Chapter Four

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They say Splicers sometimes feel this way once a diseased limb or organ has been removed. Phantom pains, they call it. For me, that is my sister, a bright, terrible loss within me.

It used to be a living thing stretching between us. When the Protocols nurse sank her needle into Margot's flesh, the stinging pain invaded me and I reached for her hand. When she fell and scraped her knees, I bled. When they strapped her down on an examination table and plucked from her body the seeds of her future, my own guts writhed with sympathy.

There were times in our childhood that I detested that ghost flesh. When she kissed Robbie Deakins inside Grayguard's quad, I wanted to wash my mouth with bleach and hated with a passion the traitorous heat lighting up my body. Every month our cycles flowed at exactly the same moment, although my own was compounded with the aching echo of Margot's cramps.

Sometimes I wonder: Did our parents know? Did they suspect? Margot and I kept our secrets locked tight within us. But she is so far away now. And for the first time in our lives, I can't feel her. They could be doing any number of despicable things to her to get what they want. And what do they want?

Another question as mute and empty as Dominion's white skies.

I watch with a sigh as the streets flow past. The scavengers have been busy lining their nests with the debris of a ghost town. The rubble from the last insurgency took only a week to disappear. The blue sneaker with the golden lighting bolt I'd seen lying on its side a few days before has gone, as has the red handkerchief that once lay on a concrete block, tumbled from the half-eaten building to the left. It may be easier to get around, now that the preachers have gone to ground, but Dominion is no easier to look at.

Storm barges into my train of thought. "There's a meeting tonight I'd like you to come to."

I don't want to talk about more parties. "What Colonel Deakins said last night," I say instead, gazing at the lifeless streets. "So it's true. They're all gone."

The moment I say it, I grasp what's been bothering me. We've been traveling to the tree at least twice a week for the past few weeks. But now there are no bodies in the streets. They're bare. Unless the Plague has diminished—unthinkable at the moment—Dominion has become a ghost town, and it has taken its ghosts to the grave.

Storm shakes his antlered head. His silver eyes regard me with preternatural intensity, though the smile is sweet and kind.

"I think this is a tactical retreat. They're planning something. Which is why I need you to come with me tonight. We need to shake some trees."

It's not an expression I'm familiar with. People don't "shake" trees in Dominion. They tear them down for firewood. I'm unable to ask Storm what he means as we pull to a stop at Heaven Square. Mohawk, this morning's driver, jumps out and opens my door. Today she's pulled a necklace through the multiple holes in her ear, held open with weights. With her cut-off shirt and tight black crop shorts, strange against the stripy pattern of her skin, she looks like an exotic dancer from another dimension.

"Have fun, Ducky." She winks. "I'll be here, keeping an eye on you." She stabs two fingers to her eyes, then points them at me, startling a laugh out of me.

I follow Storm over to the Prayer Tree where Doc Raines looks up from a pile of wet earth. It rained last night and drizzles still.

"You've got to see this," she calls over to us with a wave.

The doctor is a throwback from another age. A tailored cream rain slick that screams Upper Circle covers up her khaki pants and crisp linen shirt, yet her frizzed curls bob everywhere. She scoops a handful of coppery corkscrews restlessly away from her face as she stares at us with sharp eyes.

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