Page 6

    I don't breathe until I'm in the fiction room and the door zips shut behind me. There's no lock-hardly any of the rooms on the entire ship have locks-but i...an lie low here, the people in the entryway might eventually forget their anger and forget me.

    The fiction room is smaller than the others on this floor; clearly, the ship's makers decided that history and science were more important than novels...ish it looked more like my library back home, with huge plush beanbags scattered across the floor, dark carpet, posters of famous authors on the walls, and tiny square dusty windows filtering in the sunlight. Instead, the fiction room looks like all the rest-cold and sterile and entirely too clean. It's lik...ospital room with books instead of beds: white tiled floor, stark paneled walls, silvery-metal table.

    Even though the room is sparkling clean, there is an ever-present scent of dust and old paper rising from the tomes. Everything here is in alphabetical order regardless of subject matter. Chaucer is beside Agatha Christie; J. K. Rowling beside Dr. Seuss beside Shakespeare. Whe...et to the end of one row and look down the next...ee unreadable titles, some written in language...an guess at-French, German, Spanish-and som...an't even begin to decipher-Chinese? Korean? Japanese?

    I could get lost here, bu...eed to see if Orion really did leav...lue for me to follow in the phrase printed on my wi-com...uit wandering among the fairy tales and poetry (Grimm and Goethe) and head to the first row of books, running my fingers along their bumpy spines...ead to the first bookcase, scanning the titles-The Pilgrim's Progress, Ender's Game, Mousetrap-unti...et to the one I'm looking for.

    Inferno, Volum...f the Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, shelved besid...lender volume of Shakespeare's sonnets. Ironic-a book of love poems besid...ook about hell...ull out the poetry collection and toss it on the metal table near the door so it can be reshelved with the Ss; the...ook my finger on the spine of Dante's Inferno.

    Just the title makes me remember those weeks in Ms. Parker's English class...an feel the hard seat of my class desk...an remember laughing with Ryan and Mike as we worked on our final project.

    Funny ho...ook about hell reminds me of home.

    A...lide Inferno off the shelf, something slips out, wafting to the floor...end over to pick it up-a paper-thin sheet of rectangular black plastic, about the length and width of my open hand. The feel of it reminds me o...loppy, but it's smaller, and there i...ingernail-size bit of raised hard plastic in one corner...lip it in my pocket; Elder will probably know what it is...tand back up and reach for Dante again.

    The door bursts open...e...limpse o...anicked woman's face-eyes wide with fear, dark hair swinging. She races past me to the far side of the room and throws herself behind the last bookshelf.

    I run over and drop to my knees beside her trembling body. "What's wrong?&rdquo...sk, reaching for her. Now tha...av...hance to really look at her...ealize who she is: Victria. Harley and Elder's friend. The girl who writes, stories or novels...hink. The last tim...poke with her...old her about the sky on Earth and how it never ended, and she spit in my face, denouncing me in front of everyone.

    She snatches her hand away. Sweat beads on her face and arms, and she's panting hard. "Luthe-Luthor. He'... ."

    Him.

    My stomach drops.

    He's the one. The one who held me down three months ago, who used the Season as an excuse to try to rape me. He was like Harley and Elder-aware of the world around him without Phydus dulling his mind. He knew what he was doing when he slammed me to the ground and pressed his weight against me. When he watched hope leave my eyes. Whe...ave up struggling.

    He told me his name was Luthe, but Victria called him Luthor. Like Lex Luthor, Superman's arch-nemesi... . but the exploits o...ald super-villain seem comical compared to the evil that lies behind this Luthor's skin...ealize then-Luthe is his nickname. The name his friends call him. The idea of calling him that fills me with revulsion...on't like to think of him in the same terms his friends do.

    The door zips open again. Victria whimpers softly, hiding her face...ump up.

    He stands in the doorway, scanning the room.

    His eyes lock on me.

    And he smiles. Slowly.

    Seductively.

    7

    ELDER

    THE DOOR IS LOCKED. JUST THE WA...EFT IT.

    After-after everything-after

    Orion was frozen and

    Amy found out the truth and

    Eldest died and

     ...atched him di... .

    I watched him die.

    After all of that...rawled back up to the Keeper Level. The empty, hollow Keeper Level. An...roke into Eldest's room, an...ound his stash of alcohol, an...tayed drunk for two days straight. The...hrew up for two more days, and the...elocked his door, one of the few doors that even ha...ock.

    An...u...able in front of it.

    No...hove the table out of the way so forcefully that it tips over on one side and crashes to the ground.

    Before, the Keeper Level seemed too big, big enough for everyone on the ship to stand in it at one time so they could be lied to while they looked up at the ceiling and gasped at the light bulbs called stars.

    When it was Eldest and me, this place felt huge, the space between us filled with emptiness and silence. Now that it's just me, the Keeper Level feels claustrophobically small.

    My wi-com beeps...ab it with my finger to silence it.

    And befor...an talk myself out of it, befor...an walk away and promise to go into his room later-

    -I unlock Eldest's door.

