Warren didn’t give chase. Wendy and I made our way to the room with the coats. The room’s resident and her monster were still unconscious, but the others were already outside, standing a few feet away from the open window, a vantage point where they could see within. The snow was falling all around them, it was dark, and the little light around the place cast long shadows.
There wasn’t any commentary as I reached under the bed, grabbed my jacket, scarf, cap, and gloves, and pulled everything on.
I glanced at Wendy, who looked like a ghost in more ways than one. Fine, pale hair, a haunted expression on her face. She wore a calf-length dress that was crisp and tidy enough it was almost a uniform, complete with a smock, and her hair was tied back. I could see subtle differences in the color and texture of it, suggesting that hair had been transplanted – a stitched’s hair didn’t tend to grow, or it fell out faster than it grew in, and it was telling that she’d been looked after in that regard.
“You need a coat,” I told her.
“I don’t,” she said. “I’m always hot, I-”
“You need a coat,” I said. “You’re always hot because it keeps you healthy. If you’re out in the cold, your body will have to work harder to stay hot, and you might run out of energy too quickly.”
I walked past her, stepping past the monster on the floor to get to the wardrobe by the door. I popped it open, then rifled through the hanging garments until I found something suitable, a long coat of black, lab-grown wool. I handed it to Wendy, and watched as she put it on. Her movements were stiff, and once or twice she paused, as if she had to remember or puzzle out the next sequence of movements to put her arms in the sleeves. I stepped in to grab the jacket and help it over her shoulder.
“It’s big,” she said. It was true. Two of her could have fit in the jacket.
I grabbed a long scarf from the closet, then wound it around her waist, cinching the coat closer to her body.
“Come on,” I said. I saw her look back, the doubt on her face, and grabbed her hand, pulling her along. It was a strange inversion of adult and child, the child leading the adult by the hand, but in reality, she was the innocent. She was the key to all of this, our last hope in figuring out how we were going to address the Fray situation.
“Through the window,” I said.
I gave her a hand in making her way down, and the others moved to the base of the window to help her down. She was a little heavier than someone her size should have been, and her movements were stiff. I’d interacted with stitched in general to know that sometimes patience was required.
She’s not so different from me. We lose what we don’t hold on to.
Except it was poisons that had eroded my faculties, and it was death that had eroded hers.
I wondered if Fray had made the same connection.
“Here we go,” Helen said. “That’s it. Lower your left foot just a little bit. That’s your right. There. Good job.”
Good work, Helen, I thought. I’d brought her here, but I wasn’t necessarily the person to keep her, if that was even possible in the long run. Wendy would feel more comfortable in Helen’s company than anything else. Gordon was a possibility as well, and Lillian likely had as much passing experience with the stitched as any of us.
Once Wendy was down from the window, I climbed out onto the snow-dusted windowsill and pulled the window shut. I dropped into the grass at the base of the window.
The evening was cooler, which contributed to the heavier snowfall, but it still wasn’t enough to cover the grass completely, nor to do more than layer the trees. With the sky getting dark, the odd and unusual trees of Kensford took on a more haunting appearance, jagged black lightning bolts with highlights of white here and there. The cottage-like dormitory houses were lighting up within, and they were small enough that each little window of orange flame or flickering voltaic power had silhouettes moving within. Young women were moving down the main streets in groups, accompanied by their monsters, but the sounds of conversation and footfalls didn’t reach us.
“I have questions, but it’s hard to ask them, given present company,” Mary said. She was scuffed up, but Lillian had applied bandages and applied a shot of something.
Wendy was looking around, oblivious. She seemed anxious, but not out of any concern for her personal safety. When Gordon took her hand, she wasn’t surprised or spooked. She took his hand and held it firm, not even questioning it.
Some stitched were made for battle. Wendy wasn’t one of those stitched. Someone could likely have come after her with a weapon and she wouldn’t have defended herself. On much the same level, an enemy might be able to give her a hug without her even thinking of resisting. There were vital parts of her psychology that were missing.
But Gordon being the one holding her hand helped. He had always had an affinity for other experiments. There were maybe four people who could communicate with Dog, despite Dog’s general inability to vocalize; Catcher was one, two scientists who maintained and looked after Dog were another couple, and Gordon was a fourth.
There were even some Whelps that he could pet without getting his hand bitten off, and the Academy doctors who worked on the Whelps weren’t even capable of doing that.
Gordon saw me looking at him and asked, “We aren’t being followed?”
“No,” I said, simply. No use agitating Wendy.
“We can’t go back to the dormitory house with our stuff. If Fray has any brains at all, she’ll send Warren that way.”
“It’s possible,” I said, but I wasn’t convinced.
“It’s possible, but you don’t sound confident,” he said.
“No,” I replied.
“It’s what you’d do in her shoes, but that’s not who she is. She’s indirect. She just revealed the big plan to us, she did it for a reason. We got close, and if Warren doesn’t stop us, she wants us distracted, dealing with it. It was always part of her strategy. If we cornered her, she would distract us. She doesn’t do the ‘direct attack’ thing.”
“She sent… you know who after us,” Jamie remarked. “Twice.”
“Who?” Wendy asked, looking concerned.
“It’s okay,” Helen said, giving Wendy’s hand a squeeze. “Can you hold my hands between yours? They’re toasty.”
“Oh, okay,” Wendy said. She looked happy to do it, and Helen’s smile brought out a smile on her face.
“The first time was indirect,” I told Gordon. “She was trying to divert us, and it worked. We had to deal with the medicine angle, we were distracted, led to chase her, and it gave her an opportunity to have a discussion with one of us. This time…”
“This time?” Gordon asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “We caught her off guard. This time, she didn’t expect us.”
“A cornered rat bites,” Mary commented, under her breath.
There were a few nods from the group at that. Mary had been bitten as hard as any of us.
“I don’t like rats,” Wendy said. “Not unless they’re the clean white ones in the labs. Those can be cute.”
“Can’t they!?” Helen gushed. “Did Miss Genevieve have any?”
“Did she have white rats to help her in the lab?”
“Yes, she did. I liked them. There was one and it would crawl on my hand and I would pet it. But I had to be gentle.”
“Of course,” Helen said. “You’re so lucky, having hands as warm as yours.”
It was a silly, stupid compliment, but Wendy seemed to like it.
The rest of us were silent, watching and listening intently.
“She wasn’t mean to them, was she?” Helen asked.
Wendy shook her head.
“She didn’t give them medicine to make them sick or stick them with syringes?”
Wendy kept shaking her head.
“But she was paying a lot of attention to the rats?”
“No, not a lot. But some.”
“Some?” Gordon asked.
“Some,” Wendy said, as if that was a complete idea.
“When you say some, do you mean it was once in a while, or were there other things she was more focused on?” Helen asked.
Wendy didn’t answer, raising her hand to her mouth, as if she were going to bite her nails, then pulled it away. She looked between us, as if she was completely lost.
“You don’t understand, do you?” Gordon asked.
Wendy shook her head.
“It’s okay,” he said. He reached out and put his hands around hers, which still held Helen’s. “Do you remember what we were saying about the white rats?”
“We were talking about rats?” she asked. I couldn’t tell if it was a question or if it was a statement she wasn’t entirely sure about.
She felt emotions, and the spectrum of emotions might well have been limited or more riddled with bumps and messiness, but that part of the brain was still intact. She could think and reason and perform set tasks, but her faculties outside of the tasks she was meant to perform were hampered. When it came to logic and interpretation, well, this very conversation had evidenced that a single stumble could take us back to square one.
No, I realized, looking at her. A step back from square one. She was anxious now, bothered. She didn’t like being lost, and the combined efforts of Gordon and Helen weren’t enough to reassure her.
She was our sole source of information, but an interrogation couldn’t proceed like this. We had to move slowly, carefully, and as gently as humanly possible, and we had to do it knowing that Fray was very possibly working on her next move.
“Let’s give her a few minutes,” Gordon said.
No! I thought.
Then I reminded myself that his instincts were very often good ones, when it came to dealing with experiments.
“Okay,” I said. “But let’s do something productive in the meantime.”
“What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking we need to slow our adversary down,” I said, keeping my voice quiet and calm for the benefit of our stitched guest, “She knows we have the means of figuring out what she’s doing. She dropped hints. She’s ready. If there’s a catalyst she needs to enter into the dynamic, or if there’s a switch that has to be pulled, a person that needs to be contacted, we need to get in the way of that.”
Talking in abstract terms and long words wasn’t helping matters. Wendy looked more confused and alarmed than before.
Bring things back, Sy. Connect it to something she understands.
“Our goal,” I said, talking more slowly, not looking directly at Wendy, even as I recapped things for her benefit, “Is to keep people safe. We want to find Genevieve, we want to find and help Warren.”
I put emphasis on that last part, so the others could know just why Wendy was here.
“That’s doable,” Gordon said.
I saw a smile find its way to Wendy’s face.
“First instinct, each of you,” Gordon said. “How can we accomplish this?”
“I go hunt,” Mary said. “I can stay out of Warren’s way. Maybe catch Fray off guard.”
Gordon and I exchanged glances. I could see the doubt and concern.
A lack of trust. Mary was hurt, and she wasn’t immune to making mistakes.
I gave him a nod. We needed to do this, if only because Mary’s pride couldn’t take anything else.
“Okay,” he said. “If in doubt, favor scouting over trying something.”
“I’ll stay with Wendy. We can go to the campfire, where you met the girls,” Helen said. “We took the time to recruit them, we should use them.”
“Good. I’ll either come with you or meet up with you shortly, we’ll have a good chat with Wendy. Jamie?”
“Infrastructure. The school. They have to have measures in place in case of trouble. Even if they aren’t obvious. We just need to ask the head of Dame Cicely’s, or someone else in a position to know. I know most of the faculty’s names-”
“From the book in the room,” I said.
“Yes. I might be a little out of date, but I can get something in motion. Soldiers, security measures, quarantine…”
“Too dangerous,” Gordon said. “You’d have to go through the school, and you could run into Warren.”
“I was thinking we could knock on doors for the larger homes near the Academy,” Jamie said. “Where the staff probably live.”
Gordon looked where Jamie was pointing. The houses in that general direction weren’t taller, but they sprawled more, many had multiple trees on the property, and if memory served, they’d had more extensive gardens.
“Makes sense,” he said. “Lillian, go with him. You can fill in the gaps, you have the knowledge to know what the quarantine measures might involve.”
“I’ll rally some of the people who we recruited before,” Gordon said. “We can maneuver to limit her range of movement, now that we know where she is. If there’s anything in the building that she can’t leave behind, then she’ll have to hang back-”
“No,” I cut Gordon off. “It doesn’t work like that. She said she already put it into motion. It’s not something like that, and it can’t be something she needs to pack up, because she’s been moving too fast and too far. She met Lady Claire and she made a connection, and then she moved in. That’s a lot harder to do if you’re bringing a small lab with you.”
“You’re assuming she’s telling the truth,” Gordon said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I am.”
“Because I don’t think she thinks lying would serve any purpose,” I said, simply.
Gordon frowned. “You’re romanticizing her.”
“I’m figuring her out,” I said, a little testily. “Genevieve Fray is putting up a front, one that she buys into, at least a little. That she’s doing the right thing, that she’s being fair, and being nice. Anyone that gets in her way is the bad guy. If and when she runs into trouble or if the plans fall through, or if push comes to shove, she gets to feel justified because she played fair, she was honest, and the bad guys were the ones who crossed the line. That idea is worth more than whatever ground she might gain by outright lying.”
“Uh huh,” Gordon said.
“Which doesn’t reveal much of anything about the person behind that front, who might not be a good person at all, and who would feel no need to pretend,” I added, as an afterthought. “But the Genevieve Fray I’ve talked to puts a lot of stock in being straightforward.”
“Uh huh,” he said, again. “We need to talk, later.”
“Sure,” I said.
