Lana waited for the search light to make another round, counting down the sequence she’d committed to memory. Rubbing sweaty palms on her thighs, she straightened her shoulders, crouching low for the run.
“Get ready,” she called behind her.
They rushed across the abandoned plaza and ducked into the sharp angles of the building’s entryway. Jo’s feet were solid lead, banging on the concrete, her breath a frantic pant behind her. Lana waited for the sirens, her heart in her throat, her body tensed for another run. The army never came.
There was only silence. Silence and the sound of Jo’s hysterical breathing.
“Think you could breathe a little louder, Jo?,” she bit over her shoulder. “I don’t think the guards quite hear you.”
“Nick said he’d be here.”
“And he will.”
“Then where is he?”
“Maybe he’s running late.” Lana cupped her hand above her eyes and pressed against the glass. Everything within the building was still dark, only shadows and moonlight dancing in slow circles across the stark white tiles.
“We shouldn’t be doing this.”
“You’re getting cold feet now?” Lana turned sharply toward her best friend, the girl who’d lived next door to her for as long as she could remember, who’d passed notes through a secret box buried beneath the fence. She knew every nuance of her voice, every twitch of her face, and despite Josephine’s attempt at calm, Lana saw the terror just beneath the surface.
“I shouldn’t have told you I was doing this,” Lana said on a deep sigh. “I should never have let you come.”
“You didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t going to let you do this without me.”
“What I’m asking for… it’s tantamount to suicide. You understand that, don’t you? I’m asking you to throw your entire life away, because chances are, we’ll get caught.” She paused, watched and waited to see if her words sunk in. “We’re going to get caught. And I don’t know what they’re going to do to us when we do.”
Jo swallowed hard, falling back against the wall, her palms flat.
“It’s not too late to go home.”
Jo’s eyes widened. “And leave you here? Alone? No way.”
“I won’t be alone. Nick’s coming.”
“And what if he doesn’t? What if he got caught?”
“Then I’d just have to do it without him.”
Lana looked down at her watch. It was almost time.
“Do you really think she’s in there?” Jo whispered looking through the glass panels into the dark building, her voice so soft Lana almost thought she’d imagined it.
“Where else would she be? I’ve looked everywhere, Jo. The only thing I know is what her friends tell me. She was breaking Curfew and crossing the Wall. For a boy. A boy!” Lana tried to control the emotional yelp in her voice, but her eyes watered regardless. “She didn’t think of us, her family, what it would do to us if they found her.”
“She was in love…”
“And that’s exactly why the Wall exists! Because love makes people do stupid, selfish things!” Lana huffed, turning away. She wiped furiously at her cheeks, brushing away the tears. “They dragged her away like she was some sort of criminal. Snatched her right out of Ryan’s apartment in the dead of night….” Lana leaned on the wall beside Jo and closed her eyes. “Maybe they’re right. Maybe they oppress us because if they don’t we self-destruct.”
“No,” Jo said sharply, suddenly standing. “I refuse to believe that.”
“You’re hopeless, Jo.”
“Believing that two people are right for each other is not hopeless. It’s science. Chemicals react. Atoms polarize and attract. Two people being compatible is perfectly logical. Some, those predisposed, become lovesick and need special care, and maybe Amy was one of them, but that doesn’t give them the right to take her how they did. Without warning. Parents have the right to know where their child has disappeared to.”
Lana smiled weakly. “Now you sound like Nick.”
“There’s some sense to his rambling.”
“I have to know she’s ok. At the very least, so I can lay Mom and Dad’s fears to rest. They think she’s dead, Jo. But I know its worse than that. I know they have her and I worry what they’ve turned her into.”
A sudden boom shook the ground beneath their feet. A large cloud of fire and smoke lifted toward the sky, shining like a giant sun before imploding.
“That’s Nick.” Lana reached for the weapon tucked into her waistband. “It’s showtime.”
The city came alive suddenly, lights flashing on, sirens wailing, the sound of marching feet as the Guard readied their weapons and prepared for attack. She expected a slew of metalheads to seep out of their building, had craved the hand to hand combat, a way to drown some of the volatile emotions that continued to morph into doubt. She would have settled for any sign of life, to have the building light like a beacon in the night. It didn’t. Through the chaos, the Regulatory building remained dark, as though undisturbed in its slumber.
“They’re going to make this difficult,” Lana groaned, pulling out the pick set stuffed in her back pocket. “Jo, can you override the security system?”
She dialed numbers frantically on the holographic keyboard hovering above her watch. “Not for more than a few minutes.”
“That’s all I need.” Lana worked the lock until it clicked. “Now!”
Jo nodded and stuffed a tiny USB into the side of her watch. The screen lit up, the upload box filling bright red. “Virus uploaded. We have five minutes.”
Lana led the way through the dark hallways, the blueprint images still fresh in her mind. But each turn, each door they kicked open revealed nothing. Aged furniture, broken lights, something altogether abandoned.
“This isn’t right.” Lana’s chest tightened. She felt the first hiccup of hysteria bubbling in her throat. “Why would it be empty? This is the main building, why would it be empty?”
A shrill cry broke the silence. Then another, and another.
“Downstairs!” Jo stared at the space between her feet. “It’s coming from downstairs!”
The stairwells had all been cemented shut. The only option was the elevator, which required key card access. Jo broke open the panel and rewired it, connecting it to the coding program on her watch.
“It’s going to set off alarms,” she said apologetically.
Lana tried to smile. They were far past that.
When the doors opened and they stepped out, the light was blinding. Everything was stark white, pristine, with fluorescent lights overhead. They ran toward the cries, toward the incessant wailing. And when Lana reached the end of the hall and turned, she stopped short, her eyes wide, captivated by what she saw beyond the wall of windows.
Dozens of plastic baskets filled with… what?
She wasn’t sure exactly.
Small hands and feet. Bright red cheeks. Naked torsos. Tiny humans.
“What is this?” Jo stared alongside her. “What are they?”
“I’m not sure.”
Lana didn’t know why, but seeing them cry, so small and helpless, was unsettling. It made her stomach ache in an unpleasant way.
Another scream tore through the noise, older. Decidedly female. And it was wretched with pain.
Lana spun on her heels. “It’s Amy.” She clutched her weapon tight and ran. It was her. Without a doubt. Her sister was being held hostage and tortured somewhere in this building.
She didn’t think to decide what she’d do next. Didn’t try and formulate a plan for when she found her. She just had to get to her, to make her screaming stop.
All she followed was the sound. Clutching her gun in both hands she kicked open the door. Room 119.
Amy shouted in agony. Three strangers dressed all in blue and wearing masks surrounded her. Blood pooled along the floor, on the bedsheets, between her thighs.
Then, they pulled something from within her sister, something large and pink and solid, something arguably alien. Her sister cried out, then gasped, falling back onto the bed in what appeared to be relief.
Then it cried. That same helpless, pathetic wail from the corridor. A tiny human. An object implanted and then ripped from within her sister.
Their gazes met, for a singular moment, and Lana struggled to understand what she saw. The tears in Amy’s eyes were not of sadness. There was nothing but happiness on her face, a face that glowed, fuller, healthier than it’d been before she disappeared.
And when Lana got a good look at the thing’s face, puffy and swollen as it was, she realized something. It looked an awful lot like Ryan.
Lana dropped the gun and fainted.