Wayland Inn was behind the slums, on the west end of Knoxville. It was a place that had festered since the War, buzzing with flies that bred in the clogged sewers, stinking of dirty river water brought in on the afternoon breeze. A place that attracted those who thrived in the shadows. People you had to seek to find.
The motel’s brick exterior, veined with dead ivy and pockmarked by black mold, blended with every other boarded-up office building on the street. The water was ice-cold when it ran at all, the baseboards were cracked with mouse holes, and there was only one bathroom on each floor. Sometimes it even worked.
It was the perfect location for the resistance: hidden in plain sight, on a block so rotten even the soldiers stayed in their patrol cars.
We met outside the supply room before dawn, when the standardized power resumed, for Wallace’s orders. The night patrols were still out guarding our perimeter and those with stationary posts—the stairway door, the roof, and radio surveillance—were awaiting relief from the day shift. Curfew would be up soon, and they were hungry.
I stayed back against the wall, letting those who had been here longer settle to the front row. The rest of the hallway filled in quickly; if you were late, Wallace assigned you extra duties, the kind no one wanted. The supply room door was open, and though I couldn’t see our hard-nosed leader from my angle, the candlelight threw a thin, distorted shadow against the inside wall.
He was talking to someone on the radio; a soft crackling filled the space while he waited for a response. I thought it might be the team he’d put on special assignment two days ago: Cara, the only other girl at the Wayland Inn, and three big guys that had been kicked out of the Federal Bureau of Reformation—or, as we’d called the soldiers who’d taken over after the War, the Moral Militia. Curiosity had me leaning toward the sound, but I didn’t get too close. The more you knew, the more the MM could take from you.
“Be safe.” I recognized Wallace’s voice, but not the concern in it. Never had I heard him soften in the presence of others.
Sean Banks, my old guard from the Girls’ Reformatory and Rehabilitation Center, staggered out of his room, pulling his shirt down over his ribs. Too thin,
I thought, but at least he’d slept a little—his deep blue eyes were calmer than before, not so strained. He found a place on the wall beside me, rubbing at the pillow marks still on his face.
“Always am, handsome,
” came Cara’s muffled response, and then the radio went dead.
“Handsome?” parroted an AWOL named Houston. His red hair was growing out and flipped in the back like the tail feathers of a chicken. “Handsome?
” he said again. The volume in the hall had increased; several of the guys were snickering.
“You called?” Lincoln, whose freckles always looked like someone had splashed black paint across his hollow cheeks, appeared beside Houston. They’d joined together last year, and in my time here I’d yet to see one without the other.
The chatter faded as Wallace came around the corner. He needed a shower; his shoulder-length peppered hair was greasy in clumps, and the skin of his face was tight with fatigue, but even in the muted yellow glow of the flashlights it was obvious his ears had gone pink. One pointed gla
Kristen Simmons's fast-paced, gripping YA dystopian series continues in this sequel to Article 5