I crawl towards the beautiful loud engine which propels us to our final destination the sounds of the dance thud below me and I wish that they would stop because ever since this exodus of ours there have been parties every second of every day and now all I want is sleep but I can’t because I need to fix this the engine’s song has been flooding our world for weeks always whining and always loud and always there and I’m the only one who notices and I’m the only one who cares and now I touch the cold grey greasy machine to see if it will tell me what’s wrong which it won’t because machines can’t talk and then I see the endlessness of space which is not sprinkled with stars and planets as it once was—
Taryn woke with a start. She took a few panicked breaths before she remembered that it was a dream. The same dream, in fact, that she had been having over and over and over again ever since they had left Earth for their new home. She was heartily sick of it. With a sigh, she stared out the small porthole that served as her window. Nothing but blackness with a few flickering starts and gigantic planets. In the far distance she spotted a nebula, glowing yellow and pink. Once, such a sight had filled her with a lilting sort of joy. Now, however, it barely made it skip a beat.
Below her, she could hear the thunking sound of the music that has been playing since they left their home, a world so sick with their disease that the only hope was send the young ones away. Somewhere far, far away a beautiful, intelligent mother and a handsome, quiet father would be staring up at the sky, trying to see through the smog where their only child was. She smiled out the window just in case they could someone catch sight of her pale, heart-shaped faced framed by short, straight black hair.
A rumbling in her stomach made Taryn remember that she probably hadn’t eaten in several hours. It was hard to tell. Time passed strangely on the ship. She pulled herself out of bed and yanked on her government issued jacket and boots. She would have liked to sleep more, but she knew it was useless. She flipped a switch and the overhead light came on, illuminating the small room with a pale, sickly light. She kissed her fingers and touched them to the framed picture she had of her family. Someday, she hoped they would be able to join her and leave their ruined home planet behind. She splashed some of the stale, recycled water that ran through the small sinks in each bunk on her face. She looked in the mirror. Two brown, almond eyes stared back.
She locked the door to her bunk, a trick she’d learned after half the shipmates got their valuables stolen by the other half in the first weeks, and made her way down the expansive, grey hallway. She began humming softly to herself and then a sudden awareness came over her. It was the song from her dreams. She stopped humming and listened as hard as she could. Through her own blood pumping in her ears, she could hear it. The unearthly music from her dreams. She turned sharply and made her way, somewhere between a walk and a jog, to the cockpit, where Captain Aaron would be. She felt an overwhelming need to tell him about the music. He would understand and he would have answers. Lost in her haze of worry, she hardly noticed when she ran into another person.
“Oh, sorry,” Taryn said looking back.
Pearce, another passenger a few years younger than she was with olive skin and wide eyes, shrugged her apology off. Taryn continued on her way. Pearce dropped into pace next to her.
“I was looking for you. Good thing you ran into me, huh?” he said with his trademark carelessness.
Taryn didn’t answer him. The music was getting louder. It was silvery and shining and dark. It seemed to stop her heart and gave her a delicate ache in her stomach
“Taryn?” Pearce asked, eyes round with concern.
“Do you hear that?” Taryn replied.
“The music,” she almost whispered.
Pearce looked at her as if she were insane.
“Yeah. It never stops,” he said slowly as if she were a very small child.
“No, not that. It sounds…never mind.”
“Well, um, I’ll keep an ear out for it.”
Taryn smiled at him, unsure of what to say. The melody wove its way through her mind and into her heart. She was firmly in its grasp now. She felt as if she would be sick. Her step faltered and it was all she could do not to fall to her knees and cover her ears. Until, suddenly, it stopped. The silence filled her ears and a small smile began to form on her lips. It was gone.
“Beckham’s looking for you, by the way.” Pearce’s voice said, breaking through the silence.
Taryn’s smile faltered. Beckham. Great.
“Tell him to wait,” she said.
“He’s not gonna be happy ‘bout that. With you. Or me,” Pearce said.
Taryn sighed. She knew how he could get with his lackeys and Pearce was definitely one of his favorite scapegoats. Pearce was still playing it cool, but there was an anxiety about his eyes. The mystery of the music and her own hunger weighed just as heavily on her as the threats she imagined Beckham had given poor Pearce. In the very far corners of her mind, the music began to play again.
“Tell Beckham to come get me himself if he needs to speak to me so badly,” Taryn said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“I need to go see the captain. It’s important.”
As she made her way down the shining hallways, she hoped Beckham will go easy on him. And her, when it came down to it. Seeing the captain was more important than anything Beckham could want from her. The silvery music had taken residence somewhere in the back of her head and showed no signs of abating anytime soon.
The control room sat at the front of the ship. It had the only large windows in the entire ship. Taryn used to spend a lot of time there. She loved seeing the new planets and the colorful nebulas and stars. Now, after so long aboard the ship, they had lost their novelty. Taryn entered her access code and the doors slid open quickly. She was one of the few with a valid access code, and she only had one because she and Captain Aaron had become friends early on.
“Hey, Tar. Long time, no see,” Captain Aaron said, grinning widely at her.
“Hi,” Taryn said softly.
The two of them stared uncomfortably at each other. Taryn had no idea how to begin. It had been so long since she’d seen him, and she was only halfway sure she was not actually going crazy.
“So, um, you want some breakfast?” Captain Aaron asked breaking the silence.
“Yeah. Sure.” Taryn replied.
Captain Aaron dug through a silver cylinder that sat next to his control panel and tossed her a red apple.
“Sorry it’s not much, but they tend to send me all my food for the day at once,” he shrugged apologetically.
“It’s okay. They told us they ran out of apples a while ago,” Taryn said taking a very satisfied bite of the fruit. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel like she was back home.
“So. What do you want?” Captain Aaron asked.
