Liberators, the final book in The Wall Series, will launch on May 12th! You can now pre-order Liberators on Amazon and be the first to get your copy when it goes live.
The book is currently going through final edits, but I’m super excited to share this exclusive preview of the first three chapters! Be warned, if you haven’t read the first three books, you might want to do that first as this extract contains spoilers. 😊
All books are free to read in Kindle Unlimited. Start the series with Expendables.
The small, bare room is blindingly white. A narrow strip light bounces light into every corner and the bleached tiles I lie on have been polished to a gleam that no Outsider could achieve, even with a hundred years of scrubbing. My head feels fuzzy, and there’s a sour, vaguely familiar aftertaste in my mouth.
I don’t want to think about where I am.
I sit up with a moan, pressing my back against the wall opposite the door. A square of reflective glass is set into it, a quarter of the way down from the top – too high to catch my reflection. A shiver runs through me, though the room is not cold. Quite the opposite.
Memories rush back. The note, signed by Ella, saying Trey was in trouble. Running through the Wall to Milicent’s house, finding it empty and deserted. The Metz arriving – four officers to take down one girl. It was a trap, and I had run straight into it.
You’ve stayed free twelve years, then you let your guard down for one moment, and it’s all for nothing.
My first thought may be for me, but my second is for Trey. Was he taken captive, too? He could be on the other side of the wall and I wouldn’t know. Had that note really been from Ella? I thought she was on our side, but deep down, I know Trey’s family wouldn’t approve of his relationship with me, an Outsider. And not just any Outsider, but an illegal girl from the streets of Area Four.
Realizing I’m clenching my teeth, I stretch my jaw to relieve the tension. Ella wouldn’t have betrayed me. The government could have discovered Milicent working for the Chain, captured her and laid the trap for me. Except they wouldn’t have known where to find me.
No. All the evidence points to one person. Milicent.
I lick my lips, trying to get enough moisture into my mouth to be able to swallow. My stomach is tight with hunger, adding to the aches in the rest of my body. Mika had said I’d need to take it easy to recover from the fight with Primo. The medic pod had healed me, almost like magic, but there was a price to pay. My body needs food, water and rest.
My left arm falls to my side, the bone healer encasing it from shoulder to wrist landing with a thunk on the floor. With this on my arm, I hadn’t stood a chance against the Metz officers.
I look around the room again, just in case I missed some clue that’ll tell me where I am. If I’m to believe the rumours, there are only two places the Metz take you – the Farms or the Labs. The only thing I know for certain about both places is that no one ever leaves them.
A faint sound breaks the silence. Footsteps. There’s a click, and the door opens. A pair of female guards walk in and haul me to my feet. Their hair is cropped close to their heads and they’re dressed in skin-tight navy suits, similar to those the Metz officers wear under their armour. I try to yank myself from their grip, but I can barely stand, let along fight. They half pull, half drag me down a short corridor and into another white-tiled room. This one has a table in the centre and a glass door set into the far wall.
One of the guards tugs the elastic band securing my braid and orders me to strip. I turn my back to them and do as they say, though I can feel their eyes on me. My cheeks warm as I stand there, naked, my hair hanging loose down my back. I leave the amulet tied around my ankle, offering up a silent prayer that they will let me keep this one thing. It’s a cheap piece of jewellery, just a ring of green glass encased in a bronze triquetra, but it’s all I have left of my mother. It also reminds me of my father.
Just thinking of him sends conflicting emotions racing through me. I wanted to prove that I could be a leader, yet my first act as leader of the Phoenix was to get myself captured. Good job, Aleesha.
The blonde-haired guard barks an order, and reluctantly, I untie the amulet and place it on top of the pile of clothes. She walks over and picks it up, turning it over before pocketing it.
“Hey! What are y—”
She jabs me in the stomach with her baton. I stumble back, my bare feet slipping on the tiled floor.
With a gloved hand, the guard picks up my clothes and drops them into a chute marked “Incinerator”. I resist the temptation to cross my legs and cover my chest. They want me to feel ashamed, humiliated. This is to remind me that I am the lowest of the low, that I have no rights. Not the right to dignity. Not even the right to life.
I push back my shoulders and meet the stare of the dark-haired guard who stands by the door. She looks me up and down, smirking.
Heat courses through my body, making my toes curl. I eye the blonde guard’s baton, wondering how hard it would be to take it from her. But the woman moves like a fighter, and I’m still weak from whatever drug the Metz gave me.
“Go through the decontamination chamber.” She motions to the glass door behind me. “It’ll lock behind you. Keep your arms above your head and walk slowly forward. The door at the far end will open once you’re done.”
“What is this place?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
Something about the glass door and “decontamination” makes my skin crawl. I turn back to the door we came in, but the dark-haired guard moves in front of it, one hand resting on her taser.
“Come on. We don’t have all day.”
Blondie’s baton prods me in my back. Reluctantly, I cross the room and pull open the glass door. I stare down a narrow passageway, about ten paces long, a second glass door at the far end.
Another jab in my spine makes me stumble through the door. It clicks shut behind me, and when I try to pull it open, it doesn’t budge.
A hiss from above makes me jump and look up. The air around me changes, sucking at my skin until all the hair on my body rises. The pressure intensifies until I can barely breathe, my skin feeling like it might burst like a balloon.
Keep your arms above your head and walk slowly through.
Raising my arms, I stumble forward into a wave of water. It cascades over my head, soaking me. I splutter when some gets into my mouth. It tastes medicinal. The water shuts off, then I’m surrounded by a dense mist. I keep walking. Hot air blasts from all sides, causing me to reel back. It soon cools, and I feel that suction again, not as intense this time, as my whole body dries.
