She told him everything.
The theatre, the attacks, the blood and gore. Being rescued by the DEI. Being a prisoner. Escaping. Everything—everything except for Liam, of course. Emma talked till her voice was hoarse, talked as the tears welled in her eyes, and still her father didn’t interrupt her. Instead, he listened, and somewhere amidst her torrent of words, he lost sight of his anger.
Eventually the words trickled to nothing and Emma sat on the living room sofa, biting her lip, waiting for his judgement. Whatever he said to her, at least her mother was safe from his anger. At least he hadn’t discovered her drinking.
“Emma,” her dad said, with that familiar, bone-weary sigh. “You’ve disappointed me.”
It wasn’t the first time he’d said those words, but each occasion stung like a newly sharpened knife.
“You knew Lilith wasn’t allowed to go to the theatre, and bought her a ticket anyway. You ran away from the police like a criminal. You’ve brought the press to our door, the government into our computers, and you know your mother can’t handle the stress. At work I was called into a meeting by the director, who asked me why my daughter was on every news site in the district, and how that made the company look. But—”
“I’m sorry,” Emma began, but her words were cut off as her father reached forward and pulled her into a hug.
“But you’re alive,” he said into her hairline. “You’re alive, and that’s what matters.” He pulled back, and for the first time Emma realised how much he had aged over the last few years, the bags under his eyes heavy and dark, his stubble flecked with grey.
“We’ll get through this,” he said, calm and assured.
But Lilith was in danger, and her mother was drinking, and there were all those rejected baby application forms on Emma’s desk. Yet she smiled, nodded, leaning into his arms again. For this one moment, she was safe.
“Resting, I think.” The truth could wait. “She was a bit rattled by the press.”
The doorbell rang, saving Emma from having to lie further. Her father leaned back into the sofa and turned on the TV. “If it’s anyone from work, tell them I’m not in,” he said.
It wasn’t work—at least, not for her father. The slim, polished figure of Arlene Gray was in the monitor, her hair swept back in its usual chignon. She’d replaced her skirt with a pair of dark tailored trousers and a matching jacket, her makeup minimal save for dark red lipstick.
Emma looked down at her clothes, rumpled from two days’ wear, and felt self-conscious. When she glanced back at the monitor, Dr Gray was staring straight into the camera, one eyebrow quirked as if she knew Emma was watching.
A deep breath for courage, then she opened the door.
“Hi, Emma,” Dr Gray said warmly. “Can I come in?” She walked past Emma without waiting for a reply and stopped in the hallway, gesturing for Emma to close the door. “You never know who’s listening,” she said the moment the door was shut, all traces of warmth gone from her expression. “They’ve cleared the press, but who knows what they might have left behind.”
Then she glanced Emma over, her gaze cool and assessing. “You locked me out,” she said.
“You read my emails,” Emma replied flatly.
For a long moment Dr Gray didn’t speak. Then her lips quirked with the suggestion of a smile. “You’re learning. Good.”
The compliment was unexpected. Emma smiled, relaxed. Perhaps she could learn to like Lilith’s mother after all. What she lacked in motherly warmth she made up for in other ways, using her government connections to protect Lilith, and, by extension, Emma. And if she was heavy handed and brusque in her decisions, well . . . Dr Gray was a leader, used to making tough decisions. It couldn’t be easy, working in a male-dominated environment and being a single mom. Emma’s mother, in comparison, had the luxury of time . . . and perhaps that was why one child wasn’t enough for her.
“Thank you,” Emma said slowly. “I didn’t get the chance to say it earlier, but you’ve really help me and my mom. I appreciate it.”
Dr Gray nodded.
“Who is it?” her dad called from the living room. Before Emma could answer, he peered around the doorway. “Oh, hi Arlene,” he said. “Here to see Ruth?”
“Here to take Emma, actually,” she replied with a smile. “Ruth asked me to drop her off at a friend’s.”
