Sometimes soul mates find each other in unlikely places. But is love worth it if it risks your life?Seventeen-year-old Noah is startled when he awakes one day to find that dangerous, irrational, self-serving, and destructive visitors called “humans” are coming to visit his beautiful, perfect society. All citizens are ordered to have limited contact and share minimal information with these visitors.Sixteen-year-old Jady is thrilled to accompany her father and his crew on a trip to a recently-discovered planet, Verdant. The United States’ crew is hopeful that they can learn from this advanced yet similar species.
Despite their greatest efforts to fight it, it doesn’t take long for Jady and Noah to fall in love and begin a secret affair. But when their relationship is revealed, danger is created for everyone involved…
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And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Chapter One: Noah
The overwhelming sensation that invaded my body when I awoke was so unfamiliar that it took a while to register in my brain – fear. Something was happening, and whatever it was, the society was afraid. After quietly pulling on the tan coverings I laid out the night before, I walked out of the male sleeping chamber. Once inside the solid white eating quarters, I found Lucy sitting motionlessly at the table. She stared ahead at the blank walls without acknowledging my presence. The look on her face only supported my thoughts.
“Lucy, what’s happening?” I focused my attention on her response, trying to read her emotions.
She shook her head. “I don’t know yet. I was ordered to come here and wait for further instructions.” Anxiety was rolling off of her body in rapid waves as she responded.
Before I could question her further, Sir Andrew walked through the door. We automatically stood up in respect at the sight of him. He nodded slightly to both of us, and without a word, motioned for us to follow him out the door. We trailed just behind him, quietly stepping out into the thick, humid atmosphere. Once inside his transportation means, we strapped ourselves in. The waves of anxiety coming off of Lucy’s body were only growing larger with every minute of silence. Her large brown eyes were wide and alert as she looked out the window. I watched over her shoulder as we passed the massive gray stone and brick buildings in the town’s center. The towering trees stood stiffly over our heads while the smaller plants and bushes swayed gently in the breeze our vehicle created. We were moving away from the heart of the community toward an unfamiliar area.
I considered the situation carefully. Something was definitely wrong. The lack of communication was extremely unusual. The fact that Sir Andrew, one of the most highly respected leaders of society, was taking us somewhere was strange in itself. His gift of intelligence kept him incredibly busy and made his appearance in our society rare. I watched him closely, trying to get a feel for his emotions, but as usual, he radiated nothing. He appeared to have no feelings. I guessed that he was somehow shielding himself, as he was aware of my gift, so that I could not read him. I knew better than to question him, though.
After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at a large, gray, castle-like building. Its structure was made entirely of stone, with small, intricate swirling patterns surrounding the doors and windows. A locked gate blocked the entrance, but it opened automatically as we pulled up close to it. We moved quickly to the main door of the building, still maintaining the silence. Sir Andrew put his hand on a small computerized gray box beside the heavy door so that it opened for us. Lucy and I stayed close as we followed Sir Andrew’s long, quick strides through a dark, damp corridor.
Finally, we arrived in a small room, where several men sat waiting. I glanced over them all to get a quick read – fear, anger, nervousness, irritation. Each man tried to appear serious and intelligent as they sat around a round table in tall, cushioned chairs, but I could see that they were as unsure and scared as Lucy and I were. Sir Andrew motioned towards three empty chairs at the table, and Lucy and I hesitantly took a place with the others.
It was Sir Andrew who finally spoke. “Noah and Lucy, we have brought the two of you here today for a very special reason. You are in a place that most members of the society will never enter, particularly those of your young age and position. This is a building where new technology is developed and tested. It is also the location where security for our society is monitored. It is for the second purpose that we have brought the two of you here.”
Lucy and I exchanged glances. Security monitoring? What could we possibly have to do with that? And from what did our society need security?
Sir Andrew continued, this time speaking directly to Lucy. “Lucy, because of your gift of reading the thoughts of others, we have brought you here today.” He then turned to me. “Noah, because of your gift of reading the emotions of others, you will be a valuable asset to us as well.”
He got up from the table and moved toward a large monitor. Lucy’s emotions started to calm as a picture of a space travel transporter appeared on the screen. A slight smile crossed her face as she spoke. “We have visitors coming.”
Sir Andrew nodded slowly. He obviously did not share Lucy’s pleasant thoughts about the visitors. “Read their thoughts,” he commanded. “Why are they coming?”
