The wind ruffled the red and orange leaves of the half-wire trees, and strangers walked on either side of her, keeping their heads down, never once casting a glance at her. A perfect day for masquerading. If only every day could be as perfect as this one.
Her skirts swished around her ankles, and she held them up just slightly with her hands as she ran. She parted the crowds on the street with hardly a motion, and no one even looked up to wonder why she ran when they didn’t. The wind rushed through her long auburn hair, catching it on the breeze just as it caught those leaves on the trees around her, real or not. The wind did not rush through her hair when she sat in the window back at her father’s house; the screen blocked it. And her father’s servants seemed to think it was unbecoming of her to stare dreamily out the window in the first place.
She felt her feet take her faster toward her destination, flying just a few centimeters above the ground, and even as she saw where she was supposed to stop, for a second she believed that she would not stop running. She believed that she would run forever, run down this very road until it ended, until the crowd vanished, until she had entered an alien world she had never seen.
Instead, a hand reached out and grabbed her arm, spinning her toward the side of the road. “Lysandra Ferry!” a voice chastised. “You are such an airhead sometimes. For the love of the Angels!”
Lysandra turned to see Zephyr Winslow standing across from her, short hair framing her face, her eyes narrowed and her hand on her hip. Her skirts stuck out further when she did that; her hips looked twice as wide as they actually were. Lysandra had long since stopped trying to tell Zephyr that.
She grinned. “Yeah, I know. Sorry,” she answered. “It’s just that running is so much fun.”
“Fun,” Zephyr repeated, as though the word were foreign to her. “Yeah, I don’t think so. And hey, what took you so long? I thought we were supposed to meet here fifteen minutes ago.” She glanced pointedly up at the analog clock on a brass post at the end of the street, the hands pointing out the time, accusing: three forty-five.
“Well,” she began, “I had to figure out a way to get out of my father’s house.”
“What was it this time?” Zephyr asked skeptically. “Don’t tell me you climbed out a window again?”
“I didn’t have to do that today,” Lysandra answered with a laugh. “No, it was just that for some reason, all of his servants decided it was time to wait on me, and they kept ambushing me whenever I thought I had an out.”
“Annoying,” Zephyr said. “If you get a chance, tell them they made me wait here on a street corner by myself.”
Lysandra laughed. “Yeah, I’ll definitely do that,” she said. “I’ll just tell them straight up that I had to leave the house alone. They won’t try to lock me in my room or anything like that.”
“Saints,” Zephyr muttered, tilting her head back and closing her eyes. “I’ll bring you a ladder.”
The two girls stepped off the curb and merged with the crowd, Zephyr in front and Lysandra behind. They cleared the street and took a right, a left, another left; they followed one street until they were the road’s only occupants. Zephyr stopped to look at a sign marking the street names, rusty and hidden behind the half-wire trees.
Lysandra whispered, “Zeph, are you sure you know where you’re going?”
“Yeah,” Zephyr answered, her voice echoing in the space of the empty street. “It’s just that way.” She pointed off to the left of the street sign.
“If you say so,” Lysandra answered. “But if you get us lost again—”
“Again?” Zephyr asked. “Remind me of a time when I got us lost in the first place.”
“A time?” Lysandra echoed with a snort. “It happened more than once, Zephyr.”
The other streets near the one on which they’d stopped were a little more crowded. People walked up and down the streets, and the occasional automobile or bicycle slipped by among the groups. Here, since it was Saturday morning, quite a few vendors had set up shop and begun to peddle their wares to anyone they could see. Zephyr and Lysandra blended in with the crowd and made their way up the street. Zephyr finally stopped and ducked under some low wiretree branches, pushing open a heavy oak door and stepping across the threshold into a dimly lit shop. The room was smaller than Lysandra’s own bedroom, with only a few tables scattered across the interior and a chair in the back by the window. Wiretree branches tapped against the glass, and their leaves blocked the view to the outside.
“Where are we?” Lysandra murmured.
“Quiet,” Zephyr whispered back.
