They come for me at nighttime.
They gather around in the darkness, cold and empty
and begging me to feel something. I welcome them, the ghosts of
those who’ve died for my freedom. A freedom I thought would
solve everything, or at the very least be better than the Lifer
sentence I’d been destined to live out before the revolution and
the truth of our incarceration.
In my head, Mother is loudest, demanding answers for the
loss of her son. If I can find out exactly what happened to my
brother, Zed, maybe I’ll find peace.
As I sit alone, guarding the rocky outcrop above the field
where the rabbits we brought over the mountains are penned,
a part of me longs for the Pelican and the safety of the world I
knew on board the ship. My world might have sucked, but there
was comfort in the known. Comfort in the certainty of my place
in the order of things.
The splat of the first drops of water on my makeshift shelter
has my fingers tightening on the Q I hold. I’m on my feet before
the shine of drops on the foliage around me registers in my sleepdeprived
brain. It’s nothing but rain. Simple, brilliant rain. A
marvel after a lifetime inside. It’s not the Company attack we’ve
been expecting since we set up camp here on the other side of the
Upheaval Mountains. But understanding doesn’t let me relax. I’d
rather fight—it’s the waiting that has us all on edge.
Single drops become a patter, and the plump rabbits below
move to huddle in the shelter of the overhang on which I perch.
I step out and lift my face to the cloud-filled sky, letting the water
run over my cheeks and down my neck to dampen the ship-issued
singlet I still wear. If Samuai recognizes it as his that his mother
gave me when I thought he was dead, he hasn’t said anything.
Once we would have talked about it because we talked and kissed
every chance we could. Not now. Since he returned, everything
that happened while he was gone has built a mountain between
us too big for young love to overcome.
I open my mouth, and water drops fall on my tongue, fresh
and clean, and missing the faint plastic taint everything had on
the ship. A taste I learned now not integral in the liquid itself,
but rather a product of the recycling method used. Or worse, a
result of whatever it is they did to us to make us immune to the
weapon that still has some of our allies in a Q-induced coma,
fighting for life.
While most of us sleep in simple tents, one of the few intact
buildings at the settlement site is used as a hospital. The setup is
basic, but the equipment is a collection of the best of what we
could remove from the medical bay of the ship, and the green
robes’ own supplies from their former hideout.
Once, it would have moved me to see families sitting in vigil
next to their loved ones. But I have nothing left for them now.
The Company took everything from me when they killed my
brother and mother. All that is left in me is the hope of revenge.
I sense, rather than see, the small shape moving through the
bushes below. A flash of white eyes and a blur of brown. Time
for guard duty. I steady the Q and aim for a rock in front of the
creature. The weapon that once only worked on living things is
now more useful. A press of the button and what was a boulder
now becomes chunks of gravel. Undeterred, the creature slinks
low onto its belly, ribs clear even from this distance. It’s ignoring
the threat of me above, its starving hunter’s instincts focused on
a plump rabbit.
I aim closer, fire again. A rock explodes right in front of the
dog’s nose. A yelp pierces the air. “Get away,” I shout. I don’t
want another death on my conscience.
I breathe again when it disappears into the undergrowth. It
will be back, I’m sure, but hopefully not while I’m here.
There’s movement on the path a few feet below. I straighten
and try to see through the gloom. Something strides over the
crumbling rock with ease, sending no cascade of rocks and gravel
behind. Too big to be another wild dog. Too early to be the changeover
for the next watch. My blood sings. Confrontation at last.
I lift my weapon, prepare to attack. “Don’t move.”
The shape ignores my barked command and continues
toward me. My muscles tighten, ready to spring.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Davyd says, stepping into a
small clearing at the top of the cliff. There’s something intimate
about the way he speaks, as though we have some kind of
connection. Like he knows me.
I exhale, but don’t relax my stance. It shouldn’t be light
enough to see him clearly, but I do. I see the details of lean hips
in training pants and the singlet fitted to every hard muscle and
meet eyes I know are ice gray.
“That’s hardly a brilliant deduction,” I snap. “It’s my watch.
The schedule is posted on the board where anyone can see.”
“But last night wasn’t supposed to be your watch.” His pause
is deliberate. “Or the night before.”
Only he would notice I’ve been volunteering for extra night
shifts protecting the animals we brought from the ship from stray
dogs running around our new settlement. Anything to avoid the
community that feels as much like a cage as the spaceship ever
did. Only the bars are of my guilt and regret and the questions I
can’t bring myself to ask.
“It’s no secret,” I say, trying for casual but unable to hide the
strain in my voice. I hate the way he makes everything I mean to
say come out all wrong.
His mouth kicks up at the corner but he remains silent. The
rain has made his blond hair dark, and if I squint, I can almost
see Samuai, his brother and the boy I thought I’d love forever.
The boy I last saw laughing at dinner a few hours ago with his
green robe friends. The boy I have been avoiding for the weeks
we’ve been here.
