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‘She was happy,’ I say, and I hear how my voice almost echoes from the pain. I don’t tell Enora that Amie’s different now or what’s been done to her. Or that my thoughts have turned from memories to plans, and that the real reason I’m going along with this tour is to get out from behind the Coventry walls to the world of before, where Amie still exists, even if she’s changed.
‘I think rebounding will be much more comfortable for you this time,’ she says, pushing the digifile into my hands and forcing my mind back to the present moment.
The shackles from my first trip flash through my thoughts and set my hands trembling. ‘I won’t be—’
‘No,’ she says in a rush, reading my thoughts. ‘You will be travelling in first-class rebounding chambers. Ambassador Patton wants you kept happy.’
‘I’m still not sure what I did to deserve this,’ I admit.
Enora smiles sadly. We’re not stupid enough to believe the top-notch privileges I’ve been receiving have anything to do with me deserving them. ‘I guess we’ll have to wait and see.’
In the morning, I ride by motocarriage to my rebounding appointment. Erik and Jost come with me, but the rest of my crew follows behind. Erik keeps up a steady stream of chatter, but Jost sits quietly to the side. I laugh with Erik, but I feel the thickness of the air in the back of the carriage – Jost isn’t happy about being sent all over Arras. And he doesn’t seem thrilled about me chattering away with Erik either.
My scruffy friend has been cleaned up for the event. Jost’s face is closely shaved, and his hair is combed and tucked behind his ears. It brushes the collar of his grey wool jacket.
‘How do you two know each other?’ I ask Erik, pointing at Jost.
Jost startles out of his malaise and stares at me.
‘You said he sent you . . .’ I trail off, not wanting to talk too much about what Jost told me in the cell in case the Guild has installed audio transmitters in our motocarriage.
‘Jost is the head valet,’ Erik informs me. ‘When I couldn’t come to your cell, I asked him to attend to you.’
‘Okay.’ I nod, not sure I believe it’s as simple as that. Jost spoke as though he knew Erik. As if they had a history of some sort, and not a pleasant one.
‘Are you nervous about rebounding?’ Erik asks, changing topics.
Out of the corner of my eye I spy Jost settling back against his seat, but his eyes remain on me.
‘Yes,’ I admit, trying to ignore the steady gaze of Jost’s blue eyes. ‘My first experience wasn’t very pleasant.’
‘Well, that was not a typical experience,’ Erik tells me.
‘I forgot. You were there,’ I remember out loud.
He nods. If he’s sorry about ordering the medic to dose me, he doesn’t show it.
‘Enora gave me this,’ I tell him, producing my digifile from my handbag.
Erik lets out a low whistle. ‘Fancy gift.’
‘Really?’ I ask, flushing. ‘I assumed most Spinsters got one.’
‘Nah, Maela has one, but only because she sits on the training panel. Enora pulled some strings for that,’ Erik says.
‘I had no idea,’ I admit.
For a brief second Erik’s eyes flash to Jost’s, but whatever prompted the look, neither speaks. The conversation trails off again and I’m grateful the ride is short, because my stomach is doing cartwheels.
The rebound station that sits outside the compound walls is small and unassuming. Erik escorts me through the double brass doors into a small lobby with one brushed-velvet chair, which I’m forced to sit in. Behind us, my team, along with my gowns, bags and carts, filters in, packing the tiny room. A polished woman in a sky-blue suit appears from the hallway and speaks briefly with Erik. I watch as he nods and gestures to the group. A moment later, she strides over and beckons for me to follow her. I walk by her side. Behind us I hear Erik smoothly directing the rest of the group into an ordered line.
‘You’re rebounding into Nilus?’ the woman asks me evenly, and I manage a nod. She’s older, with her hair neatly kept in a simple bun, and she guides me with the expertise of someone who’s done this her whole life.
‘Your rebound will take about an hour,’ she continues, leading me into a softly lit room and directing me to sit in an overlarge leather seat in the dead centre of the chamber. She reaches towards a panel beside me, and I hear the click of a button as she pushes it. I tense, waiting for the metal helmet to lower onto my head, but instead a small oak tray table glides over my lap. I exhale as she fastens a long, thick belt diagonally across me.
‘Have you rebounded before?’ she asks curiously.
‘I’m sorry to ask,’ she says. ‘You seem nervous. Most people aren’t as scared the second time around.’
I shrug weakly, not wanting to tell her I was chained to the chair during my last rebound.
‘You’ll be fine,’ she tells me sweetly. ‘I’ll bring you some tea.’
She disappears out the door, and Erik’s head appears in the doorway. ‘I’ll see you at Nilus.’
‘See you there,’ I manage.
He continues past my door and Jost follows him. Our eyes meet for only a moment, but I can’t think of anything to say to him. As soon as he’s out of my sight, the stewardess reappears with a glass of iced tea.
‘Best not to drink anything hot until you’re more accustomed to rebounding,’ she advises, setting it neatly on a square white napkin in front of me.