“For now, we go with your instincts. We assume she isn’t lying.”
“Everyone knows where they’re going, then?” Gordon asked. “We meet at the fire where the failed students hang out. Mary, keep an eye on Jamie and Lillian. I know it’ll be hard as you get further away, but do what you can to keep an eye on each other.”
It was good. Telling Mary that in a way that let Lillian and Jamie know that the inverse was also true. Keep an eye on Mary.
“Let’s move. Close the net, let’s help Warren, best as we can,” Gordon said, echoing me, though the look in his eye was telling.
Fray is going to make a move, I thought. I doubted we could stop it. She was the iron fist in the velvet glove, gentleness and passivity on the surface, but force and determination lurking within. The moment we had an edge, well, most fists came in pairs, and there was no velvet where Warren was concerned.
I looked at Wendy, and I could imagine Warren as the inverse of Fray. He wasn’t lost or completely given over to his monstrous, brutish nature. There was something gentle at the core. Velvet was the wrong word for it, though.
We broke away from the other group, entering the edges of the woods that encircled the upper half of Kensford and Dame Cicely’s.
This was a route that Jamie would have been better equipped to navigate. Without much light to go by and with very few landmarks, we were largely in the dark.
But the campfire was a place where the fire was almost perpetually burning. These weren’t students who slept. They were people without futures, or people who thought they lacked futures, and people like that didn’t sleep easy. Even if death was metaphorical, a loss of all choice and greater hope, one didn’t want to squander their remaining days or months sleeping.
‘Ronnie’ was there, sitting by the fire, with a few monsters and two young women, less than had been here before. Her surgically modified face stared down into the flames.
“You’re here,” Gordon observed.
“I’m managing things,” she said. “Telling people where to go, covering important spots.”
“We need you to manage things in another direction. We found her,” Gordon said.
Ronnie sat up, but the look of surprise on her face wasn’t a look of pleasant surprise. She looked upset, offended.
“We’re not going to take this chance from you,” I said, quiet.
“You’re creepy little ones, eh?” Ronnie asked, in her odd accent, before settling back down. “Stepping out of the shadows, talking about big things, like you know me somehow.”
You’re easy to read. Everyone, deep down inside, they want something, they fear something, they feel hungers. The amounts and the flavors of these things vary, but you wear it on your face.
“We don’t have time to dally,” Gordon said. “How fast can you get the others to Dame Cicely’s? She was in the basement labs, she’s leaving right this second.”
“She’s leaving. Was she ever real?”
“Genevieve Fray was real,” I said.
“She was real,” Wendy echoed me.
Ronnie’s eyes narrowed.
“Do this, we put in a good word with people that count,” I said. “Not for all of you, but for you, and the ones you care the most about. I know you have some who are here just because, and you have some who are here, who truly belong, your allies. Genuinely help us, succeed or fail, and I promise you you’ll get what you need.”
“Big promises,” she said. She didn’t sound convinced.
“Your call,” Gordon said.
Ronnie frowned, then she looked at the girls sitting next to her, first one, then the other, talking under her breath.
They broke off into a run. One hopped onto the back of the creature that had been slumbering behind her, hugging its back with her hood up and her head down by its shoulder as it darted off into the brush. The other proceeded on foot, her pet lumbering behind her.
“Let’s go sit by the fire, honey,” Helen said. “Warm you up.”
“I’m already warm.”
“We’ll make it easier to be warm,” Helen coaxed.
We gathered on the bench, while Ronnie remained where she was, watching intently.
I looked at the girl and raised a finger to my lips. She didn’t give any indication that she’d seen.
“Genevieve was working on something, wasn’t she?” Gordon asked.
“Do you know what she was working on?”
Wendy shook her head.
“What sort of things was she doing?” he asked.
“When she was in the lab. Was there anything she focused on? Things she paid more attention to?”
“I don’t- I don’t-”
“Okay,” Gordon hurried to say. “Okay. That’s fine.”
She’d died. Her old memories were gone, her faculties more limited. Even if the brain was rescued promptly after death, death was death. There was always some damage.
