Birthmarked Page 12

Gaia saw a desk and several chairs, a lamp and a phone, and what she guessed was a computer, the first she'd ever seen in real life.

"Do you want me to tie her, Captain?" said one of the guards.

Gaia turned to see Capt. Grey entering through the door.

"Please," said Capt. Grey.

Startled, Gaia felt rough hands behind her quickly cross her wrists and tie them together. It took all her pride not to squirm, and then the man let her go. A strand of hair had come loose from her ribbon, and her locket watch had slipped out to hang loosely over her red tunic. When she tossed her head to flip the hair out of her eyes, it slid forward again along her left cheek. She fixed her gaze on Capt. Grey's face, waiting impatiently for him to look at her directly so she could gauge his intentions.

But his eyes were on the object in his hand: a lemon-shaped pincushion, with all of its pins pushed into the sawdust so that only the pinheads sparkled on the surface. Gaia gasped. Mine, she thought, and knew he had gone through her satchel. He slowly took off his hat and set it on the table beside the pin-cushion, and for the first time she saw his full face. His eye-brows were black, his features more even than they'd seemed once by candlelight. He turned to the guards.

"Leave us," he said.

The men left promptly, closing the door. In the ensuing silence, Gaia's heart beat so heavily in her chest she was afraid he could hear it. When she twisted her wrists to test just how tightly her ropes were tied, she felt a bite in her skin. Capt. Grey stood behind the desk, not speaking, and with the tapered fingers of his left hand, he gently turned his hat once upon the desk. She was unprepared for his calm, dispassionate expression when he finally lifted his gaze.

"You do realize what trouble you're in, don't you?" he asked. His voice was low and unexpectedly resonant in the small space.

She slowly shook her head, and wished all her hair was loose so she could hide her exposed scar. She saw his gaze shifting over her face, studying her with thoughtful, unnerving precision.

When he frowned, his eyebrows lowered in a pensive line. "Gaia," he said. "You've violated the cadaver of a traitor to deliver a baby which, by all rights, ought to be dead."

She wondered if he realized he was using her first name, as if they'd been friends once. "I thought he was," she admitted. "But I had to try"

"Why?" he asked.

She stood straight. "It's what I do," she said simply.

"Deliver babies?" he verified.

She nodded.

"No one told you to do this? You aren't working for someone?"

Puzzled, she frowned at him. "Who would ask me?"

When he didn't answer, she remembered how Sgt. Lanchester had asked her about babies for a price, and she wondered how much of a black market there was. Or perhaps there was some' one else who would want this baby, someone who disagreed with the Enclave. She was grossly ignorant, she realized. But that was because she was innocent, if he would just see it.

Capt. Grey picked up a pencil and tapped the eraser lightly on the pincushion. "Gaia, I'm going to ask you once more if you know anything about your mother's records."

She felt the skin on the back of her neck prickle and wondered how he could not have noticed the ribbon that held her hair back. "Captain Grey, I don't," she said.

His blue eyes shot suspiciously to hers, and she knew he'd registered her emphasis on his formal title. "I know you're lying," he said. "I hoped you would realize on your own that turning over the record is the right thing to do."

"Why is it important?" she asked.

"Hasn't anyone explained to you how this all works?"

"What is there to explain?" she asked. Through the prism of the Enclave's injustice, she saw her life in Wharfton with new clarity, and she could barely contain her sarcasm. "We advance a quota of babies, and let's face it: not one of them ever grows up and wants to come back to us, so they're obviously happy in here. Until you decide to execute a couple of them. In exchange, we get the glory of serving the Enclave and decent water and rations, just enough so we can keep a fairly expendable population living in poverty outside the wall. We're a sort of reserve for when the Enclave needs extra soldiers or field hands or babies. Am I right? Or is there some other explanation I'm missing?"

Capt. Grey paced a few steps to the window, frowning, and then turned.

"I see you have a voice after all. Why don't you sit down?" he said.

"Why don't you untie me?" she countered.

"I can't," he said.

Now she was surprised. "But you're in charge."

He gave a brief, bitter laugh. "I'm doing what I can for you, though I've no idea why. It's obvious to everyone else that I ought to turn you over to Mabrother Iris without delay. I'm probably being tested. But I've also gotten to where I am by using the gray edge of the rules and doing my own thinking. So, it's within my prerogative to interrogate you before I turn you over."

"Or let me go," she said.

He took a step nearer, his eyes steady and intent. "I don't think I can do that," he said slowly.

"Why not?" she asked. "Keep me until night and then let me go. I promise to disappear and never come back." Even as she said it, she knew it was a lie. She hadn't seen her parents yet, beyond that glimpse of her mother, and she had to find some way to rescue them.

He gave a half smile and leaned back on the desk, partially sitting on it. "Let me tell you something," he said. "The people who founded the Enclave planned carefully for years to build this oasis from scratch. We're the ones who developed the post-oil technology. We harnessed the solar and geothermal energy that we needed to grow the mycoprotein and purify the water. It's because of us that there's enough food for everyone, inside and outside the wall. Without us, most of your ancestors would have died wandering the wasteland, nomads hoping to find some peaceful settlement. But you found us, you leeched off us, and we decided to make it work."

