“Daniel?” Her fingers brush the hair from my eyes. I’m suddenly her little boy again. “My Daniel. You’re alive. This must be a dream.”
I take her by the shoulders. “Mom, listen. The plague patrol is coming, and they have a medic truck with them. Whatever virus Eden has . . . They’re coming to get him. We have to hide you all.”
She studies me a moment, then nods. She leads me to Eden’s bed. From up close I can see that Eden’s dark eyes have somehow turned black. There’s absolutely no reflection in them, and I realize with horror that they’re black because his irises are bleeding. Mom and I carefully help Eden sit up. His skin is burning hot. John gently lifts him onto his shoulder, whispering soothing words as he does.
Eden lets out a pained yelp, and his head lolls to one side, resting against John’s neck. “Connect the two circuits,” he murmurs.
The sirens continue to wail outside—they must be less than a couple of blocks away by now. I exchange a desperate look with my mother.
“Under the porch,” she whispers. “There’s no time to run.”
Neither John nor I argue. Mom takes my hand tightly in hers. We make our way out the back entrance. I stop for a second just outside, checking the direction and distance of the patrols. They’re almost here. I hurry over to the porch and slide the board to one side. “Eden first,” Mom whispers. John adjusts Eden on his shoulder, then kneels down and crawls into the space. I help Mom in next. Then I scoot after them, wiping away any marks we made in the dirt, and carefully lifting the board back into place. I hope it’s good enough.
We huddle in the darkest corner, where we can barely even see each other. I stare at the shafts of light coming through the vents. They slice the dirt floor into pieces, and I can just make out the crumpled sea daisies. The medic truck’s sirens sound distant for a moment—they’re making a turn somewhere—and then all of a sudden, they’re deafening. Heavy boots follow in their wake.
Damn trots. They’ve stopped outside our home and are getting ready to force their way in.
“Stay here,” I whisper. I twist my hair up over my head and then stuff it back inside my cap. “I’m going to throw them off.”
“No.” It’s John’s voice. “Don’t go back out there. It’s too dangerous.”
I shake my head. “It’s too dangerous for you if I stay. Trust me.” My eyes flick to Mom, who’s working hard to keep her own fear in check while telling Eden a story. I remember how calm she had always seemed when I was little, with her soothing voice and gentle smile. I nod at John. “I’ll be right back.”
Overhead I hear someone bang on our door. “Plague patrol,” a voice calls out. “Open up!”
I dart over to the loose board, carefully pull it aside a couple of feet, and then squeeze my way out. I slide it carefully back into place. Our house’s fence shields me from view, but through the cracks I can see the soldiers waiting outside the door. I have to act quickly. They won’t be expecting someone to fight back right now, especially someone they can’t see. I hurry silently to the back of our house, get a good foothold on a loose brick, and fling myself upward. I grab the edge of our roof, then swing up onto it.
The soldiers can’t see me up here, with our wide chimney and the shadows cast by the taller buildings around us. But I have a good view of them. In fact, the view makes me pause. Something’s wrong here. We have at least a slim chance against one plague patrol. But there are far more than a dozen soldiers in front of our house. I count at least twenty, maybe more, all with white masks tied tightly around their mouths. Some have full gas masks on. Two military jeeps are parked next to the medic truck. In front of one, a high-ranking official with red tassels and a commander’s hat stands waiting. Next to her is a dark-haired young man in a captain’s uniform.
And standing in front of him, unmoving and unprotected, is the Girl.
I frown, confused. They must have arrested her—and now they’re using her for something. That means they must’ve caught Tess too. I search the crowd, but Tess is nowhere to be seen. I turn back to the Girl. She seems calm, unfazed by the sea of soldiers surrounding her. She tightens her own mask around her mouth.
And then, in an instant, I realize why the Girl had looked so familiar. Her eyes. Those dark, gold-flecked eyes. The young captain named Metias. The one I’d escaped from on the night I raided the Los Angeles Central Hospital. He had the exact same eyes.
Metias must be her relative. Just like him, she works for the military. I can’t believe my stupidity. I should have seen this earlier. I quickly scan the faces of the other soldiers, wondering if Metias himself is here as well. But I just see the Girl.
They’ve sent her to hunt me down.
And now, because of my idiocy, she has tracked me right to my family. She may have even killed Tess. I close my eyes—I’d trusted this girl, had been duped into kissing her. Even falling for her. The thought makes me blind with rage.
A loud crash rings out from our house. I hear shouts, then screams. The soldiers have found them—they’ve broken through the floorboards and dug them out. Go down there! Why are you hiding on this roof? Help them! But that would only reveal their relation to me, and their fates would be sealed. My arms and legs freeze up.
Then two soldiers with gas masks emerge from behind the house, dragging my mother between them. Following close behind are soldiers restraining John, who shouts at them to leave our mother alone. A pair of medics come out last. They’ve strapped Eden to a gurney and are wheeling him toward the medic truck.