‘Page 62,’ Jane thought, ‘and already, someone is dead. What will happen by page 100?’
“Because it has a high level of x-ray radiation, which can be converted to energy with the right equipment, Proxima Centauri b was chosen for colonization. In 2501, when our ship landed on Proxima Centauri b, we became the first Earth colony in the Alpha Centauri system.”
Jane’s eyes almost popped out of her head when she read that Peeta had stopped Cato from killing Katniss.
What? I thought Peeta betrayed Katniss by joining the Careers. Now you’re telling me he did it to save her?
“Miss Snowe?” the teacher said.
One more page, just let me read one more page. Please.
“Please stop reading, and pay attention.”
Jane had hoped the teacher wouldn’t notice, since she was using her glasses to project the book onto her palm. Apparently not. Rolling her eyes, the book disappeared, and she looked at the teacher, but she still didn’t pay attention. Her mind was in the arena.
Not this again.
“Can you tell me who the current GA is?”
“Very good. And what goes GA stand for?”
“Thank you, Miss. Snowe. I’m glad to see you are paying attention.”
As if. The only thing Jane Snowe paid attention to were the bestseller lists. By some trick of nature, all the children brought to the colony were total idiots, and had to learn everything twenty times before it sank in, and even then, they were sure to forget it a month later. This had to be the sixth time that week the teacher asked who the GA was, and Jane bet that tomorrow, when that question was on the test, there would still be someone who got it wrong. C’mon. How hard is to remember the most important person in the galaxy?
“Listen up, everybody! Your homework is pages 10-12 in the webbook, and in 20 minutes, there is going to be a meeting of the Junior Colony Association in bunker 712. I encourage all of you to come and learn about the jobs and machines that keep our colony running, which all of you will be doing someday. I especially encourage those of you who have failed to attend in the past. You are dismissed.”
Jane was up and out of the door at the words ‘you are’. For the past week, the teacher had tried to stop her before she left, wanting to bother her about going to the Junior Colony Association meetings. Frankly, Jane thought it was pointless (not to mention boring), since she was planning on leaving the day she turned 18, and luckily, the teacher couldn’t bother her too much, since her father was the head of the colony.
Jane’s room was small, the size her balcony had been at home. Against the wall opposite the door was her bed, a rectangular projection from the wall, covered with special material that was supposed to pad it as well as a mattress (it didn’t), and a gray, unattractive thing that was supposed to be her blanket. At one end, a misshapen gray lump was attached the bed, pretending to be a pillow. It wasn’t even a good fake pillow, because Jane couldn’t move it. The only bright spot was a badly sewn stuffed animal leaning against the wall. It had been a gift from her best friend on Earth. Emerson Westbay.
Jane took off her glasses and put her on her headset to call Emerson. A face appeared in front of her, a tall, tan, blonde girl with eyes the color of a bluejay’s feather, holding a pencil in one hand and a sheet full of notes in the other.
“I’ve missed you.”
“It’s only been three hours.”
“It feels like forever.”
“Anything new happened?”
“Same old, same old. Ms. Stacy being crustier than day-old bread. Anything new for you?”
“I have a HUGE Spanish test in 4 days! And that’s the day after my solo performance at the Daisy center.”
“Wow. That is bad timing.
“Si, si, si!!! Jess, I’m so stressed. What am I to do?”
Emerson waved her sheet music around and placed it angrily on the bed, rubbing her forehead.
“Emmy, you’re going to do fine. In a few years, you’ll have a record label deal and a few years after that you’ll be getting the Celina Jaze award for your album My Best Friend Jane.”
“How do you know?”
“How could it not happen? You’re the most talented singer on the East Coast, not to mention intensely driven. You’re going to make it, Emmy. I believe in you.”
“Thanks, Jess. Hey, did I tell you, they added a new flavor at the Frozen Spoon?”
“A new flavor?”
“Anything else changed?”
