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Tobias' Story

These are exclusive chapters meant to be read AFTER book 2 My Name is Anarchy.

After the Grounding failed, Tobias was left behind. But there was a reason to Memory’s movements. She was always one step ahead and now it was time to find out what she planned for him. If he could only forgive her.

Tobias

My knuckles bleed, and I squeeze my fist, amplifying the pain and pushing more blood to leak through the broken cracks of my skin. The glass mirror lies shattered at my feet, and I step on the pieces, the crackling the only sound as I leave the bathroom. 

Tara pounds up the stairs, panicking before she stalls and notices my hand. There's a disappointment, but I don't care for it. I turn on my heel and go to my room, slamming the door behind me. 

I've been rotting in this prison, a school for the Unwanted, for four years. It's a place that makes up its own rules. And if you aren't on top, you're drowning at the bottom. Thankfully, I know how to swim. I've made it as a leader. I hold the highest position that there is in this hellyard. But it's taken time from me. Four years of sacrifice. Four years of planning. 

And it was all destroyed by one person. 

My girlfriend. 

I stand in front of my window that exposes the wall that cages us. It's over seven stories and concrete with only one entry that's operated by a computer. It opens two times a month: to bring kids in and to take them out. 

I always knew my girlfriend Becca was fucked up in the head. We called her Memory because she had an IQ over one-thirty and photographic memory, allowing her to learn things faster. She could see pages of books in her head as if the image was in front of her eyes. She was too smart to have real emotions. She behaved like a robot, spitting out facts and unethical solutions to our problems. Sometimes, I would silently question her feelings toward me because, like a computer, she could only mimic those around her, programmed how to hate and love. 

But Becca was good at acting. She knew what was expected of her and somehow convinced me she loved me. 

I'm such a fucking dumbass. I can't stand it. 

I ignore the knock on the door, but Tara comes in anyway. She stays in the doorway, and I feel the weight of her stare. 

"I'm fine."

Flicking a long braid over her shoulder, she murmurs, "Yeah, who doesn't break every mirror in the house, so they don't have to see their face?"

I smirk, looking back at her. It gives her the courage to approach. Her arms slip around my waist from behind with her forehead pressed into my back. Tara tries to fix me, but what she doesn't realize is that I'm not broken. I'm angry. I put my life on the line; I sacrificed so much for my girlfriend to pull the rug out from under my feet. And where is my revenge? I can't reach her.

Even if I could leave the school, the world is too big. She would know how to get lost.  

The Grounding was six months ago, but the memories are fresh. I killed six teachers in the Teacher's Lounge. I held the door open for Becca when in all reality, I could have slipped out. I could have left her and everyone else. But I didn't. I stayed like a fucking idiot. I thought nothing of it when Becca pulled out a knife. I thought she needed it. Didn't believe she was going to use it on me. 

I touch my face. I needed a hundred stitches. I lost a part of my lip, a tooth, and I almost lost my eye. I couldn't see out of it for weeks. 

"Why didn't she shoot me?" the question slips out, and I can't take it back.

Becca had a gun. She could have killed me but didn't. Now I'm stuck in the aftermath of her betrayal, and I don't know how to move on.  

"Because she loved you," Tara's muffled voice sounds against my back. 

I shake my head, "I don't believe that."

"Then why didn't she shoot you?"

The answer is obvious, and it's always been there but hearing it out loud might make it true. "Because she still needs me for something," 

Becca was a chess player. Every move she made had a purpose. I was just too stupid to realize I was a piece. 

Tara squeezes me, "Don't think about it."

I turn in her arms, and she looks up. I don't hesitate, leaning down to kiss her. She wants me to forget, and it's the only way I know how. Tara knows what I'm doing without me having to spell it out. Her offer has always been on the table, even when I was so wrapped in Memory I couldn't see any other girl beside her. 

Tara pulls up my shirt, and I yank it over my head before crashing into her again, pushing her to the bed. 

A knock on the door wakes me. Tara shifts, glancing at the door before burying her face in the pillow. "What?" When no answer comes, I figure it's Kevin. He's mute, and though it's a great thing to have a friend that can't talk, it has its cons. 

I grab my pants, hissing as my hand stings. I somehow managed to slip them up before going to the door. Kevin stands, signing with quick fingers telling me Myers wants an audience. I rest a hand on his shoulder to calm his fear. 

"We're careful. There's no way he could know."

Kevin and Tara fought in the rebellion with me. They were left behind, and every day we wait for the fallout. Over a hundred kids have been killed since, and if any teachers even suspected a kid to be part of the fading rebellion, they are shipped off or killed. 

We've had to change the way we lived since then. Be more careful in everything that we say and do. Cameras went up in more places. Patrols increased. Any freedoms that we had were denied. It doesn't matter anyway because I have no intention of being a part of a rebellion ever again. 

I wear black jeans, a white shirt, and steel-toed boots. Tara wraps up my hand with red cheeks and a shyness that wasn't there before. I hope she doesn't think I'm in love with her. God knows it's another thing I'll never be a part of. 

With a lit cigarette, I head out of the house and walk half a mile to Coal. It's the morning of the weekend. No one's out yet except for dirty Rats. I can feel their eyes on me from the broken windows of the apartment buildings. They aren't daring enough to come out with the whip hanging from my jeans and the imprint of the gun on the back of my shirt. They know I'm not easy prey.

Coal is a massive complex. It was built back in the 1940s, and it's made of brick and glass. It's been upgraded with a hotel vibe. It has expensive carpets, a shining tiled floor, and a giant chandelier in the foyer hanging over a dual staircase. Buyers come through this building for Auction day, and Myers wants to impress. The passage the buyers use is entirely inaccessible, and Becca had erased the exit from our plans. She claimed there was zero chance of escape, and we all never questioned it.

