“One more thing,” Day whispers as I stand. I glance down at him. His eyes burn right into me. “You think we go to labor camps if we fail? June, the only labor camps are the morgues in hospital basements.”
I don’t dare linger. Instead I walk away from the platform, away from Day. But my heart pounds against my chest. The soldiers waiting by the elevator stand even straighter as I approach. I arrange my face in an expression of pure irritation. “Unchain him,” I order one of the soldiers. “Take him down to the hospital wing and get that leg of his fixed. Give him some food and water. He won’t last the night otherwise.”
The soldier salutes me, but I don’t bother to look at him before shutting the elevator door.
I HAVE NIGHTMARES AGAIN. THIS TIME THEY’RE OF TESS.
I’m running in the streets of Lake. Somewhere ahead of me, Tess is running too, but she doesn’t know where I am. She turns left and right, desperate to see my face, but all she finds are strangers and street police and soldiers. I call out for her. But my legs can barely move, as if I’m wading through a thick sludge.
Tess! I shout. I’m here, I’m right behind you!
She can’t hear me. I look on helplessly as she runs right into a soldier, and when she tries to turn away from him, he grabs her and throws her to the ground. I scream something. The soldier lifts his gun and points it at Tess. Then I see that it’s not Tess, but my mother, who lies in a puddle of blood. I try to run to her. But instead I stay hidden behind a chimney on a roof, crouched like a coward. It’s my fault she’s dead.
Then suddenly I’m back in the hospital lab again, and the doctors and nurses are standing over me. I squint in the blinding light. Pain shoots through my leg. They’re cutting open my knee again, pulling back my flesh to reveal the bones underneath, scraping at it with their scalpels. I arch my back and scream. One of the nurses tries to hold me down. My flailing arm knocks over a tray somewhere.
“Hold still! Damn it, boy, I’m not going to hurt you.”
It takes me a minute to wake up. The blurry hospital scene shifts, and I realize I’m staring up at a similar fluorescent light and that a doctor is hovering over me. He wears goggles and a face mask. I give a shout and try to bolt upright. But I’m tied to an operating table by a pair of belts.
The doctor sighs and slides his face mask down. “Look at me. Bandaging up a criminal like you when I could be helping soldiers from the warfront.”
I look around, confused. Guards line the walls of this hospital room. A nurse is cleaning bloody equipment at the sink. “Where am I?”
The doctor gives me an impatient look. “You’re in Batalla Hall’s hospital wing. Agent Iparis ordered me to fix up your leg. Apparently we’re not allowed to let you die before your formal execution.”
I lift my head as far as I can and look down at my leg. Clean bandages cover up the wound. When I try to move the leg a little, I notice with surprise that the pain is far less than before. I glance at the doctor. “What did you do?”
He only shrugs, then peels off his gloves and starts washing his hands at one of the sinks. “Patched things up a bit. You’ll be able to stand for your execution.” He pauses. “Don’t know if that’s what you wanted to hear.”
I slump back down onto the gurney and close my eyes. The diminshed pain in my leg is such a relief that I try to savor it, but pieces of my nightmare still linger in my mind, too fresh to put away. Where is Tess now? Can she make it without someone there to watch her back? She’s nearsighted. Who will help her when she can’t make out the shadows at night?
As for my mother . . . I’m not strong enough to think about her right now.
Someone raps loudly on the door. “Open up,” a man calls out. “Commander Jameson’s here to see the prisoner.” The prisoner. I smile at that. The soldiers don’t even like calling me by my name.
The guards in the room barely have time to unlock the door and move out of the way before Commander Jameson bursts in, clearly annoyed. She snaps her fingers. “Get this boy off the gurney and put him in some chains,” she barks. Then she shoves one finger into my chest. “You. You’re just a kid—you never even went to college, you failed your Trial! How were you ever able to outsmart soldiers on the streets? How do you cause so much trouble?” She bares her teeth at me. “I knew you’d be a bigger nuisance than you’re worth. You have a knack for wasting my soldiers’ time. Not to mention the soldiers of several other commanders.”
I have to grit my teeth to keep from shouting back at her. Soldiers hurry over to me and start undoing the gurney’s belts.
Beside me, the doctor bows his head. “If you don’t mind, Commander,” he says, “has something happened? What’s going on?”
Commander Jameson fixes her furious gaze on him. He shrinks away. “Protesters in front of Batalla Hall,” she snaps. “They’re attacking the street police.”
The soldiers pull me off the gurney and onto my feet. I wince as my weight transfers onto my bad leg. “Protesters?”
“Yes. Rioters.” Commander Jameson grabs my face. “My own soldiers had to be called in to help, which means my schedule is entirely disrupted. I’ve already had one of my best men sent in here with lacerations on his face. Filthy cons like you don’t know how to treat our military boys.” She shoves my face away in disgust and turns her back on me. “Take him away,” she calls out to the soldiers holding me. “Be quick about it.”