Finally, I reach the end of the chamber. The glass door opens on its own, and I emerge into another room, almost identical to the first. A young woman in a tunic and trousers waits.
“Please dress.” She gestures to a small pile of folded clothes on the table. Underwear, thin trousers and a tunic similar to hers, except grey, not white. The fabric feels rough against my skin, but I don’t care. It’s better than being naked. I strap the flat sandals to my feet and wonder if I’ll ever see my beloved boots again.
“Your right hand, please.”
I hold it out obediently, then jerk back when the woman presses a grey box against it. But her grasp is firm. There’s a clunk and a small stab of pain.
“There. All done.” She releases my hand.
There’s a small, raised, reddish area between my thumb and first finger. It feels numb, but I can see a tiny light flashing underneath my skin.
“It’s a monitoring chip. Let us see what’s going on in your body.” The woman indicates a screen up on the wall where various lines track across the display. “See? Your rapid heart rate and spiked adrenaline tell me you’re nervous, which is to be expected. Please, try to relax.”
I lick my lips to moisten them, but they’re cracked and sore. The woman walks over to a machine on the wall and presses a button. A cup of liquid appears, and she hands it to me with a smile.
“Here. You must be thirsty. Drink up. Your body needs water.”
I gulp down the liquid, my throat craving the soothing wetness. It’s only when the last drop trickles into my mouth that I realize it’s not water. I stare down at the pink-rimmed cup, the sweetness lingering on my tongue.
“What …?” A wave of dizziness washes over me. I reach out to the table to steady myself.
An arm wraps around my waist and pulls me forward. “This way.”
My legs begin to buckle. I sense a door opening and the presence of other people, but my vision blurs. “Where am I?” I croak out.
Just before I succumb to the whirlpool pulling me down, the woman’s words break through my consciousness.
“This is Laboratory Two. One of the government’s testing facilities.”
* * * *
I stand in front of the Wall. Shades of yellow swirl above me, almost as if guided by an invisible painter’s brush. It’s beautiful. But despite the warm sun beating down on my back and the faint chatter of birds around me, something is wrong.
I glance down at my hands. They are smooth and unlined, my fingernails rounded into perfect arcs. They don’t look like my hands at all.
When I look up again, the Wall looks different. More transparent. I can see shapes moving around on the other side. Then I realize they’re people. At first, they’re just outlines, then they coalesce into familiar faces as the Wall becomes more transparent. Trey is there, dressed in his posh blue Insider suit. He looks happy but tired. Bryn and Abby stand behind him, heads bent together, laughing about something. Trey turns to talk to a willowy woman with long, dark hair.
Megan. I frown. But they don’t know each other.
Tommy runs up to them, pulling Rogue along by the hand. As I watch, Rogue picks him up and spins him around. Tommy screams in delight.
My eyes scan left along the line, and my heart seems to stop.
Jay appears on the other side of Trey, and beside him, Lily, the hole still in her forehead. Behind her, one hand resting lightly on her small shoulder, stands my mother.
I close my eyes, but when I open them, they are all still there.
A pit opens in my stomach.
Finally, Trey seems to notice me. He smiles and waves, saying something I can’t hear. I take a step forward and reach out to the Wall. But rather than the tingling sensation I usually get when I walk through it, my fingers buckle against a hard, unyielding surface.
I run my hands up and down, colours swirling, as if my touch controls the patterns on its surface. “Trey!” I bang on the Wall, but he just shrugs, as if he can’t hear what I’m saying.
Dread seeps through my body, flowing through my veins like liquid ice. My stomach is frozen tight.
Something bad is coming.
I catch Trey’s attention and wave my hands, trying to indicate that they should move, but he just smiles and waves back at me.
Then everyone’s expressions change. Rogue sets Tommy down and glances over his shoulder at something outside my field of vision. His face tightens as he pushes Tommy behind him. The smile falls from Bryn’s face as he exchanges a glance with Trey, and Abby pales. Only Jay, Lily and my mother stand unmoving and expressionless.
Dark shadows build behind them, taking the shape of gigantic Metz officers. They are all helmeted, except one. Primo looks down on the figures cowering below him and smiles a cold, twisted smile that I know can mean only one thing.
“No!” I pound my fists against the Wall, then kick the barrier, pain shooting from my toes. “You’re dead!”
Primo’s face melts and changes into that of the President – slicked-back, black hair, hard eyes, chiselled jaw. It changes again. This time, Samson stares down at me, his face impassive. The face changes one final time and I stare into my father’s blue eyes.
What does it mean?
My throat closes up as I claw at the Wall, my perfect fingernails turning ragged and bloody.
Then the shadowy figures attack.
Tommy is the first to fall. Rogue goes down next. Tears stream down my face as I watch, helpless, while my friends die, one by one. Under my fingers, the swirls of colour change from yellow to red, until bright crimson and dark red pour down the Wall, as if blood runs from the sky. The colours thicken, hiding the carnage in front of me. As Trey crumples to the ground, the Wall finally becomes completely opaque, hiding everything from sight.
I turn, panting, and look around for the first time. The sun still shines. A small bird dips and dives on the breeze, chirping. Pristine buildings, neat gardens and trees rise up in front of me.
I look down at my hands again, so smooth and perfect. It’s only then that I realize I’m not wearing my trusty boots or black Outsider clothing. I’m dressed head to toe in red.
I am an Insider.
My legs wobble and I fall to my knees, slamming my clenched fists on the ground. Throwing my head back to the sky, I howl, letting the anger, frustration and grief rush out of me.
