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“What do you think the man who grabbed me was going to say—he wasn’t a what?” she asked. “An enemy? An Ironwood?”

“If Miss…Alice…is right, and he’s not an Ironwood, then it’s likely he’s a Thorn,” Nicholas said slowly. “Equally dangerous, considering they want the astrolabe as well.”

Rose. The man had called her Rose.

“He used my mom’s name,” she said. “That man had clearly seen her before if he mistook me for her.”

He gave one of his curt nods. “Alice implied that your mother was tied to the Thorns at one point or another.”

Etta frowned. Something about all of this was rubbing her the wrong way, brushing up like sandpaper against her attempts to puzzle this out. Her mother had wanted her to travel; she’d known it was inevitable. Etta was beginning to think the “consequences” Rose had referenced in her fight with Alice had to do with trying to change the timeline by keeping Etta from going. So why would Rose join a group that wanted to use the astrolabe for itself—and would stop Etta from getting it? Had she pulled the same kind of con on the Thorns as she had on the Ironwoods?

Rose could be cold, guarded, but Etta hadn’t realized before now that her mother could also be ruthless. It gave her hope that, if her mom really did believe she could handle this, she recognized there was fight in Etta, too.

They were going to have a long conversation when Etta found her. Starting with why she hadn’t just destroyed the astrolabe in the first place, and saved everyone the grief.

The sun was setting, and the mood of the city was shifting into something that made her stomach churn. Heavy curtains were being drawn behind windows, and cardboard was being placed in the flat windows of storefronts. The streetlamps remained off. The crowds of people began to disperse, breaking off in clusters and heading up the side streets, jumping in whatever bus or taxi was passing by. It was like the city had sucked in one last, enormous gasp and was holding its breath. Etta felt as though she were walking along a crack that was threatening to cave in on itself.

“I thought they had…elect—electricity?” Nicholas said quietly. The leather satchel at his side bounced between them, but every now and then the back of his hand would brush hers and break the rhythm of her pulse.

“They do,” Etta whispered back, glancing back at the milky pink of the sunset. Was this part of the “rationing” Alice had mentioned, or was this some kind of power blackout?

They passed Leicester Square; couples dressed up in furs and hats were loitering outside of the theaters, sharing cigarettes as if it were any other day in any other year.

Almost there, almost there…

“May I ask you something?” Nicholas said into the darkness gathering around them. A midnight blue clung to the air, that last gasp of afterlight before nightfall. Without any illumination, Etta’s other senses came into sharp focus. The smell of gasoline and smoke. The sound of their footsteps. The dryness of her mouth as she tried to swallow.

“You can ask me anything,” she told him.

“What will you do when you find the astrolabe,” he asked, his voice reserved, careful, “knowing what it truly does?”

Etta didn’t want to lie. “Whatever it takes to save my mom. My future.”

“Are there any circumstances in which you’d give it to the old man?” he continued.

What a strange question—was that some kind of test?

She raised an eyebrow. “Would you?”

His lips parted, but just as quickly, he turned his gaze up toward the sky as it bruised under the night.

“I can only imagine what he’d do with access to more of the future,” Etta continued. “It’s how badly he wants it, and how far my mom had to go to protect it, that scares me. It definitely makes me second-guess giving it to him. Nothing about the old man makes me want to play nice.”

“But isn’t it the easier solution—give it to him, and get your life back? Your mother? Perform at your concert?” he asked, his voice strained.

“What’s left of my life at this point, you mean. Whatever parts of it he hasn’t torpedoed.” Etta didn’t want to continue down this line of conversation, not when her own thoughts were still too frustratingly tangled. Her mom was safe for now, and would be, so long as she could get to the astrolabe before Ironwood’s deadline.

He gave her a helpless look. “‘Torpedoed’?”

“An underwater missile that…You know what?” she said with a faint laugh. “I’ll explain later. I’m not so sure it wouldn’t be a good idea to torpedo the stupid astrolabe and just be done with this.”

“That would be unwise. The whole business of getting home could be made considerably easier by creating a passage, rather than sailing to the one in Nassau,” Nicholas said. “I hope you’ll take this as the compliment it is, but I imagine Ironwood will be eager to see you and your mother as quickly as possible. He might even create one for you.”

“We are talking about Cyrus Ironwood, right?” Etta said, brows raised at this little fantasy. “The one who told me he was going to leave me so destitute I was going to have to resort to prostitution?”

Nicholas groaned. “We will create one for you and your mother, then.”

“If we can figure out how to use it,” she pointed out. The thought made her feel tired all over again. In truth, at that moment, all she really wanted were two things: her mother and a hot shower. And toothpaste. Three things. The last should have been easy enough to find, and maybe it would have been, if every store they passed hadn’t been closed for the day.