Authors: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Girls & Women
For A, B, and C
For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.
—John Winthrop, founding member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in his work
A Model of Christian Charity,
Through all the Empyréan. Down they fell,
Driven headlong from the pitch of Heaven …
The other ship hung in the sky like a pendant, silver in the ether light cast by the nebula. Waverly and Kieran, lying together on their mattress of hay bales, took turns peering at it through a spyglass. They knew it was a companion vessel to theirs, but out here, in the vastness of space, it could have been as tiny as a OneMan or as immense as a star—there were no points of reference.
“Our ships are so ugly,” Waverly said. “I’ve seen pictures, but in person…”
“I know,” said Kieran, taking the spyglass from her. “It looks like it has cancer or something.”
The other ship, the New Horizon, was exactly the same misshapen design as the Empyrean. It was egg shaped, covered with domes that housed the different ship systems, making it look like a Jerusalem artichoke, the kind Mrs. Stillwell always dropped off with Kieran’s family after the fall harvest. The engines released a bluish glow that illuminated the particles of the nebula, causing the occasional spark to fly when the heat of the engines ignited a pocket of hydrogen. Of course, the ships were accelerating too quickly to be harmed by these small explosions.
“Do you think they’re like us?” she asked him.
Kieran tugged at one of her dark brown curls. “Sure they are. They have the same mission as we do.”
“They must want something from us,” Waverly said, “or they wouldn’t be here.”
“What could they want?” he said to reassure her. “Everything we have, they have.”
Inwardly, Kieran admitted that it was very strange they could see the ship at all. By all rights, the New Horizon should be trillions of miles ahead of them, considering it was launched a full year before the Empyrean, forty-three years ago. The ships had never been close enough to get a glimpse of each other. For some reason the New Horizon had reduced its speed to allow the Empyrean to catch up. In fact, given the distance and the velocity at which both ships traveled, it must have decelerated years ago—a radical deviation from the mission plan.
The other ship was a source of excitement aboard the Empyrean. Some people had made large welcome signs with big, exuberant lettering and hung them in the portholes pointed toward the other ship. Others were suspicious and whispered that the crew must have some disease, otherwise why wouldn’t the Captain let them come aboard? Captain Jones had made an announcement soon after the ship appeared, telling the crew not to be alarmed, that he and the other Captain were in negotiations and all would be explained. But days had gone by, and nothing happened. Soon the feeling among the crew had changed from excitement to restlessness and finally to fear.
The New Horizon was all Kieran’s parents talked about. The night before, Kieran had quietly spooned vegetable soup into his mouth, listening to them chatter about it.
“I don’t understand why the Captain doesn’t make another announcement,” said his mother, Lena, running nervous red fingers through her dark gold hair. “The Central Council should at least tell us what’s happening, shouldn’t they?”
“I’m sure they will when they understand the situation,” Kieran’s father replied irritably. “We don’t have anything to fear.”
“I never said I was
Paul,” Lena said with a look at Kieran that communicated just how afraid she actually was. “I just think it’s strange, is all.”
“Kieran,” his father asked in his firm way, “has Captain Jones mentioned the ship to you?”
Kieran shook his head, though he had noticed the Captain seemed more preoccupied lately, and his palsy was worse—it made his hands tremble all the time. But he hadn’t said a word about the New Horizon’s mysterious appearance. “Of course he wouldn’t say anything to
about it,” Kieran said.
“Well,” his mother said as she tapped thoughtfully at her teacup, “nothing explicit, of course, but…”
“There was one thing,” Kieran said slowly, enjoying the way his parents were hanging on his every word. “I went into his office too early yesterday, and he was just shutting off the com station and talking to himself.”
“What was he saying?” Lena asked.
“I only caught one word. He said ‘liars.’”
His parents looked at each other with real concern. The lines in Paul’s face deepened, and Lena’s teeth worried at her bottom lip, making Kieran sorry he’d said anything.
Now, feeling warm and safe with Waverly, he decided he would ask today before his broadcast. The Captain might not like his questions, but Kieran thought he could get something out of him. Kieran was, after all, Captain Jones’s favorite.
That was for later. He’d had a reason for asking Waverly to meet him here, and there was no sense putting it off, no matter how anxious it made him. He forced his breathing to quiet.
“Waverly,” he said, wishing his voice were deeper, “we’ve been dating a while now.”
