READ THIS FIRST – 5

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How was your trip? I wonder where you ended up, and if you could understand the language. Ooh, I wonder if you can even read this? I never thought of that. I’ll make copies in other languages if I have time.

Did you find people who needed help? I shouldn’t think you had to look very far. Nearly everyone needs help these days. And once you start giving it, well, it becomes addictive. I tried to leave once. Snuck out whilst everyone was asleep and ran for hours, with Rohini trotting along next to me. This was somewhere in England, I don’t remember exactly where. I found this row of tall brick houses with long thin gardens. All the houses were full, of course, but one of the gardens had space at the bottom for another person. I put a tarp over a piece of rope and called it home. Rohini wasn’t impressed but he stuck around, which kept me from freezing. I lasted ten whole days. Sanna thought it was the snow that made me come back, and Mum thought it was the people. (I got a bloody nose and a black eye, and it would’ve been a lot worse only they weren’t expecting a tiger.) But it wasn’t.

I hope you’re a helper, Theseus. There aren’t many with the means to do it, and it’s so easy to be selfish in the Cold. Which is why it’s important not to be.

I said I’d tell you about Yellow Hat. That’s why I ran away. If I’d known more then, I wouldn’t have bothered. Running just wears you down. It’s alright, though. You’re safe. This is about Dad’s bloodline, not yours. That isn’t the right name, by the way. More of a description. A tatty mustard-yellow hat with a huge brim, and a big dirty coat that Mum said is called camel-hair but isn’t actually made out of camels. And white gloves. Who wears white gloves? They get dirty the moment you set foot outside. But Yellow Hat’s gloves always looked clean.

Dad said his real name was Kaiwan, but to always call him ‘sir’. Mum said things like him didn’t have a real name, or a gender to go with it. I thought at the time she was being sharp because Dad was late for dinner again and she didn’t like the place we were at. The front door came out in a little stone hut near the Dead Sea, built for shepherds, Dad said. Sanna and me thought it was great. We spent a whole afternoon splashing about trying to get under the surface of the water whilst Rohini rolled in the mud. Mum wasn’t too happy about that either. I cleaned it all off but she still yelled at me. Looking back, I think she needed something safe to yell about.

Yellow Hat was a local boss. He’d got his territory pretty well set up. There was farming and clean water, the whole works. But Dad said there was something wrong with the settlement. Nobody would talk to him, or even look at him. He said it was like everyone had gone away inside their heads and were just doing things out of habit. Mum said people dealt with the Cold in their own way but he shook his head and said, not like this. Yellow Hat was the only person who talked. He figured out pretty quick that Dad was with The Collection, which panicked us all to start with, but apparently he was only interested in it in passing. He already knew everything useful in there, he told Dad, and a bunch of stuff that wasn’t in there besides.

I heard him and Mum talking about it in the kitchen, when I came in from washing the mud off Rohini. He said he’d asked Yellow Hat to barter for this new knowledge but the boss would only pat his battered leather briefcase and say ‘the souls of your family for everything I know’. Dad tried to pass it off as a joke but Mum went quiet for a bit. Then she used her this-is-my-final-word-there-will-be-no-argument voice and told Dad we were moving The Collection first thing the next day.

Dad went out again after supper. He was gone for hours, so long that we all went to bed without him. I don’t know how much later I got woken up but it was late. Dad was standing in front of the antikythera with a battered leather briefcase in his hand. He was breathing fast, like he’d been running. I sat up as he wound the handle half a dozen times, getting more jerky and frantic with each turn. When he turned around and saw me watching I thought he was going to yell at me, or maybe faint.

toms_briefcase_1

  “That’s Yellow Hat’s briefcase,” I said. I’d never seen it before but somehow I knew.

  “Shh, Tia, what are you doing still awake?”

  “Did you barter our souls away?”

  He sat down on the bed next to me and shook his head. “No, baby. I would never. I’m just borrowing it so I can make copies. He’ll get it back.”

He was right about that, anyhow.

Look, Theseus, the point is that searching for new knowledge is a good thing. The Collection needs to be added to. Ask questions, barter for new stuff, that’s part of the job. But you have to come by it honest.

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