I only shrugged. “Good to know,” I said.
And that was that.
Tess bolts out of her sleep. Her arm whacks my head.
“Ouch,” I mutter as I rub my forehead. Pain runs through my healing arm, and I hear the silver bullets Tess took from my clothes clink together in my pocket. “If you wanted me to wake up, you could’ve just tapped me.”
She holds a finger up to her lips. Now I’m on the alert. We’re still sitting underneath the pier, but it’s probably a couple hours before dawn, and the skyline has already gone dark. The only light comes from several antique streetlamps lining the edge of the lake. I glance at Tess. Her eyes glint in the darkness.
“Did you hear something?” she whispers.
I frown. Usually I can hear something suspicious before Tess does, but this time I hear nothing at all. We both stay still for a long moment. I hear the occasional lap of waves. The churning sound of metal pushing water. Now and then, a passing car.
I look at Tess again. “What did you hear the first time?”
“It sounded like . . . something gurgling,” she whispers.
Before I can think much about it, I hear footsteps and then a voice approaching the pier above us. We both shrink farther into the shadows. It’s a man’s voice, and his footsteps sound oddly heavy. I realize a second later that the man is walking in step with someone else. A pair of street police.
I push myself farther back against the bank, and some of the loose dirt and rocks give way. They roll silently down into the sand. I keep pushing until my back hits a surface that’s hard and smooth. Tess does the same.
“There’s something brewing,” one of the police says. “Plague’s popped up in the Zein sector this time.”
Their footsteps clomp overhead and I see their figures walk along the beginning of the pier. Off in the distance, the first signs of light are turning the horizon a murky gray.
“I’ve never heard of the plague showing up there.”
“Must be a stronger strain.”
“What are they going to do?”
I try to hear what the other policeman has to say, but by now the two have walked far enough that their voices have turned to murmurs. I take a deep breath. The Zein sector is a good thirty miles away from here—but what if the strange red mark on my mother’s door means that they’re infected with this new strain? And what will the Elector do about it?
“Day,” Tess whispers.
I look at her. She turns against the bank so that her back now faces out toward the lake. She points at the deep indent we’ve made in the bank. When I turn around, I see what she’s pointing to.
The hard surface I’d had my back against is actually a sheet of metal. When I brush away more of the rocks and dirt, I see that the metal is lodged deep in the bank, so that it’s probably what’s holding the bank up in the first place. I squint at the surface.
Tess looks at me. “It’s hollow.”
“Hollow?” I put my ear against the ice-cold metal. A wave of noise hits me—the gurgling and hissing sound that Tess heard earlier. This isn’t just a metal structure to hold up the lake’s shores. When I pull away from it and look closer at the metal, I notice symbols carved on its surface.
One of these is the Republic’s flag, imprinted faintly against the metal. Another is a small red number:
“I SHOULD BE THE ONE GOING OUT THERE. NOT YOU.”
I grit my teeth and try not to look at Thomas. His words could have come right out of Metias’s mouth. “I’ll look less suspicious than you,” I reply. “People may find it easier to trust me.” We’re standing in front of a window in Batalla Hall’s north wing, watching Commander Jameson at work on the other side of the glass. Today they caught a spy from the Colonies who was secretly spreading propaganda about “how the Republic is lying to you!” Spies are usually shipped out to Denver, but if they’re caught in a big city like Los Angeles, we take them before the capital does. He’s dangling upside down in the interrogation room right now. Commander Jameson has a pair of scissors in her hand.
I tilt my head a little as I look at the spy. I already hate him as much as I hate anything about the Colonies—he’s not affiliated with the Patriots, that’s for sure, but that just makes him more of a coward. (So far, every Patriot we’ve hunted down has killed himself before getting taken in.) This spy’s young, probably in his late twenties. About the same age my brother was. I’m slowly growing used to talking about Metias in past tense.
From the corner of my eye, I can see that Thomas is still looking at me. Commander Jameson officially promoted him to fill my brother’s position, but Thomas has little power over what I choose to do on this test mission, and it drives him crazy. He would have balked at letting me go undercover in the Lake sector for days on end, without a pair of strong backups and a team to follow me.
But it’s going to happen anyway, starting tomorrow morning.
“Look. Don’t worry about me.” Through the glass, I see the spy arch his back in agony. “I can take care of myself. Day isn’t a fool—if I have a team following me through the city, he’ll notice it in no time.”
Thomas turns back to the interrogation. “I know you’re good at what you do,” he replies. I wait for the but . . . in his sentence. It doesn’t come. “Just keep your microphone on. I’ll take care of things back here.”
I smile at him. “Thanks.” He doesn’t look back at me, but I can see his lips tilt up at the edges. Maybe he’s remembering when I used to tag along after him and Metias, asking them inane questions about how the military worked.