“Oh, um, I need to ask you something but there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to think I’m crazy,” Taryn said.
“Okay then,” Captain Aaron said with a laugh.
“So, I’ve been…hearing this music. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s not the stuff they play downstairs. It’s…different. Like a music box, if it was made of ice. And it’s probably going to drive me crazy,” Taryn said breathlessly.
“Huh. Well, it could be an old radio transmission or something. I know they used to send songs and messages into space before we figured out we really were alone.”
“Do you hear it?” Taryn asked delicately.
Captain Aaron shook his head.
“Nah. But don’t worry about it. I’m sure you’re not crazy.”
“Hey, Taryn? Why’d you stop visiting me?” Captain Aaron asked after a pause.
Taryn was saved from answering by a loud buzzing. They both jumped and looked at the screen where Beckham stood observing them with a haughty glare.
“Crap. What does he want?” Captain Aaron said.
“Me. Pearce tried to give me a message from him this morning and I blew him off,” Taryn sighed.
“I should go. He’s…you know,” Taryn said tossing the apple core into the trashcan.
“Yeah. Bye, Tar. Don’t be a stranger.”
“I’ll try,” Taryn said with a smile that felt fake even to her.
The moment the door slid open Richmond, Beckham’s number one thug, grabbed her arm in a vice-like grip. Nowhere to run to now.
“Hello, Beckham,” she said with a bare hint of distaste in her voice.
“Hello, Taryn. I believe you got my message,” Beckham said formally.
“And yet I had to come and fetch you. How unfortunate.”
“I had urgent business with Captain Aaron.” Taryn said, her temper flaring.
“It appeared to me that you were dining with him.”
“What we were doing is none of your business. What do you want?” Taryn spat at him.
“To talk. Nothing more,” he said coolly leading her and Richmond through the hallway.
It was alarming the speed at which the other passengers they met got out of their way. Taryn had barely left her room since she had started feeling the weight of their journey. If she had realized that Beckham had gotten this bad, she would have gone to see him first. Causing any sort of trouble was the last thing she wanted.
The three of them reached one of the big sitting rooms that Pearce was guarding. He had a black eye. A hard look passed over his face when he saw Taryn. She couldn’t meet his eyes. A faint panic was starting to overtake her. Inside the sitting room, Taryn was surprised how different it looked from the rest of the ship. There were paintings on the wall and a large rug on the floor. Curtains were drawn over the small windows. The light in the room was warm and a large basket of apples sat on the table. Ten others milled around. A beautiful girl Taryn had never met gave Beckham a coquettish smile and her equally beautiful friend bent close to whisper something in her ear.
Beckham nodded to Richmond, and he released Taryn.
“Everyone out. We need privacy.” Beckham said.
He didn’t have to raise his voice. Everyone scattered, even Richmond. Taryn found herself alone with Beckham, which was essentially the last thing she wanted.
“So. You wanted to talk,” she said, trying to keep her voice even.
“Yes. I know about the music, Taryn. I hear it too,” he replied.
Taryn’s heart leaped in her chest. She wasn’t crazy. Or at least not alone in her insanity. The air between them was thick. She could feel him trying to pry the answer out of her with his large, colorless eyes. She took a split second to gather herself and gave him a confused look.
“What are you talking about?” she asked innocently.
His pale face blushed pink with anger and his eyes narrowed to slits.
“The music. I know you hear it too. It told me you did,” he said evenly.
“Wow. Guess the rumors are true. You have lost it,” she said in what she hoped was a casual tone.
“I haven’t-! You’re lying.”
“No. I’m not. And I don’t have all day to waste talking to a madman. If you’ll excuse me?” she asked, mimicking his early formality.
She strode out of the room with her heart in her throat. He knew. And, unfortunately, the music was speaking to him. And, even worse, it had mentioned her. Behind her, Pearce called out, but she ignored him and walked confidently to the control room. She felt like if she so much as stumbled, she’d be dragged back and forced to face Beckham’s coolly simmering rage. With shaking fingers, she entered her access code to the control room.
“Didn’t expect to see you back so soon, Tar.” Captain Aaron said, still facing the vastness of space.
“There’s something I need to tell you,” Taryn said.
Something in her tone alarmed Captain Aaron. He turned his chair around to face her. When his eyes met hers, there was a brief moment of shock. Behind him, Taryn could see her pale, scared reflection in the huge windows.
“What is it?” he asked.
Taryn took a deep breath and told him everything.
Pearce called after Taryn as she left, but she didn’t turn back. He didn’t particularly want to speak with her, but he didn’t think she should be leaving so soon. He watched her go, resentment towards her from this morning still bubbling inside him. If Beckham was going to be pissed at her, let him.
Nearby, Ellis laughed her tinkling laugh. The sound of it soothed his bruises and his anger in equal measure. She was beautiful. She was all he ever saw and all he had ever wanted. But it didn’t matter. Beckham had taken a marked interest in her and there was a rumor he was going to be king when they landed. He would need a queen. Everyone said so.
“Hey, Ellis,” Pearce called, trying to strike up a conversation.
“Oh. Hi, Pearce,” she replied calmly.
“So. You tired of the…whole space…thing yet?” he asked trying to sound calm and failing.
“No. It’s still…I don’t know. Amazing, I guess. Wish we could see more of though. The windows are so small,” she replied graciously.
“Well, I know how to sneak into the-”
With a jerk of his head, Richmond signaled that Beckham was ready to resume holding court.
“See you around, Pearce,” Ellis said as she slipped inside.
“Yeah. Bye,” he replied.
Pearce slumped against the wall as the others filed inside. If he were braver, he’d file in with them and stand up to Beckham for a change, but he knew better. And besides, if Beckham did take over once they landed, there was always a chance he’d be rewarded for loyal service or something.
