The effect is immediate. Focusing.
Carefully, I strip down to nothing. I soak my undershirt under the running water and use it to scrub my face, my neck, the rest of my body. I wash my hair. Rinse my mouth. Clean my teeth. And then I do what little I can for the rest of my clothes, washing them by hand and wringing them dry. I slip back into my underwear even though the cotton is still slightly damp, and I fight back a shiver in the darkness. Hungry and cold is at least better than drugged and delirious.
This is the end of my second week in confinement, and my third day this week without food. It feels good to have a clear head, even as my body slowly starves. I’d already been leaner than usual, but now the lines of my body feel unusually sharp, even to myself, all necessary softness gone from my limbs. It’s only a matter of time before my muscles atrophy and I do irreparable damage to my organs, but right now I have no choice. I need access to my mind.
And something about my sentencing feels off.
The more I think about it, the less sense it makes that Max and Evie would want me to suffer for what I did to Emmaline. They were the ones who donated their daughters to The Reestablishment in the first place. My work overseeing Emmaline was assigned to me—in fact, it was likely a job they’d approved. It would make more sense that I were here for treason. Max and Evie, like any other commanders, would want me to suffer for turning my back on The Reestablishment.
But even this theory feels wrong. Incongruous.
The punishment for treason has always been public execution. Quick. Efficient. I should be murdered, with only a little fanfare, in front of my own soldiers. But this—locking people up like this—slowly starving them while stripping them of their sanity and dignity—this is uncivilized. It’s what The Reestablishment does to others, not to its own.
It’s what they did to Ella. They tortured her. Ran tests on her. She wasn’t locked up to inspire penitence. She was in isolation because she was part of an ongoing experiment.
And I am in the unique position to know that such a prisoner requires constant maintenance.
I figured I’d be kept here for a few days—maybe a week—but locking me up for what seems to be an indeterminate amount of time—
This must be difficult for them.
For two weeks they’ve managed to remain just slightly ahead of me, a feat they accomplished by poisoning my food. In training I’d never needed more than a week to break my way out of high-security prisons, and they must’ve known this. By forcing me to choose between sustenance and clarity every day, they’ve given themselves an advantage.
Still, I’m unconcerned.
The longer I’m here, the more leverage I gain. If they know what I’m capable of, they must also know that this is unsustainable. They can’t use shock and poison to destabilize me indefinitely. I’ve now been here long enough to have taken stock of my surroundings, and I’ve been filing away information for nearly two weeks—the movements of the sun, the phases of the moon, the manufacturer of the locks, the sink, the unusual hinges on the door. I suspected, but now know for certain, that I’m in the southern hemisphere, not only because I know Max and Evie hail from Oceania, but because the northern constellations outside my window are upside down.
I must be on their base.
Logically, I know I must’ve been here a few times in my life, but the memories are dim. The night skies are clearer here than they were in Sector 45. The stars, brighter. The lack of light pollution means we are far from civilization, and the view out the window proves that we are surrounded, on all sides, by the wild landscape of this territory. There’s a massive, glittering lake not far in the distance, which—
Something jolts to life in my mind.
The memory from earlier, expanded:
She shrugs and throws a rock in the lake. It lands with a dull splash. “Well, we’ll just run away,” she says.
“We can’t run away,” I say. “Stop saying that.”
“We can, too.”
“There’s nowhere to go.”
“There are plenty of places to go.”
I shake my head. “You know what I mean. They’d find us wherever we went. They watch us all the time.”
“We can live in the lake,” she says simply.
“What?” I almost laugh. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m serious,” she says. “I heard my mum talking about how to make it so people can live underwater, and I’m going to ask her to tell me, and then we can live in the lake.”
I sigh. “We can’t live in the lake, Ella.”
“Why not?” She turns and looks at me, her eyes wide, startlingly bright. Blue green. Like the globe, I think. Like the whole world. “Why can’t we live in the lake? My mum says th—”
“Stop it, Ella. Stop—”
A cold sweat breaks out on my forehead. Goose bumps rise along my skin. Ella.
Ella Ella Ella
Over and over again.
Everything about the name is beginning to sound familiar. The movement of my tongue as I form the word, familiar. It’s as if the memory is in my muscle, as if my mouth has made this shape a thousand times.
I force myself to take a steadying breath.
I need to find her. I have to find her.
Here is what I know:
It takes just under thirty seconds for the footsteps to disappear down the hall, and they’re always the same—same stride, same cadence—which means there’s only one person attending to me. The paces are long and heavy, which means my attendant is tall, possibly male. Maybe Max himself, if they’ve deemed me a high-priority prisoner. Still, they’ve left me unshackled and unharmed—why?—and though I’ve been given neither bed nor blanket, I have access to water from the sink.
There’s no electricity in here; no outlets, no wires. But there must be cameras hidden somewhere, watching my every move. There are two drains: one in the sink, and one underneath the toilet. There’s one square foot of window—likely bulletproof glass, maybe eight to ten centimeters thick—and a single, small air vent in the floor. The vent has no visible screws, which means it must be bolted from inside, and the slats are too narrow for my fingers, the steel blades visibly welded in place. Still, it’s only an average level of security for a prison vent. A little more time and clarity, and I’ll find a way to remove the screen and repurpose the parts. Eventually, I’ll find a way to dismantle everything in this room. I’ll take apart the metal toilet, the flimsy metal sink. I’ll make my own tools and weapons and find a way to slowly, carefully disassemble the locks and hinges. Or perhaps I’ll damage the pipes and flood the room and its adjoining hallway, forcing someone to come to the door.
The sooner they send someone to my room, the better. If they’ve left me alone in my cell this long, it’s been for their own protection, not my suffering. I excel at hand-to-hand combat.
I know myself. I know my capacity to withstand complicated physical and mental torture. If I wanted to, I could give myself two—maybe three—weeks to forgo the poisoned meals and survive on water alone before I lost my mind or mobility. I know how resourceful I can be, given the opportunity, and this—this effort to contain me—must be exhausting. Great care went into selecting these sounds and meals and rituals and even this vigilant lack of communication.