“Then fetch me that chicken too,” the policeman says.
Mom hurries back inside. She comes out with a tightly tied bag of chicken meat lined with cloth rags. The policeman takes it, slings it over his shoulder, and casts me one more disgusted look. “Street brats,” he mutters. Then he leaves us behind. The alley turns quiet again.
John tries to say something comforting to Mom, but she just brushes it off and apologizes to John for our lost meal. She doesn’t look at me. After a while, she hurries back inside to tend to Eden, who has started to cry.
John whirls to face me when Mom is gone. He grabs my shoulders, then shakes me hard. “Don’t ever do that again, you hear me? Don’t you dare.”
“I didn’t mean to hit him!” I yell back.
John makes an angry sound. “Not that. The way you looked at him. Don’t you have any brains at all? You never look at an officer like that, do you understand? You want to get us all killed?”
My cheek still stings from the knife handle, and my stomach burns from the policeman’s kick. I twist out of John’s grasp. “You didn’t have to stand up for me,” I snap. “I could’ve taken it. I’ll fight back.”
John grabs me again. “You’re completely cracked. Listen to me, and listen to me good. All right? You never fight back. Ever. You do what the officers tell you, and you don’t argue with them.” Some of the anger fades from his eyes. “I would rather die than see them hurt you. Understand?”
I struggle for something smart to say in return, but to my embarrassment, I feel tears well up in my eyes. “Well, I’m sorry you lost your chicken,” I blurt out.
My words force a little smile out of John. “Come here, boy.” He sighs, then envelops me in a hug. Tears spill down my cheeks. I’m ashamed of them, and I try not to make a sound.
I’m not a superstitious person, but when I wake up from this dream, this painfully clear memory of John, I have the most horrible feeling in my chest.
I would rather die than see them hurt you.
And I have a sudden fear that somehow, some way, what he said in the dream will come true.
0800 HOURS. RUBY SECTOR.
DAY WILL BE EXECUTED TOMORROW EVENING.
Thomas shows up at my door. He invites me to an early movie showing before we have to report to Batalla Hall. The Glory of the Flag, he tells me. I’ve heard good reviews. It’s about a Republic girl who captures a Colonies spy.
I say yes. If I’m going to help John escape tonight, I’d better make sure I keep Thomas feeling good about our relationship. No need for him to get suspicious.
The oncoming hurricane (fifth one this year) shows its first signs as soon as Thomas and I step out onto the streets—an ominous gale, a gust of ice-cold wind, startling in the otherwise humid air. Birds are uneasy. Stray dogs take shelter instead of wandering. Fewer motorcycles and cars pass by on the streets. Trucks deliver extra jugs of drinking water and canned food to the high-rise residents. Sandbags, lamps, and portable radios are rationed out too. Even the Trial stadiums have postponed the Trials scheduled for the day the storm will arrive.
“I suppose you must be excited, what with everything that’s going on,” Thomas says as we file into the theater. “Won’t be long now.”
I nod and smile. People pack every seat in the house today, in spite of the windy weather and impending blackouts. Before us looms the theater room’s giant Cube, a four-sided projector screen with one side pointed toward each block of seats. It shows a steady stream of ads and news updates while we wait.
“I don’t think ‘excited’ is the best term for how I’m feeling,” I reply. “But I have to say I am looking forward to it. Do you know the details about how it’ll go?”
“Well, I know I’ll be monitoring the soldiers in the square.” Thomas keeps his attention on the rotating commercials (our side currently shows a bright, gaudy Is your child ’s Trial coming up? Send him to Ace Trials for a free tutoring consultation!). “Who knows what the crowd might do. They’re probably already gathering. As for you—you’ll probably be inside. Leading Day to the yard. Commander Jameson will tell us more when it’s time.”
“Very well.” I let myself think over my plans again, details of which have been running through my mind ever since I met Kaede last night. I’ll need time to deliver uniforms to her before the execution—time to help several of the Patriots sneak inside. Commander Jameson shouldn’t need much convincing to let me escort Day out, and even Thomas sounds like he understands that I want to.
“June.” Thomas’s voice breaks me out of my thoughts.
He gives me a curious look and frowns slightly, as if he’s just remembered something. “You weren’t home last night.”
Stay calm. I smile a little, then glance casually back to the screen. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, I stopped by your apartment in the middle of the night. I knocked for a long time, but you didn’t answer. It sounded like Ollie was there, so I knew you didn’t go to the track. Where were you?”
I look back at Thomas with a steady face. “I couldn’t sleep. I went up to the roof for a while and watched the streets.”
“You didn’t bring your earpiece with you. I tried calling you but just got static.”
“Really?” I shake my head. “The reception must have been bad, because I had it on. It was pretty windy last night.”
He nods. “You must be exhausted today. You’d better tell Commander Jameson, if you don’t want her to work you too hard.”