“Not that I’ve noticed.”
Next to the apartment where Jane used to live (Emerson still lived there), was an ice cream shop called “The Frozen Spoon.” Their parents had been friends, and when the adults wanted to talk alone, they would give them twenty units, and Jane and Emerson would run down to “The Frozen Spoon”. Jane would get coconut ice cream with gummy bears, and Emerson would get mint chip ice cream. It was memories like those that kept Jane going, trying to find a reason to live on this planet. This planet deprived of life except the monotonous routine of the workers, a brainless state Jane found worse than death.
2 more years. In 2 years, I’ll turn 18, and I can leave.
After Emerson hung up to practice singing some more, Jane read another hundred pages in the Hunger Games, eating the meal sent up by the communal kitchens, and went to bed. Her parents were both still working when she fell asleep, as they were every night.
The next day was a special day. School ended early (thank goodness), because it was the annual ‘ceremony of promotion’. It was held every time Proxima Centauri b had completed 15 revolutions, the equivalent of a year. This was when people were promoted from, and teenagers were initiated to their chosen line of work. For those who weren’t getting promoted or initiated, it was a break from work or school, and the only time of year there was anything decent to eat.
“This year,” her father said, “we would like to honor and recognize…”
As soon as he said the words ‘honor and recognize’, Jane rolled her eyeballs, and started reading the Hunger Games off her palm. She was now on page 230, almost at the end. Her knee bounced up and down as she anticipated what would happen, all the possibilities sifting through her mind like grains of sand. Somewhere in the background, one of the Joneses was called for promotion, and the whole family stood up and walked toward the table where her parents sat. When the promotions ended at last, she was on page 275, and shortly after, the cooks came out with food. It was a real Earth meal; square-shaped pasta in creamy red sauce, and a whole chicken for each table, covered in herbs and oil, as well as a pitcher of fruit juice. At this meal, Jane always took seconds.
While Jane was chewing a piece of chicken, Emerson’s face flickered across her glasses, above the words ‘Incoming Call from Emerson Westbay’. Jane left her plate of food and walked into the bathroom, which, thankfully, was empty. She put her headset on, but didn’t block out the audio from around, so she would know when someone else came in.
“Shh! I’m in the bathroom.”
“It’s the ceremony of promotion.”
“That thing again?”
“Yep. Anyway, what are you calling about?”
“You know the annual school garden party.”
“The one you said you were not going to?
“About that…I might actually be going, because…”
“Did-a boy? Emmy!”
“Yes. Someone asked me out
“His name is-“
“Wait, shh. I hear someone.”
Someone entered the stall next to Jane’s, and she silently pressed her e-reader against her chest, waiting for them to do their business and be gone. As soon as she heard the door shut, she resumed the conversation.
“Tell me! Tell me everything!”
“His name is Zayd, and he is a total Science nerd. You won’t believe it, but he is taking Chemistry, and Biology, and Physics. He’s in my Chemistry class, actually, that’s how I met him. He sits next to me.”
“Emerson, that’s amazing! I am so happy for you.”
Jane made a heart with her hands, pressing it against the screen of her headset. Emerson did the same, making a heart with her hands, pressing her hands against the headset, so their hands were touching through the screen.
“After my performance, I’ll have some downtime, and I think I’ll go shopping on Saturday for my dress- Eee!- but I’ll need your help.”
“I can’t wait!”
“Yay! I’ll talk to you later, I need to keep practicing now.”
“You’re going to do great.”
“I hope so.”
Emerson hung up, and Jane left the bathroom, hearing the music for the first time, and finding the tables cleared to make room for dancing. The adults were dancing serenely, while the young children were running around them, playing a game of tag between their legs. The teenagers stood in groups sorted by gender, looking nervously at each other.
