A Million Suns (Across the Universe #2)

Chapter 3

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Marae doesn’t speak, and in her silence, I detect something dark.

“What aren’t you telling me?” I demand.

For the first time, Marae turns to look to the other Shippers for assurance. Shelby nods, a tiny movement that I almost don’t notice. “It was before I was named First Shipper. Before you were born. The First Shipper then was a man named Devyn.” Marae’s eyes flick to Shelby one more time. “Information about the engine has always been—selectively known.”

Which means, of course, that as few people as possible know the truth.

“I was apprenticing then,” Marae continues, “and I remember that Elder—the other Elder, the Elder before you—”

“Orion,” I say.

She nods. “Eldest sent him to do some maintenance on the ship, and when he came back, he didn’t report to Eldest. He went straight to Devyn. Whatever he said then . . . it made an impact on Devyn. All research ceased for a while after that.”

“The Shippers went on strike?” I lean forward, shocked. Of everyone on Godspeed, the Shippers are the most loyal. I don’t know if it’s because we trusted them even without Phydus, or if it’s because they’re genetically engineered to be loyal, or if it’s simply because they, like Doc and a handful of others, like the Eldest system of rule, but whatever the reason, the Shippers are unswerving in their loyalty.

“They didn’t strike exactly, not like the weavers did last week. They did all their duties as normal. Except for engine research.”

“What made them start researching the engine problems again?” I ask. I’m vaguely aware of the other Shippers in the room, the deep silence, the uncomfortable way they hold themselves, but my attention is focused on Marae.

“Elder died,” she says simply.

She means Orion—when Orion was Elder, he faked his own death to avoid a very real death at the hands of Eldest.

“After that,” Marae goes on, “First Shipper Devyn resumed research on the engine. Although . . . the research was even more closely hidden than before. Fewer Shippers were allowed access to the engine, and Devyn was not exactly, well, not exactly forthright with Eldest. When I took his place, I carried on as he trained me. But . . . I started to notice . . . irregularities.”

“Irregularities?”

Marae nods. “Things didn’t add up. Some of the engine’s problems seemed new—as if intentionally done, and recently. All records of past research were gone—destroyed, probably, as we’ve never been able to discover them.”

So Devyn had misled his apprentice, Marae. Whatever Orion had told him had made Devyn change everything, even going so far as to hide information from his own Shippers and Eldest. Orion once told me that Godspeed was on autopilot, that it could get to Centauri-Earth without us. Why would he say that if he’s the one who knew the problems with the engine went deeper than anyone else thought?

“Eldest started to realize this too, didn’t he?” I ask.

Marae looks down at her hands. “The Eldest’s job is to take care of the people. The Shippers’ job is to take care of the ship. But before he . . . before he died, I think, yes. He’d realized something wasn’t right.”

I rub my face with both my hands, remembering where I first heard those words. Remembering the way Eldest had spent more and more time on the Shipper level, in those last weeks before Orion killed him.

How long has this been going on? Eldest told me my focus had to be on the people, but we can’t have been the only Eldests to realize that we had to focus on the engine too. What happened to them? It all connects at the so-called Plague, the beginning of the lies, the beginning of Phydus. Somewhere between the Plague and now, the truth was lost, and we, all of us, me and Eldest and the Shippers and everyone else, whether we were on Phydus or not, allowed ourselves to believe blindly what others told us.

“I’m . . . done,” I say, throwing my hands back down. “I’m done with the lies, with the ways things used to be. What exactly is wrong with the ship’s engine? If it’s not a matter of fuel efficiency, what is it? Are we going too fast? Are we going too slow? What?”

Now Marae slouches. “We’re not going too fast or too slow.” She looks sad, worry in her eyes. “We’re not going at all.”

4

AMY

I CHECK THE CLOCK ON A FLOPPY WHEN I GET BACK TO MY room in the Hospital. Crap. It’s later than I’d thought it was. Every day I’ve been spending more and more of the morning in the cryo level. At first it was to run. But then I quit running. Now I just go and force myself to remember one thing I miss from Earth, one thing in as great detail as I can. And then, eventually, I force myself to say goodbye to my parents. Again.

The solar lamp clicks on, illuminating the entire Feeder Level. Even though I have the metal shade pulled over the only window in my room, a sliver of light slices across the floor.

Morning has officially sprung. Great.

I slam my hand against the button on the wall by the door. Beep! A few moments later, a little metal door in the wall slides open, and a waft of steam floats into the room.

“That’s it?” I say to the small pastry that lies inside. I pull it out. Wall food has never been very appetizing, but this is the first time I can say that it’s small. The whole thing fits in my palm in a flat, depressed sort of way. Two bites later, and breakfast is over.

Someone knocks on my door. Even though the door is locked, unreasonable panic flares in my heart.

“Amy?”

“Doc?” I ask as I zip open the door to my bedroom. His solemn face greets me.

