Alyssa returns to Earth to find humans endangered, infertile + desperate. She protects the only answer. THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS #YA #PitProm
Dear Royal Advisors,
This is the way the world ends. Not with a whimper but with a bang.
THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS is a YA Sci-fi, complete at 94,000 words. The dark themes and morality choices will appeal to fans of THE 100 while the societal themes and character-driven plot will attract those who enjoyed CHILDREN OF MEN.
Alyssa was born aboard a spaceship leaving Earth, part of a contingency plan when the world faced nuclear war, and she’s been trained to deal with anything she’ll find on her return. She expects a desolate world and the task of rebuilding humanity from the ground up.
From orbit, Dubai stands alone as Earth’s last city, a beacon of hope for the future. However, once there, Alyssa discovers a world where human infertility has left a society beyond recognition, grief-stricken and desperate.
Out of love for her adopted daughter, Alyssa contends with suspect allies and powerful enemies. As a newly appointed journalist for Dubai’s newspaper, she must seek answers for how the war began. As a fighter, she must outsmart Dubai’s leader, scheming politician Breslin. And, as a mother, she must conceal her biggest secret: Gabriela is Earth’s last child.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Politics and International Relations, fields from which I draw in my writing. I was inspired to write this story by a simple thought: the future will have more nuclear weapons, held by more agents. I currently work as a web developer in Oxford, England. When I'm not writing, I'm reading everything under the sun and making absurdly spicy samosas.
My sincerest thanks in advance for your time and consideration.
Sir Yusuf Baldick
First ten pages:
We have a minute of silence for my mother every year. I don’t know why. She didn’t die silent. She died screaming. Silence didn’t commemorate her – it marked the days afterward, staring at the ceiling, trying to forget.
When I was five years old, a large chunk of asteroid debris struck our medical bay. Our parents tried desperately to put out the fires. The ship’s automated system prevented the fire from spreading. The bay hatch slammed shut, with her inside.
Earth stretched out before us, through the observation window of the bridge. It was a beautiful sight, but the reflection in the window wasn’t me, standing with the others. It was my mother, hand pressed against the glass, leaving an ashen imprint as she was engulfed. I couldn’t blink away the vision. I watched her burn, the flames casting shadows on her face. She mouthed my name as she died.
All of our parents died during the sixteen-year trip aboard this ship. None of them died well. Fires. Suicide. Broken tethers during spacewalks.
A head full of messy brown curls pressed closer to my thigh. Gabriela. My little troublemaker wrapped around my leg, another orphan on our deathtrap of a spaceship. But she had me, her makeshift mommy. She’d be better off than I was. She already was. Four years old and already all smiles. I didn’t remember smiling as a child.
Earth was gorgeous. Like it had never been touched by a bullet, let alone a nuke. We wouldn’t be able to tell if a nuke had hit from here. The misty white clouds flitted amongst the seas and landmasses, never stopping. The ocean covered thirty different shades of blue and became alluringly light as it reached the shores. I dug my fingernails into my palm.
This was where I should have been born. This is where my entire race was born. And we’d spent our whole lives being taught that our purpose might just be to repopulate this vast planet. We were only hours away from finding out. I wanted to cry.
“I don't want to do it either. I'm just saying, we might not have a choice.” Yumei argued, stepping in front of me, blocking my view of the planet in the window.
It still shone behind her, illuminating the particles floating in the command room and making her white hairband look like a halo. The hairband tucked black locks behind reddening ears, anger making her less angelic.
“How can we not have a choice? There would literally be no one around to force us.”
“Do you want to be alone forever? Has this life been so much fun?”
“I won’t be alone. I have Gabi.” Yumei grimaced. Gabi was her sister, but she’d never wanted much to do with her. Yumei watched her mother die giving birth to Gabi, and she’d never been able to forget it. She had more nightmares than I did.
“Besides,” I added. “If we’re needed, then we’re already alone forever. More children won’t make up for the lack of literally everyone else.”
“There’s a big difference between it being just the eight of us and restarting the human race. We need to breed.”
“Can we stop using the word breed?”
