“You should really put your hood up,” Jamie told me, as we got out of the coach. Lacey and Cecil were just behind us. We’d been picked up on our way back.
“I know Rick got on your case about it earlier, but it’s cold out. I worry about you.”
“If I get sick, the Academy will make me better.”
Jamie pointed at the Hedge, which we were just now approaching. “And if you have to come here or somewhere to get a few shots, then they’ll keep you and set you up for an appointment, just like they did when you burned yourself with flesh-dissolving spittle.”
“Technically, the Snake Charmer burned me.”
“I don’t know why you insist on correcting me on the details,” Jamie said. “I know the details. I don’t forget the details. I have the details in writing, even.”
“I do it to annoy you when you’re being annoying. Quid pro quo.”
“That’s not what quid- you’re doing it again.”
He was too tired to hit me, so I threw an arm around his shoulder instead.
We stopped as a group in front of the four guards by the Hedge’s doors. We remained silent as Lacey and Cecil approached the guards. Lacey handed over the paper that Briggs had given us.
A moment later, the doors were open, the paper returned to us, and we were free to enter the Academy’s most public area. A hospital for the people of Radham. The Hedge was, perhaps for the first time in a year or two, staffed by a skeleton crew. Empty benches filled the lobby, with a student sleeping on one, a book left open across his chest, a few doctors in gray coats stood by with some students in their white lab coats, attending to papers and doing what they could to get organized.
“Travis,” Cecil greeted one.
“Cecil. You came in through the front door?”
“Things are mostly resolved, I think. Wouldn’t be surprised if those doors open soon, with word from the higher-ups.”
The doctor Cecil was talking to, an older man, looked fairly annoyed by that. “I was hoping this would go on for a bit longer.”
“People were dying and getting hurt,” Jamie said, quiet.
Doctor Travis blinked. “Good to know. Becca, would you go wake up some of the other doctors? With the backlog and these injured parties coming in, we’ll be busy tonight.”
“Actually,” Cecil said. He took the slip of paper from Lacey, then showed it to Travis. “We need to talk to Professor Briggs first. As soon as possible.”
Travis frowned, looking at the note. “Why do you have this?”
“Can’t say. I do need it back, though.”
“Nick, then,” Doctor Travis said, returning the paper. “You’re a fast runner. Go find Professor Briggs. On your way back, wake up the other Hedge Doctors.”
A young man that wasn’t much older than eighteen sprinted from the room.
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Jamie said. “About people dying and getting hurt.”
“I know what you meant, son. It might seem callous, but the work comes first, feelings second.”
“I like to think they mingle,” Cecil said.
You’re a prat, I thought.
“They can,” Doctor Travis allowed. “But when you work in the Hedge, you can’t tie your emotions to every piece of work that comes through those doors. Half the time they’re mostly gone by the time they make it here. When you know you could save everyone, but the money and resources aren’t so plentiful, and you have to make choices. Even when it’s a child, or someone’s mother.”
“There’s a good reason I don’t work in the Hedge,” Cecil said.
“Do those children behind you need some attention?” Travis asked.
“It’s why we’re here,” Cecil said.
He was talking about Gordon and Helen, who were cut up, though they’d received preliminary treatment in the coach with Lillian, Lacey and Cecil tending to them. I was bruised, scraped, and filthy, while Mary had scuffed up hands, though I wasn’t sure the Doctor could see that.
We were taken to benches, where we put our feet on the seats and sat on the backs, the doctors and students looking after us.
The student who was looking after me informed me that, “This bruise will turn a very fun orange color later tonight. It will be gone by the morning.”
“Fun?” I asked.
“Isn’t it interesting?” he asked me.
“No,” I said.
“Don’t be a dick, Sy,” Gordon said.
I shut my mouth, frowning.
The student wheeled over a cart, where a dozen implements were laid out on top, wires with insulation coils running down to the covered box on the cart’s lower half. He picked up a woodpecker,screwed on three vials, each with a stylish, flourishing letter printed on it, the contents colored for further clarity, then flicked a switch to start the needle to its back and forth motion.
Urgh. I hated needles. Even motorized ones.
My mind started running through scenarios, much as it had at several points earlier in the night. Possibilities, where things were, where people were, tracking details, plotting.
Jamie’s hand settled on mine.
