A New Dawn Novel, Book Two by Aubrie Dionne
Gemme is a hi-tech matchmaker who pairs the next generation of Lifers aboard the Expedition, a deep space transport vessel destined for Paradise 18. When the identity of her lifemate pops up on her screen, she’s shocked that he’s the achingly gorgeous and highly sought after Lieutenant Miles Brentwood—a man oblivious to her existence. Believing everyone will think she contrived the match, she erases it from the computer’s memory.
Just as comets pummel the ship and destroy the pairing system forever.
With the Expedition disabled, the colonists must crash land on the barren ice world of Tundra 37 where Gemme is reassigned to an exploratory mission, led by Lieutenant Brentwood. Only in the frozen tundra does she understand the shape of his heart and why the computer has entwined their destinies.
Praise for Tundra 37:
★★★★ stars. “This second in the New Dawn series is a complicated yet fascinating tale, told mainly in flashbacks, of a future where the only chance for survival is to leave Earth. The multiple story threads come together nicely, leaving the reader with a hopeful impression of the future.”
- Susan Mobley, RT Book Reviews
© Aubrie Dionne
I’m losing her.
Abysme guides the vessel in silence, her blind eyes rolling as she senses our course, two hundred years away from Paradise 18. She’s scattered her thoughts among the stars, and her mind drifts farther from the sister I once knew. I fear the machine has engulfed her individuality. She’s forgotten the meaning of our goal, the oath we took three centuries ago. Most of all, she’s forgotten me, creating an emptiness inside me more profound than the desolation surrounding us.
If I had my arms, I’d reach out to comfort her and usher her back from the black abyss spread before us. As children, I kept her alive through the destruction, signing us up for the Expedition and winning two tickets off Old Earth before it succumbed to hell. But can I save her now?
I send impulses through my brainwaves and into the ship. Bysme, do you hear me?
Unlike her, I have one operating eye and can see the control chamber we hang from. Twisting my head, I search her features. Her skeletal face twitches. She writhes and the wires holding her in place stretch taut. I wonder what I’ve done to us, the shock of our disembodiment jolting me. Every input hole drilled into my skull snakes with activity. The ship surges through me, a vast intranet of information, names, status charts, and infinite trajectories. If I couldn’t feel the cold, regulated air on the remnants of my torso, I’d be lost in the machine too. I remind myself of our mission and the perseverance flows into my veins.
She doesn’t respond and the fear wells up from within me. Can I guide the ship alone? I realize I’ve left her at the helm for too long while I drifted into memories.
Status of Beta Prime? Bysme speaks in monotone computer speech as she turns to the corner of the main control deck where the orb glistens, tempting us with the mysteries hidden in the cosmic swirls within its core. Sometimes, I wish we’d blasted the ball off the hull after its tendrils attached to the outer frame instead of recovering it for study. We’ve guarded it for so long, Project Beta Prime has become part of us, yet we’re further than ever from unlocking its secrets. All I know is the insistence of my memories, like ghosts that refused to be ignored.
Unchanged. The weight of my voice in our mindspeak reflects my disappointment. Like everything else.
Bysme falls silent, and I scan the systems searching for answers that aren’t there.
The Expedition 2751
Names trailed in pairs along the wallscreen as the next batch of destinies unfolded. Gemme pulled her hair into a ponytail and sipped her synthetic coffee, reviewing the computer’s choices. Beside her, a constellation of stars glittered on the sight panel. She studied the spherical pattern, content to watch the world float by from the safety of the Expedition’s computer analytics wing.
She’d live and die on the decks of the aging transport ship. The certainty of her fate comforted her from the black void pressing in. Consistency gave her solace, and in her life regularity reigned. She lived through her work, finding life in numbers.
After another long sip, she gazed up at the screen and read the first pair of names.
Aaron Tixton and Cassandra Smith.
She accessed their profiles with the tip of her finger on her keypad. Both Lifers tested well in energy maintenance and ship repairs. Their personalities were type ISTP and type ENFJ, and their family trees didn’t intersect until third cousins in the first generation, providing a promising match. Neither showed any manifestation of the rare hypergene they’d searched for since they left Earth, but no one she’d ever matched had. There were no guarantees the Seers would last until the ship reached Paradise 18. Suppressing a moment of worry, she scratched her chin, then typed an affirmation on the touchscreen.
