Robin Hood the One Who Looked Good in Green Read online

  I need to burn something to get ash. But what? Everything is made to last forever now. Parts don’t rub off or break or splinter or burn. My dress is inflammable, as are the curtains and rug and everything else in the entire city. Then I glance down at the notebook. I am holding perhaps the only thing on the planet that can still burn. I can’t bring myself to rip out another piece, so, reluctantly, I pull out the paper with the code and tear off the bottom half. The sound is just as painful this time.

  I turn my digi-pen to the maximum heat setting, the one reserved only for emergencies, and focus the beam on the paper in my hand.

  I realize a second too late how stupid that was, as the heat instantly burns a hole clear through the paper and keeps going. I yelp as my palm turns red and the skin actually sizzles. I ball up the wet hem of my dress and clutch it in my palm to ease the pain. A second later, though, the pain is gone. The medi-bots in my cells have done their job. I unclench my fist. The red spot has completely faded away.

  More carefully this time, I burn the paper until I get a pile of ash big enough. I wring out a few drops of water from my dress and stir. Using the tip of my fingernail, I try not shake too much as I copy the code from the letter. The color is darker than the original ink, and the ash smears a bit on the page, but it will have to do. I’m not entirely certain that I got all the numbers and letters correct, either.

  I calmly tape the notebook back in place, already missing the feel of it in my hands. There’s no longer a reason to hurry. Or to sneak out the back.

  So I walk straight out the door into the dark, empty hall, fully expecting a guard to jump out before I make it to the elevator. But no one does. Odd. I keep going. No one is in the elevator, either. I consider taking it to the first tunnel, then the second, but I let the elevator continue to descend until I’m on the ground floor. I haven’t been alone on the surface in years. Maybe ever.

  As I step out into the stagnant night air, now misty from the rain, it’s all I can do not to laugh. This is absurd! The lights of the few hovercars nearby twinkle only a few yards above my head. If I didn’t know better, I’d say I had to be dreaming. But my dreams are always scattered things, snippets of scenes from the brain-numbing events I’d been made to sit through that day. I couldn’t possibly have dreamt up a night like this.

  Then again … there is the pesky matter that no one has come to arrest me for theft, or even stopped me for sneaking around in the middle of the night where I don’t belong. I straighten my dress and grin. I’m just going to pretend it’s a dream and finish out the mission. Otherwise the fear will overtake me. I walk down the dark streets toward the spot where I’m supposed to drop off my digi-pen, grinning like a fool. Unbelievably, I spot the same strolling couple that I saw earlier in one of the tunnels and give them a wave. They wave back. They are friendly dream people. Not like the ransackers. They weren’t nice at all.

  I may be losing my mind, but I’m so very tired. I’ve never been awake for this many hours in a row. It’s messing with my brain.

  I soon reach the fake tree and take a minute to delete all my personal data. Every image I’ve ever snapped, every song I’ve sang, everything I’ve ever written for school, even feed me feed me feed me is recorded in there. I blink back tears. Even though my life isn’t what I’d hoped it would be, it’s still mine.

  And now it’s all gone, leaving only the scanned code from the notebook page. I bury the pen in the fake soil and cover it up. Wiping my hands on my torn, wet mess of a dress, I turn toward home. I’ve made it two blocks when I see Grandmother, of all people, absently strolling down the opposite side of the street.

  She looks up as I rush over to her. I’ve never known her to wander down here before, certainly not in the dead of night, but of course I’m always asleep at this time. Her squished-up forehead relaxes as soon as she sees me. “Let’s go home, Grandmother,” I tell her in my most soothing, relaxed voice. It surprises me to hear it after so many hours of speaking to no one. She links her arm through mine and squeezes.

  So she won’t be scared, I chat as we walk, sharing the gossip from Ivy, joking about the lovely sunny day. We’re in front of our building when a bright light shines directly in my face and we freeze. My hand flies up to protect my eyes. “Marian Fitzwalter,” a guard’s voice says, checking a screen in one hand, no doubt looking at the grid for my name. “I’m going to have to bring you in for breaking curfew.”

  My mouth goes instantly dry. Before I can choke out a word, the guard swings the light over to Grandmother, who continues to look calmly ahead. He drops the light almost immediately.

  “Oh, excuse me, ma’am. I didn’t realize it was you.”

  Grandmother waves her hand and gives him a small, patient nod like you would to a child who has tracked fake dirt on the rug. The guard steps aside and we enter. I’m shaking so badly I’m not sure if I’m the one leading Grandmother up to our apartment, or if she’s leading me.

  When I wake up in the morning my wet, torn dress is gone, and Ivy is her usual chirpy self as she dresses me for the day. I only catch a few words, as my head is swirling with the events of the night. I absently rub the center of my palm. My brain can remember the searing pain as it burned, but it’s as smooth as it ever was. I’m so, so very tired, though. All I want to do is crawl back to bed.

  But of course my full schedule forbids that. When Ivy leaves me to gather my things, I check my tablet and am relieved to find no follow-up message and no trace of the one from yesterday. I shake my head. It’s almost too easy to believe it really was a dream.

  It doesn’t take long to rid me of that notion. I arrive for breakfast to find my mother still in her bathrobe, a sight I haven’t seen since I was four years old and she was having a bad hair day and refused to leave our apartment until the finest hairdresser in The City arrived.

  “But who did this?” my mother shrieks across the table at my father. “Who could just go in your office and destroy it? Isn’t this what the grid is supposed to protect against?”

  “Apparently there was a malfunction,” my father replies, rubbing his forehead. “It has never happened before.”

  “What about the surveillance cameras?” she asks.

  My lungs literally stop the intake of air. Surveillance cameras! I hadn’t even thought of such a thing!

  “They were down, too,” he says. “All over the city.”

  I resume breathing while she shakes her head.

  “Unbelievable. Was anything … stolen?” She says the word like it’s too insane a concept to consider.

  He shakes his head. “Not that I could see when security called me earlier. Housekeeping has already straightened up.”

  “Well, whoever did this must have been looking for something.”

  My father hesitates only for a split second before he stops pacing and shrugs. “Probably just kids letting off steam.”

  I know it wasn’t kids. He probably knows it, too, but it’s always best to avoid feeding into Mother’s dramatic nature.

  It seems I’ve escaped detection. My sigh of relief must be audible, because they finally notice me standing there. My mother pushes my plate across the counter toward me. Father plants a kiss on my cheek. “Don’t worry about all this,” he says. “It’s just grown-up stuff. It’s all taken care of.”

  Inside I’m screaming, This is your fault. You’re siding with the enemy. But I just nod and eat my vita-squares. I think they’re supposed to taste like eggs and bacon, but I really couldn’t say.

  My first stop after breakfast is a clothing designer’s studio, where two women gush over me and I actually let them. I start giggling when they measure my waist — and I am not a giggler. But I’m feeling pretty good now. Almost giddy. If what I did will help King Richard somehow, it was worth the risk.

  “So, is there a special guy?” one of the women teases while the other finishes sewing a skirt they made me. “You have such a lovely voice. I bet all the boys are in love with you.”