Lucy closed her eyes and focused. I could feel her concentration as she gathered her strength and got into the minds of the visitors. After only a few seconds, all waves of anxiety disappeared. Serenity came over her as she said, “They want to learn about us and our society. They believe we can help them in some way.” Confusion then interrupted her composure as she opened her eyes and turned to Sir Andrew. “Wait, these visitors have never been here before? I thought all other societies already knew us and were familiar with our ways. Is this a new species?”
Sir Andrew ignored her questions, instead turning to me. “Noah, can you read their emotions?” Though it was framed as a question, I knew it was an order.
It took all my concentration to tune into the visitors in the monitor. Lucy’s questions were echoing through my head. The waves of puzzlement coming from her body invaded my head, making it hard to focus. Finally, I began to get a read. “I see excitement…and happiness. That is all.”
Sir Andrew nodded slowly, looking carefully at each man sitting at the table. As they looked at one another, their apprehension did not fade, despite the comforting readings given by Lucy and me. There were so many questions going through my head, but I did not want to be disrespectful by asking for information that was not necessarily meant for me. It seemed like years before Sir Andrew stood up and motioned for Lucy and me to follow him out of the room.
Frustration radiated off of Lucy as we walked out the door, and I knew she shared the same questions I had. Who were the coming visitors? What were they trying to learn about us? Why was there so much unease at their coming when we had visitors on a semi-regular basis?
Sir Andrew led us back to his transportation means in silence. The irritation surrounding Lucy was thick, and her usual polite, good-natured demeanor was being threatened by it. I silently willed her not to ask any more questions, hoping she would read my thoughts and remember the rules so as not to cause trouble.
As I feared, Lucy turned to Sir Andrew. “Sir, if I can ask…I mean, I’m not trying to pry, but since you brought us here…um, well, with the greatest amount of respect, could you please give us further information about the visitors? Who are they? When will they be here? What do they want to learn about us?”
I was surprised at Lucy’s boldness. It was usually I who was too curious. Part of my specialized training leading up to my teen years was on etiquette, as I had so often gotten myself into trouble by asking questions of my elders. I was afraid to look at Sir Andrew, knowing he could lash out at Lucy because she was meddling into information that was not her concern. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he kept his steady gaze out the window, and was surprised when anger did not radiate out of him.
After only a brief moment, he turned to Lucy with a sigh. “The visitors will arrive in a matter of hours. They want to learn everything they possibly can about us because they have never been to our society before. They are not a new species; they have been around even longer than we have. Yet, our advancements far surpass their own.”
Because he did not become angry with Lucy’s questioning, I grew brave. I took a deep breath before I asked him, “Sir Andrew, with the greatest amount of respect, could you please tell me why there is so much angst because of their arrival? We have visitors somewhat frequently, and there has never been this kind of unease due to any of the prior visits.”
I saw a flash of anger cross his eyes as he turned to me, and I expected him to attack me for my curiosity. Instead, he stared into my eyes for a minute without an answer. I tried desperately to read his emotions, but again, there was nothing. Finally, he began to speak slowly and carefully. “Young Noah, these visitors are different, in a way that I cannot begin to adequately describe before their arrival. A lot of time would be required to explain their existence. To sum it up, these visitors do not live in peace as our society does, as well as the other communities who have come to visit. Their behaviors can be erratic, self-serving, and destructive. The fear you are sensing is justified because of what we know of their society.”
I nodded, trying to absorb the information he had just given me. I saw Lucy’s anxiety begin to reappear faintly as she tried to take in the information as well. I was struggling to comprehend and picture these visitors based on his description. Erratic, self-serving, and destructive? I knew what those words meant, but I never knew anyone who behaved that way regularly. Those behaviors were not tolerated in our society, or any other society of which I was familiar.
Lucy spoke up in a small voice. “What society are these visitors from? Have we heard of it before?”
Sir Andrew shook his head firmly. “Because of their behaviors and lifestyle choices, they are the one group that we deliberately do not discuss or teach about in our society. We never dreamed they would find the means to even discover us, let alone explore our world.” He looked back out the window, apparently deep in thought. He spoke again, more softly this time. “These visitors are called humans. They come from a planet called Earth.”
Chapter Two: Jady
“We are entering the atmosphere of Planet Verdant. Prepare yourself for acceleration. Landing will be in approximately twenty-four minutes.” The captain’s voice was loud and confident over the speaker in the spaceship. I heard cheers coming from the room next to ours and I smiled as I recognized the voice of one of them.
“Luke, I wouldn’t get too excited,” I teased. “The creatures there might not let you off the spaceship when they see you.”
I heard Luke’s father’s booming laugh before I heard Luke’s voice. “Whatever, Jady, it’s your fault I look like this!”
