Last time we saw ANDA… (click for recap)
Anda, Cassandra, and Jason are rescued from the river by Styx, who claims to know Cassandra (known as Amelia) from before she was Burned. After convincing her that he knows her, he takes them to the Unseen City. On the way, Jason tries to explain his actions and sows seeds of doubt about Cassandra. Once at the Unseen City, they are met with caution. Mica and Ben are there, and they recognize Anda and Cassandra. Ben manages to convince Cassandra that he can restore her memories and does. Next is Anda’s turn. But the restoration doesn’t work. Why wouldn’t it work…
Why didn’t it work?
Anda sat for test after test after test in the medical bay and wondered why it didn’t work—why didn’t she remember? Ben, the man who claimed to be her brother, had tried to restore her memories but had failed.
Was there something wrong with her? Was she not… somehow enough? Strong enough? Weak enough? Did she not want her memories back enough? But the more she wondered, the more questions she found. And why wasn’t she sad or upset about the failed memory restoration? She wanted to be more upset, but how can you mourn the loss of something when you never even had it to begin with?
She had been so sure that these people, these Unseen, were dangerous and unsafe. She had thought, well, Jason had thought, that Cassandra was the reason she had been Burned. But Anda had spoken to Cassandra about the day she was Burned: Cassandra had been there and tried to save her. She had no reason to distrust Cassandra. Why would she lie? She told Anda the story of how she and someone named Peter had run to the village to save her, but they had been too late. And Cassandra had been Burned too. Jason was wrong. It wasn’t Cassandra’s fault that Anda had been Burned: it was Anda’s fault that Cassandra had been Burned.
But Cassandra was home with her people now, and she remembered them. They were obviously dangerous, but they seemed to care about her (and Anda), and they had wanted her to regain her memories. So maybe they were good as well as dangerous. Anda pondered the Unseen as she lay falling into the depths of dreamless sleep.
She hadn’t slept well since arriving at the Unseen City three days ago because her visions had been fierce. While she still wanted to find the dying man, she wished her visions would pause, subside, let her rest. While part of her wanted to tell the doctor about her dreams and get something to help her sleep, she wasn’t sure how these Unseen would react to her claim that she could see the future. She wanted answers, but the threat of the unknown was almost unbearable.
So she kept quiet about her visions. She had seen the way they had all looked at Ben when he had restored Cassandra’s memories. They had all moved away from him. All of them, even the guards who had looked at him with such reverence, had scattered. The one in charge, Colonel Mason, had backed away from Ben with a look of disbelief and disgust on her face. And the slight woman with the limp hair, she had looked at him with something like revulsion. Even that man with the glasses, Aaron, he had looked at Ben but not at him—through him.
They were all afraid of him. And if they were that afraid of someone doing something good, what would they think of her visions of death and knives and bloody hands? They would surely destroy her for being what she was. So she had to get out of here before they learned the truth. But how?
The light turned green and gray—
Hands. And blood. The world was black and white, grainy and distorted, and strangely shining. But she knew blood when she saw it.
As the vision faded, she knew how to escape.
Anda sat staring at the door, listening. It is an ordinary door, and it has no lock. Three days ago, the doctors had pronounced her clean and safe, and a guard had escorted her to a new room with the ordinary door without a lock. It was a small windowless room with a single bed—her new temporary home. She had been told that she would be required again soon for more testing and should rest while she could. So she had slept fitfully for three days. She ate when guards brought plates to her ordinary door, then tumbled back into sleep like falling down a bottomless pit. And she had plotted her escape.
That morning, after waking from darkness, she sat on the edge of her bed and turned things over in her mind, watching snapshots of the future, and gathered her courage. It was time: she had to escape before it was too late. She sat pressing her flower pendant into her palm. The pendant left a red stamp on her skin.
She focused, trying to find the green light, trying to make the world and the shadows slip into that warm and leafy color—
The stairwell door slammed. Shift change. The guards nod to each other as they cross paths, the red-eyed, yawning guard waves, and the guard who always smells like onions frowns as he takes his position at the stairwell door.