It is all I can do.
My eyes fly open and I sit bolt upright, disorientated, my heart pounding in my ears. Sweat trickles between my breasts, the rough tunic sticking to my back.
I hold my shaking hands out. The usual traces of dirt and grime are gone from the creases in my skin, but the lines are still there, my fingernails cracked and uneven. Relief rushes through me.
It was just a dream.
“Bad dream, huh? Those drugs are a bitch.”
The voice is familiar. I look around but I’m alone in a small room.
Not a room. A cage with no bars, just transparent walls.
Curiosity cuts through the fog in my brain as I take in my surroundings. What I’d taken to be a bed is more like a long, white box inlaid with some strange, spongy material. I poke it, and it gives slightly under my finger, springing back when I release the pressure. At least it’s more comfortable than the hard floors I’m used to.
I have to swing my legs up and over the side of the box to get out. When lying down, my body must have been completely below the surface, invisible to anyone looking in.
The cage is a perfect cube, as wide as it is high. On one wall, there’s a door-shaped outline, with a palm access pad on the outside.
I take the two paces to the door and push it, but nothing happens. Outside, there’s a metal staircase, a narrow corridor of space separating it from a long, brick wall. I turn around. Two metal chutes run into the far wall of the cell. The top one looks like some kind of ventilation system. The lower chute ends in a silver hatch, perhaps a foot across. Next to the hatch, a small tap extends from the wall, a shallow, curved dish underneath. I run my hand underneath the tap, and a few drops of water fall onto my fingers. I lift my fingers to my lips and sniff, then touch the tip of my tongue. Water. The fresh, clean, tasteless water that pours from the fountains Inside. Not the water we get Outside that tastes of rust, dirt and mould. There’s just enough room to twist my head under the tap, and I gulp greedily, letting the water dribble out of my mouth and down my chin.
“Don’t drink too much! It’s rationed.”
The alarm in the voice causes me to jerk back. The flow of water stops. I look around again, staring through the transparent walls of my cell. There’s an identical cube next to me, another behind that. Most contain a single person dressed in a grey tunic and pants. Others appear to be empty.
My pulse quickens as I whirl around. The sight is almost identical – a line of cubes stretching into the distance. Looking down, I jump. I can see through the floor to the top of a woman’s head below. She’s slumped in one corner of her cage. Above me, bare feet pace the transparent floor of another cube. I can make out the lines on the man’s feet and the white, cracked skin around his heels.
I stumble backward and sit down, hard, on a square panel at the end of the bed. “What is this place?”
“Subject quarters at the London Compound, also known as Lab Two. Or, to those of us who live here, Hell.”
I twist to look behind me. Dark eyes meet mine. The man is in his thirties, his face weathered by the sun, though his skin has a dull, greyish tinge and his cheeks are hollow. He sits with his arms folded, hands cross-crossed with scars.
“Mitch?” I stare at him in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”
The man scowls. “Got caught in the Metz raid just after you visited. Wish they had shot me like the rest of ’em, but they brought me here instead.”
I close my eyes and swallow, his words dragging up the taste of tronk and my memories of that day. I’d been so desperate for the drug that I’d dragged Lily down to the roughest part of Area Four and made her wait outside while I went to get some tronk from Mitch. When the Metz came, I hadn’t been there to protect her.
Guilt squeezes my chest. I failed to protect Lily, failed to rescue Trey. And in getting captured, I have failed my gang. My Phoenixes.
I gave them hope, promised them a different future.
“How did they catch you?”
I don’t answer.
Mitch huffs impatiently. “Well, however they got your sorry little arse, I bet you had the same experience as us. You came out of the decontamination chamber super thirsty and gulped down the ‘water’ they gave you. Then you fell asleep and had the worst dream of your life, right?”
I nod. “What did you mean about the water being rationed?”
Mitch grimaces. “Just that. We get a daily allocation, which isn’t much. I suspect you drank most of yours already.”
I look at the tap longingly. And here I was, thinking there was something good about being in this place.
“Not enough for washing then?” I pluck at the tunic to pull it from my sweaty body.
“Nah. They take you to the cleaning chambers once a week.” His face twists into a cold smile. “If you’re still alive.”
The drug dealer has lost some of his cockiness, but his eyes are still calculating.
I hug my knees to my chest and tap the wall experimentally. It’s as hard and unyielding as the Wall in my dream. “What do they do to you in here?”
“Experiments. Drug testing. The guy on your other side looks like he’s been tortured every day since he came in. Don’t think he’ll last much longer. Reckon I’ve survived the longest out of everyone here, and it must be about six weeks since they got me.”
I glance over my shoulder, but the cube on the other side of mine appears to be empty. He must be in his bed.
I tap the wall again. It feels like Plexiglas. “How can I hear you?
Mitch points up. There’s a small, circular opening, about as wide as a Chaz bottle, at the top of the wall, a transparent tube connecting it to an identical opening in the wall of Mitch’s cell. “You can only talk with the people on either side of you. I—”
His voice breaks off as a buzzer sounds. I follow his gaze and see a pair of guards walking down the narrow corridor between the metal staircases and the brick wall. They pause at the foot of the staircase leading to my cell and begin to climb the stairs.
I stand and back away from the door until I hit the curved drinking dish.
Pass me by. Pass me by.
They stop in front of my cage. One of the guards presses his hand to the access pad and the door swishes open. As they grab me under the arms and drag me down the stairs, I glance back up at Mitch, who mouths something.
I can’t hear what he says, but I think he was saying “good luck”.
