A popular girl raised on Mars tries to help the planet's first colony any way she can.
Sasha closed her eyes and took in a series of deep breaths. The air around her couldn't exactly be called 'fresh', but it did serve its main purpose of steeling her nerves for the coming moments. At the end of the soothing act, she slowly began to lift her left leg into the air, raising it until it was almost perpendicular with her torso. The motion lasted no more than a few seconds, and was executed flawlessly.
That is, until a nearby sneeze completely shattered her concentration.
“Please don't—” was all she could get out before her source of balance was suddenly yanked away. The resulting fall onto a soft mat was far more jarring than painful, but it was still enough to force her eyes open the second she hit the ground.
“Oh my god! Are you okay, Sasha?!”
Her vision was blurred at first, but began to clear as an open hand reached towards her. She gave her best attempt at a smile while rubbing at her sore rear. “Eh, don't worry about it,” she said, accepting the hand's assistance. “We brought the mats out for a reason.”
She stood up and immediately found herself surrounded. Her view of the area around her was blocked by a circle of concerned teenage girls, all of whom were dressed in a light-blue cheerleader uniform identical to the one she had on. The smile on her lips formed far more naturally as she met their respective gazes.
“Are you super sure you didn't hurt anything?”
The question come from the girl closest to her; the same one who'd been in charge of holding her up during their routine. Once again, Sasha flashed her brightest smile to help relieve the girl's concern. A short, somewhat exaggerated giggle preceded her answer. “I think I'll live. Tell ya what, let's just take this as a sign that we should call it a day.”
Whether she'd actually convinced them this time, or they'd collectively decided to jump on the option to end practice early, she had no way of knowing. Either way, every one of the girls staring at her eventually nodded and walked away. She watched with a patient gaze as the group made their way to a nearby bench and started to gather their belongings.
Now that she had a clear view of the area, she turned away from her friends and took a careful look around. A large football field was drenched in light from a clear, blue sky overhead. The field, alive and loud with activity, surrounded her on all sides. While the cheerleaders had taken to the field's side to practice, the field itself was currently occupied by the football team—in the middle of practice themselves; at least, the few of them who'd actually decided to show up.
Sasha scanned the team of muscular young men for one man in particular. Upon finding him, she offered a playful wave in the split second he glanced over. The man returned the gesture with a smile that was barely visible behind his helmet, and turned back to face another teammate standing opposite him, several yards down the field. Unfortunately, he did so far too late.
“Eyes on the prize, Travis!” was a call that ended just seconds before Sasha watched a spiraling football smack into the side of the young man's face. He hit the ground hard as the ball rolled to Sasha's feet.
Sasha gasped for a quick moment, before a slew of murmured curses told her Travis was okay. Picking up the ball herself, she walked to his side and knelt low enough to offer him a hand. “Was that my bad?” she asked with a thin smile.
“Ugh...” Travis moaned as he was helped to his feet. “No, no,” a short silence occurred as the young man regained his balance. “Well...yes, actually, but it's no big deal.”
A soft pat on the back was the only comfort Sasha could think to offer. “I'm sorry,” she said softly. “But—” she paused long enough to give the ball in her hands a hard toss, smiling when it landed perfectly into the open arms of its target. “You did look pretty cool out here, ya know...before the ball hit you.”
“Yeah, thanks for that, Sis,” Travis said in a sarcastic tone, staring intently ahead. “So, I take it you girls are calling it early.”
Sasha nodded. “I've taken one too many dives for a single practice session. I'm gonna head home and get some stuff done before class starts. See you there?”
This time, with his attention focused where it should be, Travis was able to catch the ball thrown at him no problem. While lobbing the ball back to his teammate, he let out a deep sigh. “Well...” he said, taking a quick look around, “right now we're just kinda waiting for the rest of the team to show up...so...maybe, I guess.”
“They're still not taking this thing seriously?” Sasha asked. “That's pretty rude—not even after all the work you did putting everything together.”
Another catch and throw preceded Travis' carefree shrug. “Hell, I can't really blame them. I still can't get the president to budge on flying in a team for us to go up against. Right now, about all I've managed to set up is a daily game of catch.”
Even through the bars on the front of his helmet, Sasha could see a noticeable frown on her brother's lips. He was trying to hide it, but she knew better than anyone just how much work he'd put into setting up the colony's first official football team, and the obvious fact that only a handful of other students at their school were showing any interest was clearly getting to him. She'd hoped that starting up her own cheer-leading squad would help stir up attention for the team, but not even that seemed to be working.
Not knowing quite what to say, she put a comforting hand on Travis' shoulder. When the young man turned to look at her, she reached her other hand forward and caught an incoming football seconds before it would've smacked into his chest. “Don't give up hope just yet,” she said. “I'll try talking to the president myself later today. I'm sure a few flashes of my adorable smile will help sway him into making the right decision.”
Travis shook his head alongside a quick chuckle. The young man cracked a thin smile. “All right, Miss conceded. You think you can change his mind—go right ahead and try, but I'm not about to start holding my breath.”
