"Red Elevators Excerpt"
Penny had fallen in love with her fuzzy gray blanket. She was wearing it now like a robe, her face hidden in shadow by an impromptu hood. I had forgone such comforts myself, leaving my sweater in my room. It was in dire need of a wash. I had scavenged for clothes, but— wouldn’t you know it, everything I found had four armholes. Luckily Thea had come to the rescue, offering me one of her father’s shirts. It was far too big, but it was better than nothing, at least until I could get my own things clean.
The moment we exposed the ship to this new world’s atmosphere, a wave of powerful fragrance wafted into the room. The exotic smell of the flowers was overwhelming, almost sickening. Penny grabbed my hand as we walked down the ramp, her slender fingers cool and dry. Thea glanced at us but made no move to do the same.
The ground was unexpectedly rough. It was uneven and hard, as though we were walking over rock or cement. And yet the flowers grew voraciously, covering every living surface. Most of them had large pink petals that were so fat the plants could only drape themselves across the ground. The stamens, the thin wire-like things inside the bud, stuck out on many of them. The only other kind of flower was small and ivory, with a cup-shaped body. They grew on thin, lacy vines, often intertwined with the pink flowers.
When I looked back, I realized that the Clunker had cracked through the upper layer of the earth. That explained our rough landing. The ground here seemed to be heaps of jagged stone, with the vegetation growing in whatever cracks the rock might afford.
The horizon was all pink nonsense. I couldn’t see anything beyond the haze of pollen and petals that flittered through the air. There might have been tall shadows in the distance, but I wasn’t quite sure. Behind me, I could hear the ship popping and clinking and groaning as it settled and the engine pods cooled.
Gently releasing Penny’s hand, I knelt and plucked one of the pink flowers. A rosy haze puffed into my face. I snorted and snuffled, falling onto my backside in surprise. Penny laughed aloud, a sudden and sharp sound. I realized it was the first time I had heard Penny laugh since the blackout. Thea too was chuckling as I stood. “Laugh it up,” I murmured, but truth be told I was glad to have been able to provide a little levity, even though I was beginning to feel strangely dizzy…
I stood a little wobbily and Penny at once grabbed my hand again. She dragged me forward, and I had to take care not to lose my footing on the uneven ground. I thought maybe Penny was dragging me toward a tall outcropping of stone just ahead. Like everything else within sight, it was overgrown with plant life.
“Doesn’t all this strike you as strange?” Thea asked. The girl was standing very still, not far from the ramp. She seemed to be studying everything very intently. Cautiously.
I was certainly feeling strange, but I didn’t admit it. “What?” I asked.
“All of it! The flowers, the ground… something isn’t right. Don’t you remember the view from space?”
“What about it?” I asked, beginning to feel dumb. Suddenly sleeping sounded nice.
“This whole side of the planet was like this! Very peculiar…”
Penny wriggled her hand out of mine. I barely noticed. I seemed to have lost my ability to multitask. I focused in on Thea’s question. She had a good point. I didn’t know much about the universe, but this planet did seem odd.
Suddenly the redhead gasped, and all the color drained from her face. “This is a cemetery.”
“What? This field?” I asked.
She glanced at the millions of flowers surrounding us. “It’s the terraforming… they only do the bare minimum that they need to. Just enough to support life. This isn’t a world for living, just for visiting. There are dozens like them in this galaxy. You see, people bring flowers when they visit their dead, right? And those plants, they’re it, really. The only vegetation that gets consistently introduced and reintroduced enough to where it can survive.”
“What are you saying?” I asked. I swayed on my feet a little bit. I hoped she wouldn’t notice. I was having a hard time understanding her. I was hoping she wouldn’t notice that, either.
“I’m saying,” she replied with maybe a little impatience, “this whole world is a graveyard.”