I squeezed my eyes shut against the familiar voice whispering in my ear, choked again, this time by grief. Don’t let me screw it up, please, help me, I thought. I was alone here, I knew I would be, and somehow I had misjudged how terrifying it would be. I reached for the image of Cole’s face and held it at the forefront of my mind. He wouldn’t be afraid. He wouldn’t leave me.
You have to walk out of here. I felt the words settle in my mind. Not just for them, but for yourself. You have to walk out of here on your own two feet.
The door cracked open, and the sounds from the rest of the building came flooding in. An old man’s face appeared there, gray hair ringing his head like a cluster of old dust. His eyes narrowed behind his glasses, but I didn’t recognize him, not until he stepped inside and I sucked in a lungful of his terrible scent—alcohol and lemon soap. Dr. Freemont, still haunting the halls of this place.
The man let out a noise of surprise. “She’s awake.”
Another face appeared directly behind his, a woman in gray scrubs, who was quickly pushed aside to allow two PSFs in the room. Their black uniforms were pristine, from their polished boots to the stitched red Ѱ on their chests. I saw their faces and it was like living inside of a memory. The moment took on an unreal quality.
One last person entered the room. He was middle-aged, with sandy hair that turned silver under the lights. His uniform was different than that of the soldiers, a black button-down with matching slacks. I knew this uniform, but I’d only seen it once up close. Camp controller. One of the men and women who worked in the Control Tower, monitoring the cameras, keeping the day’s schedule.
“Ah, there you are,” Dr. Freemont began. “I was just about to begin the test.”
The man—his shirt was embroidered with the name O’Ryan—stepped up, sweeping a hand forward, a clear go ahead.
I set my jaw, fingers curling into fists. I knew better than to ask what was happening, but I read the situation quickly enough to put together a guess. The old man pulled a small, handheld White Noise machine out of his pocket and adjusted a dial on it.
All the times I’d envisioned this plan playing out, I had seen myself influencing the camp controllers and PSFs one at a time, planting the suggestion that I was really a Green, working my way through each of them as our paths crossed. But I saw now, as the doctor’s finger pressed down on the device’s largest button, that I didn’t have to influence dozens—just four.
“This is Green,” Dr. Freemont said.
The sound that came out of the device was softer than I expected, as if I was hearing it from several floors above me. The shrill pitch and blended mess of beeping and buzzing made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and my stomach tighten, but it was nothing compared to the White Noise they used over the camp’s loudspeakers.
They’re seeing what frequency I can hear, I thought, shit—
Our brains translated sounds differently than a normal human mind; if the adults in the room heard the sound, it was nothing more than a buzzing fly around their ears. There was a spectrum of pitches that affected us, each of them specially tuned to sing for each different color. I’d learned about it when Cate and the League had managed to embed the regular White Noise with tones meant for Oranges and Reds, hoping to root out those of us who might have been in hiding or posing as a different color. That sound, the thread of mind-blistering crashes and bangs, had drilled through me and left me unconscious.
I strained against the Velcro cuffs, letting my eyes bulge, letting my whole body shake and thrash, as if the sound were a knife driving repeatedly into my chest. The sounds that escaped the muzzle were low, animal moans.
O’Ryan held up a hand and the faint noise switched off. He stepped up closer to the bed, peering down at my face. I had to force my hatred into fear.
“Successful reaction,” Dr. Freemont said. “Should I—”
The camp controller’s face was impassive, though I saw his lip curl up in assessment. I got a good look at him now; his wide shoulders filled out his shirt and, standing over me, he seemed ten feet tall. There was something in his stance that reminded me of a knife’s blade. He stood rigidly proud, his eyes cutting through every layer of control I’d built up, and I realized, a second too late, that this wasn’t a normal camp controller. This was the camp controller.
And I was looking him in the eye.
I tore my gaze away, but the damage had been done. I’d shown too much will. He’d read it as a challenge. “Set it to Orange.”
There was a lot I could withstand now, but I knew a hit of that White Noise would be like stepping in front of a speeding train. O’Ryan stood over me, staring at my face. He thought he was in control here, didn’t he? That if he looked at me close enough, he’d detect me using my abilities—that if the muzzle kept me from speaking, I couldn’t issue a command.
I didn’t need to look at him. I didn’t need to speak to him. And, in the end, I only needed to affect one person.
Dr. Freemont’s mind was a swamp of faceless children and computer screens. I planted the images there in the middle of them all, a neat, tidy package based on what I could remember from my first processing through the camp, and pulled back immediately.
I pushed the image of him fiddling with the dial, pulling it back toward his chest as he turned the dial back to its original setting. He was angled away from the PSFs at the door. O’Ryan was looking at me, so smug and sure of himself, that he allowed himself a knowing smirk. I lowered my lashes, glad for the first time that there was a muzzle to keep me from returning it.