They wanted me to be violent and bloodthirsty? Really, what the hell kind of place was this?


“You always pick the violent ones, Mia,” Deep Voice said. “I'm not sure this one's worth the effort, though.”

Bastard. “Who are you people?” I demanded. I pulled on the laser that bound my wrists together, trying to free myself so that I could remove the hood. But it hurt, and I stilled. Already the skin felt raw and irritated. Much more and I might lose a hand.

No thanks.

“We have a few more questions for you, little girl, then maybe you'll find out.” Roses.

My mom often called me “little girl” and it irritated me every time. Ryan had called me that, too. I wanted to call this guy “old man,” but didn't dare. For all I knew, he had a gun pointed at my temple like I'd first feared. Or maybe he had a knife balanced over my head, ready to drop at any moment.

“If she fails, kick her out,” Mia said. “I want her to have a chance, at least.”

“I've read her file, and she's got ‘problem' written all over it.” Sweet Voice. The woman who had helped bring me here. Only she didn't sound sweet anymore. She sounded pissed. “I don't want to mess with her. New recruits are always a challenge, but she's hopeless.”

That hurt. I didn't know the woman, but her words hurt. I drew in a breath, wishing once again that I could see through the fibers of the hood. As it was, I couldn't even see a single ray of light.

“Could you kill?”

Silence.

“Phoenix, could you kill someone?” the one called Mia asked.

“What, you're talking to the lowly little girl now?”

“Yes,” she said without remorse.

“I don't know,” I replied honestly. The logical side of my brain told me that no one in their right mind would want a girl to admit to violent tendencies. In the real world, that would get me placed in isolation or lockup. After the “violent and bloodthirsty” comment, though…

That night in the forest, I could have killed. Had wanted to kill. The Sybilins were evil, vile, destructive. They shouldn't be allowed to live or they'd hurt more people. But, would I be able to kill someone—something—else? A living being? “With or without provocation?” I asked.

“Either.”

I sighed. “Maybe. Probably.”

A pause.

“Are you afraid of pain?”

“What do you think?” I answered dryly.

The rustle of paper, the shift of a body. “Let's see.” Deep Voice paused. “In the tenth grade, you were in a fight with a human female double your weight. You required sixteen stitches in your neck.”

“So.”

“So, most people are so afraid of pain they would not have challenged—or accepted the challenge—of someone larger than themselves.”

“She knifed me,” I said, recalling that day. I'd been walking to class, minding my own business, and a girl I'd never spoken with had reached out and sliced my neck with a plastic kitchen knife she'd sharpened and honed.

“He's mine,” she'd screamed.

Apparently, she'd wanted the boy I'd gotten high with the night before. Rumors had surfaced that we'd had sex, and she'd gone a little crazy. The moment I'd realized what she'd done, I had jumped her. Attacked, full force, unconcerned about her size or my lack of size. I'd had only one thought: stop her. She'd been aiming for my face, I'd later learned, wanting to scar me.

I had a scar, but it stretched the left side of my neck and was covered when I wore my hair down.

“In eleventh grade, you broke three bones in your wrist,” Deep Voice continued.

“Yeah. So?”

“Again with the so,” Roses muttered. “Explain how that came about.”

My fingers were beginning to swell from lack of movement so I flexed them as I spoke. “I was in a fight. Again.”

“For?”

“A new girl at school called my friend a bitch. I reacted. It was dumb,” I added. But I hadn't thought so at the time. I'd been coming down from a high, and I'd been enraged by everything and everyone. I would have attacked anyone for any ridiculous reason.

“Any other questions for this girl?” Deep Voice asked.

I knew he wasn't talking to me.

Shuffle of feet, the squeak of wheels. I could picture these people—however many there were—huddling together and…yes, they were whispering. I heard the frantic rasp of their voices. I knew they were discussing me, my answers.

“I don't think any more are necessary,” Roses said with finality.

Even though I strained, I couldn't make out anyone's response. Several minutes passed, and the whispering session became more heated. What were they saying? Kick me out and send me home? Please, please, please.

“I have a question,” Allison said loudly. Her words echoed off the walls, in my ears.

“Let's hear it,” Deep Voice told her.

“It's not a question, really, but a situation. I'd like to know what she'd do.”

“Let's hear it,” I said, mimicking the authority Deep Voice used.

Ryan chuckled again, and again I felt the warmth of it.

“You're in a dark alley,” Allison said stiffly. “You're alone. You have no weapons. A group of Outers stumble upon you, and they obviously want your blood spilled over the dirty concrete. What do you do?”

Everyone went quiet. The air became heavy with tension.

“Why don't I have weapons?” I asked just to be difficult. She was trying to trip me up, I knew it. There had to be a right answer and a wrong answer, and everyone was waiting to hear which one I'd give. While a small part of me wanted to give the wrong answer so I'd (hopefully) be sent home, a big part of me wanted to give the right answer and knock her off her I'm-so-superior throne.

“You just don't!”

“Not even a barrette from my hair?”

“No,” she barked.

More chuckles. Not just from Ryan.

“What about a rock from the ground?” I asked.

“No! Nothing. Just you and the men.”

“Are they armed?”

“Yes!”

“Are they tall or short?”

“Tall! Stop stalling. What would you do?”

“Look, I'm not stalling.” And I wasn't—anymore. I think I knew the right answer. There was no way in hell I'd be caught in a dark alley with no weapons. But I didn't say that. “I'm just trying to get a clear picture of the situation. As to what I'd do, well, I know what I wouldn't do. I wouldn't fight them since they're tall men who could probably beat my bones into powder.”

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