“Move it, Iparis. Time is of the essence.” Her eyes flicker to Ollie in the backseat. “That’s not a police dog, kid.” Even now, her demeanor is unflinching.
I step out of the jeep and give her a quick salute. Ollie jumps down next to me. “You called for me, Commander,” I say.
Commander Jameson doesn’t bother to return my gesture. She starts walking away, and I’m forced to hurry along beside her, struggling to fall into step. “Your brother, Metias, is dead,” she says. Her tone doesn’t change. “I’m of the understanding that you are almost done with your training as an agent, correct? That you’ve already finished your courses on tracking?”
I fight hard to breathe. A second confirmation of Metias’s death. “Yes, Commander,” I manage to say.
We head into the hospital. (Waiting room is empty; they’ve cleared out all patients; guards are clustered near the stairwell entrance; that’s probably where the crime scene starts.) Commander Jameson keeps her eyes forward and her hands behind her back. “What was your Trial score?”
“Fifteen hundred, Commander.” Everyone in the military knows my score. But Commander Jameson likes to pretend not to know or care.
She doesn’t stop walking. “Ah, that’s right,” she says, as if it is the first time she’s heard it. “Maybe you’ll be of use after all. I’ve called ahead to Drake and told them that you are dismissed from further training. You were almost done with your coursework anyway.”
I frown. “Commander?”
“I received a full history of your grades there. Perfect scores—you’ve already finished most of your courses in half the number of years, yes? They also say you’re quite a troublemaker. Is this true?”
I can’t understand what she wants from me. “Sometimes, Commander. Am I in trouble? Did they expel me?”
Commander Jameson smiles. “Hardly. They’ve graduated you early. Follow me—there’s something I want you to see.”
I want to ask about Metias, about what happened here. But her icy demeanor stops me.
We walk down a first-floor hall until we reach an emergency exit door at the very end of it. There, Commander Jameson waves away the soldiers guarding it and ushers me through. A low growl rumbles in Ollie’s throat. We step out into open air, this time at the back of the building. I realize that we are now inside the yellow tape. Dozens of soldiers stand in clusters around us.
“Hurry up,” Commander Jameson snaps at me. I quicken my pace.
A moment later, I realize what she wants to show me and where we are walking. Not far ahead is an object covered in a white sheet. (Six feet long, human; feet and limbs look intact under the cloth; definitely didn’t fall naturally like that, so someone had to lay him out.) I start to tremble. When I look down at Ollie, I see that the fur on his back is standing up. I call to him several times, but he refuses to walk any closer, so I’m forced to follow Commander Jameson and leave him behind.
Metias kissed me on my forehead. “Forever and ever, kid, until you’re sick and tired of seeing me.”
Commander Jameson halts in front of the white sheet, then bends down and throws it aside. I stare down at the dead body of a soldier clad in military black, a knife still protruding from his chest. Dark blood stains his shirt, his shoulder, his hands, the grooves of the knife hilt. His eyes are closed now. I kneel before him and smooth strands of his dark hair away from his face. It’s odd. I don’t take in any details of the scene. I still feel nothing but that deep numbness.
“Tell me about what might have happened here, cadet,” Commander Jameson demands. “Consider this a pop quiz. This soldier’s identity should motivate you to get it right.”
I don’t even inch from the sting of her words. The details rush in, and I start talking. “Whoever hit him with this knife either stabbed him from close range or has an incredibly strong throwing arm. Right-handed.” I run my fingers along the blood-caked handle. “Impressive aim. The knife is one of a pair, correct? See this pattern painted on the bottom of the blade? It cuts off abruptly.”
Commander Jameson nods. “The second knife is stuck in the wall of the stairwell.”
I look toward the dark alley that my brother’s feet point to and notice the sewer cover several yards away. “That’s where he made his getaway,” I say. I estimate the direction the sewer cap is turned in. “He’s also left-handed. Interesting. He’s ambidextrous.”
“From here, the sewers will take him deeper into the city or west to the ocean. He’ll choose the city—he’s probably too wounded to do otherwise. But it’s impossible to track him accurately now. If he has any sense, he’ll have taken half a dozen turns down there and done it in the sewer water too. He wouldn’t have touched the walls. He’ll give us nothing to track.”
“I’m going to leave you here for a bit, so you can collect your thoughts. Meet me in two minutes in the third-floor stairwell so you can give the photographers some room.” She glances once at Metias’s body before she turns away—for a brief second, her face softens. “What a waste of a good soldier.” Then she shakes her head and leaves.
I watch her go. The others around me stay a good distance away, apparently eager to avoid an awkward conversation. I look down at my brother’s face again. To my surprise, he appears peaceful. His skin looks tan, not pale like I’d assumed it would. I half expect his eyes to flutter, his mouth to smile. Bits of dried blood flake off onto my hands. When I try to brush them off, they stick to my skin. I don’t know if this is what sets off my anger. My hands start shaking so hard that I press them against Metias’s clothes in an attempt to steady them. I’m supposed to be analyzing the crime scene . . . but I can’t concentrate.