Authors: Lee Strauss,Elle Strauss
“Are you talking about humanoids?” I remembered the one that
almost caught Zoe and me breaking into an office at Sleiman Tower in Sol City.
“Humanoids are of the devil,” Finn said after a sip. “A spawn
of Satan to do the devil’s work.”
“We have to take ‘em out,” Ike said, setting his empty glass
down hard on the table.
“No, Ike.” Finn paused long enough to refill both their
glasses. “We don’t believe in violence. Not even against machines. Vengeance
belongs to the Lord.”
Ike’s eyes were black in the dark room and scary-looking.
“They’ll kill us, Finn,” he spewed. “You know they will. Kill us all.”
“Humanoids are programmed by men,” Simon said with a soothing voice,
looking Ike in the eye. “They’ll only do what we tell them to do.”
“Like start a war?” Mr. Galloway said. He’d been so quiet; I’d
almost forgotten he was there.
Simon shook his head. “That won’t happen. We have the Global
Peace Policy now.”
Ike looked a Finn. “Your boy’s a damn fool!”
“Now watch your mouth, Ike.”
The room went quiet and each man attended to his drink. I
sipped mine as I pondered what was going on here. Obviously, not all the
members of this sect agreed on doctrine. Unrest simmered under the veneer of a
Finn moved to the corner cabinet and locked it up, then shoved
the key into the sock of his right foot. “Morning comes early.”
There was a grunting of consensus as each one shifted their
chairs and tucked in flyaway shirt-tails.
I hung back as they all left, wanting to see Zoe before we
headed to bed. I caught her leaving the kitchen in a huff. I whispered to her
as we stood in the darkness by the foot of the stairs, “How’s it going?”
“This place is bloody archaic and sexist.” She pulled off her
Modesty is a virtue that would serve you well
,” she mimicked.
I suppressed a grin. “So…not so good?”
“No. They have to fetch the water and then start a fire in the
oven to heat it. It takes five years just to do the dishes!”
“Calm down. They’re simple, but generous people. Kind enough to
take us in. Tomorrow we’ll go to Marley, get the battery recharged then leave.”
Hannah Blake stood at the top of the stairs. An oil lantern
swayed in her hand and cast an eerie, ghostly glow over her face. “Zoe?” she
called. “We’re waiting for you.”
Zoe hesitated before saying quietly, “See you in the morning.”
I watched her as she lifted her skirts and climbed the steps. I
wasn’t used to seeing her in dresses, and even though the attire was
old-fashioned, I found her alluring. I wished I could snatch her away, wrap my
arms around her narrow shoulders and hold her tight.
I shook it off, frustrated by how easily Zoe Vanderveen affected
me. I reminded myself that despite her tough and angry demeanor, she was
delicate and vulnerable. I darted out into the cold air to clear my brain and
headed for the outhouses. The wind blew the rain at sharp angles and I wished I’d
grabbed one of those coats that hung by the door. I used the facilities in the
dark and then pushed back through the storm, happy to see a stack of towels
sitting by the back door. I patted myself dry as I went down the hall of the
main level until I found the guys’ room.
I peeled off my wet clothes and slid between the sheets on the
cot. It was lumpy, but at least it was clean. I folded my arms over my chest
and tried to relax. Despite how tired I was, I couldn’t settle into sleep. The
other guys didn’t have the same problem, and as I feared, the room soon filled
with the soft roar of snoring.
My mind went to my younger brothers, Jonathon and Davis. A deep
longing and sense of regret settled over me. I missed them, and I longed to be
home to help raise them. To reassure them that everything would be all right
somehow. My heart pinched with a familiar stabbing grief at my mother’s memory,
wishing so desperately that she was still with us. Our cousin Skye was a great
guardian, though. At least the boys had her.
I wondered what my dad would think if he could see me now. Was
he watching from heaven, shaking his head wondering how I got myself into this
mess? Or would he be proud of the measures I’d taken to protect the girl I’d fallen
The whistling wind grew quiet, and I got up to check on the
storm. Looked like the rain had stopped and a fat slice of the moon peeked out
from behind the blackened clouds.
