The police officers that lined the steps were thrown to each side, shoved through the air with such force that they smashed through the lines of cameramen and photographers. He hadn’t needed to touch them, only slash his arms out in front of him, like he was throwing open a heavy curtain.
“Christ!” Liam said behind me. “That’s a kid!”
He was slight, all lean muscles and tan skin, like a runner who’d spent his summer out on a high school track. His hair was long, tied back with a small elastic to keep it out of his face; it gave him a clear view as he swung the small gun up from his sweatshirt’s pockets and calmly fired two shots into the president’s chest.
The TVs, each tuned to a different station, erupted at the exact same moment, catching the scene from every angle.
“Oh my God, oh my—” the newscaster was moaning. She’d dropped to the ground; all we could see was the back of her head as she watched the police and Secret Service pile on top of the kid, burying him under a sea of uniforms and coats. The crowd behind her was screaming; the camera shook as it swung around to capture their escape from the scene. Every look of terror. Every look of disgust. All turned now from the president himself to the kid who’d just killed him.
“Did you do this?” Liam snarled, swinging back toward his brother. “Did you order that kid to do that?”
“He’s not one of us,” Vida said. “I’ve never seen that piece of shit in my life!”
Cole spun on his heel, diving headlong into the stunned silence in the atrium. No one was moving aside for him, and I had no idea where he was going. Vida grabbed the remote and turned the volume up.
“Ladies—ladies and gentlemen—please—” The broadcaster was still on the ground, trying to protect herself from the stampede of bystanders fleeing the scene. The picture cut away to the horrified faces of the anchors back in the studio, but they were there for only an instant before the screen clicked to black and bold words appeared there.
EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM
THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT HAS ISSUED AN EMERGENCY ACTION NOTIFICATION
DO NOT TURN OFF YOUR TV AT THIS TIME
IMPORTANT INFORMATION WILL FOLLOW
But the message stayed on the screens, and the only thing that did follow was the low wailing tones of the emergency alert system, the same ones we’d all heard a thousand times as they’d run the tests on televisions and radios.
There was a muffled bang that came from somewhere above us, almost inaudible under the sound of panicked voices in the atrium and the blaring television screens—two of them, three, four, all firing off in rapid succession like the crackling Fourth of July fireworks we used to watch at home from my backyard. They were too far away to be truly frightening. For a moment I wondered if they were fireworks. Were people really crass enough to already be celebrating President Gray’s apparent demise?
It all washed away with the overpowering sound of rushing water—no, more like static. A ferocious wave of noise, cracking, snapping, hissing like a rolling hurricane.
And then it all cut out with a low, mechanical whine—the kind an animal might make as it took its last breath. The lights, the TVs, the air-conditioning, everything switched off, throwing us back into the same impenetrable darkness we’d just left.
If Jude hadn’t still been gripping my arm, I would never have been able to catch him as he swayed toward the ground.
“Whoa,” I began.
Vida was instantly at our side, helping me lower him back into a seat.
“It… Something just happened…” The agents around us were snapping on glow sticks, illuminating the room in that small way. I could see his hands clenched in his hair—the expression on his face was dazed, drunk almost. “Something bad.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, letting Chubs in closer to look.
His eyes were still slightly unfocused. “It was a big…a big burst. Like a flare, and then it was gone. Everything is so quiet…nothing’s talking anymore.”
I scanned the room, searching for the team of Yellows. They were in the exact same dazed state, limp and unresponsive to the other kids’ efforts to get them on their feet. I could see their faces in the faint, dying light of the glow sticks.
“What the hell?” I heard Chubs say. “Another rolling blackout?”
I shushed him, trying to listen as an agent quickly ran down the situation for Cole as they made their way back over to us. “Backup generator is still up and running, no cell or radio connections available. The cameras on the streets have shut off. Bennett is trying to get them restarted—”
“Don’t bother,” Cole said calmly. “They’re most likely fried.”
Fried? But that would mean…
It was too much of a coincidence for the power to have gone out at that moment. But what Cole was suggesting wasn’t that someone had tampered with Los Angeles’s power grid—he thought someone had disabled every single piece of electronic equipment throughout the city.
“You think it was some kind of electromagnetic pulse?” another agent pressed.
“I think we better get our asses moving before we find out.” Cole cupped his hands around his mouth, shouting over the panicked whispering. “All right, I know you’ve drilled this. Take what you can carry from this room and go straight for the hole. Nothing else. Keep to your lines. Mandatory evac starts now!”
Vida gathered Jude to her side, leaving me to haul Nico up from his seat.
“It could just be another blackout,” an agent protested. “It can’t have been in response to the assassination. Our best bet is to go down to level three and ride it out.”
“If this is an attack,” another one put in, “then the safest place for us to stay is here!”
“The safest place for us is out of this—”
There were three loud knocks, like someone was standing directly above us, politely asking to be let inside. I don’t know why I did it, or what I even thought the noise was, but I tackled Nico to the ground and, a moment later, felt Vida do the same with Jude beside me.
“Cover!” someone screamed, but the word disappeared in the white-hot flash of light.
Then the world rained down fire over our heads.
I DIDN’T FEEL THE PAIN RIGHT AWAY, only the heavy pressure against my spine.