The first thing I noticed when I woke up was the mixture of voices speaking nearby. The deeper voices and softer tones sounded quiet compared to the loud engine of the tech-forward boat I remembered climbing on hours earlier. Had it been hours? I’d lost track of time.
Which was, to say, I couldn’t remember when I’d fallen asleep or figure out why I hadn’t woken up periodically to make sure I wasn’t in danger.
While I was still laying on my back in whatever uncomfortable area I was in, I opened my eyes to dim lighting. Before letting my eyes adjust to the lighting, I reached up to rub the crusty bits from my eyes. As I blinked them back open, I came to be aware of how reluctant my eyelashes were to part; they felt like they had been glued together by some sort of sleep goop, the likes of which I wasn’t too pleased to have on my face.
I shifted my arms under me as a grimace crossed my face for a moment. As I began to see slightly better through whatever was blurring my eyes, I slowly pushed myself up from the ground. I rested my head on my knees as I listened in on the conversation in the dim room I was hiding in, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the very dim lighting. I wasn’t sure it even deserved to be called ‘dim,’ since it was nearly no light at all.
Someone wasn’t overly concerned about needing to see down here.
“We’ll be back soon, Your Highness,” a gravelly voice said.
A long sigh replied, but even as I looked around, I couldn’t see who it belonged to. I found that I was surrounded by crates covered in tarps, through which I saw cracks of light bleeding through. It explained the lack of light at the very least.
All I knew about the voices, though, was that this voice was considerably easier to hear and understand compared to the gravelly tone that sounded like someone was speaking through a mouthful of rocks.
“Zach and the others need to detach before my parents see the ship. Otherwise, we’re all in some seriously hot water.” This new voice sounded like someone my age was speaking.
“We know, Cole,” a moderately deep voice growled, sounding high and squeaky compared to the gravelly voice but more grown-up than the voice it was replying to. “We’re working on it.”
Rustling cloth was all that replied.
I pushed myself onto my feet and crept closer to one of the crates I was surrounded in, feeling a bit lightheaded. I must have chosen the worst boat to sneak onto at the port back home.
Or… not home anymore, I suppose.
Also, ‘your highness?’ What had I walked into?
My only consolation was that I hadn’t been found yet.
I peeked around the crate to see people dressed in various colored jumpsuits of sorts. Each one was one color. Some had a few different shades, but there was no mistaking what color someone was wearing.
A young man dressed entirely in black looked around with a careful eye. As he turned, a single, dull, silver buckle on his belt glinted weakly in the overhead light. I didn’t dare move as his gaze passed over my location, but my eyes were drawn to the lone piece of metal.
I belatedly hoped he didn’t see me, since my head was laid up against the crate and poking out of a tarp. I was still wearing the cloak my father had given me last year as a Christmas gift of sorts, so if I was awake enough to remember what I was supposed to do when sneaking around, I’d be safe, but if I had just pulled a stupid move and basically put my face out in the open like I felt that I had, I’d be in big trouble.
About as much trouble as a person could get into at a completely new place around completely new people who are confusing as all get out and seem like they wouldn’t be particularly happy to find a stowaway.
The way I based my base judgement was a quick glance around the area, which looked entirely grey other than the wooden crates and black tarps. The walls looked to be made of metal, even though I was sure that I had climbed onto just another modern ship back in the port back where I’d come from. Somehow, I could feel something moving beneath my feet even though I knew that nothing else seemed to be moving.
I wasn’t sure that I didn’t get seasick.
It looked like a futuristic ship of sorts, with screens along a wall and the rest of the room functioning as a storage room of sorts. There were doors on opposite sides of the room, happening to be on my left and my right, but I couldn’t see what they led to from this angle.
A girl dressed in a green jumpsuit studded with polished silver buttons along the seams walked in confidently from the door on the right, narrowing her eyes ever so slightly at the boys as her arms stopped swinging at her sides, one settling on her hip. “Ship’s ready,” she said with what sounded like false cheerfulness. Despite her confident stance, she seemed to be on edge. I couldn’t help but wonder why.
The boy in a blue jumpsuit straightened and cast his eyes up in exasperation as he muttered something under his breath. “I figured, Justice,” he said, his voice carefully level as though he were restraining himself from doing something. “Now, would you mind helping us load our ship?”
He picked up a large crate with more force than was necessary and brought it down the hall the girl had come from. Something was clanking with every heavy step he took, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was yet another odd accessory on their otherwise plain outfits.
That was when I noticed that I was admiring the black stripes that crossed his jumpsuit like straps. They looked to be leather, but they were almost the shape of zebra stripes. Why was it shaped like that?
“Well,” the girl, Justice, huffed, but grabbed a crate and followed him.
