The Rule of Many Page 1




“I’d like to go to your party, and I’ll bring yellow flowers,” I say to Mira. “May I come?”

My sister smiles—I’ve puzzled out her secret rule.

“Yes, you can come to my party, Ava.”

Groans erupt around the spacious suite we share on the seventh floor of the Paramount Point Hotel. A series of massive glass windows frames an exquisite view of downtown Calgary in the waning afternoon light.

“That’s not fair. You probably told her the secret with one of your twin looks or something,” a snub-nosed boy disputes from the corner. He’s already been refused entry to the party for bringing an inflatable shark.

Half a dozen young Common members lounge on chairs, our beds, or the floor, all of us a sort of unofficial Games Club formed with the sole purpose of keeping Mira and me occupied.

After we hijacked Governor Roth’s Anniversary Gala two weeks ago and revealed our illegal twin existence to the entire Rule of One America, Emery ordered us to stay inside the hotel. The repercussions of our surprise appearance sent shock waves rippling across the United States and all the way up here to Canada.

The next morning, the powerful Texas governor proclaimed across millions of screens that Mira and I assassinated his grandson, Halton, in an attempt to obliterate the Roth family name. He coined us the “Traitorous Twins.” What great family will they come for next? he asked the nation.

So once again Mira and I must stay hidden. For our own safety, Emery insists. We’re too important to risk being kidnapped or killed by a Roth sympathizer or one of his undercover agents.

Ever since we entered the rebellion safe house, Mira and I haven’t been allowed outside. Fourteen whole days and nights carefully stashed away, we’re a secret just like before. Isolated and confined, with no real agency of our own.

Despite leaving everything we ever knew in Dallas to join the Common in Canada, our lives haven’t really changed that much after all.

But at least we’re together, Mira told me one particularly aggravating night when I felt so trapped I almost burst out the safe house doors, my safety be damned. And not stuffed down in a basement.

I glance out at the magnificent buildings that line the bright horizon and think of my father. He must be in his own dark basement right now.

“Tell me what you’ll bring to my party, Pawel,” Mira says. “Then I’ll tell you if you can come.”

Pawel exhales from across the room, his steel-blue eyes wide, eager to get it right. He runs his hand through his sandy hair, its waves dominated by an impressive cowlick. “I’d like to go to your party, and I’ll bring red roses,” he answers, guessing that the required item must either be coded by color or taken from nature. “May I join you?”

Mira shakes her head, her lips curling mischievously. “I’m sorry. You cannot come to my party with me, Pawel.”

His shoulders sag in defeat, and he locks his disappointed eyes with mine. His cheeks flush pink; then he quickly joins the other rejected partygoers lined up in a corner. I can feel their frustration mounting.

Technology forbidden, our amusement is restricted to simple entertainment using board games, pen and paper, or our minds. Mira or I have won every single game we’ve played. If there’s anything we’re masters of, it’s games. Especially ones with secret rules.

Mira started this game by announcing she’s throwing a party and that she’ll be bringing white paperback books. Everyone is invited, but in order to attend, you have to bring the correct gift. So far, it’s a lonely party of two. Mira and me. Typical.

“Tell me what you’ll bring to my party, Barend,” Mira says. “Then I’ll tell you if you can come.”

The attention of the room shifts to Barend, who stands rigid in the open doorway. Our sentinel, dressed and ready for action at any moment, with a gun strapped to his hip. He’s always refused Mira’s entreaties to join our daily games.

He scans the hallway and then grunts dismissively.

Barend’s somewhere in his midtwenties, with muscle roping across his exposed arms. His squared jawline and disciplined shoulders scream soldier! And maybe he was. Just like I was a student and a daughter before I became a rebel and a traitor.

“Let me take Barend’s turn,” a tall girl with a fountain of twisted braids says, stepping out from the losers’ corner to face Mira. The girl seems open and friendly, but I’ve never spoken to her, keeping to myself the past two weeks, participating in game night but not much else. I still find it hard to socialize with people who aren’t my sister. The launch of a rebellion doesn’t seem like the best time to make friends.

“I’ll bring a big, fat T-bone steak. Isn’t that what you Texans love to eat?” The girl cradles an invisible steak in her empty hands, wafting it dramatically under Mira’s nose. She lifts her eyebrows in triumph, sure the door to the party is about to be opened for her.

Mira laughs and shakes her head again, about to reject the girl’s offbeat request, when Emery and her entourage suddenly storm into the room.

“Bring her confetti-filled balloons, and she’ll let you into her party,” Emery says with a knowing wink. She must’ve been listening in from the hallway. “Mira might even let you bring a guest.”

Objects spelled with double letters are the secret key to the party, and Emery came with two. I’m glad she’s been away the past five days, or I’d have to concede every game to her; Emery’s the smartest person I’ve ever met.

“You’re back,” I say, rising from my bed. Everyone in the room stands, acknowledging Emery as leader of the Common.

She wears her signature look: an unstructured, slightly oversized yellow coat that ends at her knees. Her rich nut-brown hair is short and wild like Einstein’s, but curlier, and she’s taller than everyone in her small entourage. The more I’ve studied Emery—my mother’s childhood best friend—during my stay here at the Paramount, the more I’ve discovered she’s not the perfectly straitlaced leader I’d expected her to be. Looking closely, I can see the rough edges that hint at the woman she was before having to bear the weight of being the rebellion’s leader. The leftover holes from a double eyebrow piercing above her left eye. The way she bites the inside of her cheeks when she’s angry, as if withholding a fiery reaction. A poorly healed scar just below her collarbone. It all makes me like her even more.

Emery studies the room, her intent gaze passing over all the young faces eager and willing to carry out her orders, however small. We’re all unified in the reason we’re here with the Common, so far from our homes, and I find an unhappy comfort in the shared white-hot pain of loss. And the anger that comes with it.

“It’s good to see you all again,” Emery says. She nods to each of us in greeting. “May I have the room? I need to speak with Ava and Mira.”

The Games Club immediately disassembles, Barend directing everyone out into the hall. He shuts the door behind them and turns on his heel, returning to his post inside our room.

Three members of Emery’s inner circle remain at her side. They’re all Elders, members who’ve been a part of the Common the longest. Their faces are hardened with world-weariness, and although I’ve never spoken to any of them personally, Pawel tells me they’ve each seen the inside of a prison cell more than once.

Next page