Authors: E.R. Arroyo
chose you,” I mutter. But I don’t know why I say it. He bends over to pick up
my shirt but doesn’t bother putting in on me. He just walks with me in his
know, Cori.” His voice comes soft as a whisper, but I don’t think he’s
chose you because...because...” I can’t hold my own head up, so I lean into
his shoulder. “The whole world is cold and dead. You’re the only thing that’s
warm.” I lay my hand on his chest to feel his heartbeat. His warmth.
speaks but his voice is muffled, and I can’t hold my eyes open any longer.
shakes me. “Wake up, sweetheart.” He kisses my forehead. He wobbles a bit,
like he’s dizzy, and I know the feeling. He kneels, setting me on the ground
in front of him, where he slides my shirt back over my head and guides my arms
into the sleeves. Is a toxic shirt better than no shirt?
can’t.” I try to force my eyes open, wishing I didn’t feel like a rag doll.
Bright lights shine on us, and I crack one eye open. A vehicle approaches and
comes to a stop several yards in front of us. My eye closes, and I can’t
shoot.” Dylan’s voice. “We’ll surrender, just please, don’t hit her. She’s
been exposed to contaminated water and some kind of insects.” I’ve been hit on
the head far too many times to remember. Who’s he talking to?
hear a plink, something hitting the dirt nearby, and I shift with Dylan’s
movements, I guess he’s holding me again. He picked me up when I was soaking
in that water, so if I was exposed, so was he. How is he awake, then? I just
want to sleep.
feel the gun tugged from the back of my pants and I hear it hit the ground as
well. What is he doing? Why is he disarming us?
set of arms grabs me, and I groan as I’m yanked from Dylan.
hurt her,” he snarls, but his speech is slurred. I hear clicks and squeaking
and then an engine. I hit the cold, metal floor of the vehicle, and the
vibrations pull me right back under.
I wake, my wrists are cuffed and chained to the center of a table. My head
lies sideways on my own arm, and I’m seated in a chair. The room I’m in is
very small, just large enough for this table and a little room to walk around
it. An empty chair waits for someone across from me. I wonder who.
hear a voice yelling from somewhere else in the building, and I get the
distinct impression that it’s Dylan. Maybe he was right, and Tyce led us to
enemies. I shake my head and lift it from the table.
look up at a piece of mirror on the wall afraid that my face will be poisoned
beyond recognition. To my relief, my face is fine. Just a long, red burn mark
on my jaw.
door opens, admitting a man with graying hair and earth-toned clothes. He
shuts the door and sits across from me. “Welcome to Mercy.”
lift my hands and set them down to make the chains clink against the table.
“Show much mercy these days?”
to Antius spies, usually. But then again, you are alive.”
not a spy.”
clears his throat, lacing his fingers and setting his hands on the table
between us. “We don’t show much mercy to
from Antius. You tend
to not return the favor.”
not from Antius.”
no sense in lying. We know you are. We know a lot about you, actually.”
sit up straighter. “No, I came from there, but I was an orphan. They’ve had
me for ten years, and I finally escaped. That’s why I’m here.”
a really nice story.” He mocks genuine interest, then returns to his
stone-faced facade. “Where you come from, they assign numbers. Do you have
I grit my teeth.
Others my age have lower numbers, but I didn’t arrive there till I was seven,
right, 1206. Why don’t you tell us how you got here.”
hands never leave the table, his expression doesn’t change. I think he’s done
glances over his shoulder at the mirror, which I realize must be see-through
from the other side. How many of them are watching me?
were directed here by a friend in The City.”
He raises his eyebrows. “Antius spies surviving The City folk...well, that’s
unheard of. So you’ve got that going for you.”
said you would be kind.” I wiggle my wrists in the cuffs.
that wasn’t his place to say; however, we have been kind to you. Your current
is for our protection.” He takes a breath, shifting gears. “The boy you’re
Don’t interrupt me. 862 escaped with you? Was he also an orphan?”
escaped with me. And no, he was born in Antius.”
he’s not like them. Is he okay? Can I see him?”
don’t hear him screaming anymore, but I did. I think of all we’ve been through
and try to imagine what it must take to make someone his size scream.
doesn’t sound like you’re being very kind to him, either.”
do well to just cooperate and let us worry about who to treat kindly. But I
assure you, kind or not, we are being more than fair.”
lean forward so I can reach my forehead with my hands, and push the hair away
from the sweat pooling there.
people...” I grit my teeth when he lumps me in with them. “Slaughtered our
last trade convoy and took everything they brought with them.”
know.” What am I saying? This isn’t going to help.
do?” he asks, unable to hide his surprise.
squeeze my eyes closed, kicking myself for speaking up. “I was there. I saw
see.” He takes his hands off the table and sets them in his lap.
there anything you can tell us about that day?”
don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want to talk about this. I have
nothing to say. Nothing to say.
“Yes.” I swallow, but my throat is dry. I should ask for water. “It was my
first mission. I was planning to run away if the opportunity presented itself,
but everyone was armed.”
nod. I glance at the mirror, thinking the people on the other side probably
hate me. They’ll never be able to look past the
in my history.