Jane left the hall, knowing no one would notice her absence and went to her favorite reading spot. It was a little closet near the farms, built to house fertilizer, but which was currently empty. It was lucky for Jane, because now she had somewhere to go when she was tired of her room. After 5, the farms were empty, so she never had any disturbances. All the blankets and pillows she had brought from Earth resided in that closest, along with a few precious boxes of granola bars.
Jane finished Catching Fire, and started Mockinjay, reading through Part 1. By that time it was getting late, and though she kept telling herself she would stop after this page, after this chapter, after this paragraph, she never did. Eventually it got so late that she fell asleep in the closet.
The next morning, when she awoke, she realized what had happened. ‘Not again!’ she thought.
Her parents wouldn’t have noticed her absence, being too busy working, but if she wanted breakfast she would have to hurry and get back to her bunker.
Jane got one foot out the door before she was blown backwards. A powerful blast of heat and something else had just hit her, and it took all her strength to close the door against it.
“What was that?” A terrible thought crossed her mind. “Has the bunker collapsed?”
She tried to call her parents, but the e-reader said there was no signal. She tried again, and again, and each time she got the same error message. She tried to call Emerson, but her glasses said the same thing. No signal.
Emerson woke up at 6, her alarm clock screeching as she banged her head into the music stand two inches from her face. Her mind hadn’t quite returned from the land of dreamland when she staggered out of bed, glimpsing her bed head in the mirror. Finding her glasses, she put them on, and read through all her messages and notifications. What caught her attention, however, was the date. When Emerson saw the date, she woke up.
It was the day of her performance.
Emerson played a quick scale, pulled out her tuner, and began singing. It must have been the 1,000th time she had sung that song, but it felt just even scarier than the first time, because the first time, she had a month to prepare. Now, she had less than 12 hours. Hoping for some encouragement, Emerson dialed Jane, but instead of Jane’s bright face, she got a message saying ‘Jane Snowe is not available’.
“That’s odd,” Emerson said, “she’s always available.”
After a few more tries, she gave up, and returned to her singing. She tried to call Jane again when she sat down to breakfast, but got the same response. She went to school, worried about Jane and about her performance, (she called her again at lunch, to no avail) and as soon as she got home, she called Jane again. Still no response, so Emerson called her mother, an engineer for NASA.
“What is it, honey? Something about your performance tonight?”
“Has anything unusual happened on Proxima Centauri b?”
“I’m just worried because Jess isn’t answering my calls.“
The sound of papers being shuffled came over the phone, and Emerson could see her mother rolling her eyes. “Emerson, I think you’re overreacting. Try again in an hour. I have some important work to do, so-“
“Mom, I‘ve tried calling her 5 separate times. She didn’t respond, and she didn’t even try to call me back, which has never happened before.”
“Emerson, I am sure it’s noth-“
“Mom, she always answers my calls. In 2 years, the longest we’ve ever gone without calling each other is 4 hours. Mom, I know it’s probably nothing, but in case it’s not, please, just look into it.”
“Incoming call from Emerson Westbay.”
Jane had been pacing around the closet, stopping every now and then to bang her head against the wall, but when she heard the computer voice, she stopped pacing and said, “Accept”.
“Jess! Thank goodness. I was so worried.”
“I’m sorry, I tried to call you, but for the past 6 hours I haven’t been able to get a signal. Emmy, you won’t believe what happened.”
Jane explained what had occurred when she had tried to open the door. Emerson did not seem as surprised as Jane thought she would be.
“After you didn’t answer any of my calls, I talked to my Mom and she did some routine checks. Turns out there was a breach in the protective wall of the colony, and a solar flare got through.”
“That must be what came through the door.”
“Definitely. Anyway, the solar flare knocked down the antennae, so my Mom rerouted the signal through a nearby satellite.”
“What about the rest of the colony? Are they ok?”
“Everyone else is in the emergency bunkers. You, are lucky the closet protected you. Apparently, fertilizer is precious enough to protect it from solar flares.”
“Is the SolarBarrier going to be fixed any time soon?”
