The blow cracked against the back of my skull so hard I was thrown halfway off the seat—caught, at the last second, by a hand that wrenched me back and slammed me against the table, hand at my throat, gun in my face.
“Here!” The PSF’s face split into two. I blinked, trying to clear my vision as more shapes flooded in through the open door. “Here!”
I was pulled off the desk and shoved onto the floor, the pistol inches from my forehead, to make room for a camp controller to take my seat and begin typing. Someone had finally noticed something, then. It was over, but I’d done what I needed to.
I’d gotten this far.
I’d done this, at least.
The others in the room stood, alarmed, but backed off when O’Ryan’s familiar voice barked, “Stay clear.”
He typed something else, opened the COMMAND PROMPT window.
“What did you do?” he snarled.
I focused on his face, ignoring the warm trickle down the back of my neck. My line of sight solidified again and I shrugged, a smirk working its way onto my lips.
O’Ryan pushed the other soldier away, back into the ring of PSFs and camp controllers who stood nearby with their weapons drawn. My teeth clacked as he threw me back up against the wall, demanding, “What is your purpose here?”
I wiped the blood from the corner of my mouth and said nothing. There wasn’t a damn thing he could do to me now that could make me feel afraid, or small, or helpless.
The camp controller turned back to another woman sitting nearby. “Key up the Calm Control.”
“Group C is still in the Mess Hall,” she said. “Should they be ordered back to their cabins first?”
“Key. It. Up.”
She turned back to her screen and typed furiously, ending with a stroke of her pinky against the return key. “Wait—”
One by one, the monitors on the wall winked out, then each computer screen, the images blacking out with a sinister electronic hiss.
“Start the fail-safe protocol,” he said.
“Sir?” she said, startled, but tried—she tried. “I’m locked out—”
I knew it was pointless, even as I got my feet under me, but I didn’t want to admit it—I wasn’t done, I wasn’t ready for it to be over. The guns around me were a dozen different ways to die. I was boxed in on all sides by black uniforms. My ears rang and the ground rolled beneath my feet, but I let the invisible hands in my mind go streaming out to the minds around me, I sent them sailing in every direction like arrows seeking targets.
O’Ryan pulled his arm back and punched me in the face.
I couldn’t get my hands up fast enough to block him. Couldn’t get them down fast enough to catch me. I slammed into the ground, my vision bursting with static as my skull cracked against the tile. He leaned over me, unclipping a small device from his belt, holding it next to my right ear. I spit in his face and he only laughed, switching on the White Noise.
The world shattered around me. Hands seized my arms and hauled me up from the ground, dragging me through the tangle of legs and chairs. I couldn’t see straight, couldn’t clear my brain from the sounds polluting it. Every muscle in my body was seizing up, making me jerk, my feet thrash against the floor, and inside I was screaming, I was screaming I’m not done, but I couldn’t hear myself think. The White Noise took me by the shoulders and shoved me down beneath the darkness, holding me there until I drowned.
THE SLAP WHIPPED ACROSS MY FACE, ripping away the shroud of unconsciousness. My vision blurred as my eyes flew open, squinting against the light. My mind felt swollen and tender, as wrung out as the rest of my body. I was half-conscious of the fact that my arms and legs were still spasming, the muscles twitching. The residual pain left me dumb and slow, and I couldn’t remember why, how it had happened.
The noise blistering my mind shut off abruptly. Slowly, slowly, the room solidified around me. Tile floor. Four dark walls. One lamp. Two figures in black, moving in and out of the shadows, speaking in low tones. I heard a faint metallic clicking as one of them came closer. I smelled the mint as he smacked his gum.
And just like that, memory slammed into me.
I twisted, trying to pull out of the chair they’d put me in, but my hands and ankles were zip-tied to the metal frame. The jolt of fear-induced adrenaline cleared my mind just in time for O’Ryan to backhand me.
“Now that we have your attention...” he snarled, rising to his feet. Cold air bit into my shin, and I looked down to find that he’d rolled both of my pant legs up to the knee. They’d stripped the PSF uniform jacket off me, taking the knife, the weapons, anything I could have used to fight back. The boots, too, though I didn’t understand why, not until O’Ryan motioned for the baton the PSF behind him carried.
The other man took that as his signal to hold up the handheld White Noise machine. I reared like a wild horse, trying to escape it, the way it blanked out my mind. I can...I can do...what could I do? What?
“Who sent you?” O’Ryan asked. “What was your purpose here?”
“To...to tell you...” The words didn’t sound nearly as furious coming out of my mouth as they did in my head. The camp controller leaned forward, eyes narrowing into slits. “To go...fuck yourself.”