We hardly even had time to talk about the plan, because everything has been so insane lately, but Castle gave us all a quick pep talk before J took the stage, and that was it. That was all we were going to get. A quick good luck and I hope you don’t die.
I’m definitely nervous.
I shift my weight, feeling suddenly restless, as the crowd goes still. It’s a sea of military faces, the iconic red/green/blue stripes of The Reestablishment emblazoned on every uniform. I know they’re regular people—blood and guts and bones—but they look like machines. And they turn their heads up at the same time, eyes blinking in unison as Juliette begins to speak.
It’s creepy as hell.
We always knew that no one outside of Sector 45 would willingly accept Juliette as their new supreme commander, but it’s chilling to witness in person. They clearly have no respect for Juliette, and as she talks about her love for the people, for the hardworking men and women whose lives were stripped for parts, I can see them strain to contain their anger. There’s a reason so many are still loyal to The Reestablishment—and the proof of it is right here, in this room. These people are paid better. They’re given perks, privileges. I never would’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, but once you see the things people are willing to do for an extra bowl of rice, you can’t unsee it. The Reestablishment keeps their higher-ups happy. They don’t have to mingle with the masses. They get to keep their finery and live in real homes on unregulated territory.
These men and women sneering at Juliette as she speaks—they don’t want her version of the world. They don’t want to lose their rank and the privileges that rank affords. Everything she’s saying about the failures of The Reestablishment, about the need to start over and give the people back their homes, their families, their voices—
Her words are a threat to their livelihood.
So it’s really no surprise at all to me when the crowd decides they’ve had enough. I feel their restlessness growing more wild as she speaks, and when someone suddenly stands up and screams at her—makes fun of her—I worry this won’t end well. Juliette keeps cool, keeps talking even as more of them jump to their feet and shout. They’re shaking their fists and demanding she be removed from the podium, demanding she be executed for treason, demanding she be imprisoned, at the very least, for speaking against The Reestablishment, but her voice can hardly be heard over the crowd.
And then she starts shouting.
This is bad. This is really, really bad, and my instincts are telling me to panic, that this will only end in bloodshed. I’m trying to look around and still keep my cool, but when Warner catches my eye I know, right away, that he gets it. We’re both thinking the same thing:
Get the hell out of here as soon as possible.
“This was an ambush. Tell your team to run. Now.”
I spin around in an exaggerated motion, so freaked out I nearly lose my balance. I’m hearing Nazeera. I’m hearing Nazeera. I’m sure I’m hearing her voice. The problem is, I don’t see her anywhere.
Am I dying? I must be dying.
“Kenji. Listen to me.”
I freeze in place.
I can feel the warmth of her body edging up against mine. I can feel her mouth at my ear, the gentle whisper of her breath against my skin. Jesus. I know how this works. I invented this shit.
“You’re invisible,” I say, so quietly I hardly move my lips.
I feel the tickle of her hair against my neck as she leans closer, and I have to suppress the urge to shiver. It’s so strange. So strange to be feeling so many emotions at once. Terror, fear, worry, want. It’s confusing. And her hand is on my arm when she says, “I was hoping to explain later. But now you know. And now you have to run.”
I turn to Ian, who’s standing to the left of me, and say, “It’s time to bail, bro. Let’s go.”
Ian looks at me, his eyes widening for a fraction of a second, and then he grabs Lily’s hand and shouts, “Run—RUN—”
The sound of a gunshot splits open a moment of silence.
It feels like slow motion. It feels like the world slows down, turns on its side, and swings back around. Somehow I think I can see the bullet as it moves, fast and strong, right at Juliette’s head.
It hits its mark with a dull thud.
I’m hardly breathing. I’m beyond pretending I’m not terrified. Shit just got real, super fast, and I have no idea what’s about to happen. I know I need to move, need to get the hell out of here before things get worse, but— I don’t know why, but I can’t convince my legs to work. Can’t convince myself to look away.
