A Novel of the Silent Empire
In the future, dreams keep the universe running. Dreamers, known as “Silent,” are able to look into other people’s dreams, communicate with other Silent across the galaxy, and speak to aliens. Silent construct dreams for themselves more vivid than reality.
But some dreams have become nightmares…
Kendi Weaver doesn’t know he’s Silent. Hijacked into slavery, he has resigned himself to a life of servitude. Then the discovery of his innate gift for dream communication changes everything. Suddenly Kendi is a very valuable commodity. He is rescued by the Children of Irfan–a society dedicated to freeing enslaved Silent–and taken to their planet, Bellerophon.
But Bellerophon is hardly a safe refuge. A brutal serial killer is murdering Silent in their telepathic dreams, and Kendi is soon embroiled in a world of madness and murder. To catch the killer, he must enter the victims’ dreams…
- 1 To Be Read list
Heat Level: 2
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: Under 18
Protagonist 2 Age: Under 18
Protagonist 3 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Adopted Child, Coming of Age, Coming Out / Closeted, First Time, Interracial Relationship, Meet Cute, Rescue
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Continuous / Same Characters
Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
—Yeoman Daniel Vik, First Bellerophon Landing Party
Sister Prinna Meg stretched her Dream body and yawned beneath her rowan tree. It had been a long shift. Time to go. Her drugs were wearing off in any case, and if she didn’t leave the Dream soon, she would be yanked out of it instead, an uncomfortable possibility at best.
Prinna’s Dream landscape was a sun-dappled glen with green grass, yellow flowers, and a pair of rowan trees. The breeze was sweet and light, as in late spring. Prinna inhaled appreciatively of her own creation. Bellerophon was currently undergoing a rainy stretch, and the overhead sun, Dream though it may be, felt wonderful. Perhaps she could eke out her stay for a few more—READ MORE
A heavy footfall jarred her to the core. Startled, Prinna looked around. Someone was encroaching on her Dream territory without asking permission first. It was an unpleasant presence. When Silent like Prinna wished to confer with another Silent in the Dream, they had to decide between them who would shape the landscape of their meeting place. Treading on someone else’s turf without permission was like someone running an uninvited hand over that person’s face.
More jarring footfalls. The intruder—Prinna sensed it was a man, a human like herself—was stomping toward her without regard to her landscape, forcing bits of his own impressions on this part of the Dream. It was the mental equivalent of a stranger slapping a loaf of new-risen bread dough, leaving it partly collapsed with a handprint in the center. This went beyond rude.
Prinna drew herself up, gathering her brown robes around her beneath the rowan tree. She was a brown-haired, blue-eyed woman in her third decade, not really pretty but not unattractive either. A silver ring with an amber stone graced her right hand, indicating her rank as a Sister among the Children of Irfan. Prinna put her hand on the front of her robe to ensure ring and rank were visible. Overhead, a small flock of birds wheeled and twittered in the blue sky.
”Who is that?” she demanded.
Silence. Then another footfall. Maybe she should just let go of the Dream, go back to her body. Her work was done. What did it matter if a rude lout was stomping around? The glen would disappear when she did. Then the teacher in her, the part of her that had tutored half a dozen Silent students, came to the fore. If no one told him what he was doing was wrong, he would keep on doing it. It was her duty to let him know he was breaking with etiquette.
”Who is that?” Prinna said. “Show yourself! Stop stomping around like a half-grown bull.”
A figure emerged from behind the other rowan tree and took several steps toward her. Prinna had been right—a human man. He was quite a lot bigger than she was and she found herself wanting to take a step backward. Then she realized she was being ridiculous. In the Dream, the only that mattered was willpower and mental strength. Physical size meant nothing at all. She held her ground. A small part of her noticed that his feet had left empty earth where they touched down on her grass and flowers.
”You’re pretty,” the man said. “Did you like the poems?”