A flicker of light caught my eye. It swung slightly, like a
lantern. At first I thought someone was heading for the outhouses, but the
light drifted in the opposite direction. There was enough moonlight for me to
make out the tall, wiry figure heading alone into the forest.
What was Brother Finnegan Ranger up to?
The rain picked up steam again in the early morning hours,
dumping from the sky in sheets. The chores still needed to be done and this
time I was assigned barn duty, as in cleaning up manure, a task I found wasn’t
all that unpleasant.
I didn’t get to see Zoe until we met up at the breakfast table.
She frowned when she saw me and her eyes darted to the storm raging outside
through the windows. I shook my head, there was no way we could ride a carriage
into Marley in this weather.
We sat across the table from each other again, and hardly said
two words. After so much time being alone together the last few days, it felt
weird to be separated in this way by the will of the commune.
Some of us were now gathered in the common room, given chores
that could be done safely indoors. Rebecca and Hannah worked on a quilt that
hung over a mobile, wooden rail. Zoe sat in a plain, straight-back chair across
the room from me. Hannah had given her a needle and thread, along with a dress
that needed hemming. She threw me a helpless look and I knew she’d never sewn
anything before in her life.
“Ouch,” Zoe said again after pricking her finger for the
“You’re not supposed to sew your fingers together,” I said.
Rebecca stared at Zoe with a wide-eyed look of astonishment. I
thought she was surprised to hear Zoe speak to me like that.
Zoe took a break from stabbing her fingers to stare out the
window. Condensation had built up on the inside and she ran a finger across it.
Cold and wet, like the weather. A log in the fire popped and she turned to gaze
at the glowing embers.
Taylor blew in through the front door with an armful of wood.
He stomped his feet and shook his head, and raindrops fell to the mat under his
“Hello, ladies,” he said, then nodded at me. I didn’t nod back.
Taylor stacked the wood in the corner before bending to attend
the fire. His eyes kept veering toward Zoe, and she pretended to be hard at
work on her hemming job.
Her gaze rested on his biceps that bulged from under his shirt
when he removed his jacket.
I cleared my throat, and her eyes sprung back to me. I nodded
sharply as if to say,
what are you doing?
Taylor seemed clueless to the stress he created between us. He
stood in front of Zoe and stared at the bandage on her right hand.
“What happened there?” he asked.
No one had brought up the subject of her wound—caused by the
chip removal— at least not to me. It wouldn’t keep her from any of the chores
besides washing dishes.
“Sewing,” Zoe answered. “I’m all thumbs.”
“Let me see it,” Taylor said.
My pulse jumped as she held out her hand. Would he guess at
what caused the injury? I didn’t believe he was as sheltered as he’d like us to
think. He pulled the bandage back to peek.
“It’s red,” he said, locking eyes with Zoe. “It might be
infected. I’ll get something for you.”
I stared hard at her when he left the room, but she refused to
look back at me.
“Where are you two from?” Rebecca asked casually, a cloth
square blocking her face.
I pulled my gaze from Zoe. “We’d rather not say.”
“Oh, sure,” she said. “I was just making conversation. We don’t
get many visitors, and certainly none shrouded in so much mystery. I mean,
you’re not married or siblings, yet you’re traveling
“It’s not as exciting as it sounds,” Zoe said. Her words
stabbed my heart and I let out a long sigh.
Taylor returned with a cloth and antiseptic. He got on his
knees, slowly removed the bandage and petted Zoe’s hand. He made an ordinary
nursing task look sensual and Zoe blushed.
I stood abruptly, accidentally knocking my bucket of cream,
spilling some of it. Taylor studied me over his shoulder. “Careful there. I got
up early to milk that.”
“It’s okay, Noah,” Hannah said. “Accidents happen.”
“I’ll get a mop,” Rebecca said, leaving the room.
I pierced Taylor with a warning glare, hoping to send a
Keep your hands off Zoe.
Maybe he got it, since he excused himself, saying, “More wood
Zoe stared at me. “What the hell was that?”