His daydreams of a job working for their probable new king and Ellis finally paying attention to him were interrupted by Richmond’s grabbing his collar and shoving inside. The man was a giant, over a head taller than Pearce and twice as strong. He had the unique ability to be perfectly understood without uttering a word.
Pearce made his way through the crowd to Beckham. There was a dangerousness in Beckham that he had not seen before. He looked like a shark circling a raft of shipwreck survivors.
“Yes?” Pearce asked.
“Keep an eye on Taryn. Report anything unusual you see to me. You are to be her new shadow, Pearce.” Beckham said, his normally lazy, rich voice shot through with anger.
With a brief nod and without another word, Pearce made his way back through the crowd. If Beckham wanted him to keep an eye on Taryn, he’d keep an eye on Taryn.
“Ellis,” he heard Beckham call.
Despite his best efforts, he turned back. Beckham was gesturing for Ellis and Cassidy, her faithful best friend, to sit next to him. They did, Ellis practically on top of him, Cassidy a bit further away. With a stab of jealousy, he saw the two girls started chatting happily to Beckham as he smiled his polite smile. Fighting the rather insane urge to go punch Beckham in the face, he turned and made his way through the sterile hallways of the spaceship.
After knocking on Taryn’s door for long enough to know she wasn’t there, he decided to check the control room. She had been in a hurry to see the captain this morning, after all. Plus, he could remember her being close with the captain in the beginning, before Beckham took control and everything was shiny and new and exciting.
When he reached the control room, he could see her and the captain deep in conversation. He buzzed to be let in. They both looked at him and Taryn seemed to visibly flinch. The doors slid open with a whisper and he stepped inside to be met with a slightly frantic Taryn.
“Pearce. Hi. Look, I’m sorry I didn’t go with you. I actually should have. Beckham’s thing was way more important,” she said quickly.
“It’s fine.” Pearce replied softly.
“Okay. Good. So…what do you want?” Taryn asked.
“Can I come in?” Pearce asked with a wary glance over his shoulder.
“Yeah, sure,” Taryn said, moving aside.
Once they were inside, Pearce forgot all about Beckham and his mission and the fact that he was about to do something really stupid that would possibly result in his death. On the far side of the room, there were gigantic windows and through those windows, he could see the universe. Galaxies spiraled and stars shone bright as diamonds. He’d never seen anything half as beautiful in all his life.
“Pearce? What do you want?” Taryn asked, cutting through his reverie.
“Oh. Um. So…Beckham is having you followed. By me,” Pearce replied.
There was a long, horrible pause. Pearce wondered if there was a way to erase what he had said. This wasn’t one of his better ideas. Beckham would find out and have him dealt with or Taryn and the Captain would decide he was a spy and probably throw him out an airlock or put him into a deep sleep just like the one those who had nearly lost their minds to the monotony of the journey.
“I knew he would,” Taryn finally said.
“I can’t say I’m surprised either,” Captain Aaron said. It was the first time Pearce had ever heard him speak. He had a pleasant voice and so far wasn’t at all what he’d have imagined a captain to be like.
“So…um, why is he having me follow you?” Pearce asked timidly.
Taryn and the Captain exchanged a dark look.
“If I tell you, you can’t tell anyone else,” Taryn said.
“Tar, I don’t-“
“I swear I won’t tell,” Pearce said quickly.
“We both…hear music. No one else does. Just us. And it, the music, told him I was important. Or something along those lines. I’m not really sure. But it mentioned me by name, so now he thinks we’re linked,” Taryn said.
Pearce didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what’d he’d been expecting. That she was involved in some group trying to take Beckham down or something along those lines. Phantom music and unexplainable voices had never entered into it at all.
“That’s…not what I was expecting,” he said.
“But I won’t go to Beckham. He’s…I wouldn’t want to get you mixed up in whatever he’s doing,” Pearce continued.
“So what are you going to tell him?” Captain Aaron asked.
“Beckham? I don’t know. What do you want me to tell him?” Pearce said.
“That I was in the control room and that I seemed normal. Say you couldn’t get in. He’ll believe it. He’s not allowed in, after all,” Taryn said.
“Sounds believable. But he’s going to want you followed until he gets the answers he wants,” Pearce said.
“We’ll come up with something else tomorrow then.”
Pearce nodded. A tense silence filled the room. Pearce got the extreme feeling he was unwanted.
“I should go,” he said.
“Okay, but…thanks. For telling me. And not telling Beckham.” Taryn said.
“No problem. I’d want to know if the lunatic was having me followed too.”
As Pearce left the control room, he realized that he hadn’t had any free time since he’d fallen in with Beckham. He thought briefly about going back to Beckham, saying that Taryn didn’t know anything and spending the rest of the day trying to get Ellis to talk to him, but that thought was too depressing. Instead, he went to his small, cramped room, lay on his bed and thought of the glimpse of the universe he’d seen as it unfolded outside the window of the control room.
Taryn let out a breath she wasn’t aware she’d been holding in as she watched Pearce go. She’d always known Beckham was power hungry and a little crazy, but she had hoped he wouldn’t go as far as to have her followed. With a sigh, she sat in one of the chairs in the control room and wondered if it was possible to go back to that morning and start the day all over again.
“You trust him?” Captain Aaron asked.
“Pearce wouldn’t…I don’t think he’d follow Beckham so blindly. He told me what Beckham was up to, after all.”
“Still. Be careful around that kid.”
“I will,” Taryn said softly.
Captain Aaron gave her a brief smile. She returned it. They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, watching the stars. The music was very faint in Taryn’s head now and, strangely, she was almost enjoying it. She closed her eyes lazily and listened to its delicate, silvery sound as it rose and fell.
Taryn, go find Beckham. Taryn, tell him all. Taryn, together you will save us all, a soft, slithery voice chanted.
