The second drink tasted marginally better than the first.
Lilith lifted the heavy wooden cup, felt the bitter liquid swill over her tongue. It tasted warm and stale, and left an acrid film on the insides of her cheeks. But it was alcohol, and after everything that had happened she deserved a drink.
“Slow down,” Amber said, already on her third. “It’ll hit you if you’re not used to it.”
Lilith took another sullen gulp in reply.
It was childish; she knew it even as she did it. But Lilith couldn’t rid herself of the anger and bitterness, the yearning for a life underground which with every passing moment seemed all the more distant. She missed being careless, fearless, that weightless confidence when she’d go out with her friends. Only three days ago everything had seemed possible. Now nothing was.
She set the cup down, noticed for the first time the deep gouges on the table. Each was the size of her finger, and when she lined her hand up against the marks, the blood drained from her face. Claw marks, large enough to tear her arm to shreds. Who had made them? The bar was half-filled with likely candidates, many of whom looked innocuously human.
Looked being the operative word.
“I thought you liked Silver, ” Lilith said, glancing at Amber.
The claw marks could easily have been Amber’s. As a human, she was hardly imposing: short, with a generous figure and curly red hair. But for a moment Lilith caught a glimpse of something much harder underneath—something sharp and calculating, gone so quickly she could have imagined it.
“I love Silver,” Amber retorted with a sharp glance. Then her expression eased slowly into amusement. “Lilith, he’s my brother.”
Lilith fought not to let her surprise show. “You two don’t look very alike.”
“Different fathers.” Amber pulled a ringlet of hair straight until it reached her shoulder. “Mine was a redhead; his genes trampled over everything else.”
“I always wanted a brother.” Lilith sipped at her drink, let her gaze wander across the room. Amber’s revelation had brought her a small measure of relief. But one big question remained. Stay calm, she told herself. Give nothing away.
“Me too,” Amber said. “I’ve only known Silver a few years. I don’t expect it’s the same as growing up together.”
“Better than nothing,” Lilith said.
There was a commotion at the bar: a man had spilled his drink on another. The first, dressed all in black, was apologising loudly. The second looked ready to kill. Then the bartender slammed his hands against the counter and glared at them both until they sat down meekly.
Amber relaxed, her fists unclenching. “Maybe you’ll find a long-lost brother one day,” she said.
Lilith turned back to her drink. “Here? Not likely.” Another swallow. Almost finished now. “Besides, we regulate these kinds of things. Family planning, child allowance . . . My parents were granted the maximum allotment of three, but they only wanted one child so—” she waved a hand “—here I am.”
It was the civilised way to procreate. Families were judged on income, intelligence, social position, genetic potential—a whole range of factors taken into account to determine their child allowance. Why have children you couldn’t afford to have? Children the government couldn’t afford to feed? It was selfish to only think of one’s own desires.
Instead of looking impressed, Amber was frowning. “And if you’re not allowed to have children?”
A shrug. “Then you don’t.”
“And you agree with this? With having no freedom of choice?”
Lilith finished the drink, felt a growing resentment over Amber’s attitude. “You’re one to talk,” she said, “with your pack rules, obeying every little thing Al says.”
“We choose to follow Al,” Amber replied. “It’s not the same.”
Lilith scoffed. “I choose to follow the law. I don’t see the difference.” She pushed the cup away from her, wondered whether she could stomach another.
“The difference,” Amber began, warming to the debate, but Lilith shook her head, stood up. She glanced at the claw marks on the table, and then across the room at the row of hard, unfriendly faces. They were all monsters here, and she would never belong.
“I need some air,” she muttered, turning to leave before Amber could stop her.
It was almost evening, the sky softened into a burnt orange by the setting sun. Lilith leaned against the wall, tilted her head back, ignoring the other infected standing outside with drinks in their hands. The vast, empty sky left her hollow inside. How could the infected live isolated from the rest of the world?
But that was it, she thought. This was their world. The dusty streets, the sun-worn rooftops, the blood and violence and death . . . they didn’t know anything else. To a dispassionate eye, Lilith’s childhood—so dominated by her parent’s divorce—paled in comparison to the hardships the infected faced. All her life, Lilith had strived to become unbreakable, and now in her greatest moment of weakness, the years of swallowing back tears counted for nothing.
It was Silver’s fault, Lilith thought, letting her head drop to stare at the ground.
The anger boiled up then, impossible to swallow. Why had he saved her and promised to take her home, only to leave her behind like an errant child? And even worse, why had she trusted him? Why hadn’t she gotten off his back and walked back to the theatre, copters be dammed?
Lilith thought of Manda, felt the anger grow with unmistakable jealousy. Jealousy! It was impossible to deny she had feelings for him then. Whatever the bond between them, it was more than physical need. But if Silver could ignore it, then so could she.
“You alright?” It was the bartender, stepping outside for a smoke. He was shorter than her, wiry, his thin moustache tinged with grey.
“Yeah,” Lilith said slowly, then again with more conviction. She pushed off the wall, straightened her shoulders and stared up at the sky, daring it to do its worst. What could it do? It was just empty space.
“Need directions?” he asked.
None of the infected standing nearby looked familiar. None of them were even looking at her, and Amber was still inside, out of sight. She could slip away without anyone noticing.
Lilith smiled, shook her head. “I know where I’m going.”