By Melissa West, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLC Copyright © 2013 Melissa West
All rights reserved.
"What is that?" I ask, pointing to a dark triangular building in the distance. My tone is formal, focused, just as it always is when we're discussing the city's breakdown.
Emmy shifts beside me. Emmy has been my sole healer at the Panacea, the Ancients' version of a hospital, for nearly a month now. She is more personable than the other healers, who often appear exhausted or angry. I've been trying for weeks to understand the need for healers beyond their ability to maintain life on the Ancients' planet, Loge. They cultivate the land, nourish it. On Earth we might have called them corporeal Mother Natures. But when it comes to Ancients needing healers, I'm at a loss. Ancients have xylem running within their bodies, similarly to how humans have water. Xylem itself has healing properties, so why the need for healers? Something doesn't add up, yet each time I press Emmy on it, she gives me a distant look and responds with short answers that give me next to no insight into anything beyond the fact that my questions make her uncomfortable. This one is no exception.
"That be the Vortex," Emmy finally says, her speech different than the other Ancients I've encountered. It's intentionally choppy, like she can't be bothered to use complete sentences. She washes her hands together nervously as though they were under a faucet of water and she wanted to make sure the soap touched every inch of flesh. "RESs train there."
I nod. I know very little about the RESs, beyond that RES is short for Republic Employed Spy, and that Jackson is one of them.
I think to the night he revealed himself to me in my room. I was petrified. I had lost my Taking patch moments before, breaking one of the only formal rules of the Ancient/human treaty. The Taking patch was a small silver eye covering, created by the Chemists on Earth, to not only block our vision, but immobilize us, while the Ancients came into our rooms at night to Take our antibodies so they could acclimate to Earth. We weren't allowed to see them, an act punishable by death, and there I was, my eyes closed tightly as I waited for my Ancient to come and offer up my punishment. Only the punishment never came. I opened my eyes to find Jackson Locke hovering above me. Jackson Locke. My greatest competition for top seed in Field Training. Everything became so hectic after that moment. He told me about our refusal to allow the Ancients to coexist with us, as promised in the treaty, that soon a war would begin. He begged me to help him stop it. Before I truly knew what I was getting myself into, before I even allowed myself a second to think it through, I had agreed. And now ... here I am, half human, half Ancient. A girl lost among strangers, linked to the enemy. Though, now, I no longer consider them the enemy. Maybe I never did. Something has changed within me. I never would have imagined humankind could be as brutal as we became in those weeks leading up to the release of the neurotoxin. The cylinders of Ancient organs. The testing chambers full of dead Ancient children. And then once we had released the neurotoxin and poisoned our own people, the execution chambers built to disingrate our remains.
I have no idea what the Ancients stand for, what morals ground them or what passion propels them, but I now know that deep within the human concept is something dark, selfish, and completely willing to do whatever is necessary to support the idea of humanity. Because that's what it is, an idea. True humanity would never behave as we have behaved.
I glance over to Emmy, and then back to the triangular building. Each day we do this. She comes in with the intention of checking on me and stuffing me with these circular healing foods called bocas, but we always end up by the window, staring out over Triad, the largest city on Loge, while I ask question after question. I try my best to hide my true intent, but my efforts are futile. Emmy knows, what I'm sure most here know. I am not one of them. I do not trust them. And I will do whatever is necessary to protect the other humans from them. After all, it's all but my fault they are here. If I would have gone to Dad about Jackson, if I would have confided in him, none of this might have happened.
My mind drifts to the days that led up to the release of the neurotoxin, to Jackson and how uneasy he had become. Why didn't I see it? We had spent weeks together, growing closer with each passing day. An intensity had built between us, a dependency on the other, that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was as though we were the only two people who understood what was happening, and through each other, we found comfort. More than comfort. My chest tightens at the thought of his lips on mine, his body pressed so closely to mine I could feel his heart beating in rhythm with my own. But even after all that, I never pushed him for details. Instead, I stood by helplessly as our Chemists released a poisonous neurotoxin into Earth's atmosphere, killing thousands. Of course, they couldn't have known how many humans had been healed by Ancients over the years, effectively exposing them to Ancient xylem — effectively turning them into Ancients. They couldn't have known. I couldn't have known. So why did I feel so guilty?
I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask for Jackson to seek me out for help. I didn't ask for him to heal me, turning me into an Ancient. And I certainly didn't ask him to bring me to Loge, which cemented my guilt in place. Because while I was here, healing, those I cared about were on Earth, abandoned.
