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Authors: Imogen Howson

Unravel

BOOK: Unravel
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TO ELINOR,

who would enjoy playing
Zombie Uprising
and who, unlike Elissa, would probably complain that
Parasite Invasion
wasn't scary enough. With apologies from her mother for failing to give her a twin of her own.

Hugs, kisses, and smiley-face emoticons are due to the following people:

My agent, Mandy Hubbard, who always knows how to make books better. And who has a cow.

Everyone at Simon & Schuster who has been involved in the production of this book, especially my editor, Navah Wolfe, who made the (
very
) rough original version into the book I wanted it to be; Lizzy Bromley, who designed the beautiful cover
and
thought of its new name; managing editor, Katrina Groover; production manager, Chava Wolin; copy editor, Valerie Shea; and proofreader, Alexandra Alexo, who, again, saved me from much embarrassment.

For a whole range of things, including cake, entertainment, texts and tweets, bringing congratulatory alcohol and/or flowers, receiving emergency phone calls, asking the right questions, hand-selling of
Linked
over neighbors' garden hedges, and a
great deal
of emotional support: Becky Hancock, Dayna Hart, Jane Blatherwick, Jasper and Netti South, Jay Williams, and Michelle Puffer. Also my sister Jossy and brother-in-law Hywel; my cousin and family, Mark, Jemma, and the amazing Jack; and my mother-in-law, Mary.

Plus everyone who dressed up as fictional characters and came to celebrate with me at my combined book/birthday party.

For being their wonderful selves: the Society for the Prevention of Being Bored, aka SPOBB.

And finally, to my favorite daughters, Philippa and Elinor, who put up with me pulling weird faces at my laptop, staring vaguely at them while they're talking, and for occasionally trying to feed them such disasters as the tzatziki soup.

And to Phil. Of course.

IT DIDN'T
feel like coming home.

The
Phoenix
broke into the upper atmosphere of Sekoia, flying nose down, and for a moment the desert plateau flashed into view through the glass windscreen of the pilot's cabin, dizzyingly far below, patched with tan and ocher and the bleached yellow of dead grass.

The pull of the ship's artificial gravity, of what felt like
down
, didn't correspond with the actual ground, and Elissa, harnessed into her seat in the front passenger row, just behind the copilot's seat, had one of the moments she didn't think she'd ever get used to, when ears and eyes and mind all disagreed, creating the momentary illusion that the ground they were going to land on was rising up like a wall in front of them.

The
Phoenix
's wings had swung out the moment they breached the atmosphere, and now Cadan adjusted the flight angle so they were flying parallel to the desert plateau. Sunlit
sky blazed through the glass above Elissa's head, a wash of color that seemed, after the darkness of space, impossibly bright. A long way off, a line, a joining of land and sky, of dusty ocher and flawless blue, showed her the horizon.

Some hours before they entered Sekoia's orbit, Cadan had set the
Phoenix
into what he called amphibious mode, able to go seamlessly from traveling through space to flying within the atmosphere of a planet. The main flight deck and most of the body of the ship had been sealed off, and Cadan was piloting it from a secondary cabin tucked in the side of the ship beneath the flight-deck floor.

The first time Elissa had seen the ship, it had looked like a giant silver squid, head pointing toward the sky it would launch itself into, the impression strengthened by the surrounding tentacle-like landing gear. Now she thought that with the ship's wings out, flying belly-down, it would seem more like a wide-finned fish, the little pilot's cabin a bulging eye on its smooth silver head.

Cadan set them on a course toward the Central Canyon City spaceport while he called ahead to initiate landing protocol. Between the ship and the far-off horizon, the upper levels of the city glinted, the sunlight bouncing off what, much closer, would reveal itself to be an eye-wateringly bright tangle of steel walkways and glass-domed roofs.

Elissa had lived there her whole life, traveling the slidewalks, using the beetle-cars, walking under the shining expanse of roofs that kept the city's precious water from evaporating into the baked-dry desert air.

And now she found herself looking at it with alien eyes.

It wasn't like she'd never descended toward the city from the upper atmosphere before; she'd done so twice, once
returning from a school outing and once from a family vacation, and both times this view had come with a rush of familiarity, a feeling of being back where she belonged. Not this time.

But then, I don't belong here anymore.