She turned to a table next to the door and rang the bell that sat upon it. Within seconds, a man emerged from a door off to their left, tall and thin with unkempt reddish-brown hair. He had shining eyes of a silver hue. His outfit consisted of primarily black clothing except for a silver chain around his neck. When he caught Lysandra looking at it, he deftly pushed it behind his collar with a hand.
“Afternoon,” the man said. “Something I can help you with?”
“Yes,” Zephyr said. “Do you do Erasure?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” the man answered. “It’s not cheap, though.”
“What is?” Zephyr asked.
“You have a point,” the man said. “Which one of you needs it?”
“That would be me,” Zephyr answered, raising a hand.
The man nodded. “Excellent. Okay.” He took a few steps forward and extended his hand to Zephyr. “Mason Viatrix. You?”
“Zephyr Winslow.” She shook his hand.
“Excellent,” he said again. He turned to Lysandra. “And what do you need? Something else, I suppose? Placement? Recoding?”
“None of the above, thank you,” Lysandra answered. “I’ll just be moral support.”
“Moral support,” Mason Viatrix mused. “And yet she sounds like she’s done this before.” He turned to Zephyr. “Do you mind if I scan you before I start the procedure?”
“Go ahead,” Zephyr answered.
“Take a seat,” Mason Viatrix answered. “Be back in a minute.” He disappeared through the door again.
“Saints,” Lysandra exclaimed when the door had shut behind him. “Zephyr, you aren’t Erasing Oden, are you?”
“Of course I am,” Zephyr answered matter-of-factly, striding across the room and dropping into the chair. “I don’t want to remember him anymore.”
“But you weren’t even together that long,” Lysandra protested.
Before Zephyr could say anything in response, Viatrix emerged from the door again, wearing dark gloves that matched the rest of his outfit. He had also attached an Electrode next to his ear. Lysandra thought it looked strange, a white sphere against a sea of dark red.
“Hands,” Viatrix said, and Zephyr placed her forearms against the arms of the wooden chair. Viatrix clamped them down with devices that looked like handcuffs.
“Eyes closed,” he said. “Going to scan.”
Zephyr closed her eyes, and he ran his hands over her skull, following the back of her head and then her hairline. His brow furrowed as he stopped over a section of her skull, two fingers reaching out and scanning the area again.
“Done,” he finally said, pulling his hand away. “So what is it you want Erased? Mind if I take a guess?” he added, lacing his fingers together and stretching his arms out in front of him.
“I bet you can guess,” Zephyr confirmed, smirking.
“Eyes closed,” Viatrix said again. “Three… two…”
He moved his fingers over the spot on her skull again, over her right temple, and she shuddered once before he pulled his hand back and she opened her eyes.
“That’s it,” Zephyr said. The color had left her face, and she gripped the arms of the chair so hard her knuckles had gone white. “That’s it.”
“One more time,” Viatrix answered.
Zephyr closed her eyes, and he clenched his hands into fists, took a deep breath, pressed his fingers to her temple again. A pained look crashed over Zephyr’s face. The same look occupied Viatrix’s face for a second, and his whole arm went tense, the veins and muscles standing out in shadows and sharp contrast. Lysandra felt that a storm had fallen over the room.
Zephyr relaxed first. She looked so calm she could have been asleep. Viatrix kept his hand on her temple for a moment longer before he, too, relaxed and stepped back.
“Hard thing to want to get rid of,” Viatrix said, shaking out his hands. His face still lacked its color, while Zephyr looked brighter than ever.
“Not really,” Zephyr said. Lysandra wondered if she even remembered what he was talking about anymore.
He unlocked the chair’s handcuffs, and Zephyr stepped out of it. “My thanks to you, Mr. Mason Viatrix,” she said, curtsying. “I feel much better now. How much do I owe you?”
“Just Viatrix is fine,” the man said, still looking slightly uncomfortable. “It’s seven hundred.”
“Right,” Zephyr said, digging the money out of her purse and handing it to him. “Thank you again.”
She took Lysandra by the arm and dragged her out through the front door.
“It’s unnatural,” Lysandra said when they had stepped back onto the street outside. “You shouldn’t just be able to forget whatever you want because you have money.”
“Oh, come on, Liss,” Zephyr answered. “Just think of how many problems Memory Recoding has solved.”
