Live or die, stay or go, the choice is meant to be easy…
I can either board an alien spaceship with my fellow criminals or rot in prison on a dying Earth.
The spacecraft’s captain, a handsome alien who looks remarkably human, has been visiting me in my dreams for over a year. He has given me the companionship I need during my time locked up in solitary confinement and the way he holds me in the dark makes me forget the Earth is on the brink of extinction.
In the midst of another ice age, humanity will be wiped out soon, but the alien spacecraft gives hundreds of us another option. If I get on that ship, I have a chance at surviving.
And I’m a survivor.
Only a deadly disease is spreading among the aliens and has already wiped out three-quarters of their population. It appears to be a virus, but as the aliens continue dying despite all precautions, I begin to wonder if the disease is something else.
How do I keep the man I’ve fallen in love with safe?
And if he dies, along with the rest of his alien race, how will us humans manage a ship filled with unknown technology?
But if the disease also wipes out the humans on board, none of this will even matter.
Read this romantic apocalyptic alien adventure today!
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Here’s the first chapter of Departing.
The guard’s fingers gently thrummed against the bars over the narrow, horizontal window of my cell. I moaned as I lifted my head from my cot. Tate always gave me a warning he was coming, unlike the other guards who pounded on my cell door, exerting their authority as they entered.
Too bad it was Tate today. He was one of the few guards I liked and didn’t want to subject him to what I had planned. Tate always tried to entertain me with a joke or, at least, his opinion on what was happening on our dying planet outside the walls—not that I’d ever see the cooling sun again.
“Skylar, you’re getting out today,” he called through the steel door.
I held my hands over my ear, dampening the overwhelming sounds of his voice and his keys jingling. The longer I spent in solitary, the more I became sensitive to sounds. I cleared my throat, surprised at my scratchy voice. “Being released from the hole isn’t my idea of getting out. Now, if you brought me a snowsuit and pointed me towards the exit, we’d be talking.”
“Come on, after a month of solitude, I bet you can’t wait to see your roommate.”
I pulled my hands away, adjusting to the noise after so long in silence. “Who do I have this time?”
Julia was one of the few murderers that were in prison. Most got the death penalty immediately upon sentencing, but some, like Julia, claimed their unspeakable crime was performed in self-defense. Julia didn’t scare me, as she was one of the few that hadn’t fallen under my enemy’s thumb, but the bad part of having her for a cellmate was her terrified screams in the middle of the night that kept me awake.
And I liked sleeping.
Dreams were all that was left to give me hope.
“You know the drill.” Tate’s keys stopped jingling outside my cell.
I lifted my hands and placed them on the top of my head. “I got ‘em up.”
“Good girl. So…why did the picture go to jail?”
I tightened my lips to prevent a laugh. “Because he was framed?”
Tate pushed the heavy door open. He must be at the start of his shift today, since his tattered, beige button-down shirt wasn’t wrinkled where his few extra pounds creased the fabric while sitting on his lunch break. “I told you that one before?”
I shook my head. “Nope. I knew the answer because that’s the line everyone here gives when you ask them what they did to deserve being locked up.”
“You never gave me that line.”
No, I hadn’t. I knew why I was here, and I was as guilty as they got.
Tate zip-tied my hands together behind my back. I had hoped he’d take me with my hands free, since it made things easier, but I didn’t blame him. I had a history of violence and today would be no exception.
Tate wrapped his hand around my bicep and lifted me to my feet. He squeezed gently. “You work out too much.”
“What else is there to do with my day?” Besides sleep that is.
We paraded down a series of hallways and into the main prison area. I squinted and kept my eyes to the floor. As cushy as being in the hole sounds, it’s not pleasant. The deprivation of stimulation makes the real world seem like a dream.
And in my case, my dreams felt like the real world.
Without my vivid imagination, I’d never have made it with nearly half of my sentence so far served alone. I had been here for eighteen months, and nearly nine of those months had been in solitary confinement.
It didn’t matter much. From what Tate had told me, the Earth was down to only six months left before the cooling sun couldn’t support life any longer.
At that point, it was all over anyway.
I’m surprised the United States still bothered with prison. Tate told me some countries let everyone run free during these final days.
As we passed through the main corridor between two stories of cells, I lifted my chin to the colorful movements on the TV in the guard’s station.
Nearly six months ago, an alien landed on Earth, supplying us with an undying energy source. Scientists had been frantically trying to replicate it, saying that if they succeeded, they would be able to drain and heat the underground tunnels they created, operate our greenhouses, and fuel our vehicles on a planet that couldn’t sustain life otherwise.
