Author : Leanne A. Styles
I reached across and tightened the strap on my kid sister’s tatty seatbelt. She grinned; through the breathing tubes, through the pain.
The shuttle we’d stolen had been recently decommissioned, but so far it was holding together pretty well as we hurtled towards our destination.
The poor had been exiled from Earth by the rich many years ago. I’d escaped the cesspool space station we’d been born on dozens of times to visit the wonders of the blue planet, but Tilley had always been too sick to come with me.
The parasites attacking her lungs were making her sicker than ever now. One week, tops, the medic had said. This was her last chance.
Through the hatch window, the haze of the atmosphere was approaching fast.
“Hold on, Tilley,” I said. “It’s about to get bumpy.”
We hit the fog. The shuttle shook violently and I braced my arms against the hatch, terrified it would blow and we’d be sucked out.
“How much longer?!” Tilley yelled over the racket.
Moments later, the turbulence died and we were sailing through calm skies. I deployed the chute. The shuttle decelerated with a jolt, and swayed gently, descending to the water with a soft splash.
“How long do you think we’ll have?” Tilley asked as I helped her into her survival suit.
“A few hours ‒ if we’re lucky.”
We put on our life jackets, then I opened the hatch and we climbed out. Tilley gasped when she saw the towering cliff face rising out of the inky waves.
“What are they?” she asked, her eyes scanning the sky.
“Birds. ‘Gulls’, I think.”
“And where are we exactly?”
“Somewhere in what dad told me is the Atlantic Ocean.” I double-checked that her oxygen tank was watertight, and climbed down the ladder into the bitterly cold sea. “Hurry; no time to waste,” I said, reaching up to her.
To my horror, she jumped right in, disappearing beneath the waves before re-emerging coughing and spluttering.
“Are you alright?!” I said, grabbing her by her life jacket.
“I’m… fine, Archer.” She started splashing and laughing.
“Come on,” I said, shaking my head and pulling her towards the rocks.
Laying side-by-side on a slimy ledge, we watched the birds launching off the cliff face. After what felt like a few hours, I looked over at Tilley.
Without looking back, she said, “I love you, Archer.”
But I didn’t reply. I’d been distracted by the distant drone of the search crafts. The patrols had spotted us on radar and were coming to arrest us. My stomach flipped at the thought of Tilley spending her last days in a detention centre, or worse, surviving the journey back to the space station and dying in solitary.
“Time’s up,” I said solemnly.
I looked over. Her eyes were open, but she wasn’t moving.
I nudged her gently. “Tilley?”
She was gone. I burst into tears, burying my face in her chest.
The crafts were getting closer. If they found Tilley they’d only burn her and dump her somewhere horrid.
I couldn’t bear that.
As quickly and carefully as I could, I took off her life jacket, stuffed her survival suit with as many loose rocks as I could find, and slipped her into the water.
Her beautiful face disappeared into the depths just as the crafts roared over my head.
Six months in solitary awaited me, but it had been worth it to see my sister smile one last time.
To bring her home. To Earth. Where she belonged.