Taryn’s eyes shot open and she sat up, her heart pounding in her chest.
“Did you just say something?” she asked Captain Aaron desperately.
Captain Aaron shook his head.
“Oh. Okay. I need to…I need to go,” Taryn said getting to her feet. The voice was gone but the music was much louder now.
“You okay?” Captain Aaron asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a headache. I want to lie down. Stressful day.” Taryn said quickly.
She barely heard Captain Aaron’s goodbye as she raced out of the control room. The music was so loud, she was starting to feel nauseous. When she reached her room, she pulled open the door, fell, hard, onto the floor and suppressed a scream. The music was all around her now, pounding in her head, vibrating her very bones. It overwhelmed her and felt as if it would strangle her. She put her hands over her ears and curled up on the floor. Tears streamed down her face and the music took over her whole world. The song grew louder and louder and she screamed to shut it out. And then it was gone, though the soft chant of “find Beckham” remained.
When she stood, her head was still spinning. The day really was starting to feel like some horrible dream that she could not wake from. She took a deep, shaky breath and went over everything that had happened since she’d first heard the music. It had been nightmare upon nightmare and the worst of all was that the music wanted her to side with Beckham.
She lay back on her bed and dug the hands of the heels into her eyes until her own nebulae started appearing.
Go see Beckham, the voice started again.
“Shut-up,” she muttered to the voice in her head.
It didn’t listen, but it started whispering in a soft, soothing voice. As she lay there, she was suddenly very, very tired. She closed her eyes and hoped with all her might that when she woke up, things would be normal again.
When she awoke, the music was still there. Without knowing why, she made her way to the door. It was a nice feeling, as if something else was directing her and she could just forget all that had happened. Somewhere in a deep corner of her mind, the voice sniggered triumphantly.
“No!” she said firmly, the haze she’d been in since she awoke vanishing.
The music swelled. She gritted her teeth and waited for the inevitable.
FIND BECKHAM. The Voice screamed but she ignored it. After a while, it stopped yelling, but continued to mutter mutinously in the back of her mind.
Head clearer than it had been since the music had started, Taryn composed a plan. She was going to get to the bottom of this and stop the music, and possibly Beckham, once and for all.
The logical thing to do would be to talk to Captain Aaron, but she hesitated. If Beckham found out what she was up to, there would be consequences and she wasn’t going to drag him into it. This was her problem and she would be the one to find a way to fix it. With a soft laugh, she realized what the only other option was. She would have to go see Beckham himself.
The walk to Beckham’s court was shorter than she would have liked. When she arrived at his door, she took a great shuddering breath, made herself stand as tall as she could and addressed Richmond, the ever silent sentry, outside the door.
“I need to talk to Beckham,” she said in a voice that was stronger than she felt.
Richmond nodded and opened the doors.
The room seemed darker than before, as if there were glowing embers in the lamps instead of bulbs. Beckham appeared completely unsurprised to see her. His faced had returned to its calm, mask like appearance and not a hair was out of place. Two pretty girls sat on the couch. Contrary to Beckham, they were surprised to see her and started whispering to each other furiously like two little pigeons.
“Good evening, Taryn. Or perhaps good morning. It’s hard to tell out here, isn’t it?” he said lazily.
Taryn cast a glance at the girls. She wasn’t sure she wanted them to hear this and she definitely didn’t want to involve anyone else in her incredibly reckless plan.
“Don’t worry about them. They may have half a brain between the two of them, but they know when to keep their mouths shut,” Beckham sneered. “Say what you have to say.”
“The Voice talked to me and we have to work together,” Taryn said.
“We thought you’d say so. We were expecting it, actually.”
“Yeah, so, what’s the plan? I mean, if you have one.”
“Girls, you may go.”
The girls made their exit, but he barely seemed to notice them. His pale eyes were entirely focused on Taryn and she did not like the light that had appeared in them. She wished she could go with the two, chattering girls, but it was too late. Whatever happened, she would have to live with it.
Cassidy waited impatiently for Ellis. She hated spending so much time with Beckham. He was creepy. But Ellis was her best friend and she wasn’t going to abandon her. Ellis had dreams of being queen. She always had. And Cassidy wasn’t going to stand in her way. But she was starting to have her doubts.
“What were that girl and Beckham talking about?” Cassidy asked, trying to sound casual.
“No idea,” Ellis replied sulkily.
“You’re not worried they’re…hearing voices?”
“I mean, yeah, but…we always knew Beckham was a little crazy, right?”
Cassidy didn’t answer. She’d been saying that for weeks now.
The girls walked in, a rarity for them. When Pearce, Cassidy was extremely relieved to see him. He was crazy about Ellis and she was tired of walking in silence.
“Hi, Pearce!” she called out.
Pearce stopped in his tracks.
“Hey. Um. What’s…what’re you guys doing?” Pearce stumbled.
“Beckham just kicked us out,” Ellis replied.
“Oh yeah? Why?” Pearce asked, hope in his eyes.
“Some girl came in. They started talking and we had to leave.”
“What were they talking about?”
“Can’t say,” Ellis replied flirtatiously.
A shadow passed over Pearce’s face.
“This girl, was she older than you? With short dark hair?”
“Yeah. Why?” Cassidy replied.
“We’re going to dinner. Want to join?” Ellis said with an inviting smile that made his heart leap.
A day ago, Pearce would have given anything for the invitation. But right now, he was pretty sure he had bigger problems.
“I…I can’t. Next time,” Pearce muttered.
Cassidy and Ellis watched him leave with nearly identical expressions of confusion.
Pearce’s mind raced as he tried to figure out what to do once he got to Beckham’s room. The first step, the hardest part, would be getting past Richmond. With a groan, Pearce stopped. If he was going to save Taryn, he was going to be smart about it.
