Promised Page 36

But Gaia nicked free an edge of tape and lifted off the covering to see a new, four-centimeter incision below her bellybutton. Precise, tidy stitches held it closed. They really did it, she thought, shocked. They took my ovaries.

She lifted her troubled gaze to Emily.

“I’m sorry for what they did,” Emily said. “The Protectorat went too far.”

It was still more than she could take in. She’d never really believed it was possible. “Where are my eggs now?” She pulled hard at the glowing bracelet that bound her wrist, trying to work it over her hand, but it wouldn’t come off. Her red bracelet from Leon was loose by comparison.

Emily handed her the dress. “I don’t know. My guess is they’ve been sold to the highest bidders. But that hardly matters right now,” she said. “You need to get dressed quickly. Half of the Enclave is calling for your execution for what you did to the wall last night. A man was killed at the south gate, and dozens more were injured. They’re calling you a terrorist. But Mabrother Rhodeski and the rest who back the Vessel Institute cut a deal for your life. They said if you survived your surgery, they would even honor their agreement to provide water for outside the wall.”

Gaia struggled up. “Where’s Leon?” she asked. “Where are Peter and Pyrho and the rest?”

“That’s why I came for you. They’re scheduled for execution.”


“At noon today. The Protectorat wants you to stay away. He says the crowd might still turn against you if you’re there, but I thought you should know.”

Gaia clicked open her locket watch: 11:47.

“Help me,” Gaia said. Adrenaline overrode her pain and weakness. She pulled herself to her feet and hurried to change into the dress. “We have to stop them.”

“It’s no use, Gaia,” Emily said. “Your friends are criminals. They’re the scapegoats. The Protectorat has kept the rest of your protestors corralled in the Square of the Bastion. They’ve been there overnight and all morning because there isn’t enough room in the prison, and he’ll only let them go after they’ve witnessed the executions. It’s your ringleaders, or everybody.”

“We have to try,” Gaia said. “Please, Emily, you have to help me.” She shoved her toes in the loafers and flew to the door.

“They have my boys,” Emily said. “I can’t go against the Protectorat. I’m not as brave as you. I never was.”

Gaia couldn’t wait. She pushed open the door and hurried down the hallway. With her dress still unbuttoned, she clutched her sore belly and ran through the Bastion’s upper hallways and down the stairs. She finally skidded across the black-and-white tile floor of the foyer toward the big doors and lunged outside.

Sunlight flooded the terrace, coruscating brightly among the white-clad elite who had gathered for the execution. They were chatting in small groups, and their air was so distinctly at odds with what she expected for an execution that for a split second, Gaia thought there had been some insane misunderstanding and she had stumbled into a party.

She quickly worked the last buttons on the front of her dress and moved forward. Evelyn, with a steely expression, stood silently with her brother Rafael at the far left edge of the terrace. Sephie and several of her fellow doctors stood at the other end, not far from Mabrother Iris. A group of vessel mothers was gathered together. At the top of the steps, the Protectorat and Genevieve stood with their backs to her, talking with Mabrother Rhodeski and his wife.

In contrast to the lighter mood on the terrace, the crowd in the square was sullen and tense. A barricade divided the square in half. To the left of the obelisk were Gaia’s friends from outside the wall, contained by a perimeter of armed guards. Strain and weariness were patently obvious in their anxious expressions. On the right, the merchants and working people of the Enclave had gathered, and farther to the side, behind the black fence of the prison, inmates had been lined up to witness the executions.

A cloud shadow dropped into the square, deep and swift, and Gaia blinked upward to where clouds were moving in fat, piled lumps. The obelisk changed from white to gray. Angled to the right stood the hulking structure of the gallows. Two nooses were strung over the high wooden beam. The merchants shifted and then parted to let through a team of prison guards. Behind them came the bound prisoners: Peter, Pyrho, Jack, Malachai, and Leon.

“Stop this!” Gaia commanded, striding forward.

Those near to the Protectorat turned in surprise.

“They’re terrorists,” the Protectorat said, scanning her from head to toe. “We found explosives planted under the obelisk. Right beneath this very square.”

“But we didn’t set them off,” Gaia said. “They were just for a threat.”

“A ticking time bomb is more than a threat,” the Protectorat said. Leon and the others were being marched up the stairs. Their faces were darkened with bruises and exhaustion. Under his disheveled dark hair, Leon’s eyes burned with grim fury, but then, as her gaze met his across the distance, his expression turned to yearning. The guards positioned Malachai and Peter under the nooses.

“We never intended to hurt anyone,” Gaia continued insistently.

“Not even Sephie? You killed Mabrother Stoltz yourself,” the Protectorat said. “Last night, you blew up the wall and killed another man. You’ve threatened the lives of hundreds more. It’s time for you people to understand, once and for all, that you cannot simply do what you want.”

“Then kill me, not them,” Gaia said. She took another step forward, shouting toward the gallows. “Stop there! Stop!”

The Protectorat grabbed her arm. “You were convicted, obviously. Your sentence was commuted, thanks to Mabrother Rhodeski. Be thankful now, and be quiet like a good girl.” He flicked a finger at her glowing bracelet and shoved her beside a guard. “Watch her,” he ordered.

The guard took her arm.

