Prodigy


Page 22


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"Stop worrying-I'm sure she'll be fine." She spits out that last word with sudden venom, then goes quiet again. Yeah, I definitely said the wrong thing.
"I didn't join the Patriots because I wanted to, you know." Tess rises from the bed and stands over me, her back stiff, her hands clenching and unclenching. "I joined the Patriots because of you. Because I was worried sick about you after June took you away and arrested you. I thought I could talk them into saving you-but I don't have the bargaining power June has. June can do whatever she wants to you, and you'd still take her back. June can do anything she wants to the Republic, and they'll take her back too." Tess raises her voice. "Whenever June needs something, she gets results, but my needs aren't worth a bucket of pig's blood. Maybe if I were the Republic's darling, you'd care about me too."
Her words cut deep. "That's not true," I say, getting up and grabbing her hands. "How could you even say that? We grew up on the streets together. You have any idea what that means to me?"
She purses her lips tight and looks up, trying not to cry. "Day," she begins again, "have you ever wondered why you like June so much? I mean-well-given how you were arrested and all-"
I shake my head. "What do you mean?"
She takes a deep breath. "I've heard of this thing somewhere before, on the JumboTrons or something, where they were talking about prisoners from the Colonies. About how kidnapping victims fall for their captors."
I frown. The Tess I know is fading away into a cloud of suspicion and dark thoughts. "You think I like June because she arrested me? You really think I'm that twisted in the head?"
"Day?" Tess says carefully. "June turned you in."
I throw down Tess's hands. "I don't want to talk about this."
Tess shakes her head mournfully, her eyes glossy with unshed tears. "She killed your mother, Day."
I take a step back from Tess. I feel like I've been slapped in the face. "She didn't do it," I say.
"She may as well have," Tess whispers.
I can feel my defenses rising up again, closing me off. "You're forgetting that she also helped me escape. She saved me. Look, are you-"
"I've saved you dozens of times. But if I turned you in, and your family died for it, would you forgive me?"
I swallow. "Tess, I'd forgive you for just about anything."
"Even if I was responsible for your mom's death? No, I don't think you would." She fixes her eyes on mine. Her voice carries a hint of harshness now, armored with an edge of steel. "That's what I mean. You treat June differently."
"Doesn't mean I don't care about you."
Tess ignores my reply and barrels on. "If you had to choose between saving either me or June, and you had no time to waste . . . what would you do?"
I can feel my face going red as my frustration builds.
"Who would you save?" Tess uses a sleeve to wipe her face and waits for my answer.
I sigh impatiently. Just tell her the goddy truth. "You, all right? I'd save you."
She softens, and in that moment the ugliness of jealousy and hate is smoothed away. All it takes is a little sweetness for Tess to turn back into an angel. "Why?"
"I don't know." I run a hand through my hair, unable to figure out why I can't take control of this conversation. "Because June wouldn't need my help."
Stupid, so stupid. I almost couldn't have said anything worse. The words spilled out before I could stop myself, and now it's too late to take them back. That's not even the right reason. I would've saved Tess because she's Tess, because I can't bear to imagine something happening to her. But I don't have time to explain that. Tess turns and starts walking away from me. "Thanks for your pity," she says.
I hurry over to her, but when I take her hand, she jerks away. "I'm sorry. That's not what I meant. I don't pity you. Tess, I-"
"It's fine," she snaps. "It's just the truth, yeah? Well, you'll be reunited with June soon enough. If she decides not to go back to the Republic." She knows how cold her words are, but she doesn't try to sugarcoat them. "Baxter thinks you're going to betray us, you know. That's why he doesn't like you. He's been trying to convince me of that ever since I first joined. I dunno . . . maybe he's right."
She leaves me standing alone in the hall. Guilt slices through my skin, opening veins as it goes. A part of me is angry-I want to defend June, and tell Tess all the things June had given up for my sake. But . . . is Tess right? Am I just deluding myself?
I HAD A NIGHTMARE LAST NIGHT. I DREAMT THAT ANDEN pardoned Day for all his crimes. Then I saw the Patriots dragging Day onto a dark street and putting a bullet in his chest. Razor turned to me and said, "Your punishment, Ms. Iparis, for working with the Elector." I jerked awake in a sweat, trembling uncontrollably.
A day and night (more specifically, twenty-three hours) pass before I see the Elector again. This time I meet him in a lie detection room.
As guards lead me down the hall to an ensemble of waiting jeeps outside, I go over all the things I've learned at Drake about how lie detectors work. The examiner's going to try to intimidate me; they're going to use my weaknesses against me. They'll use Metias's death, or my parents, or maybe even Ollie. They'll certainly use Day. So I concentrate on the hall we're walking down, think about each of my weaknesses in turn, and then press each one deep into the back of my mind . I silence them.
