For the first time in 100 years, heat radiates from my skin as I walk to Chicago’s silver line station. A few lines of sweat sting my eyes when they drop into them. I’m grateful that I grabbed one of Alan’s old baseball hats on the way out, but disgusted every time I remember that it’s his hat that I’m wearing.
Tracy looks wobbly as she walks next to me. I can tell she’s in pain by the way her limbs shake when they move. Soon it will all go away and all that will be left is a shell of what she used to be. She’ll be numb to everything but power, heartache, and love—it’s an existence that still makes me question my desire for it.
I pull my hat down further over my eyes so that it covers part of my shades. I am sure that Franco and his office staff have gone home for the few hours that they usually do. I’ve had Nat check this for me. The only problem is, I don’t know what time they’ll be back. To get the serum without being caught, I’ll need to hurry.
“Careful,” I say as I put my hands out in front of Tracy. I try to guide her steps, but I can’t stop flinching for fear of touching her or anyone else. I wonder if the fear ever leaves.
“Thank you,” Tracy says gratefully.
“Don’t get too excited. I need you. That’s as far as this goes,” I say.
“Chris, I’m sorry. I really am sorry,” she says.
“Save it,” I say. I wish I could have left Tracy at Nat’s house, but I need a Death Leader to get into Franco’s office. I know I will need Nat to make the new serum, so I don’t put up much of a fight when she insists that I take Tracy with me. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.
“You know, I’m just about tired of you acting like you’re the only one who’s done something wrong here,” Tracy says, balancing herself against the storefronts to the side of her.
“Reversing the blame. Smooth and real mature,” I say.
“Weren’t you coming to kill me in the first place? Have you ever thought about the fact that none of this would have ever happened if you hadn’t tried to kill me? What if you would’ve just refused that assignment from Franco?” she says as he voice raises.
“Lower your voice,” I say as I watch her stumble down the street.
“You know what? Why did you even bring me here? I don’t need you. I can kill Franco on my own,” she says.
“You think he’s going to let that happen? You can barely walk you’re in so much pain,” I say, pointing to her. “Look, we don’t have to be buddy buddy or even friends. Just help me get this potion so that I can get my powers back and we can think of something together. You’ll need another person to help you, even if all you’re doing is running. You don’t know Franco like I do.”
She squints her eyes and looks at me, searching my face for any ounce of sarcasm or anger. I try to look stoic for her, but it makes me angry to do so. She even controls my facial expressions now. “I’m not interested in running. He killed my son. Do you think I want to run from the man who killed my son?”
I look around me and lower my voice to a whisper: “Killing an Overseer is not easy and may not even be possible. If you react too quickly, you’re going to get yourself killed.”
She doesn’t comment, but the look in her eye tells me that she isn’t fully convinced that she shouldn’t try to kill Franco.
“Do you remember the plan? What you’re supposed to do?” I ask her.
“Just go. I remember. I’ll be fine,” she says.
I look back at her to comment, but she waves me on, eager to get things over with. It hits me. This is real—the loss of my Death Leader powers, the serum, the Untouchables, the movement. All of it is real.
I clench my jaw and march down the stairs. A blast of hot and stuffy air jolts me awake again as I yawn. Alan’s baseball cap clings to my head, a wet sweaty mess.
There are three people at the pay stations and a gang of people on the platform. I can hear the sound of a male group harmonizing over a smooth saxophone melody, and a peddler yelling through the music: “Socks! Five pair for five dollars. Long, short, whatever. Get ’em now!”
No one is at the very last pay station closest to the wall since the out of order sign is there. I wait in line behind a man with headphones while I pretend to fish out some change to buy a pay card. Tracy steps in line beside me at the out of order machine.
I can feel a beating in my chest start to grow. The rim around my hat gets wetter as I watch her fumble around for change, just like we talked about. She is not to drop the change until the pay station area is nearly empty and only on my cue. Getting one person to Franco’s office is tough enough, and two people at one time may draw suspicion. It has to be done, though. Tracy is new to this. I can’t just let her go down there by herself and screw everything up.
The guy in front of me finishes at the pay station, so I let an older woman who has two kids with her go in front me—anything to stall so that we don’t look suspicious. When the woman looks to be just about finished, I clear my throat and Tracy drops her change. Although the quarter doesn’t slide all the way in back of the bulky machine, she pretends it does as she looks behind it curiously. I walk up to her on cue.
“You drop something?” I ask. I don’t even wait for her to nod yes before I wrap my arms around the machine to pick it up. I lift up, expecting the machine to come off its short stubby legs with ease, but it doesn’t budge. “My hands must be slippery,” I say to her, smiling. I try again, but still the machine refuses to lift off the ground. My strength is gone. Is this what Regulars feel like?
Tracy catches on that I’m having trouble and slips between the space in the wall and the machine to pick up the machine from behind for me. For me. Slightly embarrassed, I look behind me to make sure the coast is clear before I slip through the crack with her.
“Stick your finger in that hole,” I whisper, pointing at the boarded up door.
“You want me to stick my finger in a random hole because you say so?” Tracy asks me.
“After you,” she says.
My cheeks start to flush red. “Will you please just trust me? It’s not going to work for me anymore. I’m not a Death Leader. Just try it.”
Reluctantly, she sticks her finger in the small hole and the door gently opens. “Follow me,” I say carefully slipping in front of her and leading the way. For the first time, I’m feeling the cold darkness of the stairwell.
The cubicle area next to Franco’s office feels even colder. I start to shake, and realize that I’m shivering. It’s no wonder Franco’s office staff always has a sweater hanging on the backs of their office chairs.
Tracy maneuvers comfortably beside me around the empty desks and cubicles until we reach Franco’s back office. “Aren’t there cameras in here? You’re not afraid of getting caught?” Tracy asks me.
“If we get what we need from here, we won’t have to worry about death or being caught,” I say.
She walks up to Franco’s sliding doors and starts to try to pull them open. “A little help here?” she asks looking back at me.
“Right.” I walk beside her and pull. Together, we are able to pry them open. I’m not prepared for what I see next. We both step away from two flashing red beams, unsure of what direction to run next.