Waverly was in her quarters, brewing a pot of tea before she had to go to the cornfield to work on a busted combine. She’d never thought of herself as a mechanic, had never planned for it as her profession, so everyday was a new exercise in guesswork. She’d chosen this job because it was one of the few positions that didn’t require her to talk to anyone.
Besides, no one else wanted to do it. She had cuts and scrapes all over her hands from using unfamiliar tools, and she found the work so challenging that she had little time to think about anything else, and even less time to remember.
Still, whenever she closed her eyes, burnout images would appear on the dark screens of her eyelids: the congregation of the New Horizon all dressed in black, swaying to gentle guitar music; the glowing face
of Anne Mather speaking to her flock; the lab where they’d operated on Waverly, taken the most essential part of her to create their next generation of apostles; the horrible red gash in her leg where Anne
Mather’s cronies shot her; having to abandon her mother and the other parents trapped in a cage, where Mather could do anything to them she wished; the red burst of blood when she shot the man who’d stood between her and escape. When she’d become a killer.
“I don’t think about that anymore,” she said into the empty room, and covered her eyes with the fl at of her hand. No one else on this ship knew what she’d done. She hadn’t told anyone about the most singular event of her young life, the moment in time when she stopped being Waverly Marshall and instead became a killer. She was a stranger in her own home.
When the disturbance came, it was so distant at first she might have missed it— a slight shaking of the picture frames on the wall, the barely audible groan deep in the metal of the ship.
She sat up. Something wasn’t right.
Then, so deep she felt it in her chest— an explosion. Her teacup jumped in its saucer, spilling black tea over the rough wooden table.
She bolted out of her chair and ran into the corridor, where dozens of panicked kids were emerging from their quarters, crying and clutching dolls to their chests. Melissa Dickinson was standing at the end of the hallway, surrounded by little boys and girls. She was a petite girl, barely taller than the children she cared for so tenderly.
“What’s going on?” Waverly had to shout over the din.
“I don’t know,” Melissa said. Usually placid, her hazel eyes darted around anxiously. “Boys, girls, stay close!” she called down the hallway.
Like magic, the children gathered together, all eyes on her. The ship’s intercom crackled, and Kieran’s voice came over the speakers, calling the entire crew to the central bunker.
Every conversation halted; silence loomed over the children as they stared in alarm at Melissa.
“To the elevators, everyone!” she called, and herded them toward the central elevator bank. Melissa was only twelve years old, but she’d taken charge of the orphaned children who were too young to help with the running of the ship. Every day she dutifully reported to the nursery, where she and various helpers played games and planned lessons to keep the kids occupied. At night, Melissa’s story hours had become quite famous on the ship, and even some of the older kids came to the library, where she read to everyone from books like The Wind in the Willows or James and the Giant Peach. Then she tucked each and every child into
bed in a group of apartments at the end of the hallway, leaving all doors open in the night so that she was only a whisper away. It was no wonder all the little children loved her. Even Waverly found Melissa’s presence comforting.
“Are they coming back?” asked Silas Berg, a boy of six with a knack for voicing everyone’s fears in the most straightforward way.
“No, Silas,” Melissa told him firmly. “The New Horizon is millions of miles away. And we’re not in the nebula anymore, so they can’t sneak up on us ever again.”
“I’m scared,” whispered Paulo Behm as he wove his small brown fingers into the sash of Melissa’s bathrobe.
“I am, too,” Melissa said, and she stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers. “But we’re all going to stay together, right, Waverly?”
Waverly nodded and tried to smile reassuringly at the children.
“Don’t ask her,” piped up squeaky little Marina Coelho. “She’s the one who left our parents behind.”
“If you could have done better, why didn’t you?” Melissa said. The words were firm, but her tone was gentle. “Why was it Waverly’s job?”
“She’s fifteen!” little Marina squeaked, as if that explained everything.
“She’s the oldest girl, so it was her job.”
“She had no choice but to leave when she did,” Melissa said angrily, and shot an apologetic glance at Waverly. “She and Sarah rescued us all. I think Waverly is a hero.”
“I don’t,” Silas spat with little- boy contempt. “No one thinks that except you.”
