As They Slip Away (Across the Universe #2.5)

Chapter 2

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“Yeah,” Harley says. “But Doc’s not doing the lesson there. The Recorder is. ”

My eyes grow round at this. The Recorder is going to teach us from now on? But . . .

“ Why? ” I ask.

Harley shrugs. A moment later, Doc starts calling out names. Harley was partially wrong:

most of the other residents of the Hospital are going to lessons on the Shipper Level. Doc tells them they’re being apprenticed. It’s people like Buck and Britne and Tailor—the ones good at the science and math lessons. People like me and Kayleigh and Harley—the ones who like art—are being sent to the Recorder Hall.

By the time Doc’s done announcing our new roles and sending the studious ones to the Shipper Level, only a handful of us remain to go to the Recorder Hall.

“This should be fun,” Bartie, Harley’s best friend, tells me as we enter the elevator. I grin at him, hoping the heat I feel rising up in me isn’t reflected in my cheeks. I can’t rip my eyes from him until he turns to Harley and says something that makes him laugh, the sound of his voice jolting me out of my reverie. Victria shoots me a look, and my eyes drop to the metal floor of the elevator. I don’t want her to know how I feel about Bartie. I don’t want anyone to know. I want to keep it in the secret place of my heart, the part of me that still clings to hope.

3.

The Recorder Hall is dark and musty, like always. We’ve only been here a few times, to be honest.

Lessons about the ship and its mission are given to every child, mad or not, at least once a year until their apprenticeship. It’s vital that every person on Godspeed knows and understands the significance of what we’re doing. We’re carrying the hopes of an old planet across the universe in order to create a whole new world.

The entryway to the Recorder Hall is huge, with a tall ceiling and tiny, narrow windows that are supposed to stream in light, but really just cast everything in shadows. Digital membrane screens stretch from floor to ceiling along the walls. We call them wall floppies, which is a stupid name, really, but they hang on the wall and they’re, well, floppy. Each one glows now with an

image—one shows a constellation, another a painting, another a sculpture.

We stand awkwardly in the center of the room, six teenagers surrounded by the history of both the old world and the ship. The nurse who escorted us slips out the door and closes it behind her, the sound a solid thud compared to the electronic doors of the Hospital that zip shut with a whisper.

“ So . . . ” Harley says, his voice ringing throughout the tall room despite his hushed tone. “This is boring. ”

Bartie, standing behind him, snorts with laughter. Victria rolls her eyes at them both, and Bartie silences immediately.

I turn away, my stomach twisting with envy. My eyes are drawn to clear hazel eyes—those of Luthor, the straggler of our group. He’d been watching me, staring at me, and he doesn’t bother trying to hide his interest.

I blush and turn away.

“Thank you for coming out here today,” a voice booms throughout the Recorder Hall. A man emerges from the other end of the entry way. He’s very tall, with long, unkempt hair that almost covers a spider web scar on the side of his neck.

“Like we had a choice,” Victria mumbles.

The man’s head whips around. “You do,” he says. “ You always have a choice. ” He opens his mouth as if to say something more, but swallows the words. Instead, he says, “I am Orion, the Recorder. ”

“ Why are you teaching us today?” Kayleigh asks. “ Why not Doc?”

“ Or one of the Shippers?” Bartie adds. “Are we not getting an apprenticeship?”

“Apprenticeships are for labor,” Orion says. “You are not going to be laborers. ”

“ Because we’re loons,” I can’t help but say.

“Are you?” Orion asks sincerely. He blinks at me, as if trying to determine if I really am loons or not.

“I take the mental meds every day,” I snap. I don’t like the way he’s looking at me. “That’s not a very good indication of whether or not you’re crazy,” Orion replies. I start to snap something back, but Kayleigh’s elbow jabs me in the ribs and I silence.

“The Recorder Hall is not just a record of knowledge and history,” Orion says, sweeping his arms toward the wall floppies hanging from the ceiling. He crosses the room to the floppy labeled HISTORY. We all trot obediently behind him. The screen lights up as he swipes his hand across it, and a map of a peninsula and islands illuminates the screen.

“This is Greece, a country in Sol-Earth,” Orion says.

My eyes slide to Kayleigh’s. There’s an intense sort of focus to her gaze, and no wonder. While the giant clay model of Sol-Earth hangs from ceiling of the entryway, its countries aren’t labeled. We are taught that the world was divided into nations, but not the names of these divisions.

The very fact that the old world was broken up into different countries proves why life aboard the ship is better. There’s no point in learning the history of Sol-Earth’s nations, except as a warning of bad civilizations we cannot let Godspeed emulate.

“The Greeks, they knew how to appreciate art,” Orion continues. “They believed in art for art’s sake, that a sculpture or a painting doesn’t have a higher purpose—it just is. ”

A sinking sadness fills my chest. The ones in the Hospital who were better at math and science have been apprenticed because they have something to contribute to the ship. But us—me and Kayleigh and Victria and Bartie and Harley and Luthor—we’re just artists. We have nothing to contribute.

