Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Mica decides it’s time to leave the Unseen. However, they are unwilling to let her go. Colonel Mason informs her that she is essentially a prisoner here–and it was Ben’s decision. Mica hatches a plan to leave, but that plan is halted when Stephen shows up. His presence flusters her, but their conversation is cut short when Hannah arrives and tells Mica that Miranda would like to see her…
Mica froze and stared at the White Seer. She had not heard Anda’s full name in such a long time that it sounded odd. Foreign. Like seeing a flower your whole life and then finally learning its name. Familiar, yet strange. But why would Anda want to see her? Given everything that had happened, she had not expected Anda to want to speak with her. Anda didn’t have any memories of her, so why should she care? And she had snapped at Mica as they had been rushed off to the medical bay.
Shame crawled up onto the gurney with her and sat kicking her dirty feet.
“Is that all right?” Hannah asked carefully, turning her head slowly. “I wasn’t told to keep them separated, just to keep an eye on them. It is all right with me if Mica is willing. I’ll be in the room the whole time.”
“I’m sorry, yes,” Stephen said, tilting his head towards Hannah. “It’s fine for them to talk together. I was not directed to keep them separated either.”
But Mica hesitated. She should want to see Anda, and she did, but something kept her from getting up.
Both the Seers inclined their heads towards her. “Don’t you want to see your sister?” Hannah asked.
“No. I mean, yes. I don’t know.”
“Mica, you should go talk to her,” Stephen said gently.
“She doesn’t remember me.”
“She is frightened, and I think it might help if you spoke with her,” Hannah said.
“Yeah? Well, I’m frightened too.”
“She is still your sister,” Hannah said. “Nothing that happened can change that. The Burn only removes her memories. It does not change who she is.”
The bitterness and distrust on Anda’s face after Ben failed to restore her memories flashed across Mica’s mind. Of course, Anda had changed, everything’s changed, and nothing will ever be the same again. And shame looked at her.
However, it was clear that Hannah would not take no for an answer. Mica made a frustrated noise. “Fine. Let’s go,” she said and climbed down from the gurney.
“This way,” Hannah said and motioned back towards the room.
Mica paused next to Stephen. She wanted to say something but wasn’t sure what.
“I’ll be right here,” he said.
Then Hannah led her back to Anda. “It’s funny,” Hannah said. “But Anda… looks like you. I know that sounds strange since I’ve never actually seen you or your sister. But you get to know people in a different way when you can’t see them,” she said, tapping the side of her head. She paused at a white door.
It was such an ordinary door. Mica shifted from foot to foot, the soles of her shoes silent on the stone beneath her. She knew what was on the other side of that everyday door, and suddenly she didn’t want to go through. Seeing someone you love look at you with such distrust and suspicion hurt too much.
“Our memories and our history shape us, but it is our blood that makes us family,” Hannah said. “Do you understand? Miranda is your sister because of your blood, and her blood, and the blood of your father and mother, not because of what she remembers or what she has done. Remember the blood in her veins and in yours.”
Mica stared at the white door before her, lost in thought and memory. She remembered when Anda had skinned her knee climbing that tall pine out in the woods, a bright red patch tinged with dirt. She remembered when Anda had cut her finger slicing onions and when Anda had gotten a bloody nose when she had failed to catch the ball Peter had thrown to her. Mica looked down at her own hands, and she looked at the bandage on her arm. Blood was what these Unseen wanted from them, her family’s blood. Mica wondered how much of her family’s blood they would take before all was said and done.
“Are you ready?” Hannah asked.
“Yeah. I’m ready,” she said. But shame followed her in.
Hannah closed the door behind them and sat on a chair in the far corner. The two sisters weren’t alone, but it was close enough.
