Benjy was dead.

Benjy was dead, and Knox had killed him.

“Now, my dear, this could have been so much simpler if only you’d listened,” murmured Daxton above me. His knee replaced his foot between my shoulder blades, and the needle stung as it slid into my neck. “Whatever the rest of your short life brings you, I do hope this was worth it.”

Unbearable pain rushed through me, setting my body on fire. But the heat of whatever it was Daxton had injected into my veins was nothing compared to the agony of losing Benjy, and as it burned me up from the inside out, I stared at his lifeless face, tears flooding my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered in vain hope that my voice would be the last thing he heard. But it was pointless—he was gone.

Everything went black.



Somewhere nearby, someone was singing.

I shielded my eyes from the morning light and groaned. My head pounded, and my throat was dry and scratchy, as if I hadn’t had anything to drink in days. I reached blindly for the glass of water I kept at my bedside, but my hand rammed into a rough wall, scraping my knuckles.

I opened my eyes and sat up, my heart pounding. I was in a cold concrete cell barely long enough to fit the cot beneath me, and it wasn’t much wider than I was tall. Wedged beside the bed was a metal nightstand with an empty bucket underneath, and the tiny window was high up in the corner of the room, far too small for me to fit through even if I climbed up to reach it. The air smelled like damp mold, and the metal door had a thin slit for peering out, but there was no way I could slip my hand through and undo the lock. Wherever this place was, it was as far from Somerset as I could possibly get.

Suddenly the memory of what had happened in Knox’s suite hit me, forcing all the air from my lungs. Pain sliced straight through me, and if my heart could have broken in half, I was sure it would have.

Benjy couldn’t be gone. He’d been alive hours ago, laughing and teasing and drawing our future on a napkin. It couldn’t just end like this. Maybe I was wrong—maybe I’d misunderstood what I’d seen.

But deep inside, I knew I’d understood just fine.

Benjy was dead.

I would never see him again. I would never touch him, never hug him, never kiss him—our future, the future we’d both dreamed of for so long, would never happen. We would never sit in the grass by a pond and have a picnic in the sunshine. I would never again be able to tell him how much I loved him. And he would never know how sorry I was for not giving up that file when I had the chance.

He was gone.

Grief overtook me like quicksand, so solid that it felt as if I were drowning in it. I sank back onto the cot as the tears began, hot and bitter as they carved out their paths running down my face. He would still be alive if I had just done what Daxton had told me to do. If I hadn’t trusted Knox—if I had run away with Benjy while I still could—

Infinite what ifs buzzed around me, smothering me until I couldn’t think. I should have made Daxton kill me. I should have killed myself instead. I should have never valued the Blackcoats’ useless revolution over Benjy’s life—they stood no chance, and I’d known it all along. I should have listened to my gut. I should have never let Knox convince me to stay as Lila in the first place. I should have done anything else, and Benjy would still be alive.

My fault. This was all my fault.

Agonizing sobs tore through me, ripped from depths I couldn’t imagine. Every single one felt like a knife to the heart, and in that moment, I wanted nothing more than to die right then and there. I’d read stories about prisoners who had done it—who had somehow willed themselves into death through the sheer power of their mind. But no matter how badly I wanted it to end, it couldn’t. Not yet. Daxton would never let me die that easily, not when he still had the opportunity to inflict as much pain as he could.

“It’s about time you woke up,” said a voice on the other side of the metal door. “Much longer, and you’d be eligible for a coma.”

I swallowed my sobs, causing a hard knot to form in my throat. “Who’s there?” Even to my own ears, I didn’t sound right, and for a second I wondered if they’d turned me back into my old self. The last time I’d been knocked out and brought to a strange place, I’d woken up looking exactly like Lila Hart—would they do the same in reverse?

No. I would never be that lucky. The only time I would ever be me again would be in death.

The screech of metal against metal filled my tiny cell, and the door swung open, revealing a woman with blue eyes and a long blond braid hanging over her shoulder. She wore a white uniform with silver trim, and she held a medical kit loosely in one hand. In the other, she balanced a tray of eggs, bacon, and toast, along with a porcelain bowl full of colorful fruit and a tall glass of orange juice.

“Breakfast was hours ago, but I thought you’d appreciate this more than a stale sandwich,” she said, setting the tray on the nightstand with impeccable balance. Despite the wry smile tugging at her lips, her tone wasn’t cheerful. If anything, it was strained, as if someone had told her to be nice even though she had no intention of doing so. “How do you feel?”

I blinked. “Where am I?”

“Answer me first.” There—now I could hear the edge in her voice she’d been trying to hide. “How do you feel? Is your mouth dry? Do you have a headache? Are you in pain?”

“What do you think?” I said dully. “Best day of my life, right here.”

Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction