“We kill him.”
Holden watched their faces as his words sunk in. Friends like Loki and Nevaeh, rivals like Inez. The quieter ones like Sebastian and Amelia, who were still little more than strangers after all this time.
Let it register. See that I mean it.
But then there was Seyah. His friend—and his connection to a lost life. The Holden he used to be, the Holden who would have never contemplated ending another person’s life.
Seyah had known that Holden, even if she hadn’t known him well. But this ruined Earth had changed everyone.
“Whoa, man.” Loki glanced over his shoulder. “You mean, like, just out-and-out murder him?”
“He deserves to be executed. For the murder of Umta.”
Loki let out a low whistle. “Definitely not what I was expecting you to say.”
Seyah stepped forward. “That’s because he doesn’t know what he’s saying. Holden, you’re in shock, you’re grieving. We all are. Now’s not the time to make snap decisions about life and death.”
Holden rubbed his temples. This was the argument he and Seyah had been having all day, in fierce whispers when the rest weren’t around. He’d hoped she’d come to see that this was the only way forward—Umta had meant as much to her as to Holden, and if anyone would’ve wanted vengeance for her death, Holden thought it would’ve been her. But Seyah’s dad had been a cop, and it turned out that a cop’s daughter wasn’t one for execution without trial, even in a world gone mad.
Too bad. This would’ve been easier with her on his side, but it didn’t change things. Cole had murdered Umta right before Holden’s eyes. Would’ve killed him, too, if she hadn’t stopped him. Cole was too dangerous to let live.
Calmly, Holden looked over the others assembled around the camp. Umta’s funeral was over, and now they would start packing up, getting ready to move out. Some yards away there was a different sort of camp, Jing-Wei and her caretakers, or keepers, as they’d started calling them. Keepers are the good ones, she said, as if her word were enough. This Jing-Wei, remade for a second time and with a band of robots at her beck and call, was a big enough worry. They didn’t need a murderer like Cole to look after as well.
“Maybe I am in shock,” said Holden, loud enough that everyone could hear. “Why aren’t the rest of you? One of our own turned against us.”
Holden noticed a few people glance toward Cole. They’d untied him from the keeper and then retied him to a tree away from the rest of the group.
“This isn’t just about revenge,” said Holden. “This is about survival. We have to travel light and fast.”
“And just where the hell are we going this time?” said Gabe. “You all keep talking about some door? What if that turns out like Arcadia? Like Oz? Shit, when are we going to stop running?”
“We don’t have time for this, Gabe,” snapped Holden. “Oz’s brain is dead and his systems are shutting down one by one. I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about the idea of making my home over a fusion reactor that might start to fail any day.” Holden sighed. “And no matter where we go, Cole’s a threat. He’s not one of us anymore.”
Nevaeh spoke up, as Holden expected she would. “That’s not . . . Look, Oz screwed with our minds in there. Messed Cole up somehow, but he’s not some psychopath.”
To Holden’s surprise, it was Inez who rebutted her. “You know that for sure? I mean, none of us knew jack about one another before waking up here.” She looked at Holden and Seyah. “Well, most of us, anyway. What do we really know about Cole? Maybe that whole farm boy thing is just an act. Maybe he’s done shit like this before.”
“He hasn’t!” said Nevaeh.
“You don’t know that,” said Inez. Then she leveled her gaze at Holden. “I agree we can’t take him along. But I’m not down with murder, either. I say we leave him behind.”
Umta liked to press her cheek against the cool metal floor and listen to the station hum to her. The sound calmed her, like the low purr her own Umta had used on her when she was young. Like the one Umta used to sing to her sons, Mok and Luk. Most of the time those memories dug at her heart like a worm worrying an apple, but when she listened to the station, the memories hurt less. The pain never went away, but the panic receded. So Umta would lie on the floor for hours like that, purring along with the station, humming along with its tuneless song.
The caretakers gave her full roam of the station these days, and when she wasn’t listening, she explored the service shafts and twisting tunnels....