Prinna blinked, confused. What was he talking about? Uncertainty tinged her again. “I don’t read poetry,” she said, clutching the front of her robe. “I don’t care for—”
The man raised his head to the sky and howled like a dog. Fear tanged Prinna’s stomach. Her cue to leave, thank you. Someone else would have to teach this weirdo some manners. She closed her eyes to gather her concentration so she could let go of the Dream. But before she could finish, something cold wrapped itself around her waist. Her eyes snapped open, her concentration destroyed. A rowan branch was holding her prisoner, squeezing hard enough to choke the air from her lungs.
”You don’t care for poetry?” The man was right in front of her. She could smell his sour breath. “But I love you.”
The glen changed. Grass and flowers withered and died. Night-black clouds blew across the sun. The ground rumbled, and blackened, evil trees without leaf or blossom twisted out of the ground and formed a tormented forest. A chorus of voices wailed on the wind. Terror suffused Prinna Meg. She couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t… “I love you, you stupid bitch,” the man said.
Prinna Meg’s pain began.
You can sell a body without consent, but never the soul.
—Captain Irfan Qasad, First Bellerophon Landing Party
The slave auction took place in a room big as a school gymnasium. Evan Weaver, hands shaking, shuffled forward with the rest of the colonists as the slavers herded them forward. A silvery metal band encircled his left wrist, and a similar one bound his left ankle. The auction room floor was gridded with green squares, each a meter on a side, with yellow pathways painted between them. The air smelled stale, as if poorly recycled.
”Pick a square and sit!” ordered a slaver in blue coveralls. “Move!”
The colonists slowly scattered themselves across the floor. Mystified, Evan picked a square and sat. His mother, father, older brother, and younger sister did the same. The moment Evan sat down on the floor, his square turned red. The plain white tunic he had been given to wear did little to blunt the chill of the hard floor. More and more white-clad people from the colony ship arrived and were told to take up squares. Green squares steadily changed color until nearly all of them were red. Voices rumbled and echoed around the huge room until a computer tone announced the PA system was active. The colonists instantly fell silent, already knowing from experience that talking during the PA announcements resulted in instant pain.
”The auction will be starting soon,” announced a harsh voice. “When the buyers come in to look at you, do what they say, but don’t leave your square. Any question the buyers ask, you answer, and you better say ‘master’ when you do. Otherwise keep your mouth shut. It’s a silent auction, so you won’t see who’s bidding.”
The PA snapped off. Evan’s heart was pounding again. Martina, his ten-year-old sister, whimpered and reached for their mother. When her hand crossed the boundary of her square, her silver bands snapped blue. Martina screamed and snatched her hand back. Rebecca Weaver started to reach for her daughter but stopped herself barely in time. Rhys Weaver’s jaw worked back and forth, his dark skin mottled with helpless anger. Evan’s brother Keith, who at fifteen was three years older than Evan, stared at the floor. Around them, the other colonists also looked at the floor or whispered to each other in frightened voices. Evan’s mouth was dry.
Then the floor shifted. Evan tensed as all the squares, including his, rose slowly upward until they were about a meter above floor level. They locked into place with a bone jarring thump, creating dozens of platforms all around the auction hall. A moment later, a set of doors opened and more people strolled into the room. Evan blinked, then stared. His mother gasped and the buzzing among the slaves rose in volume. Not all the “people” were human. A tall, willowy being with a shock of white hair like a dandelion clock glided across the floor, followed by what looked like a giant caterpillar. Two humanoid lizards came in, tongues flicking in and out, and a short, shaggy thing with three legs skittered by. It carried a smell of wet leaves. Evan almost missed the twenty or so humans who were with them.
”Aliens,” Rebecca said in awe. “All life!”
Similar murmurs rose around them. Evan continued to stare. He had overheard the slavers talking about aliens and alien buyers, but it hadn’t actually thought about what they meant. Aliens were the stuff of the entertainment industry, something you only saw on a screen or in a VR game. Now they were here, real and breathing. The caterpillar pittered by, its legs moving in a dazzling pattern.’
