Delalieu runs a hand across his sweaty forehead. He looks like he’s melting, crumbling under pressure. Maybe someone should get him some water.
“There’s too much,” he says wearily. “Too much to tell. Too much to explain.” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I—”
“I need you to try,” Adam says, his eyes flashing. “Are you saying our relationship was fake? That everything she said—everything she felt was fake?”
“No,” Delalieu says quickly, even as he uses his shirtsleeve to wipe the sweat from his face. “No. As far as I’m aware, her feelings for you were as real as anything else. You came into her life at a particularly difficult time, and your kindness and affection no doubt meant a great deal to her.” He sighs. “I only mean that it wasn’t coincidence that both of Paris’s boys fell in love with the same girl. Paris liked toying with things. He liked cutting things open to study them. He liked experiments. And Paris pit you and Warner against each other on purpose.
“He planted the soldier at your lunch table who let slip that Warner was monitoring a girl with a lethal touch. He sent another to speak with you, to ask you about your history with her, to appeal to your protective nature by discussing Aaron’s plans for her— Do you remember? You were persuaded, from every angle, to apply for the position. When you did, Paris pulled your application from the pile and encouraged Aaron to interview you. He then made it clear that you should be chosen as her cellmate. He let Aaron think he was making all his own decisions as CCR of Sector 45—but Paris was always there, manipulating everything. I watched it happen.”
Adam looks so stunned it takes him a moment to speak. “So . . . he knew? My dad always knew about me? Knew where I was—what I was doing?”
“Knew?” Delalieu frowns. “Paris orchestrated your lives. That was the plan, from the beginning.” He looks at Nazeera. “All the children of the supreme commanders were to become case studies. You were engineered to be soldiers. You and James,” he says to Adam, “were unexpected, but he made plans for you, too.”
“What?” Adam goes white. “What’s his plan for me and James?”
“This, I honestly don’t know.”
Adam sits back in his chair, looking suddenly ill.
“Where is Ella now?” Winston says sharply. “Do you know where they’re keeping her?”
Delalieu shakes his head. “All I know is that she can’t be dead.”
“What do you mean she can’t be dead?” I ask. “Why not?”
“Ella’s and Emmaline’s powers are critical to the regime,” he says. “Critical to the continuation of everything we’ve been working toward. The Reestablishment was built with the promise of Ella and Emmaline. Without them, Operation Synthesis means nothing.”
Castle bolts upright. His eyes are wide. “Operation Synthesis,” he says breathlessly, “has to do with Ella?”
“The Architect and the Executioner,” Delalieu says. “It—”
Delalieu falls back with a small, surprised gasp, his head hitting the back of his chair. Everything, suddenly, seems to slow down.
I feel my heart rate slow. I feel the world slow. I feel formed from water, watching the scene unfold in slow motion, frame by frame.
A bullet between his eyes.
Blood trickling down his forehead.
A short, sharp scream.
“You traitorous son of a bitch,” someone says.
I’m seeing it, but I don’t believe it.
Anderson is here.
I’m given no explanations.
My father doesn’t invite me to dinner, like Evie promised. He doesn’t sit me down to offer me long histories about my presence or his; he doesn’t reveal groundbreaking information about my life or the other supreme commanders or even the nearly six hundred people I just murdered. He and Evie are acting like the horrors of the last seventeen years never happened. Like nothing strange has ever happened, like I never stopped being their daughter—not in the ways that matter, anyway.
I don’t know what was in that needle, but the effects are unlike anything I’ve experienced. I feel both awake and asleep, like I’m spinning in place, like there’s too much grease turning the wheels in my brain and I try to speak and realize my lips no longer move on command. My father carries my limp body into a blindingly silver room, props me up in a chair, straps me down, and panic pours into me, hot and terrifying, flooding my mind. I try to scream. Fail. My brain is slowly disconnecting from my body, like I’m being removed from myself. Only basic, instinctual functions seem to work. Swallowing. Breathing.
