World 4: Awakening

Hidden Chapter 2: Revenge is Sweet

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Kyrone’s room was spread out in the corner of Executive Level, as is standard for every Colony Commander.

A green shirt had been ordered to serve as his personal chef, delivering fresh, real food on a daily basis instead of the fabricated meals everyone else on board Colony Three were forced to consume. It wasn’t unfair; Kyrone was Commander. He ran the ship. He ran everyone on board.

He’d just finished one of his glorious hot wash cycles after a morning meeting with Archauus of Colony Four. Everything outside their ship was running as smoothly for them as it was for Kyrone. Although, Colony Three had completed their initial set-up faster and more efficiently, of course. Kyrone didn’t allow his people to slack off like other Commanders might.

Fastening his crisp white Commander’s shirt, he stood in front of his room’s mirror, adjusting his graying hair, standing as tall as his abnormally-short frame would allow him to.

The door beeped. His jaw tensed outward; nobody came to his door uninvited — nobody. It wasn’t mealtime, there were no other meetings scheduled, neither of his mistresses were due to visit any time soon…whoever it was would be receiving an earful. Most likely more than that.

Grumbling unrepeatable, unnecessarily nasty words under his breath, Kyrone stomped across the luxuriously shampooed carpet of his living area.

He pressed the button by the door. It slid open. “What —”

Kyrone’s angered shout was cut short. Standing in front of him was Arison, an old rival, and his brother, Oberon.

“Hello, Commander,” Oberon said with a sneer.

Kyrone gasped. He narrowed his eyes. “What — where is my Protection Officer?”

“Oh, come now,” said Arison. “You should know by now that a Secret Keeper can get through any obstacle.”

“Where is he?!”

Oberon glanced down at the dagger in his hand and wiped a trail of red blood across his sleeve before sliding it back inside its sheath. “You mean that guy over there?”

Kyrone moved his gaze to the end of the hallway, where his previously-stationed guard lay dead. Immediately, he turned to run. Oberon lunged out, grabbed hold and pushed him forcefully into his room.

“No so fast now, Commander,” said Arison, his voice silky and odd. He walked slowly through the doorframe behind the two others, hands behind his back, an eerie calm about him. He took in a long breath through his nose, closing his eyes as the door hissed shut. “How wonderful that you’ve been able to enjoy such luxury these eight years.”

“Get out of my room or I’ll have you arrested!” shouted Kyrone. “Both of you!”

Oberon grabbed Kyrone’s shoulders and pushed him backward onto the large, fluffy gray couch against the back wall.

“What are you doing?” Kyrone bellowed as his hands and feet were bound together in front of him, fear beginning to creep into his voice for the first time.

Oberon glared down at him as he tied the cord. “What does it look like?”

“Are you really this stupid?” said Kyrone. “You’ll both be executed, you pathetic waste!”

Oberon’s fist immediately made contact with Kyrone’s face, sending him sideways, sputtering, leaking blood from his lip.

“Ahh brother, don’t hurt him too much just yet,” cooed Arison. “He needs to be conscious to hear what we have to say.”

Kyrone’s eyes were filled with uncertainty. The situation was still unclear; whether or not he should stand up for himself, or hear out the lunacy.

He finally relented. “What do you have to say?”

Arison bowed at his brother. “Oberon will speak first.”

Oberon’s towering, solid frame stood over his Commander. He stared intently downward, unspeaking, gathering his thoughts. In an instant, he punched Kyrone in the face once more.

Arison cackled joyfully as Kyrone fell onto the floor, blood pooling out from his nose, struggling to get himself back up with his arms tied. Oberon grasped the cord that bound Kyrone’s hands and pulled upward, yanking him painfully into sitting on the couch again.

“That was for my family,” Oberon said quietly.

Kyrone shook his head. Beads of blood spattered onto the gray couch’s fabric. “Family? What family? All you have is that disgusting brother of yours!”

Oberon came down to one knee next to his Commander, eye-level, serious and sullen. “Oh, I had one. Two daughters and a wife. They were left behind when you decided to leave early.”

Kyrone’s terrified face morphed into a hardened, unbreakable mask. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said without emotion.

