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 Starglass

Starglass - 1

by

Phoebe North

For Susan Garatino, my fifth-grade language arts teacher, who told me I could write as many stories as I wanted as long as I dedicated my first book to her.

Spring, 467 YTL

My darling daughter,

Know that I never would have left the earth if it hadn’t already been doomed.

They told us that we had five years before the asteroid came. There was no way to deflect it —no way to shield our world. First panic set in, then the riots. They burned buildings down, packed government offices full of bombs. You could walk through the city streets and think the roads were made of broken glass. These were the end times.

At first I was preoccupied. Annie, my lover of thirteen years, was dying. Cancer. And so I ignored the clamoring and the frantic hysteria. I cared for her, bathed her, and spooned her soup until she could no longer eat.

A few days before she went—only hours before she lost all words—she put her fragile hand on my hand.

“Find a way to live on,” she said. “I can’t bear dying if you’re going to die too.”

I loved my home. I loved the way the sky, red with pollution, shivered between the skyscrapers before a storm. I loved the sidewalks, marked with the handprints of people long dead, and I loved how the pavement felt beneath my feet. I loved the feeling of anticipation as I waited in the dark subway station, leaning into the tunnel to watch for the lights.

You’ll never know these wonders. And you’ll never know the way it feels to lie in a field of grass late at night and smell the clover and look up at the sky, wondering at how small you are. Wondering what other worlds are out there.

You’ll know different constellations. And you won’t be tethered to a dying rock. Instead you’ll be up here, among the stars.

Because when Annie left, I went down to the colonization office and signed myself up. The little harried man in the rumpled suit at the front desk said that I was too late. That the rosters were nearly full. He said that my expertise and genetic profile would have to be exceptional for me to be granted passage, said my application was little more than a technicality.

But then he drew blood and had me spit into a tube. Unlike Annie, there was no cancer in my family. No alcoholism. No epilepsy. No stroke. Not even eczema. The little man came back, a clipboard in his hands, and his eyes grew wide.

He told me that I would be placed on the Asherah—506 passengers, and me among them, and we would leave for Epsilon Eridani in one week’s time.

And so I prepared to say good-bye.

PART ONE

JOURNEY

MID-SPRING, 4 YEARS TILL LANDING

1

On the day of my mother’s funeral, we all wore white. My father said that dressing ourselves in the stiff, pale cloth would be a mitzvah. I ran the word over my tongue as I straightened a starched new shirt against my shoulders. I was twelve when she died, and Rebbe Davison had told us about mitzvot only a few days before—how every good deed we did for the other citizens of the ship would benefit us, too. He said that doing well in school was a mitzvah, but also other things. Like watching babies get born in the hatchery or paying tribute at funerals. When he said that, he looked across the classroom at me with a watery gleam in his eyes.

That’s when I knew that Momma was really dying.

In the hours after the fieldworkers took away her body, Ronen locked himself in his room, like he always did back then. That left me with my father. He didn’t cry. He wore a thin smile as he pulled off his dark work clothes and tugged the ivory shirt down over his head. I watched him while I held my kitten, Pepper, to my chest. It wasn’t until the cat pulled away and tumbled to the floor that I lost it.

“Pepper! Pepper, come back!” I said, drawing in a hiccuping breath as he scampered out my parents’ open bedroom door. Then I brought my hands to my cheeks. Back then I cried easily, at the slightest offense. Knowing I was crying only made my grief cut deeper.

My father turned to me, the stays on his shirt still undone.

“Terra,” he said, putting a hand against my shoulder and squeezing. My answer was an uncontrollable bray, an animal noise. I let it out. I was naive—I thought that maybe my abba would draw me into his arms, comfort me like Momma would have done. But he only held me at arm’s length, watching me steadily.

“Terra, pull yourself together. You’re soaking your blouse.”

That’s when I knew that he wasn’t Momma. Momma was gone. I brought my hands up to my face, veiling it, as if I could hide behind my fingers from the truth.

After a moment, between my own panted breaths, I heard him sigh. Then I heard his footsteps sound on the metal floor as he drew away from me.

“Go to your room,” he said. “Compose yourself. I’ll get you when it’s time to go.”

I pulled myself up on weak legs. My steps down the hall were as plodding as my heart. When I reached my bedroom door, I launched myself over the threshold and thrust my body down into my waiting bed. Pepper followed me, his paws padding against the dust-softened ground. He let out a curious sound. I ignored him, my hands clutched around my belly, my face pressed against my soggy sheets.

* * *

Usually it was Abba’s job to ring the clock tower bells. But that day, the day my mother died, the Council gave the job to someone else. As we marched through the fields of white-clad people, I couldn’t help but wonder who it was who pulled those splintered ropes. Perhaps my father knew, but his jaw was squared as he gazed into the distance. I knew that he didn’t want to be bothered, so I held my tongue and didn’t ask any questions.

I walked between them, Abba on my one side, his hands balled into fists, and my older brother on the other. Ronen slouched his way up the grassy atrium fields. That was the year he turned sixteen and shot up half a head in a matter of months. His legs were nearly as long as my father’s by then, and though he seemed to be taking his time, I had to scramble to keep up.

The bell tolled and tolled beneath a sky of stars and honeycombed glass. Underneath the drone of sound I heard words—murmured condolences from the other pale-clothed mourners.

By then we’d learned in school about Earth, about the settlements that had held thousands and thousands of people. They called them “cities.” I couldn’t imagine it. Our population was never more than a thousand, and so the crowd of people—a few hundred, at least—felt claustrophobic. But I wasn’t surprised by the throng of citizens

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