“No, not this one,” the first voice returned. I knew that voice. It was as sweet as it had been before, only this time it had a sharper edge. Dr. Begbie’s hands came up beneath my arms and propped me up. “She’s tough. She can handle it.”
Something smelled horrible. Acidic and rotten all at once. My eyes flew open.
Dr. Begbie was kneeling beside me, waving something beneath my nose.
The other voice I had heard belonged to a young woman. She had dark brown hair and pale skin, but that was all that was remarkable about her. Not realizing I was watching her, she stripped her blue scrubs off and threw them at Dr. Begbie.
I didn’t know where we were. The room was small, filled with shelves of bottles and boxes, and I couldn’t smell anything besides whatever it was Dr. Begbie had used to wake me.
“Put these on,” Dr. Begbie said, pulling me to my feet whether my legs were ready or not. “Come on, Ruby, we’ve got to hurry.”
My body felt heavy, cracking at all my joints. But I did as I was told, and pulled the scrubs over my uniform. While I was dressing, the other woman put her hands behind her back and waited as Dr. Begbie wrapped them together with thick silver duct tape. That finished, the doctor moved to tying the other woman’s feet together.
“You’re meeting them in Harvey. Make sure you take Route two-fifteen.”
“I know, I know,” Dr. Begbie said as she chewed off another piece of tape and placed it over the woman’s mouth. “Good luck.”
“What are you doing?” I asked. My throat was scratchy, and the skin around my mouth seemed to crack as I spoke. The doctor pulled my hair back, twisting it up into a messy bun that she secured with a rubber band. The other woman watched as her ID tags were dropped over my neck and Dr. Begbie put a surgical mask over my face.
“I’ll explain everything once we’re out, but we can’t waste time. They’ll be doing rounds in twenty minutes,” she said. “You can’t say anything, understand? Play along.”
I nodded and let her push me outside of the dark room and into the dimmed hallway of the Infirmary. Once again, my legs seemed to be failing me, but the doctor took it all in stride. She looped one of my arms over her shoulder and supported most of my weight.
“We’re moving,” she muttered. “Return the cameras to their normal feeds.”
I looked over, but she wasn’t talking to me. She was whispering to her gold swan pin.
“Not a word,” she reminded me as we turned down another long hallway. We were moving so fast that we rustled the white curtains of the examination stalls as we passed them. The PSFs were black blurs as they stepped out of our way.
“Sorry, sorry!” Dr. Begbie called after us. “I’ve got to get this one home.”
I kept my eyes on the straight lines of tile passing under my feet. My head was still spinning so badly that I didn’t realize we were heading outside until I heard the beep of the doctor’s card passing through the lock swipe and felt the first drops of cool rain hit my scalp.
They kept the camp’s enormous stadium lights on at all hours of the night; the lights stood like giants across the camp, but all they reminded me of were night football games, the smell of fresh cut grass, and the back of my dad’s red Spartan sweater as he yelled for his old high school’s team to run some damn offense at the top of his lungs.
It was a short walk and stumble from the back of the Infirmary to the pebbled parking lot. I actually wasn’t sure if I was hallucinating or not—my sight went in and out of focus, but it was impossible to miss the sound of crunching gravel and the voice that yelled, “Everything okay over there?”
I felt, rather than saw, Dr. Begbie tense. I tried to keep moving, to use her shoulder to prop myself up, but my legs just weren’t working anymore.
When I opened my eyes again, I was sitting up, staring at the standard-issue boots of a PSF soldier. He knelt down in front of me. Dr. Begbie was saying something to him, her voice as calm as the first time I had spoken to her.
“—so sick, I offered to drive her home. I put the mask on her to make sure she didn’t give the bug to anyone else.”
The soldier’s voice became clearer. “I hate that we always get sick from these kids.”
“Would you mind helping me walk her over to my Jeep?” Dr. Begbie asked.
“If she’s sick…”
“It’ll just take a minute,” the doctor interrupted. “And I promise that if you have so much as even the sniffles tomorrow, I’ll nurse you back to health myself.”
That was the voice I recognized—so sweet that it sounded like little bells. The soldier chuckled, but I felt him lift me up all the same. I tried not to lean against him, to grit my teeth against the jarring motion, but I could barely keep my head from rolling back.
“Front seat?” he asked.
Dr. Begbie was about to respond when the PSF’s radio crackled to life. “Control has you on camera. Do you need assistance?”
He waited until Dr. Begbie had opened the front passenger side door, and he set me down on the seat before replying. “Everything clear. Doctor…” He took my tags in hand, lifting them off my chest. “Dr. Rogers has the virus that’s been going around. Doctor…”
“Begbie,” came the quick reply. She slid into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut behind her. I glanced over, watching as she fumbled to get the key in the ignition. It was the first time I noticed her hands shaking.
“Dr. Begbie is driving her home for the night. Dr. Rogers’s car will be here overnight—please inform the morning guards when they do their tally.”
“Roger that. Tell them to head straight for the gate. I’ll notify the watch patrol to wave them through.”
The Jeep sputtered to life in a series of grinding protests. I looked out through the windshield, to the electric fence and the dark, familiar forest behind it. Dr. Begbie reached over to fasten my seat belt.
“Man, she’s out of it.” The PSF was back, leaning against Dr. Begbie’s window.
“I did give her some pretty strong stuff.” Dr. Begbie laughed. I felt my chest clench.
“So about tomorrow—”
“Come by and say hello, okay?” Dr. Begbie said. “I have a break around three.”