Welcome to the Thursday Thousand! Every week, on Thor’s Day, I will be posting a short story (hopefully) written in advance. The only parameter is that it be, at minimum, 1000 words long. It can be any genre, any length beyond that, and even contain mild cliffhangers!
Why? Because some of these will turn into novels, let’s be honest here. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments!
Note: I made it two whole weeks before I wrote about space. That’s impressive.
In her final hours on the planet, Soraya said her goodbyes. To the bed she’d slept in every night and the clear ceiling above that showed her the stars littered across the blackness of space. To the dress she’d worn to the first formal gathering, and that she would never need again. To the private journal she’d kept these long months. Her others were already waiting for her, and all nonessential items were to be left behind to maximize their speed. Any added weight wasn’t allowed.
There wasn’t much else in her room to say farewell to, but outside, across the sprawling town that had once been nothing more than a single ramshackle hut, there was plenty. To the well they’d built in the first year. To the gramophone they’d finally found hidden in the depths of the storage containers and kept out for everyone to use. To the purple flowers she’d managed to coax to life in her small window box garden.
Soraya tipped her head up. The first sun was only just beginning to rise, but Soraya could see its sister lingering at the horizon, slowly following. Three of the four moons had already set, as well, but the fourth lingered stubbornly. Soraya smiled at it. She knew the feeling. She was already late, and though dragging her feet wouldn’t delay the inevitable, it made it easier, taking the time to say goodbye.
This planet had been her home for four years. And while that wasn’t all that long anymore in the grand scheme of things, it was long enough for her to form an attachment. She was going to miss it in these long years away. The rational side of her knew that eventually she would return, and when she did, it would be with a wealth of newcomers that would hopefully someday call this home, too, but the irrational side of her wondered if she might die on the journey, or if they might not believe her, or if some other horrible thing would prevent her from ever breathing this air again.
A sharp whistle rang across the town, and Soraya closed her eyes.
It was time.
From the surface, it was impossible to see just how many moons the planet had. The four largest ones were visible nearly every night—and a single stubborn one while the dual suns rose—but out here in space, Soraya could see it all.
Her ship was small. In another solar system, there was a much larger craft waiting for her, loitering alongside the now likely dead International Space Station. Soraya found it hard to imagine that the ISS had survived all these years, but still, she was currently maneuvering between her planet’s fifth and sixth moons, so anything was possible these days. They’d discovered fairly quickly that anything larger than a one or two-person craft would be destroyed immediately upon trying to leave the planet. The moons were too numerous and the dual suns’ combined rotation too unreliable to properly see anything until the ship was already in danger. Diving down into the planet was no problem—the moons were easy to spot from space. But leaving the planet was something only Soraya’s people did.
The thought tried to make her hands go still, but Soraya told them to keep moving, keep stealing her safely between the moons.
“Only a thief could escape this planet,” one of the council members once said, and Soraya, hiding between the layered sheets making up the tent, considered this.
She’d heard that sentiment all her life.
When she was little and trapped in the orphanage, no one bothering to listen to her pleads for help—only a thief could have picked these locks.
When she was a teenager and being flunked in her advanced classes because they thought her too smart—only a thief could have written this paper.
When she was barely legal enough to fly and still broke the speed record—only a thief could have flown a plane like that.
When she stepped out from the layers of the tent and told them she could find a way off the planet, they all stared at her in bewilderment until one of them said, “Only a thief could have snuck her way onto an adventure like this.”
She twisted out from between the gravity of the fifth and sixth moon, releasing the joysticks to stretch her fingers. She wasn’t sure she’d call being kicked out of the Academy, squeezing into a storage unit filled with seeds—later, Soraya would kiss her knuckles in relief for the good luck of not being found amongst something that made so much noise—and hiding for eighteen months before finally being discovered by some idiot looking for dried flowers for his sweetheart anything close to an adventure, but here she was. A leader abandoning her people.
Soraya blinked at the upcoming field of moons.
She’d forgotten to say goodbye to Ilyas.
When Soraya was born, it was without many things.
She remembered her father. Bits and pieces of little memories, mostly fuzzy and lacking anything but a warm feeling. At four, he’d finally abandoned her to the mercy of the orphanage, but she had a few hazy memories of him before. Her mother, she didn’t know. Those memories wouldn’t capture dialogue, and so she never heard anything her father might have said about the woman who birthed her. And until she came to the orphanage, her father just called her little one. It was the matron of her ward who gave her the name Soraya. It was an exotic name, the matron said, and it suited Soraya’s dark skin and wild hair and big, curious eyes. And for a year, everything was okay. Soraya had her doting matron, even if the woman had to spread her love across too many small, needy children. Soraya still felt cherished and wanted.
