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By Kass Morgan
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Table of Contents
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Glass's hands were sticky with her mother's blood. The realization came to her slowly, as if through a thick haze—as if the hands belonged to someone else, and the blood was part of a nightmare. But they were her hands, and the blood was real.
Glass could feel her right palm sticking to the arm of her seat in the first row of the dropship. And she could feel someone squeezing her left hand, hard. It was Luke. He hadn't let go ever since he'd pulled Glass away from her mother's body and carried her to her seat. His fingers were grasping hers so tightly he might've been trying to siphon the pulsing pain out of her body and store it in his.
Glass tried to stay focused on the warmth of his hand on hers. She concentrated on the strength of his grip, how he showed no signs of loosening his hold even when the dropship began shaking and dipping on its violent trajectory toward Earth.
Not more than a few minutes ago, Glass had been sitting in a seat next to her mother, ready to face the new world together. But now her mother was dead, shot by a deranged guard desperate for a spot on the last shuttle to escape the dying Colony. Glass squeezed her eyes shut, trying to stop the scene from playing out again in her mind: Her mother falling, silently, to the ground. Glass dropping onto the floor next to her mother as she gasped and moaned, unable to do anything to stop the bleeding. Glass, pulling her mother's head onto her lap and battling sobs to say how much she loved her. Watching the dark stain on her mother's dress spread as the life faded from her. Watching her face go slack, just after hearing those final words: I'm so proud of you.
There was no stopping the images, just as there was no changing the truth. Her mother was dead, and Glass and Luke were hurtling through space on a ship that would crash into Earth at any moment.
The dropship rattled loudly and jerked from side to side. Glass hardly noticed. She had the vague sensation of a harness digging into her ribs as her body followed the ship's movements, but the pain of her mother's death gouged deeper than the metal buckle.
She'd always imagined grief as a weight—that is, when she'd thought about it at all. The old Glass hadn't spent a great deal of time dwelling on other people's anguish. That changed after her best friend's mother died, and she'd watched Wells slump around the ship as if carrying an enormous, invisible burden. But Glass felt different—carved out, hollow, as if all emotion had been scraped out of her. The only thing reminding her that she was still alive was Luke's reassuring hand on hers.
People pressed against Glass from all sides. Every seat was filled, and men, women, and children stood in every spare inch of the cabin. They held on to each other for balance, though no one could fall down—they were packed too tightly, an undulating mass of flesh and quiet tears. Some whispered the names of people they'd left behind, while others jerked their heads wildly, refusing to accept that they'd said good-bye to loved ones for the last time.
The only person who didn't look panicked was the man sitting immediately to Glass's right, Vice Chancellor Rhodes. He was staring straight ahead, either oblivious or impervious to the distraught faces around him. A flash of indignation momentarily masked her pain. Wells's father, the Chancellor, would've been doing everything in his power to comfort those around him. Not that he would've accepted a spot on the final dropship in the first place. But Glass was hardly in a position to judge. The only reason she'd made it onto the dropship was because Rhodes had brought Glass and her mother with him when he forced his way on board.
A violent jolt threw Glass back against her seat as the dropship lurched sideways, then tilted almost forty-five degrees before righting itself with a stomach-turning swoop. A child's wail cut through the collective gasp. Several people shrieked as the metal frame of the dropship began buckling, as if caught in the grasp of a giant fist. A high-pitched, mechanical whine screeched through the cabin, threatening to burst their eardrums, drowning out the cries and terrified sobs.
Glass gripped the arm of her seat and clutched Luke's hand, waiting for the surge of fear. But it never came. She knew she should be afraid, but the events of the past few days had left her numb. It was hard enough watching her home fall apart as the Colony ran out of oxygen. Hard enough risking an insane, unauthorized spacewalk to make it from Walden to Phoenix, where there was still breathable air. Everything she'd gone through had seemed worth it, though, when Glass, her mother, and Luke had made it onto the dropship. But at this moment, Glass didn't care if she never got to see Earth. Better to end it all now than have to wake up every morning and remember that her mother was gone.
She glanced to the side and saw Luke staring straight ahead, his face a stony mask of resolve. Was he trying to be brave for her? Or had his extensive guard training taught him how to remain calm under pressure? He deserved better than this. After everything Glass had put him through, was this how it was going to end? Had they escaped certain death on the Colony only to hurtle headlong into a different horrific fate? Humans weren't scheduled to return to Earth for at least another century, when scientists were sure the radiation left after the Cataclysm would have subsided. This was a premature homecoming, a desperate exodus promising nothing but uncertainty.