Maybe that was the problem. She had us all wrapped around her finger.  

Peat, a fat, stout pig-looking boy, and Jet, a deep black, skinny African kid wait for me at the entrance. I smack their hands in greeting. "What's up?"

"Who the fuck knows," Peat answers, "Myers got here a few hours ago, and everyone's freaking out."

"We met his quota last month," I follow them up the stairs, contemplating what Myers could want. Myers usually is unseen but not unheard. He calls if he wants to talk, but he prefers to avoid getting involved in the school's affairs. He is busy running a worldwide human trafficking ring, and this school is a side project that he ignores most of the time.  

Myers sits at an enormous mahogany desk over an ornate round carpet in the center of the room. There are stuffed animal heads sporadically hung up between pictures of him with the dead animal and a shotgun in hand. 

"Tobias," he greets, glancing up from the papers on his desk, "How have you been? Your face heal up?" His glasses hang on the edge of his fat nose. He hasn't shaved, leaving gray hairs over his plump cheeks. And though he usually dresses nice, in a suit, he can't change the ugliness of his face. 

"I'm good."

Myers sits back in his chair, making the leather creek, giving his round belly some space, "Thinking of adding more kids to the rosters."

"Why?" Increasing the input means increasing the output, and more children coming in means more death. 

He shrugs, "Why not? I've been looking over the reports. Take a look." 

I take it up, glancing over it. It's the financial report of the clans. 

Rain is in charge of crop and food distribution. The entire roof and the last three floors fit with green houses and are filled with vegetables and fruit to provide for our school. 

Boundary maintains the property, a bunch of kids learning how to do plumping, electrical work, and general maintenance. 

Coal aside from collecting trash and recycling, their underground work puts guns together, piece by piece. It's why they make the most money and get the best of everything.  

This school is self-sufficient, self-running, and self-sustaining. It's the most helpful way to keep us undiscovered. The only thing we can't do is farm animals, but our meat is processed and delivered with kids every month. 

"I was thinking about turning Boundary into a pill farm. They have too much time on their hands. And they are the only ones not bringing in any money."

If Myers turns Boundary into a drug dispensary, he'll have to put in cameras. He'll probably visit and weave his way through their building. Boundary was the biggest supporter of the rebellion, and most of the kids that were killed in the Grounding were from there. 

Six months ago, I would have tried to come up with some excuse. But now, what's the point? The rebellion is dead. 

"Sounds good."

"I want younger kids. I'm tired of these sixteen, seventeen-year-olds that think they can do whatever they want."

"Older kids are easier to get. No one cares when they go missing."

He waves a hand, ignoring it because he knows it's true. Teenagers that are in foster care or up for adoption typically run away. Picking them off the street is easier, and they are less likely to want to leave once they realize we provide an environment where no one tells them what they can and can't do. 

At least until they get sold at Auction. 

But by then, it's too late to turn back. 

"I can check in on the CGU," I offer, "See if they got any kids that fit our criteria."

"The CGU," Myers fondly whispers. "You know I took their name to use for their place. Unwanted. It fits perfectly. Reverend Wellman was a genius. My role model. That's where I got you, isn't it? You remember?" 

As if I could forget, asshole. 

"Not much."

"It was places like his that made me dream up this school, you know," Myers idealizes, looking around as if he's seeing it all for the first time, and it's just as magnificent as it once was. "I hated having to go house to house searching for the right product. This way, everything I need is in one area. Saves me time and money, and no one is snooping around. It's the best investment I made."

Myers shrugs and moves on, "My brother, Prod, takes care of collecting the kids. I've told him I want younger ones, and he just keeps bringing in whatever he can find. My buyers have standards, you know. It's hard selling a nearly eighteen-year-old with tattoos all over their bodies."

It's possible he could be talking about me. I turned eighteen a month ago, and at that age, we aren't sellable to Myers' particular clients. Not to mention I have more tattoos than skin. I did it for a reason. I won't ever be sold again. I'd rather be shot dead. 

Seventeen is the cut-off. We get rid of the ones that age out and usually sell them to a labor mill. It's better than Auction, so the goal for every kid is to stay as long as possible.  

I was sold at an Auction once when I was seven. My fingers reach behind my neck, touching the first tattoo that ever graced my skin. It's a barcode, Property of the Church of God's Unloved is written above it with the number 92729. 

Then Myers snaps his head to me, "What's your plans?" 

"With what?"

"Do you want to stay here?"

No, you dumb fuck, I don't want to stay here. 

"What else can I do?" 

He shrugs, "I can place you with some good agencies. Pills, guns, drugs, prostitution. Whatever you want to do."

Getting out was never a problem for me. I could have left this place behind years ago. I knew how to work the system. By thirteen, I had already killed. The person that bought me at auction made the mistake of leaving out their gun when they fell asleep. Usually, killing your capture is an instant death in our society. But I had lied my way out and blamed it on someone else. They were killed instead. \

I've never been a good person, that much I can acknowledge. I worked with the rebellion because of Becca. Because the moment I saw her at thirteen, I wanted to do nothing but impress her. She was two years older than me, out of my league in every way, but I knew no one else would do.  

And I'll admit, I enjoyed having brothers and sisters, even if they weren't blood-related. Shakes, Hail, Carbon, Tara, Star, and Becca were the first ones I didn't fear. They were fun and stupid. They were orphans (aside from Becca) like I was, and we became a family. We were all we needed. I didn't care about getting out. I just wanted to be a part of them. 