I winced as he made that true statement. Just days ago, in the recreation area of the spaceship, Luke and I had been tossing a football back and forth. Luke made a smart remark about me throwing like a girl, so I beamed the football at him with everything my little arm had. It caught him off-guard and hit him in the nose. The doctor onboard said it was not broken and that it would heal correctly in no time, but it was currently swollen and bruised. I hadn’t meant to hurt him and I felt terrible afterwards, but in my defense, Luke knew what an aggressive player I am. Growing up with me should have taught him not to mess with me when it came to sports, even though my small frame may not suggest it.
Luke came sauntering into the small room I shared with my father. “Where’s Mike?” he asked, looking around the room for my father. Other than a bed and a small closet with a curtain over it, the room was very sparse, making his look a brief one.
“He’s up in the front with the captain,” I replied. “Why?”
Luke shrugged. “You want some company?”
“Sure. Oh wait, do you mean your company? Then no,” I said with a serious face.
Luke punched me lightly in the arm as I laughed. “You better be nice to me when we get there. We’ll have to stick together in case we get attacked by these aliens.”
I rolled my eyes. “Please. From what we know of them, these aliens are peaceful. I doubt they even know how to fight. I’m sure they’ll accept us happily.” I didn’t feel nearly as sure of myself as I sounded. What I had said was true, but I was still nervous.
Despite my nerves, I was ecstatic. Space travel had always fascinated me. Some of my earliest memories were of building “spaceships” and pretending to be on other planets with Luke. I was fascinated by all the advancements NASA had made, especially over the past few decades. I loved to study the history of it all. From the earliest spaceship models, which were so large and heavy and moved through space at such a slow rate, to the earliest spacesuits, so bulky and restricting, I was in awe. Those who gave their lives for this cause in the beginning, due to disastrous missions and technological failures, were my heroes. Now, in 2078, we didn’t have to worry about those things. Scientists had discovered how to create new materials to build ships from, things that made them faster, lighter, and cheaper to make. Journeys that once took weeks now took days. The creation of artificial gravity opened new possibilities. Spaceships became much more luxurious, including small bedrooms, restrooms, and even leisure areas, making travel more comfortable for those on board.
This was the first mission for Luke and me. Our fathers were best friends and had worked together as long as I could remember, and had gone on many trips into space. Luke and I always dreamed of the day we could be allowed to accompany them. We studied in preparation for a future career in space exploration since we were old enough to talk. Finally, at only sixteen years old, our day had come. Many vied for a spot on this expedition, but Luke and I earned our spots with one creative idea. Though we were still so young, because of the success of our inkling, we were respected talents on this mission.
Our idea was what enabled our ship to make its first voyage to a neighboring planet, Planet Verdant. This planet, situated between Mercury and Venus and only one-tenth the size of our own, was not recognized as a planet at all for centuries. It was only when our satellites discovered a small community of life there that closer attention was brought to it. We had been aware of its existence for years, but its proximity to the sun was slightly closer than Earth’s, which made it impossible to visit until recently. Though we could place satellites in space to study this planet from afar, getting too close would cause them to burst into flames. NASA had various fireproof materials that they used, some of which allowed their spacecrafts to land directly on the sun. However, these materials were not feasible to use in creating a spaceship that could transport people. Scientists tried various metals, tiles, materials, and techniques to resist the heat, but to no avail.
After watching these failed attempts and spending hours researching and studying, Luke and I came up with a theory: the only way to create a space shuttle that could transport humans to this new planet was if the spaceship was made from materials that came directly from the planet itself. Our fathers helped us organize our research into a presentation that was presented to NASA, and to our excitement and relief, they decided to try it. They sent a fireproof spacecraft to the uninhabited side of the planet, used tools to scrape away a section of the top layer of the ground, and brought it back to create a coating for our spaceships. And it worked. The biggest obstacle in visiting the planet was overcome.
Of course, there were still other hindrances in our way: even if we could get there, how could we survive? How would we protect our bodies? What would we wear? NASA wasted no time in creating solutions for these things. Thanks to my father and a team of scientists, we had a protective cream that would allow us to be exposed to very harsh sunlight without harming our skin in any way. It would guard our skin from damage while it kept our body temperature from escalating. When our pores absorbed it, it spread into our bloodstream, protecting our organs in addition to our skin. Fixing our clothing was easy enough – we just had to have them made from a new type of fiber that could resist fire. I was so impressed by the stylish jeans and tops that were created for me from this stuff, even if they felt a little stiff and itchy.
