It’s a great day to be a SHATTER ME series fan, and if you haven’t checked out these books yet, you’ll definitely want to join in on the fun after watching the trailer for RESTORE ME (no spoilers, we promise)!
Reminder: RESTORE ME picks up right where IGNITE ME left off and is the first of 3 new books in the Shatter Me series! We cannot thank Tahereh Mafi enough for giving us more Juliette, Warner, Adam, and Kenji!!
So now, behold the most mesmerizing video you will ever see!
THAT. WAS. BEAUTIFUL. I could NOT look away and I just want to live inside those eyes forever. I feel like a piece of my soul has just been stolen, but like, in a good way? And if you can barely contain your excitement for RESTORE ME after watching that trailer, then GOOD NEWS! You can now read the first FOUR CHAPTERS of RESTORE ME below!
BEST 🎉 DAY 🎉 EVER 🎉🎉🎉
I don’t wake up screaming anymore. I do not feel ill at the sight of blood. I do not flinch before firing a gun.
I will never again apologize for surviving.
I’m startled at once by the sound of a door slamming open. I silence a gasp, spin around, and, by force of habit, rest my hand on the hilt of a semiautomatic hung from a holster at my side.
“J, we’ve got a serious problem.”
Kenji is staring at me—eyes narrowed—his hands on his hips, T-shirt taut across his chest. This is angry Kenji. Worried Kenji. It’s been sixteen days since we took over Sector 45—since I crowned myself the supreme commander of The Reestablishment—and it’s been quiet. Unnervingly so. Every day I wake up, filled with half terror, half exhilaration, anxiously awaiting the inevitable missives from enemy nations who would challenge my authority and wage war against us—and now, finally, it seems that moment has arrived. So I take a deep breath, crack my neck, and look Kenji in the eye.
He presses his lips together. Looks up at the ceiling. “So, okay—the first thing you need to know is that this isn’t my fault, okay? I was just trying to help.”
I falter. Frown. “What?”
“I mean, I knew his punkass was a major drama queen, but this is just beyond ridiculous—”
“I’m sorry—what?” I take my hand off my gun; feel my body unclench. “Kenji, what are you talking about? This isn’t about the war?”
“The war? What? J, are you not paying attention? Your boyfriend is having a freaking conniption right now and you need to go handle his ass before I do.”
I exhale, irritated. “Are you serious? Again with this nonsense? Jesus, Kenji.” I unlatch the holster from my back and toss it on the bed behind me. “What did you do this time?”
“See?” Kenji points at me. “See—why are you so quick to judge, huh, princess? Why assume that I was the one who did something wrong? Why me?” He crosses his arms against his chest, lowers his voice. “And you know, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about this for a while, actually, because I really feel that, as supreme commander, you can’t be showing preferential treatment like this, but clearly—”
Kenji goes suddenly still.
At the creak of the door Kenji’s eyebrows shoot up; a soft click and his eyes widen; a muted rustle of movement and suddenly the barrel of a gun is pressed against the back of his head. Kenji stares at me, his lips making no sound as he mouths the word psychopath over and over again.
The psychopath in question winks at me from where he’s standing, smiling like he couldn’t possibly be holding a gun to the head of our mutual friend. I manage to suppress a laugh.
“Go on,” Warner says, still smiling. “Please tell me exactly how she’s failed you as a leader.”
“Hey—” Kenji’s arms fly up in mock surrender. “I never said she failed at anything, okay? And you are clearly overreact—”
Warner knocks Kenji on the side of the head with the weapon. “Idiot.”
Kenji spins around. Yanks the gun out of Warner’s hand. “What the hell is wrong with you, man? I thought we were cool.”
“We were,” Warner says icily. “Until you touched my hair.”
“You asked me to give you a haircut—”
“I said nothing of the sort! I asked you to trim the edges!”
“And that’s what I did.”
“This,” Warner says, spinning around so I might inspect the damage, “is not trimming the edges, you incompetent moron—”
I gasp. The back of Warner’s head is a jagged mess of uneven hair; entire chunks have been buzzed off.
Kenji cringes as he looks over his handiwork. Clears his throat. “Well,” he says, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I mean—whatever, man, beauty is subjective—”
Warner aims another gun at him.
“Hey!” Kenji shouts. “I am not here for this abusive relationship, okay?” He points at Warner. “I did not sign up for this shit!”