Ray Ellis and Melissa Stewart. Although they were three years apart, Ray being the senior, their genes were optimally compatible. With resistance to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease, they would produce durable children. The touchscreen flashed as her finger pressed enter.
Molly Fritz and—
The portal beeped, interrupting her work. Who would visit so early on the first morning shift? She’d dragged herself out of her sleep pod for a reason. The Seers expected the next report by fourteen hundred, and she didn’t have time for unplanned meetings.
Gemme sighed and clicked off the screen. She couldn’t have an intruder spying on the new sets of matches. She pressed the portal panel and the particles dematerialized like falling stars, revealing a stellar beauty.
“Gemme.” Luna shifted and leaned her busty body against the portal frame. “How are you? I haven’t talked to you in years.”
For a reason.
Uneasiness spread through Gemme’s shoulders, making her neck tingle. A vision of Luna’s highly mascaraed teen face scrunched up in anger came back to her. “What am I going to do with you, you freckle-faced cybergeek? You make me look bad with all your studying and high test scores,” Luna had taunted before she smacked Gemme in the chest, leaving a bruise that had lasted for two months. Sure, Gemme had pushed her back, but Luna’s final shove had landed her in the recycling bin. She’d suffered in that cold, metal container for four hours before a custodian heard her banging for help.
Luna had claimed it was an accident, and as the Lieutenant’s daughter, and the descendant of the original founder of the Expedition, everyone believed her. Gemme hadn’t pressed the issue. No one messed with the Legacys. Since then, she’d stayed clear of the beauty and her bullying tactics. As Luna hovered over her, Gemme sensed where this conversation led, and it made the coffee in her stomach churn like acid.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, Luna. What do you need?”
Luna flipped her wavy blonde hair behind her shoulder and stared at her as if she had a right to be there. “I want to discuss my pairing.”
“You know I can’t talk of future matches.” Gemme fought to keep her tone professional. “The computer makes the decisions. I only review the pairings and double-check for glitches.”
“You have more power than you let on, Gemme, dear.” Luna pushed past her and slinked across her office, tapping her fingertips along the keyboards.
Hot air flared out of Gemme’s nostrils. The nerve! Luna asked her to change the bylaws, to risk her job after years of bullying? Her cheeks burned like a supernova. The keys clicked under Luna’s long nails in a rhythmic pitter-patter. Thank goodness she’d locked down the system.
The blinking button for the screen stood out like a dwarf star. Luna inched toward it. Gemme squeezed by her and stuck her small body between Luna’s ginormous chest and the touchscreen, turning her back on her to protect the machine.
“I can’t change the pairings, only approve or disapprove.”
“You can disapprove of everyone for me.”
The harshness in her voice made Gemme whip around from the controls and stare her down. “You’re telling me you don’t want a lifemate?”
“You didn’t let me finish.” Luna’s lips slid into a smile. “Everyone, that is, except Miles Brentwood.”
Of course. Gemme could’ve guessed that request from a parsec away. The computer hadn’t assigned Miles Brentwood a lifemate yet. Five years their senior, not only was he powerful, attractive, and brilliant, his sweet charm could warm even the coldest reaches of deep space. Somehow, even though Luna was gorgeous, Gemme didn’t think she deserved Brentwood, and she reveled in the fact that she couldn’t honor Luna’s request.
“The computer decides the lifemates, not me.” Besides, pairing Luna with Lieutenant Brentwood would explode the mainframe of the lifemate pairing system. The computer’s choices had an excellent success rate, much better than the statistics she’d seen from Old Earth. She couldn’t imagine people choosing for themselves.
Luna shrugged as if she discussed tricking a five-year-old instead of defying a centuries-old system. “If you deny every pairing for me, eventually his name will come up.”
Gemme held her nose up, but her head only came up to Luna’s magnificent plunging neckline. Why didn’t her uniform ever look as good? “I’m not going to bend the rules for you.”
Luna pulled back and pouted her full lips. “I thought you’d say as much. That’s why I brought you a bribe.”
