Authors: Amie Kaufman
“Well, you do think I’m a pretty high-grade moron.” There’s amusement in his voice, which, now that he’s speaking without the smugness, is actually gentler than I would’ve thought. “You’re their golden child, their prodigy. They’ll trade for you, I’m sure of it.”
“Trade what, exactly?” I shift, trying to get my weight under me, trying to feel a little less vulnerable. “Say we all did what you wanted, what Orla Cormac demanded during the last rebellion on Avon. Say the entire military left, tomorrow, and TerraDyn left you alone. What then?”
“We’re not asking for the military to go, not anymore. We just want to live our lives free of TerraDyn’s regulations. We want to be independent citizens.”
“What would you eat, without TerraDyn’s imports? Where would you get building materials for your houses? Avon can’t support life on its own, not yet. It’s too young; the ecosystems are too fragile. It’s not done being terraformed yet. If Orla Cormac had won a decade ago, you’d all be starving to death right now.”
“Orla was wrong.” I can see it costs him to say it. “And she was executed for it. We’re not asking for complete autonomy. All we want is medicine for our kids, food for our elderly. Schools. This is no kind of life, you must know that.”
“What I know is if the military weren’t here to keep order, TerraDyn would pull out and abandon the settlement, and then we’d see how far you got eating algae. Hate us all you like, but the military’s what’s keeping you alive.”
His jaw tightens as he looks at me, and I know I’ve scored a point. But he doesn’t give up, saying quietly, “Orla Cormac no longer leads us. Not all of us want you dead. I want to talk, not fight. I want someone to find out
Avon’s not progressing through the terraforming stages. This is my home, and it’s broken. There has to be a better way.”
I lean back, the ropes chafing at my skin. I have no quick reply to that—I’d expected him to snap something stupid and noble, like most idealistic young rebels. Logic is harder to dismiss. In some other place, not tied to the floor, I could’ve spent hours debating with this guy. I lift my chin, squaring my jaw. “If you wanted to talk, then kidnapping an officer off the military base probably wasn’t the best way to go about it.”
“It’s hard to think of a way this ends well,” he admits grudgingly. “You should’ve let me walk out of there.”
“I let a potential threat walk away, it’s my fault when my soldiers go home to their families in boxes.” Already my throat’s becoming dry again. I can tell I’m dehydrated. “If you weren’t there to hurt anyone, you should have let me take you to HQ. If you weren’t doing anything wrong you had nothing to fear.”
“Bullshit.” The gentleness in his voice is gone as he pushes up to his feet. Why does he still look so familiar? Where have I seen him before? “I was just
“You had a gun!”
“Which you didn’t know about until you tried to arrest me.”
me, Romeo.” I give a savage jerk on the rope, but all it does is send a jolt of pain through my shoulders.
“You jumped to the conclusion I was up to something.” Romeo glares down at me, jaw tight. “Same way everyone assumes we’re up to something. That’s exactly why we have to hide out here. I’d rather die than trust myself to TerraDyn’s laws or the military’s idea of enforcing them.”
“I may have assumed, but I wasn’t wrong. And I’d rather die than let you or any of your terrorist friends hurt anyone on my watch.” My mouth twitches to a smile, humorless and cold. “Looks like one of us will get our wish, at least.”
“I’m not a terrorist.” Romeo steps back, lit once more as he stoops to retrieve his lantern. His handsome face is hard, his voice thick with hostility. The humor, the wry sarcasm—completely gone. “All we want is what belongs to us. I was only after information about that hidden facility. If I wanted to blow up your stupid bar, I wouldn’t have wasted time flirting with you.”
“For all I knew you were flirting with me because you’d been sent to kill me.”
He’s silent, breathing hard in and out through his nose. I don’t have much power—I don’t have
power, tied down like this—but at least I can make him angry.
“This is getting us nowhere,” he says, his voice low.
