“I’d be happy to take you in dead, if you prefer.”
What happens next is a blur. I see Metias tense up to fire his gun. I throw my knife at him with all my strength. Before he can fire, my knife hits him hard in the shoulder and he falls backward with a thud. I don’t wait to see him get up. I bend down and heave the manhole cover up, then lower myself down the ladder and into the blackness. I pull the sewer cover back in place.
My injuries are catching up to me now. I stumble along in the sewers, my vision going in and out of focus, one of my hands pressed hard against my side. I’m careful not to touch the walls. Every breath hurts. I must’ve cracked a rib. I’m alert enough to think about which direction I’m moving in and concentrate on heading toward the Lake sector. Tess will be there. She’ll find me and help me to safety. I think I can hear the rumble of footsteps overhead, the shouts of soldiers. No doubt someone has discovered Metias by now, and they might even have headed down into the sewers, too. They could be hot on my trail with a pack of dogs. I make a point to take several turns and walk in the filthy sewer water. Behind me, I hear splashes and the sounds of echoing voices. I take more turns. The voices get a little closer, then farther. I keep my original direction planted firmly in my mind.
It would be something—wouldn’t it?—to escape the hospital only to die down here, lost in a goddy maze of sewers.
I count off the minutes to keep myself from passing out. Five minutes, ten minutes, thirty minutes, an hour. The footsteps behind me sound far away now, as if they are on a different path than I am. Sometimes I hear strange sounds, something like a bubbling test tube and a sigh of steam pipes, a breath of air. It comes and goes. Two hours. Two and a half hours. When I see the next ladder leading up to the surface, I take my chances and pull myself up. I’m in real danger of fainting now. It takes all my remaining strength to drag myself onto the street. I’m in a dark alley. When I’ve caught my breath, I blink away my fuzzy vision and study my surroundings.
I can see Union Station several blocks away. I’m not far now. Tess will be there, waiting for me.
Three more blocks. Two more blocks.
I have one more block. I can’t hold on any longer. I find a dark spot in the alley and collapse. The last thing I see is the silhouette of a girl off in the distance. Maybe she’s walking toward me. I curl up and begin to fade away.
Before I black out, I realize that my pendant is no longer looped around my neck.
I STILL REMEMBER THE DAY THAT MY BROTHER MISSED HIS induction ceremony into the Republic military.
A Sunday afternoon. Hot and mucky. Brown clouds covered the sky. I was seven years old, and Metias was nineteen. My white shepherd puppy, Ollie, was asleep on our apartment’s cool marble floor. I lay feverishly in bed while Metias sat by my side, his brow furrowed with worry. We could hear the loudspeakers outside playing the Republic’s national pledge. When they got to the part mentioning our president, Metias stood and saluted in the direction of the capital. Our illustrious Elector Primo had just accepted another four-year presidential term. That would make this his eleventh term.
“You don’t have to sit here with me, you know,” I said to him after the pledge finished. “Go to your induction. I’ll be sick either way.”
Metias ignored me and placed another cool towel on my head. “I’ll be inducted either way,” he said. He fed me a purple slice of orange. I remember watching him peel that orange for me; he cut one long, efficient line in the fruit’s peel, then removed it all in one piece.
“But it’s Commander Jameson.” I blinked through swollen eyes. “She did you a favor by not assigning you to the warfront. . . . She’ll be upset you’re skipping. Won’t she mark it on your record? You don’t want to be kicked out like some street con.”
Metias tapped my nose disapprovingly. “Don’t call people that, Junebug. It’s rude. And she can’t kick me off her patrol for missing the ceremony. Besides,” he added with a wink, “I can always hack into their database and wipe my record clean.”
I grinned. Someday I wanted to be inducted into the military too, draped in the Republic’s dark robes. Maybe I’d even be lucky enough to get assigned to a renowned commander like Metias did. I opened my mouth so he could feed me another piece of orange. “You should skip going to Batalla more often. Maybe you’d have time to get a girlfriend.”
Metias laughed. “I don’t need girlfriends. I’ve got a baby sister to take care of.”
“Come on. You’re going to get a girlfriend someday.”
“We’ll see. Guess I’m picky like that.”
I stopped to look my brother directly in the eyes. “Metias, did our mother take care of me when I was sick? Did she do things like this?”
Metias reached over to push sweaty strands of my hair away from my face. “Don’t be stupid, Junebug. Of course Mom took care of you. And she was much better at it than I am.”
“No. You take care of me the best,” I murmured. My eyelids were growing heavy.
My brother smiled. “Nice of you to say so.”
“You’re not going to leave me too, are you? You’ll stay with me longer than Mom and Dad did?”
Metias kissed me on my forehead. “Forever and ever, kid, until you’re sick and tired of seeing me.”
I know something has gone wrong the instant Thomas shows up at our door. The lights in all residential buildings have gone off, just as Metias had said they would, and nothing but oil lamps light the apartment. Ollie is barking up a storm. I’m dressed in my training uniform and a black and red vest with my boots laced and my hair tied back in a tight ponytail. For a brief moment, I’m actually glad that Metias isn’t the one waiting at the door. He’d see my getup and know that I’m headed out to the track. Defying him again.