As They Slip Away (Across the Universe #2.5)

Chapter 3

chapter
Chapter

Yes. I like these Sirens.

By the time I look up, Orion’s returned with the books. Harley flips through the pages too quickly, careless with the ancient paper made from real trees from Sol-Earth. We don’t have trees on Godspeed, and we hardly ever use the synthetic paper made by the Shippers—everything’s recorded on floppies instead. Orion scowls at Harley until he sets the book gently down on the ground.

“ Have you selected your topic?” Luthor asks.

I nod and hold out the floppy to him. He smiles as he reads about the creatures that sing to lure men’s ships to dangerous waters and sure death.

Harley glances up as Bartie leans over to read too. “ Ha! Your voice could make men suicidal! ” He crows with laughter, but I snatch the floppy out of his hands and read about the Greek that he selected. I know he didn’t mean the words to sting, but they do.

“ Your music is so bad Hades would keep you in the underworld to save us all from having to hear it! ” I try to keep my voice light like his, turning the words into a harmless joke among friends. Nothing more than friends.

“It is not! ” Bartie snatches the floppy away. “Orpheus was the greatest musician of all time. ”

“ Bet he couldn’t sing,” I snap back.

“ Who have you all chosen?” Orion’s voice calls out over our argument.

“ Sappho,” Victria says.

Harley snorts. “You would pick her. ”

“ What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I can’t decide between Hephaestus and Prometheus,” Kayleigh says, drawing attention to her. Victria shoots her a small smile.

“ Why Prometheus?” Orion asks.

Harley taps the name into his floppy. “You don’t want him. He gets his liver eaten out by a giant bird! ”

“ But I like the way he brought knowledge to people,” Kayleigh says.

“ But you’re more of an inventor. ” Orion lifts the floppy out of her hands and swipes the screen, bringing up an image of a huge, ugly man with a forge behind him. “Hephaestus is probably more appropriate. And less dangerous. ”

Even here, we have to remind ourselves that Eldest is more of a god than any of these long-dead Greeks, and he can do much worse that have our livers ripped out.

“I ’m selecting Pygmalion,” Luthor says.

I jump a little; I’d forgotten how close he was to me. He’s so quiet.

“ Piggy, piggy! ” Barite taunts. “That sounds about right! ”

“ Pygmalion was a sculptor,” Orion says. “Good choice, Luthor. What about you, Harley?”

“I can’t find any painters, ” he grumbles.

“ Why don’t you do a fresco—it’s like painting, but with plaster—and you can use the Muses as your subject?” Orion suggests.

He bends down to show Harley the Muses, but I’m distracted by Victria. She mouths something to me, indicating Bartie and Luthor with her head.

“ What?” I mouth back.

Her eyes widen at me, and she jerks her head to Luthor. Then she glances significantly at Kayleigh, who’s leaned in close to Harley, and jerks her head back.

“ She wants us to give them some privacy,” Luthor whispers in my ear.

“I—oh! ” I say, blushing.

Victria rolls her eyes.

Scooping up the floppy and one of the books, I follow Victria and Bartie further into the Recorder Hall, passing closed doors leading to rooms full of books and Sol-Earth artifacts. Luthor trails behind me, chuckling at how Harley and Kayleigh remain ignorant of our plot.

Victria pauses at the door to the entry way. “I’ll distract Orion in a minute, give them some real alone time. ” When I don’t move, she adds, “You go on,” and waves her hands at me. I head further down the dark hallway. Luthor hesitates, then follows me, but Bartie winks and drops back to stay with Victria. I’m disappointed—I would actually like to talk to him about maybe working together on our project. He could compose music and I could write lyrics and maybe we could . . .

But he’d rather stay with Victria.

Fine.

Whatever.

I don’t care.

“Let’s go upstairs,” Luthor says softly, so I follow him. I’ve never explored the Recorder Hall this much before; I know that the second and third stories hold relics from Sol-Earth, but not much else.

Luthor leads me to a room on the second floor—a huge gallery with double doors. Unlike the entryway, this room is filled with light, illuminating the objects inside.

“ What is this?” I whisper. Canvases hang from the walls, illuminated by the windows. Sculptures dot the tiled floor; a mobile made of glittering glass hangs from the ceiling. “It’s the art from past gens,” Luthor says. He steps inside, and while I just stand there, gazing around, he watches my expression as if eager to see if he’s pleased me.

“I . . . I didn’t know,” I say, awed. And I didn’t. It’s not that the Recorder Hall is banned or kept hidden—although you do have to have permission to see the books. It’s that it never occurred to me that a ship led by Eldest could hold such treasures.

“And look,” Luthor says, stepping over to the wall, where an electronic box is embedded. He adjusts a dial, and music drifts through the room.

“These were all made by people who lived on this ship,” he says.

I close my eyes and listen.

The singer is a soprano, like me, and her voice is clear and rich. She sings about impossibilities: stars within reach, solid earth at her feet, and ocean mist kissing her cheeks. When the song fades to static, I open my eyes.

