We exit the hospital room. Soldiers rush back and forth in the hallway. Commander Jameson keeps pressing a hand against her ear, listening intently, then shouting orders. As I’m dragged toward the elevators, I see several large monitors—something I pause to admire for a second, as I’ve never seen them in the Lake sector—broadcasting exactly what Commander Jameson just told us. I can’t hear the voice-over, but the text headlines are unmistakable: Disturbance outside Batalla Hall. Units responding. Await further orders. This isn’t a public broadcast, I realize. The video shows the square in front of Batalla Hall packed with several hundred people. I pick out the line of black-clad soldiers struggling to contain the crowd near the front. Other soldiers run along rooftops and ledges, hurrying into position with their rifles. I get a good look at some of the protesters as we pass the last monitor, the ones clustered together under the street lights.
Some of them have painted a bloodred streak into their hair.
Then we arrive at the elevators and the soldiers shove me inside. They’re protesting because of me. The thought fills me with excitement and dread. No way will the military let this slide. They’ll seal off the poor sectors entirely and arrest every last rioter in the square.
Or they’ll kill them.
WHEN I WAS YOUNG, METIAS WAS SOMETIMES CALLED AWAY to deal with minor rebellions, and afterward he’d tell me about them. The story was always the same: a dozen or so poor folk (usually teens, sometimes older) causing trouble in one of the sectors, angry about the plague quarantines or taxes. Several dust bombs later, they were all arrested and taken to court.
But I’ve never seen a riot like this one, with hundreds of people risking their lives. Nothing even close to this.
“What’s wrong with these people?” I ask Thomas. “They’ve lost their minds.” We’re standing on the raised platform outside Batalla Hall with his entire patrol facing the crowd in front of us, while another of Commander Jameson’s patrols is pushing people back with shields and batons.
Earlier, I’d peeked in on Day as the doctor operated on his leg. I wonder if he’s awake and seeing this chaos on the hall monitors. I hope not. No need for him to see what he’s started. The thought of him—and his accusation against the Republic, that the Republic creates the plagues, kills kids who fail the Trial—fills me with rage. I pull my gun out of its holster. Might as well have it ready. “Ever seen something like this?” I ask, trying to keep my voice even.
Thomas shakes his head. “Only once. A long time ago.” Some of his dark hair falls across his face. It’s not combed back as nicely as usual—he must’ve been out in the crowds earlier. One hand lingers on the gun strapped to his belt, while the other rests on a rifle slung around his shoulder. He doesn’t look at me. He hasn’t looked at me straight on since he tried kissing me last night in the hall. “A bunch of fools,” he replies. “If they don’t back down soon, the commanders will make them regret it.”
I glance up to see several commanders standing on one of Batalla Hall’s balconies. It’s too dark now to be sure, but I don’t think Commander Jameson is with them. I know she’s giving orders through her mouthpiece, though, because Thomas listens intently with one hand pressed against his ear. But whatever she’s saying is only for Thomas, and I have no idea what she’s telling him. The crowd below us continues to push. I can tell from their clothes—torn shirts and trousers, mismatched shoes filled with holes—that almost all of them are from the poor sectors near the lake. Secretly, I will them to disperse. Get out of here before things get worse.
Thomas leans over to me and nods toward the center of the crowd. “See that pitiful bunch?”
I’d already noticed what he’s pointing out, but I still follow his gaze politely. A group of protesters have streaked their hair scarlet, imitating the bloodstained lock Day had when he’d stood out here for his sentencing. “A poor choice for a hero,” Thomas goes on. “Day will be dead in less than a week.”
I nod once but say nothing.
A few screams echo from the crowd. One patrol has made its way around to the back of the square, and now they have the crowd boxed in, pushing people in toward the square’s center. I frown. This isn’t protocol for handling an unruly mob. In school, we were taught that dust bombs or tear gas is more than enough to do the job. But there’s no sign of that—none of the soldiers wear gas masks. And now yet another patrol has started chasing away the stragglers gathered outside the square, where the streets are too chaotic and narrow to protest properly.
“What’s Commander Jameson telling you?” I ask Thomas.
Thomas’s dark hair falls across his eyes and covers his expression. “She says to stay put and wait for her command.”
We don’t do anything for a good half hour. I keep one hand in my pocket, absently rubbing Day’s pendant. Somehow, the crowd reminds me of Skiz. There’s probably even some of the same people.
That’s when I see soldiers running along the tops of the square’s buildings. Some hurry along ledges, while others are gathered in a straight line across the roofs. Odd. Soldiers usually have black tassels and a single row of silver buttons on their jackets. Their arm insignias are navy blue or red or silver or gold. But these soldiers have no buttons on their jackets. Instead, a white stripe runs diagonally across their chests and their armbands are gray. It takes me another second to realize who they are.
“Thomas.” I tap him and point up to the roofs. “Executioners.”