“I don’t want to hear you speak,” I say. “I don’t want you to talk to me ever again.”
I throw the knife even before the words have left my mouth. It flies hard and fast, and I enjoy the second it soars through the air. I enjoy the way the second expands, exploding in the strangeness of time. It all feels like slow motion. My father’s eyes widen in a rare display of unmasked shock, and I smile at the sound of his gasp when the weapon finds its mark. I was aiming for his jugular, and it looks like my aim was true. He chokes, his eyes bulging as his hands move, shakily, to yank the letter opener from its home in his neck.
He coughs, suddenly, blood spattering everywhere, and with some effort, he’s able to pull the thing free. Fresh blood gushes down his shirt, seeps from his mouth. He can’t speak; the blade has penetrated his larynx. Instead, he gasps, still choking, his mouth opening and closing like a dying fish.
He falls to his knees.
His hands grasp at air, his veins jumping under his skin, and I step toward him. I watch him as he begs, silently, for something, and then I pat him down, pocketing the two guns I find concealed on his person.
“Enjoy hell,” I whisper, before walking away.
Nothing matters anymore.
I have to find her.
The commands keep my feet moving safely down the hall. This compound is vast. Enormous. My bedroom was so ordinary that the truth of this facility is jarring. An open framework reveals many dozens of floors, hallways and staircases intertwining like overpasses and freeways. The ceiling seems miles away, high and arched and intricate. Exposed steel beams meet clean white walkways centered around an open, interior courtyard. I had no idea I was so high up. And, somehow, for such a huge building, I haven’t yet been spotted.
Things are growing more eerie by the minute.
I encounter no one as I go; I’m ordered to run, detour, or hide just in time to avoid passersby. It’s uncanny. Still, I’ve been walking for at least twenty minutes, and I don’t seem to be getting closer to anything. I have no idea where I am in the scheme of things, and there are no windows nearby. The whole facility feels like a gilded prison.
A long stretch of silence between myself and my imaginary friend starts making me nervous. I think this voice might be Emmaline’s, but she still hasn’t confirmed it. And though I want to say something, I feel silly speaking out loud. So I speak only inside my mind when I say:
Emmaline? Are you there?
My nervousness reaches its peak and I stop walking.
Where are you taking me?
This time, the answer comes quickly:
Are we getting closer? I ask.
I take a deep breath and forge ahead, but I feel a creeping dread infiltrate my senses. The longer I walk—down hallways and infinite staircases—the closer I seem to be getting to something—something that fills me with fear. I can’t explain it.
It’s clear I’m going underground.
The lights are growing dimmer as I go. The halls are beginning to narrow. The windows and staircases are beginning to disappear. And I know I’m only getting closer to the bowels of the building when the walls change. Gone are the smooth, finished white walls of the upper floors. Here, everything is unfinished cement. It smells cold and wet. Earthy. The lights buzz and hum, occasionally snapping.
Fear continues to pulse up my spine.
I shuffle down a slight slope, my shoes slipping a little as I go. My lungs squeeze. My heartbeat feels loud, too loud, and a strange sensation begins to fill my arms and legs. Feeling. Too much feeling. It makes my skin crawl, makes my bones itch. I feel suddenly restless and anxious. And just as I’m about to lose hope in this crazy, meandering escape route—
I’m standing in front of a massive stone door. My heart is racing in my throat. I hesitate, fear beginning to fissure my certainty.
“Who are you?” I ask again, this time speaking out loud. “This doesn’t look like an escape route.”
I squeeze my eyes shut; fill my lungs with air.
I came all this way, I tell myself. I have no other options at the moment. I may as well see it through.
But when I open the door I realize it’s only the first of several. Wherever I’m headed is protected by multiple layers of security. The mechanisms required to open each door are baffling—there are no knobs or handles, no traditional hinges—but all I have to do is touch the door for it to swing open.
It’s too easy.