Warner glares at him and Kenji retreats, backing out of the room before Warner has another chance to react; and then, just as I let out a sigh of relief, Kenji pops his head back into the doorway and says
“I think the cut looks cute, actually”
and Warner slams the door in his face.
Welcome to my brand-new life as supreme commander of The Reestablishment.
Warner is still facing the closed door as he exhales, his shoulders losing their tension as he does, and I’m able to see even more clearly the mess Kenji has made. Warner’s thick, gorgeous, golden hair—a defining feature of his beauty—chopped up by careless hands.
“Aaron,” I say softly.
He hangs his head.
He turns around, looking at me out of the corner of his eye like he’s done something to be ashamed of. I clear the guns off the bed and make room for him beside me. He sinks into the mattress with a sad sigh.
“I look hideous,” he says quietly.
I shake my head, smiling, and touch his cheek. “Why did you let him cut your hair?”
Warner looks up at me then; his eyes round and green and perplexed. “You told me to spend time with him.”
I laugh out loud. “So you let Kenji cut your hair?”
“I didn’t let him cut my hair,” he says, scowling. “It was”—he hesitates—“it was a gesture of camaraderie. It was an act of trust I’d seen practiced among my soldiers. In any case,” he says, turning away, “it’s not as though I have any experience building friendships.”
“Well,” I say. “We’re friends, aren’t we?”
At this, he smiles.
“And?” I nudge him. “That’s been good, hasn’t it? You’re learning to be nicer to people.”
“Yes, well, I don’t want to be nicer to people. It doesn’t suit me.”
“I think it suits you beautifully,” I say, beaming. “I love it when you’re nice.”
“You would say that.” He almost laughs. “But being kind does not come naturally to me, love. You’ll have to be patient with my progress.”
I take his hand in mine. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re perfectly kind to me.”
Warner shakes his head. “I know I promised I would make an effort to be nicer to your friends—and I will continue to make that effort—but I hope I’ve not led you to believe I’m capable of an impossibility.”
“What do you mean?”
“Only that I hope I won’t disappoint you. I might, if pressed, be able to generate some degree of warmth, but you must know that I have no interest in treating anyone the way I treat you. This,” he says, touching the air between us, “is an exception to a very hard rule.” His eyes are on my lips now; his hand has moved to my neck. “This,” he says softly, “is very, very unusual.”
stop breathing, talking, thinking—
He’s hardly touched me and my heart is racing; memories crash over me, scalding me in waves: the weight of his body against mine; the taste of his skin; the heat of his touch and his sharp gasps for air and the things he’s said to me only in the dark.
Butterflies invade my veins, and I force them out.
This is still so new, his touch, his skin, the scent of him, so new, so new and so incredible—
He smiles, tilts his head; I mimic the movement and with one soft intake of air his lips part and I hold still, my lungs flung to the floor, fingers feeling for his shirt and for what comes next when he says
“I’ll have to shave my head, you know”
and pulls away.
I blink and he’s still not kissing me.
“And it is my very sincere hope,” he says, “that you will still love me when I return.”
And then he’s up up and away and I’m counting on one hand the number of men I’ve killed and marveling at how little it’s done to help me hold it together in Warner’s presence.
I nod once as he waves good-bye, collect my good sense from where I left it, and fall backward onto the bed, head spinning, the complications of war and peace heavy on my mind.
I did not think it would be easy to be a leader, exactly, but I do think I thought it would be easier than this:
I am racked with doubt in every moment about the decisions I have made. I am infuriatingly surprised every time a soldier follows my lead. And I am growing more terrified that we—that I—will have to kill many, many more before this world is settled. Though I think it’s the silence, more than anything else, that’s left me shaken.
It’s been sixteen days.
I’ve given speeches about what’s to come, about our plans for the future; we’ve held memorials for the lives lost in battle and we’re making good on promises to implement change. Castle, true to his word, is already hard at work, trying to address issues with farming, irrigation, and, most urgent, how best to transition the civilians out of the compounds. But this will be work done in stages; it will be a slow and careful build—a fight for the earth that may take a century. I think we all understand that. And if it were only the civilians I had to worry about, I would not worry so much. But I worry because I know too well that nothing can be done to fix this world if we spend the next several decades at war within it.
Even so, I’m prepared to fight.
It’s not what I want, but I’ll gladly go to war if it’s what we need to do to make a change. I just wish it were that simple. Right now, my biggest problem is also the most confusing:
Wars require enemies, and I can’t seem to find any.
