Species Savior: A Science Fiction Dystopian Novel
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I never thought the Veilorians were the enemy, but I also never could have imagined I'd find myself in love with one. Meeting Finn changed my life, and I happily gave up everything not just for him, but for what I believed in as well.
But now the future is uncertain, and the stakes higher than ever. Veronica Waters is determined to make everyone in the District pay for our crimes against humans. To her we're species traitors, but I don't see it that way. I believe Veilorians were sent here to save us and I refuse to back down. No matter what.
I just hope I don't lose everything in the process.
Release date: April 24, 2020
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 353
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Behind the book
Cover Finalist in the 2021 RONE Awards from InD'tale Magazine
Species Savior: A Science Fiction Dystopian Novel
Kate L. Mary
The room they’d tossed me in was different than the one from before. Last time, after guards dragged me from Rye and Ione’s house in the District, I’d been led to a small, cold room in the old stadium. Not this time, though. Now I was in a holding cell in the government building. It was nicer and had a bed—well, more like a cot—as well as a chair and toilet, but that didn’t make it any less ominous. In fact, the longer I sat by myself, thinking about everything that had happened over the last few months, the more reality came crashing in.
This was far worse than the dank room they’d tossed me in before.
When Dean and his men showed up at my mom’s house, I hadn’t thought I could get any more frightened. I’d been wrong. I was in the government building. The same building Arch had been led out of before Mayor Waters put him to death. The same building my father had knelt in front of so he, too, could be killed all those years ago. This was far more serious than anything I’d faced before, and I knew it.
Time slipped away. There was no clock in the room, but I found myself imagining the tick of the minute hand as it moved forward one millimeter at a time. Unable to sit still, I got to my feet and paced, counting the steps as I crossed the room before having to turn around and walk the other way. Five steps one way and five steps back. Over and over again as my heart pounded in my ears.
Finn had no idea I’d snuck out of the District, and I hadn’t left a note. In this windowless cell, it was impossible to gauge exactly how much time had gone by, but it had to have been hours. It wouldn’t yet be nearing dawn, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t awake. Veilorians needed less sleep than humans.
Had he already awoken to find me gone? Was he worried? Was he sitting in the living room of his tiny house waiting for me to come back, or was he looking for me at this very moment? Maybe he thought I’d gone to Rye and Ione’s. It was the only likely place, because I doubted he would suspect the truth. After everything that had happened, after Arch’s death and the violence and branding, after the laws Mayor Waters had passed, there was no way anyone in their right mind would sneak out of the District.
Yet I had.
I’d told myself I had a good reason. My mother was dying, and I needed to be the bigger person. Then there was my sister. Lena. For the past sixteen years, everything I’d done had been for her. I’d slaved away in the wastelands, given up almost any chance of having a real life, and endured verbal abuse from our mother time and time again. It had all been for her. All of it had been so Lena could have a shot at something better. And she’d turned me in.
I still had a difficult time accepting what had happened. Still couldn’t wrap my head around the way she’d acted. The cold look in her eyes had been so much like our mother, and the words she’d uttered, not to mention the venom behind them, like a knife slicing me each time I replayed them in my mind. How could sweet Lena have been so hateful? How could the little girl I’d watched laugh as she spun in circles, her dress swirling around her legs, have turned into something so grotesque? It couldn’t be true. I didn’t want to accept it. But it was and I had to.
If only Finn didn’t have to suffer, too. I didn’t have to try hard to imagine how much it would hurt him to watch me die—and there was no doubt in my mind that he would have to. Mayor Waters wouldn’t let me get away with this, and she would televise my execution for sure, and Finn would see it. It would be unavoidable. Then there was Dean. My asshole ex. If you could even call him that. He had it in for me, and if he had anything to say about it, he would be the one to carry out my sentence.
My legs began to wobble, and a sob bubbled up in my throat, and I barely made it to the cot before my trembling knees gave out. Gasping cries broke out of me, shaking my shoulders, and I covered my mouth, horrified by how out of control I suddenly was. I had to hold it together. Had to find the strength I’d always been able to show in the face of adversity. Only I wasn’t sure I would be able to manage it this time. This was so much worse than anything I’d ever faced, the stakes higher and the potential for loss so much more terrifying.
