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Ignite Me

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Destroy Me

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First published in USA in 2020 by HarperCollins Children’s Books

First published in Great Britain in 2020

by Electric Monkey, an imprint of Egmont UK Limited

2 Minster Court, 10th floor, London EC3R 7BB

Published by arrangement with HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division

of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, New York, USA

Text copyright © 2020 Tahereh Mafi

The moral rights of the author have been asserted

First e-book edition 2020

ISBN 978 1 4052 9704 2

Ebook ISBN 978 1 4052 9711 0


A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Stay safe online. Any website addresses listed in this book are correct at the time of going to print. However, Egmont is not responsible for content hosted by third parties. Please be aware that online content can be subject to change and websites can contain content that is unsuitable for children. We advise that all children are supervised when using the internet.



Title Page







































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In the dead of night, I hear birds.

I hear them, I see them, I close my eyes and feel them, feathers shuddering in the air, bending the wind, wings grazing my shoulders when they ascend, when they alight. Discordant shrieks ring and echo, ring and echo—

How many?


White birds, white with streaks of gold, like crowns atop their heads.;  They fly. They soar through the sky with strong, steady wings, masters of their destinies. They used to make me hope.

Never again.

I turn my face into the pillow, digging fingers into cotton flesh as the memories crash into me.

“Do you like them?ˮ she says.

We’re in a big, wide room that smells like dirt. There are trees everywhere, so tall they nearly touch the pipes and beams of the open ceiling. Birds, dozens of them, screech as they stretch their wings. Their calls are loud. A little scary. I try not to flinch as one of the large white birds swoops past me. It wears a bright, neon-green bracelet around one leg. They all do.

This doesn’t make sense.

I remind myself that we’re indoors—the white walls, the concrete floor under my feet—and I look up at my mother, confused.

I’ve never seen Mum smile so much. Mostly she smiles when Dad is around, or when she and Dad are off in the corner, whispering together, but right now it’s just me and Mum and a bunch of birds and she’s so happy I decide to ignore the funny feeling in my stomach. Things are better when Mum is in a good mood.

“Yes,” I lie. “I like them a lot.”

Her eyes brighten. “I knew you would. Emmaline didn’t care for them, but you—you’ve always been a bit too fond of things, haven’t you, darling? Not at all like your sister.” Somehow, her words come out mean. They don’t seem mean, but they sound mean.

I frown.

I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening when she says—

“I had one as a pet when I was about your age. Back then, they were so common we could never be rid of them.” She laughs, and I watch her as she watches a bird, midflight. “One of them lived in a tree near my house, and it called my name whenever I walked past. Can you imagine?” Her smile fades as she asks the question.

Finally, she turns to look at me.

“They’re very nearly extinct now. You understand why I couldn’t let that happen.”

“Of course,” I say, but I’m lying again. There is little I understand about Mum.

She nods. “These are a special sort of creature. Intelligent. They can speak, dance. And each of them wears a crown.” She turns away again, staring at the birds the way she stares at all the things she makes for work: with joy. “The sulphur-crested cockatoo mates for life,” she says. “Just like me and your father.”

The sulphur-crested cockatoo.

I shiver, suddenly, at the unexpected sensation of a warm hand on my back, fingers trailing lightly along my spine.

“Love,” he says, “are you all right?”

When I say nothing he shifts, the sheets rustling, and he tucks me into his hollows, his body curving around mine. He’s warm and strong and as his hand slides down my torso I cant my head toward him, finding peace in his presence, in the safety of his arms. His lips touch my skin, a graze against my neck so subtle it sparks, hot and cold, right down to my toes.

“Is it happening again?” he whispers.

My mother was born in Australia.

I know this because she once told me so, and because now, despite my desperation to resist many of the memories now returned to me, I can’t forget. She once told me that the sulphur-crested cockatoo was native to Australia. It was introduced to New Zealand in the nineteenth century, but Evie, my mother, didn’t discover them there. She fell in love with the birds back home, as a child, when one of them, she claims, saved her life.

These were the birds that once haunted my dreams.

These birds, kept and bred by a crazy woman. I feel embarrassed to realize I’d held fast to nonsense, to the faded, disfigured impressions of old memories poorly discarded. I’d hoped for more. Dreamed of more. Disappointment lodges in my throat, a cold stone I’m unable to swallow.

And then


I feel it

I stiffen against the nausea that precedes a vision, the sudden punch to the gut that means there’s more, there’s more, there’s always more.

Aaron pulls me closer, holds me tighter against his chest.

“Breathe,” he whispers. “I’m right here, love. I’ll be right here.”

I cling to him, squeezing my eyes shut as my head swims. These memories were a gift from my sister, Emmaline. The sister I only just discovered, only just recovered.

And only because she fought to find me.

Despite my parents’ relentless efforts to rid our minds of the lingering proof of their atrocities, Emmaline prevailed. She used her psychokinetic powers to return to me what was stolen from my memories. She gave me this gift—this gift of remembering—to help me save myself. To save her. To stop our parents.

To fix the world.

But now, in the wake of a narrow escape, this gift has become a curse. Every hour my mind is reborn. Altered. The memories keep coming.

And my dead mother refuses to be silenced.

“Little bird,” she whispers, tucking a stray hair behind my ear. “It’s time for you to fly away now.”

“But I don’t want to go,” I say, fear making my voice shake. “I want to stay here, with you and Dad and Emmaline. I still don’t understand why I have to leave.”

“You don’t have to understand,” she says gently.

I go uncomfortably still.

Mum doesn’t yell. She’s never yelled. My whole life, she’s never raised a hand to me, never shouted or called me names. Not like Aaron’s dad. But Mum doesn’t need to yell. Sometimes she just says things, things like you don’t have to understand and there’s a warning there, a finality in her words that’s always scared me.

I feel tears forming, burning the whites of my eyes, and—

“No crying,” she says. “You’re far too old for that now.”

I sniff, hard, fighting back the tears. But my hands won’t stop shaking.

Mum looks up, nods at someone behind me. I turn around just in time to spot Paris, Mr. Anderson, waiting with my suitcase. There’s no kindness in his eyes. No warmth at all. He turns away from me, looks at Mum. He doesn’t say hello.

He says: “Has Max settled in yet?”

“Oh, he’s been ready for days.” Mum glances at her watch, distracted. “You know Max,” she says, smiling faintly. “Always a perfectionist.”

“Only when it comes to your wishes,” says Mr. Anderson. “I’ve never seen a grown man so besotted with his wife.”

Mum smiles wider. She seems about to say something, but I cut her off.

“Are you talking about Dad?” I ask, my heart racing. “Will Dad be there?”

My mother turns to me, surprised, like she’d forgotten I was there. She turns back to Mr. Anderson. “How’s Leila doing, by the way?”

“Fine,” he says. But he sounds irritated.

“Mum?” Tears threaten again. “Am I going to stay with Dad?”

But Mum doesn’t seem to hear me. She’s talking to Mr. Anderson when she says, “Max will walk you through everything when you arrive, and he’ll be able to answer most of your questions. If there’s something he can’t answer, it’s likely beyond your clearance.”

Mr. Anderson looks suddenly annoyed, but he says nothing. Mum says nothing.

I can’t stand it.

Tears are spilling down my face now, my body shaking so hard it makes my breaths rattle. “Mum?” I whisper. “Mum, please a-answer me—”

Mum clamps a cold, hard hand around my shoulder and I go instantly still. Quiet. She’s not looking at me. She won’t look at me. “You’ll handle this, too,” she says. “Won’t you, Paris?”

Mr. Anderson meets my eyes then. So blue. So cold. “Of course.”

A flash of heat courses through me. A rage so sudden it briefly replaces my terror.

I hate him.

I hate him so much that it does something to me when I look at him—and the abrupt surge of emotion makes me feel brave.

I turn back to Mum. Try again.

“Why does Emmaline get to stay?” I ask, wiping angrily at my wet cheeks. “If I have to go, can’t we at least go toge—”

I cut myself off when I spot her.

My sister, Emmaline, is peeking out at me from behind the mostly closed door. She’s not supposed to be here. Mum said so.

Emmaline is supposed to be doing her swimming lessons.

But she’s here, her wet hair dripping on the floor, and she’s staring at me, eyes wide as plates. She’s trying to say something, but her lips move too fast for me to follow. And then, out of nowhere, a bolt of electricity runs up my spine and I hear her voice, sharp and strange—




My eyes fly open and I can’t catch my breath, my chest heaving, heart pounding. Warner holds me, making soothing sounds as he runs a reassuring hand up and down my arm.

Tears spill down my face and I swipe at them, hands shaking.

“I hate this,” I whisper, horrified at the tremble in my voice. “I hate this so much. I hate that it keeps happening. I hate what it does to me,” I say. “I hate it.”

Warner Aaron presses his cheek against my shoulder with a sigh, his breath teasing my skin.

“I hate it, too,” he says softly.

I turn, carefully, in the cradle of his arms, and press my forehead to his bare chest.

It’s been less than two days since we escaped Oceania. Two days since I killed my own mother. Two days since I met the residue of my sister, Emmaline. Only two days since my entire life was upended yet again, which feels impossible.

Two days and already things are on fire around us.

This is our second night here, at the Sanctuary, the locus of the rebel group run by Nouria—Castle’s daughter—and her wife, Sam. We’re supposed to be safe here. We’re supposed to be able to breathe and regroup after the hell of the last few weeks, but my body refuses to settle. My mind is overrun, under attack. I thought the rush of new memories would eventually gutter out, but these last twenty-four hours have been an unusually brutal assault, and I seem to be the only one struggling.

Emmaline gifted all of us—all the children of the supreme commanders—with memories stolen by our parents. One by one we were awoken to the truths our parents had buried, and one by one we were returned to normal lives.

All but me.

The others have since moved on, reconciled their timelines, made sense of the betrayal. My mind, on the other hand, continues to falter. Spin. But then, none of the others lost as much as I did; they don’t have as much to remember. Even Warner—Aaron—isn’t experiencing so thorough a reimagining of his life.

It’s beginning to scare me.

I feel as though my history is being rewritten, infinite paragraphs scratched out and hastily revised. Old and new images—memories—layer atop each other until the ink runs, rupturing the scenes into something new, something incomprehensible. Occasionally my thoughts feel like disturbing hallucinations, and the onslaught is so invasive I fear it’s doing irreparable damage.

Because something is changing.

Every new memory is delivered with an emotional violence that drives into me, reorders my mind. I’d been feeling this pain in flickers—the sickness, the nausea, the disorientation—but I haven’t wanted to question it too deeply. I haven’t wanted to look too closely. The truth is, I didn’t want to believe my own fears. But the truth is: I am a punctured tire. Every injection of air leaves me both fuller and flatter.

I am forgetting.


Terror bubbles up inside of me, bleeds through my open eyes. It takes me a moment to remember that I am Juliette Ella. Each time, it takes me a moment longer.

Hysteria threatens—

I force it down.

“Yes,” I say, forcing air into my lungs. “Yes.”

