Finally, she smiles.
“Hi,” she says, removing the gag from my mouth. “How are you holding up?”
And I decide right then that I’m going to have to kill her.
“Okay,” she says, “I know you’re probably upset—”
“UPSET? YOU THINK I’M UPSET?” I jerk violently against the ties. “Jesus Christ, woman, get me out of these goddamn restraints—”
“I’ll get you out of the restraints when you calm down—”
“HOW CAN YOU EXPECT ME TO BE CALM?”
“I’m trying to save your life right now, so, actually, I expect a lot of things from you.”
I’m breathing hard. “Wait. What?”
She crosses her arms, stares down at me. “I’ve been trying to explain to you that there was really no other way to do this. And don’t worry,” she says. “Your friends are okay. We should be able to get them out of the asylum before any permanent damage is done.”
“What? What do you mean permanent damage?”
Nazeera sighs. “Anyway, this was the only way I could think of stealing a plane without attracting notice. I needed to track Anderson.”
“So you knew he was alive, that whole time, and you said nothing about it.”
She raises her eyebrows. “Honestly, I thought you knew.”
“How the hell was I supposed to know?” I shout. “How was I supposed to know anything?”
“Stop shouting,” she says. “I went to all this trouble to save your life but I swear to God I will kill you if you don’t stop shouting right now.”
“Where,” I say, “THE HELL,” I say, “ARE WE?”
And instead of killing me, she laughs. “Where do you think we are?” She shakes her head. “We’re in Oceania. We’re here to find Ella.”
“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—”
I wake suddenly, jerking upward as my eyes fly open, my lungs desperate for air. I breathe in too fast and cough, choking on the overcorrection of oxygen. My body bows forward, chest heaving, my hands braced against the cold, concrete floor.
Pain spears me through the chest. I stopped eating the poisoned food two days ago, but the visions linger even when I’m lucid. There’s something hyperreal about this one in particular, the memory barreling into me over and over, shooting swift, sharp pains through my gut. It’s breathtaking, this disorienting rush of emotion.
For the first time, I’m beginning to believe.
I thought nightmares. Hallucinations, even. But now I know.
Now it seems impossible to deny.
I heard my mum talking about how to make it so people can live underwater
I didn’t understand right away why Max and Evie were keeping me captive here, but they must blame me for something—maybe something my father is responsible for. Something I unknowingly took part in.
Maybe something like torturing their daughter Emmaline.
When I was sent away for two years, I was never told where I was going. The details of my location were never disclosed, and during that time period I lived in a veritable prison of my own, never allowed to step outside, never allowed to know more than was absolutely necessary about the task at hand. The breaks I was given were closely guarded, and I was required to wear a blindfold as I was ushered on and off the jet, which always made me think I must’ve been working somewhere easily identifiable. But those two years also comprised some of the darkest, saddest days of my life; all I knew was my desperate need for oblivion. I was so buried in self-loathing that it seemed only right to find solace in the arms of someone who meant nothing to me. I hated myself every day. Being with Lena was both relief and torture.
Even so, I felt numb, all the time.
After two weeks here, I’m beginning to wonder if this prison isn’t one I’ve known before. If this isn’t the same place I spent those two horrible years of my life. It’s hard to explain the intangible, irrational reasons why the view outside my window is beginning to feel familiar to me, but two years is a long time to grow familiar with the rhythms of a land, even one you don’t understand.
I wonder if Emmaline is here, somewhere.
It makes sense that she’d be here, close to home—close to her parents, whose medical and scientific advances are the only reason she’s even alive. Or something close to alive, anyway.
It makes sense that they’d bring Juliette—Ella, I remind myself—back here, to her home. The question is—
Why bring her here? What are they hoping to do with her?
But then, if her mother is anything like my father, I think I can imagine what they might have in mind.
I push myself off the floor and take a steadying breath. My body is running on mere adrenaline, so starved for sleep and sustenance that I have to—
It’s swift and sudden and I gasp even as I recognize the familiar sting. I have no idea how long it’ll take for my ribs to fully heal. Until then, I clench my teeth as I stand, feeling blindly for purchase against the rough stone. My hands shake as I steady myself and I’m breathing too hard again, eyes darting around the familiar cell.
I turn on the sink and splash ice-cold water on my face.
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—