The great ship lies silent and forgotten, a shell of her former glory. Occasional visitors come to see her and are welcome, but they never stay long nor encourage her to fly. Her dreams of doing so again grow dim, her hearts falling still. She sleeps more and more, giving in as the dirty planet slowly eats her alive.
Sun wakes in violence, heart pounding as she is thrown to the deck of her tiny cabin. Red light floods her quarters from the emergency beacon flashing over her head. A strident alarm pierces her to the bone, her terror gripping her like a fist and squeezing out her breath.
She staggers to her feet, almost falling again as the ship shifts around her, shuddering with an unknown impact. Clutching her bunk to keep from dropping to the floor, she waits it out. She
can't decide what to do, so afraid her mind retreats to instinct. She settles on flight without knowing she's done so.
Sun finds herself in a darkened corridor, the same harsh crimson warning lighting the haze descending toward her. She chokes on the smoke stinking of chemicals and fear, clinging to the wall as she pads barefooted toward the other end of the hall.
At the corner she peeks around, not realizing the wavering film in front of her vision is from her tears. She sees only more of the same while a groan of protest echoes through the hull of the vessel, increasing her panic.
Sun is grabbed from behind by frantic hands and spun to face her mother. Her fear gushes out of her in sobs as she realizes she is safe. Lily shakes her abruptly, her voice deep.
"Come!" She says.
Sun is half-dragged by her tiny parent down the corridor only to be jerked to a halt. Lily turns and pushes against Sun, her face a mirror of her daughter's desperation as she forces their retreat.
"Go!" She hisses.
Sun obeys, returning to the corner, finding her way back toward her quarters. She wants to ask her mother what is happening, but is unable to form the words. Lily pulls her to a stop next to an access vent and bends, popping it free. She shoves Sun deep inside and replaces the panel.
Her tiny fingers hook through the vent holes as Lily meets Sun's eyes.
"Stay here," she says. "I'll be back for you." She glances over her shoulder at something Sun can't see, then runs the other way. Sun crouches inside the cramped crawlspace, massive shudders gripping her body. She hugs herself and cries silently into the darkness, waiting for her mother to come back.
Sun hears a scream and a thud somewhere in the corridor. She freezes, tremors stilled as her heart skips a beat. She holds her breath, panic rising like a ball of fire within her. Sun wants to bolt and run as she hears something drawing closer, a shuffling, dragging sound.
It is black and angular and glides past her hiding place. She is at floor level and can only see to its knees, but it is enough to terrify her even more. Sun is so overcome by it she can barely comprehend what the thing drags behind it until she recognizes her mother's vacant eyes staring back at her as the creature takes Lily away.
Sun's mind screams into the dark while she rocks herself into oblivion.
Eight Hours to Contact
The spaceport teemed with people, the bright sun shining in the full glass walls, adding an air of celebration. It was a special day, in a lot of ways, for a number of families. The last of the travelers bound for Zandia-Colony Marker 134-assembled for their voyage to their new home.
Sun Chang couldn't tear her eyes from the sleek form of the shining, silver transport ready to carry her and her parents to the orbiting space dock high above Earth's atmosphere. She had never been off world before in all her sixteen years and was looking forward to the trip. She felt fortunate her parents, Lee and Lily Chang, were selected out of thousands to become the new doctors for the colony. Now that the core of the community was up and running, the hospital built and waiting, it was their job to run the health care programs for Zandia as well as perform research into any local flora with possible benefits.
Sun was thrilled when her parents told her two years before they had been chosen for the program. She liked Earth well enough. It was her home after all. But the idea of space travel greatly appealed to her carefully hidden sense of adventure.
Her mother recognized her enthusiasm immediately and laughed at her excitement. "This child has her head in the clouds, never on planet," Lily commented to Lee.
Sun's father was much more tolerant than her traditional Chinese mother. Lily still held to the old ways of thinking. Be brilliant, but silent. Do your work and forward your people, but don't stand out. Lee, on the other hand, passed his own liberal beliefs on to their daughter.
