I could not remember my name.
Everything else was clear. My background, my family, my situation at large. I was not some oblivious Humdrum from a decade ago, memory-wiped of a whole year to protect the secrets of projection. The lacerations on my mind were clinical, precise.
Just as they had promised.
But still, the exact nature of my name eluded me. The more I reached for it, tried to grasp its letters and syllables, the more it slipped away from me, fading into the confines of my subconscious like a forgotten dream.
A fist smashed into my face, knocking me into a puddle on the pavement. “Ow! Shitfuck!” My hindquarters ached, and my head spun. I could hear a faint buzzing in my ears, which only sounded half as strange as my voice, which had come out both deep and hoarse.
“You miserable fuck. I am going to tear you a new asshole so wide your Pith falls out.” A thick-jawed middle-aged man in a trench coat and a porkpie stood over me, his knuckles bloody. Even through the darkness, I couldn’t help but notice how ill-fitting his outfit was, how ugly it looked on him. Did Joseph think he was a private eye from the movies?
Wait, what? Joseph? How did I know his name?
An important piece of information poked its way into the edges of my consciousness. The Guardians in charge of my mental blocks had warned me about something. Short something. Short term memory loss. That was a potential side effect for about a week. And the tendency to confuse flashbacks with present experience.
The first thing I noticed was a parade of drunks in rags stumbling around the bar down the street. Another group of men in ratty clothes smoked cigarettes underneath the orange glow of a streetlamp. Well, I’m definitely not in Hightown.
The second thing I noticed was how dizzy and warm I felt. It was like someone had tapped my skull with a hammer, leaving the contents inside to spin and shake. Was I drunk? That probably wasn’t helping with the memory loss.
Two other men with equally mediocre taste in fashion strode up next to Joseph, clutching combat knives in calloused fingers. The man spat at me, and his glob of saliva splashed on my big toe. “You think you can just get away with something like that, you entitled little shit?”
“Hey,” I said. “Only my mother gets to call me that, Jo.” Seriously, how did I know this idiot’s name? My voice still sounded strangely deep. Hoarse. Had I been shouting a lot?
Joseph drew a sawed-off shotgun with a wooden stock. As he pulled back the hammer, I noticed the bright green circles tattooed on the backs of his hands. He’s a Green Hands. One of Commonplace’s fanatics.
He pressed the barrels to my forehead.
I held up my hands in front of me, shaking them in what I thought was a desperate, but non-threatening manner. “Wait! Wait, wait, wait! I can explain everything! I can explain.”
Joseph didn’t lower the gun, but didn’t pull the trigger either.
Think, think. How did I get here? I racked my memory for clues, trying to remember what I had done to piss this stranger off so royally. Nothing came to mind.
“Wait, nope.” I shook my head. “I can’t explain, sorry. Could you fill me in on what just happened?” I flashed them a winning smile. “It’s been a very strange day.” Day? Week? How long had it been since the Ousting?
The butt of his gun smashed against my nose, knocking me flat on my back with a splash. Unbidden, techniques drifted into my head to counter, how I could grab his wrist and use his momentum to knock him off balance. If I wasn’t so drunk and confused, I might have carried them out on pure instinct. And then the other two would have stabbed me to death.
Well, at least I remembered my martial arts training.
I wiped away a thick stream of blood pouring out of my nose, and gazed up at the starless sky. “Let’s start with a simple question. Who are you, and have I done something to offend you?” I beamed at him.
“You tried to nudge us, little mind rapist,” Joseph said, teeth clenched. Humdrums loved to throw that insult at Guardians, no matter how inaccurate it was. “You stalked us in that bar, and tried to brainwash us.”
“And… I guess it didn’t work?” It was a stupid question, but I wanted to keep them talking. Why did I go after these radicalized thugs of all people, and in a public place, too?
Joseph chuckled. “We followed half your orders, more or less. But we’ve had training in how to defend ourselves from scum like you.”
There was no point in negotiating with close-minded book-burners like him. The only kind of language these bigots would understand was violence. I took a deep breath and extended my Pith forward. It would be a pittance to hold the trigger in place. Once I did, I could pull the gun out of his grasp and go from there.
I reached for my studies on the properties of metal, my knowledge of the internal mechanics of firearms.
Nothing. The invisible force of my Pith sunk beneath the surface of the metal, but was unable to budge it. I tried projecting into the water around me, the concrete pavement beneath me, the fabrics in Joseph’s clothes. None of them worked.
Damn that memory wipe. It’d fucked up my projection, too.
