Last time we saw MICA… (click for recap)
Mica finally comes face to face with Anda. It is strange talking with this young woman who is her sister yet without memories and history. Anda asks questions about their life before they were separated, and she was Burned, and Mica tells almost the whole truth. She, in turn, asks Anda about her time in Windrose City. But she realizes that Anda is lying. But why would she lie? What would she have to hide about her time in the city? Anda asks if she or Mica have powers like Ben. Mica says no, but Anda presses the question. They are interrupted by Cassandra, a friend to them both from before and after the Burn. Colonel Mason wants to see them…
Mica had never felt so uncomfortable in her entire life as she did in their odd little group: herself, Anda, Cassandra, Stephen, the White Seer, and their gray-clad Guides. The sister who wasn’t her sister, the woman who had saved them both, the young man she didn’t know what to think of, the disgraced Seer in white, and herself: prisoner. They made quite a group as they trekked through the Unseen City to the Colonel’s summons. Mica wondered what lay in store for her. Whatever it was, it couldn’t possibly be more uncomfortable than this.
Cassandra led them down halls and down stairwells and through echoing caves. She led them through a locked door into a massively large cavern, larger than anything Mica had seen in the Unseen City before, and Mica caught her breath.
The cavern walls stretched high above them. The gritty walls were unfinished stone, and stairs and ladders crisscrossed the cavern up to the very top of the rock as if a metal spider had made its home here. Little devices hung from the railing, bright like a thousand little dew drops caught on a web. Mica stared in awe at the vaulting stone above them, which stretched into darkness.
“Where are we?” Mica asked. Her voice echoed faintly off the rock and metal.
“We’re in the Blind Cavern. In case of an emergency, this cave can hold the entire city and shelter them with Blinds. The office of Defense and Surveillance is back here. That’s the official title. However, it should really be called the Office of the Seers,” she added, glancing back to Stephen and Hannah. Hannah gave a wide grin in response. The Guides escorting them did not smile.
Cassandra led them to a dark metal door on the other side of the cavern, and they entered the office of the Seers. While Mica had been to the Seer’s training center, she had never been allowed to their official offices. Desks and chairs lined up in precise rows, computer terminals sat on every desk, and row upon row of file cabinets lined the walls. The Seer’s Guides broke off and stood by the doors like sentinels of stone, leaving Stephen and Hannah free to continue without them.
At the far end of the office, Cassandra led them down a hallway and opened a door. It was an ordinary door, just like all the other doors lining the hallway, and Cassandra ushered them through. Over the threshold was a large, windowless conference room.
Inside, Ben and a few others sat at a long table. When Mica saw Ben, she stopped in the doorway. Something about the downturn of Ben’s mouth and his tensed jaw made her uneasy and set her skin tingling—Ben was upset: he’d been crying. Mica went cold. She did not want to go into that room. Something was very wrong. She was angry with him for so many things. For not saving Anda, for not even trying until she came and forced him, for believing he was Perseus, and for letting the Colonel keep her locked in a cell. But the fear radiating from him terrified her and eclipsed all those wounds.
“You okay, kid?” Cassandra asked after the rest had entered the room.
Mica wrinkled her nose in thought. “You said that you didn’t believe in all this prophecy stuff. I mean, before everything.”
Cassandra eased the door almost closed, giving her and Mica a shield from those inside. “Yes. I did say that.”
“You know that Ben says he’s Perseus, right?”
“So,” Mica said with a frustrated gesture, “Ben’s saying he’s Perseus. He’s crazy, right? I mean, everyone here seems to believe him, but you don’t, do you?”
Cassandra tilted her head in thought. Her red-black hairs caught the light.
“Living Burned in Windrose… Ben restored me, and I was myself again. It’s hard to say he’s crazy and that he’s not who he says he is when he has restored my memories. Why shouldn’t I believe him?”
Every muscle in her body tensed in frustration. “He can’t even….”
“If I could trade places with Anda, I would. But I can’t deny what happened. I know who I am because of Ben. How can I possibly deny that he’s something special?”
“I don’t know that I can believe him if he can’t save her,” Mica said.
Cassandra nodded. “I get it. It’s hard. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t who he says. Maybe there’s a reason Anda can’t remember,” she said, then she opened the door again and waved Mica inside.
Mica took a deep breath, tried to relax, and stepped through the door. Inside, a large CRT display sat near the far wall. Aaron and Ben sat on one side of a long, wide wooden table. She hadn’t seen Ben since being locked away in her cell and poked and needled by Dr. Henderson, and part of her didn’t care. But he was afraid. She couldn’t see the future, and she didn’t have premonitions, but this wrong feeling, this hovering evil like a stench, filled her with dread, and her whole body felt too sensitive, too hot, and too slick.