In the sixteen days since I shot Anderson in the forehead I have faced zero opposition. No one has tried to arrest me. No other supreme commanders have challenged me. Of the 554 remaining sectors on this continent alone, not a single one has defected, declared war, or spoken ill of me. No one has protested; the people have not rioted. For some reason, The Reestablishment is playing along.
And it deeply, deeply unnerves me.
We’re in a strange stalemate, stuck in neutral when I desperately want to be doing more. More for the people of Sector 45, for North America, and for the world as a whole. But this strange quiet has thrown all of us off-balance. We were so sure that, with Anderson dead, the other supreme commanders would rise up—that they’d command their armies to destroy us—to destroy me. Instead, the leaders of the world have made our insignificance clear: they’re ignoring us as they would an annoying fly, trapping us under glass where we’re free to buzz around, banging broken wings against the walls for only as long as the oxygen lasts. Sector 45 has been left to do as it pleases; we’ve been allowed autonomy and the authority to revise the infrastructure of our sector with no interference. Everywhere else—and everyone else—is pretending as though nothing in the world has changed. Our revolution occurred in a vacuum. Our subsequent victory has been reduced to something so small it might not even exist.
Castle is always visiting, advising. It was his suggestion that I be proactive—that I take the upper hand. Instead of waiting around, anxious and defensive, I should reach out, he said. I should make my presence known. Stake a claim, he said. Take a seat at the table. And attempt to form alliances before launching assaults. Connect with the five other supreme commanders around the world.
Because I may speak for North America—but what of the rest of the world? What of South America? Europe? Asia? Africa? Oceania?
Host an international conference of leaders, he said.
Aim for peace first, he said.
“They must be dying of curiosity,” Castle said to me. “A seventeen-year-old girl taking over North America? A teenage girl killing Anderson and declaring herself ruler of this continent? Ms. Ferrars—you must know that you have great leverage at the moment! Use it to your advantage!”
“Me?” I said, stunned. “How do I have leverage?”
Castle sighed. “You certainly are brave for your age, Ms. Ferrars, but I’m sorry to see your youth so inextricably tied to inexperience. I will try to put it plainly: you have superhuman strength, nearly invincible skin, a lethal touch, only seventeen years to your name, and you have single-handedly felled the despot of this nation. And yet you doubt that you might be capable of intimidating the world?”
“Old habits, Castle,” I said quietly. “Bad habits. You’re right, of course. Of course you’re right.”
He leveled me with a straight stare. “You must understand that unanimous, collective silence from your enemies is no act of coincidence. They’ve certainly been in touch with one another—they’ve certainly agreed to this approach—because they’re waiting to see what you do next.” He shook his head. “They are awaiting your next move, Ms. Ferrars. I implore you to make it a good one.”
So I’m learning.
I did as he suggested and three days ago I sent word through Delalieu and contacted the five other supreme commanders of The Reestablishment. I invited them to join me here, in Sector 45, for a conference of international leaders next month.
Just fifteen minutes before Kenji barged into my room, I’d received my first RSVP.
Oceania said yes.
And I’m not sure what that means.
I’ve not been myself lately.
The truth is I’ve not been myself for what feels like a long time, so much so that I’ve begun to wonder whether I ever really knew. I stare, unblinking, into the mirror, the din of buzzing hair clippers echoing through the room. My face is only dimly reflected in my direction, but it’s enough for me to see that I’ve lost weight. My cheeks are hollow; my eyes, wider; my cheekbones more pronounced. My movements are both mournful and mechanical as I shear off my own hair, the remnants of my vanity falling at my feet.
My father is dead.
I close my eyes, steeling myself against the unwelcome strain in my chest, the clippers still humming in my clenched fist.
My father is dead.
It’s been just over two weeks since he was killed, shot twice in the forehead by someone I love. She was doing me a kindness by killing him. She was braver than I’d ever been, pulling the trigger when I never could. He was a monster. He deserved worse.
I take in a tight breath and blink open my eyes, grateful for the time to be alone; grateful, somehow, for the opportunity to tear asunder something, anything from my flesh. There’s a strange catharsis in this.
My mother is dead, I think, as I drag the electric blade across my skull. My father is dead, I think, as the hair falls to the floor. Everything I was, everything I did, everything I am, was forged from the twins of their action and inaction.
Who am I, I wonder, in their absence?
