She grows up in a city.
They live high above the sweat and dirt and horror that haunts most of it, in the heart of the old, proud seat of empire. She is accustomed to looking out of tall windows at soaring spires and swirling domes, their fairground gaiety at odds with the blocky, bland pragmatism of the modern buildings below. She gazes at the bright temples and palaces for hours sometimes, intensely, as if she could couple her concentration to their sleeping grandeur and bring a lost world to life; and in her mind’s eye she does see the pennants and pageants that they once hosted, the great romances and golden ages and armies marching home in triumph. All her life she will love architecture that curves and sweeps and does more than merely contain.
Her father rarely looks out of the windows. His enchantment is reserved only for her, and she sometimes wishes she could interest him elsewhere, become less the laser-sharp focus of all his days. But she is his light and his life, he tells her, his greatest achievement and the only one which will matter in the end. Outside is only grief and despair and the slow degradation of all else he has treasured. He seems not to share her ability to unhear the moans of the afflicted and wails of the bereaved, to unsee the smoke that rises from a thousand thousand cremations. He worries endlessly about the emptiness of the world in which she will one day have to make her way, about how she will cope and whether she can be happy. To be the only precious child of a rich and powerful man guarantees little in this latter, desolate age.
She knows that he is among those battling against the plague, and that though they may have the answer now to the disease’s vicious question, victory is still far from certain. They have lost so much ground. So few remain to fight. He is one of the rare ones able to protect his own, and he has bequeathed the armour of immunity to her.
It is not his only gift.
Binary (UK trade paperback), pp35-36
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Binary involves not only the multiple points-of-view structure that I used in Gemsigns, but is punctuated by a series of flashbacks. They take the reader into several of the characters’ pasts, creating a parallel narrative with the events which occur in the story’s present.
This is one of those flashbacks.