As the night shift guard steps off the first stair, he slips. He falls. He falls down the stone stairs and screams. It is a high-pitched and girlish scream, but one that is involuntary as his ankle snaps in two.
Onion guard, hearing the scream, abandons his post and goes into the stairwell to check on his friend and get help.
The stairwell door slams again.
Onion guard helps Sleepy guard for four minutes before the medic arrives. Then he ascends the stairs and opens the door….
But four minutes is more than enough time for Anda to slip out her own door, enter the stairwell while the guards are busy staring at the broken ankle, and head up the stairs….
Anda opened her eyes and blinked a few times. In the thrill of discovering a way out, she barely noticed that she had called her vision forward and had commanded a premonition. She had controlled it. But she sat staring at her door and listening for the slam of the stairwell door….
As she waited, her thoughts drifted to brothers and sisters. Maybe they would believe her if she told them that she could see the future, and maybe they would help her find and save the dying man, but probably not. Anda wanted to believe that Ben and Mica were her family, and she wanted to be their sister, but not until she saved the man in her visions. Saving him felt more and more important than ever. If she could not find herself and her past here, then she would look into the future and save him.
The stairwell door slammed. Shift change.
She still felt ashamed for even considering sacrificing the dying man for her past. She had been willing to allow Ben to restore her memories without knowing the effect it might have on her visions. Guilt and shame always seemed at her elbow, those small children with grubby hands, pulling at her arm, reminding her of what she had almost given up and who she almost let die.
The stairwell door slammed again.
Anda opens her door and enters the hallway, long and hollow like the barrel of a gun. At one end of the barrel-hall were stairs. At the other, a bright window filled with sunshine. She heads for the stairs, away from the sunshine. Her footsteps echoed down the hallway. A door behind her opened.
“Mara, there you are,” Jason called out.
Her stomach clenched. She hadn’t seen him in her vision. He wasn’t supposed to come out of his room—why was he out of his room?
He caught up to her and put his hand on her back. She stopped and turned to face him, and slipped out of his grasp.
Three minutes fifty seconds….
She still had time. If she got rid of him fast enough, she would have enough time.
“I’ve been hoping to find you, Mara,” he said.
“Hello, Jason,” Anda said and crossed her arms. “And you should call me, Anda. That’s my name. But I have to—”
Jason raised an eyebrow. “You sure about that? Your name?”
“Why shouldn’t I be? Cassandra remembers me from before Windrose. She said Anda’s my real name.”
“If you say so. Personally, though, I like Mara better.”
Anda shifted. “That’s not who I am.”
“But it’s the name you know. Why change it just because they say so?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t talk,” Anda said. She started to move away, but Jason gently touched her elbow.
“Wait, what’s going on? I thought we had an understanding?”
Back in the ship, she had been willing to trust him, but now she regretted that decision. All Jason had ever done was get her friend killed. She didn’t trust the Unseen, but she didn’t trust Jason either.
“Things have changed,” Anda said, pulling her arm away. She saw his limbs stiffen, and fear surged through her.
Jason passed a hand over his face. “But we can leave. We’ll leave Nova and never come back.”
“No,” Anda said softly. She would leave, but not with him.
“No,” she said a little louder. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
He stepped closer. “After everything I’ve done for you?”
“You turned Zoe in, got her killed. You were going to sell Cassandra to them, for what? She would have been killed too, and you know that. You were sending her to die.”
“I already told you, I did all that for you!” Jason said. His eyes brightened with some other light, and it frightened Anda. That pale and innocent thing inside him that peeked out every so often had been swallowed up by something else, something frightening, something sleek and red. “I did what I did because they would have taken you,” Jason said. “Don’t you get it? I know.” His voice dropped to a low and personal tone like he was speaking a secret aloud for the first time.
“Know what?” Anda asked. She stepped back. Her heel hit the wall.
“I know that you went off the Calm,” Jason said, stepping closer. “I was given your file to Observe. They were looking for someone among the West Six Burners. But I saw your picture and… and I couldn’t let anything happen to you. Another few weeks, and I would have been able to recommend that you were not a threat, not who they were looking for. But you stopped taking the Calm, and they were looking for someone. Your heart rate spiked. You had trouble sleeping. You grew anxious and distracted. I couldn’t hide the numbers—I had to give them someone. So I made a choice. But why did you stop taking the Calm?”
