“What’s your name?”
I study him, study his fingers hovering over the notepad screen. I grab his hand. He tenses a moment and pulls back, but I look at him insistently and he relaxes.
Aren’t you going to give me a number?
He smiles sadly. “No, I want to call you by your name.”
I watch him carefully, searching his eyes. They’re black, almost as black as my hair—or what used to be my hair. I self-consciously run my palm over the stubble on my head. I can’t read anything in his eyes. Jack’s eyes are hazel, but deep in their colors and emotion. Dr. Benedict’s are reflective, bouncing my face back at me. I don’t want to trust him, but he’s the first kind person I’ve come across here. Should that make me trust him even less?
“I like that.”
I drop his hand.
“Now I just need to see your arm and get your tracker number.”
I go rigid, all of me freezing to the exam table. He must see the panic in my eyes because his lips turn down and several creases appear between his brows. He tugs on his ear absently.
“This is standard procedure, Terra. We just need to record who comes through here, give trackers to those who have chosen to, um, remove them. Or make sure there aren’t any phony trackers.”
My fingers curl around the edge of the table, and I can’t release them. I can’t even blink.
“It’ll just take a moment.”
He doesn’t understand my paralysis. How could he? Those who have cut out their trackers are pretty common, especially among the nomads. But those who never had one?
Dr. Benedict steps forward slowly, as one might approach a frightened animal. He lifts a hand, his palm up. He looks submissive even. I watch as his fingers inch toward mine. They brush the skin, and his hand is warm. He gently pries my fingers from the table, and then gradually runs his fingertips up to my wrist and turns my arm over. His eyebrows raise.
“You’ve never had a tracker?”
I feel the color drain from my face, and I shake my head.
“Were you born in a city, Terra?”
I shake my head again and pull the towel closer around me, wanting to hide from him and the other questions that will surely follow, but he surprises me.
“I think that’s everything we need for this exam.” He writes down a few more notes. “But you’re not quite done here. You’ll need to go through that door.” He nods to the right. “They’ll inject a tracker.”
I’m to be branded. I’ll never escape them now.