Even at five, Soraya knew that the two things weren’t connected, but when Ilyas came to the orphanage, the matron disappeared a few days later. The rational side of her knew it wasn’t his fault, that something completely unrelated had happened, but the irrational side blamed everything on him, and for a long, long time, Soraya treated Ilyas like nothing more than dirt on the bottom of her shoe.
For a five-year-old, a long time was a few months, though Soraya was sure it would have gone on longer had she not woken up to the sound of quiet sobbing. She still remembered huffing at him indignantly when she found him out in the hall, barefoot and crying, his skinny arms wrapped around his knobby knees. “You’re going to get the stick if they catch you out of bed,” Soraya said before she hauled him up off the floor, led him back to his room, and then sighing insufferably when he pleaded with her to stay until he fell asleep.
“Just a minute,” Soraya spat as she sat on the edge of his bed.
Now, she thought about the soft way Ilyas’ face had gone as he drifted into slumber. She thought about the way his hair used to curl around his ears when it got too long. She thought about the sight of his smile across the table when they weren’t allowed to talk during meals and how much that smile meant to her.
Ilyas had been her first thief, the first one she showed how to sneak and pick locks and steal. He was also the first one she saw when they dragged her before the captain, seeds still in every single crevice of her body. He was wearing his cadet’s uniform, and it had been a long, long time since Soraya had hated him as much as she did then. She felt like her matron was disappearing all over again.
The moons cleared, Soraya started logging calculations into her ship’s system. When she was finished, she flipped on the communications switch, and it crackled to life with a sigh. “Finally,” a voice came through on the other side.
“That was record time,” Soraya argued.
Veda made a disgruntled noise. “Be that as it may—” she began.
Behind Soraya, something clattered onto the floor. She was up and out of her captain’s chair in seconds, a knife in hand and fear in her heart. Fear never went away, and for that, Soraya was glad. Fear kept her sharp, kept her always a step ahead. Fear had taught her how to survive.
Veda made another noise, like she wanted to strangle someone. “I have some unfortunate news,” she said.
Soraya’s ship was small, both because it was hers and because it was necessary to get through the field of moons. It had a cockpit that she wouldn’t use all that much on the journey except to stargaze, a single bedroom with bunk beds attached to the wall on the left, a round room that served as her kitchen, bathroom, and everything else room, and another room tucked between the two at the back that was devoted half to all of her life-sustaining systems and half to her medical bay. At quick glance, the ship looked like a diamond. It was aerodynamic, and it was meant to comfortably fit one person.
Not two, and certainly not Ilyas, who was leaning in the doorway.
“You have a stowaway,” Veda said.
Soraya blindly flipped the communications back off.
Ilyas was twelve the first time they saw the Academy. They were on a field trip with their school, one of the few public schools still around, and as was standard for the young in their formative years, they were brought to the Academy. It was yellow was the first thing that Soraya noticed.
“There’s a bit of orange,” Veda said with her nose pressed against the window of the bus.
Dejan was staring open-mouthed, both of his hands on the window.
“It’s the sun,” Ilyas was the one to understand.
They’d met Veda at school on their very first day. She walked up to them like she owned the cafeteria, her brown hair wrapped up in a pink ribbon, her uniform neatly arranged, and her mouth in a thin line. “You’re new,” was the first thing she said. She plunked her tray of food down. “There’re some rules you ought to know.” Veda, it turned out, was head of the welcoming committee. She was the same age as them at six, but each year had their own committee, and she was the first—and only, Ilyas sometimes teased her—volunteer. She was top of their class, her collar was never askew, she kept Soraya on task with their homework, and she’d once upended an entire milkshake on some blonde girl a year older than them when they called Veda muddy because her skin was brown.
The following year, on the first day, Veda sat down at their usual table. Ilyas blinked at her. Soraya scowled. There was a boy sitting next to Veda. “This is Dejan,” she said, and that was that. They’d been a foursome since they were seven, and they wouldn’t meet Emil until today, the day it all started.
The Academy was painted to look like the sun, and Soraya agreed when Veda said it looked tacky. Ilyas squawked in disbelief like someone had trod on his foot. When they got off the bus, he hurriedly fixed his tie and stood up a little straighter. “How’s my hair?” he asked Dejan, who was busy picking his nose.