She dropped a piece of paper on Gemme’s desk. Before Gemme could reply, Luna slipped around her and jogged out the portal. “Think about it. Get back to me.” Her voice echoed down the corridor, cheerful, yet tense.
Gemme watched her leave, stunned. What could Luna have that she wanted, besides an apology? She’d already earned a cushy job with a cosmic view. Gemme picked up the piece of paper, feeling the strange thinness in her hands. Paper was only used for formal occasions. What could it be?
Opening the folds of the document revealed a border of glittering gold. The writing was etched in inky cursive. Gemme gasped as she studied the contours of the inscription.
Request granted. Please present this upon arrival on Control Deck 67.
A ticket to visit the Seers. This rarity was one more shred of proof the Legacys had advantages others didn’t have.
Why would she ever want to meet them? The Seers had sealed their chamber for the last century for fear of weakening their fragile bodies with germs. People whispered about their transformation from real humans born on Old Earth to skeletons and machines. Just thinking about how they’d severed their arms and legs after the limbs had atrophied to have wires run directly into their torsos made her squirm.
She realized Luna didn’t know her at all. Status quo contented Gemme more than any high position or special meeting. She wanted to live her life on the Expedition, drink her coffee, and play matchmaker in space.
Gemme slipped the document underneath her keyboard. She’d have to return it to Luna herself. This couldn’t be trusted with interdepartmental mail and she didn’t want Luna thinking she owed her anything.
After the portal materialized, she flicked on the button for the pairing system and the list of names blinked on her wallscreen.
Now where was I? Oh yes, Molly Fritz and—
A letter G stole her attention from halfway down the second column. She skimmed the names.
It couldn’t be.
Gemme gasped and backed away from the wallscreen. Her touchscreen fell to the floor and rattled.
Gemme Reiner and Miles Brentwood.
Her first thought was of Luna running at her with a laser gun.
But I didn’t choose it. The computer did.
She knew the day would come when her name would cross the screen, she just didn’t think it would be today or it would be him. Everyone would suspect she devised the pairing herself. She’d look like the most selfish, hypocritical computer analyst in the history of the Expedition. She might even lose her job.
She scrambled to the floor and collected the touchscreen. Her hands shook as she replaced it on her desk. Wasting no time, she highlighted their names and the reasoning for the pairing. They both had history of mild high blood pressure, and a few minor propensities for anxiety in their family trees. They weren’t incompatible, but they sure as hell weren’t a perfect match either. Although, their first names sounded so right together: Gemme and Miles.
Shaking the nonsense from her head, she forced herself to focus. The florescent yellow connecting her name and his made her uneasy. Her finger paused over the word delete. For a millisecond, she thought of his strong hands touching her cheek, running across the back of her neck and into her hair.
Why would such a man be matched to her? Obviously the computer had miscalculated. Here lay the one glitch she was destined to fix. Gemme’s finger trembled as she pressed the touchscreen. In an instant, their names disappeared, deleted forever in the vastness of deep space. Even the Seers wouldn’t detect it in their nets.
A response beeped on the screen.
Gemme breathed with relief. She couldn’t have people thinking she’d manipulated the system, especially Luna. Besides, attraction shouldn’t factor in any of the matches.
She picked up her coffee mug just as a crash echoed above her head. The floor rumbled beneath her feet. Had her deletion wreaked havoc on the whole system?
Two monotone voices echoed in unison out over the intercom. “Comet shower approaching. Collisions imminent. Evacuate the outer levels.”
Gemme froze. Danger to the Expedition? Impossible! The Seers would have detected any danger from a parsec away. They could never be wrong. The Guide said so.
Another crash shuddered the floor and she fell to her knees. The wallscreen flickered. She gazed out the sight panel at the familiar constellation. Balls of red with trailing tails streaked the sight panel. She fisted her hands. Had the Seers failed? She had no time to ponder the impossible. Her office lay on an outer deck. She had to get to safety.
Her first thought shot to the computers. Could she save her life’s work? For privacy, the Seers instructed each matchmaker to store all data on the computer in front of her. The lights flickered out and an alarm screamed down the hall. One of the fiery balls grew larger, hurtling right toward the glass separating Gemme from the void of space.
Forget the data.