Warner Aaron stiffens. “Love, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I lie. My heart is pounding fast, too fast. I don’t know why I’m lying. It’s a fruitless effort; he can sense everything I’m feeling. I should just tell him. I don’t know why I’m not telling him. I know why I’m not telling him.

I’m waiting.

I’m waiting to see if this will pass, if the lapses in my memory are only glitches waiting to be repaired. Saying it out loud makes it too real, and it’s too soon to say these thoughts aloud, to give in to the fear. After all, it’s only been a day since it started. It only occurred to me yesterday that something was truly wrong.

It occurred to me because I made a mistake.


We were sitting outside, staring at the stars. I couldn’t remember ever seeing the stars like that—sharp, clear. It was late, so late it wasn’t night but infant morning, and the view was dizzying. I was freezing. A brave wind stole through a copse nearby, filling the air with steady sound. I was full of cake. Warner smelled like sugar, like decadence. I felt drunk on joy.

I don’t want to wait, he said, taking my hand. Squeezing it. Let’s not wait.

I blinked up at him. For what?

For what?

For what?

How did I forget what had happened just hours earlier? How did I forget the moment he asked me to marry him?

It was a glitch. It felt like a glitch. Where there was once a memory was suddenly a vacancy, a cavity held empty only until nudged into realignment.

I recovered, remembered. Warner laughed.

I did not.

I forgot the name of Castle’s daughter. I forgot how we landed at the Sanctuary. I forgot, for a full two minutes, how I ever escaped Oceania. But my errors were temporary; they seemed like natural delays. I experienced only confusion as my mind buffered, hesitation as the memories resurfaced, waterlogged and vague. I thought maybe I was tired. Overwhelmed. I took none of it seriously, not until I was sitting under the stars and couldn’t remember promising to spend the rest of my life with someone.


Mortification so acute I thought I’d expire from the full force of it. Even now fresh heat floods my face, and I find I’m relieved Warner can’t see in the dark.

Aaron, not Warner.


“I can’t tell just now whether you’re afraid or embarrassed,” he says, and exhales softly. It sounds almost like a laugh. “Are you worried about Kenji? About the others?”

I grab on to this half-truth with my whole heart.

“Yes,” I say. “Kenji. James. Adam.”

Kenji has been sick in bed since very early this morning. I squint at the slant of moon through our window and remember that it’s long past midnight, which would mean that, technically, Kenji got sick yesterday morning.

Regardless, it was terrifying for all of us.

The drugs Nazeera forced into Kenji on their international flight from Sector 45 to Oceania were a dose too strong, and he’s been reeling ever since. He finally collapsed—the twins, Sonya and Sara, have checked in on him and say he’s going to be just fine—but not before we learned that Anderson has been rounding up the children of the supreme commanders.

Adam and James and Lena and Valentina and Nicolás are all in Anderson’s custody.

James is in his custody.

It’s been a devastating, awful couple of days. It’s been a devastating, awful couple of weeks.

Months, really.


Some days, no matter how far back I go, I can’t seem to find the good times. Some days, the occasional happiness I’ve known feels like a bizarre dream. An error. Hyperreal and unfocused, the colors too bright and the sounds too strong.

Figments of my imagination.

It was just days ago that clarity came to me, bearing gifts. Just days ago that the worst seemed behind me, that the world seemed full of potential, that my body was stronger than ever, my mind fuller, sharper, more capable than I’d ever known it.

But now

But now

But now I feel like I’m clinging to the blurring edges of sanity, that elusive, fair-weather friend always breaking my heart.

Aaron pulls me close and I melt into him, grateful for his warmth, for the steadiness of his arms around me. I take a deep, shuddering breath and let it all go, exhaling against him. I inhale the rich, heady scent of his skin, the faint aroma of gardenias he somehow carries with him always. Seconds pass in perfect silence and we listen to each other breathe.

Slowly, my heart rate steadies.

The tears dry up. The fears take five. Terror is distracted by a passing butterfly and sadness takes a nap.

For a little while it’s just me and him and us and everything is untarnished, untouched by darkness.

I knew I loved Warner Aaron before all this—before we were captured by The Reestablishment, before we were ripped apart, before we learned of our shared history—but that love was new, green, its depths uncharted, untested. In that brief, glimmering window during which the gaping holes in my memory felt fully accounted for, things between us changed. Everything between us changed. Even now, even with the noise in my head, I feel it.



My bones against his bones. This is my home.

I feel him suddenly stiffen and I pull back, concerned. I can’t see much of him in this perfect darkness, but I feel the delicate rise of goose bumps along his arms when he says, “What are you thinking about?”

My eyes widen, comprehension dethroning concern. “I was thinking about you.”


I close the gap between us again. Nod against his chest.

He says nothing, but I can hear his heart, racing in the quiet, and eventually I hear him exhale. It’s a heavy, uneven sound, like he might’ve been holding his breath for too long. I wish I could see his face. No matter how much time we spend together, I still forget how much he can feel my emotions, especially at times like this, when our bodies are pressed together.

Gently, I run my hand down his back. “I was thinking about how much I love you,” I say.

He goes uncommonly still, but only for a moment. And then he touches my hair, his fingers slowly combing the strands.

“Did you feel it?” I ask.

When he doesn’t answer, I pull back again. I blink against the black until I’m able to make out the glint of his eyes, the shadow of his mouth.


“Yes,” he says, but he sounds a little breathless.

“Yes, you felt it?”

“Yes,” he says again.

“What does it feel like?”

He sighs. Rolls onto his back. He’s quiet for so long that, for a while, I’m not sure he’s going to answer. Then, softly, he says:

“It’s hard to describe. It’s a pleasure so close to pain I sometimes can’t tell the two apart.”

“That sounds awful.”

“No,” he says. “It’s exquisite.”

“I love you.”

A sharp intake of breath. Even in this darkness I see the strain in his jaw—the tension there—as he stares at the ceiling.

I sit straight up, surprised.

Aaron’s reaction is so unstudied I don’t know how I never noticed it before. But then, maybe this is new. Maybe something really has changed between us. Maybe I never loved him this much before. That would make sense, I suppose. Because when I think about it, when I really think about how much I love him now, after everything we’ve—

Another sudden, sharp breath. And then he laughs, nervously.

“Wow,” I say.

He claps a hand over his eyes. “This is vaguely mortifying.”

I’m smiling now, very nearly laughing. “Hey. It’s—”

My body seizes.

A violent shudder rushes up my skin and my spine goes rigid, my bones held in place by invisible pins, my mouth frozen open and trying to draw breath.

Heat fills my vision.

I hear nothing but static, grand rapids, white water, ferocious wind. Feel nothing. Think nothing. Am nothing.

I am, for the most infinitesimal moment—


My eyelids flutter open closed open closed open closed I am a wing, two wings, a swinging door, five birds

Fire climbs inside of me, explodes.


The voice appears in my mind with swift strength, sharp, like darts to the brain. Dully, I realize that I’m in pain— my jaw aches, my body still suspended in an unnatural position—but I ignore it. The voice tries again:


Realization strikes, a knife to the knees. Images of my sister fill my mind: bones and melted skin, webbed fingers, sodden mouth, no eyes. Her body suspended underwater, long brown hair like a swarm of eels. Her strange, disembodied voice pierces through me. And so I say, without speaking:


Emotion drives into me, fingers digging in my flesh, sensation scraping across my skin. Her relief is tangible. I can taste it. She’s relieved, relieved I recognized her, relieved she found me, relieved relieved relieved—

What happened? I ask.

A deluge of images floods my brain until it sinks, I sink. Her memories drown my senses, clog lungs. I choke as the feelings crash into me. I see Max, my father, inconsolable in the wake of his wife’s murder; I see Supreme Commander Ibrahim, frantic and furious, demanding Anderson gather the other children before it’s too late; I see Emmaline, briefly abandoned, seizing an opportunity—

I gasp.

Evie made it so that only she or Max could control Emmaline’s powers, and with Evie dead, the fail-safes implemented were suddenly weakened. Emmaline realized that in the wake of our mother’s death there would be a brief window of opportunity—a brief window during which she might be able to wrest back control of her own mind before Max remade the algorithms.

But Evie’s work was too good, and Max’s reaction too prompt. Emmaline was only partly successful.

Dying, she says to me.


Every flash of her emotion is accompanied by torturous assault. My flesh feels bruised. My spine seems liquid, my eyes blind, searing. I feel Emmaline—her voice, her feelings, her visions—more strongly than before, because she’s stronger than before. That she managed to regain enough power to find me is proof alone that she is at least partly untethered, unrestrained. Max and Evie had been experimenting on Emmaline to a reckless degree in the last several months, trying to make her stronger even as her body withered. This, this, is the consequence.

Being this close to her is nothing short of excruciating.

I think I’ve screamed.

Have I screamed?

Everything about Emmaline is heightened to a fever pitch; her presence is wild, breathtaking, and it shudders to life inside my nerves. Sound and sensation streak across my vision, barrel through me violently. I hear a spider scuttle across the wooden floor. Tired moths drag their wings along the wall. A mouse startles, settles, in its sleep. Dust motes fracture against a window, shrapnel skidding across the glass.

My eyes skitter, unhinged in my skull.

I feel the oppressive weight of my hair, my limbs, my flesh wrapped around me like cellophane, a leather casket. My tongue, my tongue is a dead lizard perched in my mouth, rough and heavy. The fine hairs on my arms stand and sway, stand and sway. My fists are so tightly clenched my fingernails pierce the soft flesh of my palms.

I feel a hand on me. Where? Am I?

Lonely, she says.

She shows me.

A vision of us, back in the laboratory where I first saw her, where I killed our mother. I see myself from Emmaline’s point of view and it’s startling. She can’t see much more than a blur, but she can feel my presence, can make out the shape of my form, the heat emanating from my body. And then my words, my own words, hurled back into my brain—

there has to be another way

you don’t have to die

we can get through this together


i want my sister back

i want you to live


i won’t let you die here

Emmaline Emmaline

we can get through this together

we can get through this together

we can get through this


A cold, metallic sensation begins to bloom in my chest. It moves through me, up my arms, down my throat, pushes into my gut. My teeth throb. Emmaline’s pain claws and slithers, clings with a ferocity I can’t bear. Her tenderness, too, is desperate, terrifying in its sincerity. She’s overcome by emotion, hot and cold, fueled by rage and devastation.

She’s been looking for me, all this time.

In these last couple of days Emmaline has been searching the conscious world for my mind, trying to find safe harbor, a place to rest.

A place to die.

Emmaline, I say. Please—


Something tightens in my mind, squeezes. Fear propels through me, punctures organs. I’m wheezing. I smell earth and damp, decomposing leaves and I feel the stars staring at my skin, wind pushing through darkness like an anxious parent. My mouth is open, catching moths. I am on the ground.


No longer in my bed, I realize, no longer in my tent, I realize, no longer protected.

But when did I walk?

Who moved my feet? Who pushed my body?

How far?

I try to look around but I’m blind, my head trapped in a vise, my neck reduced to fraying sinew. My breaths fill my ears, harsh and loud, harsh and loud, rough rough gasping efforts my head


My fists unclench, nails scraping as my fingers uncurl, palms flattening, I smell heat, taste wind, hear dirt.

