Read Earth and Fire Online

Authors: Janet Edwards

Earth and Fire

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JANET EDWARDS

 

EARTH AND FIRE

 

An Earth Girl Novella

Copyright

 

Copyright
©
Janet
Edwards 2015

www.janetedwards.com

 

 

 

Janet Edwards asserts the moral right to be identified as
the author of this work.

 

This novel is entirely a work of fiction.
Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are the products of
the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or localities is purely
coincidental.

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may
not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written
permission of Janet Edwards except for the use of brief quotations in a book
review.

 

 

Cover Art
Copyright
©
Alex
Storer 2015

www.thelightdream.net

Chapter One

 

 

My best friend, Issette, followed
me into the foyer of our Next Step. We’d both lived in Hospital Earth
residences since we were babies, first Nursery, then Home, and now Next Step.
Every one of those residences had an identical foyer, an echoing empty space
with standard, institutional, pale green walls, and a single portal in the
centre.

Issette watched
me dial the portal. I daren’t enter the code for our real destination, because
Hospital Earth had systems that monitored the portal travel and credit records
of its wards. If the systems spotted that any of my destinations or purchases
were flagged as unsuitable, they’d automatically notify the Principal of my
Next Step, and she’d drag me into her office for a lecture.

Our destination
today wasn’t just flagged as unsuitable, but utterly forbidden. That meant the
systems wouldn’t stop after alerting the Principal. Alarms would start flashing
and the police would be after me, so I had to dial the closest respectable
destination instead. Earth Europe Transit 3.

As the portal
established, I turned to frown at Issette. “You really shouldn’t get involved
in this,” I said, for the third time in the last hour.

Issette grinned
at me. “I’m coming with you, Jarra.”

I groaned.
“Well, if we get caught, then you have to put all the blame on me. Tell
everyone that I pushed you into doing this.”

I stepped
through the portal, leaving Next Step behind me. On Year Day 2789, Issette and
I would become 18, legally adult, and leave this place forever. There’d be no
more Principal lecturing us, no more systems spying on us, no more staff
searching our rooms. We’d finally be free. That freedom was still six months,
eight days, and thirteen hours away. I wasn’t quite at the point of counting
the minutes. Yet.

I appeared in
the main hall of Europe Transit 3, moved clear of the red floor area that
marked the arrival zone, and turned to watch Issette come through the portal
behind me. This was just one in a row of over twenty local portals, and a
constant stream of people were moving between them and the area that held the
special longer distance inter-continental portals to Earth America, Asia,
Africa and Australia. Issette and I hurried across to a quiet spot out of the
way of the other travellers, and I looked round carefully. I could only see one
security guard, but he was uncomfortably close to us.

We went over to
the wall and leaned casually against it. Issette checked her lookup and gave a
theatrical yawn. I tried to act bored instead of nervous. Anyone looking at us
should think we were waiting for a friend who was late. It was pure chance that
we were doing our waiting right next to a small white door in the wall. I
glanced across at the security guard, willing him to go and stand somewhere
further away.

I didn’t know
why Issette was insisting on coming with me. I was the one with the history of
rebellion, not her. I didn’t even know why I was doing this myself. I was never
any good at making sense of my own emotions. This was somehow like the crazy
thing I did back when I was 14. It was about frustration, defiance, and looking
my enemy right in the face.

A woman walked
up to the security guard. I couldn’t hear what she was asking him, but he
nodded, took out his lookup, and frowned down at it, clearly checking some
information. Issette and I would never get a better chance than this, so I
turned to the door beside me, and entered a code into the lock plate.

I held my breath
as I waited to see if the code was accepted. I’d had no idea how to get it
myself, so I’d nagged my friend Keon for days until he’d agreed to help. Keon
was incredibly smart, but also incredibly lazy. If he’d given me a random
number to shut me up …

The door was
opening! I hurried inside, Issette followed me, and I closed the door behind
us. We were in a grey flexiplas corridor now, with the glows on a minimum
setting. It seemed very dark compared with the bright lights outside, and
further down the corridor was utter blackness. I heard Issette gasp.

“I hadn’t
realized there wouldn’t be proper lighting in here,” I said. “We’d better go
back.”

“No,” said
Issette. “I’m totally fine. I’m not scared of the dark anymore. My psychologist
helped me overcome my fear.”