Taking one look back at her touchscreens, Gemme sprinted to the portal and slammed her fist on the panel. The second it took for the particles to dematerialize tugged on her nerves. Visions of space sucking her out haunted her more than visions of being stuck to the ship like the Seers. Gemme clutched her hands together and bounced on her toes.
The particles disappeared, and smoke wheezed in. Bending down, Gemme covered her mouth with the sleeve of her uniform and ran. The ship pitched sideways, and she fell into the wall, bumping her knee. Her leg collapsed, but she forced herself up through the pain. The corridors lay empty. Was she the last one on the outer decks? She hoped so. Most of the Lifers slept in their cells at the heart of the ship at such an early hour.
“Hull breach imminent. Congregate to the inner decks immediately.”
Was there a hint of fear in the Seers’ voices? Gemme refused to believe it. The Seers had everything under control. They always did. They wouldn’t let anything happen to her, would they?
She punched the portal panel in front of the elevators, but nothing happened. Fear twisted her stomach, climbing its way up her throat. She breathed in, and the air seared the back of her mouth. Coughing, she slammed the panel harder.
Come on, you aging piece of junk.
The panel light flickered out like a dying sun.
Smoke filled the corridor and burned her eyes. She ran to the air shaft’s emergency ladders. Another crash hit the hull, and another. What were the Seers doing? Had they lost their minds? She clung to each ladder rung as she climbed down, afraid another shock would send her plummeting ten levels at once.
As she reached the next deck, the air spiraled over her head. Pressure sucked the breath out of her lungs. A warning buzz sounded, and the Seers’ unison voices echoed out, “Hull breach on Deck 86.”
Gemme searched below her feet. She could climb down ten more rungs to close the lower hatch, or climb back up five to close the upper hatch. Metal clicked, and the emergency systems made the decision for her. Beneath her feet, the particles of the lower hatch materialized.
Panic rushed up her legs along with the dwindling air. The Seers had locked her out.
Gemme stared at the spinning particles. If she fell too soon, she’d be stuck in the particles of the hatch and the portal would rematerialize inside her. She had to wait for the hatch to become solid.
The air grew thin and she gasped for breath. The force of the suction pulled at her, yanking hair out of her ponytail. Once the hatch formed, she leaped down on top of it. Scrambling in the folds of her uniform, she brought out her keytag.
Thank goodness she’d worn it around her neck. Sometimes the cord irritated her skin, and she took it off, setting it by her touchscreen. Now, she wasn’t sure if her touchscreen still existed. The thought of her office pummeled by comets flashed in her mind. She couldn’t go back for anything now.
She shoved the keytag into the portal panel and typed override. A message popped up.
Please enter your security code.
The temperature dropped and she shivered, sucking in one last breath. Gemme forced herself to type slowly to get it right. One missed touch would shut her out forever.
Her heart raced as she tapped the panel and the particles disappeared.
A wave of hot air blew by her as the hatch reopened. Gemme jumped down and slammed her fist against the panel to close it above her. As the particles solidified, she climbed down to the next level and kicked something blocking her way.
“Whoa! Look out.”
Miles Brentwood gazed up from the toes of her boots, his green-flecked eyes piercing the semidarkness. Gemme’s heart sped up. To see any person right now made her emotions crumble, never mind the man she’d been thinking of ever since she deleted their pairing. “If you’re going up, there’s no way out. I sealed the passage.”
“I’m not going anywhere.” He took the sight of her in, traveling up her cheek to her eyes and she almost lost her grip on the ladder rung. “I’m looking for you.”
Miles Brentwood had come to spend the end of the world with her? Gemme’s mind reeled. Nothing that morning had made any sense. She felt stuck in some sort of quasi-nightmare turned hot dream. “What?”
Although chaos crashed around them, his hair still looked perfect, the blond wave rising an inch above his broad forehead. “I’m retrieving all the stragglers. I followed your locater number.”
“Oh.” She looked away, feeling sheepish and small. How could she have ever thought he’d know who she was, never mind go searching for her in particular during this disaster?
He gestured over his shoulder. “There’s a safe chamber just down this hall. Follow me.”
Gemme collected her scattered emotions just as something crashed against the hatch above them. The screeching sound of crushed metal echoed down the vent shaft.