Evan swallowed hard. From his perspective, he had boarded the colony ship only four days ago, along with his family, various other members of the Real People Reconstructionists of Aboriginal Australia, and other groups. They were all bound for a planet named Pelagosa. Evan’s last memory was the lid of the cryo-chamber clanging shut above him. There was a slight hiss, a heavy feeling, and blackness.
The next thing Evan knew, he was being yanked shivering out of the chamber and fitted with a silvery wristband and ankleband before his half-frozen mind could comprehend what was going on. His family and the thousand-odd other colonists had been fitted with similar shackles. The slavers had unceremoniously hauled them on board their ship and stuffed them into cell-like rooms. The colony vessel was taken for salvage. Anyone who fought back or even protested received a debilitating shock from the bands. Even saying the word “escape” or “revolt” earned a shock. No amount of banging, picking, or clawing would get the bands off, though Evan’s wrist and ankle became red and raw from the attempt.
During four days of captivity, they had picked up tiny bits of information here and there, mostly from what the slavers told them. The colonists had been sleeping for either nine hundred years (real time) or fifty years (ship time), take your pick. While the colonists lay in cryo-sleep, someone had discovered something called slipspace, which allowed faster-than-light travel between solar systems. Pelagosa and hundreds of other inhabitable planets had quickly been colonized. Slower-than-light ships vanished into history and the vastness of space, their slumbering inhabitants forgotten.
But the slavers remembered.
It didn’t matter to the slavers that the colonists and crew of the ship were not legally slaves. All records of their existence had long ago been lost or purged, and in any case, Earth was under a different government trillions of kilometers away.
”Who are you going to complain to?” laughed a slaver named Feder when Evan’s parents Rhys and Rebecca Weaver had expressed outrage and disbelief. “You’re slaves because we say you are and no one who counts will say different.”
Feder. Evan shot Keith a quick look. He still hadn’t taken his eyes off the floor of his platform. Maybe he was trying to hide his startling eyes. Blue was an extremely uncommon eye color among Australian Aborigines, and Keith’s eyes made an arresting contrast with his dark skin and curly black hair. Evan quietly believed that it was Keith’s eyes that had grabbed Feder’s attention in the first place. Although Keith steadfastly refused to talk about any of it, Evan knew that Feder’s attention, given in the privacy of the slaver’s own quarters, had not been kind.
A thin woman with white hair approached Keith’s platform. “Stand up, you,” she said. “What’s your name?”
Keith slowly got up. “Utang, Mistress,” he said, giving the Real People name he had chosen for himself only a few months before the People decided to board the colony ship. The word meant ‘strength,’ though Evan, playing the part of annoying kid brother, hadn’t been able to find it in any language database for the Aboriginal tribes. Keith had airily claimed the name had come to him in a dream. Evan rarely thought of Keith as Utang, even though Keith—Utang—used it regularly.
Evan tensed. An older man with brown eyes and a fringe of gray hair was standing next to Evan’s platform looking up at him. Evan got to his feet feeling naked and exposed. The man made a spiral motion with one hand.
Evan’s stomach tightened as he obeyed. It seemed like he could feel the man staring at him and he found his face growing warm. It was like being a dog in a kennel. The white-haired woman had moved away from Keith’s platform.
The man consulted a computer pad. “You’re twelve years old, is that right?”
Evan nodded. Suddenly he wanted his mother’s arms around him, hiding him from this. His chin quivered and tears welled up.
”You ever work a farm, boy?” the man asked. He had a hoarse voice.
Evan shook his head. “I grew up in Sydney. It’s a city in Australia. Master,” he added quickly, and hated himself for it.
The man tapped the pad and moved on. Evan wondered if that was good or bad.
”Turn around, child, and let me see you,” said another voice. Evan turned and saw a woman, also older. Blond, with gray eyes, perhaps ten years older than his mother. She wore a green robe with a gold frog embroidered on the shoulder.
”Walk around your platform,” she ordered.
Evan did so. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the white-haired alien talking to his father. The frog woman made a note on her pad and turned to Rebecca.
”You’re the boy’s dam?” she asked.
