Perry pushed past them into a wide, curving corridor, the sounds of the a
larm receding behind him. He didn’t know where he was going. Knew only that he needed to find safety. Take care of her. Find Talon.
Aria stopped suddenly. “Here!” She pressed her fingers into the control pad of a door, opening it, and they darted inside.
Aria fell back against the wall. Dizziness rolled over her in waves. She needed to catch her breath. Her heart was beating too fast. She needed it to slow down.
Perry stood by the door, listening to the sounds in the hall. She had the fleeting thought that he looked comfortable with the gun in his hand, like he’d been using one for years instead of minutes. The shouts of Guardians grew louder.
“Forget it!” Aria heard outside. “They’re gone. ” Then their footsteps faded.
Perry lowered the gun. He looked at her, his eyebrows drawn with worry. “Stay right there. ”
She closed her eyes. The pain in her arm was immense, but her head was clear, unlike when she’d been poisoned. Oddly, the feeling of blood rolling down her arm and dribbling from her fingertips bothered her the most. She could function with pain, but losing blood would make her weak and slow her down.
The room was a supply repository for emergency evacuations. She’d learned of storerooms like this from Pod safety drills. Metal lockers ran in rows down the length. In them she saw hazard suits. Oxygen masks. Fire extinguishers. First-aid supplies. Perry ran to the nearest one, bringing back a metal case. He knelt and popped it open.
“There should be a blue tube,” she said through gasps, “for stopping bleeding. ”
He rifled through it, coming up with the tube and a bandage. “Look at me,” he said, straightening. “Right at my eyes. ”
He drew her hand away from the wound.
Aria sucked in a breath at the burst of pain that shot down her arm. She’d been hit on her bicep, but strangely, the worst pain was in her fingertips. The muscles in her legs began to shake.
“Easy,” Perry said. “Just keep breathing, nice and slow. ”
“Is my arm still there?” she asked.
“Still there. ” His lips pulled into a quick smile, but she saw the worry behind it. “When it heals, it’s going to match my hand perfectly. ”
With firm, efficient movements, he applied the coagulant and then wrapped the bandage tightly around her arm. Aria kept her gaze on his face. On the blond stubble across his jaw, and the bend in his nose. She could look at him forever. She could spend her life watching him just blink and breathe that near to her.
Her eyes blurred, and she wasn’t sure if it was from the pain or from the relief of being with him again. He brought a sense of rightness. She felt it every moment she spent with him. Even the wrong ones. Even the painful ones, like now.
Perry’s hands stilled. He looked up, and his gaze told her everything. He felt it too.
A tremor thrummed through the soles of her boots, and then the lockers rattled. The rumbling sound built. It kept going, growing louder and louder. The lights shut off. Aria searched the darkness, panic rising inside of her. A red emergency light above the door pulsed a few times and turned on, holding steady. Slowly, the noise faded.
“This place is coming down,” Perry said, tying off the bandage.
She nodded. “The corridor circles the Panop. If we stay on it, we should find an access door. ” She pushed herself off the wall. The bleeding had slowed, but she still felt light-headed.
Perry peered through the door. The corridor had fallen into darkness, lit only by emergency lights every twenty paces. “Stay close to me. ”
They ran along the curving corridor together, the wail of fire alarms echoing off the cement walls and filling her ears. Aria smelled smoke, and the temperature had spiked. The fires had moved inside the Pod. Her strength was draining rapidly, just as she’d feared. She felt like she was running underwater.
“Here,” she said, stopping at wide double doors marked PANOPTICON. “This is where Hess locked them in. ” She pressed at the control board next to it. NO ACCESS flashed up on the screen. She tried again, stabbing at the panel in anger. They couldn’t be this close and not get inside.
She didn’t hear the Reverie soldiers rounding the bend toward them. The alarms had swallowed the sounds of their approach. But Perry saw them. A staccato of bright bursts exploded beside her as he fired. Down the corridor, the Guardians fell. Perry broke into a run, covering the distance to the soldiers with a shocking surge of speed. He wrenched one of the Guardians off the ground by the collar and returned with the struggling man, who’d been shot in the leg.
“Open the door,” he commanded, holding the Guardian in front of the panel.
“No!” The man twisted his body to break loose. In a flash, Aria saw her mother’s face. Lifeless, as she’d last seen her. She couldn’t fail again. Talon was in there. Thousands of people would die if they couldn’t get in.