"There is no easy way to explain this," Commander Liad begins, looking at both Stephen and I. He cross his hands on the table, and his forearms rest beneath the holograms displayed in front of us. Liad scans over Stephen, then fixes his gaze on me for a tense three seconds. I twitch under his pressure.
Turning his focus away from me, Commander Liad shuffles through his holographic files. He flicks icons open and closed, searching for an unknown document.
"I can't begin to explain how this all came together," he says. "I was just an entry-level Screener when I first came to what we call Pod 14. I was sworn into patriotic secrecy and then sent here to work as a Screener."
My mind whirls at the word "Screener." He was a Screener?
"And there really isn't an easy way to explain this building or why it exists. I don't know about this Project you speak of, but I know why it looks so familiar to you," Liad repeats. Taking a deep breath, he admits the most high-profile secret of the nation:
"This location, called Pod 14, along with its 19 other replicas, is a detainment centers for citizens who have been screened."
My eyes widen in shock, and all of the puzzle pieces fall into place. It all makes sense. Perfect, insane sense. It explains where people go after they're screened, something I've always wondered. It explains why Stephen and I saw so many inmates in Pod 14's huge atrium. All those people had been screened and casted out of society like paper airplanes.
It all makes bloody, deadly sense. When Stephen was screened, he must have been sent to one of the 20 detainment centers. Then I ended up in his cell and found out about the Project alongside of him.
My first instinct tells me to back away from the Commander. He could be dangerous. He could still be the enemy, especially since he says he's a Screener. But I know better. If Liad was an enemy, he wouldn't have told us anything. I fold my hands across my lap, feeling inexplicably nervous.
Commander Liad lets the weight of his bombshell statement settle before continuing, "There are 20 Pods like this one around the nation, and they're all used to imprison screened citizens until they're loyal enough to re-enter society. Stephen, you were sent to Pod 4 for your screening that occurred nearly two years ago."
Commander Liad flips some holograms around for Stephen to see. A single video play silently showing 15-year-old Stephen being injected with syringes. The intensity of the video is so powerful I flinch as if I were being injected. Subconsciously, I look down at my wrists, and my black rectangle tattoos stare back at me. I hide them away quickly.
I glance over to Stephen, and the sight is a hundred times more painful than watching the video. His eyes are glassy, and his leg bobs up and down to try to keep him distracted. I know he feels my gaze on him, but he won't look at me.
"There are two problems with the video, though," Liad says. "Number one: all of Stephen's files are classified. I can't access them unless I'm tracked sitting in President Hybriad's personal office. Secondly, all whereabouts of Stephen's Pod 4 are missing because that Pod closed up 12 years ago."
Stephen visibly shudders. "So the Project doesn't have any records?"
"At least not in any files I can open," Liad says, "but don't forget about that locked file of yours, Stephen. It's highly unusual."
The Commander continues his spiel, turning to me. I rip my eyes away from Stephen and turn to Liad. His features stare into mine, and I'm filled with a wave of dread.
"You, Holland, were in a SkyTrain derailment, and the documents were easy for me to find. You were pronounced dead at the Train's crime scene. The funeral was two weeks after the accident. Now those records I can open freely." Liad closes Stephen's video and taps open a holograph of my obituary and my grave plaque.
YOU ARE READING
Welcome to the nation. Welcome to the place where everything is monitored... everything is portioned... everything is perfectly under control... Everything except the SkyTrain Holland Renner was aboard. In a matter of seconds, Holland finds herself...