Hero for WondLa CHAPTER 1: LEAVE
Eva Nine watched a turnfin flap its triple pair of wings to join its flock. The alien birds squawked in an otherworldly harmony as they soared through the eroded sun-bleached remains of buildings that had once stood as New York City.
Over the eastern horizon the morning sun was shining down on mountainous white clouds sailing slowly over the ancient ruins. Eva made her way through the twisting labyrinth of crumbled brick walls and rusted steel beams, stopping in
front of a lone column blanketed in gigantic leafy lichen. She pulled her empty drinking container out of her satchel and removed the cap. Eva yanked a large corrugated leaf from the column with her hands and began to roll it up. She wrung the leaf tighter and tighter until water began to trickle from its stem.
Really? That’s it? Eva thought as the dribble of water ran to the bottom of her drinking container. This is going to take forever. I wish I’d kept my hydration tablets. She sighed and tore off another leaf.
Traveling down the bygone avenues of a withered world, Eva paused at the gaping shadowy entrance of a tunnel that led down into the earth toward the remains of a forgotten library. Her mind flickered to the memory of the giant water bear, Otto, digging that tunnel like an enormous puppy. Eva closed her eyes. Though her loyal companion was with his herd far from here, Eva knew he was relaxed and content. She had a connection with Otto. She could understand what he was thinking when it appeared no one else could. Eva could not explain how it was that she could do this. She just felt it.
She opened her eyes and took in the endless barren horizon beyond the ruins. Eva whispered,
“I’m happy for you, Otto. I am going to join my herd too.” With a smile she continued on toward her camp.
Under the shade of a deteriorating steel archway, a lanky blue alien sat on backward-bending legs. The Cærulean, Rovender Kitt, appeared to be organizing the scattered contents of a saddlebag that hung from a parked gull-winged glider.
“You were right, Rovee,” Eva said, joining her friend. She shook her mostly full drinking container. “I was able to get quite a bit of water. But with only one good hand my fingers got sore from all that squeezing.”
Rovender glanced up at Eva, then continued on with his task. “Your wounds will heal soon enough.” He spoke in a soft, gravelly voice. “And do not worry about your hand. You will become stronger and it will become easier.” He unbuckled a second saddlebag and began rooting through it. “We shall have to hunt down some breakfast soon, though.”
“Food, huh? I don’t suppose you’d be interested in these at all?” Eva pulled out a voxfruit from her satchel and smiled.
Rovender stopped, a look of genuine surprise on his whiskered face. “Oeeah! Voxfruit! Out here? Well done, Eva Nine. Well done.” He held up a
thick-fingered hand, and Eva tossed him a piece of fruit.
“Yup,” replied Eva. “I found them growing in some sort of underground transit station. I grabbed all I could carry.” She opened her satchel. It was stuffed full with the exotic fruit.
“That is a good discovery. Now come.” Rovender patted the ground next to where he sat. “See what I have found.”
Eva knelt down next to Rovender and poured water into his empty bottle. Then, after taking a swig from her own container, she shuddered as she glanced over the booty. Like the glider, these items had once belonged to the Dorcean huntsman, Besteel. Now the huntsman’s belongings had been sorted into little piles that were spread out over Rovender’s sleeping mat.
“I told you I think it’s weird going through all his stuff,” Eva said, returning her drinking container to her satchel. “I don’t want anything from that monster.” Besteel’s raptorial visage was still fresh in Eva’s memory. She still half-expected the huntsman to jump out of the shadows and capture her once again.
Rovender took a sip of water and nodded in agreement. He picked up a small wooden contraption
with many knobs. “Yes, yes, Eva, but you never know what we may need. Like this.” He handed the gizmo to Eva.
“Uh, I give up,” she said, looking at the item without the slightest interest. “What is it?”
“It is a Variable Bird Caller. You turn the knobs to attract all sorts of birds.” Rovender turned one of the large knobs, and the familiar squawk of a turnfin was produced.
“Okay . . . but why would I call more turnfins? There are enough here already, don’t you think?” She gave the bird caller back to Rovender.
“Perhaps,” Rovender said sagely as he pocketed the item. “But then again, its use may come in handy.”
