Annie sat on her bed, tapping her stylus against the tablet edge in rhythm. She couldn’t decide if more rhymed enough with go for her second verse. She figured to write it out anyway and change it later if she thought of anything better.
A rap at her door mixed with the beat of her song and she almost forgot to respond. “Uhh, come in.”
Ingrid poked her head in and smiled. “Hey, Annie. There are a lot of people out here who’d like to see you.”
“What do you mean?”
The slim blonde stepped into the small cabin and took a seat beside Annie on the berth. “It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it?”
“It sure ain’t what I expected. I thought when a person was on the run, you were supposed to hide out.”
Ingrid nodded and sighed. “Usually that’s how it works. But every once in a while it’s a good idea to hide out in the open. If everyone is looking at you, nobody dares touch you.” She turned to look at the stasis tube. “How is your dog?”
Annie set the tablet and stylus aside. “Ingrid, how old are you?” Ingrid’s face went pale, and Annie shook her head. “I’m sorry. I know my manners are bad. I guess I didn’t have my mother with me long enough. But that’s why I ask. You always seem to know just what to say and do in every situation. You’re not really like a mother, but a big sister.”
The color returned to Ingrid’s cheeks. “What’s troubling you, Annie?”
“Everything, I suppose. It don’t really feel right for me to be making money and getting heaped up with praise for going against the law.” Annie fidgeted with her hands in her lap. “Even if the law is wrong.”
Ingrid reached out and took the girl’s hands in her own. “A wise man once said that when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”
Annie raised her brows. “Who said that?”
“The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. I believe one of your horses is named after him.” She squeezed Annie’s hands. “That’s all you’re doing. Resisting injustice.”
“It’s just not right that they kill an innocent animal. They aren’t going to use the horses for food. It’s not to help the starving. It’s just to kill them.”
Ingrid nodded. “You’re right about that. And that’s why you have to keep your chin up and keep going. The money is temporary. Just use it while you have it, and do the very best you can with it. The praise is temporary, too. So while people are watching you, it’s your obligation to be the very best person you can be. Give them the very best message you have. And ask them to do the same.”
“None of it seems temporary.” Annie scowled and twisted her lips from side to side. She wanted to be back home where nobody knew her name. “I have people asking me to write songs and do special tricks for them. People want to take pictures with my horses and me. Isn’t that weird?”
Ingrid sighed. “It’s all weird, and it’s all normal. And right now there are half a dozen people on board who want to meet you, and another fifty waiting in the docking bay. Dhabi has been playing his sitar one-handed for half an hour. Your brother and Rebecca are grooming the horses, and Jake…”
“Uggh!” Annie interrupted. “I can’t think about Jake right now.”
Ingrid blinked several times and leaned close. “I was just going to say that he is doing his best to answer questions for you.” She reached up and raised Annie’s face to hers. “I thought you and Jake were getting along. What’s happened?”
“Oh, he just irritates the fire outta me.” She clenched her hands into fists. “Did you see him kiss me at the end of the show last night?”
“He likes you. And, he knows how to put on a show for the crowd.”
“Well, I don’t need him slobberin’ all over me in front of God’s whole creation.” The longer Annie thought about it, the madder she became. “I’m not some… some…”
“I think he knows that,” Ingrid said in a calming voice, “but you can always tell him if you don’t wish to be kissed. He might not understand how you feel. Men often have trouble understanding women.”
“Are you taking his side?” Annie hopped to her feet and planted her hands on her hips.
“I’m not taking sides at all, Annie.” Ingrid stood and faced her, matching her stance. “I came in here to see if I could help and to let you know that everybody else is taking care of your admirers. I understand that none of this is what you expected or wanted. But this is what you’ve got. Like it or not, you have to grow up and deal with it the best you can.” Ingrid’s voice grew louder as she spoke, but her emotion never seemed beyond her control. “You have a lot of people here to help you. Maybe you should show a little gratitude and join us.”
Ingrid didn’t wait for Annie to reply. She just left.
Annie’s heart felt as though it dropped into her stomach like a cold hard stone. She took a moment to let the flush of indignation settle out from her cheeks. She carefully placed Buffalo on her bed and blew him a kiss as she closed the door behind her.
The hold of the Nightengale was filled with people. As Ingrid had said, Cody, Dhabi, and Jake all entertained small groups of people wanting to listen to music and see the horses. She glanced over to see if Ingrid was watching her, but the woman was already talking to the small crowd around Dhabi.
