Horrid screams and howls bounced between the ship's metal walls and escaped into the hallway, brushing past Eve as she stood on B-Deck, her arms wrapped around herself. The hairs on the back of her neck stood to full attention, and at that moment, she didn't know what she feared more—being sucked into space, burning on the way down, or getting a nice radiation roasting.
"I'm not eighteen," someone yelled.
She turned around to find a young man struggling between a pair of guards in dark uniforms. They dragged him by the arms as they carried him down the corridor without an ounce of pity on their dour faces. He pulled and shoved until he dug his heels into the floor. "I don't want to die," he pleaded. "Please!"
"Shut it!" The young guard snarled, jabbing an electric rod into his side. When the prisoner resisted again, he jolted him a second time.
"Hey," Eve shouted. "That's enough." The guard glared at her as she approached them with a scowl. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
The other guard took a glance at her and then, with downcast eyes, took a few steps back.
"My job," he retorted, still holding the prisoner.
"Oh, really." She folded her arms across her chest. "Because your job is to bring them in, not to torture them."
He scoffed. "Whatever. It's not like it matters. They're all dead anyway." He shot his partner an amused smirk, but it wasn't returned.
The young man within his hold let out a wail, "I don't wanna die!"
Eve's jaw tightened. "What's your name?"
With a roll of his eyes, the guard replied, "Robertson."
Then his smirk dropped when she cut the distance between them, her blue eyes glaring into his, daring him to continue the attitude.
When he didn't, she leaned in and made him a promise, "I'll remember it." Robertson's eyebrows furrowed, and before he could spit out his next words, she interjected. "Williams."
The other guard stepped out from his corner. "Yes, sir?"
"Find the prisoner a seat."
Robertson watched as his partner relieved him of the prisoner and then disappeared into the ship. He turned back to her.
"I can tell you're new," she told him. "So I'm gonna let you off this one time, but if I see you abusing that uniform again, I'll have you scrubbing the facilities with a toothbrush for the rest of your life."
He stared at her, confused until her words found purchase within that thick skull. A look of horror crossed his features. "S- sir, I'm sorry," he fumbled. "I didn't know-"
"Save it." Eve cut him off and then smiled if just to add to his panic. "I'll see you on the Ground, kid."
And with that and a smirk on her own face, she turned away and carried that small satisfaction. Just because she wasn't in charge anymore didn't mean she couldn't keep everyone in line—especially some insensitive punk.
Even if it was for the last time.
Her smile disappeared when she entered the dark and hollow vessel, the sounds of terror engulfing her once again.
Through the dim lighting, Eve found a seat on the bottom floor. She pulled the straps over her torso, buckled herself in, and hoped to God the thin polyester was sturdier than it felt.
Being thrashed about the cabin wasn't on her list of ways to die.
Some time had passed when the last of the guards finally egressed, and the ramp began to close, the light from the hallway diminishing from the corner of Eve's eye. A loud bang shook the metal ship, and a low, ominous hiss snaked along the walls.
And then hysteria broke out. Blares of screams and shouts shrouded the air around Eve, making her stomach twist. She lowered her head and closed her eyes, taking slow, deep breaths.
She wondered if Hell looked any different right about now.
It felt like ages before the clamor settled, and she finally felt like she could breathe again. She rested her head against the hard seat, her eyes still closed as she continued to focus on her breathing. Then, the sound of low groans to her left caught her attention. Opening her eyes, she looked over. The sleeping prisoner slouched in the adjacent seat lifted his head, and beneath the grey beanie, dark hair fell in layers over his shoulders. When his face appeared in the dim light, her face dropped.
After agreeing to her sentence, Eve memorized every active profile in the prison database a hundred times over, learning the prisoners' names, faces, history, and reasons for incarceration. However, she didn't need a file to recognize the asshole next to her. Everyone knew of the infamous Spacewalker who took an illegal stroll into space, wasting three months of oxygen and making that month one of Eve's most difficult. After the incident, she ordered a massive cleanup of the lower MECCA and Factory station levels to compensate for the loss.
She signed off on thirteen float orders that month. Thirteen people—dead by the simple stroke of her pen and the thrill of some bored teenager.
Anger seethed beneath her skin as she watched him awaken.
She hated Finn Collins.
Still groggy from the sedative, his puffy, brown eyes narrowed at their surroundings. They landed on the aisle across from them before roving over to Eve. He blinked, seemingly trying to recognize her, but once he didn't, he looked over to the rest of the ship, seeing the other prisoners fastened in their seats.
"I guess they decided it was easier to just float us all at once," he mumbled to no one in particular.
Before she could snarl at him, the screen of a video broadcaster flickered on above them. Chancellor Jaha stood in an empty room with a stern expression. "Prisoners of the Ark, hear me now," his deep voice bellowed. "You've been given a second chance."
