Come to My Door Sample

Please enjoy a sample from Come to My Door from Lexa Luthor.

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Prologue

Everything stank of burning flesh, blood, and soot from the explosions, but her mom told her that everyone would be safe here. Deep underground, they were all buried away from the bloody war above their heads that had raged for months. Still, people in the overcrowded military base were huddled in groups as they waited for salvation of any kind. Despite their doubts, prayers to God were whispered all the same. As dead bodies continued stacking up, humans began to believe that their God wouldn’t be there. Now the safest course was evacuation—evacuation of Earth.

“Charlene, come here.”

Dropping her small hand from the aluminum airframe, Charlene crossed the distance and weaved between the people, who wore haggard clothing like her.

“Sorry, Mama.” She was fascinated by the helicopter in the center of the huge room, wanting to climb into it, although it was forbidden.

Amelia picked up her daughter and settled her on her lap. “It shouldn’t be much longer.” She brushed several golden strands from Charlene’s face, dislodging dirt and dust.

“How much longer ’til Papa gets here?” Charlene gazed up into her mother’s honey-brown eyes, hoping she knew the answer. They’d all been together at a different military base since the war started, but this morning he’d stayed behind so that she and her mom could get a head start at first light. They had made it to the new base’s entrance about three hours later, almost dying in a forest fire along the way.

“He’ll be along soon.” Amelia smiled, but it was weak like her voice. “Any minute.”

Charlene nodded and lowered her gaze to the concrete floor, staring at her sneakers that were charred from walking through ashes. “Then we’ll go, right?”

“Right,” Amelia whispered. “It’ll be our turn.”

“But what if Papa doesn’t get here in time?”

Amelia kissed her daughter’s temple then started running her hand in circular motions across Charlene’s back. “Time is a funny thing, Char.” She rested her forehead against her daughter’s head and whispered, “Time is a man-made invention.” She shifted her arms and freed the watch on her wrist, setting it in Charlene’s lap. “We don’t know what it is. I’m not sure anybody can know what it is.”

Charlene played with the watch and considered her mother’s words, her young mind trying to grasp the deeper meaning. “Wouldn’t God know?”

“Maybe,” Amelia murmured. “But I think the universe is bigger than just our God.”

“You think that’s why they came here?” Charlene leaned to the side, then looked with concern at her mother. “Because they knew our God wouldn’t save us?”

Amelia frowned and her eyes glistened with unspoken things. Again, she swept loose hair away from her daughter’s smudged cheeks. “Oh, honey. Our God is in here.” She placed her hand against Charlene’s chest, inside the open jacket, where a sterling silver cross was hidden under her shirt. “Not up there in the sky or out in the universe, but in here with each of us.”

Charlene remained quiet and stared at the watch, studying the second hand that ticked across the face.

“God is who gives us the strength inside when we feel weak,” Amelia said. “Or gives us the courage when we’re scared.”

“Like now?” Charlene raised her head. “Like when the Sworne came?”

“Yes.” Amelia cupped her daughter’s face as a tear fell to Amelia’s cheek. She pressed her fingertips against Charlene’s chest and asked, “You feel that? It’s like a little hammer that’s always hitting, over and over. That’s God….” She hesitated and licked her cracked lips. “That’s God reminding you that you have the strength to take on anything.”

Charlene nodded and understood what her mother meant about their God. She then held out the watch that had been her mother’s for as long as she could recall.

Amelia covered the underside of Charlene’s hand and closed it over the watch. “I want you to keep it, Char.”

“But isn’t it Grandma’s watch that she gave you?” Charlene’s awed look earned a soft laugh from her mother.

“Yes, but I think you’re old enough now to hold onto it.” Amelia placed her other hand over their joined ones. “It doesn’t need a battery. All you have to do is wind it.”

“Like this?” Charlene demonstrated how to do it after watching her mother twist the knob each morning.

“Exactly.” Amelia took the cherished watch and tucked it away in the front pocket of Charlene’s jeans. She opened her mouth but halted when a loud beep sounded and red strobe lights started flashing at the other end of the room. She helped Charlene off her lap and stood, still holding her hand.

Two heavy doors parted, and two lines of soldiers marched into the gigantic room filled with civilians. Once the obnoxious siren went quiet, someone with an authoritative voice began broadcasting his speech throughout the entire concrete room, the walls allowing the words to echo.

“What’s he saying, Mama?” Charlene strained to hear, but all the people around them were muffling the man’s speech.

“Ssssh,” Amelia hushed. “I’m listening, honey.”