Jake noticed her and waved for Annie to join the small group of fans with him. “Ladies and gentlemen, here she is now. Miss Birchfield, these lovely people would like to get to know you a little better.”
Annie wanted to say a hundred rude things to Jake, but she wasn’t sure why. Probably because Ingrid had just smacked her with an ugly truth that she was selfish and ungrateful. Maybe because Jake had kissed her in front of the whole ferry. She’d like to see him try to do that again. Please. “Hi, folks. How are y’all today?” she asked instead.
Thirty minutes later she had made the rounds inside their ship and had gone outside to wave at the crowds. People asked her to take pictures with them, or sign her name on their hands. Jake helped her answer questions about what she liked and how she felt about Authority.
“I was reminded today that laws are not always right. When we’re faced with obeying an evil law, the only right thing to do is resist. That’s all we’re doing here. We’re resisting. But we can’t do it all by ourselves. I mean, we will if we have to, but wouldn’t it be better if we could count on all y’all to resist, too?”
The crowd went wild with cheers. Annie looked back at Jake who stared at her as though she were glowing.
Annie faced the crowd again and waved. A young boy in the front row waved for her to sing a song for them all. Within seconds the whole crowd chanted for a song.
She shrugged as she looked back at Jake. “What do I sing?”
He shook his head. “You’ve been in your room all morning working on one. Just sing that.”
“It’s not finished.”
“Sing what you have, Love. It will be enough.” Jake raised his hands to quiet the congregation. “Miss Birchfield wants to sing a brand new song for you. In fact, she’s still writing it so you will hear it before anyone else.”
The cheers swelled and then softened as she cleared her throat and began.
“Ridin’ down the dirt road kickin’ up dust,
Wonderin’ what happened to the two of us.
You and me, baby, made a pretty pair,
But scratch that surface and there’s nothing there.
So I’ve packed my bags and cut those strings.
Climbing on my wheels and they will be my wings.
Revvin’ up my engine, this bird has flown,
And these wheels will be my wings.
Yeah, these wheels will be my wings.”
Annie sang two more verses as Jake watched the fans dance and clap with her honied voice. When she was finished, he raised his arms overhead again.
“Thank you all for coming out here to visit. Miss Birchfield needs to go back in and finish her writing. She’ll have another show in two days, and we hope to see you all out again.”
Annie watched as the people nodded, waved, and blew kisses in her direction. They all took their cues from Jake, though, and soon everyone was walking away, many still singing her chorus.
“That was incredible, Love. You gave them just what they wanted.”
Annie walked slowly back to the mess area and plopped into her chair at the table. The others were already seated and eating.
Cody poked his fork in her direction. “Sorry we didn’t wait, but we didn’t know how long you’d be out there.”
Ingrid handed Jake a plate of food. He slid it in front of Annie and took another for himself. “You should have seen her. She’s a natural.” He took a bite and swallowed. “Sang a new song for them. It’s good, too.”
Annie pushed her dinner around for a second. She stared at Ingrid for a moment and then at the others. “It’s a lot of work, for all of us. Thank you for being patient with me while I’m tryin’ to figure it all out.” Once she had said the words, she felt better. After a few more seconds she could smell the food on her plate, and her appetite started to return. “I’ll just be glad when it’s all over, and we can settle some place where the horses can run.”
Cody glanced toward Rebecca. “Funny that you should say that. We were just talking about getting to Georgetown.”
Annie had barely finished her first bite and already her brother was encroaching on her peaceful meal. “I thought we weren’t going to Georgetown.”
Cody laughed. “I know that’s what we’d decided, but after talking to Rebecca, we think it might be a good idea. We’ve missed the first window of course, but the next one is in a week.”
Annie drew a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. “I thought you said we couldn’t go there because we couldn’t trust the residents, that they might alert Authority. You said we couldn’t go because it was Jake’s suggestion. What if Authority is already there?”
Dhabi sat up straight in his seat at the head of the table and repositioned his shoulder. He grimaced for a moment. “I am still the captain of this vessel, even if I’m not able to fly her yet. I have made the decision that it is safe to go to Georgetown.”
Annie plastered a fake smile on her face. “And what changed your mind?”
“We have all discussed the matter.” Dhabi nodded toward Ingrid, who returned the gesture.
“Well, obviously not all of us.” Annie turned to face Jake, but he was keeping his head down. “Oh, I see.”
Cody gritted his teeth. “Listen, Ann, you are not in charge of this ship and everyone else on it, no matter what you think.”
“But those are my horses out there.”
