Split the Sun, страница 1
Copyright © 2016 by Tessa Elwood
Cover illustration © 2016 by Shane Rebenschied
Published by Running Press Teens,
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For biscuits and gravy, bats,
and mushrooms. Daffodils,
Elvis, and stockings. Or rather,
loyalty, strength, and love.
My sandal is intent on destruction. It slides off my foot and drops eighteen stories. Maybe it longs to be lethal, kill a pedestrian. Add another death to the family tally. Nine instead of ten.
Rack ’em up.
The museum roof is ringed in a high stone wall for leaning against. Or standing upon. It’s warm underfoot, wide and sturdy. Too sturdy. Too safe.
I lean into the dark.
Below, the city pulses. It has a heartbeat. Groaning hoverbuses, sporadic horns, skytower ad-screens blitzing neon. The Galton House capital in all its glory. A planet of city, continents of steel. It’s long after midnight, or one, or even two, but the air still sweats—beads my neck and shoulders—thick as the haze that swallows the sky.
Yonni, my gran, used to talk about stars. How she’d lie in the grass on some backwater planet, and count the glow-dotted infinity. She’d lose her place after a solid thousand or two.
Ain’t nothin’ like ’em, Kit. You can see God up there.
Here, there’s only smog.
No, excuse me, a soft, hazy shimmer. This is Low South, heart of the historic district. Lordlings kill to live in the surrounding cloudsuites towers—where air is mountain fresh and pure as spring.
Not that any of them know what mountains look like, or spring, unless they channel their money into off-planet travel—or grew up somewhere else. Yonni had seen mountains. She had a hidden fund for the day when she would show me, too. She promised.
Like she swore she was feeling better a whole hour before she died.
A breeze curls past my ankles to kiss the distant street. Catches a napkin or cup and tumbles it end over end. The walkway is empty of people and bodies. My sandal didn’t kill anyone. The tally stands at nine.
Mom would be so disappointed.
I kick off my other shoe. The ledge is cracked, the stone rough, and I slide my toes over its cragged lip. Close my eyes. There is nothing beyond the pads of my feet, the press of the air. Distant traffic fading out.
You understand why I can’t keep you on, Mr. Remmings said hours ago, after eviscerating me in front of the entire staff. I thought that’d be the end of it, but no, he had to follow me to my locker. Spell it out. The museum cannot be associated with hack-bombers or threats, and your mother—
Kills people. Killed people.
Humidity coats my skin. My arms hang and I let them float apart, lift a little. Except I don’t have wings and I don’t want to fly.
Mom would always pull my hands together when I was small, cup my palms between her big ones. You’ve the whole world right here, she’d say, what will you do with it?
I dunno, give it back?
My hands were empty then. They still are.
Nine is useless as a tally. I hated being nine. By nine, Mom had been gone a year and Dad a month before the landlord figured out I was alone.
Ten is better.
On my tenth birthday, Yonni found me.
I lower my arms. The world shrinks to the crags in my chest and the stone underfoot. Everything is quiet—my heart, the city. The world open, beckoning. Silence. So much space.
I step forward.
A steel arm grabs my waist and yanks me back onto the rooftop. I ram my elbow into a hard chest, someone grunts and the hold breaks.
I sprint five steps and spin, fists raised and blood pumping backward.
A man stands where I was, pale and old—forty maybe—with thick arms and stubby fingers that catch the light.
“What the hell was that?” he yells. “You trying to get yourself killed?”
My lungs race with my gasping heart, and I don’t say a word.
He shouldn’t be here; no one should be here. The rooftop door is locked, and maybe I know how to pop it, but no one else ever has.
Except the man doesn’t wear the green museum uniform, but the near-black stripes of a power technician. The city has been rife with power-outs lately, and we’ve even had to cancel tours. Mr. Remmings probably called him in.
The man steps forward, head high and finger pointing. “This area is off-limits, you can’t—” He pauses, close now, and squints. “Wait, I know you.”
My breath stops.
Of course. Even here, somebody knows me. And it’s not even me, it’s the straight black hair and bony arms, the sharp nose and chin. Chiseled: the girl version.
You used to look more like Ricky, you know, Mom said once, when she took me out for coffee to try mothering on for size. Now we could be sisters.
The man is in my face, taller, but not by much. “You were on the feeds. You’re the daughter.”
Not whose daughter. Mom bombed the House Archive tower and destroyed half a city block. Quantifiers aren’t needed.
I don’t answer. I don’t look away, either.
His mouth flatlines under grim eyes. He moves back to the ledge and looks down, as if a flightwing waited to catch me. “You meeting her or something? She here?”
“She’s dead,” I say, and he snorts.
Because of course the brilliant Millie Oen—Archivist, data-technologist, and now murderous bomber—couldn’t possibly have died in the explosion she caused. She was too smart for that. The rescue teams couldn’t find her body.
