Read prodigy epub format

Authors: Marie Lu

prodigy

A LEGEND NOVEL

MARIE LU

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

A division of Penguin Young Readers Group.

Published by The Penguin Group.

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Copyright © 2013 by Xiwei Lu. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,
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from the publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group,
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Published simultaneously in Canada.

Map illustration by Peter Bollinger.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lu, Marie, 1984–

Prodigy : a Legend novel / Marie Lu.

p. cm.

Summary: June and Day make their way to Las Vegas, where they join the rebel Patriot
group and become involved in an assassination plot against the Elector in hopes of
saving the Republic.

[1. Fugitives from justice—Fiction. 2. Criminals—Fiction. 3. Soldiers—Fiction. 4.
War—Fiction. 5. Government, Resistance to—Fiction. 6. Assassination—Fiction. 7. Science
fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.L96768Pro 2012 [Fic]—dc23 2012003773

ISBN 978-1-101-60784-8

To Primo Gallanosa, for being my light

CONTENTS

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Map

 

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

Day

June

 

Acknowledgments

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

REPUBLIC
OF
AMERICA

POPULATION: 7,427,431

J
AN. 4. 1932
H
OURS.

O
CEAN
S
TANDARD
T
IME.

T
HIRTY-FIVE DAYS AFTER
M
ETIAS’S DEATH.

D
AY JOLTS AWAKE BESIDE ME.
H
IS BROW IS COVERED
with sweat, and his cheeks are wet with tears. He’s breathing heavily.

I lean over him and brush a wet strand of hair out of his face. The scrape on my shoulder
has scabbed over already, but my movement makes it throb again. Day sits up, rubs
a hand wearily across his eyes, and glances around our swaying railcar as if searching
for something. He looks first at the stacks of crates in one dark corner, then at
the burlap lining the floor and the little sack of food and water sitting between
us. It takes him a minute to reorient himself, to remember that we’re hitching a ride
on a train bound for Vegas. A few seconds pass before he releases his rigid posture
and lets himself sag back against the wall.

I gently tap his hand. “Are you okay?” That’s become my constant question.

Day shrugs. “Yeah,” he mutters. “Nightmare.”

Nine days have passed since we broke out of Batalla Hall and escaped Los Angeles.
Since then, Day has had nightmares every time he’s closed his eyes. When we first
got away and were able to catch a few hours of rest in an abandoned train yard, Day
bolted awake screaming. We were lucky no soldiers or street police heard him. After
that, I developed the habit of stroking his hair right after he falls asleep, of kissing
his cheeks and forehead and eyelids. He still wakes up gasping with tears, his eyes
hunting frantically for all the things he’s lost. But at least he does this silently.

Sometimes, when Day is quiet like this, I wonder how well he’s hanging on to his sanity.
The thought scares me. I can’t afford to lose him. I keep telling myself it’s for
practical reasons: we’d have little chance of surviving alone at this point, and his
skills complement mine. Besides . . . I have no one left to protect. I’ve had my share
of tears too, although I always wait until he’s asleep to cry. I cried for Ollie last
night. I feel a little silly crying for my dog when the Republic killed our families,
but I can’t help myself. Metias was the one who’d brought him home, a white ball of
giant paws and floppy ears and warm brown eyes, the sweetest, clumsiest creature I’d
ever seen. Ollie was my boy, and I’d left him behind.

“What’d you dream?” I whisper to Day.

“Nothing memorable.” Day shifts, then winces as he accidentally scrapes his wounded
leg against the floor. His body tenses up from the pain, and I can tell how stiff
his arms are beneath his shirt, knots of lean muscle earned from the streets. A labored
breath escapes his lips.
The way he’d pushed me against that alley wall, the hunger in his first kiss.
I stop focusing on his mouth and shake off the memory, embarrassed.

He nods toward the railcar doors. “Where are we now? We should be getting close, right?”

I get up, glad for the distraction, and brace myself against the rocking wall as I
peer out the railcar’s tiny window. The landscape hasn’t changed much—endless rows
of apartment towers and factories, chimneys and old arching highways, all washed into
blues and grayish purples by the afternoon rain. We’re still passing through slum
sectors. They look almost identical to the slums in Los Angeles. Off in the distance,
an enormous dam stretches halfway across my line of vision. I wait until a JumboTron
flashes by, then squint to see the small letters on the bottom corner of the screen.
“Boulder City, Nevada,” I say. “Really close now. The train will probably stop here
for a while, but afterward it shouldn’t take more than thirty-five minutes to arrive
in Vegas.”

