We arrive at Cativy hours later, driving across intersections I’ve passed through hundreds of times. The Redeemer Centre looms in the distance, and my awareness of my marking is as strong as ever. I risk a peek at the cloth still wrapped around it. I haven’t looked at it since yesterday – I hope it’s healing properly.
We’re cruising down familiar roads now. Elle guides Gray on where to go.
Janet leans over and rummages through a backpack at her feet. She reaches her arm back to hand me my own pistol. I turn it over in my hands as Elle stares at it with uncertain eyes.
“I don’t know if I could use one of those,” she comments quietly.
“You better learn,” Janet says as she stuffs one of her own into the pocket of her jacket. “You’ll want to have one if a Redeemer ever comes at you with a zapper.”
I look at her in surprise. “How do you guys know about those things?”
“We found some on our last raid,” Gray clarifies.
“What’s a zapper?” Elle asks me.
“It’s like a taser,” I explain. “In needle form. The electricity flows directly into the target’s bloodstream. They shoot it from a gun. There’s an official name for it-“ I pause for a moment, recalling the complex title. “-Galvanism Transmitter, or something along those lines, but most people call them zappers.” I remember learning about them in training. New recruits trained with the smallest size, the type that only gives a person a debilitating shock. Our instructor demonstrated the deadlier ones for us. I can still picture the sight of the training dummy charring, tendrils of blue electricity coursing across its form.
“That’s…that’s horrible,” Elle stammers.
“Horrible is right,” Gray says to her. “So if a Redeemer comes at you with one, you’d better be able to defend yourself.”
Before I can say anything else, I catch sight of a Redeemer van appearing in the rear-view mirror. “Behind us,” I say quickly.
Janet looks over her shoulder and groans. “Speak of the devil. Gray, get off the main road.”
Before he can react, the van cuts us off, forcing us to pull over. Gray curses under his breath as it stops directly behind us. He slides open the driver’s side – I’m completely exposed now, sitting in the back seat. Just act natural. You’re a citizen. An innocent girl.
Despite my attempts to calm myself, anxiety creeps into my mind. I resist the urge to squirm as the Redeemer glances me over, scanning my face.
I tell myself that the chances of his recognizing me are slim. That only the people at the Truth colony know we’re here. The Redeemers have no idea about our plan, or even the fact that we’re in Cativy. Right?
Then ALPHA’s words pop into my head. ′I know that you are there.′ It felt us then. How do we know It doesn’t feel us now? How do we know it can’t see us, isn’t listening and watching?
Its consciousness could be here, with us, right now. My heart skips a beat.
“I’ll need to see an ID, sir,” the man says.
Gray glances at Janet, who gives her head an imperceptible shake. He turns back to the Redeemer, smiling innocently. “I think I might have left it at home.”
“Do any of the others have means of identification or verification?” the man asks.
Elle leans over. “My friend here has a Redeemer marking. She’s been through the training program.” She looks at me expectantly.
My blood goes cold. All eyes turn to me, waiting for me. My marking burns under my sleeve, mocking me from beneath the makeshift bandage I’ve used to hide my handiwork. There’s no doubt that the mauled tattoo will raise suspicion. Normal trainees don’t scar out their markings. It’s a symbol of honor for them. Something to be displayed proudly.
“Show him your marking,” Janet urges, her voice a warning signal.
My fingers slide to the hem of my sleeve, hovering above the spot where my mauled skin is. It’s obviously the work of a blade, clearly done on purpose.
Everyone is staring now, and the Redeemer leans in closer, his eyes boring into mine. My fingers start to tremble as they undo the loose knot underneath my sleeve.
“Enough of this,” the Redeemer snaps, reaching in to grab my wrist. All sense leaves me as his hand clamps on. Without thinking, I shoot my free arm out, elbowing him in the stomach. He drops my arm in reaction and falls back.
“Go!” I scream at Gray. He obeys, slamming his hand against the control stick. The entire car lurches forward. As I hang on, I peer out the open door to see the Redeemer shouting into his mouthpiece.
“Reinforcements will be on us in minutes,” I tell Gray as he sends the car skidding down a neighborhood street.
Janet grips her seat as Gray makes a sharp turn. “Why the hell-“ Her words are cut off by another turn that slams her into the window. She regains herself quickly, glaring back at me. “Why would you do that?”
I don’t feel like explaining right now. All I want to do is find Elle’s family, grab the minichip, and get out of this place.
Elle points to her house. “There!” Gray slams on the breaks, and we all jump out of the car.
Elle mounts the steps of her porch and hurriedly knocks against the door. When there’s no response, she digs through one of the plants beside the door and pulls out a key, ignoring the cynical look Janet gives her.
The inside of her house is as we left it. Everything is in its place. But something is off today, something I can’t put my finger on.
It hits me when we close the door, cutting off all noise from the street.
The house is too still. Dead quiet.
It’s a feeling of emptiness, a sense that something has been removed, leaving only a hollow shell of what once was. It’s absolutely silent.
“They should be home right now,” Elle mumbles, frantically looking from room to room. “I’ll check the basement. Nat, you know where the minichip is.”
“We have to be quick.” Janet peeks out a window. “It won’t take long for the Redeemers to get here.”
“If your family isn’t here, we’ll have to leave without them,” Gray tells Elle.
“J-just give me a minute, okay?” She hurries off, calling for her parents as she goes.
Gray turns to me and asks where the minichip is.
But I don’t respond. I barely hear him. All my attention is focussed on the kitchen.
The entire world muffles as I cross the room, towards the kitchen table. A stream of dread flows through me as I get closer. Drums pound in my ears, my feet move on their own.
I brush my fingertips against the white envelope that has been placed neatly on the tabletop. The thick white paper is rough against my skin when I pick it up. The marking on my wrist seems to twinge at the sight of the coat of arms stamped on one side, as if it recognizes the identical symbol.
My throat swells shut. Somewhere a part of me is aware of Gray repeating my name, mentioning incoming Redeemers.
But I have eyes only for the envelope in my hands.
My fingers pry it open on their own and pull out the contents like a pearl from an oyster. My hands tremble as I read the words;
Confirmation of Cleansing Notice
To whom it may concern;
The following persons were found Flawed under the Law of the Upgrade and were taken to the nearest Hub for Cleansing;
Jovan Dalal, Hanna Dalal, and David Dalal.
This notice marks the completion of their Cleansing process.
May the Redeemers reign forever