Scarlet was descending toward the alley behind the Rieux Tavern when her portscreen chimed
from the passenger seat, followed by an automated voice: “Comm received for Mademoiselle Scarlet
Benoit from the Toulouse Law Enforcement Department of Missing Persons.”
Heart jumping, she swerved just in time to keep the ship’s starboard side from skidding against the
stone wall, and threw down the brakes before reaching a complete stop. Scarlet killed the engine,
already grabbing for the discarded portscreen. Its pale blue light glinted off the cockpit’s controls.
They’d found something.
The Toulouse police must have found something.
“Accept!” she yelled, practically choking the port in her fingers.
She expected a vidlink from the detective assigned to her grandmother’s case, but all she got was a
stream of unembellished text.
28 AUG 126 T.E.
RE: CASE ID #AIG00155819, FILED ON 11 AUG 126 T.E.
THIS COMMUNICATION IS TO INFORM SCARLET BENOIT OF RIEUX, FRANCE, EF, THAT AS OF
15:42 ON 28 AUG 126 THE CASE OF MISSING PERSON(S) MICHELLE BENOIT OF RIEUX, FRANCE,
EF, HAS BEEN DISMISSED DUE TO LACK OF SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE OF VIOLENCE OR
NONSPECIFIC FOUL PLAY. CONJECTURE: PERSON(S) LEFT OF OWN FREE WILL AND/OR SUICIDE.
WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATRONAGE OF OUR DETECTIVE SERVICES.
The comm was followed by a video ad from the police, reminding all delivery ship pilots to be safe
and wear their harnesses while engines were running.
Scarlet stared at the small screen until the words turned into a screaming blur of white and black
and the ground seemed to drop out from beneath the ship. The plastic panel on the back of the
screen crunched in her tightening grip.
“Idiots,” she hissed to the empty ship.
The words CASE CLOSED laughed back up at her.
She released a guttural scream and slammed the port down on the ship’s control panel, hoping to
shatter it into pieces of plastic and metal and wire. After three solid whaps, the screen only
flickered in mild irritation. “You idiots!” She threw the port at the floorboards in front of the
passenger seat and slumped back, stringing her curly hair through her fingers.
Her harness cut into her chest, suddenly strangling, and she released the buckle and kicked open
her door at the same time, half falling into the alley’s shadows. The grease and whiskey scent from
the tavern nearly choked her as she swallowed her breaths, trying to rationalize her way out of the
She would go to the police station. It was too late to go now—tomorrow, then. First thing in the
morning. She would be calm and logical and she would explain to them why their assumptions were
wrong. She would make them reopen the case.
Scarlet swiped her wrist over the scanner beside the ship’s hatch and yanked it up harder than the
hydraulics wanted to let it go.
She would tell the detective that he had to keep searching. She would make him listen. She would
make him understand that her grandma hadn’t left of her own free will, and that she most certainly
had not killed herself.
Half a dozen plastic crates filled with garden vegetables were crammed into the back of the ship,
but Scarlet hardly saw them. She was miles away, in Toulouse, planning the conversation in her
head. Calling on every last persuasion, every ounce of reasoning power she had.
Something had happened to her grandmother. Something was wrong and if the police didn’t keep
looking, Scarlet was going to take it to court and see that every one of their turnip-head detectives
was disbarred and would never work again and—
She snatched a gleaming red tomato in each fist, spun on her heels, and pummeled the stone wall
with them. The tomatoes splattered, juice and seeds spraying across the piles of garbage that were
waiting to go into the compactor.
It felt good. Scarlet grabbed another, imagining the detective’s doubt when she’d tried to explain to
him that up and disappearing was not normal behavior for her grandma. She pictured the tomatoes
bursting all over his smug little—
A door swung open just as a fourth tomato was obliterated. Scarlet froze, already reaching for
another, as the tavern’s owner draped himself against the door frame. Gilles’s narrow face was
glistening as he took in the slushy orange mess Scarlet had made on the side of his building.
“Those better not be my tomatoes.”
She withdrew her hand from the bin and wiped it down on her dirt-stained jeans. She could feel
heat emanating from her face, the erratic thumping of her pulse.
Gilles wiped the sweat off his almost-bald head and glared, his default expression. “Well?”
“They weren’t yours,” she muttered. Which was true—they were technically hers until he paid her
He grunted. “Then I’ll only dock three univs for having to clean off the mess. Now, if you’re done
with target practice, maybe you could deign to bring some of that in here. I’ve been serving wilted
lettuce for two days.”
He popped back into the restaurant, leaving the door open. The noise of dishes and laughter spilled
out into the alley, bizarre in its normality.
Scarlet’s world was crashing down around her and nobody noticed. Her grandmother was missing
and nobody cared.
She turned back to the hatch and gripped the edges of the tomato crate, waiting for her heart to
stop hammering behind her sternum. The words from the comm still bombarded her thoughts, but
they were beginning to clear. The first wave of aggression was left to rot with the smashed
When she could take in a breath without her lungs convulsing, she stacked the crate on top of the
russet potatoes and heaved them out of the ship.
The line cooks ignored Scarlet as she dodged their spitting skillets, making her way to the cool
storage room. She shoved the bins onto the shelves that had been labeled in marker, scratched out,
and labeled again a dozen times over the years.
Scarlet turned around, pulling her hair off her clammy neck.
Émilie was beaming in the doorway, eyes sparkling with a secret, but she pulled back when she saw
Scarlet’s expression. “What—”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Slipping past the waitress, she headed back through the kitchen, but
Émilie made a dismissive noise in the back of her throat and trotted after her.
“Then don’t talk. I’m just glad you’re here,” she said, latching on to Scarlet’s elbow as they ducked
back into the alleyway. “Because he’s back.” Despite the angelic blond curls that surrounded
Émilie’s face, her grin suggested very devilish thoughts.
Scarlet pulled away and grabbed a bin of parsnips and radishes, passing them to the waitress. She
didn’t respond, incapable of caring who he was and why it mattered that he was back. “That’s
great,” she said, loading a basket with papery red onions.
“You don’t remember, do you? Come now, Scar, the street fighter I was telling you about the other …
oh, maybe that was Sophia.”
“The street fighter?” Scarlet squeezed her eyes shut as a headache started to throb against her
“Don’t be like that. He’s sweet! And he’s been here almost every day this week and he keeps sitting
in my section, which definitely means something, don’t you think?” When Scarlet said nothing, the
waitress set the bin down and fished a pack of gum from her apron pocket. “He’s always really
quiet, not like Roland and his crowd. I think he’s shy … and lonely.” She popped a stick into her
mouth and offered another to Scarlet.
“A street fighter who seems shy?” Scarlet waved the gum away. “Are you listening to yourself?”
“You have to see him to understand. He has these eyes that just…” Émilie fanned her fingers against
her brow, feigning heatstroke.
“Émilie!” Gilles appeared at the door again. “Stop flapping those lips and get in here. Table four
wants you.” He cast a glare at Scarlet, a silent warning that he’d be docking more univs from her fee
if she didn’t stop distracting his employees, then pulled back inside without waiting for a response.
Émilie stuck her tongue out after him.
Settling the basket of onions against her hip, Scarlet shut the hatch and brushed past the waitress.
“Is table fourhim?”
“No, he’s at nine,” Émilie grumbled, scooping up the load of root vegetables. As they passed back
through the steamy kitchen, Émilie gasped. “Oh, I’m so daft! I’ve been meaning to comm and ask
about your grand-mère all week. Have you heard anything new?”
Scarlet clenched her jaw, the words of the comm buzzing like hornets in her head. Case closed.
“Nothing new,” she said, then let their conversation get lost in the chaos of the cooks screaming at
each other across the line.
Émilie followed her as far as the storeroom and dropped off her load. Scarlet busied herself
rearranging the baskets before the waitress could say something optimistic. Émilie attempted the
requisite “Try not to worry, Scar. She’ll be back” before backing away into the tavern.
Scarlet’s jaw was starting to ache from gnashing her teeth. Everyone talked about her grandma’s
disappearance as if she were a stray cat who would meander back home when she got
hungry. Don’t worry. She’ll be back.
But she’d been gone for over two weeks. Just disappeared without sending a comm, without a good-
bye, without any warning. She’d even missed Scarlet’s eighteenth birthday, though she’d bought the
ingredients for Scarlet’s favorite lemon cake the week before.
None of the farmhands had seen her go. None of the worker androids had recorded anything
suspicious. Her portscreen had been left behind, though it offered no clues in its stored comms,
calendar, or net history. Her leaving without it was suspicious enough. No one went anywhere
without their ports.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Not the abandoned portscreen or the unmade cake.
Scarlet had also found her grandmother’s ID chip.
Her ID chip. Wrapped in cheesecloth spotted red from her blood and left like a tiny package on the
The detective said that’s what people did when they ran away and didn’t want to be found—they
cut out their ID chips. He’d said it like he’d just solved the mystery, but Scarlet figured most
kidnappers probably knew that trick too.
Copyright © 2013 by Marissa Meyer