Day nods. He leans over, unties our food sack, and searches for something to eat.
“Good. Sooner we get there, sooner we’ll find the Patriots.”

He seems distant. Sometimes Day tells me what his nightmares are about—failing his
Trial or losing Tess on the streets or running away from plague patrols. Nightmares
about being the Republic’s most wanted criminal. Other times, when he’s like this
and keeps his dreams to himself, I know they must be about his family—his mother’s
death, or John’s. Maybe it’s better that he doesn’t tell me about those. I have enough
of my own dreams to haunt me, and I’m not sure I have the courage to know about his.

“You’re really set on finding the Patriots, aren’t you?” I say as Day pulls out a
stale hunk of fried dough from the food sack. This isn’t the first time I’ve questioned
his insistence on coming to Vegas, and I’m careful about the way I approach the topic.
The last thing I want Day to think is that I don’t care about Tess, or that I’m afraid
to meet up with the Republic’s notorious rebel group. “Tess went with them willingly.
Are we putting her in danger by trying to get her back?”

Day doesn’t answer right away. He tears the fried dough in half and offers me a piece.
“Take some, yeah? You haven’t eaten in a while.”

I hold a hand up politely. “No, thanks,” I reply. “I don’t like fried dough.”

Instantly I wish I could stuff the words back in my mouth. Day lowers his eyes and
puts the second half back into the food sack, then quietly starts eating his share.
What a stupid, stupid thing for me to say.
I don’t like fried dough.
I can practically hear what’s going through his head.

Poor little rich girl, with her posh manners. She can afford to
dislike
food.
I scold myself in silence, then make a mental note to tread more carefully next time.

After a few mouthfuls, Day finally responds, “I’m not just going to leave Tess behind
without knowing she’s okay.”

Of course he wouldn’t. Day would never leave anyone he cares about behind, especially
not the orphan girl he’s grown up with on the streets. I understand the potential
value of meeting the Patriots too—after all, those rebels
had
helped Day and me escape Los Angeles. They’re large and well organized. Maybe they
have information about what the Republic is doing with Day’s little brother, Eden.
Maybe they can even help heal Day’s festering leg wound—ever since that fateful morning
when Commander Jameson shot him in the leg and arrested him, his wound has been on
a roller coaster of getting better and then worse. Now his left leg is a mass of broken,
bleeding flesh. He needs medical attention.

Still, we have one problem.

“The Patriots won’t help us without some sort of payment,” I say. “What can we give
them?” For emphasis, I reach into my pockets and dig out our meager stash of money.
Four thousand Notes. All I had on me before we made a run for it. I can’t believe
how much I miss the luxury of my old life. There are
millions
of Notes under my family name, Notes that I’ll never be able to access again.

Day polishes off the dough and considers my words with his lips pressed together.
“Yeah, I know,” he says, running a hand through his tangled blond hair. “But what
do you suggest we do? Who else can we go to?”

I shake my head helplessly. Day is right about that—as little as I’d like to see the
Patriots again, our choices are pretty limited. Back when the Patriots had first helped
us escape from Batalla Hall, when Day was still unconscious and I was wounded in the
shoulder, I’d asked the Patriots to let us go with them to Vegas. I’d hoped they would
continue to help us.

They’d refused.

“You paid us to get Day out of his execution. You
didn’t
pay us to carry your wounded asses all the way to Vegas,” Kaede had said to me. “Republic
soldiers are hot on your trail, for crying out loud. We’re not a full-service soup
kitchen. I’m not risking my neck for you two again unless there’s money involved.”

Up until that point, I’d almost believed that the Patriots cared about us. But Kaede’s
words had brought me back to reality. They’d helped us because I’d paid Kaede 200,000
Republic Notes, the money I’d received as a reward for Day’s capture. Even then, it
had taken some persuasion before she sent her Patriot comrades in to help us.

Allowing Day to see Tess. Helping Day fix his bad leg. Giving us info about the whereabouts
of Day’s brother. All these things will require bribes. If only I’d had the chance
to grab more money before we left.

“Vegas is the worst possible city for us to wander into by ourselves,” I say to Day
as I gingerly rub my healing shoulder. “And the Patriots might not even give us an
audience. I’m just trying to make sure we think this through.”

