Authors: Anna Carey
I stared at them for a moment, these new sentences. I shut the radio off and sat there in silence.
The colonies have backed out. They cannot provide support for the siege on the City.
I held the radio in my hands, not quite believing it. The colonies weren't coming. In one day, with one decision, the rebels had lost thousands of soldiers. What did this mean for those who'd already begun fighting? What did this mean for everyone inside the City walls? Moss had been so confident they'd come, that they'd provide the final push needed to secure the City. Everything seemed less certain now.
I sat there, waiting to feel something, anything, but my insides felt hollow and cold. My hands were numb as I set the radio down. My pregnancy sometimes seemed more like a constant, all-consuming sickness than a child growing inside me. But since the siege began I hadn't felt the heavy nausea. More than eight hours had passed. My stomach wasn't tense and twisted. I didn't feel anything, and that nothingness scared me. The doctor's words kept coming back to me. He'd said it was still possible to lose the child, that stress and strain could cause it all to go away.
I stood, my knees light, and went to the back of the bathroom. Stepping onto the edge of the tub, I could just reach the small metal vent near the ceiling. I'd taken one of the screws out of the bottom of the circular grate, which now slid to the right, around and up, leaving room to reach my hand in. I pulled out the plastic bag nestled in the back of the vent. The gray T-shirt was balled up inside it, secure in its own secret pouch.
I held it in my hands, feeling the ripped hem along the bottom, the tag that hung on by a few loose stitches, the letter
inked in. This might be the last thing I had of Calebâthe only proof he'd existed at all. It seemed so small and pathetic now, so momentary. The thread was already coming apart at the seams.
âfelt heavier than it ever had before. What if, after weeks of having the baby without knowing, I'd already lost it? For the first time since I'd found out about the pregnancy I was pulled under by grief, the kind that took hold of me suddenly in the weeks after Caleb's death. However hard it would be to have a child beyond the City walls, I wanted itâit was a part of me, of
. And within a few days, she (why did I think it was a she?) would be the only family I had.
I couldn't lose any more. There was so little already for me to hold on to. Moss was gone. Caleb was dead. Within days it would be over, the City, Clara, and the Palace receding behind me until I was back in the wild, alone, waiting how longâmonths? years?âto be called back. She was all I had left.
, I thought, wishing for the first time in days that the sickness would come back, that I would feel somethingâanythingâagain. I didn't want to lose her. I didn't want to lose the possibility of what she would be, of what I could be for her. I couldn't now. Every time I pushed the idea out of my head it returned, until I found myself sitting on the windowsill, the T-shirt in my hands. I pressed the thin fabric to my face, trying to control my breath, but each one caught somewhere inside me. I stayed there like that, in the quiet of the room, for hours, barely able to force his name past my lips: “
“THE LIEUTENANT SAID THE SOLDIERS OUTNUMBER THEM
three to one.” Aunt Rose pushed her eggs around her plate, prodding them along with her fork. It was the first time I'd seen her without makeup. The skin beneath her eyes was a dull blue, her lashes barely visible.
“What matters is we're safe here,” Charles said. “There are a hundred soldiers surrounding the Palace, maybe more. No one is getting into the tower.” He glanced sideways at me as he said it, as if I could confirm its truth.
I stared down at the thin piece of bread on my plate and the small pile of eggs beside it. My appetite had gone, but I still felt nothing. My father had been too ill to speak with me the night before, but the Lieutenant had assured everyone the siege would be suppressed within a day or two. They were already rationing, though. No supply trucks could come in from the Outlands, so the kitchens had been locked. One of the Palace workers, an older, spindly woman with glasses, had been given the unfortunate task of answering requests.
We sat there, pushing the food around our plates, listening to the sounds of the City below. The gunshots could still be heard, even from the top of the Palace tower. Every now and then the fighting was interrupted by a quick, hollow pop that raised goose bumps on my arms.
Clara broke the silence, her voice tentative. “How is he?” She didn't dare look at me as she said it.