An old Seer stood behind Ben’s chair. A long white beard tumbled down his chest. Mica had seen him before on the mountain when she had escaped her room, and when she had returned with Ben in the rain. He was the old Seer who had seemed sad for her. Why should he be sad for her?
Anda sat, and Hannah hovered behind her chair. Mica seated herself next to Anda, and Stephen took up his post behind her chair. She wanted to tell him to sit, but something about this room and air begged for protocol and formality, and the Seers knew what was demanded of them. On the other side of the table, facing them like judges, sat Colonel Mason and two men on either side of her. One man wore a black Seer mask tied around his head, and the other had tiny round glasses like Aaron’s. The man with glasses kept examining his fingernails.
She wondered if she was here to participate in negotiations, but where was Gabe, Haven’s representative?
Mica and Cassandra sat on the crowded side, facing Colonel Mason and the two strange men, and she was suddenly reminded of a trial.
Colonel Mason cleared her throat. “Thank you all for coming. Hannah, would you wait outside with Anda, please? We’ll call for you both in a few minutes,” she said with a wave of her hand.
Hannah nodded and put a hand on Anda’s shoulder. Anda looked around the room with suspicion but stood and followed Hannah out. Distrust was an odd look for Anda. The Anda whom Mica knew was too trusting—almost naive, never suspicious. Her eyes were always wide with hope and fear, never narrow and dark and sly. This new Anda scared her, and Mica hated that she was scared of her own sister. And she knew it was all her fault. Shame peeked up at her from the dark under the table and grinned. Shame has crooked teeth.
Mica swallowed back the angry, guilty feeling, like struggling down gristle. “What’s going on? And who are they?” She nodded at the two men beside Colonel Mason.
“This is Dr. Adams, and this is Dr. Paulson. Dr. Adams is head of the Office of Defense and Surveillance, and Dr. Paulson is head of the Seer division.”
Mica knew their names. However, she had never seen these men before. They both nodded to her. Deep lines grooved either side of Dr. Adams’ mouth beneath his Seer mask. Dr. Paulson’s glasses glinted in the light as he inclined his head, looking up for a moment from his perfectly oval nails.
“And this is Obed,” Alayla said, motioning to the ancient Seer with the long beard behind Ben. Mica guessed he was the Seer assigned to watch him.
The light in the room seemed to take all the dimension out of the Seers’ blindfolds, leaving their faces like a hollow darkness. The light reflected off Aaron and Dr. Paulson’s glasses, obscuring their eyes. Colonel Mason’s face was still, a picture of itself. Mica felt as if everyone in the room were wearing masks—except Cassandra and Ben.
Ben tried to catch her eye, but Mica looked away. There was something about his expression that had unsettled and alarmed her, and she wasn’t sure why. Something was very wrong. Aaron did not even attempt eye contact. His silver coin eyes shifted around the room, everywhere but to her.
Mica wondered if all this had to do with Dr. Henderson’s research. Had they found something so soon? It had only been a couple of days, but maybe they’d found a cure for the Burn? But that didn’t make sense. This foreboding that filled the room was too dark for something so hopeful.
Colonel Mason continued. “A delicate situation has arisen. Ben has insisted that you, Mica, be present as we discuss what to do.”
Mica couldn’t help but feel pleased that the Colonel had obviously disagreed with Ben but had been overruled. It seemed that everyone, even Colonel Mason, was catering to “Perseus.” Mica’s fingers tingled and sweat-slicked her palms. She wiped her hands on her jumpsuit.
Colonel Mason looked from Ben to Mica with a strange expression. Mica pinned a name to her expression with surprise: pity. Colonel Mason, Alayla, pitied them, and Mica grew even more afraid.
“Ben?” the Colonel said softly. “Would you like to tell her?”
He looked down at his hands and shook his head. “She doesn’t believe anything I say, and she certainly won’t believe this. Just show her.”
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather tell her first?”
Ben looked up at Mica for a moment, then looked back down at his hands. “I can’t.”
“Very well then. Mica, we have new information about the incident at the West Nine factory. About Peter’s death. We decrypted the footage that Hermes sent.”
“Okay. So what?”
Colonel Mason hesitated, but not for long. “Mica, your sister, Miranda Alderman, was in West Nine. She was there the day Ben and Peter escaped the factory and burned it down.”
