All Our Yesterdays

"You have to kill him." Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside a drain.
The most page-turningly addictive, brilliantly plotted debut you'll read this year, packed with romance, action, conspiracy and a mind-bendingly clever plot, it's DIVERGENT meets THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE with a dash of Doctor Who (only much sexier!).

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2. Two

I heave until my stomach comes to terms with the fact that there’s nothing inside to throw up, then lean my forehead against the cool wall and wipe my mouth with my sleeve

You have to kill him.

When I close my eyes, I can still see the words. They’re seared into me, but I can’t accept them. There has to be another way. I’m not that hard.

Not yet.

Far down the hallway, I hear the clink of a door. Someone is approaching. I bolt upright and lunge for the drain. No telling what the doctor will do if he finds me breaking into it, and if he sees the sheet of paper . . .

The thought sends ice through my veins. He’ll kill me for sure.

Hands clumsy with rushing, I break the spoon into several pieces and drop them down the drain. I can now make out a pair of heavy boots against the cement. I jam the grating back onto the drain and replace the screws as best as I can with fingertips and nails. I swipe up the plastic bag and piece of paper and throw myself at my mattress. I shove them both underneath just as Kessler’s face appears at the small window in my cell door.

“Where’s the spoon?” he says.

Great. Kessler is not as stupid as I’d hoped.

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, leaning my head back nonchalantly. I force myself to take normal, even breaths, even though my lungs are burning from the burst of exertion.

Kessler turns to his right, conferring with some person I can’t see. Someone who isn’t wearing military boots, so I didn’t hear them approaching. My toes curl inside my slippers.

Kessler turns back to me. “We know you’ve got it. Hand it over.”

Well, that isn’t an option anymore. I’d have to dig the shards out of the drain, and then they’d toss the whole room to find out what I’m hiding. If they find that piece of paper with its laundry list of threats in my handwriting, I’m dead.

Besides, I’ll never give these men anything they want, no matter how small.

I fold my hands behind my head. “Bite me.”

“It’s just a plastic spoon, kid.” It’s the doctor, his voice muffled by the door. “What are you going to do with it, burrow out of here?”

I jump to my feet at the sound of that voice. “Go to hell!” 

“Em?” It’s Finn at the heating vent. “What’s going on?” 

“Last chance.”

I spit on the cell window. My skin is electric with fury. Any second the door will slide open, the doctor will walk in, and some fresh new horror will begin. All over a plastic spoon. My legs quake with the need to run, but there’s nowhere to go.

Besides, I can take it.

“Open it,” the doctor says.

I hear the clank of a key in a lock, the rumble of a door sliding open, but mine doesn’t move. Understanding comes a moment later than it should.

“No!” I throw myself at my locked door, my fists making hollow banging sounds against the metal. “Leave him alone! Finn!”

On the other side of the wall, Finn yelps in pain. I hear the faint sizzle of the special military-issue Taser the doctor prefers to use so as not to get his fine hands dirty. It has an array of settings, some of which can knock a person unconscious or instantly stop a heart. I’ve experienced the first and seen the second, and the idea of that device being used on Finn makes me crazy. I scream his name and throw myself at the door again and again.

The doctor appears at the tiny window in my cell door, and I jerk back like I’m scared he’ll reach through the glass and wrap his hands around my throat. Not that he’d need to. Just seeing his face makes me feel as though he’s choking the life out of me.

“You can make this stop any time,” he says. He looks the same as he always has. I doubt I would recognize myself in a mirror, but time has left him untouched. His voice softens into something like kindness. “Just give me the spoon.”

I stare at him with blurry, burning eyes. Finn is moaning in pain now, and there’s nothing I can do, because that paper would damn us both. I swallow, and it tastes of bile. “I don’t have it. Kessler must have lost it.”

The doctor looks sad, and, God, I despise him for that. Then he inclines his head, and Kessler does something that makes Finn scream.

