“There are?” She sniffed again and finally looked at me. Her face was blotchy and her eyes swollen, but at least she had stopped crying for a second. Seizing the opportunity, I nodded.

“Out there, everyone thinks Elsewhere is some sort of—” I hesitated. I knew what I’d thought Elsewhere was before Daxton had brought me here to hunt, but no one had ever really talked about it. It was a mythical, far-off place we’d never see, if we were lucky and behaved ourselves—but at the same time, it had been a constant threat hanging over our heads, ready to uproot us from our lives at any moment. “No one really knows what it is,” I admitted. “It’s just this—place. Some people think it’s somewhere warm, because they send the elderly here. Others think it’s...what it is, I guess. But no one really knows how horrible it is, not unless they’ve gone hunting. And even then—”

“Hunting?” she said. I silently cursed myself.

“Nothing—never mind,” I said quickly. Noelle was scared enough as it was. “There are people out there who know how bad it is, though, and they’ve told others. And people are rising up against the Prime Minister. They want to break us out of here—they’re going to really soon, so you just have to sit tight, okay?”

She looked at me dubiously, and I couldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t believe me, either. “Who?” she said. “No one cares about us.”

“Yes, they do,” I said firmly. “I care. I cared before I came here, and lots of other people do. Powerful people who can change things and help us—really help us.” I lowered my voice. “Have you ever heard of the Blackcoats?”

“The Blackcoats?” Her frown deepened. “What are those?”

“They’re a group of people who are going to get us out of here,” I said. “I’m here because of them—because I’m going to help them. And I’m going to help you, too, Noelle. I prom—”

“Lila,” said a sharp voice over my shoulder. I jerked around. Scotia stood only a couple feet away, close enough to hear everything we’d just said. My face grew hot.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you that eavesdropping is rude?” I snapped.

She ignored me. “I need to speak with Noelle,” she said, looking past me and staring directly at her instead. “Go back to Mercer Manor, Lila, and enjoy your dinner.”

“I—” I began, but Scotia grabbed me by the arms and hauled me to my feet, her fingers digging into bruises. I yelped.

“That wasn’t a request,” she said. “Go.”

Noelle sniffed and rubbed her eyes. “It’s okay, Lila,” she said, offering me a faint smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I said, and I glared at Scotia. This wasn’t over. She barely looked at me as she helped Noelle to her feet—much more gently than she’d been with me, I noticed—and led her deeper into the back alleys.

I watched them until they disappeared around a corner, and with a huff, I shoved my hands in my pockets and returned to the street. The bunkhouse wasn’t far, but the bottom of my jumpsuit was soaked with dirty snow, and the biting wind felt worse than usual. I hated myself for joining the Mercers, as necessary as it was, but I couldn’t deny it would be much more comfortable.

That wouldn’t fix the problem for the rest of the prisoners, though. The only thing that could possibly help them was finding those armory codes and giving the Blackcoats a fighting chance to overtake Elsewhere. Knox and Benjy were right—if I was caught searching for them, I’d be dead in seconds, and this time my face wouldn’t help me, not when everyone thought Lila was leading the rebellion in the first place. But that only meant I couldn’t get caught.

And in order to break into the filing cabinets and steal the codes, I needed my necklace. The chances of Scotia handing it over if I asked politely were slim, even if I explained myself, and I didn’t trust her enough to do that anyway. Not after all she’d done. She might have been working for the Blackcoats, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t willing to rat me out in a second if it meant distracting the Mercers long enough to further her own agenda. Ratting me out meant potentially ratting out Knox and Benjy, too, and I couldn’t let that happen.

So that was it. I had to find the codes myself. If Knox could have done it, he would have already, and Scotia herself had admitted she stood no chance.

I had to steal back my necklace.

I slipped into the bunkhouse, relieved to see it abandoned. Everyone must have been at the dining hall already. The napkin Benjy had drawn was where I’d left it, underneath the thin mattress, and I slipped it into my coat pocket, where it stood the best chance of staying dry.

After I ducked into the bathroom to make sure it was empty, I stood in front of the curtain that separated Scotia’s room from the rest of us. My heart hammered, but I had no idea when she’d be back, and I didn’t have any time to waste. Now or never.

The curtain was heavier than I expected, and to my surprise, her room was almost warm. It was small—barely big enough for a bed, a tiny desk and chair, and a nightstand—but it was a palace compared to the rest of the bunkhouse.

In the group home, we had a strict no-snooping policy. Anyone caught looking through someone else’s stuff voided their right to privacy, making their possessions fair game for the rest of us, and I wasn’t stupid enough to give up what little I had. And even though I’d had no trouble going through Daxton and Lila’s things, being in here without Scotia made my skin prickle with the wrongness of it.

Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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