Anda sat cross-legged on a gurney, just like the one Mica had been sitting on moments before. Now, up close, Mica had the chance to really look at Anda, and her heart broke as she stared at her twin. The fluorescent lights gave Anda’s now pale skin a blue tint. Mica was used to seeing her with arms bronzed by the sun and a flash of white skin peeking out from under her collar. Anda’s hair, usually long and white, was so short that Mica could see her pink scalp through the fine, white hairs. The short spiky hairs looked flat and dull, almost gray. Anda suddenly looked up at Mica with wide-open eyes fringed with white lashes.
She looked so thin. Not that Anda, or Mica, for that matter, had ever been anything else. Food had never been plentiful in West Six, but Anda’s hollowed cheeks startled her. She sat cross-legged and picked at her shoe, and Mica noticed a bandage wrapped around Anda’s arm, just like hers. Shame sat on the floor by the gurney humming. Anda’s gray eyes flicked up and down Mica before settling on her face and focusing.
“Hey,” Mica said and looked away from Anda’s eyes. She pulled at a strand of hair and started braiding it.
Anda was silent, but in some way, her silence gave Mica comfort. Anda never said anything unless she was sure and had thought through her words carefully. Maybe she really was the same person deep down inside.
But that savage snarl from before, when they had been herded to the medical bay, sounded in the back of her mind, and Mica knew that Anda was not the same person.
“You wanted to see me?” Mica asked, unable to take Anda’s quiet stare any longer.
“We don’t look alike,” Anda said after a moment. “They said we’re twins.”
“Yeah. Not identical, though. You look like dad. I look like mom, kind of. And Ben looks like… I don’t know, Ben, I guess.” She undid her braid and started over.
Anda smiled a bit. “It’s the nose, I think. He has his own nose, but ours are similar.”
“Our eyes are all the same, though.”
“Yeah. I did notice that. Same shape, different color.”
They looked at each other silently.
“You’re my sister,” Anda said. The words rolled out like she was tasting something new and strange and spiced. Shame hummed a pleasant little tune.
Anda shrugged. “I’m not really sure… I mean, they don’t really have families in Windrose. I mean, some people in Windrose have families. If you’re rich or important. But most babies are sent to the Rearing Centers. And Burners definitely don’t get families.”
Mica knew about the Rearing Centers in big cities—they were more economical and stable than letting people raise their own children, at least, according to the Health Center. Mica wondered if, when Anda was in Windrose, she had wanted to be part of a family.
Anda continued to watch her. “I’m sorry I snapped at you back there. After… you know, after Ben couldn’t fix me. I was… I don’t know….”
“Yeah. So, what was it like living in Windrose?” Mica asked just because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She had two braids now.
“Not too bad. I worked, had a job.”
“Aren’t you a bit young for a job? The legal age for adults is twenty.”
“They fudge ages with Burners since no one can remember. Put them to work early in Windrose. I had a desk job. Most Burners get manual labor, sanitation, that sort of thing. I was lucky.”
“Did you ever want to remember?” Mica asked. Since she had been dreading the answer, she wasn’t sure why she asked it.
“No. I mean, before here, not really. I knew I was a Burner, but before that didn’t matter. I just thought I was like everyone else.” She lifted a shoulder, and Mica knew she was lying. Before Mica could consider the implications of her lie, Anda continued, “no one really talks about anything before yesterday. And besides, everyone’s on the Calm.”
Mica thought of the little yellow rose-stamped pills. “So you never questioned things?”
“I don’t know… why things were the way they were? Why you couldn’t remember anything before… whenever it was you first remembered something?”
“No one else ever questioned things, why should I?”
Mica recognized her tone of voice and the slant of her shoulders—Anda was lying. But why would she lie about that? What did she remember that she would want to hide? Did she remember West Six? The thought of Anda remembering the Burning of West Six nearly crushed her. Mica’s whole world went sideways for a moment, then spun right side up again. A rush of nausea filled her stomach.
“Cassandra is a friend of yours too?” Anda asked.
“Yeah,” Mica said, composing herself. “She and Aaron came to West Six. And that guy, Jason? Who is he? Is he your friend?”
