Have you ever been in the middle of something catastrophic? Something huge, a disaster, maybe an earthquake, and continued to be calm? You can hear and see the panic all around you. People running, loud screams echoing in your ears, but you don’t see it… don’t feel it. No? Then you’ve probably never been the reason a bomb detonated. Never been the reason hundreds, or even thousands were killed. You have never felt happy during emergencies. Never felt like a monster.
I don’t remember how to feel.
When I first woke up this morning, I felt an immediate sense of peace. As if I finally had a chance to feel the smallest sense of calm. Kris could finally rest. His memory could finally be honored. Today was supposed to be the day I made sure the people that killed him paid for their actions. The sense of peace almost immediately faded.
I was excited to kill, originally. I guess I had overlooked how high the death toll could go.
At that minute, the number of people I was killing didn’t mean a thing. My excitement clouded my judgment, I suppose. I knew I was going to destroy the people that destroyed me.
“Five minutes, Ariadne. You sure you’re ready to do this?” The voice is loud in my ear. Edward isn’t anxious. Edward has never been the type of person to be nervous. It’s one of those small details I like about him. I look at the ground in front of me, just as someone rams into my arm.
“I guess so. I’m preparing to plant the bomb. Be ready at any second.” I mutter into the device they are forcing me to hold. “And Edward? Make sure you’re as far from this building as possible? I really don’t want to have you on the list of people that Gustav blames me for.” I swallow, hoping to swallow down the fear with it. My stomach hurts. I really don’t have a good feeling about this entire thing, but Gustav wants all of it done today. It has to be precise. And of course, it had to be me.
“Gustav knows where he can shove it. Just keep your mind in the game. This is really important.” Edward’s voice says, strong and fierce in my ear. He’s confident. Right now, I wish I had even half of the confidence he has. “Do it for Devon.”
Ouch. Of all of the things Edward could mention, I never would think that Kristain was at the top of his list. Apparently he knows me more than I think he does.
“It’s crowded in here, Eddie.” I manage, trying to squeeze between two people, and still manage to keep the bag securely on my arm. The importance of this bag isn’t beneath my notice. I can’t plant something if I can’t get through.
“And it’s crowded back at Base. You’ll think crowded when Gustav gets to you. And anyway, it’s more people to punish for what they did to you, for what they did to Kris.” I swallow again. “What did Devon used to call you, Ariadne? Or should I say Ari? Don’t be a chicken, Ari.” I feel a twinge of anger flash through me.
“Edward, so help me!” I pull the device away from my ear and actually get a really good look at it. A back up explosive. When held up to my face, it looks like something people carry around all the time. Take it away from my face for even a second, and it’s an explosive. I have to hand it to the Resistance, they’re quite handy.
I’m inches from where I’m supposed to drop the bomb off when another person crashes into my left side. The bag flies off of my arm. It is only a few seconds before I hear the distinct click that means that the bomb is active.
“Edward?” I mutter, starting to walk away from the bag, praying that he answers in time.
“Yes, Ari?” The nickname causes me to snap, and I don’t really feel like warning him anymore.
“The bomb is planted.” I manage, hoping that he takes the bait. If he stays for the five minutes he’s supposed to, the bomb will go off before he makes it out.
Nothing like a little deception in the morning.
One Year Ago.
“Ariadne Belle Cardinal! And to whom do I owe the pleasure?” President Boyd Dexter’s voice boomed around the tiny spaced office, even though Dexter is a large man in stature. He’s probably one of the biggest guys I’ve ever seen. He’s probably approximately seven feet two inches, with the shoulders of a linebacker in football. He’s got brown hair that is either extremely greasy or he has too much hair gel in it. And then there are his eyes. Huge and green, and constantly bugging too far out of his head. He often reminds me of something like a weasel.
“Yourself I suppose.” I say with the largest smile I could muster.
“And what do you need to speak to my highness?” He asks, a smile growing on his face, “Are you prepared to give up your people, or should I have you arrested on the spot?” he knows better than for me to come in here without a backup plan.
“You know me too well to just assume I would give up their location. I have something of value to you, you have something of value to me. Before you can just assume that I’m going to tell you where my people are, you better listen up. But I’m sure you knew that already.” I give him my best sugary-sweet smile, betraying my words completely. This is business. If I have to kiss up to someone, then I will.
