Chapter Four: Freedom
Leaving the library was a risk, but after seeing the tattooed man for the second time, I began to
feel a sense of urgency. My mother warned me to guard against my impatience, but it was
growing more and more difficult to wait.
“Remember,” my mother had chided, “they will come to you.”
The Resistance, wherever, whatever it was, wasn’t to be sought out. After my mother
began to speak out publicly about the dangers of Emovere, she was contacted by the Resistance.
By then, the government had placed significant restrictions on the public’s use of emotionaltering
medications, including Emovere. Still, for a price, it was accessible to those who wanted
it. And many did.
I peered cautiously out of the library door into the street. It was nearing twilight, and a
light rain had begun to fall. Papers blew into the doorway around my feet, most of them posters
promoting the Resistance. I clutched my jacket tighter around me. I had no plan. I felt tentative,
like a caged animal that had just discovered freedom lay beyond a broken latch. Uncertain, I
stepped into the rain, leaving the library behind me.
I headed south. The rain was coming down harder now, stinging my skin. The air felt
electric, as if my apprehension was a tangible, steady buzz. I passed familiar streets. At Powell
Street, a cable car was overturned, branded in red spray paint with the mark of the Resistance:
The Bowl of Hygeia—the Greek symbol of pharmacy—cracked and turned on its side, with a
skull tumbling from within it. It was a striking image, both derisive and foreboding.
Most of the stores in this part of the city had been vacant long before the Resistance
began. People could no longer afford luxuries. One of the shops was familiar: a toy store where
my father had taken me while we waited for my mother to finish a meeting. Back then, itseemed
we were always waiting for my mother. After her role in developing Emovere, she became
somewhat of a celebrity, appearing on news shows and chatting with her supporters on social
media. At home, my mother never boasted about her success, but she didn’t have to. It was as
apparent and ever-present as her shadow.
As I peered into the toy store’s rain-fogged windows, I had a flash of my father,swinging
me by the arms in a circle, both of us laughing. I had few memories of him, so I guarded them
preciously. He left when I was ten. The last time I saw him, I was lingering in the doorway of my
bedroom, looking out into the kitchen where my parents stood, arguing.
“I don’t think you know what you’re doing—what the consequences could be. Do you
even care?” My father’s face was red with anger, but he looked defeated. Their arguments had
grown more frequent, yet each was the same as the last. My father wanted my mother to resign
from her position at Zenigenic.
“Of course, I care.” My mother lowered her voice. “You know I care.”
“I don’t know anything about you anymore.”
My father turned from my mother. When his eyes briefly met mine, I saw that he felt
satisfied and then, ashamed. When I returned from school the next day, he was gone. In the years
that followed, I came to understand why he left my mother. She could be distant and selfish at
times. But I never forgave him for leaving me.
It was almost dark by now, and the remaining light cast shadows around me. They
danced eerily at the edges of my vision. I walked faster. I had hoped that by leaving the library, I
would discover something to direct me to the Resistance. I saw now that there was nothing here.
What if my mother had been wrong about everything? How could she let me come here
alone? For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to feel angry with her. I turned back
toward the library. The rain had subsided, but I was wet and cold. I started to run.
As I ran, I caught broken glimpses of myself in what remained of the store windows. I
looked wild, careless. Fear began to tug at me, whispering at first, then speaking urgently. I
could hear the soft, methodical thud of what sounded like footsteps behind me. I ran faster, not
daring to look. By the time I reached the library, I was certain that at any moment someone,
something, was just a fingertip’s length behind me. As I approached the door, I took one quick
look back to ready myself. The street was empty and blanketed in darkness.
Chapter Five: The First Time
I slammed the library door shut, sending leaves and papers swirling about the room. I
pressed my back into the wall, breathing heavily. In the library, it was as dark as a cave. I
reached for the light switch, flicking it on and off and on again. Nothing.
It’s just a blackout, I told myself, squinting into the blackness. The government reported
that California’s frequent power outages were caused by the country’s crumbling infrastructure.
My mother, on the other hand, was convinced that the blackouts were manufactured to keep us in
a constant state of uncertainty. I wasn’t sure what to believe.
From above my head, a familiar brown bird swooped past me. I squealed with surprise
and began laughing. How was I ever going to be worthy of the Resistance if I couldn’t manage a
“You almost gave me a heart attack,” I said aloud, my words echoing in the empty room.
I removed my jacket and left it in a wet heap near the door. I turned on my flashlight,
sending a thin yellow beam of light through the room. Though my brief adventure had been
unsuccessful, I felt a small sense of accomplishment. I had stepped out into the world and
Just as my body began to relax, I felt a sudden, sharp impact to my side. I doubled over.
The flashlight slid across the floor, striking the wall with a thud. Run. Run! RUN! My brain
screamed at me, but, for an instant, I couldn’t move. Finally, instinct took over. I scrambled to
my feet, trying to reach the gun concealed in the back of my pants. I heard a man’s heavy
breathing and felt him reaching for me through the darkness. He struck me again, this time in the
chest. I felt dizzy. He grabbed at my shirt, and there it was—the black-inked badge on his inner
left forearm. A Guardian! He pulled me closer toward him. I landed a solid kick to his knee, then
ran toward the back of the library, hiding in a small alcove.
The man moved clumsily in the dark. As he neared the alcove, I could see he wasn’t who
I thought he was. He had long blond hair and was heavily muscled. He wore a dark uniform and
carried handcuffs and a weapon at his side. Unlike the other tattooed man, he moved without
concern as if he couldn’t be harmed. Though I couldn’t be certain, I suspected he was under the
influence of Emovere. His lack of fear was a weakness. He wouldn’t anticipate danger.
Time seemed to slow, my senses heightened by my terror. I saw only the man, plodding
toward me, his boots causing thunderous echoes in my ears. Tunnel vision, I thought to myself,
remembering my mother’s description of the body’s response to fear. I steadied my breathing
and considered the gun in my hand. What choice did I have? I squeezed the trigger, and the man
Chapter Six: Found
Ten long minutes later, I found the Resistance. Or rather, they found me. I hadn’t moved
from the alcove. I felt heavy inside, my stomach a churning pit of rocks. I had never killed
larger than a spider—until now. My eyes were drawn to the dead man. He lay face down with
his head turned unnaturally to the side. A river of blood snaked its way from underneath him. It
was painful to look at him, yet I found it hard to look away.
When my mother told me about her research with criminals, most of them murderers, I
hung on every word, waiting for the why. The why fascinated me so much more than the how.
Each case was a riddle I needed to solve, to understand how such things were possible. But I
was always disappointed—the why never completely satisfying me. Now I understood. I was a
murderer . . . no different from the men my mother had studied.
In the distance, I heard the rumble of an engine. It steadily grew louder and then
stopped. I knew I should be afraid, but I felt numb. The library door creaked as it swung open,
and I heard the click-click-click that had awakened me nights before—along with the sound of
“Where are you?” The man’s voice was gruff and demanding, almost a growl.
I said nothing. I tried to be as still and silent as a stone. I could hear Artos sniffing the
“We don’t have much time. In case you didn’t notice, you killed a Guardian.”
His words surprised me. Wasn’t he a Guardian?
“Okay,” he said. “It’s your choice. They’ll be here to arrest you any minute now, but I
guess you can handle it.” Strange, but his sarcasm made me smile.
“Who are you?” my voice croaked.
“I’m here to help you. Right now, that’s all you need to know.”
I thought of my mother. She had sent me here. She had trusted me. I had to trust
myself. I stood slowly, steadying myself against the wall. My legs felt like rubber.
“I’m here,” I said, taking a step from behind the alcove. “I’m here.”