Read Among the Nameless Stars Online

Authors: Diana Peterfreund

Tags: #Teen & Young Adult, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #90 Minutes (44-64 Pages)

Among the Nameless Stars (2 page)

Now I know how cruel the Luddite Lords can be… .

Kai was kept out of sight of the Luddites on the Miner Estate, though they came to the village often enough—an older man and three younger ones, all built like the volcano itself, massive and menacing, with skin burnished a deep red-brown and faces filled with frowns. Two of them he recognized when he glimpsed them through the cracks in the walls of Jin’s hut.

They’d been the men who’d chased him down the ravine.

They came to the village for the women. Kai asked Teb about it once, and he just shrugged.

Jin, too. “They gave me up a few years back,” she said. “Always new girls coming up.”

Kai shook his head in disgust. “Reduced girls, too?”

Jin clucked her tongue. “Depends how pretty they are. Most around here don’t count the Reduced as much more than animals.”

That phrase again. Was that really the way of things on this estate? Once, when Kai was very young, a Luddite on the North Estate had messed with one of the Reduced girls. The Baron had banished him. Elliot’s father had some standards. These men, these Miner Luddites,
they
were the animals.

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Kai was relieved when Jin finally pronounced his leg healed enough to walk on again. “I hope your limp goes away as you get stronger,” she said. “But I can’t make any promises. Try to hide it when you’re looking for labor. Folks might pass over a gimp.”

Kai cringed at the word. “I won’t be looking for physical labor, unless I get desperate. I was a mechanic, back on my old estate.”

Jin’s eyes widened. “A mechanic who can read and write?” She whistled through her teeth.

“Best you’re leaving today before anyone here gets wind of that. You’d never get away.”

He thought back to the night he’d fallen down the ravine. Had the Miner Luddites known his skills then, when they’d chased him? Or had they just seen an able-bodied laborer?

“Bet your old master’s looking for you hard.”

“No,” Kai replied, swallowing. “None of the Luddites on my old estate are looking for me.”

Dear Elliot,

You aren’t looking for me, are you?

Sometimes, at night, Kai would lie on his back and rename the stars. The ones he’d learned from the books Elliot had smuggled out of her family’s library were all so long and ornate, like a Luddite’s name. He rechristened them with names more like the Posts he knew, like the Posts he missed, back on the North Estate: Mags and Dee, Gill and Jef, even his father, Mal. All except one, the bright blue one that greeted him every morning, the one that used to be called Venus.

That one he named Elliot.

How did anyone see the stars and not wish for more than the confinement they were born to?

How could anyone know that lands lie beyond their shores and not wish to find them for
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themselves? The Luddite lords said that nothing remained of the world, that they were the only survivors. And maybe they were right, but they were also Luddites. Luddites never wanted anything to change.

Kai was done with that.

Now that he was off the roads, he counted on the stars to show him the way. South of the fire fields, the land was much more familiar, though still hillier and more open than the wooded, rocky beaches where Kai had been raised. His progress was slow, due to his leg, but it was progress nonetheless. He slept each night on thick, pillowy beds of grass and plodded each day through endless, rolling fields, punctuated here and there by baby mountains or glass-smooth lakes. He avoided any sign of settlement.

And he wondered what would happen if Elliot did come looking for him. What if she’d changed her mind? He didn’t want her crossing the fire fields on her own. Who would protect her from the Miners? Would they care if she claimed she was a Luddite? And how would anyone ever know? Even if they both made it to Channel City, how would they ever find each other? Kai thought about the poor Post girl Bess, who’d very nearly failed to let her man’s family know about his death and their baby. How many other Posts down in the enclaves were dead or married or had babies and had never gotten word back to loved ones on their old estates?

Oh, he didn’t care if she
did
come after him. His mind was filled with fantasies—Elliot, travel-weary and tired, traipsing the streets of Channel City in search of Kai, who’d grown rich and successful. Or maybe one day, one day when he was the richest Post on the island, he’d write to her:

Dear Miss Elliot,

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In his fantasy, she never married.

