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I blinked again. Confused. I parted my lips to say something, when—

Don’t

The thought came through more sharply this time.

A moment later Evie was in my face again, this time drilling me with questions.

who are you

where are you

what is your name

where were you born

how old are you

who are your parents

where do you live

I was suddenly aware enough to understand that Evie was checking her work. She wanted to make sure my brain had been wiped clean. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say or do, so I said nothing.

Instead, I blinked.

Blinked a lot.

Evie finally—reluctantly—stepped away, but she didn’t seem entirely convinced of my stupidity. And then, when I thought she might murder me just to be safe, she stopped. Stared at the wall.

And then she left.

I was trembling on the operating table for twenty minutes before the room was swarmed by a team of people. They unstrapped my body, washed and wrapped my open wounds.

I think I was screaming.

Eventually the combination of pain, exhaustion, and the slow drip of opiates caught up with me, and I passed out.

I never understood what happened that day.

I couldn’t ask, Evie never explained, and the strange, sharp voice in my head never returned. But then, Evie sedated me so much in my first weeks on this compound that it’s possible there was never even a chance.

Today, for the first time since that day, I hear it again.

I’m standing in the middle of my room, this gauzy yellow dress still bunched in my arms, when the voice assaults me.

It knocks the wind out of me.

Ella

I spin around, my breaths coming in fast. The voice is louder than it’s ever been, frightening in its intensity. Maybe I was wrong about Evie’s experiment, maybe this is part of it, maybe hallucinating and hearing voices is a precursor to oblivion—

No

“Who are you?” I say, the dress dropping to the floor. It occurs to me, as if from a distance, that I’m standing in my underwear, screaming at an empty room, and a violent shudder goes through my body.

Roughly, I yank the yellow dress over my head, its light, breezy layers like silk against my skin. In a different lifetime, I would’ve loved this dress. It’s both beautiful and comfortable, the perfect sartorial combination. But there’s no time for that kind of frivolity anymore.

Today, this dress is just a part of the role I must play.

The voice in my head has gone quiet, but my heart is still racing. I feel propelled into motion by instinct alone, and, quickly, I slip into a pair of simple white tennis shoes, tying the laces tightly. I don’t know why, but today, right now, for some reason— I feel like I might need to run.

Yes

My spine straightens.

Adrenaline courses through my veins and my muscles feel tight, burning with an intensity that feels brand-new to me; it’s the first time I’ve felt any positive effects of Evie’s procedures. This strength feels like it’s been grafted to my bones, like I could launch myself into the air, like I could scale a wall with one hand.

I’ve known superstrength before, but that strength always felt like it was coming from elsewhere, like it was something I had to harness and release. Without my supernatural abilities—when I turned off my powers—I was left with an unimpressive, flimsy body. I’d been undernourished for years, forced to endure extreme physical and mental conditions, and my body suffered for it. I’d only begun to learn proper forms of exercise and conditioning in the last couple of months, and while the progress I made was helpful, it was only the first step in the right direction.

But this—

Whatever Evie did to me? This is different.

Two weeks ago I was in so much pain I could hardly move. The next morning, when I could finally stand on my own, I saw no discernible difference in my body except that I was seven shades of purple from top to bottom. Everything was bruised. I was walking agony.

Evie told me, as my doctor, that she kept me sedated so that I’d be forced to remain still in order to heal more quickly, but I had no reason to believe her. I still don’t. But this is the first time in two weeks that I feel almost normal. The bruises have nearly faded. Only the incision sites, the most painful entry points, still look a little yellow.

Not bad.

I flex my fists and feel powerful, truly powerful, even with the glowing manacles clamped around my wrists and ankles. I’ve desperately missed my powers, missed them more than I ever thought I could miss something I’d spent so many years hating about myself. But for the first time in weeks, I feel strong. I know Evie did this to me—did this to my muscles—and I know I should distrust it, but it feels so good to feel good that I almost can’t help but revel in it.

And right now, I feel like I could—

Run

I go still.

RUN

“What?” I whisper, turning to scan the walls, the ceiling. “Run where?”

Out

The word thunders through me, reverberates along my rib cage. Out. As if it were that simple, as if I could turn the doorknob and be rid of this nightmare. If it were that easy to leave this room, I would’ve done it already. But Evie reinforces the locks on my door with multiple layers of security. I only saw the mechanics of it once, when she returned me to my room after allowing me to look outside for a few minutes. In addition to the discreet cameras and retina displays, there’s a biometric scanner that reads Evie’s fingerprints to allow her access to the room. I’ve spent hours trying to get my bedroom door open, to no avail.

Out

Again, that word, loud and harsh inside my head. There’s something terrifying about the hope that snakes through me at the thought of escape. It clings and tugs and tempts me to be crazy enough to listen to the absurd hallucinations attacking my mind.

This could be a trap, I think.

This could all be Evie’s doing. I could be playing directly into her hand.

Still.

I can’t help myself.

I cross the room in a few quick strides. I hesitate, my hand hovering over the handle, and, with a final exhalation, I give in.

The door swings opens easily.

I stand in the open doorway, my heart racing harder. A heady rush of feeling surges through me and I look around desperately, studying the many hallways stretching out before me.

This seems impossible.

I have no idea where to go. No idea if I’m crazy for listening to a manipulative voice in my head after my psychotic mother spent hours injecting things into my mind.

It’s only when I remember that I first heard this voice the night I arrived—just moments before Evie began torturing me—that I begin to doubt my doubt.

Dying

That was what the voice said to me that first night. Dying.

I was lying on an operating table, unable to move or speak. I could only shout inside my head and I wanted to know where Emmaline was. I tried to scream it.

Dying, the voice had said.

A cold, paralyzing fear fills my blood.

“Emmaline?” I whisper. “Is that you?”

Help

I take a certain step forward.

Warner

“I’m a little early,” he says. “I know your birthday is tomorrow, but I just couldn’t wait any longer.”

I stare at my father as though he might be a ghost. Worse, a poltergeist. I can’t bring myself to speak, and for some reason he doesn’t seem to mind my silence.

Then—

He smiles.

It’s a true smile, one that softens his features and brightens his eyes. We’re in something that looks like a sitting room, a bright, open space with plush couches, chairs, a round table, and a small writing desk in the corner. There’s a thick carpet underfoot. The walls are a pleasant, pale yellow, sun pouring in through large windows. My father’s figure is backlit. He looks ethereal. Glowing, like he might be an angel.

This world has a sick sense of humor.

He tossed me a robe when he walked into my cell, but hasn’t offered me anything else. I haven’t been given a chance to change. I haven’t been offered food or water. I feel underdressed—vulnerable—sitting across from him in nothing but cold underwear and a thin robe. I don’t even have socks. Slippers. Something.

And I can only imagine what I must look like right now, considering it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve had a shave or a haircut. I managed to keep myself clean in prison, but my hair is a bit longer now. Not like it used to be, but it’s getting there. And my face—

I touch my face almost without thinking.

Touching my face has become a bit of a habit these last couple of weeks. I have a beard. It’s not much of a beard, but it’s enough to surprise me, every time. I have no idea how I must look right now.

Untamed, perhaps.

Finally, I say, “You’re supposed to be dead.”

“Surprise,” he says, and smiles.

I only stare at him.

My father leans against the table and stuffs his hands into his pants’ pockets in a way that makes him look boyish. Charming.

It makes me feel ill.

I look away, scanning the room for help. Details. Something to root me, something to explain him, something to arm me against what might be coming.

I come up short.

He laughs. “You know, you could stand to show a bit more emotion. I actually thought you might be happy to see me.”

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