Melissa shook her head in exasperation as the elevator opened for them, and everyone stepped on in a scraggly herd.
Waverly turned her back on them to face the elevator doors, but she sensed their accusing stares on the back of her neck. She felt a small body pressing against her leg and glanced down to find Serafina Mbewe
looking up at her, her hair two puff y pigtails hovering like clouds over her dainty face. Waverly used to babysit Serafina, who was four years old and deaf. Waverly tried to smile, but turned away too soon and
Serafina shrank away. I should be there for her, Waverly thought. But it hurts too much.
The elevator opened to a chaotic central bunker, an immense room with rows of bunks along the walls and emergency lights hanging from the ceilings. At the end of the room was a large galley where communal meals could be prepared. Kids huddled in groups along the walls, sitting rigid on cots, talking in hushed voices. Waverly tried to ignore the angry stares from a group of girls led by Marjorie Wilkins, a preteen girl with knobby knees, who had an obvious crush on Kieran. Marjorie was a vocal supporter of Kieran, and she would goad anyone who didn’t attend his services.
“What did your friends do this time?” Marjorie spat at Waverly as she walked past.
Waverly knew she should ignore her, but she couldn’t let this go by without answering. “I don’t know who you mean.”
“I mean the people you left our parents with,” Marjorie said. “They must be your friends, otherwise why would you have left our families there?”
“Would you rather grow up on the New Horizon? Maybe I should have left you there, too,” Waverly said, and tried to face her down with a cool stare, but the girl wasn’t in the least intimidated.
“Everyone thinks you’re a coward,” said Millicent, Marjorie’s little sister. Both girls had lost their father in the shuttle- bay massacre, but they were holding out hope that their mother was still alive on the treacherous sister ship, the New Horizon. These girls were the most vocal critics of Waverly’s failed rescue attempt. Waverly was racked with guilt every time she saw their mean- eyed glares. Because she should have tried harder. It didn’t matter that Mather’s thugs were shooting at her. It didn’t matter that they’d winged her shoulder. She should have stayed just a little longer and made that lock give way. The parents would have spilled out of that cargo container and overwhelmed Anne Mather and her thugs. They could have pi loted the shuttle back home, and everything would be okay. If only Waverly had stayed another few seconds, or a fraction of a second, instead of turning coward and running. And she’d never have gotten away at all if the crew of the New Horizon hadn’t turned against Anne Mather at the last moment and helped the girls escape.
Waverly tried to tell herself that if she hadn’t run and at least rescued the girls, Marjorie and her sister and all the little ones might have ended up as reproductive slaves on that ship. They’d have their eggs stolen and put into surrogate mothers, and they’d have to watch their babies be raised by strangers. That’s what they’d done to Waverly, Sarah, and all the older girls. But it seemed useless to try to tell Marjorie that.
She didn’t want to listen.
The only thing that could help now would be for the parents to get away themselves. For days, then weeks after the girls’ escape, everyone on the Empyrean had waited, hopeful that the civil unrest the girls had left behind on the New Horizon would lead to the release of their parents.
As their hope dwindled, Waverly found more and more kids glaring at her as she went about her duties. Sometimes she didn’t even want to leave her quarters.
“I tried my hardest,” Waverly said to Marjorie, but she heard the weakness in her voice.
Marjorie curled her upper lip in disgust. “That wasn’t good enough, was it?” she said with a bitter scowl.
“No,” Waverly said, meeting every accusing eye in turn. “It wasn’t.”
They had nothing to say to that, but she could feel them scowling at her as she walked away.
This is why I hide under tractors and combines, Waverly thought bitterly to herself. No one can see me. No one can say anything to me. And I can just be alone.
Only the teenage girls who’d had their eggs stolen like Waverly understood why she had to run. Alia Khadivi, Debora Mombasa, and Sarah Hodges were all sitting on a bunk at the far end of the room, and Waverly wove through the crowd to get to them.
“Did that bitch Marjorie say something to you?” Sarah asked, sending a hard glance in the girl’s direction. Sarah was compact and intense, and every emotion she had skitted across her freckled face with unmistakable clarity.
“Don’t worry about it,” Waverly said. “Do you know what’s going on?”
