***Warning! Spoilers for “Enemy Inside.”***
The only thing worse than fear is uncertainty.
In the simulation room, familiar images flashed before my eyes. The pictures still made my stomach clench with nausea, but it was getting better.
Now, I could look at the twisted, bloody remains of men strewn across the battlefield. I could look at the melting skin of the children in the pictures. I remembered those pictures from a documentary I had seen about Hiroshima. Crime scene photos were mixed in with the images of war. The blood and the peeling, burnt, broken, and twisted human beings blended with the images of destruction. I’d seen these pictures over and over again so many times that I had the order memorized.
What bothered me more than the images themselves now was the nagging feeling of déjà vu. Yes, I’d seen this sequence twelve times a day every day for thirty-five days, but I felt as though I’d seen it more than that. Where had I seen it before?
Such a dangerous world requires a new generation of soldiers . . . a force for good to keep ordinary citizens safe from evildoers . . . safe from the violence of rebellion and the abominations created by the modern age.
A carrier appeared, and something in the back of my mind — an old fear — made me recoil.
The Private Military Company of the United States is always working to protect and serve, and World Corp International is committed to rebuilding a future from the ashes in this the New Northern Territory, where brothers and sisters work side by side for the common good.
Order. Compliance. Progress. This is our credo.
There are those who seek to disrupt our harmony and destroy our world. These menaces don’t deserve your sympathy. They are the true plague upon our world, and they must be defeated.
Go forth and do your duty, citizen. The New Republic needs you.
The sequence ended, and a robotic feminine tone sounded.
End of simulation.
The screen went black, and that feeling of boredom mixed with relief began to sink in. As awful as the simulations were, the strange dread that I was missing something important tormented me more.
Reluctantly, I got up to exit the theater, knocking one of the hundred identical white chairs out of place. There were exactly one hundred. I’d counted every day that first week. It seemed odd that there should be a hundred chairs when there was only one of me.
“Now, Haven . . . ” taunted a familiar voice.
I jumped when I saw the man sitting in the back row. He was so tan he was practically tangerine, and he wore crisply pleated white pants and a blazer. His hair and goatee were the lightest silver, and he had cold, steely eyes like a shark.
“That’s a little . . . passive aggressive, don’t you think?” His thin lips curved into a smile I didn’t like.
“Just stumbled a little,” I said lightly, hoping he didn’t register the fear that lifted my voice an octave too high.
This man had visited me before during my first adjustment. He had stood and watched me through the clear, cold water in my hallucination, flashing that same smile as I cried out in anguish.
“I doubt that very much. You’re determined, that’s for sure. It’s taken us a long time to get here. But you’ve made tremendous progress.”
My nostrils flared, but I didn’t say anything. Yes, I had made progress, but it had been painful. Within the first two weeks here, I’d learned that I could avoid trips to that horrible room with the cold metal table if I stayed within the boundaries, ate my meals, and “responded” to the simulations. I’d gotten sixteen new HALLO burns for my trouble. They stood out more sharply than my old ones. For some reason, I couldn’t remember where I’d gotten those.
I was used to the HALLO tags by now — so used to them in fact that they’d had to go up to five on the last session before I passed out. The worst part about adjustments was that they increased the settings on my CID. Although I’d memorized the boundaries of the atrium — how far I could go before the pain started — occasionally, I would still look away from the screen during my sessions in the theater and receive a sharp shock to the back of my skull.
They wanted me to look.
“You could be a great asset, you know,” the man continued lazily. “Probably my greatest achievement.”
For some reason, that made my chest swell with pride. Despite the pain, the horror, and the silence that stretched the hours of each day, I desperately wanted to be useful to the Republic.
Sensing my receptiveness, he stood up, stepped around the chairs without touching them, and stopped just inches away from me. “If I can take the Republic’s most defiant and turn her into a force for good, then others will see it is pointless to resist. You and I . . . we could fix all this.”
“All of what?” I breathed, trying not to cringe as the sharp tang of ginseng lozenges reached my nostrils.
The man turned away, seemingly lost in thought. “When I was a child, we lived out in the country. Fresh air, good exercise . . . it was a great place to grow up, as a young boy. My family lived so far out that we weren’t on city water. We drank well water. It didn’t taste very good, but what we didn’t know, of course, was that the water was tainted.”
