In that moment, I can't be sure who is more shocked.
I stare blankly at the three people on the screen, my rage dissipating. What was I thinking? I can't stand up to these people. Even looking at them scares me. Thinking about all the people they've killed, the leaders they've murdered.
The girl I now know as Jaelyn stands in the center. She's gaping at me, mouth open a little, strands of blonde hair falling across her face. Two other figures I don't recognize are with her, once of which is the tattooed male from the surveillance video. The other woman is older than them, with bright red hair that makes my chest hurt in longing for Lexi. None of them look like they were expecting to see me.
"You're just a kid!"
I snap my eyes to look at Jaelyn, confirming my assumptions.
"Read his tag, Jay," the dark haired boy hisses, glaring at me.
"'Lieutenant General Quinn Austin'," she reads, eyes wide, "Well, I'll be. You are in charge."
"And you can read," I snap, watching their faces twist. Jay laughs, shrugging.
"I mean, I think I can," she retorts, biting her nail for a moment before continuing, "Is your president around by chance? I would really like to speak to an adult."
A quick breath of air leaves my mouth.
She is older than me, meaning I should be polite. My rules of etiquette do apply to her, however rude she may be.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," I say, dipping the words in venom so they come out like a whip, "She's unavailable to talk right now. You'll just have to call back later."
Jay smiles, nodding.
"I may just do that, but for now, can you just take a message?"
I pretend to click a pen in my hand, holding up an imaginary pad of paper.
"Go ahead," I say, glaring at her.
"You tell President Kovach that I have Compounds 2, 3, and 4 on my side. Already, we outnumber you. As the word spreads about what you've done, it's becoming easier and easier to get people to join me. Pretty soon, it will be all of us, against what remains of you."
I pretend to write it down, not letting my gaze fall from hers.
"Why?" I ask, "Why are you targeting us?"
The three of them all laugh, a sound that bounces around the room.
"You're kidding, right?" the man says, pulling his arm out from where it was around Jaelyn. "It's because of what you did to the west compounds, because of the phases, and because you have no right to decide who lives and dies in this world."
I blink at him, confused.
"What do you mean what we did to the west?"
Jay looks at Isaac, who shrugs.
"You guys burned the western compounds," she says, slowly, like it's a question.
"Yeah, but they were over ran with the virus. We had no other choice," I say, "If we hadn't burned them, the virus would have kept spreading and taken over the eastern compounds, too. We did the world a favor."
The words sound memorized, and in truth, they are. I've heard Binns say them over and over again, defending the honor of Compound 5. It was a dark time for us, but like Binns said, we had no other option.
"Is that what they've told you?" Jay asks, like she can read my mind, "That you did them a favor?" She huffs, running a hand over her hair. The boy grabs her arm, but she doesn't look at him.
"It's the truth," I say, stomping my foot, "And anything else is just illusion to fill the head of your sympathizers."
I sound like Kovach, which makes me shake a little.
"Okay, fine, but what about the phases? Surely you realize those are your fault," she continues, waving a hand at me. Her fingernails are jagged and bloody, but they are hands I recognize, working hands.
"What phases?" I ask, crossing my arms. There's no way she knows about the attack we've planned, seeing as how it just happened. Even if she has spies within the compound, it's too soon.
"The Decontamination," she says, awestruck, "Issued by the president twenty-two years ago? Phase one was the virus, and phase two was the second strand? Seriously? None of this is ringing a bell?"
I continue to shake my head, rolling my eyes.
"Jay, I think he's serious," the boy says, green eyes watching me, "He doesn't have a clue."
For once, I feel stupid. There's no way I'm letting it show, though.
"Of course, I know all about the phases," I say, huffing, "And I'm sure you're trying to stop phase three?"
I just hope that makes sense, considering it's nonsense.
"Yes!" she says, throwing her hands up, "We stopped the second one, and we plan to stop the third one, too."
"Yeah, well, I won't let you," I say, feeling like a child arguing with his mother.
The three of them stare at me, so I continue.
"Compound 5 has some tricks up our sleeve," I say, smirking.
"Quinn." Her voice is soft, like Naomi's when she woke me up this morning. I push forward, past the thought that she could be anything like Naomi.
"And we aren't going to let the likes of you delinquents ruin our future."
"Quinn, you don't understand what your future means. You don't know what you're doing. Think for a minute what Phase Three would do to everyone else."
A moment of silence passes between us, until Jay lifts up her wrists to the camera. They are scarred, nastily so, where the skin is still pink and wrinkled.
"I trusted the system," she says, gently, "I thought that the people in charge would do whatever it took to protect us when it came to the virus. It was surreal when I found out that they were trying to kill everyone with the second strand. I stood up for us when no one else would, and this is what I got. Chained and nearly executed."
She takes a deep breath, lowering her hands.
"Whatever it is they've told you, don't trust them," she adds, "You're just a pawn in their game, Quinn. I would bet money that President Kovach will tell you anything and everything to get you to destroy us. She will use whatever and whoever it takes to win, including you. Be smarter than they are. Think for yourself."
The three pairs of eyes staring at me unnerve me, to the point that I back up towards the door, leaning on the wood. My hands shake at my side.
"You're lying," is all I can think to say, quiet and in the back of my throat.
Jaelyn shakes her head, looking away from me. She walks out of the frame and is followed by the red haired girl. Only the boy is left, shaking lightly, like he has a nervous tick. He points a finger at me.
"I will do whatever it takes to protect her," he whispers, leaning into the camera, "And if you and the entire force of Compound 5 really want to get in our way, so be it. Just know, we will win."
He reaches out to cover the screen with his hand, and it goes black, popping as the call ends. I'm left staring at a blank screen, reeling in my own thoughts.
Discussion Question: So Jaelyn and Isaac are back in the picture! And something is different between them. Notice the chemistry? ;) How do you feel about the reappearance of our two love birds from Immune
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Selected (Book 2 of the Immune Series)Science Fiction
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