Cold fingers closed around my throat.
I choked, feeling the burning pain as hands pressed down on my wind pipe.
My body jerked awake, and my eyes snapped open. Eyes watering, lungs burning, I could just make out the dark outline of my attacker. His silhouette was superimposed against the canvas flap of my tent. I clawed at his hands, kicking and twisting to escape.
I tried to cry out, but nothing except a helpless mew escaped my constricted windpipe. I swung my fist against his ear — hard — and I heard a muted yell of pain.
There was a shimmer of gold in the weak light, a soft gasp, and the fingers relaxed.
Finally freeing my leg from the straightjacket of my sleeping bag, I aimed a forceful kick into the gut of my attacker. He flew backward, falling through the tent flap and into the morning light.
It wasn’t a him; it was a her.
“Oh god,” Logan breathed from the floor.
I gasped for air, trying to catch my breath as I pieced together what had happened.
“What — the — hell?” My voice was raspy from the dry air.
Logan was splayed on the ground, her golden curtain of hair fanning out around her. Her face was ashen.
Gingerly, I felt my throat where her hands had choked off my airways. It was on fire.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I think I had another nightmare.”
We both had. I looked down to see my own sleeping bag twisted around to the middle of the tent beside hers. I’d been thrashing in my sleep again, and I must have jerked right into her.
I couldn’t remember my dreams, but if I had to guess, they involved the blood on my mother’s pillow, the look in Amory’s eyes as I fell through the air, and Max suspended in slow motion after the PMC filled his chest with bullets. These images had been on a constant loop in my head for the past few weeks, and I could only imagine how awful it was for Logan.
She had seen him die. We all had, but Logan was in love with Max. I knew from the way she woke up screaming or sobbing that she could not shake that horrible final image. This wasn’t the first time I’d awoken with her hands wrapped around my throat either, but it was better than the alternative. I didn’t want to sleep alone.
I tried to laugh, but it sounded hollow and forced. “Maybe I should bunk with Greyson,” I said, watching her face carefully. “He’s not much of a snuggler, but at least he doesn’t know Krav Maga.”
Logan’s huge green eyes quivered, and I felt a pang of guilt. It was too soon for humor.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t know why I —” She broke off, putting a hand to her mouth to muffle a sob threatening to escape. Her eyes were swimming with tears.
“Shh. It’s okay.” I crawled over to where she lay and pulled her into my arms. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?” she cried. “I almost strangled you.”
“You didn’t. I’m fine.”
She let her head fall against my shoulder and started to sob. I squeezed her and rested my chin on top of her golden head, willing myself not to cry. It had been a horrible few weeks. I carried the weight of Max’s death like a dead albatross around my neck. It was my fault he was there to begin with, and I didn’t deserve to be the one who had survived.
Some days, the thought of rescuing Amory was the only thing that kept me going, and lately, even that seemed so far out of reach. Today would be just another day suffocating under the weight of that sick, helpless feeling that burned my throat and made my stomach ache. It never stopped.
When Logan’s tears dried up, I pulled her to her feet without a word, and we shuffled out of the tent into the early morning sun. Neither of us would mention it again. It was easier to pretend we didn’t feel how heavy a load we carried. Going through the motions was the only thing to do.
The rebel camp was situated at the top of a hill a few miles outside the border of Sector X. Dozens of tents stood in neat blocks among the fir trees, leading to the blazing fire at the center of camp where people gathered to thaw their fingers and warm their bones from the constant bite of cold. We crunched through the snow toward the mess tent, where several groups of people were already huddled over bowls of runny oatmeal, their shoulders hunched against the wind.
Winter was here in earnest — the earliest snow I could remember — and I caught daily whispered concerns that it would be impossible to make it through the season with no permanent shelter. Shivering in my ragged military-issue sleeping bag night after night, I could imagine everyone was beginning to feel mutinous wondering when their mission would finally end.
The rebels gathered at breakfast were an odd, jumbled group of people. There were lots of runaway teenagers, edgy anti-establishment guys with long, matted dreadlocks and gauges in their ears, and now, the camp was overflowing with the influx of prisoners from Chaddock and Waul.
The former inmates were tough to manage. Rowdy and skittish, a fight could break out over an extra dinner roll or the warmest spot by the fire. They trusted no one and fought their orders at every turn, but since they had been arrested in service to the cause, the rebels were reluctant to turn them away. Repeat offenders were brought to Rulon, who doled out his own brand of sick justice in the tent at the end of the block.
Standing in line waiting for the surly, tattooed cook to spoon out my breakfast, I skimmed the large chalkboard that denoted everyone’s duties in a child-like scrawl. I rejoiced when I saw I was responsible for gathering firewood that day. If I worked quickly, it would be easy to slip away to train with Logan. Our secret lessons were the only thing I looked forward to most days.
Logan wasn’t a great teacher, but training me was the only thing that seemed to bring her back to her former self. It was a good distraction for me, too. Doing nothing was killing me, but it wasn’t my choice.
I slumped down onto the log next to Greyson, feeling the frustration and boredom wafting off him. Doing the rebels’ laundry wasn’t exactly how he’d imagined his role in the revolution.
“I can’t do this anymore,” I breathed.
“I know.” He was spooning out his watery oatmeal, letting it slide back into the bowl twice before bringing it to his lips.
“Her nightmares are getting worse.”
He sighed, and I could see the exhaustion in his eyes. “Saving Amory isn’t going to bring Max back, Haven.”
“But we have to try.”
“We have tried.”
I stiffened, thinking of our botched rescue attempt the day after the riots. I’d roused Greyson in the middle of the night to help me sneak back into Sector X, but we’d only gotten to the edge of camp before we were spotted by the rebel guards and hauled back to await Rulon’s punishment.
I’d expected Rulon to torture or threaten us when we were caught. After all, I had disobeyed his orders twice, and breaking back into Sector X was more of an emotional decision than a rational one. But he hadn’t punished us. He’d just brought us into the leaders’ tent, where a map of Sector X lay spread across the table.
After so many rebels infiltrated the city, security measures had been tightened, he explained. Sector X was on lockdown. The PMC had called in all available reinforcements to round up any illegals who had been freed during the riots. Rebels were killed on sight. It was too dangerous to attempt an extraction until the dust had settled.
Rulon’s explanation made sense to me, and that day he’d treated me with uncharacteristic kindness — even if his goons had hauled us back to camp like disobedient children.
I knew it would be nearly impossible to infiltrate Sector X without the rebels’ help, so I’d resolved to be a good soldier. Rulon ran a tight ship with a strict hierarchy where soldiers waited for their orders. If I wanted them to take me into Sector X, I had to play by their rules and hope they would help once the PMC’s operations had returned to normal.
“It’s been three weeks,” I said, feeling edgy. “I can’t wait any longer. They’re torturing him, and once they get the information they need . . .”
“So what’s the plan?” he asked, rolling his eyes indulgently. “Come on. I know you’ve been formulating a plan for days.”
I grinned. He knew me so well. “Time’s running out. We have to find out how to get into Sector X and where they’re keeping Amory.”
“Rulon said it’s on lockdown.”
“The rebels have to be getting in somehow. I know they’re stealing food from the PMC. How else could they be feeding this whole camp?”
Greyson nodded, looking down at his bowl of slop. “So we find out who’s going inside and tag along.”
“How are we going to get him out once we find him?” Logan asked, making me jump. I hadn’t heard her coming up behind me. “Amory’s bound to be locked up in some maximum-security prison.” She swung a leg over the log and scooted in until her shoulder brushed against mine, as though she wanted to remind me she was still there.
“Somebody here has to know something. They go into the city all the time.”
“When do they make supply runs?” Greyson asked.
“Early in the morning.”
We sat in silence for several moments. Finally, Logan spoke again. “They’ve got someone on the inside.”
I nodded, feeling impatient. “We already knew that.”
“No. I mean really inside,” she said, sneaking a furtive glance at the people eating nearby. The rebels must have a mole who’s at the top. Otherwise . . .” She broke off, deep in thought.
“Otherwise they never would have gotten those CIDs we used to get past the rovers during the riots.”
