The 100 (The Hundred #1)(11) by Kass Morgan

“Yes. A sterile operating room, IVs, a full-body scanner, real doctors…”

“You’re doing an incredible job.”

“I’d be doing even better if I’d spent the past six months training at the hospital instead of in Confinement.” This time, Wells had braced for the barb, and his face remained impassive.

The sky was growing brighter, filling the clearing with an almost golden light that made everything look like it’d been polished overnight. The grass seemed greener, glistening with tiny drops of water. Purple blossoms began unfurling from what had seemed like an unremarkable shrub. The long, tapered petals stretched toward the sun, twisting in the air as if dancing to music only they could hear.

Wells seemed to read her mind. “If you hadn’t been Confined, you’d never have come here,” he said quietly.

She whipped her head back to face him. “You think I should be grateful for what you did? I’ve seen kids die, kids who never wanted to come here but had to because some little shit like you turned them in just to feel important.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Wells sighed and met her gaze straight on. “I’m so sorry, Clarke. I can’t tell you how sorry. But I didn’t do it to feel important.” He started to step forward, but then seemed to think better of it and shifted his weight back. “You were suffering, and I wanted to help. I couldn’t bear it, seeing you like that. I just wanted to help make the pain go away.”

T [t sto he tenderness in his voice made Clarke’s stomach twist. “They killed my parents,” she said quietly, imagining the scene as she had so many times before. Her mother bracing for the prick of a needle, her body systematically shutting down until those final dreadful moments when only her brain was left. Had they been offered the customary last meal? Clarke’s heart twinged as she imagined her father’s lifeless body in a release capsule, his fingers stained red from the berries he’d eaten alone. “That kind of pain never goes away.”

For a moment, they just stared at each other, the silence taking on a physical weight. But then Wells broke eye contact and turned his head up toward the trees above them. There were faintly musical sounds coming from the leaves.

“Do you hear that?” Wells whispered without looking at her.

The song was both haunting and joyful, the first few notes an elegy for the fading stars. Yet just when Clarke was sure her heart would break with the bittersweet loveliness, the melody soared, trumpeting the arrival of the dawn.

Birds. Real birds. She couldn’t see them, but she knew they were there. She wondered if the first colonists had heard birds singing as they’d boarded the final ship. Would the music have been a song of farewell? Or had the creatures already joined their voices together in a requiem for the dying Earth?

“It’s incredible,” Wells said, turning to look at her with a smile she recognized from long ago. Clarke shivered. It was like seeing a ghost—a specter of the boy to whom she’d been foolish enough to give her heart.

Clarke couldn’t suppress a smile as she watched Wells shift from side to side outside her front door. He always got nervous about kissing her in public, but it had gotten worse since he’d started officer training. The idea of making out with his girlfriend while in uniform seemed to make him uncomfortable, which was unfortunate because the sight of him in his uniform made her want to kiss him even more than usual.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.” Clarke turned to press her thumb to the scanner.

“Wait,” Wells said, glancing over his shoulder before grabbing hold of her arm.

Clarke sighed. “Wells,” she started as she tried to wiggle out of his grasp. “I need to go.”

He grinned as he tightened his grip. “Are your parents home?”

“Yes.” She inclined her head toward the door. “I’m late for dinner.”

Wells stared at her expectantly. He much preferred eating with her family to sitting across from his father in silence, but she couldn’t invite him to join them. Not tonight.

Wells cocked his head to the side. “I won’t make a face this time, no matter what your father added to the protein paste. I’ve been practicing.” His face broke into a comically bright smile as he nodded emphatically. “Wow. This is delicious!”

Clarke pressed her lips together for a moment before responding. “I just need to have a private conversation with them.”

Wells’s face grew serious. “What's going on ?” He released her arm and brought his hand to her cheek.“Is everything okay?”

“It’s fine.” She stepped to the side and tilted her head so her eyes wouldn’t betray her by sending distress signals from behind the lies. She needed to confront her parents about their experiments, and she couldn’t put it off any longer.

“Okay, then,” he said slowly. “See you tomorrow?”

Instead of kissing her on the cheek, Wells surprised Clarke by wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her close. His lips pressed against hers, and for a moment, she forgot about everything except the warmth of his body. But by the time she’d closed the door, the tingle of Wells’s touch on her skin had been replaced by a prickle of dread.

Her parents were sitting on the couch. Their heads turned to her. “Clarke.” Her mother rose to her feet, smiling. “Was that Wells with you outside? Does he want to join us for din—”

“No,” Clarke said, more sharply than she’d meant to. “Can you sit down? I need to talk to you.” She crossed the room and settled on a chair facing her parents, trembling as two violent forces waged war for control of her body: burning fury and desperate hope. She needed her parents to admit what they’d done to justify her anger, but she also prayed they’d have a good excuse. “I figured out the password,” she said simply. “I’ve been in the lab.”

