Seyah shivered as a wind gust blasted through the forest, causing the trees to shimmy around her and Holden. At least the snow that shook down on them from the branches was from the earlier snowstorm, rather than a fresh onslaught. The group had agreed they needed to hole up, however briefly, and discuss the city in the distance—whether to head there. But to regroup they needed a better location than they’d had before, somewhere with more shelter. And maybe an electric heater, Seyah thought, lips quirking at her own impossible joke.
She’d volunteered to scout for a better campsite nearby partly to get some time alone, to think, but it hadn’t worked out that way. She still wasn’t sure how she’d ended up with Holden as a partner.
She pulled the sleeves of her shirt down over her freezing hands. And though she tried to be as discreet about the movement as possible, to keep Holden from noticing, of course he did. Immediately.
“Do you want my blanket?” he asked, reaching to dig in the backpack he carried to find it.
There he was, trying to play the gentleman again. Like he had that last night they were home.
That was the problem. Every time Holden so much as looked at her lately, Seyah felt like he expected . . . something. A profession of undying love, some kind of theatrical, poetic moment, like they were still doing one of the funnier Shakespeare plays together instead of acting out a tragedy on a scale too big to comprehend. So she shivered quietly and said, “I’m fine.”
Her breath was visible with the words.
“You haven’t said . . . What do you think about the city?” Holden asked, rather than pursuing the issue of the blanket. The city was a subject everyone was more than happy to talk about. He’d chosen wisely.
Everyone was focused on what or who might be there. Would they find more caretakers who’d try to kill them? Or would it be more people stuck here, like they were, to compete with for resources, to get to know and then watch die at the hands of crazy robots? Would it be worth going anyway just for those possible resources? Seyah was just as obsessed as everyone else, but she had a different line of thinking than the rest of them. Which was why she hadn’t said much on the topic.
Seyah might not know Holden well enough to trust him, but she decided to let him in on the idea that had been on her mind since May had seen the lit-up spot—a possible urban promised land—on the horizon.
“What if there’s something there that can zap us back home?” she asked. “Some kind of tech. Like what brought us here, but in reverse.”
The longing to go home, to be safely back in her real life, was with her always. It was a thrumming undercurrent that never went silent, as regular as the beating of her heart. She’d been known there, surrounded by friends and admirers. So what if she hadn’t ever really felt like she fit in back home either? She wanted nothing more.
Holden didn’t answer right away. When he did, she wished he hadn’t. “It seems more likely to be a trap. Nothing here’s what it seems.”
“It seems like a city, Holden. Why can’t you believe that it is one?” Cities were destinations, places to find destinies. Seyah had spent half her life dreaming in secret about escaping to one in particular.
“Yeah, but I don’t think we should get our hopes up. It might be another disaster.”
“But . . . imagine the possibilities. Everyone has said, ‘What if there’s just more people like us?’ but maybe we can finally find people there who can help us—who can get us home? Why does it have to be only bad things that happen here?”
Holden sighed, low enough that she understood she wasn’t meant to hear it.
“Never mind,” she said.
She should have known better than to bring this up. All recent conversations, shaky-breathed with cold after the storm, had gone this way. Only Inez and Gabe had indicated any tendency to be cautiously optimistic about what they might find. Oh, and adorable reality-star Teddy, but he sided with Inez no matter what. Seyah remained too shy to reveal she’d been a fan of his show. Sometimes it seemed like he thought he was still on it, that a crew member was going to leap out and shout “Surprise!” and get them out of here.
Scanning ahead, Seyah found her partial view of the city’s lights blocked by a tall rock formation. The morning was new enough that the lights were still visible, in contrast to the receding dark of night. She sped up until they came back into view completely. Relief flooded her. There it was. Lit up like a promise of homecoming, a tower in the middle thrusting high into the sky.
“I’m not cold anymore,” she blurted.
“What?” Holden said, catching up after her burst of speed.
Seyah took her eyes off the glow of the city to observe their current surroundings. There was definitely less snow here. It was melting. “It’s warmer here.”
Not waiting for Holden’s agreement—she could tell she was right about the temperature without his say-so, thank you...