“June, I know you’re not used to thinking of the Patriots as allies,” Day replies.
“You were trained to hate them. But they
are
a potential ally. I trust them more than I trust the Republic. Don’t you?”

I don’t know if he means for his words to sound insulting. Day has missed the point
I’m trying to make: that the Patriots probably won’t help us and then we’ll be stuck
in a military city. But Day thinks I’m hesitating because I don’t trust the Patriots.
That, deep down, I’m still June Iparis, the Republic’s most celebrated prodigy . . .
that I’m still loyal to this country.
Well, is that true?
I’m a criminal now, and I’ll never be able to go back to the comforts of my old life.
The thought leaves a sick, empty feeling in my stomach, as if I miss being the Republic’s
darling. Maybe I do.

If I’m not the Republic’s darling anymore, then who am I?

“Okay. We’ll try to find the Patriots,” I say. It’s clear that I won’t be able to
coax him into doing anything else.

Day nods. “Thanks,” he whispers. The hint of a smile appears on his lovely face, pulling
me in with its irresistible warmth, but he doesn’t try to hug me. He doesn’t reach
for my hand. He doesn’t scoot closer to let our shoulders touch, he doesn’t stroke
my hair, he doesn’t whisper reassuringly into my ear or rest his head against mine.
I hadn’t realized how much I’ve grown to crave these little gestures. Somehow, in
this moment, we feel very separate.

Maybe his nightmare had been about me.

*   *   *

It happens right after we reach the main strip of Las Vegas. The announcement.

First of all, if there’s one place in Vegas that we shouldn’t be, it’s the main strip.
JumboTrons (six packed into each block) line both sides of the city’s busiest street,
their screens playing an endless stream of news. Blinding clusters of searchlights
sweep obsessively along the walls. The buildings here must be twice as large as the
ones in Los Angeles. The downtown is dominated by towering skyscrapers and enormous
pyramid-shaped landing docks (eight of them, square bases, equilateral triangle sides)
with bright lights beaming from their tips. The desert air reeks of smoke and feels
painfully dry; no thirst-quenching hurricanes here, no waterfronts or lakes. Troops
make their way up and down the street (in oblong square formations, typical of Vegas),
dressed in the black, navy-striped uniforms of soldiers rotating out to and back from
the warfront. Farther out, past this main street of skyscrapers, are rows of fighter
jets, all rolling into position on a wide strip of airfield. Airships glide overhead.

This is a military city, a world of soldiers.

The sun has just set when Day and I make our way out onto the main strip and head
toward the other end of the street. Day leans heavily on my shoulder as we try to
blend in with the crowds, his breath shallow and his face drawn with pain. I try my
best to support him without looking out of place, but his weight makes me walk in
an unbalanced line, as if I’d had too much to drink. “How are we doing?” he murmurs
into my ear, his lips hot against my skin. I’m not sure if he’s half-delirious from
the pain or if it’s my outfit, but I can’t say I mind his blatant flirtation tonight.
It’s a nice change from our awkward train ride. He’s careful to keep his head down,
his eyes hidden under long lashes and tilted away from the soldiers bustling back
and forth along the sidewalks. He shifts uncomfortably in his military jacket and
pants. A black soldier’s cap hides his white-blond hair and blocks a good portion
of his face.

“Well enough,” I reply. “Remember, you’re drunk. And happy. You’re supposed to be
lusting over your escort. Try smiling a little more.”

Day plasters a giant artificial smile on his face. As charming as ever. “Aw, come
on, sweetheart. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I got my arm around the prettiest
escort on this block—how could I
not
be lusting over you? Don’t I
look
like I’m lusting? This is me, lusting.” His lashes flutter at me.

He looks so ridiculous that I can’t help laughing. Another passerby glances at me.

Much
better.” I shiver when he nudges his face into the hollow of my neck.
Stay in character. Concentrate.
The gold trinkets lining my waist and ankles jingle as we walk. “How’s your leg?”

Day pulls away a little. “Was doing fine until you brought it up,” he whispers, then
winces as he trips over a crack in the sidewalk. I tighten my grip around him. “I’ll
make it to our next rest stop.”

“Remember, two fingers against your brow if you need to stop.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll let you know if I’m in trouble.”

