"What the fuck," I whisper under my breath. My stomach clenches, and the ground feels like it's dropping from beneath my feet. "What the fuck!" I nearly shout, remembering too late that I should be keeping my voice down.
The others' headlamps turn, all pointing at me like I'm on stage under the spotlight. I pinch my eyes shut against the sudden, intense brightness.
"Oh my God," Star says. "Is that . . ."
Her voice trails off as she comes to the same realization I have.
I feel like I'm going to be sick. The starship we found earlier—abandoned, except for the parasites and their hosts hibernating within it—didn't travel through some wormhole in deep space. It didn't come from a nearby planet with intelligent life we just weren't aware of.
It came from Earth! Of course it did. The simplest answer is almost always the right one, and the evidence was right in front of us the whole time. The ship landed at nearly the exact same spot we did. What are the chances a starship from somewhere else would have chosen the same destination on a planet nearly the size of Earth?
Anger surges through my body. My hands shake as I clench them into fists. The only reason I didn't figured it out sooner was I didn't want to believe it. I was afraid of finding out the truth, so I kept myself from thinking about it too hard.
"What the fuck!" I snap my head around to face the others. My eyes land on America. He shields his as the beam from my headlamp burns his retinas.
"You lied to me!" I snarl at him. I feel my lips curling back, baring my teeth. "We weren't the first mission. That starship we found—that came from Earth!"
"Shawn," he raises both hands in front of himself, like he is trying to calm me, but I don't want any of his bullshit. "Calm down. Let's just talk for a second."
I take a step towards him, my body still physically shaking. "You knew this wasn't the first mission." I point my finger at him. "You knew!"
"I didn't know!" he shouts. "ICC told me this was the first mission! That's all I knew. I had no idea—"
"I don't care!" I yell. "Whether you knew when we left or not—it doesn't matter. You knew where it came from when we found it! You must have. You designed the fucking thing. Of course you recognized it!"
Hesitantly, he nods and pinches his eyes shut. When he opens them, he looks away from me, refusing to make eye contact. "You're right. I did."
"And you kept that secret from all of us?" Star backs me up. She stands next to America, both hands on her hips.
"Look, I would have explained it, but we didn't have any time." America glances between Star and me, the light from his headlamp flickering over the slimy surface of the alcove we've climbed into. "After those things attacked, I didn't think it mattered anymore. Finding the ship abandoned like that . . . I thought they must've just sent one of the ships as an unmanned test mission. I didn't think it would've actually been manned."
His light lands on the old, discarded helmet at my feet, and he grimaces. "I spent nearly a year in prison without any information about what was going on. No word from them. I got no updates about the progression of the mission. No details of the plan." A pause. "There were times I thought they'd abandoned me. Left me to rot."
I let a heated plume of air out of my nose. My helmet's glass fogs up for a second before clearing.
"Every day, I hoped I'd finally get word from them," America continues. "Every day, I fought to keep myself from wondering if I'd made the biggest mistake of my life." He pauses for a second. "I know I haven't been completely honest, and for that I'm sorry. But I didn't keep this from you to hurt you."
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Down UnderScience Fiction
|WATTYS 2022 WINNER - HORROR| Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition alo...