I’d been a fool to leave the District. For putting so much at risk. For not seeing my sister for who she was before now. There had been signs. So many moments when her selfishness had given me pause, but I’d been blind to it, and now I was going to pay.
And I wouldn’t be the only one.
The hand not trying to staunch my sobs moved to my stomach, and I only cried harder. I didn’t know for sure if Finn’s baby was growing inside me, but I knew how likely it was. Ninety. That was what he’d told me. There was a ninety percent chance of conception when a human and Veilorian had sex. True, it might be less since Finn was only half-Veilorian, but we had no way of knowing for sure, and it wasn’t like it had been a one-time thing. We’d slept together multiple times now, each one making it more likely I would conceive. And now I was here and in trouble, and I could only imagine what Veronica Waters would do if she learned the truth.
You can’t let her know, I told myself. The mayor can never know you might be pregnant.
I had to do everything in my power to make sure she never suspected a thing. Witnessing everything she’d already done, I had a good idea what she had in store for me, and I was certain of one thing. If Mayor Waters suspected I was carrying Finn’s child, she would kill me for sure.
That knowledge, that certainty, was the only thing that could have helped me regain some control. The panic was still present, but I pushed it down, hiding it deep inside me where it couldn’t possibly break free. With it were all the secrets I’d learned about the Veilorians over the last few months. The high conception rate, the years the people inside the District were able to keep in contact with the other ship, the half-Veilorians who looked human and lived outside the walls. My brother, Roderick, who was a government official.
Even if the mayor tortured me, I refused to let those things out. I’d made my choices, had put my faith in the wrong person, and I would have to pay for the mistake, but I wouldn’t take anyone else down with me. No matter what happened, I would take my secrets to the grave.
The final thought should have terrified me, because I knew my grave would most likely be my next destination. Not the District. Not the little house where I’d found so much comfort. Not the arms of the man I loved. Death was all that awaited me now.
But despite the horror and disappointment swirling through me, some of my old strength began to make its way to the surface, and the longer I sat in the quiet room, the longer I replayed everything the mayor had done and said and all the horror I’d witnessed over the last couple months, the more determined I became. Soon the sobs were no longer burning at my throat, my eyes had begun to dry, and I took the opportunity to wipe the old tears from my face. I would be strong. I would face Veronica Waters and hold my head high. I would stand up for what was right until the last second because I was not a coward.
“I am Ava Mendoza,” I said out loud, pausing to suck in a long breath so I could blow out the rest of my fear and uncertainty, “and I am proud to be a species traitor.”
I felt stronger once the words were out, and more certain I’d be able to hold on to my courage, but with it an exhaustion like I’d never felt before came over me. It was the middle of the night, and I hadn’t slept a wink, and despite what I faced in the morning, I needed rest. It would help me stay strong. Would help keep my mind sharp.
Curling up on the bed, I pulled my knees to my chest before placing a hand on my stomach. The lights were on but low, and once I closed my eyes, I was able to block them out. After that, I worked on slowing my breathing and concentrating not on what was going to happen next, but on my tired body and how much it was craving sleep.
My heartbeat slowed, and my arms and legs became weightless, but my hand never moved from my stomach. As I drifted off, a certainty came over me, and no matter how much I tried to push it away, it wouldn’t obey.
I was pregnant with Finn’s baby, and I was about to die.
* * *
I jerked awake when a click echoed through the room but didn’t move right away. There was no confusion in my brain—I knew where I was—but I wanted to take a moment to grab hold of the courage I’d found before drifting off to sleep, because once I turned, once I faced the reality of this moment, I would need it.
Someone cleared their throat, and I sucked in a deep breath, recognizing the sound and knowing who I was about to face. I blew the air out, emptying my lungs before filling them again, and with the air came courage. It seemed to swell inside me in a way I’d never experienced before, making my body hum as I twisted to face the door.
Dean stood in front of me, a silver metal tray in one hand as he stared down at me with cold eyes. The expression in them made me shudder, and my stomach twisted in revulsion. How I had ever found this man attractive? How had I ever looked into those blue depths and seen anything but evilness? I couldn’t imagine.