“Sure you don’t,” chuckled Oberon. “I had duties here on board, and they were going to meet me here on the ship after my wife saw her parents one more time. One day before they arrived, you decided to take off.” He leaned in. “Do you remember that, Kyrone, how you left so many of your people behind to die?”

“I had no choice!” Kyrone burst out. “They were going to find us. You heard all the rumors, all the conspiracies. The Colony would have been overrun!”

Oberon’s muscles rippled; he was aching to punch his Commander again. “There were no mobs yet. No crowds. There was absolutely no reason to leave the day you did.”

“So what if people died — lots of people died, what makes your story so important?”

“Because they were important to ME!!!” screamed Oberon. He clenched his teeth. “My girls were killed; they drowned in the huge wave that destroyed billions. I watched them die!” He spit in Kyrone’s face. “You’re a coward!!!”

“There, there, that’s enough for now,” said Arison. He motioned for his brother to join him again. Oberon rose abruptly, his chest heaving in anger, then slowly backed up to meet him.

Arison’s hands clasped neatly in front of his body. “Alright then, Commander. My brother and I have been thinking things over for quite a while now, and have come to realize something.”

“You’ve finally realized what a pathetic excuse of a man you are?” Kyrone said without thinking.

“Ah,” giggled Arison, “Not quite. We’ve realized that the only way to secure a better future for all of our citizens is to rid ourselves of those who threaten it.”

Kyrone did a double-take. “You’re talking about me? Me?! I’m not the one who will threaten anything. It’s you fools who don’t deserve to live. I will help lead our citizens to a brighter future!”

The two brothers looked at each other and shared a laugh.

Arison paced the floor, his eyes staying on Kyrone. “You see, you may look at me as unstable, but you’re even worse than I am. You forced normal people to do unspeakable things during the Five Years. Have made my life extremely unpleasant for a long time now. You were directly responsible for all the officers’ lives you left behind to die. Not to mention all the unsavory acts you’ve been a part of on board these eight years. We can’t have someone like you leading us.”

“And it’s not just you,” said Oberon. “The government is just as bad, if not worse.”

“And we’ve already disposed of them,” added Arison, a wild grin refusing to leave him.

Kyrone’s voice filled with dread. “You’ll never be able to take an entire Colony by yourself. People will fight back.”

“Oh, sir,” said Arison, “there are plenty of others who are just as angry as we are. Once we free Colony Four from their oppressors as well, I’ll be able to start a new society with a leadership that actually care about their people.”

“Colony Four?” whispered Kyrone.

Oberon scoffed. “You really think we could pull this off with Four sitting so close to us?”

“They deserve to be as free as our Colony will be. All leadership wiped clean,” said Arison. He leaned his head back, taking in a breath of air as if it were a cool and crisp afternoon outside.

Kyrone shook his head and cringed. Arison drew his dagger, sliding it out dramatically for extra emphasis.

“Wh — what do you want?” stuttered Kyrone. “I’ll cooperate!”

Arison produced a personal screen; he came forward and held it out. “Place your fingers on the screen, if you don’t mind.”

“What for?”

“You will be entering your approval to give me the highest clearance possible for Colony Three. It will make my plans go so much easier.”

Kyrone hesitated. “I can’t do that.”

Arison cocked his head. “Oh Commander, trying to be brave now?”

“I’m trying to save people!”

“If you’d like, I can cut off your fingers and place them on the screen myself, but I’m not certain it will work,” said Arison. He fought a bout of laughter. “Shall we find out?”

Kyrone’s scrawny jaw quivered. Arison tightened his grip on the dagger.

“Fine!” Kyrone screamed.

“Much better,” said Arison. He held out the screen again. Kyrone reluctantly entered in a few commands, finishing by pressing his fingers to the screen. He tried awkwardly to throw it across the room with his bound hands. It tumbled to the floor at Oberon’s feet.

“Wise choice, Commander,” said Oberon. He kicked the screen to the side.

“Now, then,” started Arison. He stood up straighter, placing his blade back in its sheath, a look of excitement on his face. “I made a promise to my brother that needs to be fulfilled.”