Finally, I’m standing in front of a steel wall. There’s nothing here to indicate there might be a room beyond.
Tentatively, I touch my fingers to the metal.
I press my whole hand firmly against the door, and within seconds, the wall melts away. I look around nervously and step forward.
Immediately, I know I’ve been led astray.
I feel sick as I look around, sick and terrified. This place is so far from an escape I almost can’t believe I fell for it. I’m in a laboratory.
Panic collapses something inside me, bones and organs knocking together, blood rushing to my head. I run for the door and it seals shut, the steel wall forming easily, as if from air.
I pull in a few sharp breaths, begging myself to stay calm.
“Show yourself,” I shout. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”
My heart shudders to a stop. I feel my fear expand and contract.
Goosebumps rise along my skin. My breath catches; my fists clench. I take a step farther into the room, and then a few more. I’m still wary, worried this is all yet another part of the trick—
Then I see it.
A glass cylinder as tall and wide as the wall, filled to the hilt with water. There’s a creature floating inside of it. Something greater than fear is driving me forward, greater than curiosity, greater than wonder.
Feeling washes over me.
Memories crash into me.
A spindly arm reaches through the murky water, shaky fingers forming a loose fist that pounds, weakly, against the glass.
At first, all I see is her hand.
But the closer I get, the more clearly I’m able to see what they’ve done to her. And I can’t hide my horror.
She inches closer to the glass and I catch sight of her face. She no longer has a face, not really. Her mouth has been permanently sealed around a regulator, skin spiderwebbing over silicone. Her hair is a couple feet long, dark and wild and floating around her head like wispy tentacles. Her nose has melted backward into her skull and her eyes are permanently closed, long dark lashes the only indication they ever used to open. Her hands and feet are webbed. She has no fingernails. Her arms and legs are mostly bone and sagging, wrinkled skin.
“Emmaline,” I whisper.
The tears come hot and fast, hitting me without warning, breaking me from within.
“What did they do to you?” I say, my voice ragged. “How could they do this to you?”
A dull, metallic sound. Twice.
Emmaline is floating closer. She presses her webbed fingers against the barrier between us and I reach up, hastily wiping my eyes before I meet her there. I press my palm to the glass and somehow, impossibly, I feel her take my hand. Soft. Warm. Strong.
And then, with a gasp—
Feeling pulses through me, wave after wave of feeling, emotions as infinite as time. Memories, desires, long-extinguished hopes and dreams. The force of everything sends my head spinning; I slump forward and grit my teeth, steadying myself by pressing my forehead against the barrier between us. Images fill my mind like stilted frames from an old movie.
She wants me to know. I feel like I’m being pulled into her, like she’s reeling me into her own body, immersing me in her mind. Her memories.
I see her younger, much younger, eight or nine years old. She was spirited, furious. Difficult to control. Her mind was stronger than she could handle and she didn’t know how to feel about her powers. She felt cursed, strangled by them. But unlike me, she was kept at home, here, in this exact laboratory, forced to undergo test after test administered by her own parents. I feel her rage pierce through me.
For the first time, I realize I had the luxury of forgetting.
Max and Evie—and even Anderson—tried to wipe Emmaline’s memory multiple times, but each time, Emmaline’s body prevailed. Her mind was so strong that she was able to convince her brain to reverse the chemistry meant to dissolve her memories. No matter what Max and Evie tried, Emmaline could never forget them.
Instead, she watched as her own parents turned on her.
Turned her inside out.
Emmaline is telling me everything without saying a word. She can’t speak. She’s lost four of her five senses.
She went blind first.
She lost her sense of smell and sensation a year later, both at the same time. Finally, she lost the ability to speak. Her tongue and teeth disintegrated. Her vocal cords eroded. Her mouth sealed permanently shut.
She can only hear now. But poorly.
I see the scenes change, see her grow a little older, a little more broken. I see the fire go out of her eyes. And then, when she realizes what they have planned for her— The entire reason they wanted her, so desperately—