“Breakfast,” he said, nodding to the tray in his hand.
I pushed myself up, shoving my dark, wavy hair out of my eyes in the process, but said nothing.
He pressed his lips together, an expression of disgust on his face as he looked me over. “You like to put on a good show, but it’s not going to work this time.”
He tossed the tray, and it landed next to me on the cot with a quiet thud. A sealed container of water fell to the ground and rolled across the room. It stopped inches from his feet, but Dean didn’t look away from me.
“Lena told you about us,” he said after a few seconds of silence.
I flinched, and his lips twitched.
“I knew that would get to you.”
“She’s sixteen,” I said against my better judgement. “You’re marrying a sixteen-year-old girl.”
“She’ll be seventeen in a couple months,” he said with a shrug. “Plus, she doesn’t act sixteen. Especially in bed.”
I jumped to my feet as something volatile surged through me. The feeling only grew stronger when Dean’s hand went to the pulse rifle at his waist, and I had to force myself to stay where I was. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do.
When I didn’t move, he laughed. “She has your fire.”
“I will kill you,” I growled.
“No, you won’t,” he said. “In fact, it’s more likely that I’ll get to kill you. Which I have you to thank for, by the way.”
Despite trying to keep every emotion other than rage off my face, my brows furrowed at his words.
“I got promoted after I turned you in the first time.” Dean’s lips pulled up into a satisfied grin. “I guess you didn’t know that part. After Veronica Waters was elected, she put a reward on your head. See, she knew you were in the District because she saw you—”
“When she arrested Arch.”
I grimaced when I thought about the day she came into the District, and how she’d spotted me just before leaving. The recognition in her eyes had been clear even from far away, and while I hadn’t known what she would do about it, even then I’d felt the cold hand of dread squeezing my gut. Its grip was twice as tight now.
“That’s right,” Dean said. “But she didn’t know your name. Imagine my delight when I learned I could get back at you for screwing me over and further my career at the same time.”
“You’re a son of a bitch.”
Dean took one step toward me, his fingers twitching on the butt of his pulse rifle. “Leave my mom out of this.”
“Why?” I snapped. “You had no problem messing with my family.”
“I hate to break it to you,” he said, relaxing slightly, “but Lena came to me. You always talked about her like she was so innocent, so it surprised me. Of course, now I know how little you actually knew her.”
I swallowed, remembering how easily Lena had lied to our mother after the Landing Day celebration. At the time, it had occurred to me that I didn’t know my sister as well as I’d always thought, but I’d dismissed it because I loved her so much. I hadn’t wanted to think of Lena as anything other than the little girl I’d always looked out for, hadn’t wanted to accept the changes I’d seen in her. I’d been blind, though. Naïve to think the hate surrounding my sister hadn’t impacted her.
My shoulders slumped as I realized how foolish I’d been, and once again, Dean laughed.
“The truth is a bitch, isn’t it?” he said. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to live with it for long. Mayor Waters will see to that.”
“How long?” I whispered even though I didn’t want to talk to him.
“I don’t know. Not long, I’m sure.” He shrugged to show how little he cared about my discomfort. “She just got to the office about an hour ago. Right now, she’s meeting with her advisors.”
I only nodded in response.
Dean jerked his head toward the tray. “Sorry your last meal isn’t fancier.”
I stayed silent. Immobile. Keeping my appearance as emotionless as I could while facing the knowledge that I would very soon die. Dean waited for a moment, perhaps hoping I’d try to get in the last word. When I still said nothing, he snorted and turned to leave.
He’d only taken two steps when the hate burning inside me broke free and I called out, “Finn told me everything.”
I never could keep my mouth shut.
Dean wore a disgusted sneer when he turned, but once again said nothing.
“How you killed his friend. Raif.” My ex ground his teeth when I said the name. “Your sister was in love with him. What kind of an evil person does something like that?”
“He’s the reason my sister is dead.” Dean took a step toward me, visibly shaking with anger. “If it hadn’t been for that alien piece of shit, Kiara would still be alive.”
“You can tell yourself that all you want, but we both know the truth,” I shot back. “If you and your father had supported her, she would still be alive. You killed her.”