Oberon smiled wickedly. His massive hand moved to grip the dagger on his belt. He took a step forward.

Kyrone knew exactly what was coming. “Wait!” he shrieked. “I’ll do anything!”

Oberon paused. “Really? Just what will you give me in exchange for your life?”

“Anything you want,” he sobbed repeatedly.

Oberon’s deep voice trembled. “I want my family back, you disgusting coward.”

He slid the dagger out completely and moved forward.

The disturbing, serpent-like grin of pleasure hadn’t left Arison’s face; he backed up against the wall, crossing his arms, watching his revenge play out so beautifully in front of his eyes. The screams subsided quickly. It was done.

Oberon stood a little taller as he walked back over to his brother, rubbing the dagger’s blade across his gray pants.

“Feel better now?” asked Arison. He reached out and wiped a streak of spattered blood from Oberon’s cheek.

“Oh yes,” Oberon replied, chuckling. “Much.”

Arison grabbed onto his brother’s shoulder. “Unfortunately, our work is only beginning. We have much to do outside now.”

“Let’s get to it.” Oberon nodded deeply, ready to get started on their next noble task.

Arison gestured for him to lead the way. He glanced back at Kyrone’s lifeless body on the couch, giddy at his long-due revenge, and eager for his oncoming revolution.

Hidden Chapter 1: A-Day

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My mind had been so young and innocent back then.

I always knew bad things happen sometimes — I’d experienced it first-hand when my mother, Annia, died suddenly. But I guess it’s hard for a nine-year-old brain to fathom a situation as horrendous as ours. Ignorance can be a blessing sometimes.

I’d just fallen asleep. My father’s strong hands clamped onto my nightshirt and literally yanked me out of bed. Every limb flung out in reflex at being startled so violently.

“It’s ok, Mayla! It’s just me,” he said and took off through the house, holding me in his arms.

I could tell something was wrong. Not just the way he held me so tightly, but his eyes as well. They were…frantic.

“What are you doing?!” I cried.

“We have to leave,” he replied breathlessly.

“What? Where?”

He threw me inside the back seat of our transport vehicle outside — it was black and large enough for six people. “We’re going away.”

“Huh? Wh — why are we going away?” I asked, my young, squeaky voice rising in fear. My father hadn’t made eye contact with me once. Even at nine, I knew that meant something bad. He concentrated on the road ahead as we sped off much faster than normal. “Dad…Dad!”

“Just wait until we get there!” he finally shouted. His face screwed up trying to think of what to say. It was clear he couldn’t quite find the words.

I sighed and slunk down into the smooth black seat, terrified and attempting to gather my thoughts. My reflection in the window was awful — my light blonde hair a huge mess, dirty nightshirt on, my bare feet still dirty from the park that day.

My father held up a device of some kind: it was a slim box the length of his finger, colored a silvery gray. “Trace!” he said sharply into it.

“Where are you?!” a man’s voice shouted through the box.

My father hesitated for a moment. “One hour.”

“Sir, I — I don’t know if we can wait until then.”

“Who is that?” I whispered loudly.

My father shushed me. “Officer,” he said sternly into the box. “I am on my way and you will hold those doors for me. Is that clear?”

There was a long pause, then the voice sounded again. “Yes, sir. Try and hurry.”

My father threw the box into his lap.

“Who was that?” I asked again. Nothing. “Dad!”

“Quiet, Mayla!” he shouted. He still hadn’t looked at me.

We sped through any kind of traffic in silence. Occasionally I’d look at my father to try and get something out of him, but it was clear from his dreadful expression that I shouldn’t speak anymore. Only a few minutes later, we drove up a smooth pathway right up to an air transport.

“Are we flying?” I asked with apprehension.

He jumped out of our vehicle, a bag in his hand, racing around to my side. My door flung open and he pulled me out just as violently as when I’d been awoken. “Yes.”

We entered the sleek, black air transport. I’d only ever been in one the year before, when my father took me to the coast. The kind we were entering was usually reserved for military or government officials — since he worked in the space program, he was able to use them at will.

