Authors: Anna Carey
“It can't wait,” he said. He didn't meet my eyes.
I felt the knife pressed inside my belt, tucked tightly against my hip. He held my right arm, the other soldier flanking me on my left, with no room for me to maneuver. They led me down the hallway to my father's suite. As we approached the door I could hear Charles's voice from the other side, his words hurried.
“I can't say,” he finished, as we walked in. “I don't think that's true.”
The soldier he was speaking to turned to face me. The Lieutenant. My father was up, looking stronger than I'd seen him in days. There was one other man, his back toward me, his hands tied together with plastic restraints. I could tell by the short, graying hair and tarnished gold ring that it was Moss.
“Genevieve,” the Lieutenant said, “we were just trying to put this all together. Were you the one who put the oleander extract in your father's medication, or did Reginald do it himself?” Moss turned to me, his dark eyes meeting mine. There was nothing decipherable in his expressionâno fear, no confusion, nothing.
“I told them I don't know what they're talking about,” Charles said. His blue eyes narrowed, as though he didn't quite recognize me.
I rearranged my features, trying to catch my composure, to turn my face into something that would inspire trust. “Why would Reginald do that?”
My father glanced sideways at the Lieutenant before speaking. “There's no point in lying. One of the rebels gave him up. The only question is how the poison found its way into the medicine, considering Moss hasn't been in this suite in months. That day you came here, the day we found out you were pregnant. I want to knowâdid you do it then?”
“I could barely stand up that day. I've never been so sick.”
At this, my father exploded. His neck strained as he spoke. “You cannot lie to me anymore. I won't have it. And if you think that you are somehow immune because of your pregnancy, you are mistaken.”
“Immune from what?” I asked. “Immune from being killed, like all the other rebels? Like anyone who doesn't agree with you?”
My father didn't look at me. Instead he nodded to the Lieutenant, then to Moss. The Lieutenant grabbed Moss by the arm and turned him around. The soldiers twisted my left wrist behind my back. “This doesn't have to happen,” Charles said as he stepped forward, trying to block the door. “I'm sure this is a misunderstandingâwhy would Genevieve be involved in this? Where are you taking them?”
The King didn't respond. Instead he turned away, toward the window, looking down at the crowd assembled on the road. Moss glanced sideways at me, and I wondered if he'd felt it somehow, in all those meetings we'd had, sitting in the stillness of the parlor, if he'd sensed us speeding toward this moment. Could he have known we'd be here, together, his future so entangled with mine?
Before they could grab my other wrist, I went for the knife in my belt. It took them a moment to process what was happening. Moss didn't hesitate. He pushed all his weight backward, knocking the Lieutenant into the closet doors behind him. I heard the hollow sound the Lieutenant made, then his short intake of breath, as he struggled to get air.
Moss ran toward me, his hands still bound together by the plastic tie, knocking one of the soldiers off balance. I pulled back, swiping at the other with the knife. As the soldier hunched over, the blood pooling inside his palm, we started through the door.
Outside, the hall was empty. I clipped Moss's restraints with the blade, and he shook out his hands to get the blood back into them. We started toward the end of the hall, to the stairwell just around the corner. “There are two soldiers stationed there,” I said. “Possibly more.”
I could see his slight hesitation as we ran instead toward the elevators. The door to the suite opened, the Lieutenant appearing at the other end of the hall. I saw his gun before Moss did. Moss dove for the elevator button, looking straight ahead, not bothering to turn. The shot hit him in the back, tearing through the tender spot between his shoulder blades. He staggered forward, then folded in on himself. He pressed his side into the wall, trying to stay standing.
The Lieutenant raised his arm again just as the elevator doors opened. I grabbed Moss beneath his arms and dragged him inside, struggling against his weight. When I looked up Charles was there, his fist closing around the Lieutenant's shirt, pulling his wrist back and away. When the gun went off it hit the wall beside us, tunneling into the metal. The last thing I saw was Charles's face, his features twisted and strange, as he fought the Lieutenant for his weapon.