I try to lean forward, constrained by my bonds. “All I did was my job. You’re the one who got us into this. And if you stop and think about it, I don’t really think I’m the one you’re mad at.”
He makes a show of thinking about it, then snaps, “No, I’m pretty sure it’s you.”
And then he’s gone, stalking back up the tunnel and taking the light with him. I was right—he doesn’t have the stomach to kill me. He’s going to make someone else do it. So much for having some company before I die.
I should keep trying to work the post free, but I know I’m not going anywhere until they decide I am. I know it like I know the truth: they’re going to kill me. Romeo might not know it yet—he might think the military will give these people something in exchange for my safe return. But Base Commander Towers follows procedure to the letter, and that includes captured soldiers. We don’t work like that. We don’t make deals.
And they’re not coming for me.
I’ve just managed to doze a little, chin dropped to my chest, when the scrape of footsteps and a light playing against my eyelids rouses me. I push away the flicker of warmth it brings, the sudden stab of relief that he hasn’t left me here to rot alone after he left so angry.
Romeo, can’t you see I need my beauty sleep?
I open one eye, and my heart sinks.
It’s not Romeo. It’s someone I’ve never seen before, a tall, burly man twice Romeo’s size. Most of his face is covered by a kerchief, which is the only good sign I’ve had since I woke. Concealing his face means he isn’t here to kill me—or he hasn’t made up his mind yet.
“So it’s true.” The man is staring at me with a burning intensity that lifts the hairs on the back of my neck in warning. He steps into the cavern from the tunnel slowly, deliberately. “Captain Jubilee Chase.”
His voice is quiet, almost genial—yet on his lips my name sounds like a curse.
I draw myself up slowly and say nothing. I know how this plays out, and there’s nothing I can say that will change what’s about to happen.
Romeo, where are you?
“Hard to believe our resident pacifist thought he could capture an enemy officer and keep her hidden in our base.” The man paces to one side and sets his lantern down on a shelf of rock. He pauses there, eyes scanning me slowly, raking over my body, dwelling on the bruised, welted flesh beneath the ropes binding me. “And I thought it was too good to be true.”
Despite his calm voice, his eyes carry a fevered hatred in them that freezes my blood. Whoever this man is, he’s not entirely sane. I’ve seen that look on other planets, in other rebellions. This is the kind of person who walks into a school and blows it up to make a point. This is what keeps me awake at night—what keeps me questioning every strange face, enforcing every new security measure. Men like this are why I’m here.
My gut tightens with dread, and I look away, fixing my eyes on the ceiling and running over my training like a litany.
Don’t engage. Don’t give him what he wants.
“Perhaps you can settle an argument for me,” the man murmurs, crossing over toward me and dropping to a crouch not far away. “My wife used to say the military doesn’t open its hospitals to civilians because it’ll remove the motivation to develop our own. I always told her it’s because you’re a bunch of sadistic bastards who want to watch us die.”
We don’t let civilians into our hospitals because these “civilians” are as likely to walk in with weapons as with wounds—but it’ll do no good to explain that to him. I’m not sure he’d hear me if I did.
“Too good to talk to me, trodaire? Look at me.” The man reaches out to grab my chin, wrenching my face into the light. I clench my jaw, and his own face tightens. “You people,” he whispers, his voice shaking a little. “If you had the tiniest shred of human decency, you never would’ve turned away a six-year-old boy from the treatment that would’ve saved his life.”
My eyes dart up, meeting his before I can stop the impulse.
“Ah,” he says quietly. “There it is. You think my son would’ve compromised base security? Still think you’re better than us, condemning children to die?”
Shit. He’s lost family. That explains the look in his eyes. I don’t answer, staring through the gloom. It’s so easy to see an angry eight-year-old girl there looking back at me, like the space between us is a mirror, like the last ten years of my life never happened.
