Patrick Ness - The New World

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Patrick Ness - The New World
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The New World
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or, if real, are used fictitiously.

Copyright © 2009 by Patrick Ness

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in an information retrieval system in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, taping, and recording, without prior written permission from the publisher.

First Candlewick Press edition 2010

ISBN 978-0-7636-5649-2

Candlewick Press

99 Dover Street

Somerville, Massachusetts 02144

visit us at www.candlewick.com

‘THERE IT IS,’ my mother says, and what she means is that the dot we’ve been nearing for weeks, the one that’s been growing into a larger dot with two smaller dots circling it, has now become even larger than that, growing from a dot to a disc, shining back the light from its sun, until you can see the blue of its oceans, the green of its forests, the white of its polar caps, a circle of colour against the black beyond.

Our new home, the one we’ve been travelling towards since way before I was even born.

We’re the first ones to see it for real, not through telescopes, not through computer mapping, not even in my own drawings in the art classes I take on the Beta with Bradley Tench, but through just the couple centimetres of glass in the cockpit viewscreen.

We’re the first ones to see it with our own eyes.

‘The New World,’ my father says, putting a hand on my shoulder. ‘What do you think we’ll find there?’

I cross my arms and pull away from him.

‘Viola?’ he asks.

‘I’ve seen it already,’ I say, walking out of the cockpit. ‘It’s wonderful. Hooray. Can’t wait to get there.’

Viola,’ my mother says sharply, as I shut the cockpit door behind me. It’s a slotted door, so I can’t even slam it. I keep going to my small bedroom and barely shut my own door before there’s a knock on it. ‘Viola?’ my father says from the other side.

‘I’m tired,’ I say. ‘I want to sleep.’

‘It’s one o’clock in the afternoon.’

I don’t say anything.

‘We’ll be entering orbit in four hours,’ he says, his voice calm, not rising to my attitude at all. ‘There’ll be work for you to do starting in two.’

‘I know my duties,’ I say, still not opening the door.

There’s a pause. ‘It’s going to be all right, Viola,’ he says, his voice even kinder. ‘You’ll see.’

‘How do you know?’ I say back. ‘You’ve never lived on a planet either.’

‘Well,’ he says, brightening up, ‘I’ve got lots of hope.’

And there it is. That word I’m so completely sick of.

***

‘It’s us,’ my father said on the day they told me the news, and though he was trying to look serious, I could tell he was hiding a smile. We were having dinner, and under the table, his leg was bouncing up and down.

‘It’s us what?’ I said, though I could easily guess.

‘We’ve been selected,’ my mother said. ‘We’re the landing party.’

‘We leave in 91 days,’ my father said.

I looked down at my plate, which suddenly held a bunch of food I didn’t want to eat. ‘I thought it was going to be Steff Taylor’s parents.’

My father stifled a laugh. Steff Taylor’s father was such a bad pilot he could barely fly from ship to ship in the convoy without wrecking a shuttle.

‘It’s us, sweetheart,’ my mother said, my mother the pilot, my mother who was so much better at it than Steff Taylor’s father that she was almost certainly the reason we’d been chosen. ‘Remember we talked about this. You were excited.’

And that’s true. I was excited when they’d first told me they were going to put themselves forward. I was even more excited when Steff Taylor started bragging that her father was obviously going to be chosen.

The job was vital. We’d leave the sleeping settlers and the other caretaker families behind, speeding into the empty black beyond in a small scout ship. The convoy was still twelve months from the planet. We’d make the journey in five and spend seven months there – not just my parents, I’d have work to do, too – finding the best landing site for the five big settler ships and starting to prepare the ground for the first landings.

But it was more exciting when it could have been us. It was surprisingly less so when it was actually us.

‘You’ll get more training,’ my mother said. ‘You’ll learn a lot more, just like you wanted.’

‘It’s an honour, Viola,’ my father said. ‘We’ll be the first ones to see our new home.’

‘Unless the original settlers are still there,’ I said.

They exchanged a glance.

‘Are you unhappy with this, Viola?’ my mother asked, her face serious.

