Rebel Grey

Rebel Grey, a Dystopian Teen Fantasy Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve

Later, in a conference room that had once belonged to a King…

The party was still raging in the floors below. It might not ever stop. The falsely accused were still flooding out of the prisons, and the rest of the King’s regime were hiding out or being rounded up by the jubilant rebels. The prisons were filling back up as quickly as they were emptied with the King’s most violent and hated Nobles. The rest of the King’s guards, Marshals and Nobles too insignificant to warrant Cage’s personal attention, would accept the new regime gracefully, or they would face the same fate.

The Uprising had taken the city so quickly, no one outside the King’s inner circle had even known it was happening until it was over. King Scarlet’s Razor City had fallen with hardly a fight. The news spread like wildfire through the streets. The stunned citizens had just begun to understand what lay ahead of them.

It was freedom. At least, Petra hoped it was.

The first meeting of Razor City’s new regime was underway.

Grey wasn’t there. He was still with his father in the hospital wing. The Uprising was still discussing the Scarlets’ fate. Petra sat around the oval conference table with Jesse, Rip, Lux and Ellis. She felt as though they were facing off against Cage, Pablo, Beth and Uprising on the other side.

“He helped us,” Lux said. “Dante told us how to strike. He gave us the information we needed to win. If not for him, we would never have been able to pull this off.”

“But he came back to the palace,” Pablo argued. “He was working with his father. He had rejoined his side.”

“No!” Petra growled. She rose to her feet. Her eyes blazed. “He came back here because Cage wouldn’t give him an answer. You wouldn’t let him know if you would help him. He didn’t think he had a choice. He thought he had to do it himself. He planned to come here and take out Scarlet by himself in secret and take over the city.”

“Yes,” Pablo replied, scowling. “And then he would have been King. And he would have been the same as his father.”

“He is one of us! He was not spying or he would have told Scarlet what we’d planned. He would have told him where the safe house was. We would never have been able to get through the gates without him. He meant what he said. He wants change. And if not for him, we wouldn’t have it now.”

Cage didn’t say anything. He only listened.

“You have what you wanted. And Grey helped. We will not let you lock him up with his father. He isn’t the enemy.”

Pablo’s reply was cut short. There was knock on the door. Beth rose to open it. For a moment, she didn’t move. Then she stepped aside. She was smiling.

Key strode into the room. He was smiling, too. Petra hadn’t seen him smile like that in so long, she hadn’t even remembered his face could look like that, as though a light had gone on somewhere and the world was a safe, wonderful place. Key wasn’t alone. Beside him, a tall, thin man with long, pale dishevelled blonde hair stepped into the conference room. His pale blue eyes sought Petra immediately.

“Ren!” She raced toward him and vaulted into his arms. She hugged him for several seconds, as though she might never let go. He felt thinner than he ever had; where he had once been solid and strong, he felt weak and breakable. Petra didn’t care. He was back, and that was what mattered now. When she pulled back to look at him, tears streamed down her cheeks. Her brother looked tired, too. There were dark circles under his eyes. He was still handsome, though, and he didn’t look as though he’d been badly hurt. She’d never been so happy to see anyone. “I missed you. I’ve been doing everything to get you out.”

Ren laughed. “I didn’t think you’d take down the entire city to do it, but I shouldn’t have expected any less from you.”

Petra smiled. “Well, you know me.”

Beth stepped forward to hug Ren. Petra released him and stepped back to let her. The way Beth looked at him surprised Petra. The way Ren looked back at Beth surprised her more. She’d always thought it was Key that Beth loved. Maybe she’d been wrong.

Petra felt a stab of resentment toward her friend. How could Beth have let him be taken like that when she knew Cage had only done it to save his own skin? Perhaps it had been harder on Beth than Petra had realized. Petra had always thought she had been the one to sacrifice, to lose the people she loved to the King and his city. She’d never even considered what Beth had given to take down Scarlet.

She pushed the thoughts away. It didn’t matter. It was over now.