I wasn’t
convinced. For one thing, I didn’t believe the compulsory sessions with a
psychologist that Hospital Earth inflicted on its wards had helped me with
anything. For another, I could hear Issette’s voice shaking.

“We could get
torches and come back later,” I said.

“Jarra, Jarra,
Jarra, stop wasting time,” she said. “My eyes are getting used to the darkness
now. I told you that I’m totally fine.”

“You’re more
than totally fine, you’re totally amaz.” I hugged her, then led the way along
the corridor past a set of numbered doors that probably hadn’t been opened for
a century or more. The blackness ahead of us retreated as the ceiling glows
detected our movement and automatically turned on. I glanced over my shoulder,
and saw the ones behind us going out. The effect was chaos creepy, as if the
darkness was a living thing chasing after us, and my mind started conjuring up
unwelcome memories of scenes from horror vids.

We reached a
junction, took a left turn, and moved on in our own small bubble of light. Some
of the glows were flickering strangely now, which could be a sign they were
failing from old age. If all the lights went out, how would I stop Issette from
panicking while we groped our way through this maze of corridors? We could
completely lose our way in the pitch darkness, and then …

I shoved that
thought aside, and kept talking in the most cheerful tone I could manage. I
wasn’t just trying to keep Issette’s fear at bay now, but also my own. “I found
out about these corridors by pure accident. For the last hundred years, they’ve
only been used as an emergency access route for when a solar storm brings down
the Earth portal network. I was reading about what happened back in 2693 when
…”

“No!” Issette
interrupted me. “This place is dreadful enough without having to listen to one
of your boring history lectures as well. Bad, bad, Jarra!”

I laughed and
turned right. “Sorry. Careful on this bit, there’s quite a steep slope down,
but we’re nearly there now.”

Two minutes
later, we were facing a door at the end of the corridor. The locks were to keep
people out, not in, so I just had to wave my hand at the door release and it
opened. I went through into sudden brightness, tugging Issette after me, before
closing the door and looking hastily round. I’d aimed to arrive through this
door in particular, because the plans I’d found on the Earth data net had
showed a bank of food dispensers in front of it. The dispensers must have been
replaced a dozen times since those plans were made, but they were still in the
same position, so we were safely hidden behind them.

I leaned my back
against the sheltering bulk of one of the machines, turned to Issette, and gave
a breathless giggle of jubilation. We’d made it. No one under the age of 18 was
allowed through the security checks without a parent or legal guardian, but
we’d bypassed them and reached the forbidden territory of Earth Europe
Off-world.

Issette giggled
back at me. “I’d no idea this place was so close to Europe Transit 3. The
portal codes are totally different, so I assumed … What now?”

I had last
minute nerves about leaving our hiding place, but we were wearing our best
clothes, and Issette had spent nearly an hour adding makeup to our faces in the
same style as a famous Alphan vid star. We must look at least 18, if not 20,
and surely no one could tell we weren’t norms just by looking at us.

“Now we go and
look at the information display like genuine interstellar travellers planning
our route. Ready?”

Issette gulped,
ran her fingers over her frizzy hair to smooth it into place, and nodded. I led
the way out from behind the dispensers, and saw a vast open area, even bigger
than a Transit. There was a huge array of seating in the centre, where a scattering
of people sat facing the …

I’d intended to
look adult, sophisticated, and bored as I walked straight across to the
information display, but I couldn’t help stopping and staring at the portals.
Inter-continental passenger portals looked almost identical to local portals,
just a fraction thicker, but these were very different. Ten matching
interstellar portals, with huge chunky rims. The nearest one was active and
locked open, the green sign above it saying “Outgoing Adonis.” A short queue of
people were waiting their turn to step through. The woman at the head of it
held the hand of an excited boy who looked about 5 years old. A uniformed man
gave her a nod, she picked up the child, walked into the portal and vanished.

I heard myself
make a soft sound of pure longing. The woman and child were on another planet
now. Adonis, the closest colony world to Earth. Adonis, the first planet to be
colonized back in 2310 at the start of the Exodus century that emptied Earth.
Adonis, capital planet of Alpha sector, with its historic Courtyards of Memory
and the proud traditions of the Adonis Knights.

There was a
tugging at my arm, and I heard Issette’s frantic whisper. “Jarra, you can’t
keep standing here and staring like this. People will notice us and we’ll get caught!”