Rebecca stood with the mop poised midair and gasped.
“I could ask you the same thing.” I shook my head and sat back
down. “You’ve changed.”
“Of course I’ve changed,” Zoe said with a clipped voice. “My
mind was messed with. My memories—”
“Stop.” I shot her a cautioning look. I couldn’t believe how
careless she’d just been. Hannah pulled a fabric square up to her face, and
Rebecca mopped the spot on the floor with strong strokes, but I worried they’d
heard too much already.
I put all my frustration into churning.
Sunlight suddenly sprayed into the room. Out the window I saw a
patch of blue sky. The storm had blown over.
“There’s still time to take that trip into Marley,” I said.
Rebecca ran to the window, stood beside me and peered out.
“I’ll tell Taylor.”
Marley, Utah, was bigger than I’d expected. It had a number of
modern buildings made of glass and steel, roadsides blemished with digital
billboards and a busy MagLev pod transit system. Spindly pine trees dotted open
patches that crawled up to the snow line on the mountain sides. I pulled the
jacket the Rangers had loaned me a little tighter.
Our horse and carriage apparatus stuck out like a scene from a
time warp film. Most people ignored us but some slung disparaging names. Even
away from the carriage Rebecca and Zoe stood out as odd with bulky fall coats
over their long, plain dresses, plus bonnet covered heads.
Our first stop was at a rundown superstore where Rebecca and
Taylor bought groceries with cash. Marley wasn’t LA and this place was no high
I turned to Zoe. Her expression was long and forlorn. I was
tempted to stroke her jaw, dip down to stare into her eyes, say something witty
to make her smile.
Instead I stuffed my hands deeper into my pockets and asked,
“Do you need anything?”
She stared at the red wound on her hand and her eyes darkened .
“I can’t get money anymore, can I?”
Without her chip, Zoe couldn’t access her trust fund or the
weekly allowance her dad gave her.
I shook my head and grabbed the back of my neck. All we had was
the cash I’d taken from her account, and we’d have to make it stretch.
She scratched her forehead up underneath her bonnet. “Do you
know yet where we’re going, once we get a battery?”
“Not yet.” It wasn’t because I hadn’t been thinking hard about
our next move. I was certain that Grant, the goon Senator Vanderveen had tasked
to return with my severed head on a platter, was busy tracking us down.
The next stop was the recharging station. I lifted the battery,
about the size and weight of a lap dog, out of the carriage and into the shop.
I felt something wet fall on my forehead. Not a drop like rain,
but light and flakey.
I tilted my head up to the grey sky and gaped at the millions
of white flakes that were falling.
Zoe’s mouth opened to an
her eyes sparkling. “I’ve
never seen snow before.”
Taylor frowned. “It’s only September. Really early for snow.”
Rebecca tugged on his sleeve. “We have to get home, before we
get stuck here.”
“She’s right,” he said. “Make this quick.”
I headed into the shop, and they followed me to get out of the
Inside there was a WebGlass on the wall that was streaming the
news. A well-dressed broadcaster was mid report.
“—unprecedented snowfall warning for the north and mid-western
states. Global warming is once again being blamed for extreme climate change—”
The outside glass reflected like a mirror. Zoe examined her
“God, I look awful.”
“Please,” Rebecca said. “Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
Zoe shot her a look. “Okay,
Rebecca huffed and turned her back to the mirror. “Reflective
surfaces promote pride and vanity. The puffing up of self is the opposite of
Zoe mumbled, “Whatever.”
“Can I help you?” the attendant asked. He sounded like he had a
“Yeah, I need a—” I stopped mid sentence and understood why the
attendant’s voice sounded strange. It was a humanoid. It was fashioned after a
man, but its skin was too perfect and its expression too bland.
“Leave at once,” Taylor said to Rebecca.
She scooted out the door. “Are you coming?”
“Be right there,” Taylor said. He turned to us, “We can’t do
business here. Let’s go.”
“Look, I need this recharged,” I said. “Then we can leave you
good people in peace. If you have a problem with
, wait for us
Taylor hesitated then said, “Five minutes.”