“Stay here,” I whispered.
I glanced down the hall, then inched across and into the room. On the patient’s TV, a phone rang. I held my breath. She stirred, but didn’t wake up. I grabbed the pile of clothes and the boots.
Down the hall, the click-clack of heels announced a group of doctors talking seriously and passing a clipboard back and forth. Across the hall, Stellan’s eyes got wide, and he pulled his curtains shut. I yanked the one in front of me closed, too, trapping myself in the woman’s room.
The doctors’ steps went past at an efficient clip. I peeked out, then tiptoed back across the hall.
When our curtain was shut again, I closed my eyes, adrenaline buzzing through me. “I’ll change; then I’ll find you clothes,” I whispered, and glanced at Stellan. “Turn around.”
I wasted no time pulling the clothes on, then hurried back down the hall, slightly less nervous now that I was dressed like someone who was supposed to be here. I found a man sleeping a few rooms away, his uniform folded neatly on a cart in the back of the room.
I looked Stellan over after he’d changed, too. His uniform was too baggy on him, but it would work. “Tuck in the back of your shirt.” I hesitated awkwardly but then said, “Come here.” While he got himself tucked and refastened his belt, I grabbed some tissues from a rolling cart to get streaks of dirt off his face and rubbed at a smear of blood at his hairline, careful not to get his blood on me, just in case. “How do I look?”
The woman I’d taken my clothes from was definitely bigger than me, but the attached belt helped me cinch the pants tight. Stellan tipped my chin up and scrubbed at my face. “Your hair,” he whispered.
I pulled the cap low over my eyes and tucked the pink ends of my hair inside.
We made it to the bottom of the fire exit stairs without seeing another person. The second we got outside, though, we weren’t so lucky. I opened the door just as a trio of stern soldiers trooped by, their guns slung across their backs.
My first thought was that I wished I’d thought to grab the guns that went with these uniforms. That was stupid of me. My second was that although it would feel safer to stand here quietly until they were gone, it would be smarter to blend in with a group who might be headed toward an exit. I signaled to Stellan, and we waited until the group was a few feet away before following them.
It was working—no one gave us a second glance. The soldiers were headed for the exit and— I stopped still.
They were headed for a group of a couple dozen soldiers just outside the exit, all carrying riot shields and wearing full face masks. The officer who looked to be in charge saw us and the group ahead of us, and barked something impatiently. The soldiers in front of us sped up. They were about to head out into a city that had just had a major terrorist attack.
I glanced around frantically for an out. “We have to,” Stellan said under his breath.
I swallowed and nodded. A mask and a shield were thrust into my hands, and the whole regiment turned and walked out the gate, Stellan and me right in the center.
We marched to a square a few blocks away that was bustling with people. It wasn’t quite a protest, and it wasn’t quite a mob, but a group of men were yelling at another group, and it was escalating even as we watched. It wasn’t hard to figure out why: this city was full of age-old conflict. Conflict over religion, conflict over land—conflict that could easily spark up into something ugly if, for instance, you thought your longtime enemies had just committed an atrocity.
Turning the Circle against us wasn’t the Saxons’ only objective, I suddenly realized. The assassinations they’d been committing and blaming on the Order for so long had spread fear, oily and black. And now they’d set a match to it.
“How could they do this?” I murmured to Stellan. Around us, soldiers were pulling their masks over their faces and raising their shields. We did the same, and fell into formation. “The Saxons, but the Melechs, too. This is their own city.”
“Because all the Circle cares about is the Circle, and especially their family,” Stellan said, his voice echoing through his mask. “The Melechs live here and adopt parts of the culture to fit in, but you can’t say they have loyalty to this place any more than you can say every British person is a sociopath like your brother and sister.”
“So they don’t care at all about their people?”
“They care about how much power their territories have, certainly. You can be sure Britain will benefit from the Saxons’ actions, as will their allies. But a few lives lost to get what they want?” He shrugged. “It’s nothing. Knowing exactly how to use the world as a tool to get yourself ahead is how the Circle has always worked. Sometimes the families like when there’s conflict in their territories— it makes a place easier to manipulate.”
From across the square, a flaming rag in the top of a bottle sailed toward us, smashing on the cobblestones just ahead of our group with a quick orange burst of flame.
The officer in charge shouted orders, and a few soldiers took off in the direction it had come from. I watched them subdue both sides of a fight that had broken out, attempting to keep the peace without hurting anyone. Stellan grabbed my arm and I followed him, jogging to the far corner of the square with a guy not too much older than us, who had a shock of curly hair and blue eyes so light, they were almost eerie against his olive complexion.
While we hurried along, Stellan talked to him in Hebrew and I prayed he wouldn’t say anything to me.
Just then, though, Stellan pointed and said something, alarm in his voice. The guy answered and nodded toward a street behind us. Stellan and I started that way, and the guy jogged off in the opposite direction. The second his back disappeared around a corner, we ducked into a tiny alley and ditched our riot gear. I wished we could do more since this was so very much our fault, but what we really had to do was find the cure, and to do that, we had to get out of here.
“Do you have any idea where we’re going?” I said.