Even back where they were, Aubrey heard the electric buzz as the gate unlocked. Sibley hesitated only a moment before opening it, and then stepped through. The gate led to a small room made of more chain-link, with doors to the left and to the right. On the left, standing back from the little room, were another three armed soldiers in combat fatigues, and an armored truck.
On the right was a chain-link tunnel leading to another building—a squat, cement structure with no windows.
“John Sibley,” the voice announced. “Positive.”
A boy in the crowd swore.
There was another buzz and the door on the right swung open. Sibley turned back to look at the kids in the warehouse, and offered a small wave.
One of the soldiers on the left leveled his rifle at Sibley, and the metallic voice said, “John Sibley, please continue to your right.”
Sibley paused, glancing at the soldiers, and then up at the nearest watchtowers.
“John Sibley, please continue to your right,” the voice repeated. Sibley flipped the bird at the towers, then turned and walked quietly down the tunnel and out of sight.
Aubrey felt Jack’s shoulder touch hers. “He’ll be all right,” Jack said quietly.
“You don’t know that.”
“This is America,” he answered. “They can’t do anything too terrible.”
Aubrey didn’t answer. If someone had told her last week that American soldiers were going to round up—or shoot—innocent teenagers just because they had an infection, she wouldn’t have believed that either.
But was Nate innocent? Did he really attack the soldiers, or was he just trying to defend himself? It all seemed like such a blur now.
“Kara Meyers,” the voice called.
A blonde girl about Aubrey’s age let out a quiet gasp, and another girl assured her everything would be fine.
“Kara Meyers,” the voice repeated. “Please proceed to the exit gate.”
Aubrey watched as the girl hugged her friend, tears streaming down her face. Aubrey moved to take Jack’s hand, but stopped herself.
“I’m coming,” she shouted angrily, and quickly stepped out of the group into the empty walkway.
“We’ll be fine,” Jack whispered to Aubrey. “They never swabbed your cheek.”
“What if they saw something?” she asked.
Kara was walking slowly past the watchtowers. Aubrey glanced at Nicole, who was hanging back from the crowd, standing alone. Their eyes met for a moment, and Aubrey could see terror in Nicole’s face.
The sound of the clanking gate drew Aubrey’s gaze back to Kara, who now stood, small and fragile, in the chain-link room.
“Kara Meyers,” the voice announced. “Negative.”
There was a sigh of relief in the warehouse. Kara’s friend let out a cheer of support, and a small applause erupted as the door on the left swung open and Kara stepped out to the waiting soldiers. They smiled at her, and one put his hand on her shoulder as he led her to the waiting armored vehicle.
The speaker squawked again. “Aubrey Parsons.”
Panic swept through her body, and she turned to Jack, throwing her arms around him.
“It’s okay,” he said, his voice weak. “You’ll be okay.” He hugged her tightly, one arm around her waist and the other cradling her neck. “Whatever happens, you’ll be okay. I’ll make sure.”
“How?” she whispered, tears flowing freely down her face.
“I don’t know. But I’ll get you out.”
“Aubrey Parsons. Please proceed to the exit gate.”
She pulled back from him, her hands still gripping his shoulders. “Promise me. If I go Positive that you won’t try anything stupid. Don’t get killed.”
“I’ll get you out,” he said, his eyes hard and dark.
“Promise me,” she demanded. “Now.”
“I won’t do anything stupid.”
He pulled her closer. She couldn’t be a Positive.
“Aubrey Parsons, proceed now to the exit gate or you will be extracted.”
Jack ended the embrace and took a step back.
“Go,” he said urgently, taking her elbow and pointing her to the walkway. “I’ll meet you down there.”
“Okay,” she whispered.
She squeezed his hand briefly and then stepped out onto the dirt path.
The gate that had seemed so far away suddenly felt too close, and the high chain-link walls made her claustrophobic, even though she could see through them.
The soldiers at the side were watching her approach. They looked nervous, as though she might attack at any moment. Had that happened before? Like Nate?
She wondered what she’d do, if she could actually do something powerful. If she had powers like Sibley had talked about, if she could fight. Would she break out? Would she attack the soldiers to rescue Jack?
Would Jack attack the soldiers to rescue her?
He’d never forgotten her, even when she’d betrayed him and left him alone. It seemed so obvious to her now, and she wondered what had made her forget about him all of this time. She wanted to make it right. If that was even possible.
And then she was at the gate, too soon.
There was a loud buzz, and the gate unlatched. She grabbed the heavy metal handle and pulled it open, and went inside. Up close, she could see that the room wasn’t chain-link like everything else was—the walls and roof were made up of tightly spaced steel rods. It wasn’t a room; it was a reinforced cage.
She turned to look back at the warehouse, but had a hard time picking Jack out of the crowd. Her eyes just weren’t good enough anymore. She wished she could see his face.
The door fell closed and locked.
Aubrey held her breath. When they declared her a Positive, she would also be a criminal. They’d know she tried to hide it and falsified records. Would they care? Would she go to jail? Would it be a war crime?
“Aubrey Parsons,” the voice said. “Negative.”
An uncontrollable smile broke across her face, and she waved back at the group as they cheered.
The door on the left clicked open. She rushed out to the soldiers, feeling elated and free. The towers weren’t watching her now, and the fences weren’t trying to hold her in.
A soldier approached her, smiling. “Sorry to make you go through that. Hop in the vehicle and we’ll get you out of here.”
Grinning, Aubrey jogged to the large armored truck and climbed into the backseat next to Kara. She’d done it.
She left the door open to watch Jack as he came down the path. He walked faster than the others had, almost running by the time he got to the gate. Aubrey shouted to him and cheered as the door opened and he stepped into the cage. They’d be back home soon, and things would be different.
“Jack Cooper,” the voice said. “Positive.”
“What?” The smile faded from her face.
Jack stood in the center of the cage, not moving. Kara took Aubrey’s hand, but Aubrey shook her away.
“No,” Jack shouted. “I’m not sick. I’m not Positive.”
“Jack Cooper,” the voice said calmly, “please proceed to your right.”
Aubrey leapt from the truck, running to the cage. She could hear a flurry of voices behind her, and the tinny squawk of the loudspeaker, but she ignored it. Jack met her at the wall of steel, yanking and tugging on the gate.