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‘It’s okay,’ I say with a shrug. ‘I get the impression girls are rare around here.’
The girl adjusts my straps and checks the buckle before she steps back. She hesitates and checks the countdown on the wall: I have two minutes until the rebound will begin.
‘That’s it though.’ She pauses and glances around the room. ‘I probably should shut up.’
‘What?’ The medication is definitely wearing off, because now I’m holding back panic.
‘Yes, women very rarely rebound, only Spinsters and Ministers’ wives. But they are given anything they want,’ she whispers.
‘I don’t understand,’ I admit slowly.
She leans forward and pretends to adjust the tray. ‘They come in dressed up and we are supposed to give them bulletins and fashion catalogues to peruse. But you...’
I stare at her, trying to get what she’s telling me.
‘My directions were to keep you buckled and locked down.’
‘Locked down?’
‘Yes.’ She sighs and gives me a sympathetic pat. ‘I’m sorry.’
She reaches behind my back, and a second later, a large helmet woven of thick steel chains clamps down over my head. I cry out, but the sound is muffled. She squeezes my hand once, and I calm a little. Then more metal locks down, binding my wrists.
‘Your rebound will only take an hour,’ she reassures me, although I can barely hear her through the twisted metal. ‘Good luck, Adelice.’
I wish I’d asked her name.
The helmet blocks most of the room around me, but I can see through the gaps. It’s an inconsequential room with bare white walls, except for the clock counting down in the corner.
The nausea hits first. The floor drops from under me and my stomach turns over, but I don’t fall. The helmet keeps my head perfectly straight and my neck stretched, so I don’t throw up, but I want to. Closing my eyes, I breathe evenly, trying to keep the sickness at bay. When I open them and peer through the steel wires, the room around me is gone, and I’m surrounded by a shimmering array of lights. The sight calms me and I focus on studying the gleaming strands that comprise the rebound compartment. Glowing beams twist across the room and then long threads of grey knit up through them, crisscrossing over the light into a luminous fabric of gold and silver. Somewhere a girl sits, replacing the weave of the rebound chamber with that of a chamber in a coventry, effectively moving me from one location to the other. I’m travelling hundreds of miles without moving a muscle. It’s a delicate procedure, which is why it’s reserved for the most important people in Arras. The Stream ran a special story vlip about the process a few years ago.
Gradually the light disappears and slowly – too slowly – grey walls form in patches around me, and the radiant canvas of the rebound process fades into a concrete room. It takes an eternity before the beams are gone, but when the last flickers into wall, I’m happy to feel the helmet being lifted from my head.
A group of sombrely clad officers surrounds me. The one who removed the helmet hesitates at the cuffs on my arms. They ache from being shackled during the trip, and I’m about to tell him so when a young blond in an expensive suit steps forward and holds his hand up. His head is cocked to the side, and I realise he’s on his complant. Despite his obvious youth, he seems to be in charge. He’s the kind of boy my classmates would zero in on in the daily Bulletin and giggle over as they passed his image around. But even this close to him, I only feel curiosity.
‘Sedate her.’
‘Sir?’ the officer asks in surprise.
‘She wants her sedated,’ the blond boy orders. ‘You want to ask her why?’
The officer shakes his head, but as a medic rushes forward with a syringe I can see the apology in the boy’s blindingly blue eyes.
When I was eight, the girl next door, Beth, found a bird’s nest that had fallen on the line marking her yard from ours. I was not allowed to enter her yard, and she never came into mine. She applied that line to all of our interactions, keeping a firm boundary between us at home, at academy, and at the commons where we played with the rest of the neighbourhood girls. Beth made sure the other girls didn’t talk to me either, so I kept to myself. Her bullying made me timid in her presence – always drawing back instead of coming forward – so I watched as she batted the nest along the property marker with a stick. I didn’t say anything until I saw the speckle of blue as it tumbled over.
‘Stop.’ My command was so low she shouldn’t have heard it, but our street was as quiet as usual, and her head perked up to stare at me, the stick frozen in place.
‘What did you say?’ she asked in a voice that wanted me to remember my place, not answer her.
Whatever that glimpse of blue had stirred in my chest, I grabbed on to it and pushed the demand out louder.
Beth edged closer to the line, but didn’t cross it. Instead, she hoisted the nest on her stick and tossed it over to my yard. ‘There,’ she mocked. ‘Take your precious nest. It doesn’t matter, the mama bird isn’t coming back for it now. They don’t want their eggs after someone else has touched them.’
Hatred seethed inside me, but I stood on my side and watched her walk into her house without saying another word. She glanced at me just once as she opened her front door, and her eyes were full of scorn. I stared at the nest for a long time: two eggs peeked out of the grass next to it. I thought of myself and my sister when I looked at them: two sister sparrows. Gathering up some fallen leaves from our yard, I covered my bare hands before placing the eggs into their spots in the nest, and then lifted it back to the tree in our yard. But the small gesture did nothing to soothe the aching rage building in my chest.