Brentwood shouted over the din, “This compartment’s losing pressure, come on!”
She followed him down two more levels and through a side passage she’d never have found by herself. They crawled through an air shaft, collecting dust webs under their fingers. A metal grating hung missing half its hinges. Had he come all this way just for her?
Brentwood looked back at her over his shoulder. “It’s not far. You can jump.”
He paused at the hole below them and waited for her to make the first move.
Of course, his valor screamed “ladies first.”
Gemme dangled her legs and judged the distance from the ceiling to the floor below her feet. If she fell the wrong way, she’d break both her ankles.
He must have seen fear cross her eyes because he offered his hands. “Here, I’ll help you.”
The warmth in his voice calmed her racing thoughts. She locked on his gaze. The flecks of green were so pure, they reminded her of the foliage in the biodome. Those eyes could have been hers to gaze into. She damned the pairing program. Why had it ever put such an outrageous idea in her head?
“Take my hands.”
Gemme blinked her thoughts away and slid her hands into his. Their palms molded into a perfect fit. His skin emanated heat, warming her cold fingertips. She closed her eyes as the ship crashed around them. She expected to feel pain, but a light-headed ecstasy bubbled over her.
When she opened her eyes, the airshaft remained intact with Brentwood eagerly waiting for her to move. All the crashing had happened inside her, levels being knocked down to reveal surprising emotions she didn’t think herself capable of. Yet, the feelings stirred an undercurrent of familiarity. Gemme searched his features to see if he experienced any of the same emotions, but his wide lips frowned. He was more concerned for her than drunk on possibility He hoisted her down and her feet hit the floor with a bounce. The ship pitched again, and she fell against the wall. Brentwood jumped behind her and ushered her forward, his hands along her waist.
“Just a few more steps.”
They ran to the belly of the ship, where the structural integrity would hold under pressure. Brentwood slapped a panel and the portal disappeared to reveal a bunch of colonists huddling together. Food rations were stacked against the far wall along with space suits. Panic worked its way up Gemme’s spine. If they needed those suits, they were dead already.
“Shouldn’t we run to the escape pods?”
Brentwood shook his head. “Not yet. The Seers believe they can salvage the ship. The escape pods would only scatter us into deep space.”
Gemme nodded and bit her lower lip. She’d known his answer. Escape pods were useless unless they found a habitable planet. It would only delay inevitable death.
He bent down, his face hovering a breath away from hers, lips slightly parted. Gemme froze in shock, noticing each light hair in his eyebrows and the moisture on his lips. Only lifemates leaned in so close. He pulled back, shaking his head as if recovering from a trance.
“My apologies. I must search for others.”
Before Gemme’s heart could beat again, he’d disappeared down the corridor, smoke trailing in his footsteps.
Each comet collision to the hull hurt like a puncture wound to Mestasis’s own flesh. She checked on Abysme, but her sister calmly calculated readjustment maneuvers by her side, as if evaluating a math equation. More cyborg than woman, she showed no sign of physical pain or emotional reaction to the threat. Although Mestasis had no more of a claim to normal humanity than her sister, her thoughts battled with which parts of the ship to salvage.
The biodome sat in the center, just above the heart of the ship. She’d instructed Lieutenant Brentwood to secure the majority of colonists beneath it, so that part of the ship took priority over all else. They must preserve the human, animal, and plant life, which meant steering the extremities into the line of fire.
Abysme’s head jerked. Engine capacity at thirty-six percent. Rerouting alternate energy means.
Mestasis sent out a corresponding impulse. Harborside capacitors engaged.
Did Abysme’s voice hold a hint of desperation, a fraction of humanity? Or was Mestasis the only one of them to weigh such decisions on her soul?
A comet ten meters across crashed into the main communications tower. She winced as she sealed the bridge, locking out three colonists to preserve the lives of the several hundred hiding below in their family cells. Each life lost was a unique human genome that could never be reclaimed or reproduced. The Expedition was losing its diversity, and Mestasis could only gamble so much of it away before their mission failed.
She needed her sister now more than ever. Bysme, what are we going to do?
Abysme’s cataract eyes flickered like two radiant moons. Structural integrity will hold. We must fly through the field. Protect the orb.
