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My eyes flit open, and I'm sitting on the floor, back against a white wall. White shirt, navy sweatpants. Bare feet, frozen skin. The four walls around me are like an ocean willing to drown everything it can.

I'm back in the Enhancement Project. The place where people are no longer people and where sanity comes to die.

The much-too familiar sense of fear and doom fills me. It's nothing new to me, but it's gut-wrenching. I can't help being afraid of how realistic the room feels. It's like I never left.

I turn to the side, and Stephen's familiar features sit right next to me. His deep brown eyes meet mine, a loving smile looming underneath the fear, even when he's not smiling. Just like old times. We've come so far yet find ourselves back where we started.

Without any thought, I rush into Stephen's arms, hugging him tightly. Stephen pulls his head to the side and kisses my cheek desperately. He rests his chin on my shoulder. I rest mine on his.

"This isn't going to end well," I manage to say into his shirt. "Just know that whatever happens, I'll never forget about you."

"It's not the end," Stephen says. He struggles to convince me of his words. "We're not dead yet. It'll be fine."

I release him from his hug, and then somehow my hands are bound with ElectriWrist cuffs. I gasp, yanking my wrists against the cuffs. They clank together loudly, like nails scraping on glass. But I'm still trapped within them.

"What the--" Stephen begins, and then I'm no longer sitting on the cold floor. Instead, I'm cuffed to a metal stake perfectly drilled into the spotless floor. No longer are we in the tiny cell. Now we're contained in the vast, pale atrium.

Stephen's arm brushes against the back of my forearm, and then I realize the cuffs lock us back-to-back on the stupid stake. We both pull against the cuffs, trying to break the metal. My bare feet skid against the floor as I struggle, creating more grip for me to yank with.

I finally let out a scream as I keep trying to fight the cuffs. The metal pinches my skin, and I hiss. This is hopeless.

"Timeliness for the sake of productivity; control for the sake of order," a cold voice blasts overhead. The words echo through the atrium. It rattles my eardrums.

"Order has never been more important than it is now. If you truly honor your country, you honor your family, life, and liberties."

I blink, and then a dozen startling Screeners appear before me. I sense even more of them behind me, or in front of Stephen.

The Screeners' red visors are sharper and scarier than ever. I'm going to die. This time it's for real, and every cell in my body yearns to flee. I clatter the metal against the stake, crackling the silence. All the Screeners keep their helmets trained on me. I swallow.

"This is your opportunity for national pardon. Rise if you desire the redemption."

Stephen and I hold our breath. The Screeners toughen their stances.

"Then in the nation's eyes, you are a traitor!"

The Screeners pounce, whipping out weapons I've never seen before. The first strike is blunt, and it crushes my arm. I scream at the pain, crippling to the side. Then the next lash comes, and the one after that. One smacks me in the cheek, and another punches my stomach.

I grunt, then screech in pain. Huffing for air, I curl into a ball even though my arms are stuck to the metal stake. Kick, lash, punch. The pattern continues over and over. Blood drips down my burning cheek, smearing onto the white floor as I twist around, yelling.

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