Excerpt: His Blue Eyes

“Bring in prisoner AT-0713.”

A buzzer went off and the door at the other side of the room opened. Two guards walked through first, followed by a slim man with icy blue eyes and brown hair that hung past his shoulders—Ariel Taylor. A metal band was fitted over his mouth, and chains bound his hands behind his back. Another pair of guards followed him.

“Remove the mouthpiece, please.”

They took it off him and manhandled the prisoner into the metal chair across the table from me.

“There you are, Mr. Ayres. If you need anything, just let us know,” one of the guards said before he left the interrogation room with one of the other guards. Two more remained, lurking in the gray corners of the room, just in case Ariel decided to act out.

Before the guards allowed me into the room, they went through their list of procedures. I’d heard it before, during my other visits to interview some of the other prisoners. There was always a guard posted outside the door, but when they told me about Ariel’s procedures, they made it very clear that there would be two guards posted inside the interrogation room at all times. I knew Ariel’s record; I’d studied it for weeks before I came to interview him. Even so, I didn’t realize he was that dangerous.

“What do you want?” Ariel demanded with narrowed eyes.

“My name is Rowan Ayres. I am a reporter,” I said, watching him as I bit at the tip of my tongue. “I want to know why you betrayed the Union.”

Ariel leaned back in the metal chair, his lips sliding into a bitter smirk that made my heart pound as a cold sweat formed on my forehead. Everyone in the Union knew that the leader’s—Chief Cason’s—best agent had turned traitor and sided with the rebels. However, no one had any idea what had made him turn on Cason and country.

When Ariel still refused to answer, I decided to try a different approach. “U-um,” I stammered, blinking rapidly. “How—uh—how long have you been in here?” I knew the answer, everyone did, but getting him to answer a simple question would help break the ice. It would allow me to ask harder questions without as much hesitation from him.

“Almost three months.”

“How did you get caught?” That question was harder than the first, but not by much. While most knew the general story behind Ariel’s capture, no one had specific details. No one knew exactly what happened, precisely who caught him, and what led to that downfall.

Ariel glared down at the table, his brows knitting together. “No…” He shook his head, lifting his gaze back to mine. “We can’t start this way. You see, I want you to fully understand why I’m in here. I didn’t simply betray the Union.” Ariel didn’t speak like any other capital agents I had met. Everyone in the capital spoke formally and strove to sound proper, but Ariel did nothing of the sort. In fact, he seemed to speak in a mountain dialect, possibly one that stemmed from the Liberators.

“Then what did you do?”

“I learned there was more to life than the next kill. There is thought and freedom. I couldn’t just lie down and take every single order Nicholai Cason gave me.” Ariel spat the chief’s name like a curse.

I frowned. While it was clear that Ariel and Chief Cason had their differences, I never realized Ariel harbored that much hatred for Cason. Had it always been that way? Simply hidden deep where others might not see. Or had it blossomed with Ariel’s decision to betray the Union?

“Did you always feel this way about Chief Cason or—?”

Ariel snorted, shaking his head. “I’ve always despised Cason. Even in the beginning, when he first took control of the United States, I hated him. My parents didn’t like him either. They supported the Liberator movement, and I agreed with them.”

“Your family never joined the Liberators,” I said. “At least, the records I have come across do not indicate they ever joined them.”

“We supported the movement, but my parents didn’t like the radical lifestyle. The Liberators put their children at risk, all in the name of freedom. Protecting freedom was important, but protecting me was more important.” Ariel glanced at the table. “They had no idea that shipping me off to join the Liberators would have saved me.”

“Saved you from what?” I folded my hands in my lap. “What could be more dangerous than joining the Liberators?” Ariel had said it himself, after all. The Liberators sent children to fight for what they believed in. The Union would never have taken children, toddlers, and forced them into servitude. The Liberators were not only selfish in their quest to find ‘freedom’, but reckless as well. They were a danger to the Union.

“I was twelve years old when my father got a letter in the mail. It was a request that I take the first train available to the capital. It terrified me that I had to go alone. What made it worse was that I didn’t understand why the capital wanted me. All my talents—painting and playing piano—were illegal. I wasn’t particularly popular. My house was so far up in the mountains in a town so small it didn’t even show on the maps. There was no reason for the capital to call me in unless they knew how many laws I had broken.”

Believing the capital would have targeted a twelve-year-old for breaking a few minor laws was absurd. It was extremely unlikely Chief Cason would spend money and resources for such minor offenses. Anyway, Chief Cason would never have taken a child unless he had a reason to do so. The letter was probably to reward Ariel. Letters from Chief Cason went to gifted children throughout the Union, to invite them to train alongside talented peers for a better purpose. It certainly wasn’t to terrify and arrest children. “Did you go?”

“Of course,” Ariel snorted. “Refusing the invitation would have resulted in my parents’ deaths, then capital officials would have taken me anyway. So, I got on a train and went to the capital. As soon as I stepped onto the platform, a couple of guards ambushed me and then blindfolded me. The next time I could see, I was in a dark cellar.”

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