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The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.

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Monday
Jun242013

Week 26

Kitty, The Cub Reporter

The Midway authorities wouldn't let me out again after the incident, for all that I was a ‘guest’ and not a ‘prisoner.’ I spent the next morning lying in bed, watching the squares of light from the southerly window move across the floor. I'd contemplated escaping that way before, but there was nowhere to go but a hundred yards straight down even if there hadn’t been metal bars in the window, stained deep orange from the sea air.

I badgered Charles enough to get him to sit with me that afternoon and play cards. He wouldn't meet my eyes, and I wondered how much trouble I'd got him into.

He kept losing so terribly that eventually I stopped even bothering to stack the deck. He resisted any attempt toward conversation, and after a few hands I didn't try anymore.

An hour or two shuffled by. A tray of food came in and Charles left. I lay in bed again, waiting for the light to fade. Waiting for something else to happen to me.

Just at dusk, I heard a tapping at the window. There was a dark little bird, pecking at the glass. There was a tiny tube tied to its leg. The window was barred, though, and I couldn't find a way to open it. The little bird cocked its head at me expectantly and tapped again. Did it want me to break the window so it could come in?

I cast around for something to break the pane, and was picking through the dishes and flatware from my last meal to see if it might be sturdy enough.

"Hungry?" asked a voice at my door. The woman in the checkered coat was there, the one who had bundled me onto my ill-fated train to Midway. The coat was draped over her arm this time. The teapot clattered to the tray as I dropped it, and looked over at the window. The bird had flown away.

She followed my eyes and frowned, just a little around the corners of her eyes. "You must be tired of being here, Katherine," she said.

I didn't bother to correct her. "I want to go home," I said. "This has all been a terrible mistake."

She nodded, slowly. "You're right. A terrible mistake. But I have good news for you. You're to come along with me. We'll get you on your way in no time at all."

I glanced back at the empty window and thought about poison, and trains, and Miles, and trust. "On my way to where, exactly?"

The little frown around her eyes grew deeper.

Charles bustled in with a clipboard. "All of the paperwork is in order, Lieutenant. I just need your signature here and here." He handed her the forms without looking at me. She signed them without looking away from me. "Looks like you're free to go, Kitty," Charles told his shoes. "It was… nice to meet you." He gave the Lieutenant a crisp salute. "Thank you, ma'am. Safe travels." He left me alone with her.

"If I'm free," I took a deep breath, "Why can't I just walk out and go where I want without you?"

Her jaw muscle flexed, and the hand hanging by her side moved toward her coat pocket. "It would be dangerous for you. A young girl, alone and with little knowledge of local customs --"

"Do I even have a choice?"

She smiled, but there was no warmth to it. "It would be much easier for all of us if you would just come along, Katherine."

I thought she might be bringing me to another prison, but instead it was a school somewhere in Midway's rusted underbelly. You could tell it was a school by looking in the few rooms we passed at the rows of desks and the boards up front, even despite the sigils on the walls and doors and windows, the black candles burning at every corner, the grooves in the wooden surfaces filled with dried blood that couldn't be scrubbed away.

There were no other pupils in evidence.

Coops of sleepy pigeons lined the hallways. We passed something a bit like a bookcase, except instead of books it held knives and bowls and flasks full of liquid. One of them looked like it held flakes of iron in water. I thought about my father. It made me feel just a little warmer, just for a second.

The Lieutenant narrowed her eyes. "Stop that," she said.

She squeezed my arm too hard and steered me into a tiny closet of a classroom, where the desks were in a circle around the perimeter. A person was waiting there, someone with no hair and no eyebrows dressed in something that might as well have been a plain brown sack. There was an elaborate circle in the center of the floor inlaid with red and black stone.

"This is your teacher," said the Lieutenant. "You will do everything you are instructed to do. You will obey without question and without hesitation. Do you understand?"

I took in the circle, the teacher, the occult trappings, and thought again of my father, slandered in death as participating in just this sort of disgusting activity. It was plain what they wanted to teach me to do here. "I won't do it," I said. "You can't make me."

I didn't see her fist until after it struck me hard on the temple. The hurt and surprise of it blinded me. I took a stumbling half-step backward. But when my eyes cleared, I rounded on the Lieutenant and threw my own fist at her.

She sidestepped easily and did… something, I couldn't see what, but it wound up with my arm pinned awkwardly behind my back, pain shooting from my elbow clear up past my shoulder. The Lieutenant's mouth was right by my ear. "Do you understand?" she repeated. She applied just an extra nudge to my elbow, dizzying me with the pain of it.

Tears dripped down my neck, but I said nothing.

My new "teacher" stepped forward and looked carefully at my face. I would have spit if it were ladylike. He raised a gentle hand to my wet cheek. I noticed that he was missing the tips of three of his fingers.

The Lieutenant spoke again. "Your teacher took a long time to come around, too, but everyone does, in the end."

He opened his mouth wide to show me the place in his mouth where his tongue should have been. He made a soft sound that might have been sympathetic, might even have been encouragement.

The Lieutenant tugged at my elbow one more time, jolting me into fresh agony. "You're much more valuable to us in one piece," she said. "But we will brook no disobedience. Are we clear?"

I was full of shame and fear and angry at everything and everyone, but I closed my eyes tight and nodded.

"Very good, Kitty," she said, and released me. I tumbled into a heap on the floor. "I look forward to hearing about your progress."

"You call me Katherine," I said.

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