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‘Spinsters work hand in hand with the men who oversee the Guild of Twelve. In the Western Coventry compound, your work will be focused on basic weaving, maintenance, and Crewel work. Our compound is responsible for food and weather, and our most advanced Spinsters handle special issues specific to our sector. You were each transported to this facility based on your aptitude tests. Should you develop skills in other areas, the Guild may issue a transfer of assignment at any time. All four coventries work together to maintain the physical integrity of Arras’s weave and to ensure our world is bound together in safety and prosperity. Each coventry is carefully located to provide optimum control over the weave, and while each has specific tasks assigned to the women working its looms, all are of equal importance. Advanced Spinsters may perform Crewel work, a form of manipulation that adds to Arras and controls elements crucial to our survival.
‘The peace and prosperity of Arras are enabled through your work on the looms. Following patterns strictly to ensure the metros function smoothly, and monitoring the weave for evidence of deterioration, allow us to catch dangerous behaviour and conditions before they can affect the safety of our citizens. Special techniques have been designed to clean and renew threads damaged by aberrant tendencies. We work closely with academies across the world to catch deviants at a young age. This ensures a crime- and accident-free population. We rely on you to report any irregularities found in the weave in a timely manner.’
So that’s what Cormac meant when he laughed at me in the café. Arras isn’t as peaceful as the Stream and officials would have us believe, at least not naturally. Whatever this procedure is that cleans strands, I’m sure it’s what they used in Romen after my disastrous retrieval. Would citizens feel as safe knowing deviant behaviour exists but is merely wiped away from recollection? Or that their children’s threads can be cleaned at any time if a teacher expresses concern? For the first time, I’m glad I’m not a teacher put in that impossible situation. And I understand the gilded cage of false windows and concrete they keep us in. We can never go home with this knowledge.
The vlip fades from the holographic message to a slideshow of images from across Arras, drawing my attention away from this revelation. I’m glued to the images now, but to my disappointment, the metros on the vlip look the same as Romen – concrete, sky towers with thousands of windows spiking up from the metro centre, and small houses and stores dotting the perimeter in perfect spirals. The plants are the only parts of the landscapes that seem to vary. In Romen, we had grass and looming elm trees, bushes, and carefully preened flowers in yellow and white. But these metros have palm trees, pines, ferns, and tall yellow grass; these are plants I’ve only seen on screens during academy lessons. The differences are minute, but seeing all of Arras before me is exciting.
‘Welcome to the Western Coventry and may your hands be blessed,’ the woman’s voice concludes.
The final image is one of a towering complex that I’ve seen dozens of times in academy. It’s where I sit now: the Western Coventry. Several girls squeal with delight but I feel the weight of the concrete and brick pressing down on me. There’s nothing exciting about the compound. It’s walled. Industrial. It’s what it stands for – the promise of power and privilege – that thrills the others. But all I see is the lack of windows and how it rises like an endless cage into the cloudless sky. No one can ever escape it.
‘You don’t look so good,’ Pryana whispers to me as the vlip fades away. ‘Did the images give you motion sickness?’
I shake my head, genuinely pleased by her concern. ‘I’m fine. It’s just been a long few days.’
‘Well, I for one am ready to get on those looms. I’ve been dying to since testing,’ she says, her coffee-black eyes sparkling at the prospect.
‘You haven’t got to try them out yet?’ I ask, more than a little surprised.
‘No,’ Pryana confirms. ‘So far it’s been measurements, etiquette lessons, and small-group vlips. Let’s see. We’ve been reminded at least a hundred times about the importance of chastity to maintain our skills.’
‘Not much of a chance that will be an issue here.’ I laugh at her annoyed look.
‘Are you kidding me?’ she says, rolling her eyes. ‘Have you seen him?’
She points to the door, and I look over to see Erik waiting to usher us to our next session. Enora is nowhere in sight, but I guess most of the Spinsters are working.
‘Him?’ I ask nonchalantly.
‘Come on, he’s gorgeous,’ she gushes. ‘If half the officers look half as good as him, they’ll need to show me that stupid purity-standards vlip every day.’
I have to admit she’s right. Today his wild blond hair is smoothed back and it neatly brushes the shoulders of his dark pinstriped suit. I wonder if it was his skills or his looks that got him the job assisting Maela. But Pryana’s blatant attention is a bit much. I can’t help but notice now the reactions of the girls in the room to his entrance. Several glance over shyly, others sit up and thrust their chests forward, but every girl is aware of him. I suppose it’s not so surprising given segregation. Someone like Erik, or any of the many officers, is the first contact most of us have had with boys close to our own age. I don’t want to shrink down like some of other Eligibles, as though I’m embarrassed by my femininity. But maybe that explains my sharp tongue when I’m around men, or the way the strange boy made my heart race as he led me from the cells.