“Pilot, leave right this second — go, now!!!” my father bellowed to a woman sitting behind the controls. Right away, the air transport began to move. We’d barely sat down before taking off.

The transport raced through the sky. My face was glued to the window next to my seat, watching the city lights twinkle beneath us, moving swiftly by as we sped over them. It was so magical and mesmerizing I couldn’t take my eyes off it for the entire thirty-minute ride. The corner of my mouth made the turning of a smile. It was so beautiful.

We began to quickly descend.

My father grabbed his bag and lifted me up out of my seat the second the air transport hit the ground. “Thank you, Karel,” he told the pilot.

She nodded. “Someone dropped off a transport vehicle for you, it’s waiting outside, sir. Where are you off to?” she asked curiously. His demeanor was just too odd to be normal.

He hesitated, a great wave of sorrow washing over him as he looked at her. “Just military business,” he finally replied. She nodded, understanding it was mostly likely something classified he wasn’t allowed to discuss.

A black, sleek transport vehicle sat parked for us on the smooth pavement outside the air transport’s door. My father held my hand tightly, pulling me along to it. “Get in, Mayla!”

“Dad, what’s happening?” I asked again, climbing into the back seat. He threw the bag back at me. My heart pounded in my ears.

“Just wait!” he shouted. Jumping behind the controls, he sped us away as fast as we could possibly go. Eventually, we ended up on a back road in a remote area I’d never seen before. I had to say something.

My little voice shook violently. “Dad, tell me why we’re out here!”

He twisted up his face, cheeks twitching, trying to find the words. “I…I just — listen, May, just wait to ask questions until we get there.”

Our road turned into dirt and the journey became extremely bumpy for another ten minutes. He picked up the silvery gray box again. “Trace! I’m three minutes out.”

The voice came through. It was even more urgent than before. “Sir! We’ve got to move!”

“Two minutes!”

I shook my head. “Dad, what —”

My father’s hand flew up as a signal for me to shut my mouth.

I groaned loudly and looked out the window again. Then I saw something in the distance. There were lights. Faint, and from something large.

“What is that?” I asked, holding on to the side of the vehicle for support. We were flying along so swiftly on the dirt it was hard to get any words out correctly.

“That’s where we’re going,” he replied.

I kept my eyes focused on the lights. As we came closer, things began to get more detailed. There was an object, and it was big.

“Is that a building?” I asked. He didn’t answer me.

Another minute later I could tell it was definitely a building. Very wide, it was colored a dark blue, and unlike any kind of structure I’d ever seen before. There was a fence surrounding it with portable lights set up at stations. I gasped as I saw what was outside of the fence: a huge group of people, swaying together as each one pushed and flailed their arms in what looked like anger.

The vehicle slowed. “Mayla,” my father began. His voice was thick with anxiety. “I’m going to drive us right up to the crowd and then you’re going to have to hold onto me while we run. It’s not safe to run by yourself.”

“What?” I asked, my small voice barely a squeak, more scared and confused than ever before. “What do you mean?”

“Trace!” he yelled into his communication box.

“Where are you?!” Trace screamed.

“Inbound! Look past the crowd!”

“I’m coming.”

My father turned to me. “May, grab that bag on the floor and hold tight to it.”

I fumbled for the bag’s handle and heaved it up. “What is it?”

“Some clothes and things from home,” he said.

The crowd finally noticed us. As we came to their edge, my father tried to push our way through, but couldn’t get very far. People turned and hit the vehicle. I screamed as a rock smashed into the front window.

“Come on!” my father bellowed. He opened my door, reached across the seat and swooped me up into his long arms, then pulled me out and took off toward the building. I gripped the black bag like a vice.

“Commander!” came a shout. A man in a red shirt and dark gray pants pushed to us through the mass of people. Two others in the same clothing flanked him, both holding out weapons of some kind which they pointed to the crowd. There wasn’t any noise or shots, but every person in the weapon’s path quickly covered their ears and slunk backward in pain.

“Trace!” my father breathed gratefully. “Let’s get out of here!”

Trace motioned to his fellow workers. “Let’s move!”

