Promised Page 20

“No. I do just fine,” Gaia said, smiling.

“I was just going to say, because if you are, that’s exactly the sort of girl Leon would go for.”

She laughed. “Have you been friends with him long?”

“Since we were kids. Long enough to know how obnoxious he is.”

She liked hearing the affection in his voice. “And what about you, Jack?” Gaia asked. “What are you like?”

“I’m a very good brother, it turns out,” he said, and pulled out a chair to sit. “I don’t know what to say to toddlers, though. How are you, Masister Sis?” he said to Maya.

Maya reached for Jack’s roll and he tossed it a couple more times for her.

“Tell me one little thing about our parents, yours and mine,” he said.

“Like what?” she asked, surprised.


She glanced up at the mantel. “We had two candles on the mantel, one for you and another for Arthur. We lit them every evening before dinner.”

He turned toward the mantel, silent for a moment. Then he spoke lightly. “That’s depressing.”

“Yes,” she said, laughing. “It is. Do you like your family inside the wall?”

“It’s just me and my parents. They’re basically overprotective and crazy, you know. But great. I’ve missed them. I have some older cousins, too. Have you met our other brother yet?”

“No. He lives inside the wall. Leon knows him, or at least he did when they were in school. His name’s Martin Chiaro.”

Jack’s eyebrows lifted. “You don’t mean Pyrho.” He let out a laugh. “Dorky little guy he was back in the day. He set the playground on fire once. That was cool.” He scratched at his chin. “It’ll be some kind of reunion, getting us all together. Or I guess just a union, without the re-.”

“Do your parents know you’re back?” Gaia asked. “Your adoptive parents, I mean?”

“I’m going in to see them today,” he said.

Myrna turned from the counter. “You were court-martialed in absentia. That involves a flogging and jail time if you’re caught.”

Jack began to cut an apple in white slivers, passing them to Maya’s dish.

“I expected no less,” he said. He glanced up at Myrna and Gaia. “I can’t just hide out in Wharfton. I haven’t seen my parents in over a year. They don’t even know I’m alive. Besides, sometime or other the authorities will find me. I might as well take my punishment and get the process started so I can start my life again.”

“But you’re not just an ex-guard anymore. You’re my brother.”

“Touching, sweetheart,” he said, “but I still have to face the Protectorat.”

“They might use you for your DNA,” Gaia said. “You could carry the anti-hemophilia gene like I do.”

“So? That would be a good thing,” he said. “Listen, I appreciate your concern. Really. But whatever I face can’t be any worse than living with the nomads. That was no picnic. Ask Angie.”

“How did you even end up with them?” Gaia asked.

Jack met her gaze briefly, then kept cutting apple slices. “They picked me up in the wasteland when I was practically dead. I was in no condition to refuse their hospitality. I don’t care to go into it. It turned out the tribe leader liked my voice and that’s what kept me alive.”

“You sang for them?” Gaia asked. That was the last thing she would have expected.

“I hope I never sing again,” he said. “Angie’s mother looked after me. That’s why I owe her.”

“Do you know why the girl has such trouble talking?” Myrna asked.

Jack nodded. “The tribe leader was paranoid that someone was going to poison him. It probably wasn’t paranoia, actually, since half the tribe hated his guts. Angie was his taster. She had to share his plate and take a bite of anything before he did, and drink from his cup. He thought it was funny to make her smoke, too. I’d say she’s got some issues.”

“How did her parents put up with that?” Gaia asked.

“Her dad was dead. Her mom was sick. As in, dying.” He looked around uneasily. “Where is she, anyway?” he asked, rising. “She shouldn’t have gone far.” He went up a couple of the ladder rungs to peer into the loft.

“I told her to stay with you and Myrna,” Gaia said, concerned. “We can ask Malachai what time Angie and Leon left. The excrims were guarding the house last night.”

“Do that. I’m heading up to the quad and I’ll watch for them there,” Myrna said. “The Protectorat wants me to handle the DNA registry. He’s having supplies delivered.”

“I’m going to find Angie before I look up my parents,” Jack said. “Maybe she went to find Norris’s cat.” He took his hat and was gone.

“Is this a mistake, Myrna?” Gaia asked, rising. “With the registry?”

“I don’t see that you have a choice if you want water,” Myrna said. “It’s not the registry itself that’s dangerous. It’s what the Protectorat does with the information.”

“The last time I helped them, with deciphering my parents’ code, he started rounding up girls,” Gaia said. “I saw them being marched across the quad.”

“He took blood samples and let them go,” Myrna said. “There’s been nothing else like that. It was an impulsive mistake. He’s more careful now.”

“But as soon as he starts picking through our data and deciding some genes are valuable, he’ll also be deciding what’s not valuable,” Gaia said.

“I don’t see how you can worry about that in the scale of things,” Myrna said. “He’s already decided that people inside the wall are more valuable than anyone outside. Your people in New Sylum barely merit water. I’d focus on that.”