How do I make them see? “Jacob didn’t bring everything that was agreed on.
Your men argued that they wouldn’t complete the trade unless we gave them all
the meds they asked for. So...” Flashes of gunshots and blood-stained
pavement overwhelm me and my breath catches. I try to choke back a sob, but it
escapes me. I lay my forehead on the cold metal table as my tears fall into my
started shooting, and I saw a kid running. I tried to follow him, thinking he
could lead me somewhere safe, but they caught me, so I pretended to shoot him.”
Shut up, Cori. Shut up!
“But I missed by at least a yard. And
I left him the key so he could get back safely.” I finally look up, my eyes
wide. “Did he make it back? Is he okay?”
man stands and taps on the glass. A woman enters with a cup of water and sets
it down beside me. I look her in the eye, “Did he make it? Please.”
looks at the man, as if for permission to tell me, but he waves for her to
leave, and she does.
didn’t make it
And they think it’s my fault. They
think I was a part of it. I lower my head again as another sob overtakes me.
“They killed them because of Nathan, because Nathan is cruel. He’s a monster
and he’s killed everyone who ever cared about me. Why didn’t he just kill
me?” I cry so loudly it echoes through the room and I don’t even try to hide
my face anymore. I look at the man. “Why didn’t he just kill me?”
just stares at me, his expression unchanging.
are you a trained member of Nathan Burke’s army? Are you or are you not a
soldier of Antius?”
name is Cori.”
name is Cori!” I scream at the top of my lungs. Nathan would love this. I’m
finally broken, he’s just not here to see it. I sob more and scream my name
over and over until the man leaves the room. I don’t notice if he even shut
the door, not that it matters. I can’t hear anything but my own voice.
name is Cori. My name is Corinne Francis Cole. I am not 1206. I’m Corinne
Cole. I had a family, and they died. I’m not from Antius. I’m not 1206!” My
voice goes hoarse over a hollow sob, and no more sound comes out.
pull against my shackles, knowing they won’t budge but unable to do anything
but feel helpless. I bury my face between my elbows and sob then jerk on the
chains even harder. I kick the chair out from under me and pull the table so
hard it slides. I scream at the glass, “Just let me go. I’ll live in the
woods.” I remember Dylan and correct myself. “Let us go. Please.”
door swings open and an arm wraps around my waist from behind and holds me away
from the table while someone else unlocks my cuffs. I thrash against whoever’s
holding me, elbowing him in the nose. The other man grabs my legs while the
first one lifts me off the ground like I weigh nothing, and carries me down the
hall. As we pass an open door, I see Dylan hunched over in the floor while
someone comes out, closing the door between us.
I thrash harder against my captor, reaching for Dylan, but they take me farther
down the hall. The man pushes through another door and drops me on the floor
next to a drain. A woman with a gun stands over me, and fires up a shower
head, soaking me with freezing cold water. I lay in it unmoving, while the men
leave the room. This woman must be tough if they’ll leave me alone with her.
I don’t want to test her.
stare at her through water that splashes off my eyelashes. I don’t move an
kneels, not letting the gun go too slack in her grip. “The boy made it back.”
, I think. I meet her eyes, grateful to finally know. “Please.
Clean yourself up.”
think maybe it’s a trick, but I can’t come up with a possible reason. I expect
the woman to lose her cool and shoot me, or hit me with the butt of the gun.
But the woman doesn’t move. And her expression looks genuine.
eyes a bar of soap, and I grab it slowly. I try to lather it on my hand just
as the water starts to warm up, just a little. I rub the lather over my face,
trying to wash away the poison from the wormy bugs and the toxic water. I
reach under my shirt and rub the bar over my armpits.
woman finally stands, I guess realizing that I’m cooperating. She turns her
head to the side so she’s not looking straight at me, so I undress and finish
cleaning up. When I get all the suds out of my hair, the lady turns off the
shower and offers me a towel.
wrap myself up and follow her down the hall, noticing her hand never leaves her
gun. In a small room to the right, the woman shuts the door and puts her gun
in a holster on her hip. “My name is Karen.” She pulls clean clothes out of a
dresser and lays them on the bed.
you.” I dress myself quickly, surprised at myself for not being shy in front
of her. I’m just too tired to care. Too broken.
sits me down in a chair in front of a mirror and begins to comb out my hair.
know.” She smiles. This woman is tender. She’s kind. But I can tell she’s
still tough. There are small patches of gray at her temples, but otherwise her
hair is a deep brown color, and her green eyes are bright and wide.
you like it pulled back?” She holds up an elastic and it reminds me of Antius
women, so I shake my head and she leaves it down.
going to go back to the interrogation room. We don’t want to hurt you. We
just need you to keep cooperating.” What I was doing back there, they considered
. I almost laugh.
we arrive at the interrogation room
the same man as before is there, along
with a new face, a lady even older than Karen. I never saw many gray-haired
people in Antius. I wonder what happens to them when they get old.
seat me in the same chair, which they have set back in its place. But they do
not cuff me. I cross my hands and set them in my lap.
your name?” I ask the man.