“It’s fine.” I was fine. “The kids in Moore’s program volunteered to go, and they’re guaranteed to get out. The images of the facility I saw make it look like the height of luxury compared to what we had.” I hadn’t thought to ask before now, but I was curious. “I take it you weren’t in a camp, then?”
He shook his head. “No. We survived on the outside. We weren’t ever in the camp system.”
“How?” I asked. I’d lived rough with the others for a time, and it had been nearly impossible to stay ahead of skip tracers and PSFs. Even civilians looking to make a rare quick buck by reporting a sighting were a threat to us. I wondered if the government had any official record of Roman and Priyanka at all.
“We found a vacant house and stayed there,” he said, rubbing the back of his scarred hand with his other thumb. The words were remote. Practiced. “A neighbor brought us food.”
It was an appropriate lie, somehow. That kind of thing only happened in dreams.
“What was it like,” he asked, “being in the camp?”
“What’s there to know that’s not already out there?” I asked. “It was a prison in every sense of the word. They controlled everything about our lives, including when we slept, and when and what we ate. They had us work to keep busy. It was like walking through hell soaked with gasoline and trying to avoid being set on fire.”
The churlishness left a bitter taste in my mouth, and an uncomfortable silence between us. After a moment, I said, “It was like living with your heart in a cage. Nothing escaped. Nothing got in.”
At home, before Caledonia, before the Collection, before I’d ever manifested my power, I’d grown up hearing stories passed down from older relatives about their time in internment camps here in America during the Second World War. I’d known the government had forcibly imprisoned Japanese Americans and seized their property, subjecting its own citizens to a harsh existence simply because of the belief that anyone of Japanese descent was dangerous by default. And still, when the bus that took me and a number of other kids to Ohio had rolled through Caledonia’s gates, I’d been naïve enough—young enough—to hope that this “rehabilitation center” would be everything they promised on the news: a medical program to keep us alive, an isolated school, and a place where we could live without fear.
The experiences weren’t the same, and there was no real comparison to be made between them. I only wished I had listened to the stories more carefully, that I could have somehow made that history feel more immediate to me, because I think knowing not to hope for the best, recognizing that the government and the president weren’t always paternal figures that wanted to care for us, would have saved me some small bit of pain.
“I’m sorry you were made to go through that,” he said in that quiet voice of his. “I understand why you work so hard for the Psi.”
I didn’t know what to say to that, because I didn’t want to agree. I didn’t want there to be anything shared between us.
Priyanka appeared at the door to the bathroom, carefully shutting it behind her. She glanced toward the diner, checking to make sure the people inside had their backs turned, before crossing the street.
The pressure in my chest had built to the point of exploding. “Actually,” I said, opening the door, “I think I’m ready for a little break.”
I shut it behind me, not making eye contact as I passed Priyanka. She turned, tracking my path to the bathroom. As I neared the building, the server walked out from behind the counter and moved toward the windows to start cleaning the tables.
I ducked down and crawled forward until I was just under them, waiting. Warm, damp air filled my lungs and smoothed against my skin.
“Suzume Kimura, the Psi responsible for the horrific attack at Penn State, worked in her office!”
Every muscle in my body tightened at the sound of my name in Joseph Moore’s silky voice coming from the television inside.
“Interim President Cruz was never elected to her position, but was instead appointed by her UN puppet masters. Every bad deal she accepts from them attacks the interests of everyday, hardworking Americans. She has lined the pockets of our foreign overlords and, instead of shaping the generation of Psi, she’s only managed to nurture their radical elements. How can her judgment be trusted? How can she be impartial on the subject of Psi, when her very daughter, Rosa—who, by the way, has yet to make a single public appearance since her mother’s campaign began—is one of them?”
I wanted him to take my name and Rosa’s name out of his filthy mouth. The girl was living in Canada, attending school there after someone had tried to kidnap her on her way home.
“We don’t need a new American dream—we need to reclaim the one that was stolen from us the day we agreed to allow the rest of the world to solve our problems. The first step is the loyalty oath—” The cheer that followed made me shudder. “Yes! Exactly! And—let me finish, let me finish—the second is to ensure an attack like the one Kimura and her fellow degenerates pulled off can never happen again.”
Fury ate at me. All that work…all the speeches…every emotional lashing I’d taken and responded to by simply turning the other cheek…it was one step forward and a thousand steps back.
The broadcaster returned, noting, “Though the Cruz administration has repeatedly dismissed the Liberty Watch Party’s demands for a loyalty oath as being unnecessary, the attack at Penn State seems to have prompted a change in that policy.”
I crawled forward, rising only when I reached the bathroom door. From this angle, I could see the images on the television reflected in the front window.
The press secretary stepped up to the briefing room podium. Her words were tight with suppressed emotion. She and Mel had been close friends. She had known many of the reporters covering the event. “To ensure the safety of the public and the continued cooperation of the Psi, we will be implementing two new policies beginning Monday. First, all Psi, even those in the custody of their families, will be assigned a local government counselor who will process any requests to travel across zone lines as well as other legal paperwork. Second, at their first meeting with these counselors, all Psi will be asked to sign a document agreeing to not commit acts of violence or treason in any form against the United States.”
So, a loyalty oath. I took a step forward in disbelief, needing to see the screen itself, just to prove that I wasn’t trapped in a nightmare.
This was going to be nearly impossible to walk back, even after I proved my innocence.
The broadcaster returned with, “That may not satisfy Liberty Watch and other organizations who have voiced fears that not enough is being done to control the Psi population in America, as well as their desire to see them in mandatory military service—”
Across the street, the car’s headlights flashed. Startled, I turned toward them, only to see Priyanka slam her fist down on the steering wheel, letting the horn blare out through the night.
“—yes! She’s here! I’m telling you!”
I spun back toward the inside of the diner. The white woman at the counter was shouting into her cell phone, and the man who’d been sitting next to her was al
ready on his feet, coming toward the side door—toward me. The server reached beneath the counter, pulling out a shotgun and aiming at me through the glass.
There was no time to think it through. I seized the white-hot current of power flowing through the ceiling lights and fluorescent signs and pulled. They blew out in a roar of glass, leaving the people inside screaming.
The car’s brakes squealed as it skidded to a stop along the road. I ran for it, ignoring the pounding footsteps behind me, keeping my eyes on where Roman had rolled down the window. He aimed the handgun just over my shoulder.
I pulled the back door open and dove inside, letting the force of Priyanka’s acceleration slam it shut at my feet.
No one said anything. I curled onto my side, breathing hard as shudders of adrenaline and delayed fear rocked me.
Finally, Priyanka said, her voice light, “Everyone awake now?”
I pushed myself up, too embarrassed to meet Roman’s worried gaze. Stupid…So stupid…
It was a minute, maybe more, before Priyanka’s phone blared out a familiar tone. The Emergency Alert System.
Roman didn’t read the message aloud, but I could see it clearly over his shoulder.
FUGITIVE PSI SUZUME KIMURA SEEN IN AREA.
SILVER TOYOTA LICENSE PLATE ENDING WITH D531
STAY ALERT. DO NOT APPROACH IF SEEN. CALL 9-1-1
A drone appeared in the dark sky, rocketing over us with a scream as it headed in the direction of the diner. And a minute after that, sirens. They were distant, but their wailing stayed trapped in my head, even as miles and hours passed. Even after we were far enough away for me to release what had happened to memory.
But I couldn’t. Inside me, the past was colliding with the present, and the only thing I could do was just stay awake long enough to survive the nightmare it created.