A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2)

Chapter 13

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“I’m sorry!” Elder ducks away from me.

The Elder on the screen looks up suddenly, drawing our attention back to the video. But after listening, head cocked like a worried bird, the Elder on-screen dips his attention back to me. He raises a hand—I notice that it’s shaking slightly—and places it on my glass box, just over where my heart is. Then he jumps—clearly startled by whatever sound he’s hearing in the background—and dashes off-screen.

“You just left me there?” I ask. I knew he had, he’d confessed it to me already—but to see it like that. To see me, left there so carelessly, helplessly.

Elder looks miserable. He’s not watching the screen at all; he’s just watching me, this look on his face like he wishes I’d scream and punch at him and just get it over with.

But I’m not mad anymore . . . at least, I’m not as mad as I am sad. And slightly disgusted. I don’t know how to put into words that sick, bile taste on the back of my tongue, so I don’t say anything, I just turn back to the screen.

For several minutes, nothing happens. I watch as a thin trail of condensation leaks from the edge of my glass coffin and drops with a tiny, silent splash on the floor. I’m already melting.

Suddenly, I don’t want to see this. I don’t want to watch myself wake up. I can’t relive drowning in cryo liquid, gagging on the tubes in my throat. I shut my eyes and turn my face away, even though it will take much, much longer for the me on-screen to melt all the way. But then Elder sucks in a breath of surprise, and my eyes fly back to the screen.

There’s another shadow there, wider and longer, creeping slowly toward my frozen self. A shaft of light highlights the side of his neck, the part where a spiderweb of scars reaches behind his left ear.

Orion.

The first thing he does is slam me back into the cryo freezer. He locks the door shut and turns to leave.

But then he pauses.

He stares for a long moment off-screen, in the same direction Elder had walked away in, and he taps his fingers across the top of the cryo chamber, thinking. Then, slowly, deliberately, he pulls me back out of the cryo chamber. He looks down at me for a moment.

And then he walks away.

Orion told me that he got the idea to unplug the frozens from watching Elder unfreeze me. And this is it. This is the moment when he realized how easy it would be to kill people who can’t fight back.

Static fills the screen.

“That’s why he destroyed the cams in the cryo level,” Elder says.

That’s one reason, anyway.

Elder drops the vid screen on my desk and stands. Hair flops into his face, but I can still see his eyes shift to me. Waiting for me to react.

But I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know how I feel about this. About the way Elder looked at me, about the way Orion didn’t. My brain can’t process this.

“Amy?”

Elder’s head whips up, panic in his eyes. He wasn’t the one who spoke.

We both rush to the vid screen on the desk. The static has faded. Orion’s face fills the screen, so close up that the camera must have been just inches from him.

Before the screen fades to black, Orion’s voice rings out clearly. “Amy? Are you ready for this? Are you ready to find the truth?”

17

ELDER

THE SCREEN GOES BLANK. ORION’S LAST QUESTION HANGS IN the air, but the image Amy saw of me pulling her out of the cryo chamber fills her eyes.

“Amy?” I whisper, hesitant.

She swipes her hand across her face. Her eyes are red.

“Amy?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she says, her voice cracking in the middle. “What’s done is done.”

And that’s what kills me inside. Because what’s done was done by me. And as much as I wish Amy could see me the way I see her and want me the way I want her, she will never be able to forget the image of me pulling her out of her cryo chamber and walking away. No wonder she doesn’t want to be in the Keeper Level with me.

I could punch whoever made Amy see this. My fists clench involuntarily. It’s not like I’m so brilly on my own, but I certainly don’t frexing need someone showing Amy what a chutz I was! “Who gave you this?” I demand.

Her clear green eyes meet mine, her voice steady now. “Orion did.”

“What?”

“Orion did. Kind of. I mean, he left the wi-com for me. It has lettering on it, see?” She holds the wi-com out for me. “It’s from a book. The book led me to the painting, the painting led me to . . . this.”

“Why did he leave messages for you? What’s he playing at?”

Amy hesitates, then hands me the mem card that was originally attached to the vid screen. When she presses her thumb against the ID box, the video plays. Orion’s voice calls Amy his contingency plan, seeks her aid for a mission should he have failed, and—I can’t help but notice—if it looks like I am failing too.

“Where did you get this?”

“I told you,” Amy says. “Orion left me these clues.”

“And you think—if you play his little game and solve these clues, then . . . what?”

“I don’t know,” Amy says. “But the way he keeps saying someone from Sol-Earth has to make the decision, it makes me think . . .”

I remember First Shipper Marae telling me about how Orion influenced the decision to hold back information about the ship’s dead engine, how Eldest tried to have Orion killed soon after. If he made these videos as a way to get the word out on whatever it was that he discovered that led to Eldest trying to kill him, then there really might be a way to get Godspeed flying again.

