The night air hangs muggy outside the Council bunker, feathered clouds drape over a reluctant moon. I’ve barely slept in the hours since we took the vote that divided the Undergrounders. None of us know for sure if my brother Owen is dead or alive, but after the bombshell Rummy dropped about seeing my brother try to claw his way back up from the floor, we have no choice but to go back to the Craniopolis and find out. We can’t risk leaving him to the mercy of the Sweepers’ inhumane experimentation. Allying ourselves with Rummy and the Rogues is not something I ever bargained on, but Rummy’s right; we have a common enemy in the Sweepers, and our only hope of defeating them is to unite.
Of the eighteen Council members who voted for the alliance, seven bailed when it came time to leave, leaving me with a sour taste of disgust at their hypocrisy and a crew whose names I don’t even know. It’s the lowest form of cowardice in my book, abandoning your leader when he needs you most. They were all gung-ho to be part of the Council when Owen recruited them. But now I suspect that it was more a chance to relieve the monotony of bunker life than any willingness on their part to sacrifice for a cause. And they don’t trust me as his replacement.
The worst thing about it all is that Jakob, who led the Council team that rescued me from the Craniopolis, won’t even say good-bye. He thinks I’m a fool for trusting Rummy, and maybe he’s right. It is a long shot, hoping Rummy can persuade the Rogues to join us in our attempt to overthrow the Sweepers. And dangerous—a sign of our desperation—throwing in our lot with former subversives. But it’s our only option. We need to boost our numbers to have any chance of success. And we need heavies, as Rummy put it, men who know how to kill. Years of gang warfare in the reeducation centers have prepared them better than any of us Undergrounders.
I weave my hair into a thick braid and climb with my collie, Tucker, to the top of the trail that leads south to the Wilderness of No Return and the Rogues’ hideout. Filtered shafts of moonlight spill down between the towering pines. I breathe in the humid, night air and try to calm my mind for what lies ahead. The earth and air have begun to heal from the volcanic meltdown that destroyed the world as we knew it, but I’ve come to fear what’s inside the hearts of humankind more than any holocaust of nature. My own heart thumps with the cadence of that fear. I know firsthand how brutal the subversives can be.
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