MARA

Last time we saw MARA… (click for recap)

Mara’s visions and the weight of saving a stranger become too much, and she decides to tell Zoe what’s been going on. But when she goes to Zoe’s apartment to ask for help, she discovers that Zoe has been taken in for Adjustment. Terrified for her friend’s life, Mara realizes she has only one person to turn to: Jason. She goes to Jason’s apartment and uses the key he gave her. But he isn’t home. As she searches his apartment for something that might help her, she discovers hidden files. Files on Zoe, a strange woman from nowhere, and herself. Mara suddenly realizes that Jason is an Analyst. With nowhere else to go, Mara takes the hidden files and heads out to find the Nowhere Woman…

The Nowhwere Woman lived on the east side of the River. 

She lived not far from Mara. So Mara had to get back on the train and returned to her usual stop. She clutched the files to her chest the whole way, unwilling to even set them down for a moment. The world outside the window flashed by in bright and blurred images. Places and buildings she saw every day looked different. Oppressive. Like looking at someone you thought you knew and realizing you never knew them at all.

From her stop, she walked to the Nowhere Woman’s apartment on shaking legs. This side of the River, the old side, her side, was poor and falling apart. Mara thought her building was in bad shape, but she changed her mind when she reached the Nowhere Woman’s door.

The Nowhere Woman’s building sat like a leprous beggar, white with disease, and broken. Rotting siding covered the building, and compressed wood covered the broken windows like eye patches. 

Cowardice raised his massive head at her and wrapped a meaty hand around her wrist. She should leave. Turn around and go home. Pretend nothing had ever happened. But Mara was too aware of what would happen if she didn’t find this Nowhere Woman, so she quickly crossed the patchy yard and climbed the porch stair.

The steps creaked, even under Mara’s light step. The small porch may have been white at some point in time, but now most of the paint had chipped off onto the grass like flakes of skin. The building number stood out in rusted metal on the door. Mara found the right apartment and knocked.

No answer. She pounded on the door. “Hello? Amelia?”

“Nobody home,” a voice called from somewhere deep in the house.

“Amelia? Please, I need to talk to you,” Mara said, running her thumbs over the edges of the files. The paper was sharp. She wondered why it was so sharp.

“If you’re here to take me away, just do it already,” the voice said, getting louder.

“I’m not here for that. I—I need your help.” The curtain next to the door shifted, startling her. “Please, this is important,” Mara said, backing away from the window.

“Look, if you’re here to drag me away, then come in and get me. If not, go away.”

“I need your help finding my friend. They… they took her,” Mara added. “They took her away, and she didn’t deserve it. I just want to find her, please.”

The curtain fluttered once more, and a face, distorted and warped behind the glass, appeared. Mara felt her pulse quicken as the Nowhere Woman stared at her through the glass.

“Why do you think I can help? I’ve never seen you before in my life,” Amelia said.

“Because of these,” Mara said, holding the files and photos up to the window. “I found these, and I think the man who had them—I think he has something to do with my friend’s disappearance.”

“You think he made your friend disappear.”

“Yes.”

“Sounds about right for this place. Listen, someone is always disappearing. Someone is always going in for Adjustment and Burning and never coming back. And. I. Don’t. Care.”

“But look—your file was there too,” Mara said. She pointed to Amelia’s file and held the photo even closer to the window for her to see. Amelia moved closer to the glass, her face clearing and sharpening for a moment. Then she disappeared, and the curtains settled back into place.

Like the tide pulling away from the shore, Mara felt all her hope pull away from her and disappear. “No, wait, please, I need your help. Please!” Mara said, her voice rising and her heart thudding and thudding and thudding. She pounded on the door with her white-knuckled fist. 

She could feel fear watching her, smiling at her with too-red lips from somewhere just out of sight—what if Amelia didn’t help her? What if she—but the door cracked open, and Amelia’s appeared in the sliver of darkness. Mara breathed a sigh of relief as hope slammed into her like rushing water and washed over her completely.

“Relax and stop yelling,” Amelia said, emerging onto the porch from the dimness inside the apartment. She was a small woman, but strong, and she had eyes like a cat’s. She seemed out of place somehow, and Mara thought of a caged animal. “Every soldier within five blocks will be after us,” Amelia said. “Now, what about this file. Where did you get it?” she asked, extending her hand for the file. Mara handed it to her.

“I found it in my friend’s… his house under the floorboards. This is information he isn’t supposed to have. He shouldn’t have this.”

Amelia flipped through the file, studying the numbers and charts and graphs. “Yeah. No shit, he shouldn’t have all this. What’s his name?”

“Jason.”

“Address?”

Mara gave it to her.

“Thanks for this. I’ll take care of it,” Amelia said. She stepped back into the apartment and started to close the door. Realizing Amelia was shutting her out, Mara stuck her foot in the doorway.

