A knock makes me jump. My hands shake from exhaustion, fear, and sorrow as I unlatch the lock to the door of my residence hall rooms and turn the handle. I let out a sigh of relief as I see Raffe Jeffries in the doorway. Though we share the same path of study, there is little else that is similar about us. Me from the colonies, who had to survive The Testing to be here. He from Tosu City, where students related to former graduates are welcomed into the University with open arms. We are not friends. Even after he helped save my life last night, I do not know if I can trust him. But I have no choice.
Raffe appears unconcerned, but I can read the warning in his eyes as he steps into my sitting room and closes the door behind him. “Cia, they know.”
My knees weaken, and I grip the back of a chair for support. “Know what?” That I left campus? That I know the rebellion led by the man who helped me during The Testing isn’t what the rebels believe? That soon the rebels will launch an attack that will lead them to their deaths? That Damone . . . I push my thoughts away from that question.
“Professor Holt knows we both left campus.” His dark eyes meet mine. “And Griffin has started looking for Damone.”
Of course Griffin would be looking for his friend. When he doesn’t find him, he will alert the head of our residence, Professor Holt. She will wonder why the Tosu City Government Studies student has vanished. Will Dr. Barnes and his officials believe the pressure to succeed has caused Damone to flee? Or will they launch a search for him and discover that he’s dead? Panic begins to swell. I tell myself there wasn’t another option. But was there?
I shake my head. Unless I want my future to contain Redirection or worse, I have to avoid thinking about what is past.
There are no rules that say we cannot leave campus. I cannot be punished for that alone. But if they know what I have seen . . .
I take a steadying breath, then ask, “Does Professor Holt know when we left or if we left together?”
My fingers trace the lightning bolt symbol on the silver and gold bracelet encircling my wrist as I think of the tracking device contained inside. The one I thought I had beaten. Only, I was wrong. I was wrong about everything. Now Michal is dead and . . .
“I don’t think anyone knows how long we were gone. No one saw us leave, and I don’t think anyone spotted us when we returned to campus.” Raffe runs a hand through his dark hair. “But Griffin stopped me when I was going to deliver your message to Tomas. He asked if I had seen Damone. Then he wanted to know where you and I went this morning. I don’t know how, but he knew we were together.”
I have not told Raffe about the tracking device in his bracelet. Part of me had hoped I would not need to share my secrets. My father warned me before I came to Tosu City for The Testing to trust no one. But I have. I must again now. Because he’s helped me, Raffe is in danger.
Quickly, I tell Raffe about what’s hidden inside the bracelets and about the transmitter Tomas and I designed to block the signal and hide our movements from Dr. Barnes. Only, sometime last night or this morning, that transmitter fell out of my pocket. Where and when it was lost I do not know.
Raffe looks down at the symbol etched on his bracelet—a coiled spring in the center of the balanced scales of justice. “They’re monitoring our movements.” There is no surprise. No outrage. Only a nod of the head before he says, “We’re going to have to find a better way to block the signal if we don’t want them watching our every move when we do whatever you have planned next.”
What I have planned . . .
This week President Collindar will stand in the United Commonwealth Government’s Debate Chamber and ask the members to vote on a new proposal. One that—if approved—will shift administration of The Testing and the University from Dr. Barnes’s autonomous control. One that will force him to report to the president and allow her to end the practices that have killed so many who wanted nothing more than to help their colonies and their country. But while I’d like to believe the proposal will pass and The Testing will come to an end, everything I have learned tells me it is doomed to fail. When it does, rumor says Dr. Barnes’s supporters will call for a vote of confidence on the president. A vote that—if lost by the president—will signal not only the end of her role as leader, but the start of a battle that the rebels and the president have no hope of winning, since Dr. Barnes knows of their plans. Indeed, he and his supporter Symon Dean have planned the rebellion itself. Only recently have I learned its true purpose, which is to identify, occupy, and ultimately destroy any who would oppose the selection methods of The Testing. The time is fast approaching when Dr. Barnes will allow his people among the rebels to escalate their outrage and encourage open warfare, in order to crush that rebellion with violence of his own. If Dr. Barnes’s plan succeeds, those who seek to end The Testing will die—and my brother will be among them.
I can’t sit back and allow that to happen, but I don’t know how I can help stop the events that are already spinning into motion. I thought I knew. I thought I had found a way to help. But I only made things worse. Now Dr. Barnes will be watching my movements even more closely than before. I wish there were time to think things through. My brothers always teased that it took me hours to make a decision that took others minutes, yet my father taught me that anything important deserves thoughtful study. The choices that face me now are the most important of my life.
Am I scared? Yes. As the youngest student at the University, I find it hard to believe that my actions could change the course of my country’s history. That I am clever enough to outthink Dr. Barnes and his officials and save lives. But there is no other way. The odds favor my failure, but I still have to try.
“Right now the only thing I have planned is to do my homework and get some sleep.” When Raffe starts to protest, I say, “You need sleep, too.” The way his shoulders sag tells me he is just as tired as I. “Maybe if we’re rested we’ll come up with a way to help stop what’s coming.”
Raffe nods. “Regardless, with everything that’s happened, it’s probably best we stay inside the residence for the rest of the day. I’m sure Professor Holt will have someone watching you. You’ll need to be careful.”
A muffled series of clicks catches my attention. There it is again. One. Two. Three faint clicks of the transmission button on the Transit Communicator. The signal Zeen suggested we use to indicate one of us needs to talk. He must have found a place where it is safe for him to speak. But it is not safe for me. Not with Raffe here. I have been forced into trusting him with many things, but I will not trust him with this. Not with my brother’s life.
“I’ll see you later today,” I say. Raffe cocks his head to the side. His eyes narrow as the three clicks come again.
Pretending I hear nothing, I walk to the door and open it. “I have an assignment I have to get to work ...