While I was rummaging through my memory, a phrase came up, completely out of context. Call is Meeting. Cleaners is Broadcast, my mind told me.
What the fuck does that mean? I was certain I’d heard that statement before, and that it was important, but I had no idea where or why.
I smiled at them. “Okay, okay. Let’s all stay calm, right? I have money. I think.” My mother had mentioned an allowance. Giving me an initial sum of cash to feed me until I could get a job.
“Hand it over. Now.” It looked like Joseph was ready to pull the trigger any second. If I gave him the money, he might do it anyway.
But without Paragon training, I was just another lowtown drunk, completely in over my head. Even common thugs like these would make a paste of me.
I patted myself down, feeling inside my ratty brown coat. Most of my pockets were empty or full of holes. As I felt up my chest, I noticed how flat it was. It was an odd sensation, to be free of those heavy, cumbersome weights.
There was a hard rectangular object where my breast would have been. It felt like a book of some sort. Not money.
As I rummaged around, I caught a glimpse at the surface of the water and froze. A boy stared back at me from the puddle. His face was pale, with a mop of light brown hair and clusters of freckles all around his nose and eyes. Blotches of dirt covered his cheeks, and a bright red pimple stuck out of the left side of his forehead.
Common-born. And in desperate need of proper skincare.
As I recoiled, the face recoiled as well.
That explains the deep voice. My hand reached down and patted in between my legs, feeling the presence of something there. I felt the blood rise in my cheeks from the embarrassment. Or maybe that was just the alcohol. I’m in his body. The boy had taken my name, my body, and as if that weren’t bad enough, now I had to spend the rest of my life in his pasty skin.
There was a clump of something stuffed into my waistband. Crinkling. A paper package. I pulled it out and held it in front of me.
It was already half empty. What had I been spending my money on? How many days had it been since I got ousted?
Joseph grabbed it, still training the shotgun at my forehead. He grinned, pausing for a moment, then swung his arm around. The butt of his gun crashed against the side of my face. As the world spun around me, and my vision darkened, I heard his voice ring out, mocking. “You Epistocrats think you can buy your way out of anything.”
I sprinted down a dimly lit alleyway, making my way towards the sounds of a crowd in the distance.
Wait, why am I running? How much did I black out this time?
A crack echoed in my ears, and something flew over my head, impacting in the brick wall next to me. Bullets.
I glanced behind me. Joseph and his two buddies were charging after me. He was shooting with his left hand. Four of the fingers on his right hand bent back at a sickening angle. Did I do that?
I stumbled, crashing into a wall. Pain shot through my right shoulder, muffled by the alcohol. “If I make it out of this, I swear I will go dry for eternity,” I muttered to myself, for the fifth time that month.
Another spray of bullets impacted above me. Good thing he’s shooting with his off hand. The noises of people in front of me grew louder, shouting and cheering, with a voice from a loudspeaker carrying over them all.
I emerged from the alley, arriving in a large town square, which was packed completely with a mass of cheering men and women. I dove into the throng, weaving in as deep as possible. He won’t shoot me with this many witnesses.
In the distance, I spotted the slopes of Mount Elwar, and the cloud of lights from Midtown and Hightown. Above the peak, the floating multicolored spires of Paragon Academy shone brighter than all the rest.
I was in the outer isles of the city, then. Some of the few areas of Elmidde that were even poorer than lowtown. About as far from home as you could get without leaving the city. Not home anymore, I reminded myself.
I bumped into a woman, and felt the book in my jacket jab my chest again. I reached for it, and pulled a fish leather-bound notebook out of my pocket.
Call is meeting, my mind said. Cleaners is Broadcast. Fragments of a memory. A riddle, or a code. Something important to remember. But why? What did it mean? “Makes no damn sense,” I grumbled.
The crowd was gathered around a large fountain of the Four Scholars in the middle of the square, which had been turned off. A man stood on top of Darius the Philosopher’s granite shoulders, shouting into a microphone with a spotlight trained on his face.
The man held up a photo. “This is Emily Blake. A girl of seven.” His voice blared from speakers on all sides. “Two days ago, a projector showed up at her door and nudged her and her father. A projector trained at Paragon Academy.”
As I pushed through the crowd, I caught glimpses of some of the people at the rally. Green circles were tattooed on the backs of their hands. This was a Commonplace rally. Fuck.
I glanced behind me. Joseph moved through the crowd, shouting to be heard. I made out the words ‘Guardian’ and ‘Paragon’ before I turned and kept shoving my way to the other side of the square. These radicals wouldn’t look twice at the murder of a projector like me. Especially at the hands of one of their henchmen.
