Hi Book Launch Team!
Here’s a sneak preview of Infiltrators, Book 2 in The Wall Series. I hope you enjoy it ! I’ll have the full book ready for you to read next month. 🙂
I look up at the two faces displayed on the huge screens that line the square. The evening news headlines have run, and this is the final announcement before the advertisements start up again. A murmur of excitement ripples through the crowd in front of us as two words flash up underneath the faces.
Excitement. Not fear or alarm, but excitement. But then, these people are Insiders. They don’t understand fear. Not real fear. The kind that has you constantly looking over your shoulder and viewing each person who smiles at you with suspicion. The fear that causes you to hide from the world, to choose to starve rather than reveal your identity and to betray your own neighbour to the government.
But admittedly, the two faces staring out at us don’t really look like dangerous criminals. They look like what we are: teenagers.
Names flash up above the faces. Aleesha Ramos. Darwin Trey Goldsmith. Such an odd name, Darwin. Trey suits him better. On the screen, he looks happy and relaxed, wearing a light blue shirt that I guess was his old school uniform. Today, he wears a hat to cover the blond roots that are starting to show through the black hair dye and his blue eyes flick nervously to mine as if looking for protection from the words that track continuously across the bottom of the screen.
I inspect my own face, wondering when they’d captured the image. Unlike Trey, there would be no official record of me on their database. Tight, fearful brown eyes stare down at me, framed by wisps of dark hair torn loose from my usual braid. I must have been having a bad day.
I pull my pink scarf up over my head, take Trey’s hand and lead him around the edge of the crowd. We keep our heads down, trying to look like a couple out for an afternoon stroll. I catch a flash of yellow on black ahead and turn sharply, almost dragging Trey down a narrow alleyway.
Trey doesn’t reply, but his fingers tremble in mine. We turn left at the end of the alleyway and left again further up the street to bring us back to our original route. We both memorised the directions, but Trey lets me lead. For an Insider, he doesn’t know much about the layout of the city inside the Wall.
“What was your friend called again?” I ask.
“And you’re sure this is the right thing to do?”
He nods and glances down at me nervously. The small lump in his throat bobs up and down. “Yes, I thought we’d agreed on this. People need to know the truth. If they know what the government have done, why our city has ended up like this, then perhaps they’ll finally do something about it.”
But what will they do?
I know Trey’s right, but I can’t get rid of the nagging voice inside that’s telling me that this is a really bad idea.
I’m so lost in my thoughts that I don’t notice the rhythmic pounding ahead until Trey pulls me back against a wall. The chatter of voices around us dies and is replaced by a low murmur of fear. A woman steps back onto my foot and stammers an apology.
“S’okay,” I murmur, too quietly for her to catch my Outsider accent.
The press of people intensifies as the crowd parts to make way for the Metz patrol. Glancing up from under my scarf, I watch them as they round the corner onto our street. They tower above the crowd, taller and broader than even the tallest Insider, and are protected from head to toe in black armour that seems to absorb all light. The only splash of colour is two parallel yellow stripes on either side of their helmets. These are our protectors. Our law enforcers. Our judges.
My fingers twitch toward the knife that’s hidden in my secret pocket. I know it would be a waste of a knife to attack them, but I’d feel better with the blade in my hand. But I stop myself. If someone were to see it, they’d call me out, know I’m an Outsider. Insiders don’t carry weapons. They don’t need to.
The pounding footsteps get closer. They walk in perfect time as if they’re one being. And then, as the first of them draws level with us, they stop.
I stare resolutely at the floor. A bead of sweat trickles down the back of my neck. Surely, they can’t have spotted us in this crowd? My heart hammers in my ears and my fingers creep down again to tug at the handle of my throwing knife.
A heavy silence falls over the street. Everyone’s waiting. I risk a glance up, but all I see is the back of the man in front of me. I’m not even tall enough to peek over his shoulder. I take a step to the side, but Trey’s hand reaches out to grip mine. His palm is slick. He gives a tiny shake of his head.
