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“We’re still figuring out exactly how to divvy up the rooms,” he’s saying, “but it’s coming together nicely. In fact, we’re a little ahead of schedule on the bedrooms,” he says. “Warner fast-tracked the work on the east wing, so we can actually start moving in tomorrow.”

There’s a brief round of applause. Someone cheers.

We’re taking a brief tour of our new headquarters.

The majority of the space is still under construction, so, for the most part, what we’re staring at is a loud, dusty mess, but I’m excited to see the progress. Our group has desperately needed more bedrooms, more bathrooms, desks and studios. And we need to set up a real command center from which we can get work done. This will, hopefully, be the beginning of that new world. The world wherein I’m the supreme commander.

Crazy.

For now, the details of what I do and control are still unfolding. We won’t be challenging other sectors or their leaders until we have a better idea of who our allies might be, and that means we’ll need a little more time. “The destruction of the world didn’t happen overnight, and neither will saving it,” Castle likes to say, and I think he’s right. We need to make thoughtful decisions as we move forward—and making an effort to be diplomatic might be the difference between life and death. It would be far easier to make global progress, for example, if we weren’t the only ones with the vision for change.

We need to forge alliances.

But Castle’s conversation with me this morning has left me a little rattled. I’m not sure how to feel anymore—or what to hope for. I only know that, despite the brave face I put on for the civilians, I don’t want to jump from one war to another; I don’t want to have to slaughter everyone who stands in my way. The people of Sector 45 are trusting me with their loved ones—with their children and spouses who’ve become my soldiers—and I don’t want to risk any more of their lives unless absolutely necessary. I’m hoping to ease into this. I’m hoping that there’s a chance—even the smallest chance—that the semicooperation of my fellow sectors and the five other supreme commanders could mean good things for the future. I’m wondering if we might be able to come together without more bloodshed.

“That’s ridiculous. And naive,” Kenji says.

I look up at the sound of his voice, look around. He’s talking to Ian. Ian Sanchez—tall, lanky guy with a bit of an attitude but a good heart. The only one of us with no superpowers, though. Not that it matters.

Ian is standing tall, arms crossed against his chest, head turned to the side, eyes up at the ceiling. “I don’t care what you think—”

“Well, I do.” I hear Castle cut in. “I care what Kenji thinks,” he’s saying.

“But—”

“I care what you think, too, Ian,” Castle says, “But you have to see that Kenji is right in this instance. We have to approach everything with a great deal of caution. We can’t know for certain what will happen next.”

Ian sighs, exasperated. “That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is I don’t understand why we need all this space. It’s unnecessary.”

“Wait—what’s the issue here?” I ask, looking around. And then, to Ian: “Why don’t you like the new space?”

Lily puts an arm around Ian’s shoulders. “Ian is just sad,” she says, smiling. “He doesn’t want to break up the slumber party.”

“What?” I frown.

Kenji laughs.

Ian scowls. “I just think we’re fine where we are,” he says. “I don’t know why we need to move up into all this,” he says, his arms wide as he scans the cavernous space. “It feels like tempting fate. Doesn’t anyone remember what happened the last time we built a huge hideout?”

I watch Castle flinch.

I think we all do.

Omega Point, destroyed. Bombed into nothingness. Decades of hard work obliterated in a moment.

“That’s not going to happen again,” I say firmly. “Besides, we’re more protected here than we ever were before. We have an entire army behind us now. We’re safer in this building than we would be anywhere else.”

My words are met with an immediate chorus of support, but still I bristle, because I know that what I’ve said is only partly true.

I have no way of knowing what’s going to happen to us or how long we’ll last here. What I do know is that we need the new space—and we need to set up shop while we still have the funds. No one has tried to cut us off or shut us down yet; no sanctions have been imposed by fellow continents or commanders. Not yet, anyway. Which means we need to rebuild while we still have the means to do so.

But this—

This enormous space dedicated only to our efforts?

This was all Warner’s doing.

He was able to empty out an entire floor for us—the top floor, the fifteenth story—of Sector 45 headquarters. It took an enormous amount of effort to transfer and distribute a whole floor’s worth of people, work, and furnishings to other departments, but somehow, he managed it. Now the level is being refitted specifically for our needs.

Once it’s all done we’ll have state-of-the-art technology that will allow us not only the access to the research and surveillance we’ll need, but the necessary tools for Winston and Alia to continue building any devices, gadgets, and uniforms we might require. And even though Sector 45 already has its own medical wing, we’ll need a secure area for Sonya and Sara to work, from where they’ll be able to continue developing antidotes and serums that might one day save our lives.

I’m just about to point this out when Delalieu walks into the room.

“Supreme,” he says, with a nod in my direction.

At the sound of his voice, we all spin around.

“Yes, Lieutenant?”

There’s a slight quiver in his words when he says, “You have a visitor, madam. He’s requesting ten minutes of your time.”

“A visitor?” I turn instinctively, finding Kenji with my eyes. He looks just as confused as I am.

“Yes, madam,” says Delalieu. “He’s waiting downstairs in the main reception room.”

“But who is this person?” I ask, concerned. “Where did he come from?”

“His name is Haider Ibrahim. He’s the son of the supreme commander of Asia.”

I feel my body lock in sudden apprehension. I’m not sure I’m any good at hiding the panic that jolts through me as I say, “The son of the supreme commander of Asia? Did he say why he was here?”

Delalieu shakes his head. “I’m sorry to say that he refused to answer any of my more detailed questions, madam.”

I’m breathing hard, head spinning. Suddenly all I can think about is Castle’s concern over Oceania this morning. The fear in his eyes. The many questions he refused to answer.

“What shall I tell him, madam?” Delalieu again.

I feel my heart pick up. I close my eyes. You are a supreme commander, I say to myself. Act like it.

“Madam?”

“Yes, of course, tell him I’ll be right th—”

“Ms Ferrars.” Castle’s sharp voice pierces the fog of my mind.

I look in his direction.

“Ms Ferrars,” he says again, a warning in his eyes. “Perhaps you should wait.”

“Wait?” I say. “Wait for what?”

“Wait to meet with him until Mr Warner can be there, too.”

My confusion bleeds into anger. “I appreciate your concern, Castle, but I can do this on my own, thank you.”

“Ms Ferrars, I would beg you to reconsider. Please,” he says, more urgently now, “you must understand—this is no small thing. The son of a supreme commander—it could mean so much—”

“As I said, thank you for your concern.” I cut him off, my cheeks inflamed. Lately, I’ve been feeling like Castle has no faith in me—like he isn’t rooting for me at all—and it makes me think back to this morning’s conversation. It makes me wonder if I can trust anything he says. What kind of ally would stand here and point out my ineptitude in front of everyone? It’s all I can do not to shout at him when I say, “I can assure you, I’ll be fine.”

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