By: Elise Noble

But when she walked into the communal room where I was mopping the floor, she didn’t have anger in her eyes. It was something else. Fear.

That day, I left the Vladivostok Home for Girls. Left the city entirely. At first, I didn’t know where I’d been taken, but if not for all the ice, I’d have said it was hell.

The military base was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees as far as the eyes could see. Miles and miles of forest. Larch, spruce, fir, and pine. Apart from some mountains in the distance, that was all there was, and despite the vast space, it somehow felt claustrophobic.

The guards spoke Russian, and snow lay on the ground for most of the year, so I knew I hadn’t left the country, but whether I was in the north or the south, the east or the west, I couldn’t say. The only way in or out was by plane, or occasionally helicopter. I was a prisoner.

That was where he trained me. The man who burrowed into my psyche and peeled away my fears, layer by layer, until the only thing left that scared me was him. The man who taught me to gain a mark’s confidence with a coquettish smile, or strike terror into his heart with a well-timed glare.

“It’s all in the eyes,” he used to tell me.

The man who showed me how to kill with everything from my bare hands, to a knife, to a scarf, to a gun, to a bottle, to a shoe, to an umbrella, to a fucking rocket launcher.

It was where I became Seven.

Seven of Ten.


I SAT ON my bed, fidgeting from one butt cheek to the other. A bead of sweat popped out on my chest and ran between my breasts, and I rubbed it away with my sweater. Fuck. I closed my eyes for a second and let out a steady breath. This nervousness wasn’t something I felt often, but then again, it wasn’t often I tried to break out of a maximum-security military base guarded by a legion of Russian special forces and hundreds of miles from anywhere. And I’d never before attempted something so stupid with a two-year-old child in tow.

I looked down at her, nestled against my side, and for the thousandth time asked myself whether I was crazy enough to go through with what I was planning. In sleep, with her tiny hand curled into mine, her beautiful face showed none of the tension usually present. Tension no child should ever have to suffer. I knew the answer was yes.

It was the only chance, for both of us. It had taken years to come along, and I’d probably be dead before this sort of opportunity arose again. Then what would happen to my daughter? She’d be left alone with the monster who’d brought us here in the first place.

With that as the alternative, death seemed like the better option.

I ran through the plan in my head one more time. Until earlier today, when I overheard a group of the guards talking, I hadn’t been sure it was feasible. But when I ran through the logistics in my head, I decided the time window was just large enough that it could work. Not only did the guards have a potential distraction from Elizabeth and friends, the radio system had been malfunctioning all day, which meant they couldn’t call for backup. But there was no room for error on my part.

Boots sounded on the concrete outside my cell, and I forced my shoulders to relax in case an overly vigilant guard peered through the bars. That box, twenty feet by eighteen of stark white paint and industrial carpet, had been my home for the past three years. I wouldn’t miss it.

Deep breaths, Seven. I was as ready as I could be. I mean, it wasn’t as if I had a lot to pack. Just an extra pair of contact lenses and my daughter’s favourite toy, a fluffy rabbit she’d named Twixy after one of the more humane guards snuck her an American chocolate bar a month or so ago. As nothing was supposed to go in or out of our cell without prior approval, the poor sod hadn’t lasted long. A week later, I’d stood on my bed, watching through the bars as the general executed him in the courtyard for some perceived indiscretion. At least the mudak had done his own dirty work that day. Most of the time that fell to me.

Gently, I lay my daughter on the bed as I stood up and bounced on my toes. No noise. Good—I hadn’t left anything loose in the pockets of the lightweight cargo pants I wore. A few stretches helped me to relax, and as I sat back down, the sense of calm I’d felt many times over the years settled through me. I wasn’t a woman anymore, not a mother or even a human being. I was a bitch, pure and simple. He’d trained me that way.

Also By Elise Noble

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