Everything came to a grinding halt. The guards’ and technicians’ faces grew pale with the realization of what they had almost done. I looked over at my friends, confusion and then comprehension alighting in Kagan’s eyes. His face completely shuttered, leaving no trace of any emotion for me to read. The woman technician with the tablet whispered something to the technician assisting her, who then took off out the far door. No doubt to go find my mother.
“I am waiting, pleb” I let a disgusted edge bleed into my voice. But she didn’t correct me, so my guess had been spot on.
Squaring my shoulders, holding myself up straight like the patrician I was, I turned on my heel and headed for the door. I stepped over the guard on the ground that I had hit in the face with the cattle prod. I walked with an arrogance that had been drilled into me from a young age, bred into me. Kagan and Nakoa fell into step behind me, wisely keeping quiet. Behind them, I could hear the technician stumble to catch up with me.
I had to reign in my gasp as I stepped through the door and took in what was on the other side. We were on the top sub-level of what used to be a parking garage. There were three other levels below where we stood. We stepped out into a hallway that on one side was the wall. The other side was half wall and half windows. Anderson saying they had renovated was an understatement. They had hollowed it out. Starting with the level below us, every wall was lined with cells. Not like the chain link holding area in the parking garage. These were more sophisticated, obviously designed for long term housing. They were three white walls, the fourth being two large, thick glass panels with one-inch diameter holes drilled into them. One slid in front of the other. What little I could see from my vantage point, there were beds, toilets and sinks in them. The very bottom, from what I could see was half activity area, and half picnic style tables. A quick scan told me there was no direct access to the lower levels from where we were. They had built an actual prison below the CGP headquarters.
About six feet to both my left and right were doors with a window in the top half of each. There was a guard on the far side of the door to my left. The one from the right must have rushed into the room during our brief fight. I turned to the technician, raising an eyebrow in silent question. She leapt forwards, swiping a key card and inputting a four-digit pin on a keypad next to the door. We all went through, stopping again as there was another door about ten feet away. This one did not have a window. Once the door closed behind us, she opened that one too.
We stepped from a prison into a hallway from a legitimate office building. The contrast was jarring. Directly to my left was an elevator. I glared with impatience at the technician as she swiped her card, and then fumbled her pin twice. Her hands were shaking, sweat beading at her temples. My revelation had unnerved her. I smiled inwardly at that when I stepped passed her into the all-white elevator. Kagan stood at my side, Nakoa moved behind us. The woman stood by the control panel, trying to diminish her presence. I could feel Kagan looking over at me occasionally, studying the tattoo on my arm that was still exposed. I grit my teeth under his scrutiny.
The elevator ride was longer than I thought it would be, which told me that we went nearly to the top of the building. When we stopped, and the doors finally opened, it was into a much more luxuriously furnished waiting room than the office space we briefly visited. I turned cold eyes to the woman that had brought us here.
“You cannot seriously expect me to wait here,” I kept my face passive, but my voice was biting. She flinched ever so slightly.
“Of course not, Mistress!” A few moments ago her blue eyes were hard, apathetic as she looked at us. Now they were avoiding my gaze, fluttering with anxiety. “Your mother’s office is this way.”
She took off down the hallway, obviously eager to be rid of us. I kept stride with her easily enough, listening as my friends kept up behind me. Her office wasn’t far at all. We reached it in less than a minute. The double, stainless steel door was open already when we reached it. I didn’t wait for the woman to usher us in, I strode through the door like it was my office. It was empty. There was a glass top desk, supported by more stainless-steel legs. A laptop, phone, and notepad were on the desk. A leather office chair was cockeyed from the other side of the desk, obvious that someone had been sitting in it recently. There was a small sitting area to the right of the door. A small brown leather sofa, two matching arm chairs, and a low laying table between them. Other than a couple of filing cabinets on the far side of the room, it was completely unadorned. The blinds were drawn on the windows on the right side of the office, blocking out the view and light. Despite there being no telltale sign of my mother here, there was a lingering scent of lavender in the air. She had often used lavender oil on her hands.