Though with the extent of the explosion, they couldn’t find her lab, her office, or any of the sublevel libraries and record-storage floors, either. They melted into each other. The Archive was our digital core, the central data structure all networks fed into and out of. Reports, power-grids, birth records, histories, and finances from mundane to high clearance, the Archive held it all—and Mom erased it in a night.
Our House is running on backups.
“So what was this?” The power technician asks, waving at the ledge, the street. “Atonement?”
“I didn’t set the bomb,” I say.
“You didn’t stop it,” he says, and there’s no fighting that. I didn’t know doesn’t cha
I should have known. I was in her lab that night. I should have known.
I move to the stairwell.
“Where the hell are you going?” the man calls.
“Somewhere less populated,” I say and slam the door.
Everywhere’s populated. The predawn cleaning crews own the streets, their man-size sweeper bugs flashing lights and whirring low. I could step out in front of one, but all I’d get is scrubbed raw. The woman walking with the nearest sweeper glares. She’s either read my mind or I’m in the way.
Or else she’s registered my face and added two and two together, like the power technician.
Freakin’ newsfeeds. They ran a report on Mom, her history, and her surviving relatives. The obligatory this is how you grow a crazed murderer special. The lack of real information was a testament in itself—either to bad reporting or Mom’s skill in masking truth—but there’s one thing they did get right.
A whole five-minute segment with my face front and center. Not that they had much on me, either. Kreslyn Franks, eighteen, youngest tour guide on record for the Gilken Museum Foundation. I’m wearing the uniform in the picture, which they must have pulled from the museum’s feedpage on the general network. No mention of Yonni or Dad, or a life outside work. Yonni was a master at keeping her private life private—a prerequisite for anyone working nights in other people’s beds. And Dad? The newscasters’ guess is as good as mine.
As far as the life part, well, that’s none of their business.
The glaring street cleaner waves over another of the crew, then leans in and whispers in his ear. His gaze locks with mine. Surprise, anger, a touch terrified at the edges.
I duck into an alley and sprint to the next street over. More cleaners and traffic. At this rate, the only point of isolation would be home. So I walk. Barefoot.
The skytowers block most of their namesake, but some light leaks through—changing from pitch to pale, skipping soft. The pavement simmers and dirt coats my soles in the patches the sweepers missed. Low South blends into South Central, age-old towers butting against color and height, and then morphs into the respectable West 6th district, and finally into the haggard-but-standing West 1st.
West 1st used to be deeply monied and highly sought after, until fifty-story cloudsuites became the thing. None of our suitetowers have over fifteen. Mine has ten. A squat, little stone-and-steel number with more windows than wall space. Wide paved steps, still austere despite their cracks, lead up to an ornate glass door. I’m halfway across the street before the deeper shadows by the entryway register as human form.
Dee, Dad’s sister.
She’s in her favorite black jacket with the pink studs, dangling a cigarette and blowing smoke rings. Perfect circles that expand the higher they get, to entrap the sky.
If there was any justice, they’d slip around her throat and squeeze.
“Where you been?” she calls.
I climb the steps and pull my keypass out of my pocket, keeping as far from her as possible. “What’s it to you?”
“Don’t be like that.” She all but drips sugar, even as her next smoke ring hits my ear. “Thought you’d be happy to see me.”
Yeah, six months ago, when it might have made a difference for Yonni. When it might have made a difference for everything.
I slap my keypass to the hidden security reader in the wall, melded in to look like stone. Its tiny light flashes green, and I push through the heavy glass door. The ancient lobby arcs with wide brown carpet before narrowing to a resident hall, and ending at the rickety elevator. No furniture anymore, not even a desk.
Dee slips in before I can stop her, flicking her cigarette away as the door closes.
If she thinks I’m letting her into Yonni’s suite, she has another think coming. I plant my feet and cross my arms.
“God, you look like Ricky when you do that,” says Dee.
Which probably beats looking like Mom, but not by much. At least Dad never killed anyone. That I know of.
“What do you want, Dee?”
“To have a civil conversation, is that so hard?”
My nails bite skin. If she wanted civil, she shouldn’t have slammed the door in my face the first and last time I asked her for help. Real help. Yonni was sick, Central Medical wouldn’t approve her treatment without more money than we had, and Yonni was out of pills. Greg, my cousin, could have fixed that problem. He has contacts. Lord knows, he deals in every other pill on the planet. At least these were legal. Except when I opened the door to his place, I got Dee.
Her jaw tightens, fist curling, and I shift for the blow. Dee has a mean one. But she doesn’t swing, she smiles. “You know Greg’s trying to ditch that life. I couldn’t let you slam him right back into it.”