Since her sentencing a year ago, Eve hadn't seen the Chancellor—or much of anyone else for that matter, the guard having all but shunned her—but she swore he'd seen better days. He looked tired, more than usual. His dark hair was speckled with more grey, and his wrinkles had depended. But then again, the last year hadn't exactly been kind to anyone.
Eve listened as he gave information about Mount Weather—an old military facility resting in the western part of what had been formally known as North America—where food and supplies could be located. Collins shuffled around, but she didn't pay any mind until he began floating off in the corner of her eye. She turned her head and realized he'd unfastened his straps, his weightless body now floating off.
"What the hell are you doing? Get back in your seat," she demanded.
He swiveled around in midair and gave her a sly smile. "If I'm gonna die, why not have some fun doing it?" he said.
She glared at him as he turned back without a care in the world. He pulled himself up the metal ladder leading to the upper floors and disappeared through the opened hatch.
Eve shook her head. If they survived their landing, she swore she'd kill him herself.
Resting her head against the chair, she closed her eyes again and let her mind drift to the past. She thought of Vera and the Eden tree.
"Why do you do that?"
"Because one day," her grandmother answered as Eve watched her trim the tiny leaves of the Eden tree, "it will return home, and when it does, it will arrive in its greatest condition, ready to flourish and become a part of the Earth once more. Like we all will someday."
They both knew that Vera wouldn't live long enough to see the Ground, nor would Eve, but they both understood that by caring for the tree, a part of them would go with it when the Ark finally landed.
But now…that everything had gone so horribly wrong, she wasn't sure. She wasn't sure about a lot of things. Did any of it matter now? Their efforts? Their sacrifice? Had Eve's life been a waste…just like the Eden tree?
The ship thrashed upward, and if it hadn't been for the flimsy seatbelt, Eve would've gone hurtling into the air. Instead, her hands clamped onto the straps as her stomach flung into her chest. The walls and floors creaked and groaned with every passing second. Lights flickered like sporadic stars, blinding nearby seaters as their bulbs burst from their cases. Sparks shot through the air and over people's heads. Pipes and tubes ripped from the walls, releasing exhaust into the room.
The ship fell for a long time. Longer than it should have, and when the parachutes didn't deploy, Eve worried. If they died from landing, the Ark would never know if the Ground was safe.
The vessel jolted upward again, the whiplash nearly snapping her neck, and then her body flung back against the hard seat.
Then all became still. Engines and machines whirred to dead silence.
Frozen in her chair, Eve stared at the floor so hard she was surprised a hole hadn't burned through it.
"Listen," a voice echoed from the levels above. "No machine hum."
"Whoa, that's a first," another responded.
Seat belts unbuckled around the small vessel, footsteps trampled in all directions until someone shouted, 'the outer door is on the lower level!'
Boots hurried to the hatch and then down the ladder.
Releasing a held breath, Eve unclipped her straps, flinging them away before rushing to the other prisoners. She helped a few along the aisle, checking for injuries as she did until she came to a young girl.
"Are you hurt?" she whispered to her, kneeling at her feet. She checked her petite frame for any signs of injury, and when she didn't receive an answer, Eve looked up at her, instantly recognizing the young girl—Charlotte Risdon, one of the youngest ever incarcerated and the youngest of the hundred prisoners. "Are you hurt?" she repeated.
Charlotte shook her head. Her cheeks blushed from tears.
Eve nodded. "Good. What's your name, sweetie?"
"Charlotte," she replied in a small voice.
"I'm Eve," she said with a smile, hoping it'd help ease the panic, but Charlotte's frown only deepened. "Hey, it's all right." She placed a hand on her arm to calm her down. "It's all right. I know you're scared, Charlotte. I am, too, but if we stick together, I know we'll do just fine. What do you think?"
Charlotte hesitated, and Eve didn't hold it against her. Living in prison at such a young age around people that took advantage of the naive would make anyone cynical. However, after a moment, Charlotte nodded.
"Good." Eve rose to her feet. "Now, let's get these off of you."
As she worked on Charlotte's straps, an argument broke out in the front. Glancing over, much couldn't be seen through the darkness and huddle of people, and she couldn't hear through the heavy exchange of murmurs. Unclipping the last strap, Eve took a step back and helped Charlotte slide off the seat, her light feet making little to no noise. Then, turning to the murmuring and growing crowd, Eve tried to listen in.
"The air could be toxic," someone argued.
She took a few steps forward but paused when Charlotte shook her arm. Looking down, a pair of worrisome, brown eyes stared back up at her. "I'm scared," she whispered. "If they open the door…."
"Don't worry." Eve wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I'll protect you. No matter what happens. Okay?"