The smell of strong coffee fills the room, but the cup in front of me remains untouched. I don’t need caffeine or stimulants to keep me awake tonight. Thomas, Milicent’s butler, had brought the coffee pot in when the hour hand on the antique grandfather clock in the corner had ticked past ten o’clock and it was clear we were in for a late night.
Milicent’s butler. That makes him my butler now, I guess, though it’s not something I’ve had much time to come to terms with. I’ve got more pressing things to worry about.
“So no one has any idea where they’ve taken her?” Richard Masterton, the Chain’s leader and Aleesha’s father, slams his fist on the table and glares at me, as if holding me personally responsible for his daughter’s disappearance. I sink further into my chair under the weight of his gaze.
Next to him, Bryn gives me a sympathetic look, though his eyes are tight with worry. They’d both arrived at Milicent’s house while I was still slumped in the doorway, trying to come to terms with the fact that I’d been too late to prevent the Metz from taking Aleesha away.
“That would seem to be the case.” At the other end of the table, Samson wraps his fingers around his cup of coffee. His huge hands could easily crush the delicate china. “Can I see the note?”
Richard turns his scowl on him. “What I don’t understand is how you knew exactly where to find us if you weren’t aware of the contents of this.” He holds up the thin film between two fingers. It was the first thing he’d shown me when they’d arrived at the house, and the words are still branded in my mind.
Trey is in trouble. The Metz have come for him. Meet me at Milicent’s house. Ella.
The note raises more questions than it answers.
“Rogue saw Aleesha running out of Phoenix headquarters,” Samson says, nodding to the ex-Metz officer sitting next to him. “He questioned Abby after you left, and she said you’d be heading for Milicent’s house.”
“And you know Milicent?” Richard’s eyebrows knit together.
“I know of Milicent.” Samson smiles, a flash of white against his dark skin.
He also must have some way of getting through the Wall, because he turned up at the front door of the house rather than using the secret tunnel that connects it to a small shop in Area Six. His cane leans up against the wall behind him. He’s still recovering from the injuries the President and his men inflicted, which makes me wonder why he’s here. I’m not convinced it’s just out of concern for Aleesha.
“I still don’t understand what happened.” Rogue looks from Samson to Richard, before his eyes finally come to rest on me. “Who is this Milicent person, and what did she want with Aleesha?” His face flushed, he taps an impatient rhythm on the arm of his straight-backed wooden chair with his fingers. Unlike others around the table, his emotions are easy to read.
I glance at Bryn, but everyone’s eyes are on me.
We’ve been through this already.
But I know to Rogue, this will all be new. And I wasn’t exactly speaking coherently earlier, still too shocked by what had just happened.
“Milicent worked for the Chain. When I started working at Coleman’s factory, she asked me to find out information about the factory and food distribution systems. She said she would pass it back to Bryn and the Chain so it could feed into their plans. What she really wanted was for me to find out about the Coleman family so she could get revenge for her son’s death. That’s what all this was about.”
“And this is her house?” Rogue looks around at the wood-panelled dining room, the oil paintings hanging on the walls.
“So what’s Aleesha got to do with it? Why did she run off again?” His rhythmic tapping stops as he curls his hands into fists.
I take a deep breath. “Milicent made a deal with the President that she would give him Aleesha if he told her where Elmo Coleman was hiding. She wanted to kill him in revenge for him ordering the execution of her son after the Rose Rebellion, but I reckon the President warned him in advance that she was coming because when she arrived, he was already dead. Killed himself. Anyway, the President wants to use Aleesha to get at Richard. Milicent admitted as much just before they put her to sleep. I ran as fast as I could to get here and warn Aleesha, but I was too late. The Metz had just left.”
“He won’t get away with this.” Richard’s voice is controlled, but a fire burns in his eyes. “I will personally hunt him down and kill him.”
Bryn eyes him warily. “Shall we focus on trying to get Aleesha back first?” He turns to me. “Look, I know you don’t want to involve Ella, but she may know something about this. It was her name on the note.”
“No.” My fingers tighten on the arms of my chair. “We are not bringing her into this.”
I’m as confused as Bryn about why Ella’s name is at the bottom of the note. As far as I know, Aleesha’s never met her.
“Ella?” Samson raises an eyebrow.
Richard slides the piece of film down the table. Rogue takes it, reads it, then passes it to Samson.
“Interesting,” he mutters.
“What do you know about this?” Richard’s voice is dangerously low.
“Only that Aleesha spoke to me about a woman named Ella who wanted to make a deal. Apparently, she’s part of a group of Insiders who want to help our cause.”
I barely register Richard’s words. My chest tightens. Ella had said if I didn’t link her up with the Chain or Brotherhood, she would find some other way of doing it, but I hadn’t thought that she would go through with it. Not after my warnings. And I’d never even considered that Aleesha would help her.
How could she do that? After everything that’s happened?
The room seems to close in around me as I struggle for breath. I was only just beginning to forgive Aleesha for her role in my father’s death, and now she puts Ella at risk, too? Without even telling me?
“Trey?” Samson’s voice breaks through my thoughts, and I look up to find everyone looking at me.
“Do you know this Ella?” Samson’s voice is oddly gentle.
I swallow. “She’s my sister.”
“Ah. That would explain things.”
He doesn’t say what it explains and I don’t really care. I squeeze my hands around the arms of the chair until my knuckles turn white.
I will not let Ella get involved in this.
A hand covers mine. “We need to ask her about the note,” Bryn says. “It’s our only lead.”
