Black moon, p.25
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       Black Moon, p.25

           Romina Russell
 
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  His eyes grow shiny, and his nose reddens. He’s been holding this in for so long. Stan hasn’t talked about the day Dad died yet, and deep down I know I haven’t pressed him because I’m not sure I want to hear it.

  “When we survived the meteor shower, I thought the worst was over. Lodestars found us by the remains of home, and we had the chance to evacuate to an underwater shelter. But Dad and I chose to stay on the surface and help out. I kept thinking of Hurricane Hebe and how I found that infant in the wreckage. And I thought searching for survivors was the right thing to do. I didn’t think about what the destruction to our moons would do to the ocean’s tides, and once the tsunamis started, there were no more evacuation ships. The water pulled Dad under, and I dove in. I tried to find him, but. . . .”

  “It’s okay,” I whisper, tears streaming from my eyes. “It wasn’t your fault.”

  “I know,” he says, clearing his throat and blinking away his pain, the way I’ve seen Nishi do.

  “I miss Dad, too, Stan,” I say softly. “So much. I wish I’d talked to him more, asked him more questions, gotten to know him better.” I wait for my brother to say something, but there’s a shift in the air, like his guard has shot back up.

  He’s letting himself feel his sadness, but he’s not dealing with it.

  “That’s why it matters that Mom’s still here,” he says, adopting a parental tone again. “It means you don’t have to carry the same regrets you have about Dad. You can talk to her or yell at her if you want to. The important part is she’s here . . . and you’re no longer alone.”

  It’s strange how he says you’re no longer alone instead of we, and I say, “I’m not alone because I have you, Stan.”

  The way he won’t meet my gaze reminds me of how he was acting the last time I tried to have a heart-to-heart with him on Pelagio. He sits up and asks in a low voice, “What if I can’t be everything for you, Rho?”

  I swallow back the nausea his words awakened. “What do you mean?”

  “I mean that I need to be my own person, too. I’ve always felt like I’m responsible for the people I love—you, Dad, Jewel, Aryll. And I need a break from lugging that weight with me everywhere. For once I just want to feel like I can do what I want without letting someone down.”

  Stanton has always been such a natural at taking care of us that it never really hit me that I wasn’t the only child in our household who had to grow up too quickly. When she abandoned us, our mother left the parenting duties to Stan. Our whole life he’s felt responsible for Dad and me because when he was just ten years old, he was explicitly assigned that role.

  “I’m sorry,” I whisper, fighting against the water welling in my eyes. “I wasn’t there for you when she left us. Not the way you were for me. I didn’t know until today how much you’ve been suffering, Stan, or how much I’ve asked of you our whole lives.”

  “When I was a kid,” he says gently, “and Mom gave up trying to train me, I felt . . . ordinary. A few years later, when the Academy on Elara denied me entrance, I took the rejection as confirmation that I wasn’t meant for greatness. So I finally accepted that I was fated to be a normal person. A caretaker. Someone like Dad.”

  At last he looks at me, and I stare deeply into his pale green eyes, so identical to mine.

  “Rho, my whole life, you’re the only person who’s ever made me feel special.”

  Tears tickle my cheeks, but I don’t wipe them. “You’re the best person I know,” I say.

  “Then let me be that person. Believing in me is the best gift you’ve ever given me, so don’t take it away. Just try trusting me the way I trust you, and let me be me.”

  I want to tell him this isn’t him, though.

  He’s walling off his feelings so he won’t have to explore them. He’s so hurt by Aryll’s betrayal that he doesn’t want to open his heart again, so he’s rushing headfirst into anger and suspicion and action because they give him a sense of control. I want to say all of this because I’ve been there myself.

  But I’m depleted. Nishi’s gone, Kassandra’s back, Hysan’s keeping secrets . . . and I need my brother. I want to be close to him again. So I don’t argue.

  Stan pushes the bowl of dried fruit toward me, and I reach in and stuff a piece in my mouth. It’s the first thing I’ve eaten all day, and its sweetness warms my belly. I take a second piece, and soon my muscles begin to relax, and yawns roll through me like ocean waves. I didn’t sleep at all last night.

