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The convoy jars me alert as the gravel road ends with a large bump as we turn back onto a paved one. My fingers are raw from fidgeting, but I force myself to keep looking out the window and let my eyes comb through the passing trees like a patterned illusion.
My mind betrays me and I glance back down at the red handprint seared onto my green vest. The deep red fingers tracing the bare patch of velcro where my agent name tag should be.
I lift a now ungloved hand up to the mark to trace it when I hear the screech of the of the metal curtain rings move across the make-shift frame rod in the back of the convoy. I spring up and see one of the medics is gesturing for me to come. I steel myself and hope it isn’t more bad news or worse.
As I walk down the aisle, I take a breath and hold it in my lungs. Each row of guys giving me a nod of good luck. When I reach the curtain, I let the breath out, and step inside.
Her body lies on a folded gurney with a large gauze bandage around her thigh and several cables feeding into the IV jammed into the top of her hand. She looks at peace with her eyes closed, likely sedated for the pain.
“She’s lost a lot of blood.” The medic says in accented English, tearing my eyes away from her, if only for a second. “From what we can see, she could have been hiding there for hours like that. We’re lucky the bullet missed the bone.”
All his words seemed to flow in one ear and out the other.
“Is she awake?” I ask, turning back to watch another medic hang 3 bags of liquid on a tall metal hook stand. “Can I sit with her?”
He smiles and pats me on the back. “Just make sure she takes it easy. Sing out should you need anything.” Sending the other medic a side nod, the two of them close the curtains behind them. I take a seat next to her and curl my hand around her wrist.
Her abilities are strong, and are no doubt the reason she was taken from her family to that place and experimented on like a lab rat. It’s something many gifted people have experienced, but never to this… severity. I smooth a hand across her forehead, moving her hair away from a small cut above her eyebrow. My touch rouses her and her long eyelashes flutter open. The same deep blue eyes find mine and she opens her mouth to speak. Her first attempt only results in a wheeze. I quietly hush her to keep from damaging her throat but she swallows and tries again.
“це ти…” She trails off. Her vocal cords squeak with every inhale. “так само, як і я…”
I shake my head to show that I don’t understand and point to the American flag on my vest. “English? Англійська?”
She thinks for a second and plants a hand on my vest above my heart.
“Me, you…” She says with an accent. “We are the same.”
I lean closer to place a hand over the one on my chest and let myself relax as she does. “That’s right.”
“Where am I?” She asks with a lethargic glance around.
“We’re headed back to Kiev. Is that where you’re from? We can help you find your family.” I answer,
She takes a few slow blinks, likely still trying to process everything, but shakes her head.
“Одеса…I am from Odessa. I lived there with my father. When the doctors found me, and saw what I could do, they wanted to take me away. He tried to keep me safe, my father, and they killed him.”
Her words are like cold needles to the skin. I bring our joined hands back down onto the gurney.
“But your gifts are so strong.” I ask, quietly. She gives me a look like I’m certifiably insane.
“Gift?” She lifts her other arm and studies her palm before clenching her fingers closed. “This is a curse.”
“Still, why didn’t you escape that place?”
“I stayed for them.” Her breath shudders and I grip her hand harder. “The injections, the experiments, the pain and the abuse. I stayed to do for the little ones, what my father did for me.”
She pauses, likely thinking of those she has now lost.
“But the doctor had scouts in the forest. He heard that the military was coming to take him, just as he had taken us.” She grits her teeth and blinks away tears. “And so he separated me from them and shot me before he locked them in from the inside. I heard every shot. Every cry. Every sound. Until there was nothing.” She says, letting a single tear trail down her cheek. “But silence.”
She gives me a conflicted look and withdraws her hand from mine. “You are kind. The kind ones always want something of me.”
I feel an overwhelming feeling of sadness, seeing that she’s lived the kind of life to make her feel that way. It hurts a little more, knowing that she continues to talk with me only because we’re both gifted.
“I want only for you to be safe.” I say, beckoning for her hand again. She gives it without a fuss, but turns her eyes back to the ceiling of the convoy.
“Tell me.” She says, her accent soft and gentle now, like a sonata. “Am I the only one?”
The question is more like a damning statement that sends a shock through my body. My silence answers her question for me. Her response is to turn her head away from me. But she isn’t too proud to squeeze my hand in hers.
I don’t say anything, because there’s nothing anyone in the world that can say that can make anything better for her now.
She’s strong, even in shock. A heck of a lot stronger than I would be if I were her. She takes a few shaking breaths facing away from me and then turns back with tears in her eyes.
“The little ones were my only family left.” She says, the spark of hatred blazing in her eyes. “And they were slaughtered. Like livestock.”
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