Yes,” Rebecca said. Her voice was quiet. “Mistress.”
”Can you follow a recipe and cook?”
The embroidered frog rippled as the woman made another note. Then without a word, she walked away.
Over the next two hours, several more humans and two different aliens examined Evan. They asked him questions and made him stand and walk. One pair of humans, a man and a woman, entered reached up to prod and poke him.
”This lot has been in cryo-sleep for nine hundred years,” said the man as if Evan weren’t there. He was fat and balding, with fleshy lips and a tiny nose.
”They won’t have very many useful skills then,” observed the woman. She was equally heavy and wore a heavy string of glittering gems around her neck. “I suppose this one might be able to do housework and we could teach him to drive when he’s old enough, but he isn’t really attractive enough to put out in front of guests. What do think of that one over there?”
Evan didn’t know how to react to all this, so he didn’t react at all. He merely sat in his tiny square platform. Occasionally Evan glanced at his mother. She looked frightened, though whenever she noticed him looking at her, her expression changed into something Evan supposed was meant to be reassuring. That frightened him even more. On some level, he had expected his parents to figure out what to do, how to solve their problem and get them ultimately to Pelagosa or back home to Sydney. His mother’s face, however, made it clear that she didn’t know what to do anymore than he did.
The day wore on. In the background he heard someone shouting, “Fifteen! Do I hear fifteen? Fifteen, thank you! Twenty! Do I hear twenty?” and Evan assumed a non-silent auction had started up somewhere. Later, a woman came around with food that Evan ate without really tasting. Humans and aliens looked, prodded, asked the same questions. Eventually, Evan fell into a sort of stupor. The bidders became a blur of noise and faces.
”All right, you,” said a voice. “Come with me. Both of you.”
Evan roused himself. The woman with the gold frog embroidered on her green robe was standing in front of him. Scattered around the echoing room, Evan saw other buyers standing in front of different slaves. One woman’s platform faded from red to green and sank to floor level. She crossed the boundary and fell into step behind the giant caterpillar. A coveralled slaver—not Feder—stood in front of Keith’s platform, and sank to the floor as well. The slaver hauled an unresisting Keith to his feet. Rhys leaped up, halting a thumblength from the edge of his own red platform.
”Where are you taking him?” Rhys demanded.
”Special delivery,” was all the slaver said as he lead Keith away.
Rhys made as if to jump off his platform, then halted. Rebecca was on her feet as well. Martina started to cry. Evan’s stomach clenched and he balled up his fists. The helpless feeling dropped over him. Keith needed his help, needed his family’s help, but they couldn’t do anything. Keith shot one last blue-eyed look over his shoulder as the slaver took him away. Platforms sank to the floor all around the room. More shouts and cries started up as other families realized they were being split up.
”We’ll find you, Utang!” Rhys shouted over the din. “We’ll find you!”
”Come on, you,” said the frog woman, her face impatient. “I don’t have the entire day.”
Evan’s platform sank, as did his mother’s. So much was happening so fast, he couldn’t keep track of everything. He wanted to run after Keith, but didn’t know what he’d do if he caught up to him.
”Well?” the woman demanded. “I dislike using pain to motivate my slaves, but if you two won’t move, I’ll have no choice.”
Evan snapped his attention around to her. “Are you my—did you—” Evan found he couldn’t say the words owner or buy me.
”I am Giselle Blanc,” she said, talking both to him and his mother. “I own you both. You will address me as Mistress Blanc or Mistress.”
”Did you—what about my husband?” Rebecca said softly. “And my daughter? Please, Mistress—did you…buy them as well?”
Evan wanted to cry. He had never seen his mother act like this. Her proud face was abject and full of pleading.
Blanc shrugged. “I bid on both of them, but lost. Come along, now. Control of your bands has been passed over to me. If you stray more than four meters from me, it will be unpleasant, and if you approach closer than one meter, it will be unpleasant.” She turned and began to walk away.
