I try to meet Thomas’s eyes again in the rearview mirror, but he keeps his gaze on the road. Of course, I shouldn’t expect any help from him. He looks as tidy as ever, with his perfectly slicked hair and perfectly ironed uniform. Not a strand or thread out of place. Thomas might be several years younger than Metias and a subordinate on his patrol, but he’s more disciplined than anyone I know. Sometimes I wish I had that much discipline. He probably disapproves of my stunts even more than Metias does.
We leave downtown Los Angeles behind and travel up the winding highway in silence. The scenery changes from inner Batalla sector’s hundred-floor skyscrapers to densely packed barrack towers and civilian complexes, each one only twenty to thirty stories high, with red guiding lights blinking on their roofs, most with all their paint stripped off after this year’s rash of storms. Metal support beams crisscross their walls. I hope they get to upgrade those supports soon. The war’s been intense lately, and with several decades of infrastructure funding diverted to supplying the warfront, I don’t know if these buildings would hold up well in another earthquake.
After a few minutes, Metias continues in a calmer voice. “You really scared me today,” he says. “I was afraid they’d mistake you for Day and shoot at you.”
I know he doesn’t mean this as a compliment, but I can’t help smiling. I lean forward to rest my arms on top of his seat. “Hey,” I say, tugging his ear the way I did when I was a kid, “I’m sorry I made you worry.”
He lets out a scornful chuckle, but I can tell his anger is already fading. “Yeah. That’s what you say every time, Junebug. Is Drake not keeping your brain busy enough? If not, then I don’t know what will.”
“You know . . . if you’d just take me along on some of your missions, I’d probably learn a lot more and stay out of trouble.”
“Nice try. You’re not going anywhere until you graduate and get assigned to your own patrol.”
I bite my tongue. Metias did pick me once—once—for a mission last year, when all third-year Drake students had to shadow an assigned military branch. His commander sent him to kill a runaway prisoner of war from the Colonies. So Metias brought me along with him, and together we chased the POW deeper and deeper into our territory, away from the dividing fences and the strip of land running from Dakota to West Texas that separates the Republic and the Colonies, away from the warfront where airships dot the sky. I tracked him into an alley in Yellowstone City, Montana, and Metias shot him.
During the chase, I broke three ribs and had a knife buried in my leg. Now Metias refuses to take me anywhere.
When Metias finally speaks again, he sounds grudgingly curious. “So, tell me,” he whispers. “How fast did you climb those fourteen stories?”
Thomas makes a disapproving sound in his throat, but I break into a grin. Storm’s past. Metias loves me again. “Six minutes,” I whisper back to my brother. “And forty-four seconds. How do you like that?”
“That must be some sort of record. Not that, you know, you’re supposed to do it.”
Thomas stops the jeep right behind the lines at a red light and gives Metias an exasperated look. “Come on, Captain,” he says. “June—ah—Ms. Iparis won’t learn a thing if you keep praising her for breaking the rules.”
“Cheer up, Thomas.” Metias reaches over and claps him on the back. “Surely breaking a rule once in a while is tolerable, especially if you’re doing it to beef up your skills for the Republic’s sake. Victory against the Colonies. Right?”
The light blinks green. Thomas turns his eyes back to the road (he seems to count to three in his head before letting the jeep go forward). “Right,” he mutters. “You should still be careful what you’re encouraging Ms. Iparis to do, especially with your parents gone.”
Metias’s mouth tightens into a line, and a familiar, strained look appears in his eyes.
No matter how sharp my intuition is, no matter how well I do at Drake or how perfectly I score in defense and target practice and hand-to-hand combat, Metias’s eyes always hold that fear. He’s afraid something might happen to me one day—like the car crash that took our parents. That fear never leaves his face. And Thomas knows it.
I didn’t know our parents long enough to miss them in the same way Metias does. Whenever I cry over losing them, I cry because I don’t have any memories of them. Just hazy recollections of long, adult legs shuffling around our apartment and hands lifting me from my high chair. That’s it. Every other memory from my childhood—looking out into the auditorium as I receive an award, or having soup made for me when I’m sick, or being scolded, or tucked into bed—those are with Metias.
We drive past half of Batalla sector and through a few poor blocks. (Can’t these street beggars stay a little farther from our jeep?) Finally we reach the gleaming, terraced high-rises of Ruby, and we’re home. Metias gets out first. As I follow, Thomas gives me a small smile.
“See you later, Ms. Iparis,” he says, tipping his hat.
I stopped trying to convince him to call me June—he’ll never change. Still, it’s not so bad being called something proper. Maybe when I’m older and Metias doesn’t faint at the idea of me dating . . .
“Bye, Thomas. Thanks for the ride.” I smile back at him before stepping out of the jeep.
Metias waits until the door has slammed shut before turning to me and lowering his voice. “I’ll be home late tonight,” he says. There’s that tension in his eyes again. “Don’t go out alone. News from the warfront is they’re cutting power to residences tonight to save energy for the airfield bases. So stay put, okay? The streets’ll be darker than usual.”