Chapter Eight

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Dearest little sister.

I sink down on the rug, hands shaking. It's not so much the words she uses that tip me off—though calling me her little sister does it, since we were born scant minutes apart. It's her tone, as though she's living some idyllic high life.

For Margot and me, life without the other is a half life at best. Torture at worst.

The mere fact that she's sent a letter, and on paper no less, is by far the biggest tip-off. Real letters are the work of the rich, the Upper Circle—and not the kind who live here. Margot's letter is an Upper Circle post from another world. Somewhere where they haven't burned down all the trees and haven't enough tech to get everyone circuited. Set down on creased and crackled linen, I notice the telltale sign that someone had already carefully pulled away the glue from its lips before regluing it. Maybe more than one someone.

And the postmark? It's the red circle seal of the Russian subcontinent. She's there. I can find her.

I try to tamp down my excitement and concentrate on the letters, swimming and rearranging themselves before my eyes.

Dearest little sister.

Well, it's been a long time, hasn't it? I have been having so much fun that I have lost track of time and only just realized how long it has been since I've written. Honestly, it's so much fun here. Endless soirees, long afternoons of horseback riding, ending the afternoons with social teas on the porch.

Father and Mother send their love. They are very busy right now with work, but we get together whenever they can spare a moment. I hope you're not shutting yourself up in that big old house by yourself! Get out and mingle. I know you'll meet someone special who can help you get over your shyness.

Anyway, darling baby sister, I have to get ready for a big to-do, but I will write again when I have the chance. In the meantime, know that I am well and happy and having the time of my life here.

Love,

Margot

The tripping of the clock fills my ears like the metallic chop of an ax. My mind swirls and tries to unravel all the subtext and innuendo. Margot and I are the daughters of a politician—a true power broker. Our first lesson in life was to mask our feelings from everyone in the world except each other. I consider her words again. Go out and mingle. Get over your shyness.

Great, except for one thing: I may be reserved, but I've not been shy a day in my life.

What's she telling me? Where does she think I am? Surely if she's with our parents she's heard that our house is going to be reduced to a pile of rubble. But if not...the sudden thought occurs to me. Is Margot telling me she's not even with our parents? I press the heel of my hand to my eyes, hoping to shut down the looping, useless trains of thought. Margot has given me all the information I need to get to her; I just have to find it.

Thunk. Thunk. The second hands on the clock tick. I'm running out of time. She wouldn't have sent the letter otherwise. For a moment my flesh remembers the overwhelming panic I felt from my sister just a few days ago. How long does it take for a letter to arrive from Russian parts unknown, anyway?

From the relative anonymity of the backseat, shaded by tinted glass, I watch the drones hover above the buildings, keeping watch over Dominion's streets and occupants. Since my rendezvous with Ali, those empty eyes have seemed far more sinister, to the point where I had Torch hack into Dominion's security mainframe. He played back hour after hour of feed for me. Every once in a while, the drone's feed would zero in on a face and in immaculate, clean white letters, display everything about the person—from his job at the local tavern to his political leanings and life expectancy.

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