MY HEART POUNDED in my ears. The low humming sound, muffled by the wall, was just loud enough to hear over my shallow, panicked breaths. I sat up on my loft bed and paused to listen before carefully easing myself down the ladder. The pads of my bare feet landed on the cold floor. There was barely enough space to stand up and I had to squeeze between the treadmill that pulled down from the wall and the shower and toilet at the foot of my bed.
I moved silently. Only two people at the lab knew I hid right behind their walls, and today couldn’t be the day the rest of them found out. My life depended on it. The Resistance had been careful enough to erase the tiny alcove from the schematics. Officially, the room, just like me, didn’t exist.
I paused with my ear inches from the wall. In the three months I’d spent hidden in this confined space, I had come to know every sound. Learning them was a matter of habit almost as much as it was a matter of survival. I paused, focusing intently on the rhythmic click-click-click.
I leaned my forehead against the wall, letting out the breath I held. It was just an ordinary sound, a normal shift in the perfectly regulated air system. I should have known. This lab was one of the few places with the kind of heavy air-filtration system I needed to survive. It worked like clockwork, and, without it, almost any surface allergen would kill me quickly.
I closed my eyes and my heart rate slowed. It was remarkable how quickly I could move from alarm to complete relaxation and back again. Another matter of habit.
I climbed slowly back up to my bed. This alcove might be my safe haven, but sometimes it felt more like a prison. The bed was too short to stretch out and the ceiling too low to sit up completely. The confinement was strangling. Sometimes I’d look at the walls and they seemed nearer than before, like the room was closing in on me, inch by inch.
I slept during the day, for as many hours as I could, but time still stretched out endlessly. Lately I’d begun parsing the days into manageable thirty-minute pieces to make the long and painful monotony less overwhelming: drawing, jogging on the treadmill, unfolding and then refolding my clothes, pacing back and forth across the narrow floor, counting the objects in my room, studying the history texts the Resistance gave me—the real histories, not the lies we learned in the Community. And training, endless training.
In the early mornings I’d spend countless more half hours staring at the cool slab of ceiling above me, watching as the thin string hanging from the air duct blew back and forth in the allergen-free air. It was maddening to sit here knowing Adrien and the rest of the Resistance were fighting the Chancellor and the Community while I was stuck caged in this tiny room. I was tired of being the helpless prisoner. I wanted to be out there with them.
I closed my eyes and swallowed.
Most of all, I wanted to feel like I had some control again. When we escaped from the Community, I had reached into people’s bodies and crumpled the miniscule hardware in their brains with my telekinetic power. I had ripped heavy lockdown doors off their tracks. But now …
Now, no matter how much I trained—or at least tried to—it was no use. I’d stare at my tablet for thirty minutes straight, willing it to move just an inch. It never budged. Not because the power wasn’t there. Exactly the opposite—there was too much of it. I could feel it expanding inside me even now, pressing against the backs of my eyes and making my hands twitch. But I could never direct it the way I meant to. And then sometimes, when it had built up for too long, it would erupt like a boiling geyser.
I shook my twitching hand and then made a fist. I didn’t want to think about it anymore. I propped myself up on my elbow and looked at the drawings papering the wall by my bed instead. Mom, Dad, my younger brother, Markan. The people I’d left behind. And the people I’d lost. Max.
I reached out and touched the picture of Max’s face. I’d tried to capture how he looked when I first knew him, when everything had been simpler and we’d been friends. We’d been drones together, subjects in the Community where we were tightly controlled by emotion-suppressing hardware. It was a dangerous place for anyone who managed to break free, but somehow we’d found each other. We’d protected each other as we explored the new incredible powers that developed as a side effect of the hardware glitches. I’d trusted him, before I even fully understood what that word meant.
But that was all a long time ago now. That was before I’d learned that someone you think you know can look you in the face and tell you lies.
I thought about the last time I’d seen Max, right after I found out he’d been working for the Chancellor as a Monitor the whole time. He was an informant, reporting on people who were glitchers like us, getting them captured and “repaired,” or worse, deactivated. And he hadn’t felt remorse for any of it.