Charlene frowned, then attempted moving toward the man’s voice, but her mother pulled her back. She grumbled, folded her arms, and peered up at her mom in hopes of finding out what was happening. For a single instant, after the man finished his speech, silence fell over the entire room before a furious uproar erupted from everyone around them.

“Mama, what’s going on?” Charlene asked, squeezing her mother’s hand.

Amelia glanced at Charlene but glared at the people close to them. She scooped up her daughter before she was trampled by the adults around them. “Hold onto me, Char.”

Fingers twisting in her mother’s leather jacket, Charlene scanned the crowd that was turning into a scared herd, baaing at the soldiers. Each person spoke faster than the next, making it impossible to figure out what was happening now. But then her vision zeroed in on the clump of soldiers pushing through the glob. Occasionally a soldier would depart, escorting a person to the guarded bay doors.

“They’re coming to us, Mama. What’s happening?”

Amelia adjusted her child in her arms and replied, “I know, honey.” She cleared her throat and tightened her grip around Charlene, ignoring the question.

Charlene kept an arm around her mother’s shoulders, but all her attention was on the soldiers coming closer to them. Once the eight soldiers were upon them, she dug her nails into the shoulder of her mother’s leather jacket and hoped she could stay in the safety of her mom’s arms.

“Name,” the soldier ordered.

“Doctor Amelia Larson.” Hefting her daughter, Amelia then added, “And Charlene Larson.”

The soldier peered down at the tablet in his hand, then started shaking his head and looked up. “We only have—”

“I know.” Amelia nodded once, seeming to make a final decision. “I was already told.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor Larson. If we had—”

“It doesn’t matter now.” Amelia turned her head to her child and smiled at her. “Listen, honey. One of these gentlemen is going to take you up.”

“To the Liberator?”

Amelia swallowed, but her voice came out hoarse. “Yes.” She knelt down and allowed Charlene to slide from her hold.

“But what about you? And Papa isn’t here yet.”

Amelia was eye level with Charlene as she held her hands and smiled with weak confidence. “I know, honey. That’s why I’m going to stay down here and wait for him. Then we’ll both come up and join you on the ship.”

“I’m not going without you and Papa.” Charlene tore her hands free and folded her arms for good measure, expecting her mother to give into her stubborn streak.

“There’s no time to argue,” Amelia said, voice getting quieter. She looked over her shoulder when the soldier ordered one of the others to take Charlene up to the ship. “Will you please go… for me?”

Charlene watched all but one of the soldiers march off before she saw her mother’s pleading features. Her shoulders drooped, and she whispered, “But I don’t want to go alone, without you.”

“I know, but we’ll be right behind you.” Amelia clung to her daughter’s hands, and her eyes had grown red. She pulled Charlene into her arms and hugged her tighter than Charlene could ever recall. “I love you, Charlene,” she whispered and nuzzled her daughter’s neck. “So very much.”

“I love you too, Mama.” Charlene withdrew after a minute, and her face hurt from thick furrows across her brow. She opened her mouth to ask something else, but the tall soldier loomed over her and drew her attention.

Amelia popped up, shrugged off her leather jacket, and hung it around Charlene’s shoulders. “It’ll be cold up there. Keep it on until I get up there, okay?”

Charlene nodded, pushing her arms through the sleeves that were much too long. Jamming her hands into the pockets, she felt her mother’s forgotten cell phone that was in the inside pocket. A firm hand locked onto her shoulder, but she already knew it wasn’t her mom. On the soldier’s chest, his last name read Jackson in bold letters.

“Time to go,” Jackson ordered, his hand pulling Charlene away.

Charlene almost stumbled but took one step away from her mother, who tried to smile. Even after taking a second step, she felt nothing but darkness clawing its way up in her chest, not wanting to leave her mom. Jackson’s firm hand guided her away, and her mom dissolved among the masses. “Mama!” Charlene broke from the soldier’s grip and pushed between two people, one tumbling and cursing at her.

Jackson lunged and hooked Charlene around the waist, picking her up with ease.

Charlene screamed and kicked, arms flaying all over and hitting Jackson, who grunted a few times. But her efforts were useless as she was carried through the sea of people to the guarded bay door where civilians were yelling at the armed guards.

“Mommy!” Charlene stretched out her arm, fingers so far from the last loved one in her life. The distance grew until Jackson carried her into an elevator that took her away from the hangar. She hung her head in defeat and struggled with the painful knot in her throat, but the tears broke free. Without warning, Jackson hefted her off his shoulder and lowered her back to her feet.