Eva wondered if there were turnfins everywhere in Orbona. “Fine. But what else of Besteel’s do we really need?”
Rovender moved his hand over the piles of odd accoutrements and opened a pouch—out of which rolled a handful of vocal transcoders. “How about these?” Rovender plucked up one of the spherical devices. “See if our new arrival would be receptive to using one. I am sure he would feel more comfortable if he could understand what I am saying.” He rolled the transcoder over to Eva.
“Okay, you’re right—as usual.” Eva rose and held up a voxfruit. “I’ll see if he’s up for trying some of the local food too.”
Through the scattered rubble of a desert plain Eva arrived at a sandy plot where a round airship rested on heavy landing gear.
In the late morning sun she could see that the ship had once been painted in a brilliant black and gold check, but years of neglect had taken their toll. As though the ship were an enormous insect shedding its skin, a corroded metal carapace was visible beneath the flaked-off patches of ancient enamel. Along the many rows of small hover-thrusters lining the ship’s body, dried grime and exhaust ran down to the patinated chrome underbelly.
Next to one of the headlights, just below the cockpit window, a name was painted in decorative lettering: Bijou. Underneath the lettering were rows of decals, each in the cutout shape of a human. As Eva counted the decals, wondering what they represented, the entry ramp hissed open from the belly of the ship. Eva caught a glimpse of her reflection in the lens of a headlight before she entered. The girl looking back at her was a dirty disheveled mess.
Wriggling about, Eva pulled and tugged her rumpled tunic in an attempt to straighten it. To further smooth it she ran her bandaged hand down the front—but all she accomplished was to smear the dust that had invaded every wrinkle of her clothing. Shifting her focus from her outfit, Eva unwrapped one of the long braids that held her hair up off of her neck. Now loose, the wad of dirty-blond hair drooped down over her shoulders. Eva combed through the mop with her thin fingers trying to style it, but the effort was fruitless. Already her neck was sweating under the thick tresses. “Ugh!” Eva said with a frustrated sigh. “Whatever.” She pulled her hair back up and wrapped it tight with a braid.
Nearing the open entry ramp that led into the ship, Eva heard the pulse of electronic music thumping from within. She stood at the foot of the ramp and called up, “Good morning, Hailey. Are you hungry? Hellooooo in there!”
The music did not pause, nor was there a response. Eva called out again. Finally she tiptoed up the ramp and peered around the cramped cargo hold of the ship. Inside, the distinct scent of motor oil greeted her. This was a scent that Eva knew from her old home, her Sanctuary, and so it
was somehow reassuring to her. It was the scent of machines. Machines made for people. Machines, just like this ship, that would whisk her away to a city full of people. It felt as if, after all of the searching and running, her dream—her WondLa—had come true.
That little crumbling picture of the girl and the robot and the adult had given Eva hope that there were others like her—humans, just waiting to be found. But the lands she searched through were not like the Earth she had learned about. These lands were full of monstrous sand-snipers, bird-eating trees, and evil alien queens. Just when she had given up all hope of the existence of other humans, a ship had fallen from the sky. A ship piloted by a boy named Hailey . . .
Last night Hailey had told Eva and Rovender that he’d come to take them to the human city. He’d come to take Eva home.
Explaining that the ship would need to recharge overnight, the young pilot had offered up sleeping accommodations in the ship’s cabin. But, despite Eva’s pleas that they stay on board the ship, Rovender had preferred sleeping outdoors. Eva said she had so many questions she wanted answered, but really she was curious and excited
to spend time with the first human she’d ever met in all twelve years of her life.
Hailey had had to admit that he was tired from travel and needed rest. Of course Rovender had concurred. Eva’s questions would have to wait. Back at camp she’d tried to fall asleep despite the electricity that coursed through her.
Lying next to the crackling fire, Eva had wondered how exciting the life of gallant Hailey must be as he searched for helpless humans to rescue from the wilds of Orbona. But thoughts of being rescued were soon interrupted by memories of Muthr.
For all of Eva’s life her only caretaker had been Multi-Utility Task Help Robot zero-six, or Muthr for short. As Eva had grown older, her yearning to explore the surface of the planet had often led to arguments with the robot. Regardless, Muthr had taken good care of her . . .
. . . even when Besteel had ransacked their underground home.
