When I open the door, Thomas coughs nervously at the surprised look on my face and pretends to smile. (There is a streak of black grease on his forehead, probably from his own index finger. Which means he just finished polishing his rifle earlier in the evening, and his patrol’s inspection is tomorrow.) I cross my arms. He touches the edge of his cap politely.
“Hello, Ms. Iparis,” he says.
I take a deep breath. “I’m heading out to the track. Where’s Metias?”
“Commander Jameson has requested that you come with me to the hospital as soon as possible.” Thomas hesitates for a second. “It’s more of an order than a request.”
There’s a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Why didn’t she just call me?” I ask.
“She prefers for me to escort you.”
“Why?” My voice starts to rise. “Where’s my brother?”
Now Thomas takes a deep breath. I already know what he’s going to say. “I’m sorry. Metias has been killed.”
That’s when the world around me goes silent.
As if from a great distance, I can see that Thomas is still speaking, gesturing with his hands, pulling me to him for a hug. I hug him back without realizing what I’m doing. I feel nothing. I nod when he steadies me and asks me to do something. To follow him. He keeps an arm around my shoulders. A dog’s wet nose nudges my hand. Ollie follows me out of the apartment, and I tell him to stay close. I lock the door and stuff the key into my pocket and let Thomas guide us through the darkness to the stairs. He’s talking the whole time, but I can’t hear him. I stare straight ahead at the reflective metal decorations lining the stairwell, at the distorted reflections of Ollie and me.
I can’t make out my expression. I’m not sure I even have one.
Metias should have taken me with him. This is my first coherent thought as we reach the bottom floor of our high-rise and climb into a waiting jeep. Ollie jumps into the backseat and sticks his head out the window. The car smells damp (like rubber and metal and fresh sweat—a group of people must’ve ridden in here recently). Thomas sits in the driver’s seat and makes sure my seat belt is buckled. Such a small, stupid thing.
Metias should have taken me with him.
I run this thought over and over again in my head. Thomas doesn’t say anything else. He lets me stare out at the darkened city as we go, occasionally shooting me a hesitant glance. Some small part of me makes a mental note to apologize to him later.
My eyes glaze over at the familiar buildings we pass. People (mostly workers hired from the slums) pack the first-floor stands even with the lights out, hunched over bowls of cheap food in the ground level cafés. Clouds of steam float high in the distance. JumboTrons, always on, regardless of power shortages, display the latest warnings about floods and quarantines. A few are about the Patriots—this time for another bombing up in Sacramento that killed half a dozen soldiers. A few cadets, eleven-year-olds with yellow stripes on their sleeves, linger on the steps outside an academy, the old and worn Walt Disney Concert Hall letters almost completely faded. Several other military jeeps cross our intersection, and I see the blank faces of their soldiers. Some of them have black goggles on so I can’t see their eyes at all.
The sky looks more overcast than usual—signs of a rainstorm. I pull my hood over my head in case I forget when we finally get out of the car.
When I turn my attention back to the window, I see the part of downtown that sits inside Batalla. All the lights in this military sector are on. The hospital’s tower looms just a few blocks away.
Thomas notices me craning my neck for a better view. “Almost there,” he says.
As we draw near, I can see the crisscrossed lines of yellow tape surrounding the bottom of the tower, the clusters of city patrol soldiers (red stripes on their sleeves, like Metias), as well as some photographers and street police, the black vans and medic trucks. Ollie lets out a whine.
“I’m guessing they didn’t catch the person,” I say to Thomas.
“How do you know?”
I nod toward the building. “That’s really something,” I continue. “Whoever it was survived a two-and-a-half-story jump and still had enough strength to escape.”
Thomas looks toward the tower and tries to see what I see—the broken third-floor stairwell window, the taped-off section right below it, the soldiers searching alleyways, the lack of ambulances. “We haven’t caught the guy,” he admits after a moment. The rifle grease on his forehead gives him a bewildered look. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t find his body later.”
“You won’t find it if you haven’t found it yet.”
Thomas opens his mouth to say something, then decides against it and goes back to concentrating on the road. When the jeep finally rolls to a stop, Commander Jameson breaks away from the group of guards she’s standing with and marches over to my car door.
“I’m sorry,” Thomas says abruptly to me. I feel a brief pang of guilt for my coldness and decide to nod back at him. His father had been a janitor for our apartment high-rise before he died, his late mother a cook at my grade school. Metias had been the one to recommend Thomas (who had a high Trial score) to be assigned to the prestigious city patrols, despite his humble background. So he must feel just as numb as I do.
Commander Jameson walks up to my car door and raps twice on the window to get my attention. Her thin lips are painted an angry stroke of red, and in the night her auburn hair looks dark brown—almost black.