“Please, sir. I don’t want to go without my mama,” Charlene pleaded, desperate to go back.

Jackson lowered his dark features and said, “The elevator only goes up.” He looked at the sealed doors, hearing the elevator halting at their destination. “This way.” Again, he hooked her shoulder and steered her straight down the hallway that led to sealed bi-doors. He placed his hands on a glowing pad against the wall; it chirped after a moment.

Inside the room, there were ten or more soldiers racing around between desks, control panels, and screens. Voices were speaking from every direction and in different languages that Charlene wasn’t familiar with, other than reminding her of Japanese or Chinese. One of the soldiers approached them; he was older like Charlene’s grandfather.

“Who is this?” he asked.

“Charlene Larson, sir.” Jackson stood rigid, except for his hand gripping Charlene.

“Put her on the QMT platform. She’ll be beamed up.”

“Yes, sir.” Jackson guided Charlene through the room to the left and into the next one that was much larger. In front of them was a gigantic machine that reminded Charlene of the metal detectors in airports, but it was so much larger that she couldn’t take in all of it. There were more soldiers and a few people in white coats who were rushing around the machine. She was escorted to another soldier, who stood behind a pedestal that had a computer on it.

“Who is this?”

“Charlene Larson.”

After a few taps, the soldier behind the computer peered down at Charlene, studied her, and nodded once. “Take her up on the platform.”

“Yes, sir.”

Charlene growled low when Jackson pushed her toward the metal detector machine, but she went up the single step and stood in the center with him.

“Listen, kid. All you have to do is stand in the circle here.” Jackson indicated the circle that was around Charlene. “You’ll see a white light, like a camera flash, then it’ll be done.”

“What’ll be done?” Charlene asked, frowning when he backed up.

“You’ll be on the Liberator.” He continued reversing, then turned and left Charlene on the platform.

Charlene narrowed her eyes at the fleeing soldier and muttered, “Yeah right.” She disbelieved that it was possible and folded her arms, wishing her parents were here. When she saw her mother later, she would give her crap for making her go first onto the ship—not that she believed Jackson. The Liberator was in outer space, in Earth’s orbit, and she’d seen it at night when the sky was clear enough. She might be a kid, but she wasn’t an idiot; she understood how reaching outer space worked, even if the Sworne had more advanced technology.

“This is stupid,” she muttered to herself. Charlene looked over at the soldier behind the computer and noticed he was swiping and tapping at things. “Hey, this thing isn’t working.” She sighed and took one step, but a bright whiteness flashed all around her, flickered twice, and then vanished. She was still on the same platform, except the room was different and so were the people.

“Hello,” a middle-aged woman greeted. She stood at the bottom of the step and had warm features, blue eyes, and shoulder-length brown hair. “Are you Charlene?” She held out her hand in offer.

Nodding twice, Charlene crossed the distance, hopped off the platform, and took the callused hand, but the oversized leather sleeve slid down, covering their linked hands. She noted the woman’s military uniform and read the surname Hoyt over her right chest.

“I’m Staff Sergeant Melissa Hoyt.”

Charlene pointed at the insignia on Melissa’s combat uniform. “You’re in the Air Force.”

“Yes.” Melissa looked over her shoulder when the platform started humming low, pulsing a strange energy. “And we need to move.” She directed Charlene away from the device.

Charlene half turned, stealing a glance at the activated platform, but her view was cut off by two bi-doors that sealed shut. Looking ahead, she frowned and said, “My mama and papa are supposed to be right behind me.”

Melissa remained quiet, annoying Charlene. They made it part of the way down the corridor when Charlene came to an abrupt stop.

Charlene released the larger hand and wandered over to the panoramic window to her right. Her eyes filled with sea blue, cloudy white, and rustic brown from the majestic view beyond the window. Earth was breathtaking and huge, making Charlene feel miniscule. Looking beyond Earth into the blackness, she was a grain of sand floating in the endless ocean of outer space.

Seeing her home planet, Charlene realized where she was now and spun around to face the interior. For the first time, she took in the details of the black walls with white veins that ran the length of the ceiling. The floor was a black metal with grating and had soft blue light to illuminate their path. She inhaled until her chest was full, picking up a bitter, oily scent that filled every void of space. She peered up at Melissa and whispered, “I’m on the Liberator.” Awe was heavy in her voice, still not quite believing it until she gazed at Earth again. Somehow the platform had transported her from the ground up to outer space, saving her from the apocalypse happening on Earth.

