heather lin book

Lady of Mars: Chapter 51

Once she was safely back in her room, Capri sat on her bed and stared at the metal object in her palm. Her hands shook as she separated the pieces with minimal force.

There were tiny etchings between two rivets. If she hadn’t known to look for them, she would have missed them. She dug out a reader that had been shoved in the drawer of her vanity and held it over the deconstructed latch. Using her thumb and forefinger, she enlarged the image until she could read the words: Doc’s. Tues. 11pm.

They’d come. She’d see them again. The joy and relief she felt were so overwhelming she thought her heart might burst. She was already emotionally fried, and the tears fell again. She tried to stay quiet. If anyone here discovered she’d found a shred of hope, they’d find some way to snatch it away.

A bell rang nearby, signaling that Marianne was awake and required her presence. Capri tucked the reader back into the drawer and hid the latch in the box with the aconite. She took a moment to look in the bathroom mirror, to wipe her face with a cool cloth and compose herself. Her hazel eyes were red from crying, her face drawn and tired from the emotional toll of the day.

She doubted Marianne would notice. She was too deep in her own misery. Capri took a steadying breath. She had a new challenge now: leave the palace to meet Leroy without getting caught. Considering she couldn’t take ten steps without someone knowing exactly where she was, it wouldn’t be an easy task.

She would probably have to sneak back into the palace, too. Her fingers clenched around the cool porcelain that made up the basin of the pedestal sink. Colin would have a plan. He’d need her help. He’d need someone on the inside to help his crewman escape and then be left behind.

She wasn’t part of the crew, but she was invested. The perfect candidate.

She shoved herself away from the sink, hard, before the burning in her eyes could turn into tears again. The bell rang. Marianne was growing impatient. Capri left the bathroom to attend her lady.

*

Capri had only left the palace once before, and that was with Brody. Despite having lived there most of her life, she didn’t know the layout well enough to consider another way out. It would have to be through the warehouse. She didn’t have the confidence to hide in plain sight and leave through the front door. There was the private entrance she’d used when she was returned to Mars, but there was sure to be some kind of extra security or surveillance there.

The warehouse would be the best of both worlds, she thought: enough activity to provide some cover but not enough to require fooling many people. She just needed a way to blend in.

The pantry was a trap, and someone, somewhere, would be expecting it. She’d go through the side hall, the way Brody had taken her.

A lot of things had to go right. She might fail. But it was better than the nothing she’d been doing since her return.

Marianne had eaten a few crackers dipped in broth and agreed to take her medication before falling asleep again. Capri was free to go in search of what she needed.

She walked with a purpose down to the kitchens, wearing the shift dress, the plainest garment she owned. Her hair was in a messy bun with strands hanging strategically in front of her eyes to mask the fact that she was anything other than a servant. The kitchen workers would know her, but she didn’t need to fool them. She only needed to fool the cameras, which she was positive by now existed in some fashion.

A young girl greeted her at the door this time. She was new and flushed with the excitement of being so close to one of the king’s beauties.

“How can I help you?”

“I need ginger tea.”      

She turned toward the pantry, eager to assist, but Capri stopped her.

“I don’t want to interrupt you,” she said quickly, trying to exude an air of authority. “I know where it is.”

The girl hesitated and then stepped aside with a timid smile.

“Thank you,” Capri said, and then, to cinch the girl’s loyalty, “You’re very pretty, you know.”

Her round face turned bright red, and she laughed in surprise. Then the head of the kitchen called sharply to her, and she scurried away to stir something. Capri released the breath she’d been holding and slipped into the pantry. She took a spare hat and apron and hid them beneath her dress. She grabbed the tea, so as not to raise suspicion, and left the way she’d come.

There was a second door in the stairwell, and it led to the hallway she planned to use, the one reserved for busy chefs, bakers, runners, and servers. She pressed her ear against the door and waited for the sounds of movement to subside. When she was sure no one was watching, she donned the hat and apron and pushed it open.

If no one looked too closely she could pass for the girl in the kitchen.

Capri walked confidently along the shelves of dry goods and grabbed a bag of sugar, keeping an eye out for something that would help her get to the warehouse exits the next evening. If her outfit fooled the cameras now, the same method should work again.