Her mother’s eyes widened as she sank back onto the couch. Then she took a deep breath, and for a moment, Clarke hoped she’d try to explain, that she had the words to make it all better. But then she whispered the phrase Clarke had been dreading. “I’m sorry.”

Her father took his wife’s hand, his eyes on Clarke. “I’m sorry you had to see that,” he said quietly. “I know it’s… shocking. But they don’t feel any pain. We make sure of that.”

“How could you?” The question felt flimsy, incapable of supporting the weight of her accusation, but she couldn’t think of anything else to ask. “You’re experimenting on people. On children.” Saying it aloud made her stomach churn. Bile crept up her throat.

Her mother closed her eyes. “We didn’t have a choice,” she said softly. “We’ve spent years trying to test radiation levels in other ways—you know that. When we reported back to the Vice Chancellor there was no way to gather conclusive evidence without human studies, we thought he understood it was a dead end. But then he insisted that we…” Her voice cracked. Clarke didn’t need her to finish the sentence. “We had no choice,” she repeated desperately.

“We always have a choice,” Clarke said, trembling. “You could have said no. I would have let them kill me before I agreed to that.”

“But he didn’t threaten to kill us.” Her father’s voice was infuriatingly quiet.

“Then what the hell are you doing this for?” Clarke asked shrilly.

“He said he would kill you.usiv [ou

The birdsong trailed off, leaving a charged silence in its wake, as if the music had seeped into the stillness, imbuing the air with melody. “Wow,” Wells said softly. “That was amazing.” He was still facing the trees, but he’d extended his arm toward her, as if reaching through time to hold the hand of the girl who used to love him.

The spell was broken. Clarke stiffened and, without a word, headed back toward the infirmary.

It was dark inside the tent. Clarke almost tripped as she stepped in, making a mental note to change the bandages on one boy’s leg, fix the sloppy stitches she’d given the girl with the gash on her thigh. She’d finally found a container with real bandages and surgical thread, but there wasn’t going to be much more she could do if they didn’t find the actual medicine chest. It hadn’t turned up in the wreckage, most likely thrown from the dropship during the crash and destroyed.

Thalia was lying on one of the cots. She was still asleep, and the newest bandage seemed to be holding up. Clarke had already changed the wrappings three times since she’d found Thalia after the crash, blood pouring out of an ugly gash in her side.

The memory of stitching up the wound made Clarke’s stomach churn, and she hoped that her friend remembered even less. Thalia had passed out from the pain and had been fading in and out of consciousness ever since. Clarke knelt down and brushed a strand of damp hair back from her friend’s brow.

“Hi,” she whispered as Thalia’s eyes fluttered open. “How are you feeling?”

The injured girl forced a smile that seemed to drain the energy from the rest of her body. “I’m just great,” Thalia said, but then winced, the pain flashing in her eyes.

“You used to be a much better liar.”

“I never lied.” Her voice was hoarse but still full of mock indignation. “I just told the guard that I had a neck problem and needed an extra pillow.”

“And then convinced him that black-market whiskey would keep you from singing in your ‘sleep,’ ” Clarke added with a smile.

“Yeah.… It’s too bad Lise wasn’t willing to play along.”

“Or that you can’t carry a tune to save your life.”

“That’s what made it so great!” Thalia protested. “The night guard would’ve done anything to shut me up at that point.”

Clarke shook her head with a smile. “And you say that Phoenix girls are lunatics.” She gestured toward the thin blanket draped over Thalia. “May I?”

Thalia nodded, and Clarke pulled it back, trying to keep her face neutral as she unwrapped the bandage. The skin around the wound was red and swollen, and pus was forming in the gaps between the stitches. The wound itself wasn’t the problem, Clarke knew. While it looked bad, it was the kind of injury they wouldn’t bat an eye at in the medical center. The infection was the real threat.

“That bad?” Thalia asked quietly.

“Nah, you look great,” Clarke said, the lie falling smoothly from her lips. Her eyes slid involuntarily toward the empty cot where a boy who died the day before had spent his final hours.

“That wasn’t your fault,” Thalia said quietly.

“I know.” Clarke sighed. “I just wished he hadn’t been alone.”

“He wasn’t. Wells was here.”

“What?” Clarke asked, confused.

“He came to check on him a few times. I think the first time he came into the tent, he was looking for you, but once he saw how badly that boy was hurt…”

“Really?” Clarke asked, not quite sure whether to trust the observations of a girl who’d spent most of the past day unconscious.

“It was definitely him,” another voice called. Clarke looked over and saw Octavia sitting up, a playful smile on her face. “It’s not every day Wells Jaha comes and sits by your bed.”

Clarke looked at her in disbelief. “How do you even know Wells?”

“He visited the care center with his father a few years ago. The girls were talking about it for weeks. He’s kind of a supernova.”

Clarke smiled at the Walden slang as Octavia continued. “I asked him if he remembered me. He said he did, but he’s too much of a gentleman to say no.” Octavia gave an exaggerated sigh and placed the back of her hand against her forehead. “Alas. My one chance at love.”