- Destroy Me
My job is to lead.
I’ve been shot; it will not be fatal. There are things to be managed; I will manage them.
This wound will be forgotten.
Her name will not be spoken.
My fingers clench and unclench as I make my way toward the L Room. I never before realized just how long these corridors are and just how many soldiers line the halls. There’s no reprieve from their curious stares and their disappointment that I did not die. I don’t even have to look at them to know what they’re thinking. But knowing how they feel only makes me more determined to live a very long life.
I will give no one the satisfaction of my death.
I wave away the tea and coffee service for the fourth time. “I do not drink caffeine, Delalieu. Why do you always insist on having it served at my meals?”
“I suppose I always hope you will change your mind, sir.”
I look up. Delalieu is smiling that strange, shaky smile. And I’m not entirely certain, but I think he’s just made a joke.
“Why?” I reach for a slice of bread. “I am perfectly capable of keeping my eyes open. Only an idiot would rely on the energy of a bean or a leaf to stay awake throughout the day.”
Delalieu is no longer smiling.
“Yes,” he says. “Certainly, sir.” And stares down at his food. I watch as his fingers push away the coffee cup.
I drop the bread back onto my plate. “My opinions,” I say to him, quietly this time, “should not so easily break your own. Stand by your convictions. Form clear and logical arguments. Even if I disagree.”
“Of course, sir,” he whispers. He says nothing for a few seconds. But then I see him reach for his coffee again.
He, I think, is my only course for conversation.
He was originally assigned to this sector by my father, and has since been ordered to remain here until he’s no longer able. And though he’s likely forty-five years my senior, he insists on remaining directly below me. I’ve known Delalieu’s face since I was a child; I used to see him around our house, sitting in on the many meetings that took place in the years before The Reestablishment took over.
There was an endless supply of meetings in my house.
My father was always planning things, leading discussions and whispered conversations I was never allowed to be a part of. The men of those meetings are running this world now, so when I look at Delalieu I can’t help but wonder why he never aspired to more. He was a part of this regime from the very beginning, but somehow seems content to die just as he is now. He chooses to remain subservient, even when I give him opportunities to speak up; he refuses to be promoted, even when I offer him higher pay. And while I appreciate his loyalty, his dedication unnerves me. He does not seem to wish for more than what he has.
I should not trust him.
And yet, I do.
But I’ve begun to lose my mind for a lack of companionable conversation. I cannot maintain anything but a cool distance from my soldiers, not only because they all wish to see me dead, but also because I have a responsibility as their leader to make unbiased decisions. I have sentenced myself to a life of solitude, one wherein I have no peers, and no mind but my own to live in. I looked to build myself as a feared leader, and I’ve succeeded; no one will question my authority or posit a contrary opinion. No one will speak to me as anything but the chief commander and regent of Sector 45. Friendship is not a thing I have ever experienced. Not as a child, and not as I am now.
One month ago, I met the exception to this rule. There has been one person who’s ever looked me directly in the eye. The same person who’s spoken to me with no filter; someone who’s been unafraid to show anger and real, raw feeling in my presence; the only one who’s ever dared to challenge me, to raise her voice to me—
I squeeze my eyes shut for what feels like the tenth time today. I unclench my fist around this fork, drop it to the table. My arm has begun to throb again, and I reach for the pills tucked away in my pocket.
“You shouldn’t take more than eight of those within a twenty-four-hour period, sir.”
I open the cap and toss three more into my mouth. I really wish my hands would stop shaking. My muscles feel too tight, too tense. Stretched thin.
I don’t wait for the pills to dissolve. I bite down on them, crunching against their bitterness. There’s something about the foul, metallic taste that helps me focus. “Tell me about Kent.”
Delalieu knocks over his coffee cup.
The dining aides have left the room at my request; Delalieu receives no assistance as he scrambles to clean up the mess. I sit back in my chair, staring at the wall just behind him, mentally tallying up the minutes I’ve lost today.
“Leave the coffee.”
“I—yes, of course, sorry, sir—”
Delalieu drops the sopping napkins. His hands are frozen in place, hovering over his plate.
I watch his throat move as he swallows, hesitates. “We don’t know, sir,” he whispers. “The building should’ve been impossible to find, much less to enter. It’d been bolted and rusted shut. But when we found it,” he says, “when we found it, it was . . . the door had been destroyed. And we’re not sure how they managed it.”
I sit up. “What do you mean, destroyed?”
He shakes his head. “It was . . . very odd, sir. The door had been . . . mangled. As if some kind of animal had clawed through it. There was only a gaping, ragged hole in the middle of the frame.”
