After escaping an underground annihilation chamber, Thalli, Berk, Rhen, and John find themselves fleeing across the former United States, aboveground for the first time. As the defectors cross the for gotten landscape, the three youths see things the y had only read about on screens: horses, rain, real books—and a colony of unsanctioned survivors living the ancient way in a town called New Hope.
When the citizens of New Hope reveal the truth of what happened years ago, Thalli is left unsettled and skeptical of everything she’s ever been told. Can she trust anything from the State, including her own feelings for Berk? When she volunteers for a peace mission to New Hope’s violent neighbor, Athens, her confusion mounts as the supposedly ruthless Prince Ale x turns out to be kind and charming. Although everyone in New Hope warned her not to, she can’t help but fall for him.
Meanwhile, John’s unwavering faith in the goodness of the Designer begins to make its mark on Thalli’s heart. But can Thalli really come to trust in a generous, protective Designer who rules over all things? Would that not be setting herself up for another betrayal?
The time for her to decide is now . . . because the State is closing in.
“McGee once again blends a Christian message within a horrific science fiction plot . . . death, torture, and confusing love triangles.” —Booklist
“McGee blends the determination of faith, the malevolence of those who extol power over decency, and the assertion of individual integrity in a humane glimpse at youthful courage.” —Publisher’s Weekly
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BOOK TWO IN THE ANOMALY TRILOGY
By KRISTA MCGEE
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Krista McGee
All rights reserved.
We need to move as quickly as possible." Berk's amplified voice fills my helmet, which protects me from the toxic air. "The Scientists will know we have left. They will send Monitors to follow us."
I can still hardly believe we are here. Outside of the State. "On transports just like this?" I imagine the torture we will all receive when we are caught. I am sure the Scientists will not allow us the painless annihilation I faced. "We should never have come."
"Thalli. It is not logical to begin this journey with a defeated attitude."
"Rhen is right." Berk's face appears in the rectangular slit at the front of my helmet.
I try not to focus on his full lips, the stubble growing along his square jaw. It is not hard—our faces are both covered with these heavy helmets, making me feel even more distant from him. His hands are on my shoulders, but, of course, I can't feel them either. Layers of protective fabric keep me from feeling anything. I think it has wrapped itself around my heart too. And my mind.
The thrill of seeing Berk? Gone. It is replaced by the crippling fear that instead of facing my own death, I will be the cause of death for these people I love.
Berk's bright green eyes force my attention back to him. "I need you to focus."
I want to slap his hands down. How dare he speak to me like that? Like he is a Scientist and I am his project? Like we are not from the same pod, the same generation? Like he has not lived the same seventeen years I have? If nothing else good comes from it, being aboveground means that he has no authority. We are escaping the rule of the Scientists.
Berk sighs and turns away. The weight of his hands on my shoulders is gone, replaced by a heavier weight in my heart. What is wrong with me? Why am I behaving like this?
I do not have time to examine my feelings because John appears. His bushy white eyebrows are so close to the glass of his helmet they appear magnified, making his crystal-blue eyes seem smaller in comparison, the wrinkles surrounding his eyes even more visible. If I had the energy, I might laugh. But I don't have the energy. Or the desire.
"Just leave me here." I step away from John. "Go back down, tell them you were forced. Tell them it was my idea that you rescued me, then return to the State on your own. We don't all need to die."
John places a gloved hand on top of my helmet. "No one is leaving you, Thalli."
I want to argue, but I feel my arm being pulled, hands around my waist lifting me up. I turn and see Berk placing me on a transport.
"I said I want you to leave me."
Berk stands in front of me, his eyes hard. "You are coming on this transport with the rest of us."
He pushes me toward the corner of the transport. He is taking me prisoner. Just like a Scientist. He was designed to take charge and have all the answers. But that was below. Anger burns inside me. I move to step off, but Rhen and John block me.
"We need four people to steer this." Rhen is still calm, irritatingly calm, but she is firm. She may be slight in stature, but she is strong in other ways. Even John refuses to move.