“What do I have that is valuable to you?” He asks, his eyes looking through me, and not actually at me. Dexter has always annoyed me. He’s far too cocky, and he’s not good enough to be as cocky as he is.
“What every person in every country wants. I want power.” I state, “If I give you the location of every resistance camp for the next ten miles, you will just kill me on the spot. So I have a proposition for you, if you want it.” I tell him, trying not to laugh at his immediate excitement.
“And what would that be? Kill me? Do you know what kind of security detail I have outside of this office right now in anticipation?” Dexter smiles, a rather smug smile. The smile is one of those things that make me want to take back any idea or offer I had for him originally. He can be such a bother sometimes. But he’s the direct key to taking over this world. So if I have to pretend that he doesn’t disturb me to be put in complete power, then I will.
“No. I wasn’t planning on killing you. Where would that get me? International Most Wanted? Not my goal, now is it?” I plaster that same sugary-sweet smile on again, making sure to add extra sweetness so that he actually does consider my proposition, “I won’t tell you where the camps are-“
“Then what are you even doing here? I should have you killed for even wasting my time with such… such… idiocy!” He stands up behind his desk, his head nearly hitting the ceiling. “Security!” The door flies open, but I ignore it. Wouldn’t want to have to resort to violence over something he could just listen to me about.
“I reassure you, you will have every Resistance leader in custody by next December.” I tell him, “Hear me out, I think it’s a brilliant plan. A win-win-lose. Of course, I win, you win, but the Resistance lose.”
“Why would you want to betray them?”
“This again? I explained it well the first time I thought. Maybe I was just trying to convince myself that you were smarter than I give you credit for… apparently not.” I pause for a second, “For power.”
“Power. As in a seat in my cabinet?” He asks, “You know that’s not going to happen unless you give me the location of every Resistance camp in America. Yes… America is definitely a good start. Then you could hand over Britain, and the rest of Europe-“ I cut him off before he can embarrass himself even worse.
“I’m not giving you the locations.” I tell him, “No. If you march into any of these camps your people will be shot down faster than you could ever actually know what’s going on. No. I’m going to take them down for you. I’ll even throw the leader’s heads as a present.”
“I want the leaders, alive. But I don’t see how this works. Don’t you think someone would figure it out?”
“I really give you a lot more credit about how smart you are than I should.” I mutter to myself, hoping he ignores the jab, and continue, as if he wasn’t completely stupid, “I’m one of the first leaders of the Resistance. I can jump from camp to camp, and nobody will think anything of it. They all will trust me, even after camp after camp is destroyed in my wake. And in return, you will give up your Presidency so that I can rule this nation.”
“I like that idea. Except for the last part.”
“You can stay as Vice President, just know that I need to be President, or I tell everyone that you plan on completely invading every camp. Millions of people will attack your cities. Your people will lose faith in your ability to lead. Many of them will join the fight against you. And I will become President anyway.”
“And why is that?” He asks, cocky as always. The security leaves as he takes his seat again. I have his attention now. If there is one thing Dexter is afraid of, it is his people turning against him. Maybe he does have the strength in numbers, but I have the strength in how well trained my people are. They are not stupid. They know how to fight, have been fighting their entire lives to take this one man. It’s a shame I can’t just send an arrow through his heart.
“I’ve led them the entire time.”
“What makes you so sure they will let you lead them?” He asks, raising his eyebrows at me, his hand covering his mouth, as if actually considering this.
“They trust me. No one trusts you. Your people question you constantly. Why? Millions of your people are dying and you can’t even see it coming. You have no idea how many of my people kill your people while you sit there blind, unsure of what is going on.”
“Millions of my people are dying? Open your eyes, Ms. Cardinal. Your people are the ones hiding. They’re the ones without numbers.” He tells me, his voice getting louder with every word, “You think you’re so powerful because you have an army. Maybe my people aren’t all strong, but every one of them would be willing to go directly into contact if I asked them to. Do you know how that feels? That much loyalty? I’m sure you have no idea what it’s like to have loyal people.”
“My people are willing to jump into combat.” I tell him, keeping my voice calm. It’s not even that difficult, “I feel like we’ve fought for too long. I think this is the perfect time for us to team up. People could be bowing at our feet.”
