// VEIL Initiative
The sound of the footsteps on the forest floor got louder, and Naira did her best to remain silent and avoid being detected. She was great at hiding, but not as good at keeping quiet. One little sound and it would be game over for her!
Naira was crouched, sitting in a ball at the base of a thicket. She placed her hand over her mouth, but she felt like her breathing could be heard for miles. The footsteps and cracking twigs grew louder - it wouldn't be long now. She took another deep breath when the footsteps stopped, and it felt like someone was right there, just over her shoulder.
Just a few more seconds, she thought, but she couldn't hold it any longer. She let her breath out - but just a little too quickly.
"BOO!" Naira's big sister yelled excitedly, "Got you!" Naira laughed and hopped out from the thicket and started running, with her sister chuckling and giving chase through the sparse forest.
The two sisters were nearly inseparable. Naira loved playing hide and seek, especially in new places where she could explore. Naira didn't always get to see as much as she wanted to, though.
Her parents would often tell her that some things weren't worth exploring, some secrets weren't meant to be discovered. Sometimes a hole was just a hole - not some secret passageway to another other world. They cautioned her that just around some corners were dangerous things, like wild animals and vicious creatures. They also told her that some secret places were scary and bad, like the spooky alleyway by that movie cinema they often visited downtown. "If they could tell you their secrets," her mother would say, "you would not like them very much."
Today they were at home, where they knew the nearby forest inside and out. The sun was slowly setting, casting long shadows through the woods. Naira ran, dodging trees and limbs, shimmying between bushes and thickets, hopping rocks and boulders. Her sister followed not seconds behind.
Shortly, they heard their mother call out through the forest that dinner was ready, and they shuffled back to the house.
Throughout dinner, Naira's mother couldn't hold back a little smile and kept glancing over at her with a twinkle in her eye. Naira knew something was up. Sure enough, after dinner the family cleaned up and their parents beckoned the sisters into the living room to tell them something special.
The two skipped over in anticipation and sat down, both grinning ear to ear. "What? What?! Come on, tell us!" Naira fidgeted excitedly.
"Well," her father began, "as you two know we've been looking for a new employer for a while now. We've been in touch with someone - a friend of a friend, who knew someone who worked for a man whose cousin was the..." Her father paused, seeing the growing confusion in Naira's face. He chuckled and continued. "We're going to New Jerusalem."
Naira's eyes opened wide and her face lit up with joy! "Really?! New Jerusalem?!" she cried.
"You bet," her mother smiled. "And we're leaving this week, so you'd better start packing!"
The sisters jumped up and hugged their parents, cheered, and hugged each other, dancing their way back to their room. "Wow, a whole new world to explore!" Naira exclaimed to her sister while they start packing hurriedly for the trip.
Naira always wanted to visit another planet. Her parents had told her stories of worlds that had thrived, about some worlds that had seen lots of suffering, even some that had been utterly destroyed because of fighting. She'd heard stories about the Covenant, of the Great War, and how scary it was when humanity was so close to losing against the aliens. She imagined big flying ships looming in the sky, shimmering and blotting out the sun.
She didn't like those stories very much. She was always excited, however, when she heard of what people did after the war - returning to those lost planets, trying to repopulate them and rebuild their cities and colonies. She was told stories of places discovered by people who had traveled far and wide, even to where other civilizations lived long before humans. She imagined visiting old ruins, of all the places she could run around in and explore.
She was only 9 years old, but with all that she'd heard from her parents, there was nothing more exciting to her than to finally visit another planet.
The next few days flew by as the family finalized their plans and packed for the journey. The night before they were to leave, Naira had a dream that she was frolicking freely in tall grass, surrounded by rolling hills, with a fresh breeze blowing and a sun at the horizon. When she woke up, the day had arrived when they were to head to the docking ports and leave for New Jerusalem. It wouldn't be a short trip through slipspace, but it wasn't long enough of a trip to warrant use of cryosleep. Naira was prepared with plenty of things to do, though. She loved to draw, so her mother suggested that she draw about what she imagined New Jerusalem would be like - she loved the idea!
