The crowd erupts again. The soldiers hold them back.
“—by firing squad, to be carried out four days from today, on December twenty-seventh at six P.M., Ocean Standard Time, in an undisclosed location—”
Four days. How will I save my brothers before then? I lift my head and fix my eyes on the crowd.
“—to be broadcast live across the city. Civilians are encouraged to stay vigilant for any possible criminal activity that may occur before and after the event—”
They will make an example of me.
“—and to report any suspicious activity immediately to the street police or to the police headquarters closest to you. This officially concludes our sentencing.”
The judge straightens and steps away from the podium. The crowd continues to push against the soldiers. They’re shouting, cheering, booing. I feel myself being dragged back onto my feet. Before they can start ushering me inside Batalla Hall, I catch a last glimpse of the Girl staring at me. Her expression looks blank . . . but behind it, something flickers. The same emotion I’d seen on her face before she knew my real identity. It’s only there for a moment and then it’s gone. I’m supposed to hate you for what you did, I think. But her eyes linger on me in a way that refuses to let me.
After the sentencing, Commander Jameson doesn’t let her soldiers take me back to my cell. Instead we step into an elevator held up by enormous cogs and chains and go up a level, then another, and another. The elevator takes us to the roof of Batalla Hall, twelve stories high, where the shadows from surrounding buildings don’t protect us from the sun.
Commander Jameson leads the soldiers to a flat circular stand in the middle of the roof, a stand with the Republic’s seal embedded in it and strings of heavy chains hooked around its rim. The Girl brings up the rear. I can still feel her eyes on my back. When we reach the center of the circle, the soldiers force me to stand while they bind my shackled hands and feet to the chains.
“Keep him up here for two days,” Commander Jameson says. Already the sun has blurred my vision and the world looks bathed in a haze of sparkling diamonds. The soldiers let go of me. I sink to the ground on my hands and my good knee, chains clacking as I go. “Agent Iparis, head this up. Check on him now and then and make sure he doesn’t die before his execution date.”
The Girl’s voice pipes up. “Yes, ma’am.”
“He’s allowed one cup of water a day. One food ration.” The commander smiles, then tightens her gloves. “Be creative when you’re giving it to him, if you wish. I’ll bet you can make him beg for it.”
“Good.” Commander Jameson addresses me one final time. “Looks like you’re finally behaving. Better late than never.” Then she walks away and disappears into the elevator with the Girl, leaving the rest of the soldiers to stand guard.
The afternoon is quiet.
I slip in and out of consciousness. My injured leg throbs to the beat of my heart, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, sometimes so hard that I think I’m going to pass out. My mouth cracks each time I move it. I try to think about where Eden might be—the Central Hospital lab, or a medical division of Batalla Hall, or even a train headed to the warfront. They’ll keep him alive, that I’m sure of. The Republic won’t kill him until the plague does.
But John. What they’ve done with him I can only guess. They may keep him alive, in case they want to squeeze more information out of me. Maybe both of us will be executed at the same time. Or he could already be dead. A new pain stabs at my chest. I think back to the day I took my Trial, when John came to pick me up and saw me being taken away in a train with others who had failed. After I’d escaped from the lab and developed the habit of watching my family from a distance, I occasionally saw John sitting at our dining room table with his head in his hands, sobbing. He’s never said it aloud, but I think he blames himself for what happened to me. He thinks he should have protected me more. Helped me study more. Something, anything.
If I can escape, I still have time to save them. I can still use my arms. And I have one good leg. I could still do it . . . if I only knew where they were. . . .
The world fades in and out. My head slumps against the cement stand, and my arms lie motionless against the chains. Memories of my Trial day flash before me.
The stadium. The other children. The soldiers guarding every entrance and exit. The velvet ropes that kept us separated from the kids of rich families.
The physical trial. The written exam. The interview.
The interview, more than anything. I remember the panel that questioned me—a group of six psychiatrists—and the official who’d led them, the man named Chian, who had a uniform adorned with medals. He asked the most questions. What is the Republic’s national pledge? Good, very good. It says here on your school report that you like history. What year did the Republic officially form? What do you enjoy doing in school? Reading . . . yes, very nice. A teacher once reported you for sneaking into a restricted area of the library, looking for old military texts. Can you tell me why you did that? What do you think of our illustrious Elector Primo? Yes, he is indeed a good man, and a great leader. But you are mistaken to call him those things, my boy. He’s not a man like you and me. The correct way to address him is our glorious father. Yes, your apology is accepted.
His questions went on forever, dozens and dozens of them, each more mind-bending than the last, until I couldn’t even be sure why I answered as I did. Chian wrote notes on my interview report the whole time, while one of his assistants recorded the session with a tiny microphone.