Glavna Shatter Me 5 - Defy Me
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I think ignite me and defy me are the most epic books in the series. Ignite me being the book where most of the romance meets its peak and defy me being the book where all the history between the characters is finally revealed. This book kept me up at night to finish it.
03 August 2020 (01:24)
The ending made me cry ?
04 June 2021 (06:39)
@BarbaraD literally same. Defy Me is really where Aaron and Juliette/Ella's Romance peaked after learning their history and it left me shattered after finishing it<3
18 June 2021 (09:32)
i love this series i highly recomend
12 July 2021 (16:40)
I’m about to start it it’s 9:55 rn.
29 July 2021 (04:56)
I finished it and OMFG
30 July 2021 (06:58)
STOPPPP I ACTUALLY CANT
06 August 2021 (18:17)
I LOVE THIS SO MUCH IM BAWLING RN WHAT IM IN LOVE
06 August 2021 (18:17)
I love these books. The twist in book two and 3 made me gasp. I want more.
19 August 2021 (08:53)
Contents Cover Title Page Kenji Warner Kenji Juliette Kenji Warner Kenji Juliette Kenji Warner Kenji Juliette Kenji Warner Kenji Ella Kenji Warner Ella Warner Ella Warner Ella Warner Ella Warner Ella Warner Ella Warner Ella Warner Ella About the Author Books by Tahereh Mafi Back Ad Copyright About the Publisher Kenji She’s screaming. She’s just screaming words, I think. They’re just words. But she’s screaming, screaming at the top of her lungs, with an agony that seems almost an exaggeration, and it’s causing devastation I never knew possible. It’s like she just—imploded. It doesn’t seem real. I mean, I knew Juliette was strong—and I knew we hadn’t discovered the depth of her powers—but I never imagined she’d be capable of this. Of this: The ceiling is splitting open. Seismic currents are thundering up the walls, across the floors, chattering my teeth. The ground is rumbling under my feet. People are frozen in place even as they shake, the room vibrating around them. The chandeliers swing too fast and the lights flicker ominously. And then, with one last vibration, three of the massive chandeliers rip free from the ceiling and shatter as they hit the floor. Crystal flies everywhere. The room loses half its light, bathing the cavernous space in a freakish glow, and it’s suddenly hard to see what’s happening. I look at Juliette and see her staring, slack-jawed, frozen at the sight of the devastation, and I realize she must’ve stopped screaming a minute ago. She can’t stop this. She already put the energy into the world and now— It has to go somewhere. The shudders ripple with renewed fervor across the floorboards, ripping through walls and seats and people. I don’t actually believe it until I see the blood. It seems fake, for a second, all the limp bodies in seats with their chests butterflied open. It seems staged—like a bad joke, like a bad theater production. But when I see the blood, thick and heavy, seeping through clothes and upholstery, drippin; g down frozen hands, I know we’ll never recover from this. Juliette just murdered six hundred people at once. There’s no recovering from this. I shove my way through the quiet, stunned, still-breathing bodies of my friends. I hear Winston’s soft, insistent whimpers and Brendan’s steady, reassuring response that the wound isn’t as bad as it looks, that he’s going to be okay, that he’s been through worse than this and survived it— And I know my priority right now needs to be Juliette. When I reach her I pull her into my arms, and her cold, unresponsive body reminds me of the time I found her standing over Anderson, a gun aimed at his chest. She was so terrified—so surprised—by what she’d done that she could hardly speak. She looked like she’d disappeared into herself somewhere—like she’d found a small room in her brain and had locked herself inside. It took a minute to coax her back out again. She hadn’t even killed anyone that time. I try to warm some sense into her, begging her now to return to herself, to hurry back to her mind, to the present moment. “I know everything is crazy right now, but I need you to snap out of this, J. Wake up. Get out of your head. We have to get out of here.” She doesn’t blink. “Princess, please,” I say, shaking her a little. “We have to go—now—” And when she still doesn’t move, I figure I have no choice but to move her myself. I start hauling her backward. Her limp body is heavier than I expect, and she makes a small, wheezing sound that’s almost like a sob. Fear sparks in my nerves. I nod at Castle and the others to go, to move on without me, but when I glance around, looking for Warner, I realize I can’t find him anywhere. What happens next knocks the wind from my lungs. The room tilts. My vision blackens, clears, and then darkens only at the edges in a dizzying moment that lasts hardly a second. I feel off-center. I stumble. And then, all at once— Juliette is gone. Not figuratively. She’s literally gone. Disappeared. One second she’s in my arms, and the next, I’m grasping at air. I blink and spin around, convinced I’m losing my mind, but when I scan the room I see the audience members begin to stir. Their shirts are torn and their faces are scratched, but no one appears to be dead. Instead, they begin to stand, confused, and as soon as they start shuffling around, someone shoves me, hard. I look to up to see Ian swearing at me, telling me to get moving while we still have a chance, and I try to push back, try to tell him that we lost Juliette—that I haven’t seen Warner—and he doesn’t hear me, he just forces me forward, offstage, and when the murmur of the crowd grows into a roar, I know I have no choice. I have to go. Warner “I’m going to kill him,” she says, her small hands forming fists. “I’m going to kill him—” “Ella, don’t be silly,” I say, and walk away. “One day,” she says, chasing after me, her eyes bright with tears. “If he doesn’t stop hurting you, I swear I’ll do it. You’ll see.” I laugh. “It’s not funny!” she cries. I turn to face her. “No one can kill my dad. He’s unkillable.” “No one is unkillable,” she says. I ignore her. “Why doesn’t your mum do anything?” she says, and she grabs my arm. When I meet her eyes she looks different. Scared. “Why doesn’t anyone stop him?” The wounds on my back are no longer fresh, but, somehow, they still hurt. Ella is the only person who knows about these scars, knows what my dad started doing to me on my birthday two years ago. Last year, when all the families came to visit us in California, Ella had barged into my room, wanting to know where Emmaline and Nazeera had gone off to, and she’d caught me staring at my back in the mirror. I begged her not to say anything, not to tell anyone what she saw, and she started crying and said that we had to tell someone, that she was going to tell her mom and I said, “If you tell your mom I’ll only get into more trouble. Please don’t say anything, okay? He won’t do it again.” But he did do it again. And this time he was angrier. He told me I was seven years old now, and that I was too old to cry. “We have to do something,” she says, and her voice shakes a little. Another tear steals down the side of her face and, quickly, she wipes it away. “We have to tell someone.” “Stop,” I say. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.” “But—” “Ella. Please.” “No, we have t—” “Ella,” I say, cutting her off. “I think there’s something wrong with my mom.” Her face falls. Her anger fades. “What?” I’d been terrified, for weeks, to say the words out loud, to make my fears real. Even now, I feel my heart pick up. “What do you mean?” she says. “What’s wrong with her?” “She’s . . . sick.” Ella blinks at me. Confused. “If she’s sick we can fix her. My mum and dad can fix her. They’re so smart; they can fix anything. I’m sure they can fix your mum, too.” I’m shaking my head, my heart racing now, pounding in my ears. “No, Ella, you don’t understand— I think—” “What?” She takes my hand. Squeezes. “What is it?” “I think my dad is killing her.” Kenji We’re all running. Base isn’t far from here, and our best option is to go on foot. But the minute we hit the open air, the group of us—myself, Castle, Winston, injured Brendan, Ian, and Alia—go invisible. Someone shouts a breathless thanks in my direction, but I’m not the one doing this. My fists clench. Nazeera. These last couple of days with her have been making my head spin. I never should’ve trusted her. First she hates me, then she hates me even more, and then, suddenly, she decides I’m not an asshole and wants to be my friend? I can’t believe I fell for it. I can’t believe I’m such an idiot. She’s been playing me this whole time. This girl just shows up out of nowhere, magically mimics my exact supernatural ability, and then—right when she pretends to be best friends with Juliette—we’re ambushed at the symposium and Juliette sort of murders six hundred people? No way. I call bullshit. No way this was all some big coincidence. Juliette attended that symposium because Nazeera encouraged her to go. Nazeera convinced Juliette it was the right thing to do. And then five seconds before Brendan gets shot, Nazeera tells me to run? Tells me we have the same powers? Bullshit. I can’t believe I let myself be distracted by a pretty face. I should’ve trusted Warner when he told me she was hiding something. Warner. God. I don’t even know what happened to him. The minute we get back to base our invisibility is lifted. I can’t know for sure if that means Nazeera went her own way, but we can’t slow down long enough to find out. Quickly, I project a new layer of invisibility over our team; I’ll have to keep it up just long enough to get us all to a safe space, and just being back on base isn’t assurance enough. The soldiers are going to ask questions, and right now I don’t have the answers they need. They’re going to be pissed. We make our way, as a group, to the fifteenth floor, to our home on base in Sector 45. Warner only just finished having this thing built for us. He cleared out this entire top floor for our new headquarters—we’d hardly even settled in—and things have already gone to shit. I can’t even allow myself to think about it now, not yet. It makes me feel sick to my stomach. Once we’re gathered in our largest common room, I do a head count. All original, remaining Omega Point members are present. Adam and James show up to find out what happened, and Sonya and Sara stick around just long enough to gather intel before carting Brendan over to the medical wing. Winston disappears down the hall behind them. Juliette and Warner never show. Quickly, we share our own versions of what we saw. It doesn’t take long to confirm we all witnessed basically the same thing: blood, mayhem, murdered bodies, and then—a slightly less-bloody version of the same thing. No one seems as surprised by the twisted turn of events as I was, because, according to Ian, “Weird supernatural shit happens around here all the time, it’s not that weird,” but, more important: No one saw what happened to Warner and Juliette. No one but me. For a few seconds, we all stare at each other. My heart pounds hard and heavy in my chest. I feel like I might be on fire, burning with indignation. Denial. Alia is the first to speak. “You don’t think they’re dead, do you?” Ian says, “Probably.” And I jump to my feet. “STOP. They’re not dead.” “How can you be sure?” Adam says. “I would know if they were dead.” “What? How w—” “I would just know, okay?” I cut him off. “I would know. And they’re not dead.” I take a deep, steadying breath. “We’re not going to freak out,” I say as calmly as possible. “There has to be a logical explanation. People don’t just disappear, right?” Everyone stares at me. “You know what I mean,” I snap, irritated. “We all know that Juliette and Warner wouldn’t, like, run away together. They weren’t even on speaking terms before the symposium. So it makes the most sense that they would be kidnapped.” I pause. Look around again. “Right?” “Or dead,” Ian says. “If you keep talking like that, Sanchez, I can guarantee that at least one person will be dead tonight.” Ian sighs, hard. “Listen, I’m not trying to be an asshole. I know you were close with them. But let’s be real: they weren’t close with the rest of us. And maybe that makes me less invested in all this, but it also makes me more level-headed.” He waits, gives me a chance to respond. I don’t. Ian sighs again. “I’m just saying that maybe you’re letting emotion cloud your better judgment right now. I know you don’t want them to be dead, but the possibility that they are dead is, like, really high. Warner was a traitor to The Reestablishment. I’m surprised they didn’t try to kill him sooner. And Juliette—I mean, that’s obvious, right? She murdered Anderson and declared herself ruler of North America.” He raises his eyebrows