"She will thrive," he said, patting Sun's hand. She was used to their habit of speaking of her as though she weren't there. "She has greater potential than this world can challenge her to uncover."
Sun had beamed at him, earning her name and a small smile from Lily.
She pressed both hands against the glass and memorized every line of the ship, though she studied it in holographic models a million times in the past two years. Pulled tight to the transparent wall, she stayed out of the way of other travelers as she had been taught and indulged
her fantasy. She pictured herself disembarking from the giant vessel she would be boarding in a few hours, where the great ship Day Wanderer waited far above her, setting foot in the lush landscape the vids of Zandia displayed. From the promotional material her parents shared with her, the new colony was an idyllic place, a picturesque landscape of lush vegetation and lavender tinted blue skies, dotted with the smooth, white domes marking the original settlement. She sighed over the brave men and women who were the front line of colonization and hoped there was still some exploring for an eager new resident.
She was so wrapped up in her own little world she almost missed the young woman waiting nearby. Sun caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see the girl, about her age, also looking at the ship.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Sun spoke up before she thought about it.
The other girl shot her an annoyed look, frowning. "It's a ship," she shrugged her shoulders, her expensive polyfiber dress swaying in time with her movement. Sun felt in instant awe.
Artificial fibers were so rare in clothing these days. She herself wore sturdy recycled cotton and hemp. Sun lowered her gaze, feeling chastised and like a silly girl.
"I think it is," she whispered to the glass.
The girl tapped her bright pink nails on her forearms as a burly man approached her and lifted four bags from the floor.
"About time," she snapped at him as she strode off without waiting for him to follow. She gave Sun the once-over on her way past, her look of arrogant sympathy making Sun quiver. And then she was gone in a wash of synthetic perfume.
Sun's cheeks heated with embarrassment she spoke up, but was more appalled the girl appeared so blatant about her thoughtless use of Earth's resources for her own entertainment. Since the near-collapse of the planet's ecosystems in 2019, the population finally united and put an end to the destruction of their only home.
Now, a hundred and twenty four years after the first colony ship left Earth, Sun was embarking on her own adventure and not even the rude girl's attitude could put a permanent damper on her excitement.
Besides, Sun thought, tracing the shape of the transport with her fingertip on the glass, we are the last of the new colonists to emigrate. There will be plenty of other people my age to make friends with.
"Ready?" Lily and Lee appeared, her mother holding out her hand. Sun extended hers so Lily could swipe her index finger over her daughter's palm. She felt a tingle as her personal chip updated, downloading her flight pass.
"Ready," Sun said, unable to keep from smiling. On such an amazing day not even her mother could begrudge her an outward show of emotion.
The port fell silent as a soft chime rang three times.
"All passengers for Colony Marker 134, please prepare to board."
Before Sun knew it, she stood in line with her small bag clutched to her chest, her heart pounding. As she neared the front of the line, she spotted the other girl again, this time with a big man in a lovely suit. They disappeared through a side door, bypassing the line all together.
It was then Sun realized the mysterious girl was more than just wealthy. She recognized the markings on the man's baggage as diplomatic in origin. Sun tried to make friends with the daughter of the colony's new governor.
She flushed, embarrassed all over again. The young woman in the crisp security uniform scanning for passes smiled at her in sympathy, misunderstanding the redness in her cheeks.
"It'll be fine," she whispered to Sun as she slid the pen-sized scanner over her palm. "Just remember to breathe."
Sun didn't bother correcting her. She forgot all about it only a moment later anyway as she set foot on the deck of the transport.
The deep blue seat felt cramped even to her slim body, the fabric new and stiff, but Sun was small so she didn't mind. She carefully placed her bag into the pouch provided and clasped her hands in her lap, forcing them to stillness. There was a peculiar odor to the vessel, a mix of fuel and people, triggering a slight headache, but she stirred with too much excitement to let it bother her. She was grateful her father took the seat next to her. Not that she didn't love her mother. But now she could relax and enjoy the trip to the colony ship and not worry her enthusiasm annoyed Lily.