The constant ache in me to hear their voices, their reassurances that they're okay, is enough to drive me insane.
The main door to the Vortex opens, and I crane my neck to get a glimpse inside. Two Ancients exit, but from this distance, I can't make out anything inside.
"Do you think the humans are in there, Emmy?"
She sighs. "I don't know, child. Not my matters."
"But have you seen any of them? I mean, surely some have come here for treatment, right?" I glance at her, hopeful.
She shakes her head, looking conflicted.
At this point, I have more questions than I can possibly hold within my useless brain, which brings me back to the Vortex, and my true intent on pressing Emmy to tell me everything she can about Triad — I have no idea where the other humans are being held.
She averts her eyes, and I feel a common frustration bubbling up within me. "Fine." She knows. She just refuses to tell me.
I've been at the Panacea for three weeks. Three weeks of tests and analysis and enough bocas to feed all of my hometown of Sydia, and still, I have yet to see a single human. Not injured in the Panacea. Not dancing in the fields that cradle the city like a blanket. None. Not one. Which means either Zeus is keeping them somewhere ... or they're all dead.
I study the Vortex, its almost black exterior, and imagine it full of men and women training, like Jackson, to pretend to be human on Earth, to kill humans by Taking them to death. A shiver creeps down my back. That has to be where the humans are being held.
"Come child, eat." Emmy holds out a bowl of bocas, purple on the outside, sunshine yellow on the inside. They taste like oranges, but look like grapes. "Young-one be here soon for assignation. We need to get you ready."
The assignation. There are four sectors in Triad of which one can be assigned to work — the factories, the schools, the military, or the government. The healers on Loge possess the ability to cultivate the land and heal living creatures by zeroing in on the inner workings of the person, animal, or plant and "fixing" whatever isn't working just right. That ability also allows them to look at that living thing's purpose. So, the top healers in Triad conjure together with Zeus to give an analysis on all Ancients once the Ancient turns sixteen. This analysis is known as the assignation, and the results determine which of the four sectors of Triad the individual will work. Most everyone goes to the factories, but advance intellect can often sway an individual towards military or government, which are the sought after jobs in Triad. Emmy tells stories of her kids pretending to be RESs, running around in disguise. It's prestigious. A mark of honor.
And the very last thing I want to be here.
The RESs are responsible for the attacks on Earth that led to the release of the neurotoxin. We may have killed thousands of our people by releasing the neurotoxin, but they killed thousands just to prove they could. Becoming an RES would be the ultimate betrayal. But in the end, I'm not sure I'll have a choice. It will all come down to Zeus. And if I have learned anything in the three weeks that I have lived in Triad, it's that what Zeus wants, Zeus gets.
I can still hear Emmy's words, mere days after Jackson brought me here to save me from the neurotoxin that was poisoning me to death. "Not young-one," she had said. "Old-one." And I knew, the words pounding into my head like a migraine until one single name appeared — Zeus. Zeus wanted me to become an Ancient. The question is ... why?
The curtains to my private room sway, and I wait anxiously for Jackson to enter but no one emerges. Jackson and Emmy have been the only two people that I've seen since coming here. Though, I really shouldn't call them people. They aren't, even if they look as human as I do. But that's not why I call them people. I call them that because it makes me feel like I'm not really on another planet, just another country, like any day I could hop a hovercraft and fly home.
I've realized it's familiarity that grounds us, and without it, the mind drifts into dangerous territory. I've only considered death once, when the nightmares mixed so thoroughly with my thoughts that all I wanted was a little relief. Now, I'm medicated with one of their concoctions to make sure I don't drift again. I hate what it does to me, the constant humming in my brain as though I can't be trusted to think or act by myself. Emmy says she'll take me off it soon. Every day she says it will be soon. I'm starting to wonder if soon means something different here.
Aside from Emmy, Jackson comes by every day — and every day I try my best to avoid talking to him. I think to how quickly I trusted him. I've thought it through a thousand times. Why? Was it that I felt like I knew him? Because I did in a way. I had known Jackson — or the Jackson I thought he was — since we were kids. Seeing someone year after year, growing up together, gives you a sense of comfort, like you're predisposed to trust simply because you remember what the person looked like six inches shorter. I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm just trying to make sense of my decisions, justify them, because the truth is, after weeks now of nothing but my own guilty thoughts, all I can come up with is hope.
