Name: Martha Mayberry
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction/Romance
Title: Gone Wild
Limestone Air Force Base, Maine
Nibbling my lip, I squinted past the thin clusters of trees with withered branches and curled leaves, to the ships perched like raptors on the runway. Demeter and Hestia loomed in the distance, their hulls glinting a dark, ominous gray in the muted sunlight.
Within an hour, my brother Joe and I would sleep inside Demeter, our goddess of the skies, cruising across the galaxy to a planet called Stellar 3.
I pictured us pinned inside our snug little pods, lids locked tight. Puffs of gas swirling around our faces. Medication searing through our veins until our will to fight dulled and faded away to nothing. Becoming space icicles.
I was doomed.
“You have your pack?” Auntie Minerva asked.
My lips stretched in what felt like a grimace. Gesturing to our bags at my feet, I peeked at my watch. 11:20. Forty minutes left. I could almost feel my feet crystallizing on the grate.
“I wish you didn’t have to go,” she said, her face pinched. Skin puckered around her lips in white creases and tiny, clear pearls of sweat coated her upper lip. “If you stayed, I’d find a way to take care of you.”
Joe tugged her shirt. “I can take care of myself.”
She gave him a long look.
“I can take care of myself. I’m almost nine. A man.” He puffed his chest, looking anything but manly to me. He was lean and small for his age. Shortness ran in our family but I hoped he’d grow tall in our new world. Like a transplanted tree. His thick auburn hair was askew and his brown eyes were fierce. Maybe a thorn tree. . .
“Chemicals and cryogenics; it’s all so dangerous.” She stared at the ships, worrying a nail.
I bit back a wince. “Please. We’ll be fine.” And hated the quiver in my voice. “Mom and Dad made it without a hitch. Besides, they’re waiting for us at the colony.”
“It’s just . . . you’re all I have left.” Her shoulders slumped.
That was the crux of the matter. She couldn’t go with us. Decaying genome and all that. And we couldn’t stay on Earth. Failing planet and all that.
“What’s this?” She reached inside Joe’s shirt, plucking a mouse out by the tail. Maurice joined the jumbled contents of her purse. “I told you I’d take care of your pets.”
His expression was pained. “Can’t I take a little one?”
“Nope.” She grinned and tousled his hair. “No pets allowed in stasis. I’ll sure miss having you around, little man.”
“Joe, that’s stupid,” I said. “Why would anyone want to bring a mouse on a star ship? What would it eat?”
“You,” little snot-nose said with a gruesome smile. “It would gnaw on you, the whole year in space.”
“Jeez, Joe, thanks. Love you too.” I wanted to stick out my tongue but restrained myself. Barely. Brat.
I glanced at my watch. 11:30. My legs felt numb; as if all their strength was leaching away. Psychosomatic, that was the word for it. Right?
Chill, Lia, it’s all in your head. I shuffled in place, just in case.
President Marand’s voice blasted through the loud speakers. He spoke from inside his glass structure with its piped-in, pristine air. An obvious contrast to the sludge the rest of us enjoyed.
“Today’s a historic day for Earth,” he said in a jovial tone. “Our children go forth to propagate a new world!”
Ugh. Did he really just say that? Other kids on the platform around me grimaced. Please, I just turned seventeen. I’m not a brood mare.
11:35. The knot in my stomach expanded, filling the empty hole inside me. Could a body pop from tension?
Auntie’s sallow eyes met mine.
“None of that.” She shook a finger at me but her look was kind. A sigh slipped from her lips, a bare whisper in the bustle that surrounded us. “Is it time already?”
I nodded and pulled her into my arms, holding her gently because she was so frail and I was still strong. We patted each other’s backs. Pats were the backbone of my family, doled out with every hug.
As we pulled apart, my eyes stung but I held back my tears. I’d sobbed enough during the past week. The last thing she needed was the memory of me crumping. I pasted a brave smile on my face, a façade for the person she hoped I’d become.
She studied my face before giving me a brisk nod and starting down the stairs. As she shuffled toward the secure area near the gate, it was hard to believe she was only forty-three.
My vision blurred and I wiped my eyes surreptitiously on my durasuit sleeve so no one would see. Not that Joe would mock me. We hounded each other, but inside, we were a team.
Mostly I was afraid if I started crying, I might not stop, and the last thing I wanted was to imagine my neighbors chuckling as they watched the vids. Yup, that’s our Lia, the one blubbering in the peach durasuit.
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, I coughed, and turned to the thousands of spectators crowded beyond the fence, faces peering through the slats. Protestors had signs hoisted above their heads with the slogans-
Everyone belongs on Earth
Don’t abandon us
The presence of Earth’s Children sent shivers to my toes. At least they were locked beyond the gate. Security had been high since the onset, but groups like theirs had infiltrated our project. Once our liftoff had been delayed for weeks, and another time someone had assassinated our lead scientist.
But launch day was here. No more running past their picket lines and shrill screams to get to orientation.
President Marand paused and in the lull, everyone cheered. He continued, speaking of honor and duty, and how we were ambassadors for mankind.
I peeked at my watch. 11:40. I could make it. I could. As long as I didn’t dwell on what came next, leap off the platform and shove through the crowd, screaming about turning into a space popsicle.
With Auntie gone, I scanned the platform next to ours with greedy eyes, studying each face waiting to board Hestia. Where was he?
Catching myself nibbling a nail, I yanked my hand away. If I didn’t stop now I’d be left with nubs. Cringing, I took in the backs of my hands. Had I forgotten sunblock? My scarlet hands flew to my no doubt equally scarlet face, which was likely a perfect match to my strawberry blonde hair. With my peach durasuit, I probably resembled an overdone lobster.
Joe fidgeted with the energy of a two-year old beside me and I longed to wiggle along with him. I itched from smog dust and barely resisted the urge to yank my sleeves up and scratch.
After he’d stomped on my foot for the thousandth time, I finally snapped. “You’re not a baby, Joe. Pay attention. It’s almost time to board.”
He threw me a sulky look, so I grabbed his arm and held him still. Yanking away, he snarled like the little beast he was and settled onto the platform. He picked up a stick and dragged it across the grate.
A hand touched my back. “Lia.” The whispered voice sent tingles up my spine. I knew who it was before I turned around. Malik.