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‘What are you doing on my kitchen counter?’ she demanded. ‘And you’re filthy, too. Were you . . .’ The words dropped off her tongue when she saw what was in my hand.
‘That’s your father’s chocolate,’ she said softly.
‘I didn’t waste any of it,’ I said, showing her the pieces. There was at least twice as much chocolate as there had been earlier.
‘Go to your room,’ she ordered.
I left the pieces on the counter and stalked away. I didn’t tell them what Amie had done. Instead I let them believe I had eaten the chocolate. And as punishment, I was sent to my room, where I waited until my parents came in later that evening. Amie was probably still too scared to talk to them, so she stayed in the living room watching the Stream.
‘Do you understand why what you did was wrong?’ my father asked as he sat down next to me on the edge of the bed. My mother stayed by the door.
I nodded my head but wouldn’t meet his eyes.
‘Why was it wrong?’ he asked.
I gritted my teeth for a moment before I answered. I knew the answer. I’d learned it at academy for years. ‘Because it wouldn’t be fair for us to have more.’
I heard a strange gasp from my mom, as if someone had physically hurt her, and I looked up to see her regarding me with tired eyes. She turned away from me to look at Amie in the next room.
‘Yes, that’s part of it,’ he said slowly. ‘But, Adelice, it’s also dangerous.’
‘To eat too much chocolate?’ I asked, confused.
He smiled a little at my answer, but it was my mother who spoke.
‘It’s dangerous to use your gift,’ she said. ‘Promise us that you’ll never do that again.’
There was a raspy quality to her words, and I realised she’d been crying.
‘I promise,’ I whispered.
‘Good,’ she said. ‘Because I swear I’ll cut off your hands before I let you do it again.’
Even now, as I nibble at the stale bread, the threat echoes in my ears, warning me to keep my skills hidden. So what if the Guild already knows what I can do? I can’t betray my parents again.
The next day, when someone finally comes to see me, it’s not Erik or Josten, but Maela herself. She saunters into my cell in a long black gown, holding a lit cigarette. Light streams in from the hallway and outlines her sculpted silhouette. It’s how I imagine death will come to me: overdressed and smoking.
‘Adelice, I trust you find your accommodations lacking,’ she purrs.
‘I’ve definitely seen better,’ I say.
‘Two nights ago,’ she reminds me, puffing thoughtfully on the brass cigarette holder. ‘You are a peculiar case.’
I remember what Jost said about them killing the other girls. I’m a peculiar case because I’m breathing.
‘I thought you might like to see this,’  she says, showing me a small digifile. Maela sweeps her fingers along it and the screen glows, displaying a series of numbers and charts.
‘This is what insubordination causes,’ she murmurs, sounding amused with her little toy, and I realise with horror that she’s showing me the number of people killed during the test.
‘Insubordination,’ I say softly, ‘had nothing to do with it.’
‘When I tell you to remove a weak thread, you do it,’ she snarls, dropping her charade of calm amusement.
‘Or you’ll murder people?’ I don’t disguise the hate in my voice.
‘Examples,’ she starts slowly, evidently intent on keeping her composure, ‘are necessary to show the importance of our work. You can play the victim, Adelice, but you are as culpable as I am. When you cannot make the difficult decision for the good of others, you jeopardise everyone.’
‘It wasn’t a coincidence that Pryana’s sister was in that piece,’ I accuse her, but she ignores me.
‘It seems you won’t learn your lesson,’ she says between drags.
‘Maybe I’m not the only one.’
Maela smiles, and it’s a real smile this time, not the dazzling show smile she puts on for the others or the wicked grin she seems to save for me. This smile shows all the flaws carefully covered by cosmetics – the lines, the too-noticeable gum line. It’s a hideous sight.
Her face fades back into practised calm. ‘I’m willing to give you another chance. I’m not usually so forgiving.’
I picture the other girls, killed for less. Had they wasted away in cells or been ripped out and destroyed?
‘What happens?’ I ask, thinking of the shimmering threads hanging off the hook.
‘What happens when what?’
‘When you remove strands. Where do they go?’
She smiles again, but it is one of polished venom, not actual mirth. ‘Perhaps you can go to your training classes and find out, instead of wasting away in a cell.’
She leaves me here to ponder this, but deep down I know that they aren’t going to answer the kinds of questions I want to ask. Enora had genuinely not known the answer when I asked her the same question during our first meeting. But why hide what really happens if ripping is such an integral part of our jobs?
Unless the ripped could be saved.
I taste iron and my lip stings from where it split open against my teeth. So much for a low profile – not with Pryana in my training group. Maela officially released me a few days ago, shortly after our little chat, and even though I spent considerable time thinking of the right way to approach going back to training, I was still at square one. I’d planned to apologise, but the words never came. The other Eligibles seemed as cold as Pryana, clearly not impressed by my showdown with Maela. The looks they were giving me were pretty easy to read. In fact, they reminded me a lot of how the girls at testing had treated me. They thought I was awkward and incapable. And maybe they were right. Regardless, I found myself shuffling into the studio for our loom instructions without saying a word to Pryana. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. It was obvious that she laid the blame for her sister’s death at my feet. I was a much easier target than Maela – and a much less dangerous one.