Abandoned by the Colonies, the refugees on Zerris are unable to use the small fortune in fuel they are sitting on. But this does not protect them from the effects of its pollution, which renders a large portion of their population infertile.
After twenty years, they have long since given up on a rescue. Even spirited Marlee Royn, born on the ship that bought them here, has accepted the Elders strict edict that if a relationship does not produce a child it must be ended, and resigned herself to giving up the man she cared for because they have failed to have a baby.
Until Tyris Bekkert's spaceship crash lands on their planet, bringing hope once again. But the Elders have a secret, one which means that they would much rather Tyris’s spaceship never leaves the planet.
The ice crunched under Marlee’s wooden clogs, but the thick woollen socks inside keep her feet, at least, warm. As she strode towards the belt of trees ahead, the wind whistled around her, trying its hardest to find a crack in her coat, and when that failed, forcing its way through the felted wool to chill her skin. But she didn't pause, didn't even stop when the wind pulled her shawl from around her head. The pin at her throat stopped it from being lost, even if it was now hanging uselessly down her back. She hefted up the wooden handles of the wheelbarrow and pushed on.
Only when she had gained the stark bare branches of the woods, dubious shelter from the other workers still milling around the well, did she pause, putting down the wheelbarrow handles and blowing on her hands in a futile attempt to warm them. Here the trees protected her a little from the wind, but it was still cold enough that she rearranged her shawl before looking around for firewood. Her search though, was fruitless. Though a there were some smaller twigs and sticks fallen recently, most of this area had been picked bare of the last few weeks of collecting. So she picked up wheelbarrow handles again and pressed deeper into the trees.
She had to walk quite a bit further before she began to see larger pieces of wood that were worth collecting, but she was not concerned. No animals had lived in the woods on Zerris for as long as she had lived here, and though snow could fall any day, so far the skies were still clear.
For a while, she lost herself in her task, letting the familiar motions block out the morning’s disappointment. But every now and then, a small cramp in her lower abdomen reminded her. She tried not to wonder what Nelor was doing today, tried not to think of how they usually collected firewood together, making plans and discussing life as they did so. She tried to ignore the empty ache in her heart. Without much success.
Suddenly, she jerked her head up, listening carefully. Far off in the distance, she heard it again. Screams. What could possibly be wrong? Abandoning her wheelbarrow, she was about to head back towards the settlement, when she heard a loud boom overhead. Instinctively she ducked, and looked up to see a large object burning through the sky towards her.
She knew, dispassionately, that this was a ‘bad thing’, had heard countless tales of the meteor that had wiped out all life on their home planet. But that had been before she was born. So she watched, unafraid, and a few seconds later saw the flames dissipate and the silver form emerge. It sailed through the sky at an amazing speed and she shaded her eyes from the sun to see it disappear below the trees some distance away, just before the ground shuddered in impact.
Well it certainly wasn’t a meteor. Although there were significant differences, she could only relate its shape and actions to the old rocket ship that had bought her people to this planet, now standing proudly in a field not far from their village. But if it was a rocket ship, where was it from and what was it doing here?
A thought entered her mind, a thought so surprising and unbelievable that she could barely comprehend it. After all this time, had someone come to rescue them?
She was too young to remember the hope that the people had held out after their arrival, but Nelor remembered. He had told her, the hurt and pain of a child in his voice, how they had all waited. How it had taken several years for them to all accept that there would be no rescue.
She picked up her skirts, and began to run. Whoever was in that rocket ship had been going down fast. Too fast, she thought, for a controlled landing. They could be hurt and needing help. It did occur to her that she should probably have returned home to encouraged some of the villagers to come with her, but it was too late for that now. She continued on doggedly, her breathing laboured.
It took over an hour to reach the crash site. Cautious now, she looked out from the dubious shelter of the bare branches, watching for any sign of movement. The giant silver spaceship rested at the end of a long furrow it had ploughed in the clearing, still and silent.