My left hand has begun to tremble. I clench it fast against the bedsheets.
“Private 45B-76423. Fletcher, Seamus.” He pauses. “Does that name sound familiar?”
I squeeze my eyes shut.
“Imagine my surprise,” he says, “when I heard that my son had finally done something right. That he’d finally taken initiative and dispensed with a traitorous soldier who’d been stealing from our storage compounds. I heard you shot him right in the forehead.” A laugh. “I congratulated myself—told myself you’d finally come into your own, that you’d finally learned how to lead properly. I was almost proud.
“That’s why it came as an even greater shock to me to hear Fletcher’s family was still alive.” He claps his hands together. “Shocking, of course, because you, of all people, should know the rules. Traitors come from a family of traitors, and one betrayal means death to them all.”
He rests his hand on my chest.
I’m building walls in my mind again. White walls. Blocks of concrete. Empty rooms and open space.
Nothing exists inside of me. Nothing stays.
“It’s funny,” he continues, thoughtful now, “because I told myself I’d wait to discuss this with you. But somehow, this moment seems so right, doesn’t it?” I can hear him smile. “To tell you just how tremendously . . . disappointed I am. Though I can’t say I’m surprised.” He sighs. “In a single month you’ve lost two soldiers, couldn’t contain a clinically insane girl, upended an entire sector, and encouraged rebellion among the citizens. And somehow, I’m not surprised at all.”
His hand shifts; lingers at my collarbone.
White walls, I think.
Blocks of concrete.
Empty rooms. Open space.
Nothing exists inside of me. Nothing stays.
“But what’s worse than all this,” he says, “is not that you’ve managed to humiliate me by disrupting the order I’d finally managed to establish. It’s not even that you somehow got yourself shot in the process. But that you would show sympathy to the family of a traitor,” he says, laughing, his voice a happy, cheerful thing. “This is unforgivable.”
My eyes are open now, blinking up at the fluorescent lights above my head, focused on the white of the bulbs blurring my vision. I will not move. I will not speak.
His hand closes around my throat.
The movement is so rough and violent I’m almost relieved. Some part of me always hopes he’ll go through with it; that maybe this time he’ll actually let me die. But he never does. It never lasts.
Torture is not torture when there’s any hope of relief.
He lets go all too soon and gets exactly what he wants. I jerk upward, coughing and wheezing and finally making a sound that acknowledges his existence in this room. My whole body is shaking now, my muscles in shock from the assault and from remaining still for so long. My skin is cold sweat; my breaths are labored and painful.
“You’re very lucky,” he says, his words too soft. He’s up now, no longer inches from my face. “So lucky I was here to make things right. So lucky I had time to correct the mistake.”
The room spins.
“I was able to track down his wife,” he says. “Fletcher’s wife and their three children. I hear they sent their regards.” A pause. “Well, this was before I had them killed, so I suppose it doesn’t really matter now, but my men told me they said hello. It seems she remembered you,” he says, laughing softly. “The wife. She said you went to visit them before all this . . . unpleasantness occurred. You were always visiting the compounds, she said. Asking after the civilians.”
I whisper the only two words I can manage.
“This is my boy!” he says, waving a hand in my direction. “A meek, pathetic fool. Some days I’m so disgusted by you I don’t know whether to shoot you myself. And then I realize you’d probably like that, wouldn’t you? To be able to blame me for your downfall? And I think no, best to let him die of his own stupidity.”
I stare blankly ahead, fingers flexing against the mattress.
“Now tell me,” he says, “what happened to your arm? Delalieu seemed as clueless as the others.”
I say nothing.
“Too ashamed to admit you were shot by one of your own soldiers, then?”
I close my eyes.
“And what about the girl?” he asks. “How did she escape? Ran off with one of your men, didn’t she?”
I grip the bedsheet so hard my fist starts shaking.
“Tell me,” he says, leaning into my ear. “How would you deal with a traitor like that? Are you going to go visit his family, too? Make nice with his wife?”
And I don’t mean to say it out loud, but I can’t stop myself in time. “I’m going to kill him.”
He laughs out loud so suddenly it’s almost a howl. He claps a hand on my head and musses my hair with the same fingers he just closed around my throat. “Much better,” he says. “So much better. Now get up. We have work to do.”
And I think yes, I wouldn’t mind doing the kind of work that would remove Adam Kent from this world.
A traitor like him does not deserve to live.
I’m in the shower for so long I actually lose track of time.
This has never happened before.
Everything is off, unbalanced. I’m second-guessing my decisions, doubting everything I thought I didn’t believe in, and for the first time in my life, I am genuinely, bone-achingly tired.
