Authors: Harmony Raines
Tags: #Romance, #Multicultural, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Alien Invasion, #Colonization, #Exploration, #First Contact, #Galactic Empire, #Genetic Engineering, #Multicultural & Interracial, #General Fiction
She placed the picture carefully back in the suitcase, Petra wasn’t one of those people who acted in anger. She knew that if she broke the picture now it would be gone forever, no going back, just like her life once she left Earth. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she looked around the room, there was nothing else here that belonged to her; it was just a room in a strange house. Closing the suitcase, she made sure it was firmly locked, and then went back out of the room.
A guard was waiting for her—whether to keep her safe, or whether to make sure she didn’t run, Petra wasn’t sure. But she guessed he was there to escort her to the airport and her fate. Wordlessly she walked down the stairs, the guard following close behind.
Heading towards the front door, she paused briefly, knowing she should go back and say goodbye to her mother properly. But she couldn’t bring herself to do it, because to do so would make her believe that she would never see her again. Would make it final.
And despite her words, that was not what she wanted.
In her heart, she hoped that one day she might be allowed to return to Earth, and that the woman who had been her mother would be here, waiting for her.
He’d left his home planet hours ago, and was now heading into land at the airport on Earth. This part of his mission was simple: pick up the woman who was to be the mother of his son, and take her back to Karal. There they would have a two-day wait before they launched on their main mission into deep space.
He couldn’t wait to go on the mission. He loved space, loved the wonder of the universe as it unfolded around him. But for the first time, he was anxious about going. Not because he was worried about the mission but because he wasn’t keen on taking a human female with him. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if he knew her, but he didn’t; he would be going into space with a complete stranger. He would be going into space with a female from another species, one who knew nothing about space travel.
He exited the wormhole and there in front of him was the silvery moon of Earth. He eased the throttle forward, speeding up as he changed direction and headed towards Earth. Skilfully, he angled the cruiser for a perfect entrance into the planet’s atmosphere, all without the aid of the autopilot.
Niko was old-fashioned like that: he believed that the autopilot made a pilot become lazy and unfocused, whereas he like to stay sharp. It was how you stayed alive out in space.
The planet below him was beautiful, in a faded kind of way, like a flower that was just past the height of its bloom. Yet he could see how it must have been once, before the pollution made it look duller. There were hints of blue in gaps in the cloud coverage, and a swathe of green around one of the poles, but as the cloud shifted, it all became grey once more.
Niko brought his concentration back to his mission. The Earth was nothing to do with him; he was just here for his female. Checking his trajectory, he began to enter the atmosphere. The descent was smooth, and he checked the coordinates and headed straight for the airport—he had no wish to see any other part of the planet. His mission was clear, pick up the female and head straight back to Karal.
The radio tower gave him clearance, and he landed on the pitted tarmac, which had also seen better days. He hoped the same could not be said for his mate. He had glimpsed the other human females who had been sent on the deep space missions, and they had all looked healthy enough, but he had not met one close up. It would be just his luck to end up with a dud. It had to happen sooner or later, despite Darl’s insistence that the females were specifically selected to be healthy and fertile.
Thoughts of fertility brought his brain squarely back to sex. He had been with the sim, and knew how to function in that department, but the thought of having to stay with his female once they had copulated held no desire for him. Did he really want to share a bed with her? All night?
He shuddered, and took the necessary readings that would be fed back to Karal. They were monitoring the atmosphere, recording the pollution in the air so that the scientific brains on Karal could make a model to show how much longer Earth would be habitable. They were also calculating different scenarios, such as what would happen if half the human race was removed.
What they planned to do with that half, he did not know. Neither did he care, as long as they were not brought to Karal.
He looked at the time. In Earth hours, he had another half an hour to wait. Rising from his seat, he went to the back of the cruiser and let down the ramp. If this was the only time he was going to be on Earth, he would have to at least step on the ground. To him, it didn’t count as a planet he had visited unless his feet left the cruiser.
The ramp descended, and he took a first breath of the air. It was heavy with pollutants, but not as bad as he had feared. Niko stepped onto the ramp, and out into the night; above him the stars were veiled, dimmed by the heavy clouds shrouding the planet. He wondered if his female was relieved to be leaving this planet for a new life where she would breathe clean air and eat fresh food.
Two more steps took him to the edge of the ramp, and then he stepped off, the thrill of the unknown coursing through his body. Ridiculous, really: this wasn’t some newly discovered planet. His species had visited here many times, and the people who lived here were not cave dwellers with no technology. In fact, the humans on Earth were very similar to Karal, and Niko acknowledged that it would have only taken a different twist of fate, and their roles might have been reversed.
This was something none of his fellow Karalians ever really understood, except for maybe Okil. The Karal could just as easily have ended up like humans; it was only the loss of their females, so very long ago, that had stopped their species breeding in huge numbers. Only the fact that every generation had to go out and search for females to breed with had slowed down the growth of the population.
Niko walked around his space cruiser, stopping every few paces to look out into the distance at this new world. It was like nothing else he had ever seen, the whole of the vista in front of him was lit up brighter than the stars in the sky. No other planet he had visited had ever been as advanced in so many ways.
He looked at his watch. Fifty more minutes until the female arrived. He gave a shudder and the colours skimmed across his skin, blues and golds that glowed faintly in the dark. It was a tell-tale sign that he was both anxious and excited to meet her. To meet the woman who would not only go into space with him, but would also bear his child. And live with him for the rest of his life.
That was the part he was most anxious about.
“We don’t have long to stop here, Miss Parker. We are on a tight schedule,” the driver said.