The orb was the least of their concerns. What was her sister talking about? Bysme? Protect the orb?
Abysme shifted, wires stretching. Protect the ship.
The cold, analytical edge to her tone made Mestasis want to cry out and shake her. But Abysme was right. The comet conglomeration trailed too far back to sit and wait it out. They had to navigate their way through or risk further damage.
The engines flared up and she knew Abysme would use their last store of energy to propel the ship forward. Estimating the trajectory with the least amount of exposure took only milliseconds, but to Mestasis it weighed on her soul like an eternity. She chose the course, and Abysme approved it. Together their minds steered the ship within centimeters of collisions on either side.
Ninety-two percent of her mind worked on navigation, while the last eight percent traveled to a memory she thought she’d lost. They’d worked together once before to prevent a disaster threatening both their lives.
Old Earth 2436
The air hung hot and dry with golden swirls of dust accumulating on everything in a thick sheen. The world had turned stale and Mestasis could feel conflict brimming in every molecule. She chipped a piece of old paint off the banister and let it fly into the wind. Leaning over the balcony of her high rise, she peered through the smog clouding the lower levels below.
A piece of tarp rustled as a woman hung her laundry to dry. Children kicked dented containers in a game of soccer on an intersecting corridor between her building and the one next to it. Above her, the roar of engines filled the air. Hovercrafts flew between the buildings stacked like dominoes across the world’s surface. The rich had no need to descend to the lower levels.
“When will he come?”
Mestasis turned and saw her own face: dark skin, round, velvety brown eyes, and thick lips. Abysme leaned on the edge of the patio door, wearing her best clothes and the one pair of waterproof boots they’d saved up for all summer to share.
“Soon. I thought I heard the engines coming down, but it was a transport ship.”
Abysme jutted out her lower lip. “I don’t want to leave Mom. She needs us.”
They’d had this argument a thousand times, yet Mestasis tried once again to convince her. “With this, we can help Mom more. Just think of the money we could make if we get in, if we graduate.”
“I just want the world to stay as it is.”
“Everything is going to change, Abysme. I can feel it. The only way we’re going to survive is if we change with it.”
Her twin joined her on the balcony, clutching the railing as if the smog would rise up and take them away. ”That’s what I’m afraid of, Metsy.”
Mestasis took her hand. “I’ll always be by your side. That’s one thing that won’t ever change.”
The air rumbled over their heads and a gust of wind blew back their hair. A hovercraft with the words Telepathic Institute of New England lowered between the buildings and hung like a dragon across their balcony.
The hatch lifted and a middle-aged man emerged. His pale skin shone white in the sun. Streaks of gray shot through his curly blond hair.
“Are you Abysme and Mestasis River?”
Mestasis nodded with determination. Abysme shot him a suspicious stare.
“Are you ready to take the tests?”
“We are.” Mestasis nudged Abysme and she nodded, studying her boots. If their mom had been home to say good-bye, Abysme would’ve had more closure. But she had a double shift at the recycling factory, and she’d lose her job if she missed a day. They paid a hefty sum to live in New York City on Level Fourteen above the gangs.
“Jump in. I’m Doctor Jasper Fields. I’ll conduct the tests when we arrive.”
Mestasis mindspoke, reaching out to comfort her sister. Bysme, take a deep breath. Don’t look back.
Abysme stuck out her lower lip. You can’t make me.
Frustrated, Mestasis threw down their only case of luggage. If her twin exhibited a negative attitude the whole time, TINE would never accept them.
Tears dripped down Abysme’s cheeks. She mouthed something, but Mestasis couldn’t tell what she said over the din of the hovercraft’s engines. To her surprise, Abysme jumped first. She settled into the seat next to Dr. Fields and sulked as she clicked the seat restraint.
Mestasis paused at the threshold. If they passed the tests, they’d live at TINE, and she wasn’t sure how much they could visit. She ignored her own advice. Looking back to their tiny apartment, she tried to memorize the weave of the rug where they’d played algebra games all night, the shape of her mother’s sleeping bag huddled next to the wall, and the antique mirror where she’d helped Abysme braid her hair. Emotion surged up, and her knees weakened. She shouldn’t have looked back. Sniffing, she tore her gaze away and leaped into the hovercraft, feeling like she plunged off the balcony to end her life. She settled into the seat next to the doctor.