The man at the fountain kept shouting. “The projector made Emily’s father empty his life savings, savings he was using to feed his family!” Jeers and hisses from the crowd. The speaker paused. “The projector ordered him to cut his wife’s throat with a kitchen knife. He forced him to lock his daughter in the attic. And when that was done, he ordered him to douse his house in gasoline, and set himself on fire.”
A roar of anger swept through the square. The screams of the men and women were deafening in my ears.
“What does Paragon do? What do the Epistocrats do?! They sit in their mansions and castles while a backlog of Mental Hijacking cases festers and grows in the courts! They protect the wealthy and powerful, letting our nation bleed while the water rises around us!”
The roar grew in volume as I pressed onward, halfway to the other side. Idiots. The only thing that could reliably stop a rogue projector was another projector with more power. Guardians risked their lives protecting ingrates like this every day from the real monsters out there, and all these idiots could do was complain.
“They expect us to trust them, when they hid away their magic for centuries, wiped our minds while they ruled our nation from the shadows!” He pointed to the sky. “What do you think made the stars disappear? What drowned the Great Scholars beneath Eight Oceans of water?” His voice raised to a fever pitch. “Projectors!” he cried. “Devils gone mad with the power of gods!”
It was complete nonsense, of course. Nobody knew how the Great Scholars vanished. And the mind-wipes had been for the Humdrums’ own safety. But it wasn’t like that mattered to most common people.
I glanced behind me. Joseph was gaining on me, close enough to make eye contact with me. He snarled something at me, but it was drowned out by the spokesperson. “They call us Humdrums, unenlightened, ignorant! But we are the people of the Principality. We work its factories, teach its schools, ship its goods across the seas. We are the common foundation!“
“Common foundation!” the sheep bleated in unison. “Common foundation! Common foundation!” Only a few tightly packed people stood between me and Joseph now.
Call is meeting. Cleaners is Broadcast. Why was I remembering that? Was that some key to a puzzle? Some vulnerability of Joseph’s that could help me beat him?
Images flashed into my mind, bursts of memory accompanied by waves of insight.
It was mid-afternoon. I sat on a couch beneath a chandelier in an apartment building’s lobby, which sported gleaming white marble floors, a chandelier, and a bored-looking doorman. The Broadcast King’s apartment.
I watched the elevator out of the corner of my eye, pretending to listen to Verity playing from a radio next to me. The doors opened, and a square-shouldered man in a trench coat and porkpie stride towards the exit. He wore thick gloves, and beneath his coat was the telltale hump of a concealed handgun.
One of the Broadcast King’s contacts, no doubt. Looking rather sketchy.
I stood up, following him to the revolving door onto the street.
I tailed the man through the streets of lowtown as the sun set over the ocean, occasionally stopping to pretend to examine a storefront, or blending in with crowds. He crossed a rickety wooden bridge onto the outer islands, heading straight for a dive bar overflowing with drunks.
Still hidden, I pursued him to the crowded, smoky interior, where he met two burly men. I slid into an adjacent booth, and ordered a drink or two to avoid looking suspicious.
I had barely finished downing the second before realizing how dizzy I felt. New body, idiot. Lower alcohol tolerance. The duplicitous freak whose body I now inhabited clearly didn’t enjoy drinking as much as I did.
“I just don’t see the point, Joseph,” said one of the burly men. So that’s his name.
In front of me, oblivious to my surveillance, Joseph brandished a fish leather-bound notebook out of the corner of my eye.
“It’s a code, you idiots,” I had to strain to hear his exasperated voice over the background noise. “I shouldn’t even be talking about this in public. A call means an in-person meeting. The cleaners means the Broadcast King. Boss wants tight opsec from everyone.”
Too bad they hired you. I stifled a snicker, and thought about my options for a moment. This was my only lead to the Broadcast King, and if I waited too long, Joseph might sniff me out and report me to his bosses.
But, if I played the situation just right, I could turn all three of them into sleeper agents.
I needed to move quickly, and these idiots seemed incompetent enough for it to work. Time to improvise. I stood up, striding next to their table. Joseph looked up at me, still pissed. “Fuck you want?”
I cleared my throat, and pressed my Pith around the edges of his and his goons’ minds, focusing on their auditory processing and decision-making centers. Using the Nudging vocation, to force them to obey my commands. Haven’t been mind-wiped of that little trick, then.