No one can.
The crowd has gone deathly still in the aftermath. People are staring at Juliette like they didn’t believe the rumors. Like they wanted to know if it was really true that this seventeen-year-old girl could murder the most intimidating despot this nation has ever known, and then stand in front of a crowd and peel a bullet off her forehead after an attempted assassination, looking for all the world like the experience was no more annoying than swatting a fly.
I suppose now they know that the rumors were true.
But Juliette looks suddenly more than annoyed. She looks both surprised and furious as she stares at the ruined bullet in the palm of her hand. From this vantage point it looks like a mutilated coin. And then, disgusted, she tosses it to the ground. The sound of the metal hitting stone is delicate. Elegant.
That’s it. Everyone goes apeshit.
People lose their goddamn minds. The crowd is on its feet, roaring threats and obscenities, and they all pull weapons from their bodies and I’m thinking, Where the hell did they get them from? How did so many of them get through? Who’s our mole?
More gunshots split the air.
I swear, loudly, and move to tackle Castle to the ground—and then I hear it. I hear it before I see it. The surprised gasp. The heavy thud. The reverberations of the stage under my feet.
Brendan is on the ground.
Winston is sobbing. Desperately, I push through my teammates, falling to my knees to assess the wound. Brendan’s been shot in the shoulder. Relief sags my body. He’ll be okay.
I toss the glass pill bottle at Winston and tell him to force a few down Brendan’s throat, tell him to apply pressure to the wound and remind him that Brendan’s going to be okay, that we just need to get him to Sonya and Sara—and then I remember.
I know this girl.
I look up, panicked, and scream, “Juliette, DON’T—”
But she’s already lost control.
She’s just screaming words, I think. They’re just words. But she’s screaming, screaming at the top of her lungs, with an agony that seems almost an exaggeration, and it’s causing devastation I never knew possible. It’s like she just—imploded.
It doesn’t seem real.
I mean, I knew Juliette was strong—and I knew we hadn’t discovered the depth of her powers—but I never imagined she’d be capable of this.
The ceiling is splitting open. Seismic currents are thundering up the walls, across the floors, chattering my teeth. The ground is rumbling under my feet. People are frozen in place even as they shake, the room vibrating around them. The chandeliers swing too fast and the lights flicker ominously. And then, with one last vibration, three of the massive chandeliers rip free from the ceiling and shatter as they hit the floor.
Crystal flies everywhere. The room loses half its light and suddenly, it’s hard to see exactly what’s happening. I look at Juliette and see her staring, slack-jawed, frozen at the sight of the devastation, and I realize she must’ve stopped screamed a moment ago. She can’t stop this. She already put the energy into the world and now—
It has to go somewhere.
The shudders ripple with renewed fervor across the floorboards, ripping new cracks in walls and seats and people.
I don’t actually believe it until I see the blood. It seems fake, for a second, all the limp bodies in seats with their chests butterflied open. It seems staged—like a bad joke, like a bad theater production. But when the blood arrives, heavy and viscous, seeping through clothes and upholstery, dripping down frozen hands, I know we’ll never recover from this.
Juliette just murdered six hundred people at once.
There’s no recovering from this.
I shove my way through the quiet, stunned, still-breathing bodies of my friends. I hear Winston’s soft, insistent whimpers and Brendan’s steady, reassuring response that the wound isn’t as bad as it looks, that he’s going to be okay, that he’s been through worse than this and survived it—
And I know my priority right now needs to be Juliette.
When I reach her I pull her into my arms, and her cold, unresponsive body reminds me of the time I found her standing over Anderson, a gun aimed at his chest. She was so terrified—so surprised—by what she’d done that she could hardly speak. She looked like she’d disappeared into herself somewhere—like she’d found a small room in her brain and had locked herself inside. It took a minute to coax her back out again.
She hadn’t even killed anyone that time.