“I’m not a doctor,” Sibley said. “I don’t know. But what about something like schizophrenia? Two people may be schizophrenic, but they don’t have the same hallucinations. They don’t act the same. They just act different from normal people.”
“So what are we doing here?” Jack asked.
Sibley shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.” He gestured around the room. “Aaron over there is sure that we’re being protected from the war, because he’s an idiot who believes everything he’s told. That girl there with the red hair thinks that the government is going to run tests on us like lab rats. Those two guys with the blond hair think that the Freaks are going to be trained as supersoldiers, but I think they watch too many movies. Maybe we’re going to be locked up—prisoners. Or, maybe they’ll just lobotomize us all.”
Jack took Aubrey’s hand in his. His palm felt rough and dry, but she squeezed it tight and flashed him a weak smile. Somehow, holding his hand made it easier to breathe.
“Are there more?” Jack said. “More like you?”
“You mean here?” Sibley asked. “The test results come in every day. I don’t know why mine haven’t shown up yet. They don’t seem to come in order.” He stood up and walked to the enormous open door. Jack and Aubrey followed him, along with a few others. The chain-link walkway stretched fifty yards to a gate. Four guard towers, two on each side of the path, watched the open space.
“You see that?” Sibley said, pointing. “Your name gets called on a speaker, and you walk down to that door. It unlocks, you go through, and it locks behind you. Then they give you the news, Positive or Negative for the virus.”
“How many Positives?” Aubrey asked, staring at the door.
“Enough,” he said, and for the first time his voice broke. He was scared. “I don’t know. Maybe one out of twenty? Maybe less. I’ve been here three days, and I’ve seen eight or ten. Most of them freak out—they don’t think they’re sick, or they try to use their abilities to get out.”
“Where do they go?” Jack asked. “The Positives?”
“Over to the right,” Sibley said, gesturing to a squat cement structure. He coughed, regaining his composure. “They try to fight, but it’s no use.”
“Ever seen those sound guns the army has? They call it ‘nonlethal force’—a huge directed blast of sound that knocks you down.”
Jack nodded and squeezed Aubrey’s hand. “Well, we won’t have to worry about that.”
For now, they were safe. Aubrey had dodged the blood test, but she could still be found out. She scanned the room, a thought nagging her. Nicole was at a table near the center of the room, now surrounded by six of the best-looking guys there. She was laughing.
Nicole knew Aubrey’s secret. What would she say if Aubrey was declared Negative? Would Nicole turn her in?
Suddenly Aubrey noticed that the catwalk had guards on it—fifteen already, but more were entering through the small doors high up, close to the ceiling. She pointed it out to Jack.
“More kids are coming,” Sibley said with a sigh. “You’d better find a cot while you can. Last night people were sleeping on the floor.”
IT WAS A DISASTER. Whatever hopes Laura had of finding Alec were dashed within seconds of the avalanche. The air was suddenly so thick with dust that she could barely see two feet in front of her, and she was buffeted by rocks the whole way down.
She had to just ride it out, skittering and jumping in the loosening debris field as the whole face of the mountain collapsed. It was destruction like she’d never seen—it was Dan finally letting loose. Pure, unchecked devastation.
Laura could run ahead of it, her unnaturally strong legs able to balance on the tumbling mass of dirt, boulders, and trees. And when she got to the bottom, she dashed up the mountain on the other side. The avalanche crashed just below her, waves pounding into a rocky cliff. As she ran, splintered wood and shattered rock flew all around her.
She didn’t stop until she reached the next crest, and the rumbling, grinding earthquake behind her had come to a halt.
The view was choked with dust, and she couldn’t make out more than the dark scar that once had been covered with trees and vegetation. She didn’t know how to judge the size of the crater—five football fields? Ten? Fifty? It had to be more than that. It was one whole side of the mountain torn loose.
The plan had been to carry Alec when he couldn’t outrun it any longer, but they’d been separated almost immediately. And if Laura could barely stay ahead of the avalanche, did Alec have any chance?
Laura waited. She waited for the dust to clear, for someone to move, for a voice—anything.
But there was nothing. The mountain seemed dead.
The army had to have backup somewhere. The few soldiers they’d seen in the woods couldn’t have been everyone. And just because she couldn’t see through the dust didn’t mean they couldn’t. They might be in helicopters, with thermal imaging. They might have snipers posted on this very mountain.
She scanned the scar one more time, looking for something, anything.
She checked her jeans pocket for her smartphone. She’d never needed it with Alec around, but he was gone now.
Laura was on her own.
AUBREY WOKE WITH A START, frightened from her already uneasy sleep by the sound of a loudspeaker. The morning sky outside was dark blue, the sun not yet over the horizon.
This was the third time she’d heard the loudspeaker. It came on twice during the night, once taking three girls to be judged and later taking two boys. All five were declared Negative and were released, gleeful, from the chain-link cage and put in a waiting jeep.
The voice on the loudspeaker was metallic and cold. Aubrey would have thought it was a computer, except she could hear the voice take a breath just before it read the names.
“John Sibley, please proceed to the exit gate.”
Nearly everyone in the warehouse rose to their feet as Sibley stood from his cot, but no one said a word. He nervously attempted to straighten his rumpled shirt, and then crossed to the large overhead door that led toward judgment. He’d be a Positive—a Lambda?—that was certain. Unlike some of the other judgments, there wasn’t a question this time—no one doubted where Sibley would end up.
He was trying to put on a brave face, trying to keep up his air of confidence, but fear was peeking through. It was like watching a prisoner walk to the death chamber. No one knew what would happen to the Positives, but images of giant needles and dissection and experimentation loomed in everyone’s mind.
Aubrey felt nauseated as she watched the boy step out into the cool morning air of the chain-link tunnel. What made her any different from him? She was infected just like he was. Neither one of them deserved whatever fate awaited the Positives, but was it fair that she’d be safe?
“Go get ’em, Sibley!” a boy in the warehouse yelled, though if Sibley heard it he didn’t respond.
As he got farther down the guarded walkway, a mass of kids gathered at the door. A few even stepped outside, but kept an eye on the watchtowers—no one was sure how far they were allowed to go. Each tower housed at least three armed guards, and each was mounted with a strange, round black disk.