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He waits on me hand and foot, although I’m not allowed to order for myself. And as if a hovering waiter isn’t annoying enough, every man in the place stares at me. It’s the shameless gaze of the patrons that provokes a startling realisation. Glancing back at the bustling travellers, I see the outline of suits and fedoras. The only other woman in the station takes coats at the stand I noticed earlier. Apparently only men are allowed to eat here. I knew rebounding was reserved for important businessmen, but I never realised that even the station was segregated. I rub my hands on the hem of my shift, aware of how warm it is here.
‘Lecherous lot,’ Cormac says, and chuckles. ‘Actually, you don’t see many women out from behind the desk these days. Not without their husbands.’
It takes a minute for me to realise he means me. I’m the woman out and about.
‘I’d suggest eating. I know you can’t have much left in you after that stupid medic screwed up. You would think they would know how much juice to give a 52 kg girl, and yet it’s always too much or too little. You’re lucky though – the Nilus Station has a great café.’ He tips his head back toward the kitchen door. ‘It might be a while before you eat again.’
‘I’m not very hungry,’ I say. My lamb chop sits untouched on the plate in front of me. Cormac’s meal is similarly neglected, for all his advice to eat, but only because he’s nursing a bourbon.
Cormac leans against the table and looks at me. ‘I figured as much. Take my advice though, and eat something.’
I think of the dining-room table and white cake sitting on it, the puddle of black blood under its legs, and shake my head. The only thing I’m hungry for is answers.
‘Eat, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.’
I take a couple of bites, knowing I won’t be able to eat if he answers me first anyway, but as soon as I swallow, I turn my attention back to him. ‘Are they dead?’ The words come out flat, and in that moment I know I’ve lost hope.
‘Your father is,’ Cormac admits in a low voice. There’s no remorse in his face. It’s a fact.
I look down and take a deep breath. ‘And my mother and sister?’
‘Your sister is in custody, but I have no news on your mother.’
‘Then she got away?’ I ask breathlessly, wondering how they managed to catch Amie. Despite the news about my father, I feel a tug of hope.
‘She got away for now. You’ll be more upset later when the Valpron wears off.’
‘Maybe I’m stronger than you think,’ I challenge, although I’m all too aware of the numbness throughout my body.
‘That would be a surprise. Valpron is a calming agent.’ Cormac’s eyes narrow, and he sets down his fork. ‘What was your plan anyway?’
‘Don’t be stupid, Adelice,’ he snarls. ‘They found four tunnels under your house that lead to places around your neighbourhood. Where were you going to go?’
‘I have no idea. I didn’t know about them.’ It’s the truth. I’m not sure I could lie right now if I wanted to, but I’d never guessed exactly how far my parents were willing to go to keep me from the Guild. How long ago had they dug those four tunnels, and how had they got away with it? From the way Cormac is staring at me, I’m sure he believes I know more than I’m telling.
Cormac snorts, but resumes eating. Or rather, drinking. ‘Sure you didn’t. Just like you didn’t try to fail at the testing.’
My eyes snap up to his, and I wonder how much he knows about this, but I don’t say anything else.
‘I’ve seen the surveillance Stream on your testing. The moment you wove was an accident,’ he continues.
‘I had no idea what I was doing,’ I say, and in truth, I didn’t. I’d never used a loom to weave before and something about seeing the fabric of life – the very raw materials that composed the space around me – laid out before me, rattled me. We’d been measured and questioned, and had practised basic tasks like weaving actual fabric, but none of my classmates had much success with it. It took a certain talent they didn’t seem to possess, and I’d spent my whole childhood learning to ignore mine.
‘I doubt that,’ Cormac says, setting down his glass. ‘I know it was an accident because the loom wasn’t on. A girl who can weave through time without a loom is a rare thing. It takes a very special girl to do that. We almost retrieved you right there.’
I want to sink under the table. I’d known I’d given myself away, but not how much I’d revealed. This is my fault.
‘Fine. Don’t say anything. There’s no way your mother got out,’ he tells me coldly. ‘We had to clean the area after the Stream crew left.’
‘Clean?’ I think back to the complant conversation I overheard in the motocarriage. It was short and he was mad, but the rest is lost in a haze. As I sift back further, the evening comes in bursts of images. Eating with my family. A white cake. Cold, dark dirt.
‘I love how innocent you are. It’s really just...delightful.’ He smirks, and this time I see tiny crinkles around his eyes. ‘The section has been cleaned and rewoven. No use trying to explain why a whole family went missing, especially not with the recent accident.’
‘My sister’s teacher,’ I murmur.
‘Mrs Swander,’ he confirms. ‘What a mess, but not significant enough to justify a full cleaning.’