Head to foot in the intermediate gray of position, Janelle was on one knee on the other side of Father’s desk, waiting to be acknowledged. She’d been waiting for over an hour, and had long since gone into a light meditative trance. It took her mind off the hardness of the cold stone beneath her knee and the burn of oxygen starved muscle. It kept her ready and relaxed for whatever came next as the world around her was pushed back behind a cloud of single focus—Father.
She hadn’t yet perfected the technique. Sounds of her brother and sister Greys moving in the hallways, their handful of servants all jolted her out of her trance in bright flashes of pain and tedium. What she was good at, though, was not breaking the look of concentration. Then again, that might be why she was still down on one knee, waiting to be acknowledged by Father.
At least she couldn’t pull her freshly redone stitches in this position.
The edges began to fuzzy again as she reentered the meditative state. It was easy enough in Father’s office. The stone was, as expected, a dull gray and sparsely decorated. The rich wooden bookshelves with their leather-bound volumes provided most of the color, beside Father’s own golden tan complexion. Even his desk was a spare affair. Father never kept any papers longer than he needed them, and preferred to get his messages via email or text when he could. Alorna, his secretary did in fact maintain extensive files for him. Somewhere.
“So Iris says it was...” He cleared his throat. “A Colorless ‘bilge rat’ that managed to wound you?”
Janelle was out of her trance and fully in the moment before he had hissed the final S of Iris’ name. She dipped her already bowed head. “Yes sir.”
“Was this Colorless particularly good or should I send you for another round of training, Novice?”
Janelle’s heart tripped in her chest, but she didn’t tremble. If nothing else, that part of her training was holding. “Perhaps...maybe both, Father.”
“You acknowledge your own...”
When she realized that he had trailed off, waiting for her to fill in the blank, she said, “Carelessness. I trusted in my Gray status to keep me safe more than I should have.”
“Indeed you did. As you have so graphically learned yesterday, not everyone respects the color of you Citizenship uniform. True, one doesn’t expect much from a Colorless, but I’m sure you thought ‘Even this Colorless wouldn’t dare attack a Grey Assassin.’”
Janelle’s head sank more. “Something along those lines, Father.”
She heard him rise from his chair, then his steps were lost in the plush rug under his desk as he walked around to stand before him. Not that she would have heard him even if he’d come up behind her. Like every other Grey the world over, his boots were a soft-soled variety designed and manufactured by Grey Houses. If she heard Father walking, it was because he wanted to be heard.
Soon enough those familiar soft-soled boots, in a gray so dark they were nearly Enforcement Black, just crossed into her line of sight.
“You may rise, ‘Nell.”
“Thank you.” She did, slowly so as to give her aching muscles time to stabalize beneath her. Father, of course, knew what she was about. To a non-Grey, however, it was an intimidating sight. Or so she had been taught.
“Now about the Colorless that attacked you. You said that it was ‘both,’ not just your own overconfidence in being Grey that sent you to the infirmary. Tell me what did you observe about this Colorless that made you think he was so skilled.” He held up a hand before she could speak. “It was a male Colorless that attacked you?”
Janelle nodded. “Yes. Taller than me--”
“That’s not hard.”
“Skinny if not actually starved, but very quick on his feet. Fearless.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t his desperation motivating him?” Father asked.
Janelle thought for a long moment before answering. She hadn’t been punished yet, and there was that consideration to think on before answering. Not that she could begin to guess what would actually keep her out of punishment—nothing, very likely—but there was no reason to make it worse.
“I’m sure it was his desperation motivating him,” she said after her long pause. “My Greys notwithstanding, what would a Colorless be doing attacking any Colored citizen except out of desperation?” she said slowly and thoughtfully, though it was nothing more than common sense. “For a Colorless to lay a hand on even the most dun Brown Citizen is already a visitation from Black Enforcement who are oh so kind to their wards.”
The Black Enforcement’s treatment of detainees was infamous for being unnecessarily rough on even the most minor of “criminals”.
“You were once Colorless, weren’t you, Janelle?”
She dared to glance into his eyes. “You know that I was. Until you found me, Father.”
“But you were never on the street.”
She shook her head. “No, sir. I was ever in the Family Center.”
He nodded. “I’m surprised, then, that you don’t have some sympathy for this Colorless bilge rat.”