The rising eastern sun is now high enough to bathe the entire lake in a shade of murky gold, and I can see the tiny strip of land that separates the lake from the Pacific Ocean. I head all the way down to the floor of the building that sits right at the water’s surface. Every wall on this floor is collapsed, so I can walk straight out to the building’s edge and ease my legs into the water. When I look into the depths, I can see that this old library continues for many floors. (Perhaps fifteen stories tall, judging from how the buildings on the shore sit and how the land slopes from the shoreline. Approximately six stories should be underwater.)
Tess and the boy sit at the top of the building, several stories above me, safely out of hearing range. I look back at the horizon, click my tongue, and turn on my microphone.
Static buzzes from my earpiece. A second later, I hear a familiar voice. “Ms. Iparis?” Thomas says. “Is that you?”
“I’m here,” I murmur. “I’m well.”
“I’d like to know what you’ve been up to, Ms. Iparis. I’ve been trying to contact you for the past twenty-four hours. I was ready to send some soldiers to collect you—and you and I both know how happy Commander Jameson would be about that.”
“I’m well,” I say again. My hand digs into my pocket and pulls out Day’s pendant. “Got a minor injury in a Skiz fight. Nothing serious.”
I hear a sigh from the other end. “Well, you’re not going to go that long again with your mike off, you hear me?” he says.
“Did you find anything yet?”
I glance up to where the boy is swinging his legs. “Not sure. A boy and girl helped me get out of the Skiz chaos. The girl bandaged up my wound. I’m staying with them temporarily until I can walk better.”
“Walk better?” Thomas’s voice rises. “What kind of minor injury is this?”
“Just a knife wound. No big deal.” Thomas makes a choking sound, but I ignore it and keep going. “Anyway, that’s not the point. The boy made a fancy little dust bomb to get us out of the Skiz mob. He has some skills. I don’t know who he is, but I’ll get more information.”
“Think he’s Day?” Thomas asks. “Day doesn’t seem like the kind of boy who goes around saving people.”
Most of Day’s past crimes involve saving people. All except Metias. I take a deep breath. “No. I don’t think so.” I lower my voice until it’s barely a whisper. Best not to throw wild guesses at Thomas right now, lest he decide to jump the gun and send troops after me. Commander Jameson will boot me right off her patrol if we do something expensive like that, with nothing to show for it. Besides. These two got me out of serious trouble. “But they might know something about Day.”
Thomas is silent for a moment. I hear some commotion in the background, some static, and then his faint voice along with Commander Jameson’s. He must be telling her about my injury, asking her if it’s safe to keep me out here alone. I give an annoyed sigh. As if I’ve never been wounded before. After a few minutes, he comes back on again. “Well, be careful.” Thomas pauses for a moment. “Commander Jameson says to keep you on your mission if your injury isn’t bothering you too much. She’s preoccupied with the patrol right now. But I’m warning you. If your mike goes dark again for more than a few hours, I’m going to send soldiers after you—whether or not it blows your cover. Understand?”
I fight to contain my irritation. Commander Jameson doesn’t believe I can accomplish anything on this mission—her lack of interest is imprinted in every word of Thomas’s response. As for Thomas . . . he rarely sounds so firm with me. I can only imagine how stressed-out he must’ve been over the last few hours. “Yes, sir,” I say. When Thomas doesn’t respond, I look up toward the boy again. I remind myself to watch him more closely when I get upstairs and not let this injury distract me.
I stuff the pendant back into my pocket and rise.
I observe my rescuer all day as I follow him around the Alta sector of Los Angeles. I take note of everything, no matter how small the detail.
He favors his left leg, for instance. The limp is so slight that I can’t tell when he’s walking beside Tess and me. I see it when he sits down or gets up—the slightest hesitation when he bends his knee. It’s either a serious injury that never quite healed, or a minor but recent one. A bad fall, maybe.
That’s not his only injury. Now and then he winces when he moves his arm. After he does this a couple times, I realize that he must have some sort of wound on his upper arm that stretches painfully whenever he reaches too far up or down.
His face is perfectly symmetrical, a mix of Anglo and Asian, beautiful behind the dirt and smudges. His right eye is slightly paler than his left. At first I think it might be a trick of the light, but I notice it again when we pass by a bakery and admire the loaves of bread. I wonder how it happened or whether it’s something he was born with.
I notice other things too: how familiar he is with streets far from the Lake sector, as if he could walk them blindfolded; how nimble his fingers are when they smooth down the wrinkles at his shirt’s waist; how he looks at buildings as if memorizing them. Tess never refers to him by name. Just like how they call me “Girl,” they use nothing to identify who he is. When I grow tired and light-headed from walking, he stops all of us and finds water for me while I rest. He can sense my exhaustion without my uttering a word.