in a knowing gesture. “Those two have had targets on their backs for months.” My jaw clenches. Unclenches. Clenches again. “So,” Ian says quietly. “We have to be smart about this. If they’re dead, we need to be thinking about our next moves. Where do we go?” “Wait—what do you mean?” Adam says, sitting forward. “What next moves? You think we have to leave?” “Without Warner and Juliette, I don’t think we’re safe here.” Lily takes Ian’s hand in a show of emotional support that makes me feel violent. “The soldiers paid their allegiance to the two of them—to Juliette in particular. Without her, I’m not sure they’d follow the rest of us anywhere.” “And if The Reestablishment had Juliette murdered,” Ian adds, “they’re obviously just getting started. They’ll be coming to reclaim Sector 45 any second now. Our best chance of survival is to first consider what’s best for our team. Since we’re the obvious next targets, I think we should bail. Soon.” A pause. “Maybe even tonight.” “Bro, are you insane?” I drop down into my chair too hard, feeling like I might scream. “We can’t just bail. We need to look for them. We need to be planning a rescue mission right now!” Everyone just stares at me. Like I’m the one who’s lost his mind. “Castle, sir?” I say, trying and failing to keep the sharp edge out of my voice. “Do you want to chime in here?” But Castle has sunk down in his chair. He’s staring up, at the ceiling, at nothing. He looks dazed. I don’t have the chance to dwell on it. “Kenji,” Alia says quietly. “I’m sorry, but Ian’s right. I don’t think we’re safe here anymore.” “We’re not leaving,” Adam and I say at exactly the same time. I spin around, surprised. Hope shoots through me fast and strong. Maybe Adam feels more for Juliette than he lets on. Maybe Adam will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll finally stop hiding, stop cowering in the background. Maybe, I think, Adam is back. “Thank you,” I say, and point at him in a gesture that says to everyone: See? This is loyalty. “James and I aren’t running anymore,” Adam says, his eyes going cold as he speaks. “I understand if the rest of you have to leave, but James and I will stay here. I was a Sector 45 soldier. I lived on this base. Maybe they’ll give me immunity.” I frown. “But—” “James and I aren’t leaving anymore,” Adam says. Loudly. Definitively. “You can make your plans without us. We have to take off for the night, anyway.” Adam stands, turns to his brother. “It’s time to get ready for bed.” James stares at the floor. “James,” Adam says, a gentle warning in his voice. “I want to stay and listen,” James says, crossing his arms. “You can go to bed without me.” “James—” “But I have a theory,” the ten-year-old says. He says the word theory like it’s brand-new to him, like it’s an interesting sound in his mouth. “And I want to share it with Kenji.” Adam looks so tense that the strain in his shoulders is stressing me out. I think I haven’t been paying close enough attention to him, because I didn’t realize until right now that Adam looks worse than tired. He looks ragged. Like he could collapse, crack in half, at any moment. James catches my eye from across the room, his own eyes round and eager. I sigh. “What’s your theory, little man?” James’s face lights up. “I was just thinking: maybe all the fake-killing thing was, like, a distraction.” I raise an eyebrow. “Like, if someone wanted to kidnap Warner and Juliette,” James says. “You know? Like you said earlier. Causing a scene like that would be the perfect distraction, right?” “Well. Yeah,” I say, and frown. “I guess. But why would The Reestablishment need a distraction? When have they ever been secretive about what they want? If a supreme commander wanted to take Juliette or Warner, for example, wouldn’t they just show up with a shit ton of soldiers and take what they wanted?” “Language,” Adam says, outraged. “My bad. Strike the word shit from the record.” Adam shakes his head. He looks like he might throttle me. But James is smiling, which is really all that matters. “No. I don’t think they’d rush in like that, not with so many soldiers,” James says, his blue eyes bright. “Not if they had something to hide.” “You think they’d have something to hide?” Lily pipes up. “From us?” “I don’t know,” James says. “Sometimes people hide things.” He steals a split-second glance at Adam as he says it, a glance that sets my pulse racing with fear, and I’m about to respond when Lily beats me to it. “I mean, it’s possible,” she says. “But The Reestablishment doesn’t have a long history of caring about pretenses. They stopped pretending to care about the opinion of the public a long time ago. They mow people down in the street just because they feel like it. I don’t think they’re worried about hiding things from us.” Castle laughs, out loud, and we all spin around to stare at him. I’m relieved to finally see him react, but he still seems lost in his head somewhere. He looks angry. I’ve never really seen Castle get angry. “They hide a great deal from us,” he says sharply. “And from each other.” After a long, deep breath, he finally gets to his feet. Smiles, warily, at the ten-year-old in the room. “James, you are wise indeed.” “Thank you,” James says, blinking up at him. “Castle, sir?” I say, my voice coming out harder than I’d intended. “Will you please tell us what the hell is going on? Do you know something?” Castle sighs. Rubs the stubble on his chin with the flat of his palm. “All right, Nazeera,” he says, turning toward nothing, like he’s speaking to a ghost. “Go ahead.” When Nazeera appears, as if out of thin air, I’m not the only one who’s pissed. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who’s pissed. But everyone else looks surprised, at least. They’re staring at her, at each other, and then all of them—all of them—turn to look at me. “Bro, did you know about this?” Ian asks. I scowl. Invisibility is my thing. My thing, goddammit. No one ever said I had to share that with anyone. Especially not with someone like Nazeera, a lying, manipulative— Gorgeous. Gorgeous human being. Shit. I turn, stare at the wall. I can’t be distracted by her anymore. She knows I’m into her—my infatuation is apparently obvious to everyone within a ten-mile radius, according to Castle—and she’s clearly been using my idiocy to her best advantage. Smart. I respect the tactic. But that also means I have to keep my guard up when she’s around. No more staring. No more daydreaming about her. No more thinking about how she looked at me when she smiled. Or the way she laughed, like she meant it, the same night she yelled at me for asking reasonable questions. Which, by the way— I don’t think I was crazy for wondering out loud how the daughter of a supreme commander could get away with wearing an illegal headscarf. She told me later that she wears the scarf symbolically, every once in a while, that she can’t get away with wearing it all the time because it’s illegal. But when I pointed this out to her, she gave me hell. And then she gave me shit for being confused. I’m still confused. She’s not covering her hair now, either, but no one else seems to have registered this fact. Maybe they’d already seen her like this. Maybe everyone but me already had that conversation with her, already heard her story about wearing it symbolically, occasionally. Illegally, when her dad wasn’t watching. “Kenji,” she says, and her voice is so sharp I look up, stare at her despite my own very explicit orders to keep my eyes on the wall. All it takes is two seconds of eye contact and my heart hits itself. That mouth. Those eyes. “Yeah?” I cross my arms. She looks surprised, like she wasn’t expecting me to be upset, and I don’t care. She should know that I’m pissed. I want to her to know that invisibility is my thing. That I know I’m petty and I don’t care. Plus, I don’t trust her. Also, what is up with these kids of the supreme commanders all being super-good-looking? It’s almost like they did it on purpose, like they made these kids in test tubes or someshit. I shake my head to clear it. Carefully, Nazeera says, “I really think you should sit down for this.” “I’m good.” She frowns. For a second she looks almost hurt, but before I have a chance to feel bad about it, she shrugs. Turns away. And what she says next nearly splits me in half. Juliette I’m sitting on an orange chair in the hallway of a dimly lit building. The chair is made of cheap plastic, its edges coarse and unfinished. The floor is a shiny linoleum that occasionally sticks to the soles of my shoes. I know I’ve been breathing too loudly but I can’t help it. I sit on my hands and swing my legs under my seat. Just then, a boy comes into view. His movements are so quiet I only notice him when he stops directly in front of me. He leans against the wall opposite me, his eyes focused on a point in the distance. I study him for a moment. He seems about my age, but he’s wearing a suit. There’s something strange about him; he’s so pale and stiff he seems close to dead. “Hi,” I say, and try to smile. “Do you want to sit down?” He doesn’t return my smile. He won’t even look at me. “I’d prefer to stand,” he says quietly. “Okay.” We’re both silent awhile. Finally, he says, “You’re nervous.” I nod. My eyes must be a little red from crying, but I’d been hoping no one would notice. “Are you here to get a new family, too?” “No.” “Oh.” I look away. Stop swinging my feet. I feel my bottom lip tremble and I bite it, hard. “Then why are you here?” He shrugs. I see him glance, briefly, at the three empty chairs next to me, but he makes no effort to sit down. “My father made me come.” “He made you come here?” “Yes.” “Why?” He stares at his shoes and frowns. “I don’t know.” “Shouldn’t you be in school?” And then, instead of answering me, he says, “Where are you from?” “What do you mean?” He looks up then, meets my eyes for the first time. He has such unusual eyes. They’re a light, clear green. “You have an accent,” he says. “Oh,” I say. “Yeah.” I look at the floor. “I was born in New Zealand. That’s where I lived until my mum and dad died.” “I’m sorry to hear that.” I nod. Swing my legs again. I’m about to ask him another question when the door down the hall finally opens. A tall man in a navy suit walks out. He’s carrying a briefcase. It’s Mr. Anderson, my social worker. He beams at me. “You’re all set. Your new family is dying to meet you. We have a couple more things to do before you can go, but it won’t take too lon—” I can’t hold it in anymore. I start sobbing right there, all over the new dress he bought me. Sobs rack my body, tears hitting the orange chair, the sticky floor. Mr. Anderson sets down his briefcase and laughs. “Sweetheart, there’s nothing to cry about. This is a great day! You should be happy!” But I can’t speak. I feel stuck, stuck to the seat. Like my lungs have been stuck together. I manage to calm the sobs but I’m suddenly hiccuping, tears spilling quietly down my cheeks. “I want—I want to go h-home—” “You are going home,” he says, still smiling. “That’s the whole point.” And then— “Dad.” I look up at the sound of his voice. So quiet and serious. It’s the boy with the green eyes. Mr. Anderson, I realize, is his father. “She’s scared,” the boy says. And even though he’s talking to his dad, he’s looking at me. “She’s really scared.” “Scared?” Mr. Anderson looks from me to his son, then back again. “What’s there to be scared of?” I scrub at my face. Try and fail to stop the tears. “What’s her name?” the boy asks. He’s still staring at me, and this time, I stare back. There’s something in his eyes, something that makes me feel safe. “This is Juliette,” Mr. Anderson says, and looks me over. “Tragic”—he sighs—“just like her namesake.” Kenji Nazeera was right. I should’ve sat down. I’m looking at my hands, watching a tremor work its way across my fingers. I nearly lose my grip on the stack of photos I’m clutching. The photos. The photos Nazeera passed around after telling us that Juliette is not who we think she is. I can’t stop staring at the pictures. A little brown girl and a little white girl running in a field, both of them smiling tiny-toothed smiles, long hair flying in the wind, small baskets full of strawberries swinging from their elbows. Nazeera and Emmaline at the strawberry patch, it read on the back. Little Nazeera being hugged, on either side, by two little white girls, all three of them laughing so hard they look like they’re about to fall over. Ella and Emmaline and Nazeera, it read. A close-up of a little girl smiling right into the camera, her eyes huge and blue-green, lengths of soft brown hair framing her face. Ella on Christmas morning, it read. “Ella Sommers,” Nazeera says. She says her real name is Ella Sommers, sister to Emmaline Sommers, daughter of Maximillian