Dejan shrugged. “Who cares?” he said as he flicked his fingers, dislodging the booger.
“Oh, Ilyas, no,” Veda sighed, turning toward him with a frown.
Soraya felt panic lodge itself in her throat a heartbeat before Ilyas said, “That’s a recruiter.”
You had to be sixteen to enlist in the Academy, and as they all turned to look toward where Ilyas was gawking, a tall man was striding toward them with a gangly teenager at his side. The teenager was wearing a cadet’s uniform, and Ilyas was in love with him from that second on. Emil was his hero for four years until Ilyas could finally enlist, and Soraya supposed she should have seen it coming, that when bright, promising Ilyas was found snorting drunkenly over a pile of nicked goods, it was only Soraya that got in trouble, only Soraya that was kicked out of the Academy, only Soraya that stood before Emil and withstood their captain’s fury.
They were seventeen, and the last time she saw Ilyas was still drunk, the angry shine of Emil’s flashlight blinding them. She never asked where he was during her trial before they asked her to leave the Academy, but she could see the relief in Emil’s face whenever she lied and said she was alone that night.
Later, years later, Soraya finally saw him again, in his unwrinkled cadet’s uniform at Emil’s shoulder as they dragged her down the hall dripping seeds.
“You’re an idiot,” Soraya snarled before she whipped the knife at Ilyas.
He caught it because that’s what Ilyas did. He was not just the Academy’s top student, he was the top of their top students. He’d outdone every single student before him, and catching a knife hurtling through the air was child’s play for him. Ilyas could do anything, and Soraya hated him for it.
“That has definitely been established,” Ilyas said as he peeled away from the doorway. Though, growing up, Ilyas had always been paler than Soraya, he spent a lot of his time outdoors now, and it showed. He still had the same dark hair and dark eyes he’d had when they were little, but that was where it ended. Shy, scrawny, pale little Ilyas had grown into a big-shouldered, smiling, tan jackass.
Soraya was already turning back to her console. “I’m not doing this,” she said as she started to revert the calculations she’d already put in.
Remotely, Veda flipped the communications back on. “Sorry, nope,” she said, and everything stopped working. Soraya growled. “You’re already outside of the moon field,” Veda said softly, “I’m sorry. You can’t come back. The trajectory is good right now, and we won’t get another chance for months.”
Soraya knew that. It was why Veda had sighed and scowled so much when Soraya showed up late to the launch. “Only a thief shows up late to her own party,” Dejan had mumbled, trying to hide his smile, but Soraya still saw it and drew him into a headlock one last time. When she was kicked out of the Academy, Veda threatened to leave, too. Dejan already had a backpack full of stuff when they met her in their favorite café downtown. “I’m never speaking to that turd again,” Dejan said, his anger almost palpable, “That he would let you go down for this alone.”
“He didn’t let me,” Soraya sighed, “Emil asked me to—”
“That’s great,” Veda snapped, “Just great. Let Ilyas remain the golden boy, but shove you in the dirt because you’re a bad influence on him. Ilyas can make his own bad decisions, Soraya!”
“Soraya,” Veda said now, “We didn’t know until it was too late.”
“She’s not wrong,” Ilyas said from behind her.
“Shut up,” Soraya and Veda said at the same time.
Soraya closed her eyes. “I can’t do this, Da,” she whispered.
“You can,” Veda said, “And if you really can’t, well. You have to. I’m sorry. I’m going to lose you soon. I love you, Raya. Dejan says to kick some Earth ass. Captain Emil—”
Soraya flipped off the communications again. She didn’t care what Emil had to say.
When she turned around, Ilyas hadn’t composed his face yet. He was staring at the communications switch with open anguish.
Soraya still remembered with a burning fury the sheer pain she’d felt when she finally found out. When Emil quietly asked her to take the fall, Soraya knew it was the right thing to do. But years later, after they’d stood her in front of him and made her explain why she was hiding in a storage bin of seeds, she saw something. Emil turned away, just for a moment, as though to allow himself a second of pure anger, and that’s what it would have looked like to anyone watching him, but Soraya was watching Ilyas, and she saw Ilyas shake his head very quickly.
Soraya wasn’t punished for stealing away on the ship. She was given a job, just like everyone else, and when she walked in on Emil with his back pressed to the wall and Ilyas’ hand up his shirt, no one said anything for three very long seconds. “When?” Soraya asked finally, “When did it start?”
