‘No, Peterson. Keith wouldn’t be waiting for her. We would. Along with half the Met Police.’
Etta didn’t ask about the government, about the other cities. And she didn’t ask Julian about how they would get back to that passage, or what other ones they could reach in this year. Exhaustion swept over her. It stole whatever spark of fight she had left. She closed her eyes on her ruined city.Almost done, honey, the medic said. Under any other circumstances she would have hated the endearment, but she was feeling battered, and the man had a grandfatherly quality that reminded her of Oskar, Alice’s husband. You’ll need to find a doctor to stitch up your arm when we get there, you hear me?
Etta couldn’t muster the strength to nod.Where would she even start? How could anyone fix this?Anywhere, she thought, and with everything I have.
THE MEDICAL CAMP WAS SET UP IN ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY. Far enough from the blast site in the center of Manhattan to be out of immediate danger, but still close enough to be shrouded in toxic clouds of fumes and dust. To get there, they’d had to drive by cleared fields where the bodies of victims had been brought, some covered with tarps, others not. Etta’s breath was harsh in her ears, and she couldn’t seem to let go of the image of their twisted shapes, the way the charring had left them looking almost hollow. As much as she felt like she had to be a witness to these atrocities, that she owed it to them to form a memory of their wasted lives, Etta didn’t protest when the medic leaned over and covered her eyes.You don’t have to see this, he said. It’s all right.
I did this, she thought. By letting the astrolabe slip away, she was responsible; the thought left her trembling so hard that the same medic had her lie down across the seat to administer an IV.
By listening to the radio in the Jeep, Etta learned the following: the attacks had happened five days ago; the secretary of labor was now the president of the United States, as he’d had the good fortune to be on vacation outside of the District when the bombs struck; and there’d been no decision on whether or not to make peace or declare war.Aspirin, Jenkins reassured her with a small smile.
I’m all right, she said, trying to keep the wariness out of her voice. Really. Thank you.Henry looked like he wanted to push the matter, but when he saw her face—which Etta was sure must have looked swollen and red after her crying jag—he decided against it.
Standing next to them, the resemblance between Henry and the others was overwhelming, so much so that Etta wondered if they were all related. All Hemlocks.If they were security, were they also decoys? The thought moved through her mind like a lance. The four men, including Jenkins, stepped into a tight unit around her and Henry, cocooning them on all sides before they even stepped outside. Etta waited for them to step farther away, to break up the human shield as they stepped into the crisp night air, but they never did, even as they began down the steep path. Their movements had the practiced precision of a military maneuver, and she had to wonder what Henry was being shielded from.