Lysandra sighed. She hadn’t seen the introduction of Memory Recoding as solving problems at all. It had allowed the Empress to make criminals forget who they were. It had given citizens—those with enough coin, of course—the power to choose what they wanted to remember. But it had also ripped her parents away from her, and thanks to the unskilled hands of a certain Memory Recoder, she still remembered the day they had handcuffed her father and dragged him off to prison.
“Look how many problems it’s caused on its own,” Lysandra interrupted. “Look how many people it’s corrupted and taken away.”
Zephyr paled. “Oh,” she said softly, realizing what she had overlooked. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine,” Lysandra said.
She wanted to ask Zephyr what exactly it was she had chosen to forget—what Mason Viatrix had described as a hard thing to want to get rid of. The Memory Recoder’s face had gone pale at the discovery of the memory, and hadn’t regained its color even at the end of Zephyr and Lysandra’s visit. Lysandra wanted to know what Viatrix had taken from Zephyr’s head, what he had been so concerned about, but she knew asking would do her no good. It wasn’t as though Zephyr remembered anymore.
“Do you have to get home?” Zephyr asked. “Are your father’s servants going to realize you left?”
“They always realize it,” Lysandra sighed. “It’s just a matter of getting out when they’re not looking.”
Zephyr laughed. “They’re not going to try to send a search party or anything?”
“Probably not. They’ll just yell at me when I get back.”
“How do you stand it?” Zephyr wondered aloud. “I think I’d go mad if my parents yelled at me every time I left the house. I need space, you know?” She twirled in a circle in the middle of the street, stretching her arms out to her sides.
Lysandra couldn’t help but smile a little. “I know. That’s how I stand it. Even if it’s just for a little while, getting out is worth it.”
“So then,” Zephyr said, “where are we off to next?”
“This time you get to follow me,” Lysandra said, and picked up the pace.
She had a destination in mind, and let her feet guide her there. This was a place she and Zephyr had gone day after day for the last two years, a place she knew by heart, a place to which she could walk in her sleep without any trouble. At an intersection between streets, she jumped over the remains of a concrete wall that had been torn down long ago. She pushed through the tall grass that brushed against her thighs, scraping her worn boots through the dirt, ascending the steady incline of the hill until she and Zephyr stood at the crest. There she looked out over all of Oblitus as she had done for the last two years, studying the geometric pattern of streets and steady movement of people, the gilded edges of buildings and the organic leaves of the wiretrees.
Lysandra sat down in the grass, tucking her legs under her and smoothing her skirts over her knees. “You said we came here before all that stuff happened,” she began.
Zephyr dropped down next to her. She swatted away some grass that waved in front of her face and answered, “Yeah, we did.”
“What did we talk about?” Lysandra asked.
Zephyr smiled. “I’m beginning to think you just have chronic short-term memory loss,” she said. “You ask me that every time we come here.”
“Tell me something you haven’t told me, then.”
“Well,” Zephyr began, tipping her head back and squinting at the clouds, “one time we talked about pike.”
“Pike,” Lysandra echoed.
“You know, that stuff they sell in the pastry shops. Pike.” Zephyr leaned back on her elbows, staring into the sky. “I said I liked the round ones. The caeberry-orange ones, you know? And you said they were gross.”
“Caeberry is gross,” Lysandra said.
“It’s not. Anyway, I asked you what kind you liked, and you said coffee.” Zephyr shook her head. “Coffee is so expensive. I said if you ever have a boyfriend, he’s going to be broke as hell.”
Lysandra laughed. “I don’t remember that conversation.” She fell silent, staring at the city’s streets for a moment before suggesting, “Let’s go get some pike.”
Zephyr turned to her, eyebrows raised. “Right now?”
“Right now,” Lysandra said. “I promise I won’t order coffee pike.”
“Deal,” Zephyr answered, pushing herself up from the grass.
The two of them raced down the hill and back through the streets until they found their usual pastry shop. Lysandra remembered this shop, too, from the past two years. She and Zephyr had often gone there back when one of them was upset about something. There they’d talked—or just stayed completely silent—over cups of mint chocolate or plates of pike.