There were eight members of the crew: me, Luke, our fathers, and the other four crew members I didn’t know quite as well. These members consisted of two females – a doctor and a botanist – along with the flight engineer and the captain, who were males. Though we were all there for different reasons and purposes, we were all ecstatic about the thought of traveling to a foreign planet and meeting new, strange creatures. The nagging fear in the back of my mind of what could go wrong only recently came into play.
I tried to shake those thoughts out of my head as I sat down in the seat next to Luke. “What do you think they’ll look like?” I asked him.
Luke shrugged. “I don’t know. I can’t help but picture those weird gray creatures with big heads and large, black eyes that you see in the movies. I know it’s ridiculous, but that’s the only frame of reference I have.”
I laughed. “I keep picturing little, green creatures with bumpy skin.” Luke raised his eyebrows at me and I grinned. “I don’t know where that idea came from. Maybe I saw aliens that looked like that on TV once or something.”
“They may look just like us, you know. From what the satellites could see, they are about the same size and shape. They’re intelligent. I hope we can communicate with them.”
“Yeah, me too,” I agreed. “I’ll be disappointed if it’s like all the other missions, where the species can’t converse with us beyond a juvenile level.”
Luke’s dark eyebrows furrowed, creating a vertical wrinkle down his forehead. “I was kinda kidding earlier about them attacking us, but you know, we really don’t know for sure what’s gonna happen when we get there. What if they don’t let us stay? What if they kill us all?”
I shook my head firmly. “That’s not going to happen, Luke. In all of our studies of them, we have never seen them act violently or harshly toward any being. They’re peaceful and sophisticated. I truly believe they will accept us with open arms.” I knew I was trying to convince myself as well as Luke. As we grew closer to our destination, fear was beginning to creep into my mind and overtake my excitement, too.
I decided to change the subject. “Did you reapply your blocking cream yet?”
“Right before I came in here,” he affirmed.
I let my thoughts wonder about the many possibilities of what we would find. As far as their technology, I was not as concerned as my father and the rest of the crew were. My excitement came more from the idea of just meeting a new species. Even though I was just a kid, I recognized what a huge opportunity this was. I was determined to make the most of it.
Luke leaned across my lap to get the soda that sat on the table in front of me. His hand brushed my knee as he grabbed it, and we both moved uncomfortably. My face grew hot and I could see his nervous, awkward mannerisms out of the corner of my eye. I sighed. “Luke, let’s try not to be like this.”
He smiled. “Like what?”
I rolled my eyes. “You know what I’m talking about. We’re about to enter a whole new world. Let’s leave the teen drama back on Earth. I want us to be us again. No weirdness.”
He nodded. “Sure. Let’s try to pretend that it never happened.”
I’ve been trying to pretend that for days, I thought, but I didn’t say it out loud. “Definitely,” I agreed instead.
I could see that he was not finished with the discussion, and I grew nervous. This was an issue I really did not want to consider any further. I racked my brain for a new topic so that I could quickly change the subject, but my mind was, of course, empty. Luke spoke before I could. “Could we maybe discuss it when we return? I just have a few more things to say about the whole…you know.”
I nodded slowly. “I guess. But I think I already made my feelings clear, Luke. You’re my best friend. Please don’t mess that up.”
He nodded and turned his head to look away, but I could see that he was not going to give up. I rolled my eyes inwardly and got out of my seat, pretending to make sure my things were packed. In my head, I replayed the conversation between us that had taken place only a week ago. Luke had confessed that his feelings for me were more than platonic – something I had long suspected but hoped would never come to the surface. As gently as I could, I had tried to explain that I didn’t want to ruin the wonderful relationship we had, and that the thought of something going wrong and losing him was something I could not handle. I remembered the pained expression on his face when he tried to kiss me, and I had turned my head quickly to avoid it. He was hurt, I knew, but I was sure it was for the best.
Luckily, the awkward moment ended abruptly when the captain began the countdown for landing. Luke grabbed my arm excitedly, and just like that, he was my best friend again.
Wannabe-boyfriend Luke was gone for now. We quickly grabbed our things and braced ourselves for the rough landing we knew was coming.
The landing was not as difficult as we had been prepared for. Training had left me with pulled muscles in my neck because of the jerky, hard landings we were expected to face when landing on this planet. I did feel a slight thud and my head jerked forward just a bit, but that was all. Luke and I looked at each other, both of us wondering the same thing…Was that actually the landing? Were we on Verdant?
Just then, Dad popped his head into the room. “We’re here,” he said seriously. “Arrival procedures begin now.”
