Get up, Juliette. Get up. If you don’t, they’ll shoot Adam.
I heave myself up to my knees and fall back on the wall behind me, stumbling forward to catch my balance. Lifting my hands is more torture than I knew I could endure. My organs are dead, my bones are cracked, my skin is a sieve, punctured by pins and needles of pain. They’ve finally come to kill me.
That’s why they put Adam in my cell.
Because I’m leaving. Adam is here because I’m leaving, because they forgot to kill me on time, because my moments are over, because my 17 years were too many for this world. They’re going to kill me.
I always wondered how it would happen. I wonder if this will make my parents happy.
Someone is laughing. “Well aren’t you a little shit?”
I don’t even know if they’re talking to me. I can hardly focus on keeping my arms upright.
“She’s not even crying,” someone adds. “The girls are usually begging for mercy by now.”
The walls are beginning to bleed into the ceiling. I wonder how long I can hold my breath. I can’t distinguish words I can’t understand the sounds I’m hearing the blood is rushing through my head and my lips are 2 blocks of concrete I can’t crack open. There’s a gun in my back and I’m tripping forward. The floors are falling up. My feet are dragging in a direction I can’t decipher.
I hope they kill me soon.
It takes me 2 days to open my eyes.
There’s a tin of water and a tin of food set off to the side and I inhale the cold contents with trembling hands, a dull ache creaking through my bones, a desperate drought suffocating my throat. Nothing seems to be broken, but one glance under my shirt proves the pain was real. The bruises are discolored blossoms of blue and yellow, torture to touch and slow to heal.
Adam is nowhere.
I am alone in a block of solitude, 4 walls no more than 10 feet in every direction, the only air creeping in through a small slot in the door. I’ve just begun to terrorize myself with my imagination when the heavy metal door slams open. A guard with 2 rifles strung across his chest looks me up and down.
This time I don’t hesitate.
I hope Adam, at least, is safe. I hope he doesn’t come to the same end I do.
“Follow me.” The guard’s voice is thick and deep, his gray eyes unreadable. He looks about 25 years old, blond hair cropped close to the crown, shirtsleeves rolled up to his shoulders, military tattoos snaking up his forearms just like Adam’s.
Adam steps into the doorway beside the blond and gestures with his weapon toward a narrow hallway. “Move.”
Adam is pointing a gun at my chest.
Adam is pointing a gun at my chest.
Adam is pointing a gun at my chest.
His eyes are foreign to me, glassy and distant, far, far away.
I am nothing but novocaine. I am numb, a world of nothing, all feeling and emotion gone forever.
I am a whisper that never was.
Adam is a soldier. Adam wants me to die.
I stare at him openly now, every sensation amputated, my pain a distant scream disconnected from my body. My feet move forward of their own accord; my lips remain shut because there will never be words for this moment.
Death would be a welcome release from these earthly joys I’ve known.
I don’t know how long I’ve been walking before another blow to my back cripples me. I blink against the brightness of light I haven’t seen in so long. My eyes begin to tear and I’m squinting against the fluorescent bulbs illuminating the large space. I can hardly see anything.
“Juliette Ferrars.” A voice detonates my name. There’s a heavy boot pressed into my back and I can’t lift my head to distinguish who’s speaking to me. “Weston, dim the lights and release her. I want to see her face.” The command is cool and strong like steel, dangerously calm, effortlessly powerful.
The brightness is reduced to a level I’m able to tolerate. The imprint of a boot is carved into my back but no longer settled on my skin. I lift my head and look up.
I’m immediately struck by his youth. He can’t be much older than me.
It’s obvious he’s in charge of something, though I have no idea what. His skin is flawless, unblemished, his jawline sharp and strong. His eyes are the palest shade of emerald I’ve ever seen.
His crooked smile is calculated evil.
He’s sitting on what he imagines to be a throne but is nothing more than a chair at the front of an empty room. His suit is perfectly pressed, his blond hair expertly combed, his soldiers the ideal bodyguards.
I hate him.
“You’re so stubborn.” His green eyes are almost translucent. “You never want to cooperate. You wouldn’t even play nice with your cellmate.”
I flinch without intending to. The burn of betrayal blushes up my neck.
Green Eyes looks unexpectedly amused and I’m suddenly mortified. “Well isn’t that interesting.” He snaps his fingers. “Kent, would you step forward, please.”
My heart stops beating when Adam comes into view. Kent. His name is Adam Kent.
I am aflame from head to toe. Adam flanks Green Eyes in an instant, but only offers a curt nod of his head as a salute. Perhaps the leader isn’t nearly as important as he thinks.
“Sir,” he says.
