt. The ship bounced, inverted, flew into the air, andÂ smashed into the ground, jarring every bone in her body. The lights went out and only theÂ horrendous grinding of crystal and metal filled the darkness. Then came deathly silence.
Â Â Jarill undid her cables with shaking hands. Felt for Tarron. He lay crumpled in the chair. She touched hisÂ cheek, slick with blood. â€œTarron, Tarron!â€
Â Â “Can you release me?”
Â Â She kissed him through tears.Â Fumbled with his cable and carefully helped him to the floor.
Â Â It was then that she noticed one message blinking on the wall.
Â Â â€œPassenger Survival Rate 4%, Passenger Survival Rate 4%, Passenger Survival Rate 4%.â€