"I'm good. I can run this place till I'm dead."

"Zack started out the same way. Now look at him. He wants to leave," Myers chuckles. "What would that old fuck do without us? He'd be put in prison. The FBI would get things out of him. It's too much risk. I'd kill him, but he brings the most profit." 

I glance down at Spread's income, which is ten times bigger than any other. "Sex sells," I toss the paperback on the table. 

Though turning into Zack isn't precisely a future I want, I don't plan to live that long. I want to destroy this place. That's it. That's my goal. And maybe sometime before I die, that might happen. 

"So that girl that got out," Myers casually begins. "What was her name?"

"Memory."

"No. No. Her real name." 

I haven't said her name out loud in months, and for a moment, I don't know if I can. And then the clog in my throat breaks, "Becca." 

"That's right. I've been searching for her. She never went home."

Becca would know better. She'd know that's the first place Myers would go. 

"Does that mean she's alive?"

"No. But her body's never been found. It's a pretty big desert. Coyotes, vultures, the heat alone could have killed her. But I've never found a lick of bone. You got lucky that day. She almost killed you. Have you heard of anything from that rebellion? Is it completely snuffed out?"

Anarchy will never die. 

Myers watches me from behind his thick glasses. He searches my face, but he should know by now I've detached from every emotion there is. "With Shakes and Carbon dead, they had no one else. I haven't heard of anything."

I've been waiting, like a pathetic loser waiting to be picked at practice. Waiting for Shakes to stop his bullshit and try again. But could he do what needs to be done without Carbon and Memory? Shakes wasn't good at making decisions and being in charge. He knew how to speak, and how to get kids to their side, but the confidence came from Carbon, and the ideas came from Memory. Without them, he was a monkey with no arms. 

"There will always be others to take their place. It's worse than roaches. We need to send someone in. Someone new to sniff around."

Whatever he's planning, I'll have to get ahead of it. I can find someone who will be on the rebellion's side, feeding Myers what I need him to hear. "I can take care of that."

"We both can. I brought my son in yesterday. He seemed very interested in playing with these little brats. I'm thinking about giving him Coal."

I stutter, the idea frightening. Myers is willing to put his own kid in this hellhole, and it revitalizes the realization of what this man is capable of. 

"Give him Coal? What about Jet and Peat?"

"They won't mind. My boy will make a good leader. Ash, come out here and meet Tobias."

The kid comes out of the back bedroom. He's dressed in emo pants too big for him and a shirt that drowns him. His long black hair sways in front of his acne-covered face. He's so skinny the wind could knock him over. I have to hide my sneer. 

"You're Tobias," Ash cackles. "Yeah, you look like you'd let a bitch best you."

I step forward, "What was that?"

"He let her out," Ash tells Myers, looking me straight in the face. "Ain't no way you didn't know your slut was working for the rebellion. Unless you're that fucking dumb."

I raise my fist.

"That's enough. Ash, Tobias is a friend here. He took a bad hit the day of the Grounding. Let's be friends and move on." 

I back up, "Yeah, I got shit to do."

"Yeah, I bet," Ash smirks, "Got a door to hold somewhere."

Chapter 2 Jennifer and Maya

I don't leave Coal as quickly as I should. I have other business to take care of while I'm here, and giving free access to the building is rare, but I take it willingly. Though I'm technically not allowed, I walk with the confidence that I am, and no one questions me. I am a clan leader, and my reputation stops anyone from interrupting my pace. 

On the fourth floor, I knock on a door. 

"Who is it?"

"It's me."

There's a bit of shuffling, and quick movement before the door unlocks and flips open. The boy standing before me wears a white face mask and black clothes. I know who he is, but he doesn't want his identity revealed no more than I wish Myers to know I'm a part of the rebellion. His nickname is Virus, and though he's a Coal member, he has been helping with the rebellion. "I need you to do something for me."

I step into his room. It's covered in computer shit. Ten monitors are broken and open on the floor. Wires running in random directions that only he could understand. I don't even know where this guy sleeps. There's only a fat computer chair in front of three screens. 

Virus sits comfortably in the chair, "What do you need? More cigarettes?"

Virus learned how to hack into the school's mainframe. He can see everything, from shipping payments to all the kids in the system, drug movement, and emails Myers and the teachers send out. He helps keep kids that the rebellion wants out of Auction. 

There's always been the question in the back of my mind, could Virus save us? Could he contact someone out there that could bring this entire school down? 

And then there's that inevitable question, who would do that? Who would save us? And of course the answer is easy,

No one. 

"You want me to send someone to Auction?" I can tell he's smiling. He's got a little evil streak in him that makes me nervous. Would he betray us for the fun of it? 

"I want you to find someone for me."

"Location?"

"San Francisco, California." 

He's already typing, "That's a broad area. Name?"

I hadn't thought much about what I'm doing at this point. Myers gave me an idea, and I don't know if it will work. 

Becca never went home, but that doesn't mean she didn't reach out. Tell her family about what happened. Warn them. And just because I can't reach her doesn't mean I can't reach someone she cares about. 

"Jennifer Symes. Last I knew she was going to Jameson High School. She'll be about sixteen." 

"What do you want me to do once I find her?"

Gotta love his confidence.

"Tell her to meet me on February 20th at the IHOP on fifteenth street in Oklahoma City."

Virus looks over his shoulder, his brown eyes peaking through the holes in the mask, "You think you can get out?"

"I got ways." 

He shrugs, turning back around, "Any correlation to Becca Stymes?" 

