Authors: Laura DiSilverio
Book One of the Incubation Trilogy
by Laura DiSilverio
INCINERATION. Copyright © 2016 by Laura DiSilverio.
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Prison is no place to spend your seventeenth birthday. I’m pretty sure today is my birthday, but it’s hard to know since I’ve been here about four months without access to a clock, calendar, window, forty-seven, or any other means of keeping time except by the regular delivery of meals. Swill. Vegeprote patties and the occasional fresh vegetable—I haven’t seen so much as a radish in a week—pushed into my cell three times a day. Forty-eight. As much as I can when I am coherent and conscious, I keep track of the days by scratching faint marks on the floor beneath the bed. Forty-nine. There’s a hundred and fifteen of them now, so happy birthday to me, fifty, happy birthday dear Everly . . .
I pause mid-pushup and look to my left. The guard I call Bigfoot stands in the corridor beyond the electric field that keeps me contained. His face is as impassive as usual, but he’s practically garrulous today. “Visitor.”
I scramble to my feet, heart thumping hard and not from the exercise. I haven’t had a visitor the whole time I’ve been here. Interrogators, yes, but they don’t get announced by the guards. Rubbing the back of my hand where the IV went in last time, I regulate my breathing and concentrate on feeling calm. My heartbeat slows. I push the two inch scraggle of platinum hair off my face as Bigfoot deactivates the invisible barrier and motions for me to hold out my wrists. I do and he encircles them with maglock cuffs. Thus restrained, I follow him down the narrow hallway, the explosive bracelet on my left ankle making me feel lopsided. Sensors rigged on every window and door of this building will trigger the anklet and blow me to kingdom come. Needless to say, that has limited my escape fantasies since I haven’t yet—despite hours of trying—found a way to detach the bracelet. If only Wyck were here—he’d have figured it out in ten minutes. We pass the hygiene cubicle where I get my thrice weekly shower, to a room I’ve never been in.
Bigfoot pushes the door open, his bulk hiding the room’s interior. “Prisoner Jax,” he announces, and steps aside so I can enter.
I hesitate, momentarily afraid this is a trap, a new twist on interrogation. Build up my expectations and then—wham! I realized weeks ago that the worst part of the torture is the mind games, the anticipation of pain or humiliation. What if—
Bigfoot thrusts me unceremoniously into the room, saying, “I’ll be right outside, sir.”
The room’s sole occupant is plump and fiftyish, with mahogany hair slicked back from a widow’s peak and tucked behind his ears, ruddy cheeks, and amazing violet eyes emphasized with black eyeliner. I’ve never seen eyeliner on a man. He’s wearing a royal blue coat with a stand-up collar, and heavy rings sparkle on every finger.
“No need, no need.” He waves a dismissive hand at Bigfoot. “I’m sure young Everly and I will get along like a house afire.” He glides to me, grabs my shoulders, and kisses me on each cheek with a loud smooching sound.
The door closes behind Bigfoot.
I blink. I’ve never seen this man before and he’s treating me like I’m his favorite niece.
“Sit, sit,” he says, motioning to the two loveseats set at right angles. “We need to discuss your defense.”
I remain rooted to my spot. Defense? “Um, who are you?”
“My manners, oh, my manners,” the man says, putting a hand with splayed fingers to his chest. “Loránd Vestor, esquire, at your service, entirely at your service. Call me Vestor—we’ll be old friends by the end of the trial.” He beams, displaying the whitest teeth I’ve ever seen.
“Of course your trial. You wouldn’t need a defense attorney if you weren’t standing trial, now would you?” He chuckles. “Oh, you’re worried that I’m some court-appointed incompetent. No, indeed! I am the foremost criminal defense attorney in Amerada, and I’m offering my services—yes, completely without cost to you—because
, Everly!” More beaming, like he’s bestowed an unimaginably wonderful gift on me. “Yes, truly I do, despite what they’re saying. You’re lucky to have me, you know. I have never—never!—lost a case or a client.”
It seems to be the response he’s expecting because he smiles again. I can’t help noticing a dark mole on his cheek that gets compressed with wrinkles whenever he smiles. It’s disconcerting because it seems to be winking at me. I tear my gaze away from the mole and scan the room, gravitating to the window set high enough in the wall that I can't see out. Sunshine pours through it and three potted geraniums in shades of pink and coral bloom on the sill. A lump rises in my throat. I haven’t seen the sun in almost four months. The sunlight on the flowers’ translucent petals is a gift.
Vestor’s saying something, but I interrupt to ask, “Where are we?”
Delicate brows arch skyward. “Why, we’re at the Central Detention Facility.”
“No, I mean the city.”
He motions me away from the window and I sit. “Atlanta, of course. You don’t think I would waste my talents in some outer canton, do you? No, it’s the capital for me.” He leans forward to peer at my eyes. “The interrogators haven’t done anything with your memory, have they? That’s strictly against the Laidlaw Conventions.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Good.” He pats my hand. “No more chit-chatting. We must get to work since the trial starts day after tomorrow. Lots to do, lots to do.”
I hesitate, pretty sure I don’t really want to know the answer, but then ask, “What am I on trial for?”
“Why, murder, my dear Everly. Murder of an Infrastructure Protection Force soldier and treason by way of theft of a zygote implanted at the Reproduction Support Community. Capital offenses. I only do capital cases in the capital city.” He chortles again, clearly amused by his wordplay.
I’m not inclined to laugh. “Murder,” I whisper. “Will they . . . execute me?”
He throws both hands up. “You have Loránd Vestor in your corner—of course not!
, Everly, and now
must believe in
. I will not allow you to be convicted and put to death. Why, think of the stain on my reputation.” He sniffs.
