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don’t I

should I

why won’t I

And even when you’re ready to let go. When you’re ready to break free. When you’re ready to be brand-new. Loneliness is an old friend standing beside you in the mirror, looking you in the eye, challenging you to live your life without it. You can’t find the words to fight yourself, to fight the words screaming that you’re not enough never enough never ever enough.

Loneliness is a bitter, wretched companion.

Sometimes it just won’t let go.


I blink and gasp and flinch away from the fingers snapping in front of my face as the familiar stone walls of Omega Point come back into focus. I manage to spin around.

Kenji is staring at me.

“What?” I shoot him a panicked, nervous look as I clasp and unclasp my ungloved hands, wishing I had something warm to wrap my fingers in. This suit does not come with pockets and I wasn’t able to salvage the gloves I ruined in the research rooms. I haven’t received any replacements, either.

“You’re early,” Kenji says to me, cocking his head, watching me with eyes both surprised and curious.

I shrug and try to hide my face, unwilling to admit that I hardly slept through the night. I’ve been awake since 3:00 a.m., fully dressed and ready to go by 4:00. I’ve been dying for an excuse to fill my mind with things that have nothing to do with my own thoughts. “I’m excited,” I lie. “What are we doing today?”

He shakes his head a bit. Squints at something over my shoulder as he speaks to me. “You, um”—he clears his throat—“you okay?”

“Yes, of course.”



“Nothing,” he says quickly. “Just, you know.” A haphazard gesture toward my face. “You don’t look so good, princess. You look kind of like you did that first day you showed up with Warner back on base. All scared and dead-looking and, no offense, but you look like you could use a shower.”

I smile and pretend I can’t feel my face shaking from the effort. I try to relax my shoulders, try to look normal, calm, when I say, “I’m fine. Really.” I drop my eyes. “I’m just—it’s a little cold down here, that’s all. I’m not used to being without my gloves.”

Kenji is nodding, still not looking at me. “Right. Well. He’s going to be okay, you know.”

“What?” Breathing. I’m so bad at breathing.

“Kent.” He turns to me. “Your boyfriend. Adam. He’s going to be fine.”

1 word, 1 simple, stupid reminder of him startles the butterflies sleeping in my stomach before I remember that Adam is not my boyfriend anymore. He’s not my anything anymore. He can’t be.

And the butterflies drop dead.


I can’t do this.

“So,” I say too brightly. “Shouldn’t we get going? We should get going, right?”

Kenji shoots me an odd look but doesn’t comment. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, sure. Follow me.”


Kenji leads me to a door I’ve never seen before. A door belonging to a room I’ve never been in before.

I hear voices inside.

Kenji knocks twice before turning the handle and all at once the cacophony overwhelms me. We’re walking into a room bursting with people, faces I’ve only ever seen from far away, people sharing smiles and laughter I’ve never been welcome to. There are individual desks with individual chairs set up in the vast space so that it resembles a classroom. There’s a whiteboard built into the wall next to a monitor blinking with information. I spot Castle. Standing in the corner, looking over a clipboard with such focus that he doesn’t even notice our entry until Kenji shouts a greeting.

Castle’s entire face lights up.

I’d noticed it before, the connection between them, but it’s now becoming increasingly apparent to me that Castle harbors a special kind of affection for Kenji. A sweet, proud sort of affection that’s usually reserved for parents. It makes me wonder about the nature of their relationship. Where it began, how it began, what must’ve happened to bring them together. It makes me wonder at how little I know about the people of Omega Point.

I look around at their eager faces, men and women, youthful and middle-aged, all different ethnicities, shapes, and sizes. They’re interacting with one another like they’re part of a family and I feel a strange sort of pain stabbing at my side, poking holes in me until I deflate.

It’s like my face is pressed up against the glass, watching a scene from far, far away, wishing and wanting to be a part of something I know I’ll never really be a part of. I forget, sometimes, that there are people out there who still manage to smile every day, despite everything.

They haven’t lost hope yet.

Suddenly I feel sheepish, ashamed, even. Daylight makes my thoughts look dark and sad and I want to pretend I’m still optimistic, I want to believe that I’ll find a way to live. That maybe, somehow, there’s still a chance for me somewhere.

Someone whistles.

“All right, everyone,” Kenji calls out, hands cupped around his mouth. “Everyone take a seat, okay? We’re doing another orientation for those of you who’ve never done this before, and I need all of you to get settled for a bit.” He scans the crowd. “Right. Yeah. Everyone just take a seat. Wherever is fine. Lily—you don’t have to—okay, fine, that’s fine. Just settle down. We’re going to get started in five minutes, okay?” He holds up an open palm, fingers splayed. “Five minutes.”

