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Chapter 2

The door chimed.

“Are you all right in there?” said a female voice, another M.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m fine!” I shoved the toolbox under the bed, just in case she didn’t take the hint and thought it was an emergency.

“We haven’t seen you in a while! We haven’t seen Periwinkle either.”

“We’re both-fine. Peri’s helping me with something.”

“Do you need any assistance?”

“No.” Now go away.

“What would you like for lunch?”

Was it lunch time already? It felt like I’d just eaten breakfast. Technically, I’d just eaten the last of it….

“I’llget my own later.”

“All right. Let me know if you need anything. Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes. Thank you!”

Peri stirred, and then pushed himself to an upright position. “Thank you, sir. I think you fixed me.” He shook his head. “But there is something…different about me. Some new…programming.” He blinked, and his eyes flickered red for a moment. Then he sprang to his feet. “There’s a lot of it but…I think I can handle it now.” He looked down at me. “I don’t sense any new updates from Core…. It’s-” His eyes widened. “It’s an adjustment to my matrix! No wonder I glitched.” He grasped my arm, his fingers cold against my skin. “What have you done?”

“It’s just an…upgrade. “ I didn’t want to tell him my plan just yet, in case his loyalty protocols were too unstable. I might not have tweaked them as much as I should have…. I just didn’t want to go too far and make him a killer, like Strike had done to the M who had killed my grandfather.

“I am supposed to just be a servant M. You should not have done this.”

“I’m Royalty. I can do what I want.”

“Even Royalty have limits.”

I bit back a curse. I hadn’t thought to adjust his personality matrix…. I’d thought it would adapt along with the more central adjustments. “You’re fine now, though. Don’t you like the new upgrades? It makes you more powerful.”

“That’s not the point. You’re lucky I didn’t shut down completely. Why did you do it?”

“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“Modification of an M’s central matrix is not allowed, and neither is shutting off alarm protocols, except with express authorization from the Supreme Sovereign himself. I will have to report you to your father.” He shut his eyes, signaling he was about to communicate over the comlink.

“No! Wait-Peri. Please, let me explain.” He had been my servant since I was little. His loyalty programming was specific to me. That had to count for something. Otherwise I might have to knock him out again and try to give him a whole new personality… or wipe it completely. I didn’t want to do something that drastic.

He opened his eyes. “I’m listening.”

I sat down on the bed beside Sabra, who was lying upside down, her eyes half-open. I scratched her stomach absently, and her purr rumbled to life again.

“I need you to help me find out what happened to Mom.”

“Do you mean go inside Ice Portal?”

I nodded. “You want Mom to get better, don’t you?”

“Of course. We all want that.”

“I’m the only one who’s willing to do something. Dad’s-out of commission, Glory has to rule in his place, Vy’s always offworld, Blade-he’d never disobey the rules in a million years. I don’t care about the rules, not compared to…getting Mom back.”

“Your mom would want you to obey the law.”

“No, she wouldn’t. I mean-she wanted me to obey most of the time-but not if the rules conflicted with what was right.”

“You think she would want you to find a cure?”

“You’re an M-you don’t have real feelings. You see her like that-it distresses you because you’re supposed to protect us and you can do nothing. But to me-I can’t let Mom stay like that. I can’t. Not if I can do something. You can help me. If we find a cure, Dad won’t care that I break the rules. Search your data matrix. You’ll see that Dad cares more about her than following strict policy.”

Peri’s eyes went blank as he searched for a few seconds. “It is possible…but as a Monitor, I cannot go against the law.”

“I’ve adjusted your protocols. Your personality just hasn’t realigned with them for some reason. I’ll turn off your personality if I have to, and you’ll just be an automaton. But I won’t if you go along with this and don’t contact my father. Yet.”

He tilted his head. “If you are sure that your father won’t mind.”

“Once Mom’s better, Dad will be able to rule. As wonderful as Glory is, she’s not ready for this. It’s killing her.”

“Your mother’s insanity has threatened the existence of Mag City. This overrides the importance of any individual rules.”

“There! You agree then.”

“I will do as you ask.”

“Thank you. Just don’t tell anyone. Not even the other Ms. I don’t have time to explain our mission to them.” Or shut off their alarm protocols.

I walked over to the closet and asked it for some sleek wind-resistant flight clothes. The door popped open and the shirt and pants appeared on a hangar, my boots on the small platform beneath them. I quickly undressed and threw my silk pajamas on the floor; Peri picked them up and tossed them in the dispenser. Then I pulled on the pants and short-sleeved shirt, which fit snugly over my body. Finally I dashed over to my nightstand and grabbed one of my wings. The orikal warmed slightly to my touch and I slid the thin metal band over my arm beneath my shoulder, and it molded perfectly over my skin. Then I put on the other wing, and I felt like myself again.

I kissed Sabra on the cheek, near her whiskers. She stretched out her paws, revealing razor-sharp claws. “I’ll be back.” Unless something went horribly wrong. Even if Dad rebuked me, he’d send me back here to my room. He might take my wings. But I doubted he’d ever be as cruel as to take Sabra away-for her sake, if not for mine.

If my plan for Peri didn’t work, I might have to go into the Portal myself. If I did, I might not come out-or come out with my mind scrambled, like Mom’s.

After sliding the small round disk of a hololink into my pants pocket, I stepped over to the window. “Let’s go.”

Peri stepped beside me. I told the window to open and one of the panes slid upwards from the floor, giving me a place to launch.

Wind whipped at my clothes. Far below, the Spire grounds were a vague misty green. Off to the left stood the small white rectangle of Glory’s stables, tiny dots of horses moving around it. In the distance rose the glittering, glimmering needles and cylinders and more elaborate shapes of the Old City, beyond the walls of the Spire grounds.

I stood at the very edge of the floor and leaped into the air.

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