“Wouldn’t want a stain on your reputation,” I agree sardonically. Despite myself, I feel a smile starting and become conscious of an unfamiliar feeling. Hope.
Vestor grins delightedly at my smile, tentative though it is. “Better, much better.” He claps his hands. “Let’s get to work.”
He grills me about everything that happened from the time Halla and Wyck and I left InKubator 9 until I was captured and brought here. I am wary of telling him too much, and start with one word answers to his questions. I scan the room for recording devices and don’t see any, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Four months here have taught me to distrust everyone and everything.
Vestor starts me with a prompt. “So, you left Kube 9, you impetuous young girl, because Minister Alden suggested during an Assembly that she would like to have you work for her on locust eradication, right, and you were burning to get started, to put your science genius at the service of our great nation?” He cocks his head and raises his brows expectantly.
I really left the Kube to try and identify my biological parents and because my best friend Halla was pregnant and needed my help to reach her boyfriend in Atlanta, but I get the feeling Vestor wants me to agree with him. “Um, yes?”
He nods vigorously. “Yes! And you bravely helped your friend, Halla Westin, unfortunately deceased, escape from the outlaws who captured you and make her way to the RESCO where she was able to safely deliver her baby and give it over to the government for the good of Amerada.”
“Yes,” I whisper, squinching my eyes to keep back tears. They’d told me Halla was dead during my first interrogation session, but the mention of it still catches me like a beamer blast to the chest, leaving me hollowed out and empty. She died hating me and that’s the most painful part. No, the worst part is that she’s gone; I’d be glad of her hate if only that would bring her back.
It goes like that for hours, with Vestor supplying a favorable interpretation of everything that happened after I left the Kube, and me agreeing to it. He’s obviously done his research and that makes me feel a little bit better about my chances. Bigfoot brings us food and drink midway through the session and it’s the best I’ve had since being captured: fresh grapefruit and broccoli, rice and fish, even a fizzy beverage. I wolf it down while Vestor watches indulgently. He pats my cheek when he rises to go. “Don’t forget:
,” he says.
“Vestor,” I say, before he can leave, “can you tell me where they are, what happened to them? Wyck and Saben, Fiere and Alexander?”
His brows twitch inward in the merest suggestion of a frown. With a warning in his violet eyes that I take as confirmation that our supposedly confidential session is being recorded, he says, “It is completely understandable that you should be worried that the outlaws might try to kidnap you again, or hurt you to keep you from testifying. You endured a horrifying experience, something that an adult would find hard to deal with, never mind a young girl like you. I can assure you, however, that your fears are groundless. I’ve been given to understand that you were the only survivor of the attack on the Peachtree Street house.”
It takes me a moment to realize he means the former brothel that Bulrush used as its headquarters. I suck in an audible breath. “Dead? All dead?”
“Of course you’re relieved to hear that. I’m grateful, too. Now, get a good night’s sleep. We have lots of work to do tomorrow to make you presentable.”
When he has gone and Bigfoot’s replacement, a guard named Rute who occasionally offers a sentence or two of conversation, takes me back to my cell, I don’t even try to sleep. I lie on the narrow cot and stare up at the ceiling. There's not much else in my gray-painted cell to look at. A stainless steel toilet and sink occupy one corner and a single shelf hangs on the wall across from the bed. That's where I have kept my
Little House on the Prairie
and my albatross feather and drawing since the interrogators finally became convinced the objects have no sinister purposes. I don’t remember everything that happened in the interrogation sessions because of the drugs, but snippets of conversations, of questions about
being a code book for Bulrush, or even the Defiance, come back to me at odd times.
“It’s just a book,” I’d told them again and again. “A book my parents sent with me to the Kube.” The feather I’d found on the beach, proof that birds were still alive somewhere, and they returned it to me once they ascertained it couldn’t be used as a weapon. The albatross drawing they sneered at and crumpled, but let me keep. Saben had given it to me, had drawn it because of the feather, and I treasured it.
I smooth it now, comforted by the familiar grain of the paper and the angle of the bird’s wing in flight that sings with perfect freedom. It can’t be true about Wyck and the others. They can’t all be dead. Saben, gravely injured by a blast, had run into the swarm with me, but the force of the locusts had pulled us apart. I don’t want to think about how weak he was. Surely at least one of the others made it to the tunnels, escaped. I’d seen Fiere get shot, so it was sadly possible that she had died, but the others . . . I refuse to believe it. They aren’t dead. If they are, why did the interrogators spend so much time and effort badgering me to give up names?
Tears of shame trickle down my face as the memories come back, of the pain from the implanted electrodes, amplified by the drugs. The stench of bile and urine. I can still hear myself stuttering the names, and I am grateful that I didn’t know many, and only first names at that. Alexander was right to keep details of Bulrush’s operations away from me, because I vomited up everything I knew. It wasn’t much, thank goodness. Fiere had shouted at me in those last minutes, told me to “tell them everything.” I hadn’t known what she’d meant until the second interrogation session when they’d switched on the electricity.
I shudder and turn on my side, burying my face in the thin pillow. The cameras are always on and I refuse to give whoever’s watching the satisfaction of tears. I haven’t cried since my first month here, since I decided I was going to survive and escape to find my friends. I started exercising that day, doing pushups, sit-ups, squats, and the other strengthening drills Fiere taught me, as many as I could, no matter how weak the torture left me. When I wasn’t exercising, I sat on my bed, eyes closed, and went through every theorem and chemical equation I knew, reciting the Table of Elements in my head, envisioning each locust I’d dissected and working through different means of destroying them. That kept other thoughts at bay.