“Before,” Ilyas whispered, and that was when Soraya knew.
Emil hadn’t asked her to take the fall all those years ago because Ilyas was the best of them all. He’d asked her because he already loved Ilyas, and losing Soraya was nothing compared to the mere idea of losing Ilyas. And now, after a crime that should have gotten Soraya shipped off in a capsule into space to slowly die, nothing had happened to her because Ilyas had demanded a debt repaid.
“I know you’re mad at me,” Ilyas said now.
Soraya stormed out of the cockpit.
When the very edge of the planet’s gravity was done pulling at them, Soraya released them into space. She paused, inhaling. This was it. For the next two years, she would be hurtling through space toward a planet she’d never loved, away from one that felt like home, all for the good of the human race.
When they first came upon the moon field, Emil had stopped them at the edge of the planet’s gravity field and let out a long, uncertain breath. Soraya was in the cockpit for reasons yet unknown, and she was there to witness his grief. “We’ll never make it,” he said wearily. Soraya stepped up next to him, and then past him when she saw the moon field ahead. She frowned, leaning as close to the windshield as she could. She stood there for long minutes, studying the moons, watching them drift around the planet. When she finally stepped back, it was to find Emil watching her intently and Ilyas in the doorway.
“I can do it,” Soraya said, “But once it’s done, we’re not coming back up in this thing. We’ll need to use smaller ships to leave again.”
Emil didn’t hear the second half, or filed it away to deal with later. And for the first time in her life, someone asked her to do something before they even thought to ask Ilyas. She’d always wondered how that felt, the golden boy knocked off his pedestal. Now she had her answer. He was so furious that this new planet meant new rules, rules that wrapped around Soraya because she understood everything so much quicker than the rest of them, that he’d snuck aboard her ship.
“Do you regret it yet?” Soraya asked a week into their journey, a week of silence between them.
“Crying in the hallway because I couldn’t sleep?” Ilyas quipped, “Nah, best day of my life.”
Soraya leaned over her bunk and whipped her pillow at him, and then smothered her smile when he laughed.
It all came out after the first month. They spent those four weeks mostly in silence, working around one another, and Soraya was proud of him. She’d never known Ilyas to hold something in so long. She was even more surprised when it wasn’t him that broke the silence. But she’d had enough. They were going to be together for the next two years, and they’d been friends once.
“Alright,” she said over breakfast one morning as she plopped down opposite him, “What gives?”
“I made a mistake,” Ilyas said immediately.
“Understatement of the—”
“I didn’t know he asked you to do that.”
It was the very last thing Soraya ever thought she’d hear Ilyas say, and it brought her up short. “What?” she whispered.
“Emil,” Ilyas said, like it needed clarifying, “I didn’t know. Soraya, we—it wasn’t—we weren’t even dating. It was barely anything. A couple kisses in a dark room. I didn’t know how much it meant to him until I heard the news. The board wouldn’t let anyone see you, and then you were just gone, and I knew—I knew that it was his fault, that I was still there and you weren’t. Veda wouldn’t talk to me. Dejan switched all of his classes so we didn’t share any. And Emil—”
“So you started dating him?” Soraya asked. She left the bite out of her voice. These were old wounds, and they didn’t need to be reopened.
“He was all I had left,” Ilyas said. There was no bite in his, either, but a hell of a lot of emotion. He’d always been like that, quick to cry or laugh, and after all these years, Soraya was glad to see he was still an emotional wreck. “Which is not anyway to start something, but.” Ilyas shrugged. He looked down at his oatmeal. “I missed you. And I should have been furious with him. But everyone else left me at the same time, and I couldn’t swim alone. I didn’t know how.”
“And now?” Ilyas let out a big breath before he looked back up. Soraya smiled and rolled her eyes. “Man, it’s like reading the stars,” she teased, reaching across to punch his shoulder, “You love him.” Ilyas nodded. “So why stowaway?”
“We used to be friends,” Ilyas said, “I know it’s my fault we’re not, so. This seemed like the best way to repair it.”
Soraya gaped at him. “By abandoning the person you love to hang out with someone who hates you for anywhere up to five years?”
“You hate me?” Ilyas asked, and he looked more miserable at this than anything previous.
“You’re an idiot,” Soraya said before she stood up.
