I glanced up at the soldiers clustered above them, who were watching with amusement as two of their prisoners seemed poised to tear each other apart. More and more of them moved toward the fight, leaving the outer walkways they were meant to be patrolling.
“You think you’re better than the rest of us?” Cubby shouted. “That you aren’t scum?”
“I think you’re the problem here,” Max replied.
Priyanka and Roman stood beneath the walkway’s faint shadow. His hand was on her shoulder as they looked up. A moment later, Priyanka’s eyes found mine, and she nodded.
I pushed my way toward the front of the ring, nodding to Cubby as she wound her way past me. She gave a small nod of acknowledgment, then rushed Max again.
Priyanka thought they’d need at least five minutes to get through their security system and get it offline. Five minutes. Three hundred seconds.
Two hundred ninety-nine…
Max charged at Cubby with a roar. Some of the soldiers started laughing. To them, this was only part two of the fight they had witnessed earlier. Nothing suspicious from the little monsters below.
Two hundred ninety-eight…
The seconds wound down. I tried to look back at Priyanka and Roman, but couldn’t see them over the heads of the excited kids between us. I winced as Cubby’s foot struck Max’s throat, making his eyes bulge.
He stumbled back, bumping into the crowd of kids who were all too happy to shove him back toward Cubby. She wasted no time in laying him out flat on his back, just in front of me. Mud splattered against my shoes.
Max stared up at me from the ground, all vestiges of his serenity gone.
Sorry, I mouthed as Cubby hauled him back up onto his feet.
“Come on, don’t give out on me,” she said. “I’m just starting to have fun!”
Max swayed, trying to shake off the latest hit. He feinted right, and Cubby actually fell for it. There was a genuine look of surprise on her face as his left foot hooked behind her knee, and he pulled the leg out from under her.
The boy beside me let out an excited cry, punching his fist into the air.
I watched it happen in agonizing slowness, the seconds dragging until I thought they would stop entirely. The burst of power rippled up from his fist, lifting the laces on the soldier’s boots before gripping his body completely. One moment he was standing there, smirking, the next, his body had arced, his mouth open in a silent, shocked scream. And then he was falling.
Landing in the mud with the rest of us.
THE SOLDIER SLAMMED INTO THE ground, sending up a wave of tarry mud. Max jumped away, but Cubby was forced to roll out of the soldier’s path to avoid being crushed. Every single one of us looked as stunned as the soldier did. The Blue boy clutched his arm to his chest, as if he had physically struck the man.
There was a second of stillness. Quiet. Then the moment splintered into chaos.
Startled gasps and the clattering of guns being drawn above us.
Cubby reaching for the downed soldier’s gun.
Roman shouting, “One!”
I didn’t think. Didn’t speak. Just reacted. I reached for that silver thread inside my mind, tightening my grip on it until I was strangling the power that thrummed inside the two floodlights directly overhead. The glass covers and bulbs shattered as they blew out, sending soldiers and Psi alike scattering.
Panic swirled through the voices above us.
“Code White!” someone shouted. “We have a Code White—get on the radio—”
“—trying to hail them but the signal—there’s something wrong with the signal!”
The other kids ran out through the Pit, their arms raised toward the rest of the lights, surging the electric current through each of them. One of the soldiers screamed as the bulbs exploded, raining down shards of glass and sparks.
The pitch-black darkness was momentarily disorienting. I stumbled, then caught my balance as I swung back toward the others. They were a shade darker than the night; I couldn’t make out any of their features, but as my eyes adjusted, I could see them. Most of the kids had done as instructed and taken cover beneath the walkways where it would be harder for the soldiers to aim.
Like they were trying to do now.
“Two!” I shouted.
The girls next to me were Kin. Their arms brushed me as they lifted the soldiers into the air, following the lead of the others like them. The screams from the soldiers as they were knocked to the ground should have been unsettling. Instead, it was like I could feel their fear moving through me, gathering into a roaring current. It amplified the words growling like static in my mind.
We have the power.
We outnumber them.
We are in control.
And if we couldn’t fix a broken system, we’d shatter it and remake it ourselves.
Distant shouts—the few soldiers working inside the main building flooded out from a door on its second story that connected to the walkways. Before they could even pass over the cage, they were flying, too, and landing hard.
Some of the hired guns were trying to climb out of the Pit by going over the cage’s chain-link fence, only to be ripped off it by a small pack of Kin who descended on them with screams and fists. A dark shape up on the building’s roof got one shot off before being dragged forward. His rifle fell to the ground a second before the rest of him did.
Gunfire screamed in the air, only to be silenced as the kids overwhelmed the soldiers, prying their weapons away from them, making a game of shoving the soldiers to the other side of the Pit, just as they got up onto their feet.
“Come in! Anyone! Code White!”
I reached down for the gun half-buried in the mud at my feet. My pulse surged as I cracked the butt of it against the soldier’s head, sending him sprawling back down. There was a metallic click as someone removed the safety of their gun behind me. I whirled back toward the sound.
“Down!” Cubby said, then, with an unexpected calmness, fired at a soldier I hadn’t seen rushing up behind me.
He fell, howling, clutching his busted knee. Just beyond him, I finally made out the smaller shapes of the y
ounger kids as they ran along the wall toward the main building. Max limped along behind them, clutching a gun.
“Three?” Cubby asked.
I nodded. “Three.”
“Three!” she shouted.
Her crew rushed to her side, clutching the weapons they’d stolen. Most of the soldiers were on the ground, their hands behind their heads, their faces down in the mud, but a few were still up and firing. I heard the solid click of someone reloading and spun. A group of teen boys ran past me, their legs churning at full speed as they ran after Cubby toward the fence that separated the Pit from the main building.
Bullets sprayed out from somewhere behind me. I threw myself down, covering my head, gasping in a choked breath. The boys seemed to leap up as the bullets tore into their backs. Blood streaked the air the instant before they fell.
Every last bit of feeling seemed to leave my body. The mud clutched at me, as if trying to drag me down, to smother me. I couldn’t get my hands beneath me. The Pit began to spin and blur.
Cubby and several of the others charged back toward us, screaming as they fired at the soldier who had taken down the boys. They knelt beside the fallen kids, feeling for pulses, trying to shake them awake, and never once noticing the other soldier who took aim at them. I opened my mouth to scream out a warning, but it was too late. Another explosion of gunfire followed, and when it finally abated, Cubby staggered up from the ground alone.
The mud turned to snow beneath me.
I tried to lift my head, but there didn’t seem to be an ounce of strength left in me. Those boys…why did I think this would work? Why did I believe we’d all get out of here alive?
A figure ran toward me, firing at someone or something I couldn’t see. For one wild second, I thought it was Liam. I waited for the gentle hands to lift me, carry me away from here. Instead, the figure stopped beside me and took a bracing stance, returning fire at someone. His gunshots were rolling thunder, keeping time with the frantic pounding of feet against the ground, heading toward the fence.