Beth’s voice was low, as though she didn’t trust herself to speak normally. “Are you all right?”

Ren grinned. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Cage rose to face Ren. There was no expression on his face. Ren looked back at him. Petra couldn’t tell what Ren was thinking as he looked at the man who had been responsible for the last few months, for the misery and pain he’d experienced. She’d always been able to tell what Ren was thinking in the past. She had known him as well as she had known himself. His time away had changed him.

“I’m sorry, Ren,” Cage told him. “I am sorry that it came to what it did. I am sorry you suffered.”

Ren eyed him a moment. Then he nodded shortly. He did not look as though he meant to forgive Cage anytime soon. Nevertheless, if he was contemplating revenge, it was not a sensible time to act upon it now.

“It was for the good of the Uprising,” Cage added.

Ren considered this. “I understand your reasons, Cage. You don’t have to explain it to me.”

Cage nodded. His face was as unreadable as always. If he truly regretted what he’d done to Ren, it didn’t show in his eyes.

Petra suspected he did. He was a ruthless man, but his reasons had been just in the end. He had, after all, led the people of Razor City to freedom. Perhaps he would have given anything to the cause; perhaps he had no qualms. Or perhaps every tiny sacrifice had felt like another knife in the gut. She would likely never know.

“We’re just trying to decide what to do now,” Beth told Ren. “Now the King and his people are out.”

At that moment, Grey strode into the room. He looked pale and drawn. They all turned to look at him. No one said anything for several seconds. Key must have had the time to warn Ren of the more shocking changes in the city; her brother didn’t look surprised to see Petra stride forward and take Grey’s hand. His expression was utterly blank.

“Grey, this is my brother, Ren,” she told him.

After a long, charged silence, Ren held out a hand for Grey to shake. Grey looked down at it in surprise. He looked as though he wasn’t quite sure whether to trust the polite gesture. He looked as though he was not entirely sure he wasn’t about to be shot on the spot by the leaders of the rebel army. Finally, he reached forward and shook Ren’s hand. They nodded tensely to each other.

“I’m glad you’re free,” Grey told him. His voice was hoarse, and his eyes looked red. Petra wanted to ask about his father, but she didn’t think it was the appropriate time or place.

“Thanks to you, I hear,” Ren replied. “If not for you, the Uprising would not have known the locations of the prisons and Scarlet’s other holdings.”

Grey looked down. He didn’t want credit for it. “Things had to change,” he said quietly. “My father had to be stopped.”

“How is he?” Beth asked. The others stiffened slightly, as though this were a touchy subject. Most of them probably wished he was dead.

“He’ll live. He’ll never walk normally again, if ever. But he will live. He has given up control of the city.”

“He didn’t have any choice in that,” Pablo reminded him. “His people are done.”

Grey nodded silently.

“So what now?” Ren asked, looking around at them.

“We pick up the pieces,” Grey replied. “We begin anew.”

They all looked at Cage. He was silent.

“What do we do, Cage?” Beth asked. “You are our leader.”

Cage sighed. He leaned back in his chair. They waited. Finally, he said simply, “No.”

“What?” Pablo demanded.

“No. I don’t want to be the leader.” His expression was as blank as ever. “I led the Uprising because there was no one else who was willing to do it. I don’t want to rule. I don’t want to lead. I have gotten what I want. Now I just want to be free.”

Grey scowled. “But those people out there, celebrating right now, they need someone to guide them now. They need to know where they are going. What happens next. They need to have a reason to reunite now and work together to build a new future for the city.”

They all looked at Grey. They considered him for a long moment. Then they looked at Cage.

“You have a vision for this city, Grey,” Cage said. “You want to see the people rule themselves. You want to see the sectors come together and have a voice. And you have the people who can help you do that here in this room and out there in the streets. But until then, the city need someone strong, someone who can use his influence and power. Someone who is connected to the old regime but rose above it for something better. The city needs you.”

Grey hesitated. He looked at Petra uncertainly. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”

“You were ready when you thought you had no choice. When you had no help,” she reminded him. “You were prepared to take out the entire regime yourself and start fresh.”

