9: A Message from the Past
Phoenix covered the distance in three hurried strides. She already had her cellular at the ready. Katrina and Andromeda kept their distance and shared a wince of embarrassment.
“Sure,” said Emily. If Phoenix wouldn’t take a ‘no’ from a Sophist with a broadsword, she wouldn’t be taking it from her, either.
“It’s just that you were awfully quiet during that simulation, uncomfortable even. I would have thought somebody from the City would be used to such an experience, no?”
Standard Phoenix, needling for a loose thread that might unravel the tapestry of lies. “How many times must I tell you, Phoe? I was barely five when my parents left the City. Besides, don’t you think we had a good reason to feel uncomfortable? I mean, it was a simulation of an attempted genocide.”
“This is true,” said Phoenix. “If I might enquire, though, when exactly did you arrive in Torsten? You say you left the City when you were five, but you have previously stated that your parents only abandoned you four years ago…”
From the way her eyes flicked between Emily’s face and her cellular, Emily figured Phoenix had a whole file of her personal data at hand. No doubt she was waiting for a contradiction—but Emily hadn’t survived this long by being careless. It took all of a slow blink to gather her thoughts. In the dark cavern, cold water lapping at her ankles, she recalled every lie that gave shape to ‘Emily Fomalhaut’. There would be no contradictions.
“It was around then, yes. I don’t remember the exact date, since we arrived through the underground and didn’t have much contact with the outside world.”
“I see.” Phoenix glanced at her cellular. “And your parents abandoned you why?”
Halfway across the room, Katrina drew a sharp breath, meeting Emily’s eyes with a look that pleaded forgiveness. Next to her, Annie cleared her throat, scuffled her feet. Phoenix ignored them.
“I don’t know,” said Emily. “Somebody was chasing them.” Pleiades. “I don’t know who.”
“But they had no interest in you?”
Almost certainly, she thought, and that was why her uncle had kept her and Alonie in seclusion for almost two years. Not that Phoenix needed to know that.
“I guess I wasn’t particularly special,” she said, mentally wincing at the irony.
“And your parents were special how?”
This had to be leading somewhere. Maybe Phoenix had already figured it all out. In a way, Emily hoped she had: if anyone could shed some light on the whole ‘Pleiades’ thing, it was Veritas. “I guess because they were from the City,” she offered. “They knew things. Some people will go to a lot of trouble to know things!”
Like Phoenix Rogan, and the Sophists, and Pleiades.
“I see,” said Phoenix, once again consulting her cellular. “And have you any idea what happened to your parents after they left you?”
Emily channelled her emotions, summoning tears with all the effort it took to crack a smile. “They’re dead.”
“I see.” There wasn’t even a slither of empathy in her eyes. It was just another piece of information to add to her collection. “And you know this how?”
Emily wiped away the tears, fake as they were. “Leira told me. Rumours, you know? People talk.”
This time, however, she must have crossed a line, because her friends came over, tugged at her jacket, and tried to convince her to drop the subject so they could deliver their crystals—and their conclusions—to Chief Payne.
Phoenix doing what Phoenix does best.