Birthmarked Page 20

"Why is that?"

She shrugged and let sarcasm tinge her answer. "With your keen mind, you probably would have deciphered it in a few days."

"So you knew it was the record?" he asked.

She'd made a mistake, she realized. "No," she lied.

"Do you know what it says?" he asked.

She folded her arms around herself "Why are you asking me this? I have no interest in cooperating with you. If you want to coerce me, of course you can try. But I won't willingly tell you anything. The Enclave killed my father." Mentioning him brought back the hurt again.

Capt. Grey paused beside a stone wall, leaning both his hands on it and directing his gaze toward the view. "That shouldn't have happened."

She let out a strangled laugh. "No? You don't think so?"

"We make mistakes, too," he said quietly.

She almost laughed again. Did he realize how absurd he was? The Enclave didn't just make a few mistakes. The whole system was inherently unethical, and he was admitting only the tiniest chink. She followed the direction of his eyes and saw the gray, sloping expanse of the unlake, smoky blue toward the horizon, while at the near edge, the shabby houses of Wharfton were almost completely concealed behind the hill' side and the wall. Anyone living here and seeing this view regularly could easily overlook Wharfton and forget its struggling people even existed. The peculiar beauty of it seemed to mock her, as if it, too, thought her losses were insignificant.

She twisted her fingers together. "You didn't even tell me he was dead." Her voice came out with a catch. "You could have told me, anytime, but you didn't."

Capt. Grey turned slowly then to regard her. "I'm sorry," he said.

Until then, she hadn't realized that was what she wanted to hear. She knew it wasn't Capt. Greys fault, particularly, that her father had been killed, but someone should have told her, and he was the one who had been in contact -with her before. For an instant, she was near to tears, and then his apology released a pent up dam of questions within her.

"Where is he buried?" she demanded.

"I can find out."

"Where is my mother?"

His eyes flicked strangely. "I don't know," he said.

She took a small step toward him. "Is she still alive?"

"I don't know that, either. I haven't heard of her death."

"You don't know much, do you?" she asked.

The brim of his hat kept his eyes in a line of shadow, but he stood quite still, watching her intently. It occurred to her that his watchfulness could well be an act, a learned shield for his feelings when he was disturbed or uncertain.

"You know," he said mildly, "I'm making an effort to speak courteously to you."

She folded her arms more tightly around herself. She cared nothing for his courtesy or his chastisement. "Excuse me," she said bitingly. "I forgot. I'm supposed to be grateful to you, aren't I? You sent me an orange. Consider us even."

His eyes narrowed. "I didn't-- "

She heard a sudden intake of his breath. His gaze was directed above and behind her, to where a pair of women had paused on a higher street to look down at them. Their white dresses shone in the sunlight, and even from the distance, Gaia could tell they were both very pretty. The older woman wore a wide-brimmed hat, but the younger woman was holding her hat by the strap, and her blond hair, unfettered, blew lightly in the wind, causing her to hold it back briefly with her slender fingers. A slight flutter of those same fingers might have been a wave of greeting, but Gaia couldn't be sure.

"Let's go," he said abruptly, and began walking more rapidly along the street.

"Who are they?" she asked. She had to lengthen her stride to keep up with him.

"My mother and sister," he said.

"But they-- " Gaia was confused. They were obviously of the wealthiest class, the sort of people whose families didn't give up their sons to the guard.

"Do they know the Protectorat?" she asked, wondering that they didn't ask for a favor to get Capt. Grey out of his service.

He turned toward her again, and she saw a flash of dark pain and anger in his eyes. Then he looked at her strangely, as if she'd said something odd.

"He's my father," Capt. Grey said.

Gaia came to a standstill, stunned. Capt. Grey. He was Capt. Leon Grey. Formerly Leon Quarry, the oldest son of the Protectorat.

"I know about you," she said wonderingly.

He drew out the sardonic syllables of his reply. "Is that right?"

Capt. Grey took another two steps and turned to stop, too. He looked over his shoulder, but with the angle of the hill, they were no longer in view of his family. Gaia's mind was struggling to reconcile what she knew of this young man, this captain of the guard, with what she knew of the Protectorates son. The advanced one. Leon was the boy who had vanished from Tvaltar coverage years ago. Now she understood why he'd looked vaguely familiar when shed first met him: in her own childhood, she'd seen images of him as a boy, images ten meters tall. But he'd changed. Completely.

"I don't understand," she said.

His lips hardened in a straight line as he seemed to make a decision.

"Come," he said, and with that he took her arm and guided her forward again, more urgently this time, and at the next turn, he took her left onto a narrow road that led downward, farther away from the center of town.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked.

But he didn't answer. In a few more paces, he opened a metal gate by reaching inside to a latch, and guided her into a garden. Closing the gate, he led her down a slope, toward a back corner of the garden, under the shade of a lofty white pine tree, to where the coolness smelled of the pine needles, both the green ones above and the brown ones that formed a cushiony layer beneath her shoes.

