His voice rings out over the crowd, his eyes scanning the faces of his men.
“And I hope,” he says, “that you did not believe it.”
The soldiers are staring, stunned, as Warner speaks. They seem afraid to step out of line in case this turns out to be some kind of elaborate joke, or perhaps a test from The Reestablishment. They do nothing but stare, no longer taking care to make their faces appear as stoic as possible.
“Juliette Ferrars,” he says, “is not dead. She is here, standing beside me, despite the claims made by our supreme commander. He did, in fact, shoot her in the chest. And he did leave her to die. But she was able to survive his attack on her life, and she has arrived here today to make you an offer.”
I take the mesh from Warner’s hand, touch it to my lips just as he did. Drop it into my fist.
I take a deep breath. And say six words.
“I want to destroy The Reestablishment.”
My voice is so loud, so powerfully projected over the crowd, that for a moment it surprises me. The soldiers are staring at me in horror. Shock. Disbelief. Astonishment. They’re starting to whisper.
“I want to lead you into battle,” I say to them. “I want to fight back—”
No one is listening to me anymore.
Their perfectly organized lines have been abandoned. They’re now converging together in one mass, speaking and shouting and trying to deliberate among themselves. Trying to understand what’s happening.
I can’t believe I lost their attention so quickly.
“Don’t hesitate,” Warner says to me. “You must react. Now.”
I was hoping to save this for later.
Right now, we’re only about fifteen feet off the ground, but Warner told me there are four more levels, if I want to go all the way up. The highest level houses the speakers designated for this particular area. It has a small maintenance platform that is only ever accessed by technicians.
I’m already climbing my way up.
The soldiers are distracted again, pointing at me as I scale the stairs; still talking loudly with one another. I have no idea if it’s possible for news of this situation to have already reached the civilians or the spies who report back to the supreme. I have no time to care right now because I haven’t even finished giving my speech, and I’ve already lost them.
This isn’t good.
When I finally reach the top level, I’m about a hundred feet off the ground. I’m careful as I step onto the platform, but I’m more careful not to look down for too long. And when I’ve finally planted my feet, I look up and around the crowd.
I have their attention again.
I close my fist over the microphonic mesh.
“I only have one question,” I say, my words powerful and clear, projecting into the distance. “What has The Reestablishment ever done for you?”
They’re actually looking at me now. Listening.
“They have given you nothing but meager wages and promises for a future that will never come. They have divided your families and forced them across what’s left of this earth. They have starved your children and destroyed your homes. They lie to you, over and over again, forcing you to take jobs in their army so they might control you. And you have no other choice,” I say. “No other options. So you fight in their wars, and you kill your own friends, just so you might feed your families.”
Yes, I have their attention now.
“The person you allow to lead this nation is a coward,” I say to them. “He is a weak man who’s too afraid to show his face to the public. He lives in secrecy, hides from the people who rely on him, and yet he’s taught you to fear him,” I say. “He’s taught you to cower when his name is spoken.
“Maybe you haven’t met him yet,” I say. “But I have. And I was not impressed.”
I can’t believe no one has shot me yet. I don’t care if they’re supposed to be unarmed. Someone probably has a gun. And no one has shot me yet.
“Join a new resistance,” I say to them, calling out to the crowd. “We are the majority, and we can stand united. Will you continue to live like this?” I ask them, pointing to the compounds in the distance. “Will you continue to starve? Because they will continue to lie to you!” I say. “Our world is not beyond repair. It’s not beyond saving. We can be our own army,” I say to them. “We can stand together. Join me,” I say, “and I promise things will change.”
“How?” I hear someone shout. “How can you promise something like that?”
“I am not intimidated by The Reestablishment,” I tell them. “And I have more strength than you might realize. I have the kind of power that the supreme commander cannot stand against.”
“We already know what you can do!” someone else yells. “That didn’t save you before!”
“No,” I say to them, “you don’t know what I can do. You have no idea what I can do.”
I reach my arms out in front of me, both hands pointed in the direction of the crowd. I try to find a good middle. And then I focus.
Feel your power, Kenji said to me once. It’s a part of you—a part of your body and mind. It will listen to you if you can learn how to control it.
I plant my feet. Steel myself.
And then I pry the crowd apart.
I focus my energy on recognizing the individual bodies and allow my power to move fluidly, working around the soldiers in a gentle fashion, as opposed to rushing through them and accidentally ripping them apart. My power clings to their forms as my fingers would, finally finding a perfect center that divides the group into two halves. They’re already looking at each other from across the courtyard, trying to understand why they can’t move against the invisible walls pushing them apart.
But once the energy is set in place, I open my arms, wide.
The soldiers are knocked back. Half to the left. Half to the right. Not enough to be injured, but just enough to be startled. I want them to feel the power I’m containing. I want them to know that I’m holding back.
“I can protect you,” I say to them, my voice still ringing loud over them. “And I have friends who could do more. Who will stand beside you and fight.”
And then, as if on cue, the group of them appear out of thin air, in the very center of the courtyard, in the space I’ve just cleared.