Authors: Anna Carey
My father was in bed, as I'd never seen him. His navy pajamas had a dried yellow stain on the lapel. His eyes were half closed, and his skin had a strange gray hue I'd seen only on the dying.
I closed my eyes and returned to the quiet of her room, to the time I'd opened my mother's door. She'd been sleeping, her head turned to one side, the bruises spreading out along her hairline. Blood was crusted black around her nose. I'd started toward her, wanting to curl up in the bed, to have her tuck her knees beneath mine the way she always did when she held me. I climbed onto the mattress and she awoke, pushing back against the headboard.
You have to leave
, she said, bringing the blanket to her face.
. When she finally shut the door I heard the lock settle, then the slow scrape of the chair legs, as she dragged it under the doorknob.
“I'm doing everything I can so he's comfortable,” the doctor said. He tilted his head, watching as I dabbed at my eyes. “It happened late last night. It's likely a virus. It's not the plague, though, I can assure you.”
I studied my father's lips, the skin blistering at the corners of his mouth. His face changed, his expression tense as he struggled against something unseen. I knew this was my doingâhe was hurting because of me. Now, in the midst of it, I felt like I was shrinking into nothingness. I'd gone into his suite and poisoned his medication while he waited outside the door, thinking I was sick. Here, like this, he was just the man who'd loved my mother. Who'd found me, after all this time, to tell me that.
I went to his side, staring at his hands, the thick blue veins bulging beneath the surface of his skin. One was stuck with a small tube, the blood still wet beneath the clear tape that held it there. “It's me.” I leaned in so he could hear. “I came to see what was wrong.”
He turned his head and opened his eyes, his lips curling into the faintest smile. “Just a stomach virus, that's all.” He wiped the spit from the corner of his mouth. “Tonight?” he added, looking to the doctor.
“Yes, we'll have a much better sense of things tonight. We'll see if he's improved at all. Right now the main thing is keeping him hydrated.”
My father pressed his hand to his side, his body stiff and tense. The doctor ushered me back, then leaned over him, listening to his breathing. “You can come back later today,” he said, gesturing to the door.
I just stood there, watching the way my father's feet tensed, his toes pointed to the ceiling, one knee raised as he tried to brace himself against the pain. He let out a low, rattling breath, then relaxed a little, his eyes finding their way to me. “Don't worry, Genevieve.” When he smiled it looked like he was trying not to cry. “It will pass.”
I stared at the floor, at the swirling pattern in the carpet, the thin sliver of light moving with the curtain. I thought of my mother. Would she be disgusted with me now, her daughter who'd done these things to someone she had loved? No matter how many deaths he was responsible for, hadn't I now done the same thing? Was I no better?
I turned to go, pausing in the doorway as he coughed, flinching at each of the wet, choked gasps. It was too late. It was done. Now I only hoped he wouldn't have to stay like this, half alive, for much longer.
Let it be quick
, I said, speaking to some nameless, faceless force, like all those prayers I'd heard uttered at the memorials.
Let it end.
THE DAY WAS FADING. THE SKY SPREAD OUT ABOVE US, A PALE
orange awning with only a faint, passing cloud. I fingered a china teacup, pressing the thin handle between my fingers. It was Clara who'd wanted to come here. After I'd avoided her all day, she'd found me in the Palace gallery and insisted we go for a walk down the main road. I couldn't bring myself to say anything, not as we passed the old Venetian gardens or the latest hotel that had been converted to apartments. She waited, her steps in time with mine, but it wasn't until we reached the rooftop restaurant at the end of the road that either of us found the courage to speak.
“Just tell me,” Clara whispered. She set her hand on top of mine and left it there. “Did you have anything to do with what happened to your father? They say he's getting worse.”
I studied her bloodred polish, the thumbnail that was chipped in the corner. The tables surrounding us were empty, but nearly fifty people were still on the roof, lingering after lunch. An older man with frizzy gray hair sat a few yards away, occasionally glancing at us, then back to his newspaper. “I was upset yesterday.” I shrugged. “You shouldn't have seen what you did.”