Rose kept her eyes on her food, letting the fork rest for a moment on the edge of her plate. “No better, no worse,” she said. “You didn't discuss his illness outside the Palace, did you?”
“No, Mother.” Clara shook her head.
The blood rushed to my face, my cheeks hot. Someone passed through the hall, the sound of their footsteps getting louder as they neared. I kept my eyes on the door, waiting for Moss to enter. Where was he? He could've been injured in the siege, or hiding out with the rebels. He could've been caught. There were so many possibilities of why he wasn't here now, in the Palace, but I tried to steer my thoughts away from the most terrifying of all: What if he had betrayed me?
I could barely breathe. The room was too hot. The sight of the food sickened me, the eggs stiff and cold. “I'm not feeling well,” I said, pushing back from the table. “I can't .Â .Â .”
I didn't bother finishing the sentence. I just got up and left, the horrible, hopeless feeling following me. Maybe it was better to go now, despite the uncertainty. But how could I leave Clara here, or Charles? If what the Lieutenant said was true, if the army would be able to defeat the rebels, then they'd be safe after all. I was the only one in danger.
I started toward my room when a voice called out behind me. “Princess Genevieve,” the doctor said. “Your father would like to speak with you.” His small, black eyes watched me from behind thick lenses. He looked tired, his shoulders stooped, his face pallid.
“I'm not feeling well. I can't right now,” I said, turning to go. “I'm sorry.” I started away, toward my suite, but he followed after me, reaching for my arm.
“He may only be awake for an hour or two,” he said. He gestured back to the other end of the hall. “He said it was important.”
We walked in silence. I didn't resist any further. I knew how strange it would seem to the doctor if I refused to speak to my father now, when he was so sick. I held one hand in the other, squeezing the blood from my fingers, trying to fight the doubt that still held me.
“The tests have been inconclusive so far,” the doctor offered, as we approached my father's suite. Two soldiers stood outside. “We're narrowing it down, but he's stable for now.”
I could smell the bleach from the hallway. Inside it was worse, undercut by the stench of sickness, which still lingered in the air. I started toward the doorway and was surprised to see my father sitting up in bed, the curtains open, the room unbearably bright.
He looked frail, his skin papery and thin. In the sunlight he seemed paler, his gray-blue eyes translucent. His lips were cracked so badly they bled. I turned to the doctor, but he'd gone. The front door of the suite fell shut, leaving the two of us alone in silence.
I couldn't bring myself to ask him how he was or stand there pretending this hadn't been what I wanted. Instead I just sat at the end of the bed, folding my hands in my lap to keep them from shaking. It was a while before he spoke.
“You lied to me,” he said. He studied the side of my face.
The back of my throat was so dry it hurt. It was impossible to tell what he knew, or how; if I could sidestep around the facts, or if there was no way out.
“I don't know what you mean,” I said, hearing how pathetic it sounded, even to me.
“I don't believe you anymore, Genevieve.” He fingered the tape on the back of his hand. A plastic tube snaked out of it, connecting up to a limp bag of fluid. “I stopped believing you a long time ago. As I'm sure you have me.”
“Then why bother asking?” There was little use now in pretending. We'd sunk into silence, the resentment building these past months, more natural than anything else. Even my pregnancy couldn't change that for long.
He let out a low rattling sigh, resting his head back on the pillow. “Tell meâis there more than one tunnel leading into the Outlands?”
“I already shared with you everything I know about the dissidents' plans,” I said quickly, keeping my eyes locked on his. “Caleb didn't tell me anything beyond what I needed to know for us to leave.”
“Explain to me how they're coming into the City,” he said. A thin trickle of sweat came down the side of his forehead, catching in the hair above his ear. “The north gate still hasn't been compromised, despite all their efforts. And yet there are thousands of them inside the walls. Thousands.”
“I don't know,” I repeated, more forcefully this time. “And we can do this again, with the Lieutenant here if you want, but nothing will change. I don't have anything more to tell you.”