and Evie Sommers. “Something is wrong,” Nazeera says. “Something is happening,” she says. She says she woke up six weeks ago remembering Juliette—sorry, Ella— “Remembering her. I was remembering her, which means I’d forgotten her. And when I remembered Ella,” she says, “I remembered Emmaline, too. I remembered how we’d all grown up together, how our parents used to be friends. I remembered but I didn’t understand, not right away. I thought maybe I was confusing dreams with memory. Actually, the memories came back to me so slowly I thought, for a while, that I might’ve been hallucinating.” She says the hallucinations, as she called them, were impossible to shake, so she started digging, started looking for information. “I learned the same thing you did. That two girls named Ella and Emmaline were donated to The Reestablishment, and that only Ella was taken out of their custody, so Ella was given an alias. Relocated. Adopted. But what you didn’t know was that the parents who gave up their daughters were also members of The Reestablishment. They were doctors and scientists. You didn’t know that Ella—the girl you know to be Juliette—is the daughter of Evie Sommers, the current supreme commander of Oceania. She and I grew up together. She, like the rest of us kids, was built to serve The Reestablishment.” Ian swears, loudly, and Adam is so stunned he doesn’t complain. “That can’t be possible,” Adam says. “Juliette— The girl I went to school with? She was”—he shakes his head—“I knew Juliette for years. She wasn’t made like you or Warner. She was this quiet, timid, sweet girl. She was always so nice. She never wanted to hurt anyone. All she ever wanted was to, like, connect with people. She was trying to help that little boy in the grocery store. But then it just—everything ended so badly and she got sucked into this whole mess and I tried,” he says, looking suddenly distraught, “I tried to help her, I tried to keep her safe. I wanted to protect her from this. I wanted t—” He cuts himself off. Pulls himself together. “She wasn’t like this,” he says, and he’s staring at the ground now. “Not until she started spending all that time with Warner. After she met him she just— I don’t know what happened. She lost herself, little by little. Eventually she became someone else.” He looks up. “But she wasn’t made to be this way, not like you. Not like Warner. There’s no way she’s the daughter of a supreme commander—she’s not a born murderer. Besides,” he says, taking a sharp breath, “if she were from Oceania she would have an accent.” Nazeera tilts her head at Adam. “The girl you knew had undergone severe physical and emotional trauma,” she says. “She’d had her native memories forcibly removed. She was shipped across the globe as a specimen and convinced to live with abusive adoptive parents who beat the life out of her.” Nazeera shakes her head slowly. “The Reestablishment—and Anderson, in particular—made sure that Ella could never remember why she was suffering, but just because she couldn’t remember what happened to her didn’t change the fact that it happened. Her body was repeatedly used and abused by a rotating cast of monsters. And that shit leaves its mark.” Nazeera looks Adam straight in the eye. “Maybe you don’t understand,” she says. “I read all the reports. I hacked into all my father’s files. I found everything. What they did to Ella over the course of twelve years is unspeakable. So yes, I’m sure you remember a very different person. But I don’t think she became someone she wasn’t. My guess is she finally gathered the strength to remember who she’d always been. And if you don’t get that, I’m glad things didn’t work out between the two of you.” In an instant, the tension in the room is nearly suffocating. Adam looks like he might be on fire. Like fire might literally come out of his eyeballs. Like it might be his new superpower. I clear my throat. I force myself to say something—anything—to break the silence. “So you guys, uh, you all knew about Adam and Juliette, too, huh? I didn’t realize you knew about that. Huh. Interesting.” Nazeera takes her time turning in her seat to look me in the eye. “Are you kidding?” she says, staring at me like I’m worse than an idiot. I figure it’s best not to press the issue. “Where did you get these photos?” Alia asks, changing the subject more deftly than I did. “How can we trust that they’re real?” At first, Nazeera only looks at her. And she seems resigned when she says, “I don’t know how to convince you that the photos are real. I can only tell you that they are.” The room goes silent. “Why do you even care?” Lily says. “Why are we supposed to believe you care about this? About Juliette—about Ella? What do you have to gain from helping us? Why would you betray your parents?” Nazeera sits back in her seat. “I know you all think the children of the supreme commanders are a bunch of carefree, amoral psychopaths, happy to be the military robots our parents wanted us to be, but nothing is ever that straightforward. Our parents are homicidal maniacs intent on ruling the world; that part is true. But the thing no one seems to understand is that our parents chose to be homicidal maniacs. We, on the other hand, were forced to be. And just because we’ve been trained to be mercenaries doesn’t mean we like it. None of us got to choose this life. None of us enjoyed being taught to torture before we could even drive. And it’s not insane to imagine that sometimes even horrible people are searching for a way out of their own darkness.” Nazeera’s eyes flash with feeling as she speaks, and her words puncture the life vest around my heart. Emotion drowns me again. Shit. “Is it really so crazy to think I might care about the girls I once loved as my own sisters?” she’s saying. “Or about the lies my parents forced me to swallow, or the innocent people I watched them murder? Or maybe even something simpler than that—that I might’ve opened my eyes one day and realized that I was part and parcel of a system that was not only ravaging the world but also slaughtering everyone in it?” Shit. I can feel it, can feel my heart filling out, filling up. My chest feels tight, like it’s swollen, like my lungs don’t fit anymore. I don’t want to care about Nazeera. Don’t want to feel her pain or feel connected to her or feel anything. I just want to keep a level head. Be cool. I force myself to think about a joke James told me the other day, a stupid pun—something to do with muffins—a joke that was so lame I nearly cried. I focus on the memory, the way James laughed at his own lameness, snorting so hard a little food fell out of his mouth. I smile and glance at James, who looks like he might be falling asleep in his seat. Soon, the tightness in my chest begins to abate. Now I’m really smiling, wondering if it’s weird that I love bad jokes even more than good ones, when I hear Ian say— “It’s not that you seem heartless. It’s just that these photos seem so convenient. You had them ready to share.” He stares down at the single photo he’s holding. “These kids could be anyone.” “Look closely,” Nazeera says, standing up to get a better look at the picture in his hands. “Who do you think that is?” I lean over—Ian isn’t far from me—and peer over his shoulder. There’s really no point denying it anymore; the resemblance is insane. Juliette. Ella. She’s just a kid, maybe four or five years old, standing in front of the camera, smiling. She’s holding a bouquet of dandelions up to the cameraman, as if to offer him one. And then, just off to the side, there’s another figure. A little blond boy. So blond his hair is white. He’s staring, intensely, at a single dandelion in his hands. I nearly fall out of my chair. Juliette is one thing, but this— “Is that Warner?” I say. Adam looks up sharply. He glances from me to Nazeera, then stalks over to look at the photo. His eyebrows fly up his head. “No way,” he says. Nazeera shrugs. “No way,” Adam says again. “No way. That’s impossible. There’s no way they knew each other this long. Warner had no idea who Juliette was before she came here.” When Nazeera seems unmoved, Adam says, “I’m serious. I know you think I’m full of shit, but I’m not wrong about this. I was there. Warner literally interviewed me for the job of being her cellmate in the asylum. He didn’t know who she was. He’d never met her. Never seen her face, not up close, anyway. Half the reason he chose me to be her roommate was because she and I had history, because he found that useful. He’d grill me for hours about her.” Nazeera sighs slowly, like she’s surrounded by idiots. “When I found these photos,” she says to Adam, “I couldn’t understand how I came across them so easily. I didn’t understand why anyone would keep evidence like this right under my nose or make it so easy to find. But I know now that my parents never expected me to look. They got lazy. They figured that, even if I found these photos, I’d never know what I was looking at. Two months ago I could’ve seen these pictures and assumed that this girl”—she plucks a photo of herself, what appears to be a young Haider, and a thin brown-haired girl with bright blue eyes, out of a pile—“was a neighbor kid, someone I used to know but can’t be bothered to remember. “But I do remember,” she says. “I remember all of it. I remember the day our parents told us that Ella and Emmaline had drowned. I remember crying myself to sleep every night. I remember the day they took us to a place I thought was a hospital. I remember my mother telling me I’d feel better soon. And then, I remember remembering nothing. Like time, in my brain, just folded in on itself.” She raises her eyebrows. “Do you get what I’m trying to say to you, Kent?” He glares at her. “I get that you think I’m an idiot.” She smiles. “Yes, I get what you’re saying,” he says, obviously irritated. “You’re saying you all had your memories wiped. You’re saying Warner doesn’t even know that they knew each other.” She holds up a finger. “Didn’t know,” she says. “He didn’t know until just before the symposium. I tried to warn him—and Castle,” she says, glancing at Castle, who’s looking at the wall. “I tried to warn them both that something was wrong, that something big was happening and I didn’t really understand what or why. Warner didn’t believe me, of course. I’m not sure Castle did, either. But I didn’t have time to give them proof.” “Wait, what?” I say, my eyebrows furrowing. “You told Warner and Castle? Before the symposium? You told them all of this?” “I tried,” she says. “Why wouldn’t you just tell Juliette?” Lily asks. “You mean Ella.” Lily rolls her eyes. “Sure. Ella. Whatever. Why not warn her directly? Why tell everyone else?” “I didn’t know how she’d take the news,” Nazeera says. “I’d been trying to take her temperature from the moment I got here, and I could never figure out how she felt about me. I didn’t think she really trusted me. And then after everything that happened”—she hesitates—“it never seemed like the right time. She got shot, she was in recovery, and then she and Warner broke up, and she just . . . I don’t know. Spiraled. She wasn’t in a healthy headspace. She’d already had to stomach a bunch of revelations and she didn’t seem to be handling them well. I wasn’t sure she could take much more, to be honest, and I was worried what she might do.” “Murder six hundred people, maybe,” Ian mutters under his breath. “Hey,” I snap. “She didn’t murder anyone, okay? That was some kind of magic trick.” “It was a distraction,” Nazeera says firmly. “James was the only one who saw this for what it was.” She sighs. “I think this whole thing was staged to make Ella appear volatile and unhinged. That scene at the symposium will no doubt undermine her position here, at Sector 45, by instilling fear in the soldiers who pledged their allegiance to her. She’ll be described as unstable. Irrational. Weak. And then—easily captured. I knew The Reestablishment wanted Ella gone, but I thought they’d just burn the whole sector to the ground. I was wrong. This was a far more efficient tactic. They didn’t need to kill off a regiment of perfectly good soldiers and a population of obedient workers,” Nazeera says. “All they needed to do was to discredit Ella as their leader.” “So what happens now?” Lily says. Nazeera hesitates. And then, carefully, she says, “Once they’ve punished the citizens and thoroughly quashed any hope for rebellion, The Reestablishment will turn everyone against you. Put bounties on your heads, or, worse, threaten to murder loved ones if civilians and soldiers don’t turn you in. You were right,” she says to Lily. “The soldiers and citizens paid allegiance to Ella, and with both her and Warner gone, they’ll feel abandoned. They have no reason to trust the rest of you.” A pause. “I’d say you have