What the hell had they done to her?
Gingerly, she pushed herself to her feet.
Just then, the door banged open, flooding the room with fluorescent light. Leta’s hand flew up to shield her eyes and she felt startled of what could possibly happen next —
But the guard in the doorway looked nothing but friendly.
“Hey, y’alright?” he said, holding open the door. He was a young man, around her age, dressed in dark-colored Society clothing. “Ready to leave? Feeling a little drowsy? I felt like crap after, too, but you get used to it.”
The man continued to smile, but he squinted at her. “You really are drowsy, eh? Come on, time to go. What did you say your name was?”
Leta’s throat was dry. Her mother’s name — her own middle name — jumped into her mind. “Ella,” she said after a moment.
They stepped into the hallway. Leta looked around quickly, though there were no helpful hints as to where they were: the hallway was empty, white and sterile.
“Now that is a pretty name,” the guard was saying, still grinning. “Nice to meet you, Ella. Surprised I don’t recognize you. You know, I usually — “
“Enough flirting, Rogerson,” came a crisp voice. Footsteps pounded down the tiled floor and an older woman appeared, also in Society clothing, holding a clipboard against her chest. She glanced at the man — Rogerson — with disgust. “Hope he wasn’t bothering you. Are you ready to proceed?” She looked down at her clipboard, and then she held out a handheld scanner. “You’ll need to get into your uniform. For now we’ll just need to scan your CID.”
Leta opened her mouth, then closed it again, her mind racing. Her identification, they needed her identification. She tried to summon her wits, but her brain felt soggy, like she was moving underwater. The only lie she could summon was, “I forgot it.”
The woman’s eyes shot up. “You what?”
“I’m afraid that I forgot it.”
“Forgot it?” the woman scoffed.
“She’s a little drowsy,” said Rogerson. “Not thinking straight just yet.”
“You can’t forget the damn thing, it’s in your wrist.”
She reached for Leta’s arm, and it was this gesture that made Leta jolt out of her stupor. Society agents received implanted identification chips — of course. How could she have forgotten? Her father had one. Fiearius had one. She herself did not have one — she’d quit the Society science ward merely weeks before she was to receive it.
“Actually,” she said, thinking quickly and pulling her forearm away, “mine’s not. Never got it implanted. Because of–a blood condition.”
“Hm?” The woman blinked, then narrowed her eyes. “Well. I guess we’ll need to take you over to secondary processing.”
“Will — that take long?” said Leta uncertainly. “I really need to — to — ”
“Catch your ship?” offered Rogerson with tones of sympathy, and Leta nodded quickly. The fool had no idea that he was assisting her.
“Sorry,” said the woman, frowning down at her clipboard. “Rules are rules, can’t let you into the docks without processing.”
“What ship are you on?” asked Rogerson.
“Oh, um — ”
Before Leta could invent a believable Society ship (the Beacon was the only one coming to mind), a shout from the other end of the hall made all three of them spin around.
“There you are!”
Two figures were marching closer, a sight that made Leta’s heart sink: her lies were working on two agents, but surely she’d be sniffed out when more arrived. One was a man in full armored gear of a Society Elite that looked out of place in this quiet hallway, but at his side was a woman who —
Leta’s heart flipped over.
The woman was in commander blues and a Ridellian headscarf Leta recognized instantly. Addy.
And beside her, that must have been Cyrus. They were in disguise. How the hell had they made it here? Leta quickly tried to dissolve the surprise out of her face.
“We’ve been looking all over for you!” scolded Addy, in a voice Leta had never once heard her use. “Do you realize how much trouble you’re in? How late you are? Our entire schedule put off, because you can’t even be bothered to wake up on time. I swear, this is your last warning, agent.”
Rogerson scratched his hair, looking between the two new arrivals in confusion. His stare set on Cyrus who he looked up and down. “Aren’t you a little short to be an Elite?”
Beneath his heavy gear, Cyrus shrugged, while Addy continued to chastise Leta. “If the captain finds out about this? Gods, you’d best hope he doesn’t.”
Leta managed to strike a note of regret. “Sorry, ma’am.”
“Sorry isn’t gonna cut it, agent.” Addy reached out and grabbed her arm, beginning to pull her away. “Let’s just get you onboard before anyone else notices.”
As they turned to leave, the other woman spoke up. “Hang on, there, Commander, she still needs to be processed.”
Addy just looked back with a glare. “We don’t have time for processing. Unless you want to explain to the captain of the Titan why his navigation technician isn’t aboard.”
“Well–” the woman stammered. “No, ma’am, but the rules–”
“Aren’t applicable here,” Addy finished firmly. “We’ll be going now. Have a pleasant day, agent.” Abruptly, she turned on her heel and stalked away down the hall, dragging Leta with her and Cyrus a few steps behind. They made it all the way to the corner before she heard Rogerson say, “Wait a minute. Didn’t the Titan leave for repairs two days ago?”
Leta’s heart sunk. Addy’s grip tightened on her arm. And just as they rounded the corner, there was a shout behind them, “Hey, wait! Come back here!”
Addy, Cyrus and Leta exchanged one wild look of panic. And then, in a clumsy caravan, they bolted.
“Well, that half-worked,” Cyrus called, swiping off his helmet and tossing it behind him as they tore down the corridor.
“When has that plan ever fully worked?” Leta cried.
“Never. And yet we keep trying it,” said Cyrus, sounding hysterical as his feet pounded the floor. “Funny, that.”
“Yes, it’s hilarious, now how do we get out of here?”
Overhead, an alarm began to blare over the speakers, followed by a cold female voice. Attention. Intruders in building A. Code 403. Agents be advised.
“Uh … quickly,” finished Cyrus. “C’mon, let’s go this way.”
Suddenly, Cyrus turned down a corridor and out a pair of double doors, straight into the narrow alley beyond, where voices were bouncing off the walls. Leta could not imagine why Cyrus led them into an alley filled with people — what was he thinking? — but as she staggered to a halt, then caught one look at the scene in front of her, she immediately understood.
Civilians, citizens and even some scattered Society agents themselves were crowded around the east end of the alley that lead to the docks, shouting pleas, yelling profanities and banging their fists in protest. No one spared them a second glance: here, they could blend in.
All around them, the crowd was in an uproar. “This is ridiculous!” “Why can’t we board?” “Come on, let us through!” “Open up!”
Cyrus slipped into the fray, with Leta and Addy following on his heels. At the head of the crowd, a wall of armed Society agents were forming a barricade in front of the departing ships.
“Everyone remain calm!” yelled a commanding officer, strolling in front of the angry crowd. “You’ll be allowed through as soon as we locate the trespassers!”