Glass looked over at the row of small windows lining the vessel. Hazy gray clouds filled each portal. It was oddly beautiful, she thought, just as the windows suddenly popped and shattered, spraying shards of hot glass and metal throughout the cabin. Flames shot through the broken panes. The people closest to the windows frantically tried to duck and move away, but there was nowhere to go. They leaned backward, falling onto the people behind them. The tang of scorched metal burned Glass's nostrils, while the scent of something else made her gag.… With rising fear, Glass realized it was the smell of burned flesh.
Pushing hard against the force of the ship's velocity, she turned her head to look at Luke. For a moment, Glass couldn't hear the sounds of whimpering and crying or the crunch of metal. She couldn't feel her mother's last breath. She could only see the side of Luke's face, the perfect profile and strong jaw that she'd traced in her mind night after night during those terrible months in Confinement, when she'd been sentenced to die on her eighteenth birthday.
Glass was brought back to reality by the sound of metal ripping from metal. It vibrated through her eardrums and down into her jaw, through her bones and into her gut. She ground her teeth together. She watched in helpless horror as the roof peeled off and flew away, as if it were nothing more than a scrap of fabric.
She forced herself to turn back to Luke, who'd closed his eyes but was now gripping her hand with renewed intensity.
"I love you," she said, but her words were swallowed up by the screams all around them. Suddenly, with a bone-shaking crack, the dropship slammed into Earth, and everything went black.
In the distance, Glass heard a low, guttural moaning, a sound full of more anguish than anything she'd ever heard. She tried to open her eyes, but the slightest effort sent her head into a sickening spin. She gave up and allowed herself to sink back into the darkness. A few moments passed. Or was it a few hours? Again, she struggled against the comforting quiet, fighting her way toward consciousness. For a sweet, groggy millisecond, she had no idea where she was. All she could focus on was the barrage of strange smells. Glass hadn't known it was possible to smell so many things at once: There was something she sort of recognized from the solar fields—her favorite spot to meet Luke—but amplified a thousand times over. There was something sweet, but not like sugar or perfume. Deeper, richer. Every breath she took sent her brain into overdrive as it struggled to identify the swirling scents. Something spicy. Metallic. Then a familiar scent jolted her brain to attention. Blood.
Glass's eyes fluttered open. She was in a space so large she couldn't see the walls, and the transparent, star-filled ceiling looked like it was miles away. Slowly, her awareness clicked into place, and her confusion gave way to awe. She was looking up at the sky—the real sky, on Earth—and she was alive. But her wonder lasted only a few moments before an urgent thought ripped through her brain, and panic shot through her body. Where was Luke? She snapped into alertness and pushed herself into an upright position, ignoring the nausea and pain that tried to force her back to the ground.
"Luke!" she cried out, jerking her head from side to side, praying to see his familiar outline among the mass of unfamiliar shadows. "Luke!" The growing chorus of screams and wails swallowed her cries. Why won't someone turn on the lights? she thought groggily, before remembering that she was on the ground. The stars gave off nothing more than a dull glimmer, and the moon offered just enough light for Glass to tell that the moaning, flailing black shapes were her fellow passengers. This had to be a nightmare. This wasn't what Earth was supposed to be like. This wasn't a place worth dying for. She called for Luke again, but there was no response.
She needed to stand, but her body felt strangely heavy, as if invisible weights were tugging on her limbs. Gravity here felt different, harsher—or was she injured? Glass placed her hand on her shin and gasped. Her legs were wet. Was she bleeding? She glanced down, afraid of what she might find. Her pant legs were torn, and the skin underneath was badly scratched, but there were no visible wounds. She placed her hands on the floor, no, ground, and gasped. She was sitting in water—water that stretched out far in front of her across an impossibly vast distance, with only the faintest shadow of trees at its far edge. Glass blinked, waiting for her eyes to recalibrate and reveal something that made more sense, but the image didn't change. Lake. The word slid smoothly into her mind. She was sitting on the edge, on the shore, of a lake on Earth—a fact that felt as surreal to her as the devastation surrounding her on every side. When she turned to look, she saw only horror: Bodies lying limp and broken on the ground. Wounded people crying and begging for help. The mangled, smoking shells of several dropships that had all landed within a few meters of each other, their frames cracked open and splintered. People running into the still smoldering wreckage, then clambering back out with heavy, still figures draped over their shoulders.
Who had carried her out? If it was Luke, where was he?