I let the train of thoughts unspool, each idea running off course until they collectively dissolved into a general air of negativity and resentment. I flinched as the woodpecker started stabbing me, then grit my teeth. There was a painkiller in there, making the pain of the needle’s stab a fleeting one. He covered what would have been the full breadth of the bruising thus far.
“I take it this is your stitching work, Cecil?” Travis asked. He was removing the stitches in Gordon’s face.
“It is. Miss Lacey did most of the work on Helen over there.”
The female doctor who was working with Helen commented, “Who did the collarbone and upper chest?”
“I did,” Lillian said, quiet.
“Really? Well applied binding emulsion with minimal stitching. Applied outside of a hospital environment? Mix? Antibacterial base, I imagine.”
“No need,” Lillian said.
We weren’t so clumsy to actually turn our heads and give her shocked looks, but I could sense the reaction from the others. Jamie’s hand tightened up a bit where it was holding mine down against the top of the bench.
“She was already on a regimen,” Lillian said. “P base, A, D, E mixes.”
“Mmm. Overall, very nearly perfect. The kind of work I’d expect from a year ten student. A year twelve might not do this kind of work out in the rain,” the doctor said. Travis looked over to investigate and murmured approvingly.
“We were in a coach, and I’ve focused a lot on field care,” Lillian said. She kept her expression placid, tone modest, but I could tell from the agitation of her hands and the slight kicking movement of her feet that she was inordinately pleased at the praise.
“Nonetheless,” Travis said, turning his attention back to Gordon. “What are your plans for the future, honey? I’d like to steal you.”
“Ahem,” the female doctor said.
“We’d steal you,” Travis amended his statement. “For the Hedge?”
“Um. I may have other obligations,” she said.
Travis made an annoyed ‘tsk’ sound.
“Who?” the female doctor asked.
“Professor Hayle is sponsoring me,” she said.
The silence was telling. Had she given another name, the response might have been a ‘Good choice, good choice’ or a ‘Promising!’, but Hayle’s department was seen as a doomed one.
The woodpecker stopped, and I felt muscles relax where I hadn’t even known they were tense. I raised a hand toward my forehead, and the student slapped it away. “Don’t touch.”
He turned his back to wheel the cart away, and I raised my hand toward my forehead again.
Jamie slapped it away this time.
My student returned, and turned his focus to Jamie. “Do you need care?”
Jamie shook his head.
“You have a mark on your collarbone. It looks like it goes lower. If you’d take off your shirt, I can look after that.”
Jamie shook his head again, with more force than before. He fixed his shirt.
“Are you sure? I won’t hurt, I can apply-”
“No,” I said. “No, thank you. Jamie’s fine.”
The student gave me a curious look, but didn’t say anything further.
Jamie gave my hand a pat.
“And you?” the student asked Mary.
“My hands are a little scraped up. I’d rather Lillian look after them.”
“Ah, your friend? I imagine you would,” the student said, smiling. “She’s good.”
Mary gave an awkward smile back.
It didn’t take long for Briggs to arrive. He came in the company of a stitched and a young female doctor. The stitched carried an oversize umbrella and a set of files, while the young doctor had three birds on her arm, each one hooded.
“Leave us,” Professor Briggs said.
The doctors and students left the room as quickly as they could without actually running. Equipment was left behind.
“You too, Cecil,” Briggs said. “The young lady can stay.”
Cecil frowned, but he made his exit, following Doctor Travis.
“Explain,” Briggs said, which was probably the least positive way he could have asked.
Gordon spoke up. He wasn’t stitched up anymore, but had wet streaks over the cuts that were now virtually invisible, they’d been pressed together so neatly. “He’s running, and he has Whiskers-”
“Um. The first escaped project. We didn’t know that it was possible to control it. We would have given chase if we hadn’t been surprised.”
“Wally, the guy we interrogated, he left out the critical detail, sir,” I said. “If you need a test subject for parasites, look no further than him.”
Briggs nodded. He didn’t look happy, thought.
“Mauer went due east from the church,” Gordon said. “He has thirty soldiers that we saw-”
“Thirty seven,” Jamie corrected, quiet.
“Thirty seven,” Gordon said. “If the other projects aren’t in that area, they’re wasting their time. If you direct them after him, they could get both Mauer and Whiskers. Or they could get killed, depending.”
Briggs reached into a voluminous coat pocket to retrieve a notepad no longer or wider across than his hand. He picked a pen out of the pocket on the other side, then scribbled out a note, tearing it off and handing it to the girl with the birds.