Don’t do anything stupid, Aleesha.
A child whimpers. The kind of whimper that’s a precursor to a full-blown tantrum.
“Who is the guardian of this child?” The Metz officer’s voice is toneless and gravelly. There’s no way to tell if the person inside is male or female. If there is a person in there at all.
I stretch up on my toes and strain to see between the heads of the Insiders in front of me but it’s no use. All I can see are the helmets of the Metz officers.
The child begins to cry. The officer repeats his question but is again met with silence. I move sideways to a break in the crowd, feeling Trey’s eyes bore into me. The child’s cries reverberate in my skull. Adrenaline fizzles through my veins and I fight to control my breathing.
The only reason they would detain the child would be if he was illegal. Like me.
The child’s cries turn to a scream as the officer reaches down and lifts him into the air. He’s perhaps two years’ old and dressed in Insider clothes, which is odd. A thread of doubt weaves its way into my stomach. Perhaps he isn’t illegal after all.
Just then, there’s a cry of fear and the sound of running footsteps. A woman appears, her hair flying loose from the tight knot on the back of her head. She runs awkwardly like she’s wearing high heels and her face is a mask of terror.
She skids to a halt in front of the officer and reaches up her arms for the child. “Please, he’s mine. We must have got separated …” She looks pleadingly up at the impassive black mask towering above her. For a second, they stare at each other, then, slowly, the Metz officer lowers the boy to the ground. The woman picks the child up and tries to soothe his sobs as she backs away.
The woman freezes and there’s a sharp intake of breath from the crowd.
The woman holds out her right arm and the officer runs a gloved hand down the trembling limb. He does the same with the child. There’s a slight pause and then he nods.
“Keep a closer eye on your son in future, ma’am.”
I let out my breath in a rush, a strange sense of disappointment flooding through me. So, he was just an Insider boy, after all. I could have risked everything, put myself up in front of the Metz, to save someone who didn’t need saving. A few weeks ago, the thought wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. But that was before Lily.
The Metz move off and the crowd thins around me.
“What do you think you were doing?” Trey sounds pissed.
“Nothing,” I mutter. “Let’s go.”
Trey’s friend lives down by the river, or at least what was once the river. To me, it’s always looked more like a sea. Or, in the summer months, a muddy swamp. You can’t really smell it at all Inside. Out in Area Four, it stinks, especially when the tide is out. But I guess in here, people don’t use the water as a toilet or a handy dumping ground for bodies.
We weave our way through an ancient part of the city that dates from the time before the Great Flood. The stone buildings are dwarfed by the glass towers behind. The streets are quiet, even though it’s a weekend, and it doesn’t take us long to reach our destination.
“This is it,” Trey says as we turn down a street lined with modern apartment blocks. They’re blindingly white and each has a neat balcony with pot plants or small trees. I never realized that there were so many different types of plants until I came Inside. Outside, everything dies.
We pause in front of one of the apartment blocks. “Are you sure you want to go in alone?”
Trey nods. “It’ll be fine. Best that they don’t see you, just in case.” He sounds as if he’s trying to convince himself as much as me. I reach out and squeeze his hand. His skin is cold and clammy.
“He’s your friend, right?”
“He was my friend.” Trey sighs and steps forwards, scanning the list of names by the apartment door.
How far he has fallen. A few weeks ago, he was an Insider boy, son of a government minister, being educated at a posh school outside London. Now, he’s an illegal citizen, forced to live outside the Wall. I wonder if he wakes up some days thinking it’s all a dream.
Trey tugs the cap down over his eyes and presses the comm link up to his friend’s apartment. A voice answers.
“Is Theo there?”
There’s a pause, then another voice comes on the line, too faint for me to hear. “Theo? It’s me, Darwin.” There’s a muttered conversation, then the door clicks open and Trey disappears into the building.
I wander down the street, keen to get away from whatever security cameras may be around. The road is a dead end, the apartment buildings sloping down to the river wall. It’s a low, brick wall. I wonder what they do when the waters rise, but as I get closer, I spot the retracted flood barriers on either side. The evening sun casts a warm glow over the rippled surface of the water. Sunset is getting later. Spring is on the way.
