“Prisoner 299, face to the wall and hands behind your back!” came the harshly barked order as the door was ripped open to the small cell. Marie hastily scurried to obey the order of one of the guards. With only nine years she was a small scrawny girl with long wavy blonde hair and steel grey eyes. It did not happen too often that guards came into her cell and she immediately wondered what might be going on. The guard was not carrying any food or supplies as far as she could see, glancing over her shoulder. She obediently put her hands on the wall she stood facing and waited in silence, the guards never reacted too well to unnecessary questions.
Her hands were pulled from the wall roughly and were cuffed together behind her back in an uncomfortable position and Marie bit her lips, trying to contain a light whimper. A moment later, she was roughly led out of her cell by the guard. As she was brought onto the hallway, she quickly looked around and to her consternation, she could see similar things happen to the other teenage prisoners all around her. The hall was filled with the other prisoners, handcuffed as well and led along the hall by guards, some were struggling, while others went without any protest. They were all led out of the sky box quickly and the guard pulled her along relentless, Marie doubted it would make any difference if she tried to put up a fight. Marie’s heart started to beat faster in fright as she wondered why they were all being led away. Had the council finally decided to float them all, regardless of their age? But that could not be true, no one under the age of eighteen had ever been floated before as far as she knew.
“What is happening?” she asked the guard in a pleading tone, peering over her shoulder at the man who had cuffed her with a frightened look in her grey eyes. The man looked uncertain for a moment and Marie thought to spot a hint of compassion in his dark eyes, but he answered in a low tone “I am actually not allowed to tell you, but you all will find out soon enough.” With that the man fell silent again and looked straight ahead.
“We will all be floated, won’t we?” Marie whispered horrified, eyes widening as panic flooded her mind.
The guard just shook his head but remained silent and Marie did not know if he had shaken his head to deny her assessment or to placate her.
If they were not floating them, what was happening then? When Marie caught sight of an air lock in front of them, she panicked completely and finally started to struggle against the man’s grip. She had seen her father been floated. She had been too young to remember much, but she would forever remember the air lock and the look of pure horror on her fathers’ face as his body was sucked out into space. She could see him standing in the air lock again, as memories assaulted her mind and blind panic rushed through her thoughts.
Nevertheless, the guard had no problem to physically overpower her and now more or less carried her through the air lock against her will. Marie wondered if he even truly registered her attempted fight.
Her heartbeat decreased slightly, when they left the air lock behind them, but she wondered just how far they would still have to go, as she did not even recognize the part of the Ark they were in any longer now. They entered a strange looking room with what appeared to be rows of seats in it and she was put onto one of the seats and strapped into the seat belts by the guard. Before the guard stepped away, he took her cuffed hands and undid the cuffs but kept her right wrist in a firm grip. Marie was fairly certain she would have bruises of the shape of his fingers there later, her heart was still hammering inside her chest, afraid of just what exactly was going on. The guard took out some weird kind of wristband that Marie had never seen before and before she knew it, he fastened it around her wrist smugly with a loud click.
Marie clenched her teeth against the sharp pain suddenly shooting through her wrist and up into her arm when the wristband was snapped shut. It felt as if long sharp needles had been rammed through her wrist all of a sudden and the pain pulsed strongly. The guard looked at her with an apologetic glint in his eyes and finally stepped back, not saying another word, he left the room. Marie looked around the strange room nervously, still not recognizing what the purpose of the room might be or even where they were. She had lost track of all the twists and turns they had taken to come here. Marie watched as more and more teenage prisoners were forced into their seats everywhere around her and geared with the same wristband. Some looked as horrified as she felt, while others glared angrily at the guards. One was even screaming insults around, but the guards did not seem to pay him any mind.
The last prisoner to be brought in was an unconscious blonde teenager, who Marie knew was the daughter of the medical chef of the Ark. She had spent enough time in the medical bay to encounter the older girl there, although they had not spoken more than a few words.
Her fear mounted when Marie realised that all of the guards had now filed out of the room, leaving all of the prisoners alone and her eyes scanned the room frantically.
The door to the strange room was sealed from the outside without giving them any kind of information and Marie could see that they now all felt the same kind of uncertainty. She spotted another girl directly across from her, who did not seem much older than herself, or at least also much younger than the majority of the prisoners and she guessed that her own features would show the same amount of horror.
Suddenly and without any kind of warning the screens scattered all around the walls came to life and a videoed message played where the chancellor Jaha was addressing them. Marie watched the message intently and her eyes widened further with every additional word that left the chancellor’s lips.
