Authors: E.R. Arroyo
completely humiliated at the thought of Nathan and all his threats, him knowing
all the while that he would never follow through with them. I actually
of how angry I am, one piece of information sticks: if they catch me, they’ll
put me under and keep me there. I would rather die. My knees go weak, and my
father catches me and eases me onto his bed.
my head hits the pillow, tears fill my eyes again. My father pulls the
blankets up around me, pressing them down at the sides so I’m snug and warm.
When he kisses my forehead, I whimper as dread consumes me because this moment
should be a happy one. I’ve missed my father, and even if he’s disappointed in
my outburst, I’m glad to be near him.
use my sleeve to wipe my face, and I stare at the ceiling until Dad leaves.
Then I turn on my side and curl into a ball until he returns in the morning.
figured you’d want to eat in private.”
look up and he’s holding a plate of food and glass of water. He sets them on a
night stand while I sit up and situate the blankets. “Thanks, Dad.”
really great to have you here, you know. I’ve missed you.”
sits at the foot of the bed, crossing his arms. A grimace contorts his
features, like there’s something he wants to talk about. I have a feeling what
it might be.
just need to clear the air. We’re heading to battle today. Lives will be
lost, things are tense enough.”
are you suggesting?” I cross my arms before I realize I’m doing the same thing
as him. I uncross them and drop my hands to my lap.
it’s up to you, really. We just can’t have another outburst like that.”
you have any idea how betrayed I feel? How stupid and naive?”
hurt, too, I’m sure. I can tell you guys care a lot about each other.”
were best friends.”
you love him?”
Dad,” I say, too defensively. I clutch at the bed sheet and tug it up over my
you decide you might, you’re going to have to forgive him.”
today.” I steel my face and finally meet his eyes.
kisses me on the forehead before leaving me alone with my breakfast and the
coldness in my heart. I don’t need Dylan, just my objective. I know the
mission, and if we didn’t need him to breach the Underage building, I wouldn’t
even want him to come.
shower and dress myself in clothing Karen gave me. I pull my hair back into a
tight ponytail to keep it out of the way, but I put it higher on my head than
the Antius women do.
the troops gather to leave, we meet up in the front lawn of Mercy. There are
several buildings clustered together, all made of bricks and rocks. Trees and
even some flowers decorate the grounds. None of the buildings are taller than
a single story, but they’re deep and wide.
long line of vehicles--all equipped with black solar panels--leads all the way
up to a rusty gate on the stone walls. The walls aren’t as tall as Antius’s
fences, but I’m sure they serve some purpose.
surprised to see there are actually a handful of female soldiers to my left.
They must have slept in another building. Two of them are small, but the
others are pretty beefed up, and they look alike. Sisters maybe. The eldest
of the three appears to be barely in her thirties, the others probably in their
twenties. They have long, straight, blonde hair braided down their backs.
glance over my right shoulder and spot Dylan standing next to my father, who’s
showing him how to reload a gun. Dylan’s eyes drift to me, and I turn left and
join the blonde women.
don’t bother introducing myself, I just check my weapon again and then the
extra clips in the pouch slung across my chest.
the men begin loading onto vehicles, I follow the girls, but my father grabs my
elbow. “Ride with us.”
pull my arm from his grip and stomp toward the second vehicle--a sports utility
with three rows of seats. Dad opens the back door, and I crawl into the middle
row and slide across, then he follows. Dylan sits behind me.
drive through the day and the night. When we get to the location Max and the
others agreed on, we set up camp and sleep in shifts well into the afternoon.
I wake up, Dylan is near, readying my pack. He worked on it nonstop for two
days and has revisited it a few times since. He’s not used to the materials he
had to work with.
sit up, rub my eyes. The sun is almost set, so I know I don’t have much time
left. I wish I was going in with all these brave soldiers to have my back, but
the first and most critical step in this plan requires me to go alone. I
should be used to that, right?
put the sling over my shoulder and put it in place across my chest. It has a
pouch for my clips near my hip, a snapping holster for my knife, and zipper
pockets for the other supplies Dylan wanted me to have. I have a separate
holster across my hips for my gun--I’m still using the one Dylan got off the
dead guard. I like this gun. When I snap the buckle on my gun holster, I look
up and Dylan stands in front of me holding the pack. I think back to the last
time I climbed with one of his packs knowing,
this is going to work.
Dylan puts the bag on my shoulders,
adjusting it until it’s perfect, and I snap the buckles myself. I don’t meet
his eyes, and I don’t speak. He tugs on the straps in a few different places.
movement?” he asks just loud enough for me to hear.
bounce up and down on the balls of my feet. I grab the straps and jerk my body
weight one direction and the other. It stays in place, and there doesn’t seem
to be any slack. It’s a perfect fit.
wear a fitted t-shirt, cargo pants, and shoes Dylan modified. They are all the
same dark gray color as the cloud bank. The strap, holster, and pack are all
gray, too. I should blend into the night. That’s the idea anyway.
want to ask how I look but decide against it.
look on Dylan’s face is that of wonder. Or marvel. So I take the pack off and
leave it at his feet. I head to find my father, but Max intercepts me.
to move out, Cori?” Max hasn’t addressed me directly before.
or not, this is happening. “Yes, sir.”
go then.” He claps me on the shoulder and flashes a crooked grin.
leave the vehicles packed and facing Mercy at the campsite. A few men stay to
guard them while the rest of us head to Antius on foot. We can’t risk the
noise of engines any closer, and the woods are too dense for trucks, anyway.
we grow nearer the compound that was my prison for so long, my heart beats
faster. My father flanks my left side, Max my right. Dylan is somewhere
behind me with my pack, which he insists on carrying.
the spotlights sweep through the trees ahead, the three of us kneel, and the
others silently follow our lead.