"What is this place?" she asked.

"It's safe, for now," he said. His cheeks were flushed, and he took off his hat to wipe his brow. "The Quirks who own this place are old friends of the family. They spend most days in the Bastion, and shouldn't come home until late."

She peered past a row of apple trees and up a grassy slope to where a gracious, stone house was painted a clean, mellow cream. The white tile roof and arched windows created a welcoming picture, and though it was far from fancy, the simple elegance made her guess that this home and private garden were even more valuable than Tom and Dora's pristine white home. Purple and yellow flowers proliferated in abundance, proof that water was used here to assure decoration, and white boulders dotted the area in a harmonious, random pat' tern, providing natural places to sit.

A high, stone wall protected the garden on three sides, and the fourth side was open to a cliff with a spectacular view of the unlake and the distant southern horizon.

"Stay back," he said, when she would have walked nearer to the cliff. "We don 't want to be seen."

She glanced down, then stepped back into the shade of the pine. She turned to Capt. Grey, and her amazement hit her again.

"I cant believe you re Leon Quarry," she said.

"I thought you knew."

She shook her head. "How would I? You're completely different from the last time I saw you on the Tvaltar. What happened to you?"

His neat fingers clenched the rim of his hat in his hands. "I joined the guard."

There was so obviously more to the story that she almost laughed.

"What does the Protectorat's son want with me?" she said.

He peered at her. "It wasn't an accident that I saw you by the cafe. I've been waiting for you. I know you have some answers we need, and I think I can help you," he said.

She lifted her eyebrows, doubtful.

"Listen, Gaia. The Enclave is getting ready to interrogate you for the last time," he said. "It won't be me. They have an expert. They want to know about the ribbon, and they want to know about the ink."

"The ink!" she exclaimed.

"There was no pen in your satchel, but they claim the ink bottle is evidence you wrote notes at a birth, information that was transferred to the permanent code on the ribbon later."

"But I don't have any notes," she exclaimed. "I don't know anything about a code."

"Gaia," he said, coming nearer. "They're deadly serious. If you know anything, anything at all, they'll get it out of you. It's far, far better to cooperate with them right from the start. They reward loyalty. They always have."

She staggered back, bracing herself against the black trunk of the pine, feeling a bead of sap against her thumb.

"I don't know anything," she insisted.

His mouth was closed in a straight line. "Then you'll die."

Gaia instinctively clutched a hand to her chest. He hardly seemed to care what he was saying, and yet he'd brought her here on purpose to warn her. It made no sense. She scrambled for a solution. She would have to leave the Enclave. Immediately. She would have to come back later for her mother since she wouldn't do her any good dead. She glanced to her left, toward the cliff. Would it be any worse to jump now, and take her chances running away from Capt. Grey? "Can't you let me go?" she asked. "Right now?"

He shook his head. "Even if I did, orders are to shoot any unescorted prisoner on sight. You'd be dead in five minutes."

She hesitated, indecisive. "If I tell them something," she said in a small voice. "I don't see how it could help, but if I tell them something, will they let me go?"

Capt. Grey lowered his face into his hand, pressing his fingers with visible pressure against his forehead. His hat dropped softly to the ground. "This can't be," he said in a low voice.

His reaction only made her more afraid. "Wait, Captain. Please. There has to be a way out of the Enclave."

He turned pained, angry eyes to her. "What do you know?" he said. He grabbed both her arms, pushing her backward until her foot hit against a root and she stumbled. Her hat knocked back and fell to the ground. He gripped her harder. "For your own sake. Tell me!" he insisted.

It was her parents' secret. She had promised never to tell. How could she know telling wouldn't make things worse?

He shook her again. "Gaia, tell me!"

"The freckles," she said.

His arms loosened infinitesimally, but his expression remained urgent. "What do you mean? What freckles?"

"We put a pattern of freckles on each baby," she said. "I don't know how it would help. It would only track some of the advanced babies back to me and my mother. I guess to Western Sector Three."

His grip loosened further until he was just holding her. "What are you talking about?"

She instinctively angled her foot outward. "It was in honor of my brothers. I didn't realise it could be important until recently," she said. "Whenever a baby was born, my mother would sit with the mother afterward for a bit, drinking tea. She would have me put pinpricks of ink in the baby's skin. It was part of my apprenticeship."

"A tattoo? Did she write anything down? Did she have the ribbon with her?" Capt. Grey asked.

She shook her head. He released her, but stayed near, his expression puzzled. She reached up to rub her tender shoulders where his strong grip had hurt her.

"Can you show me?" he asked. "Do you have the marks yourself?"

She stepped into the sunlight, and bracing her shoe against a boulder, she smoothed her skirt up her shin to expose her left ankle. Pointing, she traced the area on the inside of her left ankle, where the smooth, tawny skin was marked by four seemingly natural freckles in a simple pattern.

"Four dots," she said. "Three in an almost straight line, and one farther below. Like the three stars of Orion s belt and one for the point of the sword."

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