Taryn could barely concentrate as Beckham talked about the Voice, the unjustness of its plight, the need it had for a new home, the disdain it had for humans and how it was going to help Beckham and Taryn colonize a new world, take it for their own. Her head was aching with the strain of keeping the Voice from taking her over.
“We will be happy, Taryn. No one will struggle. No one will age or die. All the secrets of the universe will be ours and all it will take is all of us giving into the Voice,” Beckham finished. His face was pulled into a grimace of excitement.
Taryn felt ill. She put her head in her hands. The Voice was singing along with Beckham’s wild words.
“I don’t-” she started.
“Feel well? Yes. The voice can do that. Sit. It will pass,” Beckham said with something close to tenderness.
She fell heavily into one of the plush arm chairs. She swallowed hard against the rising bile in her throat. Beckham sat across from her, eyes wild. He was a changed man. The coolness and formal-ness that had always pervaded him had been replaced by a wild excitement that made a bottomless pit appear in her stomach.
“What is it saying to you, Taryn?” Beckham asked in a hushed tone.
Taryn’s dark eyes met his light ones. She wanted to go home, to Earth. See her parents again. Walk on what soft, green grass remained, hear the pounding of the waves of the destroyed oceans, look up in the sky and only see the dim moon, obscured by years of pollution and grime. She did not want to talk about voices and music and new worlds. This adventure had been too much for her.
“Taryn?” He asked again, his voice soft but insistent.
Outside the door, she could hear the mechanical sound of the ship’s alarm.
On another part of the ship . . .
Pearce hurried to the control room. He had barely entered his code when the doors slid open with a soft hiss.
“I need you to sound the alarm in the part of the ship Beckham’s in. Now!” Pearce said desperately.
“Why?” Captain Aaron said in a guarded tone. Pearce knew that he didn’t like him, but honestly did not care right now.
“He’s got Taryn. Just sound it. I’ll make something up. I’ll say its space gas. Deadly, deadly space gas and they need to leave.”
“No one’s going to believe you,” Captain Aaron said. He was already entering in the alarm codes.
“I don’t care!” Pearce said.
“Do it quickly. People will realize it’s a hoax pretty quick,” Captain Aaron said.
Pearce didn’t answer. He ran down the corridors, past Cassidy and Ellis, until he reached Richmond. Other passengers were milling about with tense, worried looks on their faces.
“Space gas! It’ll kill you. Everyone’s got to go. The Captain’s going to lock off the corridor,” Pearce panted when he reached Richmond.
The nearby passengers had heard him and their panicked cries of “Space gas!” could be heard echoing throughout the corridor. Richmond gave Pearce a hard look.
“Seriously. You wanna die of space gas poisoning? You want to let Beckham die of space gas poisoning?”
Richmond nodded and opened the door.
Taryn was sitting in an armchair. Beckham stared at her intently. Pearce thought he looked different, wilder, but in the blink of an eye, he appeared as calm and collected as always.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Space gas leak. The captain’s evacuating this section of the ship,” Pearce said as calmly as he could.
“Fine. Come on, Taryn. We’ll finish our conversation elsewhere.” Beckham said yanking Taryn to her feet. Taryn flinched at his touch.
“Sorry, the captain wants her. Says he needs help,” Pearce said.
“Tell him to wait until I’m done with her,” Beckham replied, his voice becoming dangerously quiet.
“No, Beckham. It’s fine. I’ll be back soon,” Taryn said gently, putting a hand on Beckham’s arm.
To Pearce’s surprise, Beckham relaxed. He released Taryn and nodded curtly.
“Let’s go. Now.” Pearce said.
No one argued and he managed to loose Beckham and Richmond in the crowd of fleeing passengers.
“You okay?” he asked Taryn.
“I’m fine. I knew what I was doing,” she replied.
“Oh. I was worried about you.”
“Space gas isn’t even a real thing, is it?”
Pearce shook his head. Taryn softened.
“Captain Aaron wants to see you.” Pearce told her.
“You two shouldn’t get involved. It’s my problem.”
“Hey. Where Beckham is concerned, it’s everyone’s problem.”
“Let’s go, then.” Taryn said.
When they reached the control room, Taryn told them everything. It was becoming increasingly clear that they needed to do something about Beckham and the Voice.
The three of them talked for hours. A plan was formed. Taryn would stay close to Beckham. Pearce would do his best to turn the tide against Beckham. Captain Aaron would reach their new home as quickly as he could. Once there, Taryn thought they’d stand a better chance fighting Beckham. The Voice screamed at Taryn the entire time they planned. She was slowly become accustomed to the splitting headache ignoring it gave her.
When they left, Cassidy was waiting outside for Pearce. Ellis wasn’t there. Pearce had never seen either of them alone before.
“Space gas was you’re idea, wasn’t it?” she asked.
“Ellis and Beckham don’t give you enough credit,” she said gently. Then she took a deep breath and started speaking with a fierceness Pearce had never heard before. “I want in. I hate Beckham. I hate what he’s doing to Ellis. I know the three of you are planning something. You don’t even have to tell me what. I just want him gone.”
“Fine. Welcome aboard,” he said with a smirk.
“So. How are we going to take Beckham down?”
Cassidy, it turned out, was a lot smarter than Beckham, Pearce or even Ellis gave her credit for. She could blend in with a crowd or create a perfect diversion with a look. She was also the first to suggest that they do more than spread rumors and mutter dark secrets.
“Just think, Pearce. What would Beckham do if he were in our situation?” she’d say.
Pearce didn’t answer. He knew what Beckham would do. He had a fading bruise around his right eye as a reminder. And she was right. They should be fighting fire with fire, especially because it was only the two of them. In the early days of their work to bring about the end of Beckham’s reign, they had learned very quickly that no one wanted to cross him. Pearce could almost see Beckham’s thin smile every single time someone pretended they didn’t know what Pearce and Cassidy were talking about or flat out refused them.