“She should be here shortly.” She hadn’t come far through the door, just hovering there waiting to escape. She started backing away.
“Wait,” she froze mid-step. “We came with a girl, Kalea Blackfox. Bring her here.”
“I think I should clear it with Mother Marianne first.” She started to retreat again.
I strode towards her, snatching her arm. I was never one to treat those of a lesser station than me cruelly. I’d seen it often enough, mostly from my mother. I hated that it was an accepted behavior within the Pure States. But for now, it would serve my purposes. Even if I couldn’t evoke any compassion for this woman, given what she had been doing, given what she had ordered be done with my friends.
“I don’t believe I asked for your opinion.” I dug my fingers in. “You will bring her to me. Now.”
“Yes, mistress!” her eyes widened in fear, if not pain from where I tightly held her. I slowly released my grip. Once I let go, she turned and walked quickly in the direction we had come from letting the door click shut behind her.
I let out a deep sigh, rubbing my eyes with the heels of my hands, relaxing my posture some. I had never noticed before how exhausting it was to hold the persona of who I was supposed to be in place. I never noticed that I had dropped it until I had to put the mask back on. After this was over, after my friends were safe, I don’t think I could ever see myself wearing it again willingly. I shuffled back over to the sitting area, letting myself slump onto one end of the sofa that was facing the windows. Nakoa took an arm chair opposite me, and Kagan sat in the arm chair closest to me. I rested my face in my palms.
“Why didn’t we just do that to begin with?” Kagan asked. Though his question was straight forward, there was an abundance of caution in his voice.
“Because it is not as simple as it seems.” I sat up, running my fingers back through my still damp hair.
“I knew you were a Puritan. I didn’t know you were a patrician.” His eyes dropped to my glyphs. The heaviness of his gaze weighed on me as I pulled my sleeve down over them.
“There is a great deal you don’t know, Kagan.” I met his eyes.
“That’s obvious to me now,” There was an angry undertone to his words.
“I told you that if I were caught, there would be a price to pay. Did you not listen to me?” I didn’t bother hiding my frustration. Nakoa shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He was always quiet, but he had been unnervingly quiet through the whole ordeal. But I wasn’t about to put him on the spot for it. He could deal with all this however he needed to. I wasn’t one to begrudge someone for needing to keep their own counsel.
“Of course I was listening,” he snapped back a little above a whisper. “I just thought you were exaggerating.”
“When have you ever known me for my dramatic flourish.” I cocked my head to the side, waiting for him to answer. He shifted his eyes away. I could tell he was going over all the times we had spent time together. “Exactly. You didn’t want to believe me, so you chose not to. So do not blame me. I told you I was not free.”
He opened his mouth to argue, but the door flew open. My mother, who was known for her dramatic flourish, flew in. She wore a lab coat over a storm gray pantsuit that matched her eyes. There was considerably more white in her hair than I remembered there being. It was pulled back into a simple braid down her back, exposing the scar on her neck from where I had stabbed her with a pen. Her black heels clicked sharply on the tile as she strode for me. I stood, drawing myself up in preparation for the strike I knew was coming from her. She stopped an arm’s length from me, intensity burning in her eyes as she looked me up and down. The muscle in her jaw flexed as she grit her teeth. I had to raise my eyebrows at that, such an unladylike thing for her to do. Her eyes snapped back up to mine. I squared my shoulders and bit down. The last time she had seen me, I had been on my knees, covered in my lover’s blood, sobbing. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of seeing me cowed ever again.
Her stoic posture broke then, tears flowed down her face as she reached for me. Not to slap me like I was expecting. She had lunged for me, wrapping me in her arms, sobbing against my shoulder. I did nothing but stand there awkwardly, arms at my side, as she held onto me, crying on me. My eyes met Kagan’s over her shoulder. This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting, my confusion must have shown on my face at the look of bewilderment on his own. I just rolled my eyes at him. There wasn’t anything that she could do or say to ever believe this level of affection from her was true.
