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“Wow,” I whisper, not trusting myself to posit any of my own theories. Not wanting to think too hard about who what it is, exactly, Warner is searching for. And all the time wondering why these 2 guys are speaking to me so freely, as if I’m trustworthy, as if I’m one of their own.

I don’t dare mention it.

“Yeah,” Winston says, picking up his chewed-up pen again. “Crazy. Anyway, if we don’t get a fresh batch of coffee today, I am seriously going to lose my shit.”

I look around the room. I don’t see coffee anywhere. No food, either. I wonder what that means for Winston. “Are we going to have breakfast before we start?”

“Nah,” he says. “Today we get to eat on a different schedule. Besides, we’ll have plenty to choose from when we get back. We get first picks. It’s the only perk.”

“Get back from where?”

“Outside,” Brendan says, leaning back in his chair. He points up at the ceiling. “We’re going up and out.”

“What?” I gasp, feeling true excitement for the first time. “Really?”

“Yup.” Winston puts his glasses back on. “And it looks like you’re about to get your first introduction to what it is we do here.” He nods at the front of the room, and I see Kenji hauling a huge trunk onto a table.

“What do you mean?” I ask. “What are we doing?”

“Oh, you know.” Winston shrugs. Clasps his hands behind his head. “Grand larceny. Armed robbery. That sort of thing.”

I begin to laugh when Brendan stops me. He actually puts his hand on my shoulder and for a moment I’m mildly terrified. Wondering if he’s lost his mind.

“He’s not joking,” Brendan says to me. “And I hope you know how to use a gun.”


We look homeless.

Which means we look like civilians.

We’ve moved out of the classroom and into the hallway, and we’re all wearing a similar sort of ensemble, tattered and grayish and frayed. Everyone is adjusting their outfits as we go; Winston slips off his glasses and shoves them into his jacket only to zip up his coat. The collar comes up to his chin and he huddles into it. Lily, one of the other girls among us, wraps a thick scarf around her mouth and pulls the hood of her coat over her head. I see Kenji pull on a pair of gloves and readjust his cargo pants to better hide the gun tucked inside.

Brendan shifts beside me.

He pulls a skullcap out of his pocket and tugs it on over his head, zipping his coat up to his neck. It’s startling the way the blackness of the beanie offsets the blue in his eyes to make them even brighter, sharper than they looked before. He flashes me a smile when he catches me watching. Then he tosses me a pair of old gloves 2 sizes too big before bending down to tighten the laces on his boots.

I take a small breath.

I try to focus all my energy on where I am, on what I’m doing and what I’m about to do. I tell myself not to think of Adam, not to think about what he’s doing or how he’s healing or what he must be feeling right now. I beg myself not to dwell on my last moments with him, the way he touched me, how he held me, his lips and his hands and his breaths coming in too fast—

I fail.

I can’t help but think about how he always tried to protect me, how he nearly lost his life in the process. He was always defending me, always watching out for me, never realizing that it was me, it was always me who was the biggest threat. The most dangerous. He thinks too highly of me, places me on a pedestal I’ve never deserved.

I definitely don’t need protection.

I don’t need anyone to worry for me or wonder about me or risk falling in love with me. I am unstable. I need to be avoided. It’s right that people fear me.

They should.

“Hey.” Kenji stops beside me, grabs my elbow. “You ready?”

I nod. Offer him a small smile.

The clothes I’m wearing are borrowed. The card hanging from my neck, hidden under my suit, is brand-new. Today I was given a fake RR card—a Reestablishment Registration card. It’s proof that I work and live on the compounds; proof that I’m registered as a citizen in regulated territory. Every legal citizen has one. I never did, because I was tossed into an asylum; it was never necessary for someone like me. In fact, I’m fairly certain they just expected me to die in there. Identification was not necessary.

But this RR card is special.

Not everyone at Omega Point receives a counterfeit card. Apparently they’re extremely difficult to replicate. They’re thin rectangles made out of a very rare type of titanium, laser-etched with a bar code as well as the owner’s biographical data, and contain a tracking device that monitors the whereabouts of the citizen.

“RR cards track everything,” Castle explained. “They’re necessary for entering and exiting compounds, necessary for entering and exiting a person’s place of work. Citizens are paid in REST dollars—wages based on a complicated algorithm that calculates the difficulty of their profession, as well as the number of hours they spend working, in order to determine how much their efforts are worth. This electronic currency is dispensed in weekly installments and automatically uploaded to a chip built into their RR cards. REST dollars can then be exchanged at Supply Centers for food and basic necessities. Losing an RR card,” he said, “means losing your livelihood, your earnings, your legal status as a registered citizen.

