Chapter 17: Conspiracy Theories

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My jaw hangs. Etch leans his head on my shoulder.

"True love is a sight to see, ain't it?" he asks. "You must be so happy right now. Anton told us all about his friend Lilianne, how you were like brother and sister."

My temples throb. Mairī Lin sings in her seductive, babyish voice, "I wanna be loved by you ..." Her eyes shine with excitement as if this were the best screening ever.

Stinky presses her oozing palms and face against her glass chamber, her coal eyes squinting. "Who's the guy in his undershorts making out with Ceph?"

"He's trouble," Tourmaline replies, coming to stand on my other side. Her crystal form vibrates off-key. "He shouldn't be here, not now."

"He's a Supergenic without Supergenic parents," Etch replies. "Where else would he be?"

How long are they going to kiss for? I wonder.

"This close to our final visitation day, he could ruin everything," Tourmaline replies.

I neither know nor care what a visitation day is, and Anton's not the one ruining everything.

"How do you figure?" Etch scoffs at his sister. "When people find out a halfie fully Manifested so late, his contributor rankings are going to go through the stratosphere. His story will be better than yours."

"What if he starts spewing his nonsense about Supergenic monsters?" Tourmaline demands. "Ceph can't be linked to someone like that."

"Might make things more interesting," Etch says. "Besides, with the whole Doctor Dérangé scandal, maybe Anton had it right all along."

"Doctor Dérangé's one rogue scientist whose genius got the better of him," Tourmaline replies. "His trial's got everyone angry and afraid enough as it is. This is not the time for a fully Manifested former halfie to be claiming there's an institutionalized conspiracy turning children into monsters and then setting them loose on the dreg boroughs. What nonsense!"

Etch's eyes narrow. "Oh, I get it. You can't have your brother's boyfriend accusing the ruling class of gene crimes. That might mess up your adoption to Mr. and Mrs. High and Mighty."

"You know their names," she snaps. To me, she adds, "Everybody does."

Ceph and Anton finally pull away from each other. Mairī Lin stops singing. Tourmaline appraises me. It doesn't take a code breaker to decipher my expression. Anton and Ceph gaze longingly into each others' eyes.

Tourmaline aims her attention back at them.

"You two were never cleared for romantic engagements." Her form flares as she pushes Ceph and Anton apart. We all blink and rub our eyes. "You're not kids anymore. You can't go sneaking around doing whatever you want. Who knows the consequences?" She grabs my arm and drags me in between them like she's tossing a bucket of ice water onto a roaring fire. "Anton, your dear friend Lilianne is here. You always said she was like family to you."

The way he contemplates me with his blue eyes, is that the look of a brother for his sister?

"I'm sorry," he says to me, "for taking off on you in Mange Town."

He hugs and twirls me off my feet in one fluid motion. My heart hammers. I forget about Ceph; I forget about their kiss; I forget about me. Anton sets me down. He's alive; that's all that matters. I hold his jaw and draw him toward me; I kiss him on the forehead. He wipes away my tears; I wipe away his. It's not the gesture of a lover or a sibling; it's in a dimension all its own.

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