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Authors: Kat Zhang

Tags: #sf_history

Once We Were (8 page)

BOOK: Once We Were
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Addie told the others about the flood and fire damage that had ruined portions of the museum during our last visit. She hesitated, then explained how everything had been blamed on a hybrid man. Described the mob that had gathered around his arrest, crushing and trampling and screaming like spectators at a blood fight.
“I’ve always wanted to visit the East Coast,” Cordelia said. “See the water there, you know?”
Sabine rolled her eyes, but indulgently. “I’m sure the ocean looks the same.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Cordelia said. “Does it, Addie?”
“I don’t know,” Addie admitted. “Lupside isn’t on the coast, and I never went.”
“Someday, I’ll go. Once I’ve got enough money to fly.” She looked to Jackson. “Maybe I’ll get Peter to send me. He flew you over to Nornand, after all.”
“He flew me to Nornand to
work
,” Jackson said.
Cordelia shrugged languorously. “Yes, well, I’m sure there are institutions on the East Coast. One day, however I get there, I’ll go.”
“Don’t you want to see the . . . I don’t know, the Indian Ocean instead?” Jackson asked. “Or the Adriatic?” He smiled at Cordelia’s raised eyebrow. “Adriatic Sea. I saw it on one of Henri’s maps. It’s in Europe. I liked the name.”
Cordelia shrugged. “As if I’ll ever get to leave the country.”
There was a storm cloud over Devon’s face that he didn’t bother to hide. I could guess what was running through his mind.

Addie said.
I remembered Jackson pulling us into the janitor’s closet at Nornand, babbling about Peter and secret plans. Telling us to
keep hope
. We’d been shocked and irritated by his smiles then, his almost lackadaisical air. But he hadn’t been flippant. Not truly.
I thought about the meeting we’d attended last night. The room silent with grief after Peter explained what had happened at Hahns. Christoph’s barely contained anger, and how Jackson had tried to keep him in check.
Sabine and Christoph had been in Anchoit for half a decade. What about Cordelia and Jackson?

I said quietly.