My voice and the sides of my fists are raw from banging on the walls by the time Finn falls silent. Kessler’s heavy footsteps and the doctor’s lighter ones pass my cell and then die away. Guilt fills me like lead and makes movement slow and exhausting as I pull the pillow and thin cotton blanket off my cot and curl up on the cold floor next to the heating vent.

“Finn?” I whisper. “You there?”

It’s silent. Does he hate me as much as I hate myself right now?

“Finn?”

“Just got home. Went out for pizza.”

I burst into tears.

“Hey.” His voice is soft and hoarse. “Hey, it’s okay.”

“Shut up!” I cry. “Don’t try to comfort me! I just got you tortured!”

“Shh, Em, I’m fine.”

“You’re not!”

“I am. I just . . .”

“What?”

He sighs. “I just wish I could see you.”

I scoot closer to the wall, until I’m pressed against it, and I spread my fingers against the concrete blocks like it’s him I’m touching. It’s foolish, and I’m glad he can’t see it, but it makes me feel a little better. “Me too.”

“Remember when you used to hate me?”

I laugh-sniff-hiccup. “Well, you used to be insufferable.”

“I think incorrigible is a better word.”

I lean my forehead against the wall and let myself imagine for a moment that it’s his shoulder, warm and firm, beside me. “You’re so full of it.”

“Hey, I just got tortured for you. Easy on the ego.”

“Finn—”

“Shh,” he says softly. “Now, tell me how wrong you were back then and how wonderful I am.”

He is wonderful. And he doesn’t deserve this.

Neither do I.

“I’m going to kill him,” I say softly.

“Yeah, I know.”

“No, I’m serious. We’re going to get out of here,” I say, “and I’m going to kill him.”

I explain everything—the drain, the paper, and the message at the bottom—in a whisper through the slats of the vent. Finn’s silence is as thick and solid as the wall between us. I try to picture him. Shaggy blond hair probably in desperate need of a cut, curling around his ears and the nape of his neck. Blue eyes wide and unfocused with shock. Or are they green? No, definitely blue. Blue like deep, clean water. His mouth hanging open, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t remember what that mouth looks like. Lips thin or full, pink or pale?

I’m not even sure what I look like anymore.

“Can we do it?” he finally asks.

Can we kill him is what he means, but maybe he can’t say the words. “I’m not sure we have any choice.”

“But first,” he says, “we’d have to break out of here. Go back. You think it’s possible?”

“Judging from the note, we’ve done it fourteen times already.” 

“How?”

“I don’t know. But I’m sure I would have told me if I needed to know.”

He laughs. “I can’t believe the insanity of that sentence.” “Can’t you?” I envy Finn’s gift for finding humor in every situation, but nothing about this is funny to me. 

“Em . . .”

“Don’t tell me we don’t have to do this.” I must have had a damn good reason for writing that sentence, and the twisted little creature inside of me, the one made up of all my anger and bitterness, isn’t sorry. “Don’t tell me there’s another way.”

“Actually, I was going to ask what you’re wearing.”

I bite my lip to stop the smile. Okay, that was kind of funny. “God, I miss you,” I say, and instantly wish the words back again. I turn my face away from the vent, irrationally afraid he’ll see me blushing.

“I know,” he says, voice soft. I imagine him pressing his hand to the other side of the wall. 

“But I’m right here.”

 

 

Days pass. Finn and I spend the time that spans three meals talking over what I’ve discovered.

“What time should we go to?” he finally asks. We’ve both been avoiding the subject. It’s painful, and we get enough of that in here already.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” I say. “We need to be there for January fourth. Four years ago.”

Silence.

“Really?”

I get his hesitation. It’s not a time I want to relive, either.

“We can’t do it before he’s figured out the formula,” I say. “The paradox would be so massive that there’s no way to predict what would happen. It has to be after.”

“Okay,” he says, “but why the fourth?”

“Because he’ll never think to look for us there,” I say. “Remember when I got the documents?”

“Of course. It was that day.”

