Passenger, p.1
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       Passenger, p.1

         Part #1 of Passenger series by Alexandra Bracken

  Also by



  The Darkest Minds

  Never Fade

  In the Afterlight

  Through the Dark


  The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy

  Copyright © 2016 by Alexandra Bracken

  Cover design by Marci Senders

  Cover art © 2016 by Illusion CGI Studio

  Lettering by Molly Jacques

  All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

  ISBN 978-1-4847-1950-3



  Title Page

  Also by Alexandra Bracken




  Bhutan: 1910


  New York City: Present Day


  The Atlantic: 1776







  New York City: 1776




  London: 1940




  Angkor: 1685


  Paris: 1880


  Damascus: 1599









  About the Author

  For Mom—

  In all of history, there has never been anyone with a heart as beautiful and strong as yours.

  It matters not how strait the gate,

  How charged with punishments the scroll.

  I am the master of my fate:

  I am the captain of my soul.


  AS THEY ASCENDED, RETREATING FARTHER FROM THE winding trails that marked the way to nearby villages, the world opened to him in its purest form: silent, ancient, mysterious.


  Nicholas had spent the better part of his life on the sea, or close enough to catch its perfume of fish and brine when there was a good wind. Even now, as they approached the monastery, waiting for it to appear through the heavy cover of mist and clouds, he found himself turning back, futilely searching beyond the towering peaks of the Himalayas for the hazy line where the sky met the curve of rippling water—something familiar to anchor himself to, before his courage disappeared along with his confidence.

  The trail, a winding series of stairs and dirt, had stretched at first through the pine trees dripping with moss, and now hugged the sheer, vertical cliffs into which the Taktsang Palphug Monastery had somehow, impossibly, been built. Lines of bright prayer flags fluttered overhead in the trees, and the sight eased some of the tightness in his chest; it reminded him instantly of the first time Captain Hall had brought him to New York Harbor and the new frigates had been festooned with flags of every make and pattern.

  He shifted again, a small, careful movement that would ease the sting of the rucksack’s straps digging into his shoulders, without sending himself plunging over the open side of the trail.

  You’ve climbed the rigging any number of times, and you’re frightened of heights now?

  Rigging. His hands itched to touch it, to feel the spray of the sea kicked up by wind and his ship charging through the water. Nicholas tried to set his shoulders back, toss sand over the burn of resentment in the pit of his stomach before it could catch fire. He should have been back by now—he should have been with Hall, with Chase, rolling over the crest of each passing wave. Not here in a foreign century—the nineteen hundreds, for goodness’ sake—with an incompetent sop who required Nicholas to help button his new coat, lace his boots, knot his scarf, and position his ridiculous floppy hat, despite having two hands of his own and, to all appearances, a brain in his skull.

  The leather sack slung around his neck slapped heavily against his side as Nicholas continued his climb toward where Julian stood, one leg braced against a nearby stone—his usual pose when he thought ladies were around to admire him. But now Nicholas couldn’t begin to fathom whom he was attempting to impress—the few birds they’d heard on their walk through the damp forest? Had he always been this way—dramatic, vain, with a complete lack of consideration—and Nicholas so blinded by the wonder of finding a so-called brother, a new life with possibilities of comfort and wealth and adventure, that he’d willingly ignored it?

  “Now, chap, come here and take a look—this is the Tiger’s Nest, you know. Damn this infernal mist—”

  Nicholas did, in fact, know. He made a point to read as much as he could about whatever location the old man sent them to, so as to figure out the best ways to keep the ever-reckless, ever-stubborn Julian alive. Nicholas was constantly working from a deficit of knowledge, of training. When he’d realized the family would never truly provide a real education for his traveling, he’d begun to wonder if it was intentional, a way to keep him in his lowly place. The thought had enraged him enough to cause him to spend most of his meager funds on history books.

  “Bhutan’s Buddhism guru Padmasambhava—according to legend, of course—flew here on the back of a tigress,” Julian continued with a grin that had gotten them out of any number of scrapes and trouble—the smile that had once softened Nicholas’s heart and temper, always teasing out forgiveness. “We should pop into one of their meditation caves on the way back. Maybe you can have yourself a little think. Have a look at that view, and tell me you won’t miss traveling. How, in the whole of your small life, would you ever have come here otherwise? Put that foolish notion away, will you?”

  Rather than throw a punch at his smug face, or send the metal tip of the pickax strapped to his back on a similar path, Nicholas shifted the rucksack again and tried not to focus on the fact that he was, yet again, being crushed under the weight of Julian and his belongings.

  “It looks as though there’s a storm coming in,” Nicholas said, proud of how steady his voice sounded, despite the rattle and hiss of the resentment he felt building again inside of him. “We should make this climb tomorrow.”