Dear Miss Elliot,

I am sure you don’t remember me, but long ago, I lived in the loft above your barn.

Wait, no. He
wanted
her to remember him.

Dear Elliot,

Though it has been a long time since I’ve thought of myself as the boy who lived in your
barn, I felt duty-bound to repay your kindness over the years.

Kindness? No. Generosity? No, not that either. It sounded too … grateful.

Dear Elliot,

Though it has been a long time since I’ve thought of myself as the boy who lived in your
barn, I feel duty bound to repay you for the things you did on my behalf in those days. Thus I
have sent with this letter

What? A cup carved of jade? A bolt of real silk? A pair of opal earrings as big as plums?

What would he send her once he had money? What would he send her just to show that he could?

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Maybe, once he reached Channel City, he’d learn there were even more wonderful things than those. Things neither he nor Elliot had ever heard of, growing up in the far north.

Channel City. The very name gave him shivers as he drew closer, day by day. It was the only city in the islands that hadn’t been destroyed by the Wars of the Lost. He’d heard many of the buildings remained from the old days, massively tall or astoundingly opulent or even just oddly shaped. The Luddites occupied the nicer parts of the city, but Posts had made communities of their own, on the outskirts and in the run-down areas, and they were slowly rebuilding, sometimes with permission of the Luddite lords and sometimes in spite of them. The Luddites had held power too easily, and for too many generations, without the slightest bit of struggle.

Now that the Posts had emerged from the wreckage of the Reduction, Luddites—both on the estates and in the cities—didn’t know quite how to handle them. Were Posts slaves, like their Reduced forefathers, or were they fully human, capable of autonomy, of freedom, of forming their own society where they no longer had to live by the Luddites’ technophobic laws and their dark-age protocols?

That’s what Kai had left the North Estate to find out. That was what he’d hoped Elliot would wish to discover at his side. But in the end, Elliot had made it perfectly plain. He’d never forget what she’d written in her last letter to him.

I will always be a Luddite. I was born this way. I’ll die this way. I cannot turn my back on it.

Without us, the world would have burned, and all of humankind would have been destroyed. I
cannot ignore that. I cannot forget who I am. But you are not a Luddite. And that is why I
cannot go with you.

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Kai would never let himself forget it either. Elliot chose the North Estate over him. She chose her position, her power, over the promises they’d made to each other. She chose the world of the Luddites over the wider world, the one they’d talked of exploring together.

He’d never forgive her. Never. And if he was rich one day, he wouldn’t send her diamond earrings either. That night, he renamed the evening star again. If Elliot didn’t deserve diamonds, she certainly didn’t deserve to have a star named after her. Even in his head.

The next morning, he saw Channel City for the first time.

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Four

People. More people than Kai knew existed. And almost all of them Post. Post or Luddite—one couldn’t tell in Channel City. Posts and Luddites alike in carriages and on horseback and wearing fancy clothes. Sometimes he couldn’t even define their caste after meeting them, for here in Channel City, Posts and Luddites alike had long names and surnames, quoted books and poetry, donned jewelry and perfume and bright colors. He’d never seen such bright colors outside of flowers and sunsets. And here, people
wore
them.

Clothes were how he found his first job. Right there, in the window of a tailor’s shop, sat a sign.
Mechanic Wanted
. Wary of Jin’s warning about giving too much information about himself to strangers, he walked in, hands deep in pockets, and asked if they were looking for any workers.

“Why?” A girl in the corner tittered. “Do you sew?”

He did, as it happened, but he wasn’t great at it.

“Sorry, son,” said the man in the front, who Kai quickly guessed was in charge. “We don’t need any more laborers.”

This wasn’t proceeding according to plan. “I saw a sign in the window … thought maybe it was a Help Wanted sign—”

“That’s for a mechanic,” said the head tailor. “They’re tough to get around here, but our carder’s been broke for the better part of a month.”