My mother took me to look out over the river once, on an evening like this. We’d sat on top of a low building looking out as the sun bathed the city red. I’d asked her who lived in the towers that jutted up out of the water. She said no one did. Not anymore.
I don’t remember what we did after that. My memories of that time are few and as every year passes, they seem to fade a little more into the blur that was my early childhood. But I think that wasn’t long before she left.
Before she was murdered.
The sound of footsteps cuts into my thoughts.
“Hey.” Trey rests his elbows on the wall and drops his head into his hands. “I’m glad that’s over.”
“What did Theo’s dad say?”
Mr Johnston owns one of the news networks in the city. An important man.
“He took copies of the documents. Said he’d think about it.” Trey lifts his head to stare out across the water. “It was strange though. He didn’t seem that surprised by the information. Almost like he already knew.”
Trey shrugs. “I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. We’ll have to wait and see. Theo was pretty riled up about it.” He smiles and pats the backpack on his shoulder. “And we’ve still got the originals.”
The originals are plastic films. We found them in some ancient cabinets in the basement of the government headquarters the first time we broke in. I haven’t read them — I can’t read that well — but Trey’s told me what they contain. They’re records of what happened after the Great Flood when London was one big city. Before they put up the Wall. Before there were Insiders or Outsiders.
“Let’s go. We’re more likely to be noticed if we’re out on the streets after dark.” Trey starts back up the street. I take one final look at the dying sun, then turn and follow him.
We walk in silence until we’re almost back at the Wall. It towers behind the apartment blocks and houses, a shimmering array of colour that lights up the dark sky. I yawn, feeling suddenly tired. Perhaps Abby will let me stay at her house tonight.
Trey turns down an alleyway. I follow, stumbling on a loose piece of paving. Recovering, I frown as I try to place where we are. “Isn’t this a dead end?”
Ahead of me, Trey rounds the corner, then takes a step back. “You’re right. Sorry, wrong road.”
He turns toward me and the colour drains from his face. His eyes lock onto something over my shoulder. Slowly, I turn around and draw a knife from my pocket. But I know at once that it’s no use. There are three of them and I only have two knives. Not that a third would make much difference. There’s no weakness in that black armour. I take a step backward and the Metz officers take a step forward.
Aleesha backs up until she’s standing in front of me. My limbs feel suddenly weak and lifeless and I take a deep breath to try to force oxygen into my muscles.
“Is there any way out?” Aleesha whispers, her eyes never leaving the three figures in front of us.
I shake my head and then realize that she can’t see me. “Nothing. No door or ladder. Just a high brick wall.”
I glance around, looking for some kind of weapon. A length of broken metal pipe that’s hanging by a thread on the wall catches my eye. It’s not much, but anything is better than nothing. I take a step toward it.
My body freezes instinctively.
“I’ll distract them. When you see an opportunity, run.” Aleesha’s voice is low and controlled, showing none of the panic I feel. But that’s always the way. If she feels fear, she doesn’t show it.
“No, I’m not leaving you.” My attempt to sound brave fails as my voice betrays me, cracking on my final words.
Aleesha’s eyes tighten. “Don’t be stupid. You can’t defend yourself.”
Her words cut through me, as sharp as the blade of the knife in her hand. The worst of it is, she’s right. I don’t know how to defend myself. They didn’t teach us that at St George’s. The closest we got was rugby, but I don’t think I’ll have much luck trying to tackle a Metz officer.
“See that passageway on the left, behind them?” Aleesha says. “I think it’s too narrow for them to fit. If we can reach it, there may be a way out.”
A security light high on the wall throws long shadows in front of the three giants in front of us. Behind them, a dark vertical line is the only break in the long wall that leads back to the main road. If it is a passageway, it barely looks wide enough to us to get through.
“Darwin Trey Goldsmith. Aleesha Ramos. You are both under arrest. Place your weapons on the ground and raise your hands.” The middle officer twitches its gun threateningly.
