“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.”
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.
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?”