“I just meant,” her mother said angrily, “that I don’t want her to be disappointed —”

“I know,” he said.

He ushered her from the room. Darya heard the bedroom door close and muffled voices getting louder every second until something banged shut. No longer hungry, she dumped her cereal bowl into the sink without finishing.

“Your mom’s not feeling so good, Dar,” her father said as they walked down the sidewalk in front of the apartment building. “She didn’t mean it.”

Darya nodded without thinking.

They would have lived in the suburbs if they could have—it was safer there, since the attacks came less frequently—but her father’s job only paid well enough for a small apartment downtown.

The attacks had always been a part of Darya’s life. They could come from anyone, and they were waged against everyone with a pulse. That was why Darya and her sister had to wear face masks on the way to school.

Her father had taught them both to know bio-bombs when they saw them, but their minds had a tendency to wander when they were together, and he didn’t trust them to look for bombs yet. Kids at school teased them for the masks, but they couldn’t persuade their father to let them go without. “Prove to me that you can pay attention,” he always said.

Death was too real a possibility. Most people didn’t make it past fifty nowadays, even if they lived in the suburbs.

Her father pulled her tight to his side as they walked, scattering old cans and bits of paper with the toes of their shoes. She craned her neck to see the tops of the buildings—they seemed so far away, though her father said they were shorter than the buildings in most cities. Most of the windows in the building next to her were blown out completely from the days when destructive bombs had been in fashion. But it was the loss of people, not buildings, that made a war destructive, and the fanatics had figured that out.

They stopped walking and stood next to a blue sign marked with graffiti. Darya itched her leg with her free hand and gazed up at her father. He was not a tall man, nor was he short. His skin was dark brown, like Darya’s, and his hair was black and smooth, shiny like her hair, too. He had moved to the States from India before the quarantine. India had been one of the first countries targeted when the attacks began because of its condensed population. Now the infection was so rampant that the borders had to be closed to prevent a worldwide epidemic. Her father’s parents had gotten infected, so they hadn’t been able to leave with him. She had never met her grandparents. She assumed they were dead by now.

“Will the test be hard, Daddy?”

He smiled. “Most of it will be things you already know how to do. And the rest you will be able to figure out. Don’t worry, Dar. You’ll do great.”

A bus trundled around the corner as he finished speaking, and creaked to a stop right in front of them. The doors opened, and Darya’s father paid the fare. They sat down in the middle, next to an old lady who was shifting her dentures around in her mouth, and across from a middle-aged man with a mask covering his mouth and nose.

Her father leaned in close and whispered, “Okay, so what do we do when we get on a train or a bus?”

“Look for masks,” she whispered back. They would have been wearing masks too, if they had not had to leave the two they owned for Darya’s mother, who had to walk Khali to school later, and Khali. Masks were expensive. But she was safe with her father, who could spot a bio-bomb anywhere.

“Why do we do that?”

“Because only people with masks will set off bio-bombs.” Her voice dipped even lower at the word bio-bombs, as if saying it any louder would provoke an attack.

“Right,” he said, “and after we look for masks, what do we do?”

“We watch.”

The enemy could be anyone, anywhere. All that bound them together was a commitment to bringing about the apocalypse. They believed the world ought to be destroyed. They did not believe in ending their own lives. Darya didn’t understand it and didn’t want to try.

He nodded. And they watched, both of them, as the bus bumped and thudded around corners and down streets. Darya had not seen much of the city because she spent all her travel time eyeing the people around her. She was usually in a bus, rather than a train, because buses were easier to escape from.

“You know, when I was young, people didn’t like Hearkeners much,” her father said.

Darya watched the man across from her. His eyes remained steady on the floor. She could hear his breaths through the slats in the mask—not loud, but louder than unfiltered breaths.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because they were seen as an unnecessary expenditure,” he said. “Not worth the cost, I mean. But the people over at the Bureau for the Promotion of Arts were very insistent that music would help a troubled world. And then when people started dying . . .” He shrugged. “Everyone started to understand why Hearkeners were so important.”

“Why are they so important?”

“Because what they hear . . . it’s like hearing something beyond us. Something bigger than us.” He smiled down at her. “It reminds us that there’s more going on in this world than we can see with our eyes and touch with our hands.”

Darya didn’t quite understand what her father meant, but she knew there was something beautiful in it all the same.

Then she heard something—quickening breaths from the man across from them. She saw a bead of sweat roll down the side of his forehead. He looked so harmless—he was short, with salt-and-pepper hair and a white, collared shirt. His slacks were pressed, creased. He was not a killer. But the peculiar blend of fear and determination in his eyes was enough to make Darya’s breaths stop completely.

As the man in the mask moved to get off the bus, he took a canister from his bag and dropped it on the ground. It was an object she had only seen in pictures—dull metal, about six inches long, as thick as her wrist, with an opening at one end to let out the gas.

Someone screamed. Darya’s father clapped his hand over her mouth and nose, and lifted her up from the abdomen. He ran toward the front of the bus, shoving people out of his way with his elbows. Darya fought for air, but the hand prevented her from taking a breath.

Her father shouldered his way out the bus door. Against her will, Darya’s body began to struggle against her father’s grasp, fighting for air. Her father sprinted down the street and into an alley just as she began to see spots.

He took his hand from her mouth, and she gasped.

He had not had time to cover his own mouth. What if he inhaled some of the gas? What if he was infected? She choked on a sob. What if he died?

“It’s okay, Dar.” He gathered her close to his chest. “I held my breath. We’re all right. We’re just fine.”

Technically, the only distinguishing feature of a Hearkener was the implant. It was placed in the temporal lobe of the brain. It didn’t protrude from the skin, but it contained a dye that created a weblike pattern on the right temple. Hearkeners were required to pull their hair away from their faces to reveal the pattern. Its purpose was to make them easily identifiable.

The implant made them what they were. They heard music everywhere—as long as there were people, there was music.

The first time she saw a licensed Hearkener was outside the Minnesota School for Hearkeners, on the fifth step from the bottom of thirty long, low steps. They had not made it to the testing center the day of the bio-bomb, but they went three days later, this time walking the whole way instead of taking the bus.

Her father stood beside her, clutching her hand. They both paused to watch the Hearkener woman walk past.

She was tall and slender, with hair the color of earth and the same pale skin Darya’s mother had. She walked

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