Emma's bed was bathed in coldness.
Claire was rudely awakened by the warden who brought breakfast and the bowl of water every morning. He alerted the head of the office. It was not half an hour after the bewildered Claire was sitting in Newman's office waiting for him to continue.
What have you done, Emma? Did you really escape? You stupid cow! How could she have disappeared from the room? Through the door? Wasn't it locked? How did she get past security? Or weren't there any? Did he arrange to run Emma out of town so she could be captured? To kill her because she didn't have a say-
The door was closed rudely.
Newman rubbed his forehead and took a seat.
"Good morning, Miss Silberlilie. I have just been informed that your friend has escaped from the room. Did you have anything to do with it? Did you plan this? Are you possibly enemies who are selling on the secret knowledge?"
Claire was bombarded with questions.
"No... I don't know anything. I only found out this morning."
"No plans exchanged? No idea of anything?"
"We are obliged to report this case immediately. Your friend is being treated as an enemy of the Empire and is wanted. Do you know what that means? You can be charged as an accessory."
"I don't know anything," Claire gasped.
Newman stood in front of her. His otherwise cute accent, as she had thought since their first meeting, made her afraid. He spoke quietly but quickly.
"Your friend didn't mention anything to you? Nothing at all?"
"Last night we had a little chat about Berlyne, that's all!"
"Do you confess that she is on her way there?"
"Please, I don't know anything."
"I believe you," Newman muttered, "What do you think she's up to? Sell the information on? To Flechburg, Weißberg or even the States? What contacts does she have?"
Almost tearfully, her head snapped up. She choked several times when she wanted to say something. Nothing came out of her mouth.
"We will gather all the documents on her father and mother and notify them, arrest them and interrogate them," Newman declared menacingly, "It won't take a day and we will have located them."
The name popped out of her mouth. Claire repeated it.
"Erlenbrunnen?" he repeated, puzzled. He was about to take the typewriter out of the cupboard when Claire continued.
"We are looking for someone. He lives near it, that's why Erlenbrunnen. Only after that did we plan to travel to Berlyne. Honestly. It's just... we didn't say anything about it because it's a closed city..."
"Tell me more. Who do you want to find?"
Claire sobbed. Now she had to think of something.
"A friend who lives there."
"What's his name?"
"Girl, don't always make these pauses. Who is this man? A foreigner? A partisan?"
"No... neither of those things. He's a friend of my father's..." Claire whined.
"I think that's enough, Neumann."
Not because of the second person in the room. Rather because of that quietly stern voice that came to life behind her. The stooped Newman straightened up.
It was the dark-haired woman.
"I don't suppose you know how to handle a child?"
"Whether child or adult, everyone is equal in front of the law."
Claire didn't understand what she was saying. She was standing behind her. A little later, the woman and Newman were gone.
The interrogated woman wiped away her tears and tried to think clearly.
What have I done? Are they going to call my father now? They'll tell him everything. Then I have to talk about Léonard... How do I get out of this...?
The strange idea of jumping out of the window had not occurred to her for the first time. She breathed in and out deeply. The heart gradually calmed down. After five minutes Newman appeared. There was no trace of the woman.
He surveyed Claire as he reset the typewriter.
"I've been enlightened," he said, dissatisfied and relaxed at the same time, "your friend must have run away without telling you anything. Her destination was always Erlenbrunnen, wasn't it? She will be on her way there. It's not far from here, three- or four-days walk. Is Malven skilled at maps? - “(Claire answered in the affirmative.) "-then there will be no trouble.
Of course, it is an offence to leave a closed city before submitting the documents. They will be there in five days. You will be allowed to leave. I won't report anything, your friend probably won't spill much, her little knowledge of technology and this place will hardly be of any help to her. -" (He grinned briefly.) "-Only, unfortunately, we will have to punish you for your friend's stupid act."
Claire´s heart slipped down. She swallowed. Her gaze caught on the window. It became more tempting.
"You will be monitored around the clock until we release you. You will certainly have a lot to talk about once you are together. Or do you no longer want to go to Erlenbrunnen?"
"I... I don't know...I think so..."
"Seek out your friend and give her some advice: When you play at being an adult, you have to be aware of your consequences! Obviously, she hasn't thought about any feelings of guilt."
He finished his speech and pulled a hard-boiled egg from somewhere, which he cracked and slowly freed from the shell.
Only after many minutes of silence, where Newman greeted his typewriter after eating the egg and opening a letter, did Claire dare to say anything again.
"May... I go?"
"Knock yourself out. You know where your room is."
Actually, those people who wait for others are punished. Not those who are late. Claire had something in common with all the waiting people in this world.
She paid no attention to breakfast. Only at noon was it exchanged for the meal. She sat motionless on the chair and stared at the door, calling out to it, obeying it to open. To open up and free her from this nightmare.
Sleep. A dream.
