I try to control myself, but I can’t stop shaking as I wait for the Guardians to come back to proceed with the interrogation. I look ahead at the dirty stonewall and the worn-out poster hanging on it. There were posters just like this in every classroom in primary school when I was a kid, they were supposed to help us get to know how the Good Regime works. I sigh, now I am not so sure it works. After all, they detained me by mistake.
My entire body aches, the Guardians are really fond of using their whips on me to try to get me to talk; they don’t get that I have nothing to say to them. I’m innocent! I have no accomplices or any useful information to give to them. My legs feel weak, I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to stand, but if I sit on the floor and they come back, the Guardians are going to get really mad and are probably going to make me pay for it. I have to resist, think about something else to keep my mind busy. To distract me, I start to read the poster in front of me for the millionth time.
THE MANY MINISTRIES OF AEQUITALIA:
MINISTRY OF FREEDOM: They educate our children.
MINISTRY OF PRESS AND PROPAGANDA: They spread the truth.
MINISTRY OF LIFE: They look after our health.
MINISTRY OF WOMEN: They take care of our fertile population.
MINISTRY OF ORDER: They fight the Salamanders.
MINISTRY OF PUNISHMENT: They give our Salamander enemies what they deserve.
Before I can continue reading, the door opens. I clench my jaw, I’m not ready to continue. Two Guardians enter the room and look at me with contempt.
“Take her back to her cell, I’m bored with her,” one says to the other.
I let the air slowly out of my lungs, relieved that they are done with me for today. One Guardian clasps my arm and drags me outside the room to take me to my cell. She shoves me inside and then she slams the heavy metal door. I kneel on the floor. Everything hurts, but at least it’s over for now.
I lie on the floor of the cell trying not to think about how much every inch of my body hurts. As has happened many times before in the last couple of weeks, the memory of my mom comes to me unexpectedly. I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom lately. I think about her big smile with perfectly straight pearly teeth, about her sharp jawline, and her curly black hair. Oh, how I loved her hair! I always felt lucky I got it from her, I loved the way it danced wildly in the wind because she refused to wear a ponytail like the other Vases; but now, every time I think about her hair all I can see is blood and mud on it like that last day. I also think about her big green eyes and the way they stopped sparkling as life escaped her body. I wish I could erase that image from my mind along with the sensation of being imprisoned against the ground as the Alligator, Lieutenant Max Miller, put me in handcuffs while my mother was dying in front of my eyes.
“Your food, prisoner 133738.”
The harsh voice of a Guardian announces it’s time to eat. She slides a food tray through a small hole at the foot of the door, although what they give me can barely pass as food.
My name is Alina Armstrong, or at least that was my name until three weeks ago, now I am prisoner 133738. In case I ever forget it, the Guardians have burned the number on the back of my hand to make sure I always remember I’m no longer Alina.
The food tray makes my small cell reek of chicken broth. I can eat the broth right now and get rid of the smell, or stay lying on the dirty floor until I no longer notice the smell. Lately, I’ve been choosing the latter. What is the point of eating if I’m going to be executed soon? That is what the Good Regime does to people who betray them, the Salamanders: they interrogate us to get information on other Salamander traitors, and then we are executed so we don’t cause any more trouble.
I have no idea how much longer I’m going to be here; it’s been three weeks since I was detained and they seem in no hurry to execute me. I don’t understand why, I’ve told them everything I know, which was nothing because I’m not really a Salamander. They don’t believe me, they saw me during the riot next to a Salamander leader so they assumed I was an enemy of the Good Regime as well. They don’t get the fact that my mom was that Salamander leader and that I hadn’t seen her since the day she abandoned me, thirteen years ago. I wasn’t thinking clearly, I saw my mom from a distance and I just had to get near her, I didn’t care about the fact that she was throwing grenades at the Ministry of Freedom, I just had to see her up close.
I remember my friend Dimitri was calling my name, trying to stop me from getting near the riot. I ignored him and kept on walking towards my mom. It was rude of me to leave him behind, after all, he had just accompanied me to get my fertility test at the Ministry of Life. It was my 19th birthday and he was taking me out to eat cake after my test. It was kind of a first date for us, even though we are not supposed to date anyone until after we get our fertility test results, but we just couldn’t wait, we have liked each other since the first time we met. We were both in the same squad inside the Alligator Youth Forces and we were always really competitive with one another in a friendly flirtatious way… Anyway, who cares? All of that now seems like it was another lifetime ago. Now I feel as if my life before I got detained was nothing but a dream. It all seems so alien to me. Like I was never one of the best members of my squad at the Alligator Youth Forces.