Conflicting emotions war within me. Bryn is right. None of us know where the Metz have taken Aleesha, and if we’re to find her, every hour is vital. But if I bring Ella here, I know this won’t be the end of her involvement. When Dad died, I swore I’d take his place and look after my family. I can’t let her get messed up in this.
“Just comm her and ask.”
I look up into Bryn’s eyes, the same blue as mine.
“Go into another room and speak to her alone.” He gives me a small smile. “You’ll feel better for doing something. It’s not your fault Aleesha was captured, you know.”
I stare down at the table. It is my fault. If I hadn’t trusted Milicent …
Bryn’s hand tightens on mine. “It’s not your fault, Trey. But you must trust me. If we just sit here doing nothing, there’s no way we can find and rescue Aleesha.”
If I can trust anyone, it should be Bryn. But if it came to choosing between supporting me and the organization he believes so deeply in, I’m not sure which he’d choose.
I shove my chair back and stand. “I’ll talk to her.”
Their gazes follow me as I cross the room and yank open the door. Thomas jumps back, shoulders stiffening. From the guilty flush of his cheeks, he’s been listening at the door. “Would you like me to bring more coffee, Master Trey? Or some food?”
“No. Just leave us alone. And don’t call me ‘Master’. It’s just Trey.”
He stares straight ahead, his top lip quivering. A bruise darkens his jaw where Richard had punched him after learning he had let the Metz take Aleesha away without protest. The butler had said he’d just been following his mistress’s orders.
Because he obviously can’t think for himself.
I turn away from him in disgust and pull open the nearest door. Shelves piled high with laundry stare back at me.
“The drawing room is in here, Ma— Trey.” Thomas springs into action, opening another door to reveal a large sitting room. I walk past him into the room.
The door clicks shut behind me. I run my finger over the comm band on my wrist to call Ella. No one answers, but when I try again, a holo flashes in the air above my wrist, an image of my sister blinking sleepily.
“Trey? Where are you? Are you okay?”
“No.” A flood of emotion washes over me, but I can’t break down. Not yet. “What have you and Aleesha been doing?”
Ella’s brown eyes widen, and she suddenly looks more alert. “She told you? I’m sorry, Trey, but you wouldn’t help me, and you said she had links to the Brotherhood. I was the one who persuaded her to help me. She didn’t want to. Is she with you? Can I speak to her?”
“Of course she isn’t here!” I take a deep breath, trying to calm myself. “Did you have anything to do with the note that told Aleesha to come here, to Milicent’s house?”
Ella looks confused. “What note? What are you talking about?”
“Aleesha received a note telling her that I was in trouble and that the Metz were coming for me. It was signed by you.”
There’s a pause, then the holo shifts as Ella sits up and brushes back her hair. “Trey, I never wrote any note for Aleesha. Has something happened to her?” Her voice is laced with concern. It sounds genuine, but then again, until today, I’d never had any reason to doubt anything Ella said. She’s my big sister.
But even she’d lied to me.
“The Metz were waiting for her.” My voice is flat. “We don’t know where they’ve taken her.”
Ella sucks in a breath. “Okay. You’re at Milicent’s house? I’m coming over. We’ll work out a plan. We will find her, Trey. I—”
“No! You’re not coming over. Just stay at home.”
She blinks. “But I can help. I’ve got friends who work in government. They may be able to find out where she’s been taken.”
I hesitate for a moment, torn. I want to believe there’s some way of finding Aleesha without involving Ella. But right now, I can’t think of one.
“Fine. You can make some discreet enquiries. But you’re not coming over here. I think we’re about to stop for the night anyway. We’re not getting anywhere.” I stifle a yawn, my brain fogged with the exhaustion that follows adrenaline and shock.
“We? Who’s there with you?”
“No one, Ella. It doesn’t matter. Go back to sleep. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” I cut the connection before she can reply and walk back into the dining room.
Thomas had obviously ignored my instructions, because there’s a half-empty tray of sandwiches on the mahogany table. The stack of plates beside it lie untouched. Rogue stuffs sandwiches into his mouth as if he hasn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks.
“Well?” Bryn asks around a mouthful.
“She’s going to talk to her friends to see if they know anything. But they won’t be able to get any information until tomorrow.” I turn my gaze to Richard. “You’ll rescue her, won’t you?”
But he doesn’t meet my eye.
“What about the mole?” Bryn asks in a low voice.
Richard gives a tight shake of his head. “Not now,” he murmurs. “It’s not the right time.”
Not the right time for what?
“Well, I think we done as much as we can do tonight,” Richard says in a louder voice. “Let’s see what tomorrow brings. We’ll meet back here at seven in the evening. Perhaps you can arrange some food for us, Trey?”
He doesn’t wait for my reply before he pushes his chair back and stands. “We need to make sure we don’t draw attention to ourselves leaving this house. Samson, Rogue, you should come back with us through the tunnel.”
Bryn hangs back as they leave the room. “Do you want me to stay?”
“No. It’s okay. I need to go to work tomorrow anyway. If I take another day off, they’ll be suspicious.”
The thought of going into the factory and acting normal seems impossible. But I skipped work on Monday to watch Aleesha’s leadership fight. If I miss another day, someone will notice and start asking questions.
“You know, you don’t have to work there anymore. If Milicent left you everything, that’ll be more than enough money to pay your mother’s medical bills. I … I don’t want you putting yourself in danger.”
I turn away. “And what would I do if I didn’t work? Help you?”
Bryn is silent. He doesn’t want me getting any more involved in the Chain’s work that I already am. “Besides, I’m pretty sure the government will start paying closer attention to what I’m doing if I’m not going to work every day. And there’s still that additive in the Outsider’s food I want to get to the bottom of.” I hesitate for a moment. “The information I gave Milicent, about the distribution centres, is that helpful to you? Or was she just making that up so I’d think I was doing some good?”