I swallowed, willing myself to nod.
“. . . until, when I was twelve, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.”
He gripped the back of one of the chairs, and I watched his tan knuckles whiten. “A chemical company was dumping toxic waste illegally, and there was nothing we could do about it. We couldn’t afford to take the company to court. We could barely afford to keep our house.”
“That’s awful,” I said, just so he would know I was still listening. I wasn’t really sure why he was telling me this.
“The world is a terrible place, Haven. It always has been.”
“Unless we change things,” I said slowly, echoing what he had told me before, just wishing he would leave.
“Exactly, Haven! Exactly!” he said, clapping his hands together in delight. “When I was younger, I told myself I would never be so powerless again. I wanted to be richer than God himself so no one — no one — could ever ignore me again. I thought I could make them listen if I had wealth and power . . . if I created an American dynasty.”
He turned to face me. “But that’s not the solution, is it? There will always be people who get shat on. Maybe not me, but someone. The key to change isn’t money; it’s control. People need the Republic to tell them what to do — to tell them what’s right. Otherwise, given half the chance, humanity will destroy everything we have worked for.”
I nodded numbly.
“We’re doing it, Haven. You and me.”
I closed my eyes, fighting the nausea that was churning in my stomach. I hated this man with every fiber of my being, yet I had no idea why. Everything he said sent a ripple of sickness and wrongness through my body, and his voice filled me with a sense of dread.
When I opened my eyes, I was alone in the simulation room. I dragged myself into the main atrium. They no longer had to send a nurse to escort me back to my room. I’d memorized where all the white doors went: the simulation room, my room, the bathroom, the dining room, and the adjustment room.
Part of me wanted to throw a fit again, just so they would send in a nurse. I hated the nurses with a passion. I’d even tried to strangle the fat one with the pinched face and the straight bangs, but at least they were people.
I didn’t get to see anyone now, but throwing a fit wasn’t worth another adjustment.
Everything here was white: the walls, the chairs, the floor, my scrubs. Even the room where I slept and the room where I was allowed to eat was white. I hated it.
The food wasn’t supposed to be white, but the bland, muted vegetables turned to ash in my mouth. I’d lost a lot of weight in the first two weeks I was here, and they forced the white, flavorless food down my throat with a tube. I didn’t like that.
Now I ate on my own.
When I entered the dining room, my meal was waiting on a flimsy white silicon tray just as always. No one had to come serve my meals. The table was pushed up against the wall at just the right height to receive my tray through a tiny slot in the wall. Sometimes I waited by the slot to see the little window open up and catch a glimpse of the person on the other side, but it was completely dark.
By now, I knew there was no person on the other side — just a conveyer belt that ran the frozen meal through an oven, through the slot, and onto my table.
Today, dinner was a tofu brick with sweet potatoes and dark gray green beans. That meant it was day five. I had no idea what day of the week I first came here, so I considered my first day number one. I noticed they used the same seven breakfasts, the same seven lunches, and the same seven dinners on a repeated rotation, so that was how I remembered how many days I’d been here. I suspected that day seven was Sunday, because that was the only day I got actual meat: a lukewarm cube of meatloaf with bits of confetti inside masquerading as dehydrated onions.
I didn’t mind. The only thing that really bothered me was how my entire meal had to be either hot or cold, confirming my suspicions that a machine ran the entire frozen meal through an oven.
I glared at the clear, round pill sitting in its own little indentation on my tray — so harmless looking. They’d been giving it to me since I’d arrived. I couldn’t remember what they had drugged me with when I was in the hospital. It had been an endless parade of doctors poking and prodding, horrible sweating fevers and nausea. I’d thought I was dying, but then they had cured me.
This little clear pill was almost worse. It made me tired and careless and foggy, but if I did not take it, they would send in a nurse with a syringe, and I would be sent to the adjustment room. I picked it up between my thumb and index finger, made eye contact with the camera pointed at my table, and dry-swallowed the smooth tablet dramatically. I could almost feel my willpower draining.
Just as I was about to stick my fork into the sharp corner of my tofu brick, I heard the bang of a door. I sat up straight.
