“Where am I?” I ask. “What’s happening?”
His answer comes automatically. “You are in Sector 45 headquarters. You’re here to have a meeting with the chief commander and regent of Sector 45.” He doesn’t look at me when he speaks, but there’s nothing in his tone that feels threatening. So I ask another question.
The elevator doors ping as they open. Delalieu finally turns to look at me. “You’ll find out in just a moment.”
I follow Delalieu down a hall and wait, quietly, outside a door while he knocks. He peeks his head inside when the door opens, announces his presence, and then motions for me to follow him in.
When I do, I’m surprised.
There’s a beautiful man in military uniform—I’m assuming he’s the commander—standing in front of a large, wooden desk, his arms crossed against his chest. He’s staring me straight in the eye, and I’m suddenly so overwhelmed I feel myself blush.
I’ve never seen anyone so handsome before.
I look down, embarrassed, and study the laces of my tennis shoes. I’m grateful for my long hair. It serves as a dark, heavy curtain, shielding my face from view.
“Look at me.”
The command is sharp and clear. I look up, nervously, to meet his eyes. He has thick, dark brown hair. Eyes like a storm. He looks at me for so long I feel goose bumps rise along my skin. He won’t look away, and I feel more terrified by the moment. This man’s eyes are full of anger. Darkness. There’s something genuinely frightening about him, and my heart begins to hammer.
“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—”