I slap him on the shoulder, squeezing, a subtle warning to stay out of my business. "Let me know."

I leave with a livelier step. I haven't felt excitement since the day of the Grounding. I'm stupid for not thinking about this before. I was concentrating on the wrong thing. Becca would have disappeared. But by not going back to her family, she left herself a weakness. 

Guess I'm not too bad at chess. 

—---

The Church of God's Unwanted is a dilapidated building with broken windows and a rotten door. It was abandoned years ago when an Anti-trafficking agency figured out what was happening. Revenern Willman was taking in the homeless, promising them care and love. But too many times a homeless person went in, and they were never seen again. He got away with it for a long time, years, until the complaints could no longer be ignored by the police. I was the last shipment out before the place was overrun. Reverend Willman sat next to me, clenching my hand and praying God keeps him protected. I could see the cops from the van's back window as we drove away. I was so close to freedom then. So close to being rescued. 

After that, I stopped believing anyone could save me. 

I walk by it, stuffing down the bile in my throat, and head into the IHOP next door. I sit at a table, glancing out the window, searching for Jennifer. I don't know what she looks like, but if she's anything like Becca, she'll be beautiful and know it. 

"Hi," the waitress spooks me, and I jump like an idiot. "Oh," she giggles, "I'm sorry." 

I look up at her and freeze. Her blue eyes are the only thing I notice. They are bright like Hawaii waves. It brings back every memory of Becca I have, every time she laid in bed next to me, every time she smiled and touched my face, the rare moments where she would look at me, and I knew more than I knew how to breathe that she loved me.

"Jennifer?"

Her brown brows knit, tucking curled brown hair behind her ear, "No, my name is Maya." She points to her nametag. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Oh, sorry," I force a smile.

"That's alright," She beams, igniting more of her gorgeous features, "I mistake people all the time."

"Coffee, please"

"Be right back." 

I watch her leave, and she glances over her shoulder at me, a look I know well enough. It surprises me that I'm not annoyed by it. When Maya returns with my coffee, I do all I can to ignore her. I don't need any more distractions. Especially ones that are unobtainable.  

I want to smoke, the urge tickling at my fingers to reach for a cigarette, but I drink the burning liquid to distract myself. 

Would Becca come? 

Do I want her too?

I don't know if I could stop myself from hurting her, or kissing her, or begging her for a reason. My chest hurts from the pounding of my dumbass heart. I shift uncomfortably, once more reaching for the box of cigarettes in my jacket. 

Then she pops in the door. Jennifer. I know it's her; she's got Becca's hair pinned up in a ponytail. And when her eyes land on me, the sharp distaste in her gaze is identical. They could be twins if they weren't a few years apart. I feel like I'm looking at Becca on the first day at school. Years of life with her roll into my head as Jennifer sits across from me, calculating, assessing, keeping her walls higher than the compound. 

Jennifer speaks first, "Becca said it was only a matter of time."

I sip my coffee, hoping to express how little I care about the one that betrayed me. "How is Becca?" I whisper spitefully. "She having a good time in college?"

Jennifer snorts, "She thought about coming. But she was sure you'd try to kill her."

"Out of the two of us, I'm the one with a scar," I turn just a little more so she can look at it and take in the fact that her amazing sister drove a knife through my face. 

My server returns to the table, "Hey, Jennifer."

Jennifer's gaze transforms into friendliness. Becca must have taught her everything she knew. 

"Maya. Looking good. You like your new job?"

"Yes, thank you so much for helping me out."

"No problem. Can I get a water? We're not gonna eat, but we'll leave a good tip."

"Sure thing," Maya glances at me and bows her head before moving on. 

Jennifer scoffs, a familiar sound like nails on the chalkboard, "Flirting as usual." 

I laugh out loud, annoyed and bewildered by such a statement. I was loyal to Becca to a fucking T. What did Becca tell Jennifer about me? Was any of it true? Or did she try to play herself a victim?

Once the water hits the table and the server disappears, Jennifer starts, "Here's the plan."

I stop her, "You don't have a plan. I have a plan."

She leans back, crossing her arms, pissing me off with the similarities. But I can't say I'm not curious. "Fine," I relent, "Let's hear it."

I take a sip of my coffee, trying to erase any doubt in my voice. I wasn't ready for her to come at me with an idea. I've been thinking about this meeting for a month, and I've had conversations in my head, and in every single one of them, Jennifer was a scared little bitch agreeing to every word I said. Now I'm not so confident. 

Only Becca could do this to me.

"Can I ask you something?" Jennifer shifts in her seat, taking a sip of water. "Why are you fighting? You're out. You can run away. You know how to stay off the grid. Why stay?"

"I'm not about to have a heart-to-heart with someone I just met. Tell me the fucking plan so I can go."

"Is Shakes alive?"

"Why? Becca feel guilty for killing a guy she called a brother?"

"This plan doesn't work without him."

I don't want to tell her the truth. If it's hurting Becca betraying Shakes and not me, I want her to suffer. "Yeah," I bite. "Barely."

She nods and analyzes the information the same way Becca used to, staring at the table as if she can actually see the moves she needs to make. 

"You got it too?" I ask, itching for a smoke. "Photographic memory?"

"Kind of. And an IQ of a hundred and twenty-five."

I roll my eyes. What kind of drugs did their parents take to have two beautiful, genius daughters? 

"You gonna tell me what's gonna happen or what?"

Jennifer lifts her blue eyes, "I'm coming into the school."

"What?"

"I want you to get me on the bus."

I sit up, "Do you know how fucked up that is? Becca gets out and sends her younger sister in?"

