Emmaline feels hope for the first time in years.
I clap my hands over my mouth. Take a step back.
Emmaline has no eyes, but I feel her staring at me. Watching me for a reaction. I feel unsteady, alert but overcome.
I finally understand.
Emmaline has been using her last gasp of strength to contact me—and not just me, but all the other children of the supreme commanders.
She shows me, inside my own mind, how she’s taken advantage of Max and Evie’s latest effort to expand her capabilities. She’d never been able to reach out to people individually before, but Max and Evie got greedy. In Emmaline they laid the foundation for their own demise.
Emmaline thinks we’re the last hope for the world. She wants us to stand up, fight, save humanity. She’s been slowly returning our minds to us, giving back what our parents once stole. She wants us to see the truth.
Help, she says.
“I will,” I whisper. “I promise I will. But first I’m going to get you out of here.”
Rage, hot and violent, sends me reeling. Emmaline’s anger is sharp and terrifying, and a resounding
fills my brain.
I go still. Confused.
“What do you mean?” I say. “I have to help you get out of here. We’ll escape together. I have friends—healers—who can restore y—”
And then, in a flash—
She fills my mind with an image so dark I think I might be sick.
“No,” I say, my voice shaking. “I won’t do it. I’m not going to kill you.”
Anger, hot, ferocious anger, attacks my mind. Image after image assaults me, her failed suicide attempts, her inability to turn her own powers against herself, the infinite fail-safes Max and Evie put in place to make sure Emmaline couldn’t take her own life, and that she couldn’t harm theirs—
“There has to be another way,” I say desperately. “This can’t be it. You don’t have to die. We can get through this together.”
She bangs her open palm against the glass. Tremors rock her emaciated body.
I step forward, press my hands to her prison. “It wasn’t supposed to end like this,” I say, the words broken. “There has to be another way. Please. I want my sister back. I want you to live.”
More anger, hot and wild, begins to bloom in my mind and then—
a spike of fear.
Emmaline goes rigid in her tank.
I look around, steeling myself. Adrenaline spikes in my veins.
Emmaline has wrapped her arms around her body, her face pinched in concentration. I can still feel her with an immediacy so intimate it feels almost like her thoughts are my own.
And then, unexpectedly—
My shackles pop open.
I spin around as they fall to the floor with a rich clatter. I rub at my aching wrists, my ankles. “How did you—?”
“Whatever happens today,” I whisper, “I’m coming back for you. This isn’t over. Do you hear me? Emmaline, I won’t let you die here.”
For the first time, Emmaline seems to relax.
Something warm and sweet fills my head, affection so unexpected it pricks my eyes.
I fight back the emotion.
Fear has fled my body. I feel unusually calm. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. There’s strength in my bones, strength in my mind. And now that the cuffs are off, my powers are back on and a familiar feeling is surging through me; it’s like being joined by an old friend.
I meet Evie’s eyes as she walks through the door.
She’s already pointing a gun at me. Not a gun—something that looks like a gun. I don’t know what’s in it.
“What are you doing here?” she says, her voice only slightly hysterical. “What have you done?”
I shake my head.
I can’t look at her face anymore without feeling blind rage. I can’t even think her name without feeling a violent, potent, animalistic need to murder her with my bare hands. Evie Sommers is the worst kind of human being. A traitor to humanity. An unadulterated sociopath.
“What have you done?” she says again, this time betraying her fear. Her panic. The gun trembles in her fist. Her eyes are wide, crazed, darting from me to Emmaline, still trapped in the tank behind me.
I see it. I see the moment she realizes I’m not wearing my manacles.
Evie goes pale.
“I haven’t done anything,” I say softly. “Not yet.”
Her gun falls, with a clatter, to the floor.
Unlike Paris, my mother isn’t stupid. She knows there’s no point trying to shoot me. She created me. She knows what I’m capable of. And she knows—I can see it in her eyes—she knows I’m about to kill her, and she knows there’s nothing she can do to stop it.
Still, she tries.
“Ella,” she says, her voice unsteady. “Everything we did—everything we’ve ever done—was to try to help you. We were trying to save the world. You have to understand.”
I take a step forward. “I do understand.”
“I just wanted to make the world a better place,” she says. “Don’t you want to make the world a better place?”
“Yes,” I say. “I do.”
She almost smiles. A small, broken breath escapes her body.
I take two swift, running steps and punch her through the chest, ribs breaking under my knuckles. Her eyes widen and she chokes, staring at me in stunned, paralyzed silence. She coughs and blood spatters, hot and thick, across my face. I turn away, spitting her blood out of my mouth, and by the time I look back, she’s dead.
With one last tug, I rip her heart out of her body.
Evie falls to the floor with a heavy thud, her eyes cold and glassy. I’m still holding my mother’s heart, watching it die in my hands, when a familiar voice calls out to me.
I realize, upon quitting the crime scene, that I have no idea where I am. I stand in the middle of the hallway outside the room within which I just murdered my father, and try to figure out my next moves. I’m nearly naked. No socks. Completely barefoot. Far from ideal.
Still, I need to keep moving.
I don’t make it five feet before I feel the familiar pinch of a needle. I feel it—even as I try to fight it—I feel it as a foreign chemical enters my body. It’s only a matter of time before it pulls me under.
My vision blurs.
I try to beat it, try to remain standing, but my body is weak. After two weeks of near starvation, constant poisoning, and violent exhaustion, I’ve run out of reserves. The last dregs of my adrenaline have left me.
This is it.
I fall to the floor, and the memories consume me.
I gasp as I’m returned to consciousness, taking in great lungfuls of air as I sit up too fast, my head spinning.
There are wires taped to my temples, my limbs, the plastic ends pinching the soft hinges of my arms and legs, pulling at the skin on my bare chest. I rip them off, causing great distress to the monitors nearby. I yank the needle out of my arm and toss it to the floor, applying pressure to the wound for a few seconds before deciding to let it bleed. I get to my feet, spinning around to assess my surroundings, but still feel off-balance.