“Adam and I noticed you were missing pretty quickly, but by the time we fought our way back to the front, we were too late. We were still maybe twenty feet out, and could only see them hauling you into the tank.” He shakes his head. “We couldn’t just run after you,” he says. “We were trying not to get shot at.”
His voice gets deeper, more somber as he tells the story.
“So we decided we’d go an alternate route—avoiding all the main roads—to try and follow you back to base, because that’s where we thought you were headed. But just as we got there, we ran into Castle, Lily, Ian, and Alia, who were on their way out. They’d managed to complete their own mission successfully; they broke into Sector 45 and stole Winston and Brendan back. Those two were half dead when Castle found them,” Kenji says quietly.
He takes a sharp breath.
“And then Castle told us what they’d heard while they were on base—that the troops were mobilizing for an air assault on Omega Point. They were going to drop bombs on the entire area, hoping that if they hit it with enough firepower, everything underground would just collapse in on itself. There’d be no escape for anyone inside, and everything we’d built would be destroyed.”
I feel him tense beside me.
We stop moving for just a moment before I feel Kenji tug on my hand. I duck into the cold and wind, steeling myself against the weather and his words.
“Apparently they’d tortured the location out of our people on the battlefield,” he says. “Just before killing them.” He shakes his head. “We knew we didn’t have much time, but we were still close enough to base that I managed to commandeer one of the army tanks. We loaded up and headed straight for Point, hoping to get everyone out in time. But I think, deep down,” he says, “we knew it wasn’t going to work. The planes were overhead. Already on their way.”
He laughs, suddenly, but the action seems to cause him pain.
“And by some freak miracle of insanity, we intercepted James almost a mile out. He’d managed to sneak out, and was on his way toward the battlefield. The poor kid had pissed the whole front of his pants he was so scared, but he said he was tired of being left behind. Said he wanted to fight with his brother.” Kenji’s voice is strained.
“And the craziest shit,” he says, “is that if James had stayed at Point like we told him to, where we thought he’d be safe, he would’ve died with everyone else.” Kenji laughs a little. “And that was it. There was nothing we could do. We just had to stand there, watching as they dropped bombs on thirty years of work, killed everyone too young or too old to fight back, and then massacred the rest of our team on the field.” He clenches his hand around mine. “I come back here every day,” he says. “Hoping someone will show up. Hoping to find something to take back.” He stops then, voice tight with emotion. “And here you are. This shit doesn’t even seem real.”
I squeeze his fingers—gently, this time—and huddle closer to him. “We’re going to be okay, Kenji. I promise. We’ll stick together. We’ll get through this.”
Kenji tugs his hand out of mine only to slip it around my shoulder, pulling me tight against his side. His voice is soft when he speaks. “What happened to you, princess? You seem different.”
“Good different,” he says. “Like you finally put your big-girl pants on.”
I laugh out loud.
“I’m serious,” he says.
“Well.” I pause. “Sometimes different is better, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Kenji says. “Yeah, I guess it is.” He hesitates. “So . . . are you going to tell me what happened? Because last I saw you, you were being shoved into the backseat of an army tank, and this morning you show up all freshly showered and shiny-white-sneakered and you’re walking around with Warner,” he says, releasing my shoulder and taking my hand again. “And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that that shit doesn’t make any sense.”
I take a deep, steadying breath. It’s strange not being able to see Kenji right now; it feels as if I’m making these confessions to the wind. “Anderson shot me,” I tell him.
Kenji stills beside me. I can hear him breathing hard. “What?”
I nod, even though he can’t see me. “I wasn’t taken back to base. The soldiers delivered me to Anderson; he was waiting in one of the houses on unregulated turf. I think he wanted privacy,” I tell Kenji, carefully omitting any information about Warner’s mom. Those secrets are too private, and not mine to share. “Anderson wanted revenge,” I say instead, “for what I did to his legs. He was crippled; when I saw him he was using a cane. But before I could figure out what was happening, he pulled out a gun and shot me. Right in the chest.”
“Holy shit,” Kenji breathes.
“I remember it so well.” I hesitate. “Dying. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t scream because my lungs were torn apart or full of blood. I don’t know. I just had to lie there, trying to breathe, hoping to drop dead as quickly as possible. And the whole time,” I say, “the whole time I kept thinking about how I’d spent my entire life being a coward, and how it got me nowhere. And I knew that if I had the chance to do it all again, I’d do it differently. I promised myself I’d finally stop being afraid.”
“Yeah, that’s all super heartwarming,” Kenji says, “but how in the hell did you survive a shot to the chest?” he demands. “You should be dead right now.”
“Oh.” I clear my throat a little. “Yeah, um, Warner saved my life.”
“Shut the hell up.”
I try not to laugh. “I’m serious,” I say, taking a minute to explain how the girls were there and how Warner used their power to save me. How Anderson left me to die and how Warner took me back to base with him, hid me, and helped me recover. “And by the way,” I say to Kenji, “Sonya and Sara are almost definitely still alive. Anderson took them back to the capital with him; he wants to force them to serve as his own personal healers. He’s probably gotten them to fix his legs by now.”
“Okay, you know what”—Kenji stops walking, grabs my shoulders—“you need to just back up, okay, because you are dumping way too much information on me all at once, and I need you to start from the beginning, and I need you to tell me everything,” he says, his voice rising in pitch. “What the hell is going on? The girls are still alive? And what do you mean, Warner transferred their power to you? How the hell is that possible?”