Beautiful blue world, p.1
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Beautiful Blue World


  ALSO BY SUZANNE LAFLEUR

  Eight Keys

  Listening for Lucca

  Love, Aubrey

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2016 by Suzanne M. LaFleur

  Cover and map art copyright © 2016 by Jensine Eckwall

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

  Wendy Lamb Books and the colophon are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Visit us on the Web! randomhousekids.com

  Educators and librarians, for a variety of teaching tools, visit us at RHTeachersLibrarians.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: LaFleur, Suzanne M., author.

  Title: Beautiful blue world / Suzanne LaFleur.

  Description: First Edition. | New York : Wendy Lamb Books, [2016] | Summary: Sofarende is at war and the army is paying families well to recruit children, so if twelve-year-old Mathilde or her best friend Megs is chosen, they hope to help their families but fear they will be separated forever. | Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by publisher; resource not viewed.

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016021125 (print) | LCCN 2015046201 (ebook) | ISBN 978-0-307-98033-5 (eBook) | ISBN 978-0-385-74300-6 (hardback) | ISBN 978-0-375-99089-2 (lib. bdg.) | ISBN 978-0-307-98032-8 (pbk.)

  Subjects: | CYAC: War—Fiction. | Survival—Fiction. | Best friends—Fiction. | BISAC: JUVENILE FICTION / General. | JUVENILE FICTION / Family / General (see also headings under Social Issues).

  Classification: LCC PZ7.L1422 (print) | LCC PZ7.L1422 Be 2016 (ebook) | DDC [E]—dc23

  ebook ISBN 9780307980335

  Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.

  v4.1

  ep

  Contents

  Cover

  Also by Suzanne Lafleur

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Dedication

  Map

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Mathilde’s Story Continues in Threads of Blue

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  For Amy

  with gratitude for days spent at Bletchley Park and Dover Castle and on countless other adventures

  CITIZENS OF SOFARENDE:

  Due to the continued conflict with Tyssia, please be advised of new mandatory safety instructions.

  Be on alert at all times for the sirens.

  At the sound of the sirens, proceed immediately to your assigned shelter. Do not leave your shelter for any reason. Remain there until the all-clear siren sounds.

  Shelter assignment:

  Residence: Joss, 52 Raken Street, Lykkelig

  Shelter: Heller, basement level, 54Raken Street, Lykkelig

  MEGS AND I FROZE on my front step.

  We’d seen the notices on our walk home, pinned to every door, fluttering in the chill winter breeze: white butterflies tacked down, wishing to fly free.

  It was better to think of them that way, like butterflies.

  Because they also looked like white flags of surrender.

  “Did you get one?” I asked, craning my neck to check two doors down, where Megs lived.

  “Everyone did.”

  I looked at her, my best friend and opposite-twin, her dark braids mirroring my light ones. She realized the edge in her tone. It had snuck in, at least once a day, since her father had left to fight. Been ordered to fight.

  It’s not you she’s mad at.

  Her bright blue eyes, watering in the cold, took me in. A smile came to them as one appeared across her pink, chapped cheeks. “Come on, let’s see what mine says.” She offered her hand, led me past the Hellers’ between us, to her own house. “See, we’re assigned together! Whatever it is, it won’t be so bad, Mathilde.”

  “But—why do we need shelter assignments?”

  Mother, waiting for me to get home, opened our front door. She saw me and smiled, lifted her hand to wave. But then she spotted the notices across the street and turned to read ours. She grew very still; her smile disappeared.

  Mrs. Heller opened her door, too. She read her notice, looked around at all of us. Her face swelled like a boiled red potato.

  “Now you’re going to be living at my house?”

  “Living? How long do you expect us to be down there?” Mother asked.

  “Who knows? Maybe forever. But your family’s not to become a burden on our family; you’d better send over some food stores—”

  “Food stores? I’m not sending my food stores over to your basement. You’ll eat them!”

  “Are you accusing me of being a thief?”

  “That’s what you’ve implied I am!”

  My little sisters came to the doorway: Kammi, who had beaten me home from school, and Tye, blouse untucked and short braids falling out. I raced home, Megs at my heels. “Come on,” I said to my sisters. “Come inside.”

  I quickly shut the door. The house was cold. There wasn’t enough fuel for fires during the day anymore.

  “Here, Tye, let’s find your sweater.” A sweater that had once been mine, and then Kammi’s, and now had patches on the elbows.

  “Catch me!” Tye shrieked.

  She didn’t need to know that I felt wobbly, that we might be headed to live in the basement next door. I chased her into the living room, grabbed her by the ankles, and held her upside down.

  “I’m upside down! I’m upside down!” She giggled.

  Poor Tye had never known the world right-side up. Before Tyssia decided they wanted all of it for themselves; before they took over the Skaven lands, before they joined with Erobern.

