Jamie looked like he’d been shocked. “Jesus,” he whispered. “Who’s he talking to?”
“Probably Dr. Kells,” Stella said it aloud as I thought it.
I looked at the both of them. Stella looked pale and frightened. Jamie looked determined. Decided.
It was time. Time to split up. I took a deep breath.
“I don’t know what that video meant, or why Kells wanted us to see it. I don’t know why Jude helped us get out or if he was even really helping us at all. I don’t know anything, but I know that I have to open this door. I have to. And if you don’t want to be here for it, you should go.”
“There was a hatch, somewhere on the blueprints, right?” Stella nodded. “By the Maintenance Area. You should go. Together. Get to No Name Key however you can. I’ll catch up with you there or I won’t.”
“I think you’re making a mistake,” Jamie said slowly.
Stella raised her hand. “Me too, for what it’s worth.”
I smiled without amusement. “Noted.”
Jamie ran his hand over his scalp, scratching at it. “I don’t want to leave you here by yourself.”
Stella looked back and forth between the two of us, clearly unsure what to do. I reached for the handle again.
“Stop!” Jamie shouted.
“Mara, I love you—don’t look at me like that, not in that way—but if you are so far gone that you are about to ignore a BIG RED BIOHAZARD symbol, me going in with you isn’t going to help you. I want my innards to stay inner.”
“It’s okay,” I said quietly. “It really is.” I wasn’t offended, or even hurt. I was relieved. I didn’t want to feel responsible for Jamie and Stella. It was enough just being responsible for myself.
“Shit,” Jamie muttered. “Shit.”
He grabbed my face in his hands, hard, and smushed my cheeks. “If it’s Ebola, you’re fucked. But if not, just—try not to breathe for as long as you can, okay?”
I nodded. “Go. I’ll give you a head start.”
Jamie kissed me on the cheek. “Good luck,” he whispered, and he and Stella began to climb the stairs. I waited until the sounds of their muted footsteps disappeared, and then I pressed my ear to the door.
“Why won’t she come in?”
Noah again. I closed my eyes. Something wasn’t right. He was alive, obviously, but if he was okay, why wasn’t he opening the door to come to me?
Every instinct told me to run, but I turned the handle anyway. The door opened slowly.
The room was white and tiled, like the examination room I’d woken up in. No furniture in this one either, except for a small card table and two chairs. Dr. Kells sat on one of them. The second chair was empty.
“Where’s Noah?” I asked with steel in my voice. My eyes searched the room, but there was nothing to find. “Why did you tell me he was dead?”
Dr. Kells was reaching into a cardboard box by her feet as I spoke. “Because he is.”
She lifted something up, over her head. A gas mask. “I’m sorry,” I heard her say before she lowered it over her face. There was a hissing sound, and by the time I noticed the vents near the ceiling, I had already fallen to the ground.
I RESTED MY CHEEK AGAINST the ship’s railing, breathing in air that smelled of salt and rain. It was night; the deck was nearly empty. Two young men jostled and joked with each other as they worked to tie ropes, arrange sails. Sailors—that was it. They paid me no mind, and I watched them out of the corner of my eye. They were familiar with each other, family perhaps. They moved and worked together the way Sister and I had when we’d used to cook. Though she and I were never sisters, which is why I was here and she was dead.
I spent every night wondering why that was, why I was here to stare out at the black sea that seemed to have no end to it, when Sister and Uncle and so many others were rotting beneath the earth half a world away. I wondered why my benefactor, as he had been called by everyone I ever knew, wanted me enough to provide for me even after his death. I wondered of what value he thought I might be to him.
It was my final night at sea, and I was too restless to spend it belowdecks. I hardly ever spent time in my quarters, preferring to watch as sailors strung the ropes from the masts into a giant web, to watch the sails breathe with wind. On past nights, when my presence had been noticed and I was chased below by a man with spectacles like Mr. Barbary’s and shiny gold buttons on his coat, I would creep along the corridors, sneak behind doors, listen to conversations no one guessed I could understand.
But that morning I watched as dawn broke, crisp and clear over the horizon, before a dark cloud enveloped us as the sea narrowed into a river. Iron smoke swallowed every scrap of blue sky, and when the ship docked, I was jostled aside as it crawled with people the way the waters below it teemed with fish.
The river was clotted with other ships, the banks crowded by docks, and buildings with domes and arches and spires that scraped the sky. Pipes spit black smoke into the air, and my ears filled with the sounds of the city, with shouting and whistling and chiming and creaking and other sounds so foreign I could not even name them.
I went back to my quarters to fetch my things, only to find that someone was waiting for me.
The man wore black clothing to match his dark eyes, which crinkled at the corners. His face was kind, his voice rich and deep. “I am Mr. Grimsby,” the man said. “I believe we have a mutual connection through Mr. Barbary?”
I did not answer.
“He sent word to my mistress that I should escort you to the London home. Are you ready, miss?”
He lifted my trunk from the ground, and I stiffened. He noticed. “May I take your things?”
No, I wanted to say. I nodded instead.
I followed Mr. Grimsby off the ship, watching the way my trunk bobbed with his steps. From the sounds of hooves and wheels and canes and feet, I picked out the clop, clop of my new shoes on the stone street. I counted my steps to calm myself.
The air clawed at my too-thin dress, and I huddled into it as Mr. Grimsby wound his way to a grand carriage that awaited us. The ink-black horse shied at my approach.
“Whoa, girl,” the driver said, patting her neck.
I took a cautious step forward, and the horse snorted and stamped. I didn’t understand. I had a way with animals; my mind was filled with hazy memories of feeding monkeys from the palm of my hand, of riding an elephant with Sister as it swam across a river.