Of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Online - Micah Persell

Chapter One

In her dreams, Dahlia was a free-range, castigating bitch. In real life?

Dahlia was an imprisoned, castigating bitch.

She sat with her back against the headboard. She rested her wrists on her bent knees and examined her nails with a critical eye. Beyond her nails, Dahlia caught a glimpse of her cell wall, and her relaxed lips quickly morphed into a grimace.

Three months she’d been a prisoner in this damn facility. Three months of being poked and prodded daily. And for what? A failed experiment that proved to turn her into some cosmic judge of character. Which was a freaking laugh riot, considering she was completely devoid of character herself.

But she wasn’t in federal prison, and she had to remind herself often that all of this — testing both fruits; having to touch people over and over to determine if they were good or evil, an ability they’d termed the “Knowledge”; having to listen to their incessant talk of how the Knowledge would change espionage; being stuck in this terrible room — was worth it. They were lax on security here at the facility, and Dahlia never knew what life was going to throw at her, or when she was going to need to bail.

But — hand to God — she was going to kill someone if they forced her to touch and fruit-test one more do-good freak.

She heard a clatter at her cell door. Her head snapped up, and she watched through narrowed eyes as the door swung open and a man she hadn’t seen before entered her cell.

Dahlia threw her head back and groaned to the ceiling. “God damn it. A new one?” She lowered her head and pinned him with a leer that had him squirming where he stood. “Is this really necessary, or are you just here so I’ll touch you?”

Eli Johnson, bane of her existence and co-director of Operation: Middle of the Garden, entered the room behind the man who now looked like he faced a firing squad instead of one curvy Latina in a cell. “Knock it off, Dahlia,” Eli said with a growl as he walked around his cohort. “He’s not here for tests. He’s here for — ” He broke off to plow his fingers through his hair, and Dahlia silently congratulated herself for managing to stress him out with minimal effort. He was usually more unflappable than this. Today was looking up.

Eli took a deep breath, and then, “How are you finding your accommodations?”

For the first time in a long time, Dahlia grew wary. “Um … why?” she asked.

Eli shrugged. “We’ve been re-evaluating the conditions of your imprisonment. It’s been suggested that you may enjoy visitation. Perhaps from friends. Or family.”

Black ice filled her veins. “I don’t have family.”

They both looked at her for way longer than was comfortable, but Dahlia schooled her features into a mask. They could look all damn day. The answer wouldn’t change. Not for them. Not for anyone.

“Okay,” Eli said. “Just thought I’d ask.” He then held his hand out, and the other man slapped an envelope into the open palm and then made a notation on the clipboard he carried. Eli strode forward and stopped right beside her bed. Dahlia realized she was holding her breath. “We had your mail forwarded here,” he said.

Dahlia straightened.

“This came for you today.” Eli dropped the envelope onto Dahlia’s bed.

With measured slowness, Dahlia picked up the envelope, saw there was no return address, and turned it over. She cursed. “It’s been opened,” she accused. Rage flooded her.

Eli shrugged. “You’re a prisoner.”

As Dahlia saw red, Eli and the stranger left the cell. When the door clicked behind them, Dahlia tore the letter from the envelope. One flick of her wrist, and it was open. The world tilted violently.

Ha pasado.

It’s happened. The Spanish words blurred before her eyes as the letter fell to the floor. Blood drained from her face. She tried to pull air into her lungs, but her body wasn’t cooperating.

Not this. Anything but this. Everything she’d done, all the people she’d hurt. Killed. She’d done everything to avoid this exact letter.

At the edge of hysteria, Dahlia managed to pull herself back. In the back of her mind, she’d always known this day would come. She would handle it. She would —

Her eyes flew to the door.

This was the reason she was here. Here and not in federal prison. Her eyes evaluated the riveted steel that separated her from the “good” folks. She strode to the door and kicked it with