He curled his hands into fists and stepped closer. “I did what I could. I went into the District and met him after she begged me to. I even tried to talk our father into meeting him. You see, back then, I was stupid enough to think we could live together in peace. Not anymore. The scum living in the District doesn’t want peace.”
“You have to be kidding. You went into the District and attacked Raif. You killed him and almost killed Finn!”
“My biggest regret is not killing that halfling piece of shit when I had the chance,” Dean snarled.
I jerked at his words as if I’d been slapped, and I had to force myself to stay still. I wanted to hit him. Wanted to grab the metal tray off the bed and slam it against his face until he was on the floor. Bleeding. Begging for mercy. I wanted to see him suffer.
Instead of lashing out, I forced my hands to stay at my sides.
“You’re a murderer,” I spit at him. “And you deserve to rot in the wastelands for what you’ve done.”
Dean was breathing in and out through his nose like an animal about to attack, and his jaw barely moved when he said. “Apparently, not everyone shares your opinion. I’m a guard, remember.”
“How? How did you end up working in the District after killing a man?”
“A Veilorian,” he said, drawing the word out and making it sound like a curse. “And they begged me to take the job. I didn’t spend a single night behind bars. Hell, they practically threw me a party.”
It was just like I’d thought, but it still made me flinch.
At my reaction, Dean relaxed a little more, and something like satisfaction flashed in his eyes.
“I was worried when they hauled me out of the District, of course,” he continued, talking slower this time. Like he wanted to drag the story out. “I mean, I was caught red handed.” He snorted. “Or blue handed, or purple handed, or whatever you want to call it.” I stiffened when he waved his hand, either to dismiss the statement or emphasize the image of blood coating his fingers and palm. His eyes stayed focused on my face as he continued. “I could tell the Veilorian was already dead, and the halfling was bleeding on the ground and gasping for breath like a fish out of water. I’d never seen a fish out of water before, so I hadn’t really understood the saying, but I do now. Whenever someone says it now, I think of him. Of the purple gushing from the cut on his neck. Of the puddle collecting beneath him as his mouth opened and closed—”
I took a step toward him, but Dean had his pulse rifle up in seconds.
“Sit down,” he said, his voice even and measured. “Now.”
Adrenaline swelled inside me at the sight of the weapon, but I did as I was told. Although reluctantly. When my hand brushed something cold, I grabbed it without thinking. It was the tray. I tightened my grip until my knuckles ached, my gaze still on Dean as I imagined hitting him with it. Imagined not Finn bleeding on the ground, but Dean. It was his blood forming a puddle, his mouth moving as he tried to fill his lungs. It was the only thing that could help me maintain control.
“Anyway, I thought I was dead, but I was in my cell for less than two hours before my dad showed up. The guards opened the door, and he stepped in, and he gave me this look. I’d never seen that expression on his face before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but then he said, ‘You killed the prick?’ I nodded, and he nodded, too, then he grinned and asked, ‘Did you make him suffer?’” Dean actually smiled at the memory. “I said, ‘As much as I could,’ and my dad’s smile widened. That was the end of it.”
My back stiffened. “They didn’t even give you a trial?”
“Why waste time and resources on something so trivial?” Dean said. “They let me go and told me to stay away from the District, but a few months later, after my dad died, I got a call offering me his job. They wanted someone who wasn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and I fit the bill.”
Despite my determination to keep my emotions in check, I had to blink back tears when I thought about how little the authorities cared. Dean had killed a man, and he hadn’t even been punished.
He’d almost killed Finn, too.
That was the worst part. Realizing Finn could have died, and I never would have met him. I didn’t even want to think about it.
Dean stayed where he was for a moment like he was waiting for me to say something, but I refused to speak. I couldn’t even look at him. My hand was still clutching the tray, and every inch of me wanted to get up, to swing it at his head, to hit him over and over again until he was bleeding out. When that happened, I would stand over him and happily watch as his blood collected in a puddle the way Finn’s had.
Of course, I couldn’t do that. He’d shoot me without batting an eye. Death was imminent, and I knew it. At this point, there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. Still, I had to cling to the tiny shred of hope I had left inside me. Something could still happen. Mayor Waters could still decide to use me as an example instead of simply killing me. It was possible. No matter how unlikely.
