She shouldn't have let her go. That girl was going to get herself killed, no doubt, but she had always been a hard one to convince. What was the phrase? Stubborn as a mule? Stick in the mud? Stubborn as a mule in the mud?

Archi had been hesitant to leave, really. Stuck with only herself to talk to, she had hoped Gwen might stay for a while. Talk. But the girl had gone off to the Tower and Archi didn't kid herself that she might make it back. God, she thought to herself as she shivered in the openness of the sidewalk, exile's made me a cynic.

Contact had been cut off in the exile. People used to come every few days, oddly comical in their blanched street clothes; but then the stream had trickled down to a pop-in maybe once a week to check she was still there and on their side. A head round the doorframe, a forced smile, and gone again. Later, there hadn't even been much of that. She had lost it a little, then. Pieces of pencil shards, heavy scratches in the plaster, fits of mania when she would color the walls with clotted make-ups.

That was when the other ones had come. The Antagonists in their pale uniforms, blinking out at the world through washed-out eyes. Sure, they had come earlier to clamp that infernal tracker on her leg; but these times had been different.

"It doesn't have to be this way, Archi."

"Don't call me Archi."

"Locked up, all alone, must be maddening."

She eyed the cameras swiveling towards her as she moved, ducked and shoulders drawn, in the crowds. They would know she wasn't home, anymore.

"You're insane! I'm no traitor! Get out!"

The visits increased. Each time, they would bring a little "present": paint, clay, a bundle of confiscated pencils. The tall one, a shifty man with eyes dark and brittle as graphite, had waved the pencils under her nose and the dry smell of them had cracked something in her core.

The crowd moved in linear rows, hardly an accidental jostle or purposeful shove. The faces of the people were blanched with a thin sheen of sweat as if each were walking towards some personal doom. Archi shivered and cupped her elbows in cold hands.

The first time had been so easy. It was nothing physically personal, just dial and wait for them to track the line. Jack had earned her "telephony green" and a pat on the back. She had quaked under it, bowed back and clenched eyes.

She diverted down, across the lines of people that paused for her to pass without actually seeing her. Archi tremored on the brittle concrete steps and breathed in sharp hisses as she entered, was waved down the hall and into a dull brown office.

"What a pleasure to see you out and about." He stood, sliding his chair back, and made as if to shake her hand.

Archi swallowed, eyes pooling, and stammered, "There's gonna be a break-in at the Tower."

The End

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