*   *   *

At a table before the Tvaltar, under a brown canopy, Gaia took cheek swabs for the DNA registry side by side with Myrna Silk. She’d seen the insides of more mouths in the past four hours than she had in her whole life, and she was privately appalled at the proportion of unhealthy teeth. A team of doctors and their assistants from the Enclave were set up along a row of other tables and canopies, more than a dozen in all, and they were processing people at the rate of two hundred an hour.

“It’s inevitable.” That was the message circulating among the people of New Sylum, and while many had balked, the miners in particular, the vast majority trusted Gaia when she explained that the directory was necessary and reasonably harmless.

“Besides, if we don’t register, we don’t get any water,” Gaia finally said bluntly. “Have you found any in the unlake?”

Even Bill could follow that reasoning.

The Enclave provided a pass for each person who registered his or her DNA, which was good for a show in the Tvaltar, a trinket from one of the vendors around the quad, or a refreshment from the Enclave ice man. The people of Wharfton had turned out for the event, and impromptu vendor stalls and carts had popped up in the surrounding streets. The people of New Sylum, who had known ice only in the wintertime marsh, were charmed by the novelty of finding it colored and edible in pointy paper cones.

Even the Enclave guards who had been positioned on the roofs around the quad seemed relaxed, their rifles slung along their backs, and several were eating the extravagant ices as if they, too, were on holiday. Peg’s Tavern had opened early to serve egg sandwiches and tea, and business was brisk. Will came out of the doorway, carrying a mug to Norris, then headed back in.

From the bright sunlight, Peter stepped into the shade of the canopy where Gaia was working.

“We’ve been watching for a delivery of water barrels from the Enclave,” he said, “but there’s nothing, and no evidence they’re starting a pipeline or anything to supply water to New Sylum directly from the wall. Didn’t the Protectorat say he was going to make an appearance here?”

She glanced out again at the crowd, noticing the advanced angle of the light. She reached automatically for her locket watch. “Is it past noon?”

“Yes. Nearly one.”

“He did say he’d be out this morning,” Gaia said. She’d been lied to. She didn’t like it. “He’s distracted us with colored ice and free passes. Did Jack find Angie yet?”

“No,” Peter said. “We’ve been looking. A man reported seeing a girl her age heading toward the irrigation pipes this morning around dawn, so we’re checking around there.”

“That makes no sense,” Gaia said. The irrigation pipes for the fields were way over on the far side of Wharfton, past Eastern Sector Three. She scanned the quad again. “Has anyone seen Leon?”

When he didn’t reply, she looked up impatiently and found Peter regarding her quietly, with focused blue eyes. A tiny shock fizzled through her. She realized that he’d shaved, and the scar on his right cheek, the one she used to think of as an extra smile line, was visible again.

“You want me to look for your fiancé?” he asked, speaking slowly.

Her heart gave an odd lurch. “I’m just worried about him.”

“Maybe he isn’t interested in staying safe anymore,” Peter said.

“Did he talk to you about going into the Enclave and setting up some sort of counterattack?” she asked.

“No, but it’s what we need. That’d be good if that’s where he is.”

She pressed a hand to her forehead. I don’t believe this. He’s gone inside.

“He’s gone rogue, hasn’t he?” Peter said.

“I’m going to kill him,” she said.

What was the good of being Matrarc if she couldn’t get her fiancé to stay in line? Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Malachai. The excrims were stationed unobtrusively around her, still following Leon’s orders to guard her. It was totally unfair. She should have made the excrims look after him.

Behind Peter, a pretty young woman was hovering, idly drawing the toe of her boot through the dirt, and Gaia’s inner radar kicked in. She was one of the women who had been laughing with Peter at Peg’s Tavern, and now she kept glancing curiously under her bangs at him, which irritated Gaia.

“What is it?” Peter asked.

Gaia nodded toward the brunette, and when Peter turned, he smiled.

“Hey, Tammy,” he said.

“I don’t want to interrupt,” Tammy said. She smiled shyly, stroking her chin to indicate his missing beard. “I wasn’t sure that was you.”

“It’s me,” Peter said.

Gaia wanted to gag. She grabbed Peter’s elbow and paced with him in the other direction.

His gaze dropped to her fingers. “You’re touching me,” he said.

She released him as if scalded. “I don’t want you distracted,” she said. “We have business.”

“Then don’t distract me yourself,” he said, his voice low.

She crossed her arms tightly over her chest, trying to erase the tingling in her fingers. “We have problems. The Protectorat lied to me about the water. Angie’s missing. Leon’s inside the wall doing who knows what. If he messes things up with his father, the Protectorat could decide to annihilate us all.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

“Help me!” she said, low and fierce.

A muscle tensed visibly in his jaw. “I’ll do whatever I can,” he said calmly. “I just don’t see any solutions yet. You could stop the DNA registration. We could stop cooperating with them.”

“Then everyone will know I was wrong to trust the Protectorat in the first place.”

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