Rumor has it that Day once scaled five stories in less than eight seconds. If the Republic’s most-wanted criminal can pull that off, then how are we ever going to catch him if we’re not just as fast? And if we can’t even catch him, how are we going to win the war?
Ms. Whitaker’s desk beeps three times. She holds down a button. “Yes?”
“Captain Metias Iparis is outside the gate,” a voice replies. “He’s here for his sister.”
“Good. Send him in.” She releases the button and points a finger at me. “I hope that brother of yours starts doing a better job of minding you, because if you end up in my office one more time this quarter—”
“Metias is doing a better job than our dead parents,” I reply, maybe more sharply than I intended.
We fall into an uncomfortable silence.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity, I hear a commotion out in the hall. The students pressed against the door’s glass abruptly disperse, and their shadows move aside to make room for a tall silhouette. My brother.
As Metias opens the door and steps inside, I can see some girls out in the hall stifling smiles behind their hands. But Metias fixes his full attention on me. We have the same eyes, black with a gold glint, the same long lashes and dark hair. The long lashes work particularly well for Metias. Even with the door closed behind him, I can still hear the whispers and giggles from outside. It looks like he came from his patrol duties straight to my campus. He’s decked out in his full uniform: black officer coat with double rows of gold buttons, gloves (neoprene, spectra lining, captain rank embroidery), shining epaulettes on his shoulders, formal military hat, black trousers, polished boots. My eyes meet his.
Ms. Whitaker gives Metias a brilliant smile. “Ah, Captain!” she exclaims. “It’s a pleasure to see you.”
Metias taps the edge of his hat in a polite salute. “It’s unfortunate it’s under these circumstances again,” he replies. “My apologies.”
“Not a problem, Captain.” The dean secretary waves her hand dismissively. What a brownnoser—especially after what she’d just said about Metias. “It’s hardly your fault. Your sister was caught scaling a high-rise during her lunch hour today. She’d wandered two blocks off campus to do it. As you know, students are to use only the climbing walls on campus for physical training, and leaving the campus in the middle of the day is forbidden—”
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” Metias interrupts, looking at me out of the corner of his eye. “I saw the helicopters over Drake at noon and had a . . . . suspicion June might’ve been involved.”
There’d been three helicopters. They couldn’t get me off the side of the building by scaling it themselves, so they pulled me off with a net.
“Thank you for your help,” Metias says to the dean secretary. He snaps his fingers at me, my cue to get up. “When June returns to campus, she’ll be on her best behavior.”
I ignore Ms. Whitaker’s false smile as I follow my brother out of the office and into the hall. Immediately students hurry over. “June,” a boy named Dorian says as he tags alongside us. He’d asked me (unsuccessfully) to the annual Drake ball two years in a row. “Is it true? How high up did you get?”
Metias cuts him off with a stern look. “June’s heading home.” Then he puts a hand firmly on my shoulder and guides me away from my classmates. I glance behind me and manage a smile for them.
“Fourteen floors,” I call back. That gets them buzzing again. Somehow, this has become the closest relationship I have with the other Drake students. I am respected, discussed, gossiped about. Not really talked to.
Such is the life of a fifteen-year-old senior in a university meant for sixteen and up.
Metias doesn’t say another word as we make our way down the corridors, past the manicured lawns of the central quad and the glorious Elector’s statue, and finally through one of the indoor gyms. We pass by the afternoon drills I’m supposed to be participating in. I watch my classmates run along a giant track surrounded by a 360-degree screen simulating some desolate warfront road. They’re holding their rifles out in front of them, attempting to load and unload as fast as they can while running. At most other universities, there wouldn’t be so many student soldiers, but at Drake, almost all of us are well on our way to career assignments in the Republic’s military. A few others are tapped for politics and Congress, and some are chosen to stay behind and teach. But Drake is the Republic’s best university, and seeing as how the best are always assigned into the military, our drill room is packed with students.
By the time we reach one of Drake’s outer streets and I climb into the backseat of our waiting military jeep, Metias can barely contain his anger. “Suspended for a week? Do you want to explain this to me?” he demands. “I get back from a morning of dealing with the Patriot rebels and what do I hear about? Helicopters two blocks from Drake. A girl scaling a skyscraper.”
I exchange a friendly look with Thomas, the soldier in the driver’s seat. “Sorry,” I mutter.
Metias turns around from his place in the passenger seat and narrows his eyes at me. “What the hell were you thinking? Did you know you’d wandered right off campus?”
“Of course. You’re fifteen. You went fourteen floors up a—” He takes a deep breath, closes his eyes, and steadies himself. “For once, I’d appreciate it if you would let me do my daily tours of duty without worrying myself sick over what you’re up to.”