“It's not being conceded if it's the truth,” Sasha shot back with a proud smile. When her joke gained another chuckle in response, she took the opportunity to give the football in her hands one more toss. Her smile only widened when Travis' teammate didn't have to move an inch to catch the ball.
“Show off,” Travis said over his shoulder as she started to walk away. “See ya later, Sis!”
“Later!” she yelled while taking off across the field. A domed, brown brick building was connected to the field's end via a large, oval-shaped entryway. About a single step through said entryway, Sasha's vision was stolen when the world around her went black. It lasted no more than a few seconds, but it was just long enough for her to cast a curious glance upward.
Sure enough, the cause of the darkness then became clear. What was once the image of a clear, blue sky was now an ocean of stars amidst an endless black void, one that had sucked away even the tiniest hint of light. She'd spent enough time looking at the scene above to know exactly where everything important was located; included in that knowledge was the planet Earth, which from their current location, looked almost identical to the stars in the sky.
Then, just as sudden as it had appeared, the starry sky flickered out of existence, once again replaced with the bright, sunny image of an average day on Earth.
Sasha shrugged before turning back to face the entryway ahead. “Stupid dome-screen. They've been saying for years that they're gonna fix that dumb thing.”
Chapter One: I'm A Little Too Popular!
Even though she'd actually been up for several hours already, Sasha didn't feel truly awake until she sat down in front of the mirror. Her own reflection smiled back at her as she rifled through a desk full of make-up and hair products. The act of putting on her make-up was second nature at this point in her life, but it still somehow always seemed to take longer than she expected.
A touch of light-brown eye-shadow made her already deep, blue eyes shine even brighter, and a thin layer of blush complimented her round cheeks and elegant features. That, when combined with the lip-gloss applied to her full, pink lips, created a sight that was fairly easy on the eyes. At least, in her own humble opinion.
Satisfied with the view in front of her, she stood up and turned for her bed across the room. While tying her long, blonde hair into a single ponytail, she took a silent look around. The room she shared with her brother was rather cramped, especially with the two beds on either side of the room taking up most of the free space. Other than that, there was just enough space for her brother and herself to both claim one corner to house their personal belongings. For her, that meant a wooden desk with a small mirror, and for him, it meant a hideous pile of mostly trash that no amount of nagging would ever make disappear.
She eyed the pile with a slanted gaze while getting dressed. Her cheerleader uniform was quickly replaced with a simple light-blue blouse, which was then partially covered by a thin, white jacket. A pair of blue-jeans made it about halfway up her legs before a sudden knock on the door drew her attention.
“One second!” she said. A hurried attempt to pull up her jeans landed her on the floor. “Make that two!”
Once she was properly covered, she dashed to the door and pushed a small button on the wall beside it. The door raised like a shot to reveal a petite girl with short, brown hair and two large, green eyes. The girl's clothes were stained with several brown splotches, and her tiny hands were covered by a pair of thick work gloves.
Sasha smiled as the smell of fresh soil assaulted her nostrils. “Morning, Angela,” she said, having to look down to meet the girl's eyes. “Something you need?”
“Yeah. Sorry if I interrupted your mornin' routine,” Angela replied, the faint remnants of a southern drawl present in her voice. As she spoke, the girl tried to wipe away a small spot of dirt on her forehead, but only succeeded in doubling its size. “Figured you wouldn't be busy this early in the day. Was I right?”
“I reckon you were,” Sasha said with a light chuckle. “There's still a few minutes before homeroom. Wanna walk and talk?” She waved a hand out into the hall, and received a quick nod from Angela. Sasha took a few steps forward, and waited for the door behind her to close before starting down the hall.
Angela kept a blank expression on her face as the two of them walked side-by-side down the hallway. They turned the first corner and found the next hallway filled with other students. They were still in the students quarters section of the school, so every person they passed was just standing around and talking. Unfortunately, that also meant they were more than ready to turn their attention towards the school's most popular student.
“This may have been a mistake.” Sasha put on her usual smile and increased her pace as much as she could without running. A few polite waves and smiles got them through the first half of the hall, but it also attracted even more attention. Accepting what she knew was inevitable, Sasha stopped in the middle of the hall and let a deep sigh escape her lips. “So...how everyone doing this morning?”
The sound of countless shoes sliding on the hall's marble floor filled her ears. Every student in the hall rushed forward to answer her question, resulting in a suffocating circle of voices that approached her from every direction. By now, Sasha was used to this kind of treatment from her peers. To her surprise, Angela also looked unaffected by the sudden swarm of students surrounding her.
“So I...” was all the girl got out before a single student stepped ahead of the large crowd.
“Hey, Sasha, check this out,” a tall, dark-skinned man said, flashing a bright smile. “I did my hair like you said! Do you like it?!”
After a quick, sympathetic grin towards Angela, Sasha playfully patted the man's shoulder while inspecting his hair. “Nice. You did a great job, Danny.” Using the small opportunity she knew that would give them, Sasha grabbed Angela's hand and politely pushed her way through the crowd.
