Chapter 28 - Nat
We spend a good hour telling the events of the last few days to Carper. I do most of the talking, with the others chiming in every so often to back me up or add something I’ve forgotten. Carper listens in silence. He doesn’t even blink when I mention ALPHA, like it’s old news to him.
After a few agonizing moments of silence, Carper finally lets out a slow breath.
“I’m surprised,” he says. “I was expecting lies.”
“So you believe us, then?” I stammer.
He nods. “I know what you said about Cleansings is true. Same with the AI,” he adds.
Darren’s eyes widen. “You knew about ALPHA?” There’s a hint of anxiety in his voice, but he clears his throat and asks, a bit calmer, “How?”
“Previous experience,” Carper says, as if that answers the question. “Although I wasn’t aware that It had become so highly evolved.” He stands up, closing all opportunities for further questions.
“Gray will help you settle in.” He motions to me and Darren. “You two will need to get rid of those uniforms. We’ll give you something. And also,” He taps his own wrist. “Make sure no one sees your markings. Keep them hidden - they won’t make you popular.”
I grasp my own wrist, feeling my face heat up.
“I’ll need to talk to you again,” the Commander says as he walks to the door. “I want more details on what you know.” He looks over his shoulder. “Welcome to the Truth.”
And with that, he leaves the room.
I sit in one of the colony’s many cells. It’s tight, with only by a narrow bed, a sink, and a metal toilet that sits in the corner. I’ve tried to tell myself that it’s fine, that the small space shouldn’t make me nervous. But unease pools in my stomach the longer I spend in here. The only thing keeping me calm is a stream of sunlight that spills through the small window high up in the back wall.
I sit on the edge of the bed, a knife in my hands. Gray was willing to bring it to me when I asked, which I have to admire. He took Carper’s word of our honesty to heart, changing almost completely after hearing that the Commander trusted us.
“You’ve already had training, right?” he asks me now, standing by the doorway of the cell. I nod. “And your brother too, obviously. What about the others?”
“Neither Xander or Elle have any experience with combat.”
“We can change that.” He says it with a broad smile that I return half-heartedly. I think of Xander, who doesn’t want to hurt anyone. And Elle, who isn’t a fighter. They would never harm anyone.
I quickly change the subject. “Carper said that he already knew about the AI - how?”
Gray pauses before answering. “Carper has a lot of experience with Redeemer business. More than the rest of us.”
When I ask him to elaborate, he shrugs me off.
“Let me know if you need anything else,” he says as he leaves.
Once he's gone, I sit alone, gripping the hilt of the knife between my hands. I roll up the right sleeve of the shirt they’ve given me and run my fingers across my marking. Carper said that Darren and I should keep them hidden. But I want it gone - permanently.
The sight of it brings back memories from Marking Day. The hiss of the needle, the Redeemer woman with her wide, shark-like smile. She was part of the Medic Squad – had she Cleansed people? Are all the Medic Squad members secretly murderers?
My mother, Pamela - she was a Medic. Did she know about the Cleansings? Had she killed people? I shake my head to myself. Pamela was many things, but not a murderer. Cleansings aren’t a Medic’s only job – most of them are just doctors. That’s all my mother was. A doctor.
But she had friends, Medics who probably dealt with Cleansings. Those people could have been killers, and I had no idea. How many of the people I knew were secretly murderers?
My grip on the blade falters as a thought pops into my head. Darren’s been initiated. He’s an official Redeemer.
Did he know?
I shake my head, chiding myself for even thinking that.
Once again, I force my eyes to my marking. In the beginning, it had been an honor; I was so happy to get it, so proud. So childish. Regret stings like a knife, twisting in my chest. Why didn’t I see the truth? Just like Pamela and Dad, I was too stupid to see the signs.
Memories of my parents crawl through my mind. All the marking does is remind me of my mistakes and things I thought I buried years ago. I want it gone. I wish I could carve it out of my body. I want to cast it and all it stands for aside and take on a new identity and new life.
There’s no way to do that. Not completely. But there is a way to destroy the Redeemers’ image on my body.
I walk over to the sink.
I take in a deep breath and press the blade into my skin, being careful not to cut too deep. Gentle streams of red trickle down my wrist as I work, seeping into the sleeves of my shirt and dripping into the sink. My hands are steady and calm; a year of training has taught me how to handle a blade. As much as I loathe the Redeemers, I owe that much to them.
I grit my teeth against the sting in my wrist. By doing this, I’m putting my life on the line. One slip, one cut gone too deep, and the blood will spill, taking my life with it.
But don’t want another moment with this marking on my wrist. I need to destroy it.
So I go on.
By the time I’m done, my wrist is painted red. I rinse the blood away and then tilt it towards the light. Streaks of fresh cuts run across the once-proud marking, leaving thin lines of future scars that will soon coat the black lines that hide underneath.
Satisfied, I rinse the blade, then rip a strip from the sheets off the bed and tie it tightly around my wrist. I’ve just finished when Xander walks in, tapping gently against the bars in greeting.
“Carper says he wants to meet with us again,” he says. “Seems pretty soon to me, but apparently he wants to know more. About ALPHA, probably.”
“Where’s Elle?” I ask him as we walk down the halls. “Did Carper want to see her, too?”
He nods. “Last time I saw her, she was on a Clikbook.” In response to my confused look, he explains, “They have some here, shared by the colony.”
“Well, we should probably-“
Before I can finish, Elle comes tearing down the hall. Her hair has tumbled out of its braid. She runs to me and grabs my arm. Her fingers tremble against my skin like hummingbird’s wings.
“A Cleansing.” Her voice shakes with an effort to keep hysteria at bay. “A mass Cleansing, Nat! Thousands of people, all found Flawed and killed.”
“Hey, hey, clam down.” Xander steps in, gently prying her off my arm. “Breathe.”
She takes in a shaky breath. “It’s all over the Cliks. In less than a day, thousands of people were found Flawed. The Hubs were overflowing with them. The entire Remainder is celebrating. It’s a genocide, and they have no idea.“
Thousands of people killed, and the Remainder is ecstatic. They think this is another step closer to perfection. They have no idea that all of those people are gone.
“This…this makes no sense,” I stutter. “How would the Redeemers learn the Flaws of thousands, all at the same time? Who could have possibly-?”
My words stop as the answer comes. This isn’t the work of a human. It’s something bigger.
“ALPHA,” I whisper.
Elle nods quickly. “It’s not safe anymore. For anyone.” She takes a step back. “My family - they’re still out there! They could be dead already.”
Her shoulders tremble. I take a step towards her and wrap my arms around her, looking at Xander. His face is troubled, shadowed with worry.
Looking Elle in the eye, I make a promise I hope I can keep.
“We’ll get them back. Nothing will happen to them. I swear it.” I look back at Xander, anger brewing. “We can’t let the Redeemers get away with this,” I say to him. “The world has to know the truth about Cleansings.”
“What do we do?” he asks.
“We have to tell Carper – right away.”