I lift my hands and look to Aleesha. She doesn’t put her knife down but instead, steps away from me in slow deliberate movements, toward the far side of the alley. Splitting them up? I step in the opposite direction.
“Don’t move! Put the knife down.”
But Aleesha’s ploy is working. Two of the officers are turning to her. The third takes a step toward me. I stare at it, unable to look away from the blank, expressionless mask. I’m like a rabbit trapped in a hunter’s flashlight.
And you know what happens to the rabbit.
There’s a flash of movement in the corner of my eye. The officer turns as a harsh, grating cry rips through the silence, and suddenly, I can move again. I run to the broken pipe, yank it from the wall and am running for the gap between the officers by the time it turns back to me.
It reaches out an arm. I duck around it. A faint humming gives me a split-second warning before a taser beam hisses overhead.
There’s a scream. Aleesha.
I skid to a halt but can’t see past the bulk of the two black figures in front of her. I throw the battered pipe at the nearest officer, then stumble after it. The pipe bounces harmlessly off the hard, black armour, but before I can think what to do next, Aleesha explodes from between the two officers.
“Run!” She grabs my arm and pulls me around. My foot catches on something and I lurch forward. A taser cuts through the air where my head had been a second earlier.
The narrow passageway is two paces away. Aleesha disappears into it, swallowed up by the darkness. I misjudge the width of the opening, overshoot it and grab for the edge of the wall.
Another hiss. An intense burning pain flashes through my shoulder and I cry out. The sound reverberates off the walls as I stumble into the narrow gap between the tall buildings.
Aleesha’s voice comes from up ahead. I run blindly toward it, running my hand along the concrete walls.
“Watch out for th—”
“Oww!” My right knee explodes in pain. I bite my lip to stop myself crying out.
“Sorry. There’s a skylight or air vent or something. You need to climb over it. Come on!”
I feel around in front of me. Metal and Plexiglas taper to a point at about chest height. I throw my leg up, trying to ignore the pain pulsing up my leg, and pull myself onto the obstacle. A scraping sound comes from behind me. The Metz are trying to get in.
A bright beam of light flashes down the passageway, bouncing off the walls. I see myself in a window, sprawled across a pointed skylight. Aleesha stands a few metres away, face flushed and eyes wide.
“Get down!” She raises her arm and I press my face against the Plexiglas as something flies through the air above my head. There’s a clatter and the light goes out.
The darkness seems even blacker. Hands pull at me and I tumble to the ground, landing on a hard rock.
“Are you okay?” Aleesha’s breath is hot on my cheek. She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Sit up but keep your back to the skylight. They’ll be shooting soon.”
As if on cue, there’s a familiar hiss overhead followed by another beam of light. I freeze and scrabble my feet to press myself back into the skylight behind me.
I follow Aleesha’s gaze and my heart sinks. The light reflects off another skylight, about five metres away and, behind that, a brick wall. We’re in an old-fashioned light well. A dead end. I swallow, tasting the iron-tang of blood in my mouth.
“I’m okay. Just banged my knee. I think the taser hit my arm, but I can still use it.” I roll my shoulder experimentally. The throbbing in my knee is fading to a dull ache. “I guess it’s too much to hope for that they’ll just go away?”
Aleesha gives me a look and I shrug. “Well, I can hope.”
The light flicks off, then on, then back off again.
“They’re playing with us. If we climb up, they’ll get us with the tasers, we can’t go forward and if we go back we’re giving ourselves up.”
“At least they’re not trying to kill us.”
Perhaps the President will get to publicly execute me after all.
I close my eyes and lean back against the cold concrete. My attempts at bravado have done nothing to ease my rising panic. “S-so there’s no way out?”
“There’s always a way out.” I feel her shift beside me. There’s a soft tapping sound. “The lower windows are proper glass. Breakable. Not like Plexiglas.”
There’s a sound like a child’s rattle followed by a small thud as something hits the ground on the other side of the skylight.