“Isn’t that we’re discussing?” Yumei let a smirk roll across her lips. The lips were a bold ruby red; she was wearing her mother’s old makeup. Clearly, not all of her mother’s things were as off-putting as Gabi. “Breeding Earth back to population.”
“It would take generations.” I waved her away.
“Depends on how fertile you are, I guess.”
“You’re naive. This is why we were sent in this stupid ship. This is why our parents were forced. This is why we spent every hour of every day in lessons.”
“I know that.”
“I’m not ignoring it,” I snapped. “I’m not spending my life popping out babies.”
“The human race goes extinct because you can’t stand the thought of spreading-”
“Don’t be gross.”
Yumei took a deep breath. “This isn’t gross. This is biology. Don’t you remember what we got taught? Don’t you see our responsibility? Gabi, the four of us and the boys. We’re going to be the last nine people left on Earth.”
“You don’t know that yet.”
Yumei’s eyes spoke the words she wouldn’t. Time would prove one of us right. About an hour’s time.
I rolled my neck, trying to get the tension to dissipate. I couldn’t let myself worry about something I had no control over. Earth was in our future whether we wanted it or not.
It had been a long time coming. Now that it was here, it felt too soon. It had taken eight years to get to the edge of the galaxy and then eight years back. A sixteen-year-long contingency plan in case humanity was wiped out. Our ship was the most expensive boomerang in history.
Gabi was beginning to doze against my thigh. I gave her a little shake.
“Moooom! I’m tired!” Gabi whined, jerking to attention. She’d exhausted herself playing with Leo this morning while I showered.
“Sorry, sweetheart, but you won’t sleep tonight if you sleep now.”
“I’ll sleep now until tomorrow,” she declared, hands covering her face.
“You’ll miss us going into Earth’s orbit. It’s only an hour now.”
“We’ve been into orbit tons of times, Mom.”
I tweaked her nose. “Never Earth’s orbit.”
“I want to sleep!” she demanded. Time to bring out the big guns.
“Even though Leo promised to watch a movie with us tonight?”
Gabi bounced up to her feet, eyes widening. “Leo’s coming? But, but...” Her face turned with confusion. “He said that he was gonna be at the firing range today.” Leo was always at the firing range.
I shrugged. “Guess he changed his mind.” He probably realized that tonight may be the last time we would ever do movie night.
Gabi brightened. “But what are we going to watch?” she asked, straightening her yellowing dress, lined with stencils of tree trunks and leafy branches. The design had been bland on the curtains. As a dress, it was cute, ignoring my sloppy stitches and loose threads.
“Maybe one of your movies. I know you and Leo like to sing along together,” I teased, rumpling her hair.
She shook her head to remove my hand and shot me the cutest glare. “You sing, too!”
I poked her tummy. “Not like you two. The other girls will need their earplugs.”
“You don’t like my falsetto?” Leonardo stepped in, sweaty hair sticking to his forehead, his VR headset hanging around his neck.
Gabi’s squeal was the only warning Leo got before she barrelled into him. Leo lifted her easily over his head and onto his shoulders. I wished I could pick Gabi up that easily. She got heavier each day.
“Chiquita!” Leo hollered. He shot me a quick wink and raised his brow questioningly. The brow meant ‘has she been okay?’
I nodded my head a little, and he smiled back. This was how we communicated around Gabi. All eight of us did our fair share of looking after Gabi, none of us wanting her to feel as neglected as we’d felt growing up, but Leo and I were the main parents. His little sister. My little monster.
“Leo, over there!” Gabi clutched her fingers into Leo’s dark bedhead and pointed around the bridge, directing her horse with imperious abandon. They had different mothers, but they were so alike. Leo’s hair continually threatened to break into the curls Gabi’s had, though he never let it grow that long. Gabi’s jawline was thankfully softer. Leo had a stupidly defined jawline, like a caricature of a handsome man. Best of all, they had the same South American dark bushy eyebrows. I adored them. But that was my little secret.
“Mommy, look!” She tugged excitedly at my hair from atop Leo’s shoulders.
“Leo’s been teaching me countries. That’s Spain! And look, Mommy, that’s the shoe shape! That’s, that’s, umm, that’s…”
“Italy,” I finished.
“Mommy! Don’t tell me!” She wrinkled her button nose.
“Sorry, sweetie.” Leo grinned, out of her sight.
The landmarks in front of us were as new to me as they were to her. I found them as jaw dropping as she did. I wanted to identify every landmass. Turkey. Egypt. China. Was that the Great Wall? I couldn’t be sure.
I examined Earth through the window, searching for something new, something that differed from the image I knew from textbooks, from videos. Something to prove that maybe people were still down there. Still building monuments. Still making mistakes, fighting, making up. Still alive.
I’d do anything to know we weren’t needed. Four girls and four boys, or The Rebirth: the name of our ship and the solution for the expected end of the arms race where everybody lost. A shiver ran down my spine. They probably weren’t expecting all of our parents to fail to make it back. If Yumei was right, there wouldn’t be anyone left to disappoint.
The hatch to the command room hissed and creaked open. Will zipped up as he entered. His head was bristle short, like a worn-down hairbrush.
“Did you at least wash your hands, Willy?” Yumei asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, clearly unconcerned. “Had to take a leak now. Don’t want to miss this.” Will collapsed into his chair. “We’re moving into orbit in the next thirty. I want to keep an eye on the radiation counter. It might tell us whether Earth was nuked.”
“It might tell us who didn’t wash their hands,” Yumei said, airily, not looking away from her tablet.
Will flicked a toggle on the panel. “Everyone to the bridge.” His voice emanated throughout the ship. We didn’t need the intercom, really.
The ship wasn’t huge, but the kitchen was on the other side. If it hadn’t always been my home, perhaps I might find it creepy. The lights flickered continuously, and the low glare of the LEDs didn’t help the Rebirth escape its shadows. The ship was long and thin, shaped like a pencil, making the command room the point.
I leaned across him and added into the intercom. “Bails, can you bring me some food?”
Will gave me a withering look.
“What? It’s my favorite,” I quipped. It was beans and rice. It was always beans and rice. Our supplies and rations had mostly gone. Now we relied on what we’d grown. Some vegetables and a little fruit. Rice, beans, potatoes. I was hungry for something different.
Will had similar thoughts. “Just wait. Pizza. Curry. Noodles.”
“And ice cream.” I added.
Yumei pursed her lips but said nothing.
Bailey clambered through the hatch. “Bailey!” Gabi squirmed out of Leo’s grasp and bounded over to her. I couldn’t help but smile at my little girl. She greeted everyone she saw like she hadn’t seen them in years.
“Spoiled brat,” Leo said, amusedly, watching Gabi settle down in Bailey’s lap and immediately help herself to Bailey’s meal. Rohan crouched through the hatch. His beard was patchy, like he’d been interrupted halfway through shaving, showing hints of a baby face. He claimed his beard grew so fast he had to shave it every week. I thought he did it to irritate Will, who’d never developed anything beyond a peach fuzz. Sameera and Michael followed, both looking tired. Sam played nervously with her mauve headscarf. Michael had his hands clasped behind his back, solemn.
“Whose funeral did I miss?” Leo jibed. “Come on, guys, we’ve been waiting for this day since forever.”
“Just nervous,” Rohan bit out. “Lot of things could go wrong.”
“We’ll be fine,” I said with confidence I didn’t feel.
Leo looked carefully from Rohan to me. “Well, when we get down there, what’re you going to do?”
“There’s not going to be anything to do,” Yumei huffed.
Leo bounced on his toes, ignoring her. “I’m going to look for my mom. Dad told me she was in the military too. There’ll be records of her. I might be able to find where she lives.”
I had to keep my face still. It wasn’t often any of us brought up our childhood and Leo never brought up his dad, Gustavo, our arms and fighting trainer. Our parents had been unorthodox teachers, strict and demanding out of the fear of losing humanity’s accumulated knowledge. Gustavo was something else entirely. He thought that a lesson wasn’t learned unless you were bloodied and battered, barely standing and barely conscious. The next lesson couldn’t come unless you had physically proved something to him.
Eventually, we’d proven something to ourselves.
“Same.” Will fiddled with the stress ball on the desk. His father’s. “Mother was part of NASA too. You know they flipped a coin to decide who’d come.”
