I give Thomas a frown this time. Turn the questions back around. “What were you doing at my door in the middle of the night? Was it anything urgent? I didn’t miss something from Commander Jameson, did I?”
“No, no. Nothing like that.” Thomas gives me a sheepish grin and runs a hand through his hair. How anyone with blood on his hands could still look so carefree is beyond me. “To be honest, I couldn’t sleep either. I kept thinking how anxious you must be. Thought I’d surprise you.”
I pat his arm. “Thanks. But I’ll be fine. We’ll execute Day tomorrow, and I’ll feel much better afterward. Like you said. Won’t be long now.”
Thomas snaps his fingers. “Oh, that was the other reason I wanted to see you last night. I wasn’t supposed to tell you—it’s supposed to be a surprise.”
Surprises don’t sound like fun right now. But I fake some excitement. “Oh? What’s that?”
“Commander Jameson suggested it, and she got the courts to approve it. I think she’s still pretty mad about how hard Day bit her hand when he tried to escape.”
“Got what approved?”
“Ah, there’s the announcement now.” Thomas glances back to the movie screen and points at the commercial that comes on. “We’re moving up Day’s execution time.”
The commercial is nothing but a digital flyer, a single still image. It looks festive, dark blue text and photos over a white and green patterned background. I see Day’s photo in the middle of it. STANDING ROOM ONLY IN FRONT OF BATALLA HALL ON THURSDAY, DECEMBER 26, AT 1700 HOURS. FOR THE EXECUTION OF DANIEL ALTAN WING. LIMITED SPACE AVAILABLE. JUMBOTRON VIEWING ONLY.
All the air squeezes out of my chest. I look back at Thomas. “Today?”
Thomas grins. “Tonight. Isn’t it great? You won’t have to agonize through another whole day.”
I keep my voice upbeat. “Good. I’m glad to hear it.”
But my thoughts churn into rising panic. This could mean so many things. Commander Jameson convincing the court to move his execution up a whole day is unusual in itself. Now he’ll face the firing squad in only eight hours, right as the sun starts to set. I can’t get John out now—the entire day will be spent preparing for Day’s execution. Even the hour has changed. The Patriots might not be able to meet me today. I’ll have no time to get uniforms for them.
I can’t help Day escape.
But that’s not all. Commander Jameson chose not to tell me about this. If Thomas already knew last night, that means she told him yesterday evening, at the latest, before sending him home. Why wouldn’t she tell me? She should think I’d be glad to hear that Day is to die twenty-five hours earlier than planned. Unless she suspects something. Perhaps she wanted to throw me off just to test my reaction. Does Thomas know something he’s keeping from me? Is all this ignorance about the plan just a mask to hide the truth—or is Commander Jameson keeping him in the dark as well?
The movie starts. I’m grateful I don’t have to talk to Thomas anymore and can think in silence.
Change of plans. Otherwise, the boy who didn’t kill my brother will die tonight.
MY NEW EXECUTION TIME COMES WITHOUT ANY fanfare but the occasional crack of thunder coming from outside the building. Not that I can see the storm from my cell, of course, with its empty steel walls and security cams and nervous soldiers—so I can only guess at what the sky looks like.
At 6:00 A.M., the soldiers remove my shackles and unchain me from my prison wall. It’s a tradition. Before a publicized criminal goes off to face the firing squad, Batalla Hall broadcasts footage of them to all the JumboTrons in the square. They unchain you so you have the chance to do something entertaining. I’ve seen it in the past—and the onlookers in the square love it. Usually something happens: the criminal’s resolve starts breaking down, and he begs and pleads with the guards or tries to cut a deal or an extension, or sometimes even tries to break out. No one ever has. They feed your image live to the square until your execution time comes, then they cut to the firing squad yard inside Batalla Hall, and then they show you marching out to face the executioners. The onlookers in the square will gasp and shriek—sometimes in delight—when the shooting happens. And the Republic will be happy that they’ve made an example out of another criminal.
They’ll play reruns of the footage for several days afterward.
I’m free to walk around in my cell, but instead I just sit there and lean against the wall, my arms resting on my knees. I don’t feel like entertaining anyone. My head pounds with excitement and dread, anticipation and worry. My pendant sits in my pocket. I can’t stop thinking about John. What will they do with him? June promised to help me—she must’ve planned something for John, too. I hope.
If June is planning to help me escape, she sure is pushing her luck to the limits. The change in my execution date must not have helped her any, either. My chest aches at the thought of the danger she’s put herself in. I wish I knew what revelations she’d had. What could hurt her so badly that she, with all her privileges, would turn against the Republic? And if she was lying . . . well, why would she lie about saving me? Maybe she cares for me. I have to laugh a little at myself. What a thought at a time like this. Maybe I can steal a good-bye kiss from her before I step into the yard.
One thing I do know. Even if June’s plans fail, even if I’m going to be isolated and friendless when I head out to the firing squad . . . I’m going to fight. They’re going to have to fill me with bullets to get me to stay still. I take a shuddering breath. Brave thoughts, but am I ready to follow through on them?