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Chapter 24: The Return

I feel sorry for infants. Compared to the rest of us, they have an environmental disadvantage. Smaller surface area, less mass to absorb heat, and a less effective insulation. Add to that a limited ability to conserve energy through changes to body position or clothing, and it puts their entire thermodynamics in the hands of another. I wrap Sodalane in a heavy blanket and bounce her beneath my chin, her warm breath tickling my neck.

“You sure you want to do this?” Greymore asks.

I glance up at the second-floor window of the old row house on Denmark Street. Tiny animal shapes still dangle from the mobile above an empty crib. I’m not sure of anything, I tell him, but it’s the best solution I can think of. We step over the pockets of snow obscuring the walkway, up the steps, beneath clanking wind chimes, and touch the ringer. The door cracks open and Fallkirk’s eyes fill the gap. He pulls open the door and smiles at me. Not the sort of calculated smile he usually tosses out, but a genuine reflex. I look down at the sling over his arm.

“It’s nothing a few days bedrest won’t take care of. I guess we should’ve listened to you.” Fallkirk’s smile disappears when his eyes find the baby. “Is that who I think it is?”

“This is perhaps the most valuable commodity in the province right now. Detective, meet Sodalane,” I say, pressing her into the crook of Fallkirk’s elbow.

“I’ve never seen anything like her. Even if this infection spreads to ten thousand more of us, even if the coders run this city straight into the ground, I can still see what it was all for.”

“Take good care of her, you’re all she has now.” I slide my hand along Greymore’s back and start down the walkway.

“Me? No, I, uh… What would I do with her?”

“You’re the grownup, Detective, I’m sure you’ll do what’s right.” I turn and set the porch swing in motion with the slightest pressure of my fingers. “Whatever you decide, just promise me she won’t grow up in a cage.”

“She’ll never be a lab rat. I’ll protect her like she was my own, that’s a promise,” he says, kissing her forehead.

Greymore slips a vial of clear fluid into the pocket of Fallkirk’s sweater. “You’ll probably need this, too. Check your neural, we just sent you instructions on how to synthesize it.”

“Wait, you’re telling me you already created an antidote?” Fallkirk asks, his face broad with anticipation.

“It worked for Greymore,” I tell him. “Your people will have to tweak the dosages to fit the metabolism of a first draft, but I’m sure they can have it ready for mass production in a few days.”

“That’s your power, isn’t it? Everybody’s always underestimating you. People see you, they think you’re made of glass, but there’s solid rock under there.” A grey cat nudges its way around Fallkirk’s legs and onto the porch, its black-striped tail shifting back and forth. I reach down and run my hand over the fur on its back. “Where are my manners? Please come inside, both of you, it’s freezing out here.”

“We can’t stay,” I tell him, my gaze sliding over to Greymore. “We should be getting back.”

“Where? If you don’t mind me asking, what will the two of you do now?”

“We’re going back to our families.”

“You trick speak, right?” Fallkirk studies my face, and sees that I’m not. “You’re really going back there, after all they’ve put you through?”

“We can’t run from who we are. Our families would hunt us to the world’s end.”

Greymore’s eyes mirror the sadness in mine. At least when he was dying, he didn’t have to feel everyone else’s pain. Greymore’s always been willing to shoulder the weight of the world, but now he has me to share it. “It’s a difficult time right now,” he says. “Forces within both our houses push us to war, but there’s opportunity as well. They need to hear voices of reason.”

“Well, look who’s the grownup now?” Fallkirk shakes his head at us. “If I ever have trouble with your families again, I’m going to the two of you first, now that I know where the power lies.”

I kiss Fallkirk’s cheek. He stares at the both of us, waiting for his cat to slip back into the warmth of the house, then closes the door. Me and Greymore hold hands, strolling back to the sidewalk, and for once, it feels as if the wind is blowing at our backs. The path to the Rivegan estate lies to our right, the one that leads back to the Tearcatchers to our left.

Greymore cups his hands around my face to keep the wind from pushing the hair into my eyes. “We’ll find a way to be together, I know it.”

I typically feel things in bursts of sound and taste and color, but the kiss me and Greymore exchange is hard to quantify using such elaborate metrics. There’s a simple harmony to it, and all I can truly say is that it feels complete. Last week, it felt like the world was being filtered through the binary code of Greymore’s old computer. Everything was a zero or a one, an affirmative or a negative, everything or nothing. Now it feels more like the modern computers we use in the lab, where the power is generated from the wave-like nature of particles, and the world can exist as both a one and a zero in the same instance.

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