Authors: E.R. Arroyo
clears his throat. “Henry.”
Henry.” I look at the woman. She locks eyes with Henry.
nice to meet you, Nicolette.” I think of Karen’s advice to keep cooperating.
I’m trying. Really trying. This has to work out; I have nowhere else to go.
Well, Dylan has nowhere else to go. I could go back to The City. But I can’t
think like that.
me about her, Nicolette.”
opens a folder and lays it gingerly on the table. “
head trauma, resulting from multiple incidents. Some dating years back and
others as recent as a few days old. We also found extensive foreign matter
surgically placed inside her brain. It would take a long, risky surgery to
remove.” I notice she didn’t call me 1206, but she didn’t call me Cori,
stitches on her neck, we believe from the removal of a security chip from
Antius. The site and size of the incision, though crude, support this theory.”
correct,” I interject, though I doubt she was looking for a reply. She’s
simply giving a medical report.
was treated for exposure with a low dosage of antibodies and responded
remarkably well in recovery. Her system has been cleared and declared
you,” Henry says. “Anything else?”
of two broken ribs, but they’ve healed. A hairline fracture above the right
eye. Also healed.” She closes the folder abruptly. “Do you really want to
hear it all?”
thank you. That will do.”
I see my friend? Is he okay?” I try my best to keep my voice calm, lest they
decide I need another cold shower.
little while ago, you said a name. Could you repeat it?”
was more than that.”
Cole.” It feels weird to say the words. Today was the first time in ten years
I’ve said them. I feel like I’m not her anymore, and I shouldn’t be saying her
did you hear this name?”
look up at him, confused. “It’s
name. I was named after my mother’s
door bursts open and a man stands there. He’s tall and gray-haired, and his
light brown eyes are so intense they pierce my heart. His knuckles turn white
around the doorknob, and his chest rises and falls rapidly. The roundness of
his set jaw feels familiar. And I can’t help coming back to his eyes, the
intensity there. I get the sensation of looking in a mirror when I
are my father’s brown eyes.
rise from my chair and back myself into the corner opposite the door.
His voice is tender; it’s gentler than I’ve ever heard it. Gentler than the
time I almost got us caught because of my twisted ankle. More gentle than when
he told me we had to leave my mother’s body because there was nothing we could
do for her.
I saw him die. I saw the blood, the stab wound. I saw the claw marks, the
torn flesh. I look at the man before me and find scars up and down both sides
of his neck. I did not see my father die, I saw him
steps toward me, and Henry rises. “Anthony, wait. She’s unstable.”
my daughter.” He takes another step toward me, and I plant both hands against
the wall to still the shaking. Tears fill my eyes and begin to brim as he
closes the gap between us and reaches for me.
press myself as far into the corner as my body can go. “Daddy?”
leaves his hand extended between us, and I’m glad he doesn’t grab me. I’m not
ready to touch a dead man--my father who isn’t dead at all.
me, Corinne. It’s Dad.” I hunker away from him, still unsure how to process,
how to feel, how to...let him wrap his arms around me. “It’s Dad, Corinne.”
take a tiny step toward him and, sensing my hesitation, he slowly reaches for
me. When his hand wraps around my shoulder, tears well up in his eyes, and I
lean into him, letting him embrace me. The two of us sob together, squeezing
each other tighter and tighter as minutes pass.
we catch our breaths, he pulls back and kisses my forehead. “I thought you
were dead. They brought me here unconscious, but said you were gone when they
got to me. I looked everywhere. I was looking for a body. I should have
known you would survive. I should have known.” He embraces me again. “I’m so
lets me go and I notice more men have joined us, Henry standing next to the
table and two others at the door, their hands on their weapons.
get you out of here.” He walks toward the door with an arm around my
shoulder. “Let us through,” he orders the men, and without a moment’s hesitation,
they move aside.
takes me down the hall in the other direction. “You must be starving.”
haven’t had a decent meal in ten years.” He smiles at me. At the end of the
hall, we enter a common area and people stand to face him as we pass, with
their hands at their sides.
young guy opens a door for us, nodding at my father, and my father nodding
back. “Sir,” the boy says, reminding me of how Titus addressed Nathan.
sits me at a table and storms through another door, his voice too muffled to
make out. When he returns minutes later, he carries a tray of food and sets it
on the table. He sits across from me and hands me a fork and a knife.
is all this? Where does it come from?”
grow the vegetables here in Mercy. The fruit comes from our sister colony,
Delilah. We get the meat from The City.”
must be hunters. They said they trade with Mercy, and this explains why. The
animals only seem to live in The City.
smiles warmly. “Of course it is.”
I shovel a few bites of amazing tasting food in my mouth, I set my fork down.
