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“You’ve done beautiful work here, darling. You’ve really made us proud. The Reestablishment is so grateful for the sacrifices you’ve made.”

“Who are you?” I say, searching for the voice.

And then I see them, a man and a woman kneeling in front of me, and it’s only then that I realize I’m lying on the ground, paralyzed. My arms and legs are bound by pulsing, electric wires. I try to fight against them and I can’t.

My powers have been extinguished.

I look up at these strangers, eyes wide and terrified. “Who are you?” I say again, still raging against my restraints. “What do you want from me?”

“I’m the supreme commander of Oceania,” the woman says to me, smiling. “Your father and I have come to take you home.”

WARNER

JULIETTE

Why don’t you just kill yourself? someone at school asked me once.

I think it was the kind of question intended to be cruel, but it was the first time I’d ever contemplated the possibility. I didn’t know what to say. Maybe I was crazy to consider it, but I’d always hoped that if I were a good enough girl—if I did everything right, if I said the right things or said nothing at all—I thought my parents would change their minds. I thought they would finally listen when I tried to talk. I thought they would give me a chance. I thought they might finally love me.

I always had that stupid hope.

—AN EXCERPT FROM JULIETTE’S JOURNALS IN THE ASYLUM

When I open my eyes, I see stars.

Dozens of them. Little plastic stars stuck to the ceiling. They glow, faintly, in the dim light, and I sit up, head pounding, as I try to orient myself. There’s a window on my right; a sheer, gauzy curtain filters sunset oranges and blues into the room at odd angles. I’m sitting on a small bed. I look up, look around.

Everything is pink.

Pink blanket, pink pillows. Pink rug on the floor.

I get to my feet and spin around, confused, to find that there’s another, identical bed in here, but its sheets are purple. The pillows are purple.

The room is divided by an imaginary line, each half a mirror image of the other. Two desks; one pink, one purple. Two chairs; one pink, one purple. Two dressers, two mirrors. Pink, purple. Painted flowers on the walls. A small table and chairs off to one side. A rack of fluffy costume dresses. A box of tiaras on the floor. A little chalkboard easel in the corner. A bin under the window, full to the brim with dolls and stuffed animals.

This is a child’s bedroom.

I feel my heart racing. My skin goes hot and cold.

I can still feel a loss inside of me—an inherent knowledge that my powers aren’t working—and I realize only then that there are glowing, electric cuffs clamped around my wrists and ankles. I yank at them, use every bit of my strength to tear them open, and they don’t budge.

I’m growing more panicked by the moment.

I run to the window, desperate for some sense of place—for some explanation of where I am, for proof that this isn’t some kind of hallucination—and I’m disappointed; the view out the window only confuses me. I see a stunning vista. Endless, rolling hills. Mountains in the distance. A massive, glittering lake reflecting the colors of the sunset. It’s beautiful.

I step back, feeling suddenly more terrified.

My eyes move instead to the pink desk and chair, scanning their surfaces for clues. There are only stacks of colorful notebooks. A porcelain cup full of markers and glitter pens. Several pages of fluorescent stickers.

My hand shakes as I pull open the desk drawer.

Inside are stacks of old letters and Polaroids.

At first, I can only stare at them. My heartbeats echo in my head, throbbing so hard I can almost feel them in my throat. My breaths come in faster, the inhalations shallow. I feel my head spin and I blink once, twice, forcing myself to be steady. To be brave.

Slowly, very slowly, I pick up the stack of letters.

All I have to do is look at the mailing addresses to know that these letters predate The Reestablishment. They’ve all been sent to the attention of Evie and Maximillian Sommers. To a street in Glenorchy, New Zealand.

New Zealand.

And then I remember, with a sudden gasp, the faces of the man and woman who carried me out of the symposium.

I’m the supreme commander of Oceania, she’d said. Your father and I have come to take you home.

I close my eyes and stars explode in the blackness behind my eyelids, leaving me faint. Breathless. I blink my eyes open. My fingers feel loose, clumsy as I open the letter at the top of the stack.

The note is brief. It’s dated twelve years ago.

M & E—

All is well. We’ve found her a suitable family. No sign of powers yet, but we’ll keep a close eye on her. Still, I must advise you to put her out of your mind. She and Emmaline have had their memories expunged. They no longer ask about you. This will be my last update.

P. Anderson.

P. Anderson.

Paris Anderson. Warner’s father.

I look around the bedroom with new eyes, feeling a terrible chill creep up my spine as the impossible pieces of this new insanity come together in my mind.

Vomit threatens. I swallow it back.

I’m staring now at the stack of Polaroids, untouched, inside the open desk drawer. I think I’ve lost feeling in parts of my face. Still, I force myself to pick up the stack.

The first is a picture of two little girls in matching yellow dresses. They’re both brown-haired and a little skinny, holding hands in a garden path. One of them looks at the camera, the other one looks at her feet.

I flip the photo over.

Ella’s first day of school

The stack of photos falls out of my trembling hands, scattering as they go. My every instinct is shrieking at me, sounding alarm bells, begging me to run.

Get out, I try to scream at myself. Get out of here.

But my curiosity won’t let me go.

A few of the photos have landed face-up on the desk, and I can’t stop staring at them, my heart pounding in my ears. Carefully, I pick them up.

Three little brown-haired girls stand next to bikes that are slightly too big for them. They’re all looking at each other, laughing at something.

I flip the photo over.

Ella, Emmaline, and Nazeera. No more training wheels.

I gasp, the sound choking me as it leaves my chest. I feel my lungs squeeze and I reach out, catch the desk with one hand to steady myself. I feel like I’m floating, unhinged.

Caught in a nightmare.

I flip through the photos with a desperation now, my mind working faster than my hands as I fumble, trying and failing to make sense of what I’m seeing.

The next photo is of a little girl holding the hand of an older man.

Emmaline and Papa, it says on the back.

Another photo, this one of both girls climbing a tree.

The day Ella twisted her ankle

Another one, blurred faces, cupcakes and candles—

Emmaline’s 5th birthday

Another, this time a picture of a handsome couple—

Paris and Leila, visiting for Christmas

And I freeze

stunned

feel the air leave my body.

I’m holding only one photo now, and I have to force myself, beg myself to look at it, the square Polaroid shaking in my trembling hand.

It’s a picture of a little boy standing next to a little girl. She’s sitting in a stairwell. He looks at her as she eats a piece of cake.

I flip it over.

Aaron and Ella

is all it says.

I trip backward, stumbling, and collapse onto the floor. My whole body is seizing, shaking with terror, with confusion, with impossibility.

Suddenly, as if on cue, there’s a knock at my door. A woman—the woman from before; an older version of the woman in the pictures—pops her head inside, smiles at me and says, “Ella, honey, don’t you want to come outside? Your dinner is getting cold.”

And I’m certain I’m going to be sick.

The room tilts around me.

I see spots

feel myself sway

and then—

all at once

The world goes black.

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