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?”
Evie looks suddenly exhausted. She pinches the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger.
“Darling,” she says, but she isn’t looking at me, she’s looking at my father. “Will you handle this, please? I have a terrible headache and several urgent phone calls to return.”
“Of course, my love.” And he pulls a syringe from his pocket and stabs it, swiftly, into my neck.
The common room is really growing on me.
I used to walk by, all the time, and wonder why Warner ever thought we’d need a common room this big. There’s tons of seating and a lot of room to spread out, but I always thought it was a waste of space. I secretly wished Warner had used the square footage for our bedrooms.
Now I get it.
When Nazeera and I walk in, ten minutes late to the impromptu pizza party, everyone is here. Brendan is here. He’s sitting in a corner being fussed over by Castle and Alia, and I nearly tackle him. I don’t, of course, because it’s obvious he’s still in recovery, but I’m relieved to find that he looks okay. Mostly he looks wrung-out, but he’s not wearing a sling or anything, so I’m guessing the girls didn’t run into any problems when they were patching him up. That’s a great sign.
I spot Winston walking across the room and I catch up to him, clap him on the back. “Hey,” I say, when he turns around. “You okay?”
He’s balancing a couple of paper plates, both of which are already sagging under the weight of too much pizza, and he smiles with his whole face when he says, “I hate today. Today is a garbage fire. I hate everything about today except for the fact that Brendan is okay and we have pizza. Other than that, today can go straight to hell.”
“Yeah. I feel that so much.” And then, after a pause, I say quietly: “So I’m guessing you never had that conversation with Brendan, huh?”
Winston goes suddenly pink. “I said I was waiting for the right time. Does this seem like the right time to you?”
“Good point.” I sigh. “I guess I was just hoping you had some good news. We could all use some good news right now.”
Winston shoots me a sympathetic look. “No word on Juliette?”
I shake my head. Feel suddenly sick. “Has anyone told you her real name is Ella?”
“I heard,” Winston says, raising his eyebrows. “That whole story is batshit.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Today is the worst.”
“Fuck today,” Winston says.
“Don’t forget about tomorrow,” I say. “Tomorrow’s going to suck, too.”
“What? Why?” The paper plates in Winston’s hands are going translucent from pizza grease. “What’s happening tomorrow?”
“Last I heard we were jumping ship,” I say. “Running for our lives. I’m assuming it’s going to suck.”
“Shit.” Winston nearly drops his plates. “Seriously? Brendan needs more time to rest.” Then, after a beat: “Where are we going to go?”
“The other side of the continent, apparently,” Ian says as he walks over.
He hands me a plate of pizza. I murmur a quick thanks and stare at the pizza, wondering whether I’d be able to shove the whole thing in my mouth at once. Probably not.
“Do you know something we don’t?” Winston says to Ian, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. Winston tries, unsuccessfully, to shove them back up with his forearm, and Ian steps up to do it for him.
“I know a lot of things you don’t know,” Ian says. “The first of which is that Kenji was definitely hooking up with Nazeera, like, five seconds ago.”