Wilom went to visit the construction site with Vanda every day for a while – with the Pathways, it was a matter of minutes to get to and from the site every morning. Rickart had thoroughly taken over the site planning, and was so obviously competent at it that Wilom honestly felt a little useless. Instead, he joined Inushi’s heavy lifting crew. Wilom realised with a start that he’d never seen a soldier in any sort of action – he’d only ever seen them either sitting on the boat, or waiting idly. Inushi was wearing only her singlet and trousers, bracing a plank of wood upright as a few men and women up on the scaffolding got themselves in place to pull it up. Wilom admired her. She was efficient and capable, and had a knack for being part of a team while she led it.
The travel home, though, was usually silent and awkward. Wilom didn’t need the Ferryman’s Knowledge to be able to recite the questions that were running unspoken through Vanda’s mind. She never asked any of them, though, and Wilom didn’t give her the answers, either. Mostly because he didn’t know them himself.
As usual, Vanda left him out of sight of the gates. Before Peggy, she’d been in the habit of walking him up and then disappearing before she was noticed. After Peggy, she wouldn’t even get in sight of a guard if she could help it. Wilom didn’t blame her. Even Vi, who had known him since the start, had started to scour his papers more thoroughly. If Wilom hadn’t had an image to keep up, he would have asked Vanda to bring him into the Capital through the Pathways, but his papers were good, and it was worth it to hear the guards’ gossip.
Wilom woke the next morning to an envelope addressed to him. Cathlin had left it on the table like the other mail he sometimes got – fake mail from his ‘workplace’, usually, or from Mr Treene. He never got any other mail these days.
This one didn’t have a return address on it.
He skimmed the letter quickly, then put it face down on the table.
You wanted to turn this into a posturing contest, so it’s my turn:
A string of numbers Wilom recognised as the latitude and longitude of the building site.
Your plan will either result in a dangerous precedent or the death of everyone involved. It affects not just you, but everyone ever involved with your group and this plan. I wish I could have found the words to talk you out of it.
You and I both know that the letter of the law is no defense. I don’t know what your plan is if things go wrong, but I beg you to reconsider whether it is sufficient. Please take action, or I will.
Then, there was a line that had been written and crossed out. Wilom couldn’t quite make out what was under the scores of ink.
He didn’t need a return address or signature to know that the letter had been written by Mr Treene.
He disposed of the letter before heading out for a “long double shift”. He’d started to create a routine of almost-shift work: the occasional day at home every few weeks, and once every few days, a day late at the office. Never regularly, but enough so that an unplanned trip with Vanda would never be questioned. For a while he’d felt guilty at how much effort he was putting into the deception, but he’d almost managed to convince himself that it was a necessary evil. It allowed him to keep his home with Cathlin and Marc, and that was the distance between him and arrest — or conscription — right now.
He often wondered about what the ferryman would think of him. For some reason, he kept coming back to the question, even though he knew the answer already. It allowed him to do what he thought was right, and nobody was hurt by the lie. So what would it matter to the ferryman?
Halfway through his train of thought, he was suddenly grabbed and pulled into an alley off the side of the main road.
He ran a hand through his hair and readjusted his briefcase.
“Hello, Vanda. Is it strange that this is almost becoming routine?”
Vanda waved a hand at him. “I don’t do it that often! Did you get a letter this morning?”
Wilom nodded. “I did. You did, too, then?”
Vanda shook her head. “No. But I started taking people to the site of the village today, and one of them gave me a letter and said it was for me. They wouldn’t tell me who gave it to them, either.”
“Mr Treene,” Wilom said.
Vanda stopped. “You know?”
Wilom nodded. “And I think someone must be talking to him. He knows where we’re building.”
Vanda put her hands over her face. “I … fuck.”
“That’s about the size of it.”
Vanda made a strained noise of frustration. “Why?”
“Because …” because I had to try and push him with the gift, and he thought I had lost my perspective “of legal precedent. And because he knows it won’t work, and he thinks we’ll endanger his investments or his business in the process of failing. He knows the laws won’t be a defense. And maybe this is too disruptive for the government not to act, even if it costs them soldiers.”
“And the cryptic letters?”
Wilom hesitated. “I think … that’s because of me. It sounds strange, but I think he wanted to give me the chance to convince everyone to back out.” Because up until very recently, Mr Treene had trusted Wilom to have more sense than the rest of the group, until Wilom proved him wrong.
“But we just got the Heads to do something bold! I just … no. We’re not backing out. I don’t care.”
“What if everyone is arrested?” Wilom asked. “If Mr Treene sabotages us, there’s no good ending for any of the Heads or the people we’ve taken there.”
“It’s not illegal,” Vanda said.
“It’s illegal enough.”
Vanda made another noise, pressing her palms further into her cheeks. When she pulled her hands away, her eyes were red and full of angry tears. “Screw him!”
Wilom looked away from her, feeling sick. Was this his fault? Had he screwed them all over for some damn spices?
But who had told Mr Treene where the town was? Maybe if …
No — they were just someone that Mr Treene had used. The cause was Wilom, all the way back. The village had been all his idea. He’d seen the problems, but he’d let the others convince him that they weren’t there.
“We have to move everyone,” Wilom said.
“I can’t!” Vanda wailed. “The lighthouse keeper, remember?”
Wilom’s feeling of sickness deepened until he started to feel lightheaded.
“He’s going to bring it all down,” he said.
Vanda had dissolved entirely into angry sobs.
“We have a couple of days,” Wilom said dully. “Let’s … think about it today and decide tomorrow.”
Part of him couldn’t think all this through right now. The rest of him just didn’t want to look Vanda in the face anymore.