The notice falls from my hands and flutters to the floor. I stand there, frozen.
My ears ring. I know that someone is at my shoulder, speaking to me. Words meet my ears, but don’t register. I can’t identify the voice.
The Dalals are dead.
The Redeemers must have suspected that Elle told her family about ALPHA. So they murdered them.
All of them.
I can still see Davey toddling into Elle’s bedroom, wrapping his tiny arms around me in a hug. Elle’s mother, with her gentle voice and even softer smile. And Elle’s father, always so kind and welcoming. All gone, their lives stolen by the Redeemers.
The image of Davey in a Cleansing Chamber flashes through my mind. The utensils lined up on the counter; the sparking baton, the piercing needles. All of their tools of death.
He was so young. They murdered an innocent child.
I’m suddenly filled with uncontrollable rage. It rushes through me like an inferno, igniting a fire in my chest as sound and reality tumble back into focus.
Gray is next to me, shaking my shoulder. My eyes snaps to his, and his arm drops in surprise.
“Elle’s family isn’t here,” I snap, picking up the notice and putting it back into its envelope. My fingers quiver with rage. “The Redeemers got to them first.”
His eyes clear with sudden realization. He doesn’t say anything, and as if some mutual understanding is shared between us, we part, him going to Janet, I to Elle. She’s in her room now, on her Clikbook, face shadowed with worry. When she sees me, she turns the Clikbook off.
“I tried messaging my mom.” Her voice is anxious, brimming over with panic. “It didn’t even deliver. Something’s wrong, I just know it.”
Without speaking, I hold out the envelope with shaky hands. The Clikbook slowly drops from her grasp, landing safely on the carpeted floor. She stares at the envelope with empty eyes before gingerly taking it. Her finger tremble as they brush against the paper.
“Don’t open it now,” I say quietly, knowing she understands what I mean.
I know what she’ll go through once the knowledge has settled in; a yawning pit of emptiness, and unbearable sense of loss. It will rip her apart, repeatedly, as it did to me when Dad died. Remembering them without grief will be impossible.
I’ve lived through that same grief. When Pamela left. When Dad followed. It’s happened to me, over and over again. And now Elle will have to live though it, too. The thought makes my throat tighten.
All color disappears from her face as she gazes at the envelope, leaving only the expression of pure shock.
Finally, her eyes snap to mine, and I see the emerging grief taking hold.
A hundred words of condolence flash through my mind, but I know they won’t be enough. ‘I’m sorry’ doesn’t atone for the loss of an entire family. No matter what comfort I give, it will never be enough. I can’t say anything that will take the pain away.
So I stay silent, taking a step closer to her and laying a hand on her shoulder. She stares back, and I see the resolve hardening in her eyes. I recognize the moment when she decides to be strong, to finish this mission without breaking down.
Gray bursts into the room, gun in hand. “They’re here,” he says between heavy breaths. “We can’t go out through the front door.”
Elle puts the envelope into her jacket pocket. “The basement,” she says. Her voice is heavy, but she hides her shock and grief well. “There’s a door that leads up to the backyard there.”
“Do you have the minichip?” Gray asks.
She nods, picking up a backpack from the foot of her bed and slipping the fallen Clikbook into it.
Janet’s voice comes from the hall, close to panic. “They’re going to break down the door!”
As if on cue, a thunderous pounding echoes from downstairs, shaking the front door.
“Hurry!” Gray shouts to us.
Elle leads us to the basement, locking the door behind us. Memories of happy days spent in this room flood through my mind; highlights of times I had with Elle’s family down here. They bring a fresh pain along with them.
We cross the room to get to the staircase that leads up to the backyard. The sound of the front door splintering comes from upstairs. Gray swings the basement’s door open, and we shoot up the stairs, resurfacing in the backyard.
There’s no gate leading to the front, so Gray heaves himself over the fence, landing close to the sidewalk. Janet clears the fence with one movement. I help Elle up, and she disappears over the side, leaving me alone in the yard.
I’ve just swung my leg over the top when two Enforcers round the corner of the house. Something comes flying my way. I catch a glimpse of them as I drop to the other side. A row of long, thick needles embed themselves in the wood of the fence – zappers.
We race towards the car. The Enforcers continue shooting over the fence.
I duck under a wave of zapper darts that come flying my way, noting their sizes. They’re thick and round; the kind intended to send sparks to the brain, fry the mind, and burn people from the inside out.
The car is just across the street, looming like the finish line of some twisted race. Next to me, Elle stumbles under the weight of her backpack. I help her, ducking under the rain of zappers that fly above our heads. A needle barely misses us, landing on the pavement with a spark.
Janet has made it to the car, screaming at us to hurry. My footsteps pound on the street. My heart thumps in my ears.
In front of me, Elle trips. Her hands splay out as she falls. I shield her body with mine as she picks herself up.
A zapper’s needle cuts through my thigh. I cry out and fall as electricity shoots through my veins. It enters my blood stream, spreading to my legs, arms, neck. Endless volts of energy charge through my veins, burning, zapping, crackling. My body convulses, limbs flailing, eyes rolling to the back of my head.
All sense of time and consciousness leave me. I’m left with only the pain, the sensation of the electricity pulsing through my body, boiling my blood and burning through my veins.
A part of me knows what I need to do; keep the electricity from continuing its path. I need to cut off its journey before it reaches my brain.
My shuddering fingers grasp for the needle in my leg, the source of the electricity, the thing that’s keeping the current alive. I can hardly muster enough strength, but as another wave of agony comes, I wrap my hand around the dart and rip it out. I scream out loud this time.
I drop the empty shell as shadows crawl across my vision. The sound of it clattering on the street is a distant echo, as well as the pounding of footsteps and shouting voices. Darkness swarms my eyes, the view of the sky warping. The electricity has stopped its path, fizzling out inside of me and returning to nothingness. But the pain doesn’t stop.
Someone grabs me by the arms and hauls me away, dragging me in a direction I can’t process. Familiar voices speak above me as I'm picked up. The light changes - I’m laid on something soft. Sounds melt into each other, voices and words indistinguishable.
I feel movement beneath me as unconsciousness takes over my mind.