“Did she ever talk about viruses?” Helen asked.
Wendy shook her head.
A pause, a frown, a few seconds thought. Then, once again, a shake of the head.
I thought of something Fray had mentioned, then jumped in, “There are monsters in every town. Did she talk about those? About paying visits to anyone or anything in particular?”
The frown was deeper. I saw the fidgeting.
I could have interrupted, before her thoughts worked themselves into a corner and something gave, but this one was important. We had some basis in fact. Much as I’d described to Gordon, Fray was obvious, she was direct.
“I want Warren,” Wendy said.
“I know,” Helen said, gentle. She gave Wendy a pat on the shoulder.
“I want Warren,” Wendy said, monotone.
Repetition. Regression. I was getting anxious now, frustrated. I understood, she wasn’t the first or the fifth or the fiftieth stitched I’d ever talked to, but we were facing a crunch, and now she was backsliding, falling back to safer mental processes and emotions. We might not get anywhere at this rate.
“I know,” Helen murmured, again. “I know, honey.”
“Look, Wendy, look at me. Come on… there you go,” Gordon said. He was pulling his jacket off, and then he rolled up his sleeve. He extended his arm. “I don’t know if you can see in the firelight, but-”
“Two colors,” Wendy said. “My eyes aren’t very good, especially this eye, but you’re patchy. Like me, a little.”
“I’m patchy, yeah,” Gordon said. He offered a smile. “You and I, we aren’t so different. I’m kind of like a stitched. Not really, but kind of.”
She nodded, paying rapt attention. Her eyes didn’t leave his arm. There were stretches that were slightly more tan than others. Most of him, it wasn’t obvious, but on this part of the arm there was a length where a straight line marked the difference between two very different sorts of skin. No scars, no stitches, just one kind of skin blending into the next.
“I really care about these guys. Just like you care about Warren, okay? I know exactly how you feel. We’re similar like that, too.”
She nodded slowly.
“We had someone join our group, almost a year ago now. Mary. It was pretty obvious from the start that she fit in. Not a perfect fit, but a good enough one. She was different. I don’t think you’re supposed to stay with us. I don’t think you feel like you’re supposed to stay with us.”
Gordon made a point of looking over at me and Helen. He was saying that to us as much as he was saying it to Wendy.
“I miss Warren,” Wendy said, again.
“Yeah,” Gordon said. “You’re going to go back to him soon, alright? We’re going to make that happen. That’s where you belong.”
Wendy nodded, more vigorously this time.
“But we need to help him first,” Gordon said. “We need your help to help him.”
“What sort of things did Genevieve talk about, when she was working?”
“Chemicals,” Wendy said. “I don’t remember the names.”
“Okay, what else? What sort of things did she talk about when Lady Claire wasn’t around?”
“No,” Wendy said.
“Try again, Wendy. What sort of things?”
“Lady Claire was always around.”
Gordon frowned. “Okay. Back to the beginning. Things she talked about. She talked about chemicals?”
“What about ratios?”
A head shake. No.
No. Lady Claire hadn’t been a true rebel. She’d been surprised to find out what Fray was.
“Were they working on something to help people?” I asked.
The stitched girl snapped her head around to look at me, but didn’t give a response.
“A big project, something that would prove that Lady Claire deserved to continue being a student?”
“No? Yes? Sort of?”
“It’s okay,” Helen coaxed. “Just say what you’re thinking.”
“I don’t- I’m not… not good at thinking.”
“Christ,” Ronnie said, under her breath, the accent slipping, “I haven’t seen many stitched like that one.”
I raised my finger to my mouth again, to remind the girl.
“She’s well made,” Helen said.
The frustration was getting to be too much. I stood from my seat. Fray knew we would zero in on what she was doing, the moment Warren conveyed that we’d gotten our hands on Wendy. She’d put her plan into motion, to maximize the damage.
I paced a little.
Whatever it was, it was going to be disastrous. Not a monster, not a plague, not a parasite…
“She said, she said that she was going to help the Academy,” Wendy said.
Helen, Gordon and I looked at Wendy.
