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Chapter 1

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14 Days Until Omniren

14 Days Until Omniren

K-1 hated assignments in Sickrooms. Most often, people died. This ten-year-old boy would fade off any second, and she willed him to hurry it up.

No one survives the night sickness, she thought. And you will be no different.

It wasn't that she didn't feel bad for him; staying upright was just worth more than pity. The longer she stood still in one place, the greater the risk that her balance would fail her. If she collapsed from the side effects of her medicine, it would be distracting. The boy's huddled father would call her Disrespectful. A word like that could earn K-1 a Tooling, and she could still feel the scabs from the last one.

And so K-1 wanted the child to die, to pass on to someplace better. Her sleep-mate, K-12, would call her cold-hearted, but K-1 had seen dozens die of the sickness—at least, she felt she had. It was hard to remember with the Nen in her system, just as it was hard to stay balanced in a room with only a bed to suggest up or down. Her vertigo made everything blur together: the woven black metal of the floor and ceiling, the room's wall-bars in the same color steel. She peered past the bars, trying to gather her bearings. She could see, through the black maze of structures, a hint of red light that meant late afternoon. Beyond the Tower's barred rooms and hallways, the great Night Wastes of Satcitan—a massive, flat plain—burned off the heat of the day.

K-1 wrapped her hand around the room's empty doorframe, her fingers pure white as they clung to the metal. She hoped the strain would give her focus, that the tight grip might clear the haze. She had been dosed with Nen for nearly two decades, and the dizziness never got better.

Her thoughts trailed off and she turned to the boy. Her heart sank. He was gone.

The child's sun-bright skin was now wasted to paleness, almost as translucent as K-1 herself. It felt as if the room had exhaled him, and neglected to breathe him back in.

K-1 leaned out of the entryway and peered down the hall, a tunnel of bars like stretched-out black snakes. Soon the father would cry, and the doctor would come, and he would tell her what to do.

Twelve would cry, she thought, out of nowhere. She would feel bad for this boy....

K-1 glanced back at the small face, trying to picture it happy. Children were supposed to be happy. But families with children lived outside the Tower, so K-1 rarely saw anyone as young as this boy. Every now and then she caught glimpses of small figures, roaming the ramble of buildings known as the City—but their smiles were too far away to be sure of. So K-1 couldn't picture him smiling.

Where the boy lived was part of what killed him. The City was not as well heated as the Tower, where all the important people lived. So the City people were more often caught without warmth after nightfall, which is when the night sickness found its way in. No one knew what it was or where it had come from, but it killed everyone—

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