about twenty-four hours before they come for your heads.” Silence falls over the room. For a moment, I think everyone actually stops breathing. “Fuck,” Ian says, dropping his head in his hands. “Immediate relocation is your best course of action,” Nazeera says briskly, “but I don’t know that I can be much help in that department. Where you go will be up to your discretion.” “Then what are you even doing here?” I say, irritated. I understand her a little better now—I know that she’s been trying to help—but that doesn’t change the fact that I still feel like shit. Or that I still don’t know how to feel about her. “You showed up just to tell us we’re all going to die and that’s it?” I shake my head. “So helpful, thanks.” “Kenji,” Castle says, finally breaking his silence. “There’s no need to attack our guest.” His voice is a calm, steadying sound. I’ve missed it. “She really did try to talk to me—to warn me—while she was here. As for a contingency plan,” he says, speaking to the room, “give me a little time. I have friends. We’re not alone, as you well know, in our resistance. There’s no need to panic, not yet.” “Not yet?” Ian says, incredulous. “Not yet,” Castle says. Then: “Nazeera, what of your brother? Were you able to convince him?” Nazeera takes a steadying breath, losing some of the tension in her shoulders. “Haider knows,” she explains to the rest of us. “He’s been remembering things about Ella, too, but his memories of her aren’t as strong as mine, and he didn’t understand what was happening to him until last night when I decided to tell him what I’d discovered.” “Whoa— Wait,” Ian says. “You trust him?” “I trust him enough,” she says. “Besides, I figured he had a right to know; he knew Ella and Emmaline, too. But he wasn’t entirely convinced. I don’t know what he’ll decide to do, not yet, but he definitely seemed shaken up about it, which I think is a good sign. I asked him to do some digging, to find out if any of the other kids were beginning to remember things, too, and he said he would. Right now, that’s all I’ve got.” “Where are the other kids?” Winston asks, frowning. “Do they know you’re still here?” Nazeera’s expression grows grim. “All the kids were supposed to report back as soon as the symposium was over. Haider should be on his way back to Asia by now. I tried to convince my parents I was staying behind to do more reconnaissance, but I don’t think they bought it. I’m sure I’ll hear from them soon. I’ll handle it as it comes.” “So— Wait—” I glance from her to Castle. “You’re staying with us?” “That wasn’t really my plan.” “Oh,” I say. “Good. That’s good.” She raises an eyebrow at me. “You know what I mean.” “I don’t think I do,” she says, and she looks suddenly irritated. “Anyway, even though it wasn’t my plan to stay, I think I might have to.” My eyes widen. “What? Why?” “Because,” she says, “my parents have been lying to me since I was a kid—stealing my memories and rewriting my history—and I want to know why. Besides”—she takes a deep breath—“I think I know where Ella and Warner are, and I want to help.” Warner “Goddammit.” I hear the barely restrained anger in my father’s voice just before something slams, hard, into something else. He swears again. I hesitate outside his door. And then, impatiently— “What do you want?” His voice is practically a growl. I fight the impulse to be intimidated. I make my face a mask. Neutralize my emotions. And then, carefully, I step into his office. My father is sitting at his desk, but I see only the back of his chair and the unfinished glass of Scotch clutched in his left hand. His papers are in disarray. I notice the paperweight on the floor; the damage to the wall. Something has gone wrong. “You wanted to see me,” I say. “What?” My father turns in his chair to face me. “See you for what?” I say nothing. I’ve learned by now never to remind him when he’s forgotten something. Finally, he sighs. Says, “Right. Yes.” And then: “We’ll have to discuss it later.” “Later?” This time, I struggle to hide my feelings. “You said you’d give me an answer today—” “Something’s come up.” Anger wells in my chest. I forget myself. “Something more important than your dying wife?” My father won’t be baited. Instead, he picks up a stack of papers on his desk and says, “Go away.” I don’t move. “I need to know what’s going to happen,” I say. “I don’t want to go to the capital with you—I want to stay here, with Mom—” “Jesus,” he says, slamming his glass down on the desk. “Do you hear yourself?” He looks at me, disgusted. “This behavior is unhealthy. It’s disturbing. I’ve never known a sixteen-year-old boy to be so obsessed with his mother.” Heat creeps up my neck, and I hate myself for it. Hate him for making me hate myself when I say, quietly, “I’m not obsessed with her.” Anderson shakes his head. “You’re pathetic.” I take the emotional hit and bury it. With some effort, I manage to sound indifferent when I say, “I just want to know what’s going to happen.” Anderson stands up, shoves his hands in his pockets. He looks out the massive window in his office, at the city just beyond. The view is bleak. Freeways have become open-air museums for the skeletons of forgotten vehicles. Mountains of trash form ranges along the terrain. Dead birds litter the streets, carcasses still occasionally falling out of the sky. Untamed fires rage in the distance, heavy winds stoking their flames. A thick layer of smog has permanently settled over the city, and the remaining clouds are gray, heavy with rain. We’ve already begun the process of regulating what passes for livable and unlivable turf, and entire sections of the city have since been shut down. Most of the coastal areas, for example, have been evacuated, the streets and homes flooded, roofs slowly collapsing. By comparison, the inside of my father’s office is a veritable paradise. Everything is still new in here; the wood still smells like wood, every surface shines. The Reestablishment was voted into power just four months ago, and my father is currently the commander and regent of one of our brand-new sectors. Number 45. A sudden gust of wind hits the window, and I feel the shudder reverberate through the room. The lights flicker. He doesn’t flinch. The world may be falling apart, but The Reestablishment has been doing better than ever. Their plans fell into place more swiftly than they’d expected. And even though my father is already being considered for a huge promotion—to supreme commander of North America—no amount of success seems to soothe him. Lately, he’s been more volatile than usual. Finally, he says, “I have no idea what’s going to happen. I don’t even know if they’ll be considering me for the promotion anymore.” I’m unable to mask my surprise. “Why not?” Anderson smiles, unhappily, at the window. “A babysitting job gone awry.” “I don’t understand.” “I don’t expect you to.” “So—we’re not moving anymore? We won’t be going to the capital?” Anderson turns back around. “Don’t sound so excited. I said I don’t know yet. First, I have to figure out how to deal with the problem.” Quietly, I say, “What’s the problem?” Anderson laughs; his eyes crinkle and he looks, for a moment, human. “Suffice it to say that your girlfriend is ruining my goddamn day. As usual.” “My what?” I frown. “Dad, Lena isn’t my girlfriend. I don’t care what she’s telling any—” “Different girlfriend,” Anderson says, and sighs. He won’t meet my eyes now. He snatches a file folder from his desk, flips it open, and scans the contents. I don’t have a chance to ask another question. There’s a sudden, sharp knock at the door. At my dad’s signal, Delalieu steps inside. He seems more than a little surprised to see me, and, for a moment, says nothing. “Well?” My dad seems impatient. “Is she here?” “Y-yes, sir.” Delalieu clears his throat. His eyes flit to me again. “Should I bring her up, or would you prefer to meet elsewhere?” “Bring her up.” Delalieu hesitates. “Are you quite certain, sir?” I look from my dad to Delalieu. Something is wrong. My father meets my eyes when he says, “I said, bring her up.” Delalieu nods, and disappears. My head is a stone, heavy and useless, my eyes cemented to my skull. I maintain consciousness for only seconds at a time. I smell metal, taste metal. An ancient, roaring noise grows loud, then soft, then loud again. Boots, heavy, near my head. Voices, but the sounds are muffled, light-years away. I can’t move. I feel as though I’ve been buried, left to rot. A weak orange light flickers behind my eyes and for just a second—just a second— No. Nothing. Days seem to pass. Centuries. I’m only aware enough to know I’ve been heavily sedated. Constantly sedated. I’m parched, dehydrated to the point of pain. I’d kill for water. Kill for it. When they move me I feel heavy, foreign to myself. I land hard on a cold floor, the pain ricocheting up my body as if from a distance. I know that, too soon, this pain will catch up to me. Too soon, the sedative will wear off and I’ll be alone with my bones and this dust in my mouth. A swift, hard kick to the gut and my eyes fly open, blackness devouring my open, gasping mouth, seeping into the sockets of my eyes. I feel blind and suffocated at once, and when the shock finally subsides, my limbs give out. Limp. The spark dies. Kenji “Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on?” I stop, frozen in place, at the sound of Nazeera’s voice. I was heading back to my room to close my eyes for a minute. To try to do something about the massive headache ringing through my skull. We finally, finally, took a break. A brief recess after hours of exhausting, stressful conversations about next steps and blueprints and something about stealing a plane. It’s too much. Even Nazeera, with all her intel, couldn’t give me any real assurance that Juliette—sorry, Ella—and Warner were still alive, and just the chance that someone out there might be torturing them to death is, like, more than my mind can handle right now. Today has been a shitstorm of shit. A tornado of shit. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know whether to sit down and cry or set something on fire. Castle said he’d brave his way down to the kitchens to see about scrounging up some food for us, and that was the best news I’d heard all day. He also said he’d do his best to placate the soldiers for just a little longer—just long enough for us to figure out exactly what we’re going to do next—but I’m not sure how much he can do. It was bad enough when J got shot. The hours she spent in the medical wing were stressful for the rest of us, too. I really thought the soldiers would revolt right then. They kept stopping me in the halls, yelling about how they thought she was supposed to be invincible, that this wasn’t the plan, that they didn’t decide to risk their lives for a regular teenage girl who couldn’t take a bullet and goddammit she was supposed to be some supernatural phenomenon, something more than human— It took forever to calm them down. But now? I can only imagine how they’ll react when they hear what happened at the symposium. It’ll be mutiny, most likely. I sigh, hard. “So you’re just going to ignore me?” Nazeera is standing inches away from me. I can feel her, hovering. Waiting. I still haven’t said anything. Still haven’t turned around. It’s not that I don’t want to talk— I think I might, sort of, want to talk. Maybe some other day. But right now I’m out of gas. I’m out of James’s jokes. I’m fresh out of fake smiles. Right now I’m nothing but pain and exhaustion and raw emotion, and I don’t have the bandwidth for another serious conversation. I really don’t want to do this right now. I’d nearly made my escape, too. I’m right here, right in front of my door. My hand is on the handle. I could just walk away, I think. I could be that kind of guy, a Warner kind of guy. A jackass kind of guy. Just walk away without a word. Too tired, no thank you, don’t want to talk. Leave me alone. Instead, I slump forward, rest my hands and forehead against the closed bedroom door. “I’m tired, Nazeera.” “I can’t believe you’re upset with me.” My eyes close. My nose bumps against the wood. “I’m not upset with you. I’m half asleep.” “You were mad. You were mad at me for having the same ability as you. Weren’t you?” I groan. “Weren’t you?” she says again, this time angrily. I say nothing. “Unbelievable. That is the most petty, ridiculous, immature—” “Yeah, well.” “Do you know how hard it was for me to tell you that? Do you have any idea—” I hear her sharp, angry huff. “Will you at least look at me when I’m talking to you?” “Can’t.” “What?” She sounds startled. “What do you mean you can’t?” “Can’t look at you.” She hesitates. “Why not?” “Too pretty.” She laughs, but angrily, like she might punch me in the face. “Kenji, I’m trying to be serious with