My heart sinks. I wish the Republic would hurry up and win this war already so that for once we might actually get a whole month of nonstop electricity. “Where are you going? Can I come with you?”
“I’m overseeing the lab at Los Angeles Central. They’re delivering vials of some mutated virus there—it shouldn’t take all night. And I already told you no. No missions.” Metias hesitates. “I’ll be home as early as I can. We have a lot to talk about.” He puts his hands on my shoulders, ignores my puzzled look, and gives me a quick kiss on my forehead. “Love you, Junebug,” he says, his trademark good-bye. He turns to climb back into the jeep.
“I’m not going to wait up for you,” I call after him, but by now he’s already inside and the jeep’s pulling away with him inside of it. “Be careful,” I murmur.
But it’s pointless to say now. Metias is too far away to hear me.
WHEN I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD, MY FATHER CAME home from the warfront for a week’s leave. His job was to clean up after the Republic’s soldiers, so he was usually gone, and Mom was left to raise us boys on her own. When he came home that time, the city patrols did a routine inspection of our house, then dragged Dad off to the local police headquarters for questioning. They’d found something suspicious, I guess.
The police brought him back with two broken arms, his face bloody and bruised.
Several nights later, I dipped a ball of crushed ice into a can of gasoline, let the oil coat the ice in a thick layer, and lit it. Then I launched it with a slingshot through the window of our local police headquarters. I remember the fire trucks that came whizzing around the corner shortly thereafter, and the charred remains of the police building’s west wing. They never found out who did it, and I never came forward. There was, after all, no evidence. I had committed my first perfect crime.
My mother used to hope that I would rise up from my humble roots. Become someone successful, or even famous.
I’m famous all right, but I don’t think it’s what she had in mind.
It’s nightfall again, a good forty-eight hours since the soldiers marked my mother’s door.
I wait in the shadows of a back alley one block from the Los Angeles Central Hospital and watch its staff spill in and out of the main entrance. It’s a cloudy night with no moon, and I can’t even make out the crumbling Bank Tower sign at the top of the building. Electric lights shine from each floor—a luxury only government buildings and the elite’s homes can afford. Military jeeps stack up along the street as they wait for approval to enter the underground parking lots. Someone checks them for proper IDs. I keep still, my eyes fixed on the entrance.
I look pretty awesome tonight. I’m wearing my good pair of shoes—boots made of dark leather worn soft over time, with strong laces and steel toes. Bought them with 150 Notes from our stash. I’ve hidden a knife flat against the sole of each boot. When I shift my feet, I can feel the cool metal against my skin. My black trousers are tucked into my boots and I carry a pair of gloves and a black handkerchief in my pockets. A dark, long-sleeved shirt is tied around my waist. My hair hangs loose down my shoulders. This time I’ve sprayed my white-blond strands a deep black, as if I’d dipped them in crude oil. Earlier in the day, Tess had traded five Notes for a bucket of pygmy pig’s blood from the back alley of a kitchen. My arms, stomach, and face are smeared with it. I’ve also streaked mud on my cheeks, for good measure.
The hospital spans the first twelve floors of the building, but I’m only interested in the one without windows. That’s the third floor, a laboratory, where the blood samples and medicines will be. From the outside, the third floor is completely hidden behind elaborate stone carvings and worn Republic flags. Behind the facade lies a vast floor with no halls and no doors—just a gigantic room, doctors and nurses behind white masks, test tubes and pipettes, incubators and gurneys. I know this because I’ve been there before. I was there the day I failed my Trial, the day I was supposed to die.
My eyes scan the side of the tower. Sometimes I can break into a building by running it from the outside, if there are balconies to leap from and window ledges to balance on. I once scaled a four-story building in less than five seconds. But this tower is too smooth, with no footholds. I’ll have to reach the lab from inside. I shiver a little even in the warmth and wish I’d asked Tess to come with me. But two trespassers are easier to catch than one. Besides, it’s not her family who needs medicine. I check to make sure I’ve tucked my pendant beneath my shirt.
A lone medic truck pulls up behind the military jeeps. Several soldiers climb out and greet the nurses while others unpack the truck’s boxes. The leader of the group is a young, dark-haired man dressed all in black, except for two rows of silver buttons that line his officer jacket. I strain to hear what he’s saying to one of the nurses.
“—from around the lake’s edge.” The man tightens his gloves. I catch a glimpse of the gun at his belt. “My men will be at the entrances tonight.”
“Yes, Captain,” the nurse says.
The man tips his cap to her. “My name’s Metias. If you have any questions, come see me.”
I wait until the soldiers have spread out around the hospital’s perimeter and the man named Metias has immersed himself in conversation with two of his men. Several more medic trucks come and go, dropping off soldiers, some with broken limbs, some with gashes on their heads or lacerations on their legs. I take a deep breath, then step out of the shadows and stumble toward the hospital’s entrance.