I automatically picked up my things and followed him out of the room, with Luke right behind me. Once all eight of us were gathered at the door of the spaceship, Luke’s dad double-checked everyone to be sure we had everything we needed, particularly the special protective lotion. When he was sure everyone was prepared, we walked slowly out of our ship and into the new world.
The dense humidity took my breath for a moment, but I felt the cream on and in my body, tingling as it kicked in to do its job. My eyes quickly adjusted to the brightness, and my body immediately began to cool in response to the heat. Once I could gather my bearings and felt comfortable, I looked around.
I absolutely could not believe my eyes. For a moment, I was convinced I was in a dream. The first thing that stood out to me was the canopy of beautiful green. It provided an almost impenetrable barrier for the members of this society, which was part of the reason our earlier technology did not detect their existence. All our satellites could see without closer inspection was a sea of green vegetation – hence the name, Planet Verdant. But the name, which meant lush, green, and fertile, could not possibly give an idea of what it looked like. Plants and trees grew everywhere, as far as the eye could see. The trees towered over our heads like skyscrapers, their thick branches and large, layering leaves providing a nice layer of shade. The plants were unlike anything we had on Earth. Multi-colored flowers covered all of them, each bloom bigger than my head. Bright, moist fruits unlike any we had on Earth were growing far and wide. The hunter green color of the leaves was indescribably deep and rich. I had never seen anything so breathtaking. From somewhere beside me, I heard Dr. Lowery, the botanist female, gushing in marvel. “In all my life, I’ve never seen anything like this; it’s so green and lavish! The flowers are so big and voluminous! But how do they grow? Vegetation of any kind should not be capable of existing here. I so hope to talk to someone to learn more about how…” I had to shut her rambling out of my mind. I didn’t want to think about why it could exist – I wanted to memorize the scene, enjoy it in peace and worry about the specific details later.
I was so captivated by the scenery that I did not initially notice the aliens who were carefully watching us from a distance. Only when they began to move closer to us did they catch my attention. The unison in which they walked was amazing. Their steps were exactly in sync, and they stayed in a very tight group while they approached us. I instinctively grabbed Luke’s hand as their features began to become clear.
Every wild guess Luke and I had as to what these “creatures” would look like could not have been more wrong. These weren’t “creatures” at all. In fact, in an eerie echo of one of Luke’s last thoughts on the spaceship, they looked like us. They were our size and shape, with the exact same features and parts that we had. They definitely could have gone to planet Earth and been mistaken as humans. However, there was something…different about them. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what that difference was. For one thing, they were absolutely gorgeous. Their tan, almost olive-colored skin was smooth, creamy, and truly flawless. Their eyes were not all the same color, but they all had a matching crystal-like quality about them. I looked into their blue, green, and brown eyes and was captivated by the brightness they shared. These were not the same blue, green, and brown eyes that humans had. These stood out. It was almost as if they were transparent, with little lights behind them that made them shine. As I looked these “creatures” up and down, I realized that not one of them was even slightly out of shape or overweight. Their matching clothes – odd, one-piece suits in drab shades of brown and cream that fastened in the front – were flattering for their perfect forms. I knew I was staring, but I couldn’t help it. These aliens were the most beautiful things I had ever seen in my entire life.
As I scanned the crowd slowly, mesmerized by their exquisiteness and perfection, my eyes locked with one set of green crystal eyes. Suddenly, I had to remind myself to breathe as the alien held my gaze with a stare that burned into my soul. I fought to tear my eyes away from the captivating lock that held me, and slowly looked over the creature that had my attention. I was amazed to find the single most stunning person I had ever seen in my life. Light brown, wavy hair fell perfectly into place and framed his strikingly gorgeous green eyes. Smooth, creamy skin indented slightly in both cheeks, revealing what I knew would be dimples if I was ever lucky enough to be graced with his smile. His slender, perfect nose flared slightly as he watched me gawking at him, but I somehow could not tear myself away. I felt drawn to him in a way that was impossible to explain, and my body automatically moved slightly toward him.
As if Luke could read my mind, he suddenly squeezed the hand I forgot was clutching his and pulled me closer to him. “Jady, stay close to me. Don’t get too brave,” he whispered, sounding like a protective big brother. That was all it took to snap me out of my trance, although I still couldn’t help but stare at the perfect man in front of me. He eventually broke our gaze, looking down at the ground in front of him.
Finally, one of them, who appeared to be the leader as he stood front and center, spoke in perfect English. “Welcome, people of the planet Earth.”
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