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Leave and go where? It’s not like I have any other options waiting in the wings.

I almost let out a relieved sigh when he rises to his feet, but then he pauses and grumbles, “Jasper.”

My eyes dart up, and I’m met with a threatening look. He stares long and hard at me.

It’s a test. Don’t look away, or he’ll think you’re a coward.

Finally, he continues, “I’d hate to think Ethan gave his life for nothing.”

Instantly, my stomach churns, and my heart aches.

After Idris leaves with the other man right behind him, I can’t force another bite into my mouth.

I was raised not to waste food, so I sit staring at the bowl, hoping my appetite will return. I hear the other people get up and leave. I hear them talking but not what they’re saying.

“You have to clear out your bowl and wash up when you’re done eating.” It’s Aldric. He stands with one arm crossed over his chest, rubbing his shoulder. “Throw the leftovers back in the pot. We’ll heat it tomorrow for lunch.”


The deviants don’t believe in germs, it seems.

Aldric cracks a smile. “Waste not, want not, newbie.”

When he walks out of the dining hall, and it’s just me, I get up and gather my bowl, as well as Chance’s leftovers. I pour the stew back into a pot that’s bigger than the ones we have at home.

I finish washing the bowls and dry my hands on the back of my jeans. I know it’s early still, but I’m tired, and sleeping is all I can think about.

Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Chapter 16


Walking out of the dining hall, I startle when Valen says, “You sure took your time in there. I thought you’d never get done.”

“Geez, give me a heart attack next time,” I mutter, but Valen doesn’t seem fazed by my comment.

She walks in the direction of the drill zone, asking, “So, what do you think of Idris?”

“He’s… ah... intimidating.” I meant to say downright scary, but keep that to myself.

“Yeah, at first, he does intimidate a person, but once you get to know him, he’s not all that bad. He just wants us to be the best, that’s all.”

I take my chance as we walk into the drill zone and ask, “You mentioned a war you were preparing for?” I shove my hands behind my back, trying to come across as casual as possible. “Why?”

Valen lets out a sigh. “Life. It’s always about life and the quality thereof.” She lifts her eyebrow at me. “Don’t you agree?”

“That you should go to war about the quality of your life?” I’m not sure I’m following what she’s trying to say.

“Yeah. I’m going to fight for what’s mine. My life. My basic right to be a human with free will. Things come and go, but there can be only one of you and one of me. I refuse to become an emotionless robot. I refuse to give up my freedom.” Her eyes meet mine. “But it’s your choice whether you join the war or not.”

“Of course, I’ll fight for my life.” I start to consider what Valen just said. “But, why go to war against the Virtuous?”

“Because they want to replace us all, newbie. Make you a better version, according to them. Genetically altered humans, the perfect human race for the perfect society. All they need is to alter our DNA, and we’re their puppets for life.”

I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I shake my head slowly, but then, some of the puzzle pieces start to fall into place.

Is this why Mom fought against going out on the seventh day? Was she trying to avoid the trackers and buy some time to plan a better escape?

Chance said the trackers deliver us to the emissaries, and everything in the ecocity is a lie.

But he also told me not to trust him, so how do I know if what he told me is the truth or a lie?

Ugh. I have so many new questions my head is spinning.

“Come on. Tomorrow you’ll start training. Let me show you some of the equipment.”

I follow Valen from the top of the drill zone, down the pathway that runs around and open concrete area that looks like an arena. There are two entrances to get into the arena.

“The pathway is for jogging,” Valen explains.

My body is still aching from all the exercise I got the past two days, but I promised to start running every day and intend to keep it.

The drill zone looks different from the bottom. The first thing I notice is the wall. I didn’t see it because I was standing on top of it. It’s pretty high up once you reach the bottom and filled with holes, grooves, and bulges.

“That’s my favorite. The grid.” Valen has the biggest grin on her face. “You’ll learn to climb it.”

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