We did know. He told us all the time. I shoved down the envy that rose up. Mom refused to talk about my Dad. Refused to acknowledge his existence. My earliest memory was walking in on Mom crying in her bed, her whole frame heaving as she sobbed. Black eyeliner ran down her face. When she noticed me, she hurriedly wiped her face and ushered me out. Mom cried a lot in the earlier years, clutching photos of a family that became further away with every second.
I’d never found those photos.
I doubted I’d be able to find out who Dad was, let alone find him.
“I should like to find a library,” Michael said, as if to himself. I hid my smile. He was settled in his favorite chair, one hand over the other and eyes closed in contentment. Bailey had been using him to practice her hair cutting again, the sides of his shaped-up fro were shaved almost to the skin. Michael was the only one of the boys who didn’t complain when she got her scissors out.
“I’m going to find a map, get a fire started and find some food. Then I’ll try very hard not to tell you ‘I told you so’ when you find the planet empty.” Yumei scowled at me.
“Well.” Will flipped a switch on his panel. “We’re about to find out.”
The ship hummed and whirred along, the result of a dozen different modules and electronics working at once. I’d become used to the ambient noise. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard true silence. Certainly not since Gabi was born.
“What is that?” Will muttered to himself, eyebrows knitted together. He put his hand up to stop the questions.
He bit his lip. “Our scanners are picking up a huge ship on the far side of the planet, roughly above Saudi Arabia.”
“What? Like a rocket taking off?”
He shook his head. “No, like a ship. Hovering above Earth,” he said, flatly.
Rohan’s eyes widened. I knew what he was thinking. Technology must have progressed rapidly since we’d left, if they were capable of such a thing. Was it a sign that the planet was occupied?
He clenched his fist. “Life on Earth?”
“I knew it!” Leo said.
“Are you serious?!” Sameera covered her mouth with both hands.
“Not necessarily,” I added, seeing Leo about to pump his fist. “It could have been there for years.”
“But, still,” Sam said. “We had no records of it when we left!”
Yumei sniffed. She spent a long part of her day communicating only in contemptuous sniffs. This time, she wasn’t wrong. This didn’t feel right. My stomach quivered.
Sam gave her a cross look. “I’m just saying.”
“An old ship with that kind of technology?” Rohan scanned the globe through the large viewing pane. “Where is it?”
“It hasn’t come into view yet. It will once we get pulled into Earth’s low orbit. Then we’ll be orbiting Earth once every ninety minutes. We’ll see it easily then, and they’ll see us, too, probably, if there is anyone in there.”
“How close will we pass?” I asked.
“Not very. They’re not in orbit, as far as I can tell.”
“What?” Rohan said. “Stop being so cryptic, Will.”
Will glared back at him but conceded. “The sensors say they’re still in the Earth’s atmosphere, so technically not even in outer space. Around sixty miles above ground level, just breaching the thermosphere, but almost perfectly still.”
“Almost perfectly still?” I echoed.
“Yeah, doesn’t make any sense. Nothing should be able to have that little movement. It’s like the thing is anchored.”
Rohan snorted. “Anchored to Earth, sixty miles below?”
Will gave him a dark look. “I’m only saying what I’m seeing.” Something flashed up on the screen in front of him. “Alright. We’re going into low orbit.”
The comms panel crackled. It hadn’t made a sound for years. Always on, always broadcasting. We never got a single response.
The crackling stopped.
For a moment, nothing.
And then, a rapid onrush of clicking noises, like a drill on helium. A squeal. A high-pitched whistle.
Static followed. I didn’t move a muscle. Goosebumps tingled on my skin. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Gabi bristled in my lap.
Rohan closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “What was that?”
I cleared my throat. “I have absolutely no idea.”
“Aliens?” Leo clapped his hands together.
“Don’t even joke,” Bailey said. She didn’t look all that certain.
“Is the frequency just picking up anomalies?”
“Could be. But it’s pretty consistent,” I countered.
