The knock at the door turned Maya’s arm to stone.
She drew it to her side. The squeal of the marker bounced off the wall behind her, amplifying into a blaring alarm, piercing her ears. She stared at the last name she had written, the final letter smudged. Breath held, she tried to wipe it away with her handkerchief, but only made it worse. For several seconds, there was silence. She convinced herself that the knock had been her imagination, her paranoia eating at the edges of her nerves.
The second, more insistent knock helped her find her voice. “Just a second!”
She sprang into action, turning off the penlight and stowing it in her pocket, stepping out from behind the sketchboard and rolling it back into its place against the wall. At a glance through the peephole of her office door, she was treated to a fisheye view of Secretary Roche, hands on her hips. The limestone rang at the tap of her foot. Maya unlocked and opened the door, snapping into a crisp salute.
“Please, at ease Architect Moray.”
Maya let her arm fall once more to her side. “Afternoon, Secretary Roche. How goes the rat hunt?”
“That’s actually partially why I’m here; the lockdown is lifted. For now. We rooted out a few in the Consensus office, names of Livington and Stewart. Threw them in with the ones we found in the kitchen and the observatory. We have had a very busy week. Seems they’re into everything these days.” Roche narrowed her eyes, focused on a point over Maya’s shoulder.
Time slowed to a crawl. Maya’s face was immovable, but inside she was on fire.
What is she looking at? Did I leave something out of place? Did I really shove the board against the wall? Did I just think I did? Where’s my penlight? In my pocket. Where’s my marker? On the sketchboard, where it should be. Where’s my handkerchief? Also in my pocket. What is she looking at?
After three seconds of eternity, Secretary Roche spoke.
“Well, that takes care of that I suppose; the other reason I was here was for an update on the palace design, which seems to be coming along nicely.” She gestured over Maya’s shoulder to the sketchboard, adorned with the latest iteration of Maya’s current project. “I dare say His Majesty will be quite pleased with your progress!”
“Oh! Well, I’m glad to hear that! There’s still a few things I’d like to change here and there, you know, finishing touches and such, but yes, I’ve made great strides-”
Secretary Roche took Maya’s hand in both of hers, cutting her off. “Maya, please. You’re doing great work here; you have nothing to be nervous about!”
“Thank you, Secretary Roche. That means a lot.”
Roche smiled, crinkling at the corners of her mouth and around her eyes. “Of course. Good day, Architect Moray.”
Roche spun on her heel and made it several steps down the hall before Maya caught her breath. “Good day, Secretary Roche!”
She stepped back into her office, pulling the door closed behind her. She put her back against it and slid down to the floor. She allowed herself a short time to catch her breath, staring into the limestone, imagining herself anywhere else in the world.
Then she stood, resumed her post behind the sketchboard, and drew lines through two more names.