“When’s Peter’s next meeting?” Christoph sat the farthest from the standing lamp, and the fairy lights softened his features.
Sabine shrugged. “He’s talking with some people one-on-one. I don’t think he’ll be having a general meeting anytime soon, though. Not unless something big happens.”
Christoph snorted and looked up at the ceiling. “Something big has already happened.”
“And we had a meeting when it did,” Sabine said. “We’ll have another when—”
Christoph’s voice turned rough. “When the earth slows, and the seas rise, and Peter finishes making his plans and remaking his plans and—”
“And remaking those plans,” Sabine finished for him. She smiled, and he didn’t quite smile back, but he quieted. Sabine’s gaze flickered to Addie and me, then to Devon. “It isn’t that we don’t appreciate everything Peter’s done. We do. We’re here because his plans worked. But no one can deny that Peter’s slow. Meticulous, yes. Careful, yes. And that’s all good, but slow. He believes in taking his time, and sometimes—”
“Sometimes there isn’t any time,” Addie said.
Sabine nodded.
“That institution you mentioned at the meeting,” Devon said slowly. “Powatt. How long has it been open?”
There was a hiccup of silence. Sabine shifted in her seat. “It hasn’t opened yet. They’re still setting things up, I think. Powatt’s going to be one of the institutions spearheading the new hybrid-cure initiative. They’re going to be testing some kind of—some kind of new machine that’s supposed to make the surgeries more precise.”
The word
surgeries
flashed us back to Nornand’s basement. To the feeling of cold metal, to Jaime’s voice babbling through the door, and sallow-lit hallways.
“There’s this guy,” Sabine said, “Hogan Nalles—he’s lower-level government. He’ll be downtown next Friday at Lankster Square, going on about how proud we should be, and all that. A pep rally of sorts. Stage and balloons and a couple hundred people, most likely.”
“A big, screaming crowd,” Christoph said. “Cheering on the systematic, government-supported
lobotomization
of children.”
Sabine grinned wryly. “I don’t think lobotomization is quite the same thing. And if we don’t do anything . . . if we just sit here and let Powatt open in a couple months, are we really that much better than they are?”
“Say what you mean to say, Sabine,” Cordelia intoned in what was obviously supposed to be a mockery of Peter’s voice. She giggled quietly into Sabine’s shoulder, and the other girl wrapped an obliging arm around her.
When Sabine spoke, though, her voice was utterly serious. “We’re going to stop Powatt from ever opening.”
As if it were really that simple. As if by Sabine declaring it, we could make it so.
“How?” Devon said.
“I don’t have a complete plan yet. I’d need more information. But I know how to get that information, and that’s a start.” Sabine watched Devon as she spoke, but if she was trying to read him, he gave her nothing to see. “I worked under Nalles for a few months last year, before Cordelia and I opened the shop. Pushing papers, making appointments. Things like that.” Her lips twitched up at the corners. “Don’t let Peter know. He’s got strict rules about getting involved with government. Anyway, Nalles has access to information. He’ll know the details of the Powatt plans—exactly when they’ll open, when they’re going to install the machinery, when the children arrive. Maybe even who the kids are.”
The chances were slim to none, I knew, but I couldn’t help imagining the possibility of a familiar face ending up at Powatt. What if Eli and Cal went under the knife? The doctors at Nornand had already tried so many experimental medications on them, attempting again and again to eradicate the less
desirable
soul of an eight-year-old boy. We’d seen the harmful side effects. No one had seemed to worry then. Nothing would keep them from trying surgery.
“Lankster Square is a block from the Metro Council Hall, where Nalles works. He’ll have everything on his computer, and I know where his office is. I stole my old work pass, too. It’ll get us past preliminary security.”
“By us you mean you and me,” Devon said.
Sabine considered him carefully. “I’ve heard you’re good with computers.”
Devon nodded. He was frowning, but it was concentration, not worry, that put the crease between his brows.
“You could break into his account?” Sabine asked. “Quickly?”
Devon had broken into our school system’s files. That much I knew. He’d seen how late Addie and I had settled; it had been one of many signs that convinced him and Hally to reveal their secret to us.
“Maybe,” he said. “Probably.”
“Would you?” Sabine asked. Anyone sneaking into a government building and hacking into their computer system was taking a ridiculously enormous risk. For Devon and Ryan, it was ten times worse.
“Wait,” Addie interrupted before Devon could answer. “You want him to just waltz in and break into this guy’s computer right in the middle of the workday?”
“That’s where the rally comes in.” Sabine didn’t miss a beat. “If we do this on the day of the speech, Nalles and most of his support staff will be at Lankster Square. And if we happened to cause some sort of disturbance at the rally . . . enough to distract everyone at Metro Council—”
“Like dropping a grenade right in the middle of the square?” Christoph mimed a throwing motion, and Jackson laughed, supplying the explosion sound through his teeth.
Sabine gave them a censuring look, but didn’t entirely suppress her smile. “A disturbance that doesn’t include death and flying limbs.”
Christoph leaned back against the couch. “I wouldn’t say no to some flying limbs.”
“He’s not serious,” Jackson told us quickly.
“I’m completely serious,” Christoph said.
Sabine ignored them both. “All we’d need is something no one will be able to look away from. Something that will draw attention—and security—to the Square and away from Metro Council. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to have it be something that’ll serve as a reminder.”
“A reminder of what?” Addie asked.
“Of how these institutions and this
cure
have left a body count thousands high. Tens of thousands. More.” Sabine looked like a sculpture in the attic’s soft lighting. I hadn’t thought her a particularly beautiful girl before, but there was something striking about her now, as she spoke. “I was thinking fireworks, like on Memorial Day. This could be our own kind of memorial. A reminder.”
A way of paying respects.
By now, the tenor of the attic had transformed. Sabine had changed it with a sentence. An idea. A hope.
“Addie can draw,” Jackson said suddenly. Addie looked at him in surprise, and he rushed to elaborate. “If we want it to be like a reminder, we could make posters, you know? Include the names and faces of some of the children who have died.”
“Good idea.” Sabine’s bangs, cut bluntly above her eyebrows, only brought more attention to the unwavering nature of her stare. I found myself both slightly unnerved and utterly unable to look away—as if I were being sized up and couldn’t,
couldn’t
, be found wanting. “We’d have to find deserted places to set off the fireworks, of course. There are a couple buildings in the area where you can get access to the roof. We could toss the posters down from there; rain them on the crowd. We’d have to figure out the specifics, but no one would get hurt.”
What are the chances we get caught?
I wanted to ask, but Addie was still in control, and Addie’s emotions were too tangled now to let her speak.
“Flyers and fireworks,” Christoph said, like he was musing over the idea and found it sort of funny.
Sabine nodded. She looked toward Devon. “But in the end, it all hinges on whether you’re able to get that information from Nalles’s computer.”
Devon was quiet. His expression stayed utterly impassive, his body still. Then he said, “I can do that.”
Sabine’s shoulders relaxed, just a little. She looked around the room at the rest of us. “So? What do you say?”

