As I’m licking the last of the chili off my fingers, I hear a door close somewhere in the house and, moments later, footsteps rushing toward our room. I tense up. Next to me, Tess jerks awake and grabs my arm.
“What was that?” she blurts out. I hold a finger to my lips.
Our caretaker hurries into the room, a tattered robe draped over his pajamas. “You should leave now,” he whispers. Sweat beads on his forehead. “I just heard about a man who’s been looking for you.”
I stare levelly at him. Tess gives me a panicked look. “How do you know?” I ask.
The man starts cleaning up the room, grabbing my empty bowl and wiping down the dresser. “He’s telling people that he has plague cures for someone who needs it. He says he knows that you’re injured. He never gave a name, but he must be talking about you.”
I sit up straight and swing my legs over the side of the bed. There’s no choice now. “He’s talking about me,” I agree. Tess snatches up a few clean bandages and stuffs them under her shirt. “It’s a trap. We’ll leave immediately.”
The man nods once. “You can get out through the back door. Straight into the hall, on your left.”
I take a moment to meet his eyes. In that instant, I realize that he knows exactly who I am. He won’t say it out loud, though. Like other people in our sector who have realized who I am and helped me in the past, he doesn’t exactly disapprove of the trouble I cause for the Republic. “We’re very grateful,” I say.
He says nothing in return. I grab Tess’s hand and we make our way out of the bedroom, down the hall and through the back door. The night’s humidity is thick. My eyes water from the pain of my wounds.
We make our way through silent back alleys for six blocks until we finally slow down. My injuries are screaming now. I reach up to touch my pendant necklace for comfort, but then I remember that it’s no longer around my neck. A sick feeling rises in my stomach. What if the Republic figures out what it is? Will they destroy it? What if they trace it back to my family?
Tess slumps to the ground and rests her head against the alley wall. “We need to leave the city,” she says. “It’s too dangerous here, Day. You know it is. Arizona or Colorado would be safer—or come on, even Barstow. I don’t mind the outskirts.”
Yeah, yeah. I know. I look down. “I want to leave too.”
“But you won’t. I can see it on your face.”
We’re silent for a while. If it were up to me, I’d cross the whole country alone and escape into the Colonies first chance I got. I don’t mind risking my own life. But there are a dozen reasons I can’t go, and Tess knows it. It’s not like John and Mom can just pick up and leave their assigned jobs to flee with me, not without raising an alert. It’s not like Eden can just withdraw from his assigned school. Not unless they want to become fugitives like me.
“We’ll see,” I finally say.
Tess gives me a tragic smile. “Who do you think is looking for you?” she asks after a while. “How do they know we’re in the Lake sector?”
“I don’t know. Could be a dealer who heard about the hospital break-in. Maybe they think we have a lot of money or something. Could be a soldier. Even a spy. I lost my pendant at the hospital—I don’t know how they would use it to learn anything about me, but there’s always a chance.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
I shrug. My bullet wound has begun to throb, and I lean against the wall for support. “I’m sure as hell not meeting him, whoever he is—but I got to admit, I’m curious to see what he has to say. What if he does have plague cures?”
Tess stares at me. It’s the same expression she wore the very first night I met her—hopeful, curious, and fearful all at once. “Well . . . can’t be any more dangerous than your crazy hospital break-in, yeah?”
I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S BECAUSE COMMANDER JAMESON has taken pity on me, or if she really does feel the loss of Metias, one of her most valued soldiers, but she helps me arrange his funeral—even though she’s never done that for one of her soldiers before. She refuses to say anything about why she chose to do it.
Wealthy families like ours always have elaborate funerals—Metias’s takes place inside a building with soaring baroque archways and stained-glass windows. They’ve covered the bare floors with white carpets; round white banquet tables overflowing with white lilacs fill the room. The only colors come from the Republic flags and circular gold Republic seal hanging behind the room’s front altar, the portrait of our glorious Elector looming above them all.
All the mourners wear their best whites. I have on an elaborate white gown, laced and corseted, with a silk overskirt and draped layers in the back. A tiny white-gold brooch of the Republic seal is clipped on its bodice. The hairdresser piled my hair high on my head, with loose ringlets cascading over one shoulder, and a white rose pinned behind my ear. Pearls line the choker wrapped around my throat. My eyelids are coated with glittering white eye shadow, my lashes are bathed in snow, the puffy redness under my eyes erased by shining white powder. Everything about me is stripped of color, just as Metias has been stripped from my life.
Metias once told me that it was not always this way, that only after the first floods and volcanic eruptions, after the Republic built a barrier along the warfront to keep the Colonies’ deserters from fleeing illegally into our territory, did people start mourning for the dead by wearing white. “After the first eruptions,” he said, “white volcanic ash rained from the sky for months. The dead and dying were covered in it. So now to wear white is to remember the dead.”