Authors: Amie Kaufman
“I know.” Even now, the words stab at my heart. We’re both thinking of Orla. “But if we kill her, that’s it for the ceasefire. They’ll come for us like they never have before, and we wouldn’t survive that kind of assault.”
“You wouldn’t make that argument with McBride, I bet.”
“Tell McBride he’s not strong enough to beat someone in a fight, first thing he does is find a way to justify punching them in the face.” I kick at a loose pebble, hearing it ricochet off the opposite wall of the cave. “He’d find a way to make it about me and how I’m afraid to fight.”
Sean hesitates. “You could lead us,” he says finally. “If it came to a fight. You could—”
I don’t find out what he might have said next. Fergal’s voice echoes down the corridor. “Uncle Sean, I need you to tuck me in.” He must have followed us.
Sean curses, leaping to his feet and leaving the cave and its unconscious occupant. “I don’t want him or the other kids to know about this,” he mutters. “You want to keep it hidden, fine. Just don’t let anyone find her, because then it’s going to get noisy.”
Though unspoken, I recognize what he’s saying: he’ll trust me. For now. “Sean—thanks.” We share a beat of silence, and then Sean heads back up the passageway to collect Fergal.
I retrieve the lantern, hoping darkness will make it harder for the trodaire to work out an escape when she wakes, and hurry away before anyone realizes we’re down here. The relief at having Sean’s support is short-lived; I know it won’t last. One of these days even Sean will run out of patience. Already I feel us drifting, sense it in the silences between us. But whenever that day’s coming, it’s not today. For now, I know he’ll follow me, because I asked him to.
I just wish I knew where I was leading him.
The girl is under the counter in her mother’s store, her reading punctuated at random intervals by the door chime as customers come and go. She’s reading about deep-sea divers in an ancient submarine. There are no oceans on Verona, but the girl is going to grow up and be an explorer.
“Jubilee,” the girl’s mother calls. “Where are you? Come help me, we’re going to make dumplings to sell.”
The girl holds her breath. Sea monsters are more exciting than dumplings, especially since the dumplings are always accompanied by a lecture about preserving her heritage. Maybe her mother won’t look for her here.
“Relax, Mei.” That’s her father; she didn’t know he’d come home. “She’ll come around. As I recall, you spent our whole first date complaining that your dad was making you learn calligraphy. Let her just be a kid—there’s plenty of time.”
The girl shuts her eyes. No—this is all wrong. Wake up…wake UP.
I KNOW BEFORE I OPEN
my eyes that I’m in trouble. I can smell mildew and decay, and I’m so cold I could cry. It’s pitch-black, wherever I am, and the surface underneath me is hard and damp. Stone. I’m half propped up on my knees, but when I try to sit up I go crashing toward the ground. My arms nearly jerk out of their sockets and I’m caught a few inches away from hitting the floor. Pain lances through my shoulders, making my eyes water. My gasp echoes aloud in the room, rattling through my parched throat.
My wrists are bound together behind my back. I follow the rope with my fingers to find it tied through a metal post drilled into the rough-hewn floor. The rope is short enough and tied high enough that I can’t lie down without it pulling my arms painfully upward. I can’t stand, can’t even sit properly. Whoever did this knows exactly how uncomfortable this must be.
The memory of a pretty face flashes in front of my eyes. Romeo. After that entire ill-fated journey through the swamp, I still don’t know the bastard’s name. And I’m probably not likely to, at this rate. Somewhere out there is a rebel with a limp, probably getting two inches of hot-pink plastic pulled out of his thigh as we speak. Either they’ve left me here to die on my own of dehydration, or they’re going to try to get information or resources out of the military in exchange for my life.
But we don’t make deals with rebels. And that means I’m going to die. I can’t help but think of my platoon, and how they’ll manage without me. I know each of them like I know myself. I watch them every day, I keep track of their dreams, I monitor how each of them is coping, living this close to the ragged edge. This close to the Fury. I can tell when one of them is about to snap, when they’re done here and need reassignment off Avon before they hurt someone. Who will watch over them when I’m dead?