“Help?” Gordon asked.
“That’s… that’s what she said. It was a big job, and Lady Claire was going to get credit.”
“But you don’t know what?” Gordon asked.
A noise in the bushes startled us. A group of girls had arrived through the woods. Some held lanterns. The lights danced unpredictably, the shadows swaying this way and that.
A dark night. The wind was picking up.
“Carriage just past the woods,” one girl said. “What do you need?”
“Dame Cicely’s,” Ronnie said. “Surround the school. If there are any doors you can knock on or anyone you can pull from the lunch room, acquaintances, people you think might listen to you, do it.”
“Spread word,” I said. “Let people know there’s someone dangerous inside, and tell them there’s reward money.”
“Big guy and a woman with crimson lipstick,” Gordon said. “Search the woods beyond the school, and patrol the streets. The big guy is hard to miss, and he’s lightly injured.”
“If you see a girl with ribbons in her hair, and it doesn’t look like she’s hiding, do what she says,” I added.
“Whatever they said,” Ronnie said. “Go, and hurry.”
The girls turned and hurried back through the woods.
I hoped Jamie and Lillian were having more luck rallying help, or that Mary had an eye on Fray.
“You’re doing well,” Gordon reassured Wendy. “You don’t know what it was that Genevieve and Lady Claire were going to do? To help the Academy?”
Wendy shook her head.
It was so little. Cryptic.
I thought of my earlier idea, of the monsters hidden within each small town in the periphery of the big ones.
Would she help the Academy by releasing one of the monsters?
Hard to justify, hard to explain. Lady Claire wouldn’t buy into that so easily.
Something more benign, something that could fit into a lie.
“My head hurts,” Wendy said. Her breath didn’t fog up in the cold, but there was a light haze rising from her body.
“Come here,” Helen said. “Lie down. Head down here, and get just a little way away from the fire. I think you’re toasty enough.”
Wendy nodded, lying down with her head in Helen’s lap.
Was that all we were going to get out of her? She still served as a hostage, in an abstract way. It was amusing. The Lambs, myself included, would put a human in the line of fire if we needed a hostage or if we needed to hurt someone to get a step closer in our goals. It was somehow harder to do with someone or something like Wendy.
Not impossible. Simply harder.
Better to use her as a negotiation chip, and a way to tether Fray. Warren wouldn’t leave without Wendy, and Fray most likely wouldn’t leave without Warren.
“I don’t know,” I finally said.
“No,” Gordon agreed.
“No,” Helen said, softly, brushing at Wendy’s hair with her fingers. Odd, that she was so gentle, but I had little doubt she’d be fastest to act if she needed to hurt Wendy to further our goals.
Well, going from gentle sweetness to murder at a moment’s notice was what she had been made for, in a way.
We sat in silence for a little while.
“We should go find the others,” Gordon said. “Helen, you stay. I doubt Fray is going to find you here, and we need to keep her stitched away from her.”
He was thinking along the same lines I was.
He and I stood, and we started on our way through the woods, back to the others.
“You wanted to talk about something,” I said. “Me and Fray?”
“Are you thinking straight?” he asked.
“Do I ever?”
“You’re more capable of thinking straight than you let on, yeah,” he said.
We pushed our way through a thicket of branches between a set of trees.
“I want to beat her so badly,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “A part of me wonders, though.”
“If you’d let her go, so you could have the challenge. If, should the situation come down to it, you’d just miss, or make a mistake.”
I nearly tripped over something hidden under leaves and snow. I caught myself.
“No,” I said.
“I’m sure,” I said. “Maybe with Mauer, I might, but not Fray.”
“Why? What’s the difference?”
“Why are you even asking?”
“Because I don’t get you, Sy,” he said, tense. “I try, I can put my mind to it and I can see how you think, with the angles and weirdness, but seeing you in the midst of this, your thoughts are ranging too far afield, I can’t track them. We were complaining about the way the team wasn’t holding together, but you’ve unhitched the horse from the wagon here.”
“The horse is still hitched to the wagon, Gordon,” I said. “And I’m sort of pissed you’re implying different.”