“They must have taken them from officers,” I said. “Cut them out.”
Logan shook her head. “That wouldn’t work! I should have remembered before. If you remove a CID, in the system . . . you’re dead.”
“They can still track you, but your other information dies with you. They do that so no one can cut open your arm to steal your identity. You can’t remove your own CID unless you want your money, your social security number, and everything else wiped.”
“So that means . . .”
She nodded. “Those were fake identities. Every one of those CIDs was uniquely created by someone working inside the PMC.”
“Do you think the mole is someone here?”
“It would be really stupid if they were!” said Greyson. “Can you imagine what the PMC would do to them if they found out everything they’d done? They’re probably the reason the rebels knew that big meeting was happening at the base. I guarantee the PMC didn’t broadcast that.”
“Well, whoever it is, he knows how we can get inside and find Amory.” I stood up. “I need to talk to Rulon.”
Logan and Greyson looked surprised but did not argue. Rulon didn’t like us much, but he was the only person I knew for sure would be able to get us into the city if he wanted to.
The rest of the day passed in a blur. I restocked the firewood near the mess tent, the massive bonfire in the center of camp, and the supply tent. On my last trip, I doubled back into the woods to find Logan in the clearing where we sparred. It was far enough from the edge of camp that no one could hear my yells when we practiced throws, and most of the snow had been packed down to a deathtrap of ice and mud from our constant scuffling.
That afternoon, I was hitting the ground more a lot more than I should have. When Logan flipped me onto my back for what seemed like the hundredth time, she let out an exasperated cry, holding me to the ground with her forearm pressing down on my windpipe.
“What’s your deal?”
“Sorry,” I panted. “Just distracted.”
“You’re a mess.”
I bit back the urge to remind her she was the one who tried to strangle me in my sleep.
“Just working out what I’m going to say to Rulon.”
“I don’t care,” she growled. “Don’t bring that in here. Your head needs to be in the fight.” She shoved off me looking annoyed, and I fought back a grin.
Logan was a stickler for focus when we sparred — a rule that was in place as much for her as for me. Here, she didn’t have to be the sad girl who’d lost Max. She was in her element, and she was a machine.
We went again, and this time she didn’t hold back her fury. I blocked her first few hits but stumbled when she lurched, and she seized the opportunity to grab me and aim a knee jab into my gut at full force. I doubled over, fighting the urge to puke, and she sighed.
“We’re done for the day. Come on.”
She already had towels and a change of clothes for both of us, so I followed her down to the creek to wash up for dinner. It was a miserable ritual that involved breaking a thin layer of ice and splashing ourselves with the frigid water until most of the sweat and grime was gone. We changed, shivering, and I contemplated dunking my whole head in the water. It was guaranteed hypothermia, but my hair was filthy. I desperately needed a real shower.
I had purposely waited until dinner time to broach the subject of breaking into Sector X with Rulon because the rebels were more relaxed when they had plenty of beans, bread, and whisky in their bellies. If Rulon’s guards were inebriated, they’d be less likely to bother me. I wandered around the mess tent, pretending to look for a place to sit, scanning the crowd for Rulon.
I didn’t have to look far. He was sitting close to the fire wrapped in an enormous fur coat. The firelight was dancing in his cold eyes, and his dark skin was glowing with heat. He had an intricate dragon design shaved into his short hair that wound around the back of his head, making him look even more intimidating.
“What do you want, runaway?” he asked, taking a swig from the cup in his hand. The smell of whisky made my stomach turn.
“I need your help.”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“I want to break into Sector X and rescue my friend Amory. He’s been there for three weeks now.”
He nodded. “Captain Elwood’s boy. We’ve already had this conversation.”
“Yes, but I know they’re torturing him to find out what he knows. He’s much more of a liability in their hands.”
Rulon looked at me with those hard eyes. “That may be true, but we cannot risk infiltrating the facility where he is being held. I know what he means to you, and I’m sorry. But I must lead in a way that is best for the group as a whole. One person does not outweigh the needs of many.”
“We can’t leave someone behind just because it’s dangerous!”
