“You’re growing up quickly,” he says.
I stare at him, confused, but he’s still studying my face.
“Fourteen years old,” he says quietly. “Such a complicated age for a young girl.” Finally, he sighs. Looks away. “It always breaks my heart to break beautiful things.”
“I don’t— I don’t understand,” I say, feeling suddenly ill.
He looks up again. “You’re aware of what you did today?”
I freeze. Words pile up in my throat, die in my mouth.
“Yes or no?” he demands.
“Y-yes,” I say quickly. “Yes.”
“And do you know why you did it? Do you know how you did it?”
I shake my head, my eyes filling fast with tears. “It was an accident,” I whisper. “I didn’t know— I didn’t know that this—”
“Does anyone else know about your sickness?”
“No.” I stare at him, my eyes wide even as tears blur my vision. “I mean, n-not, not really—just my parents—but no one really understands what’s wrong with me. I don’t even understand—”
“You mean you didn’t plan this? It wasn’t your intention to murder the little boy?”
“No!” I cry out, and then clap both hands over my mouth. “No,” I say, quietly now. “I was trying to help him. He’d fallen to the floor and I— I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know.”
I’m still shaking my head, wiping away tears with shaking hands. “It was an accident. I swear, I didn’t mean to—I d-didn’t—”
“Sir.” It’s Delalieu. His voice.
I didn’t realize he was still in the room.
I sniff, hard, wiping quickly at my face, but my hands are still shaking. I try, again, to swallow back the tears. To pull myself together.
“Sir,” Delalieu says more firmly, “perhaps we should conduct this interview elsewhere.”
“I don’t see why that’s necessary.”
“I don’t mean to seem impertinent, sir, but I really feel that you might be better served conducting this interview privately.”
I dare to turn, to look up at him. And that’s when I notice the third person in the room.
My breath catches in my throat with an almost audible gasp. A single tear escapes down my cheek and I brush it away, even as I stare at him. I can’t help it—I can’t look away. He has the kind of face I’ve never seen in real life. He’s more handsome than the commander. More beautiful. Still, there’s something unnerving about him, something cold and alien about his face that makes him difficult to look at. He’s almost too perfect. He has a sharp jawline and sharp cheekbones and a sharp, straight nose. Everything about him reminds me of a blade. His face is pale. His eyes are a stunning, clear green, and he has rich, golden hair. And he’s staring at me, his eyes wide with an emotion I can’t decipher.
A throat clears.
The spell is broken.
Heat floods my face and I avert my eyes, mortified I didn’t look away sooner.
I hear the commander mutter angrily under his breath. “Unbelievable,” he says. “Always the same.”
I look up.
“Aaron,” he says sharply. “Get out.”
The boy—his name must be Aaron—startles. He stares at the commander for a second, and then glances at the door. But he doesn’t move.
“Delalieu, please escort my son from the room, as he seems presently unable to remember how to move his legs.”
Wow. That explains the face.
“Yes, sir, of course, sir.”
Aaron’s expression is impossible to read. I catch him looking at me, just once more, and when he finds me staring, he frowns. It’s not an unkind look.
Still, I turn away.
He and Delalieu move past me as they exit, and I pretend not to notice when I hear him whisper—
“Who is she?”
—as they walk away.
“Ella? Are you all right?”
I blink, slowly clearing the webbing of blackness obscuring my vision. Stars explode and fade behind my eyes and I try to stand, the carpet pressing popcorn impressions into my palms, metal digging into my flesh. I’m wearing manacles, glowing cuffs that emit a soft, blue light that leaches the life from my skin, makes my own hands seem sinister.
The woman at my door is staring at me. She smiles.
“Your father and I thought you might be hungry,” she says. “We made you dinner.”
