Page 42

“Great book,” Nazeera says with a nod. “Too bad it’s still on the burn list.”

“Burn list?”

“To be destroyed,” she says. “The Reestablishment has big plans to reset language, literature, and culture. They want to create a new kind of, I don’t know,” she says, making a random gesture with one hand, “universal humanity.”

I nod, quietly horrified. I already know this. I’d first heard about this from Adam right after he was assigned to become my cellmate in the asylum. And the idea of destroying art—culture—everything that makes human beings diverse and beautiful—

It makes me feel sick to my stomach.

“Anyway,” she says, “it’s obviously a garbage, grotesque experiment, but we have to go through the motions. We were given lists of books to sort through, and we have to read them, write reports, decide what to keep and what to get rid of.” She exhales. “I finally finished reading most of the classics a couple of months ago—but early last year they forced all of us to read War and Peace in five languages, because they wanted us to analyze how culture plays a role in manipulating the translation of the same text.” She hesitates, remembering. “It was definitely the most fun to read in French. But I think, ultimately, it’s best in Russian. All other translations—especially the English ones—are missing that necessary . . . toska. You know what I mean?”

My mouth drops open a little.

It’s the way she says it—like it’s no big deal, like she’s just said something perfectly normal, like anyone could read Tolstoy in five different languages and polish off the books in an afternoon. It’s her easy, effortless self-assuredness that makes my heart deflate. It took me a month to read War and Peace. In English.

“Right,” I say, and look away. “Yeah. That’s, um, interesting.”

It’s becoming too familiar, this feeling of inferiority. Too powerful. Every time I think I’ve made progress in my life I seem to be reminded of how much further I still have to go. Though I guess it’s not Nazeera’s fault that she and the rest of these kids were bred to be violent geniuses.

“So,” she says, clapping her hands together. “Is there anything else you want to know?”

“Yeah,” I say. “What’s the deal with your brother?”

She looks surprised. “Haider?” She hesitates. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, like”—I frown—“is he loyal to your dad? To The Reestablishment? Is he trustworthy?”

“I don’t know if I’d call him trustworthy,” she says, looking thoughtful. “But I think all of us have complicated relationships with The Reestablishment. Haider doesn’t want to be here any more than I do.”


She nods. “Warner probably doesn’t consider any of us his friends, but Haider does. And Haider went through a really dark time last year.” She pauses. Breaks another leaf off a nearby branch. Folds and refolds it between her fingers as she says, “My dad was putting a lot of pressure on him, forcing him through some really intense training—the details of which Haider still won’t share with me—and a few weeks later he just started spiraling. He was exhibiting suicidal tendencies. Self-harming. And I got really scared. I called Warner because I knew Haider would listen to him.” She shakes her head. “Warner didn’t say a word. He just got on a plane. And he stayed with us for a couple of weeks. I don’t know what he said to Haider,” she says. “I don’t know what he did or how he got him through it, but”—she looks off into the distance, shrugs—“it’s hard to forget something like that. Even though our parents keep trying to pit us against each other. They’re trying to keep us from getting too soft.” She laughs. “But it’s so much bullshit.”

And I’m reeling, stunned.

There’s so much to unpack here I don’t even know where to begin. I’m not sure if I want to. All of Nazeera’s comments about Warner just seem to spear me in the heart. They make me miss him.

They make me want to forgive him.

But I can’t let my emotions control me. Not now. Not ever. So I force the feelings down, out of my head, and instead, I say, “Wow. And I just thought Haider was kind of a jerk.”

Nazeera smiles. Waves an absent hand. “He’s working on it.”

“Does he have any . . . supernatural abilities?”

“None that I know of.”



“But you can fly,” I say.

She nods.

“That’s interesting.”

She smiles, wide, and turns to face me. Her eyes are big and beautifully lit from the dappled light breaking through the branches, and her excitement is so pure that it makes something inside of me shrivel up and die.

“It’s so much more than interesting,” she says, and it’s then that I feel a pang of something new:




My abilities have always been a curse—a source of endless pain and conflict. Everything about me is designed to kill and destroy and it’s a reality I’ve never been able to fully accept. “Must be nice,” I say.

She turns away again, smiling into the wind. “The best part?” she says. “Is that I can also do this—”

Nazeera goes suddenly invisible.

I jerk back sharply.

And then she’s back, beaming. “Isn’t it great?” she says, eyes glittering with excitement. “I’ve never been able to share this with anyone before.”

“Uh . . . yeah.” I laugh but it sounds fake, too high. “Very cool.” And then, more quietly, “Kenji is going to be pissed.”

Nazeera stops smiling. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“Well—” I nod in her general direction. “I mean, what you just did? That’s Kenji’s thing. And he’s not good at sharing the spotlight, generally.”

“I didn’t know there could be someone else with the same power,” she says, visibly heartbroken. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know,” I say, and I feel a sudden urge to laugh. She’s so determined to dislike Kenji that I’m starting to wonder why. And then I’m reminded, all at once, of today’s horrible revelations, and the smile is wiped off my face. “So,” I say quickly, “should we get back to base? I still have a ton of things to figure out, including how I’m going to deal with this stupid symposium tomorrow. I don’t know if I should bail or just—”

“Don’t bail.” Nazeera cuts me off. “If you bail they might think you know something. Don’t show your hand,” she says. “Not yet. Just go through the motions until you get your own plan together.”

I stare at her. Study her. Finally, I say, “Okay.”

“And once you decide what you want to do, let me know. I can always help evacuate people. Hold down the fort. Fight. Whatever. Just say the word.”

“What—?” I frown. “Evacuate people? What are you talking about?”

She smiles as she shakes her head. “Girl, you still don’t get it, do you? Why do you think we’re here? The Reestablishment is planning on destroying Sector 45.” She stares at me. “And that includes everyone in it.”


I never make it downstairs.

I’ve hardly had a second to put my shirt on straight when I hear someone banging on my door.

“I’m really sorry, bro,” I hear Kenji shout, “she wouldn’t listen to me—”

And then,

“Open the door, Warner. I promise this will only hurt a little.”

Her voice is the same as it’s always been. Smooth. Deceptively soft. Always a little rough around the edges.

“Lena,” I say. “How nice to hear from you again.”

“Open the door, asshole.”

“You never did hold back with the flattery.”

“I said open the door—”

Very carefully, I do.