READ THIS FIRST – 3

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It feels weird, not knowing your name or what you’ll look like. I’m going to think of you as Theseus. Dewey 398.2. Go look it up.

The minotaur should be long gone, by the way. They won’t stick around to get you too. They understand the importance of The Collection, and the people who care for it. They just think my family’s lost that right. Well, I can’t argue.

But without anyone keeping an eye on the place there’s other things that may have snuck in. Don’t think that The Collection will protect you from physical danger. It isn’t sentient or anything wacky like that, it’s just a building with some unique physics. I assume you’ve got your own weaponry, given that you made it here, but there’s stuff stashed around the place as well. A lot of it is in The Collection because it’s art or historical artefacts, but it’s art made of out sharp metal so that’s kinda the point.

Sorry. Bad pun. Sanna, my little sister, used to roll her eyes so hard I thought she was going to strain something but she loved my jokes really. She even laughed a couple of times. She had this high giggle that made me think of tiny bells. The first time I heard it I thought she was ill. This isn’t a world for laughter but The Collection helps kids be kids instead of miniature survivors. Not just kids, either.

That’s what Class Eight is for. (We call the levels ‘classes’ – it cuts down on the confusion.) On a planet this broken you might think there’s not much point to fiction, but you’re wrong. I’ve been places – desperate, starving, clinging-on-by-their-fingertips places – where the book about fairies did nearly as much good as the book about water filtration. It gives people a break, reminds them how to dream. Dreams let us imagine something better, and if we can’t do that things will never improve. Mum used to say it was nonsense, a waste of time, but Dad understood.

41

I keep telling myself that, whenever I remember Sanna’s screams. He was just trying to make things better. But you have to go about it the right way. Don’t steal, Theseus. If there’s something you need, or something The Collection is missing, you barter for it. Knowledge, food, a hot shower, there’s plenty to barter with here. You don’t have to steal. Especially not from beings that can track The Collection door.

See, the other thing about the books on Class Eight? Not all of them turned out to be fiction.

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