“No, I need your help,” Mara said. “I have to find my friend.”

“Sorry, kid. I don’t mess around with the Agency, Analysts, Watchers, or whatever this guy is into—probably Analyst. That’s all there is to it. Now, move. We’re done.”

“Wait, I have to find my friend—the other woman in the photos. She didn’t deserve this. Please.”

“None of us deserve this.”

“Mara!” A voice rang out from the street.

She froze with fear. She knew that voice. “It’s him—Jason. Please, you’ve got to help me.”

“Not my problem.”

“Mara, what are you doing here?” Jason asked. He ran up onto the porch and tried to grab her arm.

“Get away from me. You had Zoe taken. You turned her in.” Mara shoved him away and then tried to force herself into Amelia’s apartment.

“Ah ah ah! I don’t think so,” Amelia said, bracing herself against the door to keep Mara from entering, but Mara pushed harder.

“Mara, what are you talking about?” Jason asked.

“You had files on us. You’re not supposed to have this. You turned her in. It’s your fault that Zoe’s gone!”

“Hey! You two better get off my porch. You’re trouble, and I want you gone,” Amelia said. “And you,” she said, pointing at Jason. “I know where you live. So you leave me alone, got it? Or I’ll hunt you. Understand?”

“Sure,” Jason said with a smile that did not meet his eyes. “We understand each other.”

“Good. Now get the hell off of my porch,” she said. Amelia tried to push her door closed, but Mara was too quick and desperate. She screamed and pushed her way inside the apartment, knocking Amelia back, tripping over her own feet, and falling to the floor. 

Inside, Mara blinked as the world shifted to shadows and cold. She scrambled to her feet and jumped behind Amelia. Jason stepped inside the door to help. Coming in out of the light, he turned dark against the bright of the morning sun, and his features disappeared in shadow.

“Hey, come on now. This isn’t my problem anymore. Get out of here and leave me alone.” Amelia said, dropping the files to the ground and grabbing Mara’s arm. “I don’t want to see either of you ever again.”

“Get your hands off me!” Mara screamed, thrashing to break Amelia’s grip. “They took Zoe because of him, and they shouldn’t have. I need your help—she’s missing, and I need to save her before she’s Burned or killed because—” but she stopped short of saying it was all her fault. It was. Somehow. If she hadn’t stopped taking her Calm, then maybe Zoe would still be here. If she hadn’t wanted to save some dying man she didn’t even know, maybe they wouldn’t have taken Zoe.

Amelia rolled her eyes. “Someone’s always missing. Someone’s always Burned. Happens all the time. So sorry for your loss. Now get the hell out of my house!”

Jason held out a hand for her, and Amelia pushed her towards him. “Mara, come on,” he said. “We have to go. Now. We only have one chance—I did this for you,” he said. “I made a deal for you.”

Amelia froze. Then she jerked Mara back a step away from him. “What did you say?” she said, her eyes alert and intense.

Jason turned his dark eyes on Amelia, and Mara was afraid. Something red and sleek raised its head over Jason’s shoulder and looked at her. “Mara and I are leaving,” he said, reaching for her. But Amelia pulled her away from him and shoved her into the next room.

Mara stumbled and fell onto a low wooden table. Pain exploded in her hands and knees and side as the table shattered under her weight.

Amelia slammed the front door shut, locked it, and turned to face Jason, positioning herself between him and Mara. 

“You made a deal,” Amelia said. “You made a deal. What does that mean? And why did you have my file?”

Mara was crying, and she wasn’t sure why. She wasn’t sure what was going on or why they kept pushing her around. Her arms went weak, but she pushed herself up from the ruined table and sat picking at the splinter in her hand. But why she crying?

Jason’s mouth twisted into a small smile, but a wrinkle creased his forehead. “This isn’t any of your concern, Amelia. I did what I had to do, and now I’m going to save Mara.”

Mara opened her mouth, and the light tinged green.

Soldiers breaking down the door. A woman with a white scarf wrapped around her head and two wooden sticks in her hands. 

The white-blinded woman fighting the soldiers. 

Six of them. Dead on the floor. More coming. The white scarf around the woman’s eyes splattered with blood.

Mara’s eyes snapped open, and she gasped. The vision, like a door slamming shut, echoed in Mara’s mind, and then it was gone. Her eyelids fluttered. 

The white-blinded was the Nowhere Woman.

“They’re here,” Mara said. She looked up at Jason and Amelia.

“What?” Amelia asked.

Jason went pale.

Mara pushed herself up from the floor. “They’re here. Six of them, outside.”

“Who’s here?” Amelia asked.

“Soldiers.”

Amelia went to the window and maneuvered to see beyond the white curtains without touching them. “I don’t see any. How do you know they’re there?”

