Day is good for forcing me into this dress, I want to say, but instead I just smooth down the already smooth fabric of my gown. Both Thomas and Commander Jameson had insisted I wear something nice. Neither would tell me why. Commander Jameson had simply waved a dismissive hand when I asked her. “For once, Iparis,” she’d said, “do what you’re told and don’t question it.” Then she added something about a surprise, the unexpected appearance of someone I care very much about.
For an illogical moment, I’d thought she might mean my brother. That somehow he had been brought back to life and I would see him on this night of celebration.
For now I just let Thomas navigate me around the crowds of generals and aristocrats.
I ended up choosing a corseted sapphire dress lined with tiny diamonds. One of my shoulders is covered in lace, and the other is hidden behind a long curtain of silk. My hair stays straight and loose—a discomfort for someone who spends most training days with her hair pulled securely away from her face. Thomas occasionally glances down at me, and his cheeks turn rosy. I don’t see what the big deal is, though. I’ve worn nicer dresses before, and this one feels too modern and lopsided. This dress could’ve bought a kid in the slum sectors several months’ worth of food.
“The commander informed me that they’ll sentence Day tomorrow morning,” Thomas says a moment later, after we finish greeting a captain from the Emerald sector.
At the mention of Commander Jameson, I turn my face away, unsure that I want Thomas to register my reaction. It seems that she’s already forgotten about what happened to Day’s mother, as if twenty years has passed. But I decide to be polite and look up at Thomas. “So soon?”
“The sooner the better, right?” The sudden edge in his voice startles me. “And to think you were forced to spend so much time in his company. I’m amazed he didn’t kill you in your sleep. I’m—” Thomas pauses, then decides against finishing his sentence.
I think back to the warmth of Day’s kiss, the way he’d bandaged my wound. Since his capture, I’ve puzzled over this a hundred times. The Day that killed my brother is a cruel, ruthless criminal. But who is the Day I met on the streets? Who is this boy that would risk his own safety for a girl he didn’t know? Who is the Day that grieves so deeply for his mother? His look-alike brother, John, did not seem like a bad person when I questioned him in his cell—bargaining his life for Day’s, bargaining hidden money for Eden’s freedom. How could such a coldhearted criminal be a part of this family? The memory of Day bound to his chair, agonizing over his wounded leg, makes me both angry and confused. I could have killed him yesterday. I could’ve just loaded some bullets into my gun and shot him dead and been done with it. But I’d left my gun empty.
“Those street cons are all the same,” Thomas goes on, echoing what I said to Day in his cell. “Did you hear that Day’s sick brother, the little one, tried to spit on Commander Jameson yesterday? Tried to infect her with whatever mutated plague he’s carrying?”
The subject of Day’s younger brother isn’t something I’ve investigated. “Tell me,” I say, pausing to look at Thomas. “What exactly does the Republic want with that boy? Why take him to the hospital lab?”
Thomas lowers his voice. “I can’t say. Much of it is confidential. But I do know that several generals from the warfront have come to see him.”
I frown. “They came just for him?”
“Well, many of them are here for a meeting of some sort. But they did make a point of stopping by the lab.”
“Why would the warfront be interested in Day’s little brother?”
Thomas shrugs. “If there’s something we need to hear about, the generals will tell us.”
Moments later, we’re intercepted by a large man with a scar from his chin to his ear. Chian. He grins broadly at the sight of us and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Agent Iparis! Tonight is your night. You’re a star! I tell you, my dear, everyone in the higher circles is talking about your prodigious performance. Especially your commander—she’s gushing about you like you’re her daughter. Congratulations on your agent promotion and that nice little reward. Two hundred thousand Notes should buy you a dozen elegant dresses.”
I manage a polite nod. “You are very kind, sir.”
Chian smiles, distorting his scar, and claps his gloved hands together. His uniform has enough badges and medals to sink him to the ocean’s bottom. Surprisingly, one of the badges is purple and gold, which means Chian was a war hero once—although I have a hard time believing that he ever risked his life to save his comrades. It also means he’s suffered the loss of a limb. His hands seem intact, so he must have a prosthetic leg. The subtle angle he’s leaning toward tells me that he favors his left.
“Follow me, Agent Iparis. And you too, Captain,” Chian instructs. “There’s someone who wants to meet you.”
This must be the person Commander Jameson mentioned. Thomas shoots me a secretive smile.
Chian leads us through the banquet hall and across the dance floor, toward a thick navy curtain walling off a large part of the room. Republic flag stands are positioned at both ends of the curtain, and as we approach, I see that the curtain has a faint pattern of the flag on it as well.
Chian holds open the curtain for us, then closes it behind him as we step inside.
There are twelve velvet chairs arranged in a circle, and in each sits an official in full black uniform, his or her shoulders adorned with shining gold epaulettes, sipping from delicate glasses. I recognize a few. Some are generals from the warfront, the same ones Thomas mentioned earlier. One of them spots us and approaches, a younger official following close behind him. But as they leave the circle, the rest of the group rises and bows in their direction.