  At the memory of last night, tension returns to my body. I can’t believe how close Hysan and I were just hours ago. As if he can tell where my thoughts have strayed, Stan says, “You should talk to him, Rho. I know I wasn’t his biggest fan at first, but I was wrong to doubt him. He loves you. He’s proven it time after time.”

  I shake my head. “Even if I could find a way to forgive him, I still don’t see how I can ever trust him again. He’s too comfortable with his secrets. Whether or not he loves me, he still chooses to operate alone . . . and I was a fool to think he could change his nature.”

  Stan sighs. “Why don’t you try closing your eyes for a little while? I’ll be here when you wake up.”

  “You can go if you want,” I say, pulling off my black coat before lying back and resting my head on one of the pillows. “I don’t want you to feel obligated to stay. Plus, you’ll be bored watching me sleep.”

  “No, I won’t, because I’ll be borrowing your Wave.” He opens my golden clamshell, and holographic menus beam out. “See?” he says, sitting up beside me. “There’s a selfish motive at the heart of all my selfless moves.”

  I want to suggest he call Jewel, but I don’t want to get chewed out again for being naïve, so I pull the blanket over me. I don’t zip the cocoon so that we can share the bed.

  My brother shuts off the lights, and my Wave’s blue holograms dance through the air. I watch him click through them, pulling up newsfeeds and messages, and slowly I begin to doze off. I’m semi-asleep when I hear voices outside the cabin door.

  They’re muddled and indistinct, and at first I think they’re part of a dream. Then a deep baritone says, “You’re not going in there.”

  “You don’t tell me what to do.” Hysan’s voice sounds so dark, I almost don’t recognize it.

  I feel Stan’s weight easing off the bed. I try to keep listening, but my consciousness is sinking, descending deeper with every breath.

  “You’re not getting past me, Libran. But I’ve been looking forward to seeing you try.”

  When the cabin door opens, my eyelids are too heavy to lift, and the last thing I hear is my brother saying, “This clearly has more to do with your feelings for each other than for my sister, so take it somewhere else. If either of you were actually concerned about Rho, you’d shut the Helios up and let her get some sleep.”

  Then I hear the door shut, and darkness swallows me.

  28

  WHEN I OPEN MY EYES, Stan is passed out beside me, my Wave facedown on his chest. A carousel of blue holograms floats around us.

  I close the Wave and the screens vanish, then I slip out of bed and crack open the cabin door. The ship’s dim lighting is a sign that everyone is sleeping, so I venture out for a barefoot stroll.

  When I enter the crystal-capped nose, I spy a tall figure with white hair sitting at the control helm. “Lord Neith!”

  He doesn’t react to my greeting, and when I come around to face him, I see that his quartz eyes are open wide and unblinking, reflecting a scroll of unintelligible code that’s streaming from one of the ship’s holographic screens. It looks like Neith and ’Nox are syncing.

  The sight is unnerving, so I head back toward my cabin, only my feet carry me to a different door. It’s the room where Nishi stayed the last time we were here . . . the place where we held each other through our loss.

  I hear a low murmuring from inside the cabin, and
I press my ear to the door. A girl’s voice is reciting the Zodai chant.

  “Hail mighty Helios, womb of heaven. Star maker, heat giver, doorway from death to light. Preserve our Houses now and in the ages to come.”

  When Pandora is finished, I knock lightly on her door; after a moment, I hear a low, “Come in.”

  Inside I see Deke’s hologram floating through the air. Pandora unzips her cocoon, and as the bed flattens, I remember Nishi breaking down in my arms while Deke’s ghost said his goodbyes. This room is haunted.

  “Hi,” says Pandora, and I leave the past for the present. She stands at the foot of the bed in a plain nightgown; with her auburn hair pulled back, her amethyst eyes take up most of her ivory face. “How are you?”

  There’s a depth in her delivery that plunges past dullatry; a directness that makes me think of Nishi. “I’m . . .”