So many thoughts are tangling in my head I can’t untie the insanity knotting itself together. I should’ve known. I’d heard rumors of soldiers living among the public in secret, reporting to the authorities if things seemed suspicious. Every day people disappeared. No one ever came back.
Though I still can’t understand why Adam was sent to spy on me.
“It seems you made quite an impression on her.”
I squint closer at the man in the chair only to realize his suit has been adorned with tiny colored patches. Military mementos. His last name is etched into the lapel: Warner.
Adam says nothing. He doesn’t look in my direction. His body is erect, 6 feet of gorgeous lean muscle, his profile strong and steady. The same arms that held my body are now holsters for lethal weapons.
“You have nothing to say about that?” Warner glances at Adam only to tilt his head in my direction, his eyes dancing in the light, clearly entertained.
Adam clenches his jaw. “Sir.”
“Of course.” Warner is suddenly bored. “Why should I expect you to have something to say?”
“Are you going to kill me?” The words escape my lips before I have a chance to think them through and someone’s gun slams into my spine all over again. I fall to the floor with a broken whimper, wheezing into the filthy floor.
“That wasn’t necessary, Roland.” Warner’s voice is saturated with mock disappointment. “I suppose I’d be wondering the same thing if I were in her position.” A pause. “Juliette?”
I manage to lift my head.
“I have a proposition for you.”
I’m not sure I’m hearing him correctly.
“You have something I want.” Warner is still staring at me.
“I don’t understand,” I tell him.
He takes a deep breath and stands up to pace the length of the room. Adam has not yet been dismissed. “You are kind of a pet project of mine.” Warner smiles to himself. “I’ve studied your records for a very long time.”
I can’t handle his pompous, self-satisfied strut. I want to break the grin off his face.
Warner stops walking. “I want you on my team.”
“What?” A broken whisper of surprise.
“We’re in the middle of a war,” he says a little impatiently. “Maybe you can put the pieces together.”
“I know your secret, Juliette. I know why you’re in here. Your entire life is documented in hospital records, complaints to authorities, messy lawsuits, public demands to have you locked up.” His pause gives me enough time to choke on the horror caught in my throat. “I’d been considering it for a long time, but I wanted to make sure you weren’t actually psychotic. Isolation wasn’t exactly a good indicator, though you did fend for yourself quite well.” He offers me a smile that says I should be grateful for his praise. “I sent Adam to stay with you as a final precaution. I wanted to make sure you weren’t volatile, that you were capable of basic human interaction and communication. I must say I’m quite pleased with the results.”
Someone is ripping my skin off.
“Adam, it seems, played his part a little too excellently. He is a fine soldier. One of the best, in fact.” Warner spares him a glance before smiling at me. “But don’t worry, he doesn’t know what you’re capable of. Not yet, anyway.”
I claw at the panic, I swallow the agony, I beg myself not to look in his direction but I fail I fail I fail. Adam meets my eyes in the same split second I meet his but he looks away so quickly I’m not sure if I imagined it.
I am a monster.
“I’m not as cruel as you think,” Warner continues, a musical lilt in his voice. “If you’re so fond of his company I can make this”—he gestures between myself and Adam—“a permanent assignment.”
“No,” I breathe.
Warner curves his lips into a careless grin. “Oh yes. But be careful, pretty girl. If you do something . . . bad . . . he’ll have to shoot you.”
There are wire cutters carving holes in my heart. Adam doesn’t react to anything Warner says.
He is doing a job.
I am a number, a mission, an easily replaceable object; I am not even a memory in his mind.
I am nothing.
I didn’t expect his betrayal to bury me so deep.
“If you accept my offer,” Warner interrupts my thoughts, “you will live like I do. You will be one of us, and not one of them. Your life will change forever.”
“And if I do not accept?” I ask, catching my voice before it cracks in fear.
Warner looks genuinely disappointed. His hands are clasped together in dismay. “You don’t really have a choice. If you stand by my side you will be rewarded.” He presses his lips together. “But if you choose to disobey? Well . . . I think you look rather lovely with all your body parts intact, don’t you?”
I’m breathing so hard my frame is shaking. “You want me to torture people for you?”
His face breaks into a brilliant smile. “That would be wonderful.”
The world is bleeding.
I don’t have time to form a response before he turns to Adam. “Show her what she’s missing, would you?”
Adam answers a beat too late. “Sir?”
“That is an order, soldier.” Warner’s eyes are trained on me, his lips twitching with suppressed amusement. “I’d like to break this one. She’s a little too feisty for her own good.”
“You can’t touch me,” I spit through clenched teeth.
“Wrong,” he singsongs. He tosses Adam a pair of black gloves. “You’re going to need these,” he says with a conspiratorial whisper.