Adam makes a sound. A stunned sound of disbelief.
“Okay, I have to be honest— I don’t get it,” Ian says. He steals a wary glance at Nazeera before he says, “Nazeera said Anderson has been wiping their memories. If that’s true, then how could Warner be in love with her for so long? Why would Anderson wipe their memories, tell them all about how they know each other, and then wipe their memories again?”
Delalieu is shaking his head. A strange smile begins to form on his face, the kind of shaky, terrified smile that isn’t a smile at all. “No. No. You don’t—” He sighs, looks away. “Paris has never told either of them about their shared history. The reason he had to keep wiping their memories was because it didn’t matter how many times he reset the story or remade the introductions— Aaron always fell in love with her. Every time.
“In the beginning Paris thought it was a fluke. He found it almost funny. Entertaining. But the more it happened, the more it began to drive Paris insane. He thought there was something wrong with Aaron—that there was something wrong with him on a genetic level, that he’d been plagued by a sickness. He wanted to crush what he saw as a weakness.”
“Wait,” Adam says, holding up his hands. “What do you mean, the more it happened? How many times did it happen?”
“At least several times.”
Adam looks shell-shocked. “They met and fell in love several times?”
Delalieu takes a shaky breath. “I don’t know that they always fell in love, exactly. Paris seldom let them spend that much time alone. But they were always drawn together. It was obvious, every time he put them in the same room, they were like”—Delalieu claps his hands—“magnets.”
Delalieu shakes his head at Adam.
“I’m sorry to be the one to tell you all this. I’m sure it’s painful to hear, especially considering your history with Ella. It’s not fair that you were pulled into Paris’s games. He never should’ve p—”
“Whoa, whoa— Wait. What games?” Adam says, stunned. “What are you talking about?”
Delalieu runs a hand across his sweaty forehead. He looks like he’s melting, crumbling under pressure. Maybe someone should get him some water.
“There’s too much,” he says wearily. “Too much to tell. Too much to explain.” He shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I—”
“I need you to try,” Adam says, his eyes flashing. “Are you saying our relationship was fake? That everything she said—everything she felt was fake?”
“No,” Delalieu says quickly, even as he uses his shirtsleeve to wipe the sweat from his face. “No. As far as I’m aware, her feelings for you were as real as anything else. You came into her life at a particularly difficult time, and your kindness and affection no doubt meant a great deal to her.” He sighs. “I only mean that it wasn’t coincidence that both of Paris’s boys fell in love with the same girl. Paris liked toying with things. He liked cutting things open to study them. He liked experiments. And Paris pit you and Warner against each other on purpose.
“He planted the soldier at your lunch table who let slip that Warner was monitoring a girl with a lethal touch. He sent another to speak with you, to ask you about your history with her, to appeal to your protective nature by discussing Aaron’s plans for her— Do you remember? You were persuaded, from every angle, to apply for the position. When you did, Paris pulled your application from the pile and encouraged Aaron to interview you. He then made it clear that you should be chosen as her cellmate. He let Aaron think he was making all his own decisions as CCR of Sector 45—but Paris was always there, manipulating everything. I watched it happen.”
Adam looks so stunned it takes him a moment to speak. “So . . . he knew? My dad always knew about me? Knew where I was—what I was doing?”
“Knew?” Delalieu frowns. “Paris orchestrated your lives. That was the plan, from the beginning.” He looks at Nazeera. “All the children of the supreme commanders were to become case studies. You were engineered to be soldiers. You and James,” he says to Adam, “were unexpected, but he made plans for you, too.”
“What?” Adam goes white. “What’s his plan for me and James?”
“This, I honestly don’t know.”
Adam sits back in his chair, looking suddenly ill.
“Where is Ella now?” Winston says sharply. “Do you know where they’re keeping her?”
Delalieu shakes his head. “All I know is that she can’t be dead.”
“What do you mean she can’t be dead?” I ask. “Why not?”
“Ella’s and Emmaline’s powers are critical to the regime,” he says. “Critical to the continuation of everything we’ve been working toward. The Reestablishment was built with the promise of Ella and Emmaline. Without them, Operation Synthesis means nothing.”
Castle bolts upright. His eyes are wide. “Operation Synthesis,” he says breathlessly, “has to do with Ella?”
“The Architect and the Executioner,” Delalieu says. “It—”
Delalieu falls back with a small, surprised gasp, his head hitting the back of his chair. Everything, suddenly, seems to slow down.
I feel my heart rate slow. I feel the world slow. I feel formed from water, watching the scene unfold in slow motion, frame by frame.
A bullet between his eyes.
Blood trickling down his forehead.
A short, sharp scream.
“You traitorous son of a bitch,” someone says.
I’m seeing it, but I don’t believe it.
Anderson is here.
I’m given no explanations.
My father doesn’t invite me to dinner, like Evie promised. He doesn’t sit me down to offer me long histories about my presence or his; he doesn’t reveal groundbreaking information about my life or the other supreme commanders or even the nearly six hundred people I just murdered. He and Evie are acting like the horrors of the last seventeen years never happened. Like nothing strange has ever happened, like I never stopped being their daughter—not in the ways that matter, anyway.
I don’t know what was in that needle, but the effects are unlike anything I’ve experienced. I feel both awake and asleep, like I’m spinning in place, like there’s too much grease turning the wheels in my brain and I try to speak and realize my lips no longer move on command. My father carries my limp body into a blindingly silver room, props me up in a chair, straps me down, and panic pours into me, hot and terrifying, flooding my mind. I try to scream. Fail. My brain is slowly disconnecting from my body, like I’m being removed from myself. Only basic, instinctual functions seem to work. Swallowing. Breathing.
Tears fall quietly down my face and my father whistles a tune, his movements light and easy even as he sets up an IV drip. He moves with such startling efficiency I don’t even realize he’s removed my manacles until I see the scalpel.
A flash of silver.
The blade is so sharp he meets no resistance as he slices clean lines into my forearms and blood, blood, heavy and warm, spills down my wrists and into my open palms and it doesn’t seem real, not even when he stabs several electrical wires into my exposed flesh.