“I have seen you grow up, Dante.” Cage said. “I have seen what you are capable of. You have changed. Perhaps you have always had it in you. Your father had a vision once, too, and I believed in it. There was no one to keep him from becoming what he did. You have lots of people who can help you. You are the one who can take this city where it needs to go. You are the one who can lead us into that vision of yours.”

“I…” Grey frowned. “Do you think they would even accept me?”

This city was lost without a leader before. This was how your father was able to take control. They need someone to guide them. They need the person who was powerful enough to stop Scarlet.”

But what about someone they can trust?”

Do you think it matters? Do you think one of the King’s Nobles will be any more desirable than the prince? Do you think any of the rest of us would be better? We are no one to them. Without you, the Uprising could not have taken the city. They would not be free now. They will look at you as the person who stopped King Scarlet and the terrible things he’s done.”

“I have to think about it.”

“There is no time. Someone needs to go out and address the people. Someone needs to let them know there is nothing more to fear and that it is time to band together. That person needs to be you.”

Grey looked at Petra. For a moment, it was as though they were alone in the room. “What do I do?”

She smiled at him. She didn’t know the answer. She didn’t think she could decide for him. She didn’t even know if Cage was right.

“What if I…what if I become like my father? What if I let the power corrupt me like he did? What if I won’t let it go when it’s time to give it back?”

She squeezed his hand. “I’ll help you.”

“We will all be here,” Lux told him. “To advise you. To watch and keep you in line.” She smirked. “We’ll make sure you are a good leader. We won’t let you get away with becoming anything like your father. You’ve seen what we can do.”

Grey clutched his head in his hands. He shook his head. “I’m just a kid.”

“Then it’s time to become a man,” Cage replied cooly.

“Shouldn’t we vote on this or something? Just moments ago you were trying to decide whether or not to throw me in prison.”

Cage looked around at the assemblage. “Is anyone opposed to this?”

They all glanced at each other. Pablo didn’t look convinced, but he didn’t speak up. No one spoke up.

“I’ll take that as a no.”

Grey sighed. He looked at Petra. “Will you go with me?”

She smiled. “Sure.”

Cage stood. “It’s time. We have to address the people. Get ready.”

Grey looked almost ill. “I think I’m as ready as I will ever be.”

***

The media swarmed the palace. Citizens flooded the streets around them, anxiously awaiting the appearance of the mysterious rebel leader. The rumors of his identity had spread through the city, but only those inside the palace knew the truth. They would never know that it hadn’t been Prince Dante all along. They would never know that he felt as though is insides had turned to ice and his heart might leap right out of his chest. If he was lucky, they wouldn’t notice how his knees shook.

He hesitated on the steps outside the palace. The podium from which his father addressed the press seemed so far away, as though through the gauntlet of cameras and microphones and shouting, cheering people who would as soon fall upon him and rip him to shreds as defer to his leadership.

He sighed heavily. Then he squared his shoulders. He strode forward with his head held high. When he turned toward the congregation, a charged and tense silence fell. He took a deep breath. They all waited for him to speak. Cameras snapped in his face. Microphones shot up toward him.

It was time. It was his only chance. He’d better make it good.

“People of Razor City, you have nothing left to fear.” He looked around at them. Their faces were rapt and expectant. “My father, King Scarlet, is no longer in control of the city.”

It took several moments for the crowd to process this information. Though the news had already spread, it was as though his announcement had sealed all their fates. A low murmur passed through the crowd. Many of the people still looked hostile. They waited for more.

“Your family and friends are on their way home to you now. All the prisoners who were falsely accused of treason have been released.”

There was a sudden burst of noise from the crowd. The murmuring grew into a crescendo. Then the cheering began. It was deafening. Grey waited until it had quieted down.

“The King’s guards and Marshals have been disbanded. The police no longer work for him. You are safe, and you are free.”

He could hear the cheering as though it came from every part of the city. Every home, business and corner of the city seemed to be listening. And they were all rejoicing.