As they left, the boy in black glanced around the room. It was silent other than the occasional click of what seemed to be a heating vent near a screen of sorts on the wall behind me. I kicked a tarp aside from beneath my feet, and when I heard the rustling noise it made, I froze. Somehow, the little plastic scraping sound echoed, and I realized that I’d just given myself away.
On the outside, this ship had looked like normal, but everywhere I looked on the inside there was more metal glinting at me, somehow shined to perfection.
My head snapped around, eyes widening as I looked back to the crack between the tarps and the crates that I’d been looking through. My breath shallowed and I swallowed, forgetting who I was for a moment.
I was Calypso; I wasn’t helpless anymore. I wasn’t ever afraid.
Alone in the room with the boy in black, I stayed still, waiting for him to realize that the noise hadn’t been just another click from the heating vent. If he had seen me in his glance over, he’d have to make the first move, but I was sure he would come after me. Despite that, I wasn’t going to move on the off chance that he hadn’t seen me.
“I know you’re in here,” he said levelly, eyes narrowed as he walked in my general direction. His eyes darted back and forth over the crates and tarps that surrounded me as he approached.
I silently crept back towards the wall that was creaking in a valiant attempt to get me caught. I slid to the side, crouching down near the crate closest to the wall. My breath hitched only for a moment as my hands fluttered down to my sides, letting the cape of my cloak shift only enough to make me blend in with the crate.
I’d learned long ago that too much movement made it all too easy to be found.
He started pushing crates aside and quickly peeked in each. Much to my pleasure, the repeated scraping made it easier for me to move across the room.
I slipped along the wall and reached the other side of the crate, darting across the room while using his noise as a cover. I was still looking for my next hiding place when the sounds he was making stopped abruptly.
I stopped moving, but not fast enough. The soles of my soft, leather boots made two last clicks on the floor that looked distinctly like linoleum before I could stop myself.
All at once, his footsteps thundered in my direction.
With my eyes refusing to widen in alarm and breath refusing to quicken in panic, I stepped up next to the nearest group of more crates. I planned on using my dark clothes and tiny figure to blend into the crates and tarps again, my breath coming unevenly as I tried to even it out again after running.
I pulled my hood far over my face and squeezed between two crates, not bringing my cape in with me and instead letting it drape over the crates like just another tarp.
As I waited, I watched the ground behind me, doubling over and looking between my legs, wrapping my arms around myself to keep my balance. Never had I been so thankful to be flexible. It was one of the things I’d been forced to learn with brothers who thought it was funny to pick on you in the most creative ways. Unfortunately, I still only saw a small spot of grey linoleum from under the folds of the cape.
And yet, in only a moment, I saw his feet rushed past. “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he called, his voice already fading as he went behind more crates.
Inwardly, I scoffed, no, thank you.
When his footsteps faded into an echo in the large, tin-can-like room, I slowly uncurled; I was careful not to move too much as I cleared my line of sight, but since my cape had been the main part of my momentary camouflage, I wasn’t going to succeed if someone was looking for me. Luckily, I heard the boy in black’s calling echo back to me, so I knew that he wasn’t near enough to see me.
I turned in one fluid motion, carefully looking out from under my hood.
The boy in blue stood at the end of the hallway, having returned, and was now looking directly at me, his eyes wide in a suspiciously unreadable expression. He gestured for me to come to him, his face straining slightly, but I ignored him. There was simply no way I was going to flee one person just to run right into the clutches of another.
Instead, I slowly got onto the balls of my feet, ready to run if needed.
The space was big enough for a race, now wasn’t it? Piles of crates for me to climb up onto and tarps for me to slide under and hide in. This was a place where I couldn’t lose a race or a game of hide-and-seek. I was best at sharp, quick turns and hiding in dark places. This ship seemed to have an abundance of both.
“Zach! There was someone in here!” The boy in black stomped back over, his face strained just like the other boy’s was. Oddly enough, I could tell that they were slightly different emotions, even though I couldn’t read them from this distance away.
Slowly, I shrank back into the crates, feeling the light reaching my eyes dim considerably as the tarp began to cover my head from the overhead lights that resembled department store lighting. I bumped into a crate and glanced from side to side quickly, but I could run both ways if I had to run.
I looked back at the boys and narrowed my eyes on the boy in blue, glaring at him in a silent dare to tell the other boy where I was.
Fight me, I dare you.
To my dismay, the boy in blue’s face went blank for a moment before turning disinterested. “Yeah, Cole.” He smirked at the other boy, looking him up and down. “You’re talking to him.”
Cole growled, his whole face darkening. “No,” he said, trying to force patience through an obviously displeased demeanor, “like a stowaway.”