She found what she was looking for on one of the forklifts: a hat that was part of the official uniform of the palace warehouse workers. She tucked it into the apron and hurried back, keeping her head down and nodding as someone else came through the door. She didn’t look at them, afraid they’d realize she was an imposter.

Capri took a deep breath, held onto the bag of sugar for dear life, and made it through. The person didn’t pause. Then she hurried to the door that led to the stairs, glanced behind her to make sure no one else was in the passageway, and removed the hat and apron. She left the bag of sugar in a corner.

She tucked the disguises neatly beneath her dress, and no one tried to stop her as she returned to her room. With each step she took, relief and triumph replaced apprehension.

 The first part of her plan had been a success—or so she thought.

 Haddaway was leaning against the wall beside her door, waiting for her. Capri swallowed a wave of despair. Maybe he was there for some other reason. The look in his eyes, however, told her he’d recognized her in the warehouse. She wouldn’t meet Leroy, after all. Brody would die. She might be headed for a concrete cell herself.

She forced her feet forward and made her face an emotionless mask. She wouldn’t be the first to crack.

“Haddaway,” she greeted coolly. “What can I do for you?”

“Why don’t we talk inside?” he suggested.

Capri hesitated. Her eyes slid to the door of her room and then back to him. She knew by now what happened when she was alone in a room with a man. Haddaway seemed to know where her mind was, and his expression softened. Capri wasn’t sure which was worse—the fact that deep down she was still a scared little girl or that he pitied her for it.

She nodded quickly, attempting to disguise her emotions with impatience as she ushered him in.

She’d designated a corner of the room as a sitting area with two chairs and a small table, and she gestured for him to sit. Then she turned her back, poured one glass of wine and one of water, slipped her burdens discreetly into the drawer beside the corkscrew, and regained her composure.

Haddaway accepted the water with a nod of thanks. His gray eyes never left her; they were watching, searching, dissecting. She remained on guard, sitting still and silent in the opposite chair until he spoke.

“What were you doing in the warehouse today?”

Anger flared. It was the confirmation she’d been searching for. She and the other ladies were being watched.

“Helping the kitchen staff,” she said, daring him with her eyes to press her.

Haddaway raised an eyebrow, like a parent waiting for a child to confess the truth. Maybe it was the same look he used on his own children. Maybe it was effective in his house. But they weren’t in his house, and she was no ordinary young woman, and his look only incited her.

“Where are they, Haddaway?” she asked, gripping her glass until her knuckles were white. Still, for a moment, he only watched her.

“You two are more alike than I realized,” he said at last in a quiet voice. “You’re both just looking for a hold, aren’t you?”

Capri’s fire went out. Of course he was talking about Brody, and his words only drove home that fact that she would never see the gunman again. It had been his plan all along, to take her somewhere and leave her, for her to be without him. Despite herself, despite him, she’d grown attached. She liked to think he had, too.

And now Haddaway would extinguish the last of her hope.

“Where are they?” she asked again, pleading.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Haddaway looked her in the eye, confused, convincing, but he had to be lying. “I’m just here to remind you that for your safety, you must stay in the confines of the palace.”

Capri snorted and downed half the glass of wine in one gulp. “Bullshit.”

Haddaway stood, but he didn’t leave. “What is it you think you know, Capri?”
“I’m being watched.”

“There are no cameras, Capri.”

She glanced up at him, unimpressed with his lie. Again, his face betrayed nothing, and she narrowed her eyes. “I’m not an idiot. I’m not paranoid.”

“No, you’re not,” Haddaway agreed. Maybe he was only trying to appease her. “How have you been feeling, by the way?”
Capri looked up from her wine, the sudden change in topic making her suspicious. “Fine.”

“Good. The vaccine is doing its job.”

“Is there some health crisis I should know about?”

“No.” Haddaway shook his head, a cryptic smile touching his lips. “Enjoy the rest of your day, Lady Capri. And stay put.”