The captain wasted no time. As soon as the big door hissed shut, the engines powering the ship hummed to life. Before Sun had a chance to say goodbye to Earth she rose above it, the nose of the transport turning away from the only home she ever knew and pointing her toward space.
Sun watched the atmosphere thin and fade to black and stars, straining over her shoulder to catch the view of blue and white falling behind her. She struggled for patience the two hours it
took to reach the moon base and space station, but she found herself fidgeting anyway. Lee was kind enough to offer her a book with the swipe of his fingertip when scanning through her implant revealed she forgot to download anything besides textbooks. It didn't matter. Sun couldn't concentrate anyway, finding herself scanning the same paragraph over and over. At last, she closed her hand over the holo display and gazed out the porthole at the stars and tried to imagine she was there already.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the captain's voice interrupted their trip, "if you will look to your right, you will have your first view of the next leg of your journey."
Sun felt so happy to be in the right place for viewing she turned her whole body around and plastered herself to the window. Just coming into sight was the curve of the moon and, in front of it, a long, narrow scaffolding of shining metal with two large constructs on either end. In the middle, docked to the grid, was the Day Wanderer. Sun already knew what it looked like, too.
She'd done extensive research and looked into the ship as soon as she found out which one would be taking them to their new home. It could hold up to a thousand passengers, had a crew of two hundred, and was the newest and fastest built in the fleet. Sun also knew the captain's name, Patrick O'Malley, and that he had been the ship's one and only commander since her maiden voyage.
But there was nothing like seeing the real thing, not compared to reading about it. The Day Wanderer hung, massive and shining, in the reflected light of the moon. She thought the transport was sleek. The Day Wanderer looked like a shining silver bullet, tapered at the prow and wider at the back. Glass shone all over the hull, the many windows of the vessel pouring light into the darkness. Sun sighed deeply as they drew nearer and leaned back, slouching herself as small as possible as passengers from the other side of the transport fought for a look at their ride.
Sun barely felt the bump as they connected with the Day Wanderer and before long the hiss of the seal connection alerted her they firmly docked. She stood up and waiting despite being halfway back in the big vessel, much to her father's amusement. She caught her mother frowning from the next row behind, but for once chose to ignore Lily's displeasure. Sun felt so excited she could hardly contain herself.
She followed the exodus of colonists, trying not to push, keeping herself as small and compact as possible. Sun smiled shyly at the crewman who waited at the portal. He winked back,
making her blush. A stumble over the lip of the transport just made things worse, as she blinked into the bright light of the Day Wanderer's promenade. She slowed, overwhelmed by the sheer size of the ship. The main docking corridor narrowed but opened into a massive space, the ceiling vaulted all the way to the top, fifteen decks above. Sun felt herself being jostled from behind and realized, just as her mother's iron hand took a grip on her arm, she was blocking the exit.
Two men and a woman stood in the center of the main deck smiling and nodding, their shining uniforms identifying them as crew. Sun followed her parents forward as her mother studied her hand-held for directions. Sun realized with a start the man nodding and saying, "Welcome aboard," to everyone, the man with the blonde, glossy hair and easy laugh, was Captain O'Malley himself. She very much wanted to meet him, but her mother was quicker.
"This way," Lily said, heading out with purpose, Lee close behind. Sun paused one more moment, her eyes settling on the spacer standing behind the captain.
He was as blonde as the commander, with the same chiseled face and blue eyes, and very handsome, maybe a little older than her. His gaze met hers and he nodded to her with a big grin.
Sun blushed and hurried after her parents before her mother could notice she hadn't already. She was determined to meet that boy again and find out his name. She giggled to herself as she thought of how bold she was becoming.
Lily would not approve.
It seemed like forever before they found their quarters near the outside edge of the ship. Her parents took the room with the porthole, to her disappointment. Still, Sun was grateful to have her own small space with its plain bunk and tiny sink and mirror.
As she settled in, putting her few belongings away, testing out the comfort of her bed with a few good bounces, Sun's mind turned back to the handsome young man and what an amazing adventure she found herself on.
She only left her room and her fantasies when she heard her mother calling her to dinner.