Dirt under my hands, in my mouth, under my fingernails. I’m screaming, I realize. Someone is touching me and I’m screaming.

Stop, I scream. Please, Emmaline— Please don’t do this—

Lonely, she says.

l o n e l y

And with a sudden, ferocious agony—

I am displaced.


It feels weird to call it luck.

It feels weird, but in some perverse, twisted way, this is luck. Luck that I’m standing in the middle of damp, freezing woodlands before the sun’s bothered to lift its head. Luck that my bare upper body is half-numb from cold.

Luck that Nazeera’s with me.

We pulled on our invisibility almost instantly, so she and I are at least temporarily safe here, in the half-mile stretch of untouched wilderness between regulated and unregulated territories. The Sanctuary was built on a couple of acres of unregulated land not far from where I’m standing, and it’s masterfully hidden in plain sight only because of Nouria’s unnatural talent for bending and manipulating light. Within Nouria’s jurisdiction, the climate is somehow more temperate, the weather more predictable. But out here in the wild, the winds are relentless and combative. The temperatures are dangerous.

Still— We’re lucky to be here at all.

Nazeera and I had been out of bed for a while, racing through the dark in an attempt at murdering one another. In the end it all turned out to be a complicated misunderstanding, but it was also a kind of kismet: If Nazeera hadn’t snuck into my room at three o’clock in the morning and nearly killed me, I wouldn’t have chased her through the forest, beyond the sight and soundproof protections of the Sanctuary. If we hadn’t been so far from the Sanctuary, we never would’ve heard the distant, echoing screams of citizens crying out in terror. If we hadn’t heard those cries, we never would’ve rushed toward the source. And if we hadn’t done any of that, I never would’ve seen my best friend screaming her way into dawn.

I would’ve missed this. This:

J on her knees in the cold dirt, Warner crouched down beside her, both of them looking like death while the clouds literally melt out of the sky above them. The two of them are parked right outside the entrance to the Sanctuary, straddling the untouched stretch of forest that serves as a buffer between our camp and the heart of the nearest sector, number 241.


I froze when I saw them there, two broken figures entwined, limbs planted in the ground. I was paralyzed by confusion, then fear, then disbelief, all while the trees bent sideways and the wind snapped at my body, cruelly reminding me that I’d never had a chance to put on a shirt.

If my night had gone differently, I might’ve had that chance.

If my night had gone differently, I might’ve enjoyed, for the first time in my life, a romantic sunrise and an overdue reconciliation with a beautiful girl. Nazeera and I would’ve laughed about how she’d kicked me in the back and almost killed me, and how afterward I almost shot her for it. After that I would’ve taken a long shower, slept until noon, and eaten my weight in breakfast foods.

I had a plan for today: take it easy.

I wanted a little more time to heal after my most recent near-death experience, and I didn’t think I was asking for much. I thought that, maybe, after everything I’d been through, the world might finally cut me some slack. Let me breathe between tragedies.


Instead, I’m here, dying of frostbite and horror, watching the world fall to pieces around me. The sky, swinging wildly between horizontal and vertical horizons. The air, puncturing at random. Trees, sinking into the ground. Leaves, tap-dancing around me. I’m seeing it—I’m actively witnessing it—and still I can’t believe it.

But I’m choosing to call it luck.

Luck that I’m seeing this, luck that I feel like I might throw up, luck that I ran all this way in my still-ill, injured body just in time to score a front-row seat to the end of the world.

Luck, fate, coincidence, serendipity—

I’ll call this sick, sinking feeling in my gut a fucking magic trick if it’ll help me keep my eyes open long enough to bear witness. To figure out how to help.

Because no one else is here.

No one but me and Nazeera, which seems crazy to an improbable degree. The Sanctuary is supposed to have security on patrol at all times, but I see no sentries, and no sign of incoming aid. No soldiers from the nearby sector, either. Not even curious, hysterical civilians. Nothing.

It’s like we’re standing in a vacuum, on an invisible plane of existence. I don’t know how J and Warner made it this far without being spotted. The two of them look like they were literally dragged through the dirt; I have no idea how they escaped notice. And though it’s possible J only just started screaming, I still have a thousand unanswered questions.

They’ll have to wait.

I glance at Nazeera out of habit, forgetting for a moment that she and I are invisible. But then I feel her step closer, and I breathe a sigh of relief as her hand slips into mine. She squeezes my fingers. I return the pressure.

Lucky, I remind myself.

It’s lucky that we’re here right now, because if I’d been in bed where I should’ve been, I wouldn’t have even known J was in trouble. I would’ve missed the tremble in my friend’s voice as she cried out, begging for mercy. I would’ve missed the shattering colors of a twisted sunrise, a peacock in the middle of hell. I would’ve missed the way J clamped her head between her hands and sobbed. I would’ve missed the sharp scents of pine and sulfur in the wind, would’ve missed the dry ache in my throat, the tremor moving through my body. I would’ve missed the moment J mentioned her sister by name. I wouldn’t have heard J specifically ask her sister not to do something.

Yeah, this is definitely luck.

Because if I hadn’t heard any of that, I wouldn’t have known who to blame.




I have eyes, two, feel them, rolling back and forth, around and around in my skull I have lips, two, feel them, wet and and heavy, pry them open have teeth, many, tongue, one and fingers, ten, count them

onetwothreefourfive, again on the other side strange, ssstrange to have a tongue, sstrange it’s a sssstrange ssort of thing, a strange ssssssssssortofthing


it creeps up on you




sits by your side in the dark, strokes your hair as you sleep wrapssitself around your bones squeezing sotightyoualmostcan’t breathe almost can’t hear the pulse racing in your blood as it rush, rushes up your


touches its lips to the soft hairs at the back of your


loneliness is a strangesortof thinga sstrangesortofthing an old friend standing beside you in the mirror screaming you’re notenoughneverenough never ever enough

sssssometimes it just





I sidestep an eruption in the ground and duck just in time to avoid a cluster of vines growing in midair. A distant rock balloons to an astronomical size, and the moment it starts barreling in our direction I tighten my hold on Nazeera’s hand and dive for cover.

The sky is ripping apart. The ground is fracturing beneath my feet. The sun flickers, strobing darkness, strobing light, everything stilted. And the clouds— There’s something newly wrong with the clouds.

They’re disintegrating.

Trees can’t decide whether to stand up or lie down, gusts of wind shoot up from the ground with terrifying power, and suddenly the sky is full of birds. Full of fucking birds.

Emmaline is out of control.

We knew that her telekinetic and psychokinetic powers were godlike—beyond anything we’ve ever known—and we knew that The Reestablishment built Emmaline to control our experience of the world. But that was all, and that was just talk. Theory.

We’d never seen her like this.


She’s clearly doing something to J right now, ravaging her mind while lashing out at the world around us, because the acid trip I’m staring at is only getting worse.

“Go back,” I cry out over the din. “Get help—bring the girls!”

A single shout of agreement and Nazeera’s hand slips free from mine, her heavy boots on the ground my only indication that she’s bolting toward the Sanctuary. But even now—especially now—her swift, certain actions fill me with no small measure of relief.

It feels good to have a capable partner.

I claw my way across the sparse forest, grateful to have avoided the worst of the obstacles, and when I’m finally close enough to properly discern Warner’s face, I pull back my invisibility.

I’m shaking with exhaustion.

I’d only barely recovered from being drugged nearly to death, and yet here I am, already about to die again. But when I look up, half-bent, hands on my knees and trying to breathe, I realize I have no right to complain.

Warner looks even worse than l expected.

Raw, clenched, a vein straining at his temple. He’s on his knees holding on to J like he’s trying to hold back a riot, and I didn’t realize until just this second that he might be here for more than just emotional support.

The whole thing is surreal: they’re both practically naked, in the dirt, on their knees—J with her hands pressed flat against her ears—and I can’t help but wonder what kind of hell brought them to this moment.

I thought I was the one having a weird night.

Something slams suddenly into my gut and I double over, hitting the ground hard. Arms shaking, I push up onto all fours and scan the immediate area for the culprit. When I spot it, I gag.

A dead bird, a couple feet away.


J is still screaming.

I shove my way through a sudden, violent gust of wind—and just when I’ve regained my balance, ready to clear the last fifty feet toward my friends—the world goes mute.

Sound, off.

No howling winds, no tortured screams, no coughs, no sneezes. This is not ordinary quiet. It’s not stillness, not silence.

It’s more than that.

It’s nothing at all.

I blink, blink, my head turning in slow, excruciating motion as I scan the distance for answers, willing the explanations to appear. Hoping the sheer force of my mind is enough to sprout reason from the ground.

It isn’t.

I’ve gone deaf.

Nazeera is no longer here, J and Warner are still fifty feet away, and I’ve gone deaf. Deaf to the sound of the wind, to the shuddering trees. Deaf to my own labored breathing, to the cries of citizens in the compounds beyond. I try to clench my fists and it takes forever, like the air has grown dense. Thick.

Something is wrong with me.

I’m slow, slower than I’ve ever been, like I’m running underwater. Something is purposely keeping me back, physically pushing me away from Juliette—and suddenly, it all makes sense. My earlier confusion dissolves. Of course no one else is here. Of course no one else has come to help.

Emmaline would never allow it.

Maybe I got this far only because she was too busy to notice me right away—to sense me here, in my invisible state. It makes me wonder what else she’s done to keep this area clear of trespassers.

It makes me wonder if I’ll survive.

It’s growing harder to think. It takes forever to fuse thoughts. Takes forever to move my arms. To lift my head. To look around. By the time I manage to pry open my mouth, I’ve forgotten that my voice makes no sound.

A flash of gold in the distance.

I spot Warner, shifting so slowly I wonder whether we’re both suffering from the same affliction. He’s fighting desperately to sit up next to J—J who’s still on her knees, bent forward, mouth open. Her eyes are squeezed shut in concentration, but if she’s screaming, I can’t hear it.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified.

I’m close enough to Warner and J to be able to make out their expressions, but it’s no good; I have no idea whether they’re injured, so I don’t know the extent of what we’re dealing with. I have to get closer, somehow. But when I take a single, painful step forward, a sharp keening explodes in my ears.

I cry out soundlessly, clapping my hands to my head as the silence is suddenly—viciously—compounded by pressure. The knifelike pain needles into me, pressure building in my ears with an intensity that threatens to crush me from the inside. It’s like someone has overfilled my head with helium, like any minute now the balloon that is my brain will explode. And just when I think the pressure might kill me, just when I think I can’t bear the pain any longer, the ground begins to rumble. Tremble.

There’s a seismic crack—

And sound comes back online. Sound so violent it rips open something inside of me, and when I finally tear my hands away from my ears they’re red, dripping. I stagger as my head pounds. Rings. Rings.

I wipe my bloody hands on my bare torso and my vision swims. I lunge forward in a stupor and land badly, my still-damp palms hitting the earth so hard the force of it shudders up my bones. The dirt beneath my feet has gone slick. Wet. I look up, squinting at the sky and the sudden, torrential rain. My head continues to swing on a well-oiled hinge. A single drop of blood drips down my ear, lands on my shoulder. A second drop of blood drips down my ear, lands on my shoulder. A third drop of blood drips down my—


Someone calls my name.

