"Geoff?" He was shocked that she spoke to him. Elena never said anything any more, just kept her head down and waited to be told what to do. He knew that she spoke to Mathew occasionally, but even then the conversations were brief. Something had happened to her, and she never said anything.
"What is it, Elena?" he asked, climbing down from the ladder and sitting down beside her on the battered old sofa. This was his room, where most of the gang met. It was old and shabby and all of the furniture was secondhand, but it was also his own, and so was the kitchen. No parents here to intrude on their conversations and plans. After all, he was sixteen now.
"I was wondering if you could tell me some of the things I've never been told." It was a complicated sentence and Elena had to moisten her lips before she tried again, she was that nervous. "Well, I mean, why do they not want us to ask questions? You know that, I know you do."
"That's easy," said Geoff, smiling at her. He'd wondered when she would ask. "Because they don't want us to find out the answers, of course."
"But that's ridiculous. They'll put you in prison because you ask them how the world works? Knowledge belongs to everyone! Surely there's a rule against this sort of - this oppression, somewhere?" Elena was agitated enough to twist her fingers in and out of each other as she always did when she was nervous. Geoff, seeing this, took her hands in his to stop her from breaking one of the bones.
"Elena, they wouldn't put you in prison for asking questions." For a moment she thought he was saying that it was all right to ask, and she wondered why her parents had always told her otherwise. Then she realised what he'd really meant.
"Then what do they do to the people they take away?"
"No one knows. But they're never seen again." His voice was so serious; for a moment, she almost believed that he was telling the truth. "No one ever knows what happens to them."
"Well, they could be in prison," she argued, trying to pretend she still thought that was possible.
"Really?" said Geoff. "Well, let me tell you this. A few years ago the resistance tried to break into the prison and bust out all of their folk that had been taken away for stirring up trouble, asking questions and generally doing what they shouldn't. And they got into the prison, and it was almost empty. The three prisoners inside were murderers. Their folk weren't there. At the same time, another group broke into another prison. Same thing."
Elena shrugged. "So they're not in the prisons. Doesn't mean they're dead, does it?" She got up from the sofa, staring out of the artificial window. If only she could really see that sort of garden. If only grass really existed nowadays. It was one of the few things they didn't say was just a fairytale - it had been around, they said, once upon a time, but now it had all been burned up.
"I never said they were dead," said Geoff, his hand on her shoulder. "Elena, you're so young. How can I make you understand?"
As he struggled for the words, she said, "I'm not young. I bet you knew this when you were fourteen. You're hardly any older than me."
"I'd seen more by the time I was your age," he told her. He wasn't trying to be patronising, she knew that, just gentle. But that didn't make her like it. "Oh, Elena, it's so difficult. The fact is, the people aren't dead. They're gone. And if they're where we think they are, it would be better if they weren't still living."