I do not think she is right. We do not need four people to steer the transport. I think they are trying to force me on by making me believe I am necessary. If I thought my refusing would cause them to leave me behind, I would refuse. But I know they will not leave me behind. And the longer we wait to leave, the sooner the Monitors will find us. I step back into place. They should never have brought me here. The Scientists will find us. They will kill each one of them before me, just to punish me for bringing them here. I slam my hand into the column beside me and the transport tips precariously to the side.
"We have to work together or we'll never get off the ground." Berk's voice has softened, but he is still behaving like a Scientist, still giving orders and expecting me to obey them.
"Look up, Thalli. Look at what the Designer has done. Trust him."
I do as John says, tipping my helmet far back. The sky is a deep blue, and there are darker clouds hovering throughout.
I turn my head and see the moon. Not the simulation of the moon I saw in Progress, but the actual moon, the way I have always wanted to see it. It is huge and white, not smooth like I imagined it. Imperfect.
"We need to go." Berk interrupts my thoughts.
"Give her a moment, son. The Creator of all this is in control, Thalli. We do not need to fear the Scientists. They are not more powerful than the Designer."
I want so much to believe John, but fear keeps my stomach in knots and my shallow breath overrides that desire. My head aches, and I want to lie down on the transport and sleep. Forever. But I cannot lie down. I cannot sleep. I have to keep moving.
Slowly, the transport lifts off the ground. I do as Berk says, leaning in and out against the column, because if I refuse to go, the others will be caught with me. Our only hope is to outrun the Monitors. I try to pray that we can do just that, but I have no words, just emotions that overwhelm me, clouding every thought.
I try to think about something else. The transport shifts beneath me, and I recall the only other time I was on one of these: When I woke up and had no feeling in my arm. Back when Berk was kind to me, when he didn't treat me like he was the Scientist and I was the subordinate. When we spent our days together. When I felt so much love for him I thought my heart would burst. I had to lie on a transport like this one, wrapped in a medical blanket, so I could be examined by the Scientists.
"How do you know where to go?" I try to remain calm. But we are aboveground, where no one has been for over forty years.
A greenish grid comes to life in front of my eyes. It is so close, it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. It is a map of some sort.
"See the orange dots?" Berk asks. They are tiny, like needle pricks. But I see them. "Those are communities who survived the War."
"No one survived the War." I repeat what I have been taught since infancy. The earth was destroyed by the Nuclear War over four decades ago. The whole earth. Only The Ten—Scientists who had been building an underground State—survived. The only people left on earth were those of us created in the Scientists' laboratories. The Scientists prepared for the possibility of a nuclear war and everything, including the ingredients for the creation of children, had been stored underground, protected. Berk, Rhen, and I were all created below. Only John was from the time before, when children were "born" in the primitive way.
"Thalli, you know the Scientists aren't always truthful." Berk's sharp reply brings with it terrible memories. The Scientists tricked me into believing there was a colony right here, above the State. I had seen the people there, touched them, experienced this colony, only to find out it was a cerebral manipulation. It wasn't real.
"I found this map hidden among the Scientists' data. They didn't want anyone to know about it."
"But you knew, of course." I hear myself saying this to Berk, hear the caustic tone. I hate it, but I cannot stop it.
Berk releases a short breath. "I have been finding many things in the last few weeks. Some of those helped save your life."
"Save it for what?" I shout into my helmet. "So we can spend a few hours on the toxic earth before we're discovered and killed back in the State?"
"You are allowing fear to control you." John's voice is quiet but filled with authority. "This is not the Thalli I know."
I choose not to speak. He is right. I am not the same. I am not sure I will ever be the same again. I look down—at a gray, ashen ground receding below us. It looks the same in every direction. Flat, dry, gray. Even the sky is gray, the clouds filling in whatever blue spaces had been there.
"What do you suppose the Scientists want to do with this map?" Rhen asks.