“We can.” Rulon’s tone was short and clipped. “And we have. I was lenient with you and your friends after the riots, but I have not forgotten that you disobeyed my orders . . . twice.”
“It won’t happen again,” I said. Even I could hear the desperation in my voice. “Please. I’ll do it alone, and I’ll do it on your terms. But I have to try to save him.”
“It’s a suicide mission,” he said. “And it’s not an option. I won’t discuss this again with you.”
“But I know you’re breaking into Sector X!” I felt my voice wavering with anger despite my best efforts.
“You know nothing,” snapped Rulon. “Do not make the mistake of believing I overestimate your capabilities the way your friends do. The others may mistake your recklessness for courage, but I don’t.”
His words felt like a sharp slap. Three weeks of cold helplessness and fear turned to molten hatred in my gut, and I felt my tongue sting with the toxic accusations I longed to hurl at him. My hands curled into fists.
“What would you know about courage?” I spat. “You get people to run this camp and do whatever you want, but that’s only because everyone thinks you have a plan. They think this is part of something bigger — for the greater good — but people go off, and you won’t tell anyone what’s happening out there. The riots in the city killed hundreds of officers, and the PMC has already rebounded twice as strong. I came here because I thought we would actually be doing something, but you all just sit here getting drunk every night in the PMC’s backyard.” I stood up. “This revolution is pathetic.”
Several nearby rebels had turned to stare at me, but I didn’t care. Somebody ought to call Rulon on his bullshit. Godfrey was watching me out of the corner of his eye, too. It was hard to tell in the dancing firelight, but I thought I caught the flash of a grin.
Rulon’s face looked as though it was carved from stone. He betrayed no emotion, but I knew my words had touched a nerve. I wanted to knock the whisky out of his hand, but instead, I stormed off into the woods.
I heard two pairs of feet crunching over the frozen underbrush behind me and felt Greyson’s worried hover in the darkness before he even spoke. He and Logan had been sitting nearby, and I knew they had heard everything.
“What the hell was that?” Greyson hissed. “Are you trying to get us all killed?”
Feeling the anger ripple through me again, I refused to look in his direction. “I know you like these people, but the whole point of joining forces with them was to rescue Amory. They were never going to help us. It’s time to try something else. I don’t need Rulon or his men.”
He stopped, grabbing my arm and spinning me around. “You think I like these people? I was in that closet when they were torturing you, remember?”
In the darkness, I could just make out the whites of his eyes. I swallowed. How could I forget? The three rectangular chemical burn marks on my arm were a constant reminder. They wouldn’t heal like regular burns.
Miles, the rebel who tortured me, had been killed on the bridge by the PMC. The man who had stood by and watched had gone AWOL. Nobody at the camp ever talked about the rebels’ interrogation methods, but I could never pretend it hadn’t happened under Rulon’s command.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I just can’t sit here doing nothing if there’s even a chance of saving Amory.”
Greyson’s smile stood out in the darkness. “When do we leave?”
I sighed. No matter what had happened to him in prison, at least the important things about Greyson hadn’t changed. He was still my most loyal friend. “Whenever we can find out how they’re breaking into the city and where the PMC might be keeping Amory.”
We stopped walking. Greyson fidgeted, chewing on his words. The silence hung between him and Logan, and I knew they were both dancing around something they did not want to say to me. That wasn’t like Greyson.
He took a deep breath. “Haven . . . if they think he has information about the rebels, he’s not going to be in good shape when we get him out.” He swallowed, as if trying to keep his next words down. “If he’s still alive.”
My stomach clenched. Even though the horrible thoughts of what the PMC might be doing to Amory were on a constant loop in my head, hearing Greyson say it made it real.
“I know. But I won’t leave him.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to.”
I paused, mulling over Rulon’s words. “Rulon said ‘facility,’ not prison.”
“I don’t think they’re holding Amory in prison.”
Greyson snorted. “Well, the rebels destroyed all the prisons. They’ve just been killing all the illegals they find.”
“Why would they hold onto Amory then? The other rebels left in the city would have more information.”
“His father doesn’t want him killed.”
“No. His father wouldn’t want people thinking he was being soft on his son. How would that look? Amory defected. He’s a traitor.”
