“Nita, meet Fabricio.”
The fluorescent lights of the INHUP refugee center made the white walls glow like a hospital, and Nita wondered for a brief moment if she was in some sort of hallucination. After all, the set of circumstances that had brought her to the International Non-Human Police had the quality of a nightmare—?complete with kidnapping, torture, and Nita burning all her enemies alive at the end.
All but one.
He stood in front of her now. A few inches taller than her, his pale face was framed by slightly mussed dark brown hair, and his huge blue-gray eyes stared at her with shock she knew was mirrored in her own gaze.
Fabricio. The boy she’d saved.
The boy who’d betrayed her. Who’d thanked her for helping him escape, taken the money and bus ticket she’d offered him, then turned around and used the phone she’d given him to sell her to the black market. Who’d left her to be kidnapped, cut up, and sold piece by piece.
Rage boiled in Nita’s veins, heating her body from the inside out. Her jaw clenched tighter and tighter, until she forced it to loosen to avoid breaking a tooth.
“Nita?” Agent Quispe, the INHUP agent in charge of Nita’s case, stepped forward, the lines of her buzzcut black hair sharp in the bright light. Her Spanish was slow and calm, with a distinct flavor that reminded Nita of her time living in Peru. “Are you all right?”
Nita blinked and forced herself to nod. “Of course. Sorry, I must have spaced out. What were you saying?”
Quispe frowned slightly and squinted, an expression Nita had come to associate with the agent trying to parse Nita’s Spanish. Her father was Chilean, but she’d lived in Madrid until she was six, and the blend of accents was often hard for people to understand.
“I was saying that I’ve noticed you keeping to yourself a lot. And since we just received another refugee your age, I thought you two might want to meet.”
Quispe waved Fabricio forward. His eyebrows pulled together before smoothing out. A tentative smile crossed his face.
Nita glared. What the hell was he smiling about?
Then she realized: he didn’t know she’d discovered he was the one who sold her to the black market. Fabricio was still playing a part, resuming the role of the scared victim.
Nita stepped forward, fist clenched, wanting nothing more than to smash his skull into the floor and dissect him while he lay dying, the way she should have done when her mother caught him the first time.
She took a deep breath. She was in the middle of the INHUP headquarters in Bogotá. There was an agent standing right beside her. This was not the time to commit murder.
No matter how much she wanted to.
Nita swallowed and forced a grimace onto her face. She needed to play it cool for now, and not give any indication they’d met before. And hope Fabricio didn’t give her away.
If INHUP found out how they knew each other, Nita’s connection to her murderous mother would be exposed, and Nita’s crimes would be laid bare. And she had a lot of crimes under her belt. You didn’t grow up with parents in the business of dissecting unnaturals and selling their body parts online without committing a few felonies.
Nita couldn’t force herself to extend her hand to him. In a clipped voice, she said, “It’s nice to meet you.”
He blinked and hesitated, then smiled softly, his voice gentle and whispery. “You too.”
Quispe looked between them, as if she could sense the tension. “Fabricio will be staying here for the next little while. I thought you two would have a lot to talk about, since you’ve both spent time in the black market.”
Nita could almost hear her unspoken comparison. Both of them had body parts hacked off. Both of them had those parts sold and eaten.
Nita shifted her foot, trying not to think about the gaping absence where her toe had once been, and she kept her eyes firmly away from Fabricio’s missing ear. It wasn’t too hard, since the evidence was covered by hair.
Nita turned to Quispe. “Yes. It was a good thought. Thank you. I’d like to get to know my new floormate.”
Nita swallowed after the words came out of her mouth. Stilted. Fake. Why couldn’t she be better at this kind of thing?
But if Quispe noticed Nita’s failing communication skills, she didn’t comment. “Of course.”
She turned and left them alone. After she was gone, the silence was overpowering. Fabricio opened and closed his mouth like he wanted to say something. Nita pursed her lips and looked around.
She didn’t like being inside an INHUP building. INHUP was a means to an end for her, and she didn’t trust them. Supposedly they both prosecuted and protected unnaturals—?or “non-humans.” Honestly, Nita thought calling people like her “non-human” was just as offensive as calling her “unnatural.” It probably traced back to INHUP’s monster-hunting roots, before they started advocating for unnatural rights as well as policing them.
Nita was using INHUP for their protection, but she knew corruption had burrowed into the soul of the organization. She was concerned about building surveillance, and the conversation she wanted to have was not one that should be overheard. By INHUP or whoever INHUP might be selling the information to.
“There’s a garden outside,” Nita announced. “Let’s talk down there.”
Fabricio nodded once, slowly, and followed her.
They made their way through the office. Pristine white walls and white tiled floors caged them in, like a futuristic prison. Other unnatural refugees wandered the halls of the protective housing. Some Nita could’ve passed on the street and never known they were different.
Others were part octopus. Nita’s eyes examined a tired-looking man in a hall, her eyes sliding down to the eight purple tentacles he had instead of legs. Ningyo. Japanese mermaid. She would have bet money on it.
People said that if you ate their flesh, you’d gain immor-tality.
People said the same thing about eating Nita.
She tried to pull her mind away from the thought. The memory of Boulder cutting off her toe, popping it in his mouth, and swallowing it whole. His promise to come back the next day and the next, each...