It wasn’t that Honal had brought the boy back with her. Sanctuary was Sanctuary during an outbreak.
It wasn’t even that she hadn’t told anyone that he was her brother, because that was none of anyone else’s damn business.
It was that she’d said she’d racked him at the clinic on Twelfth and she hadn’t. And he’d taken her word for it. And now they were trapped in Sanctuary with a goddamned Immune.
Braw pressed the tumbler against his mouth. Not because he wanted to drink or not to but because the glass-shard stink of the brandy could almost chase away the cloy of blood, and if he tried to focus on the ripples of the liquid as it wallowed back and forth with the huff of his breath he could almost – almost – banish the image of Honal’s body: flayed open down the left side, one eye pulped and the other staring, and her jawbone on a bookcase on the other side of the room.
The boy was nowhere to be found. Braw couldn’t even remember his name.
Romy re-read the booklet for what seemed like the thousandth time while she waited for Tara. She almost knew it by heart but almost wasn’t enough. There was too much riding on it. It reminded her of cramming for finals, and didn’t that seem like a long time ago. The oblivious person she’d been eight years ago would have laughed at her obsession now. But then hadn’t that always been the way. No-one ever thought they would change, when they were young.
They’d taken the wrong exit out of the wormhole, that wasn’t in dispute. Lieutenant Berein just wasn’t sure how it was his fault.
“Second on the left, Lieutenant! Second on the left!” Captain Tarc’s frustration showed on her face (at least, Berein thought the blue-and-green sunburst pattern was frustration. He’d only been on the ship three months and he hadn’t entirely got the hang of her chromatophores yet. But whatever it was, she wasn’t happy). He could sympathise. This was a pig-in-a-poke mission if ever he’d seen one. He supposed one didn’t get to be captain by asking too many questions but on the other hand, being chosen to transport a top-secret cargo on the sly was unlikely to be a good thing. And now they were lost.
Well, they weren’t lost exactly. The navicom was very definite about where they were. What it couldn’t do was tell them how to get to where they were supposed to be, or not before they all died of old age anyway.
The waves wish-wish-wish against the dock. Three slide out of the water, all long legs, short arms and small featureless heads. They slink smokelike through the dark air until they reach a small house on the dry side of town, slipping with ease through the breezy gap under the door, past the growling dog and up the stairs.
A brief silence broken by the ah-ah-ah of a last breath taken with stolen lungs, and a roiling black wisp flows from an upstairs window and lurches back to the dock.
Four slide into the water.
Look, if I’d known you weirdos thought these things were so bloody delicious, I would have disguised it as something else.
It’s not my fault, I’d only just got here and I didn’t have everything figured out yet. It was the right size and shape and I didn’t think it could be food because it’s enormous and you have tiny jaws and can’t swallow anything bigger than you can fit in your mouths. I didn’t realise how your food works for quite a while (knives are cheating, you know) because the only thing I’ve found here that’s edible are cats (which are everywhere. At first I thought I’d fallen on my feet – this is a cat joke, but you might not get it because I’m not very good at your humour – but boy, do people notice when they go missing). I thought it was perfect: an inedible plant, no-one’s going to think anything of that, are they? I could leave it unattended while I was hunting because if someone happened to stumble into someone else’s nest and happened to see a plant they couldn’t eat – as opposed to, say, a white translucent egg with something strongly resembling a squid growing inside it – they’d just ignore it, right?
He asks for music to be playing as his birthplace dies.
The human female doesn’t question and he doesn’t elaborate. She told him – on one of the long nights of the long voyage – about firework displays she’d attended as a child, and it was her description of the sparks blooming in time with the martial music that gave him the idea. After all, it is a kind of entertainment, even if the part of him that will enjoy it is the reason he’s long since stopped looking in mirrors.
She’s amused when he puts in his request. “You want to fiddle while Rome burns?”
He doesn’t understand even when she tries to explain, but as he looks out of the viewer at the pretty red and blue world below, he realises it doesn’t matter. It’s not as if he will have the chance to get to know these contrary people with their unfathomable vernacular and peculiar history. There will be no place for him in the new order, in spite of their promises, because these people are not trustworthy. He accepts this.
Have you seen my sister? She disappeared four years ago. I don’t have a picture but she looks a bit like me, if I had darker hair.
Branwen Grid, have you heard of her?
I’m looking for someone. Maybe you’ve seen her – my height, bigger build, darker hair? Looks a bit like me, not really like me, but people say they can tell we’re related…
Now I’m just babbling.
“Take a deep breath,” says Ayla from the next horse over. Take a deep breath I mimic, because that’s Ayla’s solution to everything and it’s bloody annoying.
I don’t even know what she’s doing here.
“Can I kill her now?” says Ren from my other side.
“Please? I’m so bored.”
I know what he’s doing here but I’ve no idea what I was thinking, bringing him along. About the only thing he’s good for is finding Ayla even more irritating than I do and saving me the trouble of snipping at her. They’ve been at it for two days and it’s another five hot hours through semi-arid desert to Obertown.
“I can hear you,” she says in a mild tone that makes me want to punch her teeth down her throat. Snip.
“Why are you here, again?” says Ren, sounding as if he is resisting a similar urge. Snip-snip.
“I was bored.” Snip-snip-snip.
I am not getting paid enough for this.