Well, it was part of the Somnium, anyway.
The full ship was far larger than what stood before her. Or…it had been far larger. There was no telling if the entire ship was buried at the bottom of this crater or if this was just a piece that had somehow broken off. Regardless, the sight of it now, in this brief orange glow, made Ivy’s insides twist into knots.
The wreckage was covered in dirt, moss, and vines; like everything else she’d seen in this world, it was being swallowed up by the jungle bit by bit. How many years had it lain here? How many years had she lain here?
For Ivy, the boarding of the Somnium had only been a couple months ago. The day before she’d woken in Ketahn’s arms. She’d always known that time had passed—that years had passed—but it hadn’t fully registered, hadn’t felt real.
It felt real now. And that reality was so much harder to take when it was staring her in the face.
The orange light turned off. The afterimage of the ship danced in her vision for a second longer, haunting her.
“Can we go inside?” Ivy asked quietly.
Ketahn gave her knee another gentle squeeze and proceeded toward the looming wreckage. The ground was littered with rubble, mostly broken branches, rotting leaves, and stones of varying sizes, but Ivy was certain she saw bones scattered amidst it all.
The orange glow returned as they neared the ship. Ivy glanced up at the faded letters on the hull.
A dream that had been warped into a nightmare for thousands of hopeful colonists.
Ketahn stopped in front of a large tear in the hull that was edged with jagged metal. Vines and moss hung down over parts of it, tangled with dangling cables, wires, and pipes.
“Give me my barbed spear and tuck in close, Ivy,” he said just before the orange light faded again. A red glow emanated from within the ship, only visible while the other light was off.
She passed him the spear, ducked down, and pressed herself firmly against his back, drawing her legs higher and more firmly around him.
He covered her legs with his lower arms and strode into the opening. He moved slowly, brushing aside the obstacles hanging in his path, turning and twisting to avoid jutting pieces of metal and the ship’s internal support structure, and doing everything he could to shield her from all those little hazards with his own body. That selfless, caring act made her heart swell, and she pressed a kiss to his back.
Ketahn released a soft trill and brushed his thumbs along her calves. “You should have shown me kissing sooner, my heartsthread. I like it.”
Ivy chuckled. “We can explore it more later.”
They emerged from the break in a large room, where Ketahn said she could be at ease. Though reluctant to relax her hold on him, Ivy sat upright and swept her gaze around. Despite the damage, despite the mess and the water pooled on one side, despite the harsh slant of half the floor, Ivy knew they were inside one of the stasis rooms.
The emergency lights cast the room in a hellish red glow and made the broken cryochambers look like dark, ominous sarcophagi. None of those pods showed any signs of being operational.
Ivy swallowed thickly, took in a deep breath, and asked, “Can I…get down?”
Ketahn untied the rope binding them together, and Ivy helped him unravel it. Once it was clear, he sank down and lifted his arms off her legs, reaching a hand over his shoulder to offer her support. She took it and swung one of her legs over his hindquarters to slide off.
She had only taken one step when something jabbed the sole of her foot. She winced, clutching his hand as she leaned against him for support. Lifting her foot, she brushed away the dirt and debris to examine her sole—the skin hadn’t broken, but a mean little pebble had come close.
Walking around barefoot all this time had definitely toughened up her feet, but apparently her calluses weren’t quite tough enough to save her from unexpected pain.
Ketahn leaned down, took hold of her ankle, and examined her foot with a huff. “My delicate skinned mate.”
He glanced around the room, and his mandibles clacked together. When he straightened again, he reached into the bag on her back and rummaged within, eventually producing a long piece of silk cloth that had likely been wadded up at the bottom.
He quickly tore it into two strips and, with speed and care, wrapped one around each of her feet. It was the closest thing to shoes she’d worn since before boarding this ship.
Ketahn didn’t release her foot immediately. Stroking his thumb along the top of her foot, he said, “Walk with care, my nyleea. These will help, but they will not stop everything.”
Ivy wiggled her toes and smiled. “I will. Thank you.”
Bending down again, Ketahn brushed the seam of his mouth atop her foot—a soft kiss with no lips—and lowered her leg. The gesture made her heart ache all the more.
She stepped away from him with a mix of apprehension and necessity. She didn’t want to know…but she had to. The Somnium and its passengers would haunt her for the rest of her days otherwise.