“What does Amory have that the other defectors don’t?”
I thought back to something Amory had said in the rebel bunker — how his father used him as one of the first test subjects for the CID.
“There was something different about his CID,” I said. “They tried to modify his behavior. It obviously didn’t work very well because they haven’t tried that with anyone else.”
“That we know of.”
“I know where he is,” said Logan, startling me. She looked pale in the anemic glow of the moonlight filtering through the bare trees, and the dead look in her eyes gave me a chill. “They’ve got him in Isador.”
Greyson and I exchanged blank looks, and she continued.
“I never thought it was a real place, but they sometimes talked about it when I was in training.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“No place you want to be. It’s off the books, but it’s where the PMC runs tests on people to develop new technology. At least that’s what I’ve heard.”
“How do we get there?”
“I don’t know where it is. Just that it’s somewhere in Sector X.”
“Rulon knows,” I said through gritted teeth, feeling the hatred boiling in my veins. He had the information we needed to rescue Amory, and still he did nothing. He would let him die.
“We need those maps,” I said, thinking of the ones Rulon had shown me in the leaders’ tent. “They had all the safe routes marked.”
“Tomorrow,” said Greyson. “We’ll wait until Rulon and his guards leave camp, and then we’ll sneak in and steal them.”
The thought of letting yet another night pass while Amory was in the hands of the PMC made me sick, but we couldn’t go running into Sector X without a solid plan again. That was what got us into this mess.
We felt our way back through the trees, stumbling occasionally over exposed roots and underbrush hidden in the snow. I began to wonder how far we had walked into the woods. I could no longer hear the sounds of laughter and slurred conversations.
Finally, I saw the flickering light of the fire through the trees, but something was wrong. It was too quiet.
Someone shouted, and I heard the sounds of heavy footfalls crashing toward us. A hulking shape emerged in the darkness, and I took an automatic step backward, bumping into Greyson. An enormous hand closed over my arm, jerking me forward and almost yanking my arm from its socket.
“Found her!” the man shouted.
I twisted reflexively, bringing my elbow up to knock the man on the side of the face just as Logan had taught me, but he was too fast. A huge, muscular arm twisted around my throat, pressing down against my windpipe. I choked as I was lifted off my feet and dragged through the trees. I smelled sweat and alcohol on his breath, and I started to panic.
We emerged into the clearing where the fire was still burning, but no one was drinking or laughing. They were all staring at me with anger and distrust. Rulon stood alone in the middle looking smug.
“We have a traitor among us,” he said loudly to the watching crowd. “And traitors must be punished.”
A hiss rippled through the crowd. Rulon took a step toward me wearing an expression of cold disgust. “Take her in.”
I tried to look for Logan and Greyson, but I couldn’t move my head. My captor’s arm was still wrapped around my throat too tightly, and he continued to drag me through the camp as all the rebels watched. Whatever was happening, no one was going to stop it.
We passed down the rows of tents, and I felt the dread burning in the pit of my stomach. We were heading to the large black tent at the end of the block. It stood apart from the others in shadow, as if no one wanted to be that close to it.
The man tossed me inside as if I were a bag of trash. Caught off-guard, I fell forward — knocking my head against something hard as I hit the ground. The pain radiated through my skull, and I squinted through the darkness to the man who had grabbed me. I didn’t know his name, but I recognized him as one of Rulon’s closest guards. He followed him everywhere.
Light fell across the trees outside, throwing shadows over Rulon standing in the entrance to the tent, his face unreadable. Someone muttered behind him, but he didn’t turn his head to the speaker.
I recognized that voice.
As Rulon and his companion crowded into the tent after the guard, I felt the sharp smack of betrayal.
Godfrey met my eyes, and there was no remorse in his expression. Although I knew he was a rebel through and through, I’d always thought I could trust him. Godfrey was the only rebel who saw what happened on the bridge. He watched Amory throw me into the water and sacrifice himself to the PMC. He knew why I had to go back.
Rulon hung the lantern on the ceiling and looked down at me with an expression of pure loathing.
“I’m sure you know why you are here.”
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