I round a corner and head up Burnell Street. I slow a bit when I see a group of Red kids, probably all around fourteen, lucky to have missed the Culling Mandate, lucky to be alive. They’re bullying a smaller kid and for some reason I think of Lydia’s smile, her eyes, and the whole pleasure of her beauty and how she looked at me. And I imagine her now prodding me to intervene. So I do.
“What are you doing to him? Leave him alone,” I say this with all the confidence of my height and weight advantage, not to mention my combat training.
“Who are you to boss us around?” the ringleader says. He waves a stick in my face. “Are you going to kill us, too, like you killed Sarkis Tait last night?” He shocks me with these words. My heart skips a beat, restarts with a hollow thump.
I forget about Lydia. I forget about the pages of notes in my sack. My tongue is stuck and I can’t swallow. If my awful deed is known here, and among children yet, how is it that I have not been seized by my grandfather’s men or shuttled off by my mother’s servants?
I look at these children’s bold faces and panic. I run. I reach the fence, the capitol grounds, the side door. I make it through unseen. I search for my mother. She’ll know what to do. Maybe she’ll send me to my nanny.
Punishable by death … punishable by death. But maybe not. Maybe being the Executive President’s grandson will have its privilege.
I come to my room. My hand is on the knob, but I hear voices behind the door. And scuffing, and banging. Guards are searching through my things. It won’t take long. My heart’s in my throat now; my mind’s racing through a million things. I step away as quietly as I can, turn down the back hall and take the farthest stairwell.