Premise: In this young-adult dystopian novel, people can no longer die. But they still feel pain, and suffer--and it's maddening. Because of the chaos that ensued, the US Government created a program to figure out how to kill people. When Garrett, a teenager, falls into a coma for weeks as a result of an experiment, the Program sets its malicious sights on him.
Cold water pools around my knees. A block of weight is chained to each of my ankles. I glance up, my stomach knotting with nerves. Concrete walls surround me, similar to the bunker but smaller. An assistant and a doctor sit in the observation room, watching through glass that takes up half the wall.
I swallow thickly behind a grimace when I feel the water reach my thighs, and the water soaking my pants nearly reaches my waistband. A shiver runs down my spine before I return my focus to the observation room, my stare locking on the doctor overseeing the experiment.
It’s been two weeks since I was captured and sent back to Project Eden. They’ve resumed my testing, but this time, I no longer have a gap day. I’m exhausted. Pain has become my loyal companion, never leaving my side. Or head, for that matter. But none of it compares to the incurable pain of loss.
The water’s to my chest now. My stomach lurches in dread.
Lucy. I visit her everyday, and everyday I leave with not a sign of improvement. When I’m there, I talk to her. About anything, really. Sometimes, after a particularly draining test, I think it’s working, that what I’m doing is helping her somehow.
To my neck. I’m shaking now.
Sometimes I think she smiles at my jokes, even though her caretakers tell me it’s simply a muscle spasm. Sometimes I see a glimmer in her eyes at my passionate words, but they tell me it’s her eyes producing moisture due to her lack of eye blinking. Sometimes I notice her mouth moving, as if she’s trying to speak to me, to yell at me, to tell me how stupid I am, and sometimes, I don’t even care what they say.
Dutifully, I take in a deep breath of air before my whole body succumbs to the water’s chilling void.
My eyes burn, but I continue to stare at the doctor out of spite, the only defense I have.
Spite. What a wonderful thing that is. It’s kept me fighting long after I should have given up.
Pressure builds in my eardrums. My chest constricts, eliciting pain, urging me to submit to its desires for oxygen. I struggle against it, squirming against the blocks, weighing me down.
Delirium trickles into my stony resolve, coaxing me, persuading me that when I take a breath, everything will get better, that all this pain will go away. My vision tints red and I finally give in, sucking in a breath.
Only it’s water. And not air.
And now I’m screaming, feeling the fiery water fill my lungs like a balloon. I attempt to swim up, towards air, but chains in my ankles only rip into my flesh.
Fire. Sharp. Burning. Sharp. Drowning with no promised reprieve at its end, no death…it’s maddening. My only consolation is that it’s not as bad as losing Lucy, it couldn’t be. And the acknowledgment that I survived that, lulls me into a trance, stuck deep inside the water’s desolation.
I collapse, my side hitting the damp ground, hard. The force creates a spasm in my lungs, and I wretch out the scathing liquid. The stinging ache of expelling what I can only imagine as gallons, nearly sends me back into oblivion. I feel hands on my throbbing ankles and jerk away, only to feel their pressure follow.
“Garrett.” A hand grips my upper arm, pulling me up into a sitting position. “You need to breathe.”
A pair of arms squeeze my chest, and reflexively I gasp out another spurt of acidic water. I sputter in a breath, wheezing, chest aflame.
“Good.” A pat on my back.
My head hangs forward, and I scrunch my face against the reeling pain in my skull. I continue to take long, shaky breaths until the dizziness starts to subside. My eyes peel open.
Two assistants squat in front of me. One of them continues to support me through his hand on my arm.
I blink at them, dazed, water trickling down my face from my soaked hair. “Wha…?” I barely rasp out, my throat scathed raw. I swallow, sipping in another breath.
“You have a visitor,” The assistant holding my arm replies.
And they thrust me to my feet.
After the assistants dry me down, they hand me a fresh set of clothes matched with a blanket to ease my shivering. They escort me back up to the first floor and to a closed door. One of the assistants opens it and nudges me into the room.
It is an exact replica of the room I meet with Lucy in, only this time, Edward Gild is waiting for me.
A flurry of emotion hits me, seeing this man again. His hands rest on the metal table, his fingers interlaced. He wears a navy suit with a white shirt and black tie. Red-brown hair curls around his ears.
Crystal blue eyes lock on my face, “You look comfy.” His usual mocking tone has wilted noticeably, it no longer reaching his eyes. I can’t help but take some pleasure in this.
“What do you want,” I demand coldly.
His eyes crinkle in a mirthless smile. A soft sigh. “I want to speak with you.” He gestures to the seat in front of him.
I scoff, rolling my eyes. I don’t make a move.
“Come on, Garrett. What do you have to lose?” He leans across the table, cold blue eyes staring into mine.
He’s right. I have nothing left to lose. I fall into the vacant seat with a forced exhale, gripping the blanket tighter around me.
Edward smiles with success. “Not too hard now, was it?”
“Why are you here?”
“Would you believe that I missed you?” Edward smiles sweetly, shining white teeth peeking through pulled lips.
When I don’t respond, he sighs and ruffles a hand through his hair. “Look, I came to explain myself. I’m sorry about…” Edward grimaces, “what happened.”
We watch each other.
“You don’t believe me,” Edward says flatly.
“No,” A dark smile plays on my lips. Did he actually think I would? “Experience has taught me otherwise.”
“I know,” Edward admits, his eyes creasing. “But, Garrett. Think about it. Paracot was threatening to take the magazine away from me, and that magazine was the only thing that could expose Project Eden. I had no choice. We had no choice. And if you’re rational about this, you’ll know why I did what I did.”