That was before Zephyr had taken it upon herself to go see a Memory Recoder about it instead.
Four o’clock was not one of the pastry shop’s busier hours, and Lysandra and Zephyr found their usual table, the one in the corner next to the front window, easily. They ordered two plates of vanilla pike and watched the crowds outside.
Lysandra felt a stir of unease in her chest. She wanted to ask Zephyr about Oden. She wanted to know what her friend had felt the need to Erase without even telling her. That was the problem with Memory Recoding: it messed up the truth and who knew it. Two years ago, Zephyr would have just told Lysandra about her problems rather than getting a Memory Recoder to Erase them for her. Now, whatever had happened between Zephyr and Oden lived on in Oden’s mind only, and maybe not even his, depending on whether his will was as weak as Zephyr’s.
But she couldn’t ask Zephyr about it. She couldn’t bring herself to ask, to ruin the rest of their trip out, or to incur her friend’s strange looks and reminders that even she didn’t remember. So she stayed silent.
Lysandra had met Oden More once, while she and Zephyr were out on one of their escape runs. He was a boy of medium height and weight, the same age as both of them, with short, dark hair, pale skin, and a crossbow slung over his shoulder. Zephyr had apparently arranged to meet him somewhere, because Oden had stood there waiting until she and Lysandra had showed up. Zephyr had accidentally introduced Lysandra using her real name—“This is my friend Lysandra Ferry,” she’d said without a second thought—and Oden’s eyes had bugged out of his head.
“No way,” he’d said. “Lysandra Ferry? As in, Simon Ferry’s daughter?”
Lysandra and Zephyr had looked at each other, debating whether to feign innocence or come out with the truth. Somehow they’d come to a decision. “Yes,” Lysandra had answered. “That’s right.”
“Wow. Holy Saints,” Oden had answered. “Nice to meet you, Lysandra Ferry.”
“You, too,” Lysandra had said.
She just remembered feeling glad he hadn’t asked her for her autograph or something crazy. Not her father’s—no, her father had already been imprisoned by then.
Zephyr had gone on for months and months about Oden to Lysandra. Lysandra had devised schemes to get them to go out. None of them had seemed to work, but one day Zephyr had dragged Lysandra along to that chance meeting, and Lysandra knew things had changed.
She knew things had changed again when Zephyr decided to Erase Oden from her memory completely.
“This is good,” Zephyr said with a smirk, interrupting Lysandra’s thoughts, “but not nearly as good as caeberry pike.”
“Yeah,” Lysandra said absently.
Zephyr gave her a strange look. “Hello? Lysandra? Are you in there? I thought you hated caeberry.”
Lysandra blinked, trying to shake her disquieting thoughts away. “Oh,” she said. “Sorry. Yeah, I do hate caeberry. Coffee pike, on the other hand…”
“Of course Simon Ferry’s daughter would have expensive taste,” Zephyr teased.
Lysandra stared down at her half-empty plate. “Zephyr, what happened to being able to talk about whatever here? I mean, instead of handing it off to some random Memory Recoder?”
Zephyr’s eyes went wide, and her lips twitched, as though she searched for words but couldn’t find any appropriate enough. Finally she answered, “Some things are just too hard to talk out,” and looked away.
“Zeph, I’m your best friend,” Lysandra reminded her. “You couldn’t have just told me? I’ll listen. I’ll listen forever.”
“I know, but…” Zephyr stared down at her hands in her lap. “I’m sorry. I just thought…”
“Just imagine,” Lysandra said, recalling their conversation from just minutes ago, “forgetting something that you want so badly to remember. Something you try every day to remember, but that you can’t because somebody else decided you didn’t need it anymore.”
“I know,” Zephyr murmured again. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for you to take it that way. I just wanted to get rid of it. Trust me, I thought about it for a long time. I didn’t just decide one day that I was going to go to a Memory Recoder. I thought about a lot of things. But in the end I didn’t want it to eat away at me anymore.”
Lysandra hesitated. “I’d give almost anything to be able to trade places with you. All I want is some sort of memory. Something. Anything. Even if it’s a painful memory. At least then I know it’s there.”
