I followed Mina’s form through the trees as the sun was setting. We weren’t supposed to leave the station, but Juno wanted us to see the Inghcha village. I couldn’t get used to the slapping of grass against my ankles. It was always the same with landings. We had been here three days, and still the grass felt strange to me.

Ahead, the land rose and the trees cleared, and I saw Juno’s form dark against the sky. His sweater-robe was green, and he wore his black and purple bag across his shoulder. “Here,” he said. We followed. Before him, the land dropped away to form a dip in the side of the mountain. It was full of huts, fires burning, people moving in heavy garments the color of ash and mud. There were fenced-off yards behind the houses.

“They dislike us because they fear us, but they don’t understand their fear,” Juno said. “We swing in the sky. Our skin is lighter than their skin. They deal with the Nameless who come up, disfigured, from the land below, who we will not touch or come near to. They fear that we do not come near because we’re too pure, and they fear that they are not pure. They will continue to fear us, but we will make them love us, too. They will follow me. They don’t even know how the cornfuel they give us works.”

Juno’s voice was calm and satisfied. He took my hand and Mina’s hand, and Mina took Owen’s hand. We stood in a chain overlooking the Inghcha village.

In one of the yards, a small dog followed a bigger dog. Back and forth along the fence the bigger dog paced, looking toward us. She was a muscular animal with a square face and a strong jaw. The smaller dog followed her, barking, his little-dog eyes trained on the bigger dog. In the door of the building, I saw the shape of a boy. Juno turned his head to look at me. I kept my eyes on the bigger dog.

“It is time to take the oath,” Juno said. Still holding hands, he backed up, drawing us into a circle. Juno un-slung his bag and squatted to the ground. We squatted, too.

“What oath?” I said.

Juno smiled. I could see his teeth, small and white. He drew a kitchen knife from the bag, its blade sheathed in cardboard.

“Blood oath,” he said. Mina offered her hand as he unsheathed the blade.

“You want us to take a blood oath?” I said.

Mina gave me a casual look as Juno took her hand. “We trust you, Hannah. You’re tough. It’s easy,” she said. With the tip of the blade, Juno pierced her index finger at the pad. She sucked her breath in as it punctured, but she didn’t cry out. Juno took her finger to his lip and touched the bead of blood to his bottom teeth.

Owen was next.

When it was my turn, I looked at Juno darkly and said nothing. You can’t have my blood, I thought, but I let him take my hand. I let him pierce my finger’s flesh. I remembered Momma on the death mountain in the snow, taking the heart-shaped necklace from Janey’s throat before we left her, naked and blue. Juno squeezed my finger, and a bright red bead of blood appeared. He took it to his mouth and touched the blood to his teeth. He closed his mouth and tasted. “Easy,” he said. “See?”

What was the oath?

The oath was in the blood. The oath was in the letting.

“Momma,” I said. She was leaning over a mender, watching the work. Before her, the silky material issued out across the field.

“What is it Hannah?” She did not turn to greet me.

“Um… Can I talk to you?” I said. I took a step forward, so I could see her profile. Her eyes were intent upon the mender. A man in a long sweater approached, looking concerned.

“There is another balloon losing the seam,” he said as he neared us. He wore a peppered gray-black beard and a gray felt hat. He smiled at me. She turned to him, giving me her back.

“How bad is the losing?” Momma asked him.

He shrugged. “You can see the sun through,” he said. “Holes this size.” He held up his hand, making a tiny space between the pointer finger and thumb.

“We’ll be over the ocean thirty days?” Momma asked him.


“This seam should be fine,” she said. “I’ll come look.”

The man smiled, his cheeks pooling in wrinkles. Momma started to follow him.

“Momma,” I said. “I want to talk to you about my friend, Juno.”

She turned and looked at me. Her mouth curled up. “Juno. He’s a fine boy. I talked with him at Center Basket last week. They say he’s really coming up. And he likes you.”

“A charismatic boy,” the man said, nodding. “He’ll be a real leader one day.”

There was a pause. I looked at the balloon on the ground. All of its furrows, and the places where the sun made it shiny. It looked like a map of the world from above, at night. “Was there something else?” Momma asked.

Not looking at her, I shook my head. “No.”

Hannah, I’m not naked. I am clothed in snow and ice. Don’t be haunted.
But in your dream, Janey. We crashed into the mountain. The clouds turned purple like the earth. I died… I always thought you had the sight.
Open your eyes now. There are more important things. It’s in your blood, but he can’t taste it. There are things you must do.


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