I fold my arms. Davyd’s no longer my master. In this new age
of freedom, those who were once superior Fishie and lowly Lifer
are now equals in the war against the Company who tricked us
“What do you want?” I spit the question.
My traitorous body heats at the intensity in the single word.
“No chance in hell.”
“But there is a chance? Hell, huh?” He lifts his hands in the
air, his eyes making a sweep of the jagged, barren rock exposed
by the earthquakes that were part of the Upheaval all those years
ago. It’s as though in unspeakable agony the very earth has tried
to push out its insides. “Does this qualify?”
I breathe in. The scent of rain on the rich soil where we keep
the rabbits fills my lungs. It should be heaven to be able to farm
like I always wanted, but the darkness inside me makes enjoying
it impossible. I shake myself free of might-have-beens. It is what
it is. All I can do is move forward, move on. “Go away. I don’t
want to play your games.”
“That’s not what you said back at the ship.” He steps closer,
uncaring that my body tenses. “It might have been weeks ago but
I only need close my eyes and the memory is right there. You and
me … I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the night of the ball?”
“The night of the rebellion when we Lifers gained our rightful
place as free people. People who are no longer forced to serve you
Fishies to pay for our ancestor’s sins.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
I do. Damn him, I do. Before the fighting and the fire and the
shock of Samuai’s return from the dead, there was the ball and
the dress and his arms around my waist and his tongue teasing
between my parted lips.
“Admit it,” he says softly. “You’ve been thinking about it.”
My vision blurs. All I can see is the smug smile on his face.
Like always, goading me, trying to make me break. “It meant
nothing.” I don’t recognize the voice that scrapes from my tight,
raw throat. “Nothing.”
“Really. It was an act.” I let my lip curl. “Surely you could
His mouth twitches.
Did I hit a nerve? A moment later his mask of assurance is
back. “So you’ve talked about it with my brother? That kiss we
shared, the intimate press of our bodies. Sought out some time
alone to clear the air and get back to how things were before
between you two.”
I swallow. My hands grip the rock behind me. I didn’t realize
I’d backed up, but I revel in the sharp edge; feel the sting of flesh
breaking and press harder. What I really want to do is close the
distance between us and punish him.
“We will talk. Relocating from the spaceship hasn’t left a lot
of time for deep and meaningful conversations.” I don’t intend
to explain anything to him, but the defense slips out and hangs
lamely between us. The same lie I’ve been telling myself.
The truth is, Samuai and I haven’t spoken properly since the
aftermath of the fight outside the Pelican; I’ve done everything I
can to avoid him. If we speak, he’ll know what I’ve become. Or
worse, he’ll think I’m the same.
“But I’ve found you,” says Davyd. “We’re all alone with
plenty of opportunity for talking … or other things.”
He’s laughing at me again. Damn him. Would it be so hard
for him to leave me alone for once with the stories I tell myself
that allow me to keep going?
Anger surges up inside me, claws at my throat, wanting to
get out. It’s not like I want Samuai to choose me over his new
friends. I have nothing for him now. The love that once flowed
through me isn’t so much gone than blasted out. I’m not the girl
he left behind.
“Why do you do this?”
“Come and talk to you?” He frowns. “We’re old friends from
the ship. We have to stick together.”
“We have never been friends.”
“Allies?” He moves even closer, and I arch back hard against
the rock, just to keep him
He ignores my jab. “They do now. We need to fight, and we
need to make plans.”
The urgency in his voice sparks something inside me. A
flicker of drive where for weeks there’s been only emptiness.
“from touching me. “I’m here because you know this isn’t happily
ever after. Nothing is resolved, and we can’t do anything about it
until you admit there’s something wrong.”
A pulse throbs in his jaw. “Forget my brother. He’s too busy
buddying up to the green robes, and he’s forgotten the real
“Yes. They locked us up, lied to us, experimented on us,
and what have we done in return? Killed a few officers and then
scurried like rats to hide in the mountains.”
“Do rats even hide in Attack the Company?”
He ignores my sneer. “Why not? Those of us from the ship are
impervious to their great weapon. We have strength and speed.
They’ve made us strong. I say we use the way they’ve enhanced
us against them.”
No wonder Davyd is never lonely for female company. I
hate him and yet find it hard not to get caught up in his desire.
His voice, his energy, echoes the need for revenge that keeps me
awake at night. But inside me lingers the voice of reason, too.
“We need to establish a secure base.”
“You mean give them time to organize an attack?”
“Maybe they’re not. We escaped them before. They could be
cutting their losses.”
“Do you really believe that?”
I push past him to stand at the edge of the cliff. From here I
can see the settlement off in the distance, glowing with light in
the darkness. Filled with the green robes who’ve been resisting
the Company for years and with the people the Company were
breeding for battle.
“They’re not going to take the loss of decades of investment
in their little spaceship program well,” I admit eventually.
“They’re going to come for their property. I don’t intend to be
sitting waiting for collection when they do.”
He’s including himself. Back on the ship he was important
as the head Official, Fishie’s, son. Out here he’s just another
specimen with no idea what the Company has done to him.