“I wanted to check in on you,” he says, stepping inside.

“I’m fine,” I say immediately. Doc has offered, more than once, to give me pale blue med patches. They’re for “nerves,” he says, but I don’t want to bother. I don’t trust the little patches he doles out instead of pills; I don’t trust any medication made on this ship that also once made Phydus.

“No,” Doc says, waving his hand dismissively. “I mean—well. Hrm. I’m worried about . . . about your safety.”

“My safety?” I plop down on my unmade bed. Doc glances at the only chair in my room, the one at my desk, but he doesn’t sit down. A jacket is slung over the back of the chair, and floppies and books I’ve pilfered from the Recorder Hall clutter the desktop. He probably wouldn’t want to sit anywhere without an antiseptic wipe and some Lysol.

Not that there is any Lysol here.

Doc’s stance is awkward; he keeps his arms close to his body, and his back is too straight. But his face is very serious. “I’m sure you’ve noticed the increased . . . Well, it’s clear now that there are no more traces of Phydus in the people’s systems. And now we’re left with . . . The ship’s not especially safe at the moment, especially for someone who . . .”

“Someone who looks like me?” I ask, flicking my long red hair over my shoulder.

Doc flinches, as if my hair is a curse word shouted in church. “Yes.”

He’s not saying anything new. I am the only person on this ship who wasn’t born here. And while the residents of Godspeed had the individuality bred out of them so they’re all monoethnic, I’ve got super-pale skin, bright green eyes, and red hair to mark how different I am. The former ship’s leader, Eldest, did me no favors, either, telling the residents that I was a genetic experiment gone wrong. At best, most people here think I’m a freak.

At worst, they blame me for the way things have been falling apart.

Three weeks ago, I went for my regular morning run. I stopped near the chicken farm to look at the baby chicks. The farmer came outside with the feed—he’s a huge man, his arms as thick as my legs. He set the bucket of feed on the ground and just . . . just stared at me. Then he walked to the gate and picked up a shovel. He hefted it up, testing the weight of it and running one finger along the sharp and shiny blade. I started running then, looking over my shoulder. He watched me, shovel in hand, until I was out of sight.

I haven’t been running since.

“I’m not stupid,” I tell Doc, standing up. “I know that things aren’t exactly peachy around here.”

I sling open the door to my wardrobe and pull out a long piece of cloth that’s such a dark shade of maroon it’s almost brown. The material is thin and a little stretchy. Starting behind my left ear, I drape the cloth over my forehead, then under my mass of red hair, then back around, wrapping up my hair so it’s completely hidden behind the dark cloth. When I get to the end, I twist the wrapped hair into a bun and tie the ends of the cloth into a knot. Then I grab the jacket from the desk chair and sling it over my shoulders, pulling the hood up over my head. The last thing I do is tuck my cross necklace under my shirt so no one can see it.

“It’s not perfect,” I say as Doc inspects my apparel. “But if I keep my head down and my hands in the jacket pockets, it’s hard for anyone to notice how different I am unless they get up close.” And I don’t really plan on getting up close to anyone.

Doc nods. “I’m glad you’ve thought of this sort of thing,” he says. “I’m . . . well, I’m impressed.”

I roll my eyes.

“But I don’t think it’s enough,” he adds.

I push the hood out of my face and stare at Doc, making a point to meet his eyes. “I. Will. Not. Stay locked up in this room forever. I know you don’t think it’s safe, but I won’t be even more of a prisoner than I already am. You can’t keep me here.”

Doc shakes his head. “No. You’re right. I can’t. But I think you need—” His hand moves to his neck, where his wireless communicator is embedded beneath his skin.

“No!” This is another argument we’ve had plenty of times before. Doc—and Elder too—neither of them understands why I refuse to get a wi-com. I know Elder wants me to have one because he cares and worries about me. And—it would be nice, to be able to talk to him whenever I like. Touch a button and I could ride the grav tube up to Elder’s level, com him, or just find out where he is on the ship.

A wi-com is the ultimate cell phone, always keeping you plugged in.

Always keeping you tied to this ship, this ship that is not my home. I won’t get a wi-com any more than I’ll lock myself up in this room. Wi-coms are just too . . . too . . . too not-Earth. I can’t just let myself be wired into the ship. I can’t let them cut me open and implant something not-Earth into me, beneath my skin, wiggling into my brain. I can’t do that.

Doc reaches into his pocket and pulls something out in a fluid motion that seems contrary to his usually stiff persona. He holds the thing out to me.

“This is a”—Doc pauses—“it’s a special wi-com.”

I force myself to look at the thing in his hand. It’s essentially a tiny button, not any bigger than a dime, with three wires coming from each side. In a regular wi-com, the button’s hidden underneath the skin behind your left ear and the wires burrow into your flesh. But Doc has braided the wires into a circle, making a bracelet. Tiny words are printed along the red wire, so small I can barely see them.

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