Glass struggled to her feet, her legs shaky beneath her. She locked her knees to prevent them from giving way and swung her arms out to regain her balance. She stood in the icy water, cold creeping up her legs. She took a deep breath and felt her head clear slightly, although her legs continued to tremble. She took a few wobbly steps forward and knocked her foot against a few rocks below the surface.
Glass looked down and inhaled sharply. There was just enough moonlight to tell that the water was tinged a deep pink. Did the pollution and radiation of the Cataclysm cause lakes to change color? Or was there an area of Earth where water was naturally pink? She'd never paid much attention in her Earth geography tutorials—a fact she was starting to regret more and more by the second. But a desperate cry from a crumpled figure on the ground nearby brought the painful answer to her mind: This wasn't a long-lasting side effect of radiation—the water was colored with blood.
She shuddered, then walked toward the woman who had called out. She was slumped on the shore, the bottom half of her body in the rapidly reddening water. Glass stooped down and took her hand. "Don't worry, you're going to be fine," she said, hoping she sounded more certain than she felt. The woman's eyes were wide with fear and pain. "Have you seen Thomas?" she wheezed.
"Thomas?" Glass repeated, scanning the shadow landscape of bodies and wreckage. She needed to find Luke. The only thing more terrifying than being on Earth was the thought of Luke lying somewhere out there, injured and alone.
"My son, Thomas," the woman said, tightening her grip on Glass's hand. "We were on different dropships. My neighbor—" She cut herself off with an anguished gasp. "She promised she'd take care of him."
"We'll find him," Glass said, wincing as the woman's fingernails dug into her skin. She hoped that the first sentence she'd spoken on Earth didn't turn out to be a lie. She thought back to the chaotic scene she'd barely escaped back on the ship: The crush of wheezing people filling the launch deck, desperate for one of the remaining seats off the dying Colony. The frantic parents who'd become separated from their children. The blue-lipped, shell-shocked kids searching for the family members they'd probably never lay eyes on again.
Glass only managed to escape when the woman cried out in pain and let her hand fall back to the water. "I'll look for him," Glass said shakily as she started to inch away. "We'll find him."
The guilt building in her stomach was almost enough to stop Glass in her tracks, but she knew she had to keep moving. There was nothing she could do to ease this woman's suffering. She wasn't a doctor like Wells's girlfriend, Clarke. She wasn't even a people person, like Wells or Luke, who both always knew the right thing to say at the right time. There was only one person on the planet she had any power to help, and she had to find him before it was too late.
"I'm sorry," Glass whispered, turning back to face the woman, whose face was contorted in pain. "I'll come back for you. I need to go find my—someone."
The woman nodded through a clenched jaw and squeezed her eyes shut, tears sneaking from behind her eyelids.
Glass wrenched her gaze away and kept walking. She squinted, trying to make sense of the scene in front of her. The combination of the darkness, the dizziness, the smoke, and the shock of being on Earth seemed to make everything a blur. The dropships had landed on the edge of a lake, leaving piles of smoldering wreckage everywhere she looked. In the distance, she could just make out the faint outline of trees, but she was too distraught to give them more than a fleeting glance. What good were trees or even flowers if Luke wasn't there to see any of it with her?
Her eyes darted from one dazed and battered survivor to another. An old man sat on a large piece of metal torn from the dropship, his head in his hands. A young boy with a bloody face stood alone, just a few meters away from a tangle of sizzling, sparking wires. Oblivious to the danger, he stood staring blankly up at the sky, as if searching for a way to get back home.
All around lay the broken bodies of the dead. People with the ghosts of heart-wrenching good-byes still on their lips, people who'd never even gotten a glimpse of the blue sky they'd sacrificed everything to see. They would've been better off staying behind, taking their last breaths surrounded by their friends and families instead of being left here, all alone.
Still a little unsteady on her feet, Glass staggered toward the nearest figures on the ground, praying with all her might that none of the lifeless faces had Luke's strong chin, narrow nose, or curly blond hair. She sighed with bittersweet relief as she looked down at the first person. Not Luke. With equal parts dread and hope, she moved to the next body. And the next. She held her breath as she rolled people onto their backs or pushed heavy chunks of wreckage off them. With each bloody, battered stranger, she exhaled and allowed herself to believe that Luke might still be alive.
"Are you okay?"
Startled, Glass jerked her head to the side to follow the voice. A man with a large gash above his left eye was looking at her quizzically.
"Yes, I'm fine," she said automatically.
"You sure? Shock can do crazy things to the body."
"I'm okay. I'm just looking…" She trailed off, unable to shape the mass of panic and hope in her chest into words.
