Quarantine, 324 E.V., Cent. 15 - Present Day
I am outside Q again, staring up at the moonless sky. The lights of the fortress are dim and the skyline is hidden by the darkness. Arms encircle my body, and I lean back against the body behind me.
“No moon tonight,” I say.
“No,” he says.
“Yes. I am here.” His voice is calm now, gentle. “Say your name,” he whispers.
I turn and study his face. He is all angles. I am all angles too, but it is from starvation. Aron is muscular like someone who eats square meals and fights. You could cut glass on his cheekbones. No, that is ridiculous... but they are pleasant. Not pleasant—angular. Symmetrical. They have purpose. He is older now, too. He is not a savage anymore.
“Pay attention,” he says, touching my shoulder.
“Sorry,” I say.
“Forgiven.” He brushes my cheek, and I look up at him. “Say your name,” he repeats.
“I have not said it in years,” I reply. “What if I cannot say it?”
“You have to say it or they will make you forget it.”
I close my eyes and concentrate on the way the hairs on my arm seek out his warmth. My name is there in the dark. I know it in my bones.
“Zafirah,” I breathe.
Aron touches his lips to my forehead and my whole face tingles. “Zafirah Adrau,” he says. “Zafre, the triumphant. The one, true Eye. Zafre. Say it again,” he urges, tucking a finger under my chin. I am drawn to the way his lips form my name, as if he is giving my name back to me. His eyes are orbs of energy and mine are strengthened.
“Zafre.” The hairs on my arms stand up as I say it.
“Zafre,” I repeat. Aron pulls me against his chest. The gesture is intimate and altogether uncouth, but I am elated to be tucked against him there, outside the place I have been imprisoned for so long. His embrace is more expansive than the wilds.
“Do not forget your name. They cannot take it from you,” he whispers.
In that instance, Aron is at once an old acquaintance to me. Years of knowing seep into my veins. He is my council and my guide.
“Come to See, Zafre. You and me, we will get to the stars.” Aron steps back and cradles my face in his hands. “Se, verum oculus.”
“Se, verum oculus,” I repeat. He presses his forehead to mine.
“Wake up, Zafre. I will be here.” Aron steps away from me as I turn towards Q and awaken.
A man in a white uniform leans over me as my eyes open. When he realizes I am awake, he reaches into a black bag near my feet. Behind the man, my imaginary boy beckons. I blink, but Aron is still there. The uniformed man readies a needle near my arm. The medicine in the syringe is grey; my normal dose is clear. Fear wells in my chest. I lunge for the taser on his belt and he for my arm. As the needle sticks me, I depress the trigger on the weapon. The man convulses as electricity pulses through his body, and he collapses against the wall. I pull the syringe from my arm and stab it into the man’s leg. He seizes again as I depress the liquid into his thigh. His eyes snap open in shock, and he dies. Aron is gone and I am woozy, but the man’s keys glint at me from his belt loop. I stumble to the door and shove my shoulder against it.
I am out of my cell, and my body fights the toxin in my blood. I struggle to remain standing. I collapse in front of my neighbor’s cell. My cheek absorbs the coolness of the cement. The food slot in my neighbor’s door slides open and two glowing eyes peek at me. With my last bit of strength, I slide the keys across the floor. The woman hesitates, but her hand snakes out and snatches the keys. Her door unlocks and strong arms lift me.
“You will not die,” she whispers as she lifts me. “I know who you are.”
“Zafre,” I manage.
“Zafirah. The triumphant. We know of you.” She speaks with the same, calming tone Aron had in my second dream. The alarm blares, and my carrier sets me down. I am barely conscious. Several more doors unlock and a group of feet pad towards me. A flurry of hands lifts me and soft voices whisper the phrase that has been haunting me all day: “Se, verum oculus.”