"Who are these people who have Truth?" asked Honor.
Siti joined Honor and Taha on the cushions. "Jorine and Jamal Esclaves. They're Scientists and thieves. They took Truth from his guardian several years ago and have had him every since."
"Are they dangerous?" asked Honor.
Siti waved the thought away. "I wouldn't worry about them. They're the least of your worries."
"What should we be worried about then?"
Honor's eyebrows rose into twin arcs above her eyes.
"Remember? He's blind."
"But he sees in heat."
Exasperated by Honor's shortsightedness, Siti tried to explain. "Our preference is to take Truth during the day, but the light hurts his eyes. While a daytime rescue poses certain logistical hazards, it gives us the advantage of surprise, because it would be unexpected. The thing is, he would have to be blindfolded and guided, literally by hand, making progress conspicuous and slow going. So, as it stands, the best bet is to move him at night, where he can at the very least see enough in heat signatures to help himself and maybe even us if something bad should happen."
Honor stood up, her impatience pushing her forward when she should have been standing still. "So when it's sundown, we'll go get him. Right? I don’t want my brother to stay a second longer than necessary with those people."
Siti smiled. She admired Honor's tenacity and her sense of justice but she had to wonder what, if anything, Old Mother had taught the girl in all the years that had passed. Honor was spoiled, prideful, and a loose wire. Her thoughtless haste was as likely to be a detriment to herself as much as anyone else. It was all Siti could do to keep her own patience in check, but she knew of no other way to manage Honor.
"No. We will not go get him, at least not tonight."
Honor's eyebrows lowered into tight ridges above her eyes. "What do you mean?"
"I mean exactly what I said." Siti stood to face Honor and she swallowed back her impatience. "You are correct in thinking that it is important to remove Truth from the Eslaves home," Siti held up a hand to silence Honor before she could begin her tirade, "however we don't want him or you to be harmed in the process. This mission will require strategic planning." At that moment two men entered the tent, both tall and thick as hundred year old tree trunks. Siti nodded at both men and motioned them forward. "For this very reason, I've asked Taha's abi, Seraph, and his brother Michael to join us."
Each of the men nodded in greeting and took a seat on the cushions near Taha. Honor didn't respond. Her face was nigh near inscrutable for the full fifteen or so seconds she spent staring at these men. Then Honor inhaled deeply and said in a calm steady voice that was at first quite deceptive, "It's bad enough that you brought Taha, a little boy, into this, but now, you've got two strange men to help." Honor pointed an accusing finger at each man. "I don't know them."
"I do," said Siti, "and I can vouch for each one."
"Well, I don't want them." Honor's heart pounded in her chest. She'd always done things on her own, and for good reason. She always did things right. The more people who were involved, the more people for whom she had to worry, possibly protect, even carry guilt if something happened to them because of her. She wasn't interested in their help.
"You'll have them. I insist," said Siti through clenched teeth. The battle with her temper was quickly spiraling down the drain.
"People get in the way, they make mistakes."
Taha, Michael and Seraph watched in silence as the two women volleyed back and forth.
Siti reeled. Honor was turning out to be an insufferable brat and she found herself wishing she could spank her. She closed her eyes and tried to push back the thought, but the image of her doing so was alive and in full color in her head.
Honor laughed derisively. "You wish."
Siti's eyes flew open. "Get out of my head, or I’ll do it. I swear I will."
Honor opened her mouth to respond, but she caught the dark gleam in Siti’s eyes, thought better of it, and remained silent.
Taha spoke up, "Do you know where the Esclaves live?"
Honor remained silent, her eyes cast downward as she realized that she did not. IN an effort to save face, she eventually said, "But I could find out easily enough."
"I doubt that since the only address listed in their names was burned to the ground a few weeks ago."
Honor shrugged her shoulders.
Taha continued. "They're in the direct employ of McKinley. Have you considered how much security they might have?"
Honor was noticeably uncomfortable in her own ignorance.
"Did you know that the door to Truth's bedroom has an electric lock that can only be disengaged when a code is punched into a keypad?" Honor's eyes fell on Taha now, as did everyone else’s in the room. "Do you know the password?"
Siti took a seat next to Taha. She was enjoying this better than the idea of a spanking.
"Well," said Taha biting at the cuticle on his thumb, "I know that password. I know a lot of other stuff too. Stuff you don't know." He casually started to work on the other thumb.