This alien, Lon from planet Kaipra, gave the Earth hope again.
But scientists hadn’t been successful in replicating the fuel cell. One crucial component was made from a compound not available on Earth. They had been trying to simulate it, but hadn’t had success.
I used to utilize my allotted TV time to watch President Cruz address the nation. “No worries,” she had said. “We still have nine…eight…seven months left.” But I gave up on TV. It never brought good news.
Today, there was no talk of the new energy source on the TV.
Something else caught my eye.
Images flashed across the screen of spacecrafts I had never seen before. They looked like NASA’s old space shuttles, but these were big enough to house a small city, not at all like the tiny, one passenger ship Lon had traveled to Earth in.
“More Aliens on Earth,” was the headline.
I didn’t know if I should be excited or fearful. We got lucky six months ago when Lon’s ship crash landed on Earth. He was friendly, looked remarkably human, despite speaking completely via telepathy, and, as the news reported, fell in love with a human.
But was he simply a scout before the big invasion?
Not that aliens would want our dying planet anyway.
When we passed the central guard station, and I couldn’t see the TV any longer, I dropped my eyes to the floor again.
Don’t look up.
My heart pounded when Tate continued past the last pod of cells.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the dining hall. It’s your scheduled lunch time.”
“I’m not hungry.” I was safe in my cell—even with the murderer—I wasn’t safe out with the rest of the prison population.
“You know we have to stick to a routine,” Tate said.
I tightened my jaw. Maybe it’d be okay. Maybe she would have a different schedule from me.
As we entered the chow hall, I realized I wasn’t so lucky.
The woman I feared sat across the rows of tables. Her brown eyes lifted, catching mine with a glare that sent a shiver down my spine as memories of a cracked skull filled my mind.
I could handle this. I just needed to stand tall and mind my own business.
But when she blew me a kiss, I lost it.
I spun towards Tate, knocking into his soft body with my shoulder. “I really can’t eat here. I need a different meal time assigned.”
“You know the drill. You’ll have to file a request with the warden.” He spun me around and escorted me past one table, then the next. We were headed for a seat on the table right next to Cheyenne. Her intense stare never left mine, and a sly smile filled her lips.
Revenge was bitter.
“I’m not feeling well,” I pleaded into Tate’s soft hazel eyes. “I can’t be here.”
Nothing in prison happened by accident.
The powers that managed this place were sitting me by Cheyenne on purpose.
They knew I was running out of chances. This last time the warden spoke with me about being released from the hole, he said the prison system would give me only one more chance, then I’d face the death penalty. The warden said that I was proving myself unfit for confinement. With the dying Earth and rationing of supplies, the death penalty was easily approved these days—especially for someone like me who consumed quite a few resources.
But I knew I’d never allow myself to face the death penalty, no matter how bad my behavior was.
I was a survivor.
And I wasn’t afraid to run from my problems.
I arched an eyebrow at Tate, silently apologizing for what was going to happen. As we approached the table, Cheyenne gave me a toothy grin that promised me her wrath. The chill that shot up my spine sent me spinning around to kick Tate’s legs out from underneath him. I sent my knee into his ribs, holding back some because he had told me a joke this morning.
Hopefully, the blow didn’t puncture a lung.
My little act of violence wasn’t enough to kill him, but would be enough to get me in the hole—and away from Cheyenne—once again. I’d try to petition for a longer stay again—hopefully, getting enough time to avoid Cheyenne until the end.
Tate rolled to his side and curled up like a baby, giving me his spine.
I wouldn’t kick there; I’d hate for him to be paralyzed.
Tate told me he had a wife at home. A little girl they had by accident, despite the government’s mandate of birth control, but that he loved her with all his heart. I wouldn’t send him to the hospital for the last six months of their time together.
I twisted around to the smile on Cheyenne’s face. She was a sitting target, literally, but I didn’t go that way. Memories of her threat to me as she smashed my head against the prison floor seemed like only yesterday: You were lucky this time. Next time I get the opportunity, I’ll kill you.
And I believed her.
It all started when I had ratted her out, turning in her secret hooch brewing business, but I felt no guilt—especially after experiencing her retaliation.
If I wanted a long sentence in the hole, attacking a guard got me more time than a fellow prisoner.
Instead of focusing my anger on who deserved it, I launched myself on top of Tate, straddling him between my legs, but as I went down for a headbutt, I was yanked away by two guards.
They hauled me down the hall and threw me back into the cell I had just gotten out of.
As soon as they shut the door and their keys stopped jingling from locking it, I laughed out loud.
I was safe here.
And I was a survivor.