Page 30

    Beep, beep-beep.

    I move to silence the wi-com.

    "Are you gettin...om?" Doc asks. "You better take it." He glares at me, his worry replaced with anger. "Just because you do something loons doesn't excuse you from your duties."

    "I know,&rdquo...ay, wounded...ress my wi-com.

    Doc's scowl softens, and he looks like he's about to apologize to me, bu...ut one finger up, listening to the com.

    Whe...isconnect the link...tand up. Amy looks as if she'd like to push me back into the bed, bu...gnore her.

    "Amy.&rdquo...ry to put the word...annot say into the loo...ive her. "We need to talk later. About the thing."

    She nods.

    "But I've got to go now,&rdquo...ay.

    Amy grabs me by my elbow befor...ake it out of the room. "What is it?" she asks, and even though she's only said three words, the tone of her voice begs me to stay with her.

    Bu...an't.

    "Marae's dead."

    42

    AMY

    THE ROOM FEELS HOLLOW WHEN ELDER LEAVES...RY TO remember Marae-I knew she was the First Shipper...itle something like being second in command to Elder. She was tall and all business, wit...evere haircut and piercing eyes, bu...on't really know anything about her other than her appearance.

    And now it's too late.

    And too late for her to see the new planet too.

    Guilt tugs at my navel...houldn't be so happy, not when someone else has been killed. But-we're here! The ship is going to actually land! A...ass by the common room in the Ward...top to stare out of the huge windows. In my mind...eplace the perfectly even rolling hills and boxed-up trailers of the distant City with forests and oceans and sky.

    We're here.

    I grin in satisfaction a...rift back to my room...ay hate Orion for all he did to me afte...oke up, bu...an't deny that his clues led Elder and me straight to Centauri-Earth.

    And nearly killed him...hink.

    My hands raise of their own volition, an...ouch my lips with my fingers. That kis... ...adn't thought about wha...as doing...ust did it. And no...an't forget the way his lips felt against mine. Ha...eant wha...aid, that the new planet would be pointless without him?

    Yes.

    Bu... . if-no, when-the ship lands, everything will be different.

    That is just as true as our kiss.

    I shake my head...an't think about this now.

    I lock my bedroom door and pull out the Shakespearean sonne...ound in the room with the space suits. Part of me wants to go back to get the copy of The Little Prince that was down there as well, bu...an't bear the thought of going back to the cryo level just yet...an't think about the hatch without also seeing Elder's crumpled body on the floor...emember that brief moment whe...hought it was already too late.

    I run my finger along the smooth edge of the page...oubt Orion cut it from the book of Shakespeare's sonnets. Someone's tampering with the clues, I'm sure of it...oss the sonnet on my desk a...tart pacing around my room. If Orion's big secret was the planet, we don't even need this clue. Isn't the planet the answer to the mystery?

    He said there wa...hoice, though. He sai...ould have to make the decision. There must be something else-something bigger even than the planet.

    I fee...it lik...uppet, with Orion pulling the strings to make me move. Some of the strings, though, are getting tangled.

    And some cut.

    I tak...eep breath and try to forget the lifelessness in Elder's lips a...ried to breathe life into him again.

    Was Elder's accident even an accident? If someone's tampering with the clues, how hard would it have been for them to puncture the suit's air tubes? I...ere to go to the cryo level right now and check all the suits, woul...ind that they were all damaged in some tiny, unnoticeable way?

    I collapse into my desk chair and open up the folded sonnet. I'm going to keep playing Orion's game. Even if someone is trying to stop me.

    This sonnet, just like all the others in the book, makes no sense at all. But unlike the other sonnets, this one's marked up.

    A Million Suns: An Across the Universe Novel

    I sit up straighter, staring at the handwritten annotations. They're all about something hidden and forgotten. And tube? The only tub...now is the grav tube, and nothing could be further fro...hakespearean sonnet tha...uturistic device that sucks people up to different levels o...paceship.

    I trace my finger over the weird lines near the bottom of the poem. They almost look like stairs.

    


    My eyes widen. Stairs. Like the staircase Orion has been sitting on in every video he left for me!

    The grav tube was invented on the ship after the launch, which means that there had to be some way for the first generations on Godspeed to go between the levels. Lik...taircas... ...idden staircase that everyone has since forgotten because of the grav tube...can the lines of the poem Orion underlined-hid and vanish'd sight must mean that these stairs are very well hidden. In the videos, the stairs are always dark. Orion felt safe there, even from Eldest, who didn't know about them.

    Bu... . where are they?

    43

    ELDER

    MY MIND WHIRLS AS THE WIND IN THE GRAV TUBE BEATS against my skull a...ly up to the Shipper Level. Amy has never kissed me like that before, has never looked at me that way.

    I want to replay what just happened over and over in my mind, but whe...each the Bridge and see Second Shipper Shelby's solemn face...orce myself to forget about everything else but Marae.