Mara shook her head. “Six outside. More coming…” but her eyelids fluttered as the light turned pale green like the underside of a leaf.

Jason’s eyes… shifting to gold.

“Watchers. They’re coming,” Mara cried out and clasped her hand over her mouth to stifle a scream. She looked to Amelia, hoping this out of place woman could help. She had to.

“What is she talking about—she can’t know that—how can she know that?” Amelia asked Jason, but he went pale. Amelia looked to Mara, met her eyes, and started to say something, but Jason spoke.

“It’s too late,” he said. “It’s already begun. She’s right. They will come for me, and they will come here, and they will kill all of us if we don’t go now.”

Amelia turned on Jason with sudden fury. “You brought Watchers and soldiers to my door!” She lunged at him and pinned him to the wall, her forearm across his neck. He was taller, but she was strong and vicious. That was clear.

Jason scowled down at her, his eyes nearly glowing with anger, his mouth an amused and brutal snarl, his lips too pulled back and tight. “What if I did? You’re not one of us, are you? You’re not a Burner—you’re one of the Unseen.”

“What are you talking about?” Mara asked, finally getting to her feet. Her arms were still shaky and numb, but the pain from falling on the table had 

dulled and now only throbbed.

Amelia stared hard at Jason, but her head tilted in confusion. “You think I’m a… a what? You’re crazy—what the hell is an, Unseen?” Amelia asked with a laugh. “Tell me, do you see me?”

Jason, his head turned to protect his throat from Amelia’s arm, looked at her sideways, the whites of his eyes too white. “You were in that town they Burned,” he said. “West Six—the village they’re so interested in. You were looking for a way to get in to Windrose, and you found it, didn’t you?” he asked.

“Of course not—why would I want to come here? I was Burned. Your people Burned me, took my memories, told me lies, and stuck me here with nothing.”

“Oh, stop denying it. I know what you are.”

“Really? How?”

“I am an Analyst with the Agency, and I have been observing transferred Burners from West Six for months. After that West Nine factory was sabotaged, you and the rest got shipped here. You may have slipped through the cracks once, but I am very good at finding things.”

“There’s nothing to find. I’m a Burner.”

“Are you? From where?”

“I don’t know, that’s kind of the point of Burning, isn’t it?”

“There’s no record of you in West Six, the village where you where you were supposed to have been Burned,” Jason said with a slow and crooked smile. “There’s always a record. But there’s just so much data if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s almost impossible to sift through it all. But I did. And you know what I found? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You had no ID number until you were assigned a new Burn number. There are no records of you anywhere. You might be Unseen, but I see you. They might not be able to find your city or your people through your memories, but I’m sure they’ll find some use for you.”

Amelia gave a savage cry and punched him in the face. He slid down the wall, dazed, and held his nose. Blood pushed through his fingers.

“But… what do we do?” Mara asked, her mind still on the soldiers who were closing in, slowly creeping closer and closer. She wanted to know more, but time was running out.

Amelia paced like a caged lion too big for its’ confinement. “It’s not true,” she said, looking at Mara. “Nothing he said is true, but it doesn’t matter. He’ll make sure I get turned in no matter what. I’ve got to get out of here… shit.”

“And how do we do that? They’ll be breaking down that door any minute,” Mara said. But she knew that if they could just get out, then there would be hope of finding Zoe. That hope warmed her chest despite the terror. 

“Amelia?” she reached out and lightly touched Amelia’s elbow, just below her pushed-up sleeves.

A burst of warmth and hope like a tree rushing from the ground and growing and rising in an instant and blooming and—

Amelia’s eyes dilated and flashed gold. Mara pulled her hand back, terrified that Watchers would see her, but the golden glow disappeared as her fingers lifted from Amelia’s skin. Mara wondered where the Watcher had gone, but Jason’s eyes were clear. She glanced at the mirror on the wall. Her own reflection was safe. So, where was it?

The Nowhere Woman breathed deeply. Then her eyes darted around the little room. With quick and precise movements, she picked up two of the shattered table legs and twirled them around in her fists. Mara stared as Amelia looked at the curtains, white gauzy things, and the ripped one from the window. She held it in her hand, staring at the thin material.

Slowly, like she was in a dream, Amelia dropped the chair legs with a clatter. She tied the curtain around her head, covering her eyes and most of her head in white. Mara watched in fascination as the white scarved woman from her vision materialized right before her eyes.

“What is she—what is she doing?” Jason asked.

Mara shook her head. “I don’t know.” She looked at Jason. When she saw his eyes, she almost screamed. His eyes glowed gold. “Watchers,” she whispered.

Jason looked at her, his eyes pulsing with golden warmth and the lower half of his face covered in blood.

Amelia sank to the floor and picked up the shattered table legs. “Stay in there,” she said and pointed with the spiked wood to a closet by the door. “And don’t come out until I tell you.”