“Because it’s an internal tear, only someone from the colony can fix it. They’d have to wait until it died down to fix the tear, and based on NASA calculations, by that time everything above the emergency bunkers will be destroyed.
“Everything? Including me?”
Jane grabbed a granola bar and crushed it in her hand, reducing it to crumbs, before throwing it against the wall. After it fell to the ground, she stomped on it until the wrapper broke and bits of granola flew across her room. She sat down among the crumbs and buried her face in the blanket, which smelled like Emerson, ice cream and crisp paper.
“I’m putting my mom on now.” Emerson’s voice was wavering more than a blade of grass in the wind, and her eyes were the color of strawberries.
“There is a way for fix the solar flare. It’s dangerous, and hard, and you don’t have to do it, but-“
“I’ll do it.”
“The engineers built a device, called Emergency10, for the event that the SolarBarrier had a tear. It is a ladder with special spokes on the end, and a metal sheet that fits on the spokes. The metal sheets have sealant on the edges, to block the solar flares.”
“Where is it?”
“In a closet near yours. There is also a suit that will protect you from the solar flares.”
For the millionth time, Jane cursed her father for accepting the offer to be the head of the Proxima Centauri b colony. She couldn’t repair the SolarBarrier and stop the solar flare. She was only 16, not 36.
But that meant, she would die here, on this godforsaken planet. She and Emerson would be separated. Permanently. Jane would never again go to one of her performances, never again draw smiley faces on Emerson’s sheet music while she braided Jane’s hair.
She had to stop the solar flares. She had to see Emerson again.
“I’ll do it.”
Emerson’s mom explained the specifics of what Jane would have to do, telling her which closet to go to, and which cart to look for.
“Be careful, Jane. I don’t want to explain to your parents why you died.”
“She’s not going to die, Mom!”
“I know, I’m just making sure. Remember, Jane, when you leave this room, the signal will be patchy, so you won’t be able to count on us for help or instructions.”
“I understand. Is the signal good enough to call my parents?
“I’m sorry, but it’s not. I tried calling them multiple times, but there was no response.”
Jane transferred the call from her headset to her glasses, stuffing a few granola bars in her pockets, and wrapped her blanket around her, hoping it would do something against the solar flares.
“Jess? You ready?”
“Emmy, if I die-“
“You’re not going to die.’
“Tell my parents I love them. And dedicate an album to me.”
“You’re not going to die, Jess. I won’t allow it.”
Clutching her blanket tightly, Jane opened the door and sprang into the hallway. The heat was enough to instantly singe her hair and chap her lips, and she kept her mouth closed to keep all her saliva from evaporating. She ran as fast as she could, practically bent double, all her concentration centered around maintaining forward motion.The light was in her eyes, a waterfall of light, so much that she almost stumbled into the wrong closet. Finally, Jane stumbled into the closet, falling among bags of fertilizer.
“Jess? You ok?” Emerson’s voice crackled in her ear.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m ok. Just tired. I see the suit.”
Jane pulled the suit off the mannequin, and spent a good ten minutes more fitting it over her whole body. She was beginning to regret not going to those “Colony Association” meetings. She found the cart, and wheeled it in front of the door.
Emerson’s mother ran through the instructions again, and Jane stepped outside. Her walk through the hallway was much pleasanter this time, not attacked by the extremes of light and heat, though it was a bit difficult to maneuver the cart. She hoped banging it into the wall wouldn’t damage it too much. Finally, she reached the room.
She was unprepared for what she found.
The solar flare in the x-ray harnessing room was of a far greater magnitude than the solar flare in the hallway. It was a whirlwind of nature straight from the pages of one of her books; a creation of the Gamemakers, or something from the mouth of a Hungarian Horntail. A mini sun had migrated into the room, centered in the tear in the ceiling. There was a pulse to the solar flares, as they got stronger and then weaker, but even the weakest blast was stronger than anything outside of the room. But, because she was so close to the tear, she could get a signal.
