“All right, let’s get this over with,” Sam growled as she strode over to the room I was locked up in. They’d done all kinds of weird scans with different kinds of lights, and instinct told me that they were checking to make sure I wasn’t some sort of decoy or diversion. There was no chair, no bed, no table, no anything for me to sit on, so I just crossed my arms and leaned into one of the corners to keep from falling over asleep. I wasn’t sure I could remember what real sleep was; the plague of nightmares of death and destruction had consumed me for so long that I never felt truly rested, regardless of whether the visions remained in my mind’s eye after I woke or not.
I pulled my eyelids back open as Sam grabbed a chair, flipped it around backwards, and sat on it, with her arms crossed on the back ridge. Her gentle, understanding smile was extinct, her peaceful, blue-gray eyes had turned cold and icy as the river in winter, and hatred for my soul pulsed from her as heatless rays from the hiding sun.
“Nice to see you, too, Sam,” I muttered, unable to think of anything else to say in response.
She jerked her head to the guy at the control panel. The walls jolted me like fire, and I jumped away yelping. My wings and right arm prickled all over as if they’d fallen asleep.
“That was at 10 percent capacity. Don’t push me to full-on electrocution, prisoner. My superior would be less than pleased,” Sam said hollowly, unblinking.
Exhaustion and anger surged as one unit through me. “Your superior, huh? Since when is old man Locknut greater than God?”
Her response was another nod. The pain that crackled through me was far greater than I had expected, at least 30 percent. Somehow I laughed to myself inside my head: At least my brain is still working to tell me how much this incredibly hurts.
I hadn’t realized I had shut my eyes until I opened them and found myself on my knees. Sam stared at me. There was no compassion, no history, no shared secrets. There was nothing of the Sam I knew left in the person sitting on the chair in front of me.
“So,” she began as I pulled myself off the floor, “how shall we start? With your last rights that no longer exist or your explanation of everything you know about the High Order and all its affiliates?”
Sore and wobbly on my electrified legs, the disappointment and rage of being abandoned by the closest friend I had forced me to realize that I had nothing left. Nothing left to fight with. Nobody on my side. I was done listening, done obeying the rules, done trying to pretend that I could actually come out on top victoriously and be called a hero. Or even just a “good guy.” In a game that you’re meant to lose, there’s only one chance at survival. Improvising.
I stood for a moment, keeping my balance, and stared straight at Sam. She looked back, unblinking, waiting for my answer.
“Oh, I dunno,” I started nonchalantly, “I’d rather start with your surrender and your explanation of what the blazes you’re all up to.”
I knew she’d nod again, and in the concern of keeping my mind sharp, I drew strength out of some reserve deep in my cells and pulled my feet off the ground. The lightning popped and sizzled around me, frying the air. Heat built as it searched for me, for some living thing to course through and turn into a blob of cooked mush.
“Well?” I asked innocently. “Do you surrender or not?”
Sam nodded again. The energy tumbling, darting, zapping through the room was almost too much to bear, like being stuck in the middle of a thunderstorm covered in armor. A thought crossed my mind: Bring it on.
“Hoy, Sam! How’s Raven doing? I haven’t seen him for a while. Is he still tagging along after his sweet, big sister?”
The walls were turning white-hot from the pressure. The control panel man was yelling something at Sam. The shock wave burst out of my chest. I saw the walls crumble, the glass shatter, and Sam tumble away, shielding her face.
I stood triumphant in a pile of rubble, under the horrid Generator, in the room where every lie began.
Then there were red lights, and sirens, and a million soldiers in every direction, all with guns. I heard myself yell, “Come get me!” with heat surging to my hands. Then something hit my head, and it was very dark.
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