“It won’t be hard,” she said. “He always stays in that cavern of his. And I don’t want to kill him. Not necessarily. Just shake him up a bit. Make him feel unstable.”
In the end, Pearce agreed. They started small, smoke bombs in the corridor outside his rooms, no electricity within, things like that. Cassidy always pushed for more, however. And, after a particularly intricate plan of Cassidy’s that involved rotted fish, yellow dye and roughly seventy-five feet of wire, which left the majority of Beckham’s inner too embarrassed to be seen covered in dye and smelling as if they had taken a swim in the polluted seas of their home, they found themselves with a steadily growing group of followers. The uneasy peace and calm of the journey was soon interrupted totally. The passengers divided themselves into ever shifting factions, between those who thought it best to stick with Beckham, those who were against him and those who just wanted to stay out of it. Pearce, it would seem, was leading an army.
It went relatively smoothly, or as smoothly as such things could go. One side attacked, the other retaliated. There were minor injuries, bruises and scrapes. After a group of his people had been ambushed by a group of Beckham’s, Pearce overheard one bragging about having a tooth knocked out. It hit him that most of them thought this was a game. This realization left him with a supremely uncomfortable feeling, but there was nothing he could do about it. He knew they wouldn’t take it seriously until something serious happened and by then, it would be too late.
Later, Pearce would realize how underhanded it was, but he would no longer care. Cassidy was taken from her bed one night and put into a deep sleep, like the passengers who the endless hours of travel had driven mad. There was an ultimatum, stop or Beckham would release those people into the void of space, Cassidy included. The world around Pearce stopped and started again when he found himself at Captain Aaron’s door. He entered his code and entered. Captain Aaron was gone. Instead, Beckham sat in the captain’s chair. Richmond stood on his right, Taryn on his left. Taryn, who Pearce had not seen up close in what felt like weeks, looked worse than he’d have imagined. Her skin was pale and large, dark circles under her eyes. Her eyes were glazed and her face tight, as if she were in pain. Her hair hung dull and lank around her face and she looked as if she’d lost a great deal of weight.
“Where’s Captain Aaron?” Pearce asked.
“Indisposed,” Beckham said.
“What did you do to him?”
“Slipped him a tranquilizer. He may be bothersome, but we need him to fly this ship. You see that?” Beckham asked pointing to a small, blue speck in the distance. “That’s our new home. Once we land, he’s nothing. But now, he will keep us from crashing. The Voice doesn’t much care for him, but it knows his necessity.”
Pearce had stopped listening halfway through the speech. He tried to catch Taryn’s eye. She would know what to do. He certainly didn’t. It was too much to be put on him. He was no leader, he knew that now Cassidy had been the brains and before that Taryn. But her eyes were dull and unfocused. Everything was resting on his shoulders and he felt buried by the weight.
“So, Pearce. What’ll it be? Stop this silly game you’re playing, and everyone lives. Or let them all die. It’s really all up to you.”
The headaches were almost constant now. The Voice and its desperate, enchanting, maddening song were constant and oftentimes all she could hear. The fight against its control was becoming a never-ending struggle and she wanted nothing more than to sleep. She hadn’t had more than a few hours’ in what felt like weeks. She existed in some sort of fog where she pretended to be on Beckham’s side and pretended she could ignore the Voice.
She was with Beckham constantly now. Outside Pearce waged his war and in the control room, Captain Aaron threw all his energy into getting them to their new home, but she had no contact with them. It would have been far too dangerous. Beckham as smart as he’d always said he was. He did know what was going on all over the ship. He knew that Cassidy had teamed up with Pearce and they were waging a war. He knew that Captain Aaron was racing to get to their new home in an attempt to stop him. He didn’t know that Taryn was involved, though, and that surprised her to no end. She supposed it had something to do with the Voice, which seemed to be spending all its time trying to force her to comply with him. It needed her and she was certain that was the only thing keeping her safe.
When Pearce finally did something, Taryn had to suppress a cheer. It was a childish prank involving a lot of blue dye and old fish, but it bothered Beckham to no end. He ranted and ranted about how he would show Pearce how foolish he had been. How he would get him back.
“What will you do to them?” Taryn had finally asked.
“I will deal with them later. Right now, we’ll play their game. Nothing serious. One show of might will break them. Wait and see, Taryn. They’ll come crawling to me asking for my forgiveness and my blessing. But they won’t get it,” Beckham said with a glint she couldn’t quite read in his eye.
Taryn didn’t respond. She wondered if Pearce knew what kind of game he was playing.
Much to her relief, Beckham’s one show of might did nothing. In fact, the tides had finally started to turn against him. True, most on the ship were still terrified of him, but they finally had someone to rally behind. After weeks of scuffles in the hallways, Beckham called her and Richmond to him. He had a plan.
As Beckham laid out his plan, the Voice sang until Taryn felt she would be sick.
Make them pay for it. Make them bleed. Show them our might. Show them who is right. You are as strong as the stars. They are weak being made of flesh. Kill them all. No mercy.
“I am going to give Pearce a choice. Stop the rebellion, save his friend and all the other sleepers or go on and I will open the doors. Either way, I will kill him and the girl. They’re too dangerous, don’t you think?” Beckham asked her finally.
At his words, Taryn’s skin crawled. For the first time in a while, she felt fully like herself.
“Beckham, wait,” she started.
Beckham turned to her expectantly, but then something amazing happened. Her words of protest died on her tongue and she heard the Voice’s words come out of her mouth.
“We will need to do something about the captain,” it said.