  Julian flicked a bug from the shoulder of his pristine coat. “No. I had to leave that bearcat back in the speakeasy in Manhattan, and I want to get back for a quick tumble before returning to the old man.” Julian sighed. “With empty hands, yet again. Sending us out into the middle of nowhere for something that probably doesn’t even exist at this point. Classic.”

  Nicholas watched as his half brother twirled his walking stick around, and began to wonder what the monks would make of them: the preening, ruddy-haired prince in new mountaineering gear, poking around their sacred spaces looking for lost treasure, and the dark-skinned young man, clearly the servant, trailing behind him like a trapped shadow.

  This isn’t how it was supposed to be.

  Why had he left? Why had he signed the contract—why had he ever trusted this family?

  This isn’t who I’m supposed to be.

  “Buck up, old man,” Julian said, with a faint punch to Nicholas’s shoulder. “Don’t tell me you’re still sore about the contract.”

  Nicholas glared at Julian’s back as he turned away. He didn’t wish to speak of it, didn’t wish to think of
it either—the way Julian had shrugged and merely said, I guess you should have read the terms a bit more closely before you signed it. He’d escaped enslavement by this family once, yet, in the end, he had only sold himself back into servitude. But the old man had talked of impossible things—of magic, of voyages, of money beyond his wildest dreams. Five years of excitement had hardly seemed like a sacrifice at the time.

  The moment he had realized he would only ever be a valet to a half brother who would never, ever, not in a thousand years, acknowledge him publicly as such, Nicholas had merely swallowed the bile rising in his throat and finished retying Julian’s cravat the way he preferred it to be styled. Since then, he’d never felt so aware of time. Each passing second chipped away at his resolve, and he was afraid to find out what disastrous fury might spill out of him when his defenses were whittled away.

  “We should turn back and make camp,” Nicholas said finally, avoiding Julian’s assessing gaze. “Start again tomorrow.”

  Julian scoffed. “Afraid of a little rain, are you? Don’t be such a pill, Nick. The climb’s a snap.”

  It wasn’t the climb itself he was worried about. Already, the air felt thin in his lungs; his headache, he realized, had less to do with Julian’s incessant prattling and more to do with how perilously close they were now to the heavens. His knees felt as though they’d turned to sand; his hands were drained of any sensation at all.

  I could leave him here. Run.

  Where could he go that they couldn’t find him? Not back to Hall; not back to his own natural time. Not even to find his mother.

  Nicholas glanced at the spread of steel-gray clouds rolling through the mountain range, sliced neatly by the Himalayas’ long, jagged necks. On a ship, he would use the ocean and the vessel itself to gauge the intensity of an approaching storm, and form a plan to see it through safely. Now he had neither; there was only the faint prickle at the back of his neck to warn him as distant thunder cracked and echoed through the empty mountains.

  “The old man had better be right this time,” Julian said, starting up the trail again. From where Nicholas stood, it looked like an endless ribbon of steps that had been draped over the rough, rocky face of the cliff, rising and falling with the natural shape of the landscape. “I’m tired of this game of his—the blasted thing is lost. Even he doesn’t win sometimes.”

  He always wins, Nicholas thought, fingers curling into fists at his side. I am never going to be free of any of them.

  “All right, come on then, Nick. We’ve a journey to make,” Julian called back. “And I’m hungry enough to eat a horse.”

  The first fat splatter of rain caught him across the face, sliding down his cheek to drip off his chin. It was a strange, trembling sort of moment. Nicholas felt caught in that instant, glancing around for some form of temporary shelter, which he knew Julian would demand, rather than risk getting his boots wet. Aside from the choten—the low white buildings that sheltered the elaborate, brightly colored prayer wheels—there were a few small covered ledges where mourners had placed conical reliquaries of ashes.

  “There!” Julian let out a sharp, joyful cry, pumping a fist into the air. The mist shrouding the monastery had settled, as if the rain had dragged it down. It sat like the foggy surface of a lake, disguising the thousands of feet between the ledge and the sheer, rocky drop below. “Where’s the camera? Break it out, will you? No one around to see it anyway—”

  The thunder that exploded overhead ricocheted like cannon fire through the mountains. Nicholas’s whole body tensed, cringing away from the deafening roar. No sooner had it faded than the heavens opened up and rain poured down from the clouds, momentarily blinding him with its strength. Nicholas let out a startled gasp as the pounding intensified into a solid sheet of water, a surge he’d only ever witnessed once at sea when his ship had drifted toward the edge of a hurricane. Rivers of rain were washing down from the ledges above, pouring around him, nearly carrying his feet out from under him.


  Nicholas spun back toward the edge of the trail just as Julian turned to shout something to him, and watched Julian’s left foot disappear as the muddy ledge crumbled beneath it.

  As he dove, throwing himself across the distance, a single thought slammed through Nicholas’s mind: Not like this.

