It’s complete chaos.
My heart constricts at this realization, at this proof of what she must’ve experienced. I’d hypothesized about what she might’ve suffered in all that time, locked up in such dark, horrifying conditions. But seeing it for myself—I wish I weren’t right.
And now, even as I try to read in chronological order, I find I’m unable to keep up with the method she’s used to number everything; the system she created on these pages is something only she’d be able to decipher. I can only flip through the book and seek out the bits that are most coherently written.
My eyes freeze on a particular passage.
It’s a strange thing, to never know peace. To know that no matter where you go, there is no sanctuary. That the threat of pain is always a whisper away. I’m not safe locked into these 4 walls, I was never safe leaving my house, and I couldn’t even feel safe in the 14 years I lived at home. The asylum kills people every day, the world has already been taught to fear me, and my home is the same place where my father locked me in my room every night and my mother screamed at me for being the abomination she was forced to raise.
She always said it was my face.
There was something about my face, she said, that she couldn’t stand. Something about my eyes, the way I looked at her, the fact that I even existed. She’d always tell me to stop looking at her. She’d always scream it. Like I might attack her. Stop looking at me, she’d scream. You just stop looking at me, she’d scream.
She put my hand in the fire once.
Just to see if it would burn, she said. Just to check if it was a regular hand, she said.
I was 6 years old then.
I remember because it was my birthday.
I knock the notebook to the floor.
I’m upright in an instant, trying to steady my heart. I run a hand through my hair, my fingers caught at the roots. These words are too close to me, too familiar. The story of a child abused by its parents. Locked away and discarded. It’s too close to my mind.
I’ve never read anything like this before. I’ve never read anything that could speak directly to my bones. And I know I shouldn’t. I know, somehow, that it won’t help, that it won’t teach me anything, that it won’t give me clues about where she might’ve gone. I already know that reading this will only make me crazy.
But I can’t stop myself from reaching for her journal once more.
I flip it open again.
Am I insane yet?
Has it happened yet?
How will I ever know?
My intercom screeches so suddenly that I trip over my own chair and have to catch myself on the wall behind my desk. My hands won’t stop shaking; my forehead is beaded with sweat. My bandaged arm has begun to burn, and my legs are suddenly too weak to stand on. I have to focus all my energy on sounding normal as I accept the incoming message.
“What?” I demand.
“Sir, I only wondered, if you were still—well, the assembly, sir, unless of course I got the time wrong, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered you—”
“Oh for the love of God, Delalieu.” I try to shake off the tremble in my voice. “Stop apologizing. I’m on my way.”
“Yes, sir,” he says. “Thank you, sir.”
I disconnect the line.
And then I grab the notebook, tuck it in my pocket, and head out the door.
I’m standing at the edge of the courtyard above the Quadrant, looking out at the thousands of faces staring back at me. These are my soldiers. Standing single-file line in their assembly uniforms. Black shirts, black pants, black boots.
Left fists pressed against their hearts.
I make an effort to focus on—and care about—the task at hand; but somehow I can’t help but be hyperaware of the notebook tucked away in my pocket, the shape of it pressing against my leg and torturing me with its secrets.
I am not myself.
My thoughts are tangled in words that are not my own. I have to take a sharp breath to clear my head; I clench and unclench my fist.
“Sector 45,” I say, speaking directly into the square of microphonic mesh.
They shift at once, dropping their left hands and instead placing their right fists on their chests.
“We have a number of important things to discuss today,” I tell them, “the first of which is readily apparent.” I gesture to my arm. Study their carefully crafted emotionless faces.
Their traitorous thoughts are so obvious.
They think of me as little more than a deranged child. They do not respect me; they are not loyal to me. They are disappointed that I stand before them; angry; disgusted, even, that I am not dead of this wound.
But they do fear me.
And that is all I require.
“I was injured,” I say, “while in pursuit of two of our defecting soldiers. Private Adam Kent and Private Kenji Kishimoto collaborated their escape in an effort to abduct Juliette Ferrars, our newest transfer and critical asset to Sector 45. They have been charged with the crime of unlawfully seizing and detaining Ms. Ferrars against her will. But, and most importantly, they have been rightly convicted of treason against The Reestablishment. When found, they will be executed on sight.”
Terror, I realize, is one of the easiest feelings to read. Even on a soldier’s stoic face.
“Second,” I say, more slowly this time, “in an effort to expedite the process of stabilizing Sector 45, its citizens, and the ensuing chaos resulting from these recent disruptions, the supreme commander of The Reestablishment has joined us on base. He arrived,” I tell them, “not thirty-six hours ago.”