This is huge. This—maybe at the end of this loons’ hunt for clues and codes is the solution for the ship’s engine! In which case . . .

“We should wake him up,” I say.

Amy looks at me as if I’ve suggested we give the ship another Season.

“We could,” I insist. “Wake him. Force him to tell us what he knows.”

“He doesn’t deserve to be woken.” Amy spits the words out with more vehemence than I’d have expected.

“But Amy—”

“Besides,” she adds quickly, “we couldn’t trust him if we do wake him. This”—she jabs a finger at the vid screen—“might be the closest thing to truth we’ll ever get from him.”

I chew on my bottom lip. I know she wouldn’t like the way I think about Orion. That maybe he was partly right. Not in killing the others, not right like that. But right in attacking Eldest, in learning what he could about the ship and acting on that knowledge. That took chutz, and I sort of envy him for it.

I’m glad Amy can’t read my mind.

“This last video, it didn’t have a clue. I think we’re supposed to find the clue in this.” Amy picks up the canvas of Harley’s last painting and flips it over, showing me the sketch of the rabbit fields and the words Follow me down the rabbit hole.

“You think he hid something in the rabbit fields?” I ask doubtfully. After all, the rabbits don’t burrow holes, they make nests—they’re larger than the rabbits native to Sol-Earth, closer to hares.

“Yes, exactly,” she says. “Or, maybe he’s referring to another book.”

Ah. There it is. I’m not a chutz. Amy doesn’t actually think the clue is in the rabbit fields at all—she’s just trying to distract me. She’s probably already got the book she wants in mind.

But if she needs space, that’s the least I can give her, even if the space she needs spreads out between us like flooding water.

I watch as Amy silently prepares to face the people outside the safety of her room. She wraps a long length of material around her hair and twists it in a low bun. She drops her cross necklace under her tunic with one hand while reaching for a long-sleeved hooded jacket with the other. She does all of this in a quick, fluid motion, as if she’s done it many times before. I hate the way that hiding who she is has become a habit for her. But I don’t tell her not to bother.

We don’t really speak again until we’re on the path heading to the Recorder Hall. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?” I ask.

“I’m sure,” she says, and I don’t know if her voice is small because it has to weave its way through the shadows under her hood or if it’s because she’s hiding her fear. Whatever it is she’s not telling me, though, she’s determined to meet it herself.

Amy starts down the path toward the Recorder Hall, leaving me to go left, to search for rabbit holes when we both know Orion’s next clue is probably in whatever book she’s thinking of. She looks so . . . defeated, with her hood pulled up, her shoulders hunched, and her eyes on the ground.

“No.” I stride forward and in a few steps am by her side. I grab her by the elbow.

“No?” she asks.

“I know you’re still mad at me,” I start.

“No, not really—”

“You are, and that’s okay, I deserve it. And I know you’re trying to show how strong you are, to prove that you don’t need me, but there’s no reason for us to split up. You’re being stubborn. And listen.” I falter, and my voice drops. “I also know you’re not telling me something. And it’s fine—keep your secrets. But whatever it is that you’re not telling me scares you, and I’m not going to let you be scared and alone. So you’re sticking with me, and I’m sticking with you.”

Amy opens her mouth to protest.

“No arguments,” I say.

And for the first time in a long time, her smile reaches her eyes.

We visit the rabbit field first, even though I’m fairly sure Amy thinks we’ll find the answers in the Recorder Hall. We don’t talk after my outburst, but somewhere between the soy and the peanuts, we ease into a kind of mutual, friendly silence. It’s not awkward or weird or anything—we’re just strolling along the path next to each other.

The path narrows just before turning off to the rabbit field, and we both move toward the center at the same time. The back of my hand brushes hers. I snatch it away too quickly and shove it into my pocket, to make sure I don’t accidentally touch her again. When I glance down at Amy to see if she noticed, she glances up at me at the same time. She smiles, and I smile, and she bumps into my shoulder, and I bump into her shoulder, and we both sort of laugh without making a sound.

Then we see a rabbit hop across our path.

“That’s odd,” I say. “How did this one get loose?”

“The fence has been ripped down,” Amy says, pointing to where the flimsy chicken wire has been ripped from a post and trampled, leaving a gap in the fence wide enough for a man to just stroll through.

“Do you think something’s happened?” Amy whispers.

I don’t answer her. I don’t have to. The body sprawled out in the middle of the field is answer enough.

18

AMY

THE RABBIT FARM WAS WHERE I FIRST FELT HORROR. NOT fear—I’ve been scared many times in my life, both on this ship and on Earth. But I didn’t know horror until I looked into the eyes of the girl on the rabbit farm and realized that she was empty inside.

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