“ Or, ” Orion says, talking to the map in a contemplative tone, “perhaps it is better to say that art is a higher purpose in and of itself. That’s what the Greeks understood—that’s something even Eldest understands. Art is important. There is value in art that can’t be tallied like the right or wrong answers on a test. Even here, even on this frexing ship, art is important. ”

Victria shifts uncomfortably beside me. No one speaks ill of Godspeed or its leaders, but Orion’s dancing around contempt in a way that makes us all nervous. Except for Kayleigh. She’s hanging on every word Orion says, her eyes glistening.

“Your assignment is to research the Greeks. They made heroes of their artists—some they even made into ‘gods.’ Find a Greek that matches your artistic style. ”

I try to imagine it for a moment, a world that values people who sing. I’ve never been able to think of my singing as anything more than a worthless, throw-away skill.

Harley clears his throat. “I don’t understand. ”

“Your parents are weavers, right?” Orion asks.

Harley nods. His usual carefree attitude is immediately hidden behind an emotionless mask: He doesn’t like to talk about his parents. None of us do. Moving to the Hospital means leaving behind your parents. But if Harley’s parents were like mine, it’s not like they cared when he left.

Or even noticed.

“In Greece,” Orion continues as if nothing’s different, “the best weaver in their history was a woman named Arachne. She was so good that the gods were jealous, and they turned her into a spider so she could only weave webs. ” My eyes drift down Orion’s neck, to the spiderweb scar behind his left ear. He notices my glance and touches the scar before catching himself and lowering his hand.

“And what?” Bartie asks. “You want us to write a report on her, or whatever god matches our skills?”

“ No, ” Orion says eagerly. “I want you to create. If, for example, you chose Arachne, then I want you to weave her story into a tapestry. ”

I can see the moment when understanding washes over each of our faces—he wants us to make art. A sloppy grin spreads over Harley’s face. Luthor mutters to himself, as if coming up with ideas of what he’d like to do already. Even Victria looks ecstatic.

Godspeed isn’t Greece: No matter what Orion says, it doesn’t feel as if art is very much valued here. Doc has had us research art, sure, but never really experiment with it. He was much more focused on what our art could do for the ship, how we could turn it into something useful.

I catch Bartie’s eye. Doc has never been able to give us assignments that use our talents. He could have Luthor make scale models out of clay instead of sculpting, or Harley can draw architectural plans instead of painting, but there wasn’t much he could do with Bartie’s skill with instruments or my singing voice.

“Your assignment,” Orion repeats, “is to research art . . . and then make some. ”

It is a delicious challenge.

4.

“This is brilly,” Harley says as we sit in a circle on the floor in the entryway of the Recorder Hall. We each have our own personal floppies, each flashing with images from ancient Greece. Orion ventured further into the Recorder Hall with promises to show us real books from Sol-Earth. “I know! ” Kayleigh says. She’s so excited she’s forgotten that she wants to be aloof in front of Harley. “I can’t believe he’s encouraging us to do art! ”

Harley lights up at the joy in Kayleigh’s voice. “What are you going to research?” he asks, leaning closer to Kayleigh while she lets him. “I think you could be Poseidon. ” He holds his floppy out to her.

Kayleigh scans the information on this Greek “god. ” It seems ridiculous that the Greeks actually worshipped these people, thinking they had any kind of real power. Silly Sol-Earth fairytales and religions.

“Ew,” Kayleigh tosses the floppy back to Harley. “This man is half-naked. ”

Harley laughs. “Yeah, but he’s the god of the ocean, and you love to swim. ”

“ Maybe you should study Aphrodite,” Kayleigh says in a sticky-sweet voice, “and dress up in some seashells. ”

“I ’m not a flirt,” Harley says so seriously that the entire room silences. “Not with anyone but you. ”

Kayleigh blushes furiously and gets up to sit on the other side of Victria, putting me beside Harley instead.

Harley doesn’t seem to mind. Maybe he’s confident; maybe he just doesn’t see a point in pretending to have any other feelings than those he holds for Kayleigh. He turns to me next, as if nothing’s happened. “What about you? You could be a Siren. ”

I tap the word into my floppy and am greeted with an image of something that looks like a cross between a girl and a fish. “This looks more like something Kayleigh would like,” I say. She is the one who spends every morning swimming in the pond behind the Hospital.

“ No, read,” Harley insists.

I start reading, the sounds of everyone else’s gentle arguments disappearing as I focus on the story. I see now why Harley thought this particular mythological creature suited me: the Sirens sing too. My fingers trail along a portrait of a Siren perched on a rock, a stringed instrument in one hand as she stares impassively at the boy drowning in the water below her.


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