Another pair of soldiers pushes past us with their own escorts, grinning girls decked
out in sparkling eye shadow and elegantly painted face tattoos, their bodies covered
thinly by dancer costumes and fake red feathers. One of the soldiers catches sight
of me, laughs, and widens his glazed eyes.

“What club you from, gorgeous?” he slurs. “Don’t remember your face around here.”
His hand goes for my exposed waist, hungering for skin. Before he can reach me, Day’s
arm whips out and shoves the soldier roughly away.

“Don’t touch her.”
Day grins and winks at the soldier, keeping up his carefree demeanor, but the warning
in his eyes and voice makes the other man back off. He blinks at both of us, mumbles
something under his breath, and staggers away with his friends.

I try to imitate the way those escorts giggle, then give my hair a toss. “Next time,
just go with it,” I hiss in Day’s ear even as I kiss him on the cheek, as if he were
the best customer ever. “Last thing we need is a fight.”

“What?” Day shrugs and returns to his painful walk. “It’d be a pretty pathetic fight.
He could barely stand.”

I shake my head and decide not to point out the irony.

A third group of soldiers stumbles past us in a loud, drunken daze. (Seven cadets,
two lieutenants, gold armbands with Dakota insignias, which means they just arrived
here from the north and haven’t yet exchanged their armbands for new ones with their
warfront battalions.) They have their arms wrapped around escorts from the Bellagio
clubs—glittering girls with scarlet chokers and
B
arm tattoos. These soldiers are probably stationed in the barracks above the clubs.

I check my own costume again. Stolen from the dressing rooms of the Sun Palace. On
the surface, I seem like any other escort. Gold chains and trinkets around my waist
and ankles. Feathers and gold ribbons pinned into my scarlet (spray-painted), braided
hair. Smoky eye shadow coated with glitter. A ferocious phoenix tattoo painted across
my upper cheek and eyelid. Red silks leave my arms and waist exposed, and dark laces
line my boots.

But there’s one thing on my costume that the other girls don’t wear.

A chain of thirteen little glittering mirrors. They’re partially hidden amongst the
other ornaments wrapped around my ankle, and from a distance it would seem like another
decoration. Completely forgettable. But every now and then, when streetlights catch
it, it becomes a row of brilliant, sparkling lights. Thirteen, the Patriots’ unofficial
number. This is our signal to them. They must be watching the main Vegas strip all
the time, so I know they’ll at least notice a row of flashing lights on me. And when
they do, they’ll recognize us as the same pair they helped rescue in Los Angeles.

The JumboTrons lining the street crackle for a second. The pledge should start again
any minute now. Unlike Los Angeles, Vegas runs the national pledge five times a day—all
the JumboTrons will pause in whatever ads or news they’re showing, replace them with
enormous images of the Elector Primo, and then play the following on the city’s speaker
system:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the great Republic of America, to our Elector Primo,
to our glorious states, to unity against the Colonies, to our impending victory!

Not long ago, I used to recite that pledge every morning and afternoon with the same
enthusiasm as anyone else, determined to keep the east coast Colonies from taking
control of our precious west coast land. That was before I knew about the Republic’s
role in my family’s deaths. I’m not sure what I think now. Let the Colonies win?

The JumboTrons start broadcasting a newsreel. Weekly recap. Day and I watch the headlines
zip by on the screens:

REPUBLIC TRIUMPHANTLY TAKES OVER MILES OF COLONIES’ LAND IN BATTLE FOR AMARILLO, EAST
TEXAS

FLOOD WARNING CANCELLED FOR SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA

ELECTOR VISITS TROOPS ON NORTHERN WARFRONT, BOOSTS MORALE

Most of them are fairly uninteresting—the usual headlines coming in from the warfront,
updates on weather and laws, quarantine notices for Vegas.

Then Day taps my shoulder and gestures at one of the screens.

QUARANTINE IN LOS ANGELES EXTENDED TO EMERALD, OPAL SECTORS

“Gem sectors?” Day whispers. My eyes are still fixed on the screen, even though the
headline has passed. “Don’t rich folks live there?”