Shorn head, blade switched off, I rest my palms against the edge of the vanity and lean in, still trying to catch a glimpse of the man I’ve become. I feel old and unsettled, my heart and mind at war. The last words I ever spoke to my father—
My heart speeds up as I spin around; I’m affecting nonchalance in an instant. “Hi,” I say, forcing my limbs to slow, to be steady as I dust errant strands of hair from my shoulders.
She’s looking at me with big eyes, beautiful and worried.
I remember to smile. “How do I look? Not too horrible, I hope.”
“Aaron,” she says quietly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say, and glance again in the mirror. I run a hand over the soft/spiky half inch of hair I have left and wonder at how the cut manages to makes me look harsher—and colder—than before. “Though I confess I don’t really recognize myself,” I add aloud, attempting a laugh. I’m standing in the middle of the bathroom wearing nothing but boxer briefs. My body has never been leaner, the sharp lines of muscle never more defined; and the rawness of my body is now paired with the rough cut of my hair in a way that feels almost uncivilized—and so unlike me that I have to look away.
Juliette is now right in front of me.
Her hands settle on my hips and pull me forward; I trip a little as I follow her lead. “What are you doing?” I begin to say, but when I meet her eyes I find tenderness and concern. Something thaws inside of me. My shoulders relax and I reel her in, drawing in a deep breath as I do.
“When will we talk about it?” she says against my chest. “All of it? Everything that’s happened—”
“I’m okay,” I lie to her. “It’s just hair.”
“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.”
I look away. Stare at nothing. We’re both quiet a moment.
It’s Juliette who finally breaks the silence.
“Are you upset with me?” she whispers. “For shooting him?”
My body stills.
Her eyes widen.
“No—no.” I say the words too quickly, but I mean them. “No, of course not. It’s not that.”
“I’m not sure you’re aware of this,” she says finally, “but it’s okay to mourn the loss of your father, even if he was a terrible person. You know?” She peers up at me. “You’re not a robot.”
I swallow back the lump growing in my throat and gently extricate myself from her arms. I kiss her on the cheek and linger there, against her skin, for only a second. “I need to take a shower.”
She looks heartbroken and confused, but I don’t know what else to do. It’s not that I don’t love her company, it’s just that right now I’m desperate for solitude and I don’t know how else to find it.
So I shower. I take baths. I go for long walks.
I tend to do this a lot.
When I finally come to bed she’s already asleep.
I want to reach for her, to pull her soft, warm body against my own, but I feel paralyzed. This horrible half-grief has made me feel complicit in darkness. I worry that my sadness will be interpreted as an endorsement of his choices—of his very existence—and in this matter I don’t want to be misunderstood, so I cannot admit that I grieve him, that I care at all for the loss of this monstrous man who raised me. And in the absence of healthy action I remain frozen, a sentient stone in the wake of my father’s death.
Are you upset with me? For shooting him?
I hated him.
I hated him with a violent intensity I’ve never since experienced. But the fire of true hatred, I realize, cannot exist without the oxygen of affection. I would not hurt so much, or hate so much, if I did not care.
And it is this, my unrequited affection for my father, that has always been my greatest weakness. So I lie here, marinating in a sorrow I can never speak of, while regret consumes my heart.
I am an orphan.
“Aaron?” she whispers, and I’m pulled back to the present.
She moves in a sleepy, sideways motion, and nudges my arm with her head. I can’t help but smile as I open up to make room for her against me. She fills the void quickly, pressing her face into my neck as she wraps an arm around my waist. My eyes close as if in prayer. My heart restarts.
“I miss you,” she says. It’s a whisper I almost don’t catch.
“I’m right here,” I say, gently touching her cheek. “I’m right here, love.”
But she shakes her head. Even as I pull her closer, even as she falls back asleep, she shakes her head.
And I wonder if she’s not wrong.
I’m having breakfast by myself this morning—alone, but not lonely.
The breakfast room is full of familiar faces, all of us catching up on something: sleep; work; half-finished conversations. Energy levels in here are always dependent on the amount of caffeine we’ve had, and right now, things are still pretty quiet.
Brendan, who’s been nursing the same cup of coffee all morning, catches my eye and waves. I wave back. He’s the only one among us who doesn’t actually need caffeine; his gift for creating electricity also works as a backup generator for his whole body. He’s exuberance, personified. In fact, his stark-white hair and ice-blue eyes seem to emanate their own kind of energy, even from across the room. I’m starting to think Brendan keeps up appearances with the coffee cup mostly out of solidarity with Winston, who can’t seem to survive without it. The two of them are inseparable these days—even if Winston occasionally resents Brendan’s natural buoyancy.
