The Rule of Many Page 3

Bam. My shoulder slams into someone, jolting my body back upright.

“I’m sorry,” I say automatically.

But sharp-edged things don’t apologize. They just cut right through. I steel myself and keep going, not looking back, continuing to drag my wobbly legs down the hallway.

“No, I’m sorry,” a tentative voice says behind me. Pawel. “I’m sorry about your dad. I just heard the news.” Intensity seeps into his words. “At least he died for a reason. You can be proud.”

His words shoot at me like bullets, a gut shot with no exit wound, and I stop short. I wrap my arms around my waist—like that could stop the bleeding—and peer inside the room Pawel just exited.

A group of kids, no older than eleven or twelve, huddle on the floor around a tablet screen. Barend would be livid if he caught them with this smuggled technology. As I wonder fleetingly what their punishment would be for risking the Common’s safety, one of the kids’ heads tilts to the side, giving me a full view of the screen.

My father’s face is splashed across an underground virtual newscast. The kids watch, enraptured as a computer-generated anchor with blue hair and violet eyes gives a breathless account of how the disgraced Family Planning Director shockingly took his own life out of shame.

“My brother says it’s all a conspiracy,” a girl with a high ponytail says. It’s Ellie, Pawel’s adopted sister. “A Goodwin would never give up.”

Another girl spies me standing in the doorway, her breath catching in her throat. She nudges the boy sitting beside her, and the entire group turns to stare at me, their mouths slightly open in reverence.

“Our parents sacrificed themselves for Ellie and me too,” Pawel says quietly. A crushing sadness marks his face at the memory. Pawel’s four-person family was illegal, even if Ellie wasn’t related by blood. Whatever hardships he experienced that led him to the Common will haunt him the rest of his life.

All at once my sharp edges soften with empathy.

I flick my gaze back to my own father on the newscast. They chose a photograph of him in his stately dress uniform. He looks strong and proud and so violently alive it hurts.

I scan the youthful faces of my unexpected audience. Ellie rises and holds out her forearm, fist curled into a tight ball, like Mira and I did at the end of our hijacked newscast. She’s petite but fierce, her oval-shaped hazel eyes reflecting her tremendous appetite for defiance at such a young age.

Everyone around her stands and does the same.

Tattoos, drawn with identical dark ink, cover their right wrists, each one a unique emblem of their own resistance: a charging bull, two thick parallel lines, a scorpion ready to strike, a beautifully patterned sun with a face inside.

Next to me Pawel lifts his shirtsleeve, revealing his own tattoo of a tree with thick roots sheltering the letter E.

Our spark worked. The flame of revolution has been lit just as Rayla said it would, and now even the next generation can feel its burn.

My heart races wild inside my chest. I hold down my wrist, fist clenched.

“Resist much,” I say.

“Obey little,” their voices answer in unison.

I pull the hood of my jacket over my head and slip through the back door of the hotel’s kitchen. The alley is narrow but clean and devoid of people or any cameras but the Common’s. I take off toward an avenue lined with impressive trees, releasing a sigh of relief to be out in the open once more.

The Elders must know I left the Common’s grounds—I didn’t make my escape a secret. I’m finished with secrets. Why would they just let me leave? Sympathy? Sympathy is dangerous in wartime. Then I feel a presence at my back. Of course.

As I turn the corner, I sneak a glance behind me and spot Barend. My sentinel, my own personal special agent, following me, protecting me. Look who has a babysitter now, I hear Halton’s ghost sneer.

I reach for the small of my back, checking on the pistol tucked into its leather holster. Halton’s gun hasn’t left my body since I pulled it from Mira’s trembling hands. You had to shoot the agent, I assured Mira afterward. You saved our lives.

My pace quickens to match my heartbeat, and I pull my hood lower over my eyes. I make a series of sharp turns along the maze of downtown streets before losing myself within a crowd.

The city buzzes with a vibrant energy. The unfamiliar sounds and unexplored sights all beckon for my attention, but I can’t bring myself to lift my eyes from the freshly washed pavement. I just want to keep walking aimlessly, my only companion the loud thoughts that scream for my father’s revenge.

Roth is untouchable. Out of reach. You’ll never be able to get close enough to deliver the silver bullet.

But our grandmother could. Rayla could find a way straight to the monster and bring back his severed head to lie at our feet in a bloody pool of justice. The one and only time we heard from her, via a secured line in the middle of the night, Rayla swore this was her overriding mission and the reason she isn’t with us in Calgary.

Emery’s philosophy is the opposite of heads rolling. She believes—Whack! Something pointy suddenly jabs into my stomach, interrupting my musings, and I draw in a quick breath. I snap my head up to find the crowd around me has changed from random pedestrians to a frenetic mob of people, signs clutched in their fists.

The muffled voices I’ve been blocking reach me all at once in a clear, thunderous roar. “Send the twins back! Send the twins back!”

Every hair on my body stands erect like tiny flags of warning. Run! But before I can even think to follow my burning intuition, a hand-sewn protest sign slams into my face: “Gluts!”

Angry adrenaline courses through my veins. Mira and I are still Gluts in Canada: surplus, unwanted. Not for being twins, but for being in their country at all. Everyone must stay on their side of the wall. We’re American; we stay in America, no matter how horrible things get. Being part of the Common doesn’t change that hard fact.

How big is the rally against us? Is it the entire city or just a small but vocal faction?

I have to get to the heart of the rally to find out.

From the corner of my eye, I catch Barend rushing toward me. He reaches out his gloved hands, shouting for me to stay put, his deep-set eyes narrowed in rescue-mission mode.

“Send the twins back! Send the twins back!”

Just before Barend can grab me, a trio of protesters wearing some kind of smart technology bandanas over their faces bulldozes their way past me and straight into my bodyguard. He’s pulled into the unceasing sea of bodies.

“Aeron, stop!” I hear Barend order from behind his human barricade. Aeron Rowe, the name registered with my counterfeit microchip, now my code name for the Common.

Seizing on the protesters’ unintended help, I disobey Barend’s command and charge deeper into the mob, directly toward the source of the escalating chaos.

I can’t see anything beyond the mass of bodies and the swell of protest signs. I need to find higher ground.

Maneuvering through the overwhelming swarm of people, I spot what looks like a giant, fifty-foot hill covered in bright-green moss and colorful flora. Water cascades serenely down its sides, pooling into a flower-shaped stone basin.

A public water fountain, used for actual drinking, not just as pompous decoration like in Governor Roth’s greedy gardens. There must be some kind of filtration system, unseen pipes connected to an underground water tank. Even in my fog of grief, I’m dimly impressed. I’ve never seen such a display—nature in the middle of a metropolis. It’s extraordinary.

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