Dean left without another word, a satisfied expression on his face. Once I was alone, I managed to relax then ate the little bit of food he’d brought me and drank the water. I needed to keep my strength up, after all.
Once my breakfast was finished, all I had left to do was wait. At first, I sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the door as I waited for Mayor Waters to arrive—I was certain it wouldn’t take long. But as more and more time ticked away and she still didn’t come, weariness set in. I couldn’t have gotten more than three hours of sleep, and between that and the stress of the day, my brain was slow and hazy.
When more time passed and still the door stayed shut, I found myself lying down. I felt like a child, curled into a ball on the bed with the pillow hugged to my chest as I stared at the closed door, waiting for it to open, and a nagging feeling that I’d been in this this position before settled over me. I’d done this before. More than once. When, though?
Then it hit me.
It had been after my father left. I could remember the first few nights after he’d disappeared, how I’d dragged a blanket and pillow into the living room and curled up on the floor to wait for him. I’d been so certain he would return, so sure he’d come through the door at any moment, and for days I’d barely slept. He hadn’t, though, and I’d slowly begun to believe the things my mom had said. He’d left because he didn’t want me, didn’t love me, and he was never coming back.
She’d lied, which I now knew, thanks to Anara. My father hadn’t abandoned me. My mother had kicked him out, had imagined a relationship between him and the Veilorian woman and had been too jealous to listen to reason. He’d wanted me, had tried to see me, but my mother had kept us apart.
The truth didn’t make the pain of the memory any less intense, because he’d died a short time after that. A martyr for a cause that shouldn’t have been his, but one he’d refused to turn his back on anyway. Just like me.
The thought comforted me as I drifted off, but it wasn’t enough to keep the bad thoughts at bay. I floated in a dreamworld, alternating between being in Finn’s arms and nightmares where I was forced to kneel in front of the mayor or Dean and wait for the pulse of energy that would end my life. It was fitful sleep that gave me no rest and went on and on, only stopping when the door opened a second time.
Like before, I was jolted from sleep, but unlike last time, I bolted to a sitting position, my heart pounding against my ribs like it was trying to break free. A man stepped in, alone and silent, and pulled the door shut behind him with a soft click that echoed through the small room.
He said nothing as he took me in, chocolate brown eyes lined with heavy lashes sweeping over me, his thin-lipped mouth pressed into a line that made it impossible to gauge what he was thinking. He had light brown skin and dark, almost black hair, and while he was tall and broad, he seemed almost small after weeks of living in the District surrounded by Veilorians. But still, something about him tickled a memory. I’d seen him before, I was sure of it, but I wasn’t sure where.
“I know you,” I said, not even trying to make it sound like a question.
“No,” he said, and like his eyes and mouth, the deep timber of his voice made my scalp prickle with recognition. “Not really. I mean, we’ve never met.”
He took a step, pressing his lips together in thought once again, and the flash of a memory swept over me. My father giving my mother this same look.
“Roderick,” I whispered, almost afraid to say his name but unable to keep it inside.
It couldn’t be him, though. Could it? My brother was young, only twenty years old, and the man in front of me looked like he was in his late twenties, maybe older. Only I knew it was him.
“You’re my brother, aren’t you?” I asked.
He nodded once before saying, “Anara told you about me.” Roderick paused, tilting his head thoughtfully. “Or was it Finn?”
“Your mother,” I replied then shook my head. “But you look older than I thought you would. Not twenty years old.”
“All half-Veilorians do,” he replied. “Thankfully. It makes it easier for us to find a life in the human world. The personal data on my chip says I’m twenty-eight.”
His gaze moved over me a second time, his expression making it seem like he couldn’t believe I was in front of him. While I shared his awe, his words had my mind switching gears. It was something I should have thought of before. Finn had always looked older than his age to me, and while I’d assumed it was his height, I should have realized there was more to it.
“Have you seen him?” I asked when my half-brother remained silent. “Finn, I mean.”
“Not in months,” Roderick replied.
“But he knows I’m here?”