“I understand completely,” Petra answered, her hand on the car door ready to open it, but one of the guards had already gone around to pull the door open, for her. She got out. She could see him looking around, scanning for threats. She still could not get used to this; she was now considered an important person because of her mother. There was a good chance that there was somebody watching her, wanting to take revenge for what happened to the old President.
This idea wormed away inside her brain, and Petra began to understand that maybe a new life on Karal was what she needed. On a new planet, she would go back to being a nobody. Just some poor Earth female who wanted to escape Earth. Even if it was a lie. She didn’t want to escape Earth, but maybe she did want to escape the life that had now been thrust upon her.
“Thank you,” she said to the guard, and then began to walk across the grass. He was following her. “I’m quite all right on my own.”
“I’m sure you are. But it’s my job to be certain.” They stood facing each other, and it was obvious to Petra that he was going to follow her no matter what she said. It was his job, and he took his job very seriously.
“So where did my mother find you? It can’t be easy to find people that are good at their job. When the new job is protecting the new President’s daughter. How does she know she can trust you?” Petra walked across the close-cropped grass, weaving in and out of other headstones placed there by the loved ones of people long gone. She knew them so well. It was too dark to read their inscriptions, but she didn’t need to see, she knew them all by heart.
“This isn’t a new job.” He continued to look around, as he spoke, making Petra very nervous, but he also gave her a sense of security. He was big and solid; someone would have to try very hard to get through him.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
She neared the one headstone she knew better than any other in the cemetery. Her fingers itched to touch the cold stone, to trace each letter, each word, that told strangers who her father was. But the words were so few, and so pathetic, they did him no justice. To think that words cut into stone could explain exactly what this man meant to her, and her mother. As if they could tell how this man, now a pile of bones in a wooden casket, was the catalyst that had changed the world.
“I worked for the old President.” His voice was level, showing no emotion, giving nothing. And she wondered if she should be scared of him, that perhaps he had followed her out here to kill her in revenge for the fate of his old boss. Would it be so bad to die here? Never having left Earth. This was the spot that she always thought she would rest in, when breath ceased to fill her lungs and her brain no longer functioned.
She tore her eyes away from the headstone and looked at this man beside her in his dark suit. It was the first time she had looked at him as a person. She didn’t even know his name, hadn’t wanted to know, because he was part of a world that wasn’t hers. “Should I be scared?”
He smiled so very faintly that it was just a slight curl of his mouth. “No. I support your mother. It was time for a change. As the personal bodyguard of the old President, I saw what he was. How corrupt he had become. I knew that to survive, we needed somebody who understood the people.”
“You betrayed him?” Her voice was a whisper, soft on the breeze.
“Yes.” One word and then his lips were pressed tight, and she knew that he didn’t want to speak of it. It was a same expression she had seen on her mother’s face so often in the weeks leading up to the events that changed all their lives. The secret she had inside her, which she couldn’t even share with her daughter, had been like a parasite, sucking her dry.
“Will you look after my mother now?” It seemed important, somehow, to get this assurance from him. She had often thought that her father watched over them, from somewhere. However, she didn’t know where because she didn’t believe in heaven, not anymore. Although she wanted to. After his death she had often lain awake hoping that one day they would all be together again, in a different place.
“Yes,” he said firmly. His eyes grazed their surroundings again, and then for the first time he looked directly at Petra. “I know you and your mother have argued. I know you don’t want to go to Karal. I just want you to know that she tried to persuade them not to take you as part of the deal.”
“I understand, but it’s hard for me right now to just accept it. I can’t help being upset that my mother would sacrifice me. To anyone else, looking in, it might seem different. One person against the fate of the rest of the human race. But she’s my mother, and since I don’t have a father anymore, she was the one person I thought I could count on to always look out for me.”
She turned and looked at her father’s headstone, reaching out and touching it as she had so many times. Her fingers threaded their way along the letters, and then she knelt down and brushed the dirt off the base of the stone. Petra wondered if her mother would ever come here, whether she would ever have the time to visit this grave, to think of the man who died, the man who was truly responsible for changing the world.
Getting up, she chewed the inside of her mouth, willing herself not to cry in front of strangers. She tilted her head up and looked up at the dark, starless sky. It was time to go.
Wordlessly, she turned around and walked back to the car. The guard, following close behind her, seemed relieved. Petra wondered if there really could be anyone out there, lurking in the dark shadows, hiding behind the gravestones waiting for their chance to hurt the new President’s daughter. A shudder passed through her, and the breeze ruffled her hair as she turned one last time to look behind her, one last glance at her father’s grave. But it was lost in the darkness.
The guard opened the car door for her and she slid in, and as he shut it, it was as if this part of her life was been closed off, ending, and ahead of her, new life was ready to begin. The only question remained, was she willing to embrace that new life? Or would she kick and pull against it and be unsatisfied until she died on some far-off planet she could never call home?
The streets were empty as they drove to the airport. Not surprising really, there was little fuel for cars. In the daytime, the streets were usually filled with people walking, or riding bikes, that were rust-filled and held together by tape and fresh air. But at night, they were deserted.
She was glad; it meant the journey was quick. Inside the car the air felt oppressive as if the weight of the Earth was closing in around her, as if the people were crowding around her, grabbing at her, just as they had at the President on the day he was ousted from power.
Ahead of them she could see the tower of the airport; they were close now. The car pulled off the road and headed along a disused runway. There, in front of her, she could see the outline of the space cruiser that would take her to her new home. It was the size of a small aeroplane but a completely different shape. Wider, with nothing that looked like wings, and she wondered how it flew.
She tilted her head to the side, studying it, as it loomed larger in front of her, and now she caught the glimpse of an alien. He was walking round his cruiser, looking all around him, until he heard the car. He turned to watch their approach, and another shudder passed through her.