Authors: Peter David
Tags: #Science Fiction
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A Del Rey eBook Edition
Copyright © 2013 by After Earth Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Redemption, After Earth: Ghost Stories: Savior
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Atonement
copyright © 2013 by After Earth Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used Under Authorization.
Published in the United States by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
is a registered trademark and the Del Rey colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
This book contains the following short stories, previously published individually by Del Rey, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., as eBooks in 2013:
After Earth: Ghost Stories: Redemption, After Earth: Ghost Stories: Savior, After Earth: Ghost Stories: Atonement
Kitai is sleeping soundly, dreaming of his future
It is not an unusual dream. He has it all the time. His dream is simple and remarkably consistent. He is running in the dream, always running, across the plateaus that served as training grounds for the Rangers. He does not see himself as any older than he is right now: eight years old. Eight going on eighteen is what his mother often says. He’s not entirely sure what she means by that, but every time she says it, she does so with such a wide smile on her face that it’s clearly not intended to be insulting. As a result, he doesn’t take offense
In his dream, Kitai is running alongside other members of the United Ranger Corps. They are not children such as he is but instead tall and powerful and confident in their abilities. And they are all carrying cutlasses, the formidable weapon that each of them depends on to do the job that they have long been trained to perform. Also, they are all adults.
And he is bypassing every single one of them
Kitai’s speed is quite simply unparalleled. He is moving so quickly, so fluidly, that it is impossible for any of the others to keep up with him. “Slow it down, Kitai!” “You’re killing us, kid!” Comments such as these often rain down on him as he runs, but he makes a point of ignoring them. The others’ lack of speed is not his problem. All he cares about is being the fastest, being the best. Being the greatest Ranger in the history of … well, of great Rangers, really
If there is one thing he knows about, it’s great Rangers. His family is composed of nothing
great Rangers, and he is determined to surpass all of them, up to and including the general
Kitai runs, he dashes, he vaults, he jumps. At one point he leaps off a cliff and actually soars through the air, free as a bird, while the other Rangers point and shout and collectively agree that he is, without a doubt, the best of all
Somewhere in the distance, he hears a whining. It means nothing to him: just another loud sound to serve as a minor distraction, that’s all. But he doesn’t ever get distracted. He’s too great and glorious a Ranger to succumb to such things
Suddenly Kitai is jolted awake. He sits there in his bed, listening to his breathing, surprised by the realization that he had been asleep. The last thing he recalled was lying in bed, reading a book. He prided himself on always being awake and ready for anything. The fact that he had dozed off was bad; having to be awakened by a whining sound was even worse. Embarrassing, in fact. Or it would be if he were awake enough to appreciate the danger to which he was being exposed
It takes him a few more moments to realize what the whining is: an air raid alert. The colony’s alien enemies, the Skrel, have attacked. He’s not hearing any explosions, though
. If they’re not bombing us, then what …?
The creatures have persisted on Nova Prime for some years now. The Rangers, led by Kitai’s father, managed to annihilate most of them, but the Ursa remain a genuine threat to the Novans. An unknown number of them remained, and they attacked the city without warning or pattern
But what if it
the Ursa the alert was whining about? The thought paralyzed Kitai. If Ursa were being dropped off in the midst of humanity, all bets were off. For all he knew, Ursa could have made it to the interior
of the compound. There could be one of them or a hundred. Since even one could kill hundreds of human beings, it didn’t seem to matter all that much. Every single Ursa was a one-creature massacre machine. And considering the Raiges’ apartment is only two floors from the ground, their home is right along the Ursa’s projected path of destruction
Kitai is in immediate danger. He confronts the fact. It makes him nervous
He’s eight years old. They’re currently making plans to celebrate Landing Day: the day centuries ago when they first landed on Nova Prime, the world that became their new home. Landing Day is the one celebration to be found in the Nova Prime calendar. It’s filled with dancing and feasting and gifts for small children
Lately, Landing Day has occupied all of Kitai’s attention. Despite the dangers that face the Novans on a daily basis, the notion that he might not live to see Landing Day had never occurred to him until just now. “I want Landing Day,” he whispers. “I don’t want to die. I want Landing Day.”
He can hear running feet in the distance. His family’s apartment is one of many in a cramped living area, and he hears voices in the distance directing people to a survival shelter. The apartments are fine for day-to-day living, but when the Skrel or one of their agents is threatening the Novans, it is standard procedure for them to take up residence in a shelter. A shelter is a heavily reinforced structure with thicker walls and only one way in and out that can be protected by a squad of armed Rangers
At that moment, Kitai hears Rangers going through the hallways, making sure that everyone is heading down to the place where he or she is supposed to be
One female voice in particular leaps out from the cacophony of shouts flooding over him. “Senshi?” he shouts, but he doesn’t think anyone can hear him. His voice is too small, and the noise of others too big
The apartment building itself is integrated into the
face of towering cliffs. It took years for the apartments to be carved out of the rock; during that time, humanity resided in thrown-together shelters on the sandy red ground. But it was not an issue then, for the alien race known as the Skrel had not yet noticed the presence of humanity on Nova Prime. The assaults had not yet begun. By the time they did—by the time the ships had come swooping in, firing away at the Novans, trying to kill them from on high—the cliffside apartments provided a good chunk of the protection humanity required
A few hundred or so years later, that all changed
When the Ursa landed
That, of course, was centuries before Kitai was born. He doesn’t know much about that. Years don’t have the same meaning to him that they would to an older person. All he knows for sure is that people all around him are trying not to panic. Instead, they’re trying to behave in the manner in which they have been trained. Kitai has been trained as well. Why is he not doing what he is supposed to do?
Because he is eight years old, that’s why. This would be an acceptable excuse in another time and place. Here and now, it is not, and Kitai is aware of the fact
Nevertheless he remains frozen in his bed, as if hoping in some small corner of his mind that he will pull slumber around him once more. That perhaps the dream world of happiness and superiority is the real one and all of this—a world of constant fear and barely restrained panic—is the fiction
“Senshi!” he calls again, and this time his voice is louder and stronger
For a moment there is no response, and then he hears her from a distance. “Kit?” her voice comes to him
He sags in relief against his pillows even as he calls her name once more
There is the noise of feet pounding in his direction. The smart cloth veils that serve as a door to his room
are pushed aside moments later, and he sees the concerned expression on his sister’s face
Senshi is nineteen years old. Relatively young for a Ranger; she’s working her way through the ranks. Most of her responsibilities keep her in the immediate vicinity of the city. She doesn’t have much experience in genuine fieldwork. That’s fine with her mother, less so with her father. Fantastic as far as Kitai is concerned
“Kitai!” she says with frustration. “Why aren’t you out in the hallway? Why didn’t you come when you were supposed to?”
He is not entirely certain. What is he supposed to say?
I was scared?
“Never mind,” she says. “Kit, we have to go. Right now.”
Despite the potential dangers awaiting them, he is filled with nothing but confidence in his sister. She looks brave in her Ranger outfit. For a flash he recalls when he first saw her in it, so tall and proud. The huge smile on her face was reflected in the face of their father, who didn’t smile a whole lot otherwise. Senshi is holding her cutlass, ready to lash out at anything threatening her
“Right now!” she says, her voice louder, more insistent
His bed is nothing more than a hammock suspended across his room, which is filled with clothes and toys. As he attempts to get out, his foot snags on the ropes. Instead of clambering out of the bed, he falls forward and lands hard on the floor, twisting the hammock around on himself