Altered Page 2

“In here!” Erik’s cry stops our flight toward the metro. He waits against the rotting door frame of a shack that blends like a smudge into the shadowed landscape. The shack isn’t sturdy or large enough to have been a home. It’s hard to tell what purpose it once served—one lone building isolated miles from any other, withering and forgotten.

“You probably shouldn’t lean on that,” I point out as I near him.

He knocks the wooden frame with his fist and some dust sprinkles down as I duck inside the shack. “It’s sound enough.”

I think that is supposed to reassure me.

Erik steps outside. He’s keeping watch, waiting, like me, to see what will happen now. The downing of the ship won’t go unnoticed.

The air is heavy here. The chill of it and the lack of light remind me of the cell I was kept in at the Coventry—and of the cells I visited only hours ago with Jost before we made our escape. It feels like years have passed already.

Someone flips on a handlight and I wonder what treasures we’ve brought from Arras in our pockets. I’m suddenly aware of weight in my own—the digifile. It will be useless here, I realize.

The battered structure and the somber darkness outside remind me how lost I am, and so I wait for something to change. Something to indicate I haven’t made a terrible mistake, but not even a breeze disturbs us here. We can’t hide for long now that I’ve attacked the ship. The Guild will find us whether we stay here or head back toward the metro. I can almost see the gloating look that will be on Cormac’s too-perfect face when his officers catch us. By then they will have patched up the hole I ripped in the Coventry’s weave to get to Earth. He won’t waste any time sending me to be altered once he has me back. It will be straight to the clinic for me, to be made into an obedient Creweler and wife. Dread locks me to the spot, and I wait for the Guild to come and drag me away again. Erik, Jost, and I sit in silence for a long time before I start to relax. We’re hidden for now. Sheltered and safe, but most important, no one has come after us yet.

I want to go outside and search for the ship—to see what I’ve done. I want to study the strange raw weave that floats above us here. Instead I scrape through a layer of dust on the window to peek out. Jost stands beside me and brushes ash from my hair. He frowns, examining one of my arms. I look down. Small burns speckle my pale skin, some have even blistered. I’d been too terrified to feel it.

“Does it hurt?” Jost asks.

I shake my head and a bobby pin tumbles to the floor.

“Here,” he says, reaching behind me. He tugs at the remaining pins until my hair swirls down across my shoulders in a cascade of scarlet. I shake it, trying to get any remaining debris out.

“Better?” I ask. We’re so close that my green eyes reflect back from his blue ones.

Jost swallows, but we’re interrupted before he can respond.

“What happened back there?” Erik demands.

“I caught the ship, but—”

“Nothing,” Jost cuts me off. “It was an accident.”

“Looked more like suicide to me. They’ll know exactly where we are now,” Erik says, taking a step toward his brother.

“What if it was looking for us?” I ask, balling my fists. “At least I bought us some time.”

“You destroyed it,” Erik says in a soft voice. Our eyes meet and I turn away. It was an accident, and he knows that. He isn’t accusing me of doing it on purpose. No, the accusation in his words is far more cutting. He’s accusing me of not being in control.

He’s right.

“I want to go check things out,” I say.

“We should wait until morning,” Jost suggests.

I take a slow, steadying breath. “I don’t think morning is coming.”

“They don’t have daylight here?” he asks.

“No.” Erik steps in. “Didn’t you see the sky? They don’t have a sun. It’s that weave we fell through when she ripped us from Arras.”

So Erik noticed the raw weave suspended above Earth, too. But how much did he notice? Did he see the ship was attached to the sky?

“I want to get a better look at it,” I say, and start toward the door.

“If there are any survivors on that ship, they could be out there,” Jost argues.

The splitting hull flashes through my mind and the memory of ripping metal scratches in my ears. No one could live through that.

“There are no survivors,” I say.

“She’s right,” Erik says. It’s not a friendly agreement, but it isn’t hostile. He’s cool and distant.

“I won’t be long,” I assure Jost.

“Do you think you’re going alone?” he asks.

“I can take care of myself. I’m not some helpless girl.”

“She’s right again,” Erik calls from the dark recess he’s crouched in. “Look what she’s gotten us into.”

I bite my lip. That was hostile. Definitely not his usual friendly banter.

“I know that,” Jost says loudly. “But none of us should be wandering around on our own.”

I study his face for a moment, wondering if he would be so eager to escort his brother to check out the landscape. I decide not to ask.

But Jost continues. “Of course you’re welcome to wander off anytime.”

I guess that answers that.

“Clearly the fact that we are in some type of forsaken alternate reality is much less important than your grudge against me, so can we get this over with and move on?” Erik asks. He moves out of the shadows to face his brother. Standing there, they mirror each other, and for the first time I study them as brothers. I’d only just figured out the real reason they were cold to each other at the Coventry: they were both hiding that secret. They’re exactly the same height, something I’d not noticed before, but Jost is bulkier from his work at the Coventry. He’s dressed in casual work clothes, unlike Erik, whose suit, while wrinkly, is still smart. Erik’s hair brushes his shoulders and Jost’s is longer, but although they share the same unruly waves, Erik’s silvery hair is smoothly slicked into place. Jost’s wild dark locks look like you’d expect after as much action as we’ve seen. The one thing that’s exactly the same is their piercing blue eyes.

Prev page Next page