Children of Eden Page 39

Lachlan presses a hidden panel in the end of the cavernous chamber and the rock seems to split. A crevice opens up that turns into a door, cleverly hidden in the stone. It creaks slowly open to a black void.

“Go on,” he urges, his smile so joyful and welcoming. I don’t repeat the mistake I made at the pit. Without question, without fear, I step through into the impenetrable darkness.

There’s movement, hands on my body, something heavy and wet forced over my head so I’m trapped, suffocating.

“No! Let her go!” I hear Lachlan bellow. “Rowan! No!” I hear the sound of fighting, but I’m being dragged away. I feel a prick in my arm, and the world goes blurry for a while . . .

When I come to my senses, the heavy bag is still over my head, cinched tight at my neck. I can feel the cords of the drawstring draped over my shoulders.

“She’s awake.” I hear a slosh, and someone dumps freezing water over my head. It soaks through the bag, making it cling tightly to my nose, my mouth. I can’t breathe! When I shake my head, I manage to make a small gap between the canvas and my mouth, just enough to suck in a little air. But it’s not enough, I feel light-headed, drowning on dry land.

“Tell us your name.”

I turn toward the unfamiliar voice. A hand grabs the back of the bag, along with some of my hair, and yanks my head back, exposing my throat. I am exposed, vulnerable. “Where did you get those uniforms? Who is that boy with you?” He shakes me until my teeth rattle. But I say nothing.

For some seemingly endless time they question me, about my own identity, Lachlan’s, where I’m from and where I was headed. I don’t say a word, not even a lie. Not when they slap me hard across the face. Not when they tip me backward under a faucet that sends a steady drip, drip, drip of water onto my nose and mouth. I suck in pitiful amounts of air through the sodden bag, getting more water in my lungs than oxygen.

I pass out twice, and each time they haul me upright, pull the bag away from my face to give me a little more breathing room until I’m fully conscious . . . then tip me backward again. I don’t know how long it lasts. It feels like hours.

The voice comes close to my ear, growling through the bag. “This is only going to get worse. If you talk now, you can be a Center witness against the others. You’ll get off easy.” He sounds almost reasonable now. “That boy doesn’t care about you. You’re just a pawn in his traitorous schemes. He’s using you.”

“No,” I start to babble. “He saved me. He was taking me someplace safe.”

“Where?” the voice demands.

“I don’t know. Please, let me go.”

“What is your name?”

I bite my tongue.

“What is his name?”

I shake my head, and he cuffs me on the temple.

The questions begin all over again, in an endless nightmare. I feel like if I could see my captors, look them in the eye, I could bear it better. But these hard hands and harsh voices coming at me in the choking darkness are almost more than I can take. I don’t want to tell them anything. But I have a terrible feeling I will if this lasts much longer.

I start to cry, and every time I breathe I can taste the salt of my own tears. I talk, begging, pleading, swearing I know nothing . . . and as the questions continue, I think I hear triumph in my interrogator’s voice. I might not be giving him useful information yet, but I’m talking, terrified, desperate, and he knows it is only a matter of time now.

Then he makes a mistake. In one of his good-cop moments when he’s leaning close to my ear, making tempting offers of clemency in exchange for information, swearing I’ll be safe if only I tell him what he needs to know, he says the wrong thing.

“Your mother didn’t die so that you could protect scum like that boy we caught you with.”

A white-hot rage rises up within me, burning out my fear. How dare he talk about my mother! Was he the one who killed her? Him, or someone like him.

I all but snarl beneath my soaking hood. My mother died for me. She died so that I could have a chance at a decent, safe life.

No matter what this man promises, I’ll never have that with the Center or the Greenshirts. Maybe I’m caught. Maybe I’ll be imprisoned, or killed. But if what Lachlan said is true, there is a community of second children, living the safe, happy life Mom wanted so desperately for me. For their sakes, and for Mom’s memory, I won’t tell them a thing.

My interrogator’s head is still close to mine as he murmurs his persuasive words. His fingers clutch my shoulders.

“Get your hands off of me, you bikking Greenshirt!” I snap, and head-butt him in the nose.

I hear a deeply satisfying crunch, a curse . . . and Lachlan’s voice saying, “That’s enough, Flint. I think she’s proven she won’t break.”

 

 

THE WET BAG is stripped from my face, and I find myself in a stone room without right angles, a rounded, cave-like chamber. Lachlan is standing a few feet from me, his face hard. There’s another man in the room, too, an imposing man in his forties with silvered black hair. His eyes are blue-gray, almost as flat as implant eyes, but the dark blue rings around the irises mark them as natural, and him as a second child. Blood drips from his slightly off-center nose.

“Everyone breaks, given time,” Flint says, his face impassive.

I look from one man to the other. “This was a test?” I ask, incredulous. “This wasn’t real?”

“It was completely real,” Flint says. “They’ll do that to you, and worse, if they catch you. We had to know you wouldn’t talk. At least, not right away. I’m responsible for every second child here, and I can’t risk their safety by letting in someone who is weak or untrustworthy.”

Part of me is relieved. I was sure the nightmare would continue until it was unbearable, ending only in my death. But another part—the part that head-butted Flint in the face—is furious that they fooled me, frightened me, tortured me.

Of the two, Lachlan is in arm’s reach. The knuckles I split punching that outer circle gang open up again on his cheekbone. I don’t care, because his face splits, too, right across that long crescent scar beneath his eye. He takes it without flinching, without the smallest movement of retaliation.

Flint wraps his arms around me and effortlessly picks me up, turning me around and setting me down out of reach of Lachlan. I’m shaking, and I clench my hands together so they won’t see . . . and so I won’t punch anyone else. Violence doesn’t seem to have much effect on them anyway.

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