They’ve been through a lot together. We all have.
Brendan and Winston are sitting with Alia, who’s got her sketchbook open beside her, no doubt designing something new and amazing to help us in battle. I’m too tired to move, otherwise I’d get up to join their group; instead, I drop my chin in one hand and study the faces of my friends, feeling grateful. But the scars on Brendan’s and Winston’s faces take me back to a time I’d rather not remember—back to a time when we thought we’d lost them. When we’d lost two others. And suddenly my thoughts are too heavy for breakfast. So I look away. Drum my fingers against the table.
I’m supposed to be meeting Kenji for breakfast—it’s how we begin our workdays—which is the only reason I haven’t grabbed my own plate of food. Unfortunately, his lateness is beginning to make my stomach grumble. Everyone in the room is cutting into fresh stacks of fluffy pancakes, and they look delicious. All of it is tempting: the mini pitchers of maple syrup; the steaming heaps of breakfast potatoes; the little bowls of freshly cut fruit. If nothing else, killing Anderson and taking over Sector 45 got us much better breakfast options. But I think we might be the only ones who appreciate the upgrades.
Warner never has breakfast with the rest of us. He pretty much never stops working, not even to eat. Breakfast is another meeting for him, and he takes it with Delalieu, just the two of them, and even then I’m not sure he actually eats anything. Warner never appears to take pleasure in food. For him, food is fuel—necessary and, most of the time, annoying—in that his body requires it to function. Once, while he was deeply immersed in some important paperwork at dinner, I put a cookie on a plate in front of him just to see what would happen. He glanced up at me, glanced back at his work, whispered a quiet thank you, and ate the cookie with a knife and fork. He didn’t even seem to enjoy it. This, needless to say, makes him the polar opposite of Kenji, who loves to eat everything, all the time, and who later told me that watching Warner eat a cookie made him want to cry.
Speaking of Kenji, him flaking on me this morning is more than a little weird, and I’m beginning to worry. I’m just about to glance at the clock for the third time when, suddenly, Adam is standing next to my table, looking uncomfortable.
“Hi,” I say, just a little too loudly. “What’s, uh, what’s up?”
Adam and I have interacted a couple of times in the last two weeks, but it’s always been by accident. Suffice it to say that it’s unusual for Adam to be standing in front of me on purpose, and I’m so surprised that for a moment I almost miss the obvious:
He looks bad.
Rough. Ragged. More than a little exhausted. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve sworn Adam had been crying. Not over our failed relationship, I hope.
Still, old instinct gnaws at me, tugs at ancient heartstrings.
We speak at the same time:
“You okay . . . ?” I ask.
“Castle wants to talk to you,” he says.
“Castle sent you to come get me?” I say, feelings forgotten.
Adam shrugs. “I was walking past his room at the right time, I guess.”
“Um. Okay.” I try to smile. Castle is always trying to make nice between me and Adam; he doesn’t like the tension. “Did he say he wants to see me right now?”
“Yep.” Adam shoves his hands in his pockets. “Right away.”
“All right,” I say, and the whole thing feels awkward. Adam just stands there as I gather my things, and I want to tell him to go away, to stop staring at me, that this is weird, that we broke up forever ago and it was weird, you made it so weird, but then I realize he isn’t staring at me. He’s looking at the floor like he’s stuck, lost in his head somewhere.
“Hey—are you okay?” I say again, this time gently.
Adam looks up, startled. “What?” he says. “What, oh—yeah, I’m fine. Hey do you know, uh”—he clears his throat, looks around—“do you, uh—”
“Do I what?”
Adam rocks on his heels, eyes darting around the room. “Warner is never here for breakfast, huh?”
My eyebrows shoot up my forehead. “You’re looking for Warner?”
“What? No. I’m just, uh, wondering. He’s never here. You know? It’s weird.”
I stare at him.
He says nothing.
“It’s not that weird,” I say slowly, studying Adam’s face. “Warner doesn’t have time for breakfast with us. He’s always working.”
“Oh,” Adam says, and the word seems to deflate him. “That’s too bad.”
“Is it?” I frown.
But Adam doesn’t seem to hear me. He calls for James, who’s putting away his breakfast tray, and the two of them meet in the middle of the room and then disappear.
I have no idea what they do all day. I’ve never asked.
The mystery of Kenji’s absence at breakfast is solved the moment I walk up to Castle’s door: the two of them are here, heads together.
I knock on the open door as a courtesy. “Hey,” I say. “You wanted to see me?”
“Yes, yes, Ms. Ferrars,” Castle says eagerly. He gets to his feet and waves me inside. “Please, have a seat. And if you would”—he gestures behind me—“close the door.”
I’m nervous in an instant.
I take a tentative step into Castle’s makeshift office and glance at Kenji, whose blank face does nothing to allay my fears. “What’s going on?” I say. And then, only to Kenji: “Why weren’t you at breakfast?”
Castle motions for me to take a seat.
“Ms. Ferrars,” he says urgently. “You have news of Oceania?”
“The RSVP. You received your first RSVP, did you not?”
“Yeah, I did,” I say slowly. “But no one is supposed to know about that yet—I was going to tell Kenji about it over breakfast this morning—”
“Nonsense.” Castle cuts me off. “Everyone knows. Mr. Warner knows, certainly. And Lieutenant Delalieu knows.”
“What?” I glance at Kenji, who shrugs. “How is that possible?”
“Don’t be so easily shocked, Ms. Ferrars. Obviously all of your correspondence is monitored.”
My eyes widen. “What?”
Castle makes a frustrated motion with his hand. “Time is of the essence, so if you would, I’d really—”
“Time is of what essence?” I say, irritated. “How am I supposed to help you when I don’t even know what you’re talking about?”
Castle pinches the bridge of his nose. “Kenji,” he says suddenly. “Will you leave us, please?”
“Yep.” Kenji jumps to his feet with a mock salute. He heads toward the door.
“Wait,” I say, grabbing his arm. “What’s going on?”
“I have no idea, kid.” Kenji laughs, shakes his arm free. “This conversation doesn’t concern me. Castle called me in here earlier to talk about cows.”
“Yeah, you know.” He arches an eyebrow. “Livestock. He’s been having me do reconnaissance on several hundreds of acres of farmland that The Reestablishment has been keeping off the radar. Lots and lots of cows.”
“It is, actually.” His eyes light up. “The methane makes it all pretty easy to track. Makes you wonder why they wouldn’t do something to preve—”
“Methane?” I say, confused. “Isn’t that a kind of gas?”
“I take it you don’t know much about cow shit.”
I ignore that. Instead, I say, “So that’s why you weren’t at breakfast this morning? Because you were looking at cow poop?”
“Well,” I say. “At least that explains the smell.”
It takes Kenji a second to catch on, but when he does, he narrows his eyes. Taps me on the forehead with one finger. “You’re going straight to hell, you know that?”
I smile, big. “See you later? I still want to go on our morning walk.”
He makes a noncommittal grunt.
“C’mon,” I say, “it’ll be fun this time, I promise.”
“Oh yeah, big fun.” Kenji rolls his eyes as he turns away, and shoots Castle another two-finger salute. “See you later, sir.”
Castle nods his good-bye, a bright smile on his face.
It takes a minute for Kenji to finally walk out the door and shut it behind him, but in that minute Castle’s face transforms. His easy smile, his eager eyes: gone. Now that he and I are fully alone, Castle looks a little shaken, a little more serious. Maybe even . . . scared?
And he gets right down to business.
“When the RSVP came through, what did it say? Was there anything memorable about the note?”
“No.” I frown. “I don’t know. If all my correspondence is being monitored, wouldn’t you already know the answer to this question?”
“Of course not. I’m not the one monitoring your mail.”
“So who’s monitoring my mail? Warner?”
Castle only looks at me. “Ms. Ferrars, there is something deeply unusual about this response.” He hesitates. “Especially as it’s your first, and thus far, only RSVP.”
“Okay,” I say, confused. “What’s unusual about it?”
Castle looks into his hands. At the wall. “How much do you know about Oceania?”
I shrug. “I can point it out on a map.”
“And you’ve never been there?”
“Are you serious?” I shoot him an incredulous look. “Of course not. I’ve never been anywhere, remember? My parents pulled me out of school. Passed me through the system. Eventually threw me in an insane asylum.”
Castle takes a deep breath. Closes his eyes as he says, very carefully, “Was there anything at all memorable about the note you received from the supreme commander of Oceania?”
“No,” I say. “Not really.”
“I guess it was little informal? But I don’t thi—”
I look away, remembering. “The message was really brief,” I explain. “It said Can’t wait to see you, with no sign-off or anything.”