Bryn’s squeezes my shoulder. “It could be very useful. And you may be right about the government. Just keep your head down for a few days and don’t do anything to attract attention. Let’s focus on getting Aleesha back, then we’ll have a chat about what you found out.”
It’s a relief to have someone else tell me what to do, to reassure me things are going to be okay, even though I know in my heart that it’s just words.
“Bryn, who’s the mole you asked Richard about?”
“I’m sorry Trey.” He shakes his head. “I can’t tell you.”
Right. More secrets.
He blows out a breath, seeing the expression on my face. “It’s someone working for us inside the government. Quite high up, actually.”
“High up enough to find out where Aleesha is being held captive?”
“Possibly. But it would be a huge risk for them to try and find out. It could completely blow their cover.”
“And that’s why Richard’s refusing to speak to them? Because this person is more important to him than his own daughter?”
“I know that’s how it seems, but you don’t understand everything that’s going on.” He places his hand on my shoulder. “The situation is complex. We don’t even know that it was the President who ordered Aleesha’s capture. We only have Milicent’s word for that. Power is a complex thing. You don’t always know who or what is behind something. Richard is right not to rush into things.”
He let his hand fall from my shoulder and tries to catch my eye. “He knows what he’s doing.”
I try to find reassurance in his words, but I can’t.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”
“Tomorrow,” I echo.
I follow Bryn out of the room and watch him disappear into the cellar under the kitchen, then I scrub at my eyes and head toward the front door.
“I’ve made a bed up for you here, sir.”
I halt, momentarily confused. Then I remember that this is my home now, or it could be, if I wanted.
Another thing to deal with.
“I … I can’t think about that tonight. All my stuff’s at home … at my apartment. I’ll come back tomorrow night.” I hesitate. “Just, um, keep things running as normal, please?”
Thomas smiles stiffly. “Of course, sir.” He opens the door for me. “Good night, sir.”
“Not ‘sir’. Just Trey.”
The night air is thick and muggy, the streets empty as I make my way back to the apartment. I wonder where Aleesha is tonight. If she’s hurt, alone and afraid.
I don’t want to have to send the boys out to rescue you.
Those were the last words she’d said to me. But she hadn’t sent anyone. She’d come herself, like always.
I reach the apartment block and lean my forehead against the cool, Plexiglas door.
I’ll find you, Aleesha. I promise.
“So, what have they been doing to you?” Mitch’s voice filters into my cube through the tube above my head.
I lie in my coffin-like bed, staring up at the base of the bed in the cube above me. It’s the only place in this prison where I don’t have to look at anyone else. The only vestige of privacy they give us.
“Come on, Aleesha. I know you’re not asleep. Tell me something interesting. I’m dying of boredom here.”
Dying of boredom. That’s about right. After only one day here, I can’t believe how people survive weeks in this place. No wonder Mitch talks so much. There’s nothing else to distract you from the nothingness you’re surrounded by.
With a sigh, I sit up and look at him. “Not much so far. They took some blood from me, gave me some weird drink, then took more blood. That’s it.”
“What kind of drink?”
“Dunno. But it was green and tasted awful.” I scrunch up my face. “Have you had it?”
“Nah. I’ve not heard of that one.” Mitch looks thoughtful. “Usually they inject stuff into you or force pills down your throat. If you’re really unlucky, you get taken in for surgery.”
“Yeah. Skin transplants, limb replacements. I’m surprised they haven’t tried it with that bone healer on yer arm. You’re a natural candidate. Whip it off and give you a new arm. Prototype, to see if yer body takes to it.” He makes a slicing motion with his hand and grins.
My eyes widen. “They’d chop my arm off?”
Mitch shrugs. “Better than what some folks have had to deal with. The woman in that cell before you had her head cut open. I reckon they were testing some new implant or something. Anyway, it didn’t seem to work, because they carried her out drooling.”
I look down at the white, spongy fabric of the bed, feeling suddenly sick.
How can they get away with this?
But I know the answer to that. They get away with it because we’re Outsiders. We don’t matter.
Mitch’s gaze flicks to the cube behind mine. “Ah, looks like Sleeping Beauty has finally woken up. Say hello. A pretty face like yours might cheer him up, poor bastard. They’ve really messed him up this time.”
I look over to see a skeletal man hunched over his knees, head in his hands. He pulls at his dark hair, sending dull, matted strands floating to the floor. Dried blood stains his tunic, and to my horror, I see he’s missing two fingers, the stumps covered by white gauze.
“Hello?” I swing my feet over the side of the bed and stand, then walk the three paces across the cube. “I’m …”
The words die on my lips as the man turns to face me. Angry, red lines crisscross his face where someone’s taken a blade to his skin. He squints at me, as if sensing someone there but can’t make out who, then rubs a finger across the bridge of his nose.
“Jameson?” I reach out, forgetting the double Plexiglas wall separating us. My fingers spread across the unbreakable surface, then clench into a fist. “Jameson,” I whisper again.
The Chain’s technical expert is almost unrecognisable.
“Who … Who’s there?” the man rasps out.
“It’s me. Aleesha.”
Jameson tilts his head, his face screwed up in concentration. He raises a bloody finger to his lips, his hand shaking uncontrollably. “Aleesha … The name is … f-familiar.”
“You know ’im then?” Mitch’s voice comes from the other side of the cube. I wave a hand to shut him up, my eyes never leaving Jameson’s face.
