- Unravel Me
Kenji says our meeting point is in one of the few suburban areas still standing; he says he knows it well. Apparently as a soldier he was sent on several errands in this area, each time required to drop off unmarked packages in an abandoned mailbox. The packages were never explained, and he wasn’t stupid enough to ask.
He says it’s odd that any of these old houses are even functional, especially considering how strict The Reestablishment is about making sure the civilians never try to go back. In fact, most of the residential neighborhoods were torn down immediately after the initial takeover. So it’s very, very rare to find sections left untouched. But there it is, written on the note in too-tight capital letters:
We’re meeting the supreme commander inside of what used to be someone’s home.
“So what do you think we should do? Just ring the doorbell?” Kenji is leading us toward the exit of Omega Point. I’m staring straight ahead in the dim light of this tunnel, trying not to focus on the woodpeckers in my stomach. “What do you think?” Kenji asks again. “Would that be too much? Maybe we should just knock?”
I try to laugh, but the effort is halfhearted at best.
Adam doesn’t say a word.
“All right, all right,” Kenji says, all seriousness now. “Once we get out there, you know the drill. We link hands. I project to blend the three of us. One of you on either side of me. Got it?”
I’m nodding, trying not to look at Adam as I do.
This is going to be one of the first tests for him and his ability; he’ll have to be able to turn off his Energy just as long as he’s linked to Kenji. If he can’t manage it, Kenji’s projection won’t work on Adam, and Adam will be exposed. In danger.
“Kent,” Kenji says, “you understand the risks, right? If you can’t pull this off?”
Adam nods. His face is unflinching. He says he’s been training every day, working with Castle to get himself under control. He says he’s going to be fine.
He looks at me as he says it.
My emotions jump out of a plane.
I hardly even notice we’re nearing the surface when Kenji motions for us to follow him up a ladder. I climb and try to think at the same time, going over and over the plan we spent the early hours of the morning strategizing.
Getting there is the easy part.
Getting inside is where things get tricky.
We’re supposed to pretend we’re doing a swap—our hostages are supposed to be with the supreme commander, and I’m supposed to oversee their release. It’s supposed to be an exchange.
Me for them.
But the truth is that we have no idea what will actually happen. We don’t know, for example, who will answer the door. We don’t know if anyone will answer the door. We don’t even know if we’re actually meeting inside the house or if we’re simply meeting outside of it. We also don’t know how they’ll react to seeing Adam and Kenji and the makeshift armory we have strapped to our bodies.
We don’t know if they’ll start shooting right away.
This is the part that scares me. I’m not worried for myself as much as I am for Adam and Kenji. They are the twist in this plan. They are the element of surprise. They’re either the unexpected pieces that give us the only advantage we can afford right now, or they’re the unexpected pieces that end up dead the minute they’re spotted. And I’m starting to think this was a very bad idea.
I’m starting to wonder if I was wrong. If maybe I can’t handle this.
But it’s too late to turn back now.
Kenji tells us to lie low as he pops his head out of the exit. He’s already disappeared from sight, his figure blending into the background. He’s going to let us know if we’re clear to surface.
I’m too nervous to speak.
Too nervous to think.
I can do this we can do this we have no choice but to do this, is all I keep saying to myself.
“Let’s go.” I hear Kenji’s voice from above our heads. Adam and I follow him up the last stretch of the ladder. We’re taking one of the alternate exit routes out of Omega Point—one that only 7 people know about, according to Castle. We’re taking as many precautions as necessary.
Adam and I manage to haul our bodies aboveground and I immediately feel the cold and Kenji’s hand slip around my waist. Cold cold cold. It cuts through the air like little knives slicing across our skin. I look down at my feet and see nothing but a barely perceptible shimmer where my boots are supposed to be. I wiggle my fingers in front of my face.
I look around.
No Adam and no Kenji except for Kenji’s invisible hand, now resting at the small of my back.
It worked. Adam made it work. I’m so relieved I want to sing.
“Can you guys hear me?” I whisper, happy no one can see me smiling.
“Yeah, I’m right here,” Adam says.
“Nice work, Kent,” Kenji says to him. “I know this can’t be easy for you.”
“It’s fine,” Adam says. “I’m fine. Let’s go.”
We’re like a human chain.
Kenji is between me and Adam and we’re linked, holding hands as Kenji guides us through this deserted area. I have no idea where we are, and I’m starting to realize that I seldom do. This world is still so foreign to me, still so new. Spending so much time in isolation while the planet crumbled to pieces didn’t do me any favors.
