Promised Page 35

Chapter 20

the piglet

UNLIKE BEFORE, WHEN V cell had been illuminated only by the evening light that diffused in the high, barred windows, the room was now lit starkly by two shadeless lamps that stood in two corners. Instead of being damp from recent washing, the floor was dry, and the dangling chains and the whip were gone. A heavy wooden chair now monopolized the center of the room. It was affixed to a platform that concealed the floor drain, and it was positioned to face the lights and a small desk. A wire ran up the back of the chair and crossed the floor to the desk. As the guards dragged Gaia nearer, she saw the chair was rigged with bindings to secure her wrists and others to cross over her chest.

“You can’t put me in here,” she said, struggling to squirm free. “I need to talk to the Protectorat. Tell Genevieve I’m here!”

The guards clenched her arms and shoved her in, securing her wrists and shoulders tightly. Kicking, she managed to connect hard with one of the guards’ legs. He merely leaned over and strapped her ankle down, and then the other.

“You can’t do this to me!” she shouted. She looked up, finding the camera in the upper corner of the room. “Let me out!” she yelled to the camera. “We came peacefully! Are you there? Miles Quarry! We want the water you promised! We want to be treated like we deserve!”

“Leave us,” Mabrother Iris said quietly behind her.

She heard the door close, and then silence.

Gaia could feel her heart pounding, and she twisted her neck, trying to see him. Her gaze couldn’t reach the space behind her to discover where he was. She tried to listen for him over the rushing in her ears, but caught only a faint rustling noise.

“Where’s Leon?” she asked.

No one replied. She scanned the desk for weapons or instruments of torture and found a wooden, lidded canister, a flat computer tablet with a keyboard, a box of tissues, and two small clamps clipped to the edge of the table. Wires were attached to the clamps.

“You can’t hurt him,” she said. “His mother won’t stand for it if you hurt him.”

She heard a soft noise along the floor and looked down to her left to see a piglet snuffling slowly along the corner of the room. Mabrother Iris moved into view on her right side and leaned back against the wall, rubbing a finger on his upper lip.

“You’ve never wanted to be friends with me,” he said calmly. “Never from that very first day.”

“What do you want?”

“Just a few answers,” he said.

“You can’t hurt me,” she said. “The Protectorat wants me healthy. He needs me to be part of the Vessel Institute.”

Mabrother Iris smiled sadly, shaking his head. “Let’s not start by lying. You know that’s not true.”

“He wants my ovaries. He told me so. We’re working out a deal. Let me talk to him.”

“He knows very well where you are right now. But you don’t need to worry about your health. What I do to you won’t last,” he said.

She twisted her wrists to try to free them, but the cloth bindings only cinched tighter, and she had to relax against the armrests and flex her fingers to try to reestablish any looseness. Mabrother Iris paced slowly forward, studying her, and when he put out a hand to smooth her hair behind her right ear, she jerked her head away.

“What happened to your cheek here?” he asked.

“One of the guards struck me. Sergeant Burke.”

She strained her face away as far she could, while he tenderly smoothed her hair back. Then, deliberately, his finger trailed lightly down her right cheek. She grit her teeth, bearing it.

“So sensitive,” he said. “And your scar. Is that even more sensitive?”

His touch skimmed her left cheek next, and she tried unsuccessfully to writhe away. Even after his fingers were gone, her skin still tingled.

“You don’t care to be touched, do you?” he said. “Not even gently.”

“Not by vermin,” she said.

“Careful, now,” he said. He unclasped her necklace and set it aside on the desk. He touched her red bracelet, then left it. “Whose idea was it to blow up my chimney?” he asked. “Not a bad prank, that. Was that you?”

She licked her lips. “Of course. I sanctioned it.”

“It was more in the vein of Leon’s thinking, I expect. The fire in his father’s favorite grapes, too. That was pure Leon. There’s no point taking blame that isn’t yours,” Mabrother Iris said, and turned from the desk with a U-shaped bit of clear plastic. “Open your mouth. It’s for your teeth. So you won’t bite your tongue. Try it.”

He pressed it against her lips.

“I can shove it in and wrap a gag around mouth if you prefer,” he said.

She let him stick it in. It tasted like wax between her teeth, and her mouth began to salivate. Swallowing caused a loud click in her ears.

Next he smeared something on her right pinky finger and attached one of the clamps tightly enough that she couldn’t work it off with her thumb. He did the same to her left hand, and then stepped back toward the desk.

“People are very upset about the wall,” Mabrother Iris said. “That was going too far. At least one man is dead. We need to be certain nothing like that ever happens again.”

She couldn’t talk to him with her mouth full. He wasn’t even asking her a question.

“I want to give you a sample of what’s ahead,” he said. “I don’t have time for more now, but this will give you something to think about.”

He shifted the computer tablet before him and clicked at the keyboard. She waited, fear growing rather than lessening with the delay. She swallowed again around the mouth guard. Mabrother looked up at her, light reflecting off his glasses.

“Ready?” he asked. “Five, four, three—”

Lightning flew through her. The shock was so intense it left every muscle and blood vein seizing after it stopped, and she shuddered, shaking, appalled. Her teeth were clenched so deeply into the mouth guard that they almost met, and swallowing nearly suffocated her.

