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Only then

Only then do I finally breathe, luxuriating in the disconnection from this pain.

I look up, feeling broken and brand-new, eyes cold and unfeeling as I blink slowly and say, “How do you know all this?”

Nazeera breaks a leaf off a nearby branch and folds it between her fingers. She shrugs. “It’s a small, incestuous circle we move in. I’ve known Lena forever. She and I were never close, exactly, but we move in the same world.” Another shrug. “She was really messed up over him. It’s all she ever wanted to talk about. And she’d talk to anyone about it.”

“How long were they together?”

“Two years.”

Two years.

The answer is so unexpectedly painful it spears through my new defenses.

Two years? Two years with another girl and he never said a word about it. Two years with someone else. And how many others? A shock of pain tries to reach me, to circumvent my new, cold heart, and I manage to fight the worst of it. Even so, a brick of something hot and horrible buries itself in my chest.

Not jealousy, no.

Inferiority. Inexperience. Naïveté.

How much more will I learn about him? How much more has he kept from me? How will I ever be able to trust him again?

I close my eyes and feel the weight of loss and resignation settle deep, deep within me. My bones shift, rearranging to make room for these new hurts.

This wave of fresh anger.

“When did they break up?” I ask.

“Like . . . eight months ago?”

Now I stop asking questions.

I want to become a tree. A blade of grass. I want to become dirt or air or nothing. Nothing. Yes. I want to become nothing.

I feel like such a fool.

“I don’t understand why he never told you,” Nazeera is saying to me now, but I can hardly hear her. “That’s crazy. It was pretty big news in our world.”

“Why have you been following me?” I change the subject with zero finesse. My eyes are half lidded. My fists are clenched. I don’t want to talk about Warner anymore. Ever again. I want to rip my heart out of my chest and throw it in our piss-filled ocean for all the good its ever done me.

I don’t want to feel anything anymore.

Nazeera sits back, surprised. “There’s a lot going on right now,” she says. “There’s so much you don’t know, so much crap you’re just beginning to wade into. I mean—hell, someone tried to kill you yesterday.” She shakes her head. “I’m just worried about you.”

“You don’t even know me. Why bother worrying about me?”

This time, she doesn’t respond. She just looks at me. Slowly, she unwraps another candy. Pops it in her mouth and looks away.

“My dad forced me to come here,” she says quietly. “I didn’t want to have any part in any of this. I never have. I hate everything The Reestablishment stands for. But I told myself that if I had to be here, I would look out for you. So that’s what I’m doing now. I’m looking out for you.”

“Well, don’t waste your time,” I say to her, feeling callous. “I don’t need your pity or your protection.”

Nazeera goes quiet. Finally, she sighs. “Listen—I’m really sorry,” she says. “I honestly thought you knew about Lena.”

“I don’t care about Lena,” I lie. “I have more important things to worry about.”

“Right,” she says. She clears her throat. “I know. Still, I’m sorry.”

I say nothing.

“Hey,” Nazeera says. “Really. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just want you to know that I’m not here to hurt you. I’m trying to look out for you.”

“I don’t need you to look out for me. I’m doing fine.”

Now she rolls her eyes. “Didn’t I just save your life?”

I mumble something dumb under my breath.

Nazeera shakes her head. “You have to get it together, girl, or you’re not going to get through this alive,” she says to me. “You have no idea what’s going on behind the scenes or what the other commanders have in store for you.” When I don’t respond she says, “Lena won’t be the last of us to arrive here, you know. And no one is coming here to play nice.”

I look up at her. My eyes are dead of emotion. “Good,” I say. “Let them come.”

She laughs, but there’s no life in it. “So you and Warner have some drama and now you just don’t care about anything? That’s real mature.”

Fire flashes through me. My eyes sharpen. “If I’m upset right now, it’s because I’ve just discovered that everyone closest to me has been lying to me. Using me. Manipulating me for their own needs. My parents,” I say angrily, “are still alive, and apparently they’re no better than the abusive monsters who adopted me. I have a sister being actively tortured by The Reestablishment—and I never even knew she existed. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that nothing is going to be the same for me, not ever again, and I have no idea who to trust or how to move forward. So yeah,” I say, nearly shouting the words, “right now I don’t care about anything. Because I don’t know what I’m fighting for anymore. And I don’t know who my friends are. Right now,” I say, “everyone is my enemy, including you.”

Nazeera is unmoved. “You could fight for your sister,” she says.

“I don’t even know who she is.”

Nazeera shoots me a sidelong look, heavy with disbelief. “Isn’t it enough that she’s an innocent girl being tortured? I thought there was some greater good you were fighting for.”

I shrug. Look away.

“You know what? You don’t have to care,” she says. “But I do. I care about what The Reestablishment has done to innocent people. I care that our parents are all a bunch of psychopaths. I care a great deal about what The Reestablishment has done, in particular, to those of us with abilities.

“And to answer your earlier question: I never told anyone about my powers because I saw what they did to people like me. How they locked them up. Tortured and abused them.” She looks me in the eye. “And I don’t want to be the next experiment.”

Something inside me hollows. Mellows out. I feel suddenly empty and sad. “I do care,” I finally say to her. “I care too much, probably.”

And Nazeera’s anger subsides. She sighs.

“Warner said The Reestablishment wants to take me back,” I say.

She nods. “Seems about right.”

“Where do they want to take me?”

“I’m not sure,” she says. Shrugs. “They might just kill you.”

“Thanks for the pep talk.”

“Or,” she says, smiling a little, “they’ll send you to another continent, maybe. New alias. New facility.”

“Another continent?” I say, curious despite myself. “I’ve never even been on a plane before.”

Somehow, I’ve said the wrong thing.

Nazeera looks almost stricken for a second. Pain flashes in and out of her eyes and she looks away. Clears her throat. But when she looks back her face is neutral once more. “Yeah. Well. You’re not missing much.”

“Do you travel a lot?” I ask.


“Where are you from?”

“Sector 2. Asian continent.” And then, at the look at my face: “But I was born in Baghdad.”

“Baghdad,” I say, almost to myself. It sounds so familiar, and I’m trying to remember, trying to place it on the map, when she says


“Oh,” I say. “Wow.”

“A lot to take in, huh?”

“Yeah,” I say quietly. And then—hating myself even as I say the words—I can’t help but ask, “Where’s Lena from?”

Nazeera laughs. “I thought you said you didn’t care about Lena.”

I close my eyes. Shake my head, mortified.

“She was born in Peterhof, a suburb of Saint Petersburg.”

“Russia,” I say, relieved to finally recognize one of these cities. “War and Peace.”