“I was going to protect you from it all,” he’d said. “We were going to live a life beyond your best dreams, you and me together forever. It would have been perfect.” His voice had turned bitter. “You were supposed to be mine.”
My face burned hot at the memory, and I shook my head. I remembered the disgust on his face when I told him to escape with us.
“And do what? Join your little band of Resistance fighters? Spend every day watching someone else live the life I always wanted with you? Don’t think so.”
It was a wound I opened and salted over and over again. It tortured me to remember, and the anger felt fresh and hot every time I repeated his words. But the truth was, I needed the anger and the pain. I dug it deep into my chest like an anchor holding me in place. It reminded me that I was alive even if this alcove sometimes felt like a tomb, that I was free, and that one day soon I’d be able to join the others to fight against the many injustices that had enslaved us.
I turned my eyes away from Max to the other face that was featured most often in my drawings. Adrien, with that smile he saved for me when no one else was looking. I sighed. His was the only face on my wall that didn’t fill me with regret.
The last time I’d seen him had been ages ago, while he was passing through on his way to the Foundation. It was going to be a school for glitchers, and, best of all, it would have an air-filtration system equal to the research lab here. I’d be able to join him there without fear of the air I breathed or worrying that any sound I made might get me caught and killed.
As I reached up to trace Adrien’s face, a tremor ran through my hand. The gentle quaking had been plaguing me all night, first in my thighs, now my hand. A flash of fear washed over me.
Not again. It shouldn’t be happening again so soon.
I flexed my hand, then made a fist, and the shaking stopped. I swallowed hard, trying to quiet my rising alarm. I hadn’t gotten my telekinesis to function properly in weeks, and the power raged like a wild beast clawing underneath my skin. Adrien always called our glitcher powers Gifts, but I was beginning to suspect that he was wrong.
I clicked the light off and settled into my pillow. Our minds may have evolved to develop superhuman abilities, but what if our bodies hadn’t? Maybe we were too fragile to contain that kind of power. Maybe our Gifts were actually a curse.
* * *
I’d only been asleep for a few minutes when I woke to my knuckles banging repeatedly into my cheek.
“Shunt,” I murmured, suddenly fully awake. My arm kept at it, but now the shaking had moved up to my shoulder. The normal telltale buzz of my power grew louder in my ears until it was a high-pitched screech.
“No, no, no,” I whispered, clicking on my light and climbing awkwardly down from the bed. I glanced at the clock on the wall above my head. It was an hour into the workday. Somehow I had to stop myself from going into full eruption mode, or else I’d be caught for sure.
The first time my power had gotten uncontrollable like this I’d been lucky; it was nighttime, when no one was around. Milton, one of the two people at the research lab who knew I was hiding here, had been slack-jawed when he finally pushed his way into my trashed room the morning after. The metal frame of the bed had been twisted in on itself like a figure eight, and the toilet had come loose and made a dent in the concrete of the opposite wall. All my drawings and clothes had been shredded, and I’d sat huddled in the far corner with my arms over my head, bruised and bleeding.
But Milton had been kind. He said I reminded him a little of his sister, a drone he had to leave behind in the Community’s control. He told me stories about her while he helped me clean up. He said maybe the outburst had happened because I was boxed in here and not able to use my power often. But he didn’t understand, not really. It was more than that. My power was changing, and I was changing with it. I couldn’t control it anymore. I didn’t know how I ever had. Sometimes I imagined it consuming me from the inside like a slowly fattening parasite.
I reached up and managed to grab my pillow and blanket right before my legs buckled and I landed on the ground. There was barely enough space to lay flat, but the floor was safer than the bed. With what little muscle control I had left, I wedged myself between the shelf and the toilet to keep myself as secure as possible. I squeezed my eyes shut. I knew what was coming next, and it was going to hurt. I clenched my teeth in the darkness, willing my body to stay still and quiet. Above all, I had to stay quiet.
Both my arms shook uncontrollably now. I flipped myself onto...