“The car is secure,” Dr Gray told her once both doors had been shut. “We can speak freely in here.”
Emma stared at the granite wall of the parking lot. She’d been expecting a sleek car, black and big, with government plates. Instead Dr Gray’s car was a small two-seater, grey paintwork mottled with scratches. A Middle Hall car at best, entirely unremarkable.
“It doesn’t look secure,” she said. Then: “I suppose that’s intentional.”
Dr Gray’s answering smile was thin. “Correct.”
It was difficult to know what to say first. Emma buckled her seat belt, took a deep breath. Dr Gray was resting her hands on the steering wheel but didn’t seem inclined to start the car anytime soon. The florescent light of the parking lot turned her face to stone.
“What are you going to do to my parents?” Emma finally asked, quiet but firm. Dr Gray only looked at her. “You’re not taking me with you, yet you wanted me out of the house. The only reason would be to leave my parents unprotected.”
“If I wanted to hurt your parents, you wouldn’t be able to stop me.” Dr Gray’s fingers drummed against the steering wheel. “I want to talk.”
“Talk,” Emma repeatedly slowly. “About?”
“What happened at the theatre.” Dr Gray looked at her, cool, assessing. “What you saw in that containment cell. What they said. Everything.”
“I already told you everything,” she protested, but Dr Gray was shaking her head.
“I want to hear it again. Slowly this time.”
It was the first time Emma was fully aware of what she was saying, of how the story sounded. The first part was easy: the vampires, the screams, fainting. She described the cell she’d woken up in, the argument between King and Lilith’s father, the PH uniforms and her suspicions as to their involvement. But when it came to her escape from the containment cell, her story was less clear, muddled. By keeping Liam’s involvement a secret, Emma had dug herself into a hole.
“The door was unlocked?” Dr Gray repeated disbelievingly. “And you navigated through the tunnels until you came out of an exit in Chinatown?”
“Yes,” Emma said, but she’d never been as good a liar as Lilith.
Dr Gray drummed her fingers against the steering wheel, adjusted the rear view mirror. “Who are you protecting?” she said.
Emma’s hesitation gave the secret away. She ducked her head, twisted her fingers together. Denying the question was pointless. But Liam had asked her to keep his identity secret, and she owed him that much for having saved her.
“I won’t tell you who it is,” she said.
Dr Gray shrugged. “No matter. I already have an idea. The possible candidates are few, and I doubt it was my ex-husband.”
Emma looked at Dr Gray, felt a shiver crawl down her spine that could have been fear or dislike. Had she betrayed Liam without meaning to, and if so, was it really betrayal? Liam might have rescued her, but Dr Gray had protected her since. And she knew Dr Gray; all she had of Liam was his name and the memory of his breath against her cheek.
“That man,” Dr Gray muttered angrily. Again her fingers drummed against the steering wheel, and it was then Emma realised what was odd: she was nervous. “He said nothing else?”
“Your—er, Lilith’s father?” Emma shook her head. “Just that without Lilith, the operation was at risk. But he seemed to have some kind of contingency plan, because near the end he said there was nothing they could do for her anymore.” Her throat tightened. Emma swallowed, said: “He isn’t going to save her.”
“He won’t have a choice,” Dr Gray said grimly, but there was a trace of uncertainty to her voice that Emma had never heard before.
Emma found herself wondering why Dr Gray hadn’t returned to her maiden name. What must it have been like before they’d separated? They would have been a powerhouse couple, capable of doing whatever they dreamed. Perhaps it was the power that had driven them apart.
“I want to come to the meeting,” Emma said, firmly now. “I want to know what’s going on. Lilith is my friend; I care about her as much as you do.”
But Dr Gray shook her head, started the car. “No. This is a family matter. It has nothing to do with you.”
And what about Liam? Emma wanted to ask. He’s not family. But she’d made a promise, so she kept her mouth shut.
They drove the rest of the way in silence.
The Old Brass was in midtown, in the layers between the Lower and Middle Halls. It was clean and respectable, if a little bland—the kind of place young office workers went for a quick drink after work. It was also, according to Lilith, the kind of place their classmates went when they wanted to feel ‘grown up’. The student bars were for flirting; this place was for talking.
Emma had only been once before, and the last time she’d left the place in tears.
Dr Gray dropped her off at the nearest exit, giving no more than a cursory nod before she drove away. Emma glanced at her phone as she walked down the passageway connecting the ring road to the city, a stark stretch of halogen lights and concrete walls. She was late. Perhaps Marie had given up on her, perhaps she could take the chute back home, with no one the wiser.
But when she turned the corner onto the main street, Marie was there waiting, long hair in soft waves against her cheeks, round blue eyes ringed with black eyeliner. She had a pretty face, and somehow managed to make the dark roots of her dyed-blond hair look intentional.
When she spotted Emma, she smiled and waved. A straight smile, Emma noticed. Her upper lip barely moved to accommodate the expression.
“I got your text,” Marie said. Emma remained still for the air kisses, afraid of moving the wrong way. “I can’t believe you can’t remember where the Old Brass is! But don’t worry, I’ll show you the way.”
Note to self, Emma thought. Block Dr Gray from my phone.
To Marie, Emma said: “I’m sorry I’m late. Hope you guys haven’t been waiting long.” Each word felt awkward, forced. She looked at Marie and knew she had absolutely nothing to say to her—and knew this was a failing of her own rather than Marie’s fault. How did Lilith manage this?