I slip into the closest empty seat without looking around. I keep my head down, my eyes focused on the individual grains of wood on the desk as everyone collapses into chairs around me. Finally, I dare to glance to my right. Bright white hair and snow-white skin and clear blue eyes blink back at me.

Brendan. The electricity boy.

He smiles. Offers me a 2-finger wave.

I duck my head.

“Oh—hey,” I hear someone say. “What are you doing here?”

I jerk toward my left to find sandy-blond hair and black plastic glasses sitting on a crooked nose. An ironic smile twisted onto a pale face. Winston. I remember him. He interviewed me when I first arrived at Omega Point. Said he was some kind of psychologist. But he also happens to be the one who designed the suit I’m wearing. The gloves I destroyed.

I think he’s some kind of genius. I’m not sure.

Right now, he’s chewing on the cap of his pen, staring at me. He uses an index finger to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose. I remember he’s asked me a question and I make an effort to answer.

“I’m not actually sure,” I tell him. “Kenji brought me here but didn’t tell me why.”

Winston doesn’t seem surprised. He rolls his eyes. “Him with the freaking mysteries all the time. I don’t know why he thinks it’s such a good idea to keep people in suspense. It’s like the guy thinks his life is a movie or something. Always so dramatic about everything. It’s irritating as hell.”

I have no idea what I’m supposed to say to that. I can’t help thinking that Adam would agree with him and then I can’t help thinking about Adam and then I

“Ah, don’t listen to him.” An English accent steps into the conversation. I turn around to see Brendan still smiling at me. “Winston’s always a bit beastly this early in the morning.”

“Jesus. How early is it?” Winston asks. “I would kick a soldier in the crotch for a cup of coffee right now.”

“It’s your own fault you never sleep, mate,” Brendan counters. “You think you can survive on three hours a night? You’re mad.”

Winston drops his chewed-up pen on the desk. Runs a tired hand through his hair. Tugs his glasses off and rubs at his face. “It’s the freaking patrols. Every goddamn night. Something is going on and it’s getting intense out there. So many soldiers just walking around? What the hell are they doing? I have to actually be awake the whole time—”

“What are you talking about?” I ask before I can stop myself. My ears are perked and my interest is piqued. News from the outside is something I’ve never had the opportunity to hear before. Castle was so intent on me focusing all my energy on training that I never heard much more than his constant reminders that we’re running out of time and that I need to learn before it’s too late. I’m beginning to wonder if things are worse than I thought.

“The patrols?” Brendan asks. He waves a knowing hand. “Oh, it’s just, we work in shifts, right? In pairs—take turns keeping watch at night,” he explains. “Most of the time it’s no problem, just routine, nothing too serious.”

“But it’s been weird lately,” Winston cuts in. “It’s like they’re really searching for us now. Like it’s not just some crazy theory anymore. They know we’re a real threat and it’s like they actually have a clue where we are.” He shakes his head. “But that’s impossible.”

“Apparently not, mate.”

“Well, whatever it is, it’s starting to freak me out,” Winston says. “There are soldiers all over the place, way too close to where we are. We see them on camera,” he says to me, noticing my confusion. “And the weirdest part,” he adds, leaning in, lowering his voice, “is that Warner is always with them. Every single night. Walking around, issuing orders I can’t hear. And his arm is still injured. He walks around with it in a sling.”

“Warner?” My eyes go wide. “He’s with them? Is that—is that … unusual?”

“It’s quite odd,” Brendan says. “He’s CCR—chief commander and regent—of Sector 45. In normal circumstances he would delegate this task to a colonel, a lieutenant, even. His priorities should be on base, overseeing his soldiers.” Brendan shakes his head. “He’s a bit daft, I think, taking a risk like that. Spending time away from his own camp. Seems strange that he’d be able to get away so many nights.”

“Right,” Winston says, nodding his head. “Exactly.” He points at the 2 of us, stabbing at the air. “And it makes you wonder who he’s leaving in charge. The guy doesn’t trust anyone—he’s not known for his delegation skills to begin with—so for him to leave the base behind every night?” A pause. “It doesn’t add up. Something is going on.”

“Do you think,” I ask, feeling scared and feeling brave, “that maybe he’s looking for someone something?”

“Yup.” Winston exhales. Scratches the side of his nose. “That’s exactly what I think. And I’d love to know what the hell he’s looking for.”

“Us, obviously,” Brendan says. “He’s looking for us.”

Winston seems unconvinced. “I don’t know,” he says. “This is different. They’ve been searching for us for years, but they’ve never done anything like this. Never spent so much manpower on this kind of a mission. And they’ve never gotten this close.”