So that was it. It wasn’t Cassandra’s fault that Jason turned Zoe in: it was hers. They had been looking for her.
Fading sunlight streaked through the window at the end of the stone hall, casting strange shadows on Jason’s face. Anda hesitated. Jason knew far too much. No one else knew that she had stopped taking the Calm. Even the doctors here had warned her about the effects of coming off the Calm suddenly. And yet, Jason had known. He had saved her. Any other Analyst would have turned her in, but not Jason.
She thought maybe he really was trying to help her, in some twisted sort of way, and she wondered if she should tell him the truth about her visions, try and escape with him. He might be helpful. But Zoe’s laughing face flickered in her mind, and she knew she could never forgive him for sacrificing her.
“I just stopped taking it, okay?” she said. “No reason.”
“There’s always a reason—happy Windrose citizens don’t just stop taking their pills. Why?” He stepped closer. Anda flinched. Seeing her reaction, Jason stepped back. “Well…. It doesn’t matter,” he said. “What matters is that I saved you. And I’ll save you again.”
“I don’t need saving,” Anda said. She realized she was standing with her back against the stone wall, and her palms pressed into the cold and grit and the rock.
“We can’t stay here. We need to get away from these people,” Jason said in a low voice. “They will never let us go unless we escape. You know that.”
“I told you, I’m not going with you.” She tried to move, but he stepped in front of her and laughed.
“And why would you want to stay? These are liars and spies.”
“No, they’re not—they’re my family,” she said, and her words surprised even her.
“You mean the gimp and the crazy girl? What’s her name, Mica? You can’t be serious.”
“Why not? It seems pretty clear that they are my family.”
“So what if they are your family? You don’t remember them, and you never will. Ben tried to return your memories and failed. No matter how much they might have wanted to help, they failed you. But I kept you safe for months. I watched over you and risked my life for you,” Jason said. Anda felt bile rising in her throat. “Don’t you get it?” Jason put a hand on the wall next to her. Anda’s stomach tightened and clenched and knotted. “I saved you. And now I can save you again—we can get out of here and leave Nova forever.”
“No.” Anda’s voice echoed more than it should have in the rock and sunlight.
“No. I won’t go with you.”
“I won’t beg.” His voice took on a sudden coldness.
“Then don’t. And leave me alone.”
Jason lowered his hand from the wall and stepped back. He trembled. “After everything I’ve—”
“You terrify me!” Anda yelled. Her words exploded down the hallway like bullets.
Jason shook at her words like he had been shot. He stared at her, and she refused to be the first to look away. Finally, he looked out to the setting sun, squinting in the slanting light. He smiled and shook his head. “Fine,” he said softly.
Footsteps sounded at the far end of the hallway and came towards them.
And just like that, she was out of time.
Jason suddenly stepped close, so close Anda could feel his hot breath on her cheek and smell his sweat.
“Stay here with your family. Your family will ever care for you the way I have. They let you get Burned. Cassandra let you get Burned. They did this to you, and they will be the death of you. You wait and see.”
His words set a shadow growing in Anda’s mind, something deep and black and heavy. A flicker of terror sparked through her as Jason reached out and touched her cheek.
Cold fear like frost. Disgust like vomit and sickness.
“So,” Jason said, pulling his hand back from her cheek. “Is that what you feel when you think of me?”
“Jason Rufus-Loraine?” A voice behind him said. Anda had not even seen the guards until they were right behind him. “Colonel Mason would like a word with you,” the onion guard said.
Jason nodded and stepped back from Anda. He gave her a sharp smile, and then he turned and walked away, followed by one of the guards, leaving Anda shaking in the setting sun.
She stood for a moment, staring at the stone and sun. She didn’t know what the vision of Jason meant, what his knife signified, and she no longer cared. As she watched him walk away, she decided that she was done with Jason for good. Important or not, she didn’t want anything else to do with him.
The onion guard spoke. “Miranda Alderman, if you will come this way, please.”