The attacks were increasing. Everything felt so intense. I didn't need him to tell me that a war was coming — anyone with a brain could sense it. I needed to believe that we could stop it, that there was hope. And no one knows what it's like to trust on hope alone until they've been so deep in horror that there is nothing left but hope. That's where I was, maybe where I still am — in horror — but there is no worry of me trusting on hope again. I made that mistake once ... and he let me down. Now I'm stuck here, waiting to learn what Zeus has planned for me.
"How you feel today, child?" Emmy asks after a while of silently staring down at Triad in motion. It's like watching clockwork move, everything and everyone so robotic I have to wonder if they are programmed.
"Good," I finally say and she smiles, taking my hand in hers. She has a youth about her, despite her outward appearance. Her hair is white, outside of an orphaned blonde strip in the front. Her face has creases around her eyes and mouth that suggest she's laughed more often than she's cried. I've never seen her laugh or even smile, which makes me wonder how long it's been since she felt the happiness that created her lines. She doesn't look at me, likely afraid I'll ask her, yet again, to explain what she had meant about Zeus. Questions about Triad she can handle, and does to appease me, but Zeus is another topic altogether.
I glance down at the bowl of bocas and prepare for how I'll ask her. "Emmy," I start.
She peeks behind her, making me wonder if Zeus's shadow follows her around. "I told you, no talk of him. Now, young-one be by soon. Eat. Food brings —"
"Healing. I know. Emmy, please ..."
"Not my place. Now rest." She pats my hand one last time, leaning in to hug me, and says, "His eyes are everywhere here, his ears in the walls. Be careful, child." She straightens, pulls out the band of beads from her pocket that I've seen her reach for when she gets worried, and laces them through her fingers again and again, her look distant.
As soon as she leaves, I return my attention to the city. I find myself standing by my window for hours each day, surveying Triad, hoping to see something new that gives me an idea of where the humans are, but each day the sun sets with me knowing nothing more than I had learned the day before. Now, the sun rises from a wall of green foliage that lines the city, separating Triad from whatever lies beyond it. Within the wall, there are rows and rows of houses, neighborhoods perhaps. I imagine what they are doing in their homes. If they are eating dinner now or playing games or watching some version of a T-screen.
From the neighborhoods, a large bridge stretches over a river into a city that covers the rest of everything visible. Building after building, all with green roofs, all different sizes and as rustic looking as the Panacea. It's simple looking. But also beautiful, unlike anything I've ever seen before. Every day, I stare, mesmerized, until my eyes drift to the furthest edge of the city, to the rock-like building that stalks forever to the sky. There are no visible windows or doors in this building, giving it a look of complete power and terror. I remember asking Emmy what it was and her responding with only, "His." I didn't ask for clarification, I knew what she meant, and we ended up watching it together that day. Her eyes full of worry, mine of wonder.
I study Zeus's building now, watching for movement, when a loud scream from the hallway pierces the silence. My eyes snap to my doorway, my entire body suddenly on alert. I start forward, eager to find out what caused it, when the curtain blocking my doorway bucks inward and a hand reaches inside, gone as quickly as it emerged, followed by another gut-wrenching scream.
I rush out into a long hallway. It's the same wood of my room, with five doorways lining each side. At the end of the hallway stand two Ancients carrying a girl who scrambles in their grasp to get away. She looks just like ...
Her eyes find mine, her voice rich with fear. "Ari! Ari, please help me. Help me." She pushes out of their hold and is almost to me, when they jerk her back. "Don't let them take me back there. Please. I can't go back there."
I step forward, just as Emmy blocks my path. "No, stop, I know her," I say, panic rising up inside me as I take in Lexis's appearance. Her head has been shaved, her skin once a deep brown is now pale and dull. What have they done to her? "That's a girl from my school. Lexis. She isn't —"
"No, no, no," Lexis pleads as a lady approaches wearing the same shapeless green dress as Emmy and bearing what I can only imagine is a needle, but it isn't attached to a syringe and it's three times longer than any needle I've ever seen. At first I think she's going to use it as a weapon, and I try to push past Emmy, who seems to guess my moves before I make them, outmatching me with every step.
"Let me go," I shriek, growing angry and annoyed. The medication obviously hinders my reflexes as much as my emotions. "What is this? Why can't they leave her alone?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Hover by Melissa West, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2013 Melissa West. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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