"There was a lot of things Becca didn't know. But now it's imperative."

"Why?"

"I have to get into Coal. From there, I can put a tracking device on Myers. I can access his computer. I can break into his safe."

"How are you gonna manage that? You think they aren't gonna know who you are."

"I want them to know. I want all their attention on the fact that Jennifer Stymes is in that school. I want the rebellion to restart, and I want Shakes to fan the flame and cause problems."

"They aren't going to let you into Coal."

"They aren't going to know who I am."

I sit back, annoyed by her cryptic shit. It's Becca 2.0. 

"You see that girl," she points to Maya. "She recently became an orphan and lost everything. Lives with her aunt on welfare. You notice the similarities."

"So what?"

"She's gonna be me."

"So let me get this straight. You're gonna make this poor girl go to the school, take your name and everything that comes with it while you, I assume, take her name and hide in obscurity to get into Coal?"

"Yep."

"This is Becca's genius plan?" I scoff. I thought she could do better. "It's not even a plan about getting everyone out of that school."

"That's because it's not." Jennifer leans over the table, whispering, "Myers is a small fish in a big ocean. We want to go after the big fish. The ones that are in charge of Myers."

I'm blown away by Becca's confidence. She's ridiculous. I point out, "Myers owns the entire southwest of America."

"But it's only a link in the chain. Don't you want to take it all down? Don't you want to stop this entire fucking organization?"

I shake my head, "It's not possible. I can only deal with this fucking school. These kids. That's what we promised years ago."

"A promise that was made when you didn't know any better. Now you do. Now it's your responsibility to make up for everything you've done. We have to destroy them, and the way to do that is to find out who Myers works for. I need his computer. I need to track his movements."

"How the hell do you think you'll be able to do that?"

"By becoming a Snatcher."

"A Coal Snatcher?" I snicker, "Do you have any idea what that entails?"

"Yes."

"Even I couldn't stomach it."

"Good thing we aren't the same." Jennifer sits back, an ignorant virgin assured it won't hurt. She believes she can do anything at sixteen. Becca probably forgot to mention what it feels like to kill someone. 

"It will take you months."

She shrugs, "We got time."

"And this girl you're using. Doesn't matter, does it?"

"I'll send her aunt some money. My family's rich."

"Of course they are."

I get up, leaving her behind, wanting to walk away and not talk about this stupid idea ever again. Once outside, I light up a cigarette, taking a quick drag and holding in the smoke even as it hurts. Jennifer comes as I blow it out, hitting her right in the face with her. Her cough brings me joy. 

"How are you gonna convince that girl to take your name? You know what's gonna happen, right?"

"I don't have to convince her. Get her taken and give her my name on the chip. Her denial won't mean a damn thing. It's the name that has meaning."

"And what about the school? It doesn't matter anymore? All those kids Becca made promises to don't matter?"

"If we can destroy the person Myers works for, we'll destroy Myers and the school. It's a ripple effect. But we'll be saving a lot more people."

It sounds like more work, more time, more effort, and I don't know if I got in me. I'm running out of reasons to stay because Jennifer's right. I could take off and live without ever being found. I could have some kind of future that isn't bleak and ugly. But my thirteen-year-old self won't let go of a fucking promise. I said to myself after every bad deed that I was doing it for a reason. If I don't have that reason, it would mean I'm going straight to hell, and I don't want to give up my chance at redemption. 

Not yet. 

"Give me a month. I should be able to have you on the next bus."

"And her, Maya Bennet."

I look through the window. Maya leans over to take up some plates, smiling and laughing. 

"Once she's in, she'll be targeted."

Jennifer rubs her hands together, bouncing on her toes to get warm. "Yeah. Keep her safe, will ya?"

Chapter 3 Five months later

'They're coming for her tonight.' 

I crumble the paper in my hand, squeezing till my knuckles turn white. My other runs across my scalp, the pinpricks of new hair scratching my palm. Coal and Myers get closer to figure out what I'm doing every day, and it's only a matter of time till they figure out I'm working against them. 

If I make a move to save Scream, will that be the end of me? 

"What's the problem?" Ruler asks, noticing my sudden panic. 

I have to swallow it. I have to change it so Ruler doesn't suspect a thing. He has no desire to leave this place, and killing anyone associated with the rebellion is a fun pastime. "Coal wants to take Scream."

"They can have her as far as I'm concerned."

"Problem is she's mine."

Ruler nudges me, "Dude, Tara is in your bed every night. What the hell do you want with that girl?"

"Nothing," I grin. "I'm in charge here, and they don't get to decide what happens to her. Only I do."

Ruler smirks, enjoying the cruel beast in me. "Bet she's in Coal Territory. She doesn't listen to a damn thing."

I leave the house with Ruler in tow. It's morning, and students head toward the school. They stick to their own colors, black and grey for Coal, red and yellow for Boundary, and blue and white for Rain. Rats are easy to distinguish as they scamper like there's a dark cloud hanging over them. 

I watch them from the porch, gazing across the dilapidated land. The heat is already rising, making the air nearly unbearable to breathe. I hate Oklahoma, and if I ever do get out, I'd go to Canada and bask in the snow.

I see the little boy, Charles, skipping on ahead, and like the mother hen, Scream is on his heels. 

For a moment, I see the girl I met in IHOP. She's smiling. Her wet hair dangles in front of her face. There isn't any fear or anger. Happiness pulsates off her like rays of the sun. I almost stay back, let her go, and leave her alone because I know the moment she sees me, it will all change. She'll forget who she is and return to the creature she became here. Like Gollum slithering back into his cave. 