“‘Can’t wait to see you’?” Castle looks suddenly puzzled.
“Not can’t wait to meet you,” he says, “but can’t wait to see you.”
I nod again. “Like I said, a little informal. But it was polite, at least. Which I think is a pretty positive sign, all things considered.”
Castle sighs heavily as he turns in his chair. He’s facing the wall now, his fingers steepled under his chin. I’m studying the sharp angles of his profile as he says quietly,
“Ms. Ferrars, how much has Mr. Warner told you about The Reestablishment?”
I’m sitting alone in the conference room, running an absent hand over my new haircut, when Delalieu arrives. He’s pulling a small coffee cart in behind him, wearing the tepid, shaky smile I’ve come to rely upon. Our workdays have been busier than ever lately; thankfully, we’ve never made time to discuss the uncomfortable details of recent events, and I doubt we ever will.
For this I am forever grateful.
It’s a safe space for me here, with Delalieu, where I can pretend that things in my life have changed very little.
I am still chief commander and regent to the soldiers of Sector 45; it’s still my duty to organize and lead those who will help us stand against the rest of The Reestablishment. And with that role comes responsibility. We’ve had a lot of restructuring to do while we coordinate our next moves, and Delalieu has been critical to these efforts.
“Good morning, sir.”
I nod a greeting as he pours us both a cup of coffee. A lieutenant such as himself need not pour his own coffee in the morning, but we’ve come to prefer the privacy.
I take a sip of the black liquid—I’ve recently learned to enjoy its bitter tang—and lean back in my chair. “Updates?”
Delalieu clears his throat.
“Yes, sir,” he says, hastily returning his coffee cup to its saucer, spilling a little as he does. “Quite a few this morning, sir.”
I tilt my head at him.
“Construction of the new command station is going well. We’re expecting to be done with all the details in the next two weeks, but the private rooms will be move-in ready by tomorrow.”
“Good.” Our new team, under Juliette’s supervision, comprises many people now, with many departments to manage and, with the exception of Castle, who’s carved out a small office for himself upstairs, thus far they’ve all been using my personal training facilities as their central headquarters. And though this had seemed like a practical idea at its inception, my training facilities are accessible only through my personal quarters; and now that the group of them are living freely on base, they’re often barging in and out of my rooms, unannounced.
Needless to say, it’s driving me insane.
Delalieu checks his list and says, “We’ve finally managed to secure your father’s files, sir. It’s taken all this time to locate and retrieve the bulk of it, but I’ve left the boxes in your room, sir, for you to open at your leisure. I thought”—he clears his throat—“I thought you might like to look through his remaining personal effects before they are inherited by our new supreme commander.”
A heavy, cold dread fills my body.
“There’s quite a lot of it, I’m afraid,” Delalieu is still saying. “All his daily logs. Every report he’d ever filed. We even managed to locate a few of his personal journals.” Delalieu hesitates. And then, in a tone only I know how to decipher: “I do hope his notes will be useful to you, somehow.”
I look up, meet Delalieu’s eyes. There’s concern there. Worry.
“Thank you,” I say quietly. “I’d nearly forgotten.”
An uncomfortable silence settles between us and, for a moment, neither of us knows exactly what to say. We still haven’t discussed this, the death of my father. The death of Delalieu’s son-in-law. The horrible husband of his late daughter, my mother. We never talk about the fact that Delalieu is my grandfather. That he is the only kind of father I have left in the world.
It’s not what we do.
So it’s with a halting, unnatural voice that Delalieu attempts to pick up the thread of conversation.
“Oceania, as, as I’m sure you’ve heard, sir, has said that, that they would attend a meeting organized by our new madam, madam supreme—”
“But the others,” he says, the words rushing out of him now, “will not respond until they’ve spoken with you, sir.”
At this, my eyes widen perceptibly.
“They’re”—Delalieu clears his throat again—“well, sir, as you know, they’re all old friends of the family, and they—well, they—”
“Yes,” I whisper. “Of course.”
I look away, at the wall. My jaw feels suddenly wired shut with frustration. Secretly, I’d been expecting this. But after two weeks of silence I’d actually begun to hope that maybe they’d continue to play dumb. There’s been no communication from these old friends of my father, no offers of condolences, no white roses, no sympathy cards. No correspondence, as was our daily ritual, from the families I’d known as a child, the families responsible for the hellscape we live in now. I thought I’d been happily, mercifully, cut off.