The man nodded. "Good. I already checked this area, but if you find any survivors I missed, just shout. We're gathering the injured over there." He pointed a finger into the darkness where, in the distance, Glass could just make out the shapes of bent figures hovering over still forms on the ground.
"There's a woman, over by the water. I think she's hurt."
"Okay, we'll go get her."
He signaled to someone Glass couldn't see, then broke into a lurching jog. She felt a strange urge to call out, to tell him that it was better to look for the missing Thomas first. Glass felt sure that the woman would rather bleed out in the water than face a lifetime on Earth without the only person who made her life worth living. But the man was already gone.
Glass took a deep breath and willed herself to keep moving, but her feet no longer seemed connected to her brain. If Luke were unharmed, wouldn't he have found her by now? The fact that she hadn't heard his deep voice calling her name through the din meant that, at best, he was lying somewhere, too hurt to move. And at worst…
Glass tried to resist the grim thoughts, but it was like attempting to shove a shadow. Nothing could keep the darkness out of her mind. It would be unimaginably cruel to lose Luke mere hours after their reunion. She couldn't go through it again, not after what happened to her mother. No. Choking back a sob, she rose onto the balls of her feet and looked around. There was more light now. Some of the survivors had used the burning pieces of dropship to create makeshift torches, but the jagged, flashing light was hardly comforting. Everywhere she looked, Glass saw glimpses of mangled bodies and panicked faces emerging from the shadows.
The trees were closer now. She could see the bark, the twisted branches, the canopy of leaves. After spending her whole life staring at one solitary tree, it was startling to see so many all together, like turning a corner and facing a dozen clones of your best friend.
Glass turned to glance at one particularly large tree and gasped. A boy with curly hair was slumped against the trunk.
A boy in a guard's uniform.
"Luke!" Glass shouted, breaking into a jerky run. As she got closer, she saw that his eyes were closed. Was he unconscious or…
"Luke!" she cried again before the thought could gain traction.
Glass's limbs felt both clumsy and electrified, like a reanimated corpse. She tried to speed up, but the ground seemed to be pulling her down. Even from a dozen meters away, she could tell: It was Luke. His eyes were closed, his body slack, but he was breathing. He was alive.
Glass fell to her knees by his side and fought the urge to throw herself across him. She didn't want to hurt him any further. "Luke," she whispered. "Can you hear me?"
He was pale, and over his eye there was a deep cut, which oozed blood down the bridge of his nose. Glass pulled her sleeve down over her hand and pressed it against the cut. Luke moaned slightly but didn't move. She pressed a little harder, hoping to staunch the bleeding, and looked down to survey the rest of him. His left wrist was purple and swollen, but apart from that, he looked okay. Tears of relief and gratitude sprang to her eyes, and she let them slide down her cheeks. After a few minutes, she took her sleeve away and examined the wound again. It looked like the bleeding had stopped.
Glass put a hand on his chest. "Luke," she said gently. She ran her fingers lightly over his collarbone. "Luke. It's me. Wake up."
Luke stirred at the sound of her voice, and Glass let out a mangled sound that was part laugh, part sob. He groaned, his eyelids fluttering open and sinking closed again. "Luke, wake up," Glass repeated, then brought her mouth to his ear, just like she used to do on mornings when he was in danger of missing check-in at work. "You're going to be late," she said with a small smile.
His eyes opened again, slowly, and fixed on her. He tried to speak, but no sound came out. Instead he smiled back.
"Hey there," Glass said, feeling her fear and sorrow melt away for a moment. "It's okay. You're okay. We're here, Luke. We made it. Welcome to Earth."
"You look exhausted," Sasha said, tilting her head to the side so her long black hair spilled across her shoulder. "Why don't you go to bed?"
"I'd rather be here with you." Wells suppressed a yawn by turning it into a grin. It wasn't hard. Every time he looked at Sasha, he noticed something that made him smile. The way her green eyes glowed in the flickering light of the campfire. How the smattering of freckles on her sharp cheekbones could be as fascinating to him as the nighttime constellations were to her. She was staring at them now, her chin pointed upward as she gazed in wonder at the sky.
"I can't believe you lived up there," she said quietly before lowering her eyes to meet Wells's. "Don't you miss it? Being surrounded by stars?"
"It's even more beautiful down here." He raised his hand, placed a finger on Sasha's cheek, then gently traced a path from one freckle to another. "I could stare at your face all night. I couldn't do that with the Big Dipper."