Scream wasn't supposed to lose her memory. There was an accident when she was taken. They said she fought like a wild gorilla. She hurt two of the kidnappers. The only thing that stopped her was the gun to the back of the head. After that, they kept her sedated as they did the usual crap to the kids. Birth control in the arm. Tracking chip in the wrist. Laser hair removal to the legs and armpits. It's degrading waking up, and realizing that while you slept, someone violated your privacy, but it's just a part of the process. We are products on a conveyor belt. Our feelings don't matter. 

It made controlling Scream harder. I could no longer threaten her aunt, which was my only plan. I had to improvise, and that led to some unorthodox choices. Little did I know that even torture wouldn't control her. 

When I finally get Scream down the stairs to the basement, she stands in front of me like David facing off against Goliath. She thinks I'm her enemy, and I do love to play that role. There probably was an easier way to deal with her, maybe even by telling her the truth, but there aren't many places that provide the kind of privacy I would need to tell her everything. So instead, I have to continue the charade. Keeping her in the dark has delivered the type of entertainment Myers enjoys for his audience. She's become one of the compound's most watched and desired kids. And though that's made it possible for her to stay in my care, it's now become a problem. Myers is ready to sell her. 

So here I am once more, risking my life for a rebellion that's doomed to fail. 

Scream keeps her distance. Her long brown hair is down her back, and her blue eyes narrow as she watches me. "You threaten me with auction, but then you risk your reputation to keep me out of it. You say you save me every day but abuse me in the same sentence. Nothing you do makes any sense!" 

"I'm an enigma." 

As I unhook my whip from my belt, she grabs a piece of wood, holding it out in front of her. I love this about her. Her fighting spirit is something I'm nourishing. I want her to fight. I want her to never be content with this place. It's why I won't let her join the clans because they make everything seem normal. Friends make this place better. It's why Myers allows it. He wants the students to make connections because the moment they do, their desire to leave decreases. No one will fight if they don't have a reason. 

When it's over, I sit on the stairs with my elbows on my knees. Scream is unconscious, hanging from cuffs attached to the ceiling. The camera is directed toward her, a perfect view of her torment. 

My knuckles are bruised, and my thumb rubs over them. I stare at Scream's face, struggling with stupid fucking guilt. Where I sit, the camera can't see. I don't exist in these moments where I'm not on screen. I have started to like that feeling. 

I never thought I'd make it to this age. In fact, I was pretty sure I'd be dead by now. If Becca had never loved me, if Hail had never become my friend, if Shakes hadn't become my brother, if Star hadn't become my sister, and if Carbon hadn't become my mentor, I would be dead by now. And I think I keep going because I hope one day I'll get them all back. Because the last day I felt alive, the last day I wanted to exist, was the day before the Grounding. And now I'm waiting for a moment like that, a moment that will probably never happen again. 

Kevin sits on the stair behind me. Always quiet. Always listening. 

"I'm not gonna be able to keep her forever," I clear my throat of the sick film. "Tell Shakes he needs to get her. And while you're there, make sure you remind him I didn't shoot his fucking ass." I take up the polaroid camera and the pictures bypassing him on the stairs. 

As I climb, the phone rings. 

There is one person who calls me, and I know what he wants. 

Ruler stands beside it, staring at it. It's never any good news.

The phone attaches to the wall with a long cord hanging to the ground. I harden my voice, erase the film of self-loathing and pick it up. 

"Tobias," Myers greets, "I have a question for you. I don't care how you found out I put an order for your girl's departure, but I'm curious about your motive. My son here thinks you work for the rebellion."

Ash and I haven't recovered from our first meeting, and if he wasn't Myers' son, I would have found a way to kill him by now. Instead, he's become a total pain in the ass. 

"Your son," I pause to find something nicer to say, "doesn't know shit."

"True as that may be, it does look suspicious. You know my buyers won't want her all banged up like that. I had a good setup for this Auction, and you've ruined it."

This is where my lies will save me. "There was rebellion movement. They were coming for her. Do you want this school to remain in your control or in theirs?"

Myers buys into it, "What do you know?"

"There's someone claiming to be Shakes. They're starting to rebuild."

Myers pauses, contemplating. "I still don't see how keeping that girl in this world is in my favor."

I glance at the pictures, "You want to flush 'em out? By this afternoon, there will be a riot, and you'll have your people."

"Well, I sure hope so. This Reaping better be a good one to compensate for what you've done."

"It will be."

"And make no mistake, she's going to be in the next one. Or you will be."

 

Chapter 4 Time to Go

 

Shakes took Scream.

Now the real fun begins.

I stand in a vacant room on the sixth floor of a Rat apartment. My footsteps echo as I pace. I'm risking my life coming here, but Jennifer and I have an agreement I can't break. I glance out the window, taking a puff from my cigarette before blowing it out the broken glass. My house is across the street. Ruler sits on the porch with a gun in his hand, watching, searching. I knew it was only a matter of time before he turned on me. He's figured out what Ash had realized, and now I can't go home. Scream has only been missing for a few hours, but already I'm the first suspect. 

Footsteps on the stairs. It could be anyone, and I grab the handle of my gun, hold it up, and wait. They grow closer. I'm not afraid to kill. It's part of my life here. But since I shot that stupid little boy, my hand trembles. 

A Snatcher steps into the room. Dressed in black from head to toe, there is no difference between one and the next. They are copies of each other. Lifting the ski mask above her face, Jennifer's blank face greets me.  

I drop the gun and shove it back into my belt. "You're late."