One of the men took the spot ahead, pointing his weapon to clear a path for us to run through. The other took the spot right behind, while Trace ran closely next to my father.

“How long?” asked my father.

“Fifteen minutes,” Trace answered with some annoyance in his voice. I heard my father groan in response.

My head whipped around as hands reached out and grabbed my nightshirt. A woman who looked to be in her thirties was latched onto me, her face wild with panic.

“You can’t leave us!!!” she screamed. Trace pointed his weapon at her and she let go, covering her ears and screaming like the others.

My breathing became rapid. I gripped my father’s crisp, white shirt tightly.

“Eyes ahead, Mayla!” he shouted to me as he ran.

But I couldn’t help myself. The scene was too unbelievable — there had to have been at least two hundred people, all different ages, screaming and pleading at raging volumes. All faces carried a look of either fear or desperation. As we neared the fence, I could see a few people quietly sitting on the ground with their backs against it, staring blankly at their feet with a numb expression etched into their face.

The metal lattice fence shook with the force of those trying to push it down. Five others, dressed in red shirts like Trace, quickly walked the inside perimeter with their weapons drawn, subduing the rioting crowd just by pointing at them. One of them was poised at a door in the fence, waiting for us to get to him.

Our guard in front of us ran through the gate first, then stood and pointed his weapon to the crowd while we pushed through.

“GO!” bellowed Trace. He shoved us in, then turned to the crowd and backed his way inside.

Suddenly, I heard a loud bang. Huge shrieks broke out and Trace roared in anger. Someone had shot the last guard in red that had been behind us. My father turned instinctively. The man laid on the ground, writhing and clutching his chest. Members of the crowd grabbed his weapon.

Trace had his communication device out immediately. “Everyone leave your post and get inside, right now!!!”

“Dad!” I screamed in terror. My little body trembled as I began to cry. The chaos was just too much for me to take.

All guards came rushing into the building’s double doors ahead of us as we closed in. I looked up at the dark structure as we came to it. A large “Colony Four” was painted on the side.

“Inside!” Trace screamed as we closed in. He stood poised at the door controls. The second we crossed the threshold, he pressed his fingers to the wall and the doors slid shut with a loud hiss. My father finally put me down. We were in a large room of some kind. There was another “Colony Four” stamp, this time painted on the inside of the double doors.

Trace looked very unhappy. He stared at my father as he got back on his communication box again. “He’s here, get going right this second.”

“Is everyone inside?” a voice on the other end asked. It sounded vaguely familiar.

“We lost an officer.”

“Can you get to him?”

“No,” Trace replied rudely. “We barely made it in ourselves. Now should we keep talking or should we get out of here?!”

“Leaving now.”

I screamed as something banged onto the doors from the outside. First it was a single hit, then another, and then many. Nobody had to say anything. I knew — it was the mob of people, trying to break their way in.

“Why are they trying to get in here?!” I asked my father. Thankfully the doors were so thick we couldn’t hear any of the desperate screaming inevitably going on outside, but still, listening to every new thud was almost just as painful.

He sighed and knelt down to my level, softly holding onto my shoulders. “Mayla, something has happened. It…it’s big, and we have to leave because of it.”

My eyes were brimming with new tears. “Leave? Are we staying in this building?”

He pressed his lips into a line. “It’s not a building, May. It’s —”

My sudden shriek cut him off. We were moving. I could feel us being picked up and carried off quickly into the air — right away I realized that the building was actually a flying craft of some kind. Everyone in the room had to hold on to the wall or floor to avoid toppling over, our takeoff was so rapid.

“Commander Archauus!” came that familiar voice again. It sounded through the wall speakers.

“Coming now!” he yelled back. Groaning, he stood up again and took my hand. “Mayla, I promise I’ll explain to you in detail soon, but I have to get up to Command Level right away.”

“Why are they calling you Commander?” I asked as he pulled me along into a hallway. “I thought you were called something else.”

He pressed his fingers to a gray pad next to a dark blue set of doors. It lit up white and slid open, revealing a very small room. We stepped inside with Trace. He entered in some kind of command that made the door slide shut again. The room began to move.