Horror crashed over Evan and he froze where he was. His family was being split up even further and he felt helpless to stop it. A warning tingle passed through him, and he leaped forward to stay within range of Giselle Blanc. His mother walked ahead of him, white tunic fluttering like a ghost. Rhys and Martina were standing at the edge of their red platforms, tears running down both their faces. Evan realized his own face was wet, his throat thick. Blanc continued to walk ahead of them.
Rhys reached down and snatched Rebecca’s hand as she passed. His face contorted with pain as his shackles glowed and delivered a punishing shock. “Find us!” he gasped. “If we all keep looking, we’ll find each other. Don’t give up!”
Evan reached up to touch his father’s hand. Rebecca had time to kiss Rhys’s fingers above the glowing blue band before he fell backward with a moan. His hand slid away. “Find us!” he cried again. “I love you both.”
Another warning tingle forced Evan to move forward. He caught a glimpse of Martina, tears flowing down her face. “Don’t worry, Martina,” he said to her, forcing a brave note into his cracking voice. “We’ll find you. Don’t worry. Be brave, okay?”
But Martina continued to cry silent tears.
Another warning tingle forced Evan to turn around and pay attention to where he was walking. Blanc wove her way up and down the yellow pathways between red platforms and green squares. She picked up half a dozen other humans—none of them were Real People—and finally headed for the double doors that lead out of the bidding room. Evan looked over his shoulder one more time but didn’t see Martina or Rhys.
The little group of humans walked quietly down the wide white corridor of the station. Large windows showed a spectacular view of an unfamiliar planet as it turned slowly toward darkness, and the stars behind it gleamed like grains of purest white desert sand scattered over a black mirror. Aliens in surprising shapes and colors walked, slithered, or scuttled past. Evan barely noticed any of it. Crushing sorrow rode his shoulders. He found he was holding his mother’s hand, though he didn’t remember taking it. Blanc walked ahead of them. Somewhere along the line, she had been joined by a man with whom she conversed in a low voice. Her husband? Another slave? Evan didn’t know, just as he didn’t know who had bought Keith and who had bought his father and sister—or if they had been bought at all. What happened to slaves who weren’t bid on? Were they killed? Imprisoned? Sold later? He had no idea. Not knowing, he thought, was the worst feeling of all.
The other slaves in the group, all dressed in white tunics and silvery wrist- and anklebands, walked obediently behind Blanc. Some of them wept silently, others remained stoic.
Several corridors later, they came to a series of airlocks. Blanc’s male companion chose one and cycled it open. The entry bay of a ship lay on the other side. All of a sudden it hit Evan hard. He had been sold, and his father, sister, and brother were gone. Once he left this station, he would never see them again. Panic suffused his chest and limbs. He turned and ran back up the corridor.
”Dad!” he shouted. “Martina!”
He got only a few meters before the pain knocked him flat. Evan struggled to his feet, ignoring the hands that grabbed at him. His bands glowed electric blue, but Evan’s feet carried him further along. The pain got worse. He was running over hot coals, through molten lava.
The hands were on him again, and his bands glowed so brightly, they hurt his eyes. Raw, undiluted agony ripped his body to pieces. Evan fell, and blackness came before his body touched the floor.
The sun burned low in the cloudless sky, and the sandy soil was hot beneath Evan’s bare feet. His soles hurt, pierced countless times by spiny spinniflex and slashed by sharp rocks. His skin was dry, and it felt stretched over his body like a heated drum skin. Rhys and another man had started a fire of wood and dried animal dung. Keith—Utang—was skinning a big snake, clumsily but effectively, and Rebecca worked with another woman piling white grubs into big green leaves. They would roast in the fire, Evan knew, and his stomach twisted at the idea of eating them. Still, he knew he would. The grubs would contain moisture even after cooking, and they were worth eating for the water content alone. Rebecca rolled the first leaf shut, pushed it into the fire, and reached for another. The smell of roasting grubs wafted over the dry air, and the rocky Outback stretched empty in all directions.
