I wasn't impressed by the technology anymore. I was pissed. “We're to be prisoners then?” I gritted out.
She shrugged, unconcerned. “It's for your protection.”
“Oh, really. How so?” I insisted.
“There are other-worlders out there who want nothing more than to destroy this school and everyone inside it. If you were to sneak out, then inadvertently lead them back here…understand now?” she said.
My irritation drained, and I slowly nodded. Kitten did, too. If I decided to leave permanently, would they let me go without a fight? Dread slithered through me.
Two more turns and we came to a dead end. Mia placed her hand on one of the silver panels and a blue light flashed, consuming her arm to the elbow. At the same time, a red beam scanned her face.
“Welcome, Mia Snow,” a computerized voice said.
The dead end split down the center, revealing a wide chasm that opened into a room far different from everything I'd seen of the camp up to that point. Bright colors. Furniture. Comfort. Like home.
Despite that, my palms began to sweat.
We entered a lounge area, and there was a smattering of girls. Some were watching a holoscreen, some were sitting at a table, snacking and talking, and some were strewn out on chairs and couches, reading. All of them stopped what they were doing and simply stared at me and Kitten. Conversations tapered to quiet.
Don't notice the cup, don't notice the cup. No one looked remotely friendly. No one said a word to us or even waved.
Kitten, I saw, was the only other-worlder in the group.
Mia kept a steady pace in front of us. “This area is known as the Common. You can relax and socialize here in your free time.”
“You mentioned that we aren't allowed to leave the building,” I said. “Does that mean we can't go outside at all?”
“Not for a while,” Mia replied. “For the reason I mentioned before and because most of the world doesn't know about this program and that's the way we want to keep it. Once we know you can be trusted to keep the secret, even under torture, and once we know you are good enough to spot and lose a shadow, you will be allowed to leave at your leisure.”
Forget the spotting and losing of a shadow. I had a feeling it would take a long time to convince the agents to trust me with their secrets. Not only that, but torture? The only way to prove I could keep a secret while being tortured was to actually be tortured and keep the secret. A shudder raked my spine.
We exited the Common and entered a forked foyer. The walls were painted a pretty shade of blue, but there were no holoimages, no pictures.
Mia turned left. “Your room is this way,” she said. “I hope you're memorizing the path.”
Uh, no. I hadn't been. There were a few girls in this hallway, and they mashed themselves against the wall as Mia passed them.
“Everyone has a roommate,” she continued. “There is to be no fighting in your room. Save it for the combat arena.”
Rolling her eyes, Kitten raised her fist up and down in front of her chest, mimicking a guy masturbating.
“I see that, girl,” Mia said without turning around.
Kitten paled and her mouth fell open. I cut off a laugh.
Mia stopped at an arched doorway at the very end of the hall. She faced us, her expression blank. “This is your room. Kitten, place your palm in the center of the black box.”
I peeked around Mia's head to see what black box she was talking about. It was at the side of the door, a perfect square at eye level. Multicolored buttons lined the top.
Tentatively Kitten reached out and did as she'd been told. A blue light similar to the one that had scanned Mia's hand traced the entire surface of Kitten's palm. “It's warm,” Kitten said.
“Scan complete,” a computer-animated voice said. “Welcome, Kitten.”
Blinking in surprise, Kitten dropped her arm to her side.
Mia flicked me a glance. “Your turn, Phoenix.”
Once my scan was finished, Mia punched a series of button and the door opened. “Besides the staff, only the two of you will be able to enter this room.” She paused for several seconds, head tilting to the side as if in thought. “Unless, of course, some of the girls have finally mastered breaking and entering, then it's open season. I suggest you study ways to increase security.”
Shock coursed through me. “We'll learn how to break into people's homes?”
“Of course,” she said, her tone suggesting I was silly for even asking. “Not all of your targets will surrender easily. They'll hide. They'll lock themselves away. You'll have to be able to reach them no matter where they are, won't you?”
“Yes,” I said, excited by the thought. It was just so…bad, yet would be totally legal when doing it as an agent. Too cool.
“Hell yeah,” Kitten said.
Slowly Mia grinned. I guess she liked our enthusiasm. “I suggest you study the map inside your manual, as well. I will not be giving you a tour of the rest of the building. You'll be expected to learn and memorize the layout on your own because you'll be expected to memorize the cities you enter and the prey you stalk on your own.” She didn't wait for our response, but strode into my new room.
Curious about the place I would now call home, I followed quickly. It was small but clean, with two stiff-looking beds, two plain, silver dressers, two silver desks, and a bathroom with a toilet, mirror, and dry-enzyme shower stall.
“There are clothes for each of you in the dresser. Standard uniform of white pants and top.”
“Yipp-eeee,” Kitten muttered. “Uniforms.”
“You may write your family, but be advised that all correspondence will be monitored.” She spread her arms wide. “If you have any questions, there is a manual inside the top left drawer of your desk. I suggest you read it. Memorize it.”
“Sure thing,” I said.
She turned to Kitten. “You're going to spend the next two minutes sprinting in the hall.”
“Wait. What? I—”
“Go!” Mia snapped.
Kitten leapt into action, running into the hallway.
Now Mia looked to me. “I suggest you fill the cup. I've bought you two minutes. Whether you're done or not—”
I didn't hear the rest. I was racing into the bathroom. As quickly as I could, I filled and capped the cup, righted my clothing, and strode back into the room. Mia was wearing gloves, I noticed. She took the cup, her gaze locked on mine.
“You'd better not let me down.”
“I won't.” I hoped.
Panting, Kitten raced back into the room. “All…done.” She hunched over, anchoring her elbows on her knees. “What was that for?”