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“I don’t suppose you’ve got me a lawyer yet?” he said.

“Shut up, Eleven,” the soldier snapped back. They referred to everyone by their numbers, but Jack didn’t even know what his was. He figured that was a good thing. Stay out of the way and survive.

“Oh, good,” Eddie continued, “you’re bringing us more friends. What did this one do?”

Jack couldn’t hear a response from the soldier. Instead, he heard the voice of Josi, another prisoner who seemed to have a little more sense.

“What’s your name, kid?” she asked.

“His name is Thirty-One, I bet,” Eddie answered, laughing.

“What is it?” Josi asked again.

“Cesar,” another voice said. “Cesar Carbajal.”

“What do you do?” another one shouted.

“And what did they do to you?” Eddie added.

Cesar didn’t answer, but a moment later Jack could hear the screech of metal on concrete as a nearby door opened. He probably was thirty-one, like Eddie had said.

“Well, welcome to hell, Cesar Carbajal,” another teen said. “Let me tell you how this place works: you stay here, freezing at night and burning up in the day, and no one tells you anything. And then, at some point, you get hauled away.”

Eddie piped up. “Why don’t you tell Cesar where he gets taken, Private?”

“That’s Sergeant,” the soldier’s voice barked. “And shut up all of you or I’ll turn on the water.”

Jack looked up at the ceiling and the sprinkler head that was embedded in the cement. That was the punishment for talking back, and they gave it to everyone, no matter who had been harassing them.

“Bring it on,” Eddie shouted. “I need a shower.”

Several of the other prisoners yelled at Eddie to shut up.

The metal cell door closed with another squeal, and locked into place.

“We’re getting two more today,” the soldier bellowed. “If I hear so much as a word from any of you, I’m turning it on.”

A moment later the main door closed.

“Don’t do it to us again, Eddie,” Josi said. “I can’t take it anymore.”

“If they weren’t pumping me full of this yellow crap . . . ,” he answered.

“Then what?” she said, with an unhappy laugh. “You’d punch through the ceiling and fly away?”

He didn’t answer.

“What is it you do again?” she said, continuing to needle him. “You never say, but I bet it’s absolutely amazing.”

There was silence for a moment. Two more, Jack thought, looking at the empty cells across from him. I’m going to get company.

“What do you do, Carbajal?” another voice called out.

There was no answer.

“They drug you in here,” the voice said again. “Valium or Klonopin, or something. It makes you tired, and screws up your head. If you can do something to get us out of here, do it now.”

Josi jumped in before Carbajal had time to respond. “And if you can do it, it had better be awesome enough to get us all out of our cells, out of this building, and off of this military base. Because if it can’t do that, don’t even try it. You’ll just get yourself shot, and maybe us, too.”

“I—” Carbajal began. “It’s stupid. It’s a dumb trick. I can count things. That’s it.”

“You count things?” someone asked. “Big deal.”

“I mean,” Carbajal said, sounding frustrated, “I can see anything for a couple seconds and tell you how many things are there. Like a bunch of ants, or people in a stadium.”

“Really?” Josi asked. “How fast? How big?”

“Pretty fast. And big, but not too big to look at. Like, I tried to count the stars but I couldn’t because I kept having to turn my head to see them all, and that messes it up.”

“That’s a solid Lam 2,” Eddie said.

Josi laughed. “You don’t even know what that means.”

“I told you,” Eddie answered. “I heard it from the guards. Lambda 2 means no military use.”

“And they explained this all to you?” Josi said.

“I’m not an idiot.”

“That’s debatable.”

Another voice, one Jack didn’t recognize, shouted, “Quiet! He’s coming back.”

The room fell silent. After several seconds, the main door opened again.

No one said anything this time, and Jack couldn’t make out much more than the sound of footsteps scraping on the cement. It surprised him that the new prisoner wasn’t even making noise.

A soldier appeared in front of Jack’s cell, and he could see that two other men were carrying the prisoner this time. The boy appeared to be unconscious.

They laid him in the cell, slumped in a heap. Jack only caught a glance at the boy’s face, but thought he recognized him from the warehouse. Now all Jack could see were the boy’s feet and lower legs, motionless.

The soldiers’ boots clunked down the otherwise silent hall. A moment later, the door opened.

“So you beat him unconscious and now you’re just going to leave him?” It wasn’t Eddie—it was Josi.

The sergeant yelled back, “I told you to shut up.”

“This is against the law,” she shouted, and the prison erupted with angry bellows and threats.

Jack curled up against the wall, and wrapped his arms around his knees. An instant later there was a deep clank and the sound of rushing water. The sprinkler head burst open, pouring down a hard spray like a wide-mouthed fire hose.

The water stung his skin, and Jack had to put his face down to be able to breathe. The others’ shouts were drowned out by the noise.

Oh, Aubrey, Jack thought. Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t get put in here.

They turned off the sprinklers much sooner than usual, and Jack lifted his head to take a deep breath. The water ran out of his cell to a long drain that flowed down the center of the hallway. The drains never could keep up with the volume, however, and two inches of standing water were still in the hall when the main door opened again.

The long room was silent.

“Is this where I’ll be staying?” a girl’s voice asked. It was sweet and clear—it didn’t seem to fit in the prison.

“Right down here,” the soldier responded, with an uncomfortable cough.


Finally they came into view, the soldier and a very tall blonde girl—Nicole. Something about her seemed so out of place in the prison. Everyone else was ragged and filthy and soaked, and Nicole was her usual self: confident, happy, and beautiful.

The soldier, who appeared to be trying to avoid making eye contact with her, opened the cell door and motioned for her to enter.

“Thank you,” she said, stepping inside and turning to face him. He paused for a moment and Jack expected him to say something, but then the soldier swung the door closed and locked it. He bent over and set a large bottle of water outside her cell, the yellow tint bright and obvious.

As the soldier disappeared from view, Nicole flashed a smile at Jack, and then turned to look at her tiny cell. Nicole was taller than Jack, and he guessed the low ceilings and close walls would probably bother her a lot more than they did him.