Title: The Ark
Author: Laura Liddell Nolen
Genre: YA Scifi
It’s the final days of earth, and sixteen-year-old Char is right where she belongs: in prison. With her criminal record, she doesn’t qualify for a place on an Ark, one of the five massive bioships designed to protect earth’s survivors during the meteor strike that looks set to destroy the planet. Only a select few will be saved – like her mom, dad, and brother – all of whom have long since turned their backs on Char.
If she ever wants to redeem herself, Char must use all the tricks of the trade to swindle her way into outer space, where she hopes to reunite with her family, regardless of whether they actually ever want to see her again, or not . . .
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On the last day of Earth, I couldn’t find my hairbrush. That probably seems like a silly thing to worry about, what with the imminent destruction of, well, everything, but my mom was always after me about my usual ratty ponytail. Normally, I’d ignore her. Or, if I were having a really bad day, I’d tell her what she could do with her hairbrush. But like I said, it was the last day of Earth. And I figured, since it was the last time she’d ever see me, I wanted it to go smoothly. I wanted her to remember me, if not fondly, then at least without anger.
A girl can dream.
I slipped out of my cell as soon as the door swung open. I’d done the same every day for the past month, and my family had yet to show up. Their OPT—Off-Planet Transport—took off in eighteen hours, so they still had time. Barely. I couldn’t blame them if they didn’t come. It wasn’t hard to imagine that they’d rather escape to the stars without so much as a backward glance at me, their big disappointment. Even my father’s influence couldn’t persuade the government to give me a spot on an OPT.
Turns out, when humankind is deciding which of its children to save, the last place it looks is in prison.
But I was pretty sure they’d come. West had said as much in his last transmission. The thought of my younger brother actually halted me mid-step, like one of those punches in the gut where you can’t breathe for a few seconds.
“Looking for something?” The lazy drawl floated out of the nearest cell.
Against my better instincts, I turned to see Cassa lying on her bunk, her arm draped across Kip. My Kip. Or at least, my ex-Kip. Whatever. In twenty-two hours, I wouldn’t have to think about him anymore.
See? Silver lining. And they called me a perpetual pessimist at my last psych workup.
They barely fit next to each other on the flimsy mattress, but that wasn’t the weird part. The guys’ ward was separated by a substantial metal wall. We were kept apart during evening hours, for obvious reasons. Not that anyone cared anymore. The med staff had been the first to go, followed by the cleaning crew, followed by the kitchen crew. To show you where girls like me fell on the government’s list of priorities, there was still a skeleton crew of guards lurking around, despite the fact that I hadn’t had a real meal for going on a week. The guards would be gone soon, too, and then there’d be no one in here but us chickens.
I figured either Kip had a key, or the guards had left already. A key could be useful. My curiosity got the best of me. “How’d he get in here before the first bell?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “I got some tricks you ain’t seen, babe. Why don’t you join us? End of the world and all.”
The guards were gone, then. I felt a small trill of anxiety deep in my chest. If the guards were gone, my family was even less likely to show. But it was never smart to show fear. “The Pinball could be headed straight for this building, and I still wouldn’t be
desperate enough to touch you. Oh, wait. Guess you don’t have to take my word for it.”
I turned to leave, but he continued. “Now is that any way to treat your dear ole partners? Be nice or I won’t give you back your stuff.”
“Ugh, you were in my room?” I flexed my shoulder blades, making sure my gun was still tightly secured between them.
“Don’t worry, Char. I didn’t handle the merchandise. Didn’t want to wake you up. Just lifted me a few keepsakes.” He pronounced my name the way I like: Char, as in charred. Something that got burned.
I wasn’t sure what Kip and Cassa were planning, but I knew I wouldn’t like it. They were thieves and liars. I would know. I used to be one of them. That was before the last job, when Cassa had attacked an elderly man in the home we were robbing. She’d kicked him until he stopped fighting back. Kip had called her off after a few licks, but I just stood there, staring. The old man looked at me, like right at me, while we made our getaway, and my stomach twisted into a knot so tight that I tasted bile. That was the moment I knew I wanted out.
But by then, no one believed me. Or, if they did, no one cared. Except for Kip and Cassa, of course. They’d taken the news pretty hard, to put it lightly.
If I lunged for the box, I could probably grab my hairbrush and get out of there. I wouldn’t have time for more than that. Then again, I’d be doing exactly what they expected, and I didn’t have time for delays. My family could be in the commissary any second now.
“Ahem. Seeing as it’s your last day of life, I might let you have one thing back,” said Kip.
“In exchange for what?”
“I’m hurt. All our time together, and you still don’t believe in my inherent generosity. But now that you mention it, I’ve got a hankering for some peanut butter crackers.”
“Sorry, Kip. I’m fresh out of food. Kinda like everyone else.”
“Nice try, Charrr.” He drew my name out, as though tasting it. “I saw them yesterday. Figured you were hiding them under your pillow when I couldn’t find them last night.”
“You figured wrong.”
All I could think about was my brother’s face. And how I had this one last chance to apologize to my parents, for everything. I shrugged and turned to leave.
Laura Liddell Nolen grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she spent lots of time playing make-believe with her two younger brothers. They supplemented their own stories with a steady diet of space- and superhero-themed movies, books, and television. The daughter of a comic book collector, she learned how to handle old comics at an early age, a skill she’s inordinately proud of to this day.
Laura began work on her first novel, , in 2012, following the birth of her daughter Ava, a tiny rebel and a sweetheart on whom the novel’s main character is loosely based. Completion of The Ark was made possible in part due to an SCBWI Work-in-Progress Award.
Laura loves coffee, dogs, and making lists. She has a degree in French and a license to practice law, but both are frozen in carbonite at present. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young children, and their dog Miley, who is a very good girl.
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