The sound is large, aggressive. The word careens dizzily in my head, expanding and contracting. I can’t pin it down.


I turn around and my head rings, rings.

K e n j i

I blink and it takes days, revolutions around the sun.



Something is touching me, under me, hauling me up, but it’s no good. I don’t move.



I try to speak but can’t. I say nothing, do nothing as my mind is broken open, as cold fingers reach inside my skull and disconnect the circuitry within. I stand still. Stiffen. The voice echoes to life in the blackness behind my eyes, speaking words that feel more like memory than conversation, words I don’t know, don’t understand

the pain I carry, the fears I should’ve left behind. I sag under the weight of loneliness, the chains of disappointment. My heart alone weighs a thousand pounds. I’m so heavy I can no longer be lifted away from the earth. I’m so heavy I have no choice now but to be buried beneath it. I’m so heavy, too heavy

I exhale as I go down.

My knees crack as they hit the ground. My body slumps forward. Dirt kisses my face, welcomes me home.

The world goes suddenly dark.


My eyes flicker. Sound hums in my ears, something like dull, steady electricity. Everything is plunged into darkness. A blackout, a blackout in the natural world. Fear clings to my skin. Covers me.


w e a k

Knives bore holes into my bones that fill quickly with sorrow, sorrow so acute it takes my breath away.

I’ve never been so hopeful to cease existing.

I am floating.

Weightless and yet—weighted down, destined to sink forever. Dim light fractures the blackness behind my eyes and in the light, I see water. My sun and moon are the sea, my mountains the ocean. I live in liquid I never drink, drowning steadily in marbled, milky waters. My breathing is heavy, automatic, mechanic. I am forced to inhale, forced to exhale. The harsh, shuddering rasp of my own breath is my constant reminder of the grave that is my home.

I hear something.

It reverberates through the tank, dull metal against dull metal, arriving at my ears as if from outer space. I squint at the fresh set of shapes and colors, blurred forms. I clench my fists but my flesh is soft, my bones like fresh dough, my skin peeling in moist flakes. I’m surrounded by water but my thirst is insatiable and my anger—

My anger—

Something snaps. My head. My mind. My neck.

My eyes are wide, my breathing panicked. I’m on my knees, my forehead pressed into the dirt, my hands buried in wet earth.

I sit straight up and back, my head spinning.

“What the fuck?” I’m still trying to breathe. I look around. My heart is racing. “What— What—”

I was digging my own grave.

Slithering, terrifying horror moves through my body as I understand: Emmaline was in my head. She wanted to see if she could get me to kill myself.

And even as I think it—even as I look down at the miserable attempt I made to bury myself alive—I feel a dull, stabbing sympathy for Emmaline. Because I felt her pain, and it wasn’t cruel.

It was desperate.

Like she was hoping that if I killed myself while she was in my head, somehow I’d be able to kill her, too.

J is screaming again.

I stagger to my feet, heart in my throat as the skies wrench open, releasing their wrath upon me. I’m not sure why Emmaline gave the inside of my head a shot—brave but weak—but I know enough to understand that whatever the hell is happening here is more than I can handle on my own. Right now, I can only hope that everyone in the Sanctuary is okay—and that Nazeera gets back here soon. Until then, my broken body will have to do its best.

I push forward.

Even as old, cold blood dries in my ears, across my chest, I push forward, steeling myself against the increasingly volatile weather conditions. The steady succession of earthquakes. The lightning strikes. The raging thunderstorm growing quickly into a hurricane.

Once I’m finally close enough, Warner looks up.

He seems stunned.

It occurs to me then that he’s only just seeing me—after all this—he’s only just realizing I’m here. A flicker of relief flashes through his eyes, too quickly replaced by pain.

And then he calls out two words—two words I never thought I’d inspire him to say:

“Help me.”

The sentence is carried off in the wind, but the agony in his eyes remains. And from this vantage point, I finally understand the depth of what he’s endured. At first I’d thought Warner was only holding her steady, trying to be supportive.

I was wrong.

J is vibrating with power, and Warner is only barely hanging on to her. Holding her still. Something—someone—is physically animating Juliette’s body, articulating her limbs, trying to force her upright and possibly away from here, and it’s only because of Warner that Emmaline hasn’t succeeded.

I have no idea how he’s doing it.

J’s skin has gone translucent, veins bright and freakish in her pale face. She’s nearly blue, ready to crack. A low-level hum emanates from her body, the crackle of energy, the buzz of power. I grab on to her arm and in the half second Warner shifts to distribute her weight between us, the three of us are flung forward. We hit the ground so hard I can hardly breathe, and when I’m finally able to lift my head I look at Warner, my own eyes wide with unmasked terror.

“Emmaline is doing this,” I say, shouting the words at him.

He nods, his face grim.

“What can we do?” I cry. “How can she just keep screaming like this?”

Warner only looks at me.

He just looks at me, and the tortured expression in his eyes tells me everything I need to know. J can’t keep screaming like this. She can’t just be here on her knees screaming for a century. This shit is going to kill her. Jesus Christ. I knew it was bad, but for some reason I didn’t think it was this bad.

J looks like she’s going to die.

“Should we try to pick her up?” I don’t even know why I ask. I doubt I could lift her arm above my head, much less her whole body. My own body is still shaking, so much so that I can barely do my part to keep this girl from lifting directly off the ground. I have no idea what kind of crazy shit is pumping through her veins right now, but J is on another planet. She looks half-alive, mostly alien. Her eyes are squeezed shut, her jaw unhinged. She’s radiating energy. It’s fucking terrifying.

And I can barely keep up.

The ache in my arms has begun to creep up my shoulders and down my back and I shiver, violently, when a sharp wind strikes my bare, overheated skin.

“Let’s try,” Warner says.

I nod.

Take a deep breath.

Beg myself to be stronger than I am.

I don’t know how I do it, but through nothing short of a miracle, I make it to my feet. Warner and I manage to bind Juliette between us, and when I look over at him, I’m at least relieved to discover that he looks like he’s struggling, too. I’ve never seen Warner struggle, not really, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen him sweat. But as much as I’d love to laugh a little right now, the sight of him straining so hard just to hold on to her only sends a fresh wave of fear through me. I have no idea how long he’s been trying to restrain her all by himself. I have no idea what would’ve happened to her if he hadn’t been there to hold on. And I have no idea what would happen to her right now, if we were to let go.

Something about that realization gives me renewed strength. It takes choice out of the situation. J needs us right now, period.

Which means I have to be stronger.

Standing upright like this has made us an easy target in all this madness, and I call out a warning as a piece of debris flies toward us. I pivot sharply to protect J, but take a hit to my spine, the pain so breathtaking I’m seeing stars. My back was already injured earlier tonight, and the bruises are bound to be worse now. But when Warner locks eyes with me in a sudden, terrified panic, I nod, letting him know I’m okay. I’ve got her.

Inch by agonizing inch, we move back toward the Sanctuary.

We’re dragging J like she’s Jesus between us, her head flung backward, feet dragging across the ground. She’s finally stopped screaming, but now she’s convulsing, her body seizing uncontrollably, and Warner looks like he’s hanging on to his sanity by a single, fraying thread.

It feels like centuries pass before we see Nazeera again, but the rational part of my brain suspects it must’ve been only twenty, thirty minutes. Who knows. I’m sure she was trying her best to get back here with people who could help, but it feels like we’re too late. Everything feels too late.

I have no idea what the hell is happening anymore.

Yesterday, this morning—an hour ago—I was worried about James and Adam. I thought our problems were simple and straightforward: get the kids back, kill the supreme commanders, have a nice lunch.

But now—

Nazeera and Castle and Brendan and Nouria rush to a sudden stop before us. They look between us.

They look beyond us.

Their eyes go round, their lips parting as they gasp. I crane my neck to see what they’re seeing and realize that there’s a tidal wave of fire headed straight toward us.

I think I’m going to collapse.

My body is worse than unsteady. By this point, my legs are made of rubber. I can barely support my own weight, and it’s a miracle I’m holding on to J at all. In fact, a quick glance at Warner’s clenched, insanely tense body is all it takes to realize that he’s probably doing most of the work right now.

I don’t know how any of us are going to survive this. I can’t move. I sure as hell can’t outrun a wave of fire.

And I don’t really understand everything that happens next.

I hear an inhuman cry, and Stephan is suddenly rushing toward us. Stephan. He’s suddenly in front of us, suddenly between us. He picks J up and into his arms like she might be a rag doll, and starts shouting at all of us to run. Castle hangs back to redirect water from a nearby well, and though his efforts at dousing the flames aren’t entirely successful, it’s enough to give us the edge we need to escape. Warner and I drag ourselves back to camp with the others, and the minute we cross the threshold into the Sanctuary, we’re met with a frantic sea of faces. Countless figures surge forward, their shouts and cries and hysterical commotion fusing into a single, unbroken soundstorm. Logically, I understand why people are out here, worried, crying, shouting unanswered questions at each other—but right now I just want them all to get the hell out of my way.

Nouria and Sam seem to read my mind.

They bark orders into the crowd and the nameless bodies begin to clear out. Stephan is no longer running, but walking briskly, elbowing people out of his way as necessary, and I’m grateful. But when Sonya and Sara come sprinting toward us, shouting for us to follow them to the medical tent, I nearly launch myself forward and kiss them both.

I don’t.

Instead, I take a moment to search for Castle, wondering if he made it out okay. But when I look back, scanning our stretch of protected land, I experience a sudden, sobering moment of realization. The disparity between in here and out there is unreal.

In here, the sky is clear.

The weather, settled. The ground seems to have sutured itself back together. The wall of fire that tried to chase us all the way back to the Sanctuary is now nothing but fading smoke. The trees are in their upright positions; the hurricane is little more than a fine mist. The morning looks almost pretty. For a second I could’ve sworn I heard a bird chirping.

I’m probably out of my mind.

I collapse in the middle of a well-worn path leading back to our tents, my face thudding against wet grass. The smell of fresh, damp earth fills my head and I breathe it in, all of it. It’s a balm. A miracle. Maybe, I think. Maybe we’re going to be okay. Maybe I can close my eyes. Take a moment.

Warner stalks past my prone body, his motions so intense I’m startled upright, into a sitting position.

I have no idea how he’s still moving.

He’s not even wearing shoes. No shirt, no socks, no shoes. Just a pair of sweatpants. I notice for the first time that he’s got a huge gash across his chest. Several cuts on his arms. A nasty scratch on his neck. Blood is dripping slowly down his torso, and Warner doesn’t even seem to notice. Scars all over his back, blood smeared across his front. He looks insane. But he’s still moving, his eyes hot with rage and something else— Something that scares the shit out of me.

He catches up to Stephan, who’s still holding J—who’s still having seizures—and I crawl toward a tree, using the trunk to hoist myself off the ground. I drag myself after them, flinching involuntarily at a sudden breeze. I turn too fast, scanning the open woods for debris or a flying boulder, and find only Nazeera, who rests a hand on my arm.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “We’re safe within the borders of the Sanctuary.”

