By Laura Schiller
Based on the Across The Universe Trilogy
Copyright: Beth Revis
I've never seen my daughter look so terrified.
Amy doesn't break easily. When her grandmother stopped recognizing her due to Alzheimer's, she kept herself together until we were out of the nursing home. Later at the funeral, she was the one looking after Maria, just squeezing my hand, neither of us saying a word. Amy is strong, which is why her mother and I petitioned to have her join us in the first place – because there's no symbol of hope for the future as powerful as a bright young person working with you. Godspeed needs her almost as much as it needs my wife's magic touch with plants – or, at least, that's how we rationalized our need not to leave our little girl behind.
But the sight of Maria being frozen – her bare skin pressed against that glass box; the yellow liquid sealing her eyes shut; her blood flowing out to be replaced with blue chemicals; the suppressed pain in her voice as she tried to say goodbye past the tubes in her mouth – has got our sixteen-year-old daughter sobbing like a child, and no wonder. It's a damn nightmare just to watch.
Ever since General Robertson informed me and my fellow officers of the contingency plan, three days ago, my doubts have been growing. Project Ark Ship seemed like a dream come true at first – lifetime job security; escape from national debt, pollution, riots and epidemics; a fresh start for all of us. But if any of the worst-case scenarios we discussed are true, there's a real chance our dream could become a nightmare. In which case we'd have no choice but to draft the ship's maintenance crew as soldiers … by any means necessary.
It's a disgusting idea, but I couldn't prevent it even if I wanted to. I'm only sixth-in-command, after all. I've kept telling myself that it might not even come that. Who knows? Maybe the new planet will be a paradise, with a sultry climate, harmless animals, and not a single sentient life-form to contest our claim.
But on the other hand, knowing this country's track record, it could be Columbus against the First Nations all over again, with us in the role of the colonizers. I can only imagine what my daughter, who's always looked up to me as her hero, would think of me then.
This, I realize now, is why I didn't tell her we could pack a trunk. Why I left hers empty. Maria packed her old teddy bear for her, but then Maria doesn't know about the contingency plans either. She was overjoyed when Amy asked to come with us; they hugged and cried like a pair of schoolgirls. They're so alike, my two fiery redheads; no wonder they're always fighting and making up. I don't know if Maria will forgive me, if – when – she wakes up on the new planet without her little girl.
Here she is, with such a pleading expression in her green eyes, just like when she was six and broke her arm, or when she was fifteen and dinged the car on her first driving lesson. Daddy, can you fix this?
I only wish I could.
For heaven's sake, get out of here, I want to tell her. Go back to your aunt and uncle, to your friends, even your smarmy little boyfriend if you like. Stay on Earth; it's the lesser of two evils. Keep away from this system that will lock you in a frozen coffin, carry you into God knows what kind of horrors, and force you to see me at my very worst.
But the technicians are waiting, and I won't say it in front of them. Besides, my girl was never any good at following orders, so I make it a choice instead.
"I'm going next. Your mother wouldn't agree to that – she thought you'd still back down, decide not to come with us. Well, I'm giving you that option … If you do decide to live instead of being frozen, we'll be okay."
She argues, of course. She's always argued with us, from curfews to cell phone bills to her skimpy running outfits. She promised to come. Her loyalty won't allow her to back down. But it's not a promise I can accept, not with her safety on the line. I do my best to make her understand.
"How is a battlefield analyst supposed to help on a new planet? You could stay here, you could be with me," are the last words I might ever hear from her.
It's a good question, better than she knows, my innocent girl. The irony would make me smile if it weren't for the godawful cold creeping up my veins. How is a soldier supposed to help? She'll be lucky if she never finds out.
We both know her wish is impossible. Not only am I essential to the mission (unfortunately), but there is no way I'd abandon Maria to whatever waits for us on the planet. But I'm still glad to hear Amy say this, in a strange way. There's no better way to end a life than by remembering who loves you.
She hasn't told me her decision, so I pray to God she'll make the right one. The last motion I can make before the freezing hits is a pinky promise to her, our old signal that everything will be okay.
Please don't make me a liar, sweetheart. Please be safe.