I think, with a lump in
my throat. I try to swallow it, but I’m too anxious.
low, we advance. After the routine sweeps are done, the spotlights disappear.
Sweat covers my neck and forehead as we stop about twelve feet from the tree
line, everyone drawing their weapons.
approaches me with my pack and gestures for me to put it on. I turn my back to
him, and as he places the straps on my shoulders, he leans toward me and speaks
quietly. “I understand you’re angry, but I need you to know something.”
don’t want to hear any more lies, so I don’t respond.
want to know it all, right? The whole truth?” As many secrets as he keeps, I
could probably never know it
steps back in front of me, glancing at my shaking hands. When I don’t move for
the buckles, he snaps the first one and his hands linger on the material. “So,
here’s your full disclosure. I love you. And I’ll do anything to protect
take a few deep breaths, but keep my face blank. And I won’t look at him, I
never do when I
if there’s any part of you that still cares for me at all, please, be careful.
And don’t get caught.”
I snap the second buckle and back away. He grabs my hand, and I know there’s
more he wants to say, but it’s too late. I don’t want his full disclosure
releases me, and it’s almost too dark to see his expression, but not dark
enough. I think of my father telling me to clear the air, but I have nothing
to say. I tug my gloves on and shake my hands out, bouncing on my feet to get
the blood pumping.
of Max’s men, Jason, sets up next to a tree with a large gun. We gave some
soldiers a head start, and there
be four more guns just like this
one near the other perimeter towers. We don’t have any way to know, we just
have to hope we gave them enough time to get in place.
take deep breaths in, then out. In, then out.
It’s just like the escape
I tell myself.
I can do this.
Max steps back from Jason and waves for
everyone to back up. Jason takes aim and releases a breath as he pulls the
trigger. The gun launches a silver canister at the guard tower, echoing a soft
boom. The spotlight fires up and my heart races faster, panic stricken.
Before the light comes near us it goes slack, shifts skyward, and freezes,
shining on the gray clouds.
spring from the tree line out into the open, and I don’t hear a thing, not even
my own footsteps. When I’m almost to the tower, I see smoke coming out of the
opening around the spotlight.
reach around the metal post and climb quickly. This tower doesn’t have a deck
like the interior ones, so I have to climb in through the window.
inside, I whip around, relieved to find every guard unconscious in the floor.
Most of the smoke has dissipated but I pull a bandanna from my neck anyway,
just in case. I find the man who grabbed the spotlight handle on his way down,
rush to him, and pull his arm away. If the other guns were not in place, I
don’t want this spotlight to tip off the other towers.
aim the light at the ground until I figure out how to turn it off. I find a
switch on the top, which I have to tiptoe to reach. I flip it, and the light
briefly check the computer screen for evidence that I’ve set anything off, but
I don’t see flashing or alerts, not that I know enough about computers to tell
head back to the window, stand on the ledge, and reach for the roof. I have to
get on my tiptoes, which is unnerving this high up. Just as I feel a little
breeze, my fingers connect with the roof, and I latch on. I pull myself onto
the roof in seconds before focusing on the compound. Without another thought,
I run a few steps and leap off.
I pull the cords and my wings expand. I can’t see the perimeter, nor do I know
its height, but Dylan seemed confident this would work.
He better be right,
unless he really is trying to get me killed.
feel like I’m dipping too low, so I tuck my feet to my chest as one of my wings
tips and hits the forcefield. The blow forces my wings to sway the other
direction while I descend unevenly and rapidly toward the ground, trying
desperately to right myself.
the ground hard, I flip over the wings, releasing them from my pack then
rolling forward with one knee on the ground. When I touch the grass with my finger
tips, I propel myself into a sprint. With nearly a mile to the inner fence, I
pace my breaths but run as quickly as I can. To my surprise and relief, no one
shoots at me, which is a good sign that our guys took out the other towers.
reaching the fence, I drop my bag and tug it open, removing bolt cutters and
thicker gloves. One piece at a time, I cut a hole in the fence. Even though
electricity shocks and sparks on contact with the cutters, between the rubber
grips and the padded gloves, I don’t feel it. Every muscle in my arms are
tensed, and my face is contorted with anxiety for a shock that I hope doesn’t
the hole is large enough, I put the pack on and climb through, careful not to
let the edges touch my skin. Halfway through, my pant leg catches on the
fence, and I writhe to get it free. The jagged fence edge jams into my thigh.
I panic and yank my leg away expecting to be electrocuted--but when I’m clear,
I realize it’s a scrap I cut off, not the live fence. And the scrap is still
in my leg.