  But I can’t talk about any of it, so instead I ask, “Why were you reciting the Zodai chant?”

  She shrugs, but the intensity of her gaze doesn’t falter. “Given what Traxon said, I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask Helios for her protection. But I’d like to do more than pray.”

  “I know. Me too. Have you told anyone about your vision?”

  “Just you.” A faint line forms between her eyebrows. “In Nightwing, visions are sacrosanct. When someone submits a new prophecy to the Clan Elders, they read the stars to confirm it, and then it gets added to our House’s Cosmic Calendar. The more major the prophecy, the more attention is attracts. And in a kingdom of seers, there is no worse affront than Seeing something others can’t.”

  Her voice darkens with her expression. “If I’d submitted this vision, I would have been singled out, tested, questioned, and my whole bloodline would be investigated to be sure we belong in Nightwing. I didn’t want to put my family through that.”

  “I understand.”

  “No, you don’t. I told myself I would just wait for someone else to See the same omen, and then I’d step up to second their vision.” She bows her head, grounding her gaze in shame. “I didn’t want to be first.”

  “You were protecting your family—”

  “If you’d been in my place, you would have spoken up.” Her dusky violet eyes meet mine. “You wouldn’t have left the burden for someone else to bear.”

  While I’m moved by her words, I can’t help thinking of Imogen and how she twisted my message against me. I don’t want to lead Pandora down a dangerous path.

  “I’m not saying I believe in the Last Prophecy or anything,” I say cautiously, “but I think until we learn more, it might be best not to tell anyone what you’ve Seen. Just in case there’s truth to the myth Traxon mentioned, about people who’ve seen the vision disappearing.”

  “I don’t want to stay silent anymore. I want to do something.”

  “Then let’s at least consult someone trustworthy, like Sage Ferez and—” I want to say Hysan, but his name won’t leap off my tongue, so instead I settle for, “a couple of other Guardians. But first, Pisces needs our attention.”

  I turn toward the door to go.

  “Wait—” She walks around to the other side of the bed and pulls out two familiar traveling cases—mine and Nishi’s.

  “I went up to your room and packed your stuff while you were in the reading room, in case there wasn’t time later.”

  I hadn’t even thought about my belongings. I’m still wearing the Aquarian skirt and jacket I picked out in the closet archiver this morning—or yesterday. Time is once again starting to feel like a run-on sentence.

  I must be quiet a long moment because Pandora starts to fill the space with words. “I just figured the both of you had already lost everything you owned, and I didn’t think you should have to go through it again.”

  I suddenly wrap my arms around her, and from the tight way she holds me back, I realize Pandora needed the hug more than I did. I think of what the past few months must have been like for her—being torn from her old life to be tortured and traumatized by terrorists, and yet somehow finding love amid so much darkness. And when we pull away, I dig into my bag, unzipping an inner pocket, and retrieve Mathias’s mother-of-pearl Astralator.

  “Do me a favor,” I say, pressing it into her hand. “Give this back to Mathias for me sometime.”

  Her amethyst eyes gaze into mine, like she intuits the significance of this gesture without needing to know the specifics. “You’re certain?”

  I nod and reach down for the traveling cases, trying to drown the pain that stabs my chest at the sight of Nishi’s familiar lavender levlan bag. Pandora opens the door for me, and as I pass her on my way out, I murmur, “I’m sorry if I’ve caused you heartache.”

  “I’ve survived worse,” she says, and when I turn to look at her, there’s a hint of a smile on her lips. She tips her head down in a small bow and whispers, “When two people are soul-bound, I think it’s natural for the star pulling their strings to sometimes get them a little twisted.”

  I nod, and she whispers, “But that’s why we have free will, Wandering Star—so we can fix fate’s tangles.”

  29

  I REMAIN INSIDE MY CABIN until I feel that we’ve crossed the invisible barrier into Alamar’s gravity, and then I’m too eager for my first glimpse of this world to stay in hiding.