He kept writing as he spoke. “Soldiers?”
Gordon continued, “Mauer was an ex-soldier. He kept in touch with old colleagues. Years of resentment adding up to a loathing of the Academy. He wanted the Academy to attack so that he’d have ammunition to use in future efforts. This was a long-term plan, working against the Academy.”
I added, “Sir, he has or had moles inside the Academy walls to sabotage us, he was actively working to turn the public against us, probably to cut off supplies and make life as hard as possible, and he had soldiers with knowledge of the Academy and its methods to disable our best efforts. I think he wanted to play the long game.”
“To what ends?”
I shrugged. “Demanding concessions, getting into a position of power where he could hit the Academy where it hurt and walk away untouched? I’m sorry, sir, but we can’t say for sure until we catch him and get him in an interrogation room.”
“I was alerted to the fact that the riot did start, despite your efforts.”
“No, sir,” Gordon said. “It started because of our efforts. We set things in motion in a controlled way, with the idea that we could turn the tables on Mauer. We did.”
“He’s neutered,” Helen said.
“He’s a villain to the people, now, sir,” I clarified. “Someone who cuts children, lies, makes up stories about escaped experiments, tries to make innocent women into scapegoats, and puts a gun to the head of a wounded little girl.”
“That last one was me,” Helen said, wiggling a bit in her seat, smiling.
“The anger over what happened tonight should mostly be directed at Mauer, not at us,” Gordon said. “Short of getting him and getting all the answers, it’s the best resolution we could hope for.”
Briggs nodded. He finished writing the third piece of paper, then worked with the young doctor with the birds.
“Go,” he said.
I craned my head as the girl with the birds headed out the door. “Are those messenger birds?”
“The birds are modified to be able to smell the other projects. They’ll find them and deliver the messages, provided they’re in or near the city,” Briggs said. “There’s no good way to communicate with them in the field, this was the means we devised.”
“Is- do we have a bird, sir?” I asked.
“No,” Briggs said.
“Can we, sir?”
“Sy,” Gordon said, in a tone that made it sound less like he was going to kill me and more like Gordon killing me was an inevitability. “No.”
I slouched a bit, then leaned forward, elbows resting on my knees. I was still sitting on the back of the bench, Jamie standing behind me, Mary a short distance to the side, silent and nearly invisible.
“Lacey, was it?” Briggs asked.
“You can confirm all of this?”
“It seems accurate, based on what I witnessed. I should note that Cecil was accused of being in league with Mauer. Measures should be taken to keep him out of the public eye for a time.”
“That’s something we can do. I’m sure he’ll be content to be in his new laboratory.”
He seemed to consider a moment.
“Good,” Briggs finally said. “The Lambs project will get those badges that were asked for, if it means they can keep up this degree of work. I was told they could resolve this better than we might have if I’d sent a regiment of stitched to quell the riot, and the Lambs followed through.”
“Yes sir,” Lacey said.
“Hayle can have the budget increase and additional staffing I know he intended to ask for. I’ve also signed off on the requests.”
Briggs took the file folders from the stitched beside him, shuffled through them to find one specific one, and then handed it to Lacey.
Sounds too good to be true.
“Is there a catch, sir?” Gordon asked.
“Catch? In a way, yes. Professor Hayle has been going on at length about your collective merits. My own methodology when building something is to test it until it breaks. Then I repair or start it anew. I repeat this process until it cannot break. The superweapon that sleeps under our feet is evidence that this can work.”
There were some nods from us.
“I will be making more use of you, in coming weeks and months. I will be testing you.”
Until we break.
“And,” he said, “I don’t want it said that you broke because I didn’t give you or Hayle the necessary resources. Change is afoot, a firm hand will be needed to keep things steady.”
“Go. Miss Lacey, if you could deliver that to Professor Hayle?”
“I can.” she replied.
“Thank you for your hard work. The Lambs can go home. I don’t expect they’ll be much use against a squadron of ex-soldiers and an experiment on a leash.”
“Mauer is the most dangerous of them,” I said. “Um, sir, sorry. He’s brilliant, he’s good at manipulating people on a large scale. You really shouldn’t underestimate him.”
Briggs’ expression didn’t change. He really liked his long pauses. He had the clout to make others entertain them. He finally said, “We’ll deal with him to the best of our ability. Your part in this is done, however. You should rest. Tend to your wounds. I may call on you as soon as tomorrow morning. I have things to look after.”