Zach looked genuinely amused; I knew better. “You think that someone got past all your security measures—which I still think are overkill, by the way. I mean, your glare is enough to burn holes in someone’s skin—and they got past the sleeping gas? You’re just paranoid.” His eye twitched slightly before he grabbed another crate and began walking down the hall again, his steps not quite as heavy as I remembered them being last time. This time, they were oddly irregular; they seemed to say that he was nervous.
What could’ve been making him nervous?
Cole growled again and whirled around, looking over the whole room with the same dangerous glint in his eye. “I know you’re in here,” he said. Somehow, he managed to not glance my way. He seemed to skip this area of the room as if he was sure that I wasn’t here.
I smirked to myself under my hood, feeling my normal ferocity creep over me; it felt good. He was allowed to know that I was in here, but the real question was whether he could find me. If I didn’t want anyone to, the chances were low that they actually would.
I knew how to play the game better than most. Hide-and-seek was always my favorite game to play.
Especially when you have a stolen item in-hand.
Cole stomped away in a huff and a moment later, I could hear switches flipping. Judging from what I remembered from the room, he was by the electronics wall. “Zach, you and the girls have time to get one more crate each, but then you have to detach.”
“Okay,” Zach’s voice crackled back through what sounded like speakers. Either that or he was speaking in a particularly odd section of the room. Considering everything sounded like a different version of an echo in this place, I couldn’t be sure what I was hearing from where without paying incredibly close attention.
I pulled my cloak closer and snapped the buttons that pulled my cape tighter against my body until it formed another layer of my bodysuit. I glanced around, then hopped nimbly onto the crate in diagonal to me; the tarp that was behind and over it brushed against me for the barest moment. My feet stayed on the crate only seconds before I launched myself onto the crossbeams on the ceiling.
For a moment, I felt free and wild; the rush was familiar and comforting.
It also reminded me that I couldn’t let my guard down. Safety had been left behind.
As my hands landed on the beam, I gritted my teeth and pulled myself up, briefly thinking with some relief that I was fairly light. I crouched on top of the beam and steadied myself, looking down below. Never had I been so glad that I dodged my brothers on a regular basis back at home. Jumping onto crossbeams was nothing compared to creeping along a hallway against the ceiling just so your brothers couldn’t roughhouse with you.
Zach came running back down the hallway and his lips moved in the shape of a curse when he saw I wasn’t there anymore.
I couldn’t help but smirk to myself.
Resignation in his eyes, he picked up the crate I’d been hiding next to and walked back down the hallway. “Girls, shut the hatch!” he called as he disappeared.
Metal creaked and one loud bang rang out through the large, somewhat less-full room.
Various people came in from the door on the other side of the room, all wearing black suits decidedly less elegant than Cole’s—theirs were missing the dull belt buckle. Theirs were black from head to toe with no slightly lighter greys mixed in. It must’ve meant something to have different designed clothes— but they didn’t say a word. They all did whatever they came in for and left through the same door they had come in through without bothering Cole.
I watched him press buttons on his little control panel that looked as though it had been pulled right out of the wall. I couldn’t be sure of what he was doing, but I did my best to remember what he pressed just in case I could use it later.
I lowered myself onto my stomach and crept forward on the beam until I was right above him. From there, I could see what happened on the screen. I still couldn’t read anything, but I saw dialogue boxes pop up for a few moments before they disappeared.
Cole’s head turned from side to side slightly as his fingers flew over the controls with practiced ease—something I knew only because no one who had no idea what to do would hit controls that quickly. Most people would be afraid to make something malfunction; others are idiots. I highly doubted that Cole was an idiot, and he didn’t seem afraid to break something.
Lights flashed and a little display screen took up most of his attention. He flipped a switch that turned on a light above the doorways that read: “docking.”
I held on tight to the beam in expectation and the ship jerked as though it had hit something big. My teeth ground together, and I squeezed harder with my legs as I slid forward a bit.
The screen blipped, static showing up for a moment before black covered the screen. Just as suddenly as the black had appeared, it disappeared; two faces, both blond, came into view, looking displeased with what they saw on their side of the screen. From what part of their clothes were showing, I could see they were wearing a black outfit just like Cole’s.
Metal belt buckles were all the rage for some reason. Well… for some.
“You’re back,” the woman on the screen said flatly, her face looking bored and the words barely coming out of her mouth before they seemed to lose their dimension, turning into emotionless syllables spilling out of a mouth that carelessly formed them.
Cole nodded, ducking his head. “Yes, Mother,” he said, his voice sounding only slightly deeper than his mother’s. I couldn’t decide whether his mother’s voice was abnormally deep or whether his voice was unusually high-pitched.
“We expected you an hour ago,” the man said irritably, his lip slightly curled in disgust. Each word from his lips sounded like a displeased snarl barbed with jagged edges and deep undertones almost specifically designed to mentally throw you off-kilter.
