CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR (draft)

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Something has happened.

When I get back to Yellow Dorm Eight, close to 10:00 PM curfew—after running a few homework laps around the Arena Commons building stadium track—it seems like everyone has gathered in the first floor lounge. All the Candidates from our dorm are packed in, and the Dorm Leaders are there too.

“What’s going on?” I say, making my way through the crowd.

A girl I don’t know turns to me. “They found something. The Correctors were here, searching both the dormitory floors again, and looks like they found something. . . . They’re about to make some kind of announcement.”

I frown. At the same time a strange chill passes through me and takes up residence in my gut, with twisting knives. Why am I even nervous?

I look around to see if there’s anyone familiar. I notice Dawn and Hasmik toward the back and push my way toward them. Hasmik’s leaning against the back of one of the chairs, and dangling her hurt leg off the ground to relieve pressure on the ankle.

“You missed the excitement,” Dawn says leaning in to my ear. “The Correctors were all over our floor. They kicked us out and did the bed search. Girls underwear all over the place. . . . No idea what else.”

“Oh yeah?” I start to snort then frown instead and momentarily think about my bags and my bed—not that there’s anything that can be found there. . . .

Dorm Leader John Nicolard blows a whistle. Faces turn and the whispers and chatter in the lounge simmers down. In that moment we all turn to look, and there are two Atlantean Correctors walking down the stairs, with someone in tow, and behind them is a pair of armed guards.

They reach the bottom landing, and the person they are leading by the arms is pushed forward, so that he or she stumbles slightly, and there’s a flip of familiar relaxed blond-tinted hair, and oh no, oh dear lord, no!

It’s Laronda.

I feel cold. Super-bottomless-pit-cold, and at the same time it’s like someone had punched me in the gut. Next to me Dawn makes a sound that’s like a growl or an exclamation.

“Oh, no!” Hasmik breathes.

“Let go of me!” After a particularly rough shove from behind, Laronda struggles in the grip of the guards. She’s wearing nothing but a tank top and hastily pulled on leggings. Her sockless feet are jammed into sneakers. Her dark brown skinny arms are restrained behind her back and her face is terrified. I have never seen her look so lost—ever. “I didn’t do anything! Listen to me! I don’t know what that thing is—”

The crowd of Candidates parts to let them pass, and the Correctors are silent and impassive as they walk through the lobby, followed by their detainee, ignoring her pleas and protest. One of the Correctors is holding what looks like Laronda’s tattered old denim jacket.

“Laronda!” I say as she passes by, and my voice carries through the room.

Laronda turns back, trains her frightened face in my direction, and I can see her eyes are red with tears and her nose is puffy. “Gwen!” she exclaims, almost choking. “Oh my lord, Gwen! I am innocent, I didn’t do anything, I swear! Please tell them! Help me! Someone set me up!”

I make a move toward her, but the nearest guard puts his arm out before me to prevent me making any contact with her. “Please stay back,” he says gruffly, blocking me with his bulk.

“It has to be a terrible mistake!” I exclaim. My pulse is pounding in my temples. “She says she didn’t do anything! Where are you taking her?”

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