The family arrived at the port where they'd be boarding the cruiser. Naira looked out with wide eyes at all the enormous ships floating in and out of the ports. They were huge! They had big mouths that opened to let people in, and she thought they looked like big flying beasts. She decided that she'd draw about them later too.
Naira's mother pulled her gently, saying they had to move on. "It's not our time to go yet, Naira. They need to load all of our things first, but it won't be long now."
"Can we go play then, mommy?" Naira tugged at her mother's arm. She didn't seem to care that there were lots of strangers milling about, but she did see that out on this docking platform there were lots of places to run around.
"Well, if you two don't go very far, and stay in our sights. We'll be right here, so make sure you can always see us." As long as they stayed close, her parents weren't worried. Her father was off to the side speaking with someone, and her mother began reviewing their itinerary for the trip while they waited to board.
The girls looked at each other, then dashed off, running around boxes and benches and giggling as they took turns chasing each other. Then Naira's sister grabbed her hand and drew in close, whispering in her ear and pointing off to an area with not many people around. "Let's go see what we can find over there!"
Naira smiled, then they dashed over to a corner of the platform where there was a big stack of boxes and crates. They were covered in markings and words and flashing lights. Some were smaller than they were, and some towered over their heads. Naira looked at her sister with glowing eyes and a grin and said, "Start counting!"
Her sister quickly turned around against a big box began counting down. "Ten!" She yelled. Naira looked around and snuck between some of the boxes. It was like a big maze of passageways! She came to a dead end, but looked up and found another gap she could climb through. As she pushed forward, she felt the rumbling of machines moving around nearby, and eventually came to a big opening.
"Nine!" Her sister yelled. She dashed across the opening, quick and quiet. Some of the other boxes around Naira here were open, and she was tempted to go peek inside to see what kinds of things were hidden inside. But a big rumbling machine rolled by and she ducked back next to a crate.
"Eight!" Naira heard, but her sister's counting was a little fainter now from the distance. The rumbling machine paused and dropped a crate not too far away. This one was a dark shade of purple, with some more little flashing lights on it. She glanced around, then snuck over to it.
"Seven!" Her sister's voice was echoing more now, as if it was also finding its way through this maze, following her. She was still safe though, she told herself. She could still hear her sister, so that's what mattered. Naira drew near the big purple crate and noticed that its door was slightly ajar. This would be a perfect hiding place! She thought.
"Six!" she heard as she squeezed into the crate. It wasn't empty, but there was just enough room for her. It was dark, so she stayed close to the opening so she could still see daylight and hear her sister. She imagined that there were lots of neat places like this at New Jerusalem that she could explore and play in too.
"Five!" Her counting really did sound pretty far away now. She remembered how her parents told them not to go very far, and to stay in sight. Just then she felt the box start to move. It jolted a bit, and she lost her footing, slipping to the floor.
"Four!" Her sister's voice was very faint now, getting drowned out by the rumbling around the box she was in. Then the box got suddenly dark as it spun around and the daylight disappeared. The jolting stopped and she scrambled to get back outside of the box, but now she was in an enormous dark room with light streaming in only from the big opening at the far end.
"Three!" She started to run towards where she heard the echo coming from, to the opening where there was still light. She pushed through the shadows, dodging stacks of crates, hopping over boxes, and shimmying through passageways and holes. Now the light was slowly disappearing as gigantic doors rose from the ground and lowered from the ceiling.
"Two!" She could barely hear her sister's voice now, and tears were streaming down her cheeks. "Sis!" She screamed! "Sis!!"
She ran into the big wall that had risen out of the ground and looked up only to see the last sliver of daylight disappear as the doorway shut high above her head with a deafening clang. That was the last she ever heard her sister's voice.
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