Why are they throwing things a—
There’s a blinding flash of light and the air is sucked from my lungs as a deafening blast reverberates in the narrow space. I try to draw a breath, but the air is more dust than oxygen and my lungs spasm in protest. Spots of light dance in front of my eyes and there’s a loud ringing in my ears. I stretch my hands out, trying to get a sense of which way is up.
A hand closes over mine. Tugs me forward. Aleesha. I crawl obediently toward her, gasping as my knees grind into the hard surface and tiny daggers bite into my hands.
I blink and the spots of light fade. A steady beam of light shines above me, bouncing off the windows that line the light well and reflecting off the thousands of tiny shards of glass scattered on the ground. The bottom row of windows are ringed with glass teeth, the panes shattered by the explosion.
Aleesha is already inside the building, beckoning to me and mouthing silent words. I scramble through the window, not caring that shards of glass tear at my clothes and skin and drop down into the room beyond. Aleesha pulls me forward and we half stagger, half run out of the room and into a long corridor. A high-pitched wailing noise intrudes on the ringing in my ears.
At the foot of a flight of stairs, Aleesha pauses. There’s a sign on the wall indicating we’re in the basement. “Up!” she mouths and points a finger at the ceiling.
I pause on the ground floor but Aleesha keeps on going up, taking the stairs two at a time. Panting, I follow, struggling to keep up. She pauses for breath on the third floor.
“Where are you going?” My words sound muffled as if I’m underwater. I rest my hands on my knees and gulp in air.
“To the roof. They won’t expect us to go there.”
The roof? “Is there a way out there?”
Her teeth flash white in the dark. “I hope so.”
“You hope so?”
But she’s right. A trapdoor leads up onto the roof and we soon find a way back down a fire escape to a different street. The Metz are nowhere to be seen.
We reach the Wall, a shimmer of colour that stretches into the clouds. The patterns are constantly changing and shifting, like the swirling water in the brook that runs through the forest beside my family’s home in the Welsh countryside. I push the thought to the back of my mind. Thinking of the house, of my family, of that time, is still too painful.
Aleesha runs straight through the Wall, barely pausing for breath, but I hesitate, reaching out a hand toward it. Why am I nervous? I’ve been through it so many times. But we still don’t know why Aleesha and I are the only people who can pass through unharmed. Everyone else dies almost instantly. And that unnerves me.
I was always taught that the Wall was there to protect us. That inside it, we were safe. That was before I discovered I was an illegal child, my birth covered up by the man I thought was my father. Before the Metz came for me that fateful day at school. Before I cut out my chip and threw away my identity. Before I went on the run.
Now I know that nowhere is really safe. Insiders and Outsiders, we’re both at the mercy of the government.
I take a deep breath and step through the barrier. There’s no resistance, just a slight tingling.
Then I’m through. Outside.
* * *
It doesn’t take us long to weave through the streets of Area Five and reach the back alley to Abby’s house. Light glows from the kitchen window, but the blind is pulled down, obscuring the scene inside. An overwhelming sense of relief makes me stumble on the cracked paving stones and I sag against the wall of the house for a moment and close my eyes.
We made it.
The back door is unlocked. As I push it open, a stench of dirt, sweat and something else hits the back of my throat and I cough violently, my eyes watering.
What on earth?
The kitchen is in chaos. A bare-chested man lies prone on the kitchen table which is covered with plastic sheeting. His hands grip the table edge and his eyes are squeezed shut. The hairs on his chest shine wet in the light and a deep wound on his stomach leaks fresh blood.
“There you are, Trey. Can you come and give me a hand?”
I tear my eyes from the man to look at Abby. She’s pouring water from the kettle into a large bowl. Her long dark hair is loosely tied back, and her olive skin is creased with worry lines.
I walk over and take the bowl from her. Jars full of pastes and ointments are neatly lined up on the counter. Healing remedies from the few ancient books on herblore Abby’s collected over the years, or those she’s learned to trust. It’s a far cry from the sterile, mechanical environment of the medic centres where bots carry out delicate surgical procedures and drugs can heal almost instantly. But, as Abby keeps reminding me, the medics out here are overrun and not everyone can access them.
