Authors: C. K. Kelly Martin
Tags: #Romance, #General Fiction, #Suspense, #Science Fiction, #Young Adult
AL SO BY C . K . KELLY MARTI N
I Know It’s Over
The Lighter Side of Life and Death
My Beating Teenage Heart
One Lonely Degree
c . k . ke l l y m a r t i n
R AN D O M H O U S E N E W YO R K
For my mom and dad, who took my brother and me down to Philadelphia for Live Aid in 1985 because they knew how important the music was to us. Thanks for always getting it!
I dreamt about you last night and I fel out of bed twice.
— The Smiths, “Reel Around the Fountain”
He who controls the present controls the past.
He who controls the past controls the future.
— George Orwel
When I’ve wailed for so long and so hard that my throat is in shreds and my fi ngernails ripped and fi ngertips bloody from clawing at the door, I collapse in front of it curled up like a dead cat I saw on an otherwise spotless sidewalk as a child once. The cat’s fur was matted with dried streaks of deep red but mercifully its eyes were shut. Its fetal position posture looked like a cruel joke— a feeble attempt to shield itself from a threat it couldn’t outrun and couldn’t fi ght.
I’d never seen anything as grisly in real life, and Joanna, my minder and my parents’ house servant, pulled me swiftly away from it with one hand, her other cupped to the side of my face in an attempt to obscure my view. But you can’t unsee something once you’ve seen it. Not without a memory wipe anyway.
Joanna wouldn’t remember that dead cat anymore but I haven’t forgotten. I remember more than most people, it seems. Like that Latham hasn’t stopped being my brother just because he’s sick. The biologists will fi nd a cure for him and the others any day now, and I can’t believe my father, with all his power and infl uence, could allow his only son to be taken from him—
— to be extinguished forever.
Latham was right. My father isn’t any good. He only pretended and I was too naive and weak to want to see through his act. Until now.
The anger churning inside me raises me to my knees again, my fi ngers scraping the bloodied door of my bedroom as I shout, in a voice as hoarse and unforgiving as your worst memory, “Murderer. Latham’s blood is on your hands.”
I tried begging my father for hours before this.
don’t let them do it. Make them hold on to Latham until there’s
There’s always a cure… .
You said you wouldn’t ever let anything hurt us. You boasted
that this was the best country in the world and that you were
almost as powerful as the president herself.
But no matter how I pleaded or railed, my father and mother stayed mute downstairs. Their silence was deafen-ing. It screamed that I was the only one who believes there’s nothing more important than saving Latham. The one who doesn’t merely
more than most people, but
more than the majority of them too.
Sometimes I know things before they happen. For all the biologists’ knowledge, that’s something they can’t fully explain, and as I sink to the ground again, shrieking that I hate my father and mother with all my heart and that they should hate themselves for this too, I see, in a secret sliver of my mind, the SecRos coming for me, dispassionate and unrelenting.
My parents must have sent for them and they’ll be here soon.
Any minute now.
I scramble to my feet, exhausted but frantic, and scan the room for some means of escape or at least something to defend myself with. There’s nothing … nothing. My parents already have me on lockdown, a force fi eld encasing my bedroom. I might as well be trapped inside a steel box with only my bare fi sts to defend myself against unyielding machines.
I was never someone who worried about the SecRos’
strength and what it can steal from those of us who are fl esh and blood; I believed they existed to keep us safe and were only following orders that someone else would have to obey in their place. It turns out that I’ve been wrong about a lot of things, but not about Latham. How can he and the others possibly be any threat if they’re locked away? He only needs more time. Surely an antidote must be nearly within reach.
But there’s no time for my conjecture now either. I do the only thing I can think of to conceal myself— I tear one of the sheets from my bed and fi x the quilt over it. Then I slide underneath my bed clutching the sheet and wait for the SecRos to arrive.
First, there’s a knock. From the other side of the door my father says in a reedy voice, “This is for your own good, Freya. No one’s going to hurt you, I promise. Please trust me on that much.”
I don’t reply. The time of talking things over was fi nished the second he let them take my brother.
I hear the door swing open and see my father’s shoes from my place under the bed, then the black boots of the SecRos entering my bedroom. I don’t have the luxury of a moment’s hesitation, I’m hauling myself forward in a fl ash, out from under the bed, my wounded fi ngers gripping the sheet. I toss it out ahead of me, unfurling it like a picnic blanket in an old-time movie, only higher and more furiously.
The SecRos are fast but they’ve probably never had anyone throw anything as ridiculous as a sheet at them before, and while the two of them are untangling themselves, as my father numbly watches, I sprint out the open doorway and into the arms of a third SecRo. His hands clamp on to my arms; he swings me into the air like I’m no heavier than the sheet his fellow Ros had to fi ght their way out from under.