“Hey guys,” I said. “Could you come outside with me, please? And don’t attack me or flee or try to alert anyone. Let’s talk.”
Joseph’s eyes widened in surprise, then rage. He growled. Before I could react, his hand was around my throat, and he was dragging me outside, out the front door and into the cold. He pushed me away from the crowds, making his way towards a puddle from a recent rainstorm.
“Alright, projector,” he said, clenching his fists. “Let’s talk.”
In the present, I pressed my way through the crowd of Green Hands, Joseph close behind. Still reeling from the burst of memories I had just experienced, I tried to sum up recent events for myself, put the obvious together.
I got ousted by a boy, swapped bodies and got most of my Paragon knowledge wiped. Staked out the Broadcast King, and tailed Joseph after figuring out he was Commonplace. And then, I followed him here. And sort of blew it.
I thought back to the phrases that had been bouncing around my mind. Call is meeting. Cleaners is Broadcast. They finally made sense. The media mogul was meeting in secret with a terrorist member of Commonplace, and using codes to hide it, even in his private notebook.
A few arms lengths behind me, I watched one of Joseph’s flunkies reload his shotgun, handing it back to him. If that Green Hands shot me point blank, it wouldn’t matter what hand he used, or how good his aim was.
Kahlin was going to have a private meeting with terrorists. There’s dirt there. Dirt that could finally link Commonplace to illicit activity, if I played my cards right.
And if Afzal Kahlin was implicated, the Principality might decide to dissolve his assets. Including the debt the Ebbridge House owed him. In one move, I could get rid of our family’s biggest problem.
And if I did that, a year from now I could oust the bastard that stole my name.
I need to read his notebook. I reached my hand into my jacket, then stopped. He’s right behind me. If he sees that I have it he’ll switch all the locations and times.
I needed a distraction. Something that would let me read his schedule, and slip it back into his bag without him noticing.
An idea came to me. I reached out with my Pith, stretching it behind me towards Joseph.
Then, in spite of myself, I grinned.
The package full of my money tore open in Joseph’s hands, and bills exploded out in a hundred different directions. In a split second, Joseph and his two goons were surrounded by a swirling storm of paper.
The force I could apply to each bill was minimal, but a piece of my soul was extended into every single one of them. I had precision. I focused on their internal makeup, willing their edges to grow rigid and hard, like knives. They caught the wind, like a thousand little origami birds, and flew at my assailant.
There were shouts from the Commonplace members pressed close to him. Luckily, the mob had no idea I was behind the attack.
When I felt the paper touch bare skin, I pushed them down and sliced them, giving Joseph’s men a dozen simultaneous paper cuts. Then I let them blow away in the wind, joining the swirling storm of money, then replaced them with another squad of bills, shooting down, cutting, retreating.
I targeted their veins and arteries, the webbing in between each of their fingers, their armpits and neck and face. Anything that would cause enough damage or pain. I felt blood seep into many of the bills as they pressed into their flesh, making it more difficult to keep them rigid.
Joseph and his goons roared in pain, swatting the air around them and pulling their coats over their faces. “Squidfucker!“ Joseph bellowed at me. A piece of paper shot for his tongue, and he clamped his mouth shut.
The crowd surged around them, panicked and angry. Initially, they mirrored Joseph’s frantic defensive measures, batting the paper away and covering their vital areas. But as they realized they weren’t being targeted, they began to grab at the hundred-mark bills, stuffing them into their pockets. I couldn’t leverage enough force to wrench the paper out of their hands.
In a matter of seconds, my flock shrunk to half its size. Well, I’d come up with some other way to keep myself fed.
While Joseph was occupied and not looking at me, I pulled out his notebook, flipping through to this week’s schedule, scanning the pages.
There it was: Call cleaners about supplies, Shenti Church #51, Gestalt Island. Tomorrow at eleven PM. I sorted the phrase through the code I remembered.
Joseph was meeting the Broadcast King tomorrow night, at a church in the Shenti slums.
I projected into the book, and sent it weaving through the crowd at ankle level, shooting towards Joseph. As it got close, I sent all the bills towards my assailants’ eyes, turning the cloud of paper into a dense barrier for their vision.
As they clawed at their faces with bleeding hands, I slipped the book into a pocket of Joseph’s bag. I’d managed to read it, and they were none the wiser.
And then I ran. I pushed against the current of the crowd, then broke into a sprint as it thinned out. I wheezed for breath from the exertion, my lungs burning. I kept running, maintaining my attacks against Joseph even as he receded in the distance.