The farther we go, the closer we get to the main road and the closer we get to the compounds that are settled not a mile from here. I can see the boxy shape of their steel structures from where we’re standing.
Kenji jerks to a halt.
“Why aren’t we moving?” I ask.
Kenji shushes me. “Can you hear that?”
Adam pulls in a breath. “Shit. Someone’s coming.”
“A tank,” Kenji clarifies.
“More than one,” Adam adds.
“So why are we still standing here—”
“Wait, Juliette, hold on a second—”
And then I see it. A parade of tanks coming down the main road. I count 6 of them altogether.
Kenji unleashes a series of expletives under his breath.
“What is it?” I ask. “What’s the problem?”
“There was only one reason Warner ever ordered us to take more than two tanks out at a time, on the same route,” Adam says to me.
“They’re preparing for a fight.”
“He knows,” Kenji says. “Dammit! Of course he knows. Castle was right. He knows we’re bringing backup. Shit.”
“What time is it, Kenji?”
“We have about forty-five minutes.”
“Then let’s move,” I tell him. “We don’t have time to worry about what’s going to happen afterward. Castle is prepared—he’s anticipating something like this. We’ll be okay. But if we don’t get to that house on time, Winston and Brendan and everyone else might die today.”
“We might die today,” he points out.
“Yeah,” I tell him. “That, too.”
We’re moving through the streets quickly now. Swiftly. Darting through the clearing toward some semblance of civilization and that’s when I see it: the remnants of an achingly familiar universe. Little square houses with little square yards that are now nothing more than wild weeds decaying in the wind. The dead grass crunches under our feet, icy and uninviting. We count down the houses.
It must be this one. It’s impossible to miss.
It’s the only house on this entire street that looks fully functional. The paint is fresh, clean, a beautiful shade of robin’s-egg blue. A small set of stairs leads up to the front porch, where I notice 2 white wicker rocking chairs and a huge planter full of bright blue flowers I’ve never seen before. I see a welcome mat made of rubber, wind chimes hanging from a wooden beam, clay pots and a small shovel tucked into a corner. It’s everything we can never have anymore.
Someone lives here.
It’s impossible that this exists.
I’m pulling Kenji and Adam toward the home, overcome with emotion, almost forgetting that we’re no longer allowed to live in this old, beautiful world.
Someone is yanking me backward.
“This isn’t it,” Kenji says to me. “This is the wrong street. Shit. This is the wrong street—we’re supposed to be two streets down—”
“But this house—it’s—I mean, Kenji, someone lives here—”
“No one lives here,” he says. “Someone probably set this up to throw us off—in fact, I bet that house is lined with C4. It’s probably a trap designed to catch people wandering unregulated turf. Now come on”—he yanks at my hand again—“we have to hurry. We have seven minutes!”
And even though we’re running forward, I keep looking back, waiting to see some sign of life, waiting to see someone step outside to check the mail, waiting to see a bird fly by.
And maybe I’m imagining it.
Maybe I’m insane.
But I could’ve sworn I just saw a curtain flutter in an upstairs window.
The real 1542 Sycamore is just as dilapidated as I’d originally imagined it would be. It’s a crumbling mess, its roof groaning under the weight of too many years’ negligence. Adam and Kenji and I are standing just around the corner, out of sight even though we’re technically still invisible. There is not a single person anywhere, and the entire house looks abandoned. I’m beginning to wonder if this was all just an elaborate joke.
“You guys stay hidden,” I tell Kenji and Adam, struck by sudden inspiration. “I want him to think I’m alone. If anything goes wrong, you guys can jump in, okay? There’s too much of a risk that your presence will throw things off too quickly.”
They’re both quiet a moment.
“Damn. That’s a good idea,” Kenji says. “I should’ve thought of that.”
I can’t help but grin, just a little. “I’m going to let go now.”
“Hey—good luck,” Kenji says, his voice unexpectedly soft. “We’ll be right behind you.”
I hesitate at the sound of Adam’s voice.
He almost says something but seems to change his mind. He clears his throat. Whispers, “Promise you’ll be careful.”
“I promise,” I say into the wind, fighting back emotion. Not now. I can’t deal with this right now. I have to focus.
So I take a deep breath.
10 seconds and I’m trying to breathe
and I’m trying to be brave
but the truth is I’m scared out of my mind
and I have no idea what’s waiting for me behind that door
and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a heart attack