. . . even when their trusted technology had been ineffective against the dangerous new world they faced.
. . . and especially when she saved Eva’s life,
although it had meant sacrificing her own.
Muthr had loved her. Eva still grieved over the robot’s passing.
“Hey there,” Hailey called out over the music, rousing Eva from her thoughts. A tanned teenage face peered down from an access hatch in the ceiling of the cargo hold at the bow of the airship. Even upside down the pilot’s shaggy brown and blue-dyed hair was stuck to his face by a thin layer of perspiration. “Hi.” He waved. “Hold on a sec. Music volume: minimum,” he said. The ship responded.
Eva made her way past the disorganized stacks of crates in the hold and stood at the bottom of the access ladder. “Good morning.” She pulled out one of her prized voxfruit. “I’ve brought you breakfast,” she said, pleased with herself.
Hailey grabbed the side rails of the ladder and slid down to the floor. He took the fruit from Eva with black greasy hands. “Thanks,” he said, turning it over and examining it. “What is it?”
“It’s voxfruit.” Eva took the fruit and ripped open the translucent rind. “You eat the berries inside.” She handed the peeled voxfruit back to Hailey. He wiped his dirty hands on his stained flight suit and then gingerly grabbed a handful of the green berries from within.
“Hmm. Oh, yeah,” he said through a mouth full of food. “These aren’t bad.”
“I also brought you this.” Eva produced the vocal transcoder. “Or do you have one of these already?”
“That depends,” said Hailey, eyeing the device. “What is it?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure how many languages you know, but I could tell last night that you couldn’t understand Cærulean. . . . You know, Rovee’s language.” Eva put the transcoder near her mouth. “So this little thingy will allow you to understand all the different languages of the aliens. You just press this button, speak into it, and inhale the micro transmitters that it releases. It will do the rest.” She dropped the device into his palm.
Hailey examined the transcoder, a look of awe on his smudged face. He caught Eva’s eye and straightened up. “Well, thanks. Thanks a lot, Ella.”
“Eva,” she corrected him, and brushed her bangs out of her eyes. “Eva Nine.”
Hailey regarded her for a moment. “Well, Eva Nine, we won’t be ready to leave until tonight. I suggest you get some REM and gather any belongings you may have. . . . Oh, and don’t forget your Omnipod.” He began to climb back up the ladder.
“My Omnipod? Do I really need it?” Eva picked at her nails.
“Yup,” said Hailey as he continued climbing. “It holds all of your Sanctuary records. It’s the only way you can be admitted as a citizen of New Attica.”
Eva followed Hailey up the ladder. She felt like she was climbing, ascending, toward some answers from her mysterious rescuer. “New Attica? Is that the name of the human city? Is it far? What planet is it on? How long will the flight take? What will we do when we get there?”
“Boy, you sure do talk a lot for a reboot. I guess it’s ’cause you don’t know much about stuff,” Hailey said with a laugh as he entered the main deck of the ship.
Somehow the tone of those words stung Eva. “Reboot? What’s a reboot?”
“You are,” Hailey replied in a matter-of-fact tone as he sat down in a floating hovchair in the galley.
Eva joined him at the small table and studied Hailey as he devoured another piece of fruit. He was somewhat slovenly when he ate, just like Rovender. Muthr would disapprove of his upbringing, Eva thought.
He continued through a mouth full of food, “You’re Sanctuary-born, right?”
Eva answered with a nod of the head, then tried to appear uninterested. She looked away from Hailey and glanced around the galley. An array of dispensers lined the low walls, each with their synthetic contents labeled: nutriment pellets, Susti-Bars, Pow-R-drink packets, and flavored hydration tablets.
Hailey finished the fruit and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “So, then, you’re a reboot.”
Eva was quiet. The way he said “reboot” bothered her, but she would not let it affect her.
“And I am a retriever,” Hailey continued proudly. “With this ship I track down newly emerged humans and take them to the great city of New Attica, ‘Where a bright and beautiful new future awaits.’ It’s a ways out west, but the flight won’t take too long.”
“How did you track me? With my Omnipod?” Eva asked. She felt ignorant, like Hailey knew everything and she knew nothing.