I WAS AFRAID TO TURN MOSS OVER, WORRIED THAT MOVING
him might cause more damage. The wound in his back barely bled. Instead his lips lost color and his chest swelled, as if he were taking one long, permanent breath. I undid the top buttons of his shirt and took his tie off, trying to create space for air. His mouth opened and shut, again and again, slower each time, like a fish without water.
It felt surreal, like a strange scene I was witnessing but not a part of. I tried to breathe into his lungs, as I'd seen at School when one of the younger girls had had a seizure. Nothing worked. The bullet had entered in the center of his back, breaking something inside him.
By the time we reached the bottom of the tower Moss was dead. I knew I had to leave, but I couldn't pull my fingers from his wrist, as if his pulse would return if I held them there long enough. I felt the cold dampness in his palms. I noticed the way his eyes stayed open, his limbs tense and still. When I finally started out of the elevator, I waited until the doors closed behind me, locking his body inside.
I kept my eyes down as I passed the row of soldiers by the entrance. The Palace workers still hovered just beyond the glass, watching as the last prisoners were executed. I pulled the sweater around my hands, trying to hide the blood smeared on my skin. I had minutes, if that, before they were all alerted, before the Lieutenant was at the base of the tower, searching the main road.
I wound down the long driveway, moving south until I reached the street. I kept imagining what would've happened if we had turned right, not left, out of my father's suite, if I had been the one who reached the elevator doors first. What did it mean for the Trail with Moss gone, how would theâ
“Eveâstop!” a familiar voice yelled. “I've been calling you. Why didn't you turn around?” I flinched as Clara's hand came down on my wrist.
Her face was a mess of tears, the tip of her nose light pink. “You're leaving, aren't you?” she asked. She glanced behind me, where the crowd was dispersing into the Outlands. The sky above was a smothering gray, which rolled and cracked with thunder.
“I have to go,” I said. “They're after me.” I swiped at my cheeks, for the first time noticing that I was crying. I squeezed her hand, feeling the warmth of it in my own, and then turned away, back down the main strip, moving south along the road.
I lost myself in the shifting current of the crowd. I caught glimpses of the fountains outside the Bellagio, of two older women in front of me who were holding hands, of the man who pressed his cap to his chest, against his heart.
I was just beyond the Cosmopolitan tower when Clara found me, her breaths slowing as her steps synched up with mine. “I'm coming with you,” she said.
I glanced over her shoulder, but there were no soldiers in view. The sky rocked with thunder, and the clouds let loose their first heavy drops. Ahead of us, people held their jackets above their heads to shield themselves from the coming rain. I pulled my hair down around my face, trying to hide from a soldier standing to the east, just beyond the metal barricades. “Now that the siege is over, you won't be hurt. You don't have to come; youâ”
“I won't live here,” she said. “Not like this.” She glanced back at the Palace, where the wooden platform was still visible. Two more bodies were being cut down from the ropes.
“You can't,” I said. “They know about what I did. If you're found with me, you'll be killed, too.” I hurried my pace, turning right, crossing the main road, where the crowd thinned out. The tunnel couldn't be more than two miles off. I could leave the City within an hour, even if I wound through the Outlands, avoiding the stretches of open road.
“What's the option?” Clara asked. She kept along, not taking her eyes away from me. “Stay here? Wait until there's another attack? Wait until they tell me they've found you? You can't go alone, Eve.” The last part of her sentence somehow held a question, as if she were asking me:
Why would I let you do that?
I pressed my face into her neck, clinging to her for just a moment before breaking away.
“The tunnel is in the south,” I whispered, leading her down a narrow alleyway, where old shops were boarded up, graffiti scrawled across their sides.
A FREE CITY NOW
was written in red paint. Without Moss, it was impossible to know if the tunnel would be clear or if the remaining rebels would be using it for escape. But what choice did we have?
I brought my hand to my face, trying to breathe through my mouth, anything to dull the smells that came off the road. A body lay among the burned ash and ruin, its back toward us, a thin plastic jacket fused to the skeleton.