Why were they sending a nurse? I’d been on good behavior today. It didn’t seem fair that they would haul me off for an adjustment when I hadn’t done anything to warrant it. I bent my head over my tofu, hoping that if she saw me contentedly eating as I was supposed to, maybe she would see that I didn’t need to be adjusted.
My back tightened as the quick footsteps echoed off the high walls of the atrium. They weren’t nurses’ shoes. Those made a squeaky noise on the shiny white tile. These steps were loud and angry.
I jerked my head up at the familiar hiss. There, poking his head around the corner of the doorway, was a young man about my age with clean-cut dark hair and bright, sharp gray eyes.
“Amory,” I whispered. Without thinking, the name had slipped out of my mouth. Somehow I knew that boy, and I knew his name.
“You’re alive!” He wore a look so beautiful and happy it took my breath away.
“How do I —”
“Come on! There isn’t much time.”
My mind was working furiously, but I couldn’t remember how I knew him. It was the same odd sense of déjà vu I got during the simulations.
“How do I . . . know you?”
The relief drained from his face to be replaced by hurt and confusion.
“Haven. It’s me. We have to go! Now!”
Something tugged at the edges of my memory, but it was like feeling my way through a dark room. “I don’t understand.”
His eyes crinkled in distress, and he crossed the room to me and put his hands on my arms. I jumped at his touch, and a look of fear flashed through his eyes.
“You don’t know who I am?”
“I know who you are. I don’t know how, but —”
“What did they do to you, Haven?”
“Stop saying my name.” I was starting to panic. He knew who I was, but why didn’t I remember him?
“What did they do to you?” he asked louder.
“Aryus Edric. World Corp International.”
“I don’t know.”
“We have to get out of here.”
“I can’t leave.”
“I know. It’s going to be hard, but I’ve done it. You helped me. Remember?”
Something stirred in the back of my mind. I pictured Amory in my white scrubs, and a memory flickered in the back of my mind.
“Yes,” I stammered in surprise. “I-I did. Why did I do that?”
“Because you don’t want to be here. These are bad people.”
“What? Where do you want me to go?”
Amory was shaking his head now, thinking hard.
“Just come on. I’ll explain when we get out of here.”
In the back of my mind, I knew I shouldn’t, but something about the way he talked ignited a feeling of excitement in my chest. So what if it would end in an adjustment? It might be worth it just to see what he was talking about.
I’d been trying to get through the door that led out beyond the atrium for weeks, but every time, it had ended in a very painful, humiliating shock to the back of the head.
“All right,” I said, hesitating slightly.
He grabbed my hand, pulling me out of the dining room. I wanted to protest, but his warm hand felt nice holding mine. Something about it was familiar. In fact, everything about him screamed familiarity, but I couldn’t quite access the part of my brain that knew him. It was all very strange.
My white, no-slip soles squeaked against the tile as we crossed the atrium. Watching Amory pull me along, I took in the black jacket that stretched across his broad shoulders and olive-colored pants tucked over dirty black boots. He didn’t look as if he belonged, and I liked it. Everyone here wore white scrubs and lab coats.
Under the cleanly shaven line of hair on the back of his neck, I could just make out a square scar that looked the way mine felt, but it was cut across the middle in a shaky line. By the looks of it, we had the same CID. Or we had. Somehow, I remembered he didn’t have his anymore.
He pushed open the white door that the nurses used to enter the atrium and pulled me across the threshold.
Instantly, a sharp pain cracked across the back of my skull, as though I’d fallen and hit my head. It pulsated through the back of my head, splitting me in two between the eyes and down the bridge of my nose. I tried to get back into the safe boundaries, but my legs wouldn’t move.
“Haven!” Amory’s voice sounded oddly fuzzy.
Blinking through the mist, I forced myself to focus on his face. His eyes were filled with apprehension. He remembered how it felt when it had happened to him. He pulled on my hand, dragging my feet incrementally over the floor. The pain intensified, and black spots erupted in my vision.
A sharp shriek echoed down the corridor, and I covered my ears. The sound reverberated, and I thought for a moment that I could see the waves of sound disturbing the air and rocking back toward me. The scream sounded again, stronger this time. Then I realized it belonged to me.
Someone was yanking me away from the safety of the atrium into the blinding white light of the sterile corridor. I didn’t want to go. Every step I took intensified the pain in the back of my head.
