Honor accepted the hooded cloak, but not without complaint. "Why do I have to wear this?"
As if this should have been obvious, Siti said only, "The Supreme Scientist."
Just then, Alia entered the tent. She'd left two hours earlier to assess the situation above ground. Five days had passed since Honor had arrived in the sewers and since then the city above them had been teeming with Authority officers. And of course, there was the visit, only hours after Honor arrived, by the Supreme Scientist himself. Since then, Siti hadn't allowed her leave the tent.
"How are things above ground?" asked Siti.
Alia shook her head. "I wish I could say that things are better." She poured a cup of water from the pitcher on the table. “He really wants Honor badly."
"Well, he won't get her," said Siti defiantly. "Even if we have to keep her in the sewers until he dies.”
Alia laughed harshly, choking on a sip of water, "Not likely to happen very soon, is it? My mother remembers him from when she was a little girl. It's no secret that he's had transplants and plastic surgery to look as young as he does, which is better than my parents, as much as I hate to admit it. I’ve even heard that he has a fountain of youth."
"It has been rumored that the Supreme Scientist has developed a serum that halts cell decay, something that will suspend aging,” said Siti.
"And you think I should hang around in the sewers waiting for the indestructible immortal man to die?" Honor stood up and dropped the cloak to the floor. "I won’t let anyone do that to me."
Siti picked up the cloak and coaxed Honor back into it, dressing her as she would a small child. "The rumors exist, whether true or not, I don’t know, but I never said that he was immortal." Siti settled the hood on Honor’s head and stepped back to appraise her. "Maybe if you wore a pair of glasses." Siti shook her head, as if rethinking the idea, and said, "No, that would be too obvious."
"He may not be immortal, but he looks pretty healthy to me,” said Alia.
"Yes, this is true." Siti removed the shawl she wore around her own shoulders and pulled it over Honor's head. She immediately changed her mind about this as well and removed it. "But, he isn't impervious to poisoning, or violent death, is he?"
To this, Alia said nothing.
"Until we find a way, and I am working on this, Honor will have to remain here." Siti used a tiny piece of broken mirror to view herself as she adjusted the shawl back on her shoulders. "Are you two ready to go to the Sanctuary?"
The sanctuary was located at the mouth of the largest junction in the sewer. There were no obvious markings or barriers demarcating the area, but everyone seemed to know their place. “The sanctuary is an alternate place of worship,” explained Siti when Honor enquired.
“On Friday the Muslims hold worship services. On Saturdays the Jews. Sundays the Christians---“
“---Are there any non-monotheistic religions here?”
Siti smiled. “Certainly. All faiths are allowed because we are Believers. That is the only prerequisite. It used to be the thing that divided us, about a century ago, but now we have learned through difficulties that it is the very thing that should unite us.”
“As it should be,” said Alia, who being of a different faith, did not join them at the Sanctuary. She detoured at the tent of an old friend of hers along the way.
When they arrived, still ten minutes before the scheduled start of the huduba, the Sanctuary was already crowded. The women were grouped together near the back and the men sat near the front closest to the imam.
Once the imam began speaking, about loyalty among believers, Siti leaned over and whispered, "I never did ask your belief. I just assumed that you were one of the Muslims."
Honor nodded. "Old Mother used to take me to mosque, although she herself was not Muslim. She said that my parents were, though I cannot remember them, and she wanted me to know their ways."
Honor gazed around at the people there and she marveled at how different they seemed from a few days earlier when she'd first arrived. They were cleaner and seemed energized. Honor recognized some of the people she'd seen in passing, including a young man who sat gazing back at her. He waved, before the man next to him grabbed him by the ear and forced him forward again.
When prayers were finished, most of the people dispersed in separate directions. Some of them even left to go above ground. "People actually come to the sewers for worship?"
Siti nodded. "Don't forget that this is not Soroton. We are not allowed to publicly worship here in Sinistral." Siti paused as they passed through a particularly congested part of the sewers, where dozens of people stood in a loose line in front of barrel grill where a man prepared and sold skewers of hot meat paired with dried fruit. A small toothless woman tugged Siti's arm and Siti stepped between two tents to confer with her in whispers.
Honor passed the group and leaned against a bare patch of concrete wall.
The familiar young man that she’d just seen at prayers approached. He wore a tightly woven mustard colored kufi, a similarly colored tunic, and boots. It was his crooked smile that she recognized. “Taha, is that you?” Taha was one of Old Mother’s lost children. He’d been an incorrigible delinquent and the last time Honor saw him, he was being taken away by the Soroton Authority to attend the Soroton juvenile boot camp. That had been two or three years ago.
