Authors: Sarah Harian
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #New Adult & College, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian
Titles by Sarah Harian
The Wicked We Have Done
Our Broken Sky
A Vault of Sins
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A VAULT OF SINS
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / September 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Sarah Harian.
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If our trial had a tagline, it would be
The People versus The Department of Judicial Technology: All of this could have been prevented if you kept your mouth shut
It took a whole two days after our Compass Room briefing—the one where Gemma Branam threatened to throw us in prison forever—for us to be asked to meet with her again. We were under strict orders to come without lawyers, and when we arrived at the Division of Judicial Technology Headquarters in D.C., she told us in her bright, melodic voice to
The division was taking the blame for the malfunction.
The filed report would state that while the three of us were extracted due to a glitch, the CR already proved that we were the true moral survivors. Which, of course, was not only a big fat lie, but also meant that the division would get away with murdering the people who were supposed to get out.
The next day, as we sat at the conference table in our lawyers’ office, the table scattered with half-drunk coffee cups and numerous tablets, Valerie was the first to state the obvious. “I may be immoral, but I’m not a scumbag. Accepting this deal would be the shittiest thing I’ve ever done.”
“And you’ve done some pretty shitty things.” I took a sip of my coffee, glaring at my tablet screen. The media was currently a cesspool of Compass Room C misinformation. Every news station and article hub was saying something different. No one knew the truth behind why our CR malfunctioned, and every outlet was starving for it.
“Exactly.” Her response came without a flicker of hesitation.
I wanted to bring up Jace. Valerie would rather die than live without trying to avenge what happened to her. The supposed foul-proof technology of the Compass Room cracked beneath us, all because the four of us—Casey, Valerie, Jace, and I—approached the wrong trigger object. Yes, we were trying to make the machine malfunction, but we had no idea it would cost Jace’s life. There should have been a failsafe in place, or
From the fevered glint in Valerie’s eye, I could tell she was on the brink of snapping, so I avoided mentioning Jace.
But Jace wasn’t the only reason why we couldn’t accept this deal. There were also Blaise and Stella, two Compass Room inmates that the three of us know should have escaped. And there was the fact that two days before the division made the decision to lie about our morality and the outcome of Compass Room C, Gemma had wanted to bury us.
Something made them change their minds.
“Let me get this straight.” Casey’s lawyer paced back and forth in front of the window, her hands behind her back as she glared at the floor, as if ready to accuse it. “The three of you want to risk putting yourselves back in jail—or worse—in order to bring a governmental department to court? You know that if you
keep your mouth shut like Branam asked, she’ll do everything in her power to destroy the three of you.”
I exchanged glances with Casey. His arms were crossed tightly over his chest as he leaned back in his chair, his expression unreadable. I hated when I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He had a way of halting the reaction on his face when he wanted to, and when he did that, it was easier to read the emotions of a brick wall than those of Casey Hargrove.
“And if we do nothing, how many more good people are going to die because of future Compass Room glitches?” Valerie stood from her chair, walking to the coffeepot at the edge of the room and then back again. She raked her fingers through her hair.
There was freedom or doing the right thing. Given that we’d been defined for so long by doing the wrong thing, it was like we were meant for this trial. It wasn’t that we could right our wrongs, but a trial—a
—was a way to define ourselves as putting our cause before our well-being. We could be human enough to stand up for what was just, even if it wasn’t in our best personal interest. Our decision had to be unanimous across the table or this wouldn’t work.
Liz, my lawyer, sat at the head of the table, rubbing her chin. “Okay, let’s sort this out verbally. We need to discuss everything Gemma wants you to lie about and everything you believe to be true, and then we’ll go from there. Alright?”
Valerie’s shoulders sagged. I knew she hated the retelling. I was about to open my mouth before Casey interrupted me and began to recap. I zoned out as he spoke. Listening to Casey was somehow more painful than remembering for myself.
For sixteen days, we fought to survive inside of a wilderness prison. We created a community in order to stay safe and sheltered and well-fed, and throughout those sixteen days, objects from our crimes would appear and trigger an illusion that we were capable of interacting with. Based off our internal reaction to revisiting our crimes, the Bot controlling the illusion would either kill us or let us go.
We saw flashes of green light during Blaise’s death and Stella’s death that we believed were a malfunction signal, because if anyone was meant to escape out of a functioning Compass Room C alive, it would have most likely been the two of them.
A few days later, we saw the green light again when a Bot shut down after it produced a mutation of both mine and Casey’s crimes. That’s how we know our assumption had been correct.
Jace, our close friend, died when we attempted to make the CR malfunction more in order to get ourselves out.