“Get comfortable. It’s a long ride to the coast.”
Their tiny apartment disappeared and they rose through the misty clouds. Neither of them had seen the world above Level Fourteen. Mestasis shielded her eyes as they adjusted to the bright sun. The upper levels had windows with real plants, extravagant porch-side gardens, and decks to land hovercrafts. A greenhouse capped each building, shielding the damaging ultraviolet sunlight.
A crash against the outer hull brought Mestasis back to the present. She blinked, staring at the comet trails streaking across the main sight panel. How could she loose herself in a memory in a time like this?
Because they succeeded in the past, and she needed the memory to remind herself they’d succeed again. When they worked together, they were an unbeatable pair. Using her sister’s ability to stretch her mind ahead of the ship in the vastness of space, she calculated the course, steering clear of the largest comets. We can do this.
An hour later, someone nudged Mestasis’s arm. Her lids flickered open, golden swirls dissipating. Where was she? She stared out the sight panel of the hovercraft seeing sky so blue it looked like paint. Dr. Fields. The tests. They’d left home forever. She decided she’d rather be asleep than deal with her turbulent emotions.
Bsyme, Bysme, why did you wake me?
Mestasis was the emotionally stronger twin, but Abysme’s talents outdid hers by tenfold. If anything was wrong, she’d know.
What is it?
Abysme grabbed her sister’s hand and shoved it against the dashboard. Images flooded Mestasis’s thoughts: energy capacitors, system hydraulics, air exhaust pipes. Something wavered beneath the hood, an oval-shaped metal pod. The heat signature surged well beyond normal levels. A drip of sweat ran down her forehead.
What is that?
Abysme shifted on her seat, eyeing the doctor. I don’t know, but it’s gonna blow.
Panic flooded Mestasis’s mind. How are we going to tell him? He’ll never believe us.
Abysme’s eyes widened, intense. Show him.
Their heads turned to the doctor and they stared, projecting the image of the metal pod. The doctor winced and jerked his head. The hovercraft dipped in the air before he regained the controls. Mestasis’s stomach flipped and she gripped onto her sister’s arm for support.
Abysme squeezed her twin’s hand and they resubmitted the image.
His head turned to them and his eyes widened. “It’s coming from you?”
She nodded in unison with Abysme.
“You’re telling me there’s something wrong with the engine?”
They nodded again, slow and certain.
Looking like a ghost had slipped over him, the doctor brought up the systems with the tip of his finger and eyed the gauges. “You better not be pulling a prank to delay us, girls. It says here everything’s fine.”
Abysme shouted through her mind. Don’t be stupid.
Mestasis hushed her twin’s words before they reached his ears. She gave her sister an admonishing look. You could explode his head and make us crash anyway.
Abysme shrugged as if admitting to cheating on a test. I’m just trying to keep us safe.
Don’t think you could fly this thing.
Abysme stuck her nose up in the air. You wanna bet?
The doctor punched in a landing code. He spoke into the intercom. “Requesting clearance on the next available dock.”
A signal from the top of a building below them blinked as a beacon.
He sighed. “We’re going to be late to our appointment, but I’ll have them take a look.”
The hovercraft descended toward the building, clouds parting before them in wisps. As the pressure on the engine lifted, the heat signature dropped and Mestasis breathed. The ship parked on the ridge of a greenhouse, sending up dust and dirt into the atmosphere. The hatch lifted and cool morning air seeped in.
“Don’t go far. I’ll be right back.” The doctor jumped out and signaled a man from inside the greenhouse. Abysme jumped out after him.
Where are you going?
Just looking around.
Mestasis gazed out the main sight panel. The tangle of vegetation spread against the glass of the greenhouse. Vines reached up for the sky as if struggling to break free of containment. Besides their potted single blade of grass, she’d never been close to real leaves. It reminded her of the jungle stories Mom whispered at bedtime. Maybe it was okay to take a closer look.
She caught up to her sister just as Abysme smeared her face against the glass. Mestasis touched the greenhouse, and condensation formed around her fingertips. A tomato, vine ripe and bulging with watery seeds, made her tongue tingle. Beyond that, rows of apple trees stood like soldiers in a formation, dotted white with growing blossoms.