Some men have dropped their fists. Forgotten themselves. Their eyes are wide.
“You will welcome him,” I say.
They drop to their knees.
It’s strange, wielding this kind of power. I wonder if my father is proud of what he’s created. That I’m able to bring thousands of grown men to their knees with only a few words; with only the sound of his title. It’s a horrifying, addicting kind of thing.
I count five beats in my head.
They do. And then they march.
Five steps backward, forward, standing in place. They raise their left arms, curl their fingers into fists, and fall on one knee. This time, I do not let them up.
“Prepare yourselves, gentlemen,” I say to them. “We will not rest until Kent and Kishimoto are found and Ms. Ferrars has returned to base. I will confer with the supreme commander in these next twenty-four hours; our newest mission will soon be clearly defined. In the interim you are to understand two things: first, that we will defuse the tension among the citizens and take pains to remind them of their promises to our new world. And second, be certain that we will find Privates Kent and Kishimoto.” I stop. Look around, focusing on their faces. “Let their fates serve as an example to you. We do not welcome traitors in The Reestablishment. And we do not forgive.”
One of my father’s men is waiting for me outside my door.
I glance in his direction, but not long enough to discern his features. “State your business, soldier.”
“Sir,” he says, “I’ve been instructed to inform you that the supreme commander requests your presence in his quarters for dinner at twenty-hundred hours.”
“Consider your message received.” I move to unlock my door.
He steps forward, blocking my path.
I turn to face him.
He’s standing less than a foot away from me: an implicit act of disrespect; a level of comfort even Delalieu does not allow himself. But unlike my men, the sycophants who surround my father consider themselves lucky. Being a member of the supreme commander’s elite guard is considered a privilege and an honor. They answer to no one but him.
And right now, this soldier is trying to prove he outranks me.
He’s jealous of me. He thinks I’m unworthy of being the son of the supreme commander of The Reestablishment. It’s practically written on his face.
I have to stifle my impulse to laugh as I take in his cold gray eyes and the black pit that is his soul. He wears his sleeves rolled up above his elbows, his military tattoos clearly defined and on display. The concentric black bands of ink around his forearms are accented in red, green, and blue, the only sign on his person to indicate that he is a soldier highly elevated in rank. It’s a sick branding ritual I’ve always refused to be a part of.
The soldier is still staring at me.
I incline my head in his direction, raise my eyebrows.
“I am required,” he says, “to wait for verbal acceptance of this invitation.”
I take a moment to consider my choices, which are none.
I, like the rest of the puppets in this world, am entirely subservient to my father’s will. It’s a truth I’m forced to contend with every day: that I’ve never been able to stand up to the man who has his fist clenched around my spine.
It makes me hate myself.
I meet the soldier’s eyes again and wonder, for a fleeting moment, if he has a name, before I realize I couldn’t possibly care less. “Consider it accepted.”
“And next time, soldier, you will not step within five feet of me without first asking permission.”
He blinks, stunned. “Sir, I—”
“You are confused.” I cut him off. “You assume your work with the supreme commander grants you immunity from rules that govern the lives of other soldiers. Here, you are mistaken.”
His jaw tenses.
“Never forget,” I say, quietly now, “that if I wanted your job, I could have it. And never forget that the man you so eagerly serve is the same man who taught me how to fire a gun when I was nine years old.”
His nostrils flare. He stares straight ahead.
“Deliver your message, soldier. And then memorize this one: do not ever speak to me again.”
His eyes are focused on a point directly behind me now, his shoulders rigid.
His jaw is still tight. He slowly lifts his hand in salute.
“You are dismissed,” I say.
I lock my bedroom door behind me and lean against it. I need just a moment. I reach for the bottle I left on my nightstand and shake out two of the square pills; I toss them into my mouth, closing my eyes as they dissolve. The darkness behind my eyelids is a welcome relief.
Until the memory of her face forces itself into my consciousness.
I sit down on my bed and drop my head into my hand. I shouldn’t be thinking about her right now. I have hours of paperwork to sort through and the additional stress of my father’s presence to contend with. Dinner with him should be a spectacle. A soul-crushing spectacle.
I squeeze my eyes shut tighter and make a weak effort to build the walls that would surely clear my mind. But this time, they don’t work. Her face keeps cropping up, her journal taunting me from its place in my pocket. And I begin to realize that some small part of me doesn’t want to wish away the thoughts of her. Some part of me enjoys the torture.
This girl is destroying me.
A girl who has spent the last year in an insane asylum. A girl who would try to shoot me dead for kissing her. A girl who ran off with another man just to get away from me.