She seemed to realize the scene she was making and pulled back, holding me at arm’s length by the shoulders while she studied my face. I blandly watched back, feeling annoyed by this whole encounter. There were more lines in her face than I remembered being there as well. Her eyes hardened suddenly; lips pressed into a thin line. I was prepared for it, but I didn’t see the strike coming as I’d been distracted by her unusual display. Her hand cracked against my face. My eyes to watered at the burning in my cheek.
“And there she is.” I stroked my face. “Hello to you too, Mother Marianne.”
“That’s your mother?” We all snapped our heads to the door where Kalea now stood, wearing a uniform similar to ours. The technician standing right behind her. She left, closing the door behind her at the wave of my mother’s hand. “That somehow makes so much sense.”
I couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up out of me. It was so much like her to state the obvious, even in such a serious situation. There was still fear in her eyes though as she met mine. I nodded at her once, before she all but threw herself at Nakoa. He buried his face in her hair, sighing in relief.
“Still consorting with trash, I see.” She eyed them with disgust. Kagan stepped forward, ready to have his say. I placed my hand on his arm, warning him off.
“After what I just saw on my way up here, you’re going to have to stop pretending to be better than everyone else, Marianne.” Something flashed in her eyes briefly before she shuttered them again.
“After the hell you’ve put me through the last three years, that is all you have to say to me?” she crossed her arms under her breast.
“Can we skip the part where you pretend to give a shit about me?” I sighed deeply. “What is it going to take for you to let my friends go?”
She straightened, smoothing her hands over her hair and down her clothes. Then turned to her desk. Sitting down, she picked up her phone, dialing a number. I heard a phone across the hall ring once before being answered.
“Please have a car brought around front for my guests. And you can send him in.”
She placed the phone back in the cradle. I moved around the sofa to stand in front of her where she sat at her desk. I watched her, waiting for whoever she had asked for. Silence stretched for minutes. The tension in the air rising. My friends stood huddled, whispering together close to the door, ready to bolt if needed. The door popped open after what felt like an eternity. I swung around to see who had come in. It was just another CGP officer.
“This is my personal guard,” she said with restraint. I eyed him again. He was older, about my mother’s age, his hair was buzzed short, but it was easy to tell that it was dark. It matched his dark eyes, and grim countenance. “I have work to finish here. We will discuss this over dinner in a few hours. James will escort you all to the house to make sure you get their safely.”
“You can’t be serious.” I crossed my arms, widening my stance. She tracked the movement with a click of her tongue. “I trusted you once before. Don’t ever expect me to make the same mistake twice.”
She came back around her desk, stopping just out of reach of me. Her hands clasped before her. She studied my friends standing on the other side of the room, then me. I could tell that she wanted to shout at me, that she was struggling to contain her nature. That was unusual for her. But then again, I had never really spent any time with her at her office before. Maybe she wanted to save face with her colleagues.
“If you want any hope of sending them home, you’ll do as I ask.” Her nose crinkled at me. “And you reek. You’ll bathe and change. And then we’ll have dinner together. I don’t have much to do here. I won’t be long.”
She turned on her heel again, going back to her desk. She started typing at her computer. I had obviously been dismissed. I stood there for a minute, looking at James who stared blandly back, studying me just as much as I did him. She wasn’t wrong. Any hope I had of getting them out was through her. I could push the issue, start a fight here and hope it turned out well. But would likely end with all of us back in a cell.
I could tell that Kagan’s and Kalea’s patience with my mother’s dismissive attitude toward me was wearing thin. So far, they had remained quiet, letting me feel her out. But that would not last long. They were not known for their tolerance of bullies, which is exactly what my mother was. Besides all of that, if it came down to it, it would be easier to fight our way out of her house with its minimal guards than the CGP and its full might below our feet.
“Fine,” I sighed. “I’ll play your game for now.”
“James,” she looked at her watch. “You should take 5th.”
“Yes mistress,” he replied with a frown creasing his brow when he turned towards me.
“Lead the way, James.” My voice filled with false sweetness. He turned and walked out the door, waiting for us just outside her office. My mother may have said he was to make sure that we got to the house safely. But there was no doubt in my mind that he was to make sure that I got there in general, safely or not.