She trespassed in a high-up world where she didn’t belong. Pulling a soybean wafer out of her pocket, she crumpled it in her palm. They ate processed food, while the rich enjoyed the last fruits of a dying Earth. As much as she hated them, she wanted her family to be a part of their world more than anything, to live in the final rays of the sun.
Steps sounded behind them. The girls whirled around as if caught stealing. Doctor Fields panted, running a cloth over his forehead as he caught up.
“You’re both accepted.”
“What?” Mestasis rubbed her eyes against the glare of the bright sun.
“You don’t need to take any tests. You’re in.” He handed them a locator. “Call your mom if you want and let her know before we take off.”
“I don’t understand.” Abysme finally spoke out loud, and Mestasis jumped at the rancor in her sister’s voice.
“The hovercraft had a bad ventilator. Rat droppings clogged the filters.”
He shook his head in astonishment. “I’ve seen a lot of telepaths in my career, but never have I seen two bound together in synchronization. You girls saved our lives. You don’t have to worry about a single thing again. TINE will take care of you from now on. Be back by the hovercraft in five minutes, girls.” Doctor Fields gave them a stern glance before turning around.
Abysme kicked the side of the glass with her boot. Mestasis cringed, but the wall didn’t shatter. The tip of her sister’s boot thunked and bounced back. Even though Mestasis had secured their future, she couldn’t help the dirty feeling she’d also given away their deepest secret and sold their souls for a better place to live.
Abysme crossed her arms. Don’t have to worry about a single thing again, huh?
Mestasis’s skin burned with embarrassment on her cheeks. The situation overwhelmed her. She’d lost control, handing their future to a man her sister didn’t trust.
If only what he said was true.
Engine failure seventy-eight percent.
Her sister’s voice brought Mestasis back to the present. She twitched her neck, calculating alternative energy means. They had to fly the ship out of the parameters of the hurtling comets.
Mestasis analyzed the systems still online and prioritized the ones less likely to cause physical harm to the colonists. Shutting off gravitational rings, rerouting energy from bays 4, 13, and 20.
No matter what she did, it wasn’t enough. The energy gap tore at Mestasis’s soul until she could barely stand the pressure. She turned to her sister, pleading.
Bysme, I need your help.
Her white eyes turned down, as if she could suddenly see her. Her cheek twitched, the wrinkles scrunching. We’ll make it, sis. Keep trying.
Abysme spoke in common speech patterns! A real person still rolled around inside her fragile skull. Her sister’s true voice urged Mestasis to focus. In a fraction of a second, she’d figured out enough energy to keep them sailing well away from the hurtling rocks.
Clear space shone on the main sight panel, a sea of darkness sprinkled with twinkling stars. The ship soared free of the danger zone.
Mestasis breathed, feeling cold, regulated air sear her old lungs. She shouldn’t have taken so many breaths without her breathing apparatus, but in that moment she needed to feel alive.
Abysme’s voiced jerked her out of her relief. Mission to Paradise 18 abandoned. Seeking alternative colonization habitat.
Panic rushed right back through the bolts in Mestasis’s spine. What? Change the entire course of the mission? She shot a finicky glance at Abysme. Had her sister truly lost her mind? Reviewing the ship’s performance and the remaining functioning systems, Mestasis’s hopes plummeted. They’d never make it another two hundred days in deep space, never mind two hundred years.
Abysme’s calculations were correct. Their mission to Paradise 18 had failed.
Disappointment in herself and hopelessness choked her. Next came emptiness, a black abyss of dire oblivion threatening to obliterate her last pulses of determination. Mestasis hung limp, allowing the wires to stretch dangerously far as her body weight pulled her down. She’d have given up and died in that moment if it wasn’t for the shining star shimmering on the edge of her sight.
Compatible habitat found. Abysme drew up a star chart and Mestasis took in another breath.
Tundra 37 lay in the star system they passed. The initial readings reported compatible oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, light gravity, and solar exposure, mostly on the northern side. A category six planet experiencing an ice age; it was not optimal for survival, but certainly adequate, better than drifting in deep space.
Mestasis straightened and the wires pulled her back up.
Change of course approved.