Evan hated these trips. The hot sun, the constant thirst, eating things he would have only stepped on back home, stupid meditative exercises that were supposed to get them in tune with each other enough to use “head talk” instead of words to communicate, evenings spent listening to boring stories around a smelly fire, all in an attempt to rediscover “tribal ways.” It was all stupid and pointless. The vast majority of Real People culture had long disappeared with the People themselves, either dead or swallowed up by mutant—white—society.
A curl of manure-scented smoke drifted into Evan’s eyes and he shifted position, trying to get out of the way without standing on his aching feet.
”Your feet will harden in time,” said Neluukatelardin. “In the meantime, pay the pain no attention.”
Evan glared at him. Neluukatelardin was a sort-of leader to the Real People Reconstructions movement, and he was currently lobbying for a tribal place on a colony ship that would soon leave for a planet named Pelagosa. The plan was to re-establish the Real People’s way of life in a place untouched by mutant society. Evan was far from thrilled with the idea, but his parents were seriously considering it.
Rebecca pulled the leaf from the fire with a pair of sticks and opened it. The grubs inside had turned into a sort of mush that looked almost like oatmeal. Keith, meanwhile, sliced the snake meat into chunks and skewered them on sticks which he passed around to the dozen-odd people surrounding the fire. Martina poked a hesitant finger into the grub mush, then scooped some up and ate it. Evan grimaced, but thirst forced him to reach for it.
Cold droplets landed on his head. Startled, Evan looked up. The Outback hadn’t seen rain in months, and the sky was cloudless. More droplets spattered him and dripped icily down the sides of his head. The sun set, and suddenly everything was dark. Even the campfire had vanished. After a moment, Evan realized his eyes were shut. Puzzled, he opened them.
The room was dim and gloomy. Evan lay on a pallet on the floor with a scratchy blanket drawn over him. A ceiling slanted high overhead, with dark beams rising into the shadows. The inside of Evan’s head felt fuzzy, and his mouth was dry. The Outback had been a dream? It had felt so real. Maybe this was the dream.
He put a hand to his forehead and found a dripping wet cloth. The cold felt good and helped clear his head. An odd sound came to his ears. He couldn’t place it. It reminded him of a lot of birds twittering, but that wasn’t quite it.
”How do you feel?”
Evan turned his head without sitting up. A boy with white-blond hair, pale blue eyes, and a deep suntan sat cross-legged next to the pallet. He looked to be Evan’s age, about twelve. His feet were bare, and he wore a brown shirt and shorts. A silver band encircled his left wrist and left ankle. Automatically Evan touched his own wrist. The metal shackle was still there.
”I’m…okay,” Evan said slowly. “What’s going on? Where am I?”
”This is Mistress Blanc’s farm,” the boy said. “You got here some hours ago, and they bad me keep an eye on you until you woke up. Nater—him that’s the headservant—Nater said they had to sedate you on the ship or you would have killed yourself.”
Evan pushed himself gingerly upright, expecting dizziness or nausea but feeling neither. The cloth slid from his head and landed with a wet plop on the pallet. “Where’s my mom?”
”At house, I think.” The boy dropped the cloth into a bucket. “She’s going to be working kitchen. You’re supposed to be working ponds with me. Come on. I’ll show you.”
He unfolded long, skinny legs and got up. Evan didn’t move. “I want to see my mom.”
The boy hesitated. “We’re pond hands. Muckers. We don’t go into house much. Mistress Blanc said you’ll be starting at ponds.”
”I want to see my mom,” Evan repeated stubbornly. What if they were lying and Rebecca was dead or sold to someone else? And she had to be worried about him. The boy gave him a reluctant look.
”I’ll bring you up to house,” he said dubiously. “But I’m not promising nothin’. Come on.”
Evan got up off the pallet and followed the boy to a chunky wooden ladder that lead down to a large main floor. It turned out they were in the loft of a barn-like structure. The place smelled of dust and straw. Several pallets were scattered across the floor, along with a few personal items and open wooden crates that stored clothes. Evan’s white tunic had been replaced with the same brown shorts and shirt the boy wore, and he wondered who had dressed him.
