Stars Above Chapter Teaser

From The Keeper: 

Michelle slid her fingertip across the portscreen, flipping through the album of photos her granddaughter had sent that morning. Luc had taken Scarlet to see the ruins of the Musée du Louvre, and Scarlet had taken dozens of pictures of the crumbling statues and still-standing wreckage. There was even a photo of Luc and Scarlet together, huddled in enormous wool coats beside a statue with one missing arm. The stone woman looked like a third member of their party. Michelle kept coming back to this picture, the only one of the album that had both Luc and Scarlet in it. Though Luc wore his usual detached expression—always trying so hard to look sophisticated—Scarlet’s grin was effervescent. Her eyes sparkling, one of her front teeth missing, her curly red hair half tucked into the collar of her jacket. She seemed happy. For once, Luc was trying, and that warmed Michelle to her core. It was a welcome change from the usual comms she received from her granddaughter. Home life had been difficult for the child since her mother had left . . . no, Michelle knew it had been difficult long before that. Though she loved her son, she had known from the beginning that he was ill-suited to parenthood. Too vain and selfish, and his young wife had been every bit as bad. Their relationship had been passionate and dramatic and doomed from the start. They’d practically been arguing since the moment they’d started dating—big arguments, with screaming and smashed dishes and law enforcement called by the neighbors more than once. When the pregnancy had been announced, Michelle had struggled to feign joy for them. The disastrous end to their marriage had been inevitable and she’d known that the poor child would be the victim of it. Usually she was forced to read between the lines of Scarlet’s comms, as Luc certainly never told her anything. “I’m bored and waiting for Papa to get home” translated to “Luc is out at the bars again and his six-year-old daughter is home alone.” Or, “Thank you for the birthday gift. Papa said he’s going to take me to a theme park to celebrate once the weather is better,”translated to “Luc forgot his daughter’s birthday again and hopes she’ll forget all about his promise by the time spring rolls around.” Or, “The neighbor brought ratatouille for dinner again—the third this week. She uses too much eggplant and I HATE eggplant, but Papa said I was being rude and sent me to my room,” translated to “Luc gambled away their food budget this week, but at least this kindly neighbor is paying attention—unless she’s been charmed by Luc’s smile and hasn’t yet figured out that he’s a spineless rascal.” Michelle sighed. She loved her son, but she had lost respect for him a long while ago. She knew she had to accept part of the blame herself, though. She had raised him, after all. Maybe she had spoiled him too much, or maybe not enough. Maybe he’d needed a father in his life to guide him. Maybe— A knock startled her. She lifted her gaze away from the portscreen where she’d been staring into the shadowed face of the son she hadn’t spoken more than a dozen sentences to this year. Probably one of the neighbor kids hosting a fundraiser, or someone from town wanting a few eggs from her hens. Setting the port on the table beside her favorite reading chair, she pulled herself to her feet and ducked out of her bedroom, down the narrow stairs that creaked familiarly every time, into the small foyer of the farmhouse. She didn’t bother to look, just opened the door on its ancient hinges. Her heart stalled. The entire world seemed to hesitate. Michelle took half a step back, bracing herself on the door. “Logan.” His name struck her with the full force of an asteroid collision, stealing the air from her lungs. Logan stared back at her. Logan. Her Logan. His eyes searched her, every bit as rich and fathomless as she remembered, though they were lined with wrinkles that hadn’t been there before. More than thirty years before. “Hello, Michelle.” His voice was a wearier version of the one she had adored all those years ago, but it still filled her with memories and loneliness and warmth. “I am so sorry to intrude on you like this,” he said, “but I am in desperate need of your help.” * She had been both proud and terrified when she’d been invited to attend the Earthen diplomats on a visit to Luna—the first in generations. She was one of four pilots for the mission, and the youngest by nearly ten years. It had been an honor, even though most of the people she’d mentioned the mission to prior to departure gawked at her like she was crazy for even considering it. “Luna?” they would ask in disbelief. “You’re going to Luna . . . willingly? But . . . they’ll murder you. They’ll brainwash you and turn you into an Earthen slave. You’ll never come back!” She laughed and ignored their warnings, confident that the horror stories surrounding Lunars were based on superstitious nonsense more than solid facts. Just like Earthens, she believed there would be good Lunars and bad Lunars. Surely, they couldn’t all be monsters. Besides, she was only a pilot. She wouldn’t be involved in any of the political discussions or important meetings. She didn’t even know what the mission was meant to accomplish. She would spend the month-long visit enjoying the famed luxuries of Artemisia and