“Wash your hands. Then put some gloves on and start trying to clean up this gentleman’s wound.” She points to a pile of neatly folded white fabric and then to the man on the table. “Aleesha — please put more water on to boil. Bryn? How are you doing over there?”
It’s only then that I notice that there are other people in the small room. A pale-faced woman sits in the rocking chair, clutching a small child to her. The boy appears to be asleep. Next to her, Bryn’s busy wrapping a white gauze bandage around the head of an elderly man whose eyes are glazed over. Another two people wait in line for treatment, slumped against the wall.
I walk over to the table and, resting the bowl on the edge, pull on the thin, plastic gloves.
“What happened?” Aleesha asks. There’s an edge to her voice and I wonder if she knows these people. If they’re from Area Four.
“The Metz have been taking a heavy-handed approach again. There was a bust-up a few streets away plus things in Four are so bad, Amber’s had to send a couple of people up here to get patched up.” She brushes back her hair with the back of her hand and sighs. “It’s been a busy day.”
I dip a cloth in the warm water and dab cautiously at the man’s chest. He lets out a moan. When I rinse the cloth in the bowl, it tinges the water pink. I swallow hard and force myself to look at the wound on his stomach. The raw gaping flesh moves as he breathes revealing a giant worm inside the wound.
Is that his intestine?
A wave of nausea washes over me and the room seems to shift sideways. I close my eyes but that doesn’t get rid of the smell. It reminds me of another place. Another man. Mikheil.
“Trey? Are you okay? You look about to faint.”
The room swims back into focus. Aleesha is staring at me, concern in her eyes.
“I-I just …” I make it to the sink just in time. My eyes burn as I retch, and the smell of vomit mingles with the stink in the room, making my stomach heave again. I close my eyes and force myself to take a couple of deep breaths.
Behind me, there’s a faint splash as Aleesha takes over my washing duties. Abby walks over to her. “Once the wound’s clean, smear this inside. It’ll help stop infection. Then I’ll stitch it up. If he starts screaming, give him a bit of this on his tongue.”
“Tronk? You’re giving him tronk?” Aleesha’s voice sounds strangled.
“Just a bit, for the pain. And to sedate him while I stitch up the wound.”
Aleesha doesn’t reply. I glance back at her. She’s staring at a small packet of white powder on the table. Her eyes are hungry. They dart to me and I look away, wondering if Abby would have handed her the tronk so willingly if she’d known about Aleesha’s addiction.
“Here, drink this.” Abby shoves a cup into my hand. I rinse my mouth and take a couple of sips before using the rest to wash out the sink.
She pats me gently on the back. “It’s okay. Why don’t you and Bryn go into the front room for a bit? I can manage fine with Aleesha. Besides, you two need to talk. You’ve been tip-toeing around each other, avoiding the one thing you need to talk about.”
Bryn growls from the other side of the room. “Abby, it’s—”
Abby gives him a look and he stops whatever he was about to say. I stumble from the kitchen, grateful for any excuse to get away. The air in the hallway is comparatively fresh and I gulp it in, trying to shake the nausea.
Bryn pushes past me into the small front room. He seems angry, but then he always seems angry around me. Like he wants to be rid of me. The son he never knew existed.
The room is dark and sparsely furnished. There’s a blanket on the sofa where Bryn has been sleeping. He turns to face me, his hands on his hips.
“What trouble have you two been getting into now?”
“W-w-what do you mean?” I bite my lip. Damn that stammer.
“You come in with a limp, covered in dirt and with blood on your hands. I hardly think you got that from walking in the park.”
“It’s none of your business.” The words come out sharper than I’d intended and Bryn’s eyes narrow.
Though we’re the same height, his hefty build makes it feel as if he’s looming over me. For a moment, his outline is silhouetted against the lamp in the corner of the room. Then he sighs, rubs one hand over his eyes and sits down on the sofa. “I’m sorry, Trey. It’s just, I worry about you, you know? I promised your parents I’d take care of you.”
