Today's Reading

So he knows Carl used to be indentured? But they must have met when Carl was still a specialist detective for the Noropean Ministry of Justice, and it was part of his contract to never tell anyone about his status as a corporate asset, just like it was in my contract. Did he break that rule before we left Earth, once we were with the Circle, those contracts paid off? Or was it confessed here on Atlas 2, when Earth and its horrors were far behind us? Regardless of when it must have happened, I never thought Carl would ever share that with anyone except me. He's opened up to Travis far more than I thought.

"For our own good?" Carl scoffs.

"And for everyone else's too. We're all on this ship together. If someone goes Trafalgar Square on board, it's a lot worse, right?"

Carl frowns at the mention of that massacre. One lunatic with a dirty bomb was bad enough in a huge city; it would be so much worse in a spaceship. "Now, I'm not for a moment saying that you're going to lose it like that man did," Travis continues, "but...you are losing it. And it's going to kill you if you don't sort it out."

"They won't let it kill me," he says with a bitterness I understand all too well. He's still thinking like someone classed as a corporate asset, like I was. But that debt was wiped the moment he made the deal with the Circle to bring us onto Atlas 2. Somehow he got the funds to pay off my debt too.

It will never leave us, the memory of others having power over our bodies, over our lives, but it's still gnawing away at him. I refuse to let it do that to me. They took enough years of my life. But I don't think he's in a state to see it the way I do.

Then again, I suspect he sees very little the way I do.

While I don't agree with how Travis is doing this, I do agree with his appraisal. I've been keeping Carl together since we were classed nonpersons over twenty years ago; there's no way I'm going to let him die now, not when we've finally gotten away from that shower of shit that was corporate slavery.

"No, they won't let it kill you," I say, "just like anyone else on this ship. I guess they'll fuck with your brain even more, without your permission, if it comes to it. Look, Carl, this is serious shit. Talking to someone about this food thing could make your life here so much better. We're stuck on this ship for another, what, nineteen and a half years? Your chip has already done all it can to keep you alive. It's not enough. Antiemetics and uppers and downers can only go so far, and they're not a long-term solution anyway. If you don't find help, they're gonna have to get more invasive." He remains silent. "What's the worst that can happen?"

"I could say too much."

"They know you're fucked up, Carl. And whoever it is will know your background. It's in your medical file." I don't say anything more, not being certain of how much he's told Travis. We had so many learning acceleration drugs pumped into us back then, they'll know he's been hot-housed, even if he doesn't disclose it. Our brains don't look normal anymore.

"I'm not worried about that." His voice is quiet and his body is still. "What if...what if I start to open up and I just blurt it out?"

"Blurt what out?" Travis asks, as I scream at him in my head to shut up.

"That everyone on Earth is dead."

I wait for the rest, for the fact that not only are they dead, but someone on this ship must have given the order for the nukes to be fired from America into Europe. That someone else breathing the same recycled air as us right now is responsible for the deaths of billions. But he doesn't say it, even though we're all thinking it.

There's a fly on one of the cards and then I can hear them buzzing.

What is that sound coming from the bedroom? "Daddy?"

The buzzing gets louder. Is there something wrong with the wall? Pushing the door, revealing him on the bed, the buzzing louder.

His eyes open, his mouth open, the flies coming out of his mouth—

"I can't stop thinking about it!" Carl shouts, and there are no flies here, of course there aren't, we're in space, thousands, if not millions, of miles away from every bug known to humankind. "Every single fucking time I try to eat I think about the food I used to cook, about the gingerbread..."

"Gingerbread?" Travis asks, but Carl is crying into his hands now.

Shit.

"Look," I say, getting up to rest a hand on his back. "Cry it out if you need to, but you have to...to..." What can I say here that won't make me seem like a monster to him?

He drags his hands down his cheeks, sniffling, to look at me. "How are you coping so well?"

Oh, Carl, if only you knew.
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