she would return home with plenty of stories to tell. She wasn’t about to let some absurd urban legends keep her from being part of such a historic event. She was given leave almost as soon as they reached Artemisia, and she soon discovered that the white city was everything she expected it to be and more. Lush gardens and courtyards filled the spaces between white-stone buildings. Trees towered over sprawling mansions—some reaching nearly to the domed enclosure that covered the city. Music poured out of every alleyway and no glass was left empty of wine and everyone she met was carefree and full of laughter. Somehow they all knew she was Earthen without her having to say so, and it seemed that every wealthy merchant and aristocrat in the city made it their personal obligation to show her the grandest time she could imagine. It was only the fourth day since her arrival and she was in the central square of the city, dancing around an enormous sundial with a strikingly handsome man, when she stepped too close to the edge and tumbled off. She cried out in pain, knowing instantly that her ankle was sprained. Her dancing partner called for a magnetic levitating contraption—similar to a gurney—and taken her to the nearest med-clinic. That was where she met Logan. He was a doctor, a few years older than she was, and Michelle had known instantly that he was different from the other Lunars she’d met. He was more serious. His eyes more thoughtful. But more than that, he was . . .imperfect. She studied him while he studied her ankle. Average build. Light brown, untidy hair. There was a mole on his cheek and his mouth drooped on one side, even when he smiled. He was still good-looking, at least by Earthen standards, but on Luna . . . Only when it occurred to her that he was not using a glamour did she realize that everyone else she’d met had been. He offered to let her rest in a suspension tank, but she shook her head. “It will heal quicker,” he said, confused by her refusal. “I don’t like being confined to small spaces,” she replied. “Then you must hate being trapped under the biodome here.” He didn’t press her as he began to wrap her ankle the old-fashioned way. For years to come, when she thought of Logan, she would remember his gentle hands and how deftly they had worked. “It’s so beautiful here,” she said. “I hardly feel trapped at all.” “Oh yes. It’s a very pretty prison we’ve built.” It was the first unpleasant comment she’d heard about Luna, from a Lunar. “You think of your home as a prison?” His gaze had flickered up, clashing with hers. He was silent for a long, long time. Instead of answering her question, he finally asked in a hushed whisper, “Is it true that the sky on Earth is the color of a blue jay’s wings?” After that day, Michelle had no longer had eyes for the aristocrats and their flashy clothes (especially once Logan told her that the man she’d been dancing with on the sundial was in fact old enough to be her grandfather). She and Logan spent every possible moment together during her stay on Luna. They both knew it was a temporary affair. There was a ticking clock for when she would return to Earth, and she never entertained hope that he might be able to return with her. The rules against Lunar emigration were strict—Luna didn’t like its citizens leaving, and Earth didn’t want them coming. Perhaps their romance was more intense for its brevity. They talked about everything—politics and peace and Earth and Luna and constellations and history and mythology and childhood rhymes. He told her horrifying rumors about how the Lunar crown treated the impoverished citizens of the outer sectors, forever ruining the glittering allure that Artemisia had first cast over her. She told him about her dream to someday retire from the military and buy a small farm. He showed her the best place in the city to see the Milky Way, and there was a meteor shower on the night they first made love. When it was time for her to leave, there were no parting gifts. No tears and no goodbyes. He had kissed her one last time and she had boarded the ship to return to Earth and that was the last she had ever seen of Dr. Logan Tanner. When she’d discovered her pregnancy nearly two months later, it had not even occurred to her to try and find a way to inform him of his child. She was sure that it would not have mattered anyway. * “We were told of her death months ago,” Michelle said, pressing her palm flat against the glass lid of the suspended animation tank that had been hidden beneath a pile of old horse blankets in the back of a rented hover. She was trying to keep from heaving. She was not easily disturbed, but never had she been so close to something so sad and horrific. Judging from the size of the body, the child could not have been more than three or four years old. She looked more like a corpse—disfigured and covered in burn marks. It was unbelievable that she was alive at all. “There have been rumors . . . conspiracy theorists have speculated that she may have survived and Levana is trying to cover it up. But I didn’t believe them.” “Good,” said Logan. “We want people to believe she’s dead, especially the queen. It’s the only way she’ll be safe.” “Princess Selene,” Michelle whispered. It didn’t seem real. None of this seemed real. Logan was on Earth. Princess Selene was alive. He’d brought her here.