The Rule of All Page 1




I shouldn’t be outside. Any number of dangers could be lurking in the Dallas streets, hiding in every corner like the State Guard’s cameras once did. Loyalists could be watching me, following me right now. Waiting to take me. To take back their capital.

This city isn’t theirs, I remind myself. It’s Common ground. It was and is my home.

But for how much longer?

A surge of paranoia stings my insides, jolting my mind into high alert. I rip off my reflective sunglasses, which keep sliding down the bridge of my sweaty nose, consumed with the overwhelming need to see the frenzied streets with my own raw eyes.

It seems like Common Guards populate every inch of pavement downtown. Streets so hot from the sun, if I peeled off my UV-protective gloves and touched the concrete with my bare hands, it would scald my skin like a branding iron.

So hot you could fry an egg, my father, Darren, joked when Ava and I were small. Then, schools and businesses would close if temperatures topped 120 degrees. Today, the walkways are teeming.

Rebellions don’t just shut down because of a heat wave. Dallas can’t afford to “close.” Not if we want to win.

Common Guards stand in the odd patches of shade, outnumbering citizens three to one. The sight of bright-yellow paint slashed across their bulletproof vests should comfort my unease, as the color marks them as soldiers on our side. The problem is, anyone can wear a disguise. And these days, it feels impossible to identify whose side anyone really plays for.

An impatient pack of bicyclists ring their bells angrily at the horde of pedestrians, who pay no heed to the flashing red of the crosswalk. I move with the unlawful foot traffic, weaving through the free-for-all, stealing glances at the exposed forearms of the commuters around me.

What once signified an ally of the Common is now mainstream. Friend or foe, everyone here in the metropolis bares identical cuts on their inner right wrists. Half-healed incisions that signal what once seemed impossible: microchips are no more.

My greatest desire, the hope I’ve carried with me my entire illegitimate life, has been realized. I got what I wanted. What my grandmother Rayla was calling for. The people have cut out the chips that were embedded in their skin the very minute they were born.

Most did it to be free. To join up in arms with the Common and fight for our future. For others, mistrust guided the blades that extricated their microchips. They know our side controls the NSA tracking system now. Or so Owen and Blaise assure me, Rayla’s onetime hacker accomplices who now head our Cybersecurity Team.

But no one ever truly knows who’s watching.

Below a twelve-story ad telling people to “Save power to gain power,” I spy a camera dangling from frayed wires. The Common blinded all the surveillance that served as Governor Roth’s eyes. He’s no longer watching us; he’s gone.

But paranoia dies hard in this city.

I make a sharp turn with the hurried crowd, all huddled beneath parasols or hats. Pulling my scarf low over my eyes, I squint at a woman moving toward me on the walkway, noting her deft fingers as they reach into her satchel. Does she have a gun? Citizens can carry weapons now. Anyone can get their inexperienced hands on a military-issued taser gun or a pistol. Even a next-generation assault rifle.

I plunge my hand to my gun belt and unlock the safety catch of my pistol. Loyalists, lackeys who still choose to follow the governors, might still move among us. Lying in wait for the perfect moment to strike.

It’s been twenty-one days since the Common rose up and the Texas government fell. Since the Battle for Dallas, the night of truth and reckoning. And in that time I haven’t fired a single shot.

How much longer can that last?

As the woman in the hooded dress nudges past without so much as a glance my way, I crane my neck and search the sky. Or as much as I can see of it through the crush of skyrises, their hundred-story tops so tall, it feels as though we walk beneath a steel trap.

I half expect to see a hypersonic missile dropping down on us, sent by the displaced Texas State Guard. Or the growing flame of a warhead, delivered by any number of global enemies aiming to take advantage of our vulnerable state. Our weakened government. Our far from United States.

The list of our enemies is long. Ava’s taken to writing each of them down on the back of her trusted map, forming a game plan, calculating who will come for us first.

I glance down at my wristwatch: 5:15 p.m. The hottest time of day. Right now, enemy number one is the Texas sun. Although I’m outside, it feels as if there is no air. My lungs breathe fire, and with every passing second, the idea of melting into a puddle of sweat seems less like an exaggeration and more like an inevitability. I have to get inside.

Five blocks later, I finally arrive at the building I ventured the sweltering downtown streets for. I slip into the alleyway, avoiding eye contact with the two hooded figures scavenging the overflow of rotting garbage from the dumpsters.

Food has been especially hard to come by these days. Almost as hard as hope.

The stench of waste nearly knocks me over before I reach the back doors. I quickly rummage through my pockets for my set of newly minted keys, noting the out-of-commission microchip scanner peppered with bullet holes.

Suddenly, I hear footsteps approaching, fast.

“Should you be out here alone?” a man’s muffled voice shouts from behind me.

I steal my fingers around the bows of several keys, ready to use them as shanks. I whip around and then drop my guard, recognizing the glacial-blue eyes of Ciro Cross. The Common’s benefactor scurries toward me, his six-foot-three frame covered in sweat-soaked khaki, a white visor cap with wrinkled face and neck capes masking his famous face.

“Where’s Ava?” he asks, turning his head in search of my sister.

“Where’s Barend?” I retort. I nod to the empty space beneath his wide double-canopy umbrella. The steely soldier is usually fixed to Ciro’s side.

Neither of us should be out here alone. Ciro is worth millions, and I’m worth . . . well, whatever a second-born twin who revived a rebellion is valued at today. The bounty keeps rising, every state’s governor willing to suck their budget dry for the prize of capturing the Traitorous Twins.

As a rule, I can be found at my sister’s side. She is my eternal guardian and I am hers. But lately there’s been an unspoken understanding between us that we both need time apart. We crave it. And with every passing day, where it feels like all we’re doing here is waiting—stuck, useless, on the defensive as always—I seem to seek the distance more and more.

We’re searching for our own ways to heal.

I squint toward the end of the alleyway and try to spot the tips of the live oaks that peek between the uniform gray buildings, just three blocks away. Trees that make up the city’s cemetery.

My family lies buried beneath that soil.

The queasiness comes on sudden. My heart sinks into my stomach. I blink, and the bullet hole in my grandmother’s forehead sears across my eyelids. My knees nearly buckle, but I catch myself.

Never appear fragile.

Not if you want to win.

“Well, thank goodness—or shall I use the new catchphrase—thank Goodwin you are here,” Ciro says, closing his umbrella and leaning on it like a walking stick. “I seem to have mislaid my keys.”

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