Chapter Four

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I wait until half an hour after I hear my sister leave for school before I drag myself out of bed. I toss the covers aside and hurriedly get dressed. If I wait too long, someone will come check on me to see why I'm not at school. But I can't risk my sister getting too close to me if I am infected, and I don't want to scare her if it turns out that, by some miracle of security, I'm not.

Once I'm sure she's gone, I shuffle my way to the kitchen. Mother left a plate of eggs in the fridge for me to warm up—she left before my sister did—but the idea of food makes my stomach flip. Still, I'm going to need food at some point. I make myself a quick sandwich of sliced cheese and ham to snack on later.

I realize I forgot to add mustard as I head out the door.

The outside temperature should be the perfect mixture between warm sun and cool wind, but a cold sweat makes the air clammy and I can't get the image of Instructor Genrich's face above my water glass out of my mind.

The clinic is only about a forty-five minute walk, so I head that way, breezing down the sidewalk as fast as I can. I smile weakly and nod to a passing mail carrier delivering the mail that can't be sent via EYEnet. I say, "The Community is safe," like I'm supposed to. He gives me a funny look but doesn't question why I'm not at school.

Why would he?

The Community is safe. What would I be doing out here unless I'm supposed to be here? Maybe a teacher sent me for something... even if it's not really that efficient? No, that would be stupid. They'd call somebody if they needed something.

Maybe I have an internship I walk to.

All the way downtown?

It's not that far, but I could have easily taken the bus, and we're past the usual starting hours of most businesses.

I shake my head, unable to come up with a good excuse for why I'd be walking downtown. But the mail carrier is already long gone, busy with their deliveries.

Thankfully, I reach my destination without a problem. The clinic is a round building with smooth corners and pale yellow walls. Nearby, a pale blue, Community flag flaps high in the wind. A few bushes have been carefully planted around the perimeter of the clinic with trees for shade and to provide a decent wind block in winter. Though the exterior is punctuated with windows, most of the building probably has a closed interior unless there's a courtyard I can't see.

I hurry through the clinic's glass doors and to the rotunda's circular desk. The woman at front—dressed in pale gray slacks and a smooth gray dress jacket—looks up from her computer. "The Community is safe. Can I help you?"

I nod quickly, my fingers trembling. I open my mouth to explain myself, but I choke on my words.

I might have theophrenia, and I don't know how bad it might be, or how long it's going to take to fix, and I haven't even had a chance to tell my sister to be smart and take her pill, unlike her dolt of a big sister who—

"Easy now," the woman croons as she looks me over. "What's wrong? Do you feel ill?"

I bob my head. "Theo..." I gasp for breath. "I think I have the plague. I've been feeling... I saw something I shouldn't have."

The receptionist blinks, her eyes wide. I doubt very many people come here and claim they have theophrenia. After a moment, she nods. "Name please?"

"Galina Maly," I whisper.

"Thank you." She purses her lips and types my name into the computer before calling for a doctor. "Wait here," she tells me gently. But she casts a glance over my shoulder. A couple security guards in gray uniforms stand at the door, both watching me. I swallow hard. They're here in case I go crazy or become violent, because theophrenia makes people a danger to themselves and to the people around them. Back when the plague first wiped through the world, there were mass killings by the people with delusions and hallucinations—by people who thought they had something to prove. People who thought they could do things that are clearly impossible.

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