Corporal Nike Black had spent three years, nine months, twenty-seven days, six hours, and thirteen minutes aboard the SS New World. She probably could’ve figured up the seconds and even nanoseconds, but what was the point? This much time on a spaceship had worn on her nerves. She wanted to feel the sun on her face and breathe real air.
In four hours and forty-seven minutes, Nike would be off this ship with solid ground beneath her feet again. Thank God for wormholes! If they hadn’t been able to use one, hundreds of years could’ve passed before the SS New World reached their destination.
A giant sphere of bluish-purple mystery, Cupidis, home to winged, humanlike creatures, loomed before the spacecraft. She’d spent the past few years learning their language—it reminded her of French—as well as the intergalactic language of Anthronian. Although nothing could completely prepare the Earthlings for a new planet, Nike had done her best to organize her small reconnaissance crew. They were ready to conquer.
Every time she thought of Earth, a lightning bolt of pain shot through her gut. Two generations before her birth, an asteroid had struck Earth. From what she’d learned in history books, the climates changed and chaos reigned. The defunct space program took many years to build the SS New World, and she’d been lucky to be selected for the crew. Since she’d joined the army at fourteen, the twenty-one year old had spent her youth preparing for her departure from Earth and the task of colonizing a new planet. Now that everything was falling in place, all Nike wanted to do was to go home.
Her breath shuddered as she pulled for an image of her home planet. At first her memory fell short. Had the almost four years aboard wiped her memory? No, not quite. Glimpses of stunted trees, arid land, and the winter sun that held no warmth flicked before her eyelids.
It all seemed like a bad dream, but had they left one nightmare for another?
She would know in four hours and forty minutes.
“Nee-kay?” Commander Athenia Law always drew out her name, as if she called a dog to heel.
“Yes, ma’am.” Nike straightened her shoulders until the muscles in her upper back tensed and ached. Her courage relied on that stance to make herself appear taller than her 5’4” frame would allow.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she? Our new home.” The commander waved her arm toward the hovering planet.
“Yes, ma’am.” Nike didn’t dare look at Cupidis again, lest her real emotions showed. She’d wanted this post too much when she was on Earth to voice her doubts.
“Is everything prepared for Mission: Conquest?” The commander smoothed a hand over her bald head. Slight perspiration made her scalp gleam like an eight ball.
“Yes, ma’am.” Nike sucked her cheeks in and bit them. A stray dark strand tickled her cheek, and she tucked it behind her ear. “Ma’am, about the mission?”
“Yes?” The commander’s attention drifted away.
Nike paused. How could she express her concerns without showing weakness?
“Annihilation is still our plan, correct?” Stupid, stupid.
Athenia placed a hand on Nike’s shoulder. “We’ve traveled too far not to make this planet our home. Fate may have dealt us a cruel hand, but she also granted us the knowledge to travel to Cupidis. Get to know the Cupidians. Find their weaknesses and discover a way for us to exploit them. We have a chance to rebuild.” Her voice lowered. “The civvies are restless, Nike. If we don’t do something soon, they’ll revolt again. We can’t have that, can we?”
“No, ma’am.” Nike’s uniforms had gone through four washes to remove the blood after the last riot. “We will study our enemy and defeat them.”
Why did the words leave such a bitter taste in her mouth?
“I knew I could count on you.” The commander squeezed Nike’s shoulder and left the room.
Nike turned toward the window. The planet filled the small viewing window now, since the ship drew closer. In four hours and thirty-three minutes, she would depart with her crew in a supposed mission of peace, but it would really be one of espionage and war.
The Cupidians had no idea what was coming for them.
Next Friday, we'll meet Edonys in Chapter Two of Pull of Gravity.