Authors: E.R. Arroyo
studies me a moment longer.
Medical you said you understood something. What?”
hesitates. “I understand what Cornelius saw in you. You’re...exceptional--”
he forcefully interrupts me in return. “But you do not like to be told what to
do.” How could he possibly know that? I’ve followed orders flawlessly during
obey,” I tell him, a little too defensively. His eyes are glued to mine now,
and I wish I could look away. Eye contact was never meant to be held this
you do,” he says softly. I can’t take it anymore, so I finally break his gaze,
picking at the dirt beneath my fingernails.
assignment recommendations will you make for me?” I say it casually, but it’s
of upmost importance. He puts the truck in gear and lets his foot off the
brake. We accelerate slowly across no man’s land.
assignment would you like?” He’s being sincere. I’m treading lightly.
He stops the truck again. I think that was the wrong answer.
he asks, looking deep into my eyes again. Searching me. I don’t know what the
right answer is, so I don’t give one. I shrug my shoulders, thinking of saying
I don’t know, but he speaks again. “You’re very...”
wonder if this is what he’d wanted to say in the medical wing. I force my
voice to sound tender. “I’m what, Titus?”
You’re the only person in all of Antius that I can’t seem to figure out.”
Intrigue. Because I’m different. As if I need more proof I don’t belong
here. I wipe the exhaustion from my eyes and peer out the window at the cold,
open field surrounding us. “Hey,” he whispers, placing his hand on my knee.
“I didn’t mean it that way.”
try to ignore his hand on my leg, but it’s searing through my skin, burning
down to the bone.
Ignore it, ignore it
I tell myself. I can’t risk offending him. I still honor the choice not to
seem like you could be a person that does something really special. Something
great,” he continues, his sincerity burning into my heart. He
in me. But why? Did Cornelius?
what does he mean anyway? What does he think I’m capable of? Being Nathan’s
demented minion? A captain in his army?
try to fight back the cynic screaming questions in my head, because I don’t
think that’s what Titus means. There’s something in him that catches me.
Something human that Nathan hasn’t managed to kill: it sounds like hope.
does Titus hope for?
stare at the hand on my knee, and watch as he pulls it away. He pats me on the
head like one might touch a child, then puts his hands back on the steering
understand why Cornelius loved you so much.”
my chance to ask
well did you know him?”
asked me to look out for you, which isn’t easy with a girl like you.” I stare
at nothing while I process that Titus really was close to Cornelius. And it
seems Cornelius really trusted him. “He talked about you a lot.”
fall into a silence for what must be several minutes, but only feels like a
second. I realize I miss Cornelius. And I wonder if Titus does, too. Maybe
that’s really what our newfound bond is about. For a moment I’m grateful that
someone else is here to share Cornelius’s memory.
single tear escapes down my cheek, and Titus reaches across the divide between
us and wraps an arm around my shoulder. I try not to squirm, I can’t risk
offending him. He makes the assignments, and I need him to assign me to trade.
it’s okay. I like to think he’s in a better place now.” He leans his head
against mine while he pats my shoulder, and in a moment his touch becomes white
hot fire on my hyper-sensitive skin, and it brings me to my senses. Titus is
can’t touch me. I’m sorry,” I mumble as I push him away. “You can’t.” I
can’t look at him. What is he thinking? Reckless. Completely haphazard. My
hands begin to tremble.
not alone,” he says, as though what he just did wasn’t illegal.
I am alone.”
okay to let people in,” he encourages. If I didn’t know better, I’d say
a traitor to Nathan, too.
illegal to let people in. Or have you forgotten who you serve?” I steel my
voice, and it hurts like icy needles in my throat.
takes a deep breath with a long pause. “Right.”
both keep our eyes forward, but I can see him gripping the steering wheel in my
want to tell him that it’s okay, and I appreciate him trying to comfort me and
doing what Cornelius asked of him, but I don’t say it. I can’t let myself get
soft. I’ve gotten way too comfortable with him. This is still a dangerous
place, and Titus works for my enemy.
that what this was about all along? Because I’m the only female you have
access to?” I almost regret the harshness of my accusation, but this has to
stop. I can’t let him be close to me, no matter what the motivations behind it
not like that.” He almost laughs. “I have access to plenty of
Cori.” He must be approved for reproduction.
I’m not a mother,” I tell him, referring, of course, to the only contact
allowed in the colony.
jaw is clenched tight, his voice strained, growing irritated. “I know that.”
don’t treat me like one.”
simply nods, his lips in a tight line across his face.
drives us back to the compound without a word. I let myself out of the truck
and march toward the recessed elevator, which I call up by pressing my
fingerprint onto a panel on the ground. By the time it rises from the ground,
Titus has caught up to me and gets inside with me. When I look up to see the
other body in the elevator with us, my heart stops cold as Dylan steps between
me and Titus.
miss Dylan so much I consider hugging his neck and never letting go. I could
talk all this confusion out with him, and maybe he’d have some pearls of wisdom
small space is filled with beating hearts and deep, heavy breaths, all for
different reasons. I want Dylan to speak to me, to tell me what’s going on in
Technology, and how he’s doing. If he’s seen Alyssa. Why would he, though? I
don’t ask, and he doesn’t tell. He simply steps off the elevator on his floor.