you. This is important to me. This is the first time in my whole life I’ve ever shown other people what I can do. It’s the first time I’ve ever interacted with other people like me. Besides,” she says, “I thought we decided we were going to be friends. Maybe that’s not a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to me, because I don’t make friends easily. And right now you’re making me doubt my own judgment.” I sigh so hard I nearly hurt myself. I push off the door, stare at the wall. “Listen,” I say, swallowing hard. “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I just— There was a minute back there, before you really started talking, when I thought you’d just, like, lied about things. I didn’t understand what was happening. I thought maybe you’d set us up. A bunch of stuff seemed too crazy to be a coincidence. But we’ve been talking for hours now, and I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not mad anymore. I’m sorry. Can I go now?” “Of course,” she says. “I just . . .” She trails off, like she’s confused, and then she touches my arm. No, she doesn’t just touch my arm. She takes my arm. She wraps her hand around my bare forearm and tugs, gently. The contact is hot and immediate. Her skin is soft. My brain feels dim. Dizzy. “Stop,” I say. She drops her hand. “Why won’t you look at me?” she says. “I already told you why I won’t look at you, and you laughed at me.” She’s quiet for so long I wonder if she’s walked away. Finally, she says, “I thought you were joking.” “Well, I wasn’t.” More silence. Then: “Do you always say exactly what you’re thinking?” “Most of the time, yeah.” Gently, I bang my head against the door. I don’t understand why this girl won’t let me wallow in peace. “What are you thinking right now?” she asks. Jesus Christ. I look up, at the ceiling, hoping for a wormhole or a bolt of lightning or maybe even an alien abduction—anything to get me out of here, this moment, this relentless, exhausting conversation. In the absence of miracles, my frustration spikes. “I’m thinking I want to go to sleep,” I say angrily. “I’m thinking I want to be left alone. I’m thinking I’ve already told you this, a thousand times, and you won’t let me go even though I apologized for hurting your feelings. So I guess what I’m really thinking is I don’t understand what you’re doing here. Why do you care so much about what I think?” “What?” she says, startled. “I don’t—” Finally, I turn around. I feel a little unhinged, like my brain is flooded. There’s too much happening. Too much to feel. Grief, fear, exhaustion. Desire. Nazeera takes a step back when she sees my face. She’s perfect. Perfect everything. Long legs and curves. Her face is insane. Faces shouldn’t look like that. Bright, honey-colored eyes and skin like dusk. Her hair is so brown it’s nearly black. Thick, heavy, straight. She reminds me of something, of a feeling I don’t even know how to describe. And there’s something about her that’s made me stupid. Drunk, like I could just stare at her and be happy, float forever in this feeling. And then I realize, with a start, that I’m staring at her mouth again. I never mean to. It just happens. She’s always touching her mouth, tapping that damn diamond piercing under her lip, and I’m just dumb, my eyes following her every move. She’s standing in front of me with her arms crossed, running her thumb absently against the edge of her bottom lip, and I can’t stop staring. She startles, suddenly, when she realizes I’m looking. Drops her hands to her sides and blinks at me. I have no idea what she’s thinking. “I asked you a question,” I say, but this time my voice comes out a little rough, a little too intense. I knew I should’ve kept my eyes on the wall. Still, she only stares at me. “All right. Forget it,” I say. “You keep begging me to talk, but the minute I ask you a question, you say nothing. That’s just great.” I turn away again, reach for the door handle. And then, still facing the door, I say: “You know—I’m aware that I haven’t done a good job being smooth about this, and maybe I’ll never be that kind of guy. But I don’t think you should treat me like this, like I’m some idiot nothing, just because I don’t know how to be a douchebag.” “What? Kenji, I don’t—” “Stop,” I say, jerking away from her. She keeps touching my arm, touching me like she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. It’s driving me crazy. “Don’t do that.” “Don’t do what?” Finally, angrily, I spin around. I’m breathing hard, my chest rising and falling too fast. “Stop messing with me,” I say. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You say you want to be my friend, but you talk to me like I’m an idiot. You touch me, constantly, like I’m a child, like you’re trying to comfort me, like you have no idea that I’m a grown-ass man who might feel something when you put your hands on me like that.” She tries to speak and I cut her off. “I don’t care what you think you know about me—or how stupid you think I am—but right now I’m exhausted, okay? I’m done. So if you want nice Kenji maybe you should check back in the morning, because right now all I’ve got is jack shit in the way of pleasantries.” Nazeera looks frozen. Stunned. She stares at me, her lips slightly parted, and I’m thinking this is it, this is how I die, she’s going to pull out a knife and cut me open, rearrange my organs, put on a puppet show with my intestines. What a way to go. But when she finally speaks, she doesn’t sound angry. She sounds a little out of breath. Nervous. “I don’t think you’re a child,” she says. I have no idea what to say to that. She takes a step forward, presses her hands flat against my torso, and I turn into a statue. Her hands seem to sear into my body, heat pressing between us, even through my shirt. I feel like I might be dreaming. She runs her hands up my chest and that simple motion feels so good I’m suddenly terrified. I feel magnetized to her, frozen in place. Afraid to wake up. “What are you doing?” I whisper. She’s still staring at my chest when she says, again, “I don’t think you’re a child.” “Nazeera.” She lifts her head to meet my eyes, and a flash of feeling, hot and painful, shoots down my spine. “And I don’t think you’re stupid,” she says. Wrong. I’m definitely stupid. So stupid. I can’t even think right now. “Okay,” I say stupidly. I don’t know what to do with my hands. I mean, I know what to do with my hands, I’m just worried that if I touch her she might laugh and then, probably, kill me. She smiles then, smiles so big I feel my heart explode, make a mess inside my chest. “So you’re not going to make a move?” she says, still smiling. “I thought you liked me. I thought that’s what this whole thing was all about.” “Like you?” I blink at her. “I don’t even know you.” “Oh,” she says, and her smile disappears. She begins to pull away and she can’t meet my eyes and then, I don’t know what comes over me— I grab her hand, open my bedroom door, and lock us both inside. She kisses me first. I have an out-of-body moment, like I can’t believe this is actually happening to me. I can’t understand what I did to make this possible, because according to my calculations I messed this up on a hundred different levels and, in fact, I was pretty sure she was pissed at me up until, like, five minutes ago. And then I tell myself to shut up. Her kiss is soft, her hands tentative against my chest, but I wrap my arms around her waist and kiss her, really kiss her, and then somehow we’re against the wall and her hands are around my neck and she parts her lips for me, sighs in my mouth, and that small sound of pleasure drives me crazy, floods my body with heat and desire so intense I can hardly stand. We break apart, breathing hard, and I stare at her like an idiot, my brain still too numb to figure out exactly how I got here. Then again, who cares how I got here. I kiss her again and it nearly kills me. She feels so good, so soft. Perfect. She’s perfect, fits perfectly in my arms, like we were made for this, like we’ve done this a thousand times before, and she smells like shampoo, like something sweet. Perfume, maybe. I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s in my head now. Killing brain cells. When we break apart she looks different, her eyes darker, deeper. She turns away and when she turns back again she’s smiling at me and for a second I think we might both be thinking the same thing. But I’m wrong, of course, so wrong, because I was thinking about how I’m, like, the luckiest guy on the planet and she— She puts her hand on my chest and says, softly: “You’re really not my type.” That knocks the wind out of me. I drop my arms from around her waist and take a sudden, uncertain step backward. She cringes, covers her face with both hands. “I don’t—wow— I don’t mean you’re not my type.” She shakes her head, hard. “I just mean I don’t normally— I don’t usually do this.” “Do what?” I say, still wounded. “This,” she says, and gestures between us. “I don’t— I don’t, like, just go around kissing guys I barely know.” “Okay.” I frown. “Do you want to leave?” “No.” Her eyes widen. “Then what do you want?” “I don’t know,” she says, and her eyes go soft again. “I kind of just want to look at you for a minute. I meant what I said about your face,” she says, and smiles. “You have a great face.” I go suddenly weak in the knees. I literally have to sit down. I walk over to my bed and collapse backward, my head hitting the pillow. It feels too good to be horizontal. If there weren’t a gorgeous woman in my room right now, I’d be asleep already. “Just so you know, this is not a move,” I say, mostly to the ceiling. “I’m not trying to get you to sleep with me. I just literally had to lie down. Thank you for appreciating my face. I’ve always thought I had an underappreciated face.” She laughs, hard, and sits next to me, teetering on the edge of the bed, near my arm. “You’re really not what I was expecting,” she says. I peer at her. “What were you expecting?” “I don’t know.” She shakes her head. Smiles at me. “I guess I wasn’t expecting to like you so much.” My chest goes tight. Too tight. I force myself to sit up, to meet her eyes. “Come here,” I say. “You’re too far away.” She kicks off her boots and shifts closer, folding her legs up underneath her. She doesn’t say a word. Just stares at me. And then, carefully, she touches my face, the line of my jaw. My eyes close, my mind swimming with nonsense. I lean back, rest my head against the wall behind us. I know it doesn’t say much for my self-confidence that I’m so surprised this is happening, but I can’t help it. I never thought I’d get this lucky. “Kenji,” she says softly. I open my eyes. “I can’t be your girlfriend.” I blink. Sit up a little. “Oh,” I say. It hadn’t occurred to me until exactly this moment that I might even want something like that, but now that I’m thinking about it, I know that I do. A girlfriend is exactly what I want. I want a relationship. I want something real. “It would never work, you know?” She tilts her head, looks at me like it’s obvious, like I know as well as she does why things would never work out between us. “We’re not—” She motions between our bodies to indicate something I don’t understand. “We’re so different, right? Plus, I don’t even live here.” “Right,” I say, but my mouth feels suddenly numb. My whole face feels numb. “You don’t even live here.” And then, just as I’m trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my obliterated hopes and dreams, she climbs into my lap. Zero to sixty. My body malfunctions. Overheats. She presses her face into my cheek and kisses me, softly, just underneath my jaw, and I feel myself melt into the wall, into the air. I don’t understand what’s happening anymore. She likes me but she doesn’t want to be with me. She’s not going to be with me but she’s going to sit on my lap and kiss me into oblivion. Sure. Okay. I let her touch me the way she wants to, let her put her hands on my body and kiss me wherever, however she wants. She touches me in a proprietary way, like I already belong to her, and I don’t mind. I kind of love it. And I let her take the lead for as long as I can bear it. She’s pulling up my shirt, running her hands across my bare skin and telling me how much she likes my body, and I really feel like—like I can’t breathe. I feel too hot. Delirious but sharp, aware of this moment in an almost primal way. She helps me pull off my shirt and then she just looks at me, first at my face and then at my chest, and she runs her hands across my shoulders, down my arms. “Wow,” she says softly. “You’re so gorgeous.” That’s it for me. I pick her up off my lap and lay her down, on her back, and she gasps, stares at me like she’s surprised. And then, deep, her eyes go deep and dark, and she’s looking at my mouth but I decide to kiss her neck, the curve of her shoulder. “Nazeera,” I whisper, hardly recognizing the sound of my own voice. “I want you so badly it might kill me.” Suddenly, someone is banging on my door. “Bro, where the hell did you go?” Ian shouts. “Castle brought dinner up like ten minutes ago.” I sit up too fast. I nearly pull a muscle. Nazeera laughs out loud, and even though she claps a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound, she’s not quick enough. “Uh— Hello?” Ian again. “Kenji?” “I’ll be right there,” I shout back. I hear him hesitate—his footsteps uncertain—and then he’s gone. I drop my head into my hands. Suddenly, everything comes rushing back to me. For a few minutes this moment with Nazeera felt like the whole world, a welcome reprieve from all the war and death and struggle. But now, with a little oxygen in my brain, I feel stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking. Juliette might be dead. I get to my feet. I pull my shirt on quickly, careful not to meet her eyes. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to look at Nazeera. I have no regrets about kissing her—it’s just that I also feel suddenly guilty, like I was doing something wrong. Something selfish and inappropriate. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what got into me.” Nazeera is tugging on her boots. She looks up, surprised. “What do you mean?” “What we just”—I sigh, hard—“I don’t know. I forgot, for a moment, everything we have to do. The fact that Juliette might be out there, somewhere, being tortured to death. Warner might be dead. We’ll have to pack up and run, leave this place behind. God, there’s so much happening and I just— My head was in the wrong place. I’m sorry.” Nazeera is standing up now. She looks upset. “Why do you keep apologizing to me? Stop apologizing to me.” “You’re right. I’m sorry.” I wince. “I mean— You know what I mean. Anyway, we should go.” “Kenji—” “Listen, you said you didn’t want a relationship, right? You didn’t want to be my girlfriend? You don’t think that this”—I mimic what she did earlier, motioning between us—“could ever work? Well, then—” I take a breath. Run a hand through my hair. “This is what not being my girlfriend looks like. Okay? There are only a few people in my life who actually care about me, and right now my best friend is probably being murdered by a bunch of psychopaths, and I should be out there, doing something.” “I didn’t realize you and Warner were so close,” she says quietly. “What?” I frown. “No, I’m talking about Juliette,” I say. “Ella. Whatever.” Nazeera’s eyebrows go high. “Anyway, I’m sorry. We should probably just keep this professional, right? You’re not looking for anything serious, and I don’t know how to have casual relationships anyway. I always end up caring too much, to be honest, so this probably wasn’t a good idea.” “Oh.” “Right?” I look at her, hoping, suddenly, that there was something I missed, something more than the cool distance in her eyes. “Didn’t you just tell me that we’re too different? That you don’t even live here?” She turns away. “Yes.” “And have you changed your mind in the last thirty seconds? About being my girlfriend?” She’s still staring at the wall when she says, “No.” Pain shoots up my spine, gathers in my chest. “Okay then,” I say, and nod. “Thanks for your honesty. I have to go.” She cuts past me, walks out the door. “I’m coming, too.” Juliette I’ve been sitting in the back of a police car for over an hour. I haven’t been able to cry, not yet. And I don’t know what I’m waiting for, but I know what I did, and I’m pretty sure I know what happens next. I killed a little boy. I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know why it happened. I just know that it was me, my hands, me. I did that. Me. I wonder if my parents will show up. Instead, three men in military uniforms march up to my window. One of them flings open the door and aims a machine gun at my chest. “Get out,” he barks. “Out with your hands up.” My heart is racing, terror propelling me out of the car so fast I stumble, slamming my knee into the ground. I don’t need to check to know that I’m bleeding; the pain of the fresh wound is already searing. I bite my lip to keep from crying out, force the tears back. No one helps me up. I want to tell them that I’m only fourteen, that I don’t know a lot about a lot of things, but that I know enough. I’ve watched TV shows about this sort of thing. I know they can’t charge me as an adult. I know that they shouldn’t be treating me like this. But then I remember that the world is different now. We have a new government now, one that doesn’t care how we used to do things. Maybe none of that matters anymore. My heart beats faster. I’m shoved into the backseat of a black car, and before I know it, I’m deposited somewhere new: somewhere that looks like an ordinary office building. It’s tall. Steel gray. It seems old and decrepit—some of its windows are cracked—and the whole thing looks sad. But when I walk inside I’m stunned to discover a blinding, gleaming interior. I look around, taking in the marble floors, the rich carpets and furnishings. The ceilings are high, the architecture modern but elegant. It’s all glass and marble and stainless steel. I’ve never been anywhere so beautiful. And I haven’t even had a moment to take it all in before I’m greeted by a thin, older man with even thinner brown hair. The soldiers flanking me step back as he steps forward. “Ms. Ferrars?” he says. “Yes?” “You are to come with me.” I hesitate. “Who are you?” He studies me a moment and then seems to make a decision. “You may call me Delalieu.” “Okay,” I say, the word disappearing into a whisper. I follow Delalieu into a glass elevator and watch him use a key card to authorize the lift. Once we’re in motion, I find the courage to speak. “Where am I?” I ask. “What’s happening?” His answer comes automatically. “You are in Sector 45 headquarters. You’re here to have a meeting with the chief commander and regent of Sector 45.” He doesn’t look at me when he speaks, but there’s nothing in his tone that feels threatening. So I ask another question. “Why?” The elevator doors ping as they open. Delalieu finally turns to look at me. “You’ll find out in just a moment.” I follow Delalieu down a hall and wait, quietly, outside a door while he knocks. He peeks his head inside when the door opens, announces his presence, and then motions for me to follow him in. When I do, I’m surprised. There’s a beautiful man in military uniform—I’m assuming he’s the commander—standing in front of a large, wooden desk, his arms crossed against his chest. He’s staring me straight in the eye, and I’m suddenly so overwhelmed I feel myself blush. I’ve never seen anyone so handsome before. I look down, embarrassed, and study the laces of my tennis shoes. I’m grateful for my long hair. It serves as a dark, heavy curtain, shielding my face from view. “Look at me.” The command is sharp and clear. I look up, nervously, to meet his eyes. He has thick, dark brown hair. Eyes like a storm. He looks at me for so long I feel goose bumps rise along my skin. He won’t look away, and I feel more terrified by the moment. This man’s eyes are full of anger. Darkness. There’s something genuinely frightening about him, and my heart begins to hammer. “You’re growing up quickly,” he says. I stare at him, confused, but he’s still studying my face. “Fourteen years old,” he says quietly. “Such a complicated age for a young girl.” Finally, he sighs. Looks away. “It always breaks my heart to break beautiful things.” “I don’t— I don’t understand,” I say, feeling suddenly ill. He looks up again. “You’re aware of what you did today?” I freeze. Words pile up in my throat, die in my mouth. “Yes or no?” he demands. “Y-yes,” I say quickly. “Yes.” “And do you know why you did it? Do you know how you did it?” I shake my head, my eyes filling fast with tears. “It was an accident,” I whisper. “I didn’t know— I didn’t know that this—” “Does anyone else know about your sickness?” “No.” I stare at him, my eyes wide even as tears blur my vision. “I mean, n-not, not really—just my parents—but no one really understands what’s wrong with me. I don’t even understand—” “You mean you didn’t plan this? It wasn’t your intention to murder the little boy?” “No!” I cry out, and then clap both hands over my mouth. “No,” I say, quietly now. “I was trying to help him. He’d fallen to the floor and I— I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know.” “Liar.” I’m still shaking my head, wiping away tears with shaking hands. “It was an accident. I swear, I didn’t mean to—I d-didn’t—” “Sir.” It’s Delalieu. His voice. I didn’t realize he was still in the room. I sniff, hard, wiping quickly at my face, but my hands are still shaking. I try, again, to swallow back the tears. To pull myself together. “Sir,” Delalieu says more firmly, “perhaps we should conduct this interview elsewhere.” “I don’t see why that’s necessary.” “I don’t mean to seem impertinent, sir, but I really feel that you might be better served conducting this interview privately.” I dare to turn, to look up at him. And that’s when I notice the third person in the room. A boy. My breath catches in my throat with an almost audible gasp. A single tear escapes down my cheek and I brush it away, even as I stare at him. I can’t help it—I can’t look away. He has the kind of face I’ve never seen in real life. He’s more handsome than the commander. More beautiful. Still, there’s something unnerving about him, something cold and alien about his face that makes him difficult to look at. He’s almost too perfect. He has a sharp jawline and sharp cheekbones and a sharp, straight nose. Everything about him reminds me of a blade. His face is pale. His eyes are a stunning, clear green, and he has rich, golden hair. And he’s staring at me, his eyes wide with an emotion I can’t decipher. A throat clears. The spell is broken. Heat floods my face and I avert my eyes, mortified I didn’t look away sooner. I hear the commander mutter angrily under his breath. “Unbelievable,” he says. “Always the same.” I look up. “Aaron,” he says sharply. “Get out.” The boy—his name must be Aaron—startles. He stares at the commander for a second, and then glances at the door. But he doesn’t move. “Delalieu, please escort my son from the room, as he seems presently unable to remember how to move his legs.” His son. Wow. That explains the face. “Yes, sir, of course, sir.” Aaron’s expression is impossible to read. I catch him looking at me, just once more, and when he finds me staring, he frowns. It’s not an unkind look. Still, I turn away. He and Delalieu move past me as they exit, and I pretend not to notice when I hear him whisper— “Who is she?” —as they walk away. “Ella? Are you all right?” I blink, slowly clearing the webbing of blackness obscuring my vision. Stars explode and fade behind my eyes and I try to stand, the carpet pressing popcorn impressions into my palms, metal digging into my flesh. I’m wearing manacles, glowing cuffs that emit a soft, blue light that leaches the life from my skin, makes my own hands seem sinister. The woman at my door is staring at me. She smiles. “Your father and I thought you might be hungry,” she says. “We made you dinner.” I can’t move. My feet seem bolted in place, the pinks and purples of the walls and floors assaulting me from every corner. I’m standing in the middle of the bizarre museum of what was likely my childhood bedroom—staring at what might be my biological mother—and I feel like I might throw up. The lights are suddenly too bright, the voices too loud. Someone walks toward me and the movement feels exaggerated, the footsteps thudding hard and fast in my ears. My vision goes in and out and the walls seem to shake. The floor shifts, tilts backward. I fall, hard, onto the floor. For a minute, I hear nothing but my heartbeat. Loud, so loud, pressing in on me, assaulting me with a cacophony of sound so disturbing I double over, press my face into the carpet and scream. I’m hysterical, my bones shaking in my skin, and the woman picks me up, reels me in, and I tear away, still screaming— “Where is everyone?” I scream. “What’s happening to me?” I scream. “Where am I? Where’s Warner and Kenji and oh my God—oh my God—all those people—all those people I k-killed—” Vomit inches up my throat, choking me, and I try and fail to suppress the images, the horrible, terrifying images of bodies cleaved open, blood snaking down ridges of poorly torn flesh and something pierces my mind, something sharp and blinding and suddenly I’m on my knees, heaving the meager contents of my stomach into a pink basket. I can hardly breathe. My lungs are overworked, my stomach still threatening to betray me, and I’m