I swallowed when my throat constricted, making it feel like someone had it in an iron grip. “He must be furious.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
Roderick finally walked farther into the room, but he glanced at the door even as he headed my way. When he reached the bed, he knelt in front of me. Up close, he reminded me even more of our father. The eyes, the thick brows and lashes, and the way his lips thinned when he pressed them together. The main difference was the lack of stubble on his face. My father’s cheeks and chin had been perpetually prickly, but Roderick’s face was as smooth as Finn’s, because Veilorian’s didn’t have body hair like humans. Only on their heads, eyebrows, and eyelashes.
“There isn’t a lot of time,” my half-brother said, drawing my gaze to his.
What I saw in his eyes made my blood turn cold.
“The mayor is on her way?” I asked.
“No,” he shook his head, “she isn’t.”
My back stiffened, and dread settled in my stomach, although I didn’t know what to expect or why the mayor wasn’t hurrying here to carry out my punishment. It didn’t make sense. I thought she’d be thrilled to make an example out of me. She had me, caught red handed, as Dean had phrased it, so why let me sit here? Why not drag me out of the government building and carry out my sentence?
“She’s waiting to see what she can get for you,” my brother said.
“I don’t under—”
“The guard, Dean, contacted Finn. I think he only wanted to cause problems, but it did more than that. The council has requested time to negotiate with the mayor. They’re trying to get you released.”
My heart rate picked up again, and it felt like a wave moving through me as I thought about what that might mean. Someone, maybe even Finn, trading themselves for me. Trading their life for mine. All because I’d been foolish enough to think my sister was nothing like our mother.
“No.” I grabbed Roderick’s hand, barely registering the cool temperature of his skin against mine. “You have to tell them not to negotiate.”
He frowned but said nothing.
“You can get a message to them,” I continued, more urgently this time. “I know you can.”
“Yes,” he said, “but I won’t. It’s too risky.”
“You have to.” I squeezed his hand harder, desperate to get through to him. “You have to tell them I’m not worth it. Not worth whatever sacrifice they’ll have to make.”
“They won’t listen to anything I have to say, Ava.” He pulled his hand from mine and stood. “I’m a halfling and a defector. I’ve been living mostly in the human world since I was a teenager. The people in the District don’t want to hear from me.”
The brand on my neck began to throb as I thought about how similar my brother and I were. Both of us had turned our backs on our people for the greater good. Only he seemed more bitter than I’d expected. Shouldn’t he have been proud of the things he was doing? He was trying to fix the system from the inside, after all.
“You haven’t done anything wrong,” I said. “Plus, they’re not like humans. Veilorians are open and welcoming.”
“To you,” he said, his words more bitter than before. Like they had spoiled, and the rotten taste had filled his mouth. “Didn’t Finn tell you what it was like growing up as a halfling?”
I flinched at the way he spit out the word.
“No, I guess he wouldn’t have.” Roderick let out a bitter laugh and shook his head. “Humans aren’t the only species that can be cruel. Remember that.”
I stared up at him in silence, confused and uncertain. Not knowing where to go from here and not understanding what was happening. I’d spoken with Anara, I’d seen the pain in her eyes when she talked about her son, and I knew more than anything she wanted him back. Wanted to know he was okay.
“Whatever happened, you have to know your mom loves you,” I said. “She misses you.”
Roderick looked down, focusing on the cracked linoleum floor. “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”
I swallowed but couldn’t find words.
After a second, Roderick let out a long breath and tore his gaze from the floor. “That’s not why I’m here, anyway.”
“Why are you here, then?”
“To let you know what’s happening, so you’ll be prepared.” He paused as if to make sure I was paying attention. “I’m not privy to everything the way I used to be. Waters is hesitant to let anyone from Gunderson’s term into her innermost circle, but I know enough. Right now, they’re negotiating with the council, and if they can get a good enough trade, you’ll be released, but your crimes won’t go unpunished.”
Dread pooled in my stomach, spreading through me the way I imagined Finn’s blood had spread across the street when Dean slit his throat. Once again, my brand throbbed, and this time I couldn’t ignore it. I lifted my fingers, tracing the raised lines of the two letters burned into my skin, the T and S intertwined so they felt like one.
Roderick watched my fingers move, wincing slightly. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry? None of this is your fault.”
“Because I couldn’t do more.”
