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‘You don’t have to tell me what they have planned for me,’ I say. ‘I’m smarter than I look.’
She laughs, but no trace of amusement stays on her face. ‘They are going to map you again when you go in for evaluation.’ Her words burst forth as though they’ve only barely managed to escape.
‘I see,’ I murmur.
‘No, you don’t,’ she says in a rush. ‘Then they plan to remap you.’
I think of the petty housewives at the State of the Guild thrilling at remapping their children; they were excited to make them more obedient. I push down the scream of anger threatening to spill out of my mouth, which will surely bring the guard up. How dare they?
‘They can study me all they want,’ I say.
‘Eventually they will find their answer—’
‘And then they can finally kill me.’ My heart no longer leaps when I speak of my death. Its inevitability is another fact of my new life here. I guess I’m transitioning well to the idea.
‘Maybe, but they’ll have to remap you first, to succeed in making you docile.’
‘I don’t think they could go far enough to make me docile,’ I say, the last word oozing with rage.
‘You saw how far he was willing to go with Enora,’ Loricel says.
‘Why do you think they tested the remap on Enora first? Because of her affair with Valery?’ I guess.
‘Criticism of the relationship was a ruse,’ Loricel says. ‘It provided an easy excuse to test it on her.’
‘Did she know? What they planned to do to her?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know. They took her away in the night. I wasn’t notified.’
They always come in the night.
Even if most of what Loricel is telling me is pure theory, there’s the bitter edge of truth to some of it. Better to be prepared. ‘How long do I have?’
‘They’re still running tests,’ she says. ‘To be honest, Enora’s suicide rattled them. Cormac is afraid you will become unstable, too.’
‘How long?’
‘A week,’ she says, ‘at the most.’
I stand and walk to the wall, trailing my fingers along the peaceful image of the calm ocean; it ripples where I touch it, distorting and coming back together. It’s still the same image, but now it bears a shadow where my hand disrupted it.
‘There’s nowhere to run,’ I say.
‘I know.’
‘Enora knew that.’ I turn back to face her. ‘It’s why she killed herself.’
Loricel heaves a sigh. ‘She was confused, Adelice.’
‘Because they screwed with her,’ I say, shaking my head. ‘She was lost. I could see it the last time we spoke, but I didn’t know what they’d done to her.’
‘You couldn’t have prevented it,’ Loricel tells me.
‘I could have. I’ve been fighting them since the moment they arrived at my house. If I’d come along willingly, my parents would be alive and Amie would be safe. Enora and Valery’s secret would be safe. She and Valery—’
‘Would be living half a life,’ Loricel stops me. ‘Don’t overestimate your culpability. Death is the only escape for us.’
‘But that’s what I don’t get,’ I admit. ‘Maela told me there was no escape, even in death.’
Loricel presses her lips together. ‘I’m not sure exactly what Maela means. Her ambition makes her a powerful woman in her own right. Because of it, she knows much more about the Guild’s inner operations than the rest of us.’
‘What happens to people when they die before their thread is ripped?’
‘It happens so rarely—’
‘But it does happen,’ I press.
‘Occasionally. And when it does, we remove the remains of the thread,’ she says.
‘Remains?’ I recall the intricate strings that bind tightly together to make up a single whole thread.
‘When someone dies before a removal request is completed, part of their strand . . .’ Loricel pauses and meets my eyes. ‘Disappears.’
A chill runs through my entire body. ‘Where does it go?’
‘They aren’t sure. That’s why they’re so careful to remove weakened strands themselves. It’s why they capture enemies first or rip them directly. The Guild wants control over removed threads.’
A thousand questions are racing through my head, threatening to spill out at once. It’s a lot to consider – plots and remapping. I take a deep breath and decide on one to ask first, before the others. ‘Why do they care what happens to the removed threads?’
Loricel shrugs. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Then who cares what happens to the parts that disappear?’
‘When I first began at the Coventry, we didn’t do pre-emptive removals. We simply patched and removed the remains. About fifty years ago, that changed,’ she explains.
‘What do you think happens?’ I ask. Even if I’m not sure I believe everything she’s told me about Earth and the origin of Arras, she still knows more than anyone else.
‘I think the part of the thread that disappears goes back into Arras.’
‘Into the weave? But wouldn’t that provide new raw material?’ I ask.
‘Theoretically.’ A note of distrust rings in her voice. ‘It could strengthen Arras.’