She holds up a thick manila folder, "Everything you need."

I take it from her and hold the papers like they're made of glass. This is all the information on Myers' world. Virus and I have been working non-stop to get every name, from investors to teachers to clients. And now, here it is, in the palm of my hand. 

This is where revenge is born.

Shakes won't be able to shut me out now. He'll have to listen; maybe, I could get him to see the truth. 

"You need to disappear," she tells me. "Ash is coming for you."

"I knew he would. He won't find a thing. But what I need you to do–"

"You don't request anything from me. I've done more than my share." 

It's a crack in Jennifer's armor. Becoming a Coal member actually affected her. Over the months she has been in this world, I've seen the small, subtle changes with every month, and now there's a chip in the stone. 

So she's actually human.

"Next time I see you," Jennifer warns, "I'll have to kill you. Don't let it happen."

My fate was tied to Scream's when I brought her into this place. Her survival meant mine, and toward the end, I got too desperate to keep her out of harm's way and made my position obvious. Now my life as a clan leader has officially come to an end. There is nothing more I can do to help the rebellion. I can't lie to Myers. I can't stop someone from being taken. I can't keep Scream safe anymore. I'm the discarded parts of a carcass. 

But I had a good run. 

"Come with me," I say. I'm worried Shakes won't listen to me even with all the information in my hand. The problems between us are thicker than blood. But if I give him Jennifer, he'll keep me around out of gratitude. 

"I can't. Myers has a meeting tomorrow with Prod after he drops off the kids. I need to be in that room."

I lean against the wall, staring down at the Respect Building. It's the only place I've felt connected too. My room for the last five years holds nothing of value and yet the walls knew me better than anyone else. Now I have to give it up, be dragged along as Shakes tries to do what Carbon and Memory couldn't. 

I always felt Shakes thought he was better than me, even though he isn't. He lies to get what he wants. He manipulates. He kills. He is selfish and self-centered. He and I are the same, but because he does it with a smile and a laugh, he's loved by hundreds while I'm despised. 

I thought one day I'd get the recognition I deserve, but I don't think it's ever gonna happen. People want to hate me because that's the thing to do. It's why it was so easy for my family to turn their back on me.

"Listen," Jennifer moves beside me, glancing out the window. "Myers knows this society is breaking down. I think he has a backup plan. That's what I'm hoping to find out tomorrow. I've sent word out to Becca–"

"You can contact her?"

Jennifer is hesitant, searching for my face. "I found a way."

"How?"

She shakes her head, "It's not possible."

I blow smoke toward her face. I think I'll make that decision on my own. "How?"

"What do you want to know? Why she left? You know why. It was the only option left."

"Why didn't she kill me?"

"You know that answer too."

I do. I just need to hear her say it to my face. Becca left me, left me behind to do precisely this, help the rebellion strive while she fights from the outside. The answer just sucks. 

"What is she doing out there?"

"Plenty. You don't need to worry about that."

Does it justify betraying me? 

"Why couldn't she tell me her plan?"

"She wasn't sure what side you were on anymore. She feared if she told you, you'd turn on her."

I grit my teeth. The wound reopens, and pus seeps out. I swallow, shoving down the pain. "I have always been on her side."

Jennifer bows her head, hearing more in my tone than I want her to. 

I squeeze my fist, taking a deep inhale of the cigarette to try and smother any emotion that crops up. I mold it into anger. It's a skill I've mastered over the years. 

"Why did she shoot Shakes?" 

When there is no quick answer on her tongue, I turn my eyes toward her. Jennifer stares at the floor, searching her memory for the answer. It's like going through a catalog, flipping the pages till keywords pop up in front of her.  

"Not relevant," she answers robotically, protecting her sister like a dutiful soldier. 

"Tsk. Doubt Shakes thinks it's irrelevant."

"It's another reason I can't join the rebellion. He'll lose focus. He'll rely on me like he relied on her. Think of a king on the verge of war, losing his faith in the battle. It could be detrimental to our victory."

I chuckle, dropping the cigarette butt on the floor and squishing it with my toe. She sounded too much like Becca, "Careful. You might turn me on."

She sneers, "Unless you have boobs, a vagina, and a whole brain cell, you aren't my type."

Chapter 5 Waiting for Spring

For two weeks, I've lived in the broom closet of Anarchy, down in this barely lit, barely breathable, barely livable box feet from where Scream sleeps each night. 

Great grand prize for being a hero. 

I have an 8 by 8 room with a bed and table. Food is brought at random intervals whenever someone remembers. I'm not allowed in the common area. Shakes forbade it for Scream's sake, so here I am, a hibernating bear waiting for spring. 

Except spring isn't coming. 

This is what I imagine Hell to be like. A place where all our past sins play in front of us on the walls, ceiling, and floor, never allowing us to forget or move on. 

As a young boy, I came into Reverand Wellman's church. I would sit in the pew and listen to him preach. My belly would groan with hunger, but listening to him, helped me focus on something else. 

He used to say that no matter what we did, God wasn't forgiving us. Jesus was a man that society made up so they could keep on sinning. He made sure I realized I was paying for my sins, even at the age of six, when I was sure I hadn't done anything wrong. 

'Repent with me, and I will save you.'

I open the door, willing myself to go out. I can't keep reliving the same things over and over again. But my feet are heavier than concrete, and I can't move. It's that stupid guilt I can't get rid of. 