Gaia resented his little lecture. Much of this information, or propaganda, was common knowledge via the Tvaltar, but the postcard version of the Enclave left out little things like executing pregnant women. As far as she was concerned, that made everything else she'd learned from the Tvaltar suspect, too.

"If you re really so superior and civilized," she said, "shouldn't you feel an obligation to be even more generous and compassion-ate to us? Like maybe start by not calling me a leech to my face?"

He frowned and held still for a moment, as if she'd startled him with a new idea. She wondered how much he, too, had been told what to think.

"I demand to be released," she said. "And I demand you release my parents as well."

Still frowning, Capt. Grey picked up the lemon pincushion and tossed it once as he spoke. "There's one problem, one that might inspire your own compassion. The Enclave made a miscalculation. It started with too small a population inside the wall."

"Why is that a problem?" Gaia asked.

Capt. Grey paused before continuing. "Our children are dying. Not all of them, but far more than used to. And our mothers are increasingly infertile."

He had her attention now. "What do you mean the children are dying?" she asked. "How? Why?"

"Different causes," he said. "There's a rise of hemophilia. That's our biggest concern."

"What's hemophilia?" she asked.

He tilted his face slightly. "They bleed to death. From any little scratch."

Gaia found this hard to believe. She had once seen a woman bleed to death after she delivered a baby, but that was different. Capt. Grey turned his gaze toward the window, where the cool light from outside traced his profile. She could see the pale skin on the back of his neck, below his dark hair, where the edge of his black collar met his skin, and it seemed incongruous to her that such a young man should have his responsibility.

A knock came on the door. Capt. Grey dropped the pin' cushion on the desk, strode to the door and opened it, but Gaia could not see who was on the other side.

"A little more. Ten minutes," Capt. Grey said quietly.

She grew nervous again as he closed the door. She couldn't help feeling he was the only thing stopping the hungry, savage system just outside the door from swallowing her up, and yet she was afraid to trust him. He was part of the system, too.

"Listen," he said. "We're at a pivotal time." He took a step nearer and she involuntarily backed up, her fingertips touching the cool wall behind her. His eyebrows lifted in surprise. "I'm not going to hurt you."

She had no reason to believe him. As far as she knew, he represented everything about the Enclave that she despised most, from the execution to the arrest of her parents. Yet she kept her chin lifted. "I know that," she lied.

His eyes pierced into hers, and then, to her alarm, his gaze dropped to the pocket watch on her chest.

"May I?" he asked.

She refused to answer.

He lifted the watch carefully, and then slid the chain to lift it off over her head. Her neck prickled in the wake of his brief touch, and she didn't exhale until he'd moved away again, back beside the desk. He rested both hands on the desk, and tilted his face downward so that the top of his dark hair showed in an oddly vulnerable way. Could it be he hated this interrogation as much as she did? She didn't understand him at all.

"Let's try it this way," he said finally. "Did your mother give you a signal in the square today? Was saving the baby her idea?"

"Of course not."

"Your watch? Where' d you get it?"

"It was a gift from my parents. It helps me keep track of contractions and how much time I have to advance a baby."

He worked the catch and the locket lid flipped open. She knew what he read inscribed inside the tiny round cover: Life first. He clicked it closed in his fist.

"And the pincushion?" he asked.

"My fathers," she said. "He's a tailor. Remember? You arrested him."

She watched his eyebrows narrow in a brief frown, as if reminded of something. The watch disappeared into his pocket, along with the pincushion.

"I still don 't understand what any of this has to do with my family," she said. The pain in her wrists was adding to her impatience. "We've always served the Enclave loyally. I never would have come inside the wall or done what I did for that baby if you had just left us alone. Why can 't you just let us go?"

Capt. Grey shook his head in a stubborn way she found maddening. "We cant. We need answers. The problem comes from the inbreeding, both in the original settler families and the advanced children," he said. "Without the midwife records, we don 't know how the advanced babies from outside the wall might be related to each other. They're growing up now, and cousins and even siblings have married here, as you saw today. Advanced people are required to pass a genetic screening be fore they can become engaged. It's usually just a formality to make sure engaged couples aren't closely related, but in some cases, the marriage is forbidden." He frowned, shaking his head. "I'm not explaining this well. The issue is bigger than just the marriages between advanced people. We need to diversify the genetics of our population or soon we'll all be infertile or hemophiliacs or who knows what kind of genetic freaks."

Gaia was amazed, and then angry. "Why should I care? You inside the Enclave have had every advantage, and yet you've done nothing by comparison for us outside the wall. Why should we try to save you now?"

"You still don't understand," he said. "You're the ones with every advantage. Be grateful we've left you alone. Your entire people are the real survivors of the climate change, and it's made you tough. Even you, Gaia. How many babies survive the sort of burn that covers your face?"

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