“Who is it?” I asked with as much braveness as I could muster.
“Convoy Leader Simpson. May I come in?”
The voice sounded right, even and free of fear. Having been taught to expect a trap, I tightened my grip and took a deep breath.
“Come in.” My level voice didn’t betray any of my fear.
The door opened and Convoy Leader Simpson himself took one step into the room. He appeared to be more afraid of me than of the assassins outside of my window.
“Don’t shoot.” He lifted both hands in the air as though to surrender. “I came to tell you that everything is fine.”
I lowered the gun but kept it firmly in my hands as I moved back to the small window by my bed. Outside, I could now only see the backs of my attackers as they rode away. With their guns holstered, they rode quickly into a nearby thicket of trees where the branches and bushes would soon conceal them from the moonlight.
“They’re riding away,” I said in disbelief.
“It’s what they always do.”
I tore my eyes away from the small window and looked over at him. His impossibly smooth skin, as well as his strong and exaggerated chin told me he had been Altered.
“I don’t understand. This happens often?”
Simpson was young, not too much older than me. An expert at telling the age of citizens from our capital, Civitas, I knew the trick was to look past the face. Faces were often Altered beyond recognition. Instead, I focused on hands or even better, elbows. Sometimes older people tried to keep the saggy and stretched skin around their elbows covered since it was a dead giveaway, but hands are always out for everyone to see. The surgery hadn’t yet been invented to Alter them without hindering their function.
“They weren’t after me?”
He took two steps further into my room and stopped.
“Please rest assured that you will be fine. They were not here for you.”
“How can you be sure?” I asked.
“They don’t even know you’re aboard.”
I let out a sigh of relief and glanced outside once more. They had disappeared under the trees with nothing left to remind me of the attack except for the heavy gun I held in my hands. It seemed silly to still be holding it, so I handed it over to Convoy Leader Simpson.
Careful not to touch my skin, he removed the pistol from my hand. The youthful skin of the Convoy Leader’s hands told me he was in his early twenties. Such an important post for someone so young meant he possessed good connections. Yet he wasn’t well connected enough to not fear me. Though his dark brown eyes were scared, they also held a hint of curiosity.
“Then what were they after?” I asked.
He shifted his weight between his feet a bit before answering.
“They routinely attack the convoy between cities.”
“Why?” I had never heard of anyone attacking a convoy.
“It’s true, ma’am. They fire their guns at us but it’s to no avail. The convoy is armored so their guns won’t do us any harm,” he replied without answering my question.
“I had no idea the convoy was armored.”
These attacks must happen often, which didn’t make sense. Who would want to attack the convoy? It carried essential supplies between all the cities within the Confederation of Cities. Did they want the supplies or something else?
“Well, I wanted to make sure you weren’t frightened or disturbed.” He kept his eyes downcast as he hovered in the doorway.
“Thank you. I’m fine.” I reassured him.
“Yes ma’am. Goodnight ma’am.”
He closed the door without once meeting my eyes. If he had, he would have noticed the irritation on my face. I had gotten sick and tired of being referred to as ma’am. At seventeen, I found the title more than a little offensive, but this poor guy must have been petrified after spending the last three days traveling with me.
People in positions of authority always thought I had been sent to observe them and report on them to the Chancellor himself. The Chancellor of the Confederation has ruled with absolute power since the Great Pandemic. His position had been created for our protection. Now, most people feared him almost as much as they feared my father. Little did they know I hadn’t spoken to the Chancellor in years and I could care less about reporting on people to him.
Oh well. Another day had passed without my being assassinated. I sunk down into my, I mean Simpson’s, bed and tried my best to go back to sleep, which proved to be rather easy considering the gentle rocking of the convoy over the iron tracks that stretched all across the Land of the Unaltered.
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