Ivy reached the closest cryochamber and stared at the viewing window. Her blood turned cold. The glass was blackened and clouded from within, and a thin crust of mud had dried on the exterior, but she could see inside just enough to make out the shredded, stained padding of the pod’s bed.
“Oh my God…”
Despite the damage to this room, the person who’d been in this pod had survived. And worse, they’d been trapped and awake long enough to try to claw their way out in desperation.
“I could have died while I was sleeping. I might never have woken up. I would have just been…gone.” Ivy retreated a step from the cryochamber. “Or I could have died like this, trapped, terrified…suffocating.”
Though she hadn’t heard him move, she felt Ketahn behind her, his presence warm and comforting. He settled a hand on each of her shoulders and smoothed another over her hair. “But you did not. You are alive, and you are here with me, my heartsthread.”
She turned to him and pressed her forehead and hands against his chest, sliding her palms up toward his shoulders. His hearts thrummed, their beat soothing, comforting, alive. She knew without looking that there was more death here, more tragedy, and no matter how prepared she’d thought she was to face it, she would crumble before long.
There was no one else to mourn all these lost souls, and Ivy didn’t have the strength to do it all on her own.
“Show me where you found me,” Ivy said, tipping her head back to meet his gaze.
Ketahn nodded, gently hooking a loose strand of her hair with a claw and tucking it behind her ear. He withdrew from Ivy and led her to an open doorway. The damage from the broken hull continued clear through into the adjoining hallway and the chamber on the other side, as though the entire ship had buckled and begun to break in half—likely due to the impact of the crash.
The corridor was flooded with water on one side and that red glow throughout the rest. Every doorway she could see had a solid red light over it. Dead. All dead. That’s what it meant, she was sure of it, though she didn’t know how she could be. And her heart broke further with every door they passed.
Ivy followed Ketahn down the corridor, away from the water. The dull, wooden thumps of the butt of his spear on the floor were the only real sound, slow and steady. Though the lighting was different, the cool air smelled off, and everything was wrong, she knew this corridor. She’d walked it on the way to her cryochamber. But then it had been pristine, almost gleaming. It had been as bright as the future they’d all been chasing.
When she first glimpsed a hint of green ahead, she thought it was her mind playing tricks on her. It didn’t seem possible in this place of blood and shadows. But then Ketahn stopped at a closed door toward the end of the corridor and Ivy found herself staring up at a single green light over the doorframe.
“Here?” she asked.
“Yes. The door must have closed after I took you out of here.” Ketahn shifted aside and gestured to a button on the doorframe. “Touching this opened it.”
Taking a deep breath, she raised her fingers to the button, hesitated, then pressed it. After a soft chime and a drawn-out hiss—like an airlock depressurizing—the door whooshed open.
A gust of crisp, fresh air blew over Ivy, startling in how clean it was, but her breath caught because of what she saw. The difference between the corridor and the chamber ahead was stark. The light in the chamber was pure white, the floors and walls were clean and polished but for some faint muddy tracks, and holo displays glowed bright in several places.
It was almost as though this room had been touched neither by the crash nor by time. Only Ketahn had left his mark here.
She stepped into the room, immediately going to the nearest cryochamber. Her heart raced when she saw a woman lying inside. Alive—in stasis. The woman had light skin, delicate features, long, black hair, and looked completely at peace.
Ivy remembered her. Remembered talking to the woman during training, remembered how shy and timid Ahmya could be, and how excited and animated she became when talking about her passion—plants and flowers. Ivy even remembered seeing Ahmya just before being plunged into cryosleep.
Moving away from the pod, Ivy continued down the center of the room, gazing back and forth at the cryochambers she passed. There were seven people still alive in stasis—three men and four women. The others… It seemed that not all the deactivated cryochambers had failed during the crash, given the varied states of some of the remains, but the result was the same. Twelve dead.
Ivy stopped before the eighth cryochamber. The lid was wide open, the bed inside was raised, and it was empty.
“This was mine,” she said.
Ketahn moved into place beside her. “Yes. I did not know if you were living or dead. You seemed as the others, caught in a sleep of death.”
And she would have still been here sleeping had he not fallen into the pit.
Was fate real? Could he have fallen for a reason? To find her?
Ivy lifted her gaze to the holo display on the wall between her pod and the next. It was one of several displays that showed the vitals of the people inside the stasis chambers. Seven green human icons, twelve red, and one gray. That gray one was her.