"They are monitoring the pockets of survivors."
"So they can relocate?"
"They are not interested in relocating anytime soon," Berk replies, as the transport levels out. "They can't control people up here. There's too much space. Too much freedom. I think they prefer the confines of the State. That's why they were so excited about yours and Thalli's music simulation. They are hopeful they can use that data to find a solution to the oxygen crisis."
I remember that simulation. Rhen was trapped. In my music. It was awful. But she broke free. How the Scientists can use that, I do not know. I do know that music is powerful. Music pointed me to the Designer, spoke to me in ways logic never could. That music could also solve the Scientists' dilemma seems very plausible.
"How soon do you think the Monitors will catch up with us?" I look behind us, expecting to see another transport, weapons drawn to attack.
"Don't think about that." Berk pushes the transport harder. I grab the column to keep from slipping to the center. "We are traveling as fast as we can, and we started before them. My hope is they'll give up, assume we'll die out here."
I scan the horizon again. Gray. Barren. "A good assumption."
"Their intention was to kill us anyway." Rhen sounds like she is solving a calculus equation, not discussing our chances of survival. "I imagine they would prefer not to waste resources searching for us when there is so much need below."
"We are defying them." I want to shake Rhen. "And we're escaping the State. No one has ever been allowed to do either of those things."
"We can't worry about what might happen," John says. "Let's just press forward. We will deal with the Monitors if they come."
"So where are we going?" Rhen asks.
The grid moves south, then east. "See that pocket there? It is the closest to us. About nine hundred miles away."
"Nine hundred miles?" I don't even know how to calculate that distance. It seems astronomical. The entire State is not more than ten miles from one end to the other.
"This transport can move at about twenty-five miles an hour."
"That's thirty-six hours." Rhen figures it out before I can begin putting the numbers into an equation in my brain.
"We can't drive the whole time." There is no room on this transport for any of us to sleep, even if we wanted to. "It could take a whole week to get there."
"I brought enough food for two weeks." Berk's calm voice just makes me angry.
"And then what?" My breath is fogging the eyepiece in my helmet. "What if we get there and find those orange dots were wrong?"
"Then we go to the next pocket." The grid shifts to the east. "It's only about sixty miles from the pocket we're going to."
I take a deep breath. "Why are there two pockets sixty miles from each other and none around here for nine hundred miles?"
"There are several others to the north of us, but the climate would be difficult for our bodies. It is warmer in the south. We'd do better there."
Of course Berk has thought this through. I should trust him. He is brilliant. He knows what he is doing. Why am I so angry? I shouldn't feel this way. But I don't know how not to feel this way. I am not the same person I was below, in the annihilation chamber. I was better then. Stronger. Up here, I am broken, useless.
"So what is the plan, Dr. Berk?"
I turn my head to look at John. I can sense the joy radiating off of him. He is relaxed. He has longed for this. For forty years. This was his home before the War. If he is disappointed to see it ravaged, he doesn't show it.
"I thought we'd try to travel eight hours each day."
I do the math this time. Two hundred miles a day. Five days, four nights. Why not travel twelve hours a day and arrive in three days and two nights? I look at John. That's why. Standing for eight hours will exhaust him. John is old. Over ninety. His body will ache from this travel. Berk has thought of that too. Of course.
"Excellent plan." Rhen understands also. Even she is kinder than I. They never should have done this, never should have risked their lives for me.
My mind drifts again to the annihilation chamber. To death. To heaven. Maybe I shouldn't, but I long for it, wish for it. John says heaven is perfect. There is no pain there, no fear. I wouldn't have to worry about my friends, wouldn't have to live in fear of being caught and returned to the State. Death seems so much easier than what faces us now. And will it come anyway? Will death by annihilation be replaced with death by upper earth?
Perhaps. Those orange dots seem so far. And so unstable. They blink and move. Are they friendly? Angry? Murderous? Of course they are primitive. And primitive people are dangerous. That's what I've always been taught. So are we leaving danger to face danger?