”I’m Pup,” the boy said, starting down the ladder. Evan followed.
”I’m Evan,” he said. A small shock hit him and he almost lost his grip on the ladder. “Ow!”
Pup looked up at him. “Mistress said your name’s Lizard on account of you being so small and quick.”
What? They were going to change his name? “My name is Evan,” Evan repeated, and got another shock, stronger this time. “Hey!”
Pup shrugged, continued on down the ladder. “Mistress says your name is Lizard.”
The main floor was piled with bales of golden straw. A pair of giant double doors that stretched up to the ceiling three stories above them gaped open just wide enough to let a person slip in or out. Sunshine poured through the gap, illuminating dust motes that hovered on the still air. The odd twittering noise was louder down here. Another wooden ladder lead up a loft opposite the one Evan and Pup had descended from.
”That’s the girl’s loft,” Pup told him. “Boys aren’t allowed up there, and you’ll get a shock if you get too close.”
He slipped through the gap in the doors. Evan followed him. The sunshine hit his eyes like a hammer, and the twittering noise burst into full volume around him. It was nearly deafening. He squinted and put a hand up to shield his face until his eyes adjusted. Evan caught his breath. Stretching into the distance before him was a field dotted with a series of ponds that made green and blue circles under a dazzling azure sky. Odd trees of a kind Evan had never seen before lined some of the ponds. Tall grass surrounded others, and a few had sandy shores. It was amazing. Australia had been battling constant drought when Evan had left, and he had never seen so much freestanding water in his life, except for the ocean.
A wide strip of green grass bisected by a dirt path separated the pond area from the barn, and Evan saw people moving along other pathways between the little pools, though he couldn’t make out what they were doing. The sun was hot overhead.
”What is it?” Evan asked, still awed at the water.
”Frog farm,” Pup said. “We take care of the frogs. Come on—the house is this way.”
Pup lead Evan around behind the barn and across another wide green field. The grass was soft and green under Evan’s soles. It felt soothing and pleasant. Plants in the Outback were scrubby, tough, and usually prickly, certainly no pleasure to walk on. Sydney was a place of concrete and broken glass. Walking barefoot on something soft was a new sensation.
Ahead of them lay a wide, white house, three stories tall, with a gently sloping red roof. Several outbuildings dotted the grass around it like chicks around a hen, and people moved slowly among them. Bright sunlight glittered off silver bands.
The slaves working around the house wore white, and Pup and Evan’s brown clothing drew baleful stares. Pup clearly felt uncomfortable but lead Evan around to a back door. The smells of yeast and onions floated on the air. Pup knocked shyly and a moment later, Rebecca stuck her head out. She wore a white blouse, white trousers, and a blue apron dusted with flour. Her silver wristband was coated with it.
”Mom,” Evan said, and she gathered him into her arms even though he was as tall as she was. He stayed like that for a moment, pretending everything was safe and all right.
”Are you all right?” she asked. “They wouldn’t let me see you.”
”I’m fine.” He reluctantly backed up a step, ending the embrace. “This is Pup. He took care of me. He said my name is ‘Lizard’ now.” He said the last with distaste.
”They call me ‘Bell,’ “ Rebecca said. “Blanc—” she winced and clutched her wrist “—Mistress Blanc always renames her slaves. I guess everyone does. We’ll just have to live with it until we can figure out what else to do.”
Evan gave a grim nod. A voice from inside the kitchen said, “Bell! We need that pastry rolled out!”
”I have to go,” Rebecca said. “Here, hold on.”
She vanished into the kitchen and came back with a pair of large rolls, which she handed to Evan and Pup. The latter snatched it eagerly. Evan realized he was hungry, too.
”I don’t know if they fed you or not,” Rebecca said. “If you get short of food, come round and see me. I’ll see what I can do.”
”Where are they keeping you?” Evan asked. “Where do you sleep?”
”In the garret with the others,” she replied.
”I’ll see you later.” Rebecca stood on tiptoe to kiss the top of Evan’s head and vanished back into the house.COLLAPSE