“What are we looking at?”
The archaeologist frowned and turn to the historian. The historian poured over their notes, a matching frown on their face.
“I’m not sure. It appears to be a copper panel. I see signs of tooling here, but it looks much more advanced than I’d expect to see from pre-iron age people…”
The archaeologist nodded.
“That’s what I was thinking. Do you have any record of…anything like this?”
The historian skimmed the readout on the digital pad and then shook their head.
“We don’t have much information about this region before the Great War. But maybe this is the same structure as the torch we found on the seafloor? It’s certainly close enough. Maybe some sort of sun deity?”
After a long moment, the historian and the archaeologist stood together once more by the large green panel of copper. The archaeologist rested a hand on the copper.
“Did this place have a name before we moved in?”
The historian skimmed the digital pad once more.
“The only one we have left is…New Amsterdam?”
The girl jogging down the street pulled her jacket tighter around her against the chill of the night air. Every bit of light reflected in the glassy surfaces of the buildings around her made her jump, looking like the bright glare of the security bots that patrolled this part of the city. She had to get home before anyone or anything processed that she was out past her age bracket’s curfew. The hood chafed against her long pointed ears, but it was necessary. Those made her stand out, even in this district. Too many of the stories about Speakers starred an elf, too many elves alone disappeared. Better she be thought to be a vandal or a thief than potentially a Speaker. Not, of course, that anyone outside the Corps believed in the Speakers anymore.
The voice was a hoarse whisper from a nearby alleyway. Turning to look, Mia smiled with relief.
The human woman was in her late 50s, her hair going gray and her face lined. Her clothing was plain and dark, meant to allow her to hide in the shadows. She grabbed Mia by the arm.
“You’re late, girl. Come on, we need to get home before-”
“Halt, Citizens. Provide identification chips.”
Neither Shannon nor Mia had an identity chip logged with the city, it would have meant risking people finding out about Mia’s powers. Shannon shoved Mia.
Mia didn’t hesitate, she was off and running before she even really thought about it. Vaulting over a low wall, she jumped to a ladder and started scrambling upwards. Her only thought was escape until she heard the unmistakable boom of the air heating and expanding as a fireball erupted on the surface level behind her. Mia froze. She couldn’t be sure. It could have been Aunt Shannon using a self-defense spell. It could have missed. It could have…it could have… Then she heard the screams. That was enough to send her off running again, half-blinded by the tears in her eyes.
The sun was coming up when the shaking in Mia’s legs finally got the better of her and she collapsed, the tears streaming down her cheeks. She couldn’t control the shaking or stop the tears. For the first time since she’d been a baby, Mia was alone.
“Why should I care about some snot-nosed brat with no experience whatever?”
Mason Laverty hung his wrench back up on the wall behind his worktop and turned to face his best friend.
“Because, you idiot, she’s a Speaker. A real, honest to goodness Speaker.”
“Are you serious?”
“Completely.” Jarrel Carson rubbed his hands together excitedly. “All untrained, but a Speaker.”
The mechanic shook his head, curls bouncing and disbelief clear on his face.
“How did they miss her?”
“I don’t know. All Shan left me in the data cores was the kid’s name and picture, but are you going to judge the uptimes of a borrowed carpet?”
“We’ll have to teach her and neither of us knows a lick about that side of the magic…”
“And no one knows what happens if you teach a Speaker to Enchant.” Jarrel’s grin was wicked. “So let’s try.”
“We gotta find her first, you ass.”
It was one of those clear summer afternoons, the ones where nothing feels so good as the wind in your hair, the sand between your toes and the kiss of the saltwater against your skin. It was the kind of day where a person could get lost in it all. The kind of day that promises everything and nothing all at once.
500,000 square miles. It seems so big when you’re out there in your boat or your plane, trying to find land against all odds. Compared to the nearly 200 million square miles of the Earth, though, it’s nothing.
Not, of course, that any of that matters now. The sky around you isn’t clear anymore. That piercing summer sun is lost behind a bank of fog that came up out of nowhere. The instrumentation panel is going haywire, gauges and meters jumping and lights flashing. Even the compass can’t find north. The fog is gaining on you now, encircling your little plane. But there’s a chance. Before you, as the two ends of the fog bank converge, there’s a window directly in front of you. A tunnel. Hope. Surging forward, you fly as fast as your little plane can go. You can see the little sparks of electricity building up on the skin of the plane and try desperately to ignore it. Everything is fine. Everything is going to be fine. The sky is gone. All you can see now is fog.
The memorial service was a small thing. Just some family and friends coming together to mourn another life claimed far too soon by the waters of the Triangle.
