We stand in two rows on the bridge of the settler ship, the airlock to our backs as we look across at the crew we’re leaving behind. Through the window to our left spins the New World, all blue and green and gleaming with endless hope and possibility.
“You be safe down there, Viola Eade.”
“You think I can’t look after myself?” I smile up at him, his warm face grinning a foot above mine. Bradley Tench, head of scout ship Beta, my teacher and one of my best friends. He reaches out, rubbing my head and messing up my hair. I squirm out of his reach. “Hey, I want to look my best when I get there.”
“You will, don’t worry. You’ll be amazing.”
I grin, ducking under his still-outstretched arm and letting myself melt against his chest. “I’ll miss you.” I feel him smile against me as he wraps his arms around my shoulders, rubbing his hands against my back. The uniform I wear is crisp and clean, ready for our descent, and it crinkles beneath his touch.
“I’ll miss you too.” He says, scruffing my hair again as I step away from him and towards the rest of my classmates. They will all join me on New World in a few months, but my family and I will be the first.
We’ve already decided on our landing site. It’s close to a river, the land surrounding it unblemished by human hand and covered with living, breathing trees. The oceans are blue, bluer than I’ve ever seen, the clouds fluffy white and spinning over the land and the sea. I wonder how it feels. I wonder how it smells. I wonder what the light is like when it reflects off the water, how the water feels running fresh from the mountains, what it’s like to climb a mountain or run through grass or eat fresh food that we grow ourselves from the land or breathe real air. I wonder.
I reach Simone and smile up into her face. Her hair hangs in red curtains on either side of her face, her eyes warm and so full of kindness as she grins down at me. “I’m still annoyed that you get to go down there first,” she says, but I can tell it’s just a joke. “A kid like you gets the chance to explore that whole new planet while the rest of us are stuck up here wondering what it’s like? Hardly seems fair. Are you sure there isn’t room for one more?”
My parents glance over at me as I fall into her arms. They’re talking to Bradley, and they’re both smiling but their eyes are filled with the sadness of leaving these families behind. I know what they’re thinking too, because the worry I can see in the creases between their eyes and the shake of their hands is the same crippling fear I feel in myself.
We don’t know what to expect when we land. We never heard back from the last settlers, never knew if they survived or even made it at all. Preliminary satellite images don’t show much sign of human activity, only a few small villages that might be the settlers but could just as easily be an indigenous species.
Because how could a planet so big and green and lush and liveable be empty?
I step back out of Simone’s arms and smile up at her as she tucks a loose strand of hair behind me ear. My parents step back too, moving towards the bay doors with their hands clasped between them. We’re all packed, the ship ready to go. They’re just waiting for me.
But I can’t leave. I walk back over to Bradley, falling against him once more and breathing in his scent one last time. He’s warm, so caring and kind and impossibly human. He will make this world good.
“Tell me what it’s like,” He says softly, his breath tickling my ear. “The snow.” I nod. He’s given me the same request, every week since we found out it would be my family leading the New World mission, that I would be joining my parents on the scout ship for the initial descent down to our new home.
“I will,” I reply, pushing away from him and stepping back towards my parents. The bay doors hiss open at our approach and I take a moment to glance over towards my classmates, my teachers and my friends. The maintenance families and their kids that I’ve shared my whole life with, that will enter the New World in a couple of months and help us to build up the new beginning that we’ve worked so hard to obtain.
We step through the airlock and into the main body of the scout ship. The cockpit is to my right, the doors leading through to our tiny living quarters and medical bay to my left. Ahead of me is a small window, the thick glass open to the familiar emptiness of space glittering beyond. I think about my ancestors, about how few of them were able to see this and how I’ve grown up floating within it, surrounding on all sides by the infinite night.
By the time I turn back to look inside the settler ship one last time before we leave it behind until it joins us on the ground, the door has closed with a definite sealing hiss, locking us inside. My parents have already taken their seats in front of the screens, my father already tapping in the pre-launch sequence needed to propel us away from the ship. My mother is fiddling with her buckles, her face hidden by a curtain of shoulder-length dark hair identical to my own.
I take my seat between them, pulling the heavy harness over my shoulders from the back of the seat and securing it at my waist. The screens light up in front of me, a million buttons flashing and dials whirring on the dashboard beneath them.
“Ready?” My father asks, his grey eyes shining with excitement.
“Ready.” My mother replies, spinning her chair around to face the screens and resting her hands on the control panel in front of her. She kicks a lever beneath her seat to lock it into place and turns to me with a smile on her face.
I double check the lock beneath my chair, pulling at my harness to check that it’s secure. I look up at the screens, watching the blue new world spin beneath us, ready and waiting for us to arrive. My shaking hands find the console, my fingers coming to rest on the navigation panel in front of my seat. “Ready.”
My father grins at me from behind his headset. He presses a button on the console, and mutters a few words through his headset back to mission control.