Charlene and her parents had heard over the airwaves that the Liberator was the Sworne’s spaceship the Americans had taken control of a few months ago. It was a massive ship close to the size of the moon and could hold over two thousand souls. People were being evacuated to it, but nobody heard why, other than it was safer than staying on the ground.

“Come on. This way, Charlene.”

Being steered again, she was drawn away from the window and directed down the glowing hallway. Somehow it all seemed like a maze—turns, lifts, and more hallways until they reached a guarded door. The guard retrieved a small tablet from his cargo pants and asked, “Name?”

“Charlene Larson,” Melissa replied, still gripping the small shoulder.

After a few taps, the guard nodded and peered up from the tablet. “She’s been assigned to the engine intercooler system.” He touched the screen once, which caused the sealed door to rise up.

“Roger that.” Melissa guided Charlene into the next room, which was massive and had a low, constant hum.

Charlene stared at a tall glowing tower with glass in the center that went through the floor and up through the ceiling, never seeming to end. It glowed a soft green with darker green streaks flowing through it, giving Charlene the impression of water. She wanted to go over to the railing that was in front of it, but Melissa was already marching her onward.

Again, the journey through the alien ship was dizzying. Finally, they went through a pocket door and were hit by the pungent, bitter smell on the other side. Charlene gagged and coughed several times, hoping it would go away.

“You’ll get used to it,” Melissa promised and paused them in front of a station that had multiple screens.

Another soldier approached after coming from a nearby room. She carried a tablet that she set down on the station. “Charlene Larson?”

“Correct,” Melissa replied.

The soldier nodded, then stared at Melissa in silence. After Melissa shook her head, the soldier said, “That’ll be all, Staff Sergeant Hoyt.”

Charlene frowned when Melissa left her side, having become somewhat comfortable with the woman. But her attention jerked back to the new soldier, who lifted the tablet closer to her face. She looked at the soldier’s last name on her badge: Novak.

“Ramos, report to Station Nine,” Novak said into her com.

“On my way,” a young voice replied to her over the intercom.

Novak lowered the tablet and stepped around the station, eyeing Charlene. “Welcome to the Engine Department, Larson.” She looked left when the side door slid open and revealed another kid, a few years older than Charlene.

Coming over, the girl stood in silence and seemed to wait for orders even though she was not military. She wore jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers, signifying her civilian status despite being commanded by Novak.

“I want you to show Larson around ER. Show her where she eats, sleeps, and relieves herself.” Novak folded her arms, her dark stare boring into Charlene. “Do your job right, Larson, and we won’t have any problems for the next two years.”

Parting her lips, Charlene was close to asking a million things, but the other girl grabbed her arm and drew her way.

“We’ll start at Station One,” Ramos said, leaving the room. Once alone, she smiled and held out her hand. “Sorry about Sergeant Dickweed back there. She’s totally cool when she’s off duty.”

Charlene remained silent, learning what she could about her apparent new life. She was taken back to the gigantic room with the tower in it. Again, she was mesmerized by the tower and wanted to learn all she could about it.

“So this is the Engine Room.” Ramos pointed at the tower and said, “That’s the fuel source for the ship.” She folded her arms and shifted her weight to one foot, seeming to think through something. “Well, technically it’s the fuel source for the engines. Then there’s a whole different system that electrifies the ship.” She grinned at Charlene and said, “But it’ll probably put you to sleep.”

Charlene glanced at a few people going past them, noticing they either wore military uniforms or civilian attire. She licked her lips and asked, “Why am I here?”

“Well…” Ramos reached into her back pocket and produced a tablet about the size of a large smart phone. “You’ve been assigned to the fuel recycling, and that’s Station Twelve.” She tapped the glowing floor with her sneaker. “Which is below us.”

To Charlene, somehow the idea of recycling fuel sounded messy and gross. Before she could learn more, a vibration began under their feet. And then a single quake rolled through the ship, sending them to their knees.

Ramos staggered to her feet, the strong vibration still throwing her off.

Charlene stood, but then she held out her hands and found her equilibrium again. In the Engine Department, everyone was yelling and running to the main door. “What’s happening?”

“I’m not sure,” Ramos replied, pounding the device in her hand. When somebody came by, she grabbed him by the arm and asked, “What happened, Silva?”

“They’ve activated the Planet Destroyer.”

“W-what? It’s too soon!” Ramos was dumbfounded, watching Silva run off. She turned to Charlene, grabbed her hand, and hauled her out of the Engine Department. “Come on!”