These were the words she used to avoid unpleasant or embarrassing situations. Anything that wasn't positive enough was labelled a dream. Only the happy moments remained, the rest was a matter for her script. But it had the problem that she gradually could no longer concentrate on the good and beautiful moments that were forgotten.
She also often used the ability to use a doll instead of herself during unbearable days. She filled herself with anger and frustration. She swallowed.
For a short while, Claire wanted to throw everything out the window, including herself. Then she realised that this kind of anger made no sense. Breaking things or throwing them out of the window only made sense if you were angry at the dresser, the chair, or the bed. But not at a person.
Somewhat bitterly, she confessed to herself that Emma was the victim. She was constantly insulted and discriminated against by Newman. Not her. She is a citizen of the Empire. She has the privilege of being free.
"Where are you?"
The pitiful sound warmed the night.
She realised that Emma was on her own. She had escaped, somehow made it through security and was well on her way to Erlenbrunnen to join Léonard. Claire, on the other hand, remained in her cell and could not escape for five days.
But where to?
After her to the Melaten estate? To her father in Berlyne?
A thousand things assailed her head as she slammed her face into the pillow and tried to fall asleep. A thousand things crushed the girl into a thin room with people she had never seen.
Newman took her on his daily tour as nothing had happened.
Claire could not look him in the eyes. Her crying from yesterday was too embarrassing. Too embarrassed was the incident. It got nastier as he pretended nothing had happened. Bile in the pit of her stomach cauterised her head. She kept quiet, meek and behind him.
"Aren't you interested in your father's work? Or in Seelenherz Inc.?"
They sat in front of the fountain in the park. It was eerie how rarely they met people. The sandy gravel disturbed them. It changed the aura of the forest, which glowed in deep, brown-green colours. The light-coloured ground distorted the atmosphere.
"But you should, my dear Miss. Seelenherz Inc. finances us. Ask your father once you're with him, I'm sure he can tell you more."
"Will do," she replied, "Are there any more of these places that the company funds?"
"Of course. Submarines are being worked on near Wasserrund, and there are larger mines in the Nordic Sea and the region of Lenemai. The vast majority work directly for the war. Weapons production and armament. War-important cities they are called on the papers."
"For citizens of the Empire who have nothing to do with the war, all this paperwork, the party structure as well as the administration of the Empire is an impenetrable web of authorities and documents. You can't imagine how many folders there are just to describe one little process! But nobody reads it, because they are all busy (in the party) trying to outdo each other. It is precisely the convoluted structure that leads to petty wars within their own ranks."
He paused again.
"Regenschloss. Where you live. It will soon be a closed city. After the tar pit is finished and simply pumped out, work will begin to clear the forest and use the material for road construction."
Claire's shocked expression did not change Newman's narrative.
"You are lucky to have escaped now. Baron von Federstein is taking the opportunity to close as many cities and towns as possible. The fewer people travel, the easier it is to control them and lie to them.
It is not always pleasurable to be on the side of the bad guys."
It was the first time anyone had called the Sagauvelian Empire evil. Claire was surprised.
"Have you ever been to Cattell?" he mentioned in passing, "You should definitely visit it as soon as the war ends. I lived there for a few years. Or visit the States. The United States of Terra Omnibus are amazing!”
When they arrived at Claire's room, he said goodbye to her with a wave of his flat cap. His elegant manner seemed slimy and played, though he himself didn't notice; for him, it was a simple, polite thank you.
Claire needed to collect herself. Think. Draw conclusions. His kindness, the rejection towards Emma and the moment of his little speech. Was he playing with her?
She saw Emma's empty bed and had to admit to herself that nothing was as it seemed. She flipped through the books to get a little distraction. She wanted to get out although she enjoyed the peace and quiet a little. Finally, Claire could relax.
No one had come to pick her up the next day. She stayed in the room for the day. She couldn't open the window. Thinking about touching the door gave her the nervousness she was supposed to get when she did.
She watched the men in the square. There were several houses. One looked like a chapel. The rocks barely gave a clear view of the sky. Several times she saw the dark-haired woman and inspected her walk. She sometimes stopped and talked to the workers. Now and then she looked towards the window and Claire felt that the eyes could read her soul.
Claire held her breath.
Hours decayed like leaves in autumn. Hours disappeared like birds. Hours hid like animals in the forest. Night fell and it rained. It rained the entire next morning, noon, even in the afternoon.
Alone, she plunged from recovery back into an apathy of pessimism. Emma jumped through her brain, Léonard laughed on one side, her father shook his head, Auntie was trapped in a city and she herself was tugged by the chains to make a decision.
It was clear to her that she wanted to chase Emma. With her head start, she could never catch up with her. She hoped that she had found her way to the Melaten estate and that Léonard lived there.
Next time she wanted to ask Newman for directions to Erlenbrunnen. He did not turn up.
It was not until the ninth day that there was another knock at the door.