Behind the details flashing through my mind emerges a black, rising hatred. This is the voice of my brother’s murderer. This may have been the last voice my brother heard.
I wait two seconds before speaking again. When I do, my voice is smooth and calm and shows no sign of my rage. “What do I want?” I ask him. “It depends. Do you have money?”
“Twelve hundred Notes.”
(Notes, not Republic gold. He robs the upper class but doesn’t have the ability to rob the extremely wealthy. He’s probably a one-man operation.) I laugh. “Twelve hundred Notes can’t buy you this vial. What else do you have? Valuables? Jewelry?”
“Or do you have skills to offer, as I’m sure you do—”
“I don’t work for the government.”
His weak point. Naturally. “No offense. Just thought I’d ask. And how do you know I don’t work for someone else? Don’t you think you’re giving the government too much credit?”
A slight pause. Then the voice comes back. “Your cloak knot. Don’t know what it is, but it sure doesn’t look civilian.”
This surprises me a little. My cloak knot is indeed a Canto knot, a sturdy knot that military officials like to use. Apparently Day has some detailed knowledge of how government uniforms look. Impressive eye. I’m quick to cover up my hesitation. “Good to find another person who knows what a Canto knot is. But I travel a lot, my friend. I see and know a lot of people, people who I might not be affiliated with.”
I wait, listening for another breath over the speakers. Nothing. Not even a click. I didn’t act fast enough, and the brief hesitation in my voice was enough to convince him that he couldn’t trust me. I tighten the cloak around me and realize that I’ve started to sweat in the warmth of the night. My heart hammers against my chest.
Another voice sounds in my head. This time it comes from my tiny earpiece. “Are you there, Iparis?” It’s Commander Jameson. I can hear the buzz of other people in her office in the background.
“He left,” I whisper. “But he gave me clues.”
“Tipped him off about whom you work for, didn’t you? Well, it’s your first time on your own. I have the recordings at any rate. See you back at Batalla Hall.” Her rebuke stings a little. Before I can answer, the static cuts off.
I wait for another minute, just to be sure I hadn’t misread Day’s exit. Silence. I turn and start back down the alley. I’d wanted to tell Commander Jameson what the easiest solution would be—to simply round up everyone in the Lake sector whose doors are marked. That would draw Day out of hiding. But I can already hear Commander Jameson’s retort. Absolutely not, Iparis. It’s far too expensive, and headquarters won’t approve. You’ll have to think of something else. I glance back once, half expecting to see a black-clad figure following me. But the alley is empty.
I won’t be allowed to force Day to come to me—which leaves me only one option. I’ll have to go to him.
“EAT SOMETHING, YEAH?”
Tess’s voice shakes me out of my vigil. I look away from the lake to see her holding out a piece of bread and cheese, gesturing for me to take it. I should be hungry. I’ve only eaten half an apple since my encounter with the strange government agent last night. But somehow the bread and cheese—still fresh from the shop where Tess had traded a few precious Notes for it—doesn’t seem tempting.
I take it anyway. Far be it from me to waste perfectly good food, especially when we should be saving everything we have for plague meds.
Tess and I are sitting in the sand underneath a pier, at the part of the lake that crosses into our sector. We keep ourselves pressed as closely against the side of the bank as we can so idle soldiers and drunk workers above can’t see us past all the grass and rocks. We blend into the shadows. From where we sit, we can taste the salt in the air and see the lights of downtown Los Angeles reflected on the water. Ruins of older buildings dot the lake, buildings abandoned by business owners and residents when the floodwaters rose. Giant waterwheels and turbines churn along the water’s edge behind veils of smoke. This is probably my favorite view from our shabby, beautiful little Lake sector.
I take that back. It’s my favorite and least-favorite view. Because while the electric lights of downtown make for some nice sightseeing, I can also see the Trial stadium looming off in the east.
“You still have time,” Tess says to me. She scoots close enough for me to feel her bare arm against mine. Her hair smells like bread and cinnamon from the shop. “Probably a month or more. We’ll find plague medicine before then, I’m sure of it.”
For a girl with no family and no home, Tess is surprisingly optimistic. I try to smile for her sake. “Maybe,” I say. “Maybe the hospital will let down its guard after a couple weeks.” But in my heart I know better.
Earlier in the day, I risked a peek at my mother’s house. The strange X still marked the door. My mother and John seemed okay, at least strong enough to stand and walk around. But Eden . . . this time Eden was lying in bed with a cloth on his forehead. Even from a distance, I could tell that he’d already lost some weight. His skin looked wan, and his voice sounded weak and hoarse. When I met John later behind our house, he told me that Eden hadn’t eaten since the last time I came by. I reminded John to stay out of Eden’s room when he could. Who knows how this cracked plague is spreading. John warned me not to pull any more stunts, in case I get myself killed. I had to laugh at that. John won’t ever say it to my face, but I know that I am Eden’s only chance.