gasping, my hands shaking hard as I try to stand. I spin around, the room moving more quickly than I do, and I see only flashes of pink, flashes of purple. I sway. Someone catches me again, this time new arms, and the man who calls me his daughter holds me like I’m his child and he says, “Honey, you don’t have to think about them anymore. You’re safe now.” “Safe?” I rear back, eyes wild. “Who are you—?” The woman takes my hand. Squeezes my fingers even as I wrench free from her grip. “I’m your mother,” she says. “And I’ve decided it’s time for you to come home.” “What”—I grab two fistfuls of her shirt—“have you done with my friends?” I scream. And then I shake her, shake her so hard she actually looks scared for a second, and then I try to pick her up and throw her into the wall but remember, with a start, that my powers have been cut off, that I have to rely on mere anger and adrenaline and I turn around, suddenly furious, feeling more certain by the second that I’ve begun to hallucinate, hallucinate, when unexpectedly she slaps me in the face. Hard. I blink, stunned, but manage to stay upright. “Ella Sommers,” she says sharply, “you will pull yourself together.” Her eyes flash as she appraises me. “What is this ridiculous, dramatic behavior? Worried about your friends? Those people are not your friends.” My cheek burns and half my mouth feels numb but I say, “Yes, yes they’re my fr—” She slaps me again. My eyes close. Reopen. I feel suddenly dizzy. “We are your parents,” she says in a harsh whisper. “Your father and I have brought you home. You should be grateful.” I taste blood. I reach up, touch my lip. My fingers come away red. “Where’s Emmaline?” Blood is pooling in my mouth and I spit it out, onto the floor. “Have you kidnapped her, too? Does she know what you’ve done? That you donated us to The Reestablishment? Sold our bodies to the world?” A third, swift slap. I feel it ring in my skull. “How dare you.” My mother’s face flushes crimson. “How dare you— You have no idea what we’ve built, all these years— The sacrifices we made for our future—” “Now, Evie,” my dad says, and places a calming hand on her shoulder. “Everything is going to be okay. Ella just needs a little time to settle in, that’s all.” He glances at me. “Isn’t that right, Ella?” It hits me then, in that moment. Everything. It hits me, all at once, with a frightening, destabilizing force— I’ve been kidnapped by a pair of crazy people and I might never see my friends again. In fact, my friends might be dead. My parents might’ve killed them. All of them. The realization is like suffocation. Tears fill my throat, my mouth, my eyes— “Where,” I say, my chest heaving, “is Warner? What did you do to him?” Evie’s expression goes suddenly murderous. “You and that damn boy. If I have to hear his name one more time—” “Where’s Warner?” I’m screaming again. “Where is he? Where’s Kenji? What did you do with them?” Evie looks suddenly exhausted. She pinches the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger. “Darling,” she says, but she isn’t looking at me, she’s looking at my father. “Will you handle this, please? I have a terrible headache and several urgent phone calls to return.” “Of course, my love.” And he pulls a syringe from his pocket and stabs it, swiftly, into my neck. Kenji The common room is really growing on me. I used to walk by, all the time, and wonder why Warner ever thought we’d need a common room this big. There’s tons of seating and a lot of room to spread out, but I always thought it was a waste of space. I secretly wished Warner had used the square footage for our bedrooms. Now I get it. When Nazeera and I walk in, ten minutes late to the impromptu pizza party, everyone is here. Brendan is here. He’s sitting in a corner being fussed over by Castle and Alia, and I nearly tackle him. I don’t, of course, because it’s obvious he’s still in recovery, but I’m relieved to find that he looks okay. Mostly he looks wrung-out, but he’s not wearing a sling or anything, so I’m guessing the girls didn’t run into any problems when they were patching him up. That’s a great sign. I spot Winston walking across the room and I catch up to him, clap him on the back. “Hey,” I say, when he turns around. “You okay?” He’s balancing a couple of paper plates, both of which are already sagging under the weight of too much pizza, and he smiles with his whole face when he says, “I hate today. Today is a garbage fire. I hate everything about today except for the fact that Brendan is okay and we have pizza. Other than that, today can go straight to hell.” “Yeah. I feel that so much.” And then, after a pause, I say quietly: “So I’m guessing you never had that conversation with Brendan, huh?” Winston goes suddenly pink. “I said I was waiting for the right time. Does this seem like the right time to you?” “Good point.” I sigh. “I guess I was just hoping you had some good news. We could all use some good news right now.” Winston shoots me a sympathetic look. “No word on Juliette?” I shake my head. Feel suddenly sick. “Has anyone told you her real name is Ella?” “I heard,” Winston says, raising his eyebrows. “That whole story is batshit.” “Yeah,” I say. “Today is the worst.” “Fuck today,” Winston says. “Don’t forget about tomorrow,” I say. “Tomorrow’s going to suck, too.” “What? Why?” The paper plates in Winston’s hands are going translucent from pizza grease. “What’s happening tomorrow?” “Last I heard we were jumping ship,” I say. “Running for our lives. I’m assuming it’s going to suck.” “Shit.” Winston nearly drops his plates. “Seriously? Brendan needs more time to rest.” Then, after a beat: “Where are we going to go?” “The other side of the continent, apparently,” Ian says as he walks over. He hands me a plate of pizza. I murmur a quick thanks and stare at the pizza, wondering whether I’d be able to shove the whole thing in my mouth at once. Probably not. “Do you know something we don’t?” Winston says to Ian, his glasses slipping down the bridge of his nose. Winston tries, unsuccessfully, to shove them back up with his forearm, and Ian steps up to do it for him. “I know a lot of things you don’t know,” Ian says. “The first of which is that Kenji was definitely hooking up with Nazeera, like, five seconds ago.” My mouth nearly falls open before I remember there’s food in it. I swallow, too quickly, and choke. I’m still coughing as I look around, panicking that Nazeera might be within earshot. Only when I spot her across the room speaking with Sonya and Sara do I finally relax. I glare at Ian. “What the hell is wrong with you?” Winston, at least, has the decency to whisper-yell when he says, “You were hooking up with Nazeera? We were only gone a few hours!” “I did not hook up with Nazeera,” I lie. Ian takes a bite of pizza. “Whatever, bro. No judgment. The world’s on fire. Have some fun.” “We didn’t”—I sigh, look away—“it wasn’t like that. It’s not even anything. We were just, like—” I make some random gesture with my hand that means exactly nothing. Ian raises his eyebrows. “Okay,” Winston says, shooting me a look. “We’ll talk about the Nazeera thing later.” He turns to Ian. “What’s happening tomorrow?” “We bail,” Ian says. “Be ready to go at dawn.” “Right, I heard that part,” Winston says, “but where are we going?” Ian shrugs. “Castle has the news,” he says. “That’s all I heard. He was waiting for Kenji and Nazeera to put their clothes back on before he told everyone the details.” I tilt my head at Ian, threatening him with a single look. “Nothing is going on with me and Nazeera,” I say. “Drop it.” “All right,” he says, picking at his pizza. “Makes sense. I mean she’s not even that pretty.” My plate falls out of my hand. Pizza hits the floor. I feel a sudden, unwelcome need to punch Ian in the face. “Are you— Are you out of your mind? Not even— She’s, like, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life, and you’re out here saying she’s not even that pretty? Have y—” “See what I’m saying?” Ian cuts me off. He’s looking at Winston. “Wow,” Winston says, staring solemnly at the pizza on the ground. “Yeah, Kenji is definitely full of shit.” I drag a hand across my face. “I hate you guys.” “Anyway,” Ian says, “I heard Castle’s news has something to do with Nouria.” My head snaps back up. Nouria. I nearly forgot. This morning, just before the symposium, the twins told me they’d uncovered something—something to do with the poison in the bullets Juliette had been shot with—that led them back to Nouria. But so much happened today that I never had the chance to follow up. Find out what happened. “Did you hear about that?” Ian asks me, raising an eyebrow. “She sent a message, apparently. That’s what the girls are saying.” “Yeah,” I say, and frown. “I heard.” I honestly have no idea how this might shake out. It’s been at least ten years since the last time Castle saw his daughter, Nouria. Darrence and Jabari, his two boys, were murdered by police officers when they refused to let the men into their house without a warrant. This was before The Reestablishment took over. Castle wasn’t home that day, but Nouria was. She watched it happen. Castle said he felt like he’d lost three children that day. Nouria never recovered. Instead, she grew detached. Listless. She stopped coming home at normal hours and then—one day—she disappeared. The Reestablishment was always picking kids up off the street and shipping them wherever they felt there was a need to fill. Nouria was collected against her will; picked up and packaged for another sector. Castle knew for certain that it happened, because The Reestablishment sent him a receipt for his child. A fucking receipt. Everyone from Point knew Castle’s story. He always made an effort to be honest, to share the hardest, most painful memories from his life so that the rest of us didn’t feel like we were suffering alone. Castle thought he’d never see Nouria again. So if she’s reaching out now— Just then, Castle catches my eye. He glances at me, then at Nazeera. A hint of a smile touches his lips and then it’s gone, his spine straight as he addresses the room. He looks good, I realize. He looks bright, alive like I haven’t seen him in years. His locs are pulled back, tied neatly at the base of his neck. His faded blue blazer still fits him perfectly, even after all these years. “I have news,” he says. But I’m pretty sure I know what’s coming next. Nouria lives in Sector 241, thousands of miles away, and cross-sector communication is nearly unheard of. Only rebel groups are brave enough to risk sending coded messages across the continent. Ian and Winston know this. I know this. Everyone knows this. Which means Castle is probably here to tell us that Nouria has gone rogue. Ha. Like father, like daughter. Warner “Hi,” I say. She turns at the sound of my voice and startles when she sees my face. Her eyes widen. And I feel it, right away, when her emotions change. She’s attracted to me. She’s attracted to me, and the revelation makes me happy. I don’t know why. It’s not new. I learned, long ago, that lots of people find me attractive. Men. Women. Especially older women, a phenomenon I still don’t understand. But this— It makes me happy. She finds me attractive. “Hi,” she says, but she won’t look at me. I realize she’s blushing. I’m surprised. There’s something sweet about her, something gentle and sweet I wasn’t really expecting. “Are you doing all right?” I ask. It’s a stupid question. The girl is clearly in an awful position. Right now she’s only in our custody for as long as it takes my father to decide what to do with her. She’s currently in a fairly comfortable holding facility here on base, but she’ll likely end up in a juvenile detention center. I’m not sure. I’ve heard my father talk about running more tests on her first. Her parents are apparently hysterical, desperate for us to take her in and deal with her. Offer a diagnosis. They think she killed the little boy on purpose. They think their daughter is insane. I think she seems just fine. Better than fine. I can’t stop looking at her. My eyes travel her face more than once, studying her features carefully. She seems so familiar to me, like I might’ve seen her before. Maybe in a dream. I’m aware, even as I think it, that my thoughts are ridiculous. But I was drawn down here, magnetized to her by something beyond my control. I know I shouldn’t have come. I have no business talking to her, and if my father found me in here he’d likely murder me. But I’ve tried, for days, to forget her face, and I couldn’t. I try to sleep at night and her likeness materializes in the blackness. I needed to see her again. I don’t know how to defend it. Finally, she speaks, and I shake free from my reverie. I remind myself that I’ve asked her a question. “Yes, thank you,” she says, her eyes on