It was another solid two weeks before she relented and spoke to him again
“I know I say it in every single transmission, but everything’s good.” Veda’s face was hovering on the wall, a recording from a week ago that had just now reached them. They were far enough away that, soon, videos would no longer be possible, so Soraya and Veda had been exchanging them as frequently as possible. She was sitting with Dejan in Soraya’s old house. Well, Veda was sitting, but Dejan was furiously cooking behind her. Her thieves. Soraya had never believed that her particular skillset would come in handy on a foreign planet, but their new home was a place made for thieves, and it was startling how quickly Veda had dropped back on her old ways. Dejan had always been, and would always be, a thief at heart, which was why he and Soraya got along so well, but Veda had stripped those tendencies away the longer she spent at the Academy, and by the time she was in a position of power, Soraya could see that prim and proper girl from her first day at school all over again.
“Dejan has been trying for weeks to recreate your favorite dish, but he’s always off just a little.”
“I’m getting close, though!” Dejan yelled from behind her.
“Captain Emil sends his regards and asks after your supplies. I told him that with the rationing and the amount that you snuck on, you’d be fine, but he’d still like a report. And you better dish the deets on how things are going with you and dumbass.”
“Dude, I still can’t believe it. Like, I know you’ve been gone nearly a year, but damn,” Dejan said as he came over to hover behind Veda.
Soraya watched through the rest of the video, scribbling down a list of questions she had to answer so she wouldn’t forget. In her return video, she gave all the required reports, attaching them so that Emil wouldn’t need to watch this and see the rest, and then she double checked that the bedroom door was locked. “Here’s the thing,” was how she begun.
“If you hold your breath, you’re going to—”
Ilyas crumpled into a heap on the ground, and Soraya, still floating up near the ceiling, started cackling.
“What if the Earth is gone?” Ilyas whispered into the dark.
Soraya frowned at the ceiling. “Like, everyone’s dead?” she asked.
“No, gone. Like boom exploded.”
Soraya shifted onto her side, pulling her blanket up over her shoulder.
“You’re so fucking morbid,” she said, and Ilyas dissolved into a fit of laughter.
“Mars! Ilyas! Mars!”
“Holy shit, holy shit!”
“Ilyas, Mars—oof!” Soraya felt her feet leave the ground, felt Ilyas’ arms around her, felt her heart flutter with something like hope, and then he’d dropped her back onto his feet and stepped back.
“That was inappropriate,” he said quickly, folding his arms across his chest and looking anywhere but at her.
Soraya felt something dangerously like tears burn up her throat.
She flapped a hand uselessly between them. “I’ve never hated you,” she whispered.
It took one whole second, but then Ilyas was hugging her again, and she buried her face in his chest and cried.
“Are you sure, Soraya?” Ilyas asked for the eighty-five hundredth time.
“I’m always sure,” she said, reviewing her calculations for the last time.
“Well, at least it’s not gone,” Ilyas said.
Soraya smiled as she looked up, first at him and then over at Earth. She punched him on the shoulder. He made a hissing sound. “Not boomed, you mean,” she said, and his smile was as bright as Earth’s solitary sun.
“Here’s the thing,” Soraya said a full year before they would finally see that Earth was still standing, “He’s my best friend. He always has been, ever since he was a skinny little shit that was always trying to trip me because he walked so damn close because he was scared of everything. For years, I’ve missed his idiot smile and his dumb laugh, and I’m done. I don’t want to do this anymore. I miss my best friend, and if I have to spend two damn years with him just on the trip there alone, then the past is the past. I’m over it. I got kicked out of the Academy because we stole a bunch of shit and then were too drunk to cover our asses. I lived a shitty life because we both made a mistake, and only I paid for it. But that shitty life got me off Earth and back to you guys, and you know what, back to him. So if Ilyas wants to leave behind his precious Captain Emil so we can, I don’t know, learn how to be friends again? Fine. Fine. Throw a damn celebration. Ilyas and I are friends again.”
Once, and only once, there had been a single spark of romance between them. Soraya and Ilyas were fourteen, and it was a full two years before the first time he would kiss Emil. Soraya had been harboring a crush on Ilyas because Dejan was harboring a crush on Veda, and it felt like the natural thing to do, both fall in love with your best friend at the same time. Dejan didn’t even get close to a kiss. The second he leaned in, Veda broke his nose with the heel of her palm, immediately started profusely apologizing, and then when the blood was clear and the nose reset, start shouting at him about boundaries.
Soraya, however, had planned out her first kiss with Ilyas down to the second, and so, when she put her plan into action and he foiled it by kissing her, Soraya yanked away in fury and said, “That’s not how it’s supposed to go!”
