“Do I what?”
Adam rocks on his heels, eyes darting around the room. “Warner is never here for breakfast, huh?”
My eyebrows shoot up my forehead. “You’re looking for Warner?”
“What? No. I’m just, uh, wondering. He’s never here. You know? It’s weird.”
I stare at him.
He says nothing.
“It’s not that weird,” I say slowly, studying Adam’s face. “Warner doesn’t have time for breakfast with us. He’s always working.”
“Oh,” Adam says, and the word seems to deflate him. “That’s too bad.”
“Is it?” I frown.
But Adam doesn’t seem to hear me. He calls for James, who’s putting away his breakfast tray, and the two of them meet in the middle of the room and then disappear.
I have no idea what they do all day. I’ve never asked.
The mystery of Kenji’s absence at breakfast is solved the moment I walk up to Castle’s door: the two of them are here, heads together.
I knock on the open door as a courtesy. “Hey,” I say. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, yes, Ms Ferrars,” Castle says eagerly. He gets to his feet and waves me inside. “Please, have a seat. And if you would”—he gestures behind me—“close the door.”
I’m nervous in an instant.
I take a tentative step into Castle’s makeshift office and glance at Kenji, whose blank face does nothing to allay my fears. “What’s going on?” I say. And then, only to Kenji: “Why weren’t you at breakfast?”
Castle motions for me to take a seat.
“Ms Ferrars,” he says urgently. “You have news of Oceania?”
“The RSVP. You received your first RSVP, did you not?”
“Yeah, I did,” I say slowly. “But no one is supposed to know about that yet—I was going to tell Kenji about it over breakfast this morning—”
“Nonsense.” Castle cuts me off. “Everyone knows. Mr Warner knows, certainly. And Lieutenant Delalieu knows.”
“What?” I glance at Kenji, who shrugs. “How is that possible?”
“Don’t be so easily shocked, Ms Ferrars. Obviously all of your correspondence is monitored.”
My eyes widen. “What?”
Castle makes a frustrated motion with his hand. “Time is of the essence, so if you would, I’d really—”
“Time is of what essence?” I say, irritated. “How am I supposed to help you when I don’t even know what you’re talking about?”
Castle pinches the bridge of his nose. “Kenji,” he says suddenly. “Will you leave us, please?”
“Yep.” Kenji jumps to his feet with a mock salute. He heads toward the door.
“Wait,” I say, grabbing his arm. “What’s going on?”
“I have no idea, kid.” Kenji laughs, shakes his arm free. “This conversation doesn’t concern me. Castle called me in here earlier to talk about cows.”
“Yeah, you know.” He arches an eyebrow. “Livestock. He’s been having me do reconnaissance on several hundreds of acres of farmland that The Reestablishment has been keeping off the radar. Lots and lots of cows.”
“It is, actually.” His eyes light up. “The methane makes it all pretty easy to track. Makes you wonder why they wouldn’t do something to preve—”
“Methane?” I say, confused. “Isn’t that a kind of gas?”
“I take it you don’t know much about cow shit.”
I ignore that. Instead, I say, “So that’s why you weren’t at breakfast this morning? Because you were looking at cow poop?”
“Well,” I say. “At least that explains the smell.”
It takes Kenji a second to catch on, but when he does, he narrows his eyes. Taps me on the forehead with one finger. “You’re going straight to hell, you know that?”
I smile, big. “See you later? I still want to go on our morning walk.”
He makes a noncommittal grunt.
“C’mon,” I say, “it’ll be fun this time, I promise.”
“Oh yeah, big fun.” Kenji rolls his eyes as he turns away, and shoots Castle another two-finger salute. “See you later, sir.”
Castle nods his good-bye, a bright smile on his face.
It takes a minute for Kenji to finally walk out the door and shut it behind him, but in that minute Castle’s face transforms. His easy smile, his eager eyes: gone. Now that he and I are fully alone, Castle looks a little shaken, a little more serious. Maybe even . . . scared?
And he gets right down to business.
“When the RSVP came through, what did it say? Was there anything memorable about the note?”
“No.” I frown. “I don’t know. If all my correspondence is being monitored, wouldn’t you already know the answer to this question?”
“Of course not. I’m not the one monitoring your mail.”
“So who’s monitoring my mail? Warner?”
Castle only looks at me. “Ms Ferrars, there is something deeply unusual about this response.” He hesitates. “Especially as it’s your first, and thus far, only RSVP.”
“Okay,” I say, confused. “What’s unusual about it?”
Castle looks into his hands. At the wall. “How much do you know about Oceania?”
I shrug. “I can point it out on a map.”
“And you’ve never been there?”
“Are you serious?” I shoot him an incredulous look. “Of course not. I’ve never been anywhere, remember? My parents pulled me out of school. Passed me through the system. Eventually threw me in an insane asylum.”
Castle takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes as he says, very carefully, “Was there anything at all memorable about the note you received from the supreme commander of Oceania?”
“No,” I say. “Not really.”
“I guess it was little informal? But I don’t thi—”
I look away, remembering. “The message was really brief,” I explain. “It said Can’t wait to see you, with no sign-off or anything.”
“‘Can’t wait to see you’?” Castle looks suddenly puzzled.
“Not can’t wait to meet you,” he says, “but can’t wait to see you.”
I nod again. “Like I said, a little informal. But it was polite, at least. Which I think is a pretty positive sign, all things considered.”
Castle sighs heavily as he turns in his chair. He’s facing the wall now, his fingers steepled under his chin. I’m studying the sharp angles of his profile as he says quietly,
“Ms Ferrars, how much has Mr Warner told you about The Reestablishment?”
I’m sitting alone in the conference room, running an absent hand over my new haircut, when Delalieu arrives. He’s pulling a small coffee cart in behind him, wearing the tepid, shaky smile I’ve come to rely upon. Our workdays have been busier than ever lately; thankfully, we’ve never made time to discuss the uncomfortable details of recent events, and I doubt we ever will.
For this I am forever grateful.
It’s a safe space for me here, with Delalieu, where I can pretend that things in my life have changed very little.
I am still chief commander and regent to the soldiers of Sector 45; it’s still my duty to organize and lead those who will help us stand against the rest of The Reestablishment. And with that role comes responsibility. We’ve had a lot of restructuring to do while we coordinate our next moves, and Delalieu has been critical to these efforts.
“Good morning, sir.”
I nod a greeting as he pours us both a cup of coffee. A lieutenant such as himself need not pour his own coffee in the morning, but we’ve come to prefer the privacy.
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