“But the doctor doesn’t know that,” I say. “He thinks I stumbled on them sometime later. Know why?”

“Why?”

“Because he doesn’t remember discovering the formula that day,” I say. “He thinks he first wrote it down three days later, on the seventh.”

“So if we go to the fourth,” Finn says, “we’ll have at least three days before he expects us.”

“Exactly.” I sigh. “Plus, he’ll be weak because of what’s just happened. Any later in time and he’ll be too powerful. Too protected.”

Finn agrees. He knows as well as I do that there’s no other time that will give us as good a chance. We go over everything again, working out every detail we can in advance. By the end,

I’ve memorized every struck-out word of the note and think I know the chain of events that led it to my hands. I don’t remember the events that compelled me to write these lines, but those past versions of myself, copies of me that no longer exist, left me enough clues to figure it out.

With nothing left to discuss and without the drain to obsess over, there’s nothing to do but stare at the ceiling. The bad food, the pain, even the visits from the doctor, I can handle. But this tedium? This waiting for something to happen? I’m sure it’ll drive me crazy.

“Finn, you awake?” I say, rolling over onto my side.

No response. His ability to sleep under any circumstance amazes me. He must spend sixteen hours a day sleeping just to stave off the boredom.

“You suck,” I whisper.

I stare at the door for a while to give the ceiling a break. Somehow, one of these days, I must get out of this cell. At least I have before, every earlier version of me who’s escaped and added to the note under my mattress. How do I do it? I wish I could remember the events those other Ems experienced, because escape seems impossible. I work through every option in my head for the hundredth time. I could overpower the guard who brings me my meals, or get a hold of the doctor when he comes for one of his midnight visits and use him as a hostage. That would get me out of my cell and maybe get Finn out of his. But even if I were able to do that—and, let’s face it, that’s a huge if—there’s still a massive government facility beyond my cell that I only glimpsed once, months ago, on the day they dragged me in here. It’s full of armed soldiers standing between me and Cassandra, even if I knew where I was going, which I definitely don’t. Every plan I come up with leads to a dead end or a bullet through the head.

Like everything else, contemplating my escape and/or death eventually gets boring. So boring that I’m almost relieved when my door opens to reveal the doctor and the man Finn and I have dubbed “the director,” the puppet master who pulls the doctor’s strings.

Almost.

I pretend to yawn, because I know it rankles him, but my heart is hammering. “Is it time again already?”

The director inclines his head, and a soldier comes forward to yank me to my feet and sit me down in the metal folding chair they’ve brought with them. He secures my hands to the supports of the chair with the same kind of zip ties our gardener used to use on the rosebushes.

“Her feet, too,” the director says. I’m gratified to see he remembers what happened last time.

Once the defenseless teenage girl surrounded by the men with machine guns is properly restrained, the interrogation begins. I used to count how many times the doctor and the director visited for one of our little chats—thinking each time might be the last, that their patience would run thin and they’d finally kill me—but I lost track somewhere in the twenties. That was weeks ago.

“Where are the documents?” the director says.

“You’re not even going to ask me how my day’s been first? Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”

The director slaps me across the face. Unlike the doctor, he doesn’t mind bloodying his hands. My vision swims. The movies didn’t prepare me for this, for how much getting hit actually hurts, and somehow it’s always still a shock.

“I’ve got no time for your games today,” the director says. “We need to know where the documents are. Who did you give them to? China? India?”

“Lives depend on this,” the doctor says quietly from the corner of the room, as though he gives a damn.

I blow the director a kiss as best I can without the use of my hands. I know very well that the moment I tell them where the documents are, my last bargaining chip is gone. That I have that information and they don’t is the only thing that’s kept Finn and me alive this long. Even when I’d rather give it up and get my death over with already, knowing I also hold Finn’s life in my hands keeps me silent. No matter what they do.

And they do their damnedest.

I’m sure my screams wake Finn from his nap, but at least I don’t give us up.

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