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‘No, you look overwhelmed,’ she responds. ‘It’s easy to tell you’re new, because most of us room together.’
I lower my voice to match hers: ‘Together?’
‘Not everyone gets her own room.’ She grins, displaying a dazzling white smile set against chocolate lips.
‘I’m sorry, you seem to have me at an advantage,’ I say, curious as to how this girl knows me or my situation. ‘I’m Adelice.’
‘I know,’ she says. ‘My name is Pryana, and my mother was a maid in a small hotel for businessmen. She taught me that if you want to know the best gossip, you should get to know your maids. And right now, the best gossip around involves you.’
I think of the girls and boys bringing me food, stoking my fire, delivering my clothes, and feel like an elitist snob. I’m sure that’s how I come off to them – an eager young Eligible hungry for power. It never occurred to me that they could be sources of information. Or that they were watching me.
‘I’ll keep that in mind.’
‘Well, be careful,’ Pryana says, dropping her voice even further so that our conversation is lost among the flurry of gossip. ‘At your level, they pay more attention to who they have attending you. And with your history—’
‘My level?’
‘Girl, do you think we are all living in the lap of luxury? Do not get me wrong, I am very pleased with my current situation. But everyone in the Coventry wonders what landed a simple Eligible in the high tower.’
‘I clearly need to befriend a maid,’ I mutter. My mind is swimming with this new information. I have a pretty good idea why I’m getting special treatment, and it has nothing to do with favouritism.
Pryana gives me a sceptical look, unconvinced I’m the innocent I claim to be. But if she’s going to press the matter, she doesn’t get the chance because a brilliant display of colour lights up the blank wall we face. It fades in along the edges and gradually forms into the shape of a woman. The vlip is holographic, giving it the appearance of three dimensions. As though the woman were in the room with us, and not a mere recording.
‘Welcome to training,’ the holograph says with a smile. ‘Being called to serve the Guild of Twelve is an honour and with honour comes privilege. The Western Coventry wants to ensure your transition into your new life as a Spinster is smooth and joyful. Each of you will be assigned a mentor during the training process. She will answer your questions and provide guidance on appropriate behaviour and dress.’
I look around the aisles. The other girls’ eyes are glued to the vlip. Pryana catches my eye and grins.
‘Arras depends on girls like you,’ the actress in the vlip continues. ‘The Guild is a complex organisation charged with the care of our entire world, and you are a vital piece of our oligarchy. During training you will be observed as you complete a variety of tasks designed to test your skill, precision, and dedication to preserving the integrity of Arras. Your work will be carefully supervised as you learn how to read the specific patterns of our world, and your behaviour will be monitored by security personnel and audio surveillance to ensure the safety of everyone in the compound. This is precious information given to you in confidence of your allegiance to the Guild of Twelve. Each of you was brought here because you exhibited the potential to become a Spinster, but your placement and position within the Coventry will be made based on the observations of our specially appointed training panel.’
A few of the girls murmur in surprise at this news. They must not have been appointed mentors yet. I almost feel sorry that some of them have left everything they know and love behind to wind up as servants. Almost.
‘Rest assured that once you have been called by the Guild, you have a place here. There are opportunities for every girl’s skills in the Western Coventry, and regardless of where in Manipulation Services you are ultimately placed, you will enjoy many of the privileges allotted to Spinsters. Due to the sensitive nature of your training, it is impossible for you to return to civilian lives, but you will each have a home and job here from this day forward.’
‘What exactly does that mean?’ Pryana hisses beside me.
‘It means’– I lean in so only she can hear – ‘that some of us might wind up scrubbing kitchen floors.’
Her eyes widen, but she shakes her head in disbelief.
‘Ever ask your maid how she landed a job cleaning your toilet?’ I ask.
‘I will now.’
I can’t imagine anyone could be charming enough to prompt a former Eligible to reveal her rejection. It’s one thing to be catty about others’ misfortunes but harder to admit your own.
‘Your duties will be assigned based on skill level. There are always opportunities for advancement for loyal Spinsters of the Guild,’ the holographic woman continues. Behind her an enormous machine flickers into view on the screen. It’s a loom, like the one they presented me with in testing, only bigger. Gears and wheels grind together silently, connected to a series of intricate silver tubes. As she speaks, sparkling strands weave across it in a mixture of gold and other colours. I know from experience that the gold is time, and when I focus hard enough to see the weave around me, these strands flow across, forming bands. The other strands weave through the bands, forming a tight, colourful tapestry.
Before this moment, I’ve only seen looms during testing, and then I spent so much time ignoring my compulsion to touch the weave that its subtlety was lost on me. Now it shimmers with life. But as I watch, the image on the screen changes. The gears of the loom adjust, zooming in on a portion of the weave on the loom. First, the fibres suggest an aerial view of a neighbourhood. Then the weave is focused more closely until it reveals the image of a street. And finally, the weave reveals a family sitting inside their home. The vlip then winds the image back to the complex weave it first showed us.