‘Would you not go if I was?’ I asked.

And they exchanged another glance.

And I knew what that meant.

***

‘Thirty minutes to orbital,’ my mother is saying as I step back into the cockpit, only a little bit late. She’s the only one there. My father must have gone down to the engine room already, prepping them for orbital entry. My mother glances up at my reflection in her screens. ‘And she rejoins us.’

‘It’s my job,’ I say, sitting down at a terminal ninety degrees from her. And it is my job, one I trained for on the convoy and in the five months I’ve been here. My mother will pilot us into orbit, my father will ready the thrusters that will carry us down into the planet’s atmosphere, and I’ll be monitoring for possible landing sites.

‘There’s been something new while you pouted,’ my mother says.

‘I wasn’t pouting-’

‘Look,’ she says, bringing up a box on the viewscreen showing the larger of the two northern continents.

‘What is that?’

There’s a stretch of river that heads east towards the ocean on the night side of the planet. It’s impossible to tell from this distance, even with the ship’s scanners, but there’s an emptier space up the river a ways, possibly a valley, where the forest breaks open a bit and what looks like might even be lights.

‘The other settlers?’ I ask.

The other settlers are almost a ghost story to us. We’ve had no communications from them either in my lifetime or my parents’, so we always figured they didn’t make it. It’s a long, long trip from Old World to New, decades and decades, and so they were still on their way when our convoy left. But we heard nothing from them. Even our deepest space probes only caught distant glimpses of them as they travelled. Then after the time came when they would have landed, still years before I was born, it was hoped that we could communicate with them on the planet as we got closer, let them know we were coming, asking what it was like, what we should prepare ourselves for.

But either no one was listening, or no one was there anymore. And it was the second possibility that got everyone worried.

If they didn’t make it, what would become of us?

My father says they were idealistic settlers, leaving Old World to start a simpler, low-technology, farming kind of life with religion and all that. Which seems both stupid to me and also seems to have failed completely. But we were already so far out by the time whatever happened to them happened, there was no turning back, just the same course to the same place where we’ll find our own doom, no doubt.

‘How didn’t we see it before?’ I say, leaning closer to the screen.

‘No real energy signatures,’ my mum says. ‘If they’re powering themselves, it’s not through a big reactor like we’d expect.’

‘There’s a river,’ I say. ‘Maybe it’s hydro-electric.’

‘Or maybe it’s empty.’ My mum’s voice is quiet as we watch the screen. ‘It’s hard to tell if those are even actual lights or just blips in the readings.’

The little patch by the river starts getting farther away. We’re entering orbit the other direction, heading west, circling the planet once as we enter the atmosphere, and coming back round the other side to land.

‘Is that where we’re going?’ I say.

‘It’s as good a place to start as any,’ my mother says. ‘If they didn’t last, then the first thing we need to do is learn from their mistakes.’

‘Or get killed the same way.’

‘We’ve got better technology,’ my mother says. ‘And from what we know, they shunned what they had anyway, which could very easily have been why they failed.’ She looks at me. ‘That’s not going to happen to us.’

You hope, I think to myself.

We both watch as the continent rolls away from under us.

‘Ready,’ my father calls over the comm system.

‘Then let’s call that ten minutes mark,’ my mother says, pressing a countdown button.

‘Everyone up there excited?’ my father’s voice says.

‘Some of us are,’ my mother says, frowning at me.

***

‘I’m so glad we’re not going,’ Steff Taylor said the first time I saw her in class after it was announced it was my parents who were the landing party and not hers. It was actually my favourite class, arts with Bradley on the Beta. Bradley also taught us maths and agriculture, and was pretty much my favourite person on the whole convoy, even though he made me sit next to Steff Taylor since we were the only girls our age in all of the caretaker families.

Lucky us.

‘It’ll be so boring,’ Steff said, twisting her hair in her fingers. ‘Five months on that little ship with just your mum and dad for company.’

‘I can vid back to friends and classes,’ I said. ‘And I like my mum and dad.’

She sneered at me. ‘Not after five months you won’t.’

