I’m hanging around the nurse station when news of the wandering official comes in. Pulling aside the curtain of Liliana’s area, Toby steps out, frowning as he listens to something in his ear piece.
Peering out the curtains herself, Liliana throws me a questioning look. I haven’t really spoken to her, but she seems nice enough. Her concussion’s healed, but Collin is still searching for signs of intervention in her body. Sadly, she lost the baby thanks to her head injury. I thought miscarriages only happened in the old days, but apparently not. She hasn’t said anything to anyone about it, but I’ve noticed since the incident, Carmen spends most of her days with her and Toby drops by every night.
The head nurse, Miss Florence, bustles over to me and shoves a bowl of hot water into my arms.
“I need you to go see Maple and bath his wounds. There’s salt water in it, so please be careful. He’s got anger management issues and is very likely to lash out and hit the bowl of water. If you’re careful and use soothing words, he’ll be fine.”
I don’t say it, but Maple’s one of my favourite patients in the whole place. Yes, he’s got anger issues and makes sure to tell me just what he thinks of the food we serve up, but he’s very funny and makes this depressing place sort of awesome to be in.
About to head towards his cot, I’m stopped by Toby who grabs hold of my arm.
“I need you to come with me.”
“Umm, I can’t,” I bite my lip. “I have work to do.”
He tugs me over to Florence who’s sorting files at her work desk. She looks up at me with a suspicious frown.
“Alice Seeder has been requested to go to a meeting.”
The suspicious frown leaves and she relaxes.
“Can I ask what it’s for?”
“Some issues with the tunnel,” he shrugs. “They need her help with mapping.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about, but go along with it.
“Well, Alice,” Florence straightens. “You only had about half an hour to go. You’re free to leave, but I may need your help over time in the next few days to make up for it.”
“Good girl. Have a nice afternoon.”
With that out of the way, Toby’s free to tug me out into the sea of tents and lead me towards the silver shed.
“What’s this mapping I’m meant to do?” I pull my arm away since he has a habit of gripping it to tight. I don’t really understand why he feels the need to pull me along since I’ll go anyway.
“I made that up,” he admits and just manages to swerve around a group of kids that run past us.
“I needed a good excuse. Florence is a no nonsense woman.”
He got that right.
“Care to tell me what’s going on?”
He looks at me nervously.
“One of our scouts spotted a government official wandering the tunnels.”
“This is the first time it’s happened. They don’t pay attention to the tunnels or at least, they never used to.”
“Please tell me they didn’t find anything.”
“This isn’t the place to talk about it. You’ll hear more at the meeting.”
“Am I even allowed to go?”
“Yeah. Jackson requested I brought you. Amelia will track down Eliza.”
“It seems,” he sucks in a deep breath as we finally arrive at the shed’s door, “that you two have people searching for you.”
The shed’s crowded with people of all different ages and ranks in the camp. I recognize the woman from my first day who rushed passed us to find her toddler who now sits quietly in her lap, looking at everyone with wide eyes. Carmen’s in a heavy discussion with a group of look-alike soldiers whom I can’t recognize. No doubt Jackson’s one of them.
Over the noise of conversation, I hear a whistle and immediately stick up my hand.
Toby shoots me a worried look and I grin.
“What are you doing?”
“Helping Eliza find us.”
He squints at me suspiciously, but doesn’t say anything. When Eliza taps him on the shoulder, he jumps away from her, causing me to giggle.
“It’s a method we worked out since it’s so hard to track each other down in a sea of people who look like us.”
“Makes sense,” he rubs his shoulder, but still looks shifty.
“Why are we here?” Eliza throws her arms around my shoulders and I do the same.
Before I can tell her, Carmen claps her hands to stop everyone talking.
“Attention please. If you could all stay silent while soldier Marco tells us what he’s seen, that would be appreciated. Any loud noises and you’ll be asked to leave.”
She throws a pointed look at Eliza and I and I roll my eyes. We’re not THAT bad.
Marco tells his findings almost like a story.
“I was doing the usual walkthrough of the tunnels when I heard voices around a bend. Thinking it was one of our own, I walked towards them thinking I could tell them to move back to camp since I was the only one allowed in the sector today. I only just managed to jump back in time before the woman, a lady of a bout forty, walked around the bend with a phone clutched to her ear. I could tell right away from her suit that she wasn’t from camp nor a usual citizen of the Chocolate Society. Knocking her out wasn’t an option since she was on the phone so I simply followed her and listened to her conversation.
“It seems, she was hunting for something or someone. At first I thought she knew about the rebel camp, but than she started talking rapidly about finding “the two girls”. She told whoever was on the other line that there was no way they could be down here. The voice said something back for ages, but I couldn’t make it out. She nodded a lot, that’s for sure. Before she hung up, she simply stated, “I’ll go further tomorrow. If our witness did see them being dragged into the tunnel, they’re probably still here. Alive or dead.” Then I followed her back to the ladder.”
The room’s silent and I feel my own heart pounding in my chest. Toby looks at me, biting his lip. It’s a look I’ve come to appreciate.
“It’s obvious who the two girls are,” Amelia speaks up after a moment from behind me.
“My thoughts exactly,” Carmen starts to pace, looking around at everyone. “This is a first. We’ve never had people come searching.”
“Who’s the witness?” a man who looks like he’s been working on the tunnel walls asks. “Does anyone know?”
Carmen pauses to look at Eliza and I and it takes me a moment to realise she wants us to answer.
“Umm I don’t know. I didn’t exactly have time to look around before Toby knocked me out.”
Carmen actually has the nerve to look delighted. I probably would feel the same if my son beat up the enemy with a shovel.
“What about you, then Toby?” Carmen asks him.
“I wasn’t looking around either. For someone to have seen us, they would have had to be in the alley with us. I didn’t hear or see anything suspicious.” He glances over Eliza and I. “Except them, I guess.”
“What does this mean for the camp?” a woman asks nervously, raising her hand. “Are we all in danger?”
“Not necessarily,” a soldier speaks up and I think it’s Jackson. “We’ll double the scouts to make sure no one gets to close. Right now, the best idea is to go under lockdown.”
Everyone starts to mutter to each other.
“Quit,” Carmen claps her hands patiently. “We have enough supplies to last us a few days so lockdown isn’t really the issue. The issue is how long they’re planning to search.”
“They’ll search for a few days at most,” the maybe Jackson shrugs. “Than they’ll give up if they don’t find anything.”
“But what if they do?” I don’t mean to, but the words come out anyway. “What if they do find something?”
“Hence why we’re doing this,” Carmen says grimly. “Let’s prepare for lockdown.”