  Before they were coming for us.

  Mother came in and slammed the door. I dropped Tye, who rolled away, laughing.

  “Why are we going to the Hellers’ basement?” I asked Mother.

  “Ours is too shallow.”

  “Too shallow for what?”

  I followed her into the kitchen, where she loaded up a box with tins and jars. There hadn’t been that much in the pantry to begin with. Don’t grumble, don’t grumble, I told my stomach as the shelves emptied.

  Mother handed me the heavy box, adjusting the red scarf around my neck and freeing my braids. “Take this next door.”

  Was she afraid, like Mrs. Heller, that we were going to have to live in their basement?

  For how long?

  Forever?

  I looked at Megs, who shrugged.

  “Why don’t you do your homework at Megs’s house?” Mother said.

 
Why is she mad at you? You didn’t ask the government to send those notices.”

  And wouldn’t Mrs. Heller want to help us, if there was some kind of emergency? She was our neighbor. Kammi played with her daughter.

  Mother smiled, grazed her knuckle down my cheek. “Don’t you worry. Run along.”

  Megs and I walked to the Hellers’ in silence. Megs knocked. When Mrs. Heller answered, she looked less like a boiled potato, but she took our box with a huff and slammed the door.

  “It’s probably like a drill,” Megs said as we walked to her house. “Like fire drills at school. We practice those all the time, and have we ever had a fire? No. We’ll probably never have to go to her stupid basement.”

  She ripped down her family’s notice on the way through the door. She stopped to look me in the eye.

  “Even if we do, we’ll be together. Whatever happens, I’ll be with you.”

  I DREAMED OF SUMMER.

  Sun bright, woods green; Megs smiling and sparkling, skipping along with her hand in mine. The way we spent all the best days, headed to the stream, shoes and socks forgotten.

  The war forgotten.

  But Megs pulled away from me suddenly and started wailing.

  “Megs?”

  She didn’t seem to hear me. She kept screaming.

  “Megs!”

  I couldn’t shout loud enough for her to hear me; the sounds caught in my throat.

  Then it was dark.

  I wasn’t in the woods anymore.

  I was in my room.

  It wasn’t Megs wailing.

  Sirens!

  I hauled my sisters out of their bed.

  Kammi hurried down the stairs in front of me; Tye, only five, remained limp and drowsy and confused. I scooped her up, her head drooping on my shoulder as I rushed downstairs.

  We found our coats and shoes at the front door, hung on hooks and lined neatly in a row, the way we always left them.

  Father hurried down the stairs, straightening his green street-patrol uniform.

  “Why are you wearing that?” I asked, shouting over the sirens. “It’s not your night.”

  “Everyone from Street Safety has to report if the sirens go off.”

  He met my eyes in the dark.

  If he didn’t go, he could be fined. Or imprisoned. Or worse—taken to the border to fight. Even though he was older than most soldiers. Even though he was our father and we needed him.

  Mother appeared behind Father, her face tight as she looked away from him to her girls, counting us in one glance. She met my eyes, too, but only for a second.

  We were to go to the Hellers’ basement to await the catastrophe.

  Father was not.

  —

  “Be good, Big.” Father brushed his nose lightly against my ear.

  I used to be Little, a long time ago, before Kammi came, but since she was born when I was four, I have been Big. When Tye came, Kammi became Middle. Little, Middle, Big.

  He added, “You’re all my Littles. Always.”

  Then he was gone, out the front door.

  —

  Up and down the street, people raced across footpaths and yards.

  Megs’s mother, Mrs. Swiller, ran toward us, a baby and a toddler on her hips, two more little children running with clasped hands behind her, struggling to keep up.

  “Where’s Megs?” I stopped.

  Mother lifted Tye from my arms. “Let’s go, Mathilde.”

  “She’ll be right behind us.” Megs’s mother said it like she expected it, not like she had checked.

  But I would. I wouldn’t go down into the cellar without Megs.

  Especially not if we were going to have to live there forever.

  Aerial engines roared above us.

  “Mathilde!” Mother yelled from the basement doorway.

  The engines roared louder and I looked up as aerials appeared in the searchlights.

  Great winged, flying machines of metal. Built for war.

  Orange and black striped their wings.

  Black for Tyssia, orange for their recent union with Erobern.

  Our enemies.

  Come on, Megs.

  “Mathilde!” Mother yelled again.

  Come on, Megs! You promised you would be here with me.

  I counted the aerials, the moments….

  One, two, three…seven, eight…

  Where was she?

  Why wasn’t her mother waiting, calling her like my mother was calling me?

  It would kill me if Megs didn’t make it, but another glance at Mother told me that she was going to die, right now, this instant, if I didn’t get under cover.