“My apologies,” Cole replied stiffly, his whole body displaying his dislike of the conversation. “We had some difficulties.” He lifted his head back up slightly, but he didn’t look too eager to stare right at the screen again.
“Do better,” the man said dismissively, glancing away from the screen. It was almost like he was showing off the side of his head because I saw everything from the way his blond hair was greying at the roots to the way his nose hooked down slightly in the front. “I’ve sent workers to unload the ship. Come freshen up. Chef Mercia is already making dinner.”
At his side, Cole’s fists clenched; I didn’t blame him. He let out a long, slow breath, looking like he was trying to release some sort of pent-up pressure without showing the people he was talking to.
His face smoothed again, clearing emotions I hadn’t noticed that I’d seen until they were gone. “Yes, Father,” Cole said as he faked submission. It was odd how I knew that his emotions were fake throughout this conversation. When he had been chasing me, his emotions had seemed frenzied; every thought of his had almost seemed half-thought-through and jumbled as though it didn’t even make sense to him.
Who chased a teenage girl—who looks closer to thirteen than she does seventeen—across a room, calling for her like he needed to catch her, but not to hurt her? He had called for me in some creepy voice that sounded a lot like he was trying to help me.
“Your personal servants have been notified of your arrival and they’ll have everything ready in your room,” his mom said, still looking as if she’d rather be anywhere else. She sighed and rolled her eyes as thought what she was going to say next shouldn’t be necessary. “If one of them isn’t ready, you know what to do.”
“Fire them.” Cole nodded, not looking anywhere close to okay with the idea. “I’m going to get going.”
Without a reply, the screen went black, though it still seemed lighter than the clothes that were draped on Cole like he was in mourning. Something told me he wasn’t mourning anything except for the lack of humanity that I glimpsed in his parents.
Cole stretched his neck and sighed, his eyes falling closed as he tilted his head left and right before tilting it back and leaving it like that for a moment. He opened his eyes and ended up looking right into my eyes. Brilliant blue eyes stared into mine almost incomprehensibly as the light glinted off of them. He seemed to not understand that I was right above him for a long moment.
I froze in his stare, belatedly cursing myself for being right there. For some reason, I couldn’t unfreeze myself and move out of his line of vision.
Suddenly, he blanched, his eyes widening in alarm as he seemed to realize who I was. “Stay there,” he ordered, looking around desperately for something. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I wasn’t going to stay right above him so that he could find out.
I pulled myself closer to the pole, twisting to hide.
Like I’d actually listen to someone like him.
I waited a moment, wondering with some measure of confusion what had caused his sudden mood change. Eventually, I looked back over, despite every part of my instincts telling me it was a bad idea. I shouldn’t have been putting myself out in the open after escaping my home. I was supposed to pass under the radar until I could find somewhere to get settled. This ship most certainly wasn’t that place.
The best excuse I could come up for my being so reckless with was that he interested me, and I only had to think about myself now.
He let out a long, disappointed breath, already looking away. I assumed he had seen my motion of refusal. His face fell and his shoulders slumped as he turned to walk away. “I warned you,” he said softly, almost as though he was trying to convince himself, “I tried.”
I watched as he walked out, disappearing to who-knows-where, and before anyone else walked in, I silently dropped down from my perch. He couldn’t possibly think that I wouldn’t follow him. I was a curious girl; you couldn’t leave me behind and expect me not to ask you where you’re going and contemplate following you.
Though, I suppose he had no way of knowing that.
I glanced out the door he had disappeared through, noticing that it opened to the outside all of a sudden. It hadn’t before if I was remembering correctly. I glanced around to see if I would blend in okay or whether I needed to do a sudden makeover on myself. From what I saw, I decided that I’d be fine.
Everywhere I could see there were people wearing black and dark grey. Metal structures lined the area, leading to almost anything and everything from what I could tell. It looked like I was in the middle of some science fiction market—something I knew about simply because my brother had been into anything technology to the point of it being beyond bad—but everything was in rickety little shops made of old metal beams crisscrossed in ways that barely supported whatever piece of frayed fabric they had for the roof. Only the occasional, obviously better off shop had a better roof, but even those were bent sheets of metal. There wasn’t any color other than grey, black, and the tiniest bit of white. The only exceptions were the hair colors of everyone outside.
As far as I could see, not many people were wearing hats and there were people with all the natural hair colors from raven black to the palest blond imaginable with bright red in the middle. My eyes seemed drawn to every flash of red for some reason.
The unusualness of it all compared to what I knew from back home in New York only stoked the fire that was my curiosity.
I ducked against the wall as I flicked back my hood and untucked my hair to let it cascade down my back in all of its choppy, mousy-brown glory.
Taking in a breath, I scanned the crowd for Cole’s blond hair. When I saw it moving away from me, I pulled my shoulders back and confidently left the boat.
And I trailed Cole through the crowd.