“No.” Hailey got up and approached her. “There’s a tracking chip inside of you.”
“Inside . . . me?” Eva replied. “I don’t think so. Muthr never told me about a—”
“No, it’s true,” said Hailey. Very gently he ran his finger up the nape of Eva’s neck. “The chip is . . .
right . . . here.” He stopped at the little raised mole on the back of her neck.
“Heart rate BPM acceleration detected, Eva Nine,” the shoulder patch on Eva’s tunic announced. “Please—” Eva swatted the patch, abruptly shutting it off. Pretending she didn’t hear it, she stepped away from Hailey and entered the cockpit. “Wow,” she said. “This is where you pilot your ship?”
Behind a large domed windshield a single chair sat at an arcing dashboard. Gathered clusters of thin multicolored wires hung out from underneath the dash like the roots of an overturned tree. On the floor of the cockpit Hailey’s Omnipod displayed a floating hologram of the Bijou, labeled as an HRP Compact Transcarrier.
“Yeah, this is where I operate the ship.” Hailey leaned against the doorway. “And I can tell you, there is no feeling like it.”
Eva spun a tracking ball set in the dash. “Is it easy to fly?”
“No,” answered Hailey, gently brushing Eva’s hand away from the dash. “It may look simple, but it takes a long time to master. The controls are very delicate.”
Eva picked up the Omnipod and examined the hologram. The wiring diagram of the ship pulsed
like an electronic nervous system. “Is everything okay with the Bijou?” she asked.
Hailey took the Omnipod from her. “Yes, of course. I am just doing some . . . refining.” He guided Eva back to the access ladder leading down to the cargo hold. “So, if you and your blue friend want to relax here in the ship, I’ll give you an update later today on our departure time. Just don’t forget your Omnipod.”
Eva turned back. “About that . . . You see, my Omnipod . . . It is, um . . . gone.”
Hailey raised an eyebrow. “Gone?”
“Well . . . yeah.” Eva felt oddly nervous explaining this to him. It was like she hadn’t followed some set of unspoken rules. There was nothing about losing your Omnipod on her survival tests. Though, now that she thought about it, the device did seem integral to all the exercises. She wished Muthr were here to explain things. “You see, Rovee—that’s the blue guy—and me and my Muthr were being followed—hunted, actually—by this big hairy monster, Besteel.”
Hailey crossed his arms. A slight grin drew across his stubbly face. “Go on.”
“Well . . . ” Eva didn’t want to talk about this. It was too soon. Too real. She wanted to change the subject. She wanted to leave.
“Hello?” Rovender’s voice echoed up from the hold down below. “Eva Nine?”
“I’m . . . I’m here,” she called down to him. “I’ll be down in a second.” Eva looked back at Hailey. His shaggy bangs concealed one of his deep umber eyes. She felt nervous and giddy. “I don’t have my Omnipod anymore,” she said. “I used it to kill Besteel.”
“Kill him?” the pilot said with a smile. “What, did you throw it at his head?”
Eva’s eyes narrowed. “No. I used it to lure up a sand-sniper, which ate him.” There was venom in her voice.
“Okay, reboot. Whatever you say.” Hailey dismissed Eva and opened up a supply cabinet in the main deck.
“It’s the truth! My Omnipod is lost out in the desert somewhere!” said Eva.
“Well, you better go ask that sand-sniper to give it back to you, because you’ll need it to get into the city.”
Rovender called up from the bottom of the ladder, “Eva, is everything all right?”
“I said I’m fine!” yelled Eva. “What about Rovee? He doesn’t have an Omnipod. He’s never had an Omnipod.”
“Humans need their Omnipods to register in the city.” Hailey continued rifling through the supply cabinet. “I don’t make the rules. I just bring you in.”
“Thanks a lot,” grumbled Eva, and she began to climb down.
“Hey.” Hailey stopped her. “Hold on.” He handed her a tarnished old Omnipod. “It’s an older model that I hacked, and it barely works, but it might help you find yours.”
Eva snatched the Omnipod from him and continued down the ladder.
By the time she crossed the cargo hold, the loud music had resumed. Eva stormed down the ramp and out from under the Bijou, with Rovender following close behind.
“Is there something wrong?” Rovender asked.
“I just want to get out of here.”