    "We found her in here," she says, moving to open the door. Although the Engine Room is crowded and the Shippers appear to be working, all eyes are on Shelby and me as we enter the Bridge, our footsteps echoing across the metal floor. The only light comes fro...amp near Marae's still hand.

    I look away-I don't want to face the fact of her dead body yet. My eyes drift to the metal ceiling, high and rounded. On the other side of the steel plates i...lanet. Marae had no idea how close she was. And it was always just right there.

    She lies sprawled across the table, her body dripping off the chair. Her eyes are open and empty, staring at nothing. Floppies with diagrams and charts flash under her face...rinted schematic of the engine lies crushed under one arm.

    At the base of her neck, just under her shortly cropped hair, are three pale green med patches. One word in black ink on each patch.

    Follow.

    The.

    Leader.

    "This doesn't make sense,&rdquo...hisper. If someone's killing people who disobey me, why kill Marae? She's been my staunchest supporter from the start. She's unswervingly faithful, and she's led the rest of the Shippers in that attitude as well. She jumped at the chance to lead my police force. If Doc was Eldest's greatest adviser, Marae was mine.

    "Who did this to you?&rdquo...hisper, but of course she's not going to tell me. But it has to be someone of high rank, doesn't it? Someone who either has access to the Bridge or who knows Marae well enough that she'd be persuaded to open the door. Besides the Shippers...ew of the scientists, Doc and Kit, technicians, even Fridrick, as foreman of food distribution, could also come to this level. And with the med patches stolen, any of them could have done this.

    Shelby make...mall noise behind me. She's staring resolutely at the ceiling of the Bridge, her jaw tight.

    I want to say something to comfort her, but all that comes out is, "You're First Shipper now." She nods once. She will not dishonor Marae by showing weakness. She will mak...ine First Shipper.

    The ceiling of the Bridge is domed, much like the ceiling in the cryo level and the Great Room on the Keeper Level. Whe...as outside-I smil...ecret smile, whe...as outside-it had looked as if there were glass windows over the Bridge. Well-not glass, surely. Glass is too fragile for the ship's entry into the atmosphere or other dangers of space-asteroids, comets, meteors. But some other clear, strong material, mayb...hick polycarbonate, would work. Something that sparkled, reflecting the light of the planet, shining from the dual suns.

    But this roof is metal.

    Just like the roof on the Keeper Level. Eldest hid the false stars unde...etal roof ther... . one with panels and hinges, just like this on... . with hydraulic controls on the sides... . My eyes trail all the way down to the wall, to the switch near the door that's controlled b...iometric scanner...rind my teeth...on't know why I'm surprised that secrets have been hidden here too, just like the rest of the ship.

    An...m frexing sick of secrets and lies. It's one thing to not tell everyone that the ship's engine is dead-it would have been the end of all hope-but the planet changes everything.

    "Lock the Bridge door,&rdquo...rder Shelby.

    She hesitate...raction o...econd, then turns and silently pulls the heavy metal door closed.

    "Lock it,&rdquo...epeat.

    "These are above standard lockdown-grade seals," Shelby says. "They completely seal the Bridge from the rest of the ship."

    "I know,&rdquo...ay.

    Shelby scans her thumb and the locks click into place. She flicks another switch, and lights cascade on like dominoes. But rather than illuminating Shelby's face, the lights cast shadows over her. She looks doubtful-even scared. Scared to be locked i...oom with me.

    And with what's left of Marae.

    "Toda...ent outside.&rdquo...peak to Shelby, but my eyes are locked on Marae's open, empty ones.

    "I don't understand, sir," Shelby says.

    "Outside. In the stars. Through the hatch."

    Shelby gasps.

    "Amy an...ound some space suits, an...ent. An...a... . well, let me show you wha...aw."

    I start to move toward the far wall but stop, turn, and bend over Marae's still body. Carefully, as respectfully a...an...ilt her cold, stiff face up so that her empty eyes can see the ceiling. This is my last gift to her.

    I go behind Shelby and roll my thumb over the biometric scanner on this wall, the one just like the scanner by Eldest's door on the Keeper Level. This-like the roof over the navigational chart in the Keeper Level-must have been retrofitted into the ship's design. Not part of the original, no-this must have been the Plague Eldest's way of covering up the truth.

    "Command?" the computer's voice asks i...leasant tone once it accepts my authority.

    "Open,&rdquo...ay, unable to keep from smiling.

    And the metal roof splits apart.

    Shelby screams and drops to her knees, covering her head. She thinks the ship itself is splitting open, just a...id when the roof on the Keeper Level opened up to reveal the light bulb stars. She thinks the Bridge will tear apart in explosive decompression and we'll be sucked out into space, our deaths quick but painful as our bodies succumb to anoxia, our skin turning blue and our organs bursting.

    I walk over to Shelby-my calm pace makes her quake more-and crouch down beside her. "Get up,&rdquo...ay over the whirr of grinding gears as the roof folds out of the way. "You don't want to miss this."

    ......
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