Page 7


The motocarriage is longer than any of the motopacts I’ve seen in Romen. I’ve seen ones like this on the Stream. Motopacts are daily cars to drive into the metro, but motocarriages like this have chauffeurs. I fix my eyes on it; I only have to make it that far and then this public charade will be over. An officer ushers me to the rear side door and helps me in. As the door shuts me safely away from the cheering crowd, I scowl.
‘That’s much more attractive,’ Cormac mutters as he slides in next to me. ‘At least you’re the last retrieval.’
‘Had a long day?’ I ask harshly.
‘No, but I can’t imagine dragging your deadweight around much longer,’ he snaps back as he pours himself a glass of amber liquid. He doesn’t bother to offer me any.
I lapse into silence. Deadweight. The image of the body bag lying casually on my dining-room floor floats into my head and hot tears prick my eyes, threatening to spill over.
I stare out of the window so he won’t see me cry. The glass is tinted and the crowd can no longer watch us, but they’re still milling around. Neighbours talk animatedly, pointing to our house. Several heads incline, relaying the news to people far away on their complants. We haven’t had a retrieval in Romen in ten years. Tomorrow I’ll be on Romen’s morning Stream. I wonder what they’ll say about my parents. My sister.
Cormac is downing the last drops of his cocktail when his head cocks to the side to take a call. ‘Here,’ he grunts. He’s quiet but soon indifference turns to mild annoyance.
‘Clean it,’ he says. ‘No, clean all of it.’
His head shifts back down, disconnecting from the call, and he looks at me. ‘Lucky girl.’
I shrug, not willing to betray my feelings at the moment. I’m not sure what cleaning is, and from the way he growled the order, I’m not sure I want to know.
‘Oh, you have no idea,’ he says. ‘How’s your leg?’
I glance down to the gashes the claw left and find they’re gone.
‘Fine, I guess.’ I try to keep the surprise out of my voice but can’t.
‘Renewal patch,’ he informs me. ‘One of the many perks you’ll have as a Spinster.’
I don’t respond, and he returns to the crystal bottle for another drink. My eyes wander back to the window. We’re nearly out of Romen, and it’s hard to believe I’ll never come back here. The view grows hazy and my eyelids droop; the drugs they administered earlier are making me sleepy. But right before my eyes close, the street disappears behind us, shimmering and fading into nothing.
An officer shakes me awake when we get to the Nilus Station and hands me a pair of shoes. Another escorts me to the toilet and stands guard. Afterwards, I’m taken to a small private powder room and given a simple white shift to change into. They take away everything I was wearing before. I dress as slowly as possible, trying to sift through the fog in my head.
I can’t put off going out into the station for long. The Nilus Station is situated in the capital of the Western Sector and it rebounds travellers to the other three capital cities in Arras. It’s also strictly policed. Only the most important businessmen can travel between the four sectors; someone like my dad wouldn’t qualify. I’ve never been out of Romen’s city limits before today. I should be excited, but all I feel is a dull twinge at the thought.
Cormac is lounging in a turquoise chair outside the powder room.
‘Ever been to a rebound station, Adelice?’ Cormac asks conversationally as he stands to greet me when I step back into the station lobby.
I shake my head. I’m not eager to act like we’re friends.
‘Didn’t think so. It’s pretty rare these days for some citizens to get border passes.’ He smiles, and for the first time I notice a crease in his flawless skin. By ‘some citizens’ he means women and service workers.
Cormac sets the pace, and I stroll with him along the periphery of the station. There’s a small booth offering shoe shines, a coat-check stand, and a little café. He gestures for me to follow him into the restaurant, and we’re led up to the second-floor mezzanine by a waiter. From here we can watch the travellers waiting for their rebound appointments in the great marble hall. Even though it’s busy, the sounds of travel – shoes clicking, complant conversations, rustling Bulletins – fill the space and bounce back across it. The roar of energy is nearly deafening.
‘Miss, I’ll need to see your privilege card,’ the waiter says, sneering at me.
I glance down at my simple dress and realise I don’t even have my citizen ID with me, but Cormac speaks before I can make excuses.
‘She’s my guest. Do you need to see my PC?’ It’s more a challenge than a question.
The waiter glances at him and the haughty smile evaporates. ‘Ambassador Patton, I apologise. I didn’t recognise you. I only saw the girl.’
Something about the way he says the girl makes me feel dirty.
‘No need to apologise. You don’t get many girls in here, I imagine.’ He laughs, and the waiter joins him.
‘We weren’t informed there would be a retrieval squad travelling through, or we would have been prepared,’ the young man assures him.
‘It was a last-minute retrieval, so the usual call-aheads weren’t possible.’
‘So she’s a...’ He eyes me admiringly.
‘She is an Eligible. Treat her as you would a Spinster.’ There’s an edge of warning to Cormac’s voice, and the young man nods solemnly.