Page 25

Done before the other girls, she took a towel from Corporal Smith and then moved to the next room. The towel was small, not covering much as she tried to wrap it around herself, and it was as rough as sandpaper on her already stinging skin. Another female soldier—this one younger than the others, and with a kinder face—asked Aubrey’s size and then handed her a bundle of clothes.

Aubrey looked at the pile, pleasantly surprised. The clothes appeared to be new—a button-up blouse, a pair of jeans, sandals, some plain underwear, and a bra. “I was expecting coveralls or something like that.”

The soldier smiled. “You’re lucky. You wouldn’t have liked the jumpsuits—a whole lot of olive green. But the shipments never came in, so the CO sent a couple trucks into Salt Lake and cleaned out all the department stores.”

Aubrey turned her back to the soldier and quickly tried to dry off with the nonabsorbent towel.

“Most of our supplies are like that,” the soldier said. She sounded tired, like she was making small talk to stay awake. “None of the shipments are coming through anymore. Just more and more of you guys.”

“You’re expecting a lot of people here?” Aubrey asked.

“We already have a lot. You’re the stragglers.”


“Sure. You came from . . . Intake Two, I think.” She checked a clipboard. “Yes. Two. And there are thirty-two intake stations.”

Aubrey turned to look over her shoulder. “That many?”

“Yes.” The woman nodded, and Aubrey turned back to dressing.

“So how many of us are here?”

“I don’t know. But there’s been a steady stream for five days. Hundreds of girls have been through this room. Maybe thousands.”

Aubrey slipped on her shirt and began buttoning it. “When do we get to leave?”

“I’m not at liberty to say. Even if I knew.”

Aubrey sat on a narrow wooden bench with the eight other teens who had just finished decontamination. The wind was still blowing and Aubrey knew that the dust from the dirt road had to be gluing itself to her long wet hair.

No one was talking. The astringent soap and indignity of the showers seemed to have sapped the elation that they’d felt earlier at being declared Negative. Now they simply sat, staring at the endless rows of tents, wondering how they’d ever get back home.

A soldier stood nearby, watching the road for the bus that he promised would come.

“Who was he?” Kara asked quietly. “The boy back there?”

“A friend,” Aubrey said, not even knowing what to call him. “An old friend.” She cared for him. It seemed that right now she missed him more than anyone else—more than her so-called best friend. More than her dad. Jack had rescued her. He’d fought for her and lied for her, tried his best to hide her. And now he was facing the punishment that should have been hers.

No, she thought. Even if she hadn’t changed her own test result, that wouldn’t have helped him. She was on the outside now, and she could get him out. Somehow.

“What was his name?”

“Jack Cooper,” Aubrey said. “He’ll be okay.”

“Of course,” Kara said.

A plume of dust appeared in the distance, and the soldier told them to stand for the bus.

“How about you?” Aubrey asked, watching the bus approach. It was a regular city bus, the side marked with the words “Utah Transit Authority.” “You’re from Park City?”

“Yeah,” Kara said. Her voice was quiet, almost embarrassed. “My mom’s a secretary in the sheriff’s office. She heard what was happening and tried to hide me. We got caught in a roadblock on the Wyoming border.”

Aubrey smiled. “We tried to run too. Didn’t get very far.”

“I think most of us are like that,” Betsy said. “Fugitives, I mean. I went to my grandma’s house out on the reservation. I didn’t think anyone would look there. They came in the middle of the night.”

Aubrey thought back to what the woman had told her after her shower. They were the stragglers. Maybe the rest of her school was already here, in one of the hundreds of olive-drab military tents.

The bus door opened and the soldier gestured for the group to climb aboard. Aubrey was the last on, and even though there were plenty of empty seats, she sat next to Kara.

The bus drove east, passing tent after tent. All of them looked the same, with nothing to distinguish them other than a large number stenciled on the canvas. After about half a mile, the bus turned north, tents now on both sides in a seemingly endless array.

“My cousins are here somewhere,” Kara said. “My mom tried to get her sister to come with us, to run, but she wouldn’t. I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

“Who was with you at the warehouse?” Aubrey asked. “You hugged someone.”

Kara shook her head. “I don’t know her, really. We both got caught at the same roadblock.”

The road was bumpy and the bus was moving more slowly. They weren’t passing the front of the tents now, just the wide windowless sides, and it was harder to pick out the faces of teens.

Other vehicles were moving among the tents, too. Trucks parked in front of several, some appearing to carry supplies and others picking up garbage.

“Can I ask you a question?” Kara said, still looking out the window.


“Did you know that Jack was . . . one of . . . ?”

Aubrey shook her head. “No. And he isn’t. He can’t be.”

Kara nodded and thought for a moment. “I’ve heard that some people aren’t even aware they have it.”

“This isn’t like that,” Aubrey said. “He’s not sick. There must have been a mistake.”

“I mean,” Kara said, talking slowly, “if he’s sick, then maybe he gave it to you?”

“He’s not sick,” Aubrey insisted.


The bus turned one more time and then stopped in front of Tent 209. A Humvee was waiting for them, and six soldiers stood in front of the door. Slowly, Aubrey and the others filed off the bus, and one of the soldiers directed them into the large tent.

Aubrey paused just inside the door as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

The layout wasn’t unlike the warehouse they’d left earlier—bunk beds lined the walls, and two tables were in the center. In one corner was a row of shelves, stocked floor to ceiling with boxes. The floor was wood, and sand showed beneath the slats.

“Everyone please gather in the center of the room,” one of the soldiers said. “Feel free to take a seat.”

“I don’t know if this is better or worse,” Kara said.

Aubrey smiled and chose a seat. Kara and Betsy sat with her.

“When are we going home?” the young boy asked, but the soldier merely pointed him toward a chair.

A man walked in front of them. He was the first soldier Aubrey had seen who was not wearing fatigues. Instead, he wore a more formal uniform, with a green jacket and tie. Medals and insignias were pinned to his chest.

“My name is Major Bowman,” he said, his voice soft but emotionless. “You are in Relocation Center Five, Tent 209. I know that this must seem very foreign, perhaps even a little scary, but I assure you, everything that has been done is for your safety.”