Page 46


‘Did you get anything out of that guy from Nilus? Yeah, if this thing has spread way up there . . .’ He pauses in response to something Hannox is saying. ‘I don’t think Protocol Two is necessary at this point, but have Intelligence draw up a plan.’
I’m still watching through barely open eyelids, pretending to sleep, when he leans forward and places his head in his hands. Then he looks up at me and I almost stop breathing. He keeps his gaze on me for a minute, then pours another whisky.
The morning comes in streaks of purple outside my hotel window. It’s the real sky, something I never see at the compound, where every view is a programmed image. This is the dawn that awakens citizens in Cypress, and for the first time since the motocarriage, I close my eyes. Opening them, I pretend I’m waking up like I might if I lived out here. It’s time to prep for work. I’ll tram into the metro, and perch at a desk waiting for telebounds and coffee rationing. No, I’m prepping tablets for the day’s curriculum. I’ll teach about the seasons. How each serves a function and is carefully timed to maximise its usefulness to food Spinsters. But the lesson fades, replaced by looms and fingers and stone walls. This room is no more real than my life there; both were created by Spinsters.
I’m not out of bed before a maid comes bustling into the room to clean up.
‘I’m so sorry, miss,’ she exclaims, but something in her voice isn’t sorry. Her words sound rehearsed. Of course, I might be getting paranoid at this point, too.
‘It’s okay,’ I assure her, slinging my legs out of the bed. ‘I need to be getting up now anyway.’ Especially if I’m going to have a minute to myself before my crew gets here to prepare me for our final rebound back to the Coventry.
‘I’ll get out from under your feet then,’ the maid offers, but I shake my head, indicating she should stay.
There’s not much packing to do, so I order up a small breakfast of scones and tea and plop down to wait in a chair. I’m so used to having someone hovering around me that it doesn’t even feel awkward to have the maid here straightening. I watch her work. She’s about my mother’s age.
‘Is there anything I can get you?’ the maid asks kindly.
‘I’m fine,’ I say with a smile, not willing to betray the hot anger building in my head by saying more.
‘Well,’ she starts, but then she stops and a sheepish grin slides onto her face. ‘I’m sorry. I had hoped to meet you. It was very rude of me to barge in on you this morning.’
So that’s what this was about. Another person eager to see a Spinster or ask for a blessing. It’s not that I mind so much as it makes the guilt bubble up and threaten to spill over. If only she knew I was responsible for the accident that claimed the local academy.
But I simply hold out my hand to her and say, ‘I’m Adelice.’
‘It’s an honour to meet you,’ she says, clutching my hand in hers and not letting go. ‘I thought you might know my daughter. She was retrieved this year as well.’
‘Pryana?’ I ask the woman, and her face lights up. That’s when I realise it’s no more a coincidence that we came to Cypress for the ribbon-cutting ceremony than that we stayed in this hotel. The academy. Amie. And now Pryana’s mother. Cormac wants me to see the consequences of my decisions and remind me of how powerless I am without the strength of the Guild behind me. But his plan has a weakness: now I know where Amie is.
‘Oh, you do know her! Is she well?’ she asks.
I do my best to muster up a warm smile, and nod. With the loss of her other daughter, even some news about Pryana must feel like a gift.
‘I’m very sorry about what happened here,’ I manage to whisper. Part of me longs to tell her the truth – that I’m the reason the academy was destroyed, but when I gather up the courage to look into her eyes, they stare blankly back at me.
‘Sorry for what?’ she asks, and her voice is as empty as her eyes.
‘For the academy,’ I tell her, pulling my hand back from hers.
‘It’s lovely,’ she says automatically. ‘I wish it had been this nice when Pryana was attending it.’
‘But your daughter . . .’
‘Pryana?’ she asks in a confused voice.
‘No,’ I answer slowly, watching her closely. ‘Your other daughter and the academy . . .’
‘Pryana is my only daughter,’ she says, but something about her tone is not reassuring. There’s no surprise or amusement at my mistake, but only a mechanical, unemotional response to my apology.
‘I must have been confused,’ I tell her. ‘I thought Pryana said she had a sister.’
‘She’s an only child,’ her mother says, and her face brightens again. ‘My pride and joy.’
‘So what exactly happened to the academy?’ I ask, less interested in the facts than in what she believes occurred.
‘It was upgraded. We got called to a town hall meeting, well, the girl neighbourhoods,’ she says, and the automatic tone returns; but for just a moment she seems to struggle with what happened at that meeting. ‘Anyway, they upgraded the girls’ academy. It makes sense to me. We’ve produced more Spinsters here than any other metro in the four sectors.’
I swallow hard and turn from her.
‘Pryana mentioned that,’ I say in a quiet voice, my mind no longer centred on this conversation.