by Danielle Hauck
“Emmalyn, are you coming?” the girl giggled, strawberry blonde pigtails bouncing with each step. A bright smile stretched across her face, crinkling the corners of her eyes. She threw her pale, freckled arms into the air, spinning. “I can fly Em! I can fly!”
“Captain, are you feeling well?”
Captain Emmalyn Brukowski started, glancing at the uniform-clad assistant holding the clipboard to her chest. The captain remembered the assistant, although her name fluttered at the edge of her thoughts.
Names didn’t matter when she had a job to do.
Smoothing the front of her own muddy-green uniform, the captain nodded curtly. Her blonde curls were tightly smoothed back, and a cap perched on her head. The tailored jacket and pants hugged her body with the just the right amount of professionality. Even her eyebrows, straight and dark, were rigidly fixed. To the onlooker, Emmalyn was as calm as a lake in the grey of dawn.
But, beneath her stoic exterior, her stomach bubbled and twisted.
The assistant nodded, remaining rooted to the spot.
After a moment’s hesitation, she said, “If anyone can do this, it would be you Captain.”
“Thank you.” Emmalyn said, the iron edge to her words softening with the touch of a smile. The tension between her shoulders tightened, unaffected by her assistant’s faith.
“Em? Do you think there’s anything up there?” the girl asked, wide, hazel eyes staring into the now dark and sparkling canopy of the universe. The edge of her mouth was stained red from suckers, and her hands were sticky, but when she reached out, Emmalyn laced their fingers together anyways. “You can find out ya know,” the girl said, grinning like a mischievous imp, “You’re good at making friends. I believe in you.”
Friends. It had been a while since she’d had those.
The captain gazed out the thick glass of the front of the ship. Well, not glass. It was an artificial compound combining glass and titanium. It was both lighter and stronger than glass, and considered more durable considering the stress the ship was often under.
Through the tinted window, a green planet grew larger, winding blue ribbons on its surface promising water and life. It was like earth, although earth had no water, and life had begun to dwindle, slowly and painfully. Earth was dying. That was why Emmalyn had been sent to this planet.
A lump, painful and tight, grew in the captain’s throat.
“I don’t think aliens would like people very much,” the girl said, clicking the button on the remote, and letting the screen go blank – wiping away all the horrors of reality, murders, rapists, hatred. “I don’t think I like people very much either.” The girl glanced at her sister, “Em? Are all people mean? Does everybody just take things that aren’t theirs?”
The orders echoed in the back of the captain’s mind, weaving in and out of her thoughts, twisting with memories over a decade old. Attempt to negotiate a treaty. If the treaty flops, take what was needed. Take.
They had taken so many times already. To many of earth’s citizens, it was a broken record. Find a new planet, ask for water. If refused, show no mercy.
Emmalyn had never been sent on a mission like this before. Top of her class at the Academy, it should have been no wonder that she was standing at the front of the ship, the silver hand of the Nautical Space Comission pinned to her uniform, a crew of over one-hundred on standby to carry out her orders – whatever they may be.
This was the frontier. This was the future.
This planet before them, tiny and lustrous, was their last hope – earth’s last hope.
The girl was older now. A wiry body had grown softer, and soft skin had been bruised purple, as delicate as an overripe apple. The girl was crying into her hands. Her hair hung like greasy curtains in front of a gaunt face. She wouldn’t look at Emmalyn. “I should have known – I shouldn’t have pushed him – it’s my fault.” She meant the bruises, the heavy-handed blows, the pain. “He didn’t mean it. He said sorry.”
Earth would say sorry too. They would hold a memorial, with all the other memorials. Honouring the sacrifices.
Emmalyn’s mouth puckered, a sour taste in the back of her throat.
That suggested agency – want to give.
That suggested earth was worth saving.
Emmalyn rolled her shoulders, her uniform beginning to itch, to constrict around her like a python. The ship’s air grew clammy and stale. The endless blackness that stretched in every direction, yawned like the mouth of hell.
And still, serene and peaceful, like a child’s marble, the planet remained before them.
Emmalyn liked to think that this planet was happy, untouched by cold selfishness.
“He wants me to get rid of the baby,” the girl said. Her words were empty – a void. A pale green mug of coffee nestled between her hands, and she ran a finger along the chipped rim. “He told me if I didn’t get rid of the baby, he’d kill us both.” The girl looked up, her hazel eyes still red from tears that had just barely stopped. A greyish yellow bruise discoloured the edge of her jaw like five o’clock shadow. “But I don’t think I want to live anymore anyways…”
A burn, slow and constant, had begun behind Emmalyn’s eyes. Her sister had been the poster girl for “Hope”. Obstacles had been games to her. Pain had been a temporary rest from excitement and happiness. She had been knocked down time and time again, and seemed to enjoy getting back up, scraped knees her own red badge of courage.
Until there had been an obstacle she couldn’t outlast – an obstacle she couldn’t escape.
Emmalyn hadn’t seen her sister for weeks when she’d been found, but she’d been assured that she hadn’t felt any pain. A comforting fact? Perhaps.
The last time she had seen her was when Emmalyn dropped her off after driving her home from the clinic. The car had been quiet, both mourning the loss of a someone they’d never know.
When Emmalyn had stopped in front of the picture-perfect house with the white picket fence, her stoic façade had crumbled as she pleaded her sister to not go home to him again.
“I have a theory,” the girl said, pale skin even paler in the unnaturally bright sun, the handle of her purse twisting in frail hands, “Humans aren’t meant to last. We were an experiment, and Em, I-I think we failed.” Those hazel eyes grew glassy, and she gripped the handle, opening the door, but not getting out, “We failed, and now it’s up to us to do damage control. It’s all for the best anyways.”
Emmalyn should have stopped her. She shouldn’t have let her walk back through that front door.
But she had a meeting – an orientation – a debriefing. She had driven away.
A failed experiment. It would certainly explain a lot. A creator playing with chemicals in the name of science, not caring that they were destroying millions upon billions. A cruel creator for a cruel existence.
Emmalyn smoothed the front of her uniform, hand catching on the silver hand pinned to her chest. A symbol of honour, of doing the right thing. Emmalyn wasn’t sure what that was anymore.
Years and years of studying and practice had landed her in this position. She had aced every test, but she didn’t know what she was doing.
She had been perfect, and her sister was still dead. Even perfection couldn’t avoid death.
With shaking hands, she unclipped the silver hand from her bosom, and let it slip through her fingers, clanging on the metal floor.
“Turn the ship around.” She said, her voice clear, steady, commanding.
“I said, turn the ship around.”
“But our orders…”
Emmalyn glared at the pilot, her eyes steely, “Who gives the orders on this vessel, private. I said turn the ship around.”
He nodded curtly, and the ship began to curve, the tiny green planet moving to the left of Emmalyn’s view until it disappeared behind the wall of the ship, the lives of another people disappearing with it.
It would take them ten years to reach earth, and another ten for a new ship to be sent to this tiny planet. Emmalyn would lose her job. She would face charges for treason.
And it would be too late.
Earth would continue to shrivel, like an apple sitting in the autumn sun for weeks on end. Millions would die. The planet would dry up.
Hopefully, this green planet that grew smaller and small behind them, would do it right. They wouldn’t kill their home, and they wouldn’t kill the homes of others, just so they could last another hundred years. Maybe they wouldn’t take, but give.
And Emmalyn would be with her sister again.
“It’s all for the best anyways.”