I tap the glass on my visor, forcing the map to disappear. I don't want to think about it anymore. Death is coming. I am more and more sure of it as we travel on. We have gotten ourselves in a hopeless situation. Berk was thinking with his heart, not his head. He was acting like me. And that is never wise.
Texas." John breaks the silence that hung over us for the last hour of travel.
"What?" I ask, my voice sounding like a broken violin string through the helmet.
"We are going to Texas." The green map pops up on my visor once again. The orange blinking dots seem to mock us. "Before the War this whole area was called the United States."
We all know this, of course. That information was part of our history lessons. We saw on our learning pads recordings of these Americans—always yelling at each other, angry, complaining about their living conditions, their working conditions. This was part of what the Scientists sought to eradicate. People cannot be productive with so much emotion.
"Texas." John laughs. "People there were unique. It's fitting that two colonies in Texas have survivors."
"Tell us about them," Berk says, unleashing a forty-five-minute sociology lesson from John.
If I knew how to turn off the volume in my helmet, I would. Instead, I have to listen to stories about hearty people, about a place called the Alamo, about cowboys and rodeos and boots. I don't really know these words, but they are forced on me anyway in this transport going south, headed toward this place that used to house independent, hardworking people who rode animals called bulls for fun and holed up in forts until they died.
I see my reflection in the mirrored surface of the helmet. My eyes appear more blue than green today. My hair hangs in limp, wavy brownish strands along the side of my face. I look the way I feel—pathetic.
"A friend of mine was from Texas, and he used to call it 'the promised land.'" John is still talking. "Fitting for us. We are escaping our own Egypt. Perhaps Texas is our promised land."
"Or maybe it's just as barren as this land." I can't hold it in any longer. I have to speak. "Maybe we'll get there and those orange dots will want to kill us. Or eat us. Maybe they are even worse than the Scientists ever were."
"The Israelites said the same kinds of things when they were making their way to the Promised Land. Let's not make the mistakes they made. Let us trust the Designer. He has worked many miracles throughout history. I believe we are about to experience another one."
I bite my lip. I won't argue with John. But I can't believe blindly the way he does. I wish I could. But I have too many questions, too many doubts. I have just begun to believe in a Designer, in a plan, a purpose for humanity. But my faith is weak. This is too much.
"We should stop here," Berk says, and the transport begins to lower to the ashen ground. "Rhen, will you help me prepare dinner? Thalli, you and John can set up the temporary chamber."
I do not want to stop. The Monitors who might be following us won't stop. They do not have a ninety-year-old man with them. They do have the impetus of the Scientists behind them, though, and I feel certain the Scientists want to bring us back, to make sure there is no possibility of anyone from the outside finding out about the State from anyone but them.
Berk clicks a button and I no longer hear him, though I know he is still talking. Through the lens in my helmet, I see him walking beside Rhen—close beside Rhen. She is leaning her head toward Berk, like she can hear him through her helmet.
"Shall we begin?" John's voice is in my ear, as happy as ever.
I try to focus on getting the temporary chamber assembled. I have never used one of these before. Never seen one. Why would we even have them? Our pods were perfectly good, safe. We had no need to leave them. Unless, like me, we had a medical issue. But then we'd go to a medical facility. I turn the white rectangle around. There is a small screen on the side. I touch it and it comes to life.
"Press the blue initiation panel," a computerized voice instructs me. I look all over. There is no blue panel. "Press the blue initiation panel."
"Be quiet!" I know the voice can't hear me, wouldn't care if it could, but I shout anyway. I throw the unassembled chamber to the ground. There is no blue initiation panel. We'll be sleeping on the dusty, diseased ground. Which is fine. Death will only come sooner if we spend our nights sucking in this horrible air. These helmets can only protect us so much. Surely the toxic fumes are already finding ways to seep into our bloodstreams.
Excerpted from LUMINARY by KRISTA MCGEE. Copyright © 2014 Krista McGee. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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