Emma’s dad stepped out of the hallway. “Oh, you don’t need to.” He looked at Emma. “Where are you going? I can take you. Your mom probably didn’t think I’d be back in time.”
Lying was never her forte. Emma froze, looked at Dr Gray with an expression she hoped was more indecisive than clueless.
“It’s no problem at all,” Dr Gray said, placing a hand on Emma’s shoulder. “It’s on my way.” She glanced at Emma. “Did you want to get changed? I don’t mind waiting.”
“Um, yes, please.” Emma hurried past her father, afraid to meet his gaze and give everything away. Once up the stairs the mask dropped, a frown settling upon her lips as she grabbed a set of clean clothes. Where was Dr Gray taking her? Or more interestingly: why didn’t Dr Gray want to tell her parents?
The bathroom ventilator drowned out the phatic conversation between Emma’s father and Dr Gray. Emma locked the bathroom door, washed up hurriedly in the sink. King had told her not to leave the house, unless accompanied by Dr Gray. Was this a DEI-approved excursion, or were the other political manoeuvrings afoot?
Washed and changed, Emma took a moment to look at herself in the bathroom mirror. Pink-scrubbed cheeks. Fresh jeans, blue top, grey cardigan. Her hair was a mess, but it always was. She tied it back to flatten the waves and studied herself again. Better. Wherever she was going, it would have to do.
“Emma!” her dad called from downstairs. “Arlene’s waiting!”
She opened the door, poked her head out. “Coming!”
“I swear,” she heard him say to Dr Gray, “Girls these days . . . .”
“Lilith’s ten times worse,” Dr Gray laughed.
Emma stood stock still on the landing. Amid the stress of the last couple days she’d allowed herself to forget the most important thing: Lilith was gone. How could Dr Gray stand there and laugh when Lilith might never return home? Unless . . . unless they were going to save her. Unless there was a plan in place and they needed Emma’s insight as a witness. But Dr Gray could just as easily be taking Emma back into DEI custody.
She moved slowly to her parents’ bedroom, stopped in the doorway, looked in the darkened room. Her mother was curled up on the bed, eyes closed, face relaxed and vulnerable. However hard an outer appearance, Dr Gray had to have the same motherly instinct inside, the same instinct to protect. Emma touched her wrist—the bare skin where her mobile phone had once been—and straightened her shoulders.
She owed it to Lilith to do whatever it took to get her home.
“Emma!” her dad called again.
This time she didn’t answer. Emma walked purposefully down the stairs, gave her dad a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be back later,” she promised, the words almost sticking in her throat. “Mom’s asleep upstairs.”
Dr Gray opened the door, gestured her through. “See you later, Ned,” she nodded.
The door barely made a sound as it closed.
“So,” Emma said, “where are we going?”
“To meet your friends.” Dr Gray gestured to the left, towards the outer circle, and began walking.
Of course. Somebody might be listening. Emma walked beside Dr Gray down the hallway, forcing a smile. It was almost lunchtime and the hall was all but empty, their footsteps loud against the concrete. “Do you have any plans for later, Dr Gray?”
“To do with Li—what happened at the theatre?”
Dr Gray’s eyebrow quirked. She didn’t like the question, clearly. “Yes,” she said again, more slowly this time. But her reticence didn’t deter Emma. This was it: she was going to help save Lilith.
They’d reached the end of the hallway. It opened onto a wider passageway—a long series of shops and retailers which curved around the entire residential quarter. Following the passageway to the left led to the Chute, and to the right led to the motorway.
Dr Gray turned right. “My car’s parked nearby,” she said. “You’ll be at the Old Brass early, but I trust you can keep yourself busy.”
Emma’s steps faltered. “The . . . the Old Brass?”
Dr Gray stopped, looked over her shoulder. “Yes. To meet Marie and your other friends.” She cocked her head to the side, her smile a little cold. “You didn’t think I’d take you with me, did you?”