Chapter 1

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My sister looks like a goddess as she waits for the tailor to appear. Her waist-length hair is braided in a Dutch crown and diamond jewelry hangs from her ears, wrists, and neck. The only thing missing is a smile. Instead, she frowns at the holographic display of her outfit. "You'd think seventy-five years would mean the Matchmakers would become more flexible with the color scheme." She whispers the last part, but not quietly enough.

Mother turns away from the Couturier and gives my sister a sharp look. "Kalliope, we talked about this."

"It's Kalli," she corrects.

"This cannot continue," Mother says, ignoring my sister's comment. "Kalliope is the name I gave you and it is the one by which your Match will address you. You should be setting a good example for your sister."

I interrupt, not wanting to hear their bickering on what was supposed to be a celebratory day. "But aren't you excited?"

Kalli rolls her eyes. Before she can deliver her usual lecture on my adherence to tradition, the Couturier says, "Please get dressed, Miss Young," gesturing to the dressing chamber.

My sister's expression softens as she regards the woman. She always was nicer to the working class than was proper in Mother's opinion. Kalli steps onto the round platform and is immediately shielded from sight by a rounded metal door.

The woman places the dress in the adjoining tube and selects the parameters of the outfit on the panel. The outfit begins to shimmer until it disappears completely. The panel transforms into a holographic display of my sister in the chamber and I watch fascinated as the dress slowly materializes on her body. It's like nothing I've ever seen before.

Almost nothing in the room is recognizable. Aside from the technology panels and tablets, the room looks like a forest. Vines cover the ceiling and walls and they gather in the corner, turning into a swing. In the center of the space is a large tree with shades of pink and purple fruit hanging from the branches. We're underground in what was originally a bunker like all the other Preparation rooms—how can something grow here?

I stand, intending to walk closer when Mother turns to me. "I expect you will handle this with more grace, Rosemary."

I wince at the comparison. It's not so much that I resent the compliment, but I don't like accepting it at my sister's expense. Thankfully, I am saved from needing to reply when Kalli reappears.

Two women wearing blue dresses enter and usher my sister through a secret door that opens in the wall. They are Adorners, responsible for Marking the soon-to-be Matched couples.

Mother motions me to rise. We are not meant to see the Marking, but my sister calls out, "Wait! I want Romy to come with me."

Mother purses her lips, but clearly decides not to argue in front of the Adorners. "Come find us when it is time."

Kalli holds out her arms and pulls me next to her. Together, we walk toward the dark passageway and continue until another door opens. I blink a few times, adjusting to the stark simplicity of the new surroundings compared to the Preparation area. This space is much smaller and resembles an old hospital room with a metal examination chair and garish white light.

I stand next to the seat and one of the women pulls a black, silk blindfold out of the cabinet and secures it around my sister's head. She then takes my sister's dominant hand, flips it over, and begins sanitizing the skin with a portable light blade. Though it's not touching Kalli's skin, it peels off the top layer, revealing a smoother one underneath.

The second woman mixes a small vial of clear liquid with a packet of black powder. When she finishes, she funnels the solution into a smaller glass container. She clicks the cartridge into something that looks like a combination of an old-fashioned wax seal and table clamp. She kneels next to my sister and places the instrument around her arm so the circular plate is centered over the prepared skin. Pressing a button, the thing clamps together and the ink begins to disappear into the machine.

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