In the darkness, my mind conjures up the image of what I saw out in the swamp. A flash of what Romeo claimed he saw: a facility where there shouldn’t be one, high fences and spotlights and guards. It’s impossible for something to be there one moment and gone the next—far more likely I was hallucinating, experiencing some early side effect of whatever drug Romeo used to knock me out.
Though that doesn’t explain the thing I found, the thing in my boot that I can’t get to now, with my hands tied.
I twist a little until I can get the sole of one of my boots against the post embedded in the floor. Wrapping my hands around the rope to take the pressure off my wrist joints, I pull as hard as I can, straining and trying to feel for the slightest give in the rope.
No dice. It was a long shot anyway.
I let go, taking a few seconds to find my breath again. I can sense no trace of whatever drug he used to knock me out on that island. The whispering sound is gone, and except for a few cold-induced tremors, my body’s under control again. No more shaking. No more metallic taste in my mouth.
If the ropes won’t give, maybe the stone will. They’re not exactly high-tech out here—maybe the hole they drilled isn’t perfect. I brace myself the best I can without any slack in the rope and kick back, pounding at the stake with the sole of my boot.
I stay there, panting, grimacing at the floor. I’ll have to wait until they move me. Which they’ll have to do eventually, no matter what. They could just shoot me here, but it’s much easier to move a body by making it get up and walk somewhere than it is to carry it.
Then again, one of them was wandering around asking questions in a military bar like it was a good idea. They’re not exactly the smartest rebels ever.
Gritting my teeth, I get to work on the post again. It has to give. Each blow travels up my leg and makes my jaw ache. But better a little ache now than to be stuck here for a week, dying of thirst. I can taste my own fear, sour like bile at the back of my throat.
No. Captain Chase is never afraid.
“It’s hammered down pretty hard.” An amused voice comes from the shadows, making my heart lurch in fear. But a moment later, I recognize it—and in the darkness, any familiar voice is a welcome change from silence.
“Can’t blame a girl for trying,” I manage, trying not to pant too audibly as I search the shadows for Romeo.
He unshields a lantern, sending a sliver of light slicing through the gloom. I’m tied to a post in the middle of a cave, its only feature a long tunnel behind Romeo, leading into the shadows. The lamp is burning, not battery-powered. I watch the flame until my eyes water, a tiny part of me glad that at least I’m not going to be killed in the dark.
I didn’t expect to see him again, that’s for sure. He didn’t strike me as the type to do what he’s no doubt come here to do. And yet, here he is. Maybe there’s more to Romeo than I thought.
He steps forward. “Are you going to kick me if I come in close enough to give you some water?” In his other hand he’s holding a canteen.
My vision is still wavering, my head still ringing, and my mouth tastes like swamp mud. “That depends,” I say through gritted teeth. “Are you planning on drugging me again?”
“I didn’t drug you then, and I’m not going to now.” Romeo takes another step forward, and I can’t help it—I move backward, the rope rasping across the stone like snakeskin. “And I could clean that graze for you if you let me. I didn’t realize how bad it was when we were on the water.”
I glance down to see what looks like ink in the lantern light staining the side of my T-shirt. Our struggle in the mud outside Molly’s comes flooding back to me, and with memory comes the awareness of pain, flickering up through me like a tiny fire.
He starts to move forward again, and this time I’m snapping back before I have time to think. “You can stay right where you are.”
My fingers clench around the ropes binding my hands. It’s not like I can do anything to him if he comes. Maybe I could sweep his legs from under him, but it wouldn’t be enough to take him out, and even if it was—what then?
But he stops anyway, watching me in silence. After a while he slings the strap of the canteen over his shoulder and crosses his arms. “How’re you feeling?” His smile is insulting.