I blink at her. And then around, at the familiar white tents that cloak every solid, freestanding structure on the glorified campsite that is this place of refuge.

Nazeera nods. “Yeah—that’s what the tents are for. Nouria enhanced all of her light protections with some kind of antidote that makes us immune to the illusions Emmaline creates. Both acres of land are protected, and the reflective material covering the tents provides more assured protection indoors.”

“How do you know all of that?”

“I asked.”

I blink at her again. I feel dumb. Numb. Like I broke something deep inside my brain. Deep inside my body.

“Juliette,” I say.

It’s the only word I’ve got right now, and Nazeera doesn’t even bother to correct me, to tell me her real name is Ella. She just takes my hand and squeezes.



When I dream, I dream of sound.

Rain, taking its time, softly popping against concrete. Rain, gathering, drumming, until sound turns into static. Rain, so sudden, so strong, it startles itself. I dream of water dripping down lips and tips of noses, rain falling off branches into shallow, murky pools. I hear death when puddles shatter, assaulted by heavy feet.

I hear leaves—

Leaves, shuddering under the weight of resignation, yoked to branches too easily bent, broken. I dream of wind, lengths of it. Yards of wind, acres of wind, infinite whispers fusing to create a single breeze. I hear wind comb the wild grass of distant mountains, I hear wind howling confessions in empty, lonely plains. I hear the sh sh sh of desperate rivers trying to hush the world in a fruitless effort to hush itself.



in the din

is a single scream so steady it goes every day unheard. We see, but do not understand the way it stutters hearts, clenches jaws, curls fingers into fists. It’s a surprise, always a surprise, when it finally stops screaming long enough to speak.

Fingers tremble.

Flowers die.

The sun flinches, the stars expire.

You are in a room, a closet, a vault, no key—

Just a single voice that says

Kill me


J is sleeping.

She seems so close to death I can hardly look at her. Skin so white it’s blue. Lips so blue they’re purple. Somehow, in the last couple of hours, she lost weight. She looks like a little bird, young and small and fragile. Her long hair is fanned around her face and she’s motionless, a little blue doll with her face pointed straight up at the ceiling. She looks like she could be lying in a casket.

I don’t say any of this out loud, of course.

Warner seems pretty close to death himself. He looks pale, disoriented. Sickly.

And he’s become impossible to talk to.

These past months of forced camaraderie nearly had me brainwashed; I’d almost forgotten what Warner used to be like.

Cold. Cutting. Eerily quiet.

He seems like an echo of himself right now, sitting stiffly in a chair next to her bed. We dragged J back here hours ago and he still won’t really look at anyone. The cut on his chest looks even worse now, but he does nothing about it. He disappeared at one point, but only for a couple of minutes, and returned wearing his boots. He didn’t bother to wipe the blood off his body. Didn’t stop long enough to put on a shirt. He could easily steal Sonya’s and Sara’s powers to heal himself, but he makes no effort. He refuses to be touched. He refuses to eat. The few words out of his mouth were so scathing he made three different people cry. Nouria finally told him that if he didn’t stop attacking her teammates she’d take him out back and shoot him. I think it was Warner’s lack of protest that kept her from following through.

He’s nothing but thorns.

Old Kenji would’ve shrugged it off and rolled his eyes. Old Kenji would’ve thrown a dart at Dickhead Warner and, honestly, would’ve probably been happy to see him suffer like this.

But I’m not that guy anymore.

I know Warner too well now. I know how much he loves J. I know he’d turn his skin inside out just to make her happy. He wanted to marry her, for God’s sake. And I just watched him nearly kill himself to save her, suffering for hours through the worst levels of hell just to keep her alive.

Almost two hours, to be exact.

Warner said he’d been out there with J for nearly an hour before I showed up, and it was at least another forty-five minutes before the girls were able to stabilize her. He spent nearly two hours physically fighting to keep Juliette from harm, protecting her with his own body as he was lashed by fallen trees, flying rocks, errant debris, and violent winds. The girls said they could tell just by looking at him that he had at least two broken ribs. A fracture in his right arm. A dislocated shoulder. Probably internal bleeding. They raged at him so much that he finally sat down in a chair, wrapped his good hand around the wrist of his injured arm, and pulled his own shoulder back in place. The only proof of his pain was a single, sharp breath.

Sonya screamed, rushing forward, too late to stop him.

And then he broke open the seam at the ankle of his sweatpants, tore off a length of cotton, and made a sling for his freshly socketed arm. Only after that did he finally look up at the girls.

“Now leave me alone,” he said darkly.

Sonya and Sara looked so frustrated—their eyes blazing with rare anger—I almost didn’t recognize them.

I know he’s being an asshole.

I know he’s being stubborn and stupid and cruel. But I can’t find the strength to be mad at him right now. I can’t.

My heart is breaking for the guy.

We’re all standing around J’s bed, just staring at her. A monitor beeps softly in the corner. The room smells like chemicals. Sonya and Sara had to inject J with serious tranquilizers in order to get her body to settle, but it seemed to help: the moment she slowed down, the world outside did, too.

The Reestablishment was quick on the uptake, doing such seamless damage control I almost couldn’t believe it. They capitalized on the problem, claiming that what happened this morning was a taste of future devastation. They claimed that they managed to get it under control before it got any worse, and they reminded the people to be grateful for the protections provided by The Reestablishment; that, without them, the world would be a lot worse. It fairly scared the shit out of everyone. Things feel a lot quieter now. The civilians seem subdued in a way they weren’t before. It’s stunning, really, how The Reestablishment managed to convince people that the sky collapsing while the sun just disappeared for a full minute were normal things that could happen in the world.

It’s unbelievable that they feed people that kind of bullshit, and it’s unbelievable that people eat it up.

But when I’m being super honest with myself, I’ll admit that what scares me the most is that, if I didn’t know any better, I might’ve eaten that shit up, too.

I sigh, hard. Drag a hand down my face.

This morning feels like a weird dream.

Surreal, like one of those melting clock paintings The Reestablishment destroyed. And I’m so wrung out, so tired, I don’t even have the energy to be angry. I’ve only got enough energy to be sad.

We’re all just really, really sad.

The few of us who could squeeze into this room: me, Castle, Nouria, Sam, Superman (my new nickname for Stephan), Haider, Nazeera, Brendan, Winston, Warner. All of us, sad, sorry sacks. Sonya and Sara left for a bit, but they’ll be coming back soon, and when they do, they’ll be sad, too.

Ian and Lily wanted to be here, but Warner kicked them out. He just straight up told them to get out, for reasons he didn’t offer to disclose. He didn’t raise his voice. Didn’t even look at Ian. Just told him to turn around and leave. Brendan was so stunned his eyes nearly fell out of his head. But all of us were too afraid of Warner to say anything.

A small, guilty part of me wondered if maybe Warner knew that Ian talked shit about him that one time, that Warner knew (who knows how) that Ian didn’t want to make the effort to go after him and J when we lost them at the symposium.

I don’t know. It’s just a theory. But it’s obvious Warner is done playing the game. He’s done with courtesy, done with patience, done with giving a single shit about anyone but J. Which means the tension in here is insane right now. Even Castle seems a little nervous around Warner, like he’s not sure about him anymore.

The problem is, we all got too comfortable.

For a couple of months we forgot that Warner was scary. He smiled like four and a half times and we decided to forget that he was basically a psychopath with a long history of ruthless murder. We thought he’d been reformed. Gone soft. We forgot that he was only tolerating any of us because of Juliette.

And now, without her—

He no longer seems to belong.

Without her, we’re fracturing. The energy in this room has palpably changed. We don’t really feel like a team anymore, and it’s scary how quickly it happened. If only Warner weren’t so determined to be a dickhead. If only he weren’t so eager to put on his old skin, to alienate everyone in this room. If only he’d muster the smallest bit of goodwill, we could turn this whole thing around.

Seems unlikely.

I’m not as terrified as the others, but I’m not stupid, either. I know his threats of violence aren’t a bluff. The only people unperturbed are the supreme kids. They look right at home with this version of him. Haider, maybe most of all. That dude always seemed on edge, like he had no idea who Warner had turned into and he didn’t know how to process the change. But now? No problem. Super comfortable with psycho Warner. Old pals.

Nouria finally breaks the silence.

Gently, she clears her throat. A couple of people lift their heads. Warner glares at the floor.

“Kenji,” she says softly, “can I talk to you for a minute? Outside?”

My body stiffens.

I look around, uncertain, like she’s got me confused with someone else. Castle and Nazeera turn sharply in my direction, surprise widening their eyes. Sam, on the other hand, is staring at her wife, struggling to hide her frustration.

“Um”—I scratch my head—“maybe we should talk in here,” I say. “As a group?”

“Outside, Kishimoto.” Nouria is on her feet, the softness gone from her voice, her face. “Now, please.”

Reluctantly, I get to my feet.

I lock eyes with Nazeera, wondering if she has an opinion on the situation, but her expression is unreadable.

Nouria calls my name again.

I shake my head but follow her out the door. She leads me around a corner, into a narrow hallway.

It smells overwhelmingly like bleach.

J is posted up inside the MT—an obvious nickname for their medical tent—which feels like a misnomer, actually, because the tent element is entirely superficial. The inside of the building is a lot more like a proper hospital, with individual suites and operating rooms. It blew my mind a little the first time I first walked through here, because this space is super different from what we had at Omega Point and Sector 45. But then, before Sonya and Sara showed up, the Sanctuary had no healers. Their medical work was a lot more traditional: practiced by a handful of self-taught doctors and surgeons. There’s something about their old-fashioned, life-threatening medical practices that makes this place feel a lot more like a relic of our old world. A building full of fear.

Out here, in the main corridor, I can hear more clearly the standard sounds of a hospital—machines beeping, carts rolling, occasional moans, shouts, pages over an intercom. I flatten myself against the wall as a team of people barrels past, pushing a gurney down the hallway. Its occupant is an elderly man hooked up to an IV, an oxygen mask on his face. When he sees Nouria, he lifts his hand in a weak wave. Attempts a smile.

Nouria gives him a bright smile in return, holding it steady until the man is wheeled into another room. The moment he’s out of sight, she corners me. Her eyes flash, her dark brown skin glowing in the dim light like a warning. My spine straightens.

Nouria is surprisingly terrifying.

“What the hell happened out there?” she says. “What did you do?”

“Okay, first of all”—I hold up both hands—“I didn’t do anything. And I already told you guys exactly what happened—”

“You never told me that Emmaline tried to access your mind.”

That stops me up. “What? Yes I did. I literally told you that. I used those exact words.”

“But you didn’t provide the necessary details,” she says. “How did it start? What did it feel like? Why did she let go?”

“I don’t know,” I say, frowning. “I don’t understand what happened—all I’ve got are guesses.”

“Then guess,” she says, narrowing her eyes. “Unless— She’s not still in your head, is she?”

“What? No.”

Nouria sighs, more irritation than relief. She touches her fingers to her temples in a show of resignation. “This doesn’t make sense,” she says, almost to herself. “Why would she try so hard to infiltrate Ella’s mind? Why yours? I thought she was fighting against The Reestablishment. This feels more like she’s working for them.”

I shake my head. “I don’t think so. When Emmaline was in my head it felt more to me like a desperate, last-ditch effort—like she was worried J wouldn’t have the heart to kill her, and she was hoping I’d get it done faster. She called me brave, but weak. Like, I don’t know, maybe this sounds crazy, but it felt almost like Emmaline thought— for a second—that if I’d made it that far in her presence, I might’ve been strong enough to contain her. But then she jumped in my head and realized she was wrong. I wasn’t strong enough to hold her mind, and definitely not strong enough to kill her.” I shrug. “So she bailed.”

Nouria straightens. When she looks at me, she looks stunned. “You think she’s really that desperate to die? You think she wouldn’t put up a fight if someone tried to kill her?”

“Yeah, it’s awful,” I say, looking away. “Emmaline’s in a really bad place.”

“But she can exist, at least partially, in Ella’s body.” Nouria frowns. “Both consciousnesses in one person. How?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug again. “J said that Evie did a bunch of work on her muscles and bones and stuff while she was in Oceania—priming her for Operation Synthesis—to basically become Emmaline’s new body. So I think, ultimately, J playing host to Emmaline is what Evie had planned all along.”

“And Emmaline must’ve known,” Nouria says quietly.

It’s my turn to frown. “What are you getting at?”

“I don’t know, exactly. But this situation complicates things. Because if our goal was to kill Emmaline, and Emmaline is now living in Ella’s body—”

“Wait.” My stomach does a terrifying flip. “Is that why we’re out here? Is this why you’re being so secretive?”

“Lower your voice,” Nouria says sharply, glancing at something behind me.

“I will not lower my fucking voice,” I say. “What the hell are you thinking? What are you— Wait, what do you keep looking at?” I crane my neck but see only a blank wall behind my head. My heart is racing, my mind working too fast. I whip back around to face her.

“Tell me the truth,” I demand. “Is this why you cornered me? Because you’re trying to figure out if we can kill J while she’s got Emmaline inside of her? Is that it? Are you insane?”

Nouria glares at me. “Is it insane to want to save the world? Emmaline is at the center of everything wrong with our universe right now, and she’s trapped inside a body lying in a room just down the hall. Do you know how long we’ve been waiting for a moment like this? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t love this line of thinking, Kishimoto, but I’m not—”


At the sound of her wife’s voice, Nouria goes visibly still. She takes a step back from me, and I finally relax. A little.

We both turn around.

Sam’s not alone. Castle is standing next to her, both of them looking more than a little pissed.

“Leave him alone,” Castle says. “Kenji’s been through enough already. He needs time to recuperate.”

Nouria tries to respond, but Sam cuts her off. “How many times are we going to talk about this?” she says. “You can’t just shut me out when you’re stressed. You can’t just go off on your own without telling me.” Her blond hair falls into her eyes and, frustrated, she shoves the strands out of her face. “I’m your partner. This is our Sanctuary. Our life. We built it together, remember?”

“Sam.” Nouria sighs, squeezing her eyes closed. “You know I’m not trying to shut you out. You know that’s not—”

“You are literally shutting me out. You literally shut the door.”

My eyebrows fly up my forehead. Castle and I connect glances: we seem to have walked into a private argument.


“Hey, Sam,” I say, “did you know that your wife wants to kill Juliette?”

Castle gasps.

Sam’s body goes slack. She stares at Nouria, stunned.

“Yeah,” I say, nodding. “Nouria wants to murder her right now, actually, while she’s still comatose. What do you think?” I tilt my head at Sam. “Good idea? Bad idea? Maybe sleep on it?”

“That can’t be true,” Sam says, still staring at her wife. “Tell me he’s joking.”

“It’s not that simple,” says Nouria, who shoots me a look so venomous I almost feel bad for being petty. I don’t actually want Nouria and Sam to fight, but whatever. She can’t casually suggest murdering my best friend and expect me to be nice about it. “I was just pointing out th—”

“Okay, enough.”

I look up at the sound of Nazeera’s voice. I have no idea when she showed up, but she’s suddenly in front of us, arms crossed against her chest. “We’re not doing this. No side conversations. No subgroups. We all need to talk about the impending shitstorm headed our way, and if we’re going to have any chance of figuring out how to fight it, we have to stick together.”

“Which impending shitstorm?” I ask. “Please be specific.”

“I agree with Nazeera,” Sam says, her eyes narrowing at her wife. “Let’s all go back inside the room and talk. To each other. At the same time.”

“Sam,” Nouria tries again. “I’m not—”

“Bloody hell.” Stephan stops short at the sight of us, his shoes squeaking on the tile. He seems to tower over our group, looking too polished and civilized to belong here. “What on earth are you lot doing out here?”

Then, quietly, to Nazeera: “And why’ve you left us alone with him? He’s being a proper ass. Nearly made Haider cry just now.”

Nazeera sighs, closing her eyes as she pinches the bridge of her nose. “Haider does this to himself. I don’t understand why he’s deluded himself into thinking Warner is his best friend.”

“That, he might well be,” Stephan says, frowning. “The bar is quite low, as you know.”

Nazeera sighs again.

“If it makes Haider feel any better, Warner’s being equally horrible to just about everyone,” Sam says. She looks at Nouria. “Amir still won’t tell me what Warner said to him, by the way.”

“Amir?” Castle frowns. “The young man who oversees the patrol unit?”

Sam nods. “He quit this morning.”

“No.” Nouria blinks, stunned. “You’re kidding.”

“I wish I were. I had to give his job to Jenna.”

“This is crazy.” Nouria shakes her head. “It’s only been three days and already we’re falling apart.”

“Three days?” says Stephan. “Three days since we arrived, is that it? That’s not a very nice thing to say.”

“We are not falling apart,” Nazeera says suddenly. Angrily. “We can’t afford to fall apart. Not right now. Not with The Reestablishment about to appear at our doorstep.”

“Wait—what?” Sam frowns. “The Reestablishment has no idea where we—”

“God, this is so depressing,” I groan, running both hands through my hair. “Why are we all at each other’s throats right now? If Juliette were awake, she’d be so pissed at all of us. And she’d be super pissed at Warner for acting like this, for pushing us apart. Doesn’t he realize that?”

“No,” Castle says quietly. “Of course he doesn’t.”

A sharp knock knock—

And we all look up.

Winston and Brendan are peering around the corner at us, Brendan’s closed fist held aloft an inch from the wall. He knocks once more against the plaster.

Nouria exhales loudly. “Can we help you?”

They march over to us, their expressions so different it’s almost—almost—funny. Like light and dark, these two.

“Hello, everyone,” Brendan says, smiling brightly.

Winston yanks the glasses off his face. Glowers. “What the hell is going on? Why are you all having a conference out here on your own? And why did you leave us alone with him?”

“We didn’t,” I try to say.

“We’re not,” Sam and Nazeera say at the same time.

Winston rolls his eyes. Shoves his glasses back on. “I’m getting too fucking old for this.”

“You just need some coffee,” Brendan says, gently patting Winston’s shoulder. “Winston doesn’t sleep very well at night,” he explains to the rest of us.

Winston perks up. Goes instantly pink.

I smile.

I swear, it’s all I do. I just smile, and in a fraction of a second Winston’s locked eyes with me, his death stare screaming, Shut your mouth, Kishimoto, and I don’t even have a chance to be offended before he turns abruptly away, his ears bright red.

An uncomfortable silence descends.

I wonder, for the first time, if it’s really possible that Brendan has no idea how Winston feels about him. He seems oblivious, but who knows. It’s definitely not a secret to the rest of us.

“Well.” Castle takes a sharp breath, claps his hands together. “We were about to go back inside the room to have a proper discussion. So if you gentlemen”—he nods at Winston and Brendan—“wouldn’t mind turning back the way you came? We’re getting a bit cramped in the hall.”

“Right.” Brendan glances quickly behind him. “But, um, do you think we might wait another minute or so? Haider was crying, you see, and I think he’d appreciate the privacy.”

“Oh, for the love of God,” I groan.

“What happened?” Nazeera asks, concern creasing her forehead. “Should I go in there?”

Brendan shrugs, his extremely white face glowing almost neon in this dark corridor. “He said something to Warner in Arabic, I believe. And I don’t know exactly what Warner said back to him, but I’m pretty sure he told Haider to sod off, in one way or another.”

“Asshole,” Winston mutters.

“It’s true, unfortunately.” Brendan frowns.

I shake my head. “All right, okay, I know he’s being a dick, but I think we can cut Warner a little slack, right? He’s devastated. Let’s not forget the hell he went through this morning.”

“Pass.” Winston crosses his arms, anger seeming to lift him out of embarrassment. “Haider is crying. Haider Ibrahim. Son of the supreme commander of Asia. He’s sitting in a hospital chair crying because Warner hurt his feelings. I don’t know how you can defend that.”

“To be fair,” Stephan interjects, “Haider’s always been a bit delicate.”

“Listen, I’m not defending Warner, I’m just—”

“Enough.” Castle’s voice is loud. Sharp. “That is quite enough.” Something tugs gently at my neck, startling me, and I notice Castle’s hands are up in the air. Like he just physically turned our heads to face him. He points back down the hall, toward J’s recovery room. I feel a slight push at my back.

“Back inside. All of you. Now.”

Haider doesn’t seem any different when we step back inside the room. No evidence of tears. He’s standing in a corner, alone, staring into the middle distance. Warner is in exactly the same position we left him in, sitting stiffly beside J.

Staring at her.

Staring at her like he might be able to will her back into consciousness.

Nazeera claps her hands together, hard. “All right,” she says, “no more interruptions. We need to talk about strategy before we do anything else.”

Sam frowns. “Strategy for what? Right now, we need to discuss Emmaline. We need to understand the events of the morning before we can even think about discussing the next steps forward.”

“We are going to talk about Emmaline, and the events of the morning,” Nazeera says. “But in order to discuss the Emmaline situation, we’ll need to talk about the Ella situation, which will necessitate a conversation about a larger, overarching strategy—one that will dovetail neatly with a plan to get the supreme kids back.”

Castle stares at her, looking just as confused as Sam. “You want to discuss the supreme kids right now? Isn’t it better if we star—”

“Idiots,” Haider mutters under his breath.

We ignore him.

Well, most of us. Nazeera is shaking her head, giving the room at large that same look she gives me so often—the one that expresses her general exhaustion at being surrounded by idiots.

“How are you so unable to see how these things connect? The Reestablishment is looking for us. More specifically, they’re looking for Ella. We were supposed to be in hiding, remember? But Emmaline’s egregious display this morning just blew the cover on our location. We all saw the news— you all read the emergency reports. The Reestablishment did serious damage control to subdue the citizens. That means they know what happened here.”

Again, more blank stares.

“Emmaline just led them directly to Ella,” she says. She says this last sentence really slowly, like she fears for our collective intelligence. “Whether on purpose or by accident, The Reestablishment now has an approximate idea of our location.”

Nouria looks stricken.

“Which means,” Haider says, drawing the words out with his own irritating condescension, “they’re much closer to finding us now than they were a few hours ago.”

Everyone sits up straighter in their chairs. The air is suddenly different, intense in a new way. Nouria and Sam exchange worried glances.

It’s Nouria who says, “You really think they know where we are?”

“I knew this would happen,” Sam says, shaking her head.

Castle stiffens. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Sam bristles, but her words are calm when she says: “We took an enormous risk letting your team stay here. We risked our livelihood and the safety of our own men and women to allow you to take shelter among us. You’re here for three days and already you’ve managed to disclose our location to the world.”

“We haven’t disclosed anything— And what happened today was no one’s fault—”

Nouria lifts a hand. “Stop,” she says, shooting a look at Sam, a look so brief I almost miss it. “We’re losing our focus again. Nazeera was right when she said we were all in this together. In fact, we came together for the express purpose of defeating The Reestablishment. It’s what we’ve always been working toward. We were never meant to live forever in self-made cages and communities.”

“I understand that,” Sam says, her steady voice belying the anger in her eyes. “But if they really know which sector to search, we could be discovered in a matter of days. The Reestablishment will be increasing their military presence within the hour, if they haven’t done so already.”

“They have done,” Stephan says, looking just as exasperated as Nazeera. “Of course they have.”

“So naive, these people,” Haider says, shooting a dark look at his sister.

Nazeera sighs.

Winston swears.

Sam shakes her head.

“So what do you propose?” Winston says, but he’s not looking at Nouria or Sam or Castle. He’s looking at Nazeera.

Nazeera doesn’t hesitate.

“We wait. We wait for Ella to wake up,” she says. “We need to know as much as we can about what happened to her, and we need to prioritize her security above all else. There’s a reason why Anderson wants her so desperately, and we need to find out what that reason is before we take any next steps.”

“But what about a plan for getting the other kids back?” Winston asks. “If we wait for Ella to wake up before making a move to save them, we could be too late.”

Nazeera shakes her head. “The plan for the other kids has to be tied up in the plan to save Ella,” she says. “I’m certain that Anderson is using the kidnapping of the supreme kids as bait. A bullshit lure designed to draw us out into the open. Plus, he designed that scheme before he had any idea we’d accidentally out ourselves, which only further supports my theory that this was a bullshit lure. He was only hoping we’d step outside of our protections just long enough to give away our approximate location.”

“Which we’ve now done,” Brendan says, quietly horrified.

I drop my head in my hands. “Shit.”

“It seems clear that Anderson wasn’t planning on doing any kind of honest trade for the hostages,” Nazeera says. “How could he possibly? He never told us where he was. Never told us where to meet him. And most interestingly: he didn’t even ask for the rest of the supreme kids. Whatever his plans are, he doesn’t seem to require the full set of us. He didn’t want Warner or me or Haider or Stephan. All he wanted was Ella, right?” She glances at Nouria. “That’s what you said. That he only wanted Ella?”

“Yes,” Nouria says. “That’s true— But I still don’t think I understand. You just laid out all the reasons for us to go to war, but your plan of attack involves doing nothing.”

Nazeera can’t hide her irritation. “We should still be making plans to fight,” she says. “We’ll need a plan to find the kids, steal them back, and then, eventually, murder our parents. But I’m proposing we wait for Ella until we make any moves. I’m suggesting we do a full and complete lockdown here at the Sanctuary until Ella is conscious. No going in or out until she wakes up. If you need emergency supplies, Kenji and I can use our stealth to go on discreet missions to find what you need. The Reestablishment will have soldiers posted up everywhere, monitoring every movement in this area, but as long as we remain isolated, we should be able to buy ourselves some time.”

“But we have no idea how long it’ll take for Ella to wake up,” Sam says. “It could be weeks—it could be never—”

“Our mission,” Nazeera says, cutting her off, “has to be about protecting Ella at all costs. If we lose her, we lose everything. That’s it. That’s the whole plan right now. Keeping Ella alive and safe is the priority. Saving the kids is secondary. Besides, the kids will be fine. Most of us have been through worse in basic training simulations.”

Haider laughs.

Stephan makes an amused sound of agreement.

“But what about James?” I protest. “What about Adam? They’re not like you guys. They’ve never been prepared for this shit. For God’s sake, James is only ten years old.”

Nazeera looks at me then, and for a moment, she falters. “We’ll do our best,” she says. And though her words sound genuinely sympathetic, that’s all she gives me. Our best.

That’s it.

I feel my heart rate begin to spike.

“So we’re just supposed to risk letting them die?” Winston asks. “We’re just supposed to gamble on a ten-year-old’s life? Let him remain imprisoned and tortured at the hands of a sociopath and hope for the best? Are you serious?”

“Sometimes sacrifices are necessary,” Stephan says.

Haider merely shrugs.

“No way, no way,” I say, panicking. “We need another plan. A better plan. A plan that saves everyone, and quickly.”

Nazeera looks at me like she feels sorry for me.

That’s enough to straighten my spine.

I spin around, my panic transforming quickly into anger. I home in on Warner, sitting in the corner like a useless sack of meat. “What about you?” I say to him. “What do you think about this? You’re okay with letting your own brothers die?”

The silence is suddenly suffocating.

Warner doesn’t answer me for a long time, and the room is too stunned at my stupidity to interfere. I just broke a tacit agreement to pretend Warner doesn’t exist, but now that I’ve provoked the beast, everyone wants to see what happens next.

Eventually, Warner sighs.

It’s not a calm, relaxing sound. It’s a harsh, angry sound that only seems to leave him more tightly wound. He doesn’t even lift his head when he says, “I’m okay with a lot of things, Kishimoto.”

But I’m too far gone to turn back now.

“That’s bullshit,” I say, my fists clenching. “That’s bullshit, and you know it. You’re better than this.”

Warner says nothing. He doesn’t move a muscle, doesn’t stop staring at the same spot on the floor. And I know I shouldn’t antagonize him—I know he’s in a fragile state right now—but I can’t help it. I can’t let this go, not like this.

“So that’s it? After everything—that’s it? You’re just going to let James die?” My heart is pounding, hard and heavy in my chest. I feel my frustration peaking, spiraling. “What do you think J would say right now, huh? How do you think she’d feel about you letting someone murder a child?”

Warner stands up.

Fast, too fast. Warner is on his feet and I’m suddenly sorry. I was feeling a little brave but now I’m feeling nothing but regret. I take an uncertain step back. Warner follows. Suddenly he’s standing in front of me, studying my eyes, but it turns out I can’t hold his gaze for longer than a second. His eyes are such a pale green they’re disorienting to look at on his good days. But today— Right now—

He looks insane.

I notice, when I turn away, that he’s still got blood on his fingers. Blood smeared across his throat. Blood streaking through his gold hair.

“Look at me,” he says.

“Um, no thanks.”

“Look at me,” he says again, quietly this time.

I don’t know why I do it. I don’t know why I give in. I don’t know why there’s still a part of me that believes in Warner and hopes to see something human in his eyes. But when I finally look up, I lose that hope. Warner looks cold. Detached. All wrong.

I don’t understand it.

I mean, I’m devastated, too. I’m upset, too, but I didn’t turn into a completely different person. And right now, Warner seems like a completely different person. Where’s the guy who was going to propose to my best friend? Where’s the guy having a panic attack on his bedroom floor? Where’s the guy who laughed so hard his cheeks dimpled? Where’s the guy I thought was my friend?

“What happened to you, man?” I whisper. “Where’d you go?”

“Hell,” he says. “I’ve finally found hell.”



I wake in waves, consciousness bathing me slowly. I break the surface of sleep, gasping for air before I’m pulled under

another current

another current


Memories wrap around me, bind my bones. I sleep. When I sleep, I dream I am sleeping. In those dreams, I dream I am dead. I can’t tell real from fiction, can’t tell dreams from truth, can’t tell time anymore it might’ve been days or years who knows who knows I begin to





I dream even as I wake, dream of red lips and slender fingers, dream of eyes, hundreds of eyes, I dream of air and anger and death.

I dream Emmaline’s dreams.

She’s here.

She went quiet once she settled here, in my mind. She stilled, retreated. Hid from me, from the world. I feel heavy with her presence but she does not speak, she only decays, her mind decomposing slowly, leaving compost in its wake. I am heavy with it, heavy with her refuse. I am incapable of carrying this weight, no matter how strong Evie made me I am incapable, incompatible. I am not enough to hold our minds, combined. Emmaline’s powers are too much. I drown in it, I drown in it, I


when my head breaks the surface again.

I drag air into my lungs, beg my eyes to open and they laugh. Eyes laughing at lungs gasping at pain ricocheting up my spine.

Today, there is a boy.

Not one of the regular boys. Not Aaron or Stephan or Haider. This is a new boy, a boy I’ve never met before.

I can tell, just by standing next to him, that he’s terrified.

We stand in the big, wide room filled with trees. We stare at the white birds, the birds with the yellow streaks and the crowns on their heads. The boy stares at the birds like he’s never seen anything like them. He stares at everything with surprise. Or fear. Or worry. It makes me realize that he doesn’t know how to hide his emotions. Whenever Mr. Anderson looks at him, he sucks in his breath. Whenever I look at him, he goes bright red. Whenever Mum speaks to him, he stutters.

“What do you think?” Mr. Anderson says to Mum. He tries to whisper, but this room is so big it echoes a little.

Mum tilts her head at the boy. Studies him. “He’s what, six years old now?” But she doesn’t wait for him to answer. Mum just shakes her head and sighs. “Has it really been that long?”

Mr. Anderson looks at the boy. “Unfortunately.”

I glance at him, at the boy standing next to me, and watch as he stiffens. Tears spring to his eyes, and it hurts to watch. It hurts so much. I hate Mr. Anderson so much. I don’t know why Mum likes him. I don’t know why anyone likes him. Mr. Anderson is an awful person, and he hurts Aaron all the time. In fact— Now that I think about it, there’s something about this boy that reminds me of Aaron. Something about his eyes.

“Hey,” I whisper, and turn to face him.

He swallows, hard. Wipes at his tears with the edge of his sleeve.

“Hey,” I try again. “I’m Ella. What’s your name?”

The boy looks up, then. His eyes are a deep, dark blue. He’s the saddest boy I’ve ever met, and it makes me sad just to look at him.

“I’m A-Adam,” he says quietly. He turns red again.

I take his hand in mine. Smile at him. “We’re going to be friends, okay? Don’t worry about Mr. Anderson. No one likes him. He’s mean to all of us, I promise.”

Adam laughs, but his eyes are still red. His hand trembles in mine, but he doesn’t let go.

“I don’t know,” he whispers. “He’s pretty mean to me.”

I squeeze his hand. “Don’t worry,” I say. “I’ll protect you.”

Adam smiles at me then. Smiles a real smile. But when we finally look up again, Mr. Anderson is staring at us.

He looks angry.

There’s a buzzing building inside of me, a mass of sound that consumes thought, devours conversation.

