By: Krista McGee

My head is pounding. Images and thoughts fly into my brain, but I cannot catch them, cannot make sense of them because my head hurts so badly. It feels like hundreds of needles are being shoved into my brain. In and out. In and out. I moan and find that my throat is dry. The sound barely passes through. It sounds more like a bassoon, played with too little air.

Needles. Needles. That image looms in my memory. White space. A needle. Dr. Williams. Loudin.

I gulp in a lungful of oxygen. Pure, filtered oxygen. I force my eyes open, and the pain in my head intensifies, followed by a dull ache in the recesses of my stomach. I am back in the State. In the Scientists’ quarters. As my eyes adjust to the white walls, white floors, white bedding, the images floating in my brain begin to make sense. I was in New Hope. The Scientists came, they took Alex and Kristie and me back with them. Berk was yelling at them, demanding they release me or bring him. But they did neither. The door to the massive transport . . . what did they call it? The aircraft. It shut, separating us. Then Dr. Williams plunged a needle in my neck.

How long ago was that? Hours? Days? I see a cup of water on the table beside my bed. The need for hydration overwhelms me, allowing me to forget for a moment the pounding in my skull. I push myself up on my elbows. I force myself to move slowly. The room is spinning even with this slight movement. But I need water.

I fall back on the bed. I cannot get up. I do not even have enough energy to reach the water. I will die of thirst. The pain in my head intensifies, and I squeeze my eyes shut in a futile attempt to lessen that pain.

“You’re awake.” The voice sounds like it is magnified a hundred times over. I close my eyes tighter, wishing it were my ears I could close. “You need to drink this.”

The cup is at my lips, and I open them. The cool water seems to evaporate on my tongue before it can even reach my throat. I try to drink more, but the cup is pulled away.

“Just a few sips at first.” He waits an agonizingly long time before returning the cup to my lips. I lean forward to get more of it, and the water spills down my chin, cascading down my neck.

The cup is pulled away, and I feel fingers on my wrist. I want to go to sleep. To wake up and be in my room back in New Hope, to find that this is all a bad dream. That I’m not in the State, that Dr. Loudin didn’t bring us here, leave Berk and Rhen and Carey and all our other friends behind. But the pounding in my brain assures me this is reality. If I go to sleep, I’ll just wake up here and start this agonizing process all over again. I ease open my eyes, wait for them to adjust. The blurry patches of white take shape. The man holding my wrist, checking my pulse, is Dr. James Turner.

John’s son.

I look into his blue eyes—so like John’s—and my heart aches even greater than my head. John is dead. I watched him die, held him as his life slipped away. If I had a father, I would want him to be just like John: kind, faithful, honorable. Everything his son, as one of The Ten, is not. Tears dry in my eyes as disgust takes over. How could this man have disregarded everything his father taught him? To reject the Designer I have come to love? Dr. Turner, as the head Geneticist, is responsible for the generations in the State, those of us created without real parents, created in his laboratory—after many tests failed—to be emotionless, unquestioning beings whose only purpose is to further the work of the State.

I was his mistake. I was born full of emotions, full of questions, full of doubts. An anomaly, I was scheduled for annihilation until Berk saved me, brought me here. Then John found me and taught me I was created by the Designer, loved by the Designer, given a purpose by him.

“You are not worthy of your father.” John would not have wanted me to say this, but it is true. Dr. Turner’s Adam’s apple bobs. His fingers stop moving over his communications pad. His blue eyes stare into mine. My head hurts too much to analyze the emotions passing over his face.

He does not speak as he turns and leaves the room. The door clicks behind him, the sound intensifying the sensation of needles in my brain. I close my eyes again, exhausted, wanting to escape. I feel myself slipping into unconsciousness, where the first sight I see is Berk.

“Berk.” I see him, but I can’t reach him. He is on the hill in New Hope. His bright green eyes flash anger and hurt. Jealousy. He stands tall, rigid. His lips are full and firm, his square jaw tight, fists clenched. I try to run to him, but I cannot move.

“Thalli.” Alex’s voice pulls my eyes from Berk. I turn around, and Alex is there, a breath away. I look up into his face and see so much emotion in his blue eyes. For someone so physically strong, Alex seems weak, helpless. I pull him into my arms and let him cry, the way he cried after his father died.

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