I don’t know where I am. I don’t know why I’m here. And as I study the woman who stands two feet away from me, staring, I realize I don’t know her either.
Not even a little bit.
Sure, she is my grandfather’s chief of staff. She says she was my mother’s friend. I’ve seen her every day for weeks now, but she is a stranger. For a second, I have to wonder if this might all be a nightmare. But not a nightmare, really. A hallucination. A fantasy. An … episode. That’s what the doctors call it when my mind drifts to places that aren’t real and aren’t here and aren’t now.
I’ve been doing it for years, they tell me.
Ever since my mom died.
Ever since I —
No. I don’t let myself think about what I did. There are some things that, once remembered, you can never quite forget.
“Grace, it’s okay,” Ms. Chancellor says. “You’re safe here.”
I know she’s afraid I’m going to turn around and run down the tunnel from which we’ve just emerged. Or, worse, that I’m going to lash out — that I’m going to fight. With her. With the truth. With reality, because reality keeps trying to kill me, and one day it might just succeed.
“Grace?” Ms. Chancellor’s hand is on my arm, and only then do I realize I’ve started to shake. Then again, I’m always shaking.
Unlike Ms. Chancellor. I look at her hand — at how steady it is — and I think about how it held the gun. She didn’t waver. She didn’t tremble. She just took aim at the most powerful man in Adria and pulled the trigger.
That was a week ago. Now she’s looking at me as if nothing happened at all.
“Will he die?” I ask before I even realize how much the answer matters.
“Who?” Ms. Chancellor asks.
“The prime minister. He’s in a coma, right? Will he die? Or will he wake up?”
I want him to die so that he can never hurt anyone again — so that he will never be able to tell the world it was the US ambassador’s chief of staff who sent him to his grave.
But I also want him to live so he can tell me why he wanted my mother dead and exactly who first gave the order. I need him to give me a list of all the people that I have to destroy.
I wonder which fate Ms. Chancellor would prefer for the prime minister. As usual, she’s not saying. Instead she eyes me over the rim of her dark glasses and answers, “Oh. It’s not clear whether or not the prime minister will ever recover. It was a very serious heart attack, after all.”
For a second, I’m certain I’ve misheard her. But then I realize that she’s smiling like someone who is three moves away from checkmate and there’s no way anyone can stop her.
“You can’t be serious,” I say.
“Oh, I’m quite serious. Heart trouble runs in the prime minister’s family. The attack was very sudden, you know. Almost lethal.”
I saw Ms. Chancellor shoot him. I saw the bullet wound and the blood that covered his chest. I saw it!
I don’t know anymore, so I shake harder.
“No.” My voice is quiet even though I want to scream. “It wasn’t a heart attack. He was shot. You —”
“Of course it was a heart attack, Grace. What else would it have been?” Ms. Chancellor gives me a knowing look, and I’m pretty sure this is her way of telling me I’m not crazy. But she will never, ever say so.
Now I know why the streets have been so calm, the city so normal. I’ve been alone in my room for a week, but even so I should have recognized the signs of a country not at all concerned about an attempt on the life of its primary leader. If Adria thinks the prime minister was brought down by natural causes — not an American bullet from an American gun — then … “No. That can’t be. People can’t actually believe that his heart failure had nothing to do with the bullet in his chest.”
Ms. Chancellor cocks an eyebrow. “What bullet?”
There would have been paramedics and doctors, the Adrian equivalent of the Secret Service. And reports — so many reports. My mind can’t fathom the amount of power that this kind of cover-up would take — the scope and scale of a lie of this magnitude. But I know by looking at her that it isn’t just possible — it happened.
I’ll never look at this woman the same way again. It’s one thing to mortally wound a man, but then to make it look as if it never happened at all? Who is she? What is she?
Nothing is as it seems.
After all, the room we’re in isn’t supposed to exist. I’m not supposed to be alive. My mom was supposed to be an antiques dealer.
No one was supposed to want her dead.
Slowly, Ms. Chancellor steps away and I stop focusing on her and start focusing on where I am, in a passageway deep beneath the city of Valancia, standing on the threshold of a secret.
“What is this place?” I sound almost feral, I know. And I shake harder.
“We shouldn’t have come here,” Ms. Chancellor says, worried now. “You’re not ready yet. It’s okay. We can come back another time.”
I shake my head. “No. I want to know everything. I want to know everything now.”
I’m too thin, they tell me. Too frail and tired and broken. I can see it in her eyes. The lies I’ve been living with for years have all fallen away, leaving me with nothing but pain and anger and a deep, deep sadness that this woman would give anything to fix. She’s kind enough to try, but smart enough to know she should know better. So Ms. Chancellor pats my arm.