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After Earth

Peter David

  After Earth 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, and 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.

  DEL REY 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.

  eISBN: 978-0-345-54677-7




  Title Page



  1000 AE: United Ranger Corps Training Camp

  1000 AE: Nova Prime

  2065 AD: United Nations Headquarters, Manhattan

  1000 AE: Nova Prime

  1000 AE: United Ranger Corps Space Port

  2072 AD: Antarctica, Earth

  1000 AE: Earth

  1000 AE: Earth

  651 AE: Nova Prime

  1000 AE: Nova Prime

  933 AE: Nova Prime

  1000 AE: Earth

  1000 AE: Earth

  995 AE: Nova Prime City

  1000 AE: Earth

  1000 AE: Somewhere in Space



  Other Books by This Author

  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 but 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 was 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.

  “Oh, for God’s sake,” she mutters as she starts to move toward him so that she can disengage him.

  That is when a loud, terrifying screech cuts through the air.

  Kitai freezes. He does not do so consciously. The shriek is an inhuman noise that thoroughly immobilizes him.

  Senshi’s head snaps in the direction of the screeching. The blades on the cutlass—a large, ornately carved metal staff—snap out from either side.

  “Is that …?” Kitai manages to get out in a strangled whisper.

  Senshi nods. Something has changed in the way she looks, in the way she holds herself. She’s all business, 100 percent professional. It’s as if she were merely pretending to be a Ranger until that moment.

  “They surprised us,” she tells Kitai. “They keep invading the city at random times …” She steps forward quickly and swings the cutlass right at him.

  Kitai lets out a startled cry, and then the cutlass slices through the ropes in his bed. It severs the bindings instantly, and he tumbles to the ground. Quickly Kitai starts pulling the remains of the bindings off himself. As he does so, Senshi asks him briskly, “You’re not afraid, are you?”

  “No,” Kitai says. Then there is another high-pitched howl of animal fury, and he jumps several feet in the air. “Yes,” he admits, feeling ashamed but compelled by his lifelong tendency to be truthful.

  This second source of howling is far louder, which means far closer, than the previous one. Senshi whirls and looks behind her, and Kitai cannot see the expression on her face. For some reason he is grateful for that. He suspects he wouldn’t like the way she looks.

  “Kit,” she says softly, “get under the bed.”

  There isn’t that much of a bed to get under, but it’s sufficient. Kitai scrambles under the torn and twisted hammock, useless now for supporting him but still good for hiding under. Having pulled it completely over his head, Kitai then backs up toward the corner. Squeezing himself into a small ball, he is certain that he cannot be seen by anyone or anything under the coverings.

  “Senshi, come on,” he calls to her. The answer is simple as far as he is concerned. They hide together and wait for someone else to deal with the Ursa. To him, that’s the most reasonable way of handling the current situation.

  He watches in confusion as Senshi continues to look around the room. Her eyes dart around and fix on a round glass container with plants in it. It is his garden, or at least the closest thing that he could have to a garden.

  Quickly Senshi brings her fist down on a button at the end. The lid obediently slides open. Senshi sweeps her cutlass around and expertly attaches it to her back with its magnetic clasp. Then she quickly starts unloading the plants from the box. She dumps them all over the floor, sending dirt flying everywhere.

  Kitai watches in confusion. He has no idea what she is doing. He finds out moments later, though, when Senshi drops the plant box onto its side and slides it across the floor to him. “Climb in here, okay?”

  “But … why?” He does what he’s told even as he questions it.

  “So it won’t be able to smell you. Hurry up!”

  He climbs and pulls his legs in after him, shrugging off the remains of the hammock. The moment he is completely enclosed, his sister drops the remote control into his hands. “Hold on to this.”

  “But what do I use it for?” he asks.

  “You use this when I tell you to. Or when a Ranger tells you to. Other than that, don’t come out. No matter what. That’s an order,” she adds sternly, because she knows that those are words that Kitai will respect.

  Then she takes his face in her hands. Her beautiful eyes are emotional and deadly serious. “Did you hear what I said, little brother?”

  “Yes, Sen—”

  He is unable to complete the sentence because there is another thunderous roar, this time from much, much too close.

  Kitai starts to say her name again, but she doesn’t wait around to hear it. She hits the remote that is in Kitai’s hands and then yanks her own hands clear as the glass box closes. He is now completely closed in as Senshi backs up, pulling the cutlass off her back.

  It is a C-30 weapon. He knows that because she boasted about it when she brought it home the first time. He recalls clearly the first time she demonstrated it around the house. It moved so quickly in her grasp that he could not even see the blades. Her mother had been impressed. Her father had pointed out things she was doing wrong and had spent an hour or two with her going over all of her mistakes. She took the corrections without comment or any evidence of frustration. That was just the way she was.

  Once the cutlass is in Senshi’s hand, she taps a pattern on the weapon’s handle. Instantly it responds as thousands of steel-like fibers extend on either side. They form razor-sharp points that she can use to cut deep through the Ursa’s hide and squarely into its heart.

  The cutlass is now two meters long and ready to be employed. Kitai watches and takes comfort from seeing it. He knows that once his sister is wielding her weapon, nothing is going to be able to get past her. She is a Ranger. She has been trained for exactly this sort of situation.

  Then he sees a shadow in the adjoining room. It is the room his mother uses for various handcraft projects. Her “relaxation room,” as she calls it. It us
ed to be Senshi’s room, but that is no longer the case since she has become a Ranger and resides in the Ranger barracks. So the room was made over.

  Now, though, as the shadow moves across it, the room has become a place of danger.

  Senshi spots the shadow. She doesn’t make a big deal about it. She doesn’t scream or point it out. She simply whips the cutlass around in her hand so that it is in attack mode.

  Then she takes one final look toward Kitai. She nods confidently and makes a down-handed gesture to indicate that he should stay low, that everything is going to turn out just fine.

  Senshi moves into the next room, spinning the cutlass in her hand, whipping it around in a figure eight pattern. Even as she does this, she is speaking in low, sharp tones to what Kitai realizes are other Rangers. She is bringing them up to speed, telling them that she is about to engage an enemy and that the sooner they arrive there, the better it’s going to be for everyone involved.

  That is when Kitai sees the creature enter the adjoining room.

  He cannot make out very much of it. What he is able to discern is that it’s huge, moving forward slowly on its six legs. At least that’s how many he is able to count in the shadow. It is growling low in its throat, seeing its enemy, ready to strike.

  Senshi is still moving her cutlass as it darts up and down, back and forth. She spins it so quickly that Kitai can scarcely follow it, and so he is sure that the Ursa is having the same problem.

  That is when Senshi suddenly lunges at it. She is endeavoring to make a quick strike, to drive it out of the room, out of the apartment.

  The Ursa, at least as far as Kitai can determine, doesn’t fall for the maneuver. Instead of striking at her, it drops back several feet. A quick thrust from one of its legs sends furniture crashing about.

  Senshi sidesteps, allowing the furniture to tumble past her. At the same time the Ursa tries to move in on her. Senshi pivots, jabs. The creature knocks the point of her weapon aside but fails to knock it out of her hands.

  For long, awful seconds it goes on, the give-and-take, the thrusting and the jabbing. Then the Ursa bunches its powerful hind legs and lunges for her—and Senshi goes low, bringing up her cutlass in a move that is certain to impale the creature.