“Bowing at our feet? Why would I want that? A group of weak people bowing at me, and not fighting. Seems like a waste of my time, Ariadne.”
“Is it a deal? I am not here to waste my time. Your time is wasted every second you sit here. Your people are fragile. Weak. I trained an army of soldiers in the time it took you to calm down any revolution. If you don’t take this deal, you’ll have a war on your hands. And anyway, it’s not like your people have much faith left in such a coward of a leader.” I spit back, “Every breath you take, my people are shadowing you.”
“Ms. Cardinal, I think we have a deal,” Dexter starts, but pauses for a second, “I do have just a few… conditions, myself, before I have Millie print up the paper work.”
“Did I ever say co-president?” I ask, and by the stunned look on his face, I know I got his request completely correct. Typical Dexter. Always so obvious in everything he does. It’s a shame really, that people continue to follow him like sheep. He’s a sorry excuse for a leader, if I could ever call someone one.
“It is a good thing, Belle.” He mutters, sputtering on every word, “But since we have reached such a conclusion, it is a definite possibility.”
“I will have every leader to you by the end of next year, and we will have to discuss matters then, instead of now.”
“Expect the same from me.” He snaps, “And if they are not here by the end of next December, I start gassing people and attach your name to every instance. Then we will see who holds the real power here.” He smirks, as if he just automatically assumes it is him.
“I suppose we will find out.” I smirk right back.
I glance down at my cell phone, checking the date again. December first. I have less than a month to round them all up. Shouldn’t be that much of a pain, to be honest. I’ll just tell them I’m sending them into town for the holiday. Maybe use their children against them. After all, I have done much worse.
“Ariadne, we really need to discuss what happened at the airport. We lost another person, and you haven’t even made a statement to the rebels about how honorable Edward’s death was.” I jump at the sound of Boston’s voice, not expecting him to actually speak. Boston is always quiet. He’s tall, about six feet eight inches, with an athletic build that you suspects that he used to play football. I wouldn’t know. He doesn’t talk about his old life. He has brown hair, and it’s always a mess on top of his head, and his gray eyes are constantly flashing around, as if looking for any sort of movement.
“Or stupid deaths. How hard is it to leave a building in five minutes?” I ask, glancing at my phone again, “I never saw anything honorable about him. It’s a shame that Ortez thought he was the world. He was nothing great.”
“Yeah, but your rebels saw Edward as a saint.” Boston points out, “Either light that fire or stomp on the embers. Ortez can’t be the one constantly in the spotlight.”
“Could’ve fooled me. He’s kind of an attention-seeker. Of all the people I could’ve started the revolution with, I would much rather have you by my side at the podium.” I tell him, “At least then people would hear coherent sentences instead of nonsense mumbling. And wringing his hands constantly, he’s getting on my nerves.”
“I feel you, Ariadne, I really do, but that is why our people need you to speak. They might actually understand what is going on. And you looking at your phone every five seconds, that’s getting on my nerves.”
“You’ll get over it.”
Boston is probably the one rebel leader I’ll have a hard time handing over. Sure he’s cocky, and a real pain in the butt, but those are the reasons he’s pleasant to be around. So very few people are truly fluent in sarcasm. You don’t hand that kind of talent to a psychotic dictator.
“What’s today’s date anyway?” He asks, taking the minute of silence to sit forward so that he can see my phone’s screen.
“Five years since everything started. That’s the exact amount of time that has passed since the world went to disaster.”
“Crazy to think about,” I admit, keeping my head down.
“Devon would be proud of you.” He reassures me, I feel my head drop slightly in shame, and feel the familiar pinch of tears trying to force themselves out of my eyes. I bite them back not wanting to show pain to anyone, not even Boston. He’s seen me at my worst, but I don’t want him to see it again.
“I’m sure he’ll even be more proud when it’s all over. Dexter is just a power hungry snake.” I say, trying to force the tears away, still. My voice is choked, and I take in a large gulp of air. A sob wracks my body, and every part of me hurts “He would… want… to be part… of this.”
Boston hugs me as close to him as possible. He doesn’t say anything, just lets me sob.
Five years, and I still can’t get over the nagging guilt.
“I lived.” I mutter, “I lived, Boston, and he died. And for what? A world not worth living!”
“You know what you have to do.” He tells me, even though I already know.
“Dexter needs to pay. He needs to die.”