You dragged me out of my bar, shot me, forced me to breathe chemical fumes, took me into the middle of nowhere, drugged me, then tied me to a post in an underground cave. How do you
But I’ll tear my own arms off trying to get free before I’ll give him the satisfaction of an honest reply. I smile back at him, giving it every ounce of malice I can summon. “Just peachy, Romeo. How’s your leg?”
His smile vanishes, and I see the subtle shift of his weight from one foot to the other. I wonder who pulled the hot-pink plastic out of his leg, and if they gave him a hard time for it.
“It’s the least of my problems.”
“Your problems? Romeo, you shouldn’t have brought me home if you didn’t think Mom and Dad would like me.”
“I’ll know better next time.” He tips his head to one side. “Sure you don’t want some water?” He jiggles the canteen so the water sloshes audibly. My mouth suddenly feels like it’s wallpapered with sand.
I want to tell him to go to hell. I want to tell him to get iced. I want to punch that perfect jaw until the smug assurance falls off.
But I want the water more.
I swallow, trying to ignore how dry my throat feels. “You drink first.”
Not that that helped me before.
He rolls his eyes, like it’s unreasonable for me to mistrust him. He unscrews the canteen and puts it to his mouth.
I was expecting him to take a sip. Instead he gulps it down with a noisy
of water. When he finally lowers it, he makes a show of squinting into the mouth of the canteen. “Oh, shoot, most of it’s gone now. You want what’s left?”
Only the pain in my shoulders keeps me from trying to pull free of my ropes again. “You’re kind of an asshole, aren’t you? The pretty ones always are.”
He makes a show of surprise. “You think I’m pretty? Why, Jubilee—I’m blushing. Look, you want this or not?”
He’s figured out his devil-may-care attitude pisses me off. My jaw’s clenched so tight I’m half afraid it’s about to break. “What, do you want me to beg for it? Did you come here to gloat?”
He raises an eyebrow, that smug smile turning wry. “I want you to promise me you’re not going to try to kick my pretty face in if I come any closer.”
He’s actually afraid I’m going to hurt him somehow. No wonder they’ve got me tied down so tightly I can’t even sit upright. “What would your buddies say? Scared of a girl tied to a post in the ground.”
“They’d say ‘Don’t go near her, that’s Lee Chase, she eats rebel babies for breakfast.’”
My throat closes a little.
I remind myself.
You want them scared. Might make them think twice before they shoot at your platoon.
I inhale sharply through my nose. Bracing. Cleansing.
You want them to fear you.
“Don’t have enough leverage to kick you anyway,” I say eventually.
He takes me at my word, closing the gap between us. He’s moving carefully, though, watching me closely for signs I’m about to attack. Maybe I should take advantage somehow, but I was telling the truth when I said I didn’t have the right leverage. I can’t get him, the way I’m tied down.
“I’ll hold it for you,” he says quietly, dropping into a crouch at my side.
“My hero.” The words pop out, dripping with malice, before I can stop them.
Mock the guy
you get your water,
I remind myself.
He holds the canteen anyway, letting me gulp down the last dregs of the slightly muddy water inside. Their filters don’t work any better than ours do. It still tastes like swamp. When I’m done, he lowers the canteen and rests his elbows on his knees, watching me. Backlit as he is, I can’t make out his features very well. I can only see his eyes, glittering in the gloom, slightly narrowed.
He really doesn’t know what to do with me. And to be honest, I don’t really know what to make of him. If he were the kind of guy I’d expected him to be, I’d be dead right now. And he certainly wouldn’t be bringing me water.
“So does Romeo have a name?”
He snorts. “I’m going to have enough problems if you take my face back to your base with you. I don’t think I’m about to give you a name to go with it.”
“I’m not going back,” I reply, my voice quiet. It’s the first time I’ve said it aloud. It doesn’t make it any easier. “And if you don’t realize that yet, you’re a bigger idiot than I thought.”