Promised Page 26

“Are you sure? Were they arrested?”

“I don’t know, but their place was clearly deserted. I couldn’t stay around to ask questions. The water was shut off for part of the city this morning. It’s only just come back on, and there are rumors of terrorists. Guards are patrolling everywhere, looking for any intruders from outside the wall. Is it true? Are you terrorists?”

“Of course not,” Gaia said.

“If they’re trying to make us scared of you all, it’s working. And another thing. One of the vessel mothers had her baby. It’s the first one. There’s going to be a party at the Bastion tonight.”

“Will you be there?”

Rita gave her an odd look. “You know I was fired from the Bastion, right? They never proved I helped you and your mother, but they never proved I didn’t, either.”

“I’m so sorry,” Gaia said.

Rita shrugged. “Things change. This job’s okay. I’m glad you made it out. And back, I guess. What now?”

“I need to get outside the wall again,” Gaia said.

Rita gave her a once-over. “I still have one of my old red dresses and a cloak. You could impersonate one of the Bastion servants. Nobody bothers them.”

Gaia was reminded of the first time she’d entered the Enclave, way back before she knew anything. Rita fetched her things, and Gaia changed quickly in a small bathroom off the kitchen. A fleck of dirt was under her right eye, and she leaned near to the mirror wipe it free. The wasteland sun had deepened her complexion, and it was different to see the neckline of the bright red dress framing her collarbones and dipping lower over her chest. Gaia commonly wore natural tones, and the red dyes in Sylum had been a different hue, not nearly this vivid. Rita’s dress was the boldest garment she’d ever worn.

“I miss wearing the red,” Rita said, as Gaia stepped out. She eyed her critically. “That’s good on you. Leon will like it.”

Gaia’s cheeks grew warm. “That hardly matters.”

“Oh, it always matters,” Rita drawled. “Don’t pretend otherwise.”

“Leon doesn’t like me for my looks.”

Rita let out a laugh. “He will in that dress. Try to look bored and a little haughty,” Rita advised her. “People will notice you less than if you skulk, and it intimidates the guards.”

“I don’t skulk.”

“I’m just saying. They won’t look under your hood so closely, either.” Rita passed Gaia a basket like the kind Bastion servants carried.

Gaia twitched the hood closer around her face. “All right?”

Rita nodded and held the door for her, an oddly wistful expression softening her features. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, Rita.” With a last wave, Gaia slipped out.

Gaia passed down the alley and at the first corner turned onto the main street, staying on the left side so other pedestrians would pass to her right where they’d be less likely to see her scarred left cheek.

She hadn’t gone more than twenty paces when she noticed a man on the other side of the street carrying a large ceramic urn. He kept even with her as she walked, like a parallel shadow. It could not be a coincidence. She feared at first that he was some sort of guard, but he was dressed in brown trousers and a pale blue shirt, like a workingman, and as she proceeded down another block, his stride remained relaxed and easy. Once he looked across at her and nodded.

She didn’t know what to think. He was a complete stranger to her, a slender man in his early twenties, with brown hair under his gray hat. Occasionally, he switched the urn from one hand to the other, carrying it lightly despite its size. People passed between them, and once she lost sight of him entirely, but as she reached the last, long descent of the main road that led toward the south gate, he crossed the street and fell into step beside her.

“Keep walking,” he said.

“Who are you?”

He ducked his head and gave a lopsided smile. “Take a guess.”

She stopped, staring at how his long bangs hid his eyebrows. His lively eyes regarded her with frank pleasure, as if he delighted in secrets, just the way her father always had.

Arthur? she wondered, speechless.

“Right,” he said, nodding. “Your brother. Keep walking.”

Chapter 15


“CALL ME PYRHO,” HE said, touching her elbow to turn her along the road again. “Mace sent me to look out for you. I’ve been watching that alley for hours. He thought you might need a little help getting out of the Enclave.”

“He was right. Do you know where Leon is?”

“More or less. Keep moving.”

“But where is he?” she demanded. “Is he still in here?”


“Is he okay? How can I find him?”

“I’d rather not get arrested with you right now,” Pyrho said. “How about we get outside the wall and we’ll discuss it all then?”

“Why do you have an urn?”

“It’s an excuse. There’s a guy outside the wall who repairs them. Coming?”

He kept up a steady pace, and she lengthened her stride to match his. The wall was getting closer now, casting a sharp shadow under the arch where several doctors were entering the Enclave, followed by men with boxes of supplies. The DNA registration must have continued in her absence, which either meant more of her people had been swabbed, or they’d continued the charade they’d started the day before.

“Keep steady,” Pyrho said. “Follow my lead.”

As they reached the open area before the gate, one of the guards lifted a hand. “Hey, Pyrho,” he said. “What’s up? Will there be fireworks tonight with the party?”

“Not this time,” Pyrho replied easily. “How’s Lou? He’s not still upset about losing his queen, is he?”

“No, he’s good. You coming by for the tournament next week?” the guard asked. He eyed the urn.