‘Steff, you used to brag about how your father-’

‘And then when you land, you’ve got to live there with who knows what kinds of scary animals and hoping your food rations last and there’s going to be weather there, Viola. Actualweather.’

‘We’ll be the first people to see it.’

‘Oh, whoopee,’ she said. ‘First people to see a deserted mudhole.’ She twisted her hair a little harder. ‘First people to die there more like.’

‘Steff Taylor!’ Bradley said from the front of the class. All the other kids huddled over their interactive art vids were suddenly looking up.

‘I’m working,’ Steff said, running her hands over her artpad.

‘Is that so?’ Bradley said. ‘Then perhaps you can come up here and show the rest of us what you’re working on.’

Steff frowned, hard, a frown I knew covered the latest grudge she was adding to her long, long list. As slowly as she could get away with, she got to her feet.

‘Thirteenth birthday,’ she whispered to me. ‘All alone.’

And I could tell by the satisfied look on her face that I reacted just exactly how she wanted.

***

‘120 seconds to orbital,’ my mother says.

‘Ready here,’ my father says over the comm, and I hear the engines change their pitch as we prepare to stop falling out of the black beyond and power our way through the atmosphere of the planet.

‘Ready here, too,’ I say, opening up screens that I won’t really use until we’re closer to the ground, looking for a clearing big enough to put down. A clearing, if I’m good enough at my job, where we might actually grow our first town.

‘90 seconds,’ my mother says.

‘Engines opening,’ my father says, and there’s another change in pitch. ‘Oxygenating the fuel.’

‘Buckle up,’ my mother says.

‘I am buckled,’ I say, then turn my chair so I can buckle into it without her seeing.

‘60 seconds,’ my mum says.

‘One more minute and we’re the first ones there!’ my dad shouts over the comm.

My mother laughs. I don’t.

‘Oh, come on, Viola,’ she says. ‘It really is exciting.’ She checks one of her screens, dials on it with her fingertips, then says, ‘30 seconds.’

‘I was happy on the ship,’ I say, quietly but so seriously my mother turns to look. ‘I don’t want to live down there.’

My mother frowns. ‘15 seconds.’

‘Fuel ready!’ my father says. ‘Let’s go atmo-surfing!’

‘Ten,’ my mother says, still looking at me. ‘Nine.’

And that’s when things go really, really wrong.

***

‘But it’s a whole year,’ I said to Bradley in one of my training tutorials less than a month before we left. ‘A year away from my friends, a year away from schoolwork-’

‘And if you stayed,’ he said. ‘It would be a year away from your parents.’

I looked back into the empty classroom. It was usually filled with the other caretaker families’ children, learning our lessons, talking to our friends. But today it was just me and Bradley, going over some of the science tech for the trip. Tomorrow, Simone from the Gamma – who I think Bradley secretly fancies – would be teaching me emergency survival skills, just in case the worst happened. But it would still just be me and her in this room, separated out from everybody else.

‘Why does it have to be us, though?’ I said.

‘Because you’re the best ones for the job,’ Bradley said. ‘Your mother is probably our best pilot, your father is a highly skilled engineer-’

‘And what about me? Why do I have to pay for what they’re good at?’

He smiled. ‘You’re hardly just some girl. You’re tops in maths. You’re the younger ones’ favourite tutor in music-’

‘And for that, I should be punished by being dragged away from everyone I know for a year?’

He gave me a look, then he dialled so quickly on the training pads in front of us that I could barely see what he was doing. ‘Name this,’ he said, in a teacherly tone that made me answer immediately.

‘Hardpan,’ I said, looking at the simulated landscape he’d chosen. ‘Good drainage, but dry. Irrigation for at least five to eight years before suitable for crops.’

‘And this?’ he said, dialling again.

‘Temperate forest. Limited clearing needed, potentially good for cattle, but strong environmental concerns.’

‘This one?’

‘Near desert. Subsistence farming only. Bradley-’

‘You’ve got skills, Viola. You’re bright and resourceful and even at your age, you’ll be a vital part of the mission.’


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