Defy Me

Chapter 2

chapter
Chapter

It makes me feel sick to my stomach.

Once we’re gathered in our largest common room, I do a head count. All original, remaining Omega Point members are present. Adam and James show up to find out what happened, and Sonya and Sara stick around just long enough to gather intel before carting Brendan over to the medical wing. Winston disappears down the hall behind them.

Juliette and Warner never show.

Quickly, we share our own versions of what we saw. It doesn’t take long to confirm we all witnessed basically the same thing: blood, mayhem, murdered bodies, and then—a slightly less-bloody version of the same thing. No one seems as surprised by the twisted turn of events as I was, because, according to Ian, “Weird supernatural shit happens around here all the time, it’s not that weird,” but, more important:

No one saw what happened to Warner and Juliette.

No one but me.

For a few seconds, we all stare at each other. My heart pounds hard and heavy in my chest. I feel like I might be on fire, burning with indignation.

Denial.

Alia is the first to speak. “You don’t think they’re dead, do you?”

Ian says, “Probably.”

And I jump to my feet. “STOP. They’re not dead.”

“How can you be sure?” Adam says.

“I would know if they were dead.”

“What? How w—”

“I would just know, okay?” I cut him off. “I would know. And they’re not dead.” I take a deep, steadying breath. “We’re not going to freak out,” I say as calmly as possible. “There has to be a logical explanation. People don’t just disappear, right?”

Everyone stares at me.

“You know what I mean,” I snap, irritated. “We all know that Juliette and Warner wouldn’t, like, run away together. They weren’t even on speaking terms before the symposium. So it makes the most sense that they would be kidnapped.” I pause. Look around again. “Right?”

“Or dead,” Ian says.

“If you keep talking like that, Sanchez, I can guarantee that at least one person will be dead tonight.”

Ian sighs, hard. “Listen, I’m not trying to be an asshole. I know you were close with them. But let’s be real: they weren’t close with the rest of us. And maybe that makes me less invested in all this, but it also makes me more level-headed.”

He waits, gives me a chance to respond.

I don’t.

Ian sighs again. “I’m just saying that maybe you’re letting emotion cloud your better judgment right now. I know you don’t want them to be dead, but the possibility that they are dead is, like, really high. Warner was a traitor to The Reestablishment. I’m surprised they didn’t try to kill him sooner. And Juliette—I mean, that’s obvious, right? She murdered Anderson and declared herself ruler of North America.” He raises his eyebrows in a knowing gesture. “Those two have had targets on their backs for months.”

My jaw clenches. Unclenches. Clenches again.

“So,” Ian says quietly. “We have to be smart about this. If they’re dead, we need to be thinking about our next moves. Where do we go?”

“Wait—what do you mean?” Adam says, sitting forward. “What next moves? You think we have to leave?”

“Without Warner and Juliette, I don’t think we’re safe here.” Lily takes Ian’s hand in a show of emotional support that makes me feel violent. “The soldiers paid their allegiance to the two of them—to Juliette in particular. Without her, I’m not sure they’d follow the rest of us anywhere.”

“And if The Reestablishment had Juliette murdered,” Ian adds, “they’re obviously just getting started. They’ll be coming to reclaim Sector 45 any second now. Our best chance of survival is to first consider what’s best for our team. Since we’re the obvious next targets, I think we should bail. Soon.” A pause. “Maybe even tonight.”

“Bro, are you insane?” I drop down into my chair too hard, feeling like I might scream. “We can’t just bail. We need to look for them. We need to be planning a rescue mission right now!”

Everyone just stares at me. Like I’m the one who’s lost his mind.

“Castle, sir?” I say, trying and failing to keep the sharp edge out of my voice. “Do you want to chime in here?”

But Castle has sunk down in his chair. He’s staring up, at the ceiling, at nothing. He looks dazed.

I don’t have the chance to dwell on it.

“Kenji,” Alia says quietly. “I’m sorry, but Ian’s right. I don’t think we’re safe here anymore.”

“We’re not leaving,” Adam and I say at exactly the same time.

I spin around, surprised. Hope shoots through me fast and strong. Maybe Adam feels more for Juliette than he lets on. Maybe Adam will surprise us all. Maybe he’ll finally stop hiding, stop cowering in the background. Maybe, I think, Adam is back.

“Thank you,” I say, and point at him in a gesture that says to everyone:

See? This is loyalty.

“James and I aren’t running anymore,” Adam says, his eyes going cold as he speaks. “I understand if the rest of you have to leave, but James and I will stay here. I was a Sector 45 soldier. I lived on this base. Maybe they’ll give me immunity.”

I frown. “But—”

“James and I aren’t leaving anymore,” Adam says. Loudly. Definitively. “You can make your plans without us. We have to take off for the night, anyway.” Adam stands, turns to his brother. “It’s time to get ready for bed.”

James stares at the floor.

“James,” Adam says, a gentle warning in his voice.

“I want to stay and listen,” James says, crossing his arms. “You can go to bed without me.”

“James—”

“But I have a theory,” the ten-year-old says. He says the word theory like it’s brand-new to him, like it’s an interesting sound in his mouth. “And I want to share it with Kenji.”

Adam looks so tense that the strain in his shoulders is stressing me out. I think I haven’t been paying close enough attention to him, because I didn’t realize until right now that Adam looks worse than tired. He looks ragged. Like he could collapse, crack in half, at any moment.

James catches my eye from across the room, his own eyes round and eager.

I sigh.

“What’s your theory, little man?”

James’s face lights up. “I was just thinking: maybe all the fake-killing thing was, like, a distraction.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“Like, if someone wanted to kidnap Warner and Juliette,” James says. “You know? Like you said earlier. Causing a scene like that would be the perfect distraction, right?”

“Well. Yeah,” I say, and frown. “I guess. But why would The Reestablishment need a distraction? When have they ever been secretive about what they want? If a supreme commander wanted to take Juliette or Warner, for example, wouldn’t they just show up with a shit ton of soldiers and take what they wanted?”

“Language,” Adam says, outraged.

“My bad. Strike the word shit from the record.”

Adam shakes his head. He looks like he might throttle me. But James is smiling, which is really all that matters.

“No. I don’t think they’d rush in like that, not with so many soldiers,” James says, his blue eyes bright. “Not if they had something to hide.”

“You think they’d have something to hide?” Lily pipes up. “From us?”

“I don’t know,” James says. “Sometimes people hide things.” He steals a split-second glance at Adam as he says it, a glance that sets my pulse racing with fear, and I’m about to respond when Lily beats me to it.

“I mean, it’s possible,” she says. “But The Reestablishment doesn’t have a long history of caring about pretenses. They stopped pretending to care about the opinion of the public a long time ago. They mow people down in the street just because they feel like it. I don’t think they’re worried about hiding things from us.”

Castle laughs, out loud, and we all spin around to stare at him. I’m relieved to finally see him react, but he still seems lost in his head somewhere. He looks angry. I’ve never really seen Castle get angry.

“They hide a great deal from us,” he says sharply. “And from each other.” After a long, deep breath, he finally gets to his feet. Smiles, warily, at the ten-year-old in the room. “James, you are wise indeed.”

“Thank you,” James says, blinking up at him.

“Castle, sir?” I say, my voice coming out harder than I’d intended. “Will you please tell us what the hell is going on? Do you know something?”

Castle sighs. Rubs the stubble on his chin with the flat of his palm. “All right, Nazeera,” he says, turning toward nothing, like he’s speaking to a ghost. “Go ahead.”

When Nazeera appears, as if out of thin air, I’m not the only one who’s pissed. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who’s pissed.

But everyone else looks surprised, at least.


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