He snaps his fingers and a woman across the room lifts her head.
please.” He says it nicely, but she obeys it like a command. Who is my
drink the water she brings, and clear my throat. I pick a piece of meat from
my teeth and set it on the plate. “Can I see my friend?”
comes a few hours later. I sit next to my father on a soft piece of furniture
like the one in the house we stayed in. My father calls it a “sofa.” Two men
escort Dylan into the room and sit him next to me. He has a fresh bruise on
his cheek and stitches where his chip used to be. I hope he convinced them he’s
not a spy.
okay?” I whisper, laying my hand over his.
tries to smile.
a little medicated right now,” Dad explains.
fine.” Dylan looks me over.
okay, too.” I smile, rubbing his hand with my thumb. He breathes a sigh of
relief, and I throw my arms around him, burying my head in the crook of his
neck. His arms feel amazing and warm, and I squeeze him like I’m afraid to let
afraid to let go. Bad things happen when I do.
father clears his throat, and I blush as I pull from Dylan’s embrace.
Twenty-four hours ago I was practically an adult, out in the wild with Dylan.
Now I’m a teenage girl with a boy who hasn’t met my father.
this is Dylan. Dylan, this...” His eyes grow wide. “Is my father.” They
both rise, and Dad extends his hand to Dylan, who looks at it awkwardly before
extending his own. Dad shakes twice and releases.
well.” Dad sits back down, as does Dylan. I feel trapped between them. They
sit on the edge of the sofa facing each other, and I’m not sure I exist
is this place?”
is Mercy. Part of a system of colonies called Refuge.”
are more?” I ask.
All this time I thought I would be lucky to find a single civilization. But there
. A new hope springs into my heart, and I can’t explain the
feeling that overtakes me.
people here, they respect you. They treat you like their leader.”
nods, smiling. “Observant. I am the chosen leader of all of Refuge. I live
in Mercy because it’s my favorite and centrally located.”
shifts forward in his seat. “The men who...
me. They seemed
command a number of armies. With enemies like Antius, we need them.”
I hear you are no stranger to armies yourself.”
shudder, remembering my association with them. I tell myself I was just
surviving, and that isn’t a part of who I am.
you have an entire army at your disposal?”
sits up straighter. “Disposal? No. At my aide? Absolutely.”
look over at Dylan, realizing something more can come of this. That this isn’t
just about escaping and finding a new home anymore. It’s not about being rid
of Nathan while letting Nathan continue to hurt people.
was a time I didn’t even think it was possible to save myself, much less Dylan,
too. And I never would have dreamed it could be possible to save the others.
we have to go back for the others. All those people. Can we save them?”
want to go back to Antius? After everything we’ve been through.” Dylan and I
are alone in a small bathroom.
never considered...I never even would have thought. But all those people. If
we can help them, we have to try. How can we run away and leave the others to
suffer? To die.” I never knew I felt this way. Or maybe I didn’t until now.
Those people are my family, too. Just as much as Dylan is. It’s Nathan I
hate, not the innocent civilians in his colony. They deserve somewhere safe to
live, where the people looking out for them are honorable. Leaders like my
kisses my forehead and pulls me into his arms. “Then we’ll go. If your father
is willing, we’ll go.”
tiptoe for a kiss, and he bends forward so I can reach, pressing his lips
softly against mine. It’s the first time we’ve kissed since The City. And it
feels like home.
room is large and bright. One male and one female leader from each colony sit
in chairs forming a large circle. They are more mature, probably forty and
up. Their clothes are earthy and look comfortable. Their hairstyles vary, and
they are far from uniform. Some of the ladies wear their hair in buns, others
ponytails, others loose or braided. Some of the men have shaggy hair that
covers their necks, others have it cropped close to the scalp. They are
individuals, and they are free to be so.
dad is among the circle while Dylan and I stand along the wall with a few other
younger people. It took two days to assemble the leaders of Refuge for this
father stands to address them, and they all quiet down. They do not fear him,
they respect him. There’s an incredible difference.
walks in and comes to my side, laying a tender hand on my shoulder. She gives
a warm smile. She’s been sharing her room with me.
whisper to her, “They’re not going to listen to me. They don’t even know me.
They won’t trust me.”
doesn’t matter who you are. Right now, it only matters who your father is.”
She gives my arm a squeeze. “They’ll listen.” Karen takes a seat next to
Henry before my father speaks.
Dad dips his head, and they nod back. “We have been called upon to take action
against Antius. After discussion with our informants, we believe their words
should be considered by the council. Please welcome our guests, Corinne and
clear my throat as we join my father. I wipe the sweat from my palms,
considering how my voice will sound when I address them. “I’m Cori, this is
much discussion with my father.” I point to him so they’ll make the
connection, in case they can’t tell by our matching faces. “We would like to
propose a rescue mission to Antius.”
old man clears his throat. “To our knowledge, the citizens of Antius are
squeezes my hand, encouraging me. I plant my feet. “The soldiers are
hostile. But there are innocent women and children, and even some men, who I
believe need help.”