Beckham nodded and resumed his plotting. Taryn tried to scream at him, stop him, do anything, but she was stuck. The Voice had her now. She couldn’t so much as breathe without its permission which it made very, very clear. She watched with horror as Richmond subdued Captain Aaron and put Cassidy into a deep, deep sleep that Taryn feared she would never wake from.
The moment Pearce was summoned, she tried to call out to him, stop him. The most she did was let out a strange, barely audible, cough-like sound that no one heard. It was enough, though, to give her a glimmer of hope.
“Well, Pearce? What’ll be?” Beckham asked with a broad grin on his face.
Pearce didn’t answer. He had frozen. He looked like some wild animal caught up in a net. Taryn had to speak before he made his decision. She knew whatever he said, it would be the wrong one. He would die either way and so would Captain Aaron. It would just be her against Beckham and she couldn’t win that way. She needed them.
His eyes met hers and suddenly the Voice stopped.
She didn’t know how long they had been in that room. She didn’t know how long it took her to act. What she did know is that she had punched Beckham hard. If he hadn’t been about to kill close to fifty people, she would have laughed at his face as he toppled from the chair.
“PEARCE! WAKE THEM UP!” she screamed, savoring each word.
With a nod, Pearce ran from the room and through the crowd that had gathered to watch the confrontation. She saw several of them run down the corridor with him. Good. He had reinforcements.
In the control room, Richmond made a menacing move towards her.
“Don’t! The Voice still needs me,” Taryn said, holding an outstretched palm to Richmond.
He froze. Beckham righted himself. His face was livid.
“What the hell was that?” he spat at her.
“Me,” Taryn replied simply. “For the first time in a while, that was 100% me.”
Beckham fixed her with a look of pure rage. It should have pierced right through her and sent her running, but it didn’t. She could barely hear the music and in the window behind Beckham, their new home was becoming clearer and clearer. It was almost over.
“It’s done, Beckham. Take your Voice and your plans and leave. Me. Alone!” Taryn said, the words giving her a rush.
Beckham’s contorted face changed swiftly. He was listening to the Voice. Taryn recognized the awed expression, as if angels were singing in his ears.
“Where’s Captain Aaron?” Taryn asked in a desperate attempt to drown the Voice out.
Beckham didn’t answer. He was far, far away. Richmond stood mutely next to him awaiting instructions. A million decisions and plans raced through her mind until she arrived at the only correct one. Pearce would need her help. Cassidy too
“I’m leaving. Don’t bother talking to me ever again. Your time is done, Beckham,” she spat at him and walked out of the control room as quickly as she could without looking desperate.
Behind her, she could almost hear the gears in Beckham’s head whirring. The Voice wouldn’t give up so quickly. In the back of her mind, the music was getting louder. She had a feeling it was only a matter of time until it plunged her back into the horrible fog once more.
Pearce was in the medical bay. Cassidy was sitting on one of the cots, head in hands. Her movements were slow and clumsy. Pearce was speaking to her very quickly. She nodded along, but Taryn had the impression that she was barely aware of what he was saying.
“How are you feeling?” she asked Cassidy as she approached the two of them cautiously. Around them, those driven mad by the voyage slumbered peacefully.
“Like I have a head full of cotton if the cotton was made out of marbles and acid,” Cassidy muttered.
“You got out,” Pearce said, barely bothering to mask his surprise.
“I got lucky. The Voice is gearing up for something. We need to find Captain Aaron and we need to keep Beckham from completely taking over. He…the Voice has been telling him these stories. He thinks once we land, if we let the Voice take control, we’ll enter into some kind of utopia, it’s a lie. We’ll lose everything. Pearce, how many people do you have?” Taryn asked, ignoring the growing music.
“After this, either ten or a hundred,” Pearce shrugged.
“Hope it’s one hundred. Have every single one of them look for Captain Aaron. We’re almost there.”
Cassidy and Pearce gave her a look of complete and total wonder.
“You saw it?” Cassidy whispered.
“Yeah,” Taryn replied.
“What does it look like?” Pearce asked.
“There’s more ocean than home and it’s a little smaller,” Taryn replied. She had barely seen it. She’d been so caught up in getting away from Beckham.
“What will we do with Beckham when we land?” Cassidy asked.
“I don’t care what happens as long as I never have to see him again,” Taryn replied darkly.
“And his followers?” she asked sheepishly.
Taryn knew she was just asking about Ellis, who was vain and self-serving and embarrassingly ambitious. She had talked to her during her time as one of Beckham’s people and couldn’t see what Pearce saw in her, save her great beauty. But she mattered to the two of them, and she had done nothing but make horrible decisions.
“They aren’t all like him. Ellis will be fine,” Taryn said.
Cassidy sat back with a sigh. Pearce pretended very poorly not to care. The Voice had started again, but it was barely a murmur. Taryn took a deep breath and pushed it down.
“You should get her out of there. We’re going to have a final…confrontation with Beckham before we land. It won’t be pretty,” Taryn closed her eyes tightly against the growing music and the Voice’s wordless anger.
“Taryn?” Pearce asked gently.
“Find Captain Aaron. Priority one, okay?” she said weakly.
“Are you okay?”
“If it comes down to it, promise me you won’t let the Voice win.”
“What do you mean?”
A spasm of pain vibrated through Taryn. The effort was too much.
“Okay. I promise,” Pearce said, eyes wide with confusion and apprehension.
“I have to go. Find Captain Aaron. Tell him to take us home,” Taryn insisted.
She didn’t wait for Pearce’s reply. She fled, barely making it to her own cell-like room before she collapsed. The pain was insurmountable. She wasn’t sure if the screams she was hearing were her own or those of the Voice. Red hot needles pricked her flesh. Hammers pounded her bones. A deep rumbling inside made her feel like her body would shake apart. She became senseless to the world and was only brought back by the door to her room opening. Beckham stood over her. Richmond stood behind him, face impassive as always.