Apparently treason is not enough of a crime to be left alone. Apparently my father’s many daily missives expounding my “grotesque obsession with an experiment” were not reason enough to oust me from the group. He loved complaining aloud, my father, loved sharing his many disgusts and disapprovals with his old friends, the only people alive who knew him face-to-face. And every day he humiliated me in front of the people we knew. He made my world, my thoughts, and my feelings seem small. Pathetic. And every day I’d count the letters piling up in my in-box, screeds from his old friends begging me to see reason, as they called it. To remember myself. To stop embarrassing my family. To listen to my father. To grow up, be a man, and stop crying over my sick mother.
No, these ties run too deep.
I squeeze my eyes shut to quell the rush of faces, memories of my childhood, as I say, “Tell them I’ll be in touch.”
“That won’t be necessary, sir,” says Delalieu.
“Ibrahim’s children are already en route.”
It happens swiftly: a sudden, brief paralysis of my limbs.
“What do you mean?” I say, only barely managing to stay calm. “En route where? Here?”
A wave of heat floods my body so quickly I don’t even realize I’m on my feet until I have to grab the table for support. “How dare they,” I say, somehow still clinging to the edge of composure. “Their complete disregard— To be so unbearably entitled—”
“Yes, sir, I understand, sir,” Delalieu says, looking newly terrified, “it’s just—as you know—it’s the way of the supreme families, sir. A time-honored tradition. A refusal on my part would’ve been interpreted as an open act of hostility—and Madam Supreme has instructed me to be diplomatic for as long as possible so I thought, I—I thought— Oh, I’m very sorry, sir—”
“She doesn’t know who she’s dealing with,” I say sharply. “There is no diplomacy with these people. Our new supreme commander might have no way of knowing this, but you,” I say, more upset than angry now, “you should’ve known better. War would’ve been worth avoiding this.”
I don’t look up to see his face when he says, his voice trembling, “I’m deeply, deeply sorry, sir.”
A time-honored tradition, indeed.
The right to come and go was a practice long ago agreed upon. The supreme families were always welcome in each other’s lands at any time, no invitations necessary. While the movement was young and the children were young, our families held fast. And now those families—and their children—rule the world.
This was my life for a very long time. On Tuesday, a playdate in Europe; on Friday, a dinner party in South America. Our parents insane, all of them.
The only friends I ever knew had families even crazier than mine. I have no wish to see any of them ever again.
Good God, I have to warn Juliette.
“As to the, as to the matter of the, of the civilians”—Delalieu is prattling on—“I’ve been communicating with Castle, per, per your request, sir, on how best to proceed with their transition out of the, out of the compounds—”
But the rest of our morning meeting passes by in a blur.
When I finally manage to loose myself from Delalieu’s shadow, I head straight back to my own quarters. Juliette is usually here this time of day, and I’m hoping to catch her, to warn her before it’s too late.
Too soon, I’m intercepted.
“Oh, um, hey—”
I look up, distracted, and quickly stop in place. My eyes widen, just a little.
“Kent,” I say quietly.
One swift appraisal is all I need to know that he’s not okay. In fact, he looks terrible. Thinner than ever; dark circles under his eyes. Thoroughly worn-out.
I wonder whether I look just the same to him.
“I was wondering,” he says, and looks away, his face pinched. He clears his throat. “I was, uh”—he clears his throat again—“I was wondering if we could talk.”
I feel my chest tighten. I stare at him a moment, cataloging his tense shoulders, his unkempt hair, his deeply bitten fingernails. He sees me staring and quickly shoves his hands into his pockets. He can hardly meet my eyes.
“Talk,” I manage to say.
I exhale quietly, slowly. We haven’t spoken a word to each other since I first found out we were brothers, nearly three weeks ago. I thought the emotional implosion of the evening had ended as well anyone could’ve hoped, but so much has happened since that night. We haven’t had a chance to rip open that wound again. “Talk,” I say again. “Of course.”
He swallows hard. Stares at the ground. “Cool.”
And I’m suddenly compelled to ask a question that unsettles both of us: “Are you all right?”
He looks up, stunned. His blue eyes are round and red-rimmed, bloodshot. His Adam’s apple bobs in his throat. “I don’t know who else to talk to about this,” he whispers. “I don’t know anyone else who would even understand—”
And I do. All at once.
When his eyes go abruptly glassy with emotion; when his shoulders tremble even as he tries to hold himself still—
I feel my own bones rattle.
“Of course,” I say, surprising myself. “Come with me.”
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