She sat forward, both elbows on the table, and rested her face in her hands. “I don't know what else I need to do for you to trust me. I've kept every one of your secrets.”
I watched the two soldiers behind her. They'd followed us here and were now sitting at a table in the corner of the restaurant, eating the tiny triangular sandwiches in one bite. “It's not that,” I said quietly. “I just can't.”
The waitress, an older woman with scratched glasses, paused to refill our cups. We were quiet while she stood there, hovering over us. Every so often people turned from their plates to see what we were doing. We looked comically overdressed for late-afternoon tea, Clara in a gown that spread out at the waist, her ornate ruby earrings nearly touching her shoulders. On Alina's insistence my hair was done in curls, a bundle of them pinned at the nape of my neck. My navy gown was sheer at the top, the mesh sleeves tight around my arms, providing little relief from the growing cold. Clara didn't look at me, instead waiting until the woman started back across the roof.
She turned away from the rest of the tables, staring out over the City, careful so no one would see her face. “You're going to leave, aren't you.” She said it as a statement, not a question, her expression unsteady.
“I can't do this now .Â .Â .” I started, but my voice trailed off as I watched her. She bit down hard on one of her nails, turning it sideways, as if she'd rip it off.
“I'm so afraid.” She said it so low I could barely hear her.
Something inside of me broke. They would all be killed here if I left them. Moss would be the only one inside the Palace who could stop it, and even then, I wondered if he would. I couldn't do this again, the constant looking back, imagining the things I could have done to save them. I lowered my head, resting my fingers on my brow to shield my face. “We shouldn't talk here,” I said.
It was so much easier to leave, wasn't it? I saw my father in me, that quiet, cowardly side of him that hadn't answered my mother's letters, that had left us in that house, trapped behind barricades, waiting to die. The thought filled me with dread. He would be with me, a part of me always, whether he lived or died.
“I might not be able to take you,” I muttered. “But I'll be certain you're safe.” I wouldn't leave until Moss promised them protectionâCharles, Clara, and her mother.
Clara dropped her head back, letting her hair fall away from her face. Her eyes were glassy. “So it
happening. All the rumors are true.”
“I promise I won't let anything happen to you,” I said, unable to confirm it.
“How long has it been?” She shook her head. “Did you ever cut contact with the dissidents?”
I let out a breath, trying to stop the trembling in my hands. “There's a contact in the Palace who will find you when it happens. Your mother and Charles, too. Wait for him.”
She leaned forward and the tears came fast, touching down on the marble table. I rested my hand on her wrist and squeezed, trying to tell her everything unsaid.
I won't let them hurt you
. I wanted to move my chair beside her, to fold my arms around her shoulders, pulling her to me. But it was too risky here. It would be too obvious she was crying, and then there would be questions.
I studied the wisps of fine hair that always framed Clara's face even though her mother tried desperately to smooth them back with hairspray. Her nose was a little turned up at the end. It could be months until I was back inside the City. I wanted to fix her in my mind in a way I hadn't with Arden or Pip. Now they appeared most vividly in dreams. When I tried to remember something more specificâa gesture, the sound of their voiceâI couldn't. It kept getting harder, the months passing quickly without word from them. I thought of taking a photo of Clara, maybe one of us that had run in the newspaper in the past weeks, my arm threaded through hers as we walked in the Palace gardens.
Tonight, at my final meeting with Moss, I'd make sure they were kept safe.
Clara swiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands. “This is going to sound crazy,” she started.
“Try me .Â .Â .”
At that her lips twisted into a half smile. “The girls my age who weren't orphaned were never exactly keen on spending time with the King's niece. They used to say I was stuck-up.”
I smiled, remembering the first time I met Clara, how she'd given me a quick, discerning once-over, assessing my shoes, my hair, and my dress as though it were on one of the shop mannequins. “
,” I joked. “I don't believe it.”
Clara smoothed down the thin braid that held back her hair. “Maybe I'm not
surprised,” she said. “But now I can't imagine things without you.”