“Haven! Haven!” I squinted through the black fog unfurling around my eyes.
“Haven! Come on. It’s all an illusion. It isn’t real.”
His face was fuzzy, but I could still make out the resolve in those gray eyes. They shone through the mist like two beacons of light.
As I concentrated, the mist lifted enough for me to discern the crinkles around Amory’s eyes and his distressed grimace as he watched me scream.
Why was he putting me through this? Every step I took just caused me pain.
I backed away, pulling out of Amory’s grip to return to the atrium. He grabbed both of my wrists, pulling me in the other direction. But it hurt too much.
Then I felt the hard shock to my knees as they hit the cold tile, and the pain reverberated up to my thighs. I couldn’t let him take me any farther. I screamed again, and a pair of strong arms wrapped around me and lifted me up against my will.
He was carrying me — strangling me — and every step he took caused me more pain. My whole body felt as though it were being stabbed all over by a thousand knives, but the wounds did not bleed. They merely punctured the skin enough to leave tracks of angry skids and burns, occasionally hitting with such force that they bruised me down to the bone.
Why did he not understand that he was hurting me? Why hadn’t I passed out?
The pain was too much — worse than I’d ever experienced. It was nothing the HALLO tags could have prepared me for. The hallucinations the HALLO tags produced were tangible: flames that charred you, chemical ice that froze and blistered the skin, or water that filled your lungs and drowned you. This was just pain in its rawest, most basic form. There was no way out — no way to fight it — because it had no source. It was everywhere at once, breaking me down with every step Amory took.
I became aware of soreness in my hands and wrists. Beating my fists against his back, kicking and screaming and crying, I tried to tell him to stop.
The light pulsating senstation in my head had escalated to a constant throttling, as though I were experiencing repeated whiplash in the middle seat of a car.
I thought I might be sick. I was sick. I retched, losing my tofu brick and the green beans, but it did not make me feel better. I continued to dry heave, and the spasms escalated.
Shaking uncontrollably, I tried to yell out. He was killing me. Amory was killing me. Something deep in the recesses of my brain shut off, and I felt myself losing the fight.
Why was he taking me from the atrium in the first place? I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why he would take me away from my bed and the food and the routine of it all. Twelve times a day, I experienced the joyful moment of déjà vu — a whispered clue to something I used to know. That was all I needed.
I didn’t care. I didn’t want to go back, and I didn’t want to leave with him. I just wanted it to stop.
And then it did.
The voices started as no more than a faraway rumble of activity I couldn’t discern — a theater of excited people waiting for the show to start. Then, little by little, the voices pulled apart like drips of honey. The spatters of conversation began to take shape.
“It was terrible. I’ve never seen her like that. I’ve never seen anybody like that.”
“Yours was pretty bad.”
“I don’t remember it being that terrible. She was almost . . . a different person.”
“She’s been there a lot longer.”
“Only two months.”
“That’s all the time they need, I guess.”
One of the voices belonged to Amory. I recognized the other voice, too, but recalling its owner required a deep dig into the dusty corners of my brain. I squinted against the bright light fanning around the edges of my eyelids. My head hurt. I didn’t want to open my eyes just yet. I didn’t want to face where I was or what had happened.
Lying there, I could feel the hum of motion beneath me and the muffled rush of wind. I was in a car, and I could sense there were other people around me: Amory and the other boy who had spoken. Not opening my eyes, I allowed myself to be lulled into a dreamlike state by the gentle movement of the car.
Two cool fingers touched the side of my neck, ghosting over my skin like a raindrop and feeling my pulse. The person next to me sighed loudly.
“I don’t know why she hasn’t woken up yet.” It was Amory.
“That’s fine. We’d probably have to knock her out again when we get there. If she’s as messed up as you say —”
I grimaced. I didn’t like the sound of that.
“I don’t want to sedate her.”
“We have to.”
“You don’t know that,” he said angrily. “She might wake up and be fine.”
“I was there when she woke up from getting her tonsils out. Trust me. She’s not going to be fine.”
Tonsils. When had I had my tonsils out?
A memory came in, slowly at first and then faster and more vivid. I was twelve when I got my tonsils removed, and Greyson had been there when I woke up.
Greyson. That was the other speaker. Why was he here? I didn’t understand.