and I return to the training floor where the other pledges busy themselves with
weapons and ropes. Captain Marsiana watches over them. Nathan isn’t here, and
I’m sure it’s because of the incident at the perimeter, whatever it was.
for a run,” Marsiana announces when she sees me. Apparently she’d been waiting
for us to get back. She doesn’t look at anyone, she simply leads the way to
the elevator. Looks like there’s no sleep in the near future.
run is surprisingly refreshing. The air in my lungs seems to clear my thoughts
and steady my emotions. I realize I probably overreacted with Titus, and deep
down I know he wasn’t trying to do anything inappropriate--and why would he if
he has access to the beautiful women in Reproduction? I’ve just become so used
to my independence, I reject any semblance of need. He wanted to comfort me,
but I didn’t
it. I still don’t understand everything that happened
in the truck, and if it’s going to change anything. I can only hope that I
haven’t made a huge mistake, or that he wasn’t entrapping me.
unknowingly went directly to the source--Titus--about the assignment I’ll need
in order to escape. I’m not sure what the odds are he’ll find me suitable and
assign me to a trade convoy. He knows I’m good with any weapon. I’m vigilant,
level-headed. And I obey orders. I have to be a viable candidate, and I hope
he’ll take my request seriously. It’s my only shot.
always a sneaking doubt lingering in the back of my mind that Titus doesn’t
take me seriously. After all, there’s no reason for me to trust him, or his
intentions. Titus is Nathan’s puppet. I can’t let myself forget that.
Everyone here is dangerous. Maybe even Dylan...
him I still trust. And he’s right, I have to get out as soon as possible.
take an extra long shower after the run, and barely eat a thing at dinner. The
night brings sleep, but not rest. One moment I’m staring at the gray ceiling
listening to the sounds of Marsiana’s breathing, the next I’m seven-years-old.
huddled in a dark corner while my father cradles me in his arms. I’ve hurt myself
somehow, and he’s trying to keep me from making noise. He wipes the tears from
my cheeks and kisses my temple, but he doesn’t look down at me. His eyes dart
protectively from one direction to the next, staying vigilant.
he whispers in my ear. “They’re close. We have to stay quiet.”
tiny, puffy eyes close for a moment while I catch my breath. Then it’s
happening. All of a sudden. All too quickly.
father is on his feet with me in his arms and he’s running. The savages have
found us, and they’re flushing us out of our hiding place. If I were bigger,
stronger, faster I could run on my own and not slow my father down, but I’m too
young. I’m helpless in his arms, looking over his shoulders as bloody, inhuman
men pursue us.
have a good head start, but I’m too heavy, and Dad hasn’t slept in two days.
He’s breathing so heavily.
put me down. I can run,” I tell him.
glances over his shoulder and gives me the chance. When I’m on the ground I
realize my injury--my ankle. I must’ve rolled it, but can’t remember how. I
make it two steps before screaming in pain, and landing in my father’s arms
my fault, all my fault. A stupid injury slows us both down. A stupid injury
causes him to be unable to draw his weapons as they gain on us. Stupid dead
weight in his arms drains the energy he needs to fight when they catch us.
block of running, and we turn a corner. When my father stops in his tracks, I
turn to see what’s stopped him. There are more savages ahead, while those
behind us close in. We’re trapped in an alley, blocked on both ends.
father eases me into a dumpster along with his backpack and mine. A black lid
swings over and traps me inside while the sounds of enraged savages growling
get closer. Dad must’ve pulled his weapons because I hear his guns firing over
and over. Savages yelp, and more shots ring. There’s a pause then more shots,
but they’re slower. Scuffling, pounding, and sounds of fists hitting flesh
erupt for what feels like forever.
I hear the roar of an engine and more gunshots that are too loud and too
frequent to be my dad’s. When the noise finally ceases, I crawl out of the
dumpster to join my father.
caught by a bright light coming from the direction of the engine, a vehicle.
In the other direction, my dad lies in a puddle of his own blood in the
street. I run to him on my bad ankle, and drop before I make it, so I crawl
the rest of the way screaming for him.
finally reach him and barely take in the injury to his neck that’s too mangled
to say what exactly caused it. The injury to his abdomen is more evident--a
stab wound. I’m too late, and whoever showed up and scared off the savages was
too late as well.
pair of hands peel me away from his dying body. After that, there is nothing
except me being held by a pair of arms that are not my father’s. And I don’t
ever want to be held again.
is cold and dead.
set of hands are cold and dead.
sweating bullets when I’m jarred awake by a simple sound in the bathroom, where
Marsiana must be finishing up a shower.
takes a moment for me to realize what woke me isn’t the shower, it’s her
voice. I rise from the bed and tiptoe in her direction. When I peak into the
bathroom, I see Marsi in the floor crying into her hands.
grab a clean towel and go to drape it over her naked body when I see what I
assume is the source of her pain: fresh bruises taking form on both of her
shoulders, like someone grabbed her too hard.
drop to my knees beside her. “Marsiana, what happened?”
wipes her eyes, poorly covering herself with her lanky arms. Shower water
drips from her hair onto her cheeks where it blends with the tears. She clears
her throat. “I’m fine, Cori. Go back to bed.”
You’re hurt.” She finally looks at me, her eyes wide and her bottom lip
quivering. I attempt to assure her, “Whoever it was, we can turn them in.”