Rebecca Dale inserted herself into the debate, using her most official tone. “They are your horses. And everyone on this ship wants them to be safe and healthy. Prolonged space travel isn’t healthy for anyone, including horses. Getting them into a meadow with green grass and fresh air will be best for them.”
“Excuse me for doubting, but how do you know that’s available in Georgetown?” Annie dropped her fork and crossed her arms.
“I’m from Georgetown, actually. My grandfather was one of the first settlers there sixty years ago.” Rebecca wiped her face with her napkin. “I have a family home there.”
“Sixty years?” Jake gasped. “That’s not possible. That would make it the first colony. Those people died in that meteor field accident. Everyone knows.”
Ingrid and Rebecca exchanged a glance. “People know what Authority has told them,” Ingrid said.
Rebecca shrugged. “I wouldn’t be here if my grandfather hadn’t made it to Georgetown. The news that the first colonists all perished was to discourage interest in leaving earth.”
Dhabi furrowed his brow. “But why? Overpopulation was causing starvation and disease. They needed people willing to go off-planet.”
Rebecca shook her head. “That wasn’t what caused the starvation and disease. The first colonists were causing dissent. Stirring up trouble. My grandfather always told us stories about their escape. Authority tried to kill them all, but they made it. My family is tough.”
Annie listened, but couldn’t understand. A few days ago Georgetown colony was a danger to her animals, but today it was a safe haven. Before they couldn’t go because Jake had suggested it. Now that it was Rebecca’s idea, the decision was made. Annie liked Rebecca, but this was too much for her.
“I’m sorry, but how do we know we can trust her any more than Jake? I know she saved us from Authority, but there are other bad things in this universe.” Annie leaned back in her chair and surveyed the others’ faces.
Jake nodded. “I understand why you didn’t trust me.” He glanced at Cody. “And I understand why you still might not trust me. But her,” Jake nodded to Rebecca. “No offense. Can we trust her? I mean, what do you really know about her, except what she tells us? Well, we do know she’s the Commander over the whole fleet of Star Ferries. Okay, so we probably should trust her.” He turned to face Annie. “Why don’t you trust her, Love?”
Ingrid shook her head. “Annie’s upset with me already, so I’m going to speak up. What Commander Dale says is true. Her grandfather was one of the first colonists. I knew him.”
Everyone stopped and stared at her. Annie scoffed. “Not possible. Rebecca, how old is your grandfather?”
Rebecca shook her head. “He passed away ten years before I was born. He was fifty-eight years old. You couldn’t.”
Ingrid looked up to the ceiling and then to Cody.
He shook his head. “You don’t have to.”
“Yes, I do.”
Dhabi leaned toward Ingrid. He reached out and took her hand in his. “What is it?”
Ingrid cast a sad look toward Dhabi and then turned to Rebecca. “Your grandfather was a good man. I was in the second group of colonists at Georgetown.”
Dhabi laughed. “This is a joke.”
“No, it’s not. Dhabi, I was genetically altered as a child. I am one hundred twenty-six years old. I will be one hundred twenty-seven next week.”
“What?!” Annie and Jake gasped.
Cody nodded. “It’s true. I read the studies in med school. There was an experiment. It worked but was considered a failure. The subjects were all terminated. Well, not all of them, obviously.”
Dhabi pulled his hand away from Ingrid’s and walked out of the room. Ingrid watched him leave and then turned back to the others. “All I’m saying is that you can trust this woman. Georgetown has people who will help you. There is plenty of space for your horses, and they will be safe. Nobody in the colony has any love for Authority. You’ll be safe and so will your animals.” She got up and took a step toward the door. “I’m sorry.”
As Ingrid hurried out of the mess hall, Rebecca turned to Cody. “We should go, too. He isn’t going to listen, and she shouldn’t be alone.”
Annie sat in her chair staring at Jake. Jake stared back.
“What was that?” she asked.
“I have no idea.” Jake laughed. “I suppose we’re going to Georgetown. Your horses will get their meadow. You’ll get your ammunition.” He leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head. “You were mad at Ingrid? Why?”
“I wasn’t really mad.”
“Listen, Love. She’s a hundred twenty-six years old. She would know if someone’s mad.”
Annie rolled her eyes. “I was mad because she sorta yelled at me. I’m not angry now.”
Jake got up and took Annie’s hand. “Come on. You’re going to tell me all about it.”
Annie stood and walked with him back to the horse stalls. “I don’t want to talk about our disagreement. I need to go back to my room and work on something.”
She rubbed Nero’s nose and noticed that Jake was patting Jefferson’s neck and scratching Stubb’s ears. He smiled at her. “Yeah, we’re all friends now.”