“Nah,” he said.
“I’ll take your word for it,” he said.
“That doesn’t sound like you believe me.”
“The hell? How am I supposed to relax when you’re questioning me and coming after me and suggesting I’d help her before I helped you guys?”
“That’s not what I’m trying to do.”
“You’re being a dick.”
“I’m-” he started, then he stopped. “Hold on.”
I bit my tongue. We moved in near-silence for a minute, pushing through frosted vegetation in the dark, the occasional leaf or twig crunching underfoot. We were close enough to see the lights. The entire Academy was alight.
It wasn’t that late, all things told, but it was winter, we were a little ways up North, and the days were short. People would be at dinner.
“Jamie and Mary didn’t get along, when I paired them up earlier, remember?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Helen and Lillian, they’re not much of a match either, you know? Lillian’s a little scared to work on Helen, even, after Ibott blew up at her a few times. But they don’t play off each other well, either.”
“They handled the Sub Rosa thing pretty well.”
“Pretty well,” Gordon admitted. “But what I’m getting at, is you and I… I like you, Sy, I admire you, but we’re pretty diametrically opposed in how we approach things.”
I nodded. He could pick up something and be good at it from the outset. I could focus on something and get very, very good at it, given time. He was maturing fastest, he was most physically fit. I was lagging behind to an alarming degree, and I couldn’t even fare that well against Jamie in a mock fight, anymore. Jamie, of all people.
“That’s not a bad thing,” I said. “Being different.”
“No. No it isn’t. We thrive in diversity. I think that’s one of the Academy mottoes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t issues.”
“Fair,” I said.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Sy,” he said. “About Fray. Because you seem to think you have a sense of her, and I’m not feeling it. You’re making little mistakes, and that tells me you’re not as right as you think you are.”
I bristled at that.
“You can’t be a hundred percent right with her,” I said. I thought for a second, trying to find the words with which to explain. “She’s… she has no aggression, she doesn’t let aggression touch her. If you hit her head on, she doesn’t fly back. She just diffuses the impact, makes it wasted effort. She shows something on the surface, but there’s a depth there she’s hiding.”
“You’ve got a look on your face,” Gordon said. “Like you’re concentrating really hard.”
“I’m…” I said, but he wasn’t wrong. I had all the thoughts and puzzle pieces in my head, the mystery that was Fray and what Fray was doing. Wendy’s commentary was a big factor in making the connections. Even behind the scenes, there hadn’t been an iron fist within the velvet glove.
I was feeling like I was on the cusp of something, just about ready to have the explanation fall off my tongue.
“She’s transparent,” I said. “I keep coming back to water imagery.”
I thought of the sea monster within the river, that I had watched with Fray. It had been sluggish, sick.
She had showed me, right from the outset.
The lab in the basement of Dame Cicely’s. The water had been running beneath the school, fueling its projects. She had access.
Water was the source of all life.
“She did something to the water supply,” I realized, aloud. I pushed harder through the branches, now.
“What? Hell, Sy, this school has the daughters of some of the Crown’s elite in attendance!”
“Something subtle, whatever it is, they’ve all already been dosed, damn it!” I said, almost running now, not caring about the branches that scraped me. “And people are going to find out, because she’s going to inform them, and it’s going to be catastrophic! We need to find the people in charge and we need to start running damage control right away!”
We reached the edge of the forest. Wendy and Helen were safe in a hiding spot that Fray wasn’t likely to find. Our eyes fell on a group of girls who were standing around the school, one of them was someone we’d seen at the fire.
“Tell the other girls. They have to find the faculty, tell them to meet us out here, it’s an emergency,” I told them. I passed the girl my badge. “Show them this, they should understand.”
“You want to let the woman go?”
It was a good question. We were playing directly into Fray’s hands, creating gaps in the perimeter. Fray had known we would have to.
I couldn’t give the answer. Doing it would prove Gordon right. I looked to him to make the call, to decide.
Had I communicated well enough about Fray for him to understand this?
“If you have to,” he said. “Prioritize warning people.”