Mica heard her words, but they didn’t make sense. “Okay…. West Nine had a Burner Processing Center,” she said, trying to unravel whatever the Colonel’s words really meant. “She was being processed there. At West Nine.”
“No.” Colonel Mason ran her tongue over her teeth. “She had already been processed and was working at her designated job. In the factory.”
“She was working at the factory where Ben and Peter were?” Mica looked to Ben, but he kept his head down.
The Colonel leaned over her folded hands towards Mica, pulling her attention back and watching her with steady, sad eyes. She spoke softly, as you would to a frightened animal. “Mica, I’m sorry to tell you this, but Anda killed Peter.”
The words resounded in Mica’s head like the ringing of a bell, sending ripples of thought and emotion through her that didn’t make sense.
“No. You mean she was there… she saw it…”
Colonel Mason shook her head. “No. I’m sorry to tell you this, but your sister killed Peter.”
“How can you say that—she’s just a kid. She wouldn’t hurt anyone, let alone Peter.”
“Your sister had been Burned. She had no memory of Peter or her relationship to him. Also, we are confident that she was Burned yet again after the incident and has no memory of his murder. She doesn’t know what she did.”
Anda killed Peter. Anda had been Burned twice.
You can’t unring a bell.
Mica’s breath began coming in short gasps. “Ben?” she looked to him for help across the empty seat where Anda had been sitting, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. She felt Stephen’s hand on her back, but his touch felt far away, like everything was near and far and too bright and too hot all at the same time. “No, it isn’t true—she wouldn’t do that. Why are you lying about this?”
“I told you she wouldn’t believe it,” Ben said. “Just show her.”
The Colonel nodded and pressed a button on a panel on the table. “I am sorry, Mica.”
The lights darkened, and the display at the far end of the room lit up. It took a moment for Mica’s eyes to adjust to the strange black and white and blurred images in front of her, but the grainy and distorted and strangely shining images came into focus, then she recognized Ben and Peter.
She watched Peter and Ben hurry through a crowd of workers who only stared at him with blank and hazy eyes. It was strange seeing Peter alive. The footage had no sound, but Mica almost thought she could hear him run and speak and breathe. It was almost too much.
Whatever Colonel Mason said about Anda, she knew the truth—she killed Peter herself when she set those fires and stole from the soldiers. She set this whole thing in motion because she couldn’t think before she acted. Shame put a cold little hand on her ankle. Mica cleared her throat and sat up straighter, and stared harder at the display as if staring and wishing could bring Peter back to life.
On the display, a guard charged Peter. Ben stumbled but kept moving as Peter collided with the guard and fought hand to hand. The guard crumpled to the ground. Peter stooped for the guard’s gun and clenched it tightly. He took two steps after Ben but stopped. He saw something and ran off, away from Ben. He sprinted past the crowd of workers and down a row of large metal vats out of view.
The display flicked to another view, and Peter came running into view. He was chasing someone. He chased a worker, a small, thin worker with the hood of his jumpsuit pulled low over his face. Mica strained to see who it was, but the worker’s uniform was baggy and ill-fitting, and the fleeing figure kept his head down.
Peter caught up to the figure and grabbed his arm, spinning him around with one hand, but the figure moved too fast, and Mica could not see the worker’s face. Peter struggled with the figure, then removed his hand from the figure’s arms in a calming gesture, the gun still in his other hand.
“Who is that?” Mica asked. No one replied. “It’s not Anda. Does anyone know who that is?” she asked again.
Still, no one responded. Mica glanced around the room, angry that no one would answer her, and her eyes rested on Ben. The color had drained from his face. His mouth set in a hard line, and strange shadows from the display skidded across his eyes, making him look like he was underwater. He looked so sad, and his sudden grief startled Mica. She looked back to the display.
Peter stepped back from the figure, his hands up like he was surrendering. He lowered the gun, laid it on the ground, and backed away. The figure hesitated but warily approached, picked up the gun, and pointed it at him. Still, Peter did not move. They spoke, but their heads were at an angle so that Mica couldn’t see their lips to tell what they were saying. The figure shook the gun at him. Still, Peter did not move.
Peter took a step forward. The figure stepped back.
Peter took another step forward. The figure again stepped back.
Mica kept her eyes glued to Peter. She knew what was about to happen, and she wanted to look away, but she somehow felt that it was her duty to watch. Since she had caused this, she must see it. That was her punishment.
Peter and the figure stood still for a long time. Mica wondered if the footage had frozen, but then everything happened at once. In an instant, in only a heartbeat, everything moved and changed.
And you can’t unring a bell.