His bird-woman crossed the room to his side, joining Briggs and the stitched. The three of them headed for the other side of the Hedge, where it exited into the Academy grounds, inside the walls.
Lacey looked us over.
“Thank you,” I said. “You did well.”
“It’s annoying, being patronized to by a child, but that’s probably intentional,” she said. She frowned. “But you’ve thanked me and apologized several times tonight. I get suspicious when you act that way.”
“Probably smart,” Gordon said.
“Yeah,” Jamie said.
“Pretty much,” Helen said, chipper.
“Sy’s a jerk,” Lillian said, with a hair too much emphasis.
Lacey rolled her eyes. She turned to go.
She didn’t make it three steps before I started following her, flashing a quick grin to the others, who sat and stared.
Three seconds later, when we were almost out of the room, Lacey stopped, spinning in place. I wasn’t quite quick enough to duck into cover.
“Huh?” I asked. “Do you have eyes in the back of your head?”
“No,” she said.
“I didn’t make a sound.”
“You didn’t,” she said. “But they didn’t either. And when the room is that quiet and I have that niggling feeling of doubt deep inside…”
“You get suspicious enough to act on it,” I said.
“What were you doing?” she asked, sounding as tired as she was stern.
“The file. I wanted a peek at the file.”
She held up the file that Briggs had given her. Supposedly whatever Hayle had been so emotional about earlier in the evening, when I’d undercut him in going to Briggs for the badge. Part of it, at least.
“It isn’t classified,” she said. “And I know Briggs is strict about those things.”
She opened the folder. She took her time reading it. Rubbing it in, making me ache from head to toe with the yearning to know.
She could get revenge for everything I’d subjected her to by turning around and walking away right then.
I sensed it. That she was going to do it. It was in her body language, the tension in her legs, the angle of her body. It was in her expression, which was far from being a proper poker face. A smirk in hiding.
The expression changed.
That put me off balance. I shifted my weight from foot to foot.
“Okay,” she told me. “Hands behind your back. I don’t want you running away with this.”
I nodded, hands going behind my back.
“I wasn’t going to show you, but you should read it,” she said.
Which only piqued my curiosity before. If she pulled it away now, I probably would have jumped her, improvised weapon in hand. I wouldn’t have gotten the information I wanted, but I would’ve at least burned off some of the nervous, frustrated energy in me.
She lowered the file to the point where I could read it.
My eyes scanned the page.
Nothing special. Boring legal wording.
I felt a chill at the third offered provision.
The fourth jarred me to my core.
My hands, previously behind my back, dropped to my sides. I swallowed hard. “But…”
“You’re not surprised, are you?” she asked, and her voice was soft. “You know who Hayle is, how he operates.”
I shook my head, “But… really?”
“I can’t say,” she said. “It wouldn’t be until next year. Even then, it would take some time before you had to worry on any level.”
“I almost- I thought-”
My hands went up to my hair, clutching at it a little. A part of me wanted to cry, all of a sudden. The buzz from our successful dealings with the Shepherd was gone.
She reached out to put a hand on my wet hair, knocking my hands out of the way in the process. Again, they dropped to my sides. I left them there. She gave me a tentative pat on the head, as if I were a stray dog. Her voice was gentle, a kindness that I would have called hypocritical, before. “Go home. Get your new Lamb settled in. Tell them, so they know. I’ll tell Lillian as I walk her to her dormitory.”
Numb, I nodded.
I felt like I was in a daze as I rejoined the others. They clustered around me.
I knew that they were hungry for information in ways that were very different from how I was insatiably curious, but they didn’t push. Their concern was for me. Whatever my expression or body language was like, it seemed to worry them.
Even Lillian seemed reluctant to step away and join Lacey in heading into the Academy grounds. She cast me a backward glance.
The others ushered me out the door. The coach we’d taken to arrive was still there, manned by a stitched driver. We climbed in, Gordon the last to file in through the door, stopping to give the driver instructions on where to go.
It wasn’t a long ride. Just down the road.
I was so used to my thoughts running along multiple tracks, too busy to stay on one subject, but in this, I didn’t have the energy. I watched out the window, and my brain was slow, chugging along, the majority of my focus set on trying not to think.
I’d taken the expiration dates in stride. I’d expected it almost from the beginning.
This was harder to handle, in an ironic way.
