In advance of the publication of The Sojourner on September 30, here is a short excerpt:
The sound of birds chirping outside my window awakens me. Sparrows or swallows, or some other tiny, dull species that covers the globe in endless numbers. I sit up carefully, having made the mistake earlier in my stay of forgetting how close the ceiling is to the loft bed. Several painful mistakes, actually. But then I am always forgetting where I am. It takes effort to remember, to fight through whatever happens to me when I sleep.
At least I am certain of who I am. That part of me remains stable. Aeida is gone. Suon assures me I have not taken to wandering and plotting in the night. I trust her, as far as that goes.
It seems she did not betray me when I was with her at Osahi’s fortress, and she was not lying when she said she loved me. She does, though I cannot fathom why. I am a lost and broken soul in a foreign body. A pitiful thing who has done terrible deeds. The evidence of my failures is still with us: Ana and my self. It is Ana’s presence that provides the window to allow me to finally see the truth of Suon’s feelings for me. She is jealous of Ana and how much I care for her.
Envious that we share a bed, though that is at Ana’s insistence, not mine. It makes me uncomfortable, especially with the always-present threat that Aeida may return. There is no doubt of what he would do to her, given the chance. I have experienced it, and that is not something I can forget. Or forgive myself for. But there is so much that is unforgivable in my past that it is hard to know where to begin with an accounting, let alone trying to set it right.
I have decided I will begin with Ana, though I have no means to help her and no idea how to go about acquiring them. That is not entirely true. The Seeker would be able to help her and would perhaps even be willing. She was a Society agent, after all. At least for a time. More importantly, I am one now, ostensibly, though I have done nothing for them. That is another accounting I will have to face soon, and it amazes me I haven’t yet.
Where is the Seeker? Why hasn’t he come to see that I make good on what I promised him? For that matter, I don’t understand why the Society didn’t remain at the Church campus after their raid until they had driven me to ground. Surely, having destroyed the Church, they have no need for me to do the same. Molijc was the one who did the destroying, but it seems he was working for them too. I cannot believe that was always the case. My mind refuses to contemplate it. My life cannot be more of a lie than it already is.
The question of when the Seeker or the Society will descend to seize me is just another specter that clings to me, along with the threat of Aeida’s return, haunting every hour of every day. I expect to spend however much time remains to me trapped in this false body on the run from those who wish to destroy me, or locked away and forgotten in some cell. If Aeida were to somehow manage to return and banish me to the void again, it would almost be a relief.
I swing my legs so that I am sitting on the edge of the bed, looking down on the rest of the house. Ana stirs but does not wake beside me. I decide I should get up before I disturb her further, and walk, back bent, to the ladder and descend from the loft as quietly as I can manage. The door to Suon’s room is beside the ladder, and though it is closed, I suspect she is already awake. She has trouble sleeping. I have different problems.
We are staying in a ski lodge in the mountains several hours west of Calgary, near a place called Golden. Once it was a resort town, but now, like so much else in this world, it has fallen into disrepair. When Calgary—the world really—collapsed, there few people able to travel and pay for expensive ski holidays. As a result, the town here has been mostly forgotten, with a few dozen inhabitants left. One of them runs the lodges here, halfway up the mountain from the town. We are his only guests and have been since we arrived almost a month ago.
I start the coffee maker and sit at the kitchen table to watch it drip into the pot. As I expected, Suon is awake, and she emerges when the pot is almost full. We have our routines now.
“How was your sleep?” she says in a faux-cheerful voice.
I glare at her. “I dreamed again.”
“Do you remember any of it?” Suon gets up to pour us both coffee.
I shake my head as I watch her spoon sugar into my cup. In my old body, I preferred coffee with milk and sugar, but in Aeida’s, I drink my coffee black.
“Really?” she says. It is a challenge. She does not believe me.
“Really,” I say, which is a lie. I remember the dreams clearly, even if I would rather forget them.
Suon takes the hint and decides to leave matters be. She pulls a box of cereal from the cupboard and pours herself a bowl. “We’re out of milk,” she says, when she goes to the fridge and returns to the kitchen table to eat her cereal dry.
I listen to the crunch of her chewing, staring out the window at the tree-covered mountainside, taking nothing in and trying not to think of anything at all. Suon is watching me as she eats—I can sense her gaze—working her way up to ask me another question. Already I know what it will be.
“We need to go into town for groceries,” she says. “At least one of us does.”
I make a noncommittal noise, not turning from my scrutiny of the mountain.
Suon waits and, when I don’t reply, says, “I think you should go. You haven’t really left the lodge since we got here.”
I don’t bother to say anything in response. We have variations of the same conversation every day. It always ends the same. This discussion will too.
“How long are we planning on staying here?” Suon says.
The question surprises me a little. She hasn’t asked it in so long. “Depends,” I say.
“We can’t stay here forever.”
“With the money I have, I can stay here for at least a year,” I say.
“And what then?”
I sip my coffee, still not looking at her. She doesn’t want to hear what I will say. I am just waiting for the Seeker, the Society, or the Church to find me. Someone will eventually, no matter where I go. There seems no point in running or trying to hide, when it will end the same regardless. In this body, I can be found anywhere in this universe.
“No one’s asking you to stay here,” I say.
Suon does not reply, and when I finally look over, I see she is weeping.