Something angry and cruel darkened Anda’s face, sending a shiver through Mica.
“He’s not my friend. He’s… broken. He’s nothing.”
“Oh. I thought you were friends. He escaped with you.”
“We got out despite him. None of this would have ever happened if it weren’t for him—I wouldn’t be here, and she would….” Anda paused and took a deep breath. “Sorry.”
“She? You mean, Cassandra?”
Anda’s eyelids flickered for a moment. “Yeah. Cassandra.”
Another lie. Why was she lying?
“What was home like?” Anda asked, shifting and stretching her legs out in front of her on the gurney.
“What?” She had not expected that question, but it was stupid not to.
“What was our home like? I don’t remember it. I’d like to know,” Anda said, looking down at her shoe.
She wasn’t lying about that. Mica could tell that much.
“Home…” Mica paused as a flash of thoughts and emotions burst through her mind. What was the point of telling her what home was like? She had hated it and had wanted to leave. But she’d felt trapped. Anda had been happy there, despite everything. She had raised chickens, and nursed sick squirrels, and befriended deer. But what was the use of telling her that? What good would it do her to tell her that she had been happy?
“Home wasn’t great,” Mica finally said. “We worked a lot. We had to bribe the W6 lieutenant for papers and permits. He nearly took everything. We barely had enough money for food. It was pretty much shit.” She undid her braids and started new ones on the other side.
“And West Six?” Anda asked slowly. She seemed a bit taken aback by Mica’s harsh words, but Mica pressed on.
“West Six was small, and the people were… rough. Everyone looked out for themselves. We had one friend, Peter, but he died. He died trying to save Ben.” Just talking about Peter brought an ache to the backs of her eyes as tears threatened to come. “Peter was the only good thing about West Six, and he died trying to help us.”
“What happened?” Anda asked.
Mica shrugged. She wasn’t really sure. “He got shot. He was trying to get Ben out of Nova and here, but he got shot.”
“I’m… I’m sorry. What was he like?”
Mica smiled a sad and mournful smile and closed her eyes. “He was quiet, but he was so kind. He always protected us. Ben found him hurt and drunk on our property. We brought him in and patched him up. He’d always say he was ‘just passing through,’ but he stayed with us for years. We all loved Peter.”
The memory of Peter throbbed through Mica with each heartbeat and filled her with an ache.
“Our parents? What were they like?” Anda asked, shifting away from such a fresh wound.
“Dad left us a long time ago. I barely remember him. Mom had a hard time keeping us fed. I think she almost gave us away once or twice. She was killed by Watchers. She hid when the Watchers came and sent us away.”
Nothing she said was really a lie. But shame gave her a reproachful look and made a tsking sound.
Mica told herself that if Anda believed that she was better off not remembering, then maybe that was best. But while she could lie about everything, Mica found that the only thing she couldn’t lie about was Peter. Ever since their mother died, Peter had been the best thing about West Six. And he always would be.
If Mica told her that she’d been happy, then Mica might have to tell her why she had been Burned. Mica would have to confess that it was her fault, and that was far too painful to even consider. Maybe, if she didn’t know, Anda wouldn’t blame her for getting Burned. Ben had told her that it wasn’t her fault, that the soldiers had really come for him, but Mica knew better. Despite everything, Ben wasn’t Perseus, and they weren’t coming for him. The soldiers had Burned West Six because of her. The soldiers had Burned Anda because of her, and shame whispered that truth to her every moment of every day.
“Oh,” was all that Anda said.
“Yeah. West Six was a real shit hole, and there was no way out.”
“Ben told me that life had been okay. He told me the people in town were kind. Titus and… Agatha? He said we were close to them. Really close. He said our parents had loved us.”
“Ben is delusional. Ben thinks that he’s going to save Nova because he’s Perseus. Or something. Besides, even if he does manage to stop the Burnings, what then? Take on Loraine and her army? It’s hopeless.”
“But the doctors think there’s something special about him. They told me,” Anda said. She looked up at Mica with piercing eyes like the points of nails.
