It was late in the evening, almost exactly two years later, when Gio entered Hannah's room, just as she was getting ready for bed.
“You have a big job, starting the day after tomorrow,” he said without preamble.
“Do you mind?” Hannah asked, darting to cover herself.
Gio raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. “You're not old enough to be pretty,” he said flatly. “I'm not into nine-year-olds.”
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Whatever,” she answered, sliding under her covers anyway. “What's the job, and why can't it wait until morning?”
“Nine wants you to scout out a kid. Name's Aleski Kalinovski. He's in an orphanage in Detroit right now, and you need to go there and determine his potential, without alerting him.”
Hannah nodded. “Nonlethal?”
“Of course. Just a recon job.”
Hannah nodded. “I leave tomorrow?”
“Get yourself into the orphanage the day after.”
Hannah nodded. “Is that all?”
“No,” Gio said, sitting down on the edge of her bed. “I... Shouldn't be telling you this, but I think you'll work best if you understand the stakes.”
“If you fail, you die. This is the big one.”
Hannah shook her head. “I'm still useful,” she answered. “They won't kill me. Since when do you sit in on the Department meetings, anyway?”
“Air vents aren't as well protected as you think,” he answered. “And no, they won't kill you right away. They'll put you to work in the chem pits, where you'll spend the rest of your undoubtedly short life knee-deep in Cyanide.”
Hannah nodded. “And when I make it?”
Gio smiled faintly at her – it was the first smile she'd seen on him in almost a year. “Then they'll take you in to Nine for your first injection. You'll be perfect.”
Hannah blinked. “They want me to be a nine?” she breathed.
Gio nodded. “Nine's been watching you closely, and he can see your potential. You can do so much more than Nico can ever teach you.”
Hannah shivered at the memory of Nico, her 'big brother' who was entirely too good with knots, needles, and scalpels.
She nodded anyway, looking surer of herself than she felt. “The injections... what are they like? Are you allowed to tell me? You had a few, right, before Papa decided he didn't want you to be a nine?”
Gio nodded. “They hurt,” he warned. “At first, there's nothing, then it feels like your blood turned into lava, and everything turns red. You want to die, anything to make it stop. It's the worst thing you'll ever feel. But then, when the burning stops, there's this mist that just... appears in your brain and stays there, and then...” he grinned toothily, baring his teeth like a wolf, “Nothing matters anymore.”
“It's incredible,” he said softly. “Everything's in red and black and all you want is blood and death and so much fucking fear and it's amazing, Mirage. You're so angry and all you want to do is watch the world burn, and he lets you. Nine lets you do it, tells you who to kill or fuck or lose, and every time you do it, you just want more and more and it's so fucking amazing.”
Hannah blinked. “That sounds scary,” she said quietly.
“I know,” Gio agreed. “That's what I thought. But wait until they turn you. You'll thank me then, I know it.”