I fall back against the bed and sit with my head in my hands. The guilt stems from so many things I've done, and I should have done. It spans back years and years, reminding me of the body count I stand on. Scream is the only person alive to have any kind amend. If I could explain myself to her, I'd get a thimble of forgiveness, and that would be enough to wash some of the sins off my hands. But what words would get through to her now? It's pointless. I'm not going to justify my actions to her. She wouldn't understand them. She has no idea what I've done for her. She can complain all she wants that I'm a monster, but if there is someone to hate, it's Becca. Not me. I'm a pawn in Becca's game just as much as Scream is. 

And though Scream wants to pretend that I've done nothing but hold her back or destroy her, she's strong because of me. She's smart because of me. She won't ever be played the fool because I've made it so. She'll thank me when she gets her memory back. She'll see what I've done. 

I get up, searching for a pack of cigarettes, but I smoked my last one this morning. I don't know if I'll make it another hour. I'd risk exposing myself just for a taste of nicotine. 

I reach for the door again. 

Shakes probably has someone watching me. He's smarter than he used to be. Maybe nearly being killed by a girl he called sister made him that way. You'd think we'd have more in common, considering the same girl betrayed both of us, and yet, here we are, feet apart and miles between us. 

I've tried to explain to him that Jennifer is in Coal. I've said to him that Scream is not who he wants her to be, and he's straight up ignoring me. Am I surprised? Not in the least. He's so convinced in his own theories he doesn't listen to anyone. He's taken a page from Becca's book: confidence before all else. I hope I'm around when his world blows up. It might give me some satisfaction after he kicked me out of the family. 

A knock on my door sits me up. The only person to join me here has been Tara, and she doesn't knock. 

I open the door, and confusion knits my brow. 

"Star," I whisper. 

She stands in a black long sleeve shirt and pants with her arms crossed. She's barely over five feet, and I'm a foot taller. She's skinny to the point where she could slip through cracks without a problem. I wonder vaguely if she's been having eating problems again. What is Shakes doing about it? 

Star fidgets, "Can I come in?"

I back up, stumbling, looking around the room, suddenly conscious of its state. I snag crap I've thrown at the garbage can that didn't quite make it and shove it inside. The smell of rotten milk is distant, but the scent of nicotine takes over. 

Star and I haven't talked in nearly a year. I don't know what she could possibly say to me. She sided with Shakes and, like Hail turned me out without even letting me defend myself. I have a bit of resentment toward her. She and I were the most alike. When everyone else fit in, we were the outcasts, sitting beside each other in silence, invisible support I relied on at times. 

She crosses her arms and leans back against the door. There is a weight to her words as she struggles to say it, and I sit on the bed and wait. 

Better be an apology.

"I know," she murmurs, looking at the floor. 

"Know what?" I'm nervous. There are many secrets I've kept. If she tells Shakes any of it, he'll kill me. Or I'll have to kill him first. 

"About Jennifer."

I stand, rigid, desperate to hear exactly what she knows. 

"That you found Jennifer. Brought her here and she was working as a Snatcher. I met her."

All those words were shadows creeping up on me, but something in her sentence worried me even more. "Was?"

Her brown eyes lift. Tears reflect as she looks me over. 

I shake my head, "No."

"Shakes didn't know," she whimpers. "He killed her."

Denial sets me in a pace, my head swaying back and forth, searching the ground for the possibility. But it was always a dangerous game she played. There was always a chance. But it didn't make it any better. Jennifer was supposed to end this place. Without her, does Shakes even stand a chance? 

God, Becca. It's not my fault. 

The first words out of my mouth, "He can't know." I watch her, desperate for her to agree, "Shakes can't know. It'll kill him."

She nods, dropping her head to hide her tears. She sniffs and rubs her face.

Though Shakes and I don't get along, I know him--I knew him. He'll falter, and we are too close to the finish line for him to fall apart. 

Fists press against my head. Why can't we ever win? Why does it feel like fate is against us? Shouldn't it be on our side? We're kids. Don't we deserve a little bit of help? 

I stop my movements and get ahold of myself. Emotions are like weeds. Once you let one in, thousands pop up and smother you. I cut them off at the root and firmly plant my feet as I face Star. "It's like she never was. Scream is Jennifer. You understand?"

She nods, cleaning her face and straightening her head. 

The lie will have to continue. The only people that know who Scream really is, is Star and me. Until she remembers on her own, we'll have to keep the game of pretend. 

Star stares at me. I thought our conversation was over, and yet she doesn't move. 

"Anything else?"

Star pushes off the door and comes toward me fast, and before I can stop her, she has her arms wrapped around me and her head pressed against my chest. "I'm sorry," her muffled voice comes through, shocking me. "I should have found the truth."

My brows knit as I stare at the wall. It's a sledgehammer to my resolve. I've gotten the recognition I've been striving for from the least likely person. I wrap my arms around her, hugging her tighter, squeezing my eyes to stop any stupid tears. When they shoved me out of their family, I lost who I was, and now for a brief second, I can breathe again. I bury my face in her neck, knowing she understands me more than anyone else. I never wanted to be the bad guy. 

I just happened to be good at it. 

 

Chapter 6 Last Words

 

I'm on my knees with the camera in front of me, and I know Scream is watching on the other end. I knew this was a possibility, and I think I want it this way. I want Scream to have her revenge without having blood on her hands. I've spent too many resources and time to keep her from becoming like one of us. She never deserved what Jennifer and Becca decided. And maybe one day, when she's older and gets her memory back, she'll see everything I've done, and I'll no longer be a beast. I'll be a catalyst to propel her because I know she's gonna be a force to be reckoned with.  

So I stare at the screen, and I stare at Scream with a gun to my head. And I hope she reads the message between the words. 

"I believe in Memory."

I believe in Scream.

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