The others murmured in conversation the entire way back. All the same, the words were noise, my thoughts were on some musing about how Radham worked as a kind of motte and bailey, which was a safe way of thinking, unless I thought too much about Radham Academy. The loosely defended city, the fortress that residents could retreat to if they had to. In time of serious attack, people could enter the Academy, wait out the enemy while bombarding them and defending the nigh-impenetrable walls, and then exit to rebuild and live in the city once again.
Safety. Safe way of thinking. My brain was tired.
I was surprised when the coach stopped. Time had passed too quickly and too slowly at the same time. I felt dazed.
Mary, I thought.
“Welcome home, Mary,” I said.
My words seemed to startle a few of the others. Only Helen smiled throughout, unflinching. The others looked concerned.
“Thank you,” Mary said.
“I’m really glad to have you with us,” I said.
She nodded. But she looked disconcerted.
We made our way inside, not opening umbrellas, but flipping up hoods and dashing for the door. Again, Gordon was the last to follow, giving word to the coach driver to return to the Academy. He should have been trained to go back anyway, but it was always better to be safe than sorry.
Mrs. Earles was waiting up for us, and joined us in the hallway before we had all of our coats and boots off. In hushed tones, so as not to wake the younger ones, she urged us upstairs, promising us tea.
Mary needs attention, I thought, and this was the new focus. Not idle thoughts, but getting her settled. I found her hand, and was surprised at how tightly she clutched it.
“Mary’s sharing the right corner room with Helen,” Mrs. Earles said. “We’ve moved Helen’s stuff and Mary’s luggage over.”
Mary nearly tripped, she was so startled by the announcement. I had her hand, and Gordon put a hand out to catch her. When she straightened, she had a look in her eyes.
“Don’t worry, I’m harmless.” Helen whispered, then she made a tiny, excited sound, barely keeping her volume down, “One room for the two of us!”
Our resident monster skipped ahead, stepping exactly where she needed to step to avoid the creaking of floorboards.
Mary looked more disturbed in the wake of it.
I was puzzled more than anything, and the puzzlement added to my general lack of focus. Helen was different, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I resolved to ask. But, again, Mary was the priority. I tried to pull myself together.
“Can I share a room with Mary?” I asked.
“Not at all. That wouldn’t be proper,” Mrs. Earles said. “You stay with Jamie.”
I wished I had the badge, so I could show her and make her listen. She was an Academy employee, in a roundabout way.
“We need to talk before bed,” Gordon said. “And we haven’t eaten. Could you please get something?”
Mrs. Earles gave him a disapproving look.
“On my word,” he said, with utmost sincerity. “It’s important, and I’m ravenous.”
“Get changed, I’ll have crackers, cheese and meat, with some treated tea.”
“Thank you,” he whispered.
She gave him a pat on the shoulder.
We headed into our individual rooms. Gordon already had one corner room, but it was a tiny space, cut off by the stairs that went up to the third floor, where Mrs. Earles’ bedroom was. Mary and Helen’s room was usually reserved for older girls or girls who were expecting to be adopted out. It was a treat. No sleeping in a room with four or five other girls.
Jamie and I changed as quickly as we were able, which meant I was done before Jamie had his shirt off. I went out of my way to avoid looking, though I’d seen many times before.
When he pulled his pants off, though, I turned my back altogether.
We all had our burdens, we all needed support in our own ways. This was one of Jamie’s ways.
He put a hand on my shoulder, signaling it was okay for me to turn around. He had pyjamas that buttoned down the front. My own was only a sleeveless and undersized workman’s shirt that showed how horribly skinny my shoulders and arms were, along with pyjama bottoms. I hated being confined in clothes while I slept, but Jamie tended to wake me up by swatting me with his book if I slept without anything at all. It didn’t help that I kicked my sheets off, most nights.
“I’m so tired,” Jamie admitted. “And I have so much to write in my book before bed.”
“Let me,” I said.
He gave me a look.
“No mischief, I promise. I’ll write down everything as I remember it.”
“I don’t think I can read your handwriting.”
“I’ll try, for real,” I said. “You can add stuff after, fill in blanks as you need to.”
He frowned. “Maybe.”
“Okay. Maybe. That thing with the names, starting the riot? That was incredible,” I said.
“I was terrified.”
“It was incredible,” I said, again.
We reached the kitchen and began to dine on salty crackers with slices of cheese and meat. I went for the cheese first.
Gordon joined us, but he went for the meat, naturally.