“The one and only. I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Likewise.” Honor scanned him. He’d grown about a foot since she’d last seen him. “So what are you doing here in the sewers?”
“I live here. After boot camp, Old Mother decided to put me in the care of an abi. She said that I was too much for her.”
“Yeah, like a big brother.” Taha pushed his fists into the pockets of his tunic. “He’s raising me and a few other boys. We even go to school.”
“I’m impressed.” In Soroton few children went to school. There were only three schools in Soroton and the education was so substandard that most parents didn’t bother sending their children, which hardly accounts for the children without parents, of which there were many.
“How old are you now? Fifteen.”
Taha pushed out his narrow chest. “Sixteen and three months.” He flashed his crooked smile. Honor could tell that he was no longer looking at her, but at a point over her shoulder. “Hey, it’s Alia.”
Honor turned and saw Alia pushing through the crowd. Alia greeted them both. "So, you've met Taha."
Honor nodded, "Not for the first time. He was one of Old Mother's kids."
"Yeah, you could say we’re like brother and sister,” said Taha.
"Well that's even better, considering you two are going to be spending a lot of time together."
Honor looked from Taha to Alia, and both tittered at her obvious confusion. "Why is that?"
Just then Siti joined them, holding four skewers of hot beef and pineapple. "So it looks like they've filled you in?"
Honor accepted the skewer, but she didn't touch it. Wasting no time, Taha ripped into the hot flesh. Alia did the same, shaking her head in response to Siti.
"Fill me in about what?"
Taha smiled broadly, again pushing his chest out, but no matter what he did Honor only saw the skinny thirteen year old he was when he was taken away from Old Mother three years ago. "I’m going to be your partner and guide, until you leave and go to the gardens."
Honor laughed. "Are you kidding me? You're just a kid, and besides I was just getting to like Alia." Honor nudged Alia playfully trying to draw her into the joke, but Alia didn't laugh along.
"Sorry girlfriend, but I can't stay down here indefinitely. I’ve got a family above ground. My brothers will be looking for me and my mom is pretty sick.” Alia shrugged her shoulders. “I have other responsibilities."
"Okay, I guess that's fair, but I don't need anyone to babysit me, and certainly not a baby."
Taha opened his mouth to protest, full of partially chewed food, but Siti held up a hand. Her eyes were narrowed and though she wouldn't let Taha speak up in his own defense, she remained silent for so long that it seemed that she wouldn't either. "I am the wisdom here in the sewers and even most of above ground. I do not endanger the lives of the children, I guard them. It was my decision to pair Taha with you and I believe it is the best decision. Are you questioning me?"
Honor was quiet for a long moment. Old Mother had taught her to respect the Believer elders, but none of them had ever challenged her as Siti did, not even Old Mother herself, because none of them could protect her better than she could protect herself. She had been her own security for most of her life, and now, just because this woman seemed to wield authority among the poor destitute in the sewers and just because she used to be the Keeper of All, this didn't mean that Honor was about to just submit to her every word.
Honor stepped forward and handed the skewer back to Siti. "As a matter of fact, I do." Honor walked away.
"Don't be stupid," said Alia grabbing Honor's arm. Honor shook off her hand and pushed through the crowd but Alia kept pace with Honor. "Look, I get it."
"You're used to doing everything on your own."
"That's right." Honor stopped and turned in place. "How do I get out of here?"
"You can't leave, Honor. It's too dangerous out there for you. Professor McKinley will do anything to get you. The fact that he was willing to come down here, into the sewers, is proof."
"Why? Why does he want me?"
Alia tried to connect a flow of positive energy from herself to Honor. She envisioned a cool waterfall and tried to pass it to Honor. "Isn't that why you're here? Isn't that what you came to Sinistral for, to find your past, to find out why?"
Honor crossed her arms over her chest. She closed her eyes briefly and in that act flung Alia’s attempts to pass calming visions back at her. Alia winced and grabbed her head. “I thought I taught you a lesson about trying to get into my head when we first met. I won’t tolerate it. Besides, you’re no good at it.”
"We can help you,” said Alia through gritted teeth.
"I don't need your help. And I don't need anyone telling me what to do."
"You really are stupid."
Honor turned on her heel and started to walk away again. "If you don't tell me how to get out of here...”
Alia grabbed her by the shoulders and spun Honor around. "Can't you see that this is bigger than you? You're trying to find out who you are. Well we can help you figure that out. You need help." Honor jerked out of Alia's grasp. "And quite frankly we need you too."