Ilyas had collapsed into a puddle on the floor, covered his face with his hands, and sobbed, “Oh no, Dejan was right.”
That was how Soraya found out Ilyas was gay, though they did share a second kiss just to confirm, and that was also how Soraya found out that kissing was kind of stupid. She’d kissed a few people since then, but it was all so unappealing, and she’d never gotten much farther than that. Veda had hinted at Emil’s private fears that something would happen on this trip, and all of them had a good laugh about it. “Never,” Ilyas said, and Soraya leaned into him happily.
It took a year, but she finally gave in, and now, here they were, gently easing her ship into Earth’s gravity.
She thought about all those years ago, watching Ilyas stare at the Academy when they were twelve and knowing, perhaps even consciously, that this was the beginning of the end. This was how she started to lose her best friend. All it had taken, in the end, was stowing away on a ship in a storage container of seeds, becoming an unexpected leader on a foreign planet, and throwing a knife at him for it all to come full circle.
“Last chance,” Soraya whispered as the Earth started to tug at them.
“Overridden by snakes,” Ilyas said.
Soraya snorted. “Ice Age,” she countered.
Despite playing the game how did the Earth’s population die for two years, neither of them were even a little close.
Soraya wondered if they even had time to say goodbye to one another.
Ilyas was on his knees next to her, his fingers in the ashy dirt, tears streaking down his face.
Though they played the game often, she’d never actually expected to find all of humankind dead. She thought they would survive long enough for those brave, daring soldiers that went off into space to come back for them. She never thought they would nuke each other until all that remained was fire-choked air and ash everywhere. They hadn’t even been gone a decade yet.
She wondered if anything was alive.
“We came all this way for nothing!” Ilyas screamed.
Soraya turned away from him, her stomach churning. She had to send the news to Emil. They needed new orders. She started to walk away from Ilyas, back toward the ship, when she finally saw it.
They’d landed on a huge slab of stone because it was the flattest land around in this pockmarked and burning world, but what she hadn’t noticed while guiding the ship down, Soraya noticed now. There was a handle on the stone. She’d never been inside a bunker, but she remembered learning about them. “Ilyas!” she yelled even as she raced back into the ship. When she returned, he was still kneeling in the dirt, still crying. “Ilyas!”
His head snapped over, and he blinked at her in confusion as she ducked beneath the ship, wrapped a hook around the outer edge and the other end to the handle, and then he was on his feet, running over. He stayed outside while she maneuvered the ship, his hands waving as he helped guide her, and though the craft groaned around her at the weight of the stone, they got it open. Ilyas was bouncing when she landed and climbed back out. “Stairs!” he yelped before he plunged beneath the earth. The stone slab had yawned open to reveal a set of gloomy stairs.
Soraya hastened to follow him, scrambling down thick stone steps into pure darkness, though she hadn’t gotten far down the stairs before she collided with Ilyas’ back. “What?” she snapped, giving him a shove. It was pitch black down here, but Ilyas had clicked on the lights around his helmet and was staring at something in front of him.
“Well,” Ilyas whispered, “We’re bad at that game.”
Soraya pushed him down the last of the stairs and onto a small platform. There was a tall gate before them and several more stairs ahead that trickled down into the darkness. But what had stopped Ilyas was a plaque on the gate. Here lies Atlantis, the lost city of Earth’s survivors. Overhead, there was a whirring sound, and they both looked up to find one of those old security cameras staring at them. Without warning, a voice rang out, “Identify yourselves.” It was crackly and hard to understand, but Soraya thought it was female.
Ilyas, top of his class and good at everything, gaped like a fish out of water.
“Apollo crew,” Soraya said, elbowing him sharply, “We found a habitable planet.” It was what she’d been trained to say, what Earth had been trained to listen for.
The voice was silent for a long beat before a cheer broke out, and then the voice started sobbing. “Oh, thank god,” it gasped, “What is the surface like? We haven’t been topside in a couple years.”
“The air is toxic,” Soraya said, “But the Horus is still functioning, and we can ferry you up.” They’d checked the ancient ship before they descended to the Earth, and somehow, it was still alive and orbiting with the ISS, which had died as Soraya suspected.
There was a loud buzzing sound, and the gate swung open. “There’s an airlock at the next gate,” the voice said, “I’ll meet you there.”
“Nuked by each other,” Ilyas whispered.
“But the smart ones went underground,” Soraya finished before they raced through the gate and headed into the unknown, much as they’d been doing their entire life.