She'd known that, really, six weeks ago, standing on this same ship, surrounded by black, endless space, watching Sekoia dwindle to a silvery sphere of cloud and ocean. Back then, though, she'd thought she was leaving for good. That she'd never see it again.

Now, descending toward the city where she'd lived her whole life, and yet somehow looking at it as if she'd been away, not for a few weeks, but for a lifetime, she was realizing that, whatever Sekoia was to her, it was no longer home.

Elissa gave her head a little shake, refusing to be morbid. Sekoia was a whole different place than it had been some weeks ago, even for the people who still lived there. The
Phoenix
was Elissa's home now. And if it was a little weird to think of a spaceship that way, well, what over the last few weeks
hadn't
been weird?

Finding out three years' worth of hallucinations were actually her telepathic link with the identical twin—Lin—she'd never known she had, discovering that Lin had escaped from the secret government-run facility where she'd been brought up, then turning fugitive with her to prevent the authorities from taking Lin back to imprisonment and torture . . . it would take a whole lot of weird to top that.

Cadan eased the
Phoenix
into a lower speed, angling the ship down to skirt the city itself, bringing them into a careful descent toward the spaceport.

The secondary cabin was set up, like the bridge, with a
copilot's seat next to the pilot's, and two short rows of passenger seats behind them. Now Lin began to lean sideways from the copilot's seat to get a better view of the main screen, then caught herself and sat back upright with a look of such conscious virtue that Elissa had to stop herself laughing out loud.

Lin was endlessly fascinated by spaceflight and determined to learn everything Cadan could teach her, but it had taken weeks of him snapping at her for Lin to finally grasp how
very
much he didn't appreciate her craning over his shoulder.

Elissa thought he wouldn't have snapped if it hadn't been supremely obvious that Lin was only a slow learner with the things that didn't interest her. Everything to do with actually
flying
the ship, she'd picked up so fast it didn't seem possible.

Even after all these weeks, Elissa sometimes found herself taken aback by how easily her twin could work out anything technological—and how difficult she found it to remember the social norms that came instinctively to everyone else on the crew.

But then, when you'd grown up in a secret government-run facility, when you'd been taught that you weren't even human, but a “nonhuman human-sourced entity”—a
Spare
—how could you end up like a normal person?

The
Phoenix
banked, sharply, as Cadan pulled her out of her glide.

“What are you doing?” said Lin, still—just—managing not to lean over, sitting determinedly upright in her seat. “I thought we were going down to the spaceport.”

Cadan pulled the
Phoenix
away from even the perimeter of the city, the desert plateau swooping below them. “They've made it a no-fly zone.”

“You mean because there's no space to land?” Lin said.

Cadan shook his head. “No. That wouldn't warrant a no-fly order.” He made a noise of irritation at his own mistake, pulling up an info-screen. “I
thought
air-traffic control was slow in responding. Turns out it's because they're not intending to respond. They've closed off airspace over the whole city. The spaceport's shut down.”

“We saw no orbital patrols on the way in,” Markus, the head—and now the only—technician, said quietly from his seat next to Elissa. He was one of the three crew members who'd remained when Cadan had discovered that Elissa and Lin were fugitives from the Sekoian authorities, when he'd made the decision to help them escape his own government, when he'd given the whole crew the opportunity to leave.

Cadan didn't look around, but his head came up a little, alert. “You think that's why?”

“We could already guess they were overstretched. It makes sense, don't you think?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

No orbital patrols.
Something inside Elissa tightened. When she and Lin had fled Sekoia, the authorities had pursued them, forcing them eventually to seek refuge on the planet Sanctuary, the headquarters of the Interplanetary League. There, Lin had been given full human status, and the Sekoian government's treatment of her—and of the other Spares—had been judged illegal under interplanetary law. The Interplanetary League had deposed the Sekoian government and instituted a planetary takeover.

Elissa had already known they were coming back to a planet with a disrupted social order, a planet with military law imposed on it. A planet that, when it had lost the ability
to use the Spares' psychokinetic powers, had also lost the top secret superfuel that had powered its ships into hyperspeed. A planet that no longer had a long-distance spaceflight industry of its own. It was why she and Lin were returning, to offer Lin's electrokinesis, enhanced by their telepathic link, to support the spaceflight industry, to try to stem the slide toward planetary disaster.

BOOK: Unravel
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