“Of course we do,” he said. “That doesn’t change the fact that it won’t make any difference. There are a million ways Daxton could spin it, and he’ll never let anyone close enough to prove it.”
“What about Greyson?” Daxton’s eighteen-year-old son was less than enthusiastic about following in his father’s footsteps, but even inexperienced, he would be infinitely better than Daxton.
Knox’s mouth formed a thin line, and he wrapped his arm around my shoulders. Normally it would have been a sweet gesture, but tonight it felt more like a threat. “Do you want to see the masses go after him once the rebellion begins?”
“You mean it hasn’t already?” I said, but he didn’t answer. I bit my lip. Greyson was one of my only friends, and the last thing I wanted was for him to get caught in the cross fire.
We were meters from the bunker when Knox stopped and faced me, his dark eyes bearing into mine. “Listen to me, Kitty,” he said in a low, hurried voice. “Telling the others about Daxton doesn’t outweigh the risks of Celia finding out—and if the other Blackcoat leaders know, she will find out sooner rather than later. And what happens after that is anyone’s guess. Do you understand me?”
“But maybe one of them could think of a way to get the word out and turn Daxton’s supporters against him,” I said. “Too many people have already died—”
“Those people were willing to risk it,” said Knox. “We’re all willing to risk it.”
“I’m not willing to risk Benjy’s life,” I said. “He didn’t agree to any of this, and if there’s a war on Somerset, he’ll get caught in the middle.”
“I’ve already promised to protect you both—”
“You’re not a god, Knox,” I said. “You can’t guarantee we’ll both get out of this alive, and you know it. If we tell them, we could find a way to replace Daxton and have a revolution without anyone else dying—”
“There’s no such thing as a bloodless revolution.”
Knox’s voice cracked like a whip through the alleyway. He glanced around quickly, as if to reassure himself we were alone, and then leaned in close enough for me to smell the champagne on his breath. Not strong enough to knock me over, but it was a stark reminder of the evening we’d had.
“I’ve made you a lot of promises, Kitty, and I intend on keeping them. But I can’t do that if you second-guess every move I make and insist on being in the middle of everything. Do you want a rebellion, or do you want to keep things as they are? Because this isn’t a problem that a single bullet will solve. Even if we cut Daxton out of the picture, we still have the entire government to worry about—including all twelve Ministers of the Union, who will see a chance to seize power for themselves and do everything they can to make it happen. Daxton will be removed from his position one way or the other, but there are countless other steps we have to take in the meantime before we even consider putting that plan into action. People are going to die no matter what we do. Right now, all we can do is try our best to minimalize the casualties.”
Furrowing my brow as I digested everything he said, I crossed my arms to stop myself from shivering more than I already was. “I’m just saying there might be another way to do this.”
“If there was, we would have figured it out already.” Knox straightened. “Promise me you won’t bring up Daxton.”
“Promise me you’ll at least consider trying it my way.”
He scowled. “Fine.”
He punched a nine-digit code into a small metal box, and a moment later, the door to the bunker opened. We stepped inside. A long concrete hallway stretched out in front of us, and the darkness obscured the high ceiling. I swallowed hard and tried not to think about what was up there, just out of sight: two dozen guards, each with a rifle pointed directly at us.
Guilty until proven innocent. That was how it was for the government, and that was how it was for the Blackcoats. Knox could talk about a rebellion and change until he was blue in the face, but as I followed him through the corridor, my head down and Benjy’s jacket clutched around my shoulders, I began to wonder whether or not anything would really change if the Blackcoats succeeded. I believed in freedom and democracy with everything I was, but if Celia and Knox won the rebellion, the people would still be under the rule of the Hart family. In the end, how many lives would really change for the better?
I pressed my lips together. The Blackcoats weren’t perfect, but they were fighting for the rights of the people—the same rights Daxton Hart and the twelve Ministers of the Union took pleasure in denying them. As I watched Knox punch in another code at the end of the dark corridor, the day of my testing flashed through my mind, and cold fear prickled down my spine, a ghost of a life that was slowly slipping away from me with each day that passed. I knew what it was like to be one of them. I knew what it was like to wake up every morning wondering if today would be the day I ran across a Shield in a bad mood, and he would drag me into the street and shoot me in the head just because he had a gun and I didn’t. I knew what it was like to watch it happen to others and worry I was next. And I knew what it was like to consider the possibility that maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world after all.
It was preferable to the alternative: being sent Elsewhere, a place that, until two months ago, I had deluded myself into thinking was some kind of summer camp for criminals, the elderly, and those deemed unfit for society. Daxton had cleared that up for me my first day as Lila, when he’d taken me hunting in a lush forest. We hadn’t been hunting deer or quail, though. We’d been hunting humans.