“I asked you a question.” The man lets go of my face with a jerk that sends me crashing to the ground, rope jerking at my arms and my wounded side wrenching. I let out an involuntary cry of pain, the rebel’s face swimming dizzyingly in my vision. “Do you think you’re better than us?”
I try not to choke, try to calm my breathing, but that fever’s burning openly in the man’s eyes now. His bloodlust is stirring, firing in response to my pain. “You think ignoring me will make me go away. But I’m a patient man, Captain Chase. Your people taught me that. Be patient. Beg for every scrap of food, every dose of medicine.” He leans forward, and I can feel his breath on my face when he speaks again. “I’ll teach you how to beg, trodaire.”
His hand shoots out and slams my head down to the stone, the flat of his palm hitting me in the eye. He lurches to his feet, and then his boot connects with my rib cage with a sickening thud—my vision clouds, the air groaning out of me before my mind registers the pain.
“That’s the difference between you and me,” I gasp finally, fighting for consciousness. “I don’t beg.”
This time his snarl of rage is inarticulate, wordless, as he surrenders to what he came here to do, falling on me with all his rage and pain and grief. Even through the pain, through the sound of my own bones bruising and cracking, I can see his thoughts. Because there’s no difference between this man and the grief-stricken eight-year-old girl I used to be. He’ll keep beating me, keep kicking and punching and screaming at me, until he can’t see his son’s face anymore.
Which means he won’t stop until I’m dead.
“You were thirteen last year, you think I don’t remember you? Go
The girl is on the street now, outside the recruitment office, watching as they shut off the lights and lock up the doors for the night. She throws the forged ident card into the gutter, swearing under her breath at the techhead who sold it to her.
“They don’t believe you’re sixteen, huh?” It’s one of the recruits she saw while she was waiting, and two of his friends. He saunters closer, eyes traveling down from her face. “I can help prove it to them.” He reaches out, but the girl jerks her arm away.
“Don’t mess with me,” she snaps, ignoring the hot tang of fear in her mouth. “Think I can’t handle you?”
One of his friends laughs and moves toward her, but before she can react, the other friend grabs his arm. “Come on, leave her alone. She’s just a kid.”
They move off, grumbling protests. The third guy glances back at her, and his face is familiar; handsome, with green eyes and a charming smile as he winks at her.
But that’s wrong too. She hasn’t met him yet.
I step inside the radio booth after checking Martha’s still alone in there. I could tell she wasn’t happy about sending my message to the military base, and less happy still about doing it in secret. But she’s the best operator we’ve got, and no one else would be able to coax a clear transmission.
She jumps at the sound of my voice and starts to turn, but then catches herself. She hesitates halfway around, one hand on the dial, the other fluttering down at her side. “Flynn,” she blurts, flashing one brief, agonized look my way. Brief, but telling.
I grip the door frame. “What is it? Did they respond?”
“No.” She shakes her head, a touch too quickly. “No, no reply. I don’t even know if the transmission went through.”
“What’s going on?” She shouldn’t be this nervous. “Martha—look at me.”
She resists, keeping her eyes on the floor even when I reach out to turn her toward me by the shoulders. Ice creeps down my spine.
“Martha, who did you tell?”
She swallows hard, draws a shaky breath, and then, like every inch is torture, lifts her gaze toward me. The guilt there tells me all I need to know.
I throw myself out of the radio booth and take off across the main cavern, not caring anymore who sees. I can hear Martha’s voice calling after me, wailing, “She’s a trodaire, Flynn!
She deserves to die!
I sprint past Sean—he doesn’t know what’s going on, but he can see my panic and after another heartbeat he starts shouting for backup. I hear him break into a run, along with Mike and Turlough Doyle farther back; Turlough is cursing, Mike stumbling behind his husband, hampered by his perpetual limp. I ricochet off the stone wall of the tunnel, throwing myself around the corner toward the unused caves. The air grows thick and wet as I stumble down the corridors into the oldest part of the cave system, but I know where the steps are slippery, and I can’t afford to waste a second.