If we went along with Gemma’s plan, we’d legally be free. We could never be taken to court again for our crimes or for anything that happened in the Compass Room. But if we took the Division of Judicial Technology to court and won, we’d be revealing to the world that we weren’t supposed to escape. I committed my crime because someone held a gun to my head and ordered me to shoot a random faculty member in order to save my best friend. Because I cared more about the life of Meghan than anyone else who died in the shooting, I still don’t regret my decision. Both Valerie and Casey would also commit their crimes again if given the chance.
If we took the division to court, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.
“And if we take them to court and lose . . .” Casey’s voice trailed off.
“Gemma would find a way to ruin you for not accepting her deal in the first place. I’m sure of it.” Liz sighed. “I guess it’ll just depend on how much evidence we can scrounge up proving that what you’re saying is true. Right now, the public doesn’t even know what happens in the Compass Room.” She released a manic laugh. “Hell, all I know is what you’ve told me, and to be honest—”
“It sounds like we’re full of horseshit,” interrupted Valerie.
“But I believe you.” Liz’s eyes shifted between us. “And if the three of you want to see this through, I’ll do my best to find what we need to make a case.”
“Why would you risk your neck?” Val challenged.
“Because if what the three of you are suggesting about the cover-up is true, we could be unearthing one of the biggest scandals in American history. The public thinks the Compass Room is some perfectly functioning lab where criminals are tested and put down humanely if they carry a psychopathic sickness. You’re telling me that the Compass Room is a place where criminals fear for their lives in the woods as they’re haunted by their pasts and their fellow inmates explode around them.”
“Only one explosion,” Casey mumbled.
“If you’re telling me the truth, I’d be damn stupid to turn this down.” Liz looked to both Valerie’s and Casey’s lawyers, and they nodded in agreement. “For now, sit tight. Let me do my job and see if I can find enough of a probable cause for a search warrant.”
Before she dismissed us, I asked the question that had been bothering me since the beginning of this meeting. “If Gemma is willing to give us this deal now, why didn’t she just offer it to us in the first place?”
Liz tapped her pen against the desk as she thought. “Even though we didn’t know what was going on in the Compass Room per se, there were rumors about the criminals manipulating the CR and causing the death of an innocent girl. I always thought these rumors were coming from the Division of Judicial Technology, but that doesn’t make sense if Gemma is suddenly attempting to hide the malfunction. Maybe the information was coming from another source. I’ll dig around and see what I can find.”
We didn’t have to wait long.
A few days later, Liz uncovered a filed digital report on the day Compass Room C was supposed to finish, which disregarded any malfunction at all and stated that Casey, Valerie, and I were survivors and had been proven innocent.
“They were going to sweep everything under the rug,” she told me over the phone. “Everything. That report hadn’t been processed yet, but they filled it out like they were planning to—I don’t know—hold the three of you for the remainder of the month and just pretend like Compass Room C finished its entire cycle without any problem at all.”
“That makes no sense.” I attempted to mask my frustration as I spoke. Anger would get us nowhere. I needed to think through their motivation logically. “So they filed this report and then decided not to release it? What does that mean? I saw the news articles released the day I left the hospital. The media knew that something fishy had happened.”
“There was never an official press release. The CR malfunction had to have been leaked to the media by a third party.”
“I don’t know, Evalyn. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the division never released any information regarding what actually happened in the Compass Room. But luckily for us, that misfiled report is enough for a search warrant.”
A search warrant. The data feed from Compass Room C would become evidence. All the tapes, all our private moments and conversations, would be on display.
“We still have to contact Valerie and Casey, but are
certain you want to go through with this?”
I was pacing the living room of Mom’s house in Phoenix when she asked this. Mom was making dinner in the kitchen, and Todd was practicing his watercolors at the dining room table. I thought of what I was giving up by saying yes—the chance to reset my life. Keeping quiet would give me a clean break from every way I’d been wronged and every way I’d screwed up. I could start over again. I could go back to school and get my degree and Mom wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. I wouldn’t go back to prison—or worse.
By keeping quiet, I’d be feeding the lie that the Compass Room found me moral, and that it didn’t really take the lives of the ones who really were.
“Make it happen,” I told her.
Less than a month later, Casey, Valerie, and I were standing on the steps of the courthouse, a fresh flower in my hair. Protestors screamed and the press swarmed us as we made our way up the steps, aware we were giving up freedom for the sake of justice. Rumors would become fact, and the division would finally have to show the public what really went on inside the Compass Room, and what happened to us.
But we were about to become monsters all over again.