Marie could absolutely not believe her ears and what she had just heard. The chancellor had said that all of them were being sent down to earth. From the little regular lessons, she had attended, Marie knew that earth was not supposed to be survivable for another hundred years at least, if not even longer. She frowned, when her mind focused on something the chancellor had said, they were sent to the earth simply because they were expendable to the Ark. Anger shortly flashed through her mind, but was replaced with encompassing fear. They were surely going to die soon. As the fear consumed her mind, she felt tears mist her eyes.
The teenage boy sitting directly next to her addressed her suddenly, pulling Marie out of her thoughts and she jerked her head around to look at him.
“What can a little kid like you have done to get into the sky box?” he sneered at her assessing the girl with a judging glance.
Marie blinked at him and her brows creased, speechless for a moment. She did not like the way he addressed her, but she doubted that picking up a fight now was sensible, so she gathered her voice back and answered honestly “I tried to steal medicine from the med bay for my mother.”
The boy’s sneer lessened noticeably at her answer and he spoke in a much softer voice now “My father was floated for steeling medicine for me when I was sick as a child. I am Jonathan Murphy by the way.” His thoughts seemed to linger in the past shortly, before he blinked and looked back at her.
Marie took a closer look at the boy, without the sneer on his face he definitely looked nicer. The girl startled strongly, yelping in fear, when the dropship suddenly disconnected from the Ark with a sudden strong jar and they were on their way to earth now.
“I am Marie Matthews” she answered a little bit shyly. She hoped that continuing to speak would keep her fear at bay, so she would go with it. Besides, she did not know anyone of the other criminals and it could not hurt to know someone if they were to survive the crash to earth, although she internally was convinced that they would not and even if they did, radiation would surely kill them in a few hours at least.
“Nice to meet you, Marie. But call me John. And how old are you?” John asked with genuine interest in his tone.
Marie was surprised that John did not seem affected at all by what was just happening and the boy seemed utterly relaxed. “Thanks. I just turned nine a few weeks ago” Marie told the teenager and continued to listen to Jaha’s message from the screen as she did not want to see the pity in John’s eyes. She had stopped listening for some time, but who knew if the man might say something useful.
The doctor’s daughter had obviously woken up, Marie could hear her fighting heatedly with the dark-skinned boy sitting next to her. Then suddenly one boy loosened his seat belts and floated through the small space without the artificial gravity of the Ark.
Marie had to smile at the sight forgetting her fear for a short moment, the floating looked like fun. Two other boys undid their seat belts and joined the first boy in his floating, all of them were laughing and Marie saw others reaching for their seatbelts. The doctor’s daughter loudly lectured them about the dangers but they totally ignored her, goofing around instead.
Suddenly, the ship gave another hard jolt and continued its course down to earth heavily jerking. Marie screamed when the first jolt happened and John sitting next to her took one of her hands and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Something had disconnected from one of the walls and crashed to the floor with a loud clattering sound.
Marie gave him a small thankful smile at the kind gesture, but she kept a firm hold on his hands while her other hand was clenched around the seat belt. She did not want to let go just yet, to her slight surprise John let her be without any protest.
The ship got an even harsher impact as it landed on the earth all of a sudden. Marie screamed again shrilly when the floating boys were shot onto the ground of the ship with the force of their impact. Her head smashed back into the seat and she looked on rather dazed. John pried her fingers of his hand a moment later and unfastened his own seat belt, others had already started to stand up. With shaking fingers, she also undid the straps of her seatbelt while the other teenagers were already scrambling to the exit. Marie stood up with weak legs and saw the doctor’s daughter lean over the two boys who had joined the first one to float, they were laying still on the floor. They did not seem to move at all and Marie wondered if they might be dead.
“Are they dead?” she asked uncertain with her voice pitched higher, stepping closer to them slowly and hesitantly.
The older blonde girl just nodded her head sadly, but she stood up suddenly when she noticed that others were already arguing about going outside. She was obviously trying to dissuade them from just opening the ship to the outside air. But what else were they supposed to do, Marie wondered silently. The chancellor had stressed that they needed to reach an old military base called Mount Weather to gather supplies. They had not been given any resources, so they would need to find water and food quickly, if they did not wish to starve.
Marie had always liked to read as soon as she was able to read that is. She had read that a healthy human could survive without food for around three weeks but only around three days without any water. They were all relatively thin as the rations in the sky box had been even smaller than the rations normal workers got. But water would be the most valuable thing for them in the weeks to come. If they survived the radiation that is left on earth that was. She internally hoped that they would not be too far from Mount Weather, as she doubted that anyone of them would know how to navigate around earth without help.
The blonde girl had obviously lost her argument with the boy on the hatch as he pressed a button next to the door and it blasted away. Marie was momentarily blinded by the bright light now suffusing the small space of the drop ship and she hesitantly stepped closer to the door.