“Ten months,” she said, smiling. “Longer than that if you count kisses in grade school.”
She cupped his jaw in her hand. He loved her hands and the way they felt warm and soft. He loved her long arms, her strong bones beneath olive skin, and the silken hairs that wandered up her forearms. He lay back on the hay bale and took a deep breath. “You know how I can’t stand you,” he said.
“I can’t stand you, either,” she whispered in his ear.
He pulled her closer. “I was thinking of taking our contest of wills to the next level.”
“In a manner of speaking,” he said, his voice vulnerable and small.
She was unreadable in the way she looked at him, waiting, saying nothing.
He drew away from her, leaned on an elbow. “I want to do this right. I don’t want to just jump into bed with you.”
“You want to marry me?”
He held his breath. He hadn’t quite asked her, not all the way, but …
“I’m not even sixteen,” she said.
“Yes, but you know what the doctors say.”
That was the wrong thing to say. Her face tightened, almost imperceptibly, but he saw it.
“Who cares about doctors?”
“Don’t you want children?” he asked, biting his bottom lip.
Waverly smiled slowly, deliciously. “I know you do.”
“Of course. It’s our duty!” he said earnestly.
“Our duty,” she echoed, not meeting his eyes.
“Well, I think it’s time we think about the future.” Her huge eyes snapped onto his. “
This wasn’t the way he’d meant to ask her.
She looked at him, her expression wooden, until a slow smile crept across her face. “Wouldn’t you rather marry Felicity Wiggam? She’s prettier than me.”
“No, she isn’t,” Kieran said automatically.
Waverly studied him. “Why do you look so worried?”
“Because,” he said, breathless.
She drew his face to hers, stroking his cheek with the chubby ends of her fingers, and she whispered, “Don’t worry.”
“So you will?”
“Someday,” she said playfully. “Probably.”
“When?” he asked, his voice more insistent than he meant.
“Someday,” she said before kissing him gently on the tip of his nose, on his bottom lip, on his ear. “I thought you didn’t like that I’m not religious.”
“That can change,” he teased, though he knew this wouldn’t be easy. Waverly never came to the poorly attended ship’s services, but she might if the ship had a pastor, he thought. The few spiritual people on board took turns delivering the sermon during their meetings, and some of them could be kind of dull. It was too bad, because otherwise Waverly might see things differently, understand the value of a contemplative life.
“Maybe when you have kids,” he said, “you’ll care more about God.”
“Maybe you’re the one who’ll change.” One corner of her mouth curled into a smirk. “I’m planning on making you a heathen like the rest of us.”
He laughed and laid his head on her breastbone to listen to her heartbeat, breathing in time to it. The sound always relaxed him, made him want to sleep.
At sixteen and fifteen, they were the two oldest kids aboard the Empyrean, and their relationship had felt natural and even seemed expected by the rest of the crew. But even without the social pressure, Waverly would have been Kieran’s first choice. She was tall and slender, and her hair draped around her face like a mahogany frame. She was a watchful person, and intelligent, a trait that showed in the deliberate way her dark eyes found their mark and held it steady. She had a way of seeing into people and understanding their motives that Kieran found almost unnerving, though it was a quality he respected. She was definitely the best girl on board. And if he was chosen to succeed Captain Jones, as everyone assumed he would be, Waverly would make the perfect wife.
“Oh no!” She pointed at the clock over the granary doorway. “Aren’t you late?”
“Damn it!” Kieran said. He wriggled off the hay bale and slipped into his shoes. “I’ve got to go.”
He gave her a quick kiss, and she rolled her eyes.
Kieran ran through the humid air of the orchard, jogging between rows of cherry and peach trees, and took a shortcut through the fish hatchery, enjoying the spray of salt water on his face. His feet pounded the metal grating, but he skidded to a stop when Mrs. Druthers appeared out of nowhere, carrying a tub of minnows. “No running in the hatchery!” she scolded.
But he was already gone, racing now through the dense caverns of green wheat, where harvested sheaths hung from hooks on the walls and ceiling, trembling with the shudder of the engines. It took five minutes to reach the end of the wheat fields and then a quick jaunt through the humid mushroom chamber, before a seemingly endless elevator ride up to the Captain’s suite, where he was supposed to begin recording his show in four minutes.