Prologue I: Earth

From the black depths of space, they come. Gargantuan ships hovering shapes against the dark haze.

In the night, she watches them from her window. They each remind her of ghosts, big and black in the night sky. They are bigger than she ever imagined, each a world of its own.

These are our saviour ships, Elia, their keeper, tells them. The Federation has come to take them, comfort them, transport them across the galaxy to some station that will keep them safe from the war.

She wonders what it will be like. Silent hallways glistening and white, beds that float and bump randomly into others in the midst of the night, rooms as big as the sun. Most of all, she imagines white light, bright and blazing, endless realms of it, spilling down the corridors and tunnels and into the bunkers where they will sleep.

Are there oceans there? someone asks. No, Elia says in her hushed tone, there are none. But it doesn’t matter, does it? You’ll be safe.

What will they all do when they grow up? she wonders when she cannot sleep at night and instead lies with her head beneath her pillow, pretending she is in a cave. Will they work at the station? Will they have to fight? Will they die?

She thinks she will miss the ocean the most, its soft whispers that fill the night. Its ability to change shades. Deep, bottom-reaching blues, rippling silvers, lustrous greens. She wants to take it with her — she even considers collecting some in a tiny jar — but she knows they will only search her and take it away.

In the morning, she stands in the snaking lines with everyone else, watching as the mountainous ships descend from the sky.

All the other kids from her home are there too, though she doesn’t speak to any of them. She can see Elia and Jaks, Bruke the maintenance man, older kids and old people and other grown-ups from the city she has never seen. They swarm and ebb like the sea.

Above them, seagulls whirl and cry, darting in flocks, then separating and shrieking.

There is a bellowing shout amidst the roar and she thinks she hears someone calling her name, ‘Mia! Mia!’

But when she turns and looks, there is no one.

Her father’s hands come back to her. Big fingers, rough tips from his work on the docks, but a soft palm in the middle, like a tiny pillow. She remembers his tight and comforting arms around her shoulders, as if he would never let her go. She wants to cry, but forces it back and instead looks down at the ocean, its churning waves. This is the last time I will see it, she thinks. This is the last time I will see Earth.

The atmosphere is full of their horrible chatter, their smiles, their hopes of something better out there in the great black.

Above them, there is a deafening sound as one of the ships plants itself on the ground on the other side of the bay and something – a ramp? stairs? – begins to descend.

Everyone is cheering and yelling before they fall into a mesmerised hush. In the whispers around her, she hears a boy, one younger than her, ask his parents what is going on.

Earth is no longer, his mother says. They cannot live here anymore. It’s under attack. Soon, it will be gone completely.

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