She was right. I
was acting like a total nardle. I forced myself to turn my head away from the
portals, and walked across to the wall that glowed with portal information and
lists of staggering off-world portal costs. Portal 1 was marked in green and
locked open for Adonis outgoing traffic. Portal 2 was in red and locked open
for Adonis incoming. Portals 3 to 6 had a list of times for the scheduled
incoming and outgoing block portal slots to and from assorted Alpha sector
worlds, listed in red and green as appropriate. Portals 7 and 8 were amber,
flagged for use by anyone who was chaos rich and willing to pay four or five
times the cost of a block portal journey for the privilege of dialling an
interstellar portal link at their own convenience rather than waiting. Portals
9 and 10 were grey, because …

I hastily turned
my head away from the information for portals 9 and 10, and went into the
nearest vacant journey planning booth. Issette squeezed in beside me, and gave
me a grin.

“Where shall we
go?” she asked. “There are a couple of hundred planets in Alpha sector to
choose from.”

I shook my head.
“Why settle for Alpha sector? Let’s go all the way to the frontier. We can be
colonists going to one of the new planets in Kappa sector.” I tapped the Kappa
sector option on the booth display and laughed. “Several planets in Kappa
sector are trying to improve their low ratio of female to male colonists by
offering subsidized travel for incoming female colonists. Do we want subsidized
travel?”

“Definitely,” said
Issette, entering into the spirit of the fantasy. “I couldn’t get to Adonis on
my credit balance, let alone Kappa sector.”

I selected
subsidized travel, and a holo of the three concentric spheres of humanity
appeared. The first sphere was Alpha sector, with Beta, Gamma and Delta
surrounding it to form a larger sphere. Beyond those, all the frontier sectors
had been added to complete the third sphere. All of those sectors were marked
as uncharted, of course, except for newly colonized Epsilon and Kappa.

This holo was
the fancy version, with hundreds of thousands of dots for star systems, the
scattered brighter dots showing those which had an inhabited world. A white
line zigzagged its way out from Earth at the centre to show our journey to
Kappa sector.

“We join a block
portal to Alpha Sector Interchange 2 in three hours’ time,” I said, “then we
have four more block portals to get us from there, across Gamma sector, and to
Kappa Sector Interchange 1. We should arrive there in thirty-eight hours’ time,
and a representative of the Kappa Colonization Advisory Service will help us
make our final choice of a colony world.”

Issette wrinkled
her nose in mock disgust. “A thirty-eight hour journey is ridiculous. I thought
they were desperate for female colonists.”

I giggled. “They
aren’t desperate enough to pay for them to dial a special cross-sector portal
link.”

We moved across
to the seating area, and chose chairs well away from everyone else. The people
sitting in the waiting area looked oddly alike, arms huddled round themselves
to avoid touching anything, and wearing matching expressions of pained
distaste. Most of them were sitting in total silence, but the couple to my left
were arguing.

“I can’t believe
you made me come here just to save a few credits,” said the woman.

“It’s not just
the credits,” said the man. “Avoiding Earth entirely meant an extra thirty-one
hours’ journey time as well. It’s in the centre of Alpha sector, and has five
Off-worlds, so a lot of traffic is routed this way.”

“Well, it
shouldn’t be,” said the woman. “Nobody wants to come to Earth. It’s not safe!”

The man sighed.
“We’ve had this discussion ten times already. It’s been scientifically proven
there’s no medical risk in spending time on Earth.”

“The doctors
can’t know that. They’ve absolutely no idea what causes the problem. I know
there won’t be any of
them
in here with us, but …”

She gave a
graphic shudder of disgust, and I wondered what she’d think if she knew two of
them
were sitting only a few chairs away from her. I was tempted to go over and tell
her what I was. I wanted to see the look of horror on her face and laugh at
her, but I couldn’t. It wouldn’t just be me who got into trouble for sneaking
in here, but Issette as well.

The couple
lapsed into sulky silence. I tried to forget them, and sat watching the people
arriving from other worlds. Issette was studying their clothes, but I was
looking at their faces. Most of them were coming over to the waiting area, so
Earth was just one step on their journey. I concentrated on the ones heading
for the exit, the ones who were actually visiting Earth, wondering what had
brought them to such an unpopular destination.

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