  “Nick! Nick!” Julian had managed to grab on to the fractured remains of the ledge, his hand already sliding out of his sopping wet glove as his full weight dangled over a vast spread of air, stone, mist, and trees. Nicholas crawled the last few feet between them on his stomach and was reaching, reaching, and the contents of the rucksack were rattling, digging into his back—

  Julian’s face was bone-white with fear, his mouth moving, begging, Help me, help me—

  Why should I?

  This family—they’d taken everything from him—they’d taken his true family, his freedom, his worth—

  A cold, bitter satisfaction filled him to the core at the thought of finally taking something back.

  Because he’s your brother.

  Nicholas shook his head, feeling the force of the rain start to carry him toward the ledge. “Reach up—swing your arm up—Julian!”

  A look of determination crossed Julian’s mud-smeared face as he thrust his free arm up, trying to catch Nicholas’s grasping hand. Julian sacrificed his grip on the ledge to swing himself up; Nicholas lunged forward and caught his fingers—

  The weight he’d been holding disappeared as Julian’s hand slipped out of the glove, and his dark shape slipped silently down through the feather-soft mist, parting just enough for Nicholas to see, at the bottom of the ravine, a burst of light as Julian’s body broke apart into glittering dust.

  There was a boom and rattle from miles away, and he knew the passage they’d come through had just collapsed. Blood roared in Nicholas’s ears, chased by his own soundless scream; he did not need to look, to search through the haze and rain, to know that time itself had stolen Julian’s broken body, and dissolved it into nothing but memory.

  THE AMAZING THING WAS, EACH time she looked at them, Etta still saw something new—something she hadn’t noticed before.

  The paintings had been hanging in their living room for years, in the exact same spot behind the couch, lined up like a movie reel of the greatest hits of her mom’s life. Now and then, Etta felt something clench deep in her stomach when she looked at them; not quite envy, not quite longing, but some shallow cousin of both. She’d done her own traveling with Alice, had hit the international violin competition circuit, but she’d seen nothing like the subjects of these paintings. Nothing like this one, of a mountain with its spiraling, shining path up through the trees, toward the clouds, to its hidden peak.

  It was only now, leaning over the back of the couch, that Etta noticed Rose had painted two figures working their way up the trail, half-hidden by the lines of bright flags streaming overhead.

  Her eyes skimmed over the other paintings beneath it. The view from the first studio Rose had lived in, off Sixty-Sixth Street and Third Avenue. Then, the next painting: the steps of the British Museum, spotted with tourists and pigeons, where she’d done portraits on the spot after moving back to London. (Etta always loved this one, because her mom had painted the moment that Alice had first seen her, and was walking over to scold Rose for skipping school.) The dark, lush jungle reaching out to caress the damp stone of the Terrace of the Elephants at Angkor Thom—Rose had scraped together enough money by the time she was eighteen to fly to Cambodia and sweet-talk her way into working on an archeological dig site, despite her complete and total lack of qualifications. Next was the Luxembourg Garden in full summer bloom, when she’d finally studied at the Sorbonne. And below that, perched on the back of the couch and leaning against the wall to the left, was a new painting: a desert at sunset, cast in blazing rose gold, dotted with crumbling ruins.

  It was the story of her mom’s life. The only pieces of it Rose had been willing to share. Etta wondered what the st
ory was with the new one—it had been years since Rose had had the time to paint for herself, and even longer since she’d used the paintings as prompts for bedtime stories to get a younger Etta to fall asleep. She could barely remember what her mom had been like then, before the endless traveling to lecture on the latest restoration techniques, before her countless projects in the conservation department of the Met, cleaning and repairing works by the old masters.

  The keys jangled in the door, and Etta jumped off the couch, straightening the cushions.

  Rose shook out her umbrella in the hall one last time before coming inside. Despite the early autumn downpour, she looked almost pristine—wavy blond hair, twisted into a knot; heels damp but not ruined; trench coat buttoned up all the way to her throat. Etta self-consciously reached up to smooth back her own hair, wishing she’d already changed into her dress for the performance instead of staying in her rainbow-colored pajamas. She used to love the fact that she and her mom looked so much alike—that they were a matching set—because not having to see her father looking back at her from a mirror made it easier to accept life without him. But now, Etta knew the similarities only ran skin-deep.

  “How was your day?” Etta asked as her mom flicked her gaze down at her pajamas, then up again with a cocked eyebrow.

  “Shouldn’t you already be dressed?” Rose answered instead, her English accent crisp with the kind of disapproval that made all of Etta’s insides give an involuntary cringe. “Alice will be here any moment.”

  While Rose hung up her coat in their small apartment’s even smaller coat closet, Etta dashed into her room, nearly slipping on the sheet music spread over her rug and almost tumbling headlong into the old wardrobe that served as her closet. She’d picked out the ruby-red cocktail dress weeks ago for this event, but Etta wavered now, wondering if her mom would think it was too informal, or somehow too cutesy with the ribbons that tied at each shoulder. This was a private fund-raising event for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Etta didn’t want her mom’s bosses to think she was anything less than a true professional.

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