We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1)(5)

She expected an instant reaction, and she was disappointed. The boy’s smirk only grew more pronounced. “Oh?” he asked. “And what will you do when they come?” He tapped his chin in mock thoughtfulness. “Sure, they won’t be thrilled with me, but I’m sure they’ll at least investigate my claims before hauling me off.”

Dani felt her expression hardening. She let it. She did not scream.

“You know, the claims about the star Primera student with forged papers?” He brandished the shabby things at her, the tear down the center adding insult to injury. “The one who was about to be placed with a seriously decorated government family?” He shook his head sadly. “I don’t imagine they’ll be very happy with you at all.”

“Who are you?” Dani asked through gritted teeth. “And why are you trying to ruin my life?”

“Relax,” the boy said, rolling his eyes. “These things were useless the moment you walked through the oratory doors. The new verification system would have proven they were fakes in about a second.” He paused, like he was waiting for her to ask. “It’s a pen,” he continued when she didn’t. “On the special stationery the government issues ID papers with, it turns blue. On the peasant stuff, red. Pretty genius, really. So simple. It reacts to a fiber used in the printing process that—”

“Who are you?” Dani growled again, interrupting. She hardly cared about the particulars of paper fiber when she was one misstep from handcuffs and a prison transport.

“Right, of course.” The boy placed the torn papers inside his jacket, sticking out a hand.

Dani looked at it like it was a venomous snake until he withdrew it.

“You can call me Sota,” he said. “I’m a member of La Voz, and I’m here to deliver these.” From the same pocket where he’d stuffed Dani’s forged documents came a set of new ones, the paper gleaming blue-white even in the dark closet. She caught a glimpse of her name, printed neatly below Medio’s official seal.

“Forget it,” she said, crossing her arms. Her palms were sweating against the sleeves of her dress. She could feel her quickening pulse along every inch of her skin. “I’m not taking anything from you.”

La Voz was a name you whispered. Public enemy number one on the right side of the border wall. They were responsible for the riots Dani had heard about since she could remember. The fires. The dead officers. The violence. Being caught talking to a known member was good for a prison sentence, even if all you did was ask for the time.

Most people knew to fear the name and everyone who claimed it, but even the rest knew not to accept favors from them.

“I thought you might say that,” said Sota after a long pause. “But I ask you again: What happens when you leave this closet? Sure, you might get lost in the shuffle tonight, but I happen to know there’s a checkpoint being set up at the entrance to the government complex as we speak.” He stopped here, assessing the storm clouds rolling across Dani’s expression. “If I’m not mistaken, that’s where your future husband resides?”

Dani glared at him, but she said nothing.

“And,” Sota continued, like they were chatting over baskets of fruit in the market and not discussing her inevitable demise, “should you, say, fail to produce your identification documents? That certainly wouldn’t be good, would it? They use a special word for people who try to trick the government, Dani; it starts with a T and it rhymes with . . .”

“I know what it is,” Dani spat. “What’s your point?”

“Only that the choice between trusting me and going it alone isn’t much of a choice at all. One of them involves taking these papers and going along on your merry way. The other involves a very small prison cell and the knowledge that everyone you know and love is in danger of joining you there.”

Trained by her Primera instructors to analyze and see logic in even the most impossible situations, Dani called on every faculty she had been born with, as well as the ones she’d learned on this campus. There had to be another way out. One that didn’t involve dying of exposure in the jungle while fleeing the police or accepting a favor from the least trustworthy group of cutthroats in Medio.

The seconds ticked away.

There was no other option.

“What’s in it for you?” she asked.

“Why, Daniela, I’m offended.”

“Come on,” she said, impatient. “I know who La Voz is. You’re a criminal, and you’re not here to be my savior, so what do you want in exchange for those?”

Sota held out the papers, and much to Dani’s disgust, she took them. “Unlike your friends out there, who are so eager to join the ranks of good little upper-class dolls,” he said, gesturing to the closed closet door, “we’re in the business of helping people. Freeing them. Ask yourself who’s imprisoning those same people. Torturing them. Sending their children over the wall to starve. It’s so easy to join up, so easy to forget the harm being done every day. Even when you’ve seen it firsthand.”

Dani felt the beginnings of a flush creeping up her chest, and she was glad for the high neck of her Primera dress. It wasn’t her fault people were starving and dying. She didn’t have to feel guilty just because she’d gotten out. She was about to say as much when Sota continued.

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