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I try to wrap my mind around what he’s saying. The Guild transports food, assigns roles and houses, and oversees the addition of new babies to the population. But Arras hasn’t had an accident or crime in years. At least not that I know of. ‘Wait, are you saying you removed the memories of all the people in Romen?’
‘Not exactly,’ he says, downing the last of his bourbon. ‘We adjusted them a bit. When people try to remember your family, it will be a bit blurry. Your history now indicates you were an only child and your parents have been given clearance to move closer to the Coventry – that’s if anyone bothers to check up on you, but they won’t.’
‘You made it all disappear,’ I whisper.
‘It’s easy to adjust at night thanks to the curfew,’ he says, taking a bite of steak. ‘I’m sure it sounds horrible to you, but there’s no need to cause massive panic.’
‘You mean’ – I lean in and keep my voice low – ‘there’s no need to let people know you murdered their neighbours.’
The wicked grin fades from his face. ‘Some day you’ll understand, Adelice, that everything I do ensures people are safe. Cleaning a whole town isn’t something I take lightly, and it’s not easy. Most Spinsters don’t have the talent for it. You’d be wise to remember you’re the reason I had to order it.’
‘I thought Arras didn’t have to worry about safety. Isn’t that why you need girls like me?’ I challenge, gripping the butter knife next to my plate.
‘Like I said, your ignorance is truly delightful.’ But he doesn’t seem amused any more. Instead his black eyes blaze with repressed fury. ‘Spinsters do ensure safety, by following my orders. It’s not all parties and loom work. The Guild demands loyalty. Never forget that.’
I can hear the warning in his voice not to push this further, so I relax my hand and the knife clatters back to the table.
‘I hope you had enough to eat,’ he snaps, rising from his seat. Apparently two bites of food is enough to appease him.
I follow. I don’t have any other choice.
A girl from our neighbourhood was labelled a deviant a few years back. It’s a very rare thing, since everyone in Arras lives by a zero-tolerance policy for misbehaviour. But my dad told me that occasionally a child is brought up on charges and taken away. He said sometimes they come back, but most don’t. The little girl came back, but she was always in a daze, never quite in the moment with the rest of us. That’s how my neighbours will be when they think of me. It’s as though I don’t exist, and even the meds still coursing through my body can’t block the tingle of pain that runs down to my fingertips when I think of it.
The meal was a courtesy, it turns out, because we don’t have rebound appointments. We don’t need them. I’m torn between feeling guilty that he was being nice to me and wondering what his motives were. I trail Cormac as he strides past the line of men waiting on deck for their scheduled departures. A few grumble as we pass but the others shush them.
‘I need to bump two spots,’ Cormac tells the man at the counter, flashing him his PC.
I have no doubt this man knows who he is, but he takes the card and studies it for a moment before keying in a code on the companel, a communications system built into the wall behind him. A moment later, a young woman dressed in a snug sky-blue suit steps out from the corridor behind the desk and leads us past the counter.
‘Ambassador Patton, will you require a refreshment while you rebound?’ She’s all bubbles and pink lipstick.
‘I ate. Thank you,’ he tells her with a wink.
She doesn’t ask me.
Cormac’s rebound compartment is before my own, and I half expect him to disappear through the door without another word to me, but he turns and sizes me up one last time. ‘Adelice, I suggest you get some rest during your rebound.’
I keep my eyes focused on the end of the corridor. He’s acting like my dad. Telling me when to eat, when to sleep. But he’s the reason I need a surrogate father in the first place.
‘You know you don’t deserve the way they’re going to treat you.’ His voice sounds concerned but the Valpron must be wearing off, because I can barely keep myself from spitting at him. I don’t need his kindness.
‘You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into,’ he says, reading my face. He sighs and opens the chamber door. ‘I hope you learn to listen before it’s too late.’
I don’t bother to respond. I don’t want his arrogant advice. I watch him fixedly until the door shuts behind him. My guide shepherds me to the next compartment and follows me in.
‘This is the first time you’ve rebounded,’ she says matter-of-factly as she ushers me to a single chair on a small platform in the centre of the room. ‘You’re likely to experience some nausea or vomiting.’
I sit down awkwardly and take in the sparse room.
‘Here.’ She reaches around me and buckles a strap against my waist.
‘What’s that for?’
‘We need to keep your movement confined to a minimal space during the rebounding process. Usually you can read or eat or drink,’ she tells me, unfolding a small tray from the arm of the chair. ‘But no getting up.’
I glance down at the straps, and raise an eyebrow.
‘I’m sorry.’ She lifts her heavily lined eyes, and I can see she means it. ‘I’m not authorised to give you anything.’