After a while, the car stopped, and I felt Amory’s arms lift me bodily from the car. The cold air stung my face, but my bare arms in the thin white scrubs had been covered by something warm and heavy — his jacket. Why did I have his jacket?
As soon as the cold stopped, I knew we were inside. I heard the floor groan under the combined weight of Amory and me as he carried me to a room and laid me on a soft bed that smelled ancient.
“She doesn’t need that.”
“It’s for her own good,” said a much deeper, unsympathetic voice.
“You know I don’t agree with this,” said Amory.
The third person took another step toward me, and a moment later, I felt the hard stab of a needle in my arm.
Something was missing.
There were no voices, but I could feel the presence of several other people in the room — their eyes watching me.
Unsteady light flickered behind my eyelids, and I forced myself to open them.
What looked like a rundown old motel room came slowly into focus: the fake wood paneling, the ugly brown bedspread that smelled like pine-scented cleaner, cheap perfume, and stale cigarette smoke. The concerned faces of Greyson, Amory, and Logan hovered above me.
Logan. I was surprised I recognized her at once, but here she was. She didn’t look right, though. She was too pale, rail thin, and wrapped up in a blanket on the chair next to the bed, though the room wasn’t cold.
They were all watching me expectantly.
“Haven,” Amory breathed. He looked relieved but did not reach out to touch me. Up close, I could see the dark shadows under his eyes and the way his mouth strained to pull up around the edges into a smile.
Realizing what had happened, I sat up with a start, jerking my head around like a caged animal. I pulled myself awkwardly into a seated position. One of my hands was tied above my head, bound to the headboard with a piece of cloth.
“Hey, hey. It’s all right.” Amory’s hand jerked on the bedspread, as though he wanted to reach out to squeeze my arm but thought better of it.
“Where am I?”
“Somewhere safe,” said Greyson.
Something about seeing Greyson put me at ease. His carmel-colored skin and warm brown eyes were as familiar and comforting as a favorite chair, but I didn’t understand why. I knew him, but I didn’t.
“We removed your CID,” Greyson continued.
Amory shot him a deadly look.
Shoulder aching, I reached up with my free hand and lifted my hair to feel the tender skin on the back of my neck. There was a new bandage, and underneath, the bumps of a fresh incision sutured together. It hurt a little. Something inside me seemed to break, and my eyes filled with tears.
“That wasn’t your decision to make,” I said. My voice shook.
I felt broken and violated. Most of all, I felt confused.
“Haven, we got you out of that PMC brainwashing facility.” Logan’s voice was strained with worry. “You’re safe now. Amory risked his life . . .”
“That wasn’t your decision, either!” I yelled.
“What do you —”
“I was fine!
“They were torturing you,” she said.
“They were teaching me.”
“Teaching you what?”
“Logan.” Amory said in a warning voice. “Stop. She’s been drugged.”
“No I haven’t!”
I had been drugged, but I was in control.
Logan was undeterred. “Teaching you what?”
“I was finally making progress!”
Why was I screaming? Now that I was out of there, I knew that these people were my friends. So why didn’t it feel like it?
Burning hot resentment filled my veins, and the small room suddenly felt too crowded. I hated this room. It made me feel dirty and trapped and estranged.
I took a deep breath, trying to ease the fear that the whole place might crash in on me at any moment.
No. These people were not my friends. They were pretenders. They had taken me away just when things were starting to improve.
“Haven, there’s something else,” said Amory, reaching out to touch my leg, but I jerked it away, pulling my knees up to my chin and glaring at him.
“Do you really think now is a good time?” Greyson muttered under his breath.
“She deserves to know.”
“Know what?” I growled.
Amory took a deep breath. “We’re at war.”
My eyes flitted between Amory and Greyson. “Who?”
“The rebels have gone across the border to fight World Corp and the PMC. We’re trying to draw attention to what’s going on so the people here will turn against them. If we can get the documented people involved, it will be an easy win. If we can’t —”
“You’re not going to win,” I said automatically.
Amory stopped talking. He was looking at me as though he’d misheard.
The three of them exchanged an anxious look.
“What?” asked Greyson.
“If you try to fight World Corp International, you will die.” I took a deep breath. “You’re on the wrong side.”