My father is here.
We are sleeping under the same godforsaken roof; a thing I’d hoped never to experience again. But he’s here, staying on base in his own private quarters until he feels confident enough to leave. Which means he’ll be fixing our problems by wreaking havoc on Sector 45. Which means I will be reduced to becoming his puppet and messenger, because my father never shows his face to anyone except those he’s about to kill.
He is the supreme commander of The Reestablishment, and prefers to dictate anonymously. He travels everywhere with the same select group of soldiers, communicates only through his men, and only in extremely rare circumstances does he ever leave the capital.
News of his arrival at Sector 45 has probably spread around base by now, and has likely terrified my soldiers. Because his presence, real or imagined, has only ever signified one thing: torture.
It’s been so long since I’ve felt like a coward.
But this, this is bliss. This protracted moment—this illusion—of strength. Being out of bed and able to bathe: it’s a small victory. The medics wrapped my injured arm in some kind of impermeable plastic for the shower, and I’m finally well enough to stand on my own. My nausea has settled, the dizziness is gone. I should finally be able to think clearly, and yet, my choices still seem so muddled.
I’ve forced myself not to think about her, but I’m beginning to realize I’m still not strong enough; not just yet, and especially not while I’m still actively searching for her. It’s become a physical impossibility.
Today, I need to go back to her room.
I need to search her things for any clues that might help me find her. Kent’s and Kishimoto’s bunks and lockers have already been cleared out; nothing incriminating was found. But I’d ordered my men to leave her room—Juliette’s room—exactly as it was. No one but myself is allowed to reenter that space. Not until I’ve had the first look.
And this, according to my father, is my first task.
“That’ll be all, Delalieu. I’ll let you know if I require assistance.”
He’s been following me around even more than usual lately. Apparently he came to check on me when I didn’t show for the assembly I’d called two days ago, and had the pleasure of finding me completely delirious and half out of my mind. He’s somehow managed to lay the blame for all this on himself.
If he were anyone else, I would’ve had him demoted.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir. And please forgive me—I never meant to cause additional problems—”
“You are in no danger from me, Lieutenant.”
“I’m so sorry, sir,” he whispers. His shoulders fall. His head bows.
His apologies are making me uncomfortable. “Have the troops reassemble at thirteen hundred hours. I still need to address them about these recent developments.”
“Yes, sir,” he says. He nods once, without looking up.
“You are dismissed.”
“Sir.” He drops his salute and disappears.
I’m left alone in front of her door.
Funny, how accustomed I’d become to visiting her here; how it gave me a strange sense of comfort to know that she and I were living in the same building. Her presence on base changed everything for me; the weeks she spent here became the first I ever enjoyed living in these quarters. I looked forward to her temper. Her tantrums. Her ridiculous arguments. I wanted her to yell at me; I would’ve congratulated her had she ever slapped me in the face. I was always pushing her, toying with her emotions. I wanted to meet the real girl trapped behind the fear. I wanted her to finally break free of her own carefully constructed restraints.
Because while she might be able to feign timidity within the confines of isolation, out here—amid chaos, destruction—I knew she’d become something entirely different. I was just waiting. Every day, patiently waiting for her to understand the breadth of her own potential; never realizing I’d entrusted her to the one soldier who might take her away from me.
I should shoot myself for it.
Instead, I open the door.
The panel slides shut behind me as I cross the threshold. I find myself alone, standing here, in the last place she touched. The bed is messy and unmade, the doors to her armoire hanging open, the broken window temporarily taped shut. There’s a sinking, nervous pain in my stomach that I choose to ignore.
I step into the bathroom and examine the toiletries, the cabinets, even the inside of the shower.
I walk back over to the bed and run my hand over the rumpled comforter, the lumpy pillows. I allow myself a moment to appreciate the evidence that she was once here, and then I strip the bed. Sheets, pillowcases, comforter, and duvet; all tossed to the floor. I scrutinize every inch of the pillows, the mattress, and the bed frame, and again find nothing.
The side table. Nothing.
Under the bed. Nothing.
The light fixtures, the wallpaper, each individual piece of clothing in her armoire. Nothing.
It’s only as I’m making my way toward the door that something catches my foot. I look down. There, caught just under my boot, is a thick, faded rectangle. A small, unassuming notebook that could fit in the palm of my hand.
And I’m so stunned that for a moment I can’t even move.
How could I have forgotten?
This notebook was in her pocket the day she was making her escape. I’d found it just before Kent put a gun to my head, and at some point in the chaos, I must’ve dropped it. And I realize I should’ve been looking for this all along.