"How?" Honor cleared her throat. "How do you know?” Honor's voice was low.
"Because," he said using his thumb to point at his own chest, "this kid isn't as dumb or useless as he looks. I've been doing reconnaissance on the Esclaves’ residence for the last couple of days while you've been mouthing off to Siti and causing a general commotion." He stood up. "Whose the kid now?"
Humbled, Honor apologized and agreed to accept the help, though still grudgingly. Between Honor, Taha, Michael, and Seraph, it was agreed the they'd head for the Esclaves residence in two nights, which would have been a Wednesday, which was the Esclaves’ scheduled weekly outing. According to Taha security consisted of two men who guarded the elevators on the floor of their penthouse apartment. According to Taha, a dose of Tistri, a sedative that could be administered via aerosol through the air conditioning vents, would quickly render then unconscious and keep them as such for several hours, thereby delaying their efforts to raise the alarm. After this, the plan was for them to enter the apartment, rescue Truth and go directly to the Gardens, as the Underground was far too risky a place for either he or Honor to remain considering the fact that McKinley himself had come down into the sewers once already in search of Honor. Once the details of the plan were solidified they agreed to meet again in two nights.
When they finally left, it was nearly two in the morning. Honor thanked Seraph, Michael and Taha as they were leaving and tied the entrance flaps to the tent shut. Siti squatted in front of a bucket next to the stove and washed the cups and saucers they’d used to drink tea.
"It's getting late," said Siti without turning to face Honor. "You know where your bundle is."
Without speaking Honor removed the bundle of blankets from the trunk and organized her pallet on the floor on the wall directly opposite the stove. Then she slipped out of her cloths and into a gray sleeping gown that Siti had lent to her. Honor bedded down, pulling the covers over her head and said in a voice she could barely hear, "I'm sorry Siti."
And in a voice that she could not miss, Siti replied, "You are very welcome."
Honor sensed him before she heard him, his voice an insistent whisper nudging her out of sleep. When she opened her eyes, his were directly in front of hers, only about three inches away, silver discs so slick and shiny she could see her own face in them.
He didn't need to tell her, she could hear his thoughts clearly. She knew what those eyes were trying to tell her. "Just two more nights and I'll be there," she tried to assure him.
He backed away, shook his head, "No, come now."
"Why now?" Honor reached out to him with her mind, tried to filter through the helter skelter emotions that choked his words. "Are they hurting you?"
"No, not hurting," he said drawing in close again so that their noses almost touched. He smelled of smoke and uncertainty.
"She closed her eyes so that she couldn't see his, so that she could navigate his mind for the truth. Then she saw it a large man who was a haze of royal blue heat. He grabbed Truth by the arm and escorted him to a waiting car.
"Where are they taking you?" Her voice was insistent.
"Truth pulled back again, receding in a billow of blackish smoke. "Where are they taking you?"
Truth reached for her but she was too far away. He continued to recede, the smoke enveloping him like a greedy mouth.
"Come for me now, before it's too late," he said before he had completely disappeared.
Honor bolted upright. She swiped a film of perspiration from her forehead with a trembling hand. With eyes large in the darkness of the tent, Honor looked around, tried to get her hearing, to remember where she was. Siti lay on her own bundle next to her, snoring lightly in her sleep.
Honor tried to calm herself by taking in cool cleansing breaths breathed in deeply. She wanted to clear her mind of the picture of Truth's face, pain etched so deeply into his brow he looked as if he was born with it. She had promised Siti that she would wait two days, had promised not to go it alone, but that was before Truth had come to her dreams pleading. That was before he was being taken away.
Honor slipped from between the blankets of her pallet and stood as quietly as she could.
Siti turned over on her blankets and looked up at Honor. "Where are you going?" she asked thickly.
"Thirsty," whispered Honor.
"The pitcher is by the stove," said Siti as she turned over on her pallet. Within seconds, her light rhythmic snoring commenced.
Honor located her clothes and within the darkness of the tent she dressed. She slipped into her boots and laced them up tightly. The act of doing so made her feel more in control, more sure of what she was about to do. Honor shouldered her bag and made her way to the entrance of the tent making sure not to disturb Siti. She undid each tie and stepped into the sewer.
"Now," whispered Honor, "how do I get out of here?"