“What have they done to you?”
His lips part, revealing swollen gums with several teeth missing. He seems to be trying very hard to think of something, the strain and frustration showing in the tension of his body. Finally, he lets out a wheeze.
“Aleesha … You’re friends with Trey.”
“Yes. Have they … been torturing you?
“Stupid question. What you think they’ve been doing?” Mitch says.
I turn and glower at him. Mitch shrugs, unrepentant.
When I turn back to Jameson, he’s hunched over again, his shoulders trembling as he wraps his hands over his head.
Is he crying?
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.” I trail my fingers over the Plexiglas wall, wishing there was some way I could get into his cube. Trey told me the Metz had taken Jameson after killing Matthews in the battle for Area Four, but I’d assumed he was dead. I think we all did; otherwise, the Chain would have tried to rescue him.
“I tried not to say anything.” Tears leak from Jameson’s eyes and roll down his thin face. “But it hurt so much. Then they put me into this machine, and the truth just came out. Like I couldn’t control what I was saying.”
He rubs the bridge of his nose again, and I remember that he’d worn glasses whenever I’d seen him at the Chain headquarters. Guess that would have been the first thing they took away from him – his sight.
“It was like … like a machine that could read minds.”
A shiver runs through me. I wasn’t sure how involved Jameson had been in the Chain’s work or strategy, but at the very least, he knows where their headquarters are in Area Six.
Which means all of them are in danger.
The sound of the buzzer cuts through my thoughts. It goes off every time the guards enter, but there’s no indication as to who they’ve come for until they arrive at your door.
Jameson cowers at the noise, his gaze flicking to the door as he rocks back and forth.
“I’ll find a way to get you out. I promise.”
Getting no answer, I retreat to sit on my bed.
“You shouldn’t say stuff like that, you know.”
“Makin’ stupid promises. Talkin’ of escape. Once you’ve been in here a while, you’ll realize that it just makes things worse.” Mitch gives me a dark look and turns his back.
I pull my legs up to my chest and rest my head on my knees. Mitch is right. It’s like talking about fresh bread and meat when you haven’t eaten in days, or trying to tell a street hobie that he’ll find a home soon. But Jameson looks so broken, so defeated, that I needed to give him some hope.
Or perhaps my words weren’t for Jameson at all, but for me.
The door to my cube hisses open and strong hands grab my arms, pulling me roughly off the bed.
“Time to go, pretty girl. There’s someone who wants to see you.”
They march me down a long, sterile corridor that leads to a collection of small rooms. I’d been taken to one of them yesterday, where they drew my blood and gave me that strange liquid to drink. Today, we walk past them and into a huge metal box at the end of the corridor, the doors sliding shut.
One of the guards presses a button on the wall and the elevator shakes slightly, then begins to rise. I open my mouth to ask where we’re going, but one look at the guards’ faces makes me snap it shut again. My toes curl on the cold metal of the elevator floor, and the hairs on my arms rise under the rough tunic. It’s several degrees colder here than in our cubes, and I eye the guards’ heat-regulating suits with envy.
The elevator shudders to a halt and the doors open. At a prod from behind, I stumble out into another corridor. Unlike the bare concrete of the tunnel below, this corridor has a carpeted floor and soft, yellow lighting.
But are we above or below ground?
Mitch wasn’t able to tell me much about where we were, only that he thought the main chamber was underground. I’ve no idea how long I was sedated for before waking up here. The journey could have taken minutes or hours.
My fingers curl into fists.
How far am I from London? From home?
Halfway down the corridor, a hand on my shoulder halts me. One of the guards raps on a plain wooden door and ducks his head inside. There’s a muted conversation, then the guard pulls back and pushes me into the room. I reach out to stop myself falling, grasping the back of a tall chair. It’s covered in a soft, luxurious material as fine as the brightly coloured scarves Insiders wear. The rough pile of the carpet tickles the underside of my feet.
The door slams behind me.
His voice sends a chill racing down my spine. I hadn’t imagined that I would find him here.
I lift my eyes and look across the room.
It’s small, furnished with two chairs separated by a low table of polished wood. There are no windows, but a large holo screen on one wall gives the illusion of a countryside landscape. Sitting in the other chair, legs crossed and fingers steepled in front of him, is a man I never expected to see again.
His slicked-back hair is dark against his warm, brown skin, frown lines scar his forehead and light stubble, flecked with grey, traces his jaw. I dig my fingers into the back of the chair and stare at him, unable to speak.
Then my brain kicks in. “You brought me here?” I whisper.
“You really need to stop trying to rescue everyone, Aleesha. It always seems to land you in trouble.” A cold smile turns up the corners of his lips. “Milicent made a deal with me. I had some information she wanted, and she was able to get me something I wanted.”
He gives a slight nod.
“What do you want with me?”
The President gestures to the chair I’m leaning on. “Why don’t you sit down?”
I shake my head. As tempting as it is to sink into that soft surface, I need to be ready in case there’s any chance of escape. I look around the room again, a door at the far end catching my eye.
“It leads to a store cupboard,” he says with a low chuckle. “And the two guards who brought you here are waiting in the corridor outside. There’s no way out.”
He sighs when I don’t answer. “Have it your way.”
“What do you want with me?” I repeat.
“A couple of things. I wanted to know how you’re able to get through the Wall. It’s bothered me since you broke into the government headquarters, but it turns out the answer is much simpler than I’d thought.” His fingers tap a light rhythm on the arm of his chair. “But my main reason should be obvious.”
I stare at him blankly, still trying to process his words.
He knows how I can pass through the Wall?
