- - 19 - -

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The camera feed is restored to President Hybriad, my mother hidden in the background behind him. I try not to hyperventilate as the President reassures the country, calling all Screeners to fortify their guard. All I can focus on is the slight swinging of my Mom's body from behind the President's right shoulder. My mind refuses to block out the horrid sight.

To make matters worse, rebels just sent the nation a cryptic message. Are they really destined to hurt everyone, too? Will the bombings be the beginning of a new era of pain? I can't handle being attacked from every angle, whether it's Screeners, scientists, or rebels.

I don't process a word the President says in his video feed. My eyes unfocus from the screen, dazed. Then all of us Screeners are roughly rushed out of the room.

I blend into the buzzing crowd, and the C.C. leads us through a stream of gray hallways. My mind numbs as I follow the other Screeners into elevators. Before I know it, we're on the roof, boarding a SkyTrain.

I climb the ladder into the Train, choosing a random seat. It occurs to me after I sit that I should look for Stephen. So I crane my neck to search, but I can't find him. Weakly reassuring myself that he'll be fine, I try to relax without success.

The SkyTrain gains speed and zooms across the city. All the windows of the Train are 0 percent transparent compared to my usual 100 percent. I'm too afraid of touching the settings in fear of sticking out from the rest. It's an old habit I can't let go of.

I ignore the stupid window and focus on Stephen instead. It's a guarantee he boarded this Train, so he'll be okay, right? I hope he is. I can't stand being apart from him. We're a team, and I should have searched for him sooner.

"So how long were you a Screener exactly?" a female voice asks from beside me.

I jump, immediately facing the voice. It's a girl with auburn hair and sharp features, a stranger. "U-Uh, I'm an intern."

"Oh, so not that long."

I give her a wide-eyed look.

"I was just curious," she says smugly, picking at her red, glittery nails. She glances up at me.

I give her a wide-eyed look.

She sighs. "Okay, listen. I'm only interested in how you managed to get a Hybriad Star award at the age of, what, 14?"

"18," I correct her, my voice tapering off at the end. I actually missed my own 18th birthday. A small pang hits my heart. I'm suddenly reminded of my mom.

I struggle not to replay her execution in my head as the girl continues. "Fine, you're 18, but still. You don't strike me as the kind of person who would go for the kill shot."

Her eyes glance to my lap. "And what's wrong with your wrists?"

I look down at my hands. Rectangles of tattoo ink stare back at me. "It's makeup," I lie. "My stylist did it."

The Train pulls to a stop, and everyone rises from their seat. The girl forgets about our conversation immediately and hops into the exit line. I stand confused for a moment before feeling a hand in my shoulder. I jump, whipping my body to face Stephen.

Stephen.

"Hey," he breathes, dressed perfectly in a nice suit.

"Hey," I exhale, and that's all we can say before we're forced out of the Train, once again taking an elevator to the bottom floor. I manage to stand next to Stephen the entire way. Even though we get squished shoulder-to-shoulder, Stephen subtly wraps his right arm around me. Everything seems to fall into place. Except for the face that my mom is dead and terrorists could blow up my entire city. Plus the Enhancement Project is still functioning.

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