We’ve all been violated, and we don’t even know how.
“What’s your plan?”
He runs a hand through his wet hair, scattering water drops.
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. If I go to the council
as a lone voice then they’ll shoot me down; but together we could
present a case for action.”
“Apart from this special connection we have?”
In a few swift steps my hand is around his throat. “Don’t
“Look at you, taking any excuse to touch me. It’s almost
romantic,” he squeaks.
The rain has cleared, and the clouds thin, letting the moon
light up his perfect, mocking face.
My fingers tighten. I’m squeezing, feeling the muscles and
tendons give way to my pressure; his airway begins to cut off. The
anger inside me glories in the way his eyes bulge and his lips part
in a desperate gasp for oxygen.
He doesn’t move to defend himself.
I hold his hateful gaze for one second, two. Now I have all the
power. It spreads hot tendrils through me, giving me strength.
My vision blurs, and spots appear in front of my eyes. I could
shut him up forever.
Squeeze a little tighter.
It would be so easy. All I need to do is …
Nothing. I drop my hand and crumble to my knees, pressing
my forehead to the rocky ground. Shudders wrack my body as I
rock back and forth.
What have I become?
Somewhere above me he sucks in a shaky breath. “Temper,
temper,” he says softly.
My eyes sting, but no tears will fall. “Leave me alone.”
“Until the rage inside you overtakes everything else? Until
you do something you can’t undo?”
“I warned you not to push me.” I grasp hold of that fact. I
did warn him. He drove me to act, goaded me until I didn’t have
But did his teasing deserve death?
I block out the voice in my head. But I can’t ignore the one
a few feet away.
“This isn’t grief making you act this way,” he says, kneeling in
front of me. “And you’re not the only one who’s losing control.”
“Don’t make excuses.”
His hand brushes the top of my head where my hair has
grown into soft fuzz. It’s been weeks since Lifer regulations of
shaved heads have been left behind. Electricity skitters across
my skin when he touches my forehead, and it dampens the rage
within. As the anger in me cools, I find the strength to lift my
head. “I’m guessing you have a theory?”
His mouth curves. “I would say ‘that’s my girl’ since you
worked it out so fast, but I don’t have a death wish. I suspect you
don’t belong to anyone.”
Against all reason, I smile at the hint of admiration in his
voice. I curl up and wrap my hands around my knees. I let myself
look up at him, relieved when the marks on his neck are already
fading. “There are others?”
“You’re the first who’s actually tried to kill me, but surely
you’ve noticed the fights in food lines? The shoving over shower
use? The extra injuries in the practice fights that go too far?”
Guilt nibbles at the back of my mind. Why didn’t I notice
any of this? “I haven’t been around much.”
“Believe me, it’s only a matter of time before someone from
the ship loses control. Probably a Lifer.”
“Because we’re less sophisticated.”
His eyes don’t quite meet mine. “Because whatever it is
they’ve done, I believe they’ve done it to you more. The hardships
you’ve faced as a group, it’s made you … stronger for lack of a
I want to argue but I remember too well how easily I could
have crushed his throat. Only weeks ago when we fought in the
low gravity training rooms on the ship, he could overpower me
without breaking a sweat. “Something’s changed.”
“But I can’t work out what.”
The rain begins to fall again. I close my eyes and let it cool
my skin. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to water falling from the
sky. I’ve been too long in an artificial environment where every
molecule I’ve ingested came from a particular source.
I jump to my feet. “The ship.”
Davyd blinks up at me. “What about it?”
“They had control of our food and water.” I pace around
him as I think aloud. “What if they were drugging us to keep us
pliable? Now, without the drug, the changes they’ve made have
no check, nothing to keep control.”
“But we brought the majority of the food and water
production with us.”
“It’s the Nauts.” In my urgency, I slip back to calling our
leaders by the old name from when we thought those in the gray
suits were piloting us in space. It takes a beat before I correct
myself. “The Company added it themselves to the water, or
maybe the very air we breathed. Don’t you see? It’s a part of them
having control over the experiment. We have our own inbuilt
self-destruct sequence. We’ll all turn on each other before we can
possibly rise against them.”
“They’re the only ones who can save us.”
“But they want to destroy us.”
“We’ll take the fight to them, there must be a way.” Anything
else Davyd might have said is cut off by a bang from the direction
of the settlement.
“Did you hear that?” I ask.
But he’s already running. “Come on.”
“But I’m supposed to be on guard.”
He spares me a glance over his broad shoulder. A look that
shines through the darkness and the drizzle and slices through to
my soul. “You play babysitter for some rabbits if you want to. I’m
going to fight.”
I hesitate a beat. Long enough for him to disappear down the
trail. This time his hurried steps send rock and gravel tumbling,
and the sound echoes over distant shouts. The sound of a battle.
My longing to be alone wars with the need to know what’s
happening, and the fact that no matter how much I want to, I
can’t sever all links with those who came with me from the ship.
Q tight in my hand, I run.