"I'd be surprised if you lasted five more minutes. You can barely keep your eyes open."
"It's been a long day."
Sasha raised an eyebrow, and Wells smiled. They both knew that was a bit of an understatement. Over the past few hours, Wells had been kicked out of the camp for helping Sasha—the hundred's former prisoner—escape. That was before he ran into Clarke and Bellamy, who had just rescued Bellamy's sister, Octavia, thereby proving that Sasha's people, the Earthborns, weren't the enemy they'd once appeared to be. That alone would've been a lot to explain to the rest of the camp members, most of whom were still a little uneasy around Sasha, but it was only the beginning. Just that evening, Bellamy and Wells had made a shocking discovery. Although Wells, the son of the Chancellor, had grown up privileged on Phoenix, while Bellamy, an orphan, had scraped by on Walden, they were in fact half brothers.
It was all too much to process. And while Wells was mostly happy, the shock and confusion kept the full weight of the news from sinking in. That, and the fact that he hadn't had a good night's sleep in ages. Over the past few weeks, he'd become the de facto leader of the camp. It wasn't a position he'd necessarily sought, but his officer training combined with his lifelong fascination with Earth had given him a certain set of skills. Yet, while he was glad to be able to help, and grateful for the group's trust, the position came with an enormous amount of responsibility.
"Maybe I'll rest for a minute," he said, lowering his elbows to the ground, then lying back so he could rest his head in Sasha's lap. Although he and Sasha were sitting apart from the rest of the group gathered around the campfire, the crackle of the flames didn't fully mask the sound of the typical evening arguments. It was just a matter of time before someone came rushing over to complain that someone else had taken her cot, or to get Wells to settle a dispute about water duty, or to ask what they were meant to do with the scraps from that day's hunt.
Wells sighed as Sasha ran her fingers through his hair, and for a moment, he forgot about everything except the warmth of her skin as he let his head sink against her. He forgot about the terrible week they'd just had, the violence they had witnessed. He forgot about finding the body of his friend Priya. He forgot that his father had been shot in front of his eyes during a scuffle with Bellamy, who'd been desperate to get onto the dropship with his sister. He forgot about the fire that had destroyed their original camp and killed Clarke's friend, Thalia—a tragedy that had severed the last remaining bonds of his and Clarke's romance.
Maybe he and Sasha could spend the whole night out in the clearing. It was the only way they'd get any privacy. He smiled at the idea and felt himself sinking deeper toward sleep.
"What the hell?" Sasha's hand stopped suddenly, and there was a note of anxiety in her voice.
"What's wrong?" Wells asked as his eyes snapped open. "Is everything okay?"
He sat up and took a quick survey of the clearing. Most of the hundred were still huddled in clumps around the fire, speaking in low murmurs that blended into a soothing hum. But then his gaze fell on Clarke, and although she was curled up next to Bellamy, he could tell she was focused on something else entirely. Although his intense, all-consuming feelings for her had evolved into something akin to real friendship, he could still read her like a tablet. He knew her every expression: the way she pursed her lips in concentration when studying a medical procedure, or how her eyes practically sparkled when talking about one of her weird interests, like biological classification or theoretical physics. Right now, her brows were knitted together in concern as she threw her head back, assessing and calculating something in the sky. Bellamy's head was tilted up too, his expression stony. He turned and whispered something in Clarke's ear, an intimate gesture that would've once made Wells's stomach roil, but now only filled him with apprehension.
Wells looked up but didn't see anything unusual. Just stars. Sasha was still staring at the sky. "What is it?" Wells asked, placing his hand on her back.
"There." Sasha's voice tightened as she pointed straight up into the night, high above the infirmary cabin and the trees that ringed the clearing. She knew this sky as well as he knew the stars up close. An Earthborn, she'd been looking up her whole life, while he'd been looking down. Wells followed her finger and saw it: a swiftly moving bright light, arcing toward Earth. Toward them. Just behind it was another, then two more. Together they looked like a star shower, raining down on the peaceful gathering around the fire.
Wells inhaled sharply as his entire body went rigid.
"The dropships," he said quietly. "They're coming down. All of them." He felt Sasha's body tense next to his. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close as they watched the descending ships in silence for a moment, their breath falling into the same rhythm.
"Do you… do you think your father's on one of them?" Sasha asked, clearly trying to sound more hopeful than she felt. While the Earthborns had come to terms with sharing the planet with a hundred juvenile delinquents in exile, Wells sensed that facing the entire population of the Colony was an entirely different matter.
- On Sale
- Feb 24, 2015
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers