The glossy brochures on Lord Andreas' desk made Topaz's heart sink as he crossed the room with the lunch tray. “My Lord?”
“Hm? Oh, good.” Lord Andreas cleared off the corner of the desk with one hand, gaze never entirely leaving the brochure in his other hand.
Am I about to disappoint him all over again? Topaz wondered unhappily. The last time he'd seen that many brochures on his mage's desk, it had been followed by questions about what Topaz knew about computers and what help he could be if Lord Andreas bought a newer one than the elderly laptop he used for checking email once a day. The honest answer, that he currently knew next to nothing but would do his best if his Lord wanted him to, had too obviously not been what Lord Andreas was hoping for, though there'd been no response beyond a sigh and a decision to put it off for now.
“My Lord?” he asked tentatively. “You're considering buying something?”
“No, these are for places to travel to. I was thinking of the two of us taking a vacation and going away somewhere.” His forehead furrowed. “Not Western Europe, I think, I gather they have some extremely odd ideas about sensitives there. Australia as well. But that still leaves quite a lot of the world, much of it tropical with interesting sights to see. I must admit, getting out of Canada for two or three weeks during the worst of winter is a bit of a relief.”
“Don't... don't you need a passport to go to other places, my Lord?” He perched in his usual place in the chair, watched Lord Andreas finally lay aside the brochure in order to draw a bowl of soup closer and add crackers.
“Generally, yes. It also helps for getting back into Canada afterwards. We have plenty of time to track down a copy of your birth certificate and take care of it.”
Topaz winced, eyes on the other bowl of soup. “I don't have a birth certificate, my Lord.”
Lord Andreas actually paused in what he was doing, for a full couple of seconds, before resuming. “Hospitals keep records of births, we can use that to apply for one belatedly, then.”
“I... wasn't born in a hospital, my Lord.”
That pause was a bit longer. “I assume you aren't referring to some form of midwife-supervised alternative, either. That is extremely atypical of Western society. Explain, please.”
“It's... actually, most sensitives aren't born in hospitals, my Lord. Sensitives who go to hospitals disappear. A woman having a baby would probably be safe enough, but the fear goes too deep to be logical like that. Having a baby at home with a friend or two there, maybe a sensitive woman who's already had one or more, is less scary and feels less dangerous.”
He remembered, far too clearly, Lila miscarrying because she'd overdone it working when they'd desperately needed the money, too badly nourished to be pregnant anyway and not even out of her teens; her terror of bleeding to death was less powerful than her terror of going to the emergency room and not coming back. She hadn't gotten pregnant again after that, despite being as sexually active and as unprotected as any other sensitive.
“And we move around all the time and don't have regular doctors to take a baby to for checkups and things. So most of us who actually survive long enough to grow up don't legally exist at all. So no ID even if we wanted to go to a hospital anyway. And the whole cycle just keeps going.”
“Zephyr has a birth certificate, although I believe Phyllida had to go via hospital birth records. Veritas had one, we only needed to request a copy of it.”
Topaz winced, fighting the feeling of having failed, coming up inferior to Veritas yet again, though Lord Andreas' tone was mild and not accusatory. “Both were born before me, my Lord. Maybe things are worse now. Everything's more computerized and universal records and things. Maybe they were unusual. I don't know.”
“School? Jobs with no Social Insurance Number?”
Topaz shrugged. “Sensitives mostly will go to great lengths to avoid any way of being tracked or identified. If you move every few months, it's easy to just tell schools that records are still coming from the last school, and you're gone somewhere else before it's an issue. That's mostly how we grow up, and mostly what we keep doing. One woman or maybe two women with their kids moving from city to city every few months. A sensitive that has an apartment or a room or something will usually let someone without one sleep there for a while, 'cause everyone is the one with nowhere to go eventually. Some just give up and don't bother sending their kids to school at all. Jobs sensitives get are mostly unskilled labour and a lot of the time it's under the table, or it's the same kind of thing, promise it later but disappear first. Or stuff like hooking or panhandling or shoplifting. Unless you're just going to kill yourself, and some do, you survive however you can.”
“That,” Lord Andreas said softly, “is a very harsh way to live.”
No point in denying the obvious truth. “Yes, my Lord, it is.”
“Is it worth it? For all sensitives to live that way, when only a few are chosen by the hunters?”
Again, he shrugged. “Everyone is afraid of being one of those few, my Lord. No one understands how hunters choose. No one understands what happens afterwards. And how do you change it when you grow up in the middle of it?” And understanding wouldn't make them any happier about being one of the few caught.
“A good question, that, and obviously one without an easy answer. Well.” Lord Andreas' tone turned brisk. “I haven't previously had any need to, but I'll look into what can be done. Even if we can't manage it for this winter, I do enjoy travelling now and then, and I certainly wouldn't do so without you.”
“I'm sorry, my Lord,” Topaz said miserably.
“You haven't done anything wrong. It isn't your fault.”
“But I'm making more work for you, my Lord. And maybe stopping you from going somewhere warm where your leg will bother you less.”
“It's worth it. We'll get it sorted out. Meanwhile, we can think about where we'd like to go. Maybe a cruise. Or a resort somewhere.” He flipped through the brochures. “Eat, please, don't just stare at it. Here, how does that place look?”
Obediently, Jax took the brochure and picked up half his sandwich with his other hand. The food tasted dry and he almost choked, and the glossy brightly-coloured picture of people around a pool felt superficial and meaningless—but having disappointed his Lord once already, he threw everything he had into not doing it again right now.
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