“Sure enough. See you then.”

“Who’s this with you?” the guard said, coming nearer.

Gaia instinctively kept her face turned so her scar wouldn’t be visible.

Pyrho spoke in his same unhurried, relaxed manner. “Show him your face, Stella. That’s the point isn’t it?”

With her heart thumping, Gaia turned to face the guard.

“Aren’t you that midwife?” he asked, startled.

Pyrho laughed. “Perfect. It’s for her psych assignment. She’s supposed to see how people react to disfigurement. It’s makeup.”

The guard frowned, stepping nearer. “I think you overdid the ugliness,” he said. “But otherwise it’s pretty convincing.”

“It should be. She worked on it long enough,” Pyrho said. “Come on, Stella. We have to get going.”

Gaia remembered Rita’s advice and slightly lifted her chin, trying to look haughty. “I’m happy to serve the Enclave.”

“As am I,” said the guard. He tipped his hat and stepped back to let them pass.

The next moment, Gaia and her brother were under the arch and heading down the slope into Wharfton.

“That’s the first time I’ve been disguised as myself,” Gaia said.

“It worked, didn’t it?” Pyrho said, smiling.

They turned in to Peg’s Tavern, where friends from Wharfton and New Sylum alike squeezed into the room and called for ale. Gaia was welcomed back with hugs and scoldings, and news flew.

Gaia pulled Pyrho over to where sunlight fell cheerily through small, circular panes of window glass onto a scuffed table.

“Tell me about Leon? Do you know when he’s coming back out?” she asked.

“He should be out soon. He was going to take Jack to his parents’ place and tie up a couple loose ends. I checked in with Mace and then I was supposed to meet Leon out here,” Pyrho said.

Gaia was not exactly reassured. “Was Leon behind the water shortage this morning?” she asked.

“He sure was,” Pyhro said, smiling. “He wanted to play a trick on his father and mess with his head a little. He put a couple of his old comic books in his dad’s bathroom sink, and then we rigged the water so it wouldn’t come on. Anywhere.”

Gaia could imagine how that would infuriate the Protectorat. Beyond the annoyance and disruption, it would also make him aware that Leon could get anywhere in the Bastion, even within the family’s private quarters, so it would serve as a nasty threat.

“Did you say Jack was with you, too?” Dinah asked.

She and Peter joined their table. Norris swung open the nearest two windows to let in more air and light, and leaned against the sill. Myrna moved beside him, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Yep.” Pyrho said. “Jack’s not a hundred percent, but he insisted on tagging along, just like a little brother. And you’re our kid sister.” He patted his hand on hers. “How very nice this is.”

Pyrho had a way of smiling with closed lips that Gaia found reminiscent of their mother, and very dear.

“How long have you known?” she asked.

“The Protectorat sent for me to have some blood work done shortly after you left for the wasteland,” Pyrho said. “When I snuck a peek at my file, I saw you listed as my sister. I thought that was cool. You’re famous, you know.”

“What about you, Gaia?” Will said. He passed her a steaming plate and hitched up a stool beside her. “What did you do in the Enclave?”

Gaia was famished, and the cheese omelet was unbelievably rich and buttery. She told about finding Angie at the Jacksons’, and about getting lost in the tunnels. She glanced around the room for her old neighbors from Western Sector Three. “We have to get a message to Sasha’s grandfather,” she said, and explained about finding Sasha living in the tunnels.

Outrage swelled as more of the wharfton families realized their daughters might, like Sasha, be miserable with the Vessel Institute.

“There was a baby born today.” Gaia added. “We can get another perspective from that mother, too, when she comes out soon.”

“If half of the vessel mothers feel the way Sasha does, it will totally undermine the pilot program,” Will said. “The institute won’t be able to expand.” He passed Gaia a napkin, smiling as he mimicked where she should dab at her chin. “You sure you’re all right?” he asked.

She nodded, her mouth full. She swallowed and licked her lips. “I’m exhausted. But mostly, I feel stupid for getting lost in the tunnels for so long. Tell me what I missed out here.”

Around the table, people shared their news. Peter reported that the combined communities of Wharfton and New Sylum had held their water supply to a two-day cushion by curtailing washing and constantly drawing from the wall spigots. The Protectorat had not sent any other water supply out, even though the DNA registry, on paper, now looked complete. He hadn’t sent out any correspondence, either, so negotiations were at a standstill. The Jackson family, tipped off that they were likely to be taken in for questioning, had walked out of the Enclave empty-handed and were staying with Derek’s family. They’d brought Angie out with them, so she was safe, too. The miners had chosen a place to start their tunnel.

Gaia slumped back on her bench and moved her fork tines over her empty plate. “It sounds like you didn’t need me out here at all,” she said truthfully.

Will’s hands were on the table beside her, where he’d been absently twisting a strand of twine between his fingers. At her words, his fingers went still. He turned to face her, his eyebrows lifting slightly. “You’re quite wrong. You’ve been missed.”

His quiet, serious expression held her for a moment, until she had to look away.

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