I’d wanted a show. That’s what I had now. None of the cameras in this area worked, I’d made sure of that earlier. I wanted a clear exit path, so I’d looped the tape and disabled the cameras. Zeke would figure it out pretty quick, so I was running out of time before they closed off my exit.
Was that why this girl was here? To slow me down with tricks and false hope?
I leaned into her, letting her feel the weight of my body for a second while I whispered into her ear. “Stay still, and I won’t snap your neck.”
I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do with the guards. I’d intended to get out without killing, but I’d already blown that. Shit, I might have even killed my brother. But death was a mercy for those of us in this life.
Who the fuck was this girl anyway? She came out of nowhere, couldn’t even sneak up on me properly.
“Jet, stand down!” The sentinels yelled out as they found us.
“Fuck you!” I shouted back and tightened my grip on the girl. “Back off, or I’ll snap her neck.”
The two kept yelling at me. Everything blurred for a hot second. Rage sent heat all through my body, tightening up every muscle. The girl felt it, stiffening in my arms. She whimpered when my grip tightened on reflex. A shudder slipped past my barely contained anger. This was what this place did to people. Turned good folks into killers, turned everything dirty. Numbed a person to the bad things.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t feel it when the girl took the gun in my waistband. The loud pop of the weapon firing seared through the blurry raging haze in my mind.
My vision cleared just as both men dropped to the floor.
I spun her out of my arms and slammed her back against the wall like a lifeless rag doll, wrenching the gun from her hands. The gun was hot as I pressed the barrel against her cheek.
I squeezed her neck with one hand while the other kept that gun against her temple. “What the fuck did you just do?” No doubt, they’d pin those deaths on me too, but it didn’t matter.
They had to have sent her to distract me. Up this close, she was even more like Kala and it was driving me insane. How did Daniel look at this bitch every day? It made my heart contract painfully, just thinking about Kala’s face on her. I hated it, hated her for it.
She coughed, and I realized I was squeezing too tight. She couldn’t talk. I released her and stepped back. She bent forward, trying to catch her breath.
Jesus. Recruits learned fast these days.
“You just killed two people.”
Sure, I’d killed dozens in my time with Section Five. But she’d only been here a few weeks, and she hadn’t even started real training yet.
“You’ve been blowing shit up all day. You don’t think you killed anyone?” She said, finally, once she’d caught her breath.
“I know what I’m doing. The fuck do you think you are?”
“I saved your life,” she replied. She was panting like she’d ran a mile. Guess that happened when a person was accidentally choked out.
Saved my life? Was that how she’d ingratiate herself to me? Suspicion slid into my chest. “Why would you do that?”
““They were going to shoot us both to stop you. I don’t want to fucking die and I know you don’t.”
“Don’t fucking pretend like you know me.”
“I want to leave with you.”
I blinked for a hot second, then laughed. Go with me? She lost her damn mind. Like I’d trust anyone in this place, particularly her with that face. She’d been hand-picked just to fuck with my head. With Daniel’s head. And he might be falling for it, but I wasn’t. I was wise to her shit.
“No fucking way,” I answered. “Crazy ass bitch.”
“I can’t stay here. I’ll die here.”
“I can’t take the chance.”
“I can’t trust you. You’re a plant.” I narrowed my gaze on her. “You work for them.” Jesus, Section Five had no scruples at all, did they? I mean, I knew what they were capable of, but this was—by far—one of the worst things I’d ever seen. She didn’t even know what she was.
“Never. I’ll never work for them.”
“Oh, little recruit. I know you think you’re telling the truth. That’s how they do it. How they keep you in check. How Sonyakeeps you in check.” As much as Sonya played her tricks in the past, I had no doubt I probably had some residual issues like this one would.
Fuck, I was so broken, I’d never be able to live normally again, and I’d never ever gone under in Sonya’s office. She’d never had the opportunity to program me, not even after Kala’s death, when I splintered. Daniel had protected me then. He didn’t know I knew, but I did know.
But it was before I’d lost him.
I shut out the image of what he looked like, bleeding out on the floor. If he was lucky, he’d bleed out before they got to him. He’d be free, and wouldn’t have to make the choice between me and Section Five. Slowly, I stepped back from her, but kept my gun at the ready, in case.
“I’m telling the truth. I just want to leave. We don’t even have to stay together after. Just get me out.”
The girl’s desperation tugged at my dead heart, but I couldn’t take the chance. For all I knew, she might be a sleeper, and they’d programmed her to turn on me as soon as we were free of the complex. I couldn’t die yet. I had too much to do first.
And even if she wasn’t a sleeper… I shook my head. “You’re too green. They’ll find you, then they’ll find me because of you.”
“You have to take me with you. I can’t stay here… Please.” Oh, god, please don’t let her beg me. I didn’t think I could take that. Not with that face.
“No.” I clicked the safety on and lowered the weapon. I glanced at it in my hand. Minutes ago, it had killed two people.
No. She killed them. Weapons were tools. That’s all they were. Weapons were just what were used to carry out the will of the user.
