BOOK 2 // FOUR: Questions Answered

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            Nova was an incredibly busy person. Here, anything and everything wanted her attention at all hours of the day.

To some extent, I should've been used to it. Back home, she'd had the kind of extroverted personality people were drawn to, and therefore had more friends than she could keep track of. As a kid, this had meant a house packed out with friends every evening after school, and Mum cooking dinner for what felt like half the neighbourhood. In her teens, the social events were a little further afield, and she'd never let a lack of parental permission be a barrier to staying involved. As fast as she learnt to sneak out of her window, I learnt to cover for her.

After all, a party wasn't a party if Nova wasn't there.

Still, this place was a whole different league. There was no official hierarchy, and yet at the same time nobody could dispute that she was in charge. She couldn't walk from one place to another without somebody stopping to ask her a question. And I was the one with the most questions of anybody.

There was so much she still had to explain, so much I was still in the dark about. All I wanted was the chance to ask, but it was near on impossible to corner my sister. I tried, but she was always in a hurry to get somewhere – to see Erica because the generator was looking patchy again, to find out why someone hadn't done their job for the day, to go to bed because it'd been a really long day.

Being her sister counted for nothing. I was now just one of the group.

So when, a couple of days later, Nova pulled me aside and said she needed to talk, I jumped at the chance.

My first few days had been spent helping out other people, tagging along as they carried out their daily jobs. At the time, I was in the kitchen, behind the scenes with Erica as she prepared dinner. My involvement hadn't been an overwhelming success – I'd already burnt one batch of potato and filled the entire room with smoke – so to see Nova's head poke around the door came as more of a relief than I liked to admit.

With her head tilted to the side, her long braid hung low, pointing to the floor. "Astrid?" she called. "You got a minute?"

I was more than willing to give up one, but with an apron tied around my waist and my hands stuck into potato peeling, the decision probably wasn't down to me. I glanced at Erica.

The blue-haired girl shot a disbelieving look at Nova. "You're really leaving me to handle dinner alone?"

"Judging by the smoke earlier, I think that's in all of our best interests," she said. "It's okay. I'll adjust the schedule in future, make it even. Astrid, with me."

I couldn't get the apron off fast enough. Smiling apologetically at Erica, to which she rolled her eyes jokingly, I headed out of the door after my sister.

Not one to wait for anybody, she was already striding off ahead. I had to walk fast to catch up with her. "Where are we going?"

"My office."

"You've got an office?"

"If you can call it that," she said. "That's arguable, but it makes me sound important. It's a room for which I've got a key, at least."

"Still," I said, "sounds impressive."

It turned out to be several streets over, in a small building I hadn't yet noticed. I was still working out how to get my bearings, but the easiest thing to use for reference seemed to be the steeple of the church; above collapsing roofs and overgrown trees, it was generally pretty visible.

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