I perch on a high-backed chair. Your parents. To him, I’m still the pathetic Insider boy who he’s been lumbered with the job of looking after. If everything had gone the way he and my father had planned, I’d be up at a school in Birmingham, banished from London by the government, and he’d have been able to forget I exist. Instead, I’m still here, a lingering reminder of an old affair.
My father. I still can’t think of Bryn as my father. My genes may be his, and my blond hair and blue eyes come from him, but my father is still the tall, dark-haired man who brought me up. The man who I always failed to please, but who I know loved me as if I were his own flesh and blood.
I wonder if it hurts Abby too, now she knows the truth. She never had the opportunity to have children, never found the man to love her as she deserved. If it hadn’t have been for my mother perhaps her and Bryn’s story would have been different.
“I couldn’t just leave. Not now I know how wrong things are in this city. If I went away it would be like I was burying my head in the sand, as if I was accepting that it was okay for the government to treat Outsiders like … like people that don’t matter.”
Bryn snorts. “Oh, to be young and idealistic.” He sighs. “I was like that once.”
We sit in silence for a moment. “You know, you don’t have to stay in London because of me,” I say. “Don’t let me stop you from going back home. Where is home anyway?”
He yawns. “I’ve never really had one. Always been too busy moving around, working. But I had my eye on a little place up in the mountains in the south of France. It’s cooler up there in the summer and quiet — not many people around. I figured it would be a peaceful kind of retirement. Anyway, I may be able to leave soon. Now Lamar’s replacement’s arrived.”
I sit up straight. “Milicent’s replacement?”
“Lamar’s replacement. Milicent was never supposed to take charge.”
The door bangs open and Aleesha walks in. “Abby needs a hand moving the big dude, Bryn,” she says without preamble.
“Sure.” Bryn gets to his feet
“Wait, who are they?”
“Who are who?” Aleesha looks from Bryn to me.
“Lamar’s replacement,” I say.
“Her name is Katya. She’s Russian,” Bryn says, as if that explains everything.
“And …” I prompt.
“And she seems competent enough. The Leader trusts her implicitly.”
There’s a “but” hanging in the air. Aleesha senses it too. She folds her arms, blocking the doorway. “So, what’s the problem?”
“No problem.” Bryn shrugs. “She’s a beautiful woman. And I never trust beautiful women.”
Aleesha rolls her eyes. “You never trust anyone.”
“You can talk.” He glares at her and Aleesha meets his gaze defiantly. “Anyway, she wants to see both of you tomorrow afternoon. Now, are you going to let me give Abby a hand or are we going to stand here chatting all night?”
Aleesha steps aside to let Bryn past, then leans against the door frame. “Who do you think the person is behind all this? The one they call the Leader?”
I shrug. “Don’t know. I can’t even work out how big the Chain is. From what Bryn and Murdoch have said, they’ve people in different cities across the world.”
“Bryn knows, doesn’t he?”
“I think so. He seems to be the only one here who’s actually met him face to face. Maybe he’s a recluse.”
I forget sometimes that Aleesha’s vocabulary is limited. She’s smart, but never went to school. “A recluse. Someone who hides away from the world.”
She looks thoughtful. “Maybe that would explain why he doesn’t just come here and sort things out himself.”
“Maybe.” I stand and prod my knee experimentally. It’s sore, but sound.
“Trey, how do we know that what the Chain is doing is right?”
“They say they want to create an equal city. Take down the divide between Insiders and Outsiders.”
“Do you believe them?”
I sigh and stare into her brown eyes. They have flecks of green that I’ve never noticed before. “I guess we just have to trust them and believe they’re doing the right thing. You’ve got to believe in something, after all.”
“What do you believe in, Trey?”
I consider the question for a minute. “Justice. Trying to right the wrongs of the past.”
“Justice.” Aleesha rolls the word around in her mouth as if it’s new to her. Perhaps it is. “It’s a good word.” Then she turns and disappears back into the kitchen.