    Dust particles swirl in the light a...nter...reathe deeply, expecting to smell Eldest's musky soap, but instead it smells like mildew. My feet stick to the floor. Near the door lies one open and spilled alcohol jar, dried int...ummy mess. That's my mark on Eldest's room.

    The room itself is messy and cluttered, but that's the way Eldest kept it. The bed's unmade, the blanket...wirl of cloth at the foot. Spilling out from underneath the bed i...ile of wrinkled clothes...irty plate that's still littered wit...ew crumbs rests perilously close to the edge of his nightstand.

    I feel like an interloper...respasser in Eldest's private space, bu...emind myself that, technically, I'm Eldest now, and this is more my room tha...ead man's.

    On the desk are the scattered remains o...odel engine...ick up the small resin nuclear reactor core, wiping the dust carefully from the surface. The first tim...aw the frexing thing was when Eldest hid it from me...eigh the model engine in my hand. He knew something was wrong, even then. If he had just told me the truth from the start, maybe we could have worked together to solve the engine's problems. If everyone would just be frexing honest, we'd probably be at Centauri-Earth by now!

    I hurl the model engine across the room. It crashes over Eldest's bed, sprinkling cracked resin across his pillow, still dented from where he laid his head.

    Shite.

    I rub my hands across my face.

    Shite.

    With the hacked message on the floppy network and Marae's eagerness to form my police force, I'd pushed from my mind the hardest truth of all.

    We're not going anywhere.

    Stopped.

    Staring at the broken engine bits on Eldest's bed...ealize something. I'm not going to tell the rest of the ship. I'm not...ever thought I'd get tangled up in the lies Eldest wove around Godspee... . bu...an't tell them...an't tell them we're not just going slowly. We're stopped. If just taking them off Phydus has calls for revolution leaking through the floppy network, then surely they'll rip this ship apart i...ell them we're not going anywhere; they'll tear through the metal with their teeth and let themselves be swallowed into the black of space.

    Just like Harley.

    I run my fingers through my hair, snagging them on tangles. What a...oing here? Eldest might have suspected we were stopped, but it's not like he hid the secret to reviving the engine in his bedroom.

    A floppy on Eldest's desk flashes. The bright white words fade to black. The floppy beeps and reboots itself. Afte...oment, it shows the start-up screen as normal. Whatever Marae and the first-level Shippers did worked, and the hacker's message is wiped from the screen.

    My wi-com beeps again.

    I start to answer the com whe...otice something-another door...ilence the beeping in my left ear and move toward the door, stepping over piles of Eldest's dirty clothes. Why is there another door here? There's the one to the bathroom, of course, but I've never noticed this one before-I've only been in Eldest's room twice, and both time...as focused on finding something else: first the model engine, and then later the alcohol.

    There'...ainbow scratch along the floor; Eldest used this door frequently. My hands shake a...each toward the old-fashioned knob-it's metal, from Sol-Earth. It won't twist, but whe...ull, the door opens anyway...tare curiously inside.

    A closet.

    Closets are rare; most bedrooms have wardrobes instead, bu...ust admi...as hoping for something more here. Disappointed...urn away, but something catches my eye...ag pokes out from the top box on the floor of the closet. It's an odd sort of greenish blue...olo...emember in the deepest part of me.

    I suck in my breath, then forget to breathe out again. Whe...each down and pull the scrap of cloth from the box, my hands are numb.

    Whe...irst moved into the Keeper Level, one of the only thing...rought with me wa...lanket. Small, stained, and worn threadbare in spots...articular shade of greenish blue.

    This blanket was the oldest thin...wned. At the time...hought that it had come from my parents. As Elder...as never allowed to know who they were, because otherwise I'd be biased toward them. Or so Eldest told me. In reality, I'...lone, manufactured, not born.

    Eldest had me moved from family to family unti...as twelve-six months with the shepherds, six months with the butchers, six months with the soy farmers.

    And with all that moving...ever knew which family belonged to me.

    But the blanket was mine.

    My earliest memory is hiding under the blanket whe...as told I'd have to move again...on't remember which famil...as with or whic...as moving to, bu...emember cowering under the blanket and thinking that maybe, whe...a...ittle baby, it had been my mother-my real mother-who had wrapped me in it and held me against her.

    After the first few days on the Keeper Level, Eldest an...ot i...ight, and he called me an impossible child, babied and spoiled...romptly stormed into my room and punched the walls, knocking everything in sight off my shelf-and the...aw my blanket. The epitome of bein...aby.

    I'd tried to rip it in half but couldn't, s...hucked it in the trash chute.

    And, somehow, Eldest saved this piece of me. Kept it for years...ress it now against my face and think about all Eldest was, and all he wasn't.

    The only thing hanging from the rod in the closet i...eavy robe, the ceremonial robe Eldest only wore on important occasions...rop the blanket back into the box and reach for the robe. It's much heavier tha...xpected. Definitely wool-I've carded and spun enough from my time before Eldest began training me to recognize the waxy-rough feeling of the cloth. The embroidery spans the entire length and breadth of the robe. Stars dance along the top, crops grow along the hem, and between them i...and of horizon that never ends.

    ...
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