He burst out of the darkness with a crash. Something was pulling at his arms, something else over his mouth. Panic welling up in him, he ripped at the tubes strapped to him, spraying liquid all over as he fell. The floor was hard, cold and unforgiving. Metal. It was metal. Slowly, so very slowly, everything was coming into focus. There were tanks…or…something. Something like tanks. Or pods. He pulled himself to his feet, trying to remember anything. He was naked and wet, but he could feel something against his chest. Reaching to grab it, he found that it was hanging from a chain around his neck. Dog tags. The word leaped unbidden into his mind and he looked at them, hoping for some clue to the mystery. B32053. Grade 5. Type AO. That was all it said. He let them fall again and looked around. Slowly, he walked to one of the pods and looked into it. It took a moment for his eyes to process fully what he was seeing. Another person. A woman. And she was asleep inside the pod with her eyes closed. He put his hand on the window and heard a loud click. Leaping back, his hands went up defensively. The door of the pod opened and there was a puff of mist. He was shaking now, fear and adrenaline running through his system. Then her eyes snapped open. She took a few staggering breaths and then looked up at him.
She started moving towards him, relief clear on her face. The tubes held her back and she looked at him again.
“Mason, what’s going on? Where…where are we?”
He cleared his throat slightly, not moving more than to let his hands drop.
It was as though all the hope in her eyes just vanished like a light had been snuffed.
“Mas… It’s… You’re Mason.” She glared down at the tubes and the wires and ripped it all out with two fierce tugs. “Your name is Mason Ross. Please, please remember.”
She closed the distance between them and he took a half step back.
His expression was bleak and scared and lost. He looked almost like a child in that moment. She took a deep breath, looking him over and then seemingly made a decision.
She held her hand out to shake and he took it, uncertainly.
“I…guess I’m Mason.”
He smiled tentatively and she returned it.
“You said…Mason Ross, right?”
“And you’re Wanda…?”
He let it trail off, clearly questioning. Her eyes dropped to the floor and she didn’t answer right away. When she did, her shoulders slumped just slightly.
“Ross. Wanda Ross.”
For a moment, they both stood there in silence. Then Mason started to cast around.
“Do you know where we are? How we got here?”
She shook her head, tears forming in her eyes.
“Last I knew, we were at home getting ready for bed. I…I can’t remember anything after that. But…we’ll figure it out. Alright?”
He nodded, his eyes on the metal hatch at the end of the large room. Maybe the answers were beyond there.
“Give me the probe readout, Daski”
The fleet admiral leaned back, looking up at the forward screens ablaze with light and color. The first mate peered at her station console.
“Finds are consonant with a stable environment. I see high oxygen levels and evidence of water in both liquid and solid forms.” There was a pause then. “Admiral, sir, this planet… It shows signs of intelligent habitation?”
The communications officer sat straight up at that, his bright eyes nearly frantic with excitement.
“Shall I open the hailing frequencies, Admiral?”
“Yes, thank you, Richards.”
The young man saluted and pulled his headset on, turning a dial on the instrumentation panel before him.
“Planet at position 3 in sector 39, this is Linus Richards, chief communications officer for Generational Fleet Beta. We greet you.”
All those on the bridge awaited a reply, eyes on the planet.
“Daski, finish the probe readout, if you would.”
She saluted and lean in to read closely again.
“Multiple land masses, Sir, and thick vegetation is apparent in the central, tropical regions. It shows the usual variance in ecosystems that we expect from a Homeworld-type planet. The major bodies of water appear to be salinated, but I am seeing potable water inland.”
“Sir!” Linus interrupted suddenly. “I have a response, but it appears to be automated.”
The admiral stood, turning to look at him.
“Play it over the bridge audio, Richards.”
The recording crackled and skipped as it came to life with a pop.
“Visitors, we of Planet Earth greet you but we are here no longer. Those who could have boarded the generational fleets and gone out to find new worlds to replace the one we cost ourselves. Do not make our mistakes. Do not destroy your world. We hope, in time, that the Earth will rejuvenate itself. If it has, then we welcome you to stay. Make your home in what was once ours. Welcome home.”
There was a long silence on the bridge. Finally, Linus cleared his throat.
“That’s the full message, Sir.”
The admiral ran her fingers through her short, salt and pepper hair.
“Did they…? I can’t believe it…” She paused then, her expression full of wonder. “Broadcast this to all vessels in the fleet, Richards.”
She waited for his nod of assent and for the status light on her comms to go green before she spoke again.
“This is the admiral speaking. Citizens and crew of Generational Fleet Beta, we have found our port of call. On behalf of the crew, I would be the first to welcome you to this planet, our Homeworld. Earth.”