Finally
. “I don’t know what a carder is, sir, but if it’s got an engine, you should let me take a look. My father was the head mechanic on the North Estate, and I apprenticed for him all my life.”

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“The North Estate?” The man looked him up and down. “Never met anyone from that far away. You come here on your own, boy? On that leg?”

“I can fix your machines, sir. I guarantee it.”

“Break them for good, more likely,” said the girl, with a sneer at his worn, dusty clothes. She must be a Post if she was working as a seamstress, but she reminded Kai of Elliot’s older sister, haughty and cruel.

The head tailor glanced at the girl, then focused on Kai. “You guarantee it? What’s your guarantee? You’ve got no references beyond your word. If you break my machines, you’ve got no money to replace them, and like I said, I don’t need any more laborers, lame or otherwise.”

Kai looked over at the sign in the window, at the thin film of dust that lay on the top. He turned back to the tailor. “Your carder’s been broken for a month, sir. How many mechanics wander in here?”

The man laughed then. “You have a point. What’s your name?”

“Kai.”

“Okay, then, Kai of the North Estate, you can give it a try. I’ll only pay you if you get it working, though.”

Kai nodded. That was fair. Besides, he wasn’t scared of failing. His father had taught him well. “I’m not of the North Estate, sir. Not any longer.”

The man smiled again. “Sorry. I meant Kai of the Post enclave.”

Dear Elliot,

You know what? I don’t think I will send you this letter. Why do you deserve to know that I
have a job, a real job, for which I am being paid real money? You know what it’s like to hold
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actual money, real coins in your hand. I didn’t—not for fourteen years. But I do today. And
with this money, I’m not going to pay to post this note. I’m going to rent a room. A real
room, my own room that’s all mine and that doesn’t smell like cow manure.

So there.

It didn’t smell like cow manure, but it did smell rather strongly of low tide, because the only room Kai found that he could afford was down near the water, by the docks and the fish market.

He didn’t mind it as much as he thought he might, though, for even though it stank to high heaven, it was still
his
stink.
His
room. His own.

Kai of the Post Enclave.

He learned that his employer was named Bartholomew Corson, and that he was a second-generation Post who’d been living in the enclaves since he was a young boy. The mean girl in his shop was Carolina, his daughter, and she warmed up to Kai considerably after he fixed the carder, the sewing machine, and the large press. The shop was well-regarded in the enclave, primarily because it was the only place you could buy the fabric Bartholomew called “velvet”

that was currently all the rage in the more fashionable districts in town.

“If I’d guessed what I’d become known for,” Bartholomew said once as Kai repaired the loom where they wove the special tufts, “I would have given my family the surname of Velvet.

Still might. Corson’s getting a bit common around here.”

Kai nodded and went back to work. Corson was a surname he could take himself if he desired. It was popular among second-generation Posts like himself, to signify that they were, in fact, second generation. COR—Children of the Reduction—had been the term for Posts when Kai’s father had been young, the term for anyone born of Reduced parents. When those people
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had started having normal, non-Reduced children of their own, the term began to sound stale, restrictive. It was a Luddite phrase for what they were. Children of the Reduction, hardly better than the Reduced slaves who’d given birth to them. Identifying themselves as Post-Reductionists—Posts—or COR-sons gave them a little distance from their origins, and a little more independence from the Luddites who’d been their masters for so long.

But Bartholomew had a point. Corson was too common of a surname. And Kai Post didn’t sound right either. Kai didn’t want to rush into choosing a new name, anyway. He couldn’t imagine writing to Elliot as Kai Corson. After all, where was the imagination in that?

Not that he was actually going to write her. Certainly not. Though if he did and if he sent along a present, just to show how rich and forgiving he could be, wouldn’t she be the envy of every Luddite in the neighborhood if he sent her a velvet dress? Violet, maybe. Or midnight blue.

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