I stand up entirely too fast, gripping the table for support. I’m breathless at the thought of it, at the possibility of what must’ve happened. And I can’t help but allow myself the painful pleasure of recalling her name once more, because I know it must’ve been her. She must’ve done something extraordinary, and I wasn’t even there to witness it.
“Call for transport,” I tell him. “I will meet you in the Quadrant in exactly ten minutes.”
I’m already out the door.
Clawed through the middle. Just like an animal. It’s true.
To an unsuspecting observer it would be the only explanation, but even then it wouldn’t make any sense. No animal alive could claw through this many inches of reinforced steel without amputating its own limbs.
And she is not an animal.
She is a soft, deadly creature. Kind and timid and terrifying. She’s completely out of control and has no idea what she’s capable of. And even though she hates me, I can’t help but be fascinated by her. I’m enchanted by her pretend-innocence; jealous, even, of the power she wields so unwittingly. I want so much to be a part of her world. I want to know what it’s like to be in her mind, to feel what she feels. It seems a tremendous weight to carry.
And now she’s out there, somewhere, unleashed on society.
What a beautiful disaster.
I run my fingers along the jagged edges of the hole, careful not to cut myself. There’s no design to it, no premeditation. Only an anguished fervor so readily apparent in the chaotic ripping-apart of this door. I can’t help but wonder if she knew what she was doing when this happened, or if it was just as unexpected to her as it was the day she broke through that concrete wall to get to me.
I have to stifle a smile. I wonder how she must remember that day. Every soldier I’ve worked with has walked into a simulation knowing exactly what to expect, but I purposely kept those details from her. I thought the experience should be as undiluted as possible; I hoped the spare, realistic elements would lend authenticity to the event. More than anything else, I wanted her to have a chance to explore her true nature—to exercise her strength in a safe space—and given her past, I knew a child would be the perfect trigger. But I never could’ve anticipated such revolutionary results. Her performance was more than I had hoped for. And though I wanted to discuss the effects with her afterward, by the time I found her she was already planning her escape.
My smile falters.
“Would you like to step inside, sir?” Delalieu’s voice jolts me back to the present. “There’s not much to see within, but it is interesting to note that the hole is just big enough for someone to easily climb through. It seems clear, sir, what the intent was.”
I nod, distracted. My eyes carefully catalog the dimensions of the hole; I try to imagine what it must’ve been like for her, to be here, trying to get through. I want so much to be able to talk to her about all of this.
My heart twists so suddenly.
I’m reminded, all over again, that she’s no longer with me. She does not live on base anymore.
It’s my fault she’s gone. I allowed myself to believe she was finally doing well and it affected my judgment. I should’ve been paying closer attention to details. To my soldiers. I lost sight of my purpose and my greater goal; the entire reason I brought her on base. I was stupid. Careless.
But the truth is, I was distracted.
She was so stubborn and childish when she first arrived, but as the weeks passed she’d seemed to settle; she felt less anxious to me, somehow less afraid. I have to keep reminding myself that her improvements had nothing to do with me.
They had to do with Kent.
A betrayal that somehow seemed impossible. That she would leave me for a robotic, unfeeling idiot like Kent. His thoughts are so empty, so mindless; it’s like conversing with a desk lamp. I don’t understand what he could’ve offered her, what she could’ve possibly seen in him except a tool for escape.
She still hasn’t grasped that there’s no future for her in the world of common people. She doesn’t belong in the company of those who will never understand her. And I have to get her back.
I only realize I’ve said that last bit out loud when Delalieu speaks.
“We have troops all across the sector searching for her,” he says. “And we’ve alerted the neighboring sectors, just in case the group of them should cross ove—”
“What?” I spin around, my voice a quiet, dangerous thing. “What did you just say?”
Delalieu has turned a sickly shade of white.
“I was unconscious for all of one night! And you’ve already alerted the other sectors to this catastrophe—”
“I thought you would want to find them, sir, and I thought, if they should try to seek refuge elsewhere—”
I take a moment to breathe, to gather my bearings.
“I’m sorry, sir, I thought it would be safest—”
“She is with two of my own soldiers, Lieutenant. Neither one of them are stupid enough to guide her toward another sector. They have neither the clearance nor the tools to obtain said clearance in order to cross the sector line.”
“They’ve been gone one day. They are badly wounded and in need of aid. They’re traveling on foot and with a stolen vehicle that is easily trackable. How far,” I say to him, frustration breaking into my voice, “could they have gone?”
Delalieu says nothing.
“You have sent out a national alert. You’ve notified multiple sectors, which means the entire country now knows. Which means the capitals have received word. Which means what?” I curl my only working hand into a fist. “What do you think that means, Lieutenant?”