He reaches up and unlocks one of my hands from its chain, then clips it into the handcuffs. I don’t fight him. Then he unlocks the second hand. He gets ready to shove it into the handcuffs.
Suddenly I twist, and for a split second I’m free. Before he can react, I whirl, yank the gun out of his holster, and point it straight at him. The other two guards fix their rifles on me, but they don’t fire. They can’t do it without hitting the first soldier.
“Tell your boys outside to open the door,” I say to the soldier I’m holding hostage.
He swallows hard. The other soldiers don’t dare to blink. “Open the door!” he shouts. There’s commotion in the hall, then a few clicks. The first soldier bares his teeth at me. “There are dozens of them out there,” he snaps. “You’ll never make it.”
I just wink at him.
The instant the door opens a sliver, I grab the soldier’s shirt and shove him against a wall. One of the others attempts to fire at me—I duck to the floor and roll. Shots are fired all around me. They sound like rubber pellets. I break out of my roll in time to trip a soldier flat on his back. Even this makes me grit my teeth in pain. Damn this sore leg. I dart right through the opening before they can close it.
I take in the hallway scene in the blink of an eye. Soldiers litter the walkway. Ceiling tiles. Right-angle turn at the end of the hall. The walls say 4th Floor. The soldier who opened the door has started reacting—his hand goes to his gun as if in slow motion. I leap up, push off against one wall, and grip the top ledge of the door. My injured leg throws me off completely—I nearly fall back to the ground. More shots ring out. I swing up toward the ceiling and grab the crisscrossing metal between the tiles. Room 6822—sixth floor. I swing back down, kicking one soldier in the head with my good leg. He goes down, and I roll with him. I feel two rubber bullets hit him in the shoulder. He cries out. I crouch down and dart through the hall, dodging soldiers and guns, slipping out of the hands that reach for me.
I have to get to John. If I can get him out, we can help each other escape. If I can—
Then something heavy hits me across the face. My vision goes dark. I fight to concentrate, but I feel myself fall to the floor. I try to spring back to my feet, but someone knocks me down again, and a sharp pain makes my back twitch. A soldier must’ve hit me with the butt of a rifle. I feel hands pin my arms and legs down. My breath escapes me in a gasp.
Everything happens so fast that I can barely register all of it. My head swims. I think I’m going to pass out.
A familiar voice sounds out above me. It’s Commander Jameson. “What the hell is this!” She continues to shout at her soldiers. My vision gradually comes back. I realize I’m still trying to fight my way out of the soldiers’ grasp.
A hand grabs my chin. Suddenly I’m looking directly into Commander Jameson’s eyes. “A foolish attempt,” she says. She glances at Thomas, who salutes her. “Thomas. Take him back to his cell. And put some qualified guards on his watch, for once.” She releases my chin and rubs her gloved hands together. “I want the current guards dismissed and thrown off my patrol.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Thomas salutes again, then starts barking out orders. My free hand is clipped into the handcuffs that are still hanging off the other wrist. From the corner of my eye, I see another black-clad official standing next to Thomas. It’s June. My heart leaps into my throat. She narrows her eyes at me. In her hand I see the rifle she used to hit me.
They drag me kicking and shouting back to my cell. June stands by as soldiers chain me to the wall again. Then, when they step back, she leans down near my face. “I would highly suggest you not try that again,” she snaps.
There’s nothing but cold fury in her eyes. By the door, I see Commander Jameson smile. Thomas looks on with a serious face.
Then, June leans over again and whispers in my ear. “Don’t try it again,” she says, “because you won’t be able to do it alone. You’ll need my help.”
Of all the things I could’ve imagined coming out of her mouth, this is certainly not one of them. I try to keep my expression from changing, but my heart stops beating for a second. Help? June wants to help me? This is the girl who’d just knocked me to a state of half consciousness in the hallway. Is she trying to throw me into a trap? Or does she really mean it?
June pulls away from me the instant she utters the last word. I pretend to be angry, as if she’s just whispered something insulting. Commander Jameson lifts her chin. “Well done, Agent Iparis.” June gives her a quick salute. “Follow Thomas down to the lobby, and I’ll meet you there.”
June and the captain leave. I’m alone with Commander Jameson and a new rotation of soldiers standing near the cell’s door.
“Mr. Wing,” she says to me after a while. “An impressive effort tonight. You are truly as agile as Agent Iparis claimed. I hate seeing such talents wasted on worthless criminals, but life isn’t very fair, is it?” She smiles at me. “Poor boy. You truly believed you could break out of a military stronghold, didn’t you?”
Commander Jameson walks over to me, bends down, and rests her elbow on one knee. “Let me tell you a short story,” she says. “Some years ago, we caught a young renegade who had a great deal in common with you. Bold and brash, stupidly defiant, just as inconvenient. He tried to escape before his execution date too. Do you know what happened to him, Mr. Wing?” She reaches over, puts her hand on my forehead, and pushes me backward until my head presses against the wall. “That kid made it as far as the stairwell before we got him. When his execution date came, the court granted me permission to kill him personally instead of putting him in front of the firing squad.” Her hand tightens on my forehead. “I think he would have preferred the firing squad.”