I raise my eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to kill them first.”
I leave Juliette’s room in a daze. It doesn’t seem right that so much horrible shit should be, like, allowed to go down in such a short period of time. There should be a fail-safe in the universe somewhere, something that automatically shuts down in the event of extreme human stupidity. Maybe an emergency lever. A button, even.
This is ridiculous.
I sigh, feeling suddenly sick to my stomach.
I guess we’ll have to wait to discuss all this tonight, after the symposium, which is going to be its own kind of shitshow. There doesn’t seem to be a point to attending the symposium now, but Juliette said she didn’t want to bail, not this late in the game, so we’re all supposed to make nice and act like everything is normal. Six hundred sector leaders gathered in the same room and we’re supposed to make nice and act like everything is normal. I don’t get it. It’s no secret to anyone that we, as a sector, have betrayed the entire establishment, so I don’t understand why we’re even bothering to pretend. But Castle says maintaining these pretenses means something to the system, so we have to follow through. Jumping ship now is basically like flipping off the rest of the continent. It’d be a declaration of war.
Honestly, the ridiculousness of this whole thing would almost be funny if I didn’t think we were all probably going to die.
What a day.
I spot Sonya and Sara on my way back to my room and I nod a quick greeting, but Sara grabs my arm.
“Have you seen Castle?” she says.
“We’ve been trying to get ahold of him for an hour,” says Sonya.
The urgency in their voices sends a sudden spike of fear through my body, and the viselike grip Sara’s still got on my arm isn’t helping. It’s not like either of them to be so anxious; for as long as I’ve known them, these two have always been gentle and generally calm—through everything.
“What’s wrong?” I say. “What’s going on? Anything I can do to help?”
They shake their heads at the same time. “We need to talk to Castle.”
“Last I saw him, he was downstairs, talking to Warner. Why don’t you page him? He’s always wearing his earpiece.”
“We’ve tried,” Sonya says. “Several times.”
“Can you at least tell me what this is about? Just so I don’t have a heart attack?”
Sara’s eyes widen. “Have you been experiencing chest pains?”
“Have you been feeling unusually lethargic?” Sonya chimes in.
“Shortness of breath?” Sara again.
“What? No. Guys, stop—I meant that as a figure of speech. I’m not actually going to have a heart attack. I’m just—I’m worried.”
Sonya ignores me. She rummages around in the messenger bag she carries around in case of emergencies and unearths a small medicine bottle. She and Sara are twins and our resident healers—and they’re an interesting combination of gentle but extremely serious. They’re doctors with the perfect bedside manner, and they never let any mention of pain, illness, or injury go ignored. Once, back at Point, I said casually that I was sick and tired of being underground all the time, and the two of them forced me into a bed and demanded I give them a list of my symptoms. When I was finally able to explain that I’d been joking—that “sick and tired” was just a thing people say sometimes—they didn’t think it was funny. They were irritated with me for a week after that.
“Take this with you, as a precaution,” Sonya says, and presses the blue, cylindrical bottle into my hand. “As you know, Sara and I have been working on this for a while, but this is the first time we feel like it might be ready for the field. That,” she says, nodding at the bottle in my hand, “is one of the test batches, but we haven’t had any trouble with it. Actually, we think it might be ready for production.”
That gets my attention.
I stare in awe at the bottle in my hand. It’s heavy. Glass. “No way,” I say softly. “You did it?” I look up, look into their eyes.
They smile at exactly the same time.
These two have been working on creating healing pills for as long as I can remember. They wanted to give us something to take on the road—in the middle of battle—to keep us going if and/or when they’re not around.
“Did James work on this at all?”
Sonya smiles wider. “He helped.”
“Yeah?” I smile, too. “How’s his training going? Everything okay?”
They nod. “We’re about to go pick him up, actually,” Sara says. “For his afternoon session. He’s a fast study. He’s growing into his powers nicely.”
Almost without realizing it, I stand up a bit taller, puff my chest like a peacock. I don’t know what right I have to feel proprietary about that kid, but I’m so proud of him.
I know he’s got a big future ahead of him.
“All right, well”—I hold up the bottle—“thank you for this. I’m going to take it with me, because”—I shake the bottle—“this is amazing. But don’t worry. Seriously. I’m not going to have a heart attack.”
“Good,” they both say.
I grin. “So you want me to tell Castle you’re looking for him?”
“And you’re not going to tell me what the urgency is all about?”
Sara and Sonya exchange glances.
I raise an eyebrow.
Finally, Sara says—
“Do you remember when Juliette was shot?”
“She was shot three days ago, Sara.” I offer her an incredulous look. “I’m not likely to forget.”
Sonya jumps in and says, “Yes, but, the thing you don’t know—the thing that no one but Warner and Castle know—is that something happened to Juliette when she was shot. Something we weren’t able to heal.”
“What?” I say sharply. “What do you mean?”
“There was some kind of poison in the bullets,” Sara explains. “Something that was giving her hallucinations.”
I stare, horrified.
“We’ve been studying the properties of the poison for days, trying to come up with an antidote,” she says. “Instead, we discovered something . . . unexpected. Something even more important.”
After a beat of silence, I can’t take it anymore.
“And?” I say, gesturing with my hand that they should continue.
“We really want to tell you everything,” Sonya says, “but we have to speak to Castle first. He needs to be the first to know.” She hesitates. “I can only tell you that we think we’ve discovered something that directly corresponds with the tattoos on the dead body of Juliette’s assailant.”
“That guy Nazeera killed,” I say, remembering. “She saved Juliette’s life.”
Another spike of fear spears through me.
“All right,” I say, trying to keep my voice light, steady. I don’t want to freak them out with my own worries. “Okay. I’ll tell Castle to come find you right away. Will you be in the medical wing?”
They nod again.
And then, as I walk away, Sara calls after me.
I turn around.
“Tell him—” She hesitates again, and then seems to make a decision. “Tell him it’s about Sector 241. Tell him we think it’s a message. From Nouria.”
“What?” I freeze in place, disbelieving. “That’s impossible.”
“Yes,” Sara says. “We know.”
I take the stairs.
I don’t have time to wait for the elevator, and besides, my body is too full of nervous energy right now to stand still. I take the stairs two, three at a time, flying even as I keep a hand on the handrail to steady myself.
I didn’t think this day could get crazier.
I don’t know how Castle will react to hearing her name. He hasn’t heard a word from Nouria in years. Not since—well, not since the boys were murdered. Castle told me he gave Nouria space because he thought she needed time. He figured they’d find their way back to each other again after she recovered. But after the sectors were erected, it became near impossible to contact loved ones. The internet was one of the first things The Reestablishment took away, and without it the world became—in an instant—a bigger, scarier place. Everything was harder. Everyone felt helpless. I don’t think anyone realized just how much we relied on the internet for literally everything until the lights went off. Computers and phones were taken away. Destroyed. Hackers were found and publicly hanged.
Borders were closed without clearance.
And then The Reestablishment tore families apart. On purpose. In the beginning they pretended they were doing it for the good of humanity. They called it a new form of integration. They said race relations were at their worst because we were all so isolated from one another, and that part of the problem was that people had built these extensive family units—The Reestablishment referred to big families as dynasties—and that these dynasties only reinforced homogeneity within homogenous communities. They said that the only way to fix this was to rip those dynasties apart. They ran algorithms that helped them manufacture diversity by rebuilding communities with specific ratios.