Authors: Margaret Peterson Haddix
“He was a hero,” Tessa continued, “because he wanted to
find out the truth. He was a hero because, when he thought he’d done something awful, he wanted to do everything in his power to make it right.”
She paused, gathering her thoughts.
“We all have a chance to be heroes now,” she said. “We all have to be brave, and face the truth.”
It didn’t bother her as much as she would have thought, to have the lights and the eye of the camera pointed directly at her. She knew she was talking to some people who would stay cruel, no matter what, and to some people who, given half a chance, would discover reserves of courage and kindness. She just didn’t know which side would win, which portion of human nature would outweigh the other.
But she had enough hope to keep talking.
“Won’t you join me and Gideon Thrall and Dekaterina Pratel in being heroes?” she asked. “Not heroes in the war—heroes in the peace?”
She imagined the gasps her words would cause, and how the gasps would grow when she and Gideon and Dek explained that everyone on the continent had been living a lie for more than half a century. The way she saw it, the news would be like sunlight bursting into every dark corner of Eastam, of Westam.
She could hear people tugging on the door behind her, someone yelling, “You’ve got to let us in! You can’t do this! Stop!”
She ignored them. She told her story, start to finish, everything she’d seen and heard and witnessed and thought. Then Dek and Gideon talked, throwing in technical details that
meant nothing to her. They explained how the computers had fooled everyone, and why that had been necessary.
“But it’s not necessary anymore,” Gideon said. “We have another chance. We can make a new start. Please—can’t we work together?”
Tessa realized that the shouting outside the door had stopped. Did that mean people were listening? Did that mean they believed?
Dek and Gideon finished up and shut down the camera. Outside, everything was still.
“We’ve got to find out how people are reacting,” Tessa whispered. “Can’t the computer show us?”
The three of them clustered around the miniature laptop, which Gideon hooked into the master computer.
And there on the screen Tessa could see the auditorium back in Waterford City. People had evidently gathered there when the announcement began. Now they were crammed in together, everyone staring toward the front. Their eyes were wide; their mouths hung agape. Nobody was saying a word.
“They’re in shock,” Dek said. “They don’t know how to react.”
Gideon flicked a switch, and the scene changed. A crowd stood by a fence topped with razor wire. Timidly at first, then with greater boldness, the crowd began shoving at the fence. Someone revved up a chainsaw and carved a hole. A teenage boy darted through the hole.
The camera zoomed in on his face as he landed in the dirt on the other side. He looked horrified at what he’d just done, like he just might die from fright.
But he didn’t die. He hit the ground and lay there numbly for a moment. Then, slowly, he stood on wobbly legs. A grin spread across his face. He began waving his arms at everyone still on the other side of the fence, clearly saying,
You climb through too! Come on! It’s safe!
“People are crossing the border,” Gideon whispered. “They’re going into the war zone.”
“They actually believe us?” Tessa asked.
“It looks like those people do,” Gideon murmured. “But …”
He flipped another switch.
Now Tessa saw a huge room, so large it was impossible to see from one end to the other.
Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of young people sat at desks in orderly rows advancing across the room. They all sat the same way: crouched over computers, their hands flying across the controls.
“The pilots,” Gideon said. “They’re still fighting the war. They haven’t changed at all.”
“No.” The computer voice spoke for the first time since Tessa and Gideon and Dek had made their announcement. “They just
like they’re still fighting. Zoom in on—oh, try row 600, desk 52.”
Gideon adjusted the view, and the camera zoomed in on a screen toward the back of the room.
The screen was filled, not with a battle scene, but with six words:
We have to check this out.
“He just got that message from his buddy in row 989, desk 40,” the computer voice said. “Fifty percent of the pilots have their computers set on Automatic and are trying to verify
what the three of you just said. No, it’s seventy-five percent now. Eighty percent. Ninety. And—oh, wow—that was fast!”
“What?” Tessa asked.
“Five pilots are trying to make contact with someone in the Westam military,” the voice said. “No, eight. Twenty. Forty …”
Gideon dropped the miniature laptop. His eyes bugged out, but he seemed too stunned even to bend over and pick it up again.
“The war is over,” he said. “This is the end of everything.”
Tessa reached out and gently took his hand in hers.
“No,” she corrected. “It’s the beginning.”
is the author of many critically and popularly acclaimed books for children and teens, including
Claim to Fame, Palace of Mirrors, Uprising
, The Missing series, and the Shadow Children series. A graduate of Miami University (of Ohio), Margaret Peterson Haddix worked for several years as a reporter for the
. She also taught at the Danville (Illinois) Area Community College. She lives with her husband and two children in Columbus, Ohio.