I reposition myself in the chair, trying to find a more comfortable position. I clear my throat before casting him a heavy glare. “If I knew this wasn’t retrospective thinking from after you screwed us over, I might actually believe you.”
Edward lowers his polished gaze. I can see his jaw knotting. “I’m going to make this right. I’m going to finish writing the article, and I’m going to use it to shut Eden down. I just needed more time…” reluctant blue eyes glance up at me, “And now I have it.”
“That’s great, Edward,” I exclaim sarcastically, yanking my elbow off the table “Glad we’ve saved you plenty of time.”
“I promise you. I will get you out of here if it’s the last thing I do.” He meets my gaze this time with so much passion and determination, that a part of me can’t help but yearn to believe him. Like he will save me like the countless other times he’s done before. But I know this man.
“A wise man once told me—your promises don’t mean shit,” I snarl out the last word and pull out of my chair in an angry whirl, feet already heading for the iron door.
“Garrett—“ Edward protests, rising to his feet, as well.
“What!” I spit at him, blood pounding in my skull.
He stares at me with hard eyes, his jaw pulsing. He lowers his voice, “I never promised that you wouldn’t come back here. I actually promised you that you would come back. What I said was—“
“I know what you said!” I fire back, taking a step forward, closer to him. My vision tints a pounding red, I can hear the blood swimming in my head behind my eyes. “I don’t give a damn about me,” I bark out mirthlessly. “I’ve accepted long ago that I’m just some science experiment,” I shake my head, grinning, like I’ve got nothing left in this world. And that’s true. “What I’m talking about is Lucy. You promised her. You promised that you would never let anything happen to her.”
My words sit in the room like stale air, separating us with the sour thickness of its truth. The fight in Edward slips from his face and limbs, muscles drooping. His gaze lowers to the table. “How…” the word sticks in his mouth, “How is she?”
Heat reverberates down my spine at his audacity to ask that. My fists clench, “How do you think she is?!” But then it hits me, frozen water consuming my ablaze thoughts. Because Edward Gild is a coward. And a coward hides from his duties. And caring for Lucy is a duty he will always turn from, “You…you don’t know, do you?” There is a tremor of perverted giddiness in my voice. That this man, this man has no knowledge of the extent his treachery did to us.
“What?” Edward snaps, bristling, “What don’t I know?”
I can’t contain the dark hysteria anymore— it dribbles from my mouth in the form of hollow, uncontrollable, laughter.
Edward’s face turns a light shade of red. His jaw tightens, and his icy eyes squint in boiling irritation. “Garrett. That’s enough. What happened? What happened to Lucy?”
I attempt to ebb the bouts of laughter by biting the inside of my lip. A few wispy chuckles still manage to escape my lips as I lower myself back into my seat. I absently grab at my side, feeling the stitches from a test a few days go begin to stretch. I can no longer tell the difference between the blend of my pained wince and cold laugh.
The editor’s face contorts with panic which instantly falls to rage. He lunges at me, his nails digging deep into my collar bone, pinning me down to my seat. I look back at him with lidded, unamused eyes.
“You’re going to tell me right now, you sadistic piece of shit,” Edward growls, leaning over me, humid breath hitting my face. I struggle not to cringe against his fingers pinching the small and tender flesh between bone. “What happened to Lucy.”
I glare at him defiantly then, lift my chin to look him directly in the eye. “The day after we got here,” I begin quietly, “Lucy was shot in the head.”
I watch his face, with growing and demented satisfaction, as horror and shock void his expression into pure numbness. There’s a small quiver in his lip, and his fingers begin to loosen around my collar bone.
“The Secretary shot her right in front of me,” I explain carefully, “I saw her fall. My hands were covered in her blood.” Every word out of my mouth tears through my chest, again and again, so that I can hardly breathe. But what choice do I have? How else can I show this man what he’s done? How else can I avenge her?
“Is she—“ Edward chokes on his own words.
I rip his limp arms off of me, and slowly, I rise to my feet. “Everyday I visit her. And every day, she looks at me with nothing in her eyes. Everyday she does not speak,” Again, again. “Everyday, she does not know I’m beside her.” Anger scrapes my throat raw, “Every god damn day, I see Lucy and know that she is not even there! Everyday, I know she’s gone, but I go see her anyway, hoping that today, I might be proven wrong,” Again, again. “But Lucy’s dead. She’s gone. And you killed her.” I jab two fingers into his chest, pushing him back a step.
Edward’s eyes well with tears. He blinks rapidly, easing himself down onto the metal table. His mouth opens and closes as if he’s having trouble swallowing. A sheen of sweat covers his unnaturally pale face.
“For once,” I exclaim bitterly, desperately clinging to my rage just as my sorrow tries to pull me under, “I’m glad we can’t die. So you can live with what you’ve done,” I spit at him before moving towards the door. My hand is reaching for the handle when I stop and turn back to him.
“The one person who has ever loved you—and she’s dead,” I whisper. I return my gaze back to the door just as a tear slips through the barricade of his eyelid, crystal liquid trailing down a gaunt cheek.
I don’t look back again.
When I’m returned to my room, only then do I scream against my fist, teeth digging into trembling flesh. Hot tears fall down my cheeks in sudden bursts as I slide down against the wall, clutching my wounded side as sobs shake through me. I pull my hand from my mouth, freshly covered with with a coat of saliva and bleeding punctures.
Another scream pushes through me, and I force my face against the wall overcome with a new wave of utter despair and helplessness.
If Project Eden wanted to break me, they’ve finally succeeded.