I ducked into an alleyway and kept sprinting, legs aching, head thumping from the blows it’d been dealt. I was stable on my feet now – the surge of adrenaline had wiped away some of my drunkenness.
The paper passed out of my projection range, and my Pith snapped back within the confines of my body.
I ran across a busy street, weaving between honking automobiles stopped at a crosswalk. As I stepped onto the far sidewalk, I retched, doubling over and stumbling. My body screamed at me to stop and catch my breath, take my bearings and calm my beating heart.
No. If Joseph and his goons caught me, I’d be in for a lot worse than a little nausea.
I kept running, dashing through alleyways and narrow roads until all I could think about was the pain. The cars grew more frequent as I drew closer to the central island of Elmidde. Finally, my feet thumped across a creaky wooden bridge, and exited among the squat buildings of Lowtown. I’m off the outer islands.
I stumbled into a side street, leaned against a street lamp, and vomited onto the grimy pavement. The sharp tastes of stomach acid and gin mixed with each other, coating the inside of my mouth.
My armpits, thighs, and behind were all damp with sweat, and the seat of my pants was soaked from the puddle I’d been knocked into. My shins felt like they’d been beaten with hammers. Damn this body. Though its muscles felt stronger than my combat chassis, the prick who’d stolen my identity hadn’t done much endurance training.
I took in deep, gasping breaths, coughing. The side street was dead silent, only lit by the pale lamp I was standing underneath. I wiped my mouth, spitting out the foul taste of my own sick.
Far above me, I could make out the glimmering lights of Paragon Academy, each floating island gradually fading from one primary color to another.
In the span of a few days, I’d gone from there to here. From silk dresses to dead broke. From kissing Samuel to throwing up in Lowtown.
A breeze blew over my wet clothes, and I shivered. My stomach ached, and I felt myself craving one of Paragon’s spicy beef pies, the kind they served every Saturday at the banquet hall. And a glass of fresh lemonade, to balance out the rich, savory flavor of the pastry.
I didn’t think I’d ever been this hungry in my life. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate.
What was I going to do for money? Where would I sleep, eat? All the questions I’d never had to ask now came crashing over me, and I didn’t have answers to any of them. The decaying hovels of the alley seemed to press in on me, oppressive in their filth and squalor.
I needed a drink. Something familiar, to calm me down and postpone my hangover. Once I was too drunk to be terrified of the future, I could make my next move. I’d find my way to a homeless shelter, preferably a clean one. Or nudge strangers into emptying their wallets.
An image of a bar flashed its way into the edges of my memory. Different from the one I’d followed Joseph to, but equally dingy. A location I’ve been to recently? It would do. I let my intuition guide me through the streets of Lowtown, which had grown empty and dark.
Half an hour later, I found myself before a sign, illuminated by a flickering light: Leo’s Place.
Please be open. I pushed open the front door. A bell rang, and I found myself in an empty bar. Half the lights had been turned out, and all the chairs were placed upside down on the tables.
“We’re closed, dumbass!” A male voice barked from behind the bar.
I sighed. Give me this at least.
The man behind the bar stood upright, carrying a soapy rag. His face softened when he saw me. “Oh, it’s you.”
I squinted at the man. Dark brown hair, tight shirt, a thick neck. Middle-aged. I searched my memory, feeling twinges of familiarity, but nothing definitive. “Have we met before?” I said.
The bartender nodded, giving me a knowing look. “You said something like this might happen, that you could have memory problems for a week or so. You handed me a stack of bills to rent out my spare room upstairs. A few hundred more than I actually needed.” He extended his hand. “Leo. Nice to meet you for the second time.”
I reached out to shake his hand, then hesitated. Lots of people might know about my memory issues, and could use that to manipulate me if I blindly took them at their word. “I can’t remember any of the last few days. How do I know what you’re saying is true?”
Leo rolled his eyes. “You were crying over your drinks, slamming your head against the counter, and muttering to me about someone named ‘Samuel’. As I recall, you called yourself a ‘stupid lazy arseface who deserves everything that’s been happening to her’.”
“Okay, yeah, that does sound like me.” I sat at one of the bar’s stools, leaning my aching head against the counter. “Speaking of which, a glass of sake, please. Chilled. If I paid you extra that’s gotta mean you owe me a few free drinks.”
A few seconds later, Leo slid me a glass filled with clear liquid, dumping an overflowing bowl of cashews next to it. I threw it back, then recoiled at the flavor, spitting it back out. “Water?!” I sputtered. “Are all Humdrums as rude as you?”