Yeah, at the time he was trying so hard that I’d found him splashing naked in Low South’s water channel. I’d dug up his clothes and hauled him off the main thoroughfare before the City Enactors showed up, while he waffled between laughing, trying to eat my hair, and searching my pockets for more pills. Not that Dee knows that. Greg and I never told each other’s secrets, back when we were close enough to have secrets to share.
“Besides, I don’t know why you’re still harping on that,” Dee says, “it’s not like you didn’t get the pills without Greg.”
Our eyes lock. Dee’s a mask with a smile, and I can’t tell if she is fishing or knows how I pulled it off.
If she knew, she’d have made use of it.
All for pills that didn’t even work.
If the power technician had just minded his own business, I wouldn’t be stuck in this conversation right now.
“What do you want, Dee?” I ask again.
She pulls another cigarette from her pocket and lights up. “Greg needs Mom’s place.”
Yonni’s place. Mine.
“No,” I say.
She dangles her burning cig, ash floating to the carpet. “The suite is mine by right, and I’m giving it to him. I know Mom’s death hit you hard, so I’ve given you grace. But it’s been six months and that stops now. I want Greg in by the end of the week. You can take it up with him if you stick around or not.” She shrugs, even grins. “You two used to get on well. I’m sure if you pay rent, he’ll work something out.”
So sure, so matter-of-fact, as if she has a leg to stand on. And she might, but for one key point.
“Yonni left me the suite,” I say.
She leans in, eyes very wide, soft brown rimmed in purple. She’s soft all over, rounded chin and puffy cheeks. Angelic even, on a good day. “I’m the oldest, and by Right of Inheritance all Mom’s things are mine.”
“That only works when there’s no will,” I say. “Yonni’s is at the Records Office. Look it up.”
“She was too sick to know what she was signing.”
But Dee already tried that line when the will was read and got nowhere.
I open the lobby door and throw out a smile as soft as hers. “Good seeing you.”
Her lips thin, but only a little, her voice husky soft. “I didn’t want to tell you this, what with your mother’s recent little incident—”
“You mean, blowing up a national icon and its night crew?”
“But Greg needs this suite. He has to have a steady job and permanent address, and he’s running out of time. The City Enactors are after him.”
“Aren’t they always?”
Her hands twitch like she could spear her nails through my neck. She doesn’t, though. Point to Dee.
“Just give them yours,” I say. “Isn’t he staying with you?”
“My place is only zoned for one occupant. My landlord would kick me out.”
“Since when did you move to a singles suitetower?”
“What do you care?” she shoo
Greg is forever on the verge of losing everything. Even if he wasn’t, Yonni laid down the law so close to her death it was practically a last rite. Don’t you dare let Dee and her worthless spawn in my place—not even a foot inside, you hear me? Give me your word.
And I had.
“He’ll land on his feet.” I pull the door wider. “He always does.”
Her hands clench, but she fights it. “You don’t understand.”
“The suite’s mine, it’s on record. Go home.”
She straightens in slow motion. “Fine then, ruin his life—but don’t expect any favors from me.” She flicks her cig at my bare feet. Her aim’s perfect, but I’m faster—jumping back and releasing the door. She grabs it before it swings shut, shoots me a perfect Franks smile over her shoulder, then slips through and slams it behind her. The echo booms; the door frame shakes.
I wait in the resulting quiet. The whole first floor must have heard that, probably the next three up. Old Mrs. Divs at the very least. I glance down the hall to the first suite door on the left. No gray head pops out, wanting to know what all the fuss is over. Maybe she slept through it.
Maybe she doesn’t get out of bed for anything less than the House Lord’s death. We were all up for that one. Even ancient Mr. Sana, wandering the hall in only his socks and boxers, repeating nothing but “Lord Galton, Lord Galton” over and over. A couple of years ago, it was “Lady Galton, Lady Galton,” when the now late Lord’s mother died. Rumor had it her son poisoned her so he could gain his inheritance and control our House.
He certainly could have. Lord Galton was a ruthless bastard of the first order, but not subtle enough for poison. When Yonni started a betting pool on who killed the Lady—members of the ruling House family never die unaided—I put my money on Lord Galton’s wife, Lady Genevieve. Blonde, gorgeous, and forever smiling on the feeds with the perfect gracious response? Absolutely.
Yonni laughed and the rest of the residents rolled their eyes, but Mrs. Divs backed me up. Put two reds on Lady G. I like a long shot, she’d said.
Two weeks ago, when Lord Galton died, no one took bets on anything. The Lord had no children, so our House has no Heir. No ruler. Lady Genevieve married into the family, but she isn’t “of” the family—wasn’t born into it. Only bloodlings can rule. The late Lord had no siblings, neither did his mother. Or her mother, come to that. The Enactors are searching for the surviving bloodling Heir, but if the family line has died . . . I don’t know what will happen. At least Yonni won’t have to see it.