Page 66


In the centre of the space an ancient brass loom, far bigger and grander than any I’ve seen before, swirls and shimmers as tiny gears turn and click. It’s intricately etched with words in a language I can neither speak nor read. A chair of ruby velvet, tossed with silk pillows in emerald and onyx and sapphire, butts against it. Although around me the ocean crashes, birds soar, and snow falls, I hear nothing but the soft whir of the loom.
‘It’s lovely, isn’t it?’ Loricel says behind me, and I turn to find her stroking a furry ginger animal. ‘There are over eight hundred looms in the compound here, and they can all work on Arras’s weave, but this is the oldest. It was the first loom stationed in the Western Coventry.’
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to barge in on you.’ I blush. Despite my close connection to her, I feel like a thief standing here and stealing the only beauty in her life.
‘Don’t fret,’ Loricel reassures me. She nods down to the creature in her arms, obviously aware that I’m staring at it. ‘It’s a cat. I keep it as a pet.’
‘I wasn’t aware pets were allowed any more.’ In fact, I know they aren’t. Pets were banned two decades ago, according to the civil responsibilities class we had at academy. Nowadays ‘pet’ is a common nickname for secretaries. I smile, recalling how my mother fumed when her boss used the term.
‘Citizens are not allowed to have them,’ she says with a shrug. ‘But it’s one of the few perks I take advantage of as Creweler.’
I nod. That makes sense. If anyone could have a pet, it would be Loricel.
‘Tell me, Adelice, what do you see?’
I look around the room and describe the foaming waves cresting over the jagged rocky shore and the mountains quickly being blanketed in snow. ‘Your screens are amazing. I feel like I’m on the roof. I feel free.’
‘Adelice, what did your home look like?’ she asks, watching me closely.
I’m confused by the change in conversation, but I tell her about the tiny neighbourhood that sat outside Romen. The perfect street peppered with tiny bungalows and gardens. And as I describe Mr Figgins’s apple tree across the street, it grows on the wall in front of me. With a startled gasp, I whirl to find my own home tucked back behind the loom. It’s so close. As the first tear pricks the corner of my eye, I watch the image swirl and fade away into a stark, starless night.
‘That’s better,’ Loricel says. ‘They’re screens like you said, but I patched in a locator program years ago. When you walk into the room, the screens display where you want to be.’
‘But I saw mountains and the ocean,’ I say.
‘It’s the default,’ she explains. ‘Anyone who enters will see it. You have to describe the setting for it to change. Like us, the program can’t read minds. It’s very similar to the tracking system the Guild uses to locate citizens.’
‘Cormac used one to show me my sister once,’ I tell her, but it feels like a confession somehow. As though I’m revealing a weakness rather than knowledge.
She smiles and then briefly describes a sunny, lonely beach. ‘I prefer warmer climates.’
It’s unnerving to stand in the centre of snowy mountains, my childhood street, and a lapping crystal ocean without moving, so I plop down onto the braided rug beside the loom to gather my thoughts.
‘What’s really out there?’ I ask finally.
Loricel doesn’t answer. She moves to the edge of the wall screen, but she doesn’t change the program. Instead, she very carefully opens a seam in the illusions, and I realise that the images on the walls are also a form of weaving. I wonder if she’s about to show me the image of the sea I watch from my quarters or even a blizzard like the one I witnessed moments ago, but I could never have imagined what the break reveals. In between the fibres of the weave, I see a shapeless bloom of light and colour.
What lies behind the screens on Loricel’s studio walls isn’t what I imagined. Even though I’ve been manipulating the weave around me for years, only now is the truth clear. The weave we call up on a loom, or manipulate in the room in front of us is only a façade. Behind it lies another layer, even more brilliant than the first.
‘None of it’s real,’ I whisper.
‘It depends on your definition of real,’ Loricel replies. ‘I can touch this floor. I can touch you. I can eat the food at mealtime. How is that not real?’
And I can’t answer her, because she’s right. The tickle of water as I step into the bath, the way the pillow cocoons my head, Jost’s hands stroking my face. How could these things not be real? And yet, standing here staring out at the raw matter flowing into oblivion, nothing can ever be real again.
‘So that’s it. This is reality,’ I whisper, the words barely making a noise as they leave my mouth.
Loricel purses her lips together as though she’s unsure where to begin. ‘Yes and no. This is our reality, but not reality in the truest sense.’
‘I don’t understand,’ I admit.
‘The Guild doesn’t mean us to, but if you are to take over here then you must understand.’ She gestures to the magnificent work space.
I can’t tear my eyes away from the open seam. My hands twitch; I want to touch it. Finally, Loricel closes it up and leads me over to a small couch.
‘We create it all?’ I ask.
‘We create Arras,’ she says. ‘But we only create a mantle – a cover, if you will. Matter and time exist on another planet, and we merely harness them. The looms allow us to weave and create Arras. Our reality is layered upon another world: Earth.’