Slowly, without saying anything else, his body relaxed into the pillow. He looked smaller somehow, his arms thin beneath his loose nightshirt. “They won't take the City. I won't let them,” he said. He didn't look at me. Instead he stared out the window, at some indistinguishable spot near the east wall. “It will end soon.”
I ran my hands through my hair. I'd never wanted to scream so loud or so long. The army from the colonies would not arrive. My father knew about the other tunnels in the Outlands. So where was Moss now? Where was I to go? Were the tunnels clear for me to pass through, or would I be caught there by rebels coming into the City, unaware that I was on their side?
I sat there, on the edge of his bed, listening to the faint sound of gunfire in the west. There was only one question that mattered now, as he lay there, between sickness and death. If he was rightâif the rebels were defeatedâwould I be counted among them?
THE NEXT MORNING I LAY IN BED FOR A LONG WHILE, MY EYES
closed, studying the silence. My body felt heavy, my limbs weighed down by exhaustion. I sucked in air, trying to steady my breathing, as I'd done so many times in the past weeks. It took me a moment to register what I was responding to. The nausea had returned. The dense, heady feeling spread out behind my nose. My hand dropped to the soft flesh of my stomach, the gentle roundness hidden beneath my nightgown.
I smiled, allowing myself that simple, momentary happiness. Everything was all right. She was still here, with me, now. I wasn't alone.
Down the hall, I could hear the faint clanking of pots as the cook prepared our breakfast. The room was otherwise quiet. The gunfire had stopped. There were no more explosions in the Outlands, only the sound of the government Jeeps, a horn blasting every now and then as one flew past the Palace. I lay there with my eyes closed, curled in on myself, trying to fend off the nausea.
“Are you sleeping?” Charles whispered from somewhere beyond me. He did that at timesâit was one of the most normal things about him.
Are you sleeping?
he'd ask, after the lights had been turned off and we were suspended in the dark. If I were, how could I possibly answer?
I rolled onto my side, watching him at the window. The light was dulled by clouds. He held the curtain, working at the fabric with his thumb. “What is it?” I asked. He was already dressed, his tie hanging around his neck.
“Something's going on outside.” He didn't look at me as he said it. He leaned forward, his face an inch from the glass.
“It's over, isn't it?” I asked. “The gunfire stopped sometime this morning.”
He shook his head. He looked strange, his brows knitted together, as though trying to puzzle something out. “I think it's just beginning.”
His voice caught in the back of his throat. I went to the window, looking down at the City below. The crowd had spread out on the main road, a dense mass squeezed between buildings, just as they had been for the parades. But there was no waving of flags, no cheers or yells joining together, heard like a static hum from above. Instead they were clustered around the front of the Palace, right beyond the fountains, barely moving as the sun warmed the sky.
“What are they doing here?” I asked. “What's going on?”
“They're waiting,” he said. “I don't know for what.” He pointed to the northern edge of the road, where a Jeep worked its way through the crowd, the mass of people parting, then swallowing it whole. A platform had been set up at the front of the Palace. The short, square block was visible from above.
“You haven't heard anything about this?” I asked.
Charles raised his hand to his temple, as though his head hurt. “I've been here all night,” he said. “Why would I know anything more than you do?”
“Because you work for my father,” I said quickly, pulling a sweater and pants from the closet.
Charles followed me as I crossed the room to my dresser. He looped his tie around his neck, throwing one end over the other, moving his hands quickly until he slid the knot to his throat. “I'm running the construction sites. I'm not fighting a war against the rebels. I'm like everyone else inside this City, doing the best I can with what I've been given.”
“That's not good enough,” I shot back. This wasn't his fault, I knew that, and yet he was here. He was the only person within range.
Charles stepped away from me, his eyes small and narrow. He hated it when I did this, placed him on the side of the King, held him accountable for what my father had done. But he had been there, hadn't he? If he'd argued for improved conditions at the camps, as he said he had, then why had things continued as they were? Why didn't he, of all people, put a stop to it?