Tears fall quietly down my face and my father whistles a tune, his movements light and easy even as he sets up an IV drip. He moves with such startling efficiency I don’t even realize he’s removed my manacles until I see the scalpel.
A flash of silver.
The blade is so sharp he meets no resistance as he slices clean lines into my forearms and blood, blood, heavy and warm, spills down my wrists and into my open palms and it doesn’t seem real, not even when he stabs several electrical wires into my exposed flesh.
The pain arrives just seconds later.
It begins at my feet, blooms up my legs, unfurls in my stomach and works its way up my throat only to explode behind my eyes, inside my brain, and I cry out, but only in my mind, my useless hands still limp on the armrests, and I’m so certain he’s going to kill me—
but then he smiles.
And then he’s gone.
I lie in agony for what feels like hours.
I watch, through a delirious fog, as blood drips off my fingertips, each drop feeding the crimson pools growing in the folds of my pants. Visions assault me, memories of a girl I might’ve been, scenes with people I might’ve known. I want to believe they’re hallucinations, but I can’t be certain of anything anymore. I don’t know if Max and Evie are planting things in my mind. I don’t know that I can trust anything I might’ve once believed about myself.
I can’t stop thinking about Emmaline.
I’m adrift, suspended in a pool of senselessness, but something about her keeps tugging, sparking my nerves, errant currents pushing me to the surface of something—an emotional revelation—that trembles into existence only to evaporate, seconds later, as if it might be terrified to exist.
This goes on and on and on and on and on
whispers of clarity
g a s p s o f o x y g e n
and I’m tossed back out to sea.
Bright, white lights flicker above my head, buzzing in unison with the low, steady hum of engines and cooling units. Everything smells sharp, like antiseptic. Nausea makes my head swim. I squeeze my eyes shut, the only command my body will obey.
Me and Emmaline at the zoo
Me and Emmaline, first trip on a plane
Me and Emmaline, learning to swim
Me and Emmaline, getting our hair cut
Images of Emmaline fill my mind, moments from the first years of our lives, details of her face I never knew I could conjure. I don’t understand it. I don’t know where they’re coming from. I can only imagine that Evie put these images here, but why Evie would want me to see this, I don’t understand. Scenes play through my head like I might be flipping through a photo album, and they make me miss my sister. They make me remember Evie as my mother. Make me remember I had a family.
Maybe Evie wants me to reminisce.
My blood has hit the floor. I hear it, the familiar drip, the sound like a broken faucet, the slow
of tepid fluid on tile.
Emmaline and I held hands everywhere we went, often wearing matching outfits. We had the same long brown hair, but her eyes were pure blue, and she was a few inches taller than me. We were only a year apart, but she looked so much older. Even then, there was something in her eyes that looked hard. Serious. She held my hand like she was trying to protect me. Like maybe she knew more than I did.
Where are you? I wonder. What did they do to you?
I have no idea where I am. No idea what they’ve done to me. No idea of the hour or the day, and pain blisters everywhere. I feel like a live wire, like my nerves have been stapled to the outside of my body, sensitive to every minute change in environment. I exhale and it hurts. Twitch and it takes my breath away.
And then, in a flash of movement, my mother returns.
The door opens and the motion forces a gentle rush of air into the room, a whisper of a breeze, gentle even as it grazes my skin, and somehow the sensation is so unbearable I’m certain I’ll scream.
“Feeling better?” she says.
Evie is holding a silver box. I try to look more closely but the pain is in my eyes now. Searing.
“You must be wondering why you’re here,” she says softly. I hear her working on something, glass and metal touching together, coming apart, touching together, coming apart. “But you must be patient, little bird. You might not even get to stay.”
I close my eyes.
I feel her cold, slender fingers on my face just seconds before she yanks my eyelids back. Swiftly, she replaces her fingers with sharp, steel clamps, and I muster only a low, guttural sound of agony.