My father is sitting at his desk, but I see only the back of his chair and the unfinished glass of Scotch clutched in his left hand. His papers are in disarray. I notice the paperweight on the floor; the damage to the wall.
Something has gone wrong.
“You wanted to see me,” I say.
“What?” My father turns in his chair to face me. “See you for what?”
I say nothing. I’ve learned by now never to remind him when he’s forgotten something.
Finally, he sighs. Says, “Right. Yes.” And then: “We’ll have to discuss it later.”
“Later?” This time, I struggle to hide my feelings. “You said you’d give me an answer today—”
“Something’s come up.”
Anger wells in my chest. I forget myself. “Something more important than your dying wife?”
My father won’t be baited. Instead, he picks up a stack of papers on his desk and says, “Go away.”
I don’t move.
“I need to know what’s going to happen,” I say. “I don’t want to go to the capital with you—I want to stay here, with Mom—”
“Jesus,” he says, slamming his glass down on the desk. “Do you hear yourself?” He looks at me, disgusted. “This behavior is unhealthy. It’s disturbing. I’ve never known a sixteen-year-old boy to be so obsessed with his mother.”
Heat creeps up my neck, and I hate myself for it. Hate him for making me hate myself when I say, quietly, “I’m not obsessed with her.”
Anderson shakes his head. “You’re pathetic.”
I take the emotional hit and bury it. With some effort, I manage to sound indifferent when I say, “I just want to know what’s going to happen.”
Anderson stands up, shoves his hands in his pockets. He looks out the massive window in his office, at the city just beyond.
The view is bleak.
Freeways have become open-air museums for the skeletons of forgotten vehicles. Mountains of trash form ranges along the terrain. Dead birds litter the streets, carcasses still occasionally falling out of the sky. Untamed fires rage in the distance, heavy winds stoking their flames. A thick layer of smog has permanently settled over the city, and the remaining clouds are gray, heavy with rain. We’ve already begun the process of regulating what passes for livable and unlivable turf, and entire sections of the city have since been shut down. Most of the coastal areas, for example, have been evacuated, the streets and homes flooded, roofs slowly collapsing.
By comparison, the inside of my father’s office is a veritable paradise. Everything is still new in here; the wood still smells like wood, every surface shines. The Reestablishment was voted into power just four months ago, and my father is currently the commander and regent of one of our brand-new sectors.
A sudden gust of wind hits the window, and I feel the shudder reverberate through the room. The lights flicker. He doesn’t flinch. The world may be falling apart, but The Reestablishment has been doing better than ever. Their plans fell into place more swiftly than they’d expected. And even though my father is already being considered for a huge promotion—to supreme commander of North America—no amount of success seems to soothe him. Lately, he’s been more volatile than usual.
Finally, he says, “I have no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t even know if they’ll be considering me for the promotion anymore.”
I’m unable to mask my surprise. “Why not?”
Anderson smiles, unhappily, at the window. “A babysitting job gone awry.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I don’t expect you to.”
“So—we’re not moving anymore? We won’t be going to the capital?”
Anderson turns back around. “Don’t sound so excited. I said I don’t know yet. First, I have to figure out how to deal with the problem.”
Quietly, I say, “What’s the problem?”
Anderson laughs; his eyes crinkle and he looks, for a moment, human. “Suffice it to say that your girlfriend is ruining my goddamn day. As usual.”
“My what?” I frown. “Dad, Lena isn’t my girlfriend. I don’t care what she’s telling any—”
“Different girlfriend,” Anderson says, and sighs. He won’t meet my eyes now. He snatches a file folder from his desk, flips it open, and scans the contents.
I don’t have a chance to ask another question.
There’s a sudden, sharp knock at the door. At my dad’s signal, Delalieu steps inside. He seems more than a little surprised to see me, and, for a moment, says nothing.
“Well?” My dad seems impatient. “Is she here?”
“Y-yes, sir.” Delalieu clears his throat. His eyes flit to me again. “Should I bring her up, or would you prefer to meet elsewhere?”
“Bring her up.”
Delalieu hesitates. “Are you quite certain, sir?”
I look from my dad to Delalieu. Something is wrong.
My father meets my eyes when he says, “I said, bring her up.”
Delalieu nods, and disappears.
My head is a stone, heavy and useless, my eyes cemented to my skull. I maintain consciousness for only seconds at a time. I smell metal, taste metal. An ancient, roaring noise grows loud, then soft, then loud again.
Boots, heavy, near my head.
Voices, but the sounds are muffled, light-years away. I can’t move. I feel as though I’ve been buried, left to rot. A weak orange light flickers behind my eyes and for just a second—just a second—
Days seem to pass. Centuries. I’m only aware enough to know I’ve been heavily sedated. Constantly sedated. I’m parched, dehydrated to the point of pain. I’d kill for water. Kill for it.
When they move me I feel heavy, foreign to myself. I land hard on a cold floor, the pain ricocheting up my body as if from a distance. I know that, too soon, this pain will catch up to me. Too soon, the sedative will wear off and I’ll be alone with my bones and this dust in my mouth.
A swift, hard kick to the gut and my eyes fly open, blackness devouring my open, gasping mouth, seeping into the sockets of my eyes. I feel blind and suffocated at once, and when the shock finally subsides, my limbs give out. Limp.
The spark dies.
“Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on?”
I stop, frozen in place, at the sound of Nazeera’s voice. I was heading back to my room to close my eyes for a minute. To try to do something about the massive headache ringing through my skull.
We finally, finally, took a break.
A brief recess after hours of exhausting, stressful conversations about next steps and blueprints and something about stealing a plane. It’s too much. Even Nazeera, with all her intel, couldn’t give me any real assurance that Juliette—sorry, Ella—and Warner were still alive, and just the chance that someone out there might be torturing them to death is, like, more than my mind can handle right now. Today has been a shitstorm of shit. A tornado of shit. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know whether to sit down and cry or set something on fire.
Castle said he’d brave his way down to the kitchens to see about scrounging up some food for us, and that was the best news I’d heard all day. He also said he’d do his best to placate the soldiers for just a little longer—just long enough for us to figure out exactly what we’re going to do next—but I’m not sure how much he can do. It was bad enough when J got shot. The hours she spent in the medical wing were stressful for the rest of us, too. I really thought the soldiers would revolt right then. They kept stopping me in the halls, yelling about how they thought she was supposed to be invincible, that this wasn’t the plan, that they didn’t decide to risk their lives for a regular teenage girl who couldn’t take a bullet and goddammit she was supposed to be some supernatural phenomenon, something more than human—