Luthor’s motionless, staring at me with a look on his face that I don’t recognize. “Let’s make this our studio,” he says suddenly. “You and me. Let’s work on our projects here. ” He pauses, wetting his lips. “Together. ”

I think about the adoration Harley showers on Kayleigh, the way Kayleigh’s mouth twitches whenever he tries to snatch her hand in his. I think of the way Bartie hung back to stay with Victria.

“Yes, ” I say, and in that moment, nothing exists beyond him and me and the lingering strains of the music that hang between us.

5.

Orion gave us a whole month to complete our projects, but we waste no time getting started. An opportunity to dedicate our days to the arts we love has been rare in the Hospital, and none of us is taking that that time for granted. Kayleigh works outside—she’s using metal and a blowtorch to make . . . something, but only she knows what. Harley has decided that he needs to work outside too, to keep his fresco wet, and the two of them have set up spaces near the koi pond Kayleigh likes to swim in.

Bartie tags along wherever Victria goes, and Victria wanders through the fields and to the City, scribbling in the little leather-bound book that Orion gave her after she told him her idea for a collection of poetry. It almost seems as if Bartie’s taking his assignment too literally—he’s following the object of his affection blindly no matter where she leads him. Still, I suspect Bartie would be devastated to discover what her notebook actually contains—my guess is that more than half her poems are in fact dedicated to Orion.

And Luthor and I? We meet each other every morning, before the solar lamp clicks on, and sneak into our little makeshift studio together.

“I ’m glad you didn’t decide to work with Bartie,” he says after the first week.

“ Why would I work with Bartie?” I ask innocently, even though that’s what I’d thought I wanted before. I focus on typing notes on my floppy so he doesn’t notice my blush.

Luthor smirks at me and turns his attention back to his own floppy. Orion has ordered clay for him, manufactured chemically in the labs on the Shipper Level, but when it arrives, he’ll have to work quickly to finish his sculpture before it dries out. For that reason, Orion’s insisted that he come up with a design before he actually starts sculpting.

“ Seriously, Luthor,” I say, “I’m really glad we’re working together. ”

He mumbles something.

“ What?” I ask.

“Luthe. You could call me Luthe. My friends do. ”

I wonder whom he means by “friends. ” Bartie? Probably, even though if you asked Bartie, I’m sure he wouldn’t have applied the term “friend” to Luthor. Luthor has been living at the Hospital as long as anyone—in fact, I think he was one of the first Doc selected to move in. Even so, he’s always been stand-offish at best.

I shoot him a quick smile. “I’m glad to be your friend,” I say. “Would it be okay if I still call you Luthor, though? It—suits you. ”

He turns back to his floppy, but he can’t hide his smile.

At the end of the second week, Victria taps on my bedroom door. It zips open before I have a chance to get up from my desk and answer her knock.

“ Don’t just come in! ” I say, jumping up.

Victria rolls her eyes and plops down on my unmade bed.

There are no locks on Godspeed. We don’t need them. The ship is so small that everyone respects privacy. On Sol-Earth, people had to worry about things like theft, but not here. Godspeed is perfectly safe.

Except from Victria when she wants to talk.

“ Seleeeeene,” she draws out my name.

“ Whaaaat?” I mimic her whine.

She crashes into my pillows dramatically. “I’m bored. ”

I shove aside the sheet music I’d been working on. “ Where’s Kayleigh?” I ask.

“ With Harley. ” Her voice drips with disdain, as if even his name disgusts her.

I glance to the window. “It’s nearly time for the solar lamp to go dark. They’re still working on their projects?”

Victria props herself up on her elbows. “I am certain that the one thing they’re not doing is working on their projects. ”

I let her words sink in. “Oh! ”

“Yeah. ”

“ Well . . . ” I pause, careful about which words I use. “What about you and, uh, Bartie?”

“ He’s annoying,” she snaps, sitting up and tossing my pillow up in the air. She catches it, then stares at me. “What about you and Luthor?”

I shrug, not meeting her eyes.

“You’ve been working with him in the Recorder Hall a lot,” she adds, leaning forward.

“Yeah, but . . . ”

“Listen, be careful with him. ” She doesn’t meet my eyes; her whole demeanor has changed. She sets the pillow back on my bed, carefully smoothing it out and pretending like the simple task deserves her full focus.

“Luthor’s harmless. ” Even as I say it, I can hear the doubt in my own voice, the question seeking confirmation.

“ He’s . . . creepy,” Victria says. “I just . . . I worry. ”

“You don’t have to worry about me,” I say as I shove her off my bed. “It’s Kayleigh you should keep your eye on! ”

But the concern wrinkling Victria’s brow doesn’t fade as she leaves.

Someone knocks on my door before the solar lamp clicks on the next day. “Who is it?” I call, yawning. I pull my cotton tank top over the waist of my soft knit shorts and stagger blearily to the door. At least I know it’s not Victria; she’d have just barreled in before I had a chance to get up.


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