He sounded like me, and I couldn’t help laughing. “We both take after our father, I guess. Feeling responsible for the sins of others and unable to stop ourselves from trying to fix everything even when it’s hopeless.”
“I guess so,” he said, nodding.
“There are worse ways to be,” I told him.
Roderick nodded again, slowly, his gaze studying my face. “Do you remember him?”
My hand fell to my lap, my brand forgotten as dozens of memories came back in a rush.
My father had been such a big part of my life before he disappeared. Back then, my mother hadn’t been unhappy, hadn’t been a drunk or verbally abusive, but I was pretty sure she’d never wanted kids. She’d loved him with everything inside her, but she’d tolerated me at best. Had it not been for my father, I didn’t know if I would have had any happy memories from those early years. He’d made it all okay, though.
“I remember his laugh,” I said, smiling to myself even though I was talking to Roderick. “How it came from deep in his stomach. I remember how he tickled me, making me giggle until I could barely breathe, how he tucked me in at night and read me stories. I remember standing with him on the street as the visitors arrived, watching it all play out.”
Roderick’s eyebrows lifted, and I paused to see if he was going to say something.
After a few seconds of silence, I continued. “Everyone around us was scared. Running and screaming. But he just held me and smiled and told me how amazing it was.” My smile faltered. “He said that moment was going to change everything.”
He’d been right, more right than he ever could have imagined. Would he have still smiled that day if he could have looked into the future and seen what would happen? Him being forced to kneel beside other men who’d done nothing but stand up for what was right, waiting for a bullet to tear through his brain, my mother’s bitterness and slow demise, me toiling away in the wastelands from the age of fifteen, and now facing death while the knowledge that I was pregnant hung over my head. I couldn’t imagine he would have been able to face it all and still smile, but then again, I’d been so young when he left, and I hadn’t really had the chance to get to know him. Maybe he would have thought it was all worth it. I couldn’t lie and say I’d change anything if it meant not meeting Finn. To me, he was worth all the pain and heartache, and I had a feeling my father would have said the same about Anara.
Roderick stood, bringing my focus back to the present.
“He sounds like a great man,” my brother said.
“He was,” I replied, having to swallow around the emotion clogging my throat. “I’m sorry you didn’t get a chance to meet him.”
“So am I.” My half-brother took a step back, his gaze still on me even as he moved to leave. “I tapped into the surveillance system so I could visit, but I’m out of time. I’ll come back if I can manage it, but I’m not sure there will be a chance. It all depends on what Waters decides.”
“Thank you,” I said, trying to make my voice come out even, but failing. “I’m glad I got to meet you.”
“So am I, Ava.” Roderick sighed. “She’ll be here soon.”
“I know,” I said, the words a whisper.
“Try to stay strong.”
I nodded, trying to look brave despite my trembling legs. It seemed to help, because a swell of courage unlike anything I’d ever experienced moved through me. Almost like it was alive.
Roderick paused at the door, his hand on the knob. “Even if she makes a deal with the council, you will still be interrogated.”
“And punished,” I added.
He exhaled. “Yes.”
He nodded once, hesitating for a moment, then pulled the door open.
I watched him step out in silence, wanting to call out to him, to say something or do something, but not knowing what. It felt wrong for him to leave with neither of us acknowledging that we shared the same blood. His was purple, mine red, but we were the same. Had come from the same man, had the same goal. Freedom for everyone. Equality. Fairness.
The door shut behind Roderick, leaving me alone once again, and I sucked in a deep breath. My head was beginning to pound, and I couldn’t help remembering what Finn had told me the night before in the little living room of our home. It was common for humans to have headaches when they were pregnant with half-Veilorian babies. From the hormones.
One hand went to my stomach while the other moved to massage my head. I’d lost weight over the last few weeks, a result of the rationed food in the District. Even being the lowest of the low in Polis, we’d always had enough food, even if we hadn’t been able to afford sugar or other treats. Now, though, I felt hollow at times—not that I would have ever told Finn—and my clothing hung on me. How long before that changed? How long before my belly swelled, and my clothes became too tight? Would I even make it to that point, or would Mayor Waters enact her plan and eradicate everyone like me before it could happen?
Only time would tell.
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