I’m not sure what to say in return because I’m still trying to process the information
myself. Emerald and Opal sectors . . . Is this a mistake? Or have the plagues in LA
gotten serious enough to be broadcast on
Vegas
JumboTrons? I’ve never,
ever
seen quarantines extended into the upper-class sectors. Emerald sector borders Ruby—does
that mean my home sector is going to be quarantined too? What about our vaccinations?
Aren’t they supposed to prevent things like this? I think back on Metias’s journal
entries.
One of these days,
he’d said,
there will be a virus unleashed that none of us will be able to stop.
I remember the things Metias had unveiled, the underground factories, the rampant
diseases . . . the systematic plagues. A shiver runs through me. Los Angeles will
quell it, I tell myself. The plague will die down, just like it always does.

More headlines sweep by. A familiar one is about Day’s execution. It plays the clip
of the firing squad yard where Day’s brother John took the bullets meant for Day,
then fell facedown on the ground. Day turns his eyes to the pavement.

Another headline is newer. It says this:

 

MISSING

SS NO:
2001963034

------------------------

JUNE IPARIS

AGENT, LOS ANGELES CITY PATROL

AGE/GENDER:
15, FEMALE

HEIGHT:
5’4”

HAIR:
BROWN

EYES:
BROWN

LAST SEEN NEAR BATALLA HALL, LOS ANGELES, CA

350,000 REPUBLIC NOTES REWARD

IF SEEN, REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO YOUR LOCAL OFFICIAL

 

That’s what the Republic wants their people to think. That I’m missing, that they
hope to bring me back safe and sound. What they
don’t
say is that they probably want me dead. I helped the country’s most notorious criminal
escape his execution, aided the rebel Patriots in a staged uprising against a military
headquarters, and turned my back on the Republic.

But they wouldn’t want that information going public, so they hunt for me quietly.
The missing report shows the photo from my military ID—a face-forward, unsmiling shot
of me, barefaced but for a touch of gloss, dark hair tied back in a high ponytail,
a gold Republic seal gleaming against the black of my coat. I’m grateful that the
phoenix tattoo hides half of my face right now.

We make it to the middle of the main strip before the speakers crackle again for the
pledge. Day and I stop walking. Day stumbles again and almost falls, but I manage
to catch him fast enough to keep him upright. People on the street look up to the
JumboTrons (except for a handful of soldiers who line the edges of each intersection
in order to ensure everyone’s participation). The screens flicker. Their images vanish
into blackness, and are then replaced by high-definition portraits of the Elector
Primo.

I pledge allegiance—

It’s almost comforting to repeat these words with everyone else on the streets, at
least until I remind myself of all that’s changed. I think back to the evening when
I’d first captured Day, when the Elector and his son came to personally congratulate
me for putting a notorious criminal behind bars. I recall how the Elector had looked
in person. The portraits on the JumboTrons show the same green eyes, strong jaw, and
curled locks of dark hair . . . but they leave out the coldness in his expression
and the sickly color of his skin. His portraits make him seem fatherly, with healthy
pink cheeks. Not how I remember him.

—to the flag of the great Republic of America—

Suddenly the broadcast pauses. There’s silence on the streets, then a chorus of confused
whispers. I frown. Unusual. I’ve
never
seen the pledge interrupted, not even once. And the JumboTron system is hooked up
so one screen’s outage shouldn’t affect the rest.

Day looks up to the stalled screens while my eyes dart to the soldiers lining the
street. “Freak accident?” he says. His labored breathing worries me.
Hang on just a little longer. We can’t stop here.

I shake my head. “No. Look at the troops.” I nod subtly in their direction. “They’ve
changed their stances. Their rifles aren’t slung over their shoulders anymore—they’re
holding them now. They’re bracing themselves for a reaction from the crowd.”

Day shakes his head slowly. He looks unsettlingly pale. “Something’s happened.”

The Elector’s portrait vanishes from the JumboTrons and is immediately replaced with
a new series of images. They show a man who is the spitting image of the Elector—only
much younger, barely in his twenties, with the same green eyes and dark, wavy hair.
In a flash I recall the touch of excitement I’d felt when I first met him at the celebratory
ball. This is Anden Stavropoulos, the son of the Elector Primo.

Day’s right. Something big has happened.

The Republic’s Elector has died.

A new, upbeat voice takes over the speakers. “Before continuing our pledge, we must
instruct all soldiers and civilians to replace the Elector portraits in your homes.
You may pick up a new portrait from your local police headquarters. Inspections to
ensure your cooperation will commence in two weeks.”

The voice announces the supposed results of a nationwide election. But there’s not
a single mention of the Elector’s death. Or of his son’s promotion.

