Saturday, 10 October 2009 - 11:45 pm


I don’t know how Dad did it, but Thorpe came to the infirmary today. The first I knew of it was a kerfuffle out in the main room while I was trying to get Clancy, the amputee, to eat something. He was resisting my efforts to get a spoon between his lips and I was just about to give up when I heard voices rising outside.

I went to see what was going on – some of the other patients have been getting snappish between boredom and a lack of painkillers – and found my big fireman friend facing off with the nurse, Peter. I rushed over before something unpleasant happened.

“He’s refusing to let anyone except you deal with him,” Peter said, throwing his hands up. Thorpe looked entirely unapologetic about the matter.

“He’s a friend,” I said. “It’s okay.”

“Special, are you?” I wasn’t sure if he meant me or Thorpe, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know.

I bit my tongue on what I wanted to say. “Not that special. I can’t get Clancy to eat anything – do you wanna see if you have any luck?”

“Great, now I’m doing your work too?”

“Consider it a swap,” I said, gesturing at Thorpe.

Peter grumbled away and I had to shepherd a scowling Thorpe into a back room so we could have some privacy. He’s doing better; he said things were fine and his ribs are healing. I noticed a couple of new bruises, though, and a recent scrape on his hand.

“Been keeping the peace again?” I asked while I cleaned up his hand.

He glanced at me sideways but chose to change the subject by asking, “He been bothering you?”

It took me a moment to realise who he meant. “Peter? No, he’s okay.”

Thorpe grunted like he didn’t believe me.

“Why, would you go out there and smack him if he was?” I was kidding, but Thorpe wasn’t. My half-smile faded and there was an odd little pain in my chest when I realised he really would do that. His affection is startling when it sneaks out. “It’s okay, you don’t have to,” I said quietly. “Don’t go getting yourself in trouble, huh?”

“Like you, you mean?”

Despite all the segregation in this place, word travels fast. I wrinkled my nose at him and scruffed his hair – he was sitting down, so I could reach his head without tiptoeing. He was as stoic as ever, pointedly ignoring his ruffled hair. That was when I noticed how short it was, barely touching his collar at the back, the ends all blunt and neat.

“Matt’s work?” I asked. There was an odd, nauseating twist in my innards when I thought about it; the image of Matt fiddling with Thorpe’s hair reminded me of when I saw them together on that morning after. It was ridiculous; a haircut was nothing to feel jealous over.

“They can’t send him back onto the roof until his leg’s better. He’s keeping busy.”

Well, he was doing all right, at least. I tried to ignore the rest and asked about the other Seekers instead. Thorpe said they were doing fine. There was no accompanying scowl to indicate secret concern, so I think that was the truth and not just a stout assurance.

He said that all the able-bodied hands have been put on the recovery effort. First, they covered the ruined area so that the rain doesn’t damage anything else. Now they’re working on salvaging what they can from the wreckage.

“Dad said the mood was pretty bad out there.”

“It’s not the first time something like this has happened.”

I paused to blink at him. “What do you mean?”

“There are lots of rumours.” Thorpe’s tone didn’t give the rumours much weight – he’s heard varying wild stories, no doubt. “Been a couple of accidents around this Converter of theirs now. Half of them are convinced that the whole project is cursed.”

“Cursed?” I wrinkled my nose again, in doubt this time. Thorpe’s grunt agreed with me. I don’t believe in any of that stuff. Why does superstition have to get involved in these things? People are so eager to see patterns where there aren’t any and make a meaning of it.

Or maybe there is a pattern and they’re just blaming the wrong cause. I asked Thorpe what kinds of accidents they were, but he didn’t know; I’d have to ask someone who was around when they happened. It’s probably nothing, though; just people’s paranoia inventing intrigue where there isn’t any. In the After, it’s easy to believe that the world is conspiring against you.

Still, no harm in finding out a bit of history, right?