I stiffened my back and started to back away. I had to get out of here. I was not just losing time, I was losing my mind, getting weaker to this girl. Was this what she did to Daniel? Was this how they’d taken him from me?
“This place eats your soul and never spits it out!” She yelled after me, suddenly. I stopped and regarded her without a word. She swallowed, her eyes watery and filled with fear. Real fear. But it wasn’t directed at me. She was genuinely afraid of this place.
Maybe there was hope for her.
“I don’t want to lose my soul here,” she added softly as I faced her and walked back over.
It physically pained me to look at her face, a face that looked so much like my sister. If I let myself, I’d have taken her away from her in a heartbeat just to get rid of the fear I saw in her eyes. I’d give her a new life, freedom from this place. But she wasn’t her own anymore and wouldn’t be ever again. There was no telling what Sonya had done to her yet.
I stepped back to her, closing the distance between us slowly. She didn’t move, fortifying my theory that she wasn’t actually afraid of me, just this place. I swallowed, and my voice was hoarse when I started speaking again. “None of us have souls. Some come here with it gone, the rest have it beaten out of us.”
I tucked the gun in my waistband again, and took her head in my hands, brushing my thumbs over her dirt-laden face. “I get it now. I get why he’s so enamored of you.” The hard lump of sorrow stuck in my throat, as surprise replaced the fear in those haunted eyes.
“Who?” she whispered.
Below us, voices rose up, demanding searches and giving orders. I glanced down, as if I’d be able to see the search teams. I rested my forehead against hers. “You have her fight. Maybe that was why they chose you. I don’t know. Just don’t lose that. Keep it close. Don’t let them break you, and take away that fight.”
I lifted my head and kissed her forehead. Confusion wafted from her like too much perfume.
“Wait…” she whispered.
“Section Five is ruthless. They will kill you, eventually, but it won’t be right away.” I spoke softly, because I wanted her to hear me clearly. “It will be slow and painful, and they will do it with glee. They will revel in your pain, in watching you break, in making you hurt. You might think you can hold out, and maybe you can. I don’t know. Maybe you’re stronger than I think you are. Maybe you’re stronger than her. But eventually, you will break. They break everyone.”
“They won’t break me.”
She seemed so sure of herself. So sure. I hated to ruin her illusion, but she just wasn’t understanding.
I watched her carefully. I knew what I had to try, just to see if there was even a possibility she was clean. I gritted my teeth. She would probably hate me for doing it, too. I cleared my throat, lowered my voice, and with soft inflections on the right syllables, I said, “You will comply.”
The result was almost instant, and heart-breaking. She faced me, her eyes wide, and drew in a deep breath. She fought something, deep inside her. Violence, the will to achieve the mission, who knew what else had been ingrained and programmed into her. The phrase was meaningless without the trigger, like having sex but not being able to release.
“No!” She cried, her voiced stressed and hoarse.
I sighed, the regret of causing her pain mixing with the sadness I felt for my dead sister. This girl, like many others, had been stolen from her life, subjected to mental conditioning she’d never recover from. She was so green, it might not have even mattered if she was triggered or not. She was a ticking time bomb with a broken display. No one would know when she blew until it was too late.
“That’s why you can’t come with me. They fucked with your head. Your mind is not your own anymore. Compliance is non-negotiable.”
The words seemed to stab her right in the chest. She flinched like I’d hit her, and then real tears fell down her face. Maybe she was strong enough, from the way she fought what was inside her. She hadn’t made her choice yet, so maybe there was hope. I remembered still how badly I’d wanted out at first, before I’d made the choice we all made.
She wasn’t like me, though. She was not built like me. I could see it. Section Five would destroy her before she would ever thrive in it. Regardless of what she had just done, she wasn’t a killer. Not really. She didn’t revel in it, take joy from it. Those two guards would live in her mind, eating away at her conscience for the rest of her life.
More voices broke through between us. I was out of time for real now.
I stepped close to her, wiping away her tears with my thumbs. Jesus. I’d gone from almost killing her to comforting her. What kind of power did she have over me? Over Daniel? Did she even know?
I met her dark eyes, those soulful, young eyes. So innocent, marred with the blood she’d just taken. A newly formed scar on her soul.
“Learn from them,” I whispered gently. “Don’t be vulnerable. Don’t let them rule you. Take charge of yourself and be strong.”
Fuck me, even though I knew she was a trap they’d thrown at me, I still wanted to take her along. But I had to be smart. I had to make the right choice. She’d slow me down, and be back inside Section Five within a week, spilling her guts about everything we did.
“They’ll kill me when they find out I did that,” she said, staring at the carnage on the ground a few feet away.
“Don’t worry. I’ll fix it,” I said. I leaned in close, sliding my palm down her wet cheek. Man, I really didn’t want to do what I needed to do. A smart man would have left a long time ago. What the fuck was wrong with me? “You’re so much like her. But I really hope you’re stronger than she was.”
“…because this is going to hurt. A lot.”
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