The Stars That Sing is a short story set in the same world as The Murder of Crows. It takes place on the opposite coast of what used to be the United States of America and presents an entirely new look at the Post-Break world.
The last storm of the season brought more than just sleet and misery to Old Baltimore’s broken streets, though it was a month before anyone realized it. Everyone knew strangers didn’t come to the city. Strangers didn’t slip past the thousand unblinking eyes that watched the surrounding territories or the unsleeping automatons that patrolled the streets themselves.
And yet somehow… one stranger had.
Perhaps the only unsurprising aspect of that entirely unexpected event was that it was Samara who found the stranger first. If Sammie was a Power, Mr. Greenwood had been fond of saying, her ability would have been finding things. Mostly trouble.
It had been three years since Mr. Greenwood went away, replaced by the unsmiling and wobbly-chinned Ms. Stevenson, but Cornelius James still thought of the tattooed pod leader’s words from time to time. That had been the moment he first realized that even adults didn’t know everything.
CJ was sprawled out on the bottom three steps in front of the rowhouse that served as one of their pod’s dormitories. He’d spent every morning out there over the past week, soaking up the sunshine that had been absent all winter. Maybe that’s why Samara knew where to find him.
Or maybe it was that non-existent superpower she didn’t have.
“CJ! Come quick! You’ve got to see this!”
Normally, that would’ve been enough to get CJ to his feet, but the stone steps beneath him were warm, the spring sun even warmer, and going anywhere at all just then seemed like way more effort than it was worth. Instead, he cracked one eye open and glanced up and over at his friend and pod mate.
Sammie was winded and a little flushed, but her dark eyes sparkled like the colored glass beads in her hair. She’d set aside her winter coat as soon as the weather turned, and her springtime uniform—the same short-sleeved tunic and pants everyone in their pod wore—left long swaths of scrawny brown arms and legs uncovered. In the span of a single winter, she’d grown a good six inches. Not only was she two years older than CJ… suddenly she was taller too.
“Cornelius James!” She put both hands on her hips and scowled down at him from above. “Come on!”
“I only finished chores an hour ago, Sammie,” he retorted. “I’m wiped out. Let’s sit and enjoy the sun. Whatever you’ve found will still be there this afternoon after foraging.”
She shook her head, thick braids wobbling back and forth. “I’m not so sure about that.” She paused and quickly glanced around before continuing, her voice suddenly quiet. “There’s someone in the no-go zone!”
That got both of CJ’s eyes open. “The Crater?”
“No.” Her voice dropped even further. “The Hill.”
“What?” He let out a low whistle. “What pod is dumb enough to let one of their people—?”
“He’s too old for a pod. Too old even for a pod leader.” Samara took a careful step down the cracked stone stairway, her voice now little more than a whisper. “And he’s not wearing colors.”
CJ frowned, glancing at the matching patches on their uniforms’ left breast pocket. Their patches told everyone which pod they belonged to. More importantly, they identified them as citizens of Old Baltimore and offered some limited protection from the things that traversed the streets and skies above the city. “Why would someone take off their colors?”
“I don’t think he did.” Her voice took on conspiratorial overtones. “I don’t think he ever had any to begin with.”
Cornelius puzzled over that for a moment, then his eyes went wide. “But that would mean—”
“Yeah.” Sammie didn’t smile often, but when she did, it reminded him of the brilliant flashes of light that sometimes split the night sky way down south at the harbor. “He’s an outsider.”
Maybe it was the idea of an actual out-of-towner that got him to his feet or maybe it was just the usual effect of seeing Samara’s smile up close. Either way, CJ was halfway up the steps when a new thought stopped him. “Wait… how do you know he’s on the Hill?”
She rolled her eyes. “I saw him there.”
“But that’s…” He frowned. Located squarely between their pod’s territory and Pod 24’s, the Hill was an overgrown mess of fallen buildings and ancient trees. Seeing anything at all from the outside was almost impossible. “Sammie, did you go into the no-go zone?”
“Well, duh.” She flipped her braids and scowled again. “And I’m going back there too. Are you coming with me or not?” She waited for his nod, and her smile reappeared, like the springtime sun after an overly long winter. “Then let’s go!”
She turned and darted off, all long limbs and infectious energy, and CJ, as he’d always done, followed close behind.
Read the rest of The Stars That Sing now!