We kept moving, the sound of a Jeep's engine splitting the air, the tires kicking up dust and sand as it flew past the road behind us. The rain came down. Some of the residents in the Outlands ducked in doorways or under the shallow overhangs of buildings. A group scattered into a parking lot, sitting in the hollow shells of cars, waiting for the storm to pass.
I held the bag tight to my side, keeping my head down. It was only when I turned, watching another Jeep disappear into the Outlands, that I noticed the hospital, no more than a hundred yards off.
“What is it?” Clara asked. She kept up her pace, leaving me there at the edge of the road. She shielded her eyes from the rain.
I couldn't look away. Now that the siege had ended, the girls would be taken out of the City, back to the Schools. It could be years before they were liberated, if ever. How many of them would be taken to those buildings? This was their only chance to get out of the City. I wouldn't be able to take more than a few, if I could get in at all, but I couldn't leave them without doing
“Wait there,” I called to Clara. “The tunnel isn't more than two blocks farther. It's in a motel marked with an eight.” I dropped my bag, gesturing to the awning of an abandoned grocery store. Clara called after me, asking me what to wait for, but I took off toward the building, her voice disappearing behind the heavy rain.
Two soldiers were standing outside the front entrance. I slunk around the back, noticing an older woman at the side door. Our eyes met. She signaled to me with her hand. It wasn't until I was a few yards away that I noticed the bright red streak in her hair. It was the same woman Moss had mentioned.
“They already know about you,” she said, leaning in. She didn't look at me. Instead her eyes watched the scene over my shoulder. The high shrubs provided little cover from any vehicles that passed on the road. “The alerts have gone out. You have ten minutes, maybe fifteen, before they're here. They've dispatched the Jeeps from the north end of the wall. You have to leave now.”
I pushed against the side of the building, trying to get some respite from the rain that pelted my skin. The blood came off my fingers, the water pooling pink in my palm before it flooded over the sides of my hand and washed away. “I need you to let me inside,” I said. “PleaseâI'll be quick.”
“There's dozens of girls on this floorâmaybe more. What are you going to do?”
“Please,” I said again. “I don't have time.”
She didn't respond. Instead she opened the lock, and for the first time I noticed that her hands were shaking. “That's all I can do,” she said. “I'm sorry, I won't tell, but I can't help you any more than this.” She stepped back, away from me, disappearing around the side of the building.
I propped the door open with a rock. Inside, the long corridor was quiet. A few girls in a side room were talking about the explosions they'd heard outside, wondering what had happened and why. Two people sat under a giant calendar labeled
, their heads bowed together as they spoke. It wasn't until Beatrice turned, hearing my footsteps, that I recognized her.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, starting toward me. Sarah followed along behind her, her eyes swollen. “Is what they're saying true? They're taking the girls back to the Schools?”
“We have to gather as many girls as possible,” I said, glancing into one of the rooms. A group of girls were sitting with their legs folded, reading some old magazines. “There's a route we can take out of the City. Have them bring their warmest clothes and whatever supplies they have. How many are on this hall?”
“Just nine of us,” Sarah said. “The rest are past there.” She pointed to the closed double doors behind her.
I ducked into the second room, not waiting for Beatrice to respond. Four girls were curled up in bed, reading a tattered copy of something called
. They looked up when I came in, scanning my drenched clothes and my hair, which clung to my face and neck in thick, black coils. Locking eyes with them, I suddenly wasn't quite certain what to say, how to convince them to come now, with me, away from everything they'd known. “I need you to gather all your things and line up by the exit,” I said. “It's not safe here anymore. Take whatever supplies you have and be ready to leave in two minutes, no more.”
A girl with blond hair and freckles narrowed her eyes at me. “Who are you? Do the guards know you're here?”
“Noâand you won't tell them.” I grabbed one of the top drawers and emptied it onto the bed, tossing the girl a canvas bag that had fallen out. “I'm Genevieveâthe King's daughter. And we need to leave the City tonight, now, before you no longer have the chance.”