  After a quick ultraviolet shower, I change into my Lodestar suit and peek outside to make sure no one is in the hall before I step out. In the nose, Mathias is manning the helm, and I don’t exhale until I’m sure he’s alone.

  Drying my clammy palms on my pants, I look around at the view through the glass: A colorful, apple-shaped landmass is growing larger, suspended in an ocean of blue water so pale, it looks silver.

  “Hey,” says Mathias. “How are you?”

  “Okay. Is Stan with—her?”

  “I don’t know. The Libran asked me to land the ship so he could finish adjustments to his android. Equinox is small, so we’ve been given clearance to use a private port in the Guardian’s Holy Temple.”

  I remember from my studies that the Holy Temple is the House’s seat of government, and it’s where Prophet Marinda lives. I walk toward the window and lean into its glass, wishing I could fall into the view.

  We’re descending into the southernmost part of Alamar’s apple-shaped continent. I see a coastal community of massive, multi-colored diamonds that look like larger versions of the crystal dome on Elara. Dozens of these Co-Ops are laid out in the curving pattern of a seashell, spiraling to a central point, which must be the Holy Temple.

  Sapphire streets curl around the coils of compounds, looking like wide streams of water that have frozen over and crystalized. The Co-Ops have curved corners and semitransparent walls, and each one sparkles in a different hue; the colors are part of an organizational system for identifying each structure’s designated function—housing, education, entertainment, health, and so on.

  Pisces is a socialist society without a monetary system, where every civic duty is shared, and people rotate through their local Co-Ops so they can learn every trade—law enforcement, public maintenance, cooking, teaching, healing. As they get older, Piscenes can choose to specialize in one particular field by becoming Co-Op Shepherds—experts regarded as specialists in their fields who are in charge of training teens on their first rotation into their department.

  We dive toward the central point of the community, a pastel-pink compound, and once we’re close, a gate opens in its crystal ceiling. Mathias pulls into a private port, and the instant we land, Hysan enters the nose in his golden Knight suit.

  My heart catapults into my throat as our eyes meet.

  “Lady Rho,” says a sonorous voice behind him, and I look up to see Lord Neith, who’s thankfully looking like his usual self again. “How wonderful to see you,” he says, extending his hand for the traditional touch greeting.

  “You
too, Lord Neith,” I say, bumping fists with him. “How are you feeling?”

  “Up-to-date.”

  Just then, ’Nox’s door opens and two women run on board. One looks like a twelve-year-old with copper curls and eyes as deep as Space. The other reminds me painfully of Nishi.

  “Rho!” Brynda pulls me into a heartfelt hug, and I hold her close to me to compensate for my inability to speak. “Hysan told me about Nishi,” she says in my ear. “I’m so sorry. But don’t worry. We’re not abandoning her. We’ll get her back.”

  When we part, small hands clasp my waist. I hug Rubi back, and after pulling away, I say thickly, “It’s really good to see you both.”

  “Dreadful conditions,” says the Geminin Twin, shaking her head heavily. “Three centuries, and I’ve never seen anything like this. If my dear brother was here, he would be howling at Helios.”

  “You have to take this antiviral every day you’re here,” says Brynda, handing me a tiny squeezetube like the one Mathias once gave us on Phaetonis. “It will protect you from contracting anything.”

  I rip it open with my teeth and suck the syrupy medicine; it takes like sea cherries. As Brynda hands them out to everyone else, I notice my brother and Kassandra have joined us.

  She’s still wearing her aqua cloak, and as I watch her take the antiviral, I study her closely, wondering who she’s been the past ten years. She hasn’t lost her memory. I don’t see any physical signs of torture. In fact, she was pretty spry when she was saving my life. So what justification could she have for never reaching out, not even once?

  “Leave your bags,” says Brynda. “I’ll have a couple of Stargazers bring them up.” After speaking soundlessly through her Ring, she locks arms with me and leads us off the ship, through a small hangar, and into a dark hallway.

  At first I can’t see anything, and I’m about to say something when flashes of light begin to blast through the crystal floor beneath our feet and up along the pink walls, like lightning.

 
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