“I’m not going anywhere but out of here.”
“Kenji please—” Juliette again.
“You’re being unreasonable. This isn’t a joke,” she says to him. “People are going to die today.”
Kenji laughs at her. “I’m sorry, are you trying to teach me about the realities of war?” He shakes his head. “Are you forgetting that I was a soldier in Warner’s army? Do you have any idea how much crazy shit we’ve seen?” He gestures to me. “I know exactly what to expect today. Warner was insane. If Anderson is even twice as bad as his son, then we are diving right into a bloodbath. I can’t leave you guys hanging like that.”
Juliette is frozen, her lips just parted, her eyes wide and horrified. Her reaction feels a little exaggerated.
There’s definitely something wrong with her today.
I know part of what she’s feeling has to do with Kenji, but suddenly I’m not sure if there isn’t something else. Something she’s not telling me.
I can’t read her clearly.
Then again, I feel like I haven’t been able to read her clearly for a while now.
“Was he really that bad . . . ?” Juliette asks.
“Who?” Kenji and I ask at the same time.
“Warner,” she says. “Was he really that ruthless?”
God, she’s so obsessed with him. She has some weird fascination with his twisted life that I don’t understand, and it makes me crazy. I can already feel myself getting angry, annoyed—jealous, even—which is ridiculous. Warner isn’t even human; I shouldn’t be comparing myself to him. Besides, she’s not his type at all. He’d probably eat her alive.
Kenji, however, doesn’t seem to have my problem. He’s laughing so hard he’s practically wheezing. “Ruthless? Juliette, the guy is sick. He’s an animal. I don’t think he even knows what it means to be human. If there’s a hell out there, I’m guessing it was designed especially for him.”
I catch a glimpse of Juliette’s face just before I hear a rush of footsteps charging down the hall. We all glance at one another, but I look at Juliette for a second longer, wishing I could read her mind. I have no idea what she’s thinking or why she still looks so horrified. I want to talk to her in private—find out what’s going on—but then Kenji nods at me, and I know I have to clear my head.
It’s time to go.
We all get to our feet.
“Hey—so, does Castle know what you’re doing?” I ask Kenji. “I don’t think he’d be okay with you going out there today.”
“Castle wants me to be happy,” Kenji says. “And I won’t be happy if I stay here. I’ve got work to do. People to save. Ladies to impress. He’d respect that.”
“What about everyone else?” Juliette asks him. “Everyone was so worried about you—have you even seen them yet? To at least tell them you’re okay?”
“Nah,” Kenji says. “They’d probably shit a brick if they knew I was going up. I thought it’d be safer to keep it quiet. I don’t want to freak anyone out. And Sonya and Sara—poor kids—they’re passed the hell out. It’s my fault they’re so exhausted, and they’re still talking about heading out today. They want to fight even though they’re going to have a lot of work to do once we’re done with Anderson’s army. I’ve been trying to convince them to stay here, but they can be so damn stubborn. They need to save their strength,” he says, “and they’ve already wasted too much of it on me.”
“It’s not a waste—,” she says.
“Anywaaay,” Kenji says. “Can we please get going? I know you’re all about hunting down Anderson,” he says to me, “but personally? I would love to catch Warner. Put a bullet through that worthless piece of crap and be done with it.”
I’m about to laugh—finally, someone who agrees with me—when I see Juliette double over. She steadies herself quickly enough, but she’s blinking fast and breathing hard, eyes up at the ceiling.
“Hey—you okay?” I pull her to the side and study her face. She scares the shit out of me sometimes. I worry about her almost as much as I do about James.
“I’m okay,” she says too many times. Nodding and shaking her head over and over again. “I just didn’t get enough sleep last night, but I’ll be fine.”
I hesitate. “Are you sure?”
“I’m positive,” she says. And then she grabs my shirt, eyes wild. “Hey—just be careful out there, okay?”
I nod, more confused by the second. “Yeah. You too.”
“Let’s go let’s go let’s go!” Kenji interrupts us. “Today is our day to die, ladies.”
I relax and shove him a little. It’s nice to have him around to break up the monotony in this place.
Kenji punches me in the arm. “So now you’re abusing the crippled kid, huh?”
I laugh, flip him off.
“Save your angst for the battlefield, bro.” He grins. “You’re going to need it.”
It’s raining like hell.
It’s cold and wet and muddy and shitty and I hate this. I scowl at Kenji and Juliette, jealous of their fancy suits. Those things are built to give them protection from this crazy winter weather. I should’ve asked for one.
I’m already freezing my ass off.