My fi sts pound at his arms, my fi ngers scraping at his sleeves and underneath to the fl esh that isn’t really fl esh. I kick his pelvis— hard enough, I’m sure, to bring a human male to his knees. The SecRo feels no pain. He stares blankly into my eyes and then past me, to my father.
“Instructions, sir?” the SecRo asks as my limbs fl ail.
“Just go,” my father commands. “Take them now. Escorting them to the destination is your highest priority, you understand?”
“We understand,” the SecRos reply in unison.
The SecRo who has ahold of me marches through the upper hallway, fl anked by the other two SecRos, one ahead of us now and one behind. Downstairs my mother joins us, her face waxy and her hair lank. “Where are they taking me?”
I ask, ready to beg one last time. “Don’t let them take me, Mom.”
“Us,” my mother corrects. “They’re taking us.”
“Evacuation,” she continues as the SecRo carts me out-doors into the rain, my mother a step behind us. “Stop struggling and save your energy, Freya.”
I watch her climb willingly into the military vehicle parked in front of the 152-year- old house she has always professed to love but doesn’t stop to look back at. The fi rst SecRo climbs in after her, and the one holding me passes me inside, where the waiting SecRo grips my arms. They ache in a way that tells me the SecRos’ tenacious hold is leaving bruises, not that they’d care about that— bruises heal quickly, and they’re under orders.
“What do you mean?” I ask my mother.
“The Toxo,” she says listlessly. “They expect it to spread quickly.”
Then they aren’t close to a cure after all. There’s no chance for Latham. Maybe what was left of him has already been extinguished. I begin to cry again, silently this time, as we pull away from the house. I stare at the upper window that was Latham’s for our whole lives and suddenly I spy something else in that secret sliver of my brain, something my mother hasn’t told me yet. A dark void that stretches beyond the edges of my existence.
“Where are they taking us?” I ask, my voice breaking in exhaustion. Dread erupts onto my skin in the form of goose bumps. “What’s happening?”
Too late. It’s already done. I didn’t see the needle coming and now the SecRo is pulling it out of my arm, its former contents swimming into my bloodstream.
No. Hold up your head. Don’t give in.
Latham’s swimming inside my head now too.
he whispers, his voice strangled but his eyes still his own.
I will, Latham. I promise.
I close my eyes, unable to feel my body any longer.
There’s nothing but the two of us, Latham and me, and the promise I make him again and again as I slip away from consciousness and towards the void that will seek to strip me of everything I am in the name of salvation.
o n e
When I wake up I have a pounding headache behind my eyes just like I’ve had every morning lately. At fi rst my eyelids refuse to open fully, and when they do the weak winter light wafting through my window burns my retinas.
My brain feels sluggish and confused as I take in my surroundings: the white chest of drawers and matching mirror across from my bed; a collection of freshly laundered clothes folded neatly on top of the dresser, waiting for me to put them away; and a wooden desk with an open fashion magazine lying across it. Sometimes it takes me ten seconds or so to remember where I am and what’s brought me here … and as soon as I remember I want to forget again.
My mom says the headache’s probably a remnant from the bad fl u we all caught fl ying back from New Zealand, but the other day I overheard her friend Nancy whisper, as the two of them peeled potatoes in the kitchen, that it could be a grief headache. The kind that strikes when you suddenly lose your father to a gas explosion and the three-quarters of you left in the family have to move back to a place you barely remember.
Today is unlike the other days since we’ve been back because today I start school here. A Canadian high school with regular Canadian kids whose fathers didn’t die in explo-sions in a foreign country.
I’ve gone to school in Hong Kong, Argentina, Spain and most recently New Zealand, but Canada— the country where I was born— is the one that feels alien. When my grandfather hugged us each in turn at the airport, murmuring “Welcome home,” I felt as though I was in the arms of a stranger. His watery blue eyes, hawklike nose and lined forehead looked just how I remembered, yet he was different in a way I couldn’t pinpoint. And it wasn’t only him.
was different— more dynamic and distinct than the images in my head. Crisp. Limitless.
The shock, probably. The shock and the grief. I’m not myself.
I squint as I kick off the bedcovers, knowing that the headache will dull once I’ve eaten something. While I’m dragging myself down to the kitchen, the voices of my mother and ten-year- old sister fl it towards me.
“I feel hot,” Olivia complains. “Maybe I shouldn’t go today. What if I’m still contagious?”
My mother humors Olivia and stretches her palm along her forehead as I shuffl e into the kitchen. “You’re not hot,”
she replies, her gaze fl icking over to me. “You’ll be fi ne. It’s probably just new-school jitters.”
Olivia glances my way too, her spoon poised to slip back into her cereal. Her top teeth scrape over her bottom lip as she dips her spoon into her cornfl akes and slowly stirs. “I’m not nervous. I just don’t want to go.”