He left. Capri remained where she was, sipping the rest of her wine, trying to make sense of the strange conversation. He hadn’t searched her or the room. He hadn’t mentioned the things she’d stolen from the kitchen and the warehouse. She sat up suddenly, an icy chill creeping up her spine.

He didn’t know about the hats and the apron. He didn’t know about the aconite or the message from Leroy.

They couldn’t see her. They just knew where she was. At all times.

The vaccine. All the ladies had received one, just after Capri was taken. A precaution, they’d said, against any viruses she might bring back with her.

She pulled her dress off quickly and stood in front of the full-length mirror, examining the tender flesh of her upper right arm where she’d received the injection. She pressed down on the skin with her fingertips, searching for…she wasn’t sure what, exactly, but she found it. A small, hard bump beneath her skin.

She had to get it out—Capri knew that much—and she’d have to do it herself, in secret. She forced air into her lungs, breathing deeply until the shock subsided enough for her to form a plan.

She redressed and opened the door to Marianne’s room. Her lady was still sleeping soundly. Capri moved silently to the prep kitchen behind the table where Marianne ate with Ekon. The small space had everything a chef might need—including a set of very sharp knives.

Capri examined the steel blade of a paring knife, and her stomach turned. It would be a small price to pay for freedom. With any luck, it would mean Brody’s freedom, too.

She wrapped the object in a clean napkin and slipped back into her own room, making sure the hall door was locked. Then she stripped down to her underwear and marked the bump with a calligraphy pen. She inspected the knife for cleanliness and could put it off no longer.

Everything seemed a bit hazy. Adrenaline pumped through her, making her heart beat at an alarming rate. Her hands trembled. It felt as if her reflection belonged to someone else.

All she could think of was the bullet when it had been cut out of her, the sounds of her own screaming. But this object was small, skin deep, more akin to a splinter.

Another memory surfaced. Her father, taking a needle to her finger, the point black where he’d burned it to sterilize it. She didn’t remember her father well, but she remembered she’d trusted him. She’d trusted him enough to hold still and let him pluck a sliver of wood from her small finger.

She should trust herself as much.

She closed her eyes, took a steadying breath, and then looked at her arm. Now or never. She placed the tip of the knife against her skin and pressed down. The sharp blade went deeper than she’d intended, and she winced—but the worst was over. She laid the knife on the napkin and pressed firmly on the injured flesh until a trickle of blood ran down her arm.

A tiny capsule emerged through the incision. She held the tracking device in her palm. It was the size of a grain of rice, so unassuming, yet so very sinister.

Capri remained transfixed for a moment. Then she wiped the knife clean, placed it in her vanity drawer, and used the napkin to stop the bleeding. She tightened a ribbon around her arm using her teeth, and then she chose a new dress, one with long sleeves. No one would notice the wound—at least not yet.

She placed the napkin in the garbage chute and turned to the last piece of evidence that needed to be dealt with: the tracker.

There was a locket that Ekon had given her the day she’d moved up to the Maiden Dormitory. It was tradition—everyone received the same silver locket with the King’s portrait inside. She hadn’t liked the weight of it, the chain around her neck, so she hadn’t worn it often. Some kept it under their pillow for luck or tucked safely in a drawer. Some wore it regularly, hoping the king would notice their devotion.

Now she found it in a box in the back of her closet, and she placed the tracker inside, behind the portrait of the man who had placed a foreign object in her arm to control her. She clasped the chain around her neck, slipped the heart into the front of her dress, and let down her hair. She looked at herself in the mirror. She was pale and shaky, but otherwise no one would know the small but heavy weight she carried.

Regret squeezed Capri’s heart. She knew that every other lady—maybe even the girls—had had their privacy invaded in the same way. But she couldn’t tell them. She could say nothing, at least not yet, or she would compromise her own mission.

She needed to meet with Leroy and free Brody. Maybe she’d even manage to free herself.

What would she do then, if she left Mars? She’d asked Brody that question, and he hadn’t been able to give her an answer. But it came to her now, as if it had always been there. She would do exactly what she’d suggested to Haddaway in the garden. Go to the U.N. Expose Ekon. They couldn’t know about the trackers. If they did, they wouldn’t stand for it.

If Capri made it out, she’d tell them everything.

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