She turned her head to glance to the far end of the room, where a large control console was positioned against the wall.
I need to know. I can’t leave here without finding out.
Curling her hands into fists to steel herself, she strode to the console. Ketahn’s legs thumped softly on the floor just behind her. The instant she touched the controls, the wide holo display flashed to life.
At the corner of her eye, she saw Ketahn flinch, and he growled. She couldn’t imagine what this place was like for him, but…but they would have to deal with that later. There was no way she could explain everything to him while this tangled mass of emotion roiled in her chest.
The display was filled with alarms, warnings, and error messages, many of which were flashing dully—as though their urgency had long since passed but they were helpless to do anything other than persist. In front of all of them was a single larger window in which the numbers of errors and alarms were listed, both of which were in the hundreds. At the bottom was an icon marked Status Report.
Ivy lifted a trembling hand and touched the holographic icon.
“All systems critical,” announced the computer through unseen speakers in a monotone, disinterested voice. “Auxiliary power ninety-four-point-one percent depleted. Total system failure in approximately two years, thirty-six days, and two hours. Navigation data corrupted. Current location unknown. Emergency signal inoperative. Immediate evacuation recommended.
“For further information, please enter crew clearance code.”
Ivy stared at the display, unable to move, to breathe, to think, having never expected how hard the words she’d just heard would hit her.
Navigation data corrupted. Current location unknown. Emergency signal inoperative.
That meant no one knew where the Somnium had crashed. No one knew where its passengers and crew had ended up. That meant…that meant there had never been and never would be anyone coming to look for survivors. That there never would be any rescue from this planet for Ivy or any others.
And anyone left would be dead in two years.
She swiped her hand across the holo display, dismissing the alerts to reveal a generic log-in screen with the Homeworld Initiative logo as a backdrop. It was entirely unremarkable but for one thing—the date at the bottom.
June 23, 2284
Launch day had been the tenth of May, 2116. One hundred and sixty-eight years ago.
The journey to Xolea was supposed to take sixty years.
Ivy turned toward Ketahn, who was watching her from a few feet away. There was clear tension in him; his posture was stiff, his mandibles were raised and jittery, but she saw mainly concern in his eyes when they met hers.
“We need to wake them up, Ketahn,” Ivy said.
He narrowed his eyes. “No, Ivy. We came only so you could see.”
“You can’t be serious! We can’t just…just leave them here. They’ll die!”
“And they will die in the Tangle if we wake them.”
“I haven’t. Why would their chances be any less?”
Ketahn closed the distance between them. He glared down at her and banged a fist against his chest. “You survived because of me, Ivy. Because you are mine, and I will care for you always. I cannot do the same for these others.”
Her brow creased, and tears stung her eyes. “At least give them a chance. They deserve that much. Not to lay here, to never know, to never wake up, to just…rot when the ship loses power.” Ivy crossed her arms over her chest, hugging herself. “Humans are stronger than you think we are.”
“You are stronger than I thought, my nyleea. But for the rest?” He tore his gaze from her, ran it over the cryochambers, and hissed. “Here they will sleep. They will not know when they are dead. Out there, they will suffer. Whether they survive or not.”
Ivy shook her head, and the tears spilled down her cheeks. “No. I…I can’t accept that. You can’t expect me to accept that.”
His mandibles drooped, and an unhappy rumble sounded in his chest. “It is the truth, Ivy. Not just of the Tangle, but of life.”
“Then why did you wake me?” she demanded.
“I did not know you would wake. Did not know you could.” He took her face between his hands and wiped away her tears with his thumbs. “But I would do so again and again, if I had to repeat that night. Only for you.”
Ivy’s lower lip trembled as she stared into his eyes. She raised her hands and circled his wrists with her fingers, clutching him, needing something to hold onto. “They’re my people, Ketahn. They are all that is left. How can I just leave them here to die?”
“Ah, my heartsthread,” he said, tipping his forehead against hers, “you have a soft heart, but I—”
Ketahn pulled away from her and spun around in a flash, moving so quickly that he left her reeling—and she might well have fallen had he not braced one of his rear legs behind her. He stood in front of her, his spear at the ready, and stared at the open door, through which the red glow from the corridor beyond seeped.
In the sudden silence, Ivy heard only two sounds—that of her pounding heart and a light, barely audible scrape in the corridor.
They were not alone.