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synchronicity. Not even an echo in the emptiness. And the only voice in my head was my own.
Jesus.
Alone.
I blinked at the lights in the ceiling.
 Cam? I liked the sting of silence, so I asked it again.  Cam?
I shivered. Yeah, could rip that scab off a million times or more before it wouldn t bleed anymore.
Bleeding was the least I could do for him.
 You feel that? I d asked Cam once.
 Hurts.
Always did, always would.
I slid my hand up my naked ribs and held it over my heart. Once, Cam s had beat in time with it.
Once, Lucy s had. It would again. I had to believe that.
Doc s hand closed over mine.
 Brady, he gasped.  What the hell happened to you?
I blinked, and the lights in the ceiling burst like coronas. I raised my shaking hands to my eyes to
wipe some of the slimy Faceless fluid away.
 Wade bashed me, I said, even though he probably didn t mean that. He probably meant what
happened with Kai-Ren.  You listening, Doc? Wade and his asshole buddies bashed me, but it was that
fucker Branski s idea to put me in the UV chamber. Could ve killed me, Doc.
 Brady, Doc said again. His hairy eyebrows did a complicated dance.  Jesus Christ, Brady, I
thought they did.
 Fuck miracles, I whispered.  Fuck the universe.
 Jesus, Doc said and pulled himself together.  Let s get you out of here and cleaned up.
 Yeah.
It took two of them to help me out of the pod: Doc and Captain Loh. When they finally had me
standing, Doc leaned me against Captain Loh and checked me for breaks.
 Let s get you into a shower, Doc said at last.
A wall of gray uniforms parted, and that was when I saw it. For a second I thought I d got turned
around somehow, or that my vision was more fucked-up than I thought, but it was real: a black, oily thing
that looked like a giant bug lying on its back with its legs clasping a sac. An intact sac.
 What the hell is that? I asked, my voice breaking.
Doc frowned at me.  That s the other pod.
The other&
The cold universe crumbled to pieces around me. I couldn t breathe, but it didn t stop me from
moving.
Funny. The pods had scared the living shit out of me when I first saw one, black, insect-like. Right
then I couldn t wait to get to this one, to get up on my toes and stare into the milky fluid at the body
underneath. Couldn t wait to press my hands against the slimy sac and watch it melt away.
 Cam!
The first time I d seen him, he had an air bubble caught in his eyelashes. He had one this time as
well, shining like a tear on his face.
I put my hands on the sac. Cam raised his. His eyes were closed, he was still in the weird place the
pod took him maybe the spiraling universe, maybe some memory of his, or maybe just the scrubby
paddock in Kopa that I d shown him but the same old electricity sparked through us when we touched.
His lips curved into a smile even before the skin of the pod dissolved, even before the fluid began to
drain away, even before he opened his eyes.
When he did, it was like the dawn.
 Hey, Brady, he rasped, shivering as his flesh was exposed to the air.
My short, sharp bark of surprise wasn t exactly a laugh. I didn t know what the hell it was. I reached
into the pod and gripped his hand. Our slimy fingers slid together.
 Am I dreaming?
No answer. That was okay. It gave me a chance to translate the question from my brain to my mouth
into something that was less pathetic.
 What the fuck happened?
Cam s grip tightened on mine. His eyes were wide.  He listened. He listened.
Then, not caring that he was naked, slimy, and surrounded by officers, Cam started to laugh. A
second later I joined in. I didn t even care if every officer in the med bay thought we were crazy.
Fuck  em.
Chapter Twenty-Two
In Kopa township, the factories and the smelter spewed smoke into the flawless blue sky.
The sun beat down on my back as I walked up the hill. I d made this walk a thousand times before,
but it felt different now. It felt like I was a stranger. My feet remembered the way, but it was like my eyes
were seeing it all for the first time.
Red dust covered my boots. It was hotter than I remembered. Sweat stuck my shirt to my back and
slipped down my spine.
And then we were at my house. The fibro walls, the sagging roof, and the scrubby little garden where
nothing except weeds had grown for years. Rubbish littered the cracked concrete path, and I was suddenly
ashamed. It was a fucking hovel.
 Is this your place? Cam asked me, putting a hand on my shoulder.
I fought not to shake it off. I didn t want his& was it sympathy? I didn t want Cam to look down on
me, seeing that I was shit. Didn t want him to feel sorry for me. And I didn t want half the fucking
population of Kopa to guess that I was a fag.
This shit was a lot easier when Cam was in my head, listening, understanding, and never judging.
Also, I really had to work on that terminology stuff.
 Yeah, I said. I squatted down in the dirt partly to get a look at the house, and partly to put some
distance between us. Last time I was here I had a girlfriend. It just goes to show, I guess.
Fuck. I don t know what it goes to show.
Last time I was here I had a father as well, and there might have been holes in the fibro walls and
more rust than tin on the roof, but it was still a house. My dad had worked hard to keep that roof over us.
It was more than a lot of people had.
The sagging washing line extended from the side of the house. It was hung with clothes that belonged
to strangers. Houses didn t stay empty for long in Kopa.
I stood.  Denise is on the other side of the hill.
Cam nodded.
Cam might have had one of the most famous faces on the planet, but with his scruffy long hair and
civvies nobody recognized him as the same guy from the posters or the TV. I got more looks that him.
People in Kopa knew me.
Cockatoos screamed in the distance, and a stab of panic caught me in the guts. This was just how the
Faceless pod had projected Kopa for me. So vivid, so alive. What if I was still in that fucking pod? What
if Kai-Ren had never let me go?
Cam might not have been in my head anymore, but it was never that complicated in there. He saw the
look on my face and smiled.  Dj vu, right?
 Don t flash your five-dollar education around here, LT, I said.  You ll get your head kicked in.
 Don t call me LT, Cam returned.  We re on leave.
On leave because otherwise we d be AWOL. The first time I d walked out of provisional HQ in the
middle of my repatriation course, they thought I was suffering from PTSD. The second, third, and fourth
times they put me in the stockade. The stockade at provisional HQ was a hell of a lot nicer than the brig [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]