I’m
in,” Cordelia said.
Jackson wore that match-strike smile of his. “Same.”
Despite his earlier exasperation, Christoph was quick to nod, too.

I said.
She hesitated.


I said tentatively.

I was so tired of just sitting around. I was tired of being cooped up in our apartment building, going up the stairs and down the stairs but getting nowhere.


Her voice sharpened. I felt her confusion rising, her frustration at her own inability to decide.

She ripped away from our body’s reins. Control fell to me like a great weight, nearly suffocating in its pressure.
She was right. I’d dreamed so long about being in control. Now that I could be, I had to start making my own decisions, not relying on Addie. Not relying on anyone.
I exhaled and spoke quickly. Before I could think too much about it. Before I could talk myself out of it.
“I’m ready to start doing something.”
NINE
D
espite her claims otherwise, Sabine had obviously already given this part of her plan a lot of thought. The attic transformed from clubhouse to situation room as she briefed us on everything. In exactly ten days, Hogan Nalles would give a speech in Lankster Square downtown. Nearby traffic would be rerouted. There would be security, obviously, but the specifics were still unknown. The speech was planned to last about twenty minutes, the entire event roughly an hour.
“There are six of us,” Sabine said, gesturing as she spoke. “Devon and I will be in the building. Preferably, I’d like to have at least one person at the rally—at the scene or looking right at it—and reporting to us on walkie-talkie. We’d want to know exactly what’s going on. That leaves three of you to set off firecrackers.”

I started to say, then cut myself off. Would it be better to leave Hally and Lissa out of this? Maybe they wouldn’t want to be involved. But I didn’t want to keep secrets from them, either. It would be better, wouldn’t it, to let them decide themselves if they wanted to help or not?
“If Hally joined us,” I said, “then we could do four.”
Devon looked at us sharply, but said nothing.
Sabine hesitated. “You think she’d be up for it?”
“Maybe,” Devon said before I could answer. The word held such an air of finality that no one touched the subject again.
“What we’re doing,” I said carefully, “won’t it just make security even tighter at the Hall?”
Sabine shook her head. “Everyone important will be at the rally. Even if they get vigilant in the Hall, they’ll be looking for possible violence or a demonstration or something. Trust me. It’ll be fine. I know my way around the building.”
It was almost four a.m. by the time we left the photography shop. Over the course of the night, Addie spoke with both Josie and Sabine, Jackson and Vince. Cordelia mentioned Katy, though if Katy actually took control at any point, no one noted it. But all night, no one said anything about the other boy looking through Christoph’s eyes. I wondered when we’d get to meet him. I found myself looking forward to it.
Devon gave us a quiet
good night
when we returned to our apartment, then headed upstairs. I eased Emalia’s door open as softly as I could.
BOOK: Once We Were
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