Fragment Beyond the Night

Now that she’s out of her camp, Mia only has one thought in her head: finding Lucas, her beloved older brother. She hasn’t seen him since they were separated and taken to different camps years ago, before Mia even became Psi. When Sam, Lucas’s childhood best friend, rescues Mia from the government’s inept care, Mia learns that nothing is as simple as she thought–and the past that she’s so desperate to salvage may not be possible to recover…

It’s five hours before our rescuers come, their silver coach buses streaking up through the rose-glow of the sunrise. We can see them coming over the head of tangled barbed wire that sits on top of the fence none of us have been brave enough to try climbing over. The PSFs bolted the locks from the outside before they blazed off—I guess so we couldn’t wander away? They—the Camp Controllers—smoked us out of the building, set fire to the one room that would have kept things running after they abandoned it. Why? To leave us out here to slowly freeze to death?

To … let us go?

Kids toss out theories, volleying them back and forth between chattering teeth. And all I can think is, this feels like a prologue for another story. One that might have an even worse ending.

Forbidden words buzz around us in a swarm of hope. Mom. Dad. Family. Leave. Home.

There is no more home.

There is no Mom and Dad.

And Lucas …

“Bull,” Elise says as the bus engines shut off. “They’re just moving us to another camp.”

And when the soldiers come into view, I realize she’s right. Different uniforms. Different soldiers. Same story.

I watch them watching us, their careful—ginger—approach, like we’re animals who have escaped our cages at the zoo and need to be guided back to them. Their rifles are up and pointing at us like long black snouts, sweeping us back as their boots squelch against the soggy ground.

We don’t come when they call. None of us step onto their buses, not even when a man gets on the megaphone and starts trying to redefine the word safe.

“We’re taking you to your families,” he says, the machine in his hand crackling and popping, clipping his voice. “The camp program is over. We are here to help you and escort you away from Black Rock.”

Black Rock. They keep using those two words like they mean something, and I can see on the faces of the girls around me, the boys who’ve kept to their side of our makeshift pen, that they’ve come to the same conclusion I have: Black Rock is the name of our facility. It has a name and in addition to being a burnt-out husk of its former self, it will never be repaired, never reopened.

We will never have to go back inside.

The words burst inside me, exploding into a shower of white hot hope. I think I am wearing it all on my face, that the color is drawn on my cheeks in wide strokes, the way I used to apply Mom’s makeup. Elise tells me I’m an idiot and if I go along with them, then I deserve whatever I get. I know she’s scared and she doesn’t mean it, not really—her nails are biting into my wrists, holding me, and I can see the desperation in her face like it’s sweat coating her skin.

But … these soldiers don’t shoot at us when we disobey them. They don’t use Calm Control. They give us water bottles and ask to see our burns, they give some of the kids oxygen masks to use. I wonder what they see when they look at us—if we look as haunted as we all must feel. It feels like standing on top of a fence post, waiting for the moment they decide to knock us off it.

They don’t.

They want to know where the PSFs and Camp Controllers are, and one of the older Yellow girls explains exactly what happened. She is tall and brave, like a queen. We let her speak for us.“They set fires to all of the buildings, unlocked the doors, and left.”

Fled, I think. They didn’t leave. They fled.

When Colonel Megaphone sees the charred remains of the control room, he swears so viciously that the kids around him recoil from the heat. All six feet of him stalks back to the soldiers who are hanging back by the gate, their light camo fatigues darkened by a drizzle of rain and the wet snow.

“They did it again!” he snarls. “They shouldn’t have gone public with the first camp. It’s all scorched earth—the cowards! It’s going to be a fucking nightmare to prove accountability!”

That’s when I believe him, all of them. That’s when the arc of the story clicks, aligning all these little clues in my hands.The camp is closed. Over.

The PSFs burnt their records, digital and print. They knew to feel ashamed. They knew what they did to us was wrong. And then they ran, knowing these soldiers were coming—that they’d have to answer questions with uncomfortable answers.

I feel the burn of tears starting at the back of my throat. If this has happened before, it means other camps are closing, too.

Which means …

“Lucas,” I whisper, my hands twisting the mud-splattered fabric of my pants. It feels like my chest is too full, like I’m about to burst all my seams. Who cares? Who cares? I’d go out on this feeling.

It’s been years since I let myself catch it and hold—cling—to it.

My brother is going to come get me. He promised. What are the chances that he’s already out and waiting for me? Good, I know. This is Lucas, after all.

Elise hisses between her teeth when they call for volunteers to take the first bus to a place they call Pierre. Colonel Megaphone finally figures out that we aren’t just going to take his word and ride off into the sunrise, no matter how warm those buses look.

I hear him working on some of the older kids, telling them to set a good example, pulling out some kind of handheld device to say, this is where we’re going—look, there are already parents waiting there.

In some ways, it feels like we’ve spent endless days wandering lost through a forest, only to be met with a stranger dangling a sweet, ripe apple in front of us. Another test. It’s a risk, sure—if the thing’s poisoned, we’re all dead. But if we stay here, we’re dead anyway.

And I want to see Lucas. I want that more than anything.

Elise’s gaze rakes down my back as I step forward, following the first few kids heading through the gate. The monster doesn’t care. The monster wants what it wants, and feels strong enough now to push back on anyone who’s stupid enough to get between it and the only thing it has left. I feel like I’m shedding an old skin, one weighed down by scaly ash, as I pass through the entryway and move toward the first bus, up the stairs that lead into the enormous beast’s belly.

There’s a soft-faced woman at the wheel who gives me this little nod of encouragement when my feet slow to a stop so I can look around. I don’t need it. 

My toes curve like claws against the ground as I square my shoulders and follow the Blue boy in front of me to the back of the bus. The heat kicks on and pierces my frozen skin like a thousand small cuts. It feels so much better than the nothing that gulped me up the minute the PSFs drove me through the gate. 

If they are taking us to another camp, if the plan is to kill—dispose—of us somehow, then at least we get a few minutes to thaw out after being trapped in the facility’s cold arms.

But I’m going to hope. I’m going to believe.

I’m going to see Lucas.

I pick a window seat on the side opposite the camp. I don’t want to see it ever again. My pulse is kicking so hard as the engine starts for real, and one by one heads appear, coming up the stairs, filling the empty seats. There’s a crackle and pop, drawing my eyes down to where my hands have twisted and crushed the empty water bottle.

A laugh swells up inside me, chased by another, and another, and I can’t figure out why. None of this is funny, but others are doing it too. Some are still crying, and I have no idea where that energy is coming from because they’ve been going at it for hours now.

The bus jerks forward, finds a dirt road running through afield where nothing grows. The land around us is achingly empty,and we seem to fill only a fraction of it, one small sliver moving up its spine. And as we pass low rolling mountains pockmarked with black stone, as we drive through empty towns, that same buzz of hope I felt at the start of the journey begins to fade, settles into a monstrous little growl. Because no matter how far we go, it’s never far enough.

I can still see the camp’s trail of black smoke rising into the clear blue sky.

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