Annie laughed. “You’re not scared of them anymore?”
Jake took a step toward Annie and reached for her hand. “I’m still a little afraid of you, though.” He leaned forward to kiss her but got a mouthful of Liza’s nose. The little mare pushed her long face between the two of them and whinnied.
“Hah! Liza’s always looking out for me.” Annie flipped her hair as she turned and walked away.
Jake followed on her heels. “Oh no, you don’t. We need to talk over a few things.”
“Everybody wants to talk to me. I’m tired of talking.”
Jake hurried ahead and positioned himself between Annie and her cabin door. “Then just tell me about the song.”
“The song you sang today. You wrote it. Who is it about?” Jake looked her over from boots to brow.
Annie cocked her head to one side. “It’s about me and my motorcycle. I was thinking about riding my bike in a show.”
Jake shook his head and let a smoky smile curl into the corners of his mouth. “Yeah, actually that would be great, but that’s not what I’m talking about. The song is about leaving someone. Who did you leave behind?”
Annie detected a trace of doubt in his voice. “Do you think I’m making it up, or are you jealous?”
“Jealous?” Jake laughed. “Did he kiss you like this?” He slipped his right hand around her waist and planted it firmly in the center of her back, pulling her against his body. Before their lips met, Annie pushed her fingers between them.
“Nope. I don’t wanna be kissed right now.” She pushed Jake a step back.
He looked surprised. “What are you doing, Love? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. What are you doing?”
He raised his right eyebrow. “I’m trying to kiss you. That’s what I do.”
“You never ask if I want to be kissed. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t even like you, Jake. You can’t just kiss me when you get the urge.” Annie wasn’t sure how he would respond. She wasn’t even sure she meant it, but she felt empowered just saying the words.
Jake blinked. He apparently hadn’t expected this. Annie watched as his expression changed from shock to indignance, and then again to mischief.
She was a little scared by his confident attitude. “What’s going on in that mind of yours?”
“Oh, Annie Birchfield, if I told you what I was thinking, you would blush. Oh yes, Love, soon you will beg me to kiss you.” Jake dropped his arms to his side and steps aside to allow Annie to enter her cabin.
She instead stepped back. “Why is everybody so eager to tell me what I want, what I need to do, and what I need to think?”
Jake laughed again. “You aren’t happy unless you’re complaining, are you? You don’t want to be kissed. You don’t want to be a hero. You don’t want to be the reason other people are being hurt or killed.”
Annie felt as though Jake had slapped her.
“Annie, you are a hero. And you are going to be the reason some people will die.”
She couldn’t listen to another word. She pushed through her door, but before she could close it after herself, Jake was there. Annie pointed back toward the hold. “Get out! I don’t want you here.”
“You don’t want. You don’t want.” He took her arms in his hands and held her close. His grip was firm, but not tight. “All of this that you don’t want, but you have.”
“I don’t want… I can’t be the reason.” Tears spilled from her eyes no matter how she fought them.
“Shh, it’s okay.” He pulled her closer until her forehead rested against his chin. “I know that you feel helpless out here. Everyone else is making decisions for you. And you don’t want to be the leader of this resistance. But like it or not, you are the face of this battle. And what a beautiful face it is.”
Annie sobbed in his arms. “Ingrid said that I was selfish and ungrateful to all of you. You all are making sacrifices and taking care of me, and I’m behaving like a child.”
“Ingrid is right.”
Annie looked up into his steely blue eyes. She looked down at his lips and turned her face to his, pursing her lips toward his. “Please, Jake. Will you kiss me now?”
Jake’s hands dropped from her arms, and he stepped back. “No. I won’t.”
“No, it’s okay. I want you to.” She took a step forward, but he held up his hands.
“I won’t kiss you. I took a vow—just now when you were talking before. I vowed not to kiss you again until after I can shoot a bullseye in a show.” Jake walked to the door and stood on the threshold, smiling back at her.
“You don’t even know how to shoot a gun.” Annie’s lips pushed in and out. Her hands clenched again into fists.
“Well, Love, you will just have to teach me, won’t you?” He stepped out into the hold.
“Teaching someone to shoot a gun is a little different than turning them into a marksman, you idiot.” Annie marched right up to face him, only inches away from his mouth, hoping he would change his mind and kiss her anyway.
He lets the idiot comment pass without reacting. “Marksman, huh? I like that.” He leaned a fraction of an inch closer to her ready and willing lips. “I guess we’ll find out how badly you want to be kissed.”