We’re at the clearing, the barren stretch at the entrance of Omega Point, and most everyone else has scattered. Our only defense is guerrilla warfare, so we’ve been divided into groups. Me; an ill, barely-able-to-walk-straight Kenji; and Juliette (who’s officially locked herself in her own head today)—this is our team.
Yeah, I’m definitely worried.
Anyway, at least Kenji is doing his thing: we’re already invisible. But now it’s time to find the action and join in. The sound of gunshots rings out loud and clear, so we’ve already got a direction to move in. No one speaks, but we already know the rules: we fight to protect the innocent, and we fight to survive. That’s it.
The rain is really messing things up, though. It’s falling harder and faster now, pelting me in the face and blurring my vision. I can hardly see straight. I try to wipe the water from my eyes but it’s no use. There’s too much.
I do know we’re getting closer to the compounds, so at least there’s that. The outline of the buildings comes into focus and I feel myself getting excited. I’m armed to the teeth and ready to fight—ready to do whatever is necessary to take down The Reestablishment—but I’m not gonna lie: I’m still a little worried we’ve got a handicap.
Juliette has never done this before.
If it were up to me, she’d be back on base with James where I know she’d be safe, but she wouldn’t listen to me even if I asked her to. Kenji and Castle are always blowing smoke up her ass when they shouldn’t, and honestly? It’s dangerous. It’s not good to make her think she can do this kind of thing when really, it’ll probably get her killed. She’s not a soldier; she doesn’t know how to fight; and she has no idea how to use her powers, not really, which makes things even worse. It’s basically like giving a toddler a stick of dynamite and telling him to walk into a fire.
So yeah, I’m worried. I’m really worried something is going to happen to her. And maybe to us, by extension.
But no one ever listens to me, so here we are.
I sigh and forge ahead, irritated, until I hear a piercing scream in the distance. High alert. Kenji squeezes my hand and I squeeze back to let him know I understand.
The compounds are straight ahead, and Kenji pulls us forward until we’re standing flush against the back wall of a unit. There’s just enough overhang from the roof to keep the rain off. It’s just my shitty luck that we’re doing this on a rainy day. My clothes are so wet I feel like I’ve pissed my pants.
Kenji elbows me, just a little, and I’m paying attention again. I hear the sound of a door slam open and I go rigid; I reach for my gun automatically. It feels like I’ve been through this a million times before, but it’s never something I get used to.
“This is the last of them,” a voice shouts. “She was hiding out over here.”
A soldier is dragging a woman out of her home and she won’t stop screaming. My heart speeds up, and I grip my gun more tightly. It’s sick, the way some of the soldiers treat the civilians. I get that he’s under orders—I really do—but the poor woman is begging for mercy and he’s dragging her by the hair and shouting at her to shut up.
Kenji is barely breathing next to me. I glance Juliette’s way before I realize we’re still invisible, and as I turn my head, I catch a glimpse of another soldier. He jogs over from across the field and shoots the first guy a signal. Not the kind of signal I was hoping for.
“Toss her in with everyone else,” the other soldier is saying now. “And then we’ll call this area clear.” Suddenly he’s gone, around the corner, and no one’s left but us, one soldier, and the lady he’s holding hostage. Other soldiers must’ve rounded up the remaining civilians before we got here.
Then the woman loses it. She’s completely hysterical and doesn’t seem to be in control of her body anymore. She’s gone totally animal, screeching and clawing and flailing, tripping over her own feet. She’s asking after her husband and her daughter and I almost have to close my eyes. It’s hard to watch this stuff when I already know what’s going to happen. War never gets easier when you don’t agree with what’s going on. Sometimes I let myself get excited about going to battle—I have to convince myself I’m doing something worthwhile—but fighting another soldier is way easier than dealing with some lady who’s about to watch her daughter get shot in the head.
Juliette will probably puke.
The action is so close to us now that I instinctively press my back into the wall, forgetting again that we’re invisible. The soldier grabs the lady and slams her body against the outside of the unit, and I feel the three of us collectively freak out for a second, calming down just in time to watch the soldier press the barrel of his gun to the lady’s neck and say, “If you don’t shut up I’ll shoot you right now.” What an asshole.
The lady faints.
The soldier doesn’t seem to care. He pulls her out of sight—in the same direction his comrade went—and that’s our cue to follow. I can hear Kenji cursing under his breath. He’s got a soft stomach, that guy. He was always soft when it came to this stuff. I met him for the first time on one of our rounds; when we came back, Kenji lost his shit. Just completely lost it. They put him in solitary confinement for a little while, and after that he kept his emotional breakdowns to a minimum. Most soldiers know better than to complain out loud. I should’ve known then that Kenji wasn’t really one of us.
I shudder against the cold.