the floor. “I’m doing fine.” She’s lying. I want her to look up, to meet my eyes. She doesn’t, and I find it frustrating. “Will you look at me?” I say. That works well enough. But when she looks me directly in the eye I feel my heart go suddenly, terrifyingly still. A skipped beat. A moment of death. And then— Fast. My heart is racing too fast. I’ve never understood my ability to be so aware of others, but it’s often served me well. In most cases, it offers me an advantage. In this case, it’s nothing short of overwhelming. Right now, everything is hitting me twice as hard. I feel two sets of emotions—hers and mine, the both of them intertwined. We seem to be feeling the same things at the same time. It’s disorienting, so heady I can hardly catch my breath. I feel a surprising desire to touch her. I want— “Why?” she says. I blink. “What?” “Why do you want me to look at you?” I take a breath. Clear my head, consider my options. I could tell the truth. I could tell a lie. I could be evasive, change the subject. Finally, I say, “Do I know you?” She laughs and looks away. “No,” she says. “Definitely not.” She bites her lip and I feel her sudden nervousness, hear the spike in her breathing. I draw closer to her almost without realizing it. She looks up at me then, and I realize, with a thrill, how close we are. There’s a palpable heat between our bodies, and her eyes are big and beautiful, blue green. Like the globe, I think. Like the whole world. She’s looking at me and I feel suddenly off-balance. “What’s wrong?” she says. I have to step away from her. “I don’t—” I look at her again. “Are you sure I don’t know you?” And she smiles. Smiles at me and my heart shatters. “Trust me,” she says. “I’d remember you.” Kenji Delalieu. I can’t believe we forgot about Delalieu. I thought Castle’s news would be about Nouria. I thought he was going to tell us that she reached out to say that she was some fancy resistance leader now, that we’d be welcome to crash at her place for a while. Instead, Castle’s news was— Delalieu. Homeboy came through. Castle steps aside and allows the lieutenant to enter the room, and even though he seems stiff and out of place, Delalieu looks genuinely upset. I feel it, like a punch to the gut, the moment I see his face. Grief. He clears his throat two or three times. When he finally speaks, his voice is steadier than I’ve ever heard it. “I’ve come to reassure you,” he says, “in person, that I’ll make sure your group remains safe here, for as long as I can manage.” A pause. “I don’t know yet exactly what’s happening right now, but I know it can’t be good. I’m worried it won’t end well if you stay, and I’m committed to helping you while you plan your escape.” Everyone is quiet. “Um, thank you,” I say, breaking the silence. I look around the room when I say, “We really appreciate that. But, uh, how much time do we have?” Delalieu shakes his head. “I’m afraid I can’t guarantee your safety for more than a week. But I’m hoping a few days’ reprieve will give you the necessary time to figure out your next steps. Find a safe place to go. In the meantime, I’ll provide whatever assistance I can.” “Okay,” Ian says, but he looks skeptical. “That’s really . . . generous.” Delalieu clears his throat again. “It must be hard to know whether you should trust me. I understand your concerns. But I fear I’ve stayed silent for t-too long,” he says, his voice losing its steadiness. “And now—with— With what’s happened to Warner and to Ms. Ferrars—” He stops, his voice breaking on the last word. He looks up, looks me in the eye. “I’m sure Warner told none of you that I am his grandfather.” My jaw drops open. Actually drops open. Castle is the only person in the room who doesn’t look shocked. “You’re Warner’s grandfather?” Adam says, getting to his feet. The terrified look in his eyes breaks my heart. “Yes,” Delalieu says quietly. “On his mother’s side.” He meets Adam’s eyes, acknowledging, silently, that he knows. Knows that Adam is Anderson’s illegitimate son. That he knows everything. Adam sits back down, relief apparent on his face. “I can only imagine what an unhappy life yours must’ve been,” Brendan says. I turn to look at him, surprised to hear his voice. He’s been so quiet all this time. But then, of course Brendan would be compassionate. Even to someone like Delalieu, who stepped aside and said nothing while Anderson set the world on fire. “But I’m grateful—we’re all grateful,” Brendan says, “for your help today.” Delalieu manages a smile. “It’s the least I can do,” he says, and turns to go. “Did you know her?” Lily says, her voice sharp. “As Ella?” Delalieu freezes in place, still half turned toward the exit. “Because if you’re Warner’s grandfather,” Lily says, “and you’ve been working under Anderson for this long—you must’ve known her.” Slowly, very slowly, Delalieu turns to face us. He seems tense, nervous like I’ve never seen him. He says nothing, but the answer is written all over his face. The twitch in his hands. Jesus. “How long?” I say, anger building inside of me. “How long did you know her and say nothing?” “I don’t— I d-don’t—” “How long?” I say, my hand already reaching for the gun tucked in the waistband of my pants. Delalieu takes a jerky step backward. “Please don’t,” he says, his eyes wild. “Please don’t ask this of me. I can give you aid. I can provide you with weapons and transportation—anything you need—but I can’t— You don’t underst—” “Coward,” Nazeera says, standing up. She looks stunning, tall and strong and steady. I love watching that girl move. Talk. Breathe. Whatever. “You watched and said nothing as Anderson tortured his own children. Didn’t you?” “No,” Delalieu says desperately, his face flushing with emotion I’ve never seen in him before. “No, that’s not—” Castle picks up a chair with single flick of his hand and drops it, unceremoniously, in front of Delalieu. “Sit down,” he says, a violent, unguarded rage flashing in his eyes. Delalieu obeys. “How long?” I say again. “How long have you known her as Ella?” “I— I’ve”—Delalieu hesitates, looks around—“I’ve known Ella s-since she was a child,” he says finally. I feel the blood leave my body. His clear, explicit confession is too much. It means too much. I sag under the weight of it—the lies, the conspiracies. I sink back into my chair and my heart splinters for Juliette, for all she’s suffered at the hands of the people meant to protect her. I can’t form the words I need to tell Delalieu he’s a spineless piece of shit. It’s Nazeera who still has the presence of mind to spear him. Her voice is soft—lethal—when she speaks. “You’ve known Ella since she was a child,” Nazeera says. “You’ve been here, working here, helping Anderson since Ella was a child. That means you helped Anderson put her in the custody of abusive, adoptive parents and you stood by as they tortured her, as Anderson tortured her, over and over—” “No,” Delalieu cries out. “I d-didn’t condone any of that. Ella was supposed to grow up in a normal home environment. She was supposed to be given nurturing parents and a stable upbringing. Those were the terms everyone agreed t—” “Bullshit,” Nazeera says, her eyes flashing. “You know as well as I do that her adoptive parents were monsters—” “Paris changed the terms of the agreement,” Delalieu shouts angrily. Nazeera raises an eyebrow, unmoved. But something seems to have loosened Delalieu’s tongue, something like fear or guilt or pent-up rage, because suddenly the words rush out of him. “Paris went back on his word as soon as Ella was in his custody,” he says. “He thought no one would find out. Back then he and I were about the same, as far as rank went, in The Reestablishment. We often worked closely together because of our family ties, and I was, as a result, privy to the choices he made.” Delalieu shakes his head. “But I discovered too late that he purposely chose adoptive parents who exhibited abusive, dangerous behavior. When I confronted him about it he argued that any abuse Ella suffered at the hands of her surrogate parents would only encourage her powers to manifest, and he had the statistics to support his claim. I tried to voice my concerns—I reported him; I told the council of commanders that he was hurting her, breaking her—but he made my concerns sound like the desperate histrionics of someone unwilling to do what was necessary for the cause.” I can see the color creeping up Delalieu’s neck, his anger only barely contained. “I was repeatedly overruled. Demoted. I was punished for questioning his tactics. “But I knew Paris was wrong,” he says quietly. “Ella withered. When I first met her she was a strong girl with a joyful spirit. She was unfailingly kind and upbeat.” He hesitates. “It wasn’t long before she grew cold and closed-off. Withdrawn. Paris moved up in rank quickly, and I was soon relegated to little more than his right hand. I was the one he sent to check on her at home, at school. I was ordered to monitor her behavior, write the reports outlining her progress. “But there were no results. Her spirit had been broken. I begged Paris to put her elsewhere—to, at the very least, return her to a regular facility, one that I might oversee personally—and still he insisted, over and over again, that the abuse she suffered would spur results.” Delalieu is on his feet now, pacing. “He was hoping to impress the council, hoping his efforts would be rewarded with yet another promotion. It soon became his single task to wait, to have me watch Ella closely for developments, for any sign that she’d changed. Evolved.” He stops in place. Swallows, hard. “But Paris was careless.” Delalieu drops his head into his hands. The room around us has gone so quiet I can almost hear the seconds pass. We’re all waiting for him to keep going, but he doesn’t lift his head. I’m studying him—his shaking hands, the tremble in his legs, his general loss of composure—and my heart hammers in my chest. I feel like he’s about to break. Like he’s close to telling us something important. “What do you mean?” I say quietly. “Careless how?” Delalieu looks up, his eyes red-rimmed and wild. “I mean it was his one job,” he says, slamming his fist against the wall. He hits it, hard, his knuckles breaking through the plaster, and for a moment, I’m genuinely stunned. I didn’t think Delalieu had it in him. “You don’t understand,” he says, losing the fire. He stumbles back, sags against the wall. “My greatest regret in life has been watching those kids suffer and doing nothing about it.” “Wait,” Winston says. “Which kids? Who are you talking about?” But Delalieu doesn’t seem to hear him. He only shakes his head. “Paris never took Ella’s assignment seriously. It was his fault she lost control. It was his fault she didn’t know better, it was his fault she hadn’t been prepared or trained or properly guarded. It was his fault she killed that little boy,” he says, now so broken his voice is shaking. “What she did that day nearly destroyed her. Nearly ruined the entire operation. Nearly exposed us to the world.” He closes his eyes, presses his fingers to his temples. And then he sinks back down into his chair. He looks unmoored. Castle and I share a knowing glance from across the room. Something is happening. Something is about to happen. Delalieu is a resource we never realized we had. And for all his protests, he actually seems like he wants to talk. Maybe Delalieu is the key. Maybe he can tell us what we need to know about—about everything. About Juliette, about Anderson, about The Reestablishment. It’s obvious a dam broke open in Delalieu. I’m just hoping we can keep him talking. It’s Adam who says, “If you hated Anderson so much, why didn’t you stop him when you had the chance?” “Don’t you understand?” Delalieu says, his eyes big and round and sad. “I never had the chance. I didn’t have the authority, and we’d only just been voted into power. Leila—my daughter—was sicker every day and I was— I wasn’t myself. I was unraveling. I suspected foul play in her illness but had no proof. I spent my work hours overseeing the crumbling mental and physical health of an innocent young woman, and I spent my free hours watching my daughter die.” “Those are excuses,” Nazeera says coldly. “You were a coward.” He looks up. “Yes,” he says. “That’s true. I was a coward.” He shakes his head, turns away. “I said nothing, even when Paris spun Ella’s tragedy into a victory. He told everyone that what Ella did to that boy was a blessing in disguise. That, in fact, it was exactly what he’d been working toward. He argued that what she did that day, regardless of the consequences, was the exact manifestation of her powers he’d been hoping for all along.” Delalieu looks suddenly sick. “He got away with everything. Everything he ever wanted, he was given. And he was always reckless.