Behind the glass, the spy suddenly yells something at Commander Jameson and thrashes violently against his chains. She glances over at us and motions us in with a flip of her hand. I don’t hesitate. Thomas and I, and another soldier standing close to the interrogation room’s door, hurry inside and spread out near the back wall. Instantly I feel how stuffy and hot the room is. I look on as the prisoner continues to scream.
“What’d you say to him?” I ask Commander Jameson.
She looks at me. Her eyes are ice-cold. “I told him that our airships will target his hometown next.” She turns back to the prisoner. “He’ll start cooperating if he knows what’s good for him.”
The spy glares at each of us in turn. Blood runs from his mouth to his forehead and hair and drips onto the floor beneath him. Whenever he thrashes, Commander Jameson stomps on the chain around his neck and chokes him until he stops.
Now he snarls and spits blood at our boots, making me wipe mine against the ground in disgust.
Commander Jameson bends down and smiles at him. “Let’s start again, shall we? What’s your name?”
The spy looks away from her and says nothing.
Commander Jameson sighs and nods to Thomas. “My hands are tired,” she says. “You do the honors.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Thomas salutes and steps forward. He tightens his jaw, then balls up his fist and punches the spy hard in the stomach. The spy’s eyes bulge out, and he coughs up more blood onto the floor. I distract myself by studying the details of his outfit. (Brass buttons, military boots, a blue pin on his sleeve. Which means he had disguised himself as a soldier, and we caught him near San Diego, the only city that requires everyone to wear those blue pins. I can tell what gave him away too. One of the brass buttons looks slightly flatter than those made in the Republic. He must have stitched on that button by himself—a button from an old Colonies uniform. Stupid. A mistake only a Colonies spy would make.)
“What’s your name?” Commander Jameson asks him again. Thomas flips open a knife and grabs one of the spy’s fingers.
The spy swallows hard. “Emerson.”
“Emerson what? Be specific.”
“Emerson Adam Graham.”
“Mr. Emerson Adam Graham, of East Texas.” Commander Jameson says it in a light, coaxing voice. “A pleasure to meet you, young sir. Tell me, Mr. Graham, why did the Colonies send you over to our fine Republic? To spread their lies?”
The spy lets out a weak laugh. “Fine Republic,” he snaps. “Your Republic won’t last another decade. And all the better, too—once the Colonies take over your land, they’ll make better use of it than you have—”
Thomas hits the spy across the face with the hilt of his knife. A tooth skids across the floor. When I look back at Thomas, his hair has fallen across his face and a cruel pleasure has replaced his usual kindness. I frown. I haven’t seen this look on Thomas’s face often; it chills me.
Commander Jameson stops him before he can hit the spy again. “It’s all right. Let us hear what our friend has to say against the Republic.”
The spy’s face is scarlet from hanging upside down for too long. “You call this a republic? You kill your own people and torture those who used to be your brothers?” I roll my eyes at that. The Colonies want us to think that letting them take over is a good thing. Like they’re annexing us or doing us some kind of favor. That’s how they see us, a poor little fringe nation, as if they’re the more powerful one. That idea is in their best interest, after all, since I hear the floods have claimed much more of their land than ours. That’s all it’s ever been about. Land, land, land. But becoming a union—that has never happened, and that will never happen. We’ll defeat them first or die trying. “I’ll tell you nothing. You can try as hard as you want, but I’ll tell you nothing.”
Commander Jameson smiles at Thomas, who smiles back. “Well, you heard Mr. Graham,” she says. “Try as hard as you want.”
Thomas goes to work on him, and after a while, the other soldier in the room has to join him to hold the spy in place. I force myself to look on as they try to pry information out of him. I need to learn this, to familiarize myself with this. My ears ring from the spy’s screams. I ignore the fact that the spy’s hair is straight and dark like my own, and his skin is pale, and his youth reminds me of Metias over and over again. I tell myself that Metias is not the one whom Thomas is now torturing. That would be impossible.
Metias can’t be tortured. He is already dead.
That night, Thomas escorts me back to my apartment and kisses me on the cheek before he leaves. He tells me to be careful, and that he will be monitoring anything that transmits through my microphone. “Everyone will keep an eye on you,” he reassures me. “You’re not alone out there unless you choose to be.”
I manage to smile back. I ask him to take care of Ollie while I’m gone.
When I’m finally inside the apartment, I curl up on the couch and rest my arm on Ollie’s back. He’s sleeping soundly, but has pressed himself tightly against the side of the couch. He probably feels Metias’s absence as much as I do. On the coffee table, stacks of our parents’ old photos from Metias’s bedroom closet are strewn across the glass. So are Metias’s journals, and a booklet where he used to save little mementos of the things we did together—an opera, late-night dinners, early practices at the track. I’ve been looking through them ever since Thomas left, hoping that the thing Metias had wanted to talk to me about is mentioned somewhere. I flip through Metias’s writing and reread the little notes Dad liked to leave at the bottom of their photos. The most recent one shows our parents standing with a young Metias in front of Batalla Hall. All three are making thumbs-up gestures. Metias’s future career is here! March 12th. I stare at the date. It was taken several weeks before they died.