But I was on a mission. I hadn’t spotted the necklace on Scotia in the alleyway, and it could have easily been hiding underneath her jumpsuit. I silently prayed it was around here somewhere instead.

I started with the single thin drawer on the desk. It was empty, save for some scraps of paper with scribbles I couldn’t read. I found a handful of pencils, all worn down to the nubs, but there was nothing else there. I turned to the nightstand.

The top drawer was small and full of pictures of girls I didn’t recognize—smiling faces wearing white jumpsuits instead of red, which I could only guess meant they were from a different section. My eyes lingered on a younger-looking Scotia, with longer hair done in braids and a wide smile. Part of me was stunned to see anyone looking that happy Elsewhere, but most of me was relieved Scotia wasn’t a heartless monster after all. She had people she cared about, too, and at least now I had some glimmer of understanding as to why she’d risked her own safety and a cushy position all to help out the Blackcoats. We all had someone we were fighting for, even if that someone was ourselves.

I was careful not to disturb anything in the nightstand as I searched for the necklace. The second drawer was stuffed with an extra jumpsuit and wool socks, and among them I discovered a batch of folded notes bundled together with an old shoestring. I tried to make out the names on the top and bottom of each page, but the letters didn’t form any word I recognized. Not that that was hard. I bit my lip. Maybe if I took these, Scotia would be willing to trade.

Or she’d kill me. That was a much more likely outcome.

Without warning, the door to the bunkhouse opened, and I froze. For an instant, I couldn’t move as panic overcame me, but I forced it aside. The odds of it being Scotia were slim, but that was a chance I couldn’t take. As silently as I could, I shut the drawer and slid under the bed.

Uneven footsteps echoed from the doorway, almost as if whoever it was couldn’t keep her balance. Underneath the edge of the curtain, I spotted prisoner-issued boots, and I silently willed them to walk away from the curtain. Just one step, and I would be able to relax.

Instead they turned toward me, and a gloved hand pushed the curtain aside, revealing Scotia.

I remained absolutely still, not even daring to breathe. Scotia’s coat and jumpsuit were soaked in fresh blood, and she stumbled forward, groping around until she reached the nightstand. She was only a few inches from my hiding spot under her bed, close enough for me to hear her labored breathing.

Where had the blood come from? I searched for any sign of injury on Scotia, but all I could see were a few scratch marks across her neck. Nothing deep enough to cause that much blood to soak into her clothes.

I spotted something else, too—a delicate silver chain hanging around her neck. I bit back a hiss of frustration. The most I could do at this point was yank it off her and make a run for it, but even in her condition, she could probably take me. I couldn’t risk it.

Scotia stood with effort, crying out softly as she did so. She was hurt, and worse than it first appeared—maybe I could outrun her after all.

Clutching a fresh change of clothes, she stumbled out of her room and to the left, toward the bathroom. Moments later I heard the shower running, and I cautiously slid out from underneath the bed. Nudging the curtain aside, I peeked into the bathroom, relieved to see Scotia’s bloodied clothes discarded on the floor.

Her pile of fresh ones sat on the long counter beside a sink, and I tiptoed across the tile, careful not to make a sound. Sitting on top of a fresh shirt was the silver necklace Greyson had given me, half the face tinged red with blood.

I snatched it from the pile and didn’t bother washing it off. Within seconds, I slipped through the door of the bunkhouse and out into the snowy street, careful to keep a straight face. Finally, something was going my way. I could sneak into Mercer’s office while everyone was asleep, get the codes, and deliver them to the Blackcoats. The thought of facing Scotia again after what I’d just done made me queasy, but if I had the codes, maybe she’d forgive me for stealing the necklace. If she figured out it was me in the first place.

Feeling lighter than I had in days, I knelt beside a clean pile of snow a couple blocks from the bunkhouse and scooped a handful into my glove. I scrubbed the face of the necklace clean and pulled it apart to make sure the individual pieces were also free of blood. I had no way of knowing if the electric lock pick would still work, but I couldn’t imagine Greyson creating something this incredible and not waterproofing it. I hoped.

Once the disk was clean, I fastened the chain around my neck and paused, looking at the pink-tinged snow beside my boot. Now that my heart wasn’t in my throat, I realized I had no idea where the blood had come from. How had Scotia managed to get so messed up in the few minutes she’d spent with—

Noelle. The edges of my vision went dark, and I scrambled to my feet and looked around, as if she would be right there waiting for me to notice her. But of course she wasn’t there. Whatever Scotia had done to her, it must have been bad.

I ran through the street toward the dining hall, hoping against hope she would be there. As I passed the alleyway where I’d last seen her, I darted down the path in hopes of spotting her, or at the very least finding a trail of blood. I found neither, and after a minute of searching, I doubled back. The dining hall. She had to be inside the dining hall. If she was injured, she would have gone somewhere warm nearby, and in the sea of gray administrative buildings, that was the only option.

I burst through the doors and searched the crowd. Several people stopped eating and stared, but I ignored them as I scanned every face in there. Noelle wasn’t with them. She wasn’t anywhere.

Tags: Aimee Carter The Blackcoat Rebellion Science Fiction
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