Written in Red Page 49

“Not much good skin left, but this was meant for you . . .”

The silver razor flashed in the sun as she took it from the pocket of her dress. A precise cut on her cheek, its distance from an existing scar the width of the blade.

What he saw that day, what she said that day, had shaped his life.

“Blood prophet,” Simon whispered as he continued to stare at Meg. “You’re a cassandra sangue.”

“Yes,” she replied, lowering her arm and pushing down her sleeve.

“But . . . why did you run? Your kind live in special places. You’re pampered, given the best of . . .”

“Whether you’re beaten or pampered, fed the best foods or starved, kept in filth or kept clean, a cage is still a cage,” Meg said with fierce passion. “We are taught what the Walking Names want us to know because what good is a prophet if she can’t describe what she sees? We sit in classrooms, day after day, looking at pictures that describe things that exist in the world, but we’re never allowed to know one another, never allowed to have friends, never allowed to speak unless it’s part of an exercise. We are told when to eat, when to sleep, when to walk on the treadmill for exercise. They even schedule when we take a shit! We are alive, but we’re never allowed to live. How long would you last if you were kept like that?”

She was shaking. He couldn’t tell if she was cold or upset, even when she retrieved the sweater and put it on.

“Why don’t more of you run away?” he asked.

“I guess living in a cage and not having a name doesn’t bother most of them. Besides, where would they go?” She wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Will you let me stay until dark? I might be able to slip past whoever the Controller sent after me if I can stay here until dark.”

Simon tipped his head, struggling to understand her. “You’re going to run again?”

Now she looked at him. “I would rather die than go back there.”

A quiet statement. The honesty scared him because there was a little too much Wolf in her voice when she said those words. She wasn’t terra indigene, but she also wasn’t human like other humans. She was a confusion, and until he understood more, all he had to work with was instinct.

A few days ago, she came looking for a job because she wanted to live. If that wasn’t true, she would have gone to sleep in a snowbank somewhere. Now she was willing to die?

He didn’t like that. He didn’t like that at all.

He pocketed the silver razor and the wanted poster.

“The razor is mine,” she protested.

“Then you’ll have to stay until I give it back.”

“Mr. Wolfgard . . .”

“You’re staying, Meg,” he snarled. “Until I say different, you’re staying.” He heard a truck pull in, then another. “You’ve got work.”

As he passed through the back room, he grabbed his boots but didn’t stop to put them on. Instead, he ran back to HGR.

Cs759. The meaning of the letters was clear enough. He didn’t want to think about the significance of the number.

That Controller was trying to set the police on her trail. Were other kinds of hunters searching for Meg? Was it a hired predator who had tried to break in the other night?

After telling John and Heather he was back, he went up to his office and put on dry socks. While he waited for the members of the Business Association to arrive for the meeting, he stared out the window that gave him a view of the Liaison’s Office.

Power. When the terra indigene dealt with humans, it always came down to power and potential conflict.

He was the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard and what he wanted would carry weight, but this choice was too big for him to make alone.

* * *

Meg turned off the CD player. There was no point in playing music to learn what she liked. Instead, she pulled mail out of the last old sack and tried to keep her mind on sorting it, on finishing something before she herself was finished.

A white room and one of those awful beds. And Simon Wolfgard. She had seen those things in the prophecy that had revealed her own future.

Was he going to hand her over to the Controller, maybe even barter for some prophecies? Or now that he knew what she was, would he do the same thing the Controller had done? Would he know how? Was that why she’d seen the bed that was used when the girls were bound for the most intimate kinds of cuts?

She focused so hard on not thinking about what Simon would decide, she jolted when she heard the neighing outside the sorting room’s outside door.

“Oh, gods,” she muttered, glancing at the clock. She’d meant to run over to the grocery store for carrots or apples. No time to do that now. “Just a minute,” she yelled when the neighing became a chorus. She could imagine what Elliot Wolfgard would say about the noise if the workers at the consulate were disturbed.

Rushing into the back room for her coat, she looked around for something that would serve as a treat. She didn’t want to think about the reaction the ponies would have if she didn’t have something for them.

The only things in the kitchen area besides a jar of instant coffee and bags of herbal tea were a box of sugar lumps, a box of crackers, and a storage tin that held an open package of chocolate cookies.

She shrugged into her coat, grabbed the box of sugar lumps, then rushed to open the door, because the next chorus of neighs was now accompanied by the cawing of the Crows.

“I’m here, I’m here,” she panted as she got the door open, set the box on the sorting table, grabbed the first stack of mail, and began filling the baskets.

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