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CHAPTER 1

 


Thaisday, Maius 10


Meg Corbyn entered the bathroom in the Human Liaison’s Office and laid out the items she’d labeled the tools of prophecy: antiseptic ointment, bandages, and the silver folding razor decorated with pretty leaves and flowers on one side of the handle. On the other side of the handle, engraved in plain lettering, was the designation cs759. For twenty-four years, that designation had been the closest thing she’d had to a name.

   She had a name now and a real apartment instead of a sterile cell. In the compound where she had been raised and trained . . . and used . . . she’d had one friend: Jean, the girl who wouldn’t allow anyone to forget that she’d once had a home and a family outside the compound—the girl who had helped Meg escape.

   Now Meg had many friends, and it didn’t matter to her that most of them weren’t human. The terra indigene had given her a chance to have a life, were helping her find ways to live with the addiction that would eventually kill her. But Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, insisted he’d seen someone like her who had survived long enough to become an old woman.

   She wanted to believe that was possible. She hoped this morning’s experiment might provide a clue to how it was possible.

   After checking to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything they would need, Meg sat on the closed toilet seat and waited for Merri Lee, the human friend who was learning to work as her listener and interpreter.

   The cassandra sangue saw prophecies when their skin was cut. They were trained to describe the visions and images. But the girls weren’t taught how to interpret what they saw. That would have been pointless. The moment a girl began to speak, a euphoria filled her, veiling her mind and protecting her from what those images revealed. In fact, the only way a blood prophet could remember what she saw was to keep silent. If she didn’t say the words out loud, she remembered what she saw.

   It took a particular kind of determination—or desperation—to endure the agony that filled a girl when she didn’t speak after her skin was cut. And experiencing the euphoria that was almost orgasmic was the whole reason cassandra sangue became addicted to the cutting in the first place.

   It took a particular kind of courage to acknowledge that she couldn’t completely escape the addiction after so many years of being cut on a regular schedule for someone else’s profit. The prophecies inside her would not be denied. Whether she wanted to or not, Meg needed to cut.

   That was the reason today’s appointment with the razor was so important. She wasn’t experiencing the pins-and-needles feeling that indicated something was going to happen. Nothing pushed at her, and that made this morning the perfect time to discover what happened when she made a controlled cut.

   The back door of the office opened. A moment later, Merri Lee stood in the bathroom doorway holding a small pad of paper and a pen.

   They were both petite women around the same age, and both had fair skin. But Merri Lee had dark eyes and dark, layered hair that fell below her shoulders, while Meg had clear gray eyes and short black hair that was still mostly a weird orangey red from her efforts to disguise herself when she’d run away from the man known as the Controller.

   “Are you sure about this?” Merri Lee asked. “Maybe we should wait until Simon and Henry get back from Great Island.”

   Meg shook her head. “We should do this now, before the office opens and there’s additional . . . input . . . that might change what I see. Vlad is working at Howling Good Reads today. We can tell him about the prophecy—and he’s close enough if we need help.”

   “All right.” Merri Lee pulled over a chair from the little dining area, set it just outside the bathroom doorway, and sat down. “What should I ask you?”

   Meg had thought about this. When clients had come to the Controller’s compound, they had a specific question. She wasn’t looking for anything that defined, but she needed some kind of boundary. “This is what you should ask: What should the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard watch for during the next fortnight?”

   “That’s pretty vague,” Merri Lee said. “And . . . fortnight?”

   “If I ask about a specific thing in the Courtyard, something else might be overlooked—and that might be the important thing the Others should know about,” Meg replied. “Two weeks is enough time. As for ‘fortnight,’ I just learned that word and like the sound of it. I think it fits in with prophecies better than saying ‘two weeks.’”

   “But if this doesn’t work, if we don’t get anything useful, then you’ve made the cut for nothing,” Merri Lee argued.

   “Not for nothing,” Meg said. The euphoria was reason enough to cut. That wasn’t something she would say to her friend, so she offered a different truth. “If I can stretch out the time between cuts because one cut will supply the warnings we need for two weeks and quiet the pins-and-needles feeling that pushes me to cut, I’ll have more years to live. And I do want to live—especially now that I have a real life.”

   A beat of silence. Then Merri Lee said, “Ready?”

   “Yes.” Opening the silver razor, Meg laid the blade flat against her skin, its one-quarter-inch width providing the perfect distance between cuts—the distance that kept prophecies separated without wasting valuable skin. She lined up the back of the blade with the last scar on her left forearm. Then she turned her hand and cut just deeply enough for blood to flow freely and, equally important, for the cut to leave a scar.

   Agony filled her, the prelude to prophecy. Hearing someone crying—someone no one else could hear—Meg gritted her teeth, set the razor aside, and positioned her arm to rest in the bathroom sink. Then she gave Merri Lee a sharp nod.

   “What should the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard watch for during the next fortnight?” Merri Lee said. “Speak, prophet, and I will listen.”

   She spoke, revealing everything she saw. The images faded with the sound of the words as waves of euphoria produced a delicious tingle in her breasts and a rhythmic tug between her legs, replacing the pain.

 
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