On the gallows, the hangman put a black hood over Malachai’s head, and as a second hood was lowered over Peter’s, Gaia’s heart clenched in panic. Peter!

She urgently surveyed the crowd, both halves of it, and was shocked by their cowed passivity. Not one of them dared to speak out. She couldn’t find Mace in the Enclave crowd, or Rita, or anybody she knew. On the left side, even the miners held their tongues.

“What has happened to you?” she asked, frustrated and broken-hearted. “This is wrong!”

“You’re the problem, you and your terrorists,” said one of the merchants in the crowd. “Things were good until you stirred up trouble.”

A woman spoke up beside him. “Mabrother Rhodeski there can give the new people a little water if he wants, like he says. That’s his business. But we want the rest of things to go back like they were.”

“The way things were was bad!” Gaia said forcefully. She was undeterred by the guard’s tightening grip on her arm. “The rich people here are using all of us. They don’t even care enough about you to let Myrna Silk run her blood bank inside the wall. They’re going to expand the baby factory to buy and sell babies, just for themselves. The Protectorat tortured his own son, and me.” She clutched a hand to her abdomen, and struggled to find words for what Sephie had done to her. “They’ve gutted me. I can never have children of my own.”

The crowd began to shift then, and voices started up.

“Enough! Remove her,” the Protectorat called. “The nooses! Now!”

Guards looped the ropes around Malachai’s and Peter’s necks, cinching them neatly. A growl came from Malachai on the platform behind them, and Leon jostled forward, bumping Pyrho.

“She’s right!” Leon called. “My fathers promises are lies!”

“Wait! You have to listen!” called a new, high-pitched voice from the corner of the terrace. Sasha, her enormous pregnant belly swelling before her, strode forward beside a man in a cook’s apron and lifted the cut band of her bracelet. “They’re keeping vessel mothers against their will. Everything Gaia says is true!”

Gaia jerked free from the guard who held her, dodged down into the crowd, and charged toward the obelisk. Despite her surgery pain, she clenched her muscles and hauled herself up onto the base to stand tall. “Look at your neighbors and search your hearts,” Gaia urged the people. She bored her gaze into face after face. “You know it’s time for a change. For fairness. This is about us,” she waved her arm toward the square, encompassing all of the people from inside and outside the wall, “against the few of them. Now is the time. We have to stop them!”

“Guards!” the Protectorat ordered.

“I call for the Protectorat to stand down!” Gaia called loudly. “It’s time to elect new leaders! Stand down, Miles Quarry!”

A stunned silence immobilized the people.

The Protectorat produced a pistol and aimed it at Leon. His voice came clearly across the square for all to hear. “Drop the convicts. Shoot Gaia Stone and anyone who tries to protect her.”

Someone yanked Gaia down off the base of the obelisk as shots smashed into the stonework behind her. The explosion of a gun blasted on her left. Some of the merchants were shooting back at the guards. Gaia realized they’d been armed and prepared, vacillating, all this time.

A corps of guards circled tightly around the Protectorat and Genevieve, firing their guns outward. Men and women screamed, trying to duck and run simultaneously. Many were fleeing in chaos, but a swarm of people crowded in around Gaia at the base of the obelisk. She craned forward, trying to see what was happening on the gallows. Bullets smacked into the splintering wood, and she was agonized to see that Malachai and Peter were still up on the gallows platform, blinded by the hoods over their heads and unable to dodge free from the nooses around their necks. Leon and the others were gone. She had no idea where.

The initial blasts of rifle shots changed to scattered pops of gunfire and the clash of swords. The gallows hatchways opened with a slamming bang. As Peter and Malachai dropped, instead of hitching in the air, caught by their necks, their bodies fell all the way to the ground below the platform. Someone, Gaia realized, had cut the ropes.

“We have to get you out of here!” a man called in her ear.

She turned to find Mace Jackson tugging at her arm.

“I have to find Leon,” she said.

“He went for his father,” Mace said. “You can’t go out there!”

She was already scrambling to push forward between the people that were massed up against the base of the obelisk. Some were holding each other, and many of them were wild-eyed with fear, but they huddled tight around her, people from New Sylum, Wharfton, and the Enclave all together, as a wall of courage, united in protecting her from the Protectorat.

Another explosion of gunfire came from the terrace, and people screamed again, huddling down, and drawing her with them. For an instant, she hunched with them, but her need to find Leon propelled her forward. As she tried again to push her way through, people put out their hands to stop her and pull her low.

“Don’t go up there,” they said.

She tried to see ahead. The firing stopped again, leaving an awful, expectant noise of moans and crying in its wake.

“I have to get past. Let me by,” she said, squeezing through.

Shot people lay slumped on the cobblestones. Others were already trying to help them. As Gaia neared the terrace, looking for Leon, she saw a dozen armed guards, Marquez among them, but now their rifles were pointed inward at a hub of other guards who held their hands open and empty before them. The arrangement made no sense to her until she realized the reversal meant a faction of the guards had rebelled.

Farther within the inner circle, in the place where the Protectorat had stood before, several people were bent over with their backs to her, and as one of them shifted, she saw Mabrother Rhodeski and several others were injured. Leon was nowhere to be seen. Sephie was opening a medical bag.

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