The Republic has simply moved on to the next Elector without skipping a beat, as if
Anden were the same person as his father. My head swims—I try to remember what I’d
learned in school about choosing a new Elector. The Elector always picked the successor,
and a national election would confirm it. It’s no surprise that Anden is next in line—but
our Elector had been in power for decades, long before I was born. Now he’s gone.
Our world has shifted in a matter of seconds.

Like me and Day, everyone on the street understands what the appropriate thing to
do is: As if on cue, we all bow to the JumboTron portraits and recite the rest of
the pledge that has reappeared on the screens.
“—to our Elector Primo, to our glorious states, to unity against the Colonies, to
our impending victory!”
We repeat this over and over for as long as the words stay on the screen, no one
daring to stop. I glance at the soldiers lining the streets. Their hands have tightened
on their rifles. Finally, after what seems like hours, the words disappear and the
JumboTrons return to their usual news rolls. We all begin walking again, as if nothing
had happened.

Then Day stumbles. This time I feel him tremble, and my heart clenches. “Stay with
me,” I whisper. To my surprise I almost say,
Stay with me, Metias.
I try to hold him up, but he slips.

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs back. His face is shiny with sweat, his eyes shut tightly
in pain. He holds two fingers to his brow.
Stop.
He can’t make it.

I look wildly around us. Too many soldiers—we still have a lot of ground to cover.
“No, you have to,” I say firmly.
“Stay
with me. You can make it.”

But it’s no use this time. Before I can catch him, he falls onto his hands and collapses
to the ground.

THE ELECTOR PRIMO IS DEAD.

This whole display seems pretty anticlimactic, doesn��t it? You’d think the Elector’s
death would be accompanied by a goddy funeral march of some sort, panic in the streets,
national mourning, marching soldiers firing off salutes into the sky. An enormous
banquet, flags flying low, white banners hanging over every building. Something cracked
like that. But I haven’t lived long enough to see an Elector die. Outside of the promotion
of the late Elector’s desired successor and some fake national election for show,
I wouldn’t know how it goes.

I guess the Republic just pretends it never happened and skips right ahead to the
next Elector. Now I remember reading about this in one of my grade school classes.
When the time comes for a new Elector Primo, the country must remind the people to
focus on the positive. Mourning brings weakness and chaos. Moving forward is the only
way.
Yeah. The government’s
that
scared of showing uncertainty to their civilians.

But I only have a second to dwell on this.

We’ve barely finished the new pledge when a rush of pain hits my leg. Before I can
stop myself, I double over and collapse down onto my good knee. A couple of soldiers
turn their heads in our direction. I laugh as loud as I can, pretending the tears
in my eyes are from amusement. June plays along, but I can see the fear on her face.
“Come on,” she whispers frantically. One of her slender arms wraps around my waist,
and I try to take the hand she offers me. All around the sidewalk, people are noticing
us for the first time. “You have to get up.
Come on.

It takes all my strength to keep a smile on my face.
Focus on June.
I try to stand—then fall again. Damn. The pain is too much. White light stabs at
the back of my eyes.
Breathe,
I tell myself.
You can’t faint in the middle of the Vegas strip.

“What’s the matter, soldier?”

A young, hazel-eyed corporal is standing in front of us with his arms crossed. I can
tell he’s kind of in a hurry, but apparently it’s not urgent enough to keep him from
checking on us. He raises an eyebrow at me. “Are you all right? You’re pale as porcelain,
kid.”

Run.
I feel an urge to scream at June.
Get out of here—there’s still time.
But she saves me from speaking. “You’ll have to forgive him, sir,” she says. “I’ve
never seen a Bellagio patron drink so much in one sitting.” She shakes her head regretfully
and waves him back with one hand. “You might want to step away,” she continues. “I
think he needs to throw up.” I find myself amazed—yet again—at how smoothly she can
become another person. The same way she fooled me on the streets of Lake.

The corporal gives her an ambivalent frown before turning back to me. His eyes focus
on my injured leg. Even though it’s hidden under a thick layer of pants, he studies
it. “I’m not sure your escort knows what she’s talking about. Seems like you could
use a trip to the hospital.” He raises a hand to wave down a passing medic truck.

