The Hunt - Megan Shepherd
SIX STEPS LONG BY six steps wide.
Cora must have paced the perimeter of her cell a hundred times. There was no clock. No window. No way to tell if she had been there for three days or thirteen—not that time even passed the same way on the space station. The only objects in the room were a stiff plastic-like blanket that always felt cold, a toilet, a water spout she could drink from, and a glaring ceiling light that never turned off.
Sitting in the corner, legs pulled in tight, she splayed her hand across the black observation panel set into the wall. Her nails against the smooth surface looked jagged and gnawed.
We have taken you for your own good, the Kindred had said.
We are your saviors, they had said.
She pressed her fingers against the black panel, one at a time, one for each of the five friends they’d separated her from. Lucky. Leon. Nok. Rolf. Mali. Weeks ago, they’d been strangers caged together in an artificial Earth where they were observed like wild animals behind bars. The experiment hadn’t lasted long.
Neither had Cora’s failed escape.
Stupid, she thought, to think I could ever escape from them.
When she took her hand away from the panel, traces of moisture from her fingers clung to the glass before vanishing.
Five gray spots against the blackness.
Five stars against a dark sky.
Five notes that might begin a song.
But not stupid, she thought with resolve, to believe we’re any less than them.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, concentrating on focusing her senses. She could still remember, deep in her bones, what it had felt like to trigger her telepathic ability. It had started as a dizzying wave and distorted vision, and then—yes, there—she had been able to sense a figure standing on the other side of the wall, and—yes, again—she had even been able read Cassian’s thoughts. It had only happened once, though she had tried in vain to make it happen again.
She stared at the black panel, again trying to sense behind it, though her neck ached and her eyes were bleary and worries kept itching under her skin, reminding her such abilities were unnatural. Freakish, even. Back on Earth, she’d be committed if she claimed to sense things with her mind. Back on Earth . . .
But there might not even be an Earth anymore.
“Wishing on stars never got me by,” she sang to herself quietly. Lyrics had always helped her clear her head of her worries. In songs, she wasn’t a freak, just a girl far from home and the parents, brother, and shaggy old dog she missed more than anything. “Wishes, and hopes, and kisses good-bye . . .” She traced her finger in an arc against the panel, composing lyrics that faded as soon as they’d been written. “I wished to stay stronger, instead I got . . .”
Her voice went hoarse with lack of practice, but her finger kept writing:
The letters faded until there was nothing but blackness.
For a second, maybe two, that dizzying sensation started to creep over her again. Her vision blurred at the edges. She almost sensed that something was moving beyond the walls, or maybe someone, or maybe several someones.
The walls and floor began to vibrate. The rumble rose through her legs, making her heart trip and thunk, and she shoved to her feet, startled. The vibrations grew into a hum that filled the room. The hair on the back of her neck rose as if someone’s warm breath were whispering against it, and she clamped a hand over her nape.
Concentrate, she told herself. You can sense what’s out there. You did it once. You have to do it again.
The ceiling lamp grew so bright she had to squint. Light came from the walls too, as they split apart in intricate puzzle-like shapes that revealed a doorway. More light poured in from the opening, coating her skin with warmth. She flinched and shielded her eyes.
Someone was speaking words she didn’t recognize, in a monotone voice. The Kindred’s language. She tensed, fearing why they might have come. And then a clearer voice, in English, cut through the light.
A shadow eclipsed her.
She blinked her eyes open cautiously. Black eyes looked back at her—no pupils, no irises, just puddles of oily black, set into a woman’s face the color of burnished copper. Tessela. One of the guards under Cassian’s command.
Cora gasped at the sight of a familiar face. “Tessela! Please, let me out—”
“You are guilty of disobeying Rule