Castle Rock Compound, Colorado, Earth
Haley sat next to Camille in the dining hall. The wide, grey rock room was nearly empty. A few people were inside but they sat in small clusters, none of the clusters anywhere near each other.
Camille leaned in,“You can talk about it. It’s normal.”
Haley eyed her, pausing before sticking her fork into a piece of rare steak. “Everybody knows I’m worried. Talking about it more won’t make me feel much better, but they’ll get sick of hearing about it soon if they aren’t already. And besides, it hasn’t even been two weeks yet. Lee said it would be at least two weeks, so they aren’t even late.”
Camille leaned over the table toward her. “I’m not sick of hearing about it. I think anyone would be worried, and I think everyone is—in their own way.”
Travis stopped next to them, surprisingly quiet despite his height and muscular bulk. As he sat down next to Haley, he said, “I’m not worried. Nick’s smart and so is Jaclyn—except Jaclyn’s also one of the most powerful people in the program. Cassie and Marcus are tough too. They can handle anything they’re likely to face. I’d bet they’re back sometime next week.”
Eyes on her expression, Travis leaned back in his chair. “What? I’m just saying that they’ll be okay. Is something wrong with that?”
She took a breath. “No.”
Travis watched her for a little while. “I hope you’re not worried that Nick will find someone else. He’s better than that, and even though they’ve got humans up there, what are they going to have in common with us, right? Besides, it’s not like Nick’s a player. There are guys in my fraternity who’d be going crazy up there because it’s not like anyone would be able to find them once they left.”
Haley stared at him. Giving both of them a quick look, Camille began to talk, “Is anyone planning anything tonight? I think the last time we did anything together was watch movies in Vaughn’s room.”
Travis shrugged, “I don’t think so. I think there’s a group thing tonight. The summer just got started so they’re trying to build up the group before they put us through hell.”
Amy walked up with her own tray and sat next to Camille, red hair in a ponytail and wearing exercise clothing. Haley could smell that she’d just come from working out—just like the rest of them.
Sitting down, Amy smiled, “Well, at least there shouldn’t be dragons this year.”
Travis laughed. “Yeah. Haley, when you’re missing Nick, think about that. It makes everything sound better. I wonder what Marcus is doing? Probably drawing everything. The guy barely ever stops drawing. I think he might be the only guy I know who’d rather draw a superhero than be one.”
Camille smiled. “Is Marcus any good at drawing?”
Travis stopped eating for a second. “Hard to say. He’s pretty good at drawing people who are wearing costumes, but he doesn’t do sensitive people staring sensitively into the distance pictures. His drawings have people punching each other.”
In her head, Haley thanked Camille for changing the topic. She couldn’t take much more of Travis’ support.
* * *
I let Kals into our rooms. She looked around as she followed me inside. “This place needs a party. Without people, it just looks abandoned.”
“Is that the way it normally is?” I watched as she ran her fingers across the top of one of the room’s desks.
“Abandoned? No. We let guests stay here, but we also use it with new arrivals. Oh, and during the epidemic the colony had back when I first arrived a few years ago, this was one of the hospitals.”
We stopped next to the suite’s table. Cassie and I exchanged glances and I said, “Epidemic?”
Kals nodded. “That’s right. It came in with our group of settlers. I don’t know where it came from but it spread before Iolan could stop it and it kept people down for days. I don’t know if it had an official name or if it was one of those new viruses that show up every now and again. I just know I could barely move for a few days and my head hurt bad enough that I could barely think. It was miserable.”
“I hope we don’t bring that home,” I told Cassie.
Kals pulled out a chair and sat down next to the table. “I doubt you will. From what I remember, if you contracted it, you got sick and it didn’t take long. But never mind that, what was Maru telling you about me?”
“Not a lot—just that you might try to command me to take you away from here, leaving the colony without protection.”
Her mouth compressed into a hard line and her cheeks reddened. “Well, fuck him. I’ve never tried to do anything like that. He’s stopped complaining about what I actually do, and started making things up. If I thought for half a second that it would do any good, I’d tell my mom, but she always listens to him anyway.”