We are flies—gathering, swarming—bulging eyes and fragile bones flittering nervously toward imagined destinies. We hurl our bodies at the panes of tantalizing windows, aching for the world promised on the other side. Day after day we drag injured wings and eyes and organs around the same four walls; open or closed, the exits elude us. We hope to be rescued by a breeze, hoping for a chance to see the sun.

Decades pass. Centuries stack together.

Our bruised bodies still careen through the air. We continue to hurl ourselves at promises. There is madness in the repetition, in the repetition, in the repetition that underscores our lives. It is only in the desperate seconds before death that we realize the windows against which we broke our bodies were only mirrors, all along.


It’s been four days.

Four days of nothing. J is still sleeping. The twins are calling it a coma, but I’m calling it sleeping. I’m choosing to believe J is just really, really tired. She just needs to sleep off some stress and she’ll be fine. This is what I keep telling everyone.

She’ll be fine.

“She’s just tired,” I say to Brendan. “And when she wakes up she’ll be glad we waited for her to go get James. It’ll be fine.”

We’re in the Q, which is short for the quiet tent, which is stupid because it’s never quiet in here. The Q is the default common room. It’s a gathering space slash game room where people at the Sanctuary get together in the evenings and relax. I’m in the kitchen area, leaning against the insubstantial counter. Brendan and Winston and Ian and I are waiting for the electric kettle to boil.


This was Brendan’s idea, of course. For some reason, we could never get our hands on tea back at Omega Point. We only had coffee, and it was seriously rationed. Only after we moved onto base in Sector 45 did Brendan realize we could get our hands on tea, but even then he wasn’t so militant about it.

But here—

Brendan’s made it his mission to force hot tea down our throats every night. He doesn’t even need the caffeine—his ability to manipulate electricity always keeps his body charged—but he says he likes it because he finds the ritual soothing. So, whatever. Now we gather in the evenings and drink tea. Brendan puts milk in his tea. Winston adds whiskey. Ian and I drink it black.

“Right?” I say, when no one answers me. “I mean, a coma is basically just a really long nap. J will be fine. The girls will get her better, and then she’ll be fine, and everything will be fine. And James and Adam will be fine, obviously, because Sam’s seen them and she says they’re fine.”

“Sam saw them and said they were unconscious,” Ian says, opening and closing cabinets. When he finds what he’s looking for—a sleeve of cookies—he rips the package open. He doesn’t even have a chance to pull one free before Winston’s swiped it.

“Those cookies are for our tea,” he says sharply.

Ian glowers.

We all glance at Brendan, who seems oblivious to the sacrifices being made in his honor. “Yes, Sam said that they were unconscious,” he says, collecting small spoons from a drawer. “But she also said they looked stable. Alive.”

“Exactly,” I say, pointing at Brendan. “Thank you. Stable. Alive. These are the critical words.”

Brendan takes the rescued sleeve of cookies from Winston’s proffered hand, and begins arranging dishes and flatware with a confidence that baffles us all. He doesn’t look up when he says, “It’s really kind of amazing, isn’t it?”

Winston and I share a confused look.

“I wouldn’t call it amazing,” Ian says, plucking a spoon from the tray. He examines it. “But I guess forks and shit are pretty cool, as far as inventions go.”

Brendan frowns. Looks up. “I’m talking about Sam. Her ability to see across long distances.” He retrieves the spoon from Ian’s hand and replaces it on the tray. “What a remarkable skill.”

Sam’s preternatural ability to see across long distances was what convinced us of Anderson’s threats to begin with. Several days ago—when we first got the news about the kidnapping—she’d used both data and sheer determination to pinpoint Anderson’s location to our old base at Sector 45. She’d spent a straight fourteen hours searching, and though she hadn’t been able to get a visual on the other supreme kids, she’d been able to see flickers of James and Adam, who are the only ones I care about anyway. Those flickers of life—unconscious, but alive and stable—aren’t much in the way of assurances, but I’m willing to take anything at this point.

“Anyway, yeah. Sam is great,” I say, stretching out against the counter. “Which brings me back to my original point: Adam and James are going to be fine. And J is going to wake up soon and be fine. The world owes me at least that much, right?”

Brendan and Ian exchange glances. Winston takes off his glasses and cleans them, slowly, with the hem of his shirt.

The electric kettle pops and steams. Brendan drops a couple of tea bags into a proper teapot and fills its porcelain belly with the hot water from the kettle. He then wraps the teapot in a towel and hands it to Winston, and the two of them carry everything over to the little corner of the room we’ve been claiming for ourselves lately. It’s nothing major, just a cluster of seats with a couple of low tables in the middle. The rest of the room is abuzz with activity. Lots of talking and mingling.

Nouria and Sam are alone in a corner, deep in conversation. Castle is talking quietly with the girls, Sonya and Sara. We’ve all been spending a lot of time here—pretty much everyone has—ever since the Sanctuary was declared officially on lockdown. We’re all in this weird limbo right now; there’s so much happening, but we’re not allowed to leave the grounds. We can’t go anywhere or do anything about anything. Not yet, anyway. Just waiting for J to wake up.

Any minute now.

There are a ton of other people here, too—but only some I’m beginning to recognize. I nod hello to a couple of people I know only by name, and drop into a soft, well-worn armchair. It smells like coffee and old wood in here, but I’m starting to like it. It’s becoming a familiar routine. Brendan, as usual, finishes setting everything up on the coffee table. Teacups, spoons, little plates and triangle napkins. A little pitcher for milk. He’s really, really into this whole thing. He readjusts the cookies he’d already arranged on a plate, and smooths out the paper napkins. Ian stares at him with the same expression every night—like Brendan is crazy.

“Hey,” Winston says sharply. “Knock it off.”

“Knock what off ?” Ian says, incredulous. “Come on, man, you don’t think this is a little weird? Having tea parties every night?”

Winston lowers his voice to a whisper. “I’ll kill you if you ruin this for him.”

“All right, enough. I’m not deaf, you know.” Brendan narrows his eyes at Ian. “And I don’t care if you lot think it’s weird. I’ve little left of England, save this.”

That shuts us up.

I stare at the teapot. Brendan says it’s steeping.

And then, suddenly, he claps his hands together. He stares straight at me, his ice-blue eyes and white-blond hair giving me Warner vibes. But somehow, even with all his bright, white, cold hues, Brendan is the opposite of Warner. Unlike Warner, Brendan glows. He’s warm. Kind. Naturally hopeful and super smiley.

Poor Winston.

Winston, who’s secretly in love with Brendan and too afraid of ruining their friendship to say anything about it. Winston thinks he’s too old for Brendan, but the thing is— he’s not getting any younger, either. I keep telling Winston that if he wants to make a move, he should do it now, while he’s still got his original hips, and he says, Ha ha I’ll murder you, asshole, and reminds me he’s waiting for the right moment. But I don’t know. Sometimes I think he’ll keep it inside forever. And I’m worried it might kill him.

“So, listen,” Brendan says carefully. “We wanted to talk to you.”

I blink, refocusing. “Who? Me?”

I glance around at their faces. Suddenly, they all look serious. Too serious. I try to laugh when I ask, “What’s going on? Is this some kind of intervention?”

“Yes,” Brendan says. “Sort of.”

I go suddenly stiff.

Brendan sighs.

Winston scratches a spot on his forehead.

Ian says, “Juliette is probably going to die, you know that, right?”

Relief and irritation flood through me simultaneously. I manage to roll my eyes and shake my head at the same time. “Stop doing this, Sanchez. Don’t be that guy. It’s not funny anymore.”

“I’m not trying to be funny.”

I roll my eyes again, this time looking to Winston for support, but he just shakes his head at me. His eyebrows furrow so hard his glasses slip down his nose. He tugs them off his face.

“This is serious,” he says. “She’s not okay. And even if she does wake up again— I mean, whatever happened to her—”

“She’s not going to be the same,” Brendan finishes for him.

“Says who?” I frown. “The girls said—”

“Bro, the girls said that something about her chemistry changed. They’ve been running tests on her for days. Emmaline did something weird to her—something that’s, like, physically altered her DNA. Plus, her brain is fried.”

“I know what they said,” I snap, irritated. “I was there when they said it. But the girls were just being cautious. They think it’s possible that whatever happened to her might’ve left some damage, but—this is Sonya and Sara we’re talking about. They can heal anything. All we need to do is wait for J to wake up.”

Winston shakes his head again. “They wouldn’t be able to heal something like that,” he says. “The girls can’t repair that kind of neurological devastation. They might be able to keep her alive, but I’m not sure they’ll be able t—”

“She might not even wake up,” Ian says, cutting him off. “Like, ever. Or, best-case scenario, she could be in a coma for years. Listen, the point here is that we need to start making plans without her. If we’re going to save James and Adam, we need to go now. I know Sam’s been checking on them, and I know she says they’re stable for now, but we can’t wait anymore. Anderson doesn’t know what happened to Juliette, which means he’s still waiting for us to give her up. Which means Adam and James are still at risk— Which means we’re running out of time. And, for once,” he says, taking a breath, “I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

I sit back, stunned. “You’re messing with me, right?”

Brendan pours tea.

Winston pulls a flask out of his pocket and weighs it in his hand before holding it out to me. “Maybe you should have this tonight,” he says.

I glare at him.

He shrugs, and empties half the flask into his teacup.

“Listen,” Brendan says gently. “Ian is a beast with no bedside manner, but he’s not wrong. It’s time to think of a new plan. We all still love Juliette, it’s just—” He cuts himself off, frowns. “Wait, is it Juliette or Ella? Was there ever a consensus?”

I’m still scowling when I say, “I’m calling her Juliette.”

“But I thought she wanted to be called Ella,” Winston says.

“She’s in a fucking coma,” Ian says, and takes a loud sip of tea. “She doesn’t care what you call her.”

“Don’t be such a brute,” Brendan says. “She’s our friend.”

“Your friend,” he mutters.

“Wait— Is that what this is about?” I sit forward. “Are you jealous she never best-friended you, Sanchez?”

Ian rolls his eyes, looks away.

Winston is watching with fascinated interest.

“All right, drink your tea,” Brendan says, biting into a biscuit. He gestures at me with the half-eaten cookie. “It’s getting cold.”

I shoot him a tired look, but I take an obligatory sip and nearly choke. It tastes weird tonight. And I’m about to push it away when I realize Brendan is still staring at me, so I take a long, disgusting pull of the dark liquid before replacing the cup in the saucer. I try not to gag.

“Okay,” I say, slamming my palms down on my thighs. “Let’s put it to a vote: Who here thinks Ian is annoyed that J didn’t fall in love with him when she showed up at Point?”

Winston and Brendan share a look. Slowly, they both lift their hands.

Ian rolls his eyes again. “Pendejos,” he mutters.

“The theory holds at least a little water,” Winston says.

“I have a girlfriend, dumbasses.” And as if on cue, Lily looks up from across the room, locks eyes with Ian. She’s sitting with Alia and some other girl I don’t recognize.

Lily waves.

Ian waves back.

“Yes, but you’re used to a certain level of attention,” Winston says, reaching for a biscuit. He looks up, scans the roo