I can’t move. My feet seem bolted in place, the pinks and purples of the walls and floors assaulting me from every corner. I’m standing in the middle of the bizarre museum of what was likely my childhood bedroom—staring at what might be my biological mother—and I feel like I might throw up. The lights are suddenly too bright, the voices too loud. Someone walks toward me and the movement feels exaggerated, the footsteps thudding hard and fast in my ears. My vision goes in and out and the walls seem to shake. The floor shifts, tilts backward.
I fall, hard, onto the floor.
For a minute, I hear nothing but my heartbeat. Loud, so loud, pressing in on me, assaulting me with a cacophony of sound so disturbing I double over, press my face into the carpet and scream.
I’m hysterical, my bones shaking in my skin, and the woman picks me up, reels me in, and I tear away, still screaming—
“Where is everyone?” I scream. “What’s happening to me?” I scream. “Where am I? Where’s Warner and Kenji and oh my God—oh my God—all those people—all those people I k-killed—”
Vomit inches up my throat, choking me, and I try and fail to suppress the images, the horrible, terrifying images of bodies cleaved open, blood snaking down ridges of poorly torn flesh and something pierces my mind, something sharp and blinding and suddenly I’m on my knees, heaving the meager contents of my stomach into a pink basket.
I can hardly breathe.
My lungs are overworked, my stomach still threatening to betray me, and I’m gasping, my hands shaking hard as I try to stand. I spin around, the room moving more quickly than I do, and I see only flashes of pink, flashes of purple.
Someone catches me again, this time new arms, and the man who calls me his daughter holds me like I’m his child and he says, “Honey, you don’t have to think about them anymore. You’re safe now.”
“Safe?” I rear back, eyes wild. “Who are you—?”
The woman takes my hand. Squeezes my fingers even as I wrench free from her grip. “I’m your mother,” she says. “And I’ve decided it’s time for you to come home.”
“What”—I grab two fistfuls of her shirt—“have you done with my friends?” I scream. And then I shake her, shake her so hard she actually looks scared for a second, and then I try to pick her up and throw her into the wall but remember, with a start, that my powers have been cut off, that I have to rely on mere anger and adrenaline and I turn around, suddenly furious, feeling more certain by the second that I’ve begun to hallucinate, hallucinate, when
she slaps me in the face.
I blink, stunned, but manage to stay upright.
“Ella Sommers,” she says sharply, “you will pull yourself together.” Her eyes flash as she appraises me. “What is this ridiculous, dramatic behavior? Worried about your friends? Those people are not your friends.”
My cheek burns and half my mouth feels numb but I say, “Yes, yes they’re my fr—”
She slaps me again.
My eyes close. Reopen. I feel suddenly dizzy.
“We are your parents,” she says in a harsh whisper. “Your father and I have brought you home. You should be grateful.”
I taste blood. I reach up, touch my lip. My fingers come away red. “Where’s Emmaline?” Blood is pooling in my mouth and I spit it out, onto the floor. “Have you kidnapped her, too? Does she know what you’ve done? That you donated us to The Reestablishment? Sold our bodies to the world?”
A third, swift slap.
I feel it ring in my skull.
“How dare you.” My mother’s face flushes crimson. “How dare you— You have no idea what we’ve built, all these years— The sacrifices we made for our future—”
“Now, Evie,” my dad says, and places a calming hand on her shoulder. “Everything is going to be okay. Ella just needs a little time to settle in, that’s all.” He glances at me. “Isn’t that right, Ella?”
It hits me then, in that moment. Everything. It hits me, all at once, with a frightening, destabilizing force—
I’ve been kidnapped by a pair of crazy people and I might never see my friends again. In fact, my friends might be dead. My parents might’ve killed them. All of them.
The realization is like suffocation.
Tears fill my throat, my mouth, my eyes—
“Where,” I say, my chest heaving, “is Warner? What did you do to him?”
Evie’s expression goes suddenly murderous. “You and that damn boy. If I have to hear his name one more time—”
“Where’s Warner?” I’m screaming again. “Where is he? Where’s Kenji? What did you do with them?”