“You’re not helping,” she said, trying to think. She hated feeling powerless, and that was what this was. With a gesture, she beckoned Malachai over.
“What do you know about Leon?” Gaia asked.
“He said he had business to take care of inside the wall,” Malachai said. “He said to tell you, if you asked, that he’ll be back tonight and you shouldn’t worry about him.”
“This would have been useful to know. And Angie?” Gaia asked. “What do you know about her?”
Malachai shook his head. “I already told Jack. Angie followed Leon a little later.”
“Didn’t you think to stop her?” Gaia asked.
“He told me to keep an eye on you, not the girl,” Malachai said.
“Do you know where Jack is now?” Peter asked.
“He went looking for the girl,” Malachai said.
Gaia looked at Peter and saw the same idea was occurring to him.
“Jack’s inside, too,” she said, and mentally groaned. “They all went in.”
“We don’t know that,” Peter said. “How could they get past the wall?”
Somehow, they had. Gaia was certain of it. Anxiety was going to drive her mad. She looked back at the lines of her people obediently waiting to register their DNA, and she felt almost sick about them, too. The colored ices were practically mocking her now.
“Here’s what I want you to do,” she said to Peter. “Gather up some of our people who have already registered their DNA. Tell them to get back in line, but in line for a different station so the doctors won’t catch the duplication. Tell them to spread the word and keep going back. Never let any new people get in line. That way it will look like we’re still cooperating but we won’t be giving the Enclave any new information.”
“Cheat, in other words,” Peter said.
“Yes, until the Protectorat keeps his side of the bargain. We’ve been had. And you, Malachai, get Derek and Ingrid to organize storing up as much water as they possibly can, with enough to share with us. Everyone in Wharfton should be stockpiling water like crazy.”
“With all due respect, I’m not leaving you, Mlass Matrarc,” Malachai said. “Leon told me to guard you and that’s what I’m doing.”
Gaia turned on him. “You will do what I say, not Leon. You can play bodyguard once you’re done, but you will obey me, or I’ll have my scouts clap you back in your chains and you’ll be the first criminal of New Sylum. Is that what you want?”
“Mlass Gaia,” Peter said quietly.
“Is it?” Gaia demanded, ignoring Peter. She stared up at the big, bearded man, her fury building.
“Beg your pardon, Mlass Matrarc,” Malachai mumbled. With a quick tip of his hat brim, he was gone.
Gaia’s breath rushed out of her. “I need to get a message to the Protectorat,” she said. She had to figure out what to do about Leon.
“I’ll take it for you,” Peter said.
“No. You arrange things here as I requested.”
“Ordered, you mean,” he said. “And sending Malachai to talk to Derek is a mistake. That should be your job.”
“Are you going to defy me now, too?” she asked, stung.
“You’re losing it,” Peter said bluntly. “The last Matrarc never raised her voice.”
“I’m not her!” Gaia snapped.
A silence fell around her, and Gaia glanced past Peter to see that a loose circle of people had paused to observe their exchange. The young brunette, Tammy, watched with particular interest, as if she couldn’t wait to stake out her status as Peter’s future girlfriend. Will sidestepped past her and came up beside Gaia. He’d found a chance to shave, too, as if looking sharp were now the top priority of every man from Sylum.
“Everything all right?” Will asked
Gaia said nothing. What did I expect? Of course the men would be thinking about themselves. They were vain and useless like everybody else. She frowned at the toes of her boots, unbelievably frustrated.
“She’s upset,” Peter said.
“I’m not upset! Quit saying that!”
What peeved her was Peter questioning her leadership. What infuriated her more was Leon going inside the wall without her permission. And her own stupidity was beyond bearing. She should have known what Leon would do. She should have stopped him.
Will cleared his throat.
Gaia took a deep breath and straightened, looking hard at one brother and then the other. She didn’t care if she sounded like a tyrant. “I am not the brilliant Mlady Olivia. I’ll admit that. But I am trying my best to find some solutions here. If you could just, please, follow my orders, like normal people, I’d be grateful.” She spun and marched off toward the south gate.
a mouse in the pipe
AT THE SOUTH GATE, she borrowed a pen and paper and sent a message up to the Protectorat.
We missed you at the registry this morning.
Where’s our water?
Matrarc of New Sylum
An hour later, she received a reply:
These things take time.
“He’s toying with us,” Gaia said, and passed the note to Will.
Will, she noticed, did not seem to hold it against her that she’d acted like a high-handed diva. Peter accepted her apology with a brief nod. Neither made a joke about it, which would have been nice. Instead, she was left feeling secretly ashamed of her outburst, and more worried than ever about Leon.
She spent the afternoon forcing herself to work calmly with Wharfton leaders to arrange the stockpiling of water. Before the deception at the DNA registry could be discovered, she asked Myrna, quietly, to find a way to suspend operations for the rest of the day, and Myrna arranged a logistical mix-up with some swab supplies. Slightly more than half of Gaia’s people had been registered, and all of them felt cheated when they learned the Protectorat had reneged on the water.
