Page 24


As maids and servants.
‘There will always be a place for you here.’ Maela gives a precise sort of smile.
Many of the girls look pacified, although a few seem to be considering what they’ve just been told.
‘One of the most important aspects of Spinning is the removal of weak strands. Each person, object, and place within Arras has its own thread – or in the case of a place, a woven section. We maintain Arras by redistributing, adding, and removing these strands and sections of the whole. If one thread is weak, it jeopardises the others around it. The weave is pliable, allowing for some flexibility within the cities, and for our work, of course. But put simply, some threads are more resilient than others. We must be careful to repair and replace when necessary, but we must also remove at times.’
She is speaking directly to me now. ‘If too many strands are weak, it compromises large sections, and as you can imagine, this puts everyone at risk.’ She breaks eye contact with me to seek affirmation from her silent audience.
The other Eligibles nod earnestly. I don’t. Next to me Pryana bumps my arm as though she’s urging me to join in and agree.
No one asks any questions. They bob their heads in synchronised conformity as though why we are being asked to do these things is trivial. All that matters is doing what the Guild asks us, because they say it’s important. Doesn’t the gradual ebbing of the time bands spark curiosity? Don’t they want to know how the machines help us work? I’m not in a position, as Maela’s least favourite student, to ask these questions, and no one else seems to care.
‘Today you will each be completing your first removal,’ Maela tells us.
‘You mean ripping?’ Pryana asks. For a brief moment the muscles of Maela’s jaw visibly tense, but she remains composed.
I think I like Pryana enough to make friends, like Enora instructed.
‘Yes, some people refer to it as such. I find the term vulgar,’ Maela answers smoothly, but her jaw is still tensed.
I find the whole thing vulgar, but I bite my tongue so as not to attract her wrath or more attention from her rapt disciples.
Maela nods to Erik, who steps towards the far wall and presses a series of buttons. The other girls watch him. Even Pryana’s gaze is greedy as he strides by. As soon as he enters the code, glistening, nearly transparent tapestries appear on the strange steel looms dotting the room. The appearance of the weave is the only thing that can tear their attention from him. Many of the girls gasp, and one even shrinks back as if the mere sight scares her. For girls who’ve only touched a practice loom at testing, the sight of Arras laid before them must be overwhelming. Even though I’ve always been able to visualise the weave, seeing it like this, called up for our use, makes my stomach knot.
‘Can you see the weave without a loom?’ The question is out of my mouth before I can swallow it back, but I need to know how big a freak I am.
Erik stares at me curiously, but Maela looks annoyed at the interruption.
‘No, that’s ridiculous. The weave is the very time and matter that we occupy. Of course you can’t just see it,’ she snaps.
Except, of course I can. But apparently she can’t, and judging from the looks on the others’ faces, neither can they. I’m alone in this ability.
‘This,’ she continues, gesturing to a large ornate piece woven with vibrant greens, pinks, and reds, ‘is you.’
The girls crowd closer together and press forward to see the brilliant weave.
‘We’re beautiful,’ a petite girl notes with awe.
‘Of course you are,’ Maela coos. ‘The rest of these pieces are from various cities within the Western Sector. The looms allow us to call up and view the actual fabric of Arras, and each day the Spinsters prune the parts of the weave that are our responsibility. They check for brittle threads, and they handle any removal requests we receive through proper authorities.’
She demonstrates how to adjust the settings on the loom to pull the weave’s image into more detailed focus. As we watch, the piece of Arras on the loom zooms from a swirling array of colours and light into the subtle image of a house.
‘You can request removal?’
‘Yes, certainly. Individuals may request removal as well as law enforcement officials. Hospital staff submit removal requests for individuals in poor health and for the elderly.’
I think of my grandmother and wonder who put in her request – certainly not her or my mother. She wasn’t weak enough to need removal. My eyes smart at the idea of some doctor deciding it was her time to go.
‘These looms feature areas where maintenance is needed. We will visit each, and you will be given a chance to identify the weak point and remove it. Although the looms are equipped to allow you to zoom in and out of the piece as necessary and even to locate very specific strands, there’s a certain skill to being able to find the weakness without using the magnifiers and locators.’
I shift uncomfortably in my heels and notice several other Eligibles doing the same. It’s a lot to ask considering we’re so new.
‘No need to be frightened,’ Maela says reassuringly, obviously sensing the apprehension around her. ‘You simply use your fingers to read the weave. Watch.’
Moving to the nearest loom, Maela traces a long, polished finger over the surface, from left to right, moving in lines down the piece until her hand stops. Closing her eyes briefly, Maela lets her hand rest there.
‘Here,’ she says, and the group goes utterly still. ‘It is thinner than the rest. Worn and tired. I can feel the stress it is placing on the other threads nearby. They are doing more than their fair share to keep everything together.’