My heartbeat quickens. He has the answer to the question that’s haunted me ever since Jay pushed me off the roof. I should have died that day, but somehow, I passed through the Wall unharmed.
What is different about me?
“Come on, Aleesha. You’re not stupid. I made you a deal last time we spoke. Surely you haven’t forgotten.”
His words drag me back to the present. “You wanted to use me to find my father,” I say flatly.
And now my father’s in London. And the President knows that. Milicent must’ve told him.
“So you’ve met him. What’s he got to say for himself? Has he told you why he abandoned you? How he was responsible for your mother’s death?”
My chest tightens. “He didn’t have anything to do with her death. I saw the records. I was there, inside—” My voice breaks as I recall the holo footage of the Metz operation that had led to my mother’s death. It had felt like I was there, in Rose Square with her. I’d felt her pain, saw the bullet end her life.
I fight for breath. My ribs feel like an iron cage constricting my lungs. “Primo killed her.”
“Primo?” The President raises an eyebrow, then frowns. “Oh, that’s what the Metz captain called himself. The one who set himself up as the leader of some Outsider gang. His chip went dead three days ago, so I presume he’s no longer alive?”
I shake my head and glance down at my hands. I can still feel the heat of Primo’s blood on my skin.
“I knew Ricus would come back eventually.”
The President’s use of my father’s birth name jolts me for a second.
“He always wanted what he couldn’t have.” His fingers curl over the rounded wooden arms of the chair, his knuckles paling as the tendons on the back of his hand bulge. “It wasn’t enough for him to take over half of Europa’s cities. No. He would always come back to London. Always come back for me.”
I stare at him, surprised by his words and the intensity in his voice. “You knew my father?”
Against my better judgment, I step around the back of the chair and sink into it, pulling my legs up to my chest. I’m close enough to see the flecks of amber in the President’s brown eyes, as well as the anger and pain that fill them.
“Yes, I knew him. Perhaps better than anyone, apart from Maria.” His eyes tighten at my mother’s name. “Ricus didn’t really let anyone close enough to be a best friend, but if he had, I would have been it. We went to school together.”
He falls silent. I hug my knees a little tighter, waiting for him to continue.
“You may blame Andrew Goldsmith or the Metz for her death, but if it were not for your father, her life would never have been at risk in the first place.”
I glare at him, feeling anger coil in my belly. “You seem very keen to blame others for her death. How do I know you weren’t involved, too?”
A spasm of pain crosses the President’s face. “I was not involved in the Metz operation. I had no idea it was happening until it was too late.” He looks away. “I did not cause Maria’s death, but I have lived with the guilt of it for the past twelve years. Wondered what might have happened if—” He breaks off, as if remembering who he’s talking to. He waves his hand through the air. “But that is all in the past. Ricus is not the man he once was.”
“He’s a better person than you. At least he wants to do the right thing.”
The President arches an eyebrow. “Wanting something and achieving it are two very different things. One person’s view of what is right may be very different from another person’s. And, of course, there is the cost of achieving what one believes to be right. That must be taken into account, don’t you agree?”
I open my mouth, then close it again. I’m not going to play his game. “You said you know why I can get through the Wall. What’s different about me?”
The President chuckles. “Well, I suppose there’s no harm in telling you. You know, when the three of you broke into the headquarters, I was actually worried that perhaps someone had discovered how the Wall worked. The foreigner was easy to explain, as was Andrew’s son, once I realized it was him. But you …” He shakes his head. “You were more difficult. Your blood tests revealed a natural immunity. It was a one in ten thousand probability. Do know what that means?”
I shake my head, wondering what an immunity is.
“It means that for every ten thousand people, only one would be able to pass through the Wall unharmed. In a city this size, there’s bound to be a handful of Outsiders who are able to do so.” He shrugs. “We always knew that. It’s just bad luck that it happened to be you.”
Bad luck? Or good luck?
From what he says,’ if I didn’t have this immunity – whatever that is – I would have died the day Jay pushed me into the Wall.
“This immunity … Is it reversible?”
“I don’t think so. We tested that.”
I think back to the green juice. What was in it?
“But it doesn’t matter.”
I lift my eyes to his. “Why? Because you’re going to keep me here, use me as one of your test subjects?”
The President flicks his fingers impatiently. “We have plenty of test subjects. You’re far too valuable for that.”
The coldness in his eyes returns, and I place my feet back onto the floor, suddenly afraid of what he’s going to say.
“You didn’t think I would let Andrew Goldsmith’s death go without reprisal, did you? Or the Metz Commander’s? Your father needs to be taught that actions have consequences, and this government will not lie down and let terrorists destroy our city.”
“What do you mean?” I whisper.
He holds up his hand, ticking off my crimes on his fingers. “Breaking into the government headquarters, stealing secret documents, breaking into the Metz compound, holding Metz officers hostage.” He shakes his head. “All these are crimes of treason, and you know what the law says about that.”
My blood turns to ice.
His eyes are unforgiving. “The penalty for treason is execution. Friday afternoon, you will be taken to Lincoln Square. There, in front of the cameras and the biggest crowd I can muster, you will be shot dead by a firing squad.”
My jaw drops. I try to form words, but my mouth is too dry, my tongue thick. All my thoughts are consumed by that one word.
“You … Why …” I close my eyes and try to form a coherent sentence. “If you cared for my mother, why are you doing this? She wouldn’t have wanted you to kill me.”
When I open my eyes, he’s turned away and stares into the distance, as if focused on another time and place. “Maria made her own choices. She knew what the consequences would be. Your mother can’t save you now, Aleesha. No one can.”