“Mayla,” my father began again. “I was called something else in the military, but now I’m a Commander. He paused. “I…this is a space ship. We’re going out into space right now.”

My body stiffened in horror; it wasn’t anything I’d even remotely expected to hear from him. I couldn’t even respond.

I was yanked out the door as soon as it opened again into a bright hallway. There was another set of double doors with the words “Command Level” painted next to it in bright white. Just before we got to them, an announcement came:

“Prepare for gravity shift.”

Trace and my father stopped immediately and held onto the wall. I threw my little arms around my father as high as they could go. My body lifted slightly until I was completely weightless for only a split second, then fell back into gravity all at once. The whole thing lasted barely three seconds, but still, it felt horrible. I didn’t have time to worry over it, though; I was quickly pulled to the doors and through them into Command Level.

Floors were soft and gray, with several bright white work stations set throughout the room. The back wall was deep blue. An expansive window spread along the entire front wall of the room and wrapped around halfway across the side ones as well. I stopped in my tracks.

Outside the windows, the sky was black, dotted with tiny specks of light. Stars. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And that wasn’t all — down below us, the world spread out in all its grandeur. My father let go of me and rushed to his large white Commander’s chair in the middle of the room while I stumbled to the front window. I’d never thought anything looked so beautiful in my entire life as the planet did right then. Gorgeous blue oceans teeming with life, huge continents that I’d only seen pictures of in school. A smile crept up on my face as I stared on in wonder at the beauty of it all.

“Two minutes!” shouted an officer from a nearby station. My smile disappeared and I looked to my father for answers. He was at his chair, huddled closely with the man next to him. I recognized who he was immediately — it was Wes, someone who had worked with my father in the military. I timidly walked to them and tapped my father’s knee.

“Mayla!” he said and grabbed my hand.

“Hello, Mayla,” said Wes. His weathered face tried to form a smile. “Can you and Baylen stick together for a bit?”

I finally noticed his son, Baylen, standing at his side and looking just as frightened as I was.

“What’s going on, Dad?!” I cried. “Why are we in space?”

My father and Wes shared a look. He sighed. “May…this is going to sound crazy, but the world is about to be destroyed. There are two pieces of rock coming at us from space, about to crash into the planet.”

I did a double take. “What? But how could rocks possibly destroy the world?”

His face fell in sadness at my ignorance. “Sweetheart, these rocks are massive. Twenty miles across, May. The other one isn’t that much smaller. When something like that hits a planet…” he sighed again and spoke softly. “Nothing can survive it. Nothing.”

I opened my mouth to speak again but was cut off.

An officer shouted, “Thirty seconds!”

My head turned swiftly and I ran to the windows to watch. Baylen was right behind me; he stood shoulder to shoulder with me at the glass, pressing his hands to it in fright.

“Did you know about this stuff?” I asked him.

We hadn’t spent very much time together before — I’d probably only seen him a few times a year since I was very little. And only ever at military functions.

He shook his head. “No, my dad didn’t tell me until we got here.”

“When did you get here?” I asked.

He wiped his messy hair from his eyes as a tear escaped him. “Yesterday.”

“Ten seconds!”

An officer at the side of the room caught my eye; she pointed at something and carried a horrible expression. I followed her gaze.

I gasped as I took it in. Two enormous masses were just outside of the world’s atmosphere, one behind the other. They looked like gigantic, jagged bundles of death.

“First asteroid entering the atmosphere!” called a female officer. I watched as the first one quickly became smaller and out of view. It grew bright red and orange as it began to burn through the atmosphere.

“Impact!” she called out again.

Another officer shouted out his information. “Fire and debris wave, traveling at four-hundred miles per hour. Initial impact plume raising the height of the entire atmosphere.”

Suddenly, I saw what he was talking about. A small, growing mass on the surface. It began to spread very slowly outward around the continent. I knew it was bad — if I could see it from space, it must have been unbelievably horrible on the surface. I jumped as a hand grabbed my shoulder.

“Sorry,” my father said quietly. I looked up at him; his stoic face was covered in devastation.

I buried my head against his side. “Is everyone dying down there?”

He exhaled loudly and put his arm around me. His voice was barely audible. “Yes.”