“Well, Taryn, should we make the pain stop? It will kill you. It told me,” Beckham asked with his lazy, shark-like grin.
“Let it,” she replied.
Beckham gave her a disappointed look and waved his hand. Richmond lifted her as if she were a rag doll. The movement made her feel as if her bones were melting. It was the last thing she felt.
When they found him, he was bound and gagged in a storage room. Pearce wasted no words in telling him what had happened. Captain Aaron listened carefully. His mind was racing. It was his duty to get everyone to safety. They were what was to be a new start to humanity, but it sounded like there was a very real possibility there would be no more humanity if Beckham got his way.
“What are we going to do?” Pearce asked anxiously.
Her dreams were clouded. There was a presence, at times nurturing, at times menacing. It showed her a life of peace and a life as its puppet, always in pain. In both of the visions, she saw the others on the ship treated like slaves or turned into emotionless robots. Either way, it would win.
I will give you time to decide, dear Taryn, darling Taryn, foolish Taryn. Take the time I give you and no more, for it is all you shall receive, dear Taryn, darling Taryn, foolish Taryn.
When Taryn awoke, the pain was gone and she was in the engine room. Their loud hum comforted her and she knew what she had to do. She just had to figure out how.
She would find Beckham and…well, that was the part that made her feel queasy. She would kill him. There was no other way. If imprisoned, he would talk. If sent into eternal sleep, there was no guarantee he wouldn’t wake up. He had to be stopped. And this was the only way. Somewhere, in the deepest pit of her heart, she knew it meant her death too. She didn’t think of that though. It was too hard and made her feel like she might vomit. With a new sense of purpose, Taryn left the engine room. She had her mission. She just hoped she would live to see their new home planet, now visible even from the small windows that dotted the entire ship.
For the first time since the journey began, the ship stopped moving. Captain Aaron surveyed the small group he had gathered. The absence of Pearce and Taryn struck him as wrong, but he knew neither of them could be here. Pearce wouldn’t, couldn’t, do what had to be done. And Taryn, well, he couldn’t bear to think about it. Cassidy was there. Her brown eyes shining with determination. They had their orders and they dispersed. He slumped in his chair and struggled not to think of Taryn as he knew her, but a faceless girl infected by something he didn’t have the capacity to understand. It was the only way, he knew that. Beckham had to die, which meant Taryn had to die. He would regret it until the day he died, but everyone else would live. And that was all that mattered.
“Where’s Taryn?” Cassidy asked.
Pearce looked up at her, startled. He’d been comforting a terrified Ellis. He and Cassidy had pulled her away from Beckham and were keeping her in Cassidy’s room. Pearce had just finished telling her about the Voice. She hadn’t taken it well.
“What?” he responded, more than a little incredulous.
“Taryn. I need to find her,” Cassidy said.
“I can’t tell you. Where is she?”
“I don’t know.”
Cassidy heaved a disappointed sigh. She spared a soft glance at Ellis, put a comforting hand on her shoulder and left. When Pearce had finally comforted Ellis, he followed Cassidy. She’d been acting strange and he had a feeling there was a gigantic secret she was keeping.
Taryn was not surprised to find Beckham in his rooms. He was a creature of habit, after all. He looked a bit more disheveled than usual and was pacing the room. A mute Richmond watched him patiently.
“We’re almost there, you know,” Taryn said casually, as if Beckham had not tried to kill her not so very long ago.
“Taryn. You’re alive. What a surprise,” Beckham said no hint of shock.
“I’m surprised too. So, should I be thanking you? For not killing me.”
“Don’t waste your breath. The Voice had plans for you,” he said harshly “I suppose you’ve heard. Your precious captain wants us both dead and gone before they land.”
The words fell like blows. She let out a humorless laugh. So she was a dead woman, no matter what.
“I have. It’s why I found you. I have a way out,” she said calmly.
“You do?” Beckham said, real surprise creeping into his voice.
“And you’re telling me about it?”
“Yes. Out of the two people who have tried to kill me today, you’re the one who never pretended to be my friend. So screw Captain Aaron and everyone else.”
“Glad you’ve come ‘round.”
“We’re going now. Just us. Sorry, Richmond,” Taryn said with a shrug in the giant’s direction.
Richmond shot Beckham a desperate look.
“Goodbye, Richmond. Where to, Taryn?” Beckham said taking her arm.
“This way,” Taryn replied, trying not to wince from his touch.
Cassidy saw the pair of them go into the engine room. As silent as a panther, she followed them. From a distance, Pearce followed her. His heart leapt to his throat. In a flash, he knew what was happening. To save them all, Captain Aaron was sacrificing Taryn and Beckham.
It was easier than Taryn had thought it would be. She knew how the doors worked. Captain Aaron had shown her. She pressed three buttons. One sealed them in. On the other side of the door, she saw Pearce and Cassidy. Pearce shoved Cassidy aside and tried desperately to open the door. The second one disabled the engine. That would keep the ship from crashing. The third brought in cold and pain and then a great peace. The Voice yelled at her once more in agony, its screams mingling with Pearce’s. But she was back home, sitting at her mother’s kitchen table, watching a brilliant sunset.
When they landed, they found out they weren’t alone after all. Pictographs left behind by a people who resembled odd, insect-like birds told of a bodiless malice. It possessed people in pairs and used them to carry out its ill will. Although it was hard to tell, it looked as if it had only taken ten years for the Voice to kill the Ones That Came Before.
Taryn sleeps. She doesn’t know Pearce saved her. She didn’t see him close the door to the outside and burst him at the last moment. She was half gone by then. In her dreams, she bathes her feet in the oceans of home. Pearce has made up his mind to save her, and perhaps one day he will. But for now, she rests in an effortless, peaceful dream, free from music and disembodied Voices.
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