  So I ran to catch up with Mother, my heart seeming to tear.

  But before I reached the door, a hand was in mine. A dark braid swung into view as someone hurtled ahead to drag us into the basement.

  Megs had made it.

  —

  A single candle stub burned in the center of the bare cement floor.

  “But that’s it,” Mrs. Heller announced. “You should have brought your own candles.”

  The three Heller children lay on a mattress on the floor, cozy and sleepy, not having had to run outside to get here, still feeling safe in their own home, even if it was the basement.

  Our mothers hadn’t gotten us mattresses. Maybe they hoped it wouldn’t be long. Maybe the aerials would just fly overhead quickly and we’d be back home in a few minutes.

  Like a fire drill, like Megs had said. No real fire.

  Megs’s brothers and sisters huddled in a nervous heap around their mother, squishing like the sleeping family of kittens Megs and I had discovered in a hollow tree in the woods. Mother had Tye in her lap, having eased her into her coat, and Kammi sat next to them, her hand in Mother’s, though she sat up straight, wide awake.

  I let go of Megs for a minute and went over to Mother. I squeezed her other hand. “I’m sorry.”

  Her breath seemed too fast, too shallow. She gave me a thin smile. Not quite ready to forgive. But she loved me. So much it could drive her crazy. It was plain as the cement floor. But also as something prettier.

  The sky. It was plain as the sky. A crystal-blue sky.

  I leaned in to kiss her cheek.

  “We’re all here now,” she whispered. “You can go sit with Megs.”

  I nodded.

  But we weren’t all here. Father wasn’t. I knew she felt that, too, though she wouldn’t let herself say it.

  There were no fathers with us. Mr. Heller, like Megs’s father, was a few years younger than mine and had also been sent to fight. Nobody who’d been sent to fight had come back. I’d been relieved Father was too old, but what was the difference? He’d been separated from us anyway, and we might never see him again.

  I joined Megs sitting against an empty stretch of wall.

  “What took you so long?” I asked.

  She shrugged.

  We told each other everything; why couldn’t she answer me?

  “This isn’t so bad,” Megs said. “If there was more light, we could study or read or draw or something. It could be like a sleepover.”

  She meant to help me feel better. But pretending it was a sleepover wouldn’t make me forget that Father was out there, somewhere. In danger. I didn’t dare explain with Mother and Kammi listening. I didn’t want them to worry even more.

  The rumblings of aerial engines increased, as if dozens flew over all at once. Then came thuds and pops. With each burst, the house rumbled above us.

  I looked up at the ceiling. Mother let out a long, strained sigh.

  Was this basement too shallow, too?

  The thudding, popping bursts grew closer together. Louder. Overlapping.

  The pops shook the ground. We jumped.

  Depending on who jumped first, Megs and I would give the other’s hand a squeeze. Twice we squeezed too early, waiting for the jump when no pop came. We both giggled.

  Probably not the best time to do that.

/>   Mrs. Heller erupted. “Fighting right over our heads now, aiming to kill us all.”

  Mother shushed her. “You’ll frighten the children.”

  “I’m getting mine out of here, quick as I can.” She nodded toward her children. “You’d best do the same. Sign your oldests up for that test. Maybe that’s the way out.”

  My eyes met Mother’s.

  The posters had appeared a few weeks ago:

  CHILDREN AGES 12–14

  SERVE YOUR COUNTRY NOW!

  SIGN UP FOR THE ADOLESCENT ARMY APTITUDE TEST AT YOUR SCHOOL!

  We were children age twelve, me and Megs.

  We hadn’t spoken of it. Not me and Mother, not me and Megs.

  What did the army want children for?

  Mother held my gaze, then said to Mrs. Heller, “Do we know it’s better?”

  “They could be teaching them to fly aerials. The lighter the bodies, the better. But maybe they’re just going to keep them safe, deep underground, so when our whole world is gone, there will be someone to remember it. Make those smarties memorize all of history.”

  The whole world, gone?

  “Anything would be better than sitting here,” Mrs. Heller said.

  Mother was still looking at me.

  The candle puffed out suddenly, and I was glad.

  But Megs’s grip on my hand had become a little looser.

  —

  The second round of sirens—the all-clear—sounded about two hours before dawn, and we trudged home to our beds. The air outside had a thick, sour smell, the sky an orange glow.

  The aerials were gone.

  They had been replaced with shouts, and wailing; not mechanical sirens, but human ones.

  Mother hurried us inside. She didn’t even let us pause to hang up our coats.

  “Can Father come home now?” Kammi asked.

  “Go to bed; he should be here soon.” But a new crease across Mother’s forehead said that she had no idea when, or whether, to expect him. Normally he’d be home by seven a.m. But with that strange glow in the sky…that smoke…the shouts and cries…

 
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