“Okay, genius.” Kaede laughs, a little too sarcastically. “Let me ask you this, though. How the hell are you going to get Day out of the building at all? You think you’re going to be the only soldier escorting him to the firing squad? Other soldiers will probably flank you. Hell, a whole patrol might join you.”
I smile at her. “There will be other soldiers. But who says they can’t be Patriots in disguise?”
She doesn’t answer me, not in words. But I can see the grin spreading on her face, and I realize that even though she thinks I’m crazy, she has also agreed to help.
TWO NIGHTS BEFORE MY EXECUTION DATE, I HAVE a slew of dreams while trying to sleep against my cell’s wall. I can’t remember the first few. They mix together into a confusing sludge of familiar and strange faces, something that sounds like Tess’s laughter, something else that sounds like June’s voice. They’re all trying to talk to me, but I can’t understand any of them.
I remember the last dream I have before I wake up, though.
A bright afternoon in Lake sector. I’m nine. John is thirteen, just barely starting his growth spurt. Eden is only four and sits on our front door’s steps, looking on as John and I play a game of street hockey. Even at this age, Eden is the most intelligent of us, and instead of joining in, he chooses to sit there tinkering with parts of an old turbine engine.
John hits a crumpled ball of paper toward me. I barely catch it with the butt of my broom. “You hit it too far,” I protest.
John just grins. “You’ll need better reflexes than that if you want to pass your Trial’s physical tier.”
I hit the paper ball back as hard as I can. It whizzes past John and hits the wall behind him. “You managed to pass your Trial,” I say. “Despite your reflexes.”
“I missed that ball on purpose.” John laughs as he turns and jogs over to the ball. He catches it before the breeze can blow it away. Several passersby almost step on it. “Didn’t want to completely crush your ego.”
It’s a good day. John had recently been assigned to work at our local steam plant. To celebrate, Mom sold one of her two dresses and an assortment of old pots, and spent all last week taking over shifts from her coworkers. The extra money was enough to buy a whole chicken. She’s inside preparing it—and the smell of meat and broth is so good that we keep the door propped open a little so we can catch a whiff of it out here, too. John isn’t usually in such a great mood. I plan to take advantage of it as much as I can.
John hits the ball to me. I catch it with my broom and knock it back. We play fast and furious for several minutes, neither of us missing, sometimes making such ridiculous jumps to get the ball that Eden falls over laughing. The smell of chicken fills the air. It’s not even a hot day today—it’s perfect, in fact. I pause for a second as John runs to fetch the ball again. I try to take a mental snapshot of this day.
We hit the ball some more. Then, I make a mistake.
A street policeman wanders through our alley as I’m getting ready to hit the ball back to John. From the corner of my eye, I see Eden stand up on the steps. Even John sees him coming before I do, and he holds out one hand to stop me. But it’s too late. I’m already in mid-swing, and I hit the ball straight into the policeman’s face.
It bounces right off, of course—harmless paper—but it’s enough to make the policeman stop in his tracks. His eyes dart to me. I freeze.
Before any of us can move, the policeman pulls a knife from his boot and marches over to me. “Think you can get away with something like that, boy?” he shouts. He lifts the knife and gets ready to hit me across the face with its handle. Instead of cringing, I give him a nasty stare and hold my ground.
John reaches the policeman before he can reach me. “Sir! Sir!” John darts in front of me and holds his hands out to the policeman. “I’m so sorry for that,” he says. “This is Daniel, my little brother. He didn’t mean it.”
The policeman shoves John out of his way. The knife handle whips me across the face. I collapse on the ground. Eden screams and runs inside. I cough, trying to spit out the dirt that fills my mouth. I can’t speak. The policeman walks over and kicks me in my side. My eyes bulge out. I curl up in a fetal position.
“Stop, please!” John rushes back to the policeman and stands firmly between the two of us. I catch a glimpse of our porch from where I lie on the ground. My mother has rushed out to the entrance, with Eden hidden behind her. She calls out desperately to the policeman. John continues pleading with him. “I—I can pay you. We don’t have much, but you can take whatever you want. Please.” John’s hand comes down and grabs my arm. He helps me to my feet.
The policeman pauses to consider John’s offer. Then he looks up at my mother. “You, there,” he calls out. “Fetch me what you have. And see if you can raise a better brat.”
John pushes me farther behind himself. “He didn’t mean it, sir,” John repeats. “My mother will punish him for his behavior. He’s young and doesn’t know any better.”
My mother rushes out a few seconds later with a cloth bundle. The policeman opens it and checks each Note. I can tell that it’s almost all our money. John stays silent. After a while, the policeman rewraps the money and tucks it into his vest pocket. He looks at my mother again. “Are you cooking a chicken in there?” he says. “Kind of a luxury for a family of your type. You like wasting money often?”