We drive through the capital for several blocks. This time I see the city smothered in the gray half glow of a snowy morning, soldiers and workers hurrying along the sidewalks through the spots of light that streetlamps cast on the slick pavement. The JumboTrons here are enormous, some towering fifteen stories, and the speakers lining the buildings are newer than those in LA-they don't make the announcer's voice crackle. We pass the Capitol Tower. I study its slick walls, how sheets of glass protect each balcony so anyone giving a speech will be properly shielded. The old Elector had once been attacked that way, back before the glass went up-someone had tried to shoot at him all the way up on the fortieth floor. The Republic had been quick to put up the barriers after that. The Tower's JumboTrons have wet streaks distorting the images on their screens, but I can still read some of the headlines as we pass them.
A familiar one catches my attention.
DANIEL ALTAN WING EXECUTED DEC. 26 BY FIRING SQUAD
Why are they still broadcasting that, when all the other headlines from the same time have long since made way for more recent news? Maybe they're trying to convince people that it's true.
Another one flashes by.
ELECTOR TO ANNOUNCE FIRST LAW OF NEW YEAR TODAY AT DENVER CAPITOL TOWER
I want to pause and read this headline again-but the car speeds past and then the ride's over. My car door opens. Soldiers grab my arms and pull me out. I'm instantly deafened by shouts from the crowd of onlookers and dozens of federal press reporters clicking their little square camera screens at me. When I take in the people surrounding us, I notice that in addition to those who are here just to see me, there are others. A lot of others. They're protesting in the streets, shouting slurs about the Elector, and being dragged off by police. Several wave homemade signs over their heads even as guards take them away.
June Iparis Is Innocent! says one.
Where Is Day? says another.
One of the guards nudges me forward. "Nothing for you to see," he snaps, hurrying me up a long series of steps and into the giant corridor of some government building. Behind us, the noise from outside fades away into the echoes of our footsteps. Ninety-two seconds later, we stop before a set of wide glass doors. Then someone scans a thin card (about three by five inches large, black, with a reflective sheen and a gold Republic seal logo in one corner) across the entry screen, and we step in.
The lie detection room is cylindrical, with a low domed roof and twelve silver columns lining the rounded wall. Guards strap me standing into a machine that encircles my arms and wrists with metal bands, and press cold metal nodes (fourteen of them) onto my neck and cheeks and forehead, my palms and ankles and feet. There are so many soldiers in here-twenty in total. Six of them are the examination team, with white armbands and transparent green shades. The doors are made of flawlessly clear glass (it's imprinted with a faint symbol of a circle cut in half, which means it's one-way bulletproof glass, so if I somehow broke free, soldiers outside the room could shoot me through the glass but I wouldn't be able to shoot back at them or break out). Outside the room, I see Anden standing with two Senators and twenty-four more guards. He looks unhappy, and is deep in conversation with the Senators, who try to cloak their displeasure with fake, obedient smiles.
"Ms. Iparis," the lead examiner says. Her eyes are a very pale green, her hair blond, her skin porcelain white. She scrutinizes my face calmly before pressing on a small black device she's holding in her right hand. "My name is Dr. Sadhwani. We're going to ask you a series of questions. As you are a former Republic agent, I'm sure you understand as well as I do how capable these machines are. We'll catch the smallest twitch of movement from you. The slightest trembling of your hands. I strongly advise you to tell us the truth."
Her words are all just pretest hype-she's trying to convince me of the complete power of this lie detection device. She thinks the more I fear it, the more reaction I'll show. I meet her eyes. Take slow, normal breaths. Eyes relaxed, mouth straight. "Fine with me," I reply. "I have nothing to hide."
The doctor busies herself studying the nodes stuck to my skin, then the projections of my face that are probably being broadcast around the room behind me. Her own eyes are darting around nervously, and tiny beads of sweat are dotting the very top of her forehead. She's probably never tested such a well-known enemy of the state before, and certainly not in front of someone as important as the Elector.
As expected, Dr. Sadhwani starts with simple, irrelevant questions. "Is your name June Iparis?"
"Yes."
"When is your birthday?"
"July eleventh."
"And your age?"
"Fifteen years, five months, and twenty-eight days." My tone stays flat and emotionless. Each time I answer, I pause for several seconds and let my breathing become shallower, which in turn makes my heart pump faster. If they're measuring my physical rates, then let them see fluctuations during the control questions. It'll make it harder to tell when I'm actually lying.
"What grade school did you attend?"
"Harion Gold."
"And after that?"
"Be specific," I reply.

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