By nightfall, Gaia was gathered around the campfire of clan nineteen with a dozen key people from Wharfton and New Sylum. There was no news about Leon, Angie, or Jack.
“As of now, we have enough water for everyone in Wharfton and New Sylum for two days if the Protectorat cuts us off,” Gaia reported. “That means limited baths and washing, but enough for drinking and cooking. We also have teams drawing it off at the wall spigots through the night to bolster our supply.”
“Two days is nothing,” Derek said, and Gaia agreed.
“We still need the Protectorat to honor his agreement, long-term,” she said.
“I don’t get where the water’s coming from,” the miner Bill said. “Do they have springs in there or something?”
“No, they convert steam from the geothermal energy plant,” Myrna said. “They also recycle the water from the sewer system and purify that to irrigate the fields out here. The water isn’t cheap, but there’s enough to share if they want to.”
“Just so you know,” Bill said, “me and my miners could get you a nice tunnel under that wall in two weeks’ time.”
“What? It’s true,” Bill said.
“Maybe if you have explosives,” Derek said.
“We’d go even faster, then,” Bill said. “My point is, we can get inside. We could even pop up inside one of the Enclave houses if we had an ally there. That would be best. Then the guards would never know and we could send in an attack force.”
“It won’t take care of the problem,” Gaia said. She felt like she’d said it a hundred times. “We need the Enclave cooperating with us. They have to trust us and provide us with the water, long-term. Undermining the wall is not the solution. It could even backfire.”
“I’m just saying. Don’t be so quick to throw out my idea,” Bill said. “If we need to move a number of people inside at the same time, we could do it.”
“We’d need more than one tunnel for that,” Gaia pointed out.
“So we cut more tunnels,” Bill said.
“We’re not staging some massive attack,” she said.
“We need to do something,” Bill argued. “We ought to prepare. We can’t just sit around out here waiting for the Protectorat to make a move. Vlatir would get this.”
“We have a town to build,” she pointed out. “You’re not exactly idle.”
“A town won’t do us no good if we don’t have water,” Bill said.
Everything came back to that. Grumbles moved through the group.
“Possibly Vlatir is working out a solution with his father right now,” Will said. The others fell silent again, and Will turned to Gaia. “There’s potential there, isn’t there?”
“No. I don’t think so. He and his father are not on the best terms.” Gaia shifted uneasily. “Leon told Malachai he’d be back outside by tonight. He’s not.”
“Then what’s he doing in there?” Bill asked.
She didn’t want to say, but as she looked around at her friends, she realized she had to. Their futures were at stake, too. “I believe he’s gone in to set up the sabotage of the power and the water system.
The responding murmur sounded like approval to her.
“Don’t you know for sure what he’s doing?” Bill asked.
Gaia felt color rising in her cheeks. “No.”
Bill let out a guffaw. “There’s leadership for you.”
Gaia stood. She’d had enough. “Anyone else who wants to lead New Sylum can take over with my blessing,” she said.
The others quickly objected, and Bill offered a churlish apology. But Gaia really had had it. Her mind was exhausted from trying to reason with people, to come up with plans and backup plans that would satisfy everybody. Even worse, she felt the raw truth of Bill’s comment: as one of her citizens, Leon was her responsibility whether he was operating a pivotal stealth mission, or endangering himself and the rest of New Sylum. A better leader would have been able to control him.
A better leader would strive to control him, even now.
She gazed up the dark hillside, beyond the wall to the distant streetlights that shone through the trees. If only the Protectorat would treat them fairly. If only she could find a way to compel him.
If only she knew that Leon was safe.
“I don’t see a problem with doing all of it,” Peter said. “We’ll keep drawing off water around the clock to increase our supply. Bill can start his tunneling. It’ll give us more options later. And Mlass Gaia can continue peaceful negotiations with the Protectorat.”
“I’ll go,” Will said. “Mlass Gaia can stay out here to run things.”
Gaia shook her head. She knew it would have to be her, one way or another. She fingered the Protectorat’s note that she’d saved in her pocket. “I have to go deal with him. It’s me the Protectorat wants.”
“He doesn’t have to get you, though,” Will said. “It’s your responsibility to stay outside the wall. You’re needed here.”
Gaia looked around the circle and saw the stubborn determination of her friends. She appreciated their concern, but if they wouldn’t let her go inside the wall openly, she’d find another way. She was bad at lying. It was going to be best to keep it short, and not look Will or Peter in the eye.
“All right,” she said. “I’ll stay out here. Will can be our ambassador.”
* * *
When Gaia checked on Maya, the girl looked so cozy sleeping beside Josephine and Junie that Gaia couldn’t resist slipping under the tarp beside them for a minute. She drew a blanket around herself and as soon as her head was down, heaviness felled her into instant sleep. It was hours before she stirred, and with a jolt of panic, she came awake. The night was still dark. The campfire had burned down so low she couldn’t read her locket watch. Quietly, she eased out from under the tarp and started uphill.