Zephyr nodded. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”
“No,” Lysandra laughed ruefully, shaking her head, “you probably don’t.”
Zephyr’s mouth twisted and she looked up from her plate. She squinted at Lysandra, searching her eyes. “Okay,” she conceded. “You’re right. I don’t.”
Zephyr walked back to the Ferry estate with Lysandra, and they talked about inconsequential things—Zephyr’s work, the shops nearby, people they knew. Lysandra felt like a little bit of the weight had been lifted off her shoulders now that she had confronted Zephyr about the session with the Memory Recoder. She let the idea slip from her mind as they made their way back.
“See you later,” Zephyr said. “I’ll drop you a note if I have any free time tomorrow.”
“Great,” Lysandra answered. “Hopefully I’ll still be alive.”
“You’re always still alive,” Zephyr laughed. “Either way, good luck.”
“I’ll need it,” Lysandra replied as she pushed open the gates and waved to her friend over her shoulder.
She walked up the paved road to her father’s estate. She always felt that this walk was the longest, that the dread was always worst when she walked up this road, watching the house loom ahead of her. Her father no longer waited for her there, but the house itself seemed to threaten the raised voices and punishments of his servants the moment she opened the door.
Lysandra stopped at the front door and lifted her key from around her neck. She kept the long silver key on a leather chain and wore it wherever she went, partly a security measure and partly a reminder of her father’s imprisonment. She slid the key into the lock and turned it, pushing the door open as slowly as she could manage.
“Lysandra Anna Ferry!” a voice cried out when her foot hit the tile of the house’s foyer. “Where in Oblitus have you been!”
Ismene, of course. Her father’s only female servant, who had acted like a replacement for Lysandra’s late mother the past two years, whether Simon had wanted her to or not. Her questions never sounded like questions to Lysandra—it was as if any answer she gave would be invalid.
“With Zephyr,” she said anyway.
“What would your father think if he knew!” Ismene cried. She stepped into the foyer, toes pointed, her skirts billowing out around her legs. She had her graying hair twisted up into a bun behind her head, and her expression contorted into one of rage and concern.
“With all due respect,” Lysandra answered quietly, “he would let me leave the house once in a while.”
Ismene sucked in a breath. “Your insolence is disturbing,” she stated. “You mean no respect at all, do you?”
She had lowered her voice, and this question actually came out sounding like a question. “I’m sorry?” Lysandra ventured, wondering if Ismene actually felt concerned about her, or if she just felt a duty to Simon to protect his property.
“Lysandra,” Ismene began, “just think what would happen if we were to lose you out there. Simon has already lost his wife and his profession. He has nearly lost all of his belongings and his home, what with being in jail. How do you think losing you would make him feel?”
Lysandra stared back at her. How do you think losing my memories makes me feel? she wanted to scream. How do you think losing him and my mother makes me feel? Do you think losing my freedom makes things any better?
She brushed by Ismene and dashed up the stairs to her bedroom. The woman’s voice followed her as she ran: “Lysandra, where do you think you’re going? Your father would not approve of such behavior. I should think to confine you to this house this very minute. Is that what you want, my dear?”
Lysandra strode into her room, shutting the door. As soon as she had created a barrier between herself and Ismene, she felt infinitely better. She slid down to the floor, her back against the wood of the door, and let out a long sigh.
She hated encounters like this with Ismene or any of the other servants. They always referenced her father and what he would have wanted. Do you think my father would have wanted me locked up? Lysandra wanted to ask them. If you lock me up, I’ll be no better off than him.
But she didn’t want to lose any more favor with them than she already had. It had taken her what felt like ages to refine the skill of keeping her argumentative words to herself, and even now keeping them inside felt like trying to hold back a massive deluge of rain with just one crepe paper umbrella.
She walked to her window and looked out of it, her eyes landing on the spot where the Ferry estate’s walk met with the gate, and the road. No automobiles or carriages passed by, leaving the area empty. The view from her window had always made Lysandra feel like a prisoner. Today felt no different. She turned away, pushing both the sight of the road and the sound of Ismene’s echoing voice from her head.
She hoped Zephyr would send her a note tomorrow, or she suspected she’d go mad from having to stay within these four walls.