I shake my head. “No, thank you, sir,” I manage to say with a weak laugh. “This darling’s
telling me too many jokes. Gotta catch my breath is all—then gotta go sleep it off.
We’re—”

But he’s not paying attention to what I’m saying. I curse silently. If we go to the
hospital, they’ll fingerprint us, and then they’ll know exactly who we are—the Republic’s
two most wanted fugitives. I don’t dare glance at June, but I know she’s trying to
find a way out too.

Then someone pokes her head out from behind the corporal.

She’s a girl both June and I recognize right away, although I’ve never seen her in
a freshly polished Republic uniform before. A pair of pilot goggles hangs around her
neck. She walks around the corporal and stands in front of me, smiling indulgently.
“Hey!” she says. “I
thought
that was you—I saw you stumbling around like a madman all the way down the street!”

The corporal watches as she drags me to my feet and claps me hard on the back. I wince,
but give her a grin that says I’ve known her all my life. “Missed you,” I decide to
say.

The corporal gestures impatiently at the new girl. “You know him?”

The girl flips her black, bobbed hair and gives him the most flirtatious grin I’ve
ever seen in my life. “
Know
him, sir? We were in the same squadron our first year.” She winks at me. “Seems like
he’s been up to no good in the clubs again.”

The corporal snorts in disinterest and rolls his eyes. “Air force kids, eh? Well,
make sure he doesn’t cause another public scene. I’ve half a mind to call your commander.”
Then he seems to remember what he’d been rushing to do and hurries away.

I exhale. Could we have pulled
any
closer of a call?

After he leaves, the girl smiles winsomely at me. Even under a sleeve, I can tell
that one of her arms is in a cast. “My barracks are close by,” she suggests. Her voice
has an edge to it that tells me she’s not happy to see us. “How about you rest there
for a while? You can even bring your new plaything.” The girl nods at June as she
says this.

Kaede. She hasn’t changed a bit since the afternoon I met her, when I thought she
was just a bartender with a vine tattoo. Back before I knew she was a Patriot.

“Lead the way,” I reply.

Kaede helps June guide me down another block. She stops us at the elaborately carved
front doors of Venezia, a high-rise set of barracks, then ushers us past a bored entrance
guard and through the building’s main hall. The ceiling is high enough to make me
dizzy, and I catch glimpses of Republic flags and Elector portraits hanging between
each stone pillar that lines the walls. Guards are already rushing to replace the
portraits with updated ones. Kaede guides us along while blabbing a nonstop stream
of random small talk. Her black hair’s even shorter now, cut straight and even with
her chin, and her smooth-lidded eyes are smudged with deep navy eye shadow. I never
noticed that she and I are pretty much the same height. Soldiers swarm back and forth,
and I keep expecting one of them to recognize me from my wanted ads and sound the
alarm. They’ll notice June behind her disguise. Or realize that Kaede isn’t a real
soldier. Then they’ll all be on top of us, and we won’t even have a chance.

But no one questions us, and my limp actually helps us blend in here; I can see several
other soldiers with arm and leg casts. Kaede guides us onto the elevators—I’ve never
ridden one, because I’ve never been in a building with full electricity. We get off
on the eighth floor. Fewer soldiers are up here. In fact, we pass through a completely
empty section of hallway.

Here, she finally drops her perky façade. “You two look about as good as gutter rats,”
Kaede mutters as she taps softly against one of the doors. “That leg still buggin’
you, yeah? You’re pretty stubborn if y
ou came all the way out here to find us.” She sneers at June. “Those goddy obnoxious
lights strung on your dress nearly blinded me.”

June exchanges a glance with me. I know exactly what she’s thinking.
How in the world can a group of criminals be living in one of Vegas’s largest military
barracks?

Something clicks behind the door. Kaede throws it open, then walks in with her arms
outstretched. “Welcome to our humble home,” she declares with a grand sweep of her
hands. “At least for the next few days. Not too shabby, yeah?”

I don’t know what I expected to see. A group of teens, maybe, or some low-budget operation.

Instead we enter a room where only two other people are waiting for us. I look around
in surprise. I’ve never been inside a real Republic barrack before, but this one must
be reserved for officers—there’s no way they’d use this to house regular soldiers.
First off, it’s not a long room with rows of bunk beds. It could be an upscale apartment
for one or two officials. There are electric lights on the ceiling and in the lamps.
Marble tiles of silver and cream cover the floor, the walls are painted in alternating
shades of off-white and a deep wine color, and the couches and tables have thick red
rugs cushioning their legs. A small monitor sits flush against one of the walls, mutely
showing the same newsreel that’s playing on the JumboTrons outside.

