Leaves crunched like brittle bones under my boots as I ran. It was fall on Earth and the mountains of the San Juan national forest were shedding pine needles and leaves. They hit me as I made my way through the forestry and to the docking ship that they were loading people onto. Sweat trickled down my face at the thought.
James motioned to me silently as I crouched silently next to him. His face was stricken with worry, and I resisted the urge to open my mouth and tell him that everything will be okay.
As the massive ship thrummed to life before them, the energy shaking the earth around them, shaking a storm of leaves and pine needles loose upon them where they hid just out of sight, Wren knew the situation was anything but okay.
Not that I could say that out loud either.
The pioneers, as they’d called themselves, had left earth on a great ship. The corporation behind the ship had promised passengers a new life, a better life than they could dream of here on Earth. The notion of an entirely new life, an entirely new world had hardly been one that those applicable could turn down.
Soon after they left, the world fell apart.
And now, every once in a while, great ships will return from space and the new generation of pioneers, the colonists, take anyone they’re able to lay their hands on. I’d heard the stories—children ripped from their families, lovers torn out of each other’s arms and scurried onto a ship, never to be seen again. It wasn’t as though I’d disbelieved any of them; I’d just never suspected that it would happen here.
The area where they lived was a desolate one, with only a few corporate military bases scattered throughout the mountains. We’d had to scavenge and loot for food and clothing, We’d had to fight for everything we had, but as far as the end of the world was concerned, I’d always thought we were safe as houses.
Then they took Abeline.
Air spewing from the thrusters of the ship hit my skin, hot as steam. I crouched lower as a bead of sweat made its way down my face. There were men in dark uniforms and helmets loading people into the ship on what looked to me like glass coffins. The thought made my stomach clench. I wasn’t even sure where to start. Which coffin belonged to Abeline?
It hadn’t taken James and I long to find out that colonists had taken his sister. We’d caught wind that they were in the area, the soldiers in black suits searching the grounds around them for anyone they could take away with them. For what, no one knew. As soon as word had gotten to where James and I were, looting an abandoned cabin five miles East, we’d run headlong until we’d come across the ship.
Now all we needed was a plan.
I looked at James, who studied the scene before him, his jaw taught with worry. His sister was his sole responsibility, and I knew he’d take the blame for this personally. She was only a child, ten years old. She would have been easy to grab in the right place at the right time.
He looked like his sister, with ash blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Some would even say that I looked like them, though my hair was a darker shade of blonde and my eyes were brown, save for the single blue fleck that cut across my left iris. Freckles dusted their way under my eyes, across the bridge of my nose, while Lena and James’ faces were unmarred.
The three of us had been together for three years now, first just the three of us, then with others after we’d stumbled upon a safe house in the forest. I knew that James would take his sister’s kidnapping as a personal fault of his own, but it was just as much my own fault as it was his. We’d left her unsupervised. We’d been careless.
A flashlight cut its way through the trees toward where we were crouched, and James gripped my arm as we hunkered down lower. Neither of us spoke, though I was sure even if we screamed no one would be able to hear us over the sound the ship. I met his light eyes, my lips pressed together.
We had to act now or we wouldn’t get Lena back.
I rolled away from James, tucking and curling into a ball. My boots found traction and I careened behind a tree. James stayed where he was for a moment before he headed in the opposite direction, finding his own tree to find cover behind.
I couldn’t look at him anymore, now we were on our own. One of us either got her back, or we both failed.
Pushing farther as quickly as I could manage without being seen, I made my way toward the lip of the ship. The glass coffins housed people, as I’d suspected. From what I could tell, none of them were Lena. I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing—maybe she hadn’t made it onto the ship yet—or a bad thing.
The colonists must have spotted James. They shouted and sprinted to where I’d last seem him. I held my breath until they all passed by me. After steeling myself, I rushed from behind my cover and out into the open where the glass coffins were. I just hoped that James could hold them off until I could finish looking.
As soon as I thought it, though, I saw James appear from the tree line and run to the glass coffins. “We don’t have long,” he told me, coming up to my side. He had to speak directly to my ear, the ship’s sound was so incredibly deafening.
We searched the coffins littering the area around the ship, all to no avail. James and I locked eyes as the thought hit us both. Slowly, we turned our eyes to the ship.
It was daunting. Large and clunky looking, like it had been attacked by one too many meteorite showers. I wondered how it even managed to get off the ground, let alone zip into space and back like it did. The opening of the ship where men were loading the glass coffins was dark, like a yawning mouth threatening to swallow us whole.
“Cover me,” I said.
James grabbed my arm. “No. I’m going.”
“I’m smaller and faster,” I said. “I’ve got this.”
James released me, taking his hand back as though I’d burned him. I knew it was killing him to let me do it, but he also knew that I was right: I could get it done better than he could. Worming my way into and out of tight situations was one of my better talents.
But I was cocky. I always was.
I walked into the ship, then jogged down the dark corridor until I came to the end where there was light.
The sight at the end of the tunnel shot ice into my veins.
There were towers of the glass coffins, all secured and latched to the walls of the ship, as high as the ship went. I paled at the sight. There had to be some system I could figure out in order to find out which one Lena was in. She had to be on one of the lower rows. Please let her be on one of the lower rows.
I sprinted to the nearest row and raked my eyes over every innocent body within. What were they doing with so many people? Had the pioneers really been so successful as to build something that so many people could thrive in within a previously uninhabitable planet? It was hard for me to believe—not within the half a century since they’d been sent there.
I’d made it to the third row when I heard steps thundering toward me. I spat a curse and ducked out of sight. My hands gripped the metal fastenings connected to the coffins on either side of me and I held my breath.
The colonists were speaking in harsh tones to each other, but the blood was rushing in my ears too loudly for me to make anything discernable out. Had they caught James? Was he in one of these coffins as well? The thought made my hands slick with sweat. I was on my own for this one.
A loud beeping sounded and I jumped.
They were about to take off.
Now or never, I thought caustically.
There were three men on the dock with me—the same three that I’d seen charge into the woods earlier, or so figured. Without a second thought, I threw myself out from behind the coffins and charged for the nearest colonist as he worked at fastening a glass coffin to the wall. I kicked him hard in the leg and whipped his gun out of his holster as I did.
The only problem was, I hadn’t noticed how freakishly large the colonists were. The one I’d kicked had to at least be seven feet tall.
Which meant that my kick had done little but shock him for a moment.
I whipped the gun in front of me and aimed it at his chest. “I’m only here for one passenger,” I shouted, praying that James had the good sense to not get himself stuck in one of these chambers. “If you give her to me, I’ll leave you here alive.”
The giant I’d kicked in the shin laughed as though I’d told him a joke instead of a threat. I furrowed my brow and shot him. The kickback sent me to my back, but I had the satisfaction of watching the man howl in pain. The bullet looked like a metal ball, the size of the palm of my hand. It stuck to his chest and buzzed loudly as the man jerked around—almost as though he were being electrocuted.
I didn’t wait to see what the end result would be. I turned, gun aimed up from where I was on the ground.
It was too late. One of the men aimed a kick at my arm and I screamed as the gun left my hand forcefully enough to break bone. I scrambled to my feet and aimed to sprint past them and through the exit, but the two that I hadn’t shot had grabbed me. I screamed again as I felt a needle puncture the skin of my neck.
“Welcome to the New Colony of Mars,” one of them told me.
And then darkness.
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