And then there were the two girls. Helen and Mary. Both wore long nightgowns, white and riddled with lace, though Mary’s had a ribbon at the collar.
I drew in a deep breath. I felt a horrible pressure on my chest.
The others didn’t push, and Mary seemed to be following the others’ lead.
“Helen,” I said. “I have to ask…”
“Yes?” Unlike Gordon, who was eating about three pieces of meat to every piece of cheese and every cracker, she was eating exclusively meat slices, gathered together and rolled up into tubes.
“What’s with this new you? You’ve been different.”
“Oh! Oh. I had my thing with Professor Ibbot last month, and a check-up just a couple of days ago,” she said, smiling. “He got upset with me. He hit me a few times. Not hard enough to do any damage, but, just because.”
I was silent. I had a lump in my throat already, and I didn’t like hearing this.
Her smile widened a bit. “He said I shouldn’t slack off. That I couldn’t just stop acting. It was something I had to practice. So I’m practicing. I’m trying to figure out who Helen Ibbot should be when she’s not acting for someone else.”
“Oh,” I said. “You’re a perfect actor already. You don’t really need to practice.”
“He told me to, so I will,” she said, very firmly.
“I liked the old Helen,” I said. “The one who didn’t feel like she had to smile.”
There were nods from Jamie and Gordon.
“That’s too bad,” Helen said, in a very matter of fact way. “You’re going to have to get used to the new me.”
I nodded, feeling a touch more lost than before.
I didn’t like that. I wanted to hurt Ibbot for it, but I wasn’t sure how, or if it was even possible, or right.
“What’s going on, Sy? Does that have anything to do with the file?”
“No,” I said. I ran my fingers through my hair again. “No. I’m just… not wanting to dwell on it.”
“What is it?” Jamie asked.
I drew in a deep breath.
“There were provisions. Things Briggs was giving Hayle, things Hayle wanted. The first was money, funding. The second was manpower, extra space.”
“We knew that much,” Gordon said.
“The third, it’s not fun to hear, but I already talked to you guys about this. About the expiration dates.”
“You brought it up,” Gordon said, his tone suddenly different, very careful. “And I told you that if you ever dare to tell me or hint to me what my date is, I will never forgive you.”
“And I believe you,” I said, very quiet. “I’ll never tell you, and since the others aren’t asking, I won’t tell them.”
Even though you’re supposed to die first, I thought.
My expression didn’t betray a thing. I sighed. “Briggs authorized replacements. When we die, when we break, according to Briggs’ terminology, then there will be new, better Lambs.”
“Not so surprising,” Jamie said. “I’ve heard hints of that before, from my caretakers.”
I nodded. “But it’s not fun to hear.”
“No,” Gordon said. Mary nodded.
“That’s not it, is it?” Jamie asked. “What got to you this badly?”
“I… I almost fucked it up,” I said. “I… uh. Ugh. I can’t get over the fact that I almost fucked it up.”
“They’re reviving the other projects?” Helen guessed. “Evette or Ashton? They’re going to take another try, start over from scratch?”
She was clever enough to connect the dots. Head in my hands, I nodded.
The silence that followed only added to the weight on my chest.
“One project,” I said. “Hayle wanted to revive one project, and in my dicking around with the badges, I almost took that away.”
“That’s not surprising at all,” Gordon said, leaning back in his chair. “We always knew you were a disaster waiting to happen.”
“Wow,” I said, sitting straighter. “Wow.”
But the words lifted the burden, in a small way.
“You’ve almost gotten any one of us killed a half dozen times already,” Jamie said. “Why does this matter?”
“Because I trust you guys to handle yourselves. But these two…”
“Yeah,” Gordon said. “I get it.”
“Our little siblings,” Helen said. “We’re going to get one of them back.”
I nodded. I smiled a little, even. “But that’s a year off. We already have one new Lamb.”
“Hear hear,” Helen said. She would be second last to go.
We raised our mugs and clunked them together.
“Hear hear,” Jamie said. He wouldn’t die, but he would expire a year after Gordon, if the files were right. I suspected he already knew, and that knowledge defined him on a level.
Mary smiled, and it was genuine. She was one of us, and it was the sort of thing she’d craved for a very long time. It was like a warmth was flowing out from within her. Our little killer, and I had no idea when she would expire, there was no way to find out, and there was something safe in that.
She met my eyes, and I smiled at her.
Me, who would outlast the rest, and who would wish I hadn’t.