Mabrother Iris came around the table, extricated the mouth guard from her lips and chucked it into a garbage receptacle. She gasped for air, still trembling, and tipped her head back against the chair while her arms and legs rippled in residual spasms. She was dimly aware that Mabrother Iris had opened the canister on the desktop. He took something out and set it on top: another mouth guard.

“How was that?” he asked.

She couldn’t make her throat work to voice any insult harsh enough.

He reached for a tissue and wiped her eyes and nose for her, and when he lightly ran his finger down her cheek again, she jumped in her bonds. Her sensitive skin felt his touch now like feathered needles.

“It’s a strange little aftereffect, isn’t it? Your nerve ends tend to get more sensitive, not less, as you might think,” he said. He stood back, observing her another moment. “I have to go see how your fiancé’s doing with his father. Those two have never had the easiest relationship, that’s for certain.”

She could hear him move behind her, toward the door.

“By the way,” he added. “In case you haven’t guessed, that camera’s live. Leon was able to watch us.”

She lifted her gaze and scanned up to the corner of the ceiling where the white box had its red light steady on. Despair for Leon twisted through her. It was the torment he’d once imagined, coming true for both of them.

“You can stay to keep her company,” Mabrother Iris said softly.

The door closed. She didn’t understand his last words until she heard the snuffling of the little pig on the floor. Mabrother Iris would be coming back. She told herself she wouldn’t cry, that it didn’t hurt that much, that she couldn’t let Leon see her suffering, but she had never been so terrified.

*   *   *

Mabrother Iris came and went, sometimes shocking her, sometimes not. He wanted to know who had set the explosives in the wall, and who had managed the blackout to the Bastion and a quarter of the Enclave the night before. He wanted details about his chimney, the fire in the vineyard, the explosion at the mycoprotein plant, and half a dozen smaller bombs that had gone off around the city, disrupting water lines and the electrical grid. He pressed her for a complete list of sabotage targets, but she knew hardly any of them. Leon hadn’t told her. She only knew for certain that one bomb remained, but she didn’t know what it was or when it was set to go.

She tried to tell Mabrother Iris nothing, but after a point, the shocks were so painful and discombobulating, she no longer knew what she was telling him. Ashamed, broken, she realized she would have told him anything to make him stop.

Once, after a break, when Mabrother Iris didn’t even ask her a question before he shocked her, she finally realized that it didn’t matter what she said or didn’t say. What was being done to her depended on what Leon was or wasn’t saying somewhere else while he watched. She lifted her gaze to the camera, confused and hurt. How could Leon let this go on?

Just give in, Leon, she thought.

Slumped, limp in the chair, Gaia was barely conscious when she felt Mabrother Iris touch her cheek once more. He eased out her latest mouth guard. She worked her tongue around her mouth to swallow. Even her jaw was sore.

“There,” he said gently. “How are we doing?”

There was nothing she could say.

Mabrother Iris reattached her necklace around her throat, adjusting it lightly over the neckline of her blouse. The cold, delicate metal burned against her sensitive skin. Gaia heard a noise behind her, and then a team of guards came in with a white medical stretcher.

Hands shoved up Gaia’s sleeve, and a needle was inserted into the vein in the crook of her elbow. An IV was affixed to the needle and carefully bandaged to her arm to keep it in place. Still confused, Gaia looked up the length of IV tube to find Sephie attaching a bag of fluid like the one that had fed into Leon’s arm. She tapped the line and turned a valve.

“One moment, please,” Mabrother Iris said.

He produced a short, shimmering, slightly elastic cord. Gaia felt the binding pressure as he wrapped it around her left wrist to form a bracelet, crimping the ends together with a special glittering bead. A soft blue glow illuminated the band.

“It seems fitting you should have this, like the other girls,” he said. “You aren’t strictly a vessel mother, but since your contribution is even more important, I feel you qualify for the honors.”

Understanding brought her horrified despair. “No,” she whispered.

Mabrother Iris smiled once more at Gaia. “That’s right. Harvest time.”

Chapter 21


WHEN SHE CAME TO, she was in a small, pale blue room, resting sideways on a bed, with her locket watch ticking softly at her throat. Every millimeter of her skin felt acutely sensitive, while beneath the surface, her entire body felt like it had been shattered and jammed back together. The ends of her pinky fingers were singed and tender. Someone had bathed her and changed her into a white, filmy nightgown with eyelet lace edging the sleeves. She turned her head on the pillow, scanning around the unfamiliar room. A vase of flowers stood on a small table beside her bed, and shear curtains hung at the windows where a breeze of warm air drifted in.

A tap came from the door, and Emily came cautiously in, carrying a white dress and a pair of white loafers.

“How do you feel?” Emily asked.

“Awful,” Gaia croaked.

Emily handed her a glass of water, but as Gaia shifted upward to take it, she felt lines of pain along her abdomen. She set a hand over her stomach. A bandage there dumbfounded, then petrified her. She scrambled to pull up the edge of her gown and found a square of dressing carefully taped over her lower abdomen.

“Don’t touch it,” Emily said gently.

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