“But Jinna and Maxx, Kasley — they’re dying?” I asked. Tears began to pour out of me imagining my aunt and her family swept away by the burning wall of fire.

“No! No, May. I got them out,” he assured me.

I gasped. “They’re here?”

He nodded. “I was able to get them on board. They’re in their room right now.”

Hope filled me for the first time since I’d been dragged out of bed. “And grandma, too?”

My father’s countenance became horribly sad. He closed his eyes, shaking his head slightly. My smiled faded and the tears returned. I didn’t even know what to say — my young mind was still having difficulty comprehending the situation in general. As my eyes moved from my father, I gasped yet again and pointed out the side window.

“What are those?” I whispered. Ships just like the one we were inside of sat in the distance, watching the carnage just like we were.

“Those are Colonies Five and Three,” he answered. “We have eight ships we call Colonies, carrying people from all around the world. They’ll be coming with us.”

“To where?” I asked, my eyes still focused on the ships.

He paused. “To a new world.”

“Second asteroid entering the atmosphere!” an officer called out.

We turned our attention again to the front window. Apart from the information being called out and the occasional cry of sadness, the room was absolutely silent. Another burning mass was growing, making its way to the ocean below.

“Ocean impact,” the female officer announced. “Wave reaching five hundred feet in height and moving at six-hundred miles per hour. Will spread inland approximately five to eight-hundred miles. Immediate death toll estimated to reach eighty-million. Secondary deaths to reach the population’s entirety.”

A huge lump in my throat threatened to choke me completely. The disturbance in the ocean was obvious, even from our view. Another plume of dust could be seen at the impact site. I felt like the life had been sucked out of my body. I looked to Baylen right next to me. His forehead was against the glass; I knew he felt it, too.

“Impact crater reaching —”

“That’s enough,” my father said loudly, cutting off the announcements. Nobody needed to hear about the destruction anymore. Officers were standing all along the window, crying or holding each other, some touching the glass in desperation.

My heart felt like it might explode. Even though I was still too young to fully understand, I knew enough. Almost every single person I cared about was dying, and right in front of my eyes. I felt my father’s hand on my shoulder again. He squeezed it and I looked up at him. He was staring out the window with a blank expression, a line of tears streaming down his face.

Reminders of my mother’s funeral came flooding back — the only other time I’d seen him cry. Wiping the back of his hand against his cheek, he straightened his white shirt, turned, and slowly walked to his Commander’s chair.

He took a deep breath. “Officer,” he said as loudly as his shaky voice could. A man still faithfully at his station nodded his head in acknowledgment. My father paused, eyes locked on our burning world. “Let’s go,” he whispered.

“Yes, sir. Beginning acceleration.”

Suddenly, the stars began to move past us and I could tell the ship was backing away. My breaths became more rapid. Almost frantic. It felt like a loved one being ripped from me, like my mother all over again. My fingers touched the world through the glass, wishing desperately that I could feel it again, breath the air, smell my home. Just one more time.

But I never would.

“Bay,” Wes said quietly. They were both standing next to us. “Let’s go, son.”

Baylen looked to me with a sorrowful expression, then to his father. Putting an arm around him, Wes led the two of them out of Command Level.

But I couldn’t move. I leaned my forehead against the glass as we traveled further away. Very soon, the world was only half the size it was before. Another minute later, it was just a blue dot against the black. Then nothing. My eyes stayed on the dark void where my home had been, begging it to miraculously appear again.

I spent another several minutes staring at the blankness of space, trying to wrap my little mind around what had just happened. Eventually, my father would lead me to our Commander’s suite. He would try to describe our travel plans, how it would take an entire year to get to our new planet. Tried to explain to me the reasoning behind our escape, why everything had been such a tight secret and why so many had been left to die.

I would pretend like I understood just to get him to stop talking about it. But the reality was that, no, I didn’t get it. I knew the reasoning behind the secrecy was logical, but still, it was something that would come to haunt me for all my days on board Colony Four. The lies, the unfathomable sorrow…scarring images of my beloved home engulfed in fire and dust, left to die.

They would never leave me.