‘You there!’ the shackled woman’s master barked, pointing directly at Pan’s chest. As if it were a trigger, Pan’s back shot dead straight at the man’s gesture, a rigid spear shaft suddenly lashed against his spine. ‘Open her compartment. Rose Burns, three to your left.’
‘NO!’ Rose Burns wailed, fighting against the multiple arms that pulled her along, slapping and pinching, writhing, but unable to break free. ‘I won’t go back! I won’t! You promised us!’ she screamed, and Pan flinched at the shattering ring of betrayal in her breaking voice. ‘You said it would only be for a little while! That we’d be living free again in no more than an instant! You’re all liars! The glass doesn’t shield us from time! I can’t stand in there forever! Brought out only to perform, to be paraded around and stared at! I can’t take it anymore! I want to live my own life, for the love of Heaven!’
‘Move it, boy!’ a soldier snapped. Pan stumbled backwards towards Rose’s compartment. Eyes caught by the gold of her plaque, he saw that she was one of the originals, one of the first women placed there. Between them, the soldiers, master, and escort maneuvered the hysterical woman a few more steps forward.
‘Here, take them.’ The master pulled from his suit pocket half an iridescent key and tossed it to Pan. The escort imitated him, ripping the other half from a cord about his neck. Pan quickly fitted them together and pressed them into the indentation of the golden lock just above her plaque. ‘Four to the left, once to the right,’ the master instructed, and Pan hurried to comply, turning the round, glassy key so the door slid open at his touch.
‘Out of the way.’
Pan fell back as the five men forced Rose Burns inside, securing her on the golden stand. Her wails went on echoing around the balcony until the master injected her with a syringe taken from his small black case. Her lips soon closed, relaxing into a soulless smile. The escort, a friend of Pan’s called Merrick, wiped her tears away and arranged her dress so her chains were again hidden. He then adjusted her makeup with a few flicks of a brush. Their charge now quiet and presentable on her stand, both Merrick and his master exited, sealing the door. Rose went perfectly still.
‘Thank you, escort,’ the master said. Pan bowed. His mouth was dry. It felt as if something live and wriggling had been released into his stomach. ‘No need to look so frightened,’ the master said, stroking his moustache and looking remorsefully back at Rose. ‘There’s always some poor girl unhappy about going back on her Shelf. I’m surprised you haven’t come across one yet. In these situations – as you just saw – a little extra persuasion is occasionally required. Poor misguided things. Some even try to run away from the castle … I’m speaking to you, boy!’ he barked suddenly, causing a startled Pan to trip backwards into the balcony railing. ‘Aren’t you going to do me the courtesy of returning the favour?’
‘It’s just Pan, Master Gray,’ Merrick said, able to open his mouth now that Rose was again behind glass. ‘He doesn’t speak.’
‘Not at all?’ Master Gray asked, eyeing Pan, who bowed very deeply, keeping his eyes on the ground. There were four gleaming marble tiles separating the tips of his toes in his light sandals and Master Gray’s shiny black leather shoes. ‘His tongue is intact, yes? We’d have heard if it wasn’t.’
This proclamation didn’t stop Master Gray from striding forward and opening Pan’s mouth with his cold hands, curiously examining his mouth and throat. Pan stood very still until the man let go and stepped back, wiping saliva from his fingers.