Sarah shook her head. “Everyone thinks we’re being attacked again.”
“The New Horizon is nine million miles ahead of us,” Waverly said.
“I know,” Alia said through pursed, deep pink lips. Her long, thick hair draped over her shoulder in an ebony cascade. “Maybe Seth got out.”
“No,” Waverly said instantly. “Seth wouldn’t do anything to hurt the ship.”
“You better hope the problem is Seth,” Debora said with a grim laugh. She ran her fingers nervously through the tight curls in her black hair. “Because if it isn’t him, it’s the New Horizon.”
Waverly sat down on the end of the cot next to Sarah. She wanted to reach out and take her friend’s hand, but she didn’t want to act like a scared little girl.
“I wish Kieran hadn’t hidden all the guns,” Alia said. A practical girl, Alia had taken on the task of trying to harvest as much produce as possible from the family gardens, which had become sorely neglected in the last few months. She and her volunteers brought endless baskets of fresh fruit and vegetables to the living quarters, and often they would work together in the ship’s galley to make enormous pots of vegetable stews for the younger children to eat. Alia rarely betrayed emotion, but now she jiggled her foot inside her red silk slipper, making the cot the girls sat on tremble.
“They’ll have to follow me out an air lock if they want to take me back there,” Waverly said. She tucked icy hands under her thighs. “Don’t talk like that,” Sarah said automatically.
“Why not?” Waverly said.
She felt Debora studying her for long moments with her luminous eyes before finally saying, “You got us off that ship. No one could have done better. You know that, don’t you?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Don’t pay attention to Marjorie and those idiots,” Sarah said.
“I don’t,” Waverly said coolly, but she knew Sarah didn’t believe her.
In the center of the room, a girl named Megan Fuller held up a hand, calling everyone to attention. Megan wasn’t classically pretty, with her over- plump cheeks and scraggly brown hair, but her smile lit up her face beautifully. “Let’s all gather around, everyone!”
“Oh God,” Waverly said. “Will they ever give it a rest?”
“It makes people feel better,” Alia said with unexpected equanimity. “You have to admit that.”
A surprisingly large number of kids gathered around Megan. People bowed their heads as she prayed in a singsong: “Dear God, guide our leader, Kieran Alden. What ever happens to night, please protect us from our enemies until the day you re unite us with our families, either in this life or the next. . . .”
“It’s a nice thought, seeing our parents again,” Debora said distantly.
Shortly after arriving back on the Empyrean, Debora had learned that her parents died in the shuttle- bay massacre. She was brave about it, but she hardly mentioned them, and she seemed to prefer the company of the small herd of sheep and goats she took from field to field throughout the ship, watching them graze with empty eyes. “I feel my mom talking to me at strange times.”
“I used to talk to my dad after he died, when I was little,” Waverly said, remembering those sad, lonesome nights. “Just as I fell asleep.”
“Maybe Megan isn’t so wrong to pray, then,” Alia said.
Waverly looked at Megan, who held her hands over her head as she prayed aloud. She knew the girl was a great supporter of Kieran; whenever he entered a room she stared at him with a heaven- struck look on
her face. It made Waverly sick. “She sounds like Anne Mather.”
“You know,” Debora said, an edge of impatience in her voice, “not every religious person is like that woman, Waverly.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You don’t have to,” Debora said, her eyes on Waverly’s knees. “Anyone can tell it’s your attitude.”
“I thought you didn’t like Kieran’s little cult, either,” Waverly said, knowing she was getting defensive but unable to help herself. “After Anne Mather, how could you?”
Debora shrugged, sullen. A hunk of her springy hair moved into her eyes, and she impatiently jammed it behind her ear. “Megan isn’t Anne Mather. Neither is Kieran. You of all people should know that.”
Sarah and Alia looked at Waverly with sympathy but dropped their eyes to the floor rather than join the discussion. Waverly opened her mouth to protest, and shut it again. I didn’t overreact, she told herself. Kieran is dangerous.
But Anne Mather was worse. And maybe she had found a way to sneak up on the Empyrean. Maybe she was boarding the ship with her thugs right now.
Waverly doubled over, leaned her forehead against her knees. I won’t go back there, she promised herself. I’ll die first.