Chapter Five

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The rest of the morning and the first half of the afternoon passes between fits of throwing up mixed with trying to quench my thirst. I'm fairly certain I have a temperature, but the doctor doesn't return. I make an attempt to eat my sandwich with little success. The bread tastes like sand, rough against my parched throat.

The security guard at the door eventually takes pity on me and calls one of the other guards to bring me a cup of tapioca pudding. It helps, and she gives me a sympathetic smile at my thumbs up after I finally manage to keep the pudding down.

There's a knock at the door, and when the guard opens it, two Special Forces agents stand under the frame. They're both clothed in black fitted armor with the rising sun cog on their upper sleeve. One has a rifle strapped to his back, while the other has a pair of handguns at her side. Each wear a dark visor over their helmets.

I swallow a gulp, goosebumps rising on my skin. Sure, I've seen uniformed agents occasionally, but only at a distance. Never right here.

Never for me.

"Galina Maly?" the paler of the two-Agent Wilson-turns toward me. She has an accent, and I think it might be from the North American Community, but I was always terrible at guessing voices.

"That's me," I whisper, a little too stunned to talk any louder. That, and my throat is still parched from the side effect of the injection, so I can't speak up anyway.

"You'll come with us," she instructs firmly. "Understand that if you try to run, we are authorized to use force to bring you back. We have tranquilizers, but it will be simpler for all of us if we don't have to use them."

"I don't plan on running," I agree, my fingertips cold. "I want to be cured."

"Good. Walk with us, then. Don't mind the crowd."

Crowd?

She leads the way while the male agent follows behind me. When we reach the door, I understand exactly what she means. It's the end of the school day, so everyone has gathered around the lampposts on the opposite side of the street, speculating about why a Special Forces van is parked outside the clinic. That has to be the case because they all have their phones, waiting for the first juicy tidbit of something, anything to happen outside of the usual.

Normally I'd be part of that crowd, cell phone in hand and ready to record. Whatever happened, I'd put it on my EYEblog.

Instead, I'm the juicy gossip. I'm the one staring at the crowd, doubled over because my stomach feels like a squishy worry ball and my legs feel like I've spent too much time in the pool. Nothing feels right. I'm walking through sludge despite how dry the air feels, and I can't get enough of that air into my lungs. My lips are cracked like they would be in winter. I'd stop at a water fountain if I wasn't being herded along by a pair of Special Forces agents.

"Everything's going to be fine," Agent Wilson tells me. She gives me a worried smile and rests her hand on my arm, pulling me toward a black van.

A third agent leaves that van and moves toward the sidewalk, motioning the other students back. "Keep your distance." His voice grates on my ears. I close my eyes, following the guidance of Wilson's hand on my arm. "You need to stay back. The Community is safe."

"The Community is secure," comes the hushed, confused murmur from the crowd.

Even I try to mutter the saying, but the world dips around me and I stumble. Wilson keeps me upright. "We're almost there," she says gently. "See? You just need to go up a couple steps, and then you can sit down again."

I open my eyes to the back of a large, shiny black van with the hatch opened. A set of metal steps have been pulled out and locked in place, and almost touch the asphalt road. I glance back to the crowd, to the students I recognize from my class and the ones I don't. One last look at my old life, a reminder of before I caught theophrenia...

Where could I have caught the plague? Does anyone else have it? Did I infect my sister? How is it transmitted?

I catch a glimpse of my sister's blond hair pulled back into a short ponytail as she hops on her tippy-toes to see around the tall guy in front of her. She watches me, her eyes wide with shock, her hands clasped over her mouth in horror. I hope she's not sick, too. I hope I didn't hurt her.

At least she has her friends there to comfort her, though they seem as startled.

I squeeze my eyes shut, tears threatening to erupt. But my eyes feel itchy and raw. No tears. No sniffles, either, as if everything's so dry I can't even get a runny nose.

"Come on, Galina," Wilson urges. She offers me a hand from inside the van. "The sooner we get you to the treatment center, the sooner you'll be safe, and the less risk you'll pose to the rest of the Community."

That's enough to push me forward. The sooner I get out of here, the sooner I'll stop being a threat to my sister. I raise my chin and take one determined step after another until I'm seated on one of the interior benches. The male agent fastens my seatbelt, and Wilson tosses me a bottle of water. I gulp the cold liquid gratefully, but even that doesn't relieve my thirst.

"Is this..." I wring the bottle in my hands and the flimsy plastic crinkles. "Is it normal to be this thirsty? And my skin feels so dry..."

Wilson sits across from me and fastens her own seatbelt before placing her helmet in her lap and clasping her hands over the helmet. "I'm afraid it's a symptom of your particular strain of theophrenia. The side effects should take about a day to clear, so long as you continue taking the adominogen injections." She nudges her head toward the sore spot in my arm where the doctor placed the needle.

"Why does adominogen react like that?"

She frowns, giving me a wary look. For a moment, I can't really place why. I only asked about the injection...

Except I didn't specify injection versus the pill.

If she realizes I haven't been taking the pill, I'll end up in the coolers instead of the treatment center. My breath catches in my throat. What do they do to prisoners with theophrenia? Do they even get a chance for reformation?

Or are they executed immediately?

"It's just... I'm not used to this dosage," I say quickly. "I haven't noticed it with the pill."

The agent stares at me, her eyebrows furrowed as if she's trying to discern the truth. My heart skips a beat. Does she believe me?

She shrugs. "I'm not sure why the injection elicits a stronger reaction. Not my area of expertise, though I know everyone's a bit different. But you might as well get comfortable. It's going to be a bit of a ride."

I take that as my cue that she wants silence, so I rest my head against the padded wall. I close my eyes, trying to picture a calm, serene lake. But all I can see is the water morphing into the image of Instructor Genrich, which changes to my sister, to her staring at me from the crowd, horrified. That image turns to her sitting in my place, and how she might feel...

I really, really hope I haven't infected her, too. That she's smarter than I am and keeps taking the pill.

And that I'll be cured soon.


* * *

Thanks for reading! :-D

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