Leo refilled the glass from a bottle, calm. “Drink up. The nuts should also help. Soak up the booze.”
“Old man, I swear to the Scholars I will…” I bolted upright and clenched my teeth, staring him down, prepared to bicker until he relented and let me procrastinate my hangover
Then the room spun around me, and I felt my head falling forward.
“Kid? Hey, kid.” Leo’s voice yelled at me from far away. I felt something slap against my forehead with a sting. The other side of my face pressed into a hard, flat surface, making my headache even worse. “Wake up, you bloody drunk.”
My eyes fluttered open. My head was lying on the bar counter, next to a small puddle of drool. How long was I out?
“Your room’s upstairs. You’ll be more comfortable there. Go to sleep,” Leo sighed. “I’ll clean this up.” He held out the bowl of cashews to me, and I stuffed a fistful into my mouth.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Why is he being so nice to me? I chewed, swallowed, and grabbed another handful, pushing myself off of the stool and staggering towards the staircase at the back of the room. My stomach ached, making me bend over.
As I climbed the first step, I heard Leo’s voice behind me. “And for the record, I’m forty-three!” I turned to look at him, and he stabbed a judgemental finger in my direction. “That’s not old. You Epistocrats just look too damn perfect.”
I froze. Don’t give anything away. “What are you talking – “
He smiled. “Your ID, when you first tried to get in here. Might want to get that fixed.” His expression became serious. “And I’m sorry for your loss.”
I reached towards the small lump in my back pocket, extricating a wallet that contained only a single freshly laminated card.
Age: Twenty. Sex: M. Name: #516125871-R. Ousted Epistocrats received serial numbers instead of names. It was possible to change it legally at government offices, but the process was notoriously bureaucratic. Some died without ever doing it.
“Speaking of that,” said Leo, scrubbing away at my mess. “What do I call you? I never asked.”
I leaned down and retched, pausing for a moment. “Good question,” I said, walking up the stairs and out of sight.
As I ascended the steps, I thought of possible answers. It would have been easy to give him some random false name off the top of my head, or to spend five minutes and think of a new name for myself that didn’t sound terrible.
But I didn’t want to. Taking a new name felt like accepting defeat, the first step to accepting a new life of mediocrity. Stagnating in the flat, painfully ordinary world of the Humdrums. I don’t belong here.
I swung open the door of my rented room. The space was practically a closet. It was barely large enough to fit the twin bed wedged into a corner, and dustier than my father’s wine cellar.
Even if I couldn’t remember my first name, I was still the Lady of House Ebbridge, not some blockhead with acne. And now, with the intel on the Broadcast King, I had the opportunity to earn my way back to civilization. Implicate him, get rid of the debt, and come back a hero.
I slumped down on the bed, feeling the tears in the mattress below me. The only other objects in the room were a rusty alarm clock on the floor, and several pieces of paper tucked underneath the pillow, with notes written on them in my handwriting. Little reminders, just like the ones I’d made for myself back at Paragon.
You have ~5000 pounds left, one said. Not anymore. Don drink 2 much dumbass, the second one said. I tossed that one aside. What did that idiot know, anyway?
When I read the third and final one, I sat up. Samuel meet tomorrow morn. Set alarm. The meeting Samuel had promised to give me, in the event of my failure. Tomorrow was a week from when I was ousted. Friday. That meant I had blacked out seven entire days in a row. And that Joseph’s secret business deal with the Broadcast King was tomorrow too.
Everything was happening so fast. With the constant blackouts, the past seven days barely felt like one. It was as if my mind was trapped between sleep and consciousness, half-aware, constantly on the verge of waking up or falling asleep. I needed to drag myself back to reality, before I fucked up something important tomorrow.
The pressure in my head increased, and I massaged my temples. The hangover wasn’t helping. I’d only experienced it about twice in my life, and never this strong. Most of the time, I swapped with Poppy and let her experience the fallout of my revels, while I passed out and woke up spry and energetic.
If I had known they got this bad, I would have tipped her more.
I shivered, realizing how cold the room was. There was only a single blanket on the bed, thin and rough. My head dropped onto the pillow, and I pulled the covers over me, bringing my knees to my chest. If I thought hard enough, I could pretend I was back in my dorm, snuggled under layers of silk and wool, curled up next to Samuel’s warmth.
I shut my eyes, and tried to pull up the details, to transport myself out of the room, away from the chills and headache and nausea gripping me and into my memories, or my hopes. Tomorrow is the day. Tomorrow, you’ll make things better.