Mica shook her head. “They’re all crazy, trust me.”
“So, there isn’t anything… special about our family?”
Her question caught Mica off guard. There were too many mysteries about their family. Where did their father go? Where was their mother? Why was there a kiln in their basement, and who was the man inside? Those mysteries were unsolved and would remain so. There were too many questions about their family, but none of them made their family special. Just crazy. “No. Why would there be anything special?”
“Ben restored Cassandra’s memories. They said he’d restored a lot of people’s memories, and that had never been done before.”
Mica shrugged. “He can do some tricks. That’s all. Cassandra was just lucky. Maybe there was something wrong with Cassandra’s Burn or her brain or something. There’s no reason why Ben should be able to restore memories.” She didn’t say because he can’t even restore yours.
“So, there’s nothing special or different about you and me?”
“No. Not a damn thing.”
“Are you sure?” Anda asked. Her eyes narrowed at Mica. “There’s nothing special about you or me?”
“Yeah. I’m sure. Why do you ask?”
Anda’s eyelids suddenly flickered like little white wings. Her eyes opened, and she looked at Mica with a strange expression.
“Hey, are you okay?” Mica asked. She had thought the flutter of her eyes was just a tick from stress in West Six. But here she was, her eyes fluttering like bright butterflies.
Anda gave a sudden grin. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
“What was that?”
“Your eyes, they—”
“It was nothing. I’m fine, really. And I was asking just to sure we weren’t weird like Ben,” she said with a smile, but her eyes were not smiling. “You know?”
“Why do you—”
A knock on the door and the door opened. “Hannah?” Stephen stepped inside.
Mica had forgotten about Hannah, the White Seer, sitting silently in the corner, listening to their conversation. A pink flush warmed her cheeks, and she wondered what Hannah must think of her now. Everyone else knew she was a liar. What difference did it make that Hannah knew now too? That was just who she was.
“Yes?” Hannah stood up and inclined her head towards the door.
“They’re asking for Mica and Anda in the Surveillance Room,” Stephen said.
“And there’s someone here to see you two,” Stephen said. He stepped aside, and Cassandra walked in.
Cassie wore the Unseen colors, a dark green jumpsuit, dark boots, and a river-gray jacket. Her shaved head sprouted little black hairs tinged with red. It was strange seeing her without her dark hair in tangles and dreads like frayed ropes. She looked so different without them—she looked harsh, sharp, and feline, but her eyes gave away the softness and kindness inside her. She smiled at Mica, her feline face crinkled and lined with joy. Mica stared at Cassandra like she was seeing the wind.
“Hey, kid. You made it,” Cassandra said.
“I made it.”
“I’m glad. And I’m also pleasantly surprised that you and Aaron didn’t kill each other on the way,” she added with a smile. “He can be a pain in the ass.”
“He wasn’t so bad.”
“Glad to hear it. Anda, how are you?” Anda just nodded. “They’ve been keeping me busy, or I would have checked in on you sooner. Make sure they’re treating you all right—the Unseen have a bad habit of being hard on refugees.”
“It’s okay, I’m fine. And, I never really thanked you for saving me back there… you know, when I found you and… anyway, thank you,” Anda said.
“Yeah, me too,” Mica piped up. The incident with the Shock Stick back at the farmhouse flashed through her mind, although it seemed that it had happened a century ago. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, well, really, I was really just trying to save my own skin, and you two are terrible about getting yourselves into trouble. Self-preservation and all that. It was merely coincidence that I helped you two,” she said with a wink. “Anda, I should be thanking you. If you hadn’t found me, I’d still be in Windrose.”
“Self-preservation and all that,” Anda said. Her voice was flat, and Mica wondered if she was trying to be funny. That was something the old Anda would never have done.
Cassandra smiled, her eyes squinted and crinkled. “Yeah, I guess it was, wasn’t it? All right, let’s go see what the Colonel wants.”