He glares at her. “I get that you think I’m an idiot.”
“Yes, I get what you’re saying,” he says, obviously irritated. “You’re saying you all had your memories wiped. You’re saying Warner doesn’t even know that they knew each other.”
She holds up a finger. “Didn’t know,” she says. “He didn’t know until just before the symposium. I tried to warn him—and Castle,” she says, glancing at Castle, who’s looking at the wall. “I tried to warn them both that something was wrong, that something big was happening and I didn’t really understand what or why. Warner didn’t believe me, of course. I’m not sure Castle did, either. But I didn’t have time to give them proof.”
“Wait, what?” I say, my eyebrows furrowing. “You told Warner and Castle? Before the symposium? You told them all of this?”
“I tried,” she says.
“Why wouldn’t you just tell Juliette?” Lily asks.
“You mean Ella.”
Lily rolls her eyes. “Sure. Ella. Whatever. Why not warn her directly? Why tell everyone else?”
“I didn’t know how she’d take the news,” Nazeera says. “I’d been trying to take her temperature from the moment I got here, and I could never figure out how she felt about me. I didn’t think she really trusted me. And then after everything that happened”—she hesitates—“it never seemed like the right time. She got shot, she was in recovery, and then she and Warner broke up, and she just . . . I don’t know. Spiraled. She wasn’t in a healthy headspace. She’d already had to stomach a bunch of revelations and she didn’t seem to be handling them well. I wasn’t sure she could take much more, to be honest, and I was worried what she might do.”
“Murder six hundred people, maybe,” Ian mutters under his breath.
“Hey,” I snap. “She didn’t murder anyone, okay? That was some kind of magic trick.”
“It was a distraction,” Nazeera says firmly. “James was the only one who saw this for what it was.” She sighs. “I think this whole thing was staged to make Ella appear volatile and unhinged. That scene at the symposium will no doubt undermine her position here, at Sector 45, by instilling fear in the soldiers who pledged their allegiance to her. She’ll be described as unstable. Irrational. Weak. And then—easily captured. I knew The Reestablishment wanted Ella gone, but I thought they’d just burn the whole sector to the ground. I was wrong. This was a far more efficient tactic. They didn’t need to kill off a regiment of perfectly good soldiers and a population of obedient workers,” Nazeera says. “All they needed to do was to discredit Ella as their leader.”
“So what happens now?” Lily says.
Nazeera hesitates. And then, carefully, she says, “Once they’ve punished the citizens and thoroughly quashed any hope for rebellion, The Reestablishment will turn everyone against you. Put bounties on your heads, or, worse, threaten to murder loved ones if civilians and soldiers don’t turn you in. You were right,” she says to Lily. “The soldiers and citizens paid allegiance to Ella, and with both her and Warner gone, they’ll feel abandoned. They have no reason to trust the rest of you.” A pause. “I’d say you have about twenty-four hours before they come for your heads.”
Silence falls over the room. For a moment, I think everyone actually stops breathing.
“Fuck,” Ian says, dropping his head in his hands.
“Immediate relocation is your best course of action,” Nazeera says briskly, “but I don’t know that I can be much help in that department. Where you go will be up to your discretion.”
“Then what are you even doing here?” I say, irritated. I understand her a little better now—I know that she’s been trying to help—but that doesn’t change the fact that I still feel like shit. Or that I still don’t know how to feel about her. “You showed up just to tell us we’re all going to die and that’s it?” I shake my head. “So helpful, thanks.”
“Kenji,” Castle says, finally breaking his silence. “There’s no need to attack our guest.” His voice is a calm, steadying sound. I’ve missed it. “She really did try to talk to me—to warn me—while she was here. As for a contingency plan,” he says, speaking to the room, “give me a little time. I have friends. We’re not alone, as you well know, in our resistance. There’s no need to panic, not yet.”
“Not yet?” Ian says, incredulous.
“Not yet,” Castle says. Then: “Nazeera, what of your brother? Were you able to convince him?”
Nazeera takes a steadying breath, losing some of the tension in her shoulders. “Haider knows,” she explains to the rest of us. “He’s been remembering things about Ella, too, but his memories of her aren’t as strong as mine, and he didn’t understand what was happening to him until last night when I decided to tell him what I’d discovered.”
“Whoa— Wait,” Ian says. “You trust him?”
“I trust him enough,” she says. “Besides, I figured he had a right to know; he knew Ella and Emmaline, too. But he wasn’t entirely convinced. I don’t know what he’ll decide to do, not yet, but he definitely seemed shaken up about it, which I think is a good sign. I asked him to do some digging, to find out if any of the other kids were beginning to remember things, too, and he said he would. Right now, that’s all I’ve got.”
“Where are the other kids?” Winston asks, frowning. “Do they know you’re still here?”
Nazeera’s expression grows grim. “All the kids were supposed to report back as soon as the symposium was over. Haider should be on his way back to Asia by now. I tried to convince my parents I was staying behind to do more reconnaissance, but I don’t think they bought it. I’m sure I’ll hear from them soon. I’ll handle it as it comes.”
“So— Wait—” I glance from her to Castle. “You’re staying with us?”
“That wasn’t really my plan.”
“Oh,” I say. “Good. That’s good.”
She raises an eyebrow at me.
“You know what I mean.”
“I don’t think I do,” she says, and she looks suddenly irritated. “Anyway, even though it wasn’t my plan to stay, I think I might have to.”
My eyes widen. “What? Why?”
“Because,” she says, “my parents have been lying to me since I was a kid—stealing my memories and rewriting my history—and I want to know why. Besides”—she takes a deep breath—“I think I know where Ella and Warner are, and I want to help.”
I hear the barely restrained anger in my father’s voice just before something slams, hard, into something else. He swears again.
I hesitate outside his door.
And then, impatiently—
“What do you want?”
His voice is practically a growl. I fight the impulse to be intimidated. I make my face a mask. Neutralize my emotions. And then, carefully, I step into his office.