In the days after the wedding, Clara had been the one who'd brought my meals into the suite, when I refused to see anyone else. Those first weeks she'd never once spoken about Charles, no matter how strange it must've been to see him married, to have to look on and smile as he swore himself to me. Instead she curled up beside me, her hand on my back as I recounted what had happened to Caleb.
“I'll see you again,” I said, but even then I knew how hard it would be.
She wiped her eyes. “You're feeling better?” she asked, her gaze dropping for a moment to my midsection.
“It comes and goes.” I tried not to look at the half-eaten sandwiches on her plate, where a pale piece of chicken lay exposed, the meat and mayonnaise taking on a heavy, sickening smell.
“And Caleb?” she asked.
I moved my plate to the edge of the table, away from me. Lately I didn't talk about him as much, realizing it was impossible for anyone to understand what I felt. That was what I remembered most about the days after he diedâthe obligatory
How are you?
s that were everywhere in the City. Moss and Clara had asked with clear intentions, but even the simplest transactionsâthe opening of a door, the purchase of something within the Palace mallâwould elicit them, the innocent, easy question taking on more weight. With each answer I was pushed further into grief, the small, empty responses making me feel more alone in my loneliness.
“That comes and goes, too,” I said.
“My mother said they'll know by tonight,” Clara went on. “About the King.”
She paused, waiting for my reply, but I just shook my head. “I can't discuss it,” I whispered, my gaze darting across the roof. Both soldiers were standing now, their hands shielding their eyes as they looked out, over the City. A few people at the surrounding tables rose from their chairs, trying to see what they saw.
I followed their gaze beyond the wall. In the dwindling light it was hard to decipher, but one pointed to an area of sand-covered buildings. The radio at his belt crackled. For the first time I noticed that the top of the Stratosphere tower had changed colors, a red, pulsing light appearing at the tip of the needle.
Something between the buildings moved. The shadows on the ground changed as the men darted from one building to the next. They couldn't have been more than a half-mile beyond the City. Maybe less. I leaned in, trying to alert Clara, when the first shots sounded. An explosion went off on the other side of the wall, the smoke black, billowing up in a thick, rippling stream.
The woman beside us pointed to the southern Outlands. Figures darted down the street, scanning the buildings for soldiers. Even from up high we could see their arms outstretched and hear the popping sound of gunfire as they moved swiftly toward the center of the City. “They are inside the walls,” she said. “They've gotten inside.”
“That's impossible,” a man behind us responded. Clara turned to me, searching my face. I knew what she was asking.
Were there more tunnels like the one Caleb had been working on? Was there a way to get past the wall, despite what everyone thought?
I nodded, a barely perceptible
One soldier moved to the other side of the roof, blocking the exit. The people in the restaurant were eerily still. A woman had frozen in the midst of her conversation, her lips slightly parted, her cup perched in the air.
“Someone help me,” the soldier said, pointing to the serving carts and tables surrounding the exit. “We have to move these.”
He dragged a table in front of the stairwell doors, blocking the only entrance. But it wasn't until the other soldier spoke that anyone moved.
“Come on, people!” he said, raising his voice to a yell. “Can't you see what's happening? The City is under attack.”
AN HOUR PASSED. THE AIR SMELLED OF SMOKE. FROM THE ROOFTOP
we could see a fire spreading in the Outlands, just beyond the old airplane hangars. More rebels had made it into the City, fighting along with the opposition inside. Screams rose up from the main road. I kept my eyes on the streets below, watching people dart into buildings, some trying to make it down the Strip, back to their apartments. Explosions sounded along the wall. The
of machine guns was so constant I no longer flinched.
“You said we had time still,” Clara whispered. Her hand was clutching my wrist, her fingers digging in my skin as we looked over the City.
“I thought we did.” My voice was strangely calm. The soldiers refused to let us move the tables stacked against the stairwell doors, blocking the roof's only entrance. Most of the people stood at the railing, watching the fighting. Not many spoke. A woman had pulled out a camera and was taking pictures, photographing the flames that consumed a warehouse in the Outlands.