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Equinox couldn’t stop herself from staring out of the window. She knew it wasn’t a good idea, it never was, but she hadn’t yet found the strength to stop herself from doing it. At the same time as usual a group of three girls walked past her house, and she watched them wistfully. They were all normal teenagers while she was one of the Seen. No one outside the family and the Seen Council even knew she existed. It hurt to watch them because they got a chance to live their own lives while everything she did, especially the books she read, had to be vetted by her Watcher. Some days she imagined what it would be like to be one of them. A normal girl with a normal life. When she had the window open it was possible to hear them complain about how boring their lives were, and she always felt the same disappointment. They couldn’t see what they had. They didn’t know how lucky they really were. Their mundane life was the thing she wanted more than anything else, but they wanted something more, something better, when their lives were so much better than hers.

When the girls finally disappeared from view she went to sit on her bed. Sighing, she wondered if she would have been the same as them if she’d had a chance to live her life. If one of the Seers hadn’t had a vision of her doing something the Seen Council didn’t like she would have had a chance to. Maybe she would have been watched by one of the Seen when she walked past their house, and they would have felt the same disappointment she felt because of the complaints made about living such a boring life. She wouldn’t have known what it was like to crave even a boring life. She wouldn’t have stood at her window, looking down at people who had no idea how lucky they really were, and wishing for things that would never happen. She was who she was. All she could do was keep living her life as best she could.

If it hadn’t been for her younger brother Grey she would have no idea what it was like to live a normal life. He told her stories about his school so she could imagine being in a classroom, taking tests and spending time with friends. There were days, when she was feeling really depressed, that she found those stories too painful to listen to. On those days Grey would sit with her and let her cry or rant, whatever it was that made her feel better. She couldn’t help feeling guilty that he was wasting so much of his time with her, but she couldn’t convince him to stop, and there was a part of her that didn’t want to try. She needed him more than she could put into words. Every time they talked about him spending his evenings with his friends he said the same thing: how could he do that when he knew that she had no one else? It had been years since she had seen their parents, and her Watcher wasn’t exactly company. He was only there to make sure she didn’t do anything she wasn’t allowed to.

Watchers were also seen in visions, but they were a help to the Seen council. Every one of the Seen needed a Watcher, and there were a lot of Seen, apparently. Only the Seen council knew exactly how many because people weren’t permitted to talk about their children or siblings being Seen. Anyone who knew of the pregnancy was told that the child had been stillborn. Grey had told her that someone was out there looking for the Seen. Neither of them believed that whoever it was would succeed with their search but it was still fascinating. He kept every article that was written about the searcher, and shared what he’d read with her when he could. If someone did find out the truth it would change everything, so the Seers must have Seen him, and yet he wasn’t one of them. Or maybe he had been. Maybe he was an escaped Seen.

Equinox had also been told by Grey that she’d be getting a new Watcher soon because her old one was going to retire. August been her Watcher ever since she was born, so she knew he’d been in the job at least twenty years. No one knew what happened to a Watcher when they retired, apart from the Seen council, and she couldn’t stop herself from worrying about him. She didn’t know him, as the two of them had never spoken, but that didn’t change the strange connection she felt. It was easy for her to imagine how lonely a Watcher’s life was because she dealt with the same problem herself. He’d spent the last twenty years living in a room between her room and the outside world, making sure that nothing that wasn’t permitted entered the room. The only person he spoke to on a regular basis was Grey.

Thoughtfully, she looked over at the door. Her brother wasn’t a normal teenager. Ever since he was old enough to understand he’d known about his Seen sister and seemed to have taken it upon himself to look after her. When they were young, before being Seen really bothered her, they’d spent hours together playing in her attic room. It wasn’t until he started school that she realised what it meant to be Seen and that she really would spend the rest of her life in one room. If it hadn’t been for him she probably wouldn’t even have been taught to read or write. She wondered what it must be like for the Seen who didn’t have someone who cared about them, knowing that, in some ways, she was lucky too. She did have Grey. Things weren’t as bad as they could be.

A part of Equinox would have given anything right at that moment to search for the rest of the Seen. Locking away babies who may or may not fulfil the futures that the Seers saw was wrong. There had to be other ways to stop what they saw from happening, like better teaching or something. People like her spent their whole lives locked away because of a possibility, and it always made her really emotional when she thought about it. Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought of those poor people who had died having only seen the outside world from a window. She knew that if nothing happened to change the way the Seen council was run she would be one of them. Her world would be one attic room, nothing more, because of fear. Instead of being free to live her life she was trapped.

Wiping away a tear, she fought to regain her composure. When those girls walked past she knew it would only be half an hour until Grey got home and she didn’t want him to have to deal with her tears again. She knew he’d spent most of the day in exams because he’d had to spend a couple of hours less with her in the evenings so he could revise. Her Watcher wouldn’t let most of his books, except his maths and science books, into the room as he was studying things she wasn’t allowed to know about, like history. Of course that didn’t stop Grey from telling her what he’d learnt, so she probably knew more about their history than anyone wanted her to.

Grey wouldn’t talk to Equinox about what he planned to do when he was finished at school. She’d asked him if he wanted to go to university after she’d heard someone walking past talk about it and he’d evaded the question. Her greatest worry was that he wouldn’t go somewhere he really wanted to go because of her. Life would be harder without him, but she wanted him to fulfil his potential the way she never could, and if that meant him moving away then it was something she would just have to cope with.

Leaning her head on the wall she tried hard not to stare at the door. Staring at it wouldn’t make Grey walk through it any faster than normal. She chewed on what was left of her fingernail as she thought about what life would be like without him around. It would be her, her Watcher, and the parents she hadn’t seen since her tenth birthday, because it hurt her mum too much to spend time with her. At least she’d still be able to draw, as long as her new Watcher, if he ever turned up, allowed her to have her art materials.

To divert herself she looked around the room. Equinox’s parents had put a lot of effort into making sure she would be comfortable for her entire life. On one side of the room was a kitchenette, and she knew she really should start thinking about learning how to cook. Usually she relied on Grey to make sure she ate, because there were far too many times when she thought there was no point in her doing anything. Her life was always going to be the same. She was always going to be sitting in the same room, living the life of one of the Seen, without any chance of getting out. She was never going to be able to do the things she dreamed of. All she could do was sit in her room, read the books she was permitted, and shower. Nothing more.

When the door opened she looked over at it. She knew it was Grey but she couldn’t help hoping that one day her parents would walk in with him. As usual he was alone, and she felt the pang of hurt she always felt. They didn’t care enough about her to put their own emotions aside to spend time with their eldest daughter. It didn’t stop Equinox from smiling at her younger brother, but she knew he could see how she felt, because he was far too good at that already. When their eyes met she could see the same hurt in them. He’d wanted their parents to be there too.

“How did your exams go?” she asked, standing up to give him a hug.

“They were easier than I thought they’d be so I’m hoping that’s not a sign I did really badly.”

“I’m sure you did brilliantly.”

“You would say that. You’re my sister.” He squeezed her before stepping away. “I think your new Watcher is meant to arrive some time in the next week.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What makes you think that?”

“August has everything packed and he looks more than ready to go. He actually smiled at me today.”

“I’m glad that he’s looking forward to his retirement.”

“Even though he’s your prison guard?”

“He didn’t choose his job any more than I chose to be one of the Seen, Grey. I hope that he enjoys his retirement and finally gets a chance to live his own life.” She sighed. “I don’t hate him for doing what he has to do and I know it must be as hard for the Watchers as it is for the Seen. They spend most of their lives living in one room too.”

“They get paid to do it.”

She shrugged. “I don’t see how having money makes it any easier. I have an allowance from Dad that I can use, but it doesn’t really make me any happier about being stuck in this room for the rest of my life.” She narrowed her eyes. “What do I do if Dad dies?”

“I’ll look after you.”

“You can’t spend your entire life looking after me. One day you’ll want to move out, and then you’ll hopefully have a family of your own to look after. I’ll just be a burden.”

“I don’t plan on ever having children, unless the current system changes. The thought of having to lock someone I love in one room for the rest of their lives just makes it impossible. Knowing that you’re trapped up here and there’s nothing I can do to really help you is bad enough.”

“They might not be Seen.”

“Even the small possibility that they will be is enough to stop me.”

“Maybe it would have been better if Mum and Dad had never told you about me.”

“Don’t say that. You’re my sister, and I love you.”

“I know you do, Grey, but I don’t want you to give up on living your own life so you can look after me. You’ve done it since we were children, and I want you to focus on you now, on what you want to do with the rest of your life, rather than spending all your spare time with me.”

“It’s my choice, Equinox. If I want to spend all my spare time with you then I will. Nothing I can do out there means as much to me as looking after you does.”

“There’s so much more out there. You can do anything you want, and yet you want to set your own future aside in order to look after me.” She shook her head. “I don’t need looking after. I don’t need you to come up every night. As much as I enjoy the chance to spend time with you I hate that you’re doing this at the detriment to your own life. I can understand not wanting to have children, because I can’t imagine doing that myself, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something more. If you really want to help to change things maybe you should look into working for the Seen Council.”

Grey laughed. “That’s never going to happen.” He took Equinox’s hand, their eyes meeting again, and she did her best to work out what was going through his head. “Do you remember I told you about someone who was out there looking for the Seen?”

“How could I forget?”

“Last month I met him. I knew then that August was planning on retiring, and we’ve been working on a way to get you out of here.”

For a long time all Equinox could do was stare at Grey. Eventually, unable to believe he was really going to be that stupid, she shook her head. “No, Grey. You can’t get involved in something like that. If you’re found out…” She rubbed her nose with her hand, doing her best to calm herself. “Please don’t. I’m okay here.”

“Don’t lie to me. I know what it’s like for you in here. Maybe life won’t be simple if you escape, but surely that’s better than not being able to live your own life. This is something that I truly think will change things, because you aren’t the only one he’s going to be getting out. He’s going to change the world, Equinox, and the time has come for that to happen. The time is long past.”

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The Many Worlds of K. A. Webb

July 2017

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