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Home > The Cage (The Cage #1)(14)

The Cage (The Cage #1)(14)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“Girl Three’s death was the result of an accident,” he replied.

Girl Three? Was that how their captors thought of them, as nameless specimens? What did that make her, Girl One or Girl Two?

He continued, “She attempted to swim too far through the ocean habitat before we had properly adjusted the saline levels. On Earth she was a gifted swimmer; we had not anticipated how far she could go. The problem has been corrected. There will be no more accidents. Your safety is of utmost importance to us.”

Cora turned toward Lucky and dropped her voice. “Are you buying all this altruistic stuff about saving us?”

His face looked grim. “Not even a little bit.”

Despite the Caretaker’s dazzling appearance, he was a liar. A kidnapper. A criminal. Well, after eighteen months locked up with teenage murderers and pushers, she had plenty of experience dealing with criminals.

Don’t fight back. Don’t try to escape.

That had been her father’s security officer’s advice for kidnapping situations, and she’d followed the same logic in juvie. She had kept her head down, barely spoken to anyone, scrawled her fear and frustration in her song journal instead of letting herself feel anything. She had waited for help to come, as she was supposed to do. She had obeyed the rules.

But help wasn’t coming this time.

She was close enough to see the set of his jaw, the ropelike muscles in his neck. The metallic sheen of his skin hid most imperfections, but not the bump in his nose or the scar on the side of his throat. His chest rose and fell with each breath. Flaws. Breathing. So he wasn’t a machine—which meant he could be hurt.

One of the apparatuses strapped to his chest gleamed like the hilt of a knife. That could even the playing field. But how could she reach it, when he could move with such incredible speed?

“I need help,” she blurted out. “My wrist. I hurt it when I woke in the desert.”

Lucky shot her a warning look, but Cora didn’t tear her eyes away from the Caretaker. She took a step toward him. He regarded her coldly, as though he could see straight through her lie. A crackling sensation began in the air, and the hair on her arms tingled. He was going to vanish as suddenly as he had appeared.

“Wait!” Cora took another step forward. “Don’t go yet. I need help.”

“Do not come forward.” His voice was cold as the pressure built faster. He started flickering in front of her, and she knew he’d be gone in seconds, along with any answers. Right now—this moment—was her only chance.

She lunged for the knife hilt, but his hand was on her wrist in a second, and she let out a cry. Electricity pulsed through her bare skin into her nerves, tingling and jittery and just short of painful. Now she knew what Leon meant about being zapped. Only it wasn’t a zap, it was plunging into an icy pool of water. Falling toward nothing. Dying, all at once. She jerked her arm but couldn’t get free.

Lucky called her name. Footsteps ran through the grass. But she was swallowed by the pressure. She was the pressure. It coated her skin, wormed into her head, until she thought she would shatter into a million pieces.

Then, just as suddenly, the pressure was gone. Lucky’s voice calling her name was gone.

But the stranger was not.

His hand still held hers, his skin against her skin, flooding her with that wild sensation she couldn’t name. They were no longer in the town square, but in a plain room. The only light came from seams in the metallic walls and radiated out like starlight.

The Caretaker released her hand. She fell backward, blinded by the starlight, elbow slamming into the hard floor. She scrambled into the corner. Her elbow screamed in pain, but so did every other part of her.

The Caretaker stood over her, speaking words she didn’t understand into a device on his wrist. His voice was rushed. The staticlike voice that spoke back to him in guttural bursts sounded furious.

She dared to peek between her fingers, like she had as a little girl watching a scary movie. A window was set in the wall in front of her, three feet tall and six feet long, but this one wasn’t liquid black and opaque. It was almost like a one-way mirror, cloudy but transparent, and beyond it Lucky and Leon and Nok and Rolf argued soundlessly in the grass. She pushed herself to her feet with shaky steps, cradling her elbow.

“This is how you watch us,” she whispered. “You can see us, but we can’t see you.”

The Caretaker paused in speaking into his wrist, and looked at her. A muscle twitched in his ropelike jaw. He had called it an enclosure, a habitat, but she knew better.

It was a cage.

12

Lucky

LUCKY SHOVED ASIDE THE cherry tree’s weeping branches for the millionth time, but there was no sign of Cora. “She can’t just vanish!”

Rolf’s face was beet red, his fingers twitching frantically. “He took her, don’t you understand?”

“I don’t, actually. I have no idea what’s going on!”

Nok collapsed, burying her face in the grass. She sobbed in big racking shudders, clutching her head like it ached, smearing snot all over the grass. Jesus. Not that he could blame her—he’d nearly pissed his pants when that metal-skinned creature had appeared—but someone had to hold their shit together. Not that he was any type of leader, but in a group with a fashion model, a twitchy recluse, and a girl whose life he had ruined, he guessed he was the closest thing.

Leon cast Nok a disgusted look. “This isn’t the time for breakdowns, sweetheart. Get up!”

He kicked her.

“Hey!” Lucky shoved Leon, hard. “Don’t be a jerk.” Was everyone insane? The headaches had been bad enough. Now they were acting like terrified preschoolers, picking fights, throwing tantrums. “She’s scared, you bastard.”

Leon kicked her again, harder this time.

“Oh, hell no.” Lucky started toward Leon, but Nok pushed herself up from the grass, cheeks slick with tears. Hot anger twisted her mouth. Her knee connected with Leon’s groin in a satisfying smack that send him doubled over to the ground.

“Christ, woman! You trying to kill me?”

In response, she started kicking him harder with her long, bony feet. “How does that feel? You like that?”

Lucky exchanged a look with Rolf. He knew he should pull Nok away, but he had to admit that it was satisfying to watch. Nok gave him one more kick before Lucky grabbed her.

“That’s enough. Not that he didn’t deserve it.”

Leon rolled over, staring at the sky with glassy eyes. A husky grunt came out of his mouth.

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