In this final chapter of the Enslaved series, Hana is faced not only with a new life, but an entirely new way of thinking. Unexpected friends give insight into who the Greaters truly are. Deciding what to do with this information sends Hana on what may be her very last journey. Ever.
I close my eyes and lean my head against the metal paneling of the transport truck. The constant vibrations rattle my teeth, and when we hit a pothole I bite my tongue. I swallow the salty blood.
Every inch of my body hurts, from the cuts running deep and wide along my skin—courtesy of the barbwire at the prison in Greater City—to the aching muscles from the tumbles over the fences. Escaping a prison riot isn’t easy, as I learned.
A single drop of sweat trickles down my left temple. Lesser City 4 is farther south than the other cities, and without any vents in this death wagon, I’ve never been hotter in my life.
I shift in my seat, but there’s no point in moving or trying to stop the vibrations. Enduring the ride isn’t a choice, and it’s even worse to endure it alone. There’s no one to talk to, no one to commiserate with. It’s only me. I’ve been demoted, and I’ll probably be alone for the rest of my lonely, miserable life. It wouldn’t surprise me if they marked it across my forehead: Hana Norfolk, demoted.
The truck rumbles down the poorly maintained roads for what seems like an eternity. The bounce, bounce, bounce lulls me into some kind of sleepy state. I let my eyelids slide shut and pretend I’m only travelling for an observation visit, the kind I used to go on when I was preparing a way to help the Lessers.
Before I knew there was no help for them.
I’ve grown so accustomed to the jostling that I’m almost asleep, so when we stop I pull myself from my stupor and look around. I can just reach the window above the door if I stand on my tiptoes. We’re stopped at a gate adjoined to a wall. Well, more like a fence. A thick, wooden fence.
My new home sprawls out somewhere behind that wall. I take a nervous, shaky breath.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve visited most of the Lesser cities in our nation. It doesn’t matter that Mom was a Lesser before she died, or that my best friend, Jamie, was demoted. I don’t want to be a Lesser. I’ve never wanted to be one, yet I willingly broke a dozen laws to land myself here.
The guards from the truck communicate with the watch tower at the closed gates, and it isn’t long before four guards hurry toward the gate. They haul the doors open, and my guards climb back inside the truck. We continue our drive toward the city, and I watch from the window as the same four guards swing the gates shut.
They lock them in place.
My legs burn from the strain of reaching the window, but I’m curious about where they’re taking me. I’ve only been to Lesser City 4 once, and we didn’t use this gate. We’re in a rural area with nothing but fields for miles around. When we’ve driven for a while, I begin to make out a skyline. We’re approaching the city now.
At least they’re not leaving me to die in the wilderness. Frost Moon was so angry with me, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had ordered that.
I let myself relax against the seat as we pull onto a once-paved street, and I try to rest for the last few minutes of the drive.
“Move out of the way!” one of my guards shouts. The truck’s horn blows, and more shouts follow.
People must be littering the roads. No one stays out of them in the Lesser Cities. After all, there are no cars, so every road is basically a giant walkway.
The shouts die down and the truck pulls to a stop. I tense.
This is it. I’m here, at my new home.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
I count the heartbeats before the lock on the truck door rattles.
I hold my breath as the door swings open. What am I going to see on the other side of this truck? Will they give me a place to live? Food to eat? A work assignment?
I’m prepared to live in squalor. Frost Moon made sure I knew what trouble I’d caused. He made it clear what he thought of me and how little he cared to let me live. Not that I can blame him after I caused a prison riot outside of Greater City and probably incited the hatred of our mother country. In my defense, I wasn’t aware of the mother country, but Supreme Moon didn’t take that into consideration.
I will be left to die in Lesser City 4. My family and friends will never see me again, and if the enemies come, Supreme Moon let me know he hopes I’m the first to suffer the attack.
One of the guards squints as he looks at me in the darkness of the truck bed. “Let’s go.”
I obey without hesitation. What good would rebellion do me at this point?
Lord, help me.
The building I’m looking at has seen better days, and they were about two hundred and fifty years ago. There is no glass in the windows, and a few have battered shutters hanging down by a rusted screw. There is no door in the entry. A few Lessers sit on the steps.
The people are what finally make me pause. Some gaze at me with half curious eyes, but mostly they don’t show any evidence they see me at all. Are they indifferent? Docile? Waiting until the guards leave so they can harm me?
I swallow hard, willing myself to move my feet and not be afraid of them. The people in the Lesser cities needed my help only a few months ago, and I was perfectly willing to give it. They still need my help.
“Move it. Yours is the top floor.” The guard barks his orders with almost no emotion while holding a Taser to my back. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know why I was demoted. And he doesn’t care. He has his orders, and he obeys them, above all.
I clutch my one measly bag to my chest and start moving. The inside of the building is worse than the outside. Trash litters the hallways, and several stairs are missing their wooden planks. I do my best to maneuver over the broken places, and after three flights I reach the top. There’s only one door—mine. The guard jiggles the knob and the door creaks open.
“There you go. Good luck.” His voice is pleasant, as if he’s showing me to a lovely new apartment with a breathtaking view of Greater City.
I whip around and stare at him. “You’re leaving already?”
“This is your home now. You’re lucky. This one is furnished.”
“But I don’t have any food. I don’t have anything!”
His face is a blank slate. He nods one last time and exits my room, closing the door behind him.
I’m not sure how long I stare at the closed door. Maybe a minute. Maybe an hour. Maybe a decade.
Finally, I turn to take in my new home. Tears sting my eyes, but I don’t fight them. Why would I? No one is here to see them or judge them. Unlike my apartment in Greater City, there are no cam disks watching me. No HELP comps. No personal guards.
Panic washes over me. I am completely alone.
What happened to Guard Nev? Did he get out of the city or was he caught? He’d already been in trouble recently. If they found him, he might not even be alive.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath to calm my racing heart. Slowly, I open them. There’s nothing I can do to help Guard Nev, but I may be able to help myself.
A couch with a tear down the side sits against the far wall, and a table with one chair is cradled in a small nook by the kitchen. No refrigerator, but there is a sink. A doorway leads me to a bedroom with a bed, toilet, and shower—all in the same room.
I place my bag on the bed and remember the last time I moved into a new place. It was in Greater City, and I had Mom’s perfume to remind me of home. To remind me of her.
Here I have nothing but two pairs of pants and two shirts.
Tears burn my throat and I all but run to the kitchen sink and twist the knob on the faucet. Nothing, not even a trickle, comes out. So I can’t drink, wash my clothes, or my body, at least not yet. They’ve left me alone in Lesser City with no allowances.
It’s a good thing I’m too sick to be hungry. In fact, it feels like the life has been sucked right out of me. I’m suddenly tired, so tired I don’t even care the bed looks as dirty as the rest of the building.
I shuffle to the bedroom and close the door behind me. This will be my space, this small, closed-in room. I will clean it and care for it, and I will make it my home. Frost Moon can take away many things, but this place will be mine. He will forget about me. He won’t remember my name a few years from now, and I’ll be able to build a life here.
If any of us live that long.
I lie on the bed and close my eyes. It’s not hard to drift away. In fact, it’s easy. It’s only in my dreams I get to forget my pain—Mom’s death, Dad’s betrayal. I can forget the friends I’ll probably never see again.
Thoughts of Keegan and Fischer clench my stomach, and I take a shaky breath, squeezing my eyes shut tighter.
It is here I can forget my mistakes. And my future.