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‘About that,’ I interject. ‘In the future, do you think you could bring a pillow or something?’
‘In the future? Planning to get locked up again?’
‘Some girls have a knack for trouble,’ I tease, tossing my head dramatically. But before I can peel off the laugh mounting in my throat, Jost’s hand catches my face and brings it to his own. He traces my jaw lightly with his nose and his warm breath tickles along my neck, sending ripples of anticipation through every bit of me. I realise I’ve stopped breathing and I part my lips slightly to gasp for air. Jost responds by trailing his mouth up my neck, my jaw, and my chin until his lips are over mine.
It’s a different kind of kiss from my first one with Erik, and yet it’s the same wildly exciting feeling. Jost’s lips crush into mine, and I reach out without thinking and pull him closer against me. My hand tangles in his hair, and the web shimmers around us. The rest of the world is perfectly still, but we are in motion, crumbling into one another.
We lie in the web next to each other and stare up at the sparkling light that encloses us. Our hands barely brushing. Not speaking. I could stay like this forever, remembering our first kiss.
Jost finally breaks the moment, rolling over to his side and propping himself up next to me. He leans in and kisses my nose. ‘Hey, traitor, you hungry?’ he asks, reaching toward the tray he brought earlier.
‘I’m fine.’ The spell broken, my anxiety comes rushing back. The last thing I want to do is eat.
He takes a bite of an apple. ‘Suit yourself.’
It was a perfect moment, completely under my control, until I was reminded that the one thing I want power over can’t be woven: my own thoughts. Closing my eyes, I wish I was home now; that Jost and I had met through a marriage profile; that Amie was trying to spy on my courtship appointment; that later I would climb into her bed and giggle about his hair or whisper about how it feels when he looks at me with those perfect blue eyes; and that afterwards I would lie in my own bed, designing my wedding dress. But when I open my eyes, I’m here under my frozen dome with Cormac’s procedure looming in the future instead of a wedding. The only comfort is Jost resting beside me, but even that’s complicated.
‘They’re going to map me,’ I whisper.
‘What?’ He sets the apple down and stares at me.
‘Enora was here to tell me that I’m going to be mapped on Friday.’
Jost swallows hard and sits up. ‘What does that mean exactly?’
‘Medics are going to map my brain. Enora claims it’s so they can study Spinsters’ abilities.’
‘Or control them,’ he suggests.
‘I think that’s what happened to Enora. They cleaned her thread, but I’m not sure why.’
‘Mind-mapping couldn’t do something like that,’ he says. ‘Even if they can control your skills—’
‘The new method can,’ I interrupt. ‘Didn’t you watch the State of the Guild?’
‘No,’ he says. ‘I was playing cards with some other valets in the back. Altering and cleaning is too tricky to risk on a Spinster.’ But even he doesn’t sound convinced.
‘The tech is safer now. I’m not sure how it works, but Prime Minister Carma said it can erase behavioural issues. That it can change how a person acts and thinks.’ I tell him about what Cormac said about isolating problem areas in the strand and splicing new material into an individual’s thread. As I talk about it, my hands ball into fists. ‘It was supposed to be a process reserved for deviants, but the Guild seems to have a pretty flexible policy on what constitutes a deviant.’
Reaching over, Jost takes my clenched hands and gently laces his fingers through mine. ‘And you’re going to let them do this?’
‘I don’t have a choice. It might be the only way to find out exactly how the process works.’ And it will get me into the research wing of the compound. There might be useful records, but something tells me to keep that to myself.
‘But you saw what it did to Enora,’ he says softly.
‘Let’s hope I’m wrong about that,’ I murmur. ‘And don’t worry, I’m not going in unprepared.’
The guard at the entrance to the upper studios regards me with suspicion. I’ve never been here before, so I’m counting on my promotion to Crewel apprentice to get me in, but it’s pretty obvious I have no idea what the security procedure is. The heavy red door to the upper studios won’t budge, and I’m eyeing the companel next to it when the guard clears his throat.
‘You’ll need to provide your proof of identity to the scanner.’ He points to the companel.
I press my palm against it, silently willing it to open and wishing I didn’t have an audience right now.
‘Adelice Lewys. Access granted,’ it chirps at me, and the door clicks unlocked.
Heaving it open, I duck inside without looking back at the guard. I’ve drawn enough attention to myself already. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, but I have a hunch. Since everything here is based on rank, I head toward the stairs. They spiral up endlessly, and I pass several floors of quiet studios before I reach the top, where I step into the most breathtaking room I’ve ever seen. It feels more like I’m standing on the roof of a tower. The screens have been woven so that it looks as if nothing stands between me and the sprawling vegetation outside the compound or the sky overhead. To the west, the belly of the ocean laps against the tower, and as I turn and look north it meets with a rocky shore that grows into large craggy mountains around the compound. It’s not the same view that’s programmed to run in my quarters.