“Sorry about that,” Sasha said once they'd successfully escaped the crowd's opposite side. “What were you trying to say?”
Angela's face kept a stoic expression as her now free hand made its way into her pocket. “Well, what I was trying to say was that I think we might have a problem with—”
“Sasha, wait!” came a call from a single girl who'd broken through the crowd and was currently running up to them. “I want you to sign my—”
A quick gasp escaped Sasha as she watched the running girl trip over her own feet and fall face-first about a foot in front of them.
“Whoa!” Sasha and Angela both exclaimed, the former taking a quick step forward. “Are you okay?”
The girl groaned as she looked up for a moment. A bright red face then went right back down onto the floor. “You can step on me if you want.”
“Uh...” Sasha said with a raised eyebrow, backing away slowly. “Yeah...no...that's okay.”
After the two shared a disturbed glance, Sasha once again took Angela's hand and guided her in a series of quick steps. This time, she waited until they found an empty hallway before stopping. “One more time?” she asked sheepishly.
“Screw it, we're almost there now,” Angela said, a fair amount of annoyance present in her usually soft voice. “I might as well just show you what the problem is.”
Sasha couldn't help but grin as she followed the girl to the end of the current hallway. Angela was well known in the colony for being able to keep calm in almost any situation. Some rumors even suggested she'd exited her mother's womb without letting out a single cry. So seeing her even slightly agitated was enough to warrant Sasha's undivided attention. “Yeah...sorry again,” she said in a solemn tone. “The other students can get a little clingy around me sometimes.”
The door at the hall's end opened ahead of them, but Angela stopped with one foot in the doorway. A hearty sigh escaped the girl's lips. “I know,” she stated. “I mean, it's not like I can blame them. You and your brother are the first two humans to be born and raised on Mars; you're living proof that mankind can thrive on other planets.”
Angela led the way into the room ahead. A domed, glass roof flooded the school's greenhouse in artificial sunlight. Rows upon rows of vegetables and other various plants filled the long room from end-to-end, creating a pleasant, natural aroma that Sasha always had to soak in whenever she found herself in its vicinity.
“It's no secret that Earth's resources have been running dry these past few decades,” Angela continued. “Seein' people like you survive an easy sixteen years without ever setting foot on Earth gives people hope for the future.”
“You really think that?” Sasha asked while stepping into the room. “I always just assumed people liked me because I'm incredibly smart and beautiful.”
Angela shrugged at her comment. “Well...I'm sure that also has somethin' to do with it.”
For a moment, Sasha pondered over why nobody ever seemed to get when she was joking, but tossed the thought aside after Angela stopped in front one of several computers positioned at the beginning of every row in the garden.
“Come look at this.” Angela pointed to the computer's screen. “According to this, everything in this particular row of the garden won't be ready to be farmed for another two weeks.”
“So?” Sasha asked.
Sasha followed Angela's raised finger to look straight ahead. The row of soil ahead of them was just that—nothing more than a long line of empty soil. “Oh, I see,” Sasha exclaimed while nodding. “The monitor's broken, then? That's fine. I'll just let one of the teachers know so they can—”
“No, Sasha. The monitor's fine,” Angela replied in a flat tone. The girl took a moment to rub at her eyes. “Good lord, girl. Didn't you just say you were smart. I'm trying to say that this row of the garden should still be here. I think somebody came in here after curfew and grabbed themselves a pretty hefty midnight snack.”
Sasha's head was shaking before Angela could even finish speaking. “No,” she said simply.
“Everyone in the colony knows that this garden provides a decent chunk of the school's food; there's no way anyone would steal it. Maybe another member of the agriculture club just picked it ahead of time and forgot to update the computer?”
Angela's eyes stayed on the computer's screen, which illuminated her face in a faint, orange light. “Not possible. I am the agriculture club; apart from the occasional teacher, I'm the only person with after curfew access to the greenhouse.”
By the time Angela finished, Sasha had made her way to the empty patch of soil and was curiously digging through it with the tips of her fingers. “Aw. You're really the only member?” she asked the girl peering at her over the top of the computer. “That's so sad. Do you want me to join? I mean, I don't really know that much about...Earth...stuff, but—”
“We don't have time to get off topic,” Angela said while walking away from the computer. A quick wave guided Sasha back to the door, where Angela stopped and put a hand on her shoulder. “I need your help here, Sasha. I never expected you to believe me, but even if you don't think somebody would steal our crops, could you at least ask around and see if anyone knows anything? I just wanna make sure I'm not going insane here.”
The school's morning bell cut off Sasha's attempt to answer. After waiting a few seconds for the bell's loud, obnoxious ringing to end, she gave Angela a playful pat on the cheek and turned to start out the door. “Relax. I'll see what I can do. Oh, and I'll see if I can't find a few people to join your club while I'm at it. You're too cute to be spending all your spare time alone in here.”