Charlene stumbled a few times but met Ramos’s pace, going at a full sprint. She almost lost her mother’s jacket before she grabbed the sides of it and held it from flapping during their run. Nothing was familiar to her on the ship, and she would have lost her way if it hadn’t been for both Ramos and the other people they were following. They came to a stairwell and huffed their way up, two steps at a time.

Coming through an open door, they entered a large open space that had hundreds of chairs and tables with forgotten plates of food on some. It was a cafeteria, but everyone was gathered in front of the long, spanning window that looked out at outer space and Earth.

Ramos hooked Charlene’s hand again, helping her weave and budge through people until they were at the front. Their contact broke once they stood in front of the window, both girls in awe. All around them there was chatter and people pointing at the strange yellow light directed at the planet.

“What is that?” Charlene asked.

Ramos bit her lip, staring at the light and whispered, “The Planet Destroyer.”

A furrow dug across Charlene’s brow, and she pushed against the cool window. From her vantage point, she could see the light was coming from the Liberator and then went to Earth, just over the heartland of the United States. “What’s it doing?” Just the name left a sickening sensation in her stomach.

Ramos pointed above Charlene’s head and asked, “Do you see that other faint light on the other side?”

Charlene narrowed her eyes and scanned until it flashed brighter.

“That’s coming from the Borba, the Liberator‘s twin ship. It’s the same beam.” Ramos pressed her hand against the glass when the Liberator lurched backward. Earth was starting to move away from them, but the yellow light continued concentrating on the same location, never relenting or weakening. “They’re called Super Range Beams,” she whispered.

“What are they doing?” Charlene asked, not liking any of it and dread gnawing at her heart. She was breathing harder and curled her right hand against the window.

“Together, the beams cut through the ground and reach the planet’s core, heating it up like a microwave heats food until….”

Biting her lip, Charlene already knew what would happen, and she choked on her next breath.

“Until pop,” Ramos whispered, her words ringing in Charlene’s ears.

“N-n-no.” Charlene drew back her arm. “My mama and papa are down there!” She slammed her fist into the window, radiating pain up her knuckles and wrist. “No!” Turning, she pushed into the adults in her way, but they blocked her escape. “I have to help them!” But Charlene was a weak force against the wave leaning toward the window, needing a view of the last moments of their home planet. “Move! Move!” She threw a punch into one person’s gut and kicked another in the shin. Ignoring the curses, she almost squeezed between them before she was snared across her stomach.

“You can’t stop it,” Ramos said, swinging Charlene away from the angry people. She shoved Charlene against the window, then gazed past her. “You can only watch or not watch.”

Charlene closed her eyes that stung with unshed tears. She turned and stared at Earth, which was growing smaller as the Liberator moving away from it. After a moment, she noticed the golden-orange spider cracks forming on the ground that originated where the beam sliced into the planet. “Oh, God, please no.” Losing control, tears ran down Charlene’s flushed cheeks and dampened her hoodie under the leather jacket.

Ramos pressed her hand flat against the window.

“My mommy and daddy,” Charlene whispered, voice shaking.

Ramos closed her eyes, leaning her forehead against the window. “My sister and little brother.” She was drowned out by the clamor in the cafeteria.

“Please,” Charlene begged. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her mother’s watch, clutching it like it would stop time. “God, please!” But her scream was lost over the din of yells, cries, and sobs. Through the tears, she saw a bright orange split unzip along the planet’s equator, exposing the core. Then like a popcorn kernel, the planet popped with molten magma exploding and unfurling into outer space. With weak knees, Charlene leaned against the window and watched her entire world destroyed in minutes, but her sobs and whimpers were outmatched by all the other surviving Earthlings on the Liberator.

Looking over at Ramos’s damp features, Charlene opened her mouth to offer comfort but was at a loss. Just as a word or two came to mind, the entire ship was shoved through outer space, causing most people to topple to the glowing floor. Charlene first landed hard on her hands, her left hurting more due to the watch. Rolling over, her side throbbed with pain from her mother’s cell phone digging into her ribs, further searing in the loss of everyone she loved.

Ramos helped Charlene sit up, both on their knees. She wiped at her face and looked over Charlene for a moment. “I never did get your first name.”

Charlene lifted the watch and turned it over, anguish lancing through her when she saw the cracked face. She heard Ramos’s voice in the distance, although all her attention was centered on the broken watch. She waited for the second hand to move, but it remained fixed on the time that destroyed Charlene.

“Mine is Raine.”

Peering up from the watch, Charlene swallowed and studied Raine’s expectant features. “I’m Char—” She hesitated and looked one last time at shattered remains of Earth before she packaged it all away in her mind. “I’m Charlie.”


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