“That was a dangerous bet to make.”
“Believe me,” she says quietly, “it was a difficult decision to make. It came at great cost to us—we lost one of our own in the process.”
I feel myself tense, but otherwise betray no emotion. I remember the day Nazeera saved me—the day she killed my assailant.
“But I had to reach you,” Nouria says, her dark brown eyes deep with feeling. “It was the only way I could do it without rousing suspicion.”
My curiosity beats out my skepticism. For the moment.
“So— Why? Why did you do it?” I ask. “Why poison me?”
Unexpectedly, Nouria smiles. “I needed you to see what I saw. And according to Castle, it worked.”
“Ella—” She hesitates. “May I call you by your real name?”
I blink. Stare at Castle. “You told her about me?”
“He didn’t have to. Things don’t stay secret for very long around here,” Nouria says. “No matter what The Reestablishment has you believe, we’re all finding ways to pass messages to each other. All the resistance groups across the globe know the truth about you by now. And they love you more for it.”
I don’t know what to say.
“Ella,” she says softly, “I was able to figure out why your parents have kept your sister a secret for so long. And I just wanted t—”
“I already know,” I say, the words coming out quietly.
I haven’t talked to anyone about this yet; haven’t told a soul. There’s been no time to discuss something this big. No time to have a long conversation. But I guess we’re going to have it now.
Nouria is staring at me, stunned. “You know?”
“Emmaline told me everything.”
A hush falls over the crowd. Everyone turns to look at me. Even Haider, Stephan, and Nazeera finally stop talking amongst themselves long enough to stare.
“She’s kept in captivity,” I say. “She lives in a holding tank, where she exists almost permanently underwater. Her brain waves are connected to tidal turbines that convert the kinetic energy of her mind into electricity. Evie, my mother, found a way to harness that electricity—and project it outward. All over the world.” I take a deep breath. “Emmaline is stronger than I’ve ever been or ever will be. She has the power to bend the minds of the people—she can warp and distort realities— Here. Everywhere.”
Kenji’s face is a perfect encapsulation of horror, and his expression is reflected on dozens of other faces around me. Nazeera, on the other hand, looks stricken.
“What you see here?” I say. “Around us? The decay of society, the broken atmosphere, the birds gone from the sky— It’s all an illusion. It’s true that our climate has changed, yes—we’ve done serious damage to the atmosphere, to the animals, to the planet as a whole—but that damage is not irreparable. Scientists were hopeful that, with a careful, concerted effort, we could fix our Earth. Save the future. But The Reestablishment didn’t like that angle,” he says. “They didn’t want the people to hope. They wanted people to think that our Earth was beyond salvation. And with Emmaline they were able to do just that.”
“Why?” Kenji says, stunned. “Why would they do that? What do they gain?”
“Desperate, terrified people,” Nouria says solemnly, “are much easier to control. They used Ella’s sister to create the illusion of irreversible devastation, and then they preyed upon the weak and the hopeless, and convinced them to turn to The Reestablishment for support.”
“Emmaline and I were designed for something called Operation Synthesis. She was meant to be the architect of the world, and I was to be the executioner. But Emmaline is dying. They need another powerful weapon with which to control the people. A contingency. A backup plan.”
Aaron takes my hand.
“The Reestablishment wanted me to replace my sister,” I say.
For the first time, Nouria has gone still. No one knew this part. No one but me. “How?” she says. “You have such different abilities.”
It’s Castle who says, “It’s easy to imagine, actually.” But he looks terrified. “If they were to magnify Ella’s powers the way they did her sister’s, she would become the equivalent of a human atom bomb. She could cause mass destruction. Excruciating pain. Death when they please. Across tremendous distances.”
“We have no choice.” Nazeera’s voice rings out, sharp and clear. “We have to kill Evie.”
And I’m looking out, far into the distance, when I say, quietly, “I already did.”
A collective gasp goes through the crowd. Aaron goes still beside me.
“And now,” I say, “I have to kill my sister. It’s what she wants. It’s the only way.”
Nouria’s headquarters are both strange and beautiful. They have no need to hide underground, because she’s found a way to imbue objects with her power—an evolution of our abilities even Castle hadn’t foreseen. The Sanctuary’s campsite is protected by a series of twenty-foot-tall pole lights that border the edges of the clearing. Fused with Nouria’s power, the lights work together as a barrier that makes it impossible to look in the direction of their campsite. She says her abilities not only have the power to blind, but that she can also use light to warp sounds. So they live here, out in the open, their words and actions protected in plain sight. Only those who know the location can find their way here.
Nouria says that the illusion has kept them safe for years.
The sun begins its descent as we make our way toward the campsite—the vast, unusually green field dotted with cream-colored tents—and the scene is so breathtaking I can’t help but stop to appreciate the view. Fire streaks across the sky, golden light flooding the air and earth. It feels both beautiful and bleak, and I shiver as a gust of wind wraps around my body.
Ella takes my hand.
I look at her, surprised, and she smiles at me, the fading sun glinting in her eyes. I feel her fear, her hope, her love for me. But there’s something else, too—something like pride. It’s faint, but it’s there, and it makes me so happy to see her like this. She should be proud. I can speak for myself, at least, when I say that I’ve never been so proud of her. But then, I always knew she would go on to greatness. It doesn’t surprise me at all that, even after everything she’s been through—after all the horrors she’s had to face—she’s still managed to inspire the world. She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. My father might be back from the dead, and Sector 45 might be out of our hands, but Ella’s impact can’t be ignored. Nouria says that no one really believed that she was actually dead, but now that it’s official—now that word has spread that Ella is still alive—she’s become more notorious than ever. Nouria says that the rumbles underground are already getting stronger. People are more desperate to act, to get involved, and to stand up to The Reestablishment. Resistance groups are growing. The civilians are finding ways to get smarter—to get stronger, together. And Ella has given them a figure to rally around. Everyone is talking about her.