“Annalise, are you even listening to me? Annalise?!”
I’m yanked out of my daydream and look forward to the front of the room where I see Jonah, our so-called leader, staring stonily in my direction.
“Sorry,” I mumble, generating muffled laughter from the others who clearly pay more attention than I do.
“Anna, this is important,” he continues.
“That’s not my name,” I say, garnering as much confidence as I can muster. I’d tuned out about five minutes ago, but I’d heard enough of the plan the day before to know it was insane.
He walks over and kneels down before me. I stare down at my hands nestled in my lap, avoiding his gaze.
“It won’t work,” I whisper, hoping the others can’t hear. “They’ll know I’m not who I say I am.”
“That’s not true,” Jonah says. “Annalise died just yesterday. We all know how slow they are to update the crew’s records. It’s just up to you to believe what you’re saying.” He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear.
“And you look just like her.”
I smile and nod, but I’m not convinced. Jonah stands, and the others turn their heads back to him. Our brief moment of privacy is over.
“As I’ve said before, you cannot falter, Anna. They’ll know. They are bred to detect lies. You’ll be dead before you can say your full name if you so much as stutter.”
“I like your other pep talk better,” I say, the sarcasm spilling out of my mouth.
“This is important, Anna!” His voice rises in frustration. I narrow my eyes and push myself off the floor.
“You’ve already said that!” I scream the words and not even Jonah can hide his surprise. He raises his hand to his mouth to shush me, but I throw my hands up in disgust.
“Don’t even bother. I’m out. I won’t do it.”
I exit the room as quickly as I can, the shocked silence of the others following me out into the hallway. I begin to feel the sharp sting of guilt when a hand grabs my shoulder and pulls me back around.
“Please don’t change my mind, Jonah.” My voice is already softer than it was before, thick with fear, but there’s a layer of hatred beneath it that’s new and uninviting.
Jonah steps back, his eyes soft and forgiving. “You’re scared. I can see that. I shouldn’t have asked you to do this. It’s unfair to send someone else on my own mission.”
The laugh escapes before I can even try to hold it in. I’d kill him if I weren’t so damn impressed by the manipulation.
“Oh please, Jonah. I can see right through you, and you know it.”
There’s a smile beginning to form on the edges of his mouth, but I can see the guilt lurking underneath.
“You know me too well,” he says. “Even in the short amount of time that you’ve been here.”
I nod, knowing I’m about to do exactly what he planned all along.
“Which is why you picked me.” I continue his thought for him. “The guards don’t know me from Adam. I’m the only one with a chance to slip through. Well done, Jonah. You’ve entrapped me.”
“That’s not what I wanted, Joan.”
The use of my real name jars me back to the reality of my situation.
“If you make it through to the outside and find the others,” he continues, “it could mean survival for us all.”
I grit my teeth in frustration. Check mate.
Before he can respond, I turn and walk toward the common room. A soft “good luck” follows me down the hallway, but when I turn back to wave, Jonah’s already gone.
You cannot falter. They’ll know.
His words return to me. I have just one shot to get through, one shot for our people. As the person before me steps through into safety, I feel a cool breeze caress my skin, and I gasp at the freshness of the air. An abrupt cough pulls me back, and I look over at the short, stocky guard. For a moment, I panic. I know the question is coming, but the answer has disappeared. I swallow and begin to feel the heat rising to my face. The guard narrows his eyes at me, already assessing my honesty. With a grim smile, he taps the list that holds my freedom.