Rohan implored me with widened eyes. The others never really voted me and Rohan as leaders of our little group, but they accepted it anyway. I shook my head slightly at him. This wasn’t good. And Leo genuinely did think it was aliens. Rohan nodded, playing absently with the kalava tied around his wrist. He was lucky to have even one memento of his mother. I knew what to do.
Will ignored us all. “Alright, okay, alright,” he murmured to himself, before clearing his throat. “Almost in orbit now.”
“Wait.” I cleared my throat. “Stop. Everyone silent, don’t say a single word. Turn off everything but the thrusters.”
“What the hell are you talk-?” Will started.
“Turn it all off. Lights, the electronics, the heating, everything.” I growled. “Quickly.”
He stared at me, nonplussed.
That moved him into action, and he started flipping every switch on the panel. Leo’s cautioning hand on my shoulder got shrugged off. Gabi whimpered in my arms.
“Mom?” she whispered.
“Shh, it’s okay.” I shifted her weight in my arms, rocking slowly from side to side. She wasn’t so light anymore. Even on beans and rice.
The humming and whirring of the ship’s systems dissipated, until we were left with the smallest buzzing noise, the ship’s artificial gravity device, and the familiar thrum of the ship’s thrusters. The lights flickered once, twice, and off, leaving us dark, bathed only in the glow of the Earth. Gabi’s whimpers grew more pronounced. A shiver ran through me. I held my hand up to stop the others from muttering, before nodding at Will’s unasked question.
The thrum got louder as he used some of our last remaining fuel to fire the engine the opposite direction, decelerating us enough to drop into the Earth’s orbital field. It was a delicate task; too much and you came to a standstill or started going backwards, too little and you didn’t catch in the capture trajectory and went straight through, potentially burning up in the atmosphere.
The ship slowed, creaked and rumbled. I looked to Will for guidance. He had his own hand up to stop the comments, distractedly scanning the ship’s sensors. A full minute later, he nodded. We were in orbit.
I sighed in relief and sank to the floor, resting against the bridge electronics. Silent, we watched, entranced, as the night crept across the planet as the landmasses and seas and clouds below darkened slowly until they were almost pitch black. The clouds flashed and sparked blue with lightning, like electrified spiderwebs.
“No, no, no.” Leo moaned.
“What, what’s wrong?” I asked.
He sighed and smacked his head against the panel behind him. “No lights, Lyssa. There are no lights.”
It took me a second to realize what he meant. I’d seen pictures of Earth from space in our textbooks. I’d seen videos from the International Space Station of Earth at night. And there are always, always, bright yellow lights, from great glowing balls in dense cities to the smallest dots for the towns. No lights meant no people. A whole side of the Earth with no people.
Sam let out a keeling wail before jamming her hand to her mouth.
I felt cold, ice enveloping me feet first, crawling up my toes until it made my heart shiver and skip a beat. I squeezed Gabi tighter to me.
My mind rebooted. A dozen thoughts, hastily discarded. Maybe they were underground? Maybe they were hiding? Maybe they lived on the other side of the Earth.
Gabi, playing with kids her own age, rolling around and dirtying her dress in the grass, in a dress I hadn’t fashioned out of curtains. Finally, exhausted, she’d drop down, staring at the blue skies above. An idle fantasy, idyllic and now destroyed.
I blinked the sting of tears away and raised my head to stop them trailing down my cheeks. Not in front of Gabi. I didn’t want her to know she’d just lost her chance at a normal life.
Above the observation window, messily written in blue crayon, our ship’s name. The Rebirth. Bailey had put it up there on my sixth birthday, standing on my shoulders. Back then, it was a small but thrilling act of rebellion, before we knew what rebellion was, chafing against the strict structure our parents set for us.
Now it was a constant and literal reminder of our purpose.
Would we fulfil it? Could we do what we’d brought up for?
Build a home among the corpses.
Restart the human race.
Pass on all we’d learned.
I imagined myself years from now. In front of a blackboard, teaching a dozen kids, pregnant once more. Outside the window, the sun was dim, weeds cracking through the concrete, not a sound for miles.
Perhaps that was a future that wouldn’t come to pass. Perhaps we’d find answers on Earth. Perhaps we’d learn that billions hadn’t died for nothing.
One thing was for sure.
They didn’t die silent either.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,