We hurry away from her house under the cover of the night. Several times, we have to duck behind trash cans, switch our path, or turn around to avoid the guards that patrol the streets. Lexi continues to nurse her nose, still fuming.
"Do you feel guilty? Like at all?" she mumbles, leaning against the brick wall of a manufacturing building. A guard walks past, yawning.
"About punching you?" I whisper, "I don't have time to feel guilty, and neither do you. You needed to stop wallowing."
I take her hand, pulling her back out onto the sidewalk.
She says something under her breath, but I just roll my eyes.
I have to get her out of the Living District. When she doesn't report to the pick-up in the morning, they will search every house in the compound looking for her. I'll be questioned, I'm sure, but I am confident I can lie through it. Hiding her is going to be much harder than faking I don't know where she is.
We walk quickly, keeping our heads down.
The only place I can think to take her is outside the wall. So, I lead her to the end of the sidewalk where the concrete is falling apart on it's loose foundation of sand. We step off into the sand, looking up at the wall.
"Climb," I whisper, nudging her towards the ladder. She looks both ways and lifts herself up, disappearing over the edge at the top. I follow, hands shaking as the distance between me and the ground lengthens.
"Where am I going, Q?" she asks, crawling to the other side. I follow, looking over the edge. The barbed wire is curled off here, dangling uselessly towards the ground. Not five feet to our left, the wall ends, greeted by the ocean below.
"Over," I mutter, using two fingers to push the barbed wire farther away. "From there, into the swamps."
She makes a face at me, pulling her hair back into a ponytail.
"You're lucky I trust you," she mumbles, sitting on the edge of the wall. I smile as she jumps down, letting out a little huff when she lands. I watch her stumble away from the spot, regaining her balance. I climb up, swinging my own legs over the edge.
Fear swells inside my chest, and for half a second, I am nauseous. There is no way I can jump. Not with my eyes open.
So, I close my eyes, giving myself a gentle shove over the edge. I land on my feet, knees crumpling under the impact. Lexi swoops in to help me up, clicking her tongue at me.
"My knight in shining armor," she says, laughing, "You can't even land right."
I shove her away, face burning red.
"Now, tell me what's going on," she commands, pulling me down to sit against the wall with her. Here, at least against the wall, we are safe from the guards. None of them patrol this far along the wall, and if they did, they would have to lean over to see us.
I recount what I learned about the Repor from Kovach, sparing no detail. Lexi cringes when I reveal who she's been feeding the infected.
"So that means... Naomi..." her voice trails off as she shakes her head.
"Requested reassignment, but walked to her death," I whisper, wrapping my arms around myself. Breathing is hard when I think about Naomi being gone forever. Reassignment was bad enough, but I was reassured by the fact that she would be alive and well somewhere else in the country. Now, though, knowing she became nothing more than infected fodder, gone forever from this world, is too much for me.
What I feel is a mixture of anger and depression, too crippled to do anything about it but plotting all the ways to get back at Kovach at the same time. If Naomi was here, she would hug me and tell me to drop it, batting her giant eyelashes and smiling with dimples like craters on her cheeks.
"What's the plan?" Lexi asks, swallowing hard. I glance over at her, and tears line her bottom lashes. She blinks them back, staring straight ahead.
"I- I don't know," I say, rubbing my cheek with my palm.
"Well, you have to stop this."
"Obviously," I snap. She finally looks at me, glaring.
"You're just full of anger tonight, aren't you?"
"Wouldn't you be if you just found out that your president is sending innocent people to their death? People you cared about? People that didn't deserve to die!"
"I did just find that out, Quinn!" she says, raising her voice. I look away, staring out at the water beside us.
"I don't know what to do," I whisper, pulling my knees up to my chest. I rest my chin on them. "I can plan military attacks. I can pass a stupid Intelligence Exam. Yet, here I am with a real crisis, and I'm useless."
Lexi doesn't say anything; instead, she scoots towards me and puts her head on my shoulder.
"If it helps, I'm now a fugitive from the only place I've ever known as home," she says, "The world's all sorts of messed up. It's not just you."
I chuckle, picking at the grass in front of us. I roll a blade of it into a ball, tossing it into the sand.
"I think the best place to start is to get rid of the infected that Kovach's holding," Lexi says, "How do you kill them?"
"Gunshot to the head," I recite, "Or fire."
We both go quiet. Before me, the images of the attack on 4 play. I can see the woman, held down by Lexi, sobbing and begging to be freed. The tear streaked face of horror will be etched into my brain as long as I live. The smell of blood and gunpowder assaults my senses, and I close my eyes.
Sometimes, memories are the worst form of torture.
"No more killing," I whisper, shaking my head.
Lexi nods, letting out a long sigh.
"I have to cure them," I mumble, running a hand through my hair.
I tell her about Dr. Price in the basement of the Headquarters, about his partner who knows how to make the cure.
"If we can get Patel's help, maybe we can recreate the cure and dispense it to them."
"They're already gone, Quinn. You can't cure the infected."
"No, but maybe I can get rid of the virus once and for all. If I give them the cure, the infected will just die. If Kovach really has the last of the infected held up in the Repor, we can eradicate the virus once and for all."
"That's a noble mission, Quinn."
I sigh, rubbing my cheek.
"It's gone far enough. This whole thing has to stop. The Decontamination, Phase Three, our attack on Jaelyn. I don't know who the enemy is anymore. I'm confused, and I need to take this into my own hands, Lex. It begins in the Repor."
I leave Lexi outside the wall with only a hug and my word.
"I'll be back in the morning with food and supplies," I promise, breathing into her neck. "For now, though, just stay out of sight."
She nods, pushing away from her. Her eyes show no fear, just endless excitement. Being outside of the compound fuels her spirit of adventure.
Patting her cheek, I turn back towards the sloping end of the wall, wading out into the water to go around. There's no way to climb; so I walk waist deep into the sandbar, circling around until I can no longer see Lexi or the swamp beyond her.
The walk back is empty and lonely. I don't dodge the guards; what have I done wrong? They nod at me, turning a blind eye.
Back in the bunk, everyone sleeps.
I crawl up into Lexi's bed, staring up at the high ceiling. I'm surrounded by snoring, gentle breathing, the smell of sweat and saltwater. Blinking back tears, I pull Lexi's blanket up to my neck, breathing it in.
She's always been with me. How will I do this alone?
Discussion Question: One of my absolute favorite quotes is in here. "Sometimes, memories are the worst form of torture." Do you agree or disagree?
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Selected (Book 2 of the Immune Series)Science Fiction
"As far back as I can remember, I've been surrounded by water. The salt in the air even now makes it hard to breath, forcing me to squint. Sand clings to every inch of me, caking my pants and shoes. The wind from the ocean picks my hair up, sending...