Lauren Oliver

On very still nights sometimes we can hear them chanting, calling for us to die. We can see them, too, or at least make out the halo of light cast up from the shores of Barrel Key, where they must be gathered, staring back across the black expanse of water toward the fence and the angular white face of the Haven Institute. From that distance it must look like a long green jaw set with miniature teeth.

Monsters, they call us. Demons.

Sometimes, on sleepless nights, we wonder if they’re right.

Lyra woke up in the middle of the night with the feeling that someone was sitting on her chest. Then she realized it was just the heat—swampy and thick, like the pressure of somebody’s hand. The power had gone down.

Something was wrong. People were shouting. Doors slammed. Footsteps echoed in the halls. Through the windows, she saw the zigzag pattern of flashlights cutting across the courtyard, illuminating silvery specks of rain and the stark-white statue of a man, reaching down toward the ground, as though to pluck something from the earth. The other replicas came awake simultaneously. The dorm was suddenly full of voices, thick with sleep. At night it was easier to speak. There were fewer nurses to shush them.

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s happened?”

“Be quiet.” That was Cassiopeia. “I’m listening.”

The door from the hall swung open, so hard it cracked against the wall. Lyra was dazzled by a sudden sweep of light.

“They all here?” It sounded like Dr. Coffee Breath.

“I think so.” Nurse Don’t-Even-Think-About-It’s voice was high and terrified. Her face was invisible behind the flashlight beam. Lyra could make out just the long hem of her nightgown and her bare feet.

“Well, count them.”

“We’re all here,” Cassiopeia responded. One of them gasped. But Cassiopeia was never afraid to speak up. “What’s going on?”

“It must be one of the males,” Dr. Coffee Breath said to Nurse Don’t-Even-Think-About-It, who was really named Maxine. “Who’s checking the males?”

“What’s wrong?” Cassiopeia repeated. Lyra found herself touching the windowsill, the pillow, the headboard of bed number 24. Her things. Her world.

At that moment, the answer came to them: voices, shrill, calling to one another. Code Black. Code Black. Code Black.

Almost at the same time, the backup generator kicked on. The lights came up, and with them, the alarms. Sirens wailed. Lights flashed in every room. Everyone squinted in the sudden brightness. Nurse Don’t-Even-Think-About-It stumbled backward, raising an arm as though to shield herself from view.

“Stay here,” Dr. Coffee Breath said. Lyra wasn’t sure whether he was speaking to Nurse Don’t-Even-Think-About-It or to the replicas. Either way, there wasn’t much choice. Dr. Coffee Breath had to let himself into the hall with a code. Nurse Don’t-Even-Think-About-It stayed for only a moment, shivering, her back to the door, as if she expected that at any second the girls might make a rush at her. Her flashlight, now subsumed by the overheads, cast a milk-white ring on the tile floor.

“Ungrateful,” she said, before she, too, let herself out. Even then they could see her through the windows overlooking the hall, moving back and forth, occasionally touching her cross.

“What’s Code Black?” Rose asked, hugging her knees to her chest. They’d run out of stars ever since Dr. O’Donnell, the only staff member Lyra had never nicknamed, had stopped giving them lessons. Instead the replicas selected names for themselves from the collection of words they knew, words that struck them as pretty or interesting. There was Rose, Palmolive, and Private. Lilac Springs and Tide. There was even a Fork.

As usual, only Cassiopeia—number 6, one of the oldest replicas besides Lyra—knew.

“Code Black means security’s down,” she said. “Code Black means someone’s escaped.”