I let out a low whistle. “Not shabby at all.” I smile, but it fades away when I glance
over at June. Her face is tense beneath her phoenix tattoo. Even though her eyes stay
neutral, she’s definitely unhappy and not as impressed as I am. Well, why should she
be? I bet her own apartment had been just as nice as this. Her eyes wander around
the room in an organized sweep, noticing things that I’d probably never see. Sharp
and calculating like any good Republic soldier. One of her hands lingers near her
waist, where she keeps a pair of knives.

An instant later, my attention turns to a girl standing behind the center couch. She
locks her eyes onto mine and squints as if to make sure she’s really seeing me. Her
mouth opens in shock, small pink lips formed into an O. Her hair is too short to braid
now—it drapes to the middle of her neck in a messy bob.
Wait a sec.
My heart skips a beat. I hadn’t recognized her because of that hair.

Tess.

“You’re here!” she exclaims. Before I can reply, Tess runs over to me and throws her
arms around my neck. I hobble backward, struggling to keep my balance. “It’s really
you—I can’t believe it, you’re here! You’re okay!”

I can’t think straight. For a second, I can’t even feel the pain in my leg. All I
can do is wrap my arms tight around Tess’s waist, bury my head in her shoulder, and
close my eyes. The weight on my mind lifts and leaves me weak with relief. I take
a deep breath, taking comfort in her warmth and the sweet scent of her hair. I’d seen
her every single day since I was twelve years old—but after only a few weeks apart,
I can suddenly see that she’s not that ten-year-old kid I’d met in a back alley. She
seems different. Older. I feel something stir in my chest.

“Glad to see you, cousin,” I whisper. “You look good.”

Tess just squeezes me tighter. I realize that she’s holding her breath; she’s trying
hard not to cry.

Kaede is the one who interrupts the moment. “Enough,” she says. “This isn’t the damn
opera.” We break apart to laugh awkwardly at each other, and Tess wipes her eyes with
the back of a hand. She exchanges an uncomfortable smile with June. Finally, she turns
away and hurries back to where another person, a man, is waiting.

Kaede opens her mouth to say something else, but the man stops her with a gloved hand.
This surprises me. Judging from how bossy she is, I would’ve assumed that Kaede’s
in charge of the group. Can’t imagine this girl taking orders from anyone. But now
she just purses her lips and flops onto the couch as the man rises to address us.
He’s tall, probably in his early forties, and built with a bit of strength in his
shoulders. His skin is light brown and his curly hair is pulled back into a short,
frizzy tail. A pair of thin, black-rimmed glasses rest on his nose.

“So. You must be the one we’ve all heard so much about,” he says. “Pleased to meet
you, Day.”

I wish I could do better than standing hunched over with pain. “Likewise. Thank you
for seeing us.”

“Please forgive us for not escorting you both to Vegas ourselves,” he says apologetically,
adjusting his glasses. “It seems cold, but I don’t like risking my rebels needlessly.”
His eyes swivel to June. “And I’m guessing you’re the Republic’s prodigy.”

June inclines her head in a gesture that oozes high class.

“Your escort costume is so convincing, though. Let’s just conduct a quick test to
prove your identity. Please close your eyes.”

June hesitates for a second, then obliges.

The man waves a hand toward the front of the room. “Now hit the target on the wall
with one of your knives.”

I blink, then study the walls. Target? I hadn’t even noticed that a dartboard with
a three-ring target is on one of the walls near the door we came through. But June
doesn’t miss a beat. She flips out a knife from her waist, turns, and throws it straight
toward the dartboard without opening her eyes.

It slams deep into the board, just a few inches shy of the bull’s-eye.

The man claps his hands. Even Kaede utters a grunt of approval, followed by a roll
of her eyes. “Oh, for chrissake,” I hear her mutter. June turns back to us and waits
for the man’s response. I’m stunned into silence. Never in my life have I seen anyone
handle a blade like that. And even though I’ve seen plenty of amazing things from
June, this is the first time I’ve witnessed her using a weapon. The sight sends both
a thrill and a shiver through me, bringing memories that I’ve forced into a closet
in my mind, thoughts I need to keep buried if I want to stay focused, keep going.

“Pleased to meet you, Ms. Iparis,” the man says, tucking his hands behind his back.
“Now, tell me. What brings you here?”