Charlotte looked at her for a moment and then swallowed hard. "Okay," she nodded.
"Okay." Eve offered her another smile, though dread grew in the pit of her own stomach. They could all die in a few minutes, and there wasn't a damn thing Eve could do about it. And yet…a flicker of hope lingered in the back of her mind, hope that everything would be okay.
"Bellamy?" a soft, female voice appeared.
Eve's eyes widened to the size of the moon.
"My God, look how big you are," Bellamy's deep voice appeared.
That modicum of hope crumbled like a deck of cards.
"What is it?" Charlotte whispered.
Eve blinked. "Nothing," she exhaled, though her mind rushed with panicked thoughts. Maybe running off at the first opportunity was going to be the best idea after all. She inhaled sharply, realizing she hadn't been breathing. "Thought I heard something," Eve added. She cleared her throat and met Charlotte's concerned gaze with a calm expression. "It's nothing. Now, come on. We need to get closer."
She pulled the hood of her jacket over her head and, with Charlotte not too far behind, led them into the crowd. She passed along the far left wall of the room, making minimal contact with shoulders and arms before coming to a stop just behind the first row facing the door. Looking between their shoulders, Eve spotted the handle that would open the door to the outside and possibly kill everyone in the room. Nearby stood the owners of the voices she heard earlier, the Blake siblings, Octavia and Bellamy. They clung to each other in a full embrace, their faces buried into each other's shoulders as the room remained silent.
Bellamy's presence made sense now, but that didn't make her any less uneasy. He shouldn't have known about the mission—it'd been highly classified, even to the black market.
But then again, Bellamy was always so resourceful.
After a few moments, the siblings separated. They smiled at each other before Octavia's gaze landed on his jacket.
"What the hell are you wearing?" she asked with disdain, tugging on the fabric. "A guard's uniform?"
"I borrowed it to get on the dropship," he explained, mirroring her look of disgust and then smirked. "Someone's got to keep an eye on you."
They hugged again, and as they did, a light-haired, young woman stepped out from the crowd—Doctor Abigail Griffin's daughter, Clarke Griffin.
One down, one to go, Eve thought, wondering where the Hell Wells Jaha was hiding.
"Where's your wristband?" Clarke demanded.
"Do you mind?" Octavia snarled, spinning around with daggers in her eyes. Eve turned away, hiding within the cover of her hood. The two taller boys in front provided enough protection, but she didn't want to risk making eye contact with either sibling, knowing it wouldn't take much to recognize her.
"That's Octavia Blake," someone shouted from the back. "The girl they found hidden in the floor."
For almost two decades, Bellamy and his mother hid Octavia beneath their unit's floor because under the Ark's one-child law, bearing a second child was illegal and punishable by death. Therefore, the law was harsh and swift when the young girl was discovered. It'd been a year since Aurora Blake was executed and her daughter sent to prison. A year since everything changed.
"Octavia. Octavia, no," Bellamy insisted, restraining his sister when she lunged at the kid. Then, when she turned back to him with an irked look, he offered her a smile. "Let's give them something else to remember you by."
Eve continued listening, feeling her skin crawl, when Bellamy offered Octavia to be the first person to step on the Ground in a hundred years and then walked over to the handle.
"Get ready," she whispered to Charlotte, and upon hearing the handle being pulled down, Eve's head shot up.
A brilliant, white light, as bright as a passing comet, spilled into the room. Decompression steam sprayed from either side of the doorway. Eve's eyes burned, but she didn't dare flinch, wanting to face whatever came next. Finally, a gasp filled the room as everyone gaped in awe. They watched as Octavia took the first few steps toward the edge of the opening.
"What does it look like?" Charlotte whispered.
Everything was green, so very green, of different shades and highlights, coating the trees and Ground. Thick, humid air filled Eve's lungs, and it carried a sweet scent and something else she couldn't quite describe. It was magnificent, and the words to articulate it to Charlotte eluded her dumbfounded mind.
"It's beautiful," Eve managed to say, and after a long mesmerizing moment, she crouched at Charlotte's side. "Get on."
Charlotte looked confused at first, but a grin spread across her face when she realized what she meant. She climbed on with ease, and Eve stood, lifting Charlotte high above the others with arms wrapped securely over her shoulders. The light from outside glowed over her pretty face, and though Eve couldn't see her reaction, she knew the little girl was staring wide-eyed at the surrealness of it all.
"We're back, bitches!" Octavia shouted after taking the final steps off the ramp. Cheers and howls roared from within the ship, and without warning, the delinquents rushed forward.
"Hold on!" Eve called out, holding Charlotte's legs along her waist.
With her head low, she ran out with the group, following their lead as they spilled out into all directions, and then veered left, ready to take on whatever awaited them outside.