Static blares for a second in my tiny earpiece. Then I hear Thomas’s voice. “Talk to me,” he says. “What’s going on? Where are you?”
“Day’s heading toward Figueroa and Watson right now. I’m on his tail.”
Thomas sucks in his breath. “Right. We’ve already deployed. See you in a few.”
“Wait for my word—no one’s to be harmed—” I start to say, but the static cuts off.
I sprint down the street, my wound throbbing in protest. Day couldn’t have gone far—he has less than a half-minute lead on me. I point myself in the direction that I remember Day going the previous night, south toward Union Station.
Sure enough, before long I see glimpses of Day’s old cap peeking out far ahead of me in the crowd.
All my anger and fear and anxiety now zero in on the back of his head. I have to force myself to keep enough distance between us so that he doesn’t know I’m following him. A part of me recalls the way he saved me from the Skiz fight, that he had helped me heal this burning wound in my side, that his hands had been so gentle. I want to scream at him. I want to hate him for confusing me so much. Stupid boy! It’s a wonder you’ve evaded the government for so long—but you can’t hide now, not when your own family or friends are at risk. I have no sympathy for a criminal, I remind myself harshly. Just a score to settle.
USUALLY I’M GRATEFUL FOR THE CROWDS ON THE streets of Lake. They’re easy to slip in and out of, throwing off those who might be on your trail or hoping to pick a fight. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve used the busy streets to my advantage. But today they only slow me down. Even with a shortcut along the lakeside, I’m running just barely in front of the sirens and won’t have a chance to widen the gap before I reach my family’s house.
I won’t have time to get them out. But I have to try. I have to reach them before the soldiers do.
Occasionally I pause to make sure the trucks are still going in the direction I think they are. Sure enough, they continue on a path straight for our neighborhood. I run faster. I don’t even stop when I accidentally collide with an old man. He stumbles and falls against the pavement. “Sorry!” I shout. I can hear him yelling at me, but I don’t dare waste time looking back.
I’m sweating by the time I near our house, still quiet and taped off as part of the quarantine. I sneak through the back alleys until I’m standing by our crumbling backyard fence. Then I ease my way through a crack in the fence, push aside the loose board, and crawl underneath the porch. The sea daisies that I laid under the vents are still there, untouched, but they’ve already withered and died. Through the floor’s gaps, I see my mother sitting at Eden’s bedside. John is rinsing a washcloth in a nearby basin. My eyes dart to Eden. He looks worse now—as if all the color has been stripped from his skin. His breath is shallow and raspy, so loud that I can hear it from down here.
My mind screams for a solution. I could help John, Eden, and my mother escape right now, and risk running into the plague patrols or street police. Maybe we could find refuge in the usual spots Tess and I hide. John and my mother are certainly strong enough to run. But how would Eden keep up? John could only carry him for so long. Maybe I can find a way to sneak them onto a cargo train, and help them escape inland to . . . somewhere, I don’t know. If the patrols are already after Eden, then it won’t make things any worse if John and Mom just leave their jobs and run. They’ve already been quarantined, anyway. I could help them get to Arizona, or maybe West Texas, and after a while maybe the patrols won’t bother searching for them anymore. Besides, maybe I’m fooling myself to begin with—maybe the Girl is wrong and the patrols aren’t even coming for my family. I can keep saving up for Eden’s plague medicine. All my anxiety might be for nothing.
But off in the distance, I hear the medic truck’s siren growing louder.
They’re coming for Eden.
I make up my mind. I scramble from under the porch and hurry to the back door. Out here I can hear the medic trucks much more clearly. They’re getting closer. I open the back door and dash up the few steps leading to our living room.
I take a deep breath.
Then I kick open the door and rush into the light.
My mother lets out a startled cry. John whirls around in my direction. We stand there for an instant, staring at each other, unsure of what to do.
“What’s wrong?” His face turns pale at my expression. “What are you doing here? Tell me what happened.” He tries to steady his voice, but he knows something’s terribly wrong—something so serious that it forced me to reveal myself to my entire family.
I pull the worn cap off my head. My hair tumbles down in a tangled mess. Mom holds a bandaged hand over her mouth. Her eyes grow suspicious, then they widen.
“It’s me, Mom,” I say. “It’s Daniel.”
I watch the different emotions flash across her face—disbelief, joy, confusion—before she takes a step forward. Her eyes dart between John and me. I can’t tell which shocks her more . . . that I’m alive or that John seems to know all about it.
“Daniel?” she whispers.
It’s strange to hear her say my old name again. I rush to take Mom’s injured hands in my own. They’re shaking. “There’s no time to explain.” I try to ignore the expression in her eyes. They were a strong, bright blue once, just like mine, but sorrow has faded them. How do I face a mother who’s thought I was dead for so many years? “They’re coming for Eden. You have to hide him.”