“If you’re stopped by a soldier and asked for proof of identification,” Castle continued, “you must present your RR card. Failure to present your card,” he said, “will result in … very unhappy consequences. Citizens who walk around without their cards are considered a threat to The Reestablishment. They are seen as purposely defying the law, as characters worthy of suspicion. Being uncooperative in any way—even if that means you simply do not want your every movement to be tracked and monitored—makes you seem sympathetic to rebel parties. And that makes you a threat. A threat,” he said, “that The Reestablishment has no qualms about removing.

“Therefore,” he said, taking a deep breath, “you cannot, and you will not, lose your RR card. Our counterfeit cards do not have the tracking device nor the chip necessary for monitoring REST dollars, because we don’t have the need for either. But! That does not mean they are not just as valuable as decoys,” he said. “And while for citizens on regulated territory, RR cards are part of a life sentence, at Omega Point, they are considered a privilege. And you will treat them as such.”

A privilege.

Among the many things I learned in our meeting this morning, I discovered that these cards are only granted to those who go on missions outside of Omega Point. All of the people in that room today were hand-selected as being the best, the strongest, the most trustworthy. Inviting me to be in that room was a bold move on Kenji’s part. I realize now that it was his way of telling me he trusts me. Despite everything, he’s telling me—and everyone else—that I’m welcome here. Which explains why Winston and Brendan felt so comfortable opening up to me. Because they trust the system at Omega Point. And they trust Kenji if he says he trusts me.

So now I am one of them.

And as my first official act as a member?

I’m supposed to be a thief.


We’re heading up.

Castle should be joining us any moment now to lead our group out of this underground city and into the real world. It will be my first opportunity to see what’s happened to our society in almost 3 years.

I was 14 when I was dragged away from home for killing an innocent child. I spent 2 years bouncing from hospital to law office to detention center to psych ward until they finally decided to put me away for good. Sticking me in the asylum was worse than sending me to prison; smarter, according to my parents. If I’d been sent to prison, the guards would’ve had to treat me like a human being; instead, I spent the past year of my life treated like a rabid animal, trapped in a dark hole with no link to the outside world. Most everything I’ve witnessed of our planet thus far has been out of a window or while running for my life. And now I’m not sure what to expect.

But I want to see it.

I need to see it.

I’m tired of being blind and I’m tired of relying on my memories of the past and the bits and pieces I’ve managed to scrape together of our present.

All I really know is that The Reestablishment has been a household name for 10 years.

I know this because they began campaigning when I was 7 years old. I’ll never forget the beginning of our falling apart. I remember the days when things were still fairly normal, when people were only sort-of dying all the time, when there was enough food for those with enough money to pay for it. This was before cancer became a common illness and the weather became a turbulent, angry creature. I remember how excited everyone was about The Reestablishment. I remember the hope in my teachers’ faces and the announcements we were forced to watch in the middle of the school day. I remember those things.

And just 4 months before my 14-year-old self committed an unforgivable crime, The Reestablishment was elected by the people of our world to lead us into a better future.

Hope. They had so much hope. My parents, my neighbors, my teachers and classmates. Everyone was hoping for the best when they cheered for The Reestablishment and promised their unflagging support.

Hope can make people do terrible things.

I remember seeing the protests just before I was taken away. I remember seeing the streets flooded with angry mobs who wanted a refund on their purchase. I remember how The Reestablishment painted the protesters red from head to toe and told them they should’ve read the fine print before they left their houses that morning.

All sales are final.

Castle and Kenji are allowing me on this expedition because they’re trying to welcome me into the heart of Omega Point. They want me to join them, to really accept them, to understand why their mission is so important. Castle wants me to fight against The Reestablishment and what they have planned for the world. The books, the artifacts, the language and history they plan on destroying; the simple, empty, monochromatic life they want to force upon the upcoming generations. He wants me to see that our Earth is still not so damaged as to be irreparable; he wants to prove that our future is salvageable, that things can get better as long as power is put in the right hands.

He wants me to trust.

I want to trust.

But I get scared, sometimes. In my very limited experience I’ve already found that people seeking power are not to be trusted. People with lofty goals and fancy speeches and easy smiles have done nothing to calm my heart. Men with guns have never put me at ease no matter how many times they promised they were killing for good reason.

It has not gone past my notice that the people of Omega Point are very excellently armed.

But I’m curious. I’m so desperately curious.

So I’m camouflaged in old, ragged clothes and a thick woolen hat that nearly covers my eyes. I wear a heavy jacket that must’ve belonged to a man and my leather boots are almost hidden by the too-large pants puddling around my ankles. I look like a civilian. A poor, tortured civilian struggling to find food for her family.