Chapter Sixteen

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"You're safe here, Rachel."

They kept repeating that over and over until they stopped sounding like words.

Debra sat across from Rachel inside the tiny white cell and Hector had one arm slung across her shoulders. Instead of a reassuring gesture, his arm only felt like a lead weight.

"What is this place?" Rachel asked, finally breaking the silence.

"This place is a safe haven filled with people like you, Rachel. We all share the same thing in common- we want to end the mark and free the people."

"Then why in the world are you dressed like them?"

"They are an underground movement that has infiltrated the capital." Hector began. "They disguise themselves as poachers in order to bring down the society that threatens us." It sounded like he was reciting words that had been spoon fed to him.

Rachel still wasn't convinced. Her head spun with questions and nothing made sense. It felt like someone had taken everything she knew and understood about the world and had packed it up neatly into a box and then flipped it upside down.

"But how? How can you walk among them and not be discovered?"

Debra straightened her back and her face lit up with a smile as if she was proud of Rachel for asking all the right questions.

"I can't wait to show you everything and answer all of your questions but right now I think it would help you more to take you on a tour and get you back to your friends so you can see for yourself that what I'm saying is the truth."

Her eyes slid over Rachel's face slowly, "You still don't look like you are convinced."

She wasn't, but Rachel decided she would keep her mouth shut for now and go along with it. She might not have felt entirely safe but at least nobody was trying to force her to shoot her brother. Which begged the question- had she really seen him or had he been made up too?

"So my brother..." Rachel trailed.

Compassion washed over Debra's pretty face and her blue eyes looked down with hesitation. "I'm afraid your brother is not here, Rachel. He was just a part of your memories that we used to create a simulation with."

"Oh." Was all she could muster in surprise.

Annoyed with her brilliant abilities, she muttered the next words. "I hear what you're saying but I think I need a minute to process all of this. Do you mind?" She looked pointedly at the door.

"No, not at all. Take as much time as you need. I'll have someone escort you when you're ready."

Debra and Hector both stood but Rachel snatched her friend's hand and said, "Please stay." Debra and Hector shared a look and she gave him a slight nod and exited the room without another word.

"Hector-"The Hernandez boy made a subtle shushing motion and pointed at the ceiling. If Rachel hadn't already been looking at him, she would have missed it. But she understood what he was trying to say. There were cameras.

"You look like a mess," He began, a crooked smile lifting the corners of his mouth.

"I've had better days."

"Juan and Simone are okay, you know" Hector continued. "I had lunch with them today before drill."

Rachel's tongue was itching to ask questions but something in Hector's expression told her not to.

Suddenly, he pulled her close so that their faces were centimeters apart and the space between them could be measured in breaths. His breath wafted across her mouth, rustled a few strands of her hair as his hands cupped her face.

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