“Jane?” Ms. Westbay said, “are you in the room?”
“Yes. The solar flares are a lot stronger here.”
“How much stronger?”
“A lot. I can feel the heat inside me suit.”
“Do it quick, then.”
Jane unpacked the ladder, and got it into a position below the tear, so that when she stood at the top, she got the full force of the flare. It was a bit difficult, since she was a small person wearing a suit that was way too big for her, but she managed. The harder part was getting the metal sheet onto the spokes. The engineers had divided it into two sheets, to make it easier, but even with that it took her almost 10 minutes to get the first sheet up, and by the time she picked up the second sheet, her muscles were feeling like a piece of taffy stretched too much.
Then it started. A tingling sensation, traveling from her head, to her fingers, and down to her toes.
“Ms. Westbay, something is wrong.”
“What is it?”
Jane could hear Ms. Westbay fidgeting with something, probably her headset.
“My suit isn’t working anymore.”
“Not working? What do you mean?”
“I’m so hot, and my eyes hurt- I can barely hold them open anymore, the light is so blinding. Is this supposed to happen?”
“It’s possible the suit was not built to stand the trauma of a full solar flare.”
“It hurts. Everything hurts.”
“Jane, if you don’t think you can do it, you can leave.”
Jane let out a scream.
“Jane, are you ok? Jane? What happened? Talk to me, Jane.”
There was no answer.
“I’m putting Emerson on the line.”
Still no answer.
“Jess? Are you ok? Please say you’re ok. Jess?”
The only sound was Emerson blowing her nose.
“Jess, please be there. I don’t know what I would do without you. You’re my best friend, and my life has been miserable since you left. The only thing that kept me going was the hope that, someday, you would come back. You just have to stay alive, Jess! Get out of there, and stay in that closet until the solar flares die down. Please. Do it for me. Stay alive for me.”
Jane, fighting against the solar flares that were invading every pore, fighting against the part of her that just wanted to give in, fighting for the part that wanted to see Emerson again, lifted the metal sheet onto the spokes. With a great gasp, she pushed the spokes against the tear, and the whirling world of solar flares was stilled. Jane locked the spokes in the upright position, and let her head fall against the top of the ladder.
“Jess? Did you do it?”
After the incident with the solar flare, NASA insisted all children on the colony be taken back to Earth, to ensure their safety. Emerson called Jane as soon as she found out, and they danced around their rooms with joy. Jane was able to keep a straight face when her father announced it, all the children and parents, however, were crying. But as soon as she could, she snuck back to her room and packed. She didn’t have much; some clothes, her e-reader, and her stash of granola bars. Soon enough, it was the day she had to leave, and she was saying goodbye to her parents.
Her mother was holding back tears, and even her father looked downcast. She hugged them both, hearing how much they loved her, and she responded in kind.
“Jane, we have a little something for you.” Her mother handed her a large brown box, with a stamp on it saying ‘Earth’.
Jane opened it and found a new pair of glasses and the sleek black clipboard. The book was supposed to be projected from the glasses to the clipboard.
“We loaded all your favorite books on it, as well as some extras.” Her mother paused and lowered her voice. “I know we’ve been busy the last few years, and haven’t got to spend as much time with you. But we still love you.”
“Hey Mom? Do you want to keep my old glasses?”
“Your old ones?”
“To remember me by.”
Jane’s mother smiled.
“I would love that, honey. Thank you.”
“Thank you, Mom.”
“Just call us sometimes, when you get the chance?”
The captain of the ship signaled it was time for the children to board.
“Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad.”
Her parents hugged her one more time, pouring out words of love through their tears.
“I love you,” Jane said, “I’ll miss you.”
Jane walked up the ramp to the ship, and once all the children were on, they flew away. As soon as they were in the air, Jane put on her headset.
“Call Emerson Westbay.”