“It’s okay.” Marie put a hand on Emma’s arm, straight smile flattening. “We’ve all heard about what’s happened. It must be terrible.”
“It’s fine, I guess.” Emma forced a smile. “What about you? How have you been?” she asked, and it seemed to be the right thing to say for Marie happily chatted at her for the rest of the walk.
They were waiting for her in the Old Brass, two girls Emma knew by face but not by name. More friends of Lilith’s: a Lower Hall girl who thought tattoos made her look tough, and a dark-skinned girl with straight, jet black hair.
“They’re just good for a laugh,” Lilith would insist, but secretly Emma thought that these girls were privy to a side of Lilith that Emma rarely saw—the impulsive, adventurous side that went out to late night parties and kissed boys in the early hours of the morning. Lilith always invited Emma along, but these girls understood those impulses, felt at home with them. Not for the first time, Emma wished she was more like them.
Marie led her over to the table, sat her down in an empty seat facing the others, and for a moment Emma felt as if she were at an interview. The feeling passed when Marie sat beside her.
“Look what came out of the tunnels,” the tattooed girl said flatly.
“Pris,” Marie huffed. “Let her at least order a drink first.”
Emma picked up the menu, kept her head down as she stared at it. First? First before what? Marie had never invited her out, not like this, not without Lilith dragging her along. Perhaps she had been foolish to come—not that she had had much choice. Then again, perhaps she was over-thinking. Lilith had often said she should get out more; this was her chance.
The dark-skinned girl looked bored, eyes skimming the nearby tables as if there was somewhere else she’d rather be. Marie began to chat about some boy she couldn’t decide whether she liked, and Pris . . . Pris was staring right at Emma, her small eyes narrowed. She was pretty under the dark make up.
“You’re only here because we want to know what happened,” Pris said, interrupting Marie mid-sentence. A tense pause followed.
Emma set the menu down. “What do you mean?”
“Pris—” Marie began, but she was silenced with a headshake.
“Those news stories,” Pris said, “made you look good, at Lilith look bad. Why?”
“You should be asking the journalists,” Emma said slowly.
Pris raised an eyebrow. “The attack on Lilith was too personal. Targeted. It had to come from someone who knew her.”
Emma’s cheeks were burning from a mixture of embarrassment and anger. “Lilith is my friend.”
“Don’t see what she sees in you,” the dark-skinned girl said, eyes lingering on Emma’s clothes. “You’re jealous of her, that’s what this is about.”
“I thought we were going to be nice about this,” Marie said. “Let’s not argue, please.”
“Nice?” Emma looked at her. “How can you nicely accuse me of selling out my best friend?”
“We don’t mean that,” Marie insisted. “Just . . . Look, you’re always at home or in the library, you never hang out with us. How are we supposed to know anything about you? We hear all these weird news stories we know can’t be true, and obviously we’re worried for Lilith . . . .”
Emma relented. “I am too,” she said. But judging by Pris’ scoff, they didn’t believe her. She hastened to explain. “The journalists tracked me down. One of them was writing a piece about chute fare evaders, and I hadn’t touched in properly, so he came across my name. He hacked my emails, saw the ticket for Lilith, and put the pieces together.”
“And coincidentally made you look good and Lilith look bad,” Pris said sarcastically.
“This is a waste of time,” the dark-skinned girl said.
“Shiv, please,” Marie said.
“What? I’d rather be talking to him.” She nodded at a guy across the room, on the other side of Emma. “And it looks like he’d rather be talking to me.” Through her smile, she said: “Don’t look, he’s coming this way.”
There was no better time to escape. Emma stood up. “I just remembered I have some . . . some things to do,” she finished lamely.
“You can’t leave,” Marie said. “You haven’t even had a drink.”
That’s when two things happened.
First, an arm slid around Emma’s waist, pulling her close. Second, Shiv’s smile evaporated.
“Emma,” a male voice said, smooth and warm and right in her ear. She knew without looking that it was Liam. “Ready to go?”
“I was just leaving,” she replied, stepping out of his embrace so that she could look at him. Dark tshirt, dark jeans. Eyes as sharp and green as she’d remembered.
“You know this guy?” Shiv said, without taking her eyes off of Liam. Her smile had returned, thin and calculating.
Liam looked over, as if noticing the girls for the first time. “Really sorry, girls, but you’re going to have to proceed without Emma.”
As she walked out of the Old Brass on Liam’s arm, Emma had never felt taller.
When they were out of sight of the Old Brass, Emma let go of Liam’s arm.
“I’ve saved you twice now, Red,” Liam smirked.
“The first time was far more impressive,” she retorted. Then Emma had a thought: “You weren’t following me, were you? How did you know I was there?”
“I have my ways.”
“And the cell? How did you know I was in there? How did you know how to escape?” She paused as a young family passed, stepping closer to Liam, lowering her voice. “Who are you?”
Liam only looked. “Does it matter?”
“More than finding out about Lilith?”
Emma paused, sensing a trap. “What about Lilith?”
“I’m on my way to Precision Horizons to find out what’s going on. I thought you might want to join me.”
Emma hesitated. He might have rescued her, but that didn’t mean she should trust him. All she knew about him was that he was somehow connected to the DEI. For all she knew, her escape from the facility could have been planned, a ruse to get her to lower her guard. But for what? There was only one way to find out.
Liam’s eyes narrowed. “Are you coming, or not?”