The teenagers in front of the queue to the outside were already jumping outside looking around in wonder, some screaming in joy.
Marie remained at the back for a few moments trying to hold her breath, afraid to breathe in this polluted air. But the others seemed to be just fine outside, so she took some more shaky steps in the direction of the opened hatch.
Her mouth hung open in silent wonder at what she was seeing. She was frantically looking around trying to take in all the details at once. Everything seemed to be covered in green around them. But not just green everything looked so colourful and just alive. A bright contrast to the metallic and almost sterile atmosphere of the Ark they had grown up in. Marie had never before seen trees or grass and every surface seemed to be covered in some kind of plant, as far as she could look.
They had landed in what seemed to be a forest. It looked wild and untamed, untouched from civilization, or at least that was what Marie would have assumed it would look like. Marie wondered if the whole world now looked like that, after it had been wiped clean of the human race by the nukes. Marie wondered if there were any animals around. Looking behind her, she could see that the drop ship had destroyed some trees and set their trunks aflame. The others seemed to be unaware or simply did not care at all and were running wild around her like they were high on something, laughing and goofing around as if they did not have a single care in the world. In the other direction, she could see some big mountains on the horizon and started to hope this was not the Mount Weather Jaha had spoken of, it seemed to be pretty far away from them.
Marie’s heard dropped slightly, when she heard the doctor’s daughter trying to urge some of the others to start walking towards the mountain to reach it, before the sun would be gone for the night. The one who had opened the hatch wanted to send her off alone, clearly unwilling to follow the orders given to them by the chancellor. Marie wondered how one young woman should be able to carry the things needed for all of them, if she would even find Mount Weather on her own?
She offered to join the group who had gathered around the older blonde girl, but was rebuffed rather harshly as being too young and not much help anyway. Sulking, Marie left in the other direction into the woods. It was obvious that no one was paying her any mind any way. When she was barely able to hear the activity of the other 100 at the drop ship any longer, she slowed down and truly looked around.
Marie fell in love with the forest on first sight. Everything was so vibrant and so overwhelming. There was no constant humming anymore from the machines keeping the Ark going. The girl could hear a soft breeze jostling the leaves of the trees and what she thought might be sounds emitted from insects. She let her eyes roam over the trees around her in wonder. The forest was anything but silent, but it sounded so totally different from what she was used to.
Her eyes snapped back around, as she thought to have seen movement in the leaves of the trees in front of her. As she tried to focus better on the area, she thought she had seen the movement in, suddenly a bird busted from the tree on the left to her with a loud screech. Marie was startled by the sudden appearance of the bird and watched it as it flew off into the sky, awed at seeing a living animal. She dismissed the prior movements to that of another animal, registering in her mind that there obviously were still animals around. If they managed to catch animals, they would have a food resource already.
Marie jerked back around, when she heard the sounds of someone approaching her from the direction she came from. John suddenly stood behind her with a sloppy grin on his face “Might not be safe here outside on your own, Marie”.
“Because I am too young and too small?” Marie inquired moodily still sulking about having been rebuffed earlier. She had seen that she was by far the youngest of them, the other younger girl was around three years older. If no one of them felt responsible for her, she feared she would soon be forgotten entirely. So, it seemed she would have to fend for herself from now on if she wanted to survive. She guessed that the air was not toxic after all as she did not feel any kind of dizziness or something else.
John shrugged his shoulders and narrowed his eyes at her scrutinizing her once more “You seem tough enough to survive if needed. So, what are you searching for here?”
“Water” she replied immediately. She did not have to tell John, that she had forgotten about that in the meantime because of the distracting view.
John just nodded at her “Then let’s go. Together we have a higher chance anyway.”
Marie smiled at him slightly and started to move again further away from the drop ship. John followed her silently, although they did not speak, Marie did not feel oppressed by the silence. Her mind was still too focused on taking in all the new things around her and it felt companionable, walking together like that.
“I have already seen a bird” Marie told John after a few moments, her grey eyes shown with the awe she felt and she felt rather proud for having seen an animal before him.
John looked around with wonder on his face after hearing that, obviously searching for another animal around them.
“Do you think it might be possible that some humans have survived as well?” Marie inquired thoughtfully after long moments.
John shrugged his shoulders “Don’t know, don’t think so, but recording to our earth lessons we should have died from the radiation already. So, who knows?” It did not seem as if the boy was too curious about finding out though, so Marie just inclined her head and kept silent.
Above them in the trees a lone warrior was silently following them from tree to tree, completely undetected by them and listening in on their conversation and observing the intruders to gather as much information as possible to report back to his general.