The guards lead us down the steps, pressing my wrists into my spine. The cuffs are cold and uncomfortable, making me squirmy. We pass the second and first floor, the temperature dropping until we reach a door that has a giant B painted on it.
Without a word, the guards shove us into a cell, slamming the metal bars behind us. Then, they leave, too.
"Jaelyn," Isaac whispers, the metal of his cuffs rattling against the concrete wall he stands by. I sink to the floor, letting my chin fall forward against my chest.
"Jaelyn," he repeats, and I hear him push off the wall, his boots scraping against the floor. "It's going to be okay."
Looking up at him, I glare, tears brimming my eyes.
"Okay? It's going to be okay?" I shout at him, feeling the heat in my face. He takes a step back, watching me carefully. "It's not going to be okay, Isaac! Even you can't find a silver lining in this situation."
"I'm sorry," he whispers, falling back against the wall.
Honestly, I'm not even sure I want to get out. I deserve to be in here. It was my impulsive personality that destroyed the cure.
We are both quiet, listening to the rain on the tiny window above our heads.
"But we can't give up," he finally says, walking over and dropping to his knees beside me, "Everyone is counting on us. Clare and Stephen are still out there, within the walls. They're dead if we can't get them out."
I look at my knees, the caked up blood from Clare's injury dark red on the jean material.
"We can't get out of here," I say, hitting him hard with my shoulder. He rocks, trying not to fall.
"Sure we can. We just have to plan."
I glare at him, scooting away.
"Then plan," I snap, trying to stand up. It's immensely hard when my hands are behind my back. Eventually, I give up, falling back down again. When I look back over at Isaac, he's glaring at me. "What?"
"You're hopeless," he says, sighing as he scoots away like a dog scooting across the grass. "If we can get our cuffs off, maybe there's a chance."
I know exactly how strong the cuffs are, though. When I was in guard training, I had to practice putting them on other guards as they fought back. Maybe Isaac didn't have that sort of training at Compound 5. I let out a long breath, deciding not to tell him. I don't want to kill his morale.
Isaac stands, throwing himself at the wall, back first. Every time he hits the concrete, a little more air leaves him, and the impact gets a little weaker. The sound bounces around the cell and my head.
"Isaac, stop, or you're going to hurt yourself," I say, scowling at him.
"Well, you won't help!"
The whining tone in his voice grates my nerves.
"Because it's pointless!"
I'm back to screaming at him, the cuffs rubbing my skin raw. I jerk at them wildly, feeling the metal digging into my wrist.
The door creaks open, and the guards drag in a very beaten Howard. He's not wearing any cuffs, but he is drooping against their hold. The guards toss him in the cell beside us, leaving without another word.
"Howard," I say, pushing myself up on my knees and waddling over to the bars, "Howard. I'm so sorry."
The man opens one eye, seeing me and smiling weakly.
"Hey, Jay," he whispers, "I wanted to tell you I missed you."
My breath catches in my throat.
"I let you in because I missed your corny jokes, and you were always my favorite partner," he continues, trying to push himself off the ground. Every time he moves, more blood pours out of a wound on his forehead. "I didn't know you were in so much trouble."
"I couldn't tell you," I say to him, pressing myself up against the bars. "I didn't want to put you in danger."
"I think I did that to myself," he says, breathlessly. He slumps against the wall, barely holding himself up. It's all he can do to hold his eyes open. "You're here to stop Hartley from spreading the second strand, aren't you?"
"What do you know about that?" I ask, watching him.
"Long story short, Hartley asked me to be on the crew that dumps it in a few days. I declined."
"Do you know where they're keeping it?"
"Upstairs. Fourth floor. Room 406."
I glance over at Isaac. We were so close.
"You can't get to it, though," Howard says, coughing.
"Clearly. We're stuck down here," I say.
"No, I mean, it's locked up. Even if you got up to it, you wouldn't be able to get in. You would need one of the card keys that the guards carry." Isaac and I look at one another. Howard takes a deep breath, continuing, "It's in these giant tubes. I swear, it almost looks glittery. It's so blue."
"Howard, do you have any idea how we can get out of here?" Isaac finally says, from where he sits.
"Find the pressure points on the door," Howard replies, sinking down to sit on the floor. "And lift." He makes a pushing motion with his hands, grunting. "All this technology, and they can't improve the design of the prison cells."
I crawl over to the bars, pressing on the hinges with my shoulders.
"I can't do this in these cuffs." I sit down again.
"Turn around and try it," Howard says.
I stand, legs shaking as I turn myself around. I feel blindly around, gripping the hinge in both hands. Closing my eyes, I lift up on it, bending myself forward. Isaac walks over, turning his back to the door as well.
The metal of the cuffs digs into my skin, and I grit my teeth, pushing my entire body upward. Finally, the pressure relieves itself, and Isaac and I crash into the floor, the door landing on top of us. I lift my head up, looking over at him. He's smiling, of course.
"Well, that worked," he says, squirming to where he can kick the door off us. I shimmy away from it, pushing myself up. The keys hang on the wall, on a rusty ring. I grab them with my mouth, tossing them into Howard's cell.
"Do me another favor?" I ask him, smiling. He laughs.
"Haven't I done enough for you?" he asks, grabbing the keys and stumbling over. I show him my wrists, relieved to feel the pressure fall away and hear the metal hit the concrete floor. I snatch the keys from Howard, unlocking Isaac's cuffs. He rubs his wrists, sighing.
"I owe you one, Howard," I say, pressing myself up against his bars. He smiles at me, reaching out to touch my cheek.
"Kid, you owe me a million," he whispers, stroking my cheek with his thumb, "Save the world, and we will be even."
I press my hand against his, pulling away with a deep breath. I have to undo what I've done.
"Come on, Isaac," I say, picking my gun up from where the guards dumped it. "Let's go."
YOU ARE READING
"I live in a place called Compound 4. We are one of ten different compounds placed at strategic locations around the US. It's been thirteen years since the virus overtook humanity, turning about ninety percent of us into zombies. I'm not sure how it...