The Paradise Planets: The Fallen from Paradise TEASER
Even when fleeing for our lives, Ama’s as calm as stillwater, Kassiana Rivernova chuckled.
This thought splashed across her mind as she cascaded down the stairs and spilled onto the grated steel platform. Just ahead, her cousin and best friend, Amára Rivernova, had delicately landed and bounded toward the exit without losing rhythm. She slowed her pace just long enough for Kassi to catch up. They weaved through armored vehicles, whisked past a pair of confused Nemalís Royal Guards and burst out of the gated front entrance.
It was another beautiful day on Paradise as the morning daylight illuminated their surroundings, including all their usual hiding spots.
If we just get to the water, we’ll give them a real chase!
Gavish Bay was only a few strides ahead. Heavy boots of soldiers drummed the path behind them. Throwing their laminated-glass helmets on, the auto lock sealing with a hiss, Kassi and Amára raced through thick underbrush to the mossy overhang and dove ten meters down into the crystal waters of the Bay. For Kassi, it wasn’t a clean dive, but deep enough to grab some momentum.
Swimming two strokes beneath the surface, Kassi pushed forward as she mentally scanned her body for tension, found the source and allowed it to release all while taking two deep breaths to regain control of her diaphragm. She belted a Haraki Hîm—a siren acceleration song—and lit up two of the five bulbs on her sonopack. Unsurprisingly, Amára had already lit four.
The thrusters on Kassi’s feet ignited and propelled her through the clear blue water, her body straight as a torpedo. Amára did the same, but with four bulbs lit, she also had use of her hand thrusters and started to pull away.
“Wait for me!” Kassi shouted in Evéik between verses of her incantation.
Amára veered wide to peer behind her at Kassi who struggled to catch up. Amára slowed. “Do you think they followed us?” she asked.
“Should we check?” At this speed, they couldn’t twist their bodies to look behind them without spinning out.
“We’re probably far enough,” Amára said. They lifted out of formation, whipped their feet forward as if reaching the end of a very long jump, and forced a hard stop.
Suspended in the water, their eyes darted in all directions for any sign of their pursuers. Sunlight streaked the water giving them a clear view in all directions. There was no sign of the soldiers.
Kassi heaved an exaggerated sigh, “Ghost of Sheebah, that was close!” As trained sirens, they both forced slow, deep breaths to steady their breathing.
“Let’s never do that again, Kassi,” Amára said, turning off her thrusters and hovering in place with rhythmic flutter kicks.
“What? It’s just the Nemalís Royal Guard.” Kassi shrugged. “What’s the...”
“Those were not Nemalís Royal Guard, Kassi. They were speaking English–like Gaians!” Amára, usually so self-assured, had a look of unnerving fear in her eyes. The same look Kassi’s older brother, Caesar, had the day Kassi almost drowned. That was the last time she had seen it, and that was eight years ago–when she was seven. Seeing it again, now in Amára’s eyes, Kassi suddenly realized something was very wrong.
“Then who…” A flash of movement caught her eye–too quick to be marine life. Squinting, she spotted three soldiers torpedoing straight for them.
Amára’s eyes followed Kassi’s. She inhaled sharply as her face went pale. “It’s them!”
Kassi’s heart raced as she wondered who could possibly scare Amára like this. She tried singing, but her voice caught in her throat. Her sonopack coughed, already exhausted of all its energy. Without another incantation, she would be a floating whale carcass. Her arms flailed as she tried to move.
Amára had already powered her suit and blasted off, slicing through the water. “Kassi? I can’t see you! You with me?”
“Ama! Help!” Kassi’s mind rattled through her siren meditation exercises. She scanned her body for tension—everything was tense! So she tried to focus on the awareness of her surroundings—sight, smell, sound—it was all chaos. Nothing calmed her ragged pulse, not even the calming rhythm of their spoken Evéik. Uneven breathing prevented her from sustaining a single note that would power up her sonopack. Without it, Kassi’s only option was to hide. Her eyes frantically swept the seabed for caverns.
She dove, muscling herself downward in her pressurized wetsuit. Stroke after heavy stroke. She could almost reach the entrance. Her fingertips stretched to grab hold of the rocky lip when a strong hand lurched forward and seized her arm.
Kassi shrieked as she spun to face a square-headed man with a flattened nose and a face like a bucket of smashed crabs. Looking into his menacing eyes, Kassi kicked and squirmed to break free. He held on, his grip like carbon steel.
A woman with a brunette pixie bob and a weasel face caught up to him, swimming alongside and aiming a square-paneled, shoulder-mounted sonic cannon directly at Kassi’s head. It wasn’t the cannon they often used for sports–this one was military grade, the kind that could cripple or even kill. The woman’s mouth creased into a thin-lipped smile. Desperation swept over Kassi as she twisted, kicking against the man’s chest with all her strength but she couldn’t slip his grasp. The woman sent a high-frequency sonic pulse directly at Kassi. Thin as a needle, hot as white-blue flame, sound pierced the helmet and ruptured something in Kassi’s throat.
An explosion of lightning pain flooded Kassi’s body. Her neck was burning like fire, the rest of her body cold and pale as if on the brink of extinction. She gasped for air. Nothing came in. Her helmet was intact, her suit’s gills still functioning. The air was around her, but her throat constricted and prevented it from filling her lungs. Kassi clutched her chest just below the helmet.
Amára sped into view and spotted Kassi, terror in her eyes. She rushed to her cousin, reaching out a hand. A third soldier intercepted, grabbing her and forcing her back. She was shouting something, but Kassi only heard muted tones above her own panicked thoughts. She saw the tears streaming down Amára’s cheeks. Kassi’s life was slipping away. With her last drip of consciousness, she wished she could apologize to Amára for dragging her to the Rosenbridge portal. It was all Kassi’s idea.
Just as she was about to pass out from lack of oxygen, Kassi felt a cool stream of air trickle into her lungs. The swelling in her throat subsided just enough. Kassi wanted to quickly gulp down air, but her inflamed throat prevented it.
As if disappointed to see Kassi breathing again, the square-headed man lurched forward, unlatched Kassi’s helmet and ripped it off her head. Water flooded in before she could take one last indrawn breath.
Blurry vision blackened at the edges. Her body went limp as she stared at Amára’s screaming face and thought of her final moments with her family. Her last words to her mother were spoken in anger. She would never get to say goodbye.