The First of Many

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Chapter 6

Hannah was familiar with hunger.

She was also familiar with thirst.

She was not familiar with withdrawal.

She was constantly cold: without the burning pain of the injections that habitually ran through her system, she felt as though her blood had turned to ice. She slept poorly, plagued with nightmares to the point where she couldn't sleep at all. She slunk from alleyway to alleyway, escaping Chicago without notice and continuing on to Milwaukee. Maybe if she could make the border, she could increase her chances of survival.

Every time she moved, she looked over her shoulder for the shadow of a teammate. The colors she saw blinded her – blues and greens that froze her skin until she would have happily died for a drop of red and fire.

She spent a month in Milwaukee, blending into her surroundings.

At the end of the first month, she awoke on the hard concrete that had been her bed since she'd arrived, and the first thing she saw was the barrel of a pistol pointed at her face.

She froze, mentally calculating the odds of her being able to reach her own gun and get a shot off without being killed.

Absolutely none.

The girl holding the gun was young – not a day older than thirteen or fourteen – and her hand shook as she held the weapon, but even a child could kill someone at point-blank range.

“Why'd you run, Hannah?” she asked mournfully when Hannah sat up slowly, hands raised to show that she had no intention of attacking.

"Roach, what are you doing here?"

"I'm here to bring you back. Now why did you run?"

"I don't know."

“That's not good enough,” the dark-haired girl growled, taking a step forwards. “You've been doing this for almost ten years. Why was this any different?

Hannah shook her head. “I just... couldn't. I wanted to, Roach. I tried to pull the trigger, and I couldn't. I failed.”

“Hannah-”

“-My name is Mirage.”

“Your name is Hannah Solomon, and don't you forget it.”

“Stop wasting time and shoot me, Roach. Go home to Papa and finish your training.”

“Is that what you want me to do?” she asked, intelligent blue eyes glinting with anger for a split second.

Hannah bowed her head. “I would expect nothing less from my sister.”

“But is that what you want?” Roach pressed. “Do you want me to kill you? I'll do it, if you ask. That's why I'm here.”

"I don't want to die. I want to have a chance at finding my own way," she admitted. “But that’s not right. I should turn myself in, let Nine do what he wants. I failed. I don’t understand what happened.”

Roach's smile broke into a grin. “So you were listening,” she breathed.

Hannah looked away. “Red says there's always a place out there for people like us,” she said. “His was with Nine. Maybe I'll find mine somewhere safe.”

"Well, I'm going to give you that chance. I'll tell father that you're dead."

“He won't believe that,” she answered. “Not without a body to prove it.”

“Then I'll say you reached the border and vanished, disguised and on a plane. Do you have a place to hide?”

"No. Wherever I go, they'll find me."

Roach shrugged. "You could join the Army."

“Information is released after a while. It wouldn't be safe.”

“I can make sure Nine stays away from them.”

Hannah frowned. “If you're caught, you'll be killed.”

“Red will help me.”

“You're sure you can do this?” she asked.

Roach nodded. “I'm your little sister. Of course I can do this.”

Hannah pulled her sister into a tight, awkward hug. “Thank you, Francesca,” she said softly. “I'll make this up to you one day.”

“Promise you'll come home,” she answered. “When Papa's dead and I'm in charge. Do that and we'll call it even.”

“I promise,” she answered.

Roach pulled away and took her cell phone out of her pocket – a blocky remnant of the early 2000s that had been old back in her parents' day. It was a unique piece, a form of self-expression that Hannah had always been jealous of.

She dialed a quick number and was speaking as soon as the call connected. “She's gone,” she said in harsh Italian. “Already made the border and is probably halfway to Geneva by now. I traced her to Quebec before she went cold. Nothing to see here.” She hung up, smiled at her sister, and handed her the bag that she'd slung on her shoulder. “Two thousand American dollars in non-sequential bills, three pistols and plenty of ammo. Some extra papers, should arrange for safe travel if you need it. Enlist fast, if you decide to. I'll keep an eye on it. Also, if you call me Francesca again, I'll kill you.” With that, the girl turned and fled, black hair flying in the breeze.


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