He lifted his hands. Silence fell again.

“From now on, things are going to be different. It will take time. My father’s rule was bloody and it was cruel. But Razor City will no longer be a place where people have to live in fear for their lives and their loved ones. The police and the Marshals will work for the people. They will protect them. The outlaws will no longer run rampant in the outlands. The city will become safe for everyone, and everyone will have a voice.

“I do not stand before you today to announce my rule of Razor City. I stand before you today to let you know that I will help you all rule yourselves. The people will have the chance to make their own choices. Together, we will make this city a place where we can all be safe and live together without fear of violence or a leader who would take your liberty to increase his own power.

“We have our work cut out for us. But if we all work together, we can fix what’s gone wrong in this city. We can take it back and make it whatever we want it to be. We can make it great. You might think you know me, but you don’t. But you will. My name is Grey. And I will take you all into the future.”

***

Later, at the sparkling new Razor City Hall…

Grey stood in front of the mirror in his father’s old office. It felt odd using the room. It felt odd without his father there, sitting behind his desk, conducting audiences and commanding the city as though the tall, leather desk chair were his throne room. His father wasn’t there anymore, and now it was Grey who sat behind the desk. It was Grey who led the city.

He still didn’t know how to tie a tie properly. He struggled with the knot. He cursed softly under his breath and spun away from the mirror. He punched a button on his desk. “Petra!”

She might have been waiting right outside the door. She was there in seconds. When she saw him, she pressed her hand to her mouth to stifle a laugh. He frowned at her. “Do you need help?”

“Yes.”

She smiled and strode toward him. “Hold still.” He didn’t know how she’d learned to tie a tie. When she did it, it looked easy. When she’d done, she spun him back to the mirror to admire his reflection. She smoothed his long, dark hair back from his face. “Are you nervous?”

“Yes.”

Her pale blue eyes twinkled. She didn’t look nervous at all. She looked cool and confident in a simple black dress. Her long, pale blonde hair was twisted at the back of her neck. She looked grown up. “You’ll be fine. You always do great at these things.”

He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. He smiled a little wanly. “That’s a matter of opinion, I think.”

“Oh, come on. Have a little faith in yourself. Everyone loves you.” She smiled and patted the tie on his chest. “You look great.”

He stepped closer to her. He leaned down to press his lips to hers. “So do you.” There was a knock on the door. It was soft and hesitant. Grey sighed and pulled away from Petra. “Yes. Come in.”

Claire strode into the room. She wasn’t wearing her maid’s uniform. Instead she wore a trim, black suit. She hadn’t worn the uniform since he’d liberated her and offered her a position as his assistant. She hadn’t wanted to take it at first, but she’d agreed in the end. She was remarkably good at it. He wasn’t sure the city would have survived without her. “Sir?”

He turned toward her and lifted an eyebrow. “Claire.”

She ducked her head. “Sorry, sir–Grey.”

He nodded. “What is it?”

“Mr. Cage is here to see you.”

Grey looked at Petra and sighed. “Here we go.” He smiled at Claire. “Thanks, Claire. Send him in.”

“Of course, s-Grey.” She gave him a tiny bow and spun out of the room.

Petra rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what you did to that girl, but I hope you make up for it one of these days. She’d be a lot better at her job if she wasn’t so terrified of her boss.”

Grey frowned. “I’m working on it. I think we’re making progress. She doesn’t squeak in fear anymore when I walk into a room, anyway.”

“Boy. Dante sounds like kind of a jerk.”

“He was.”

“Then I’m glad he’s gone.”

“You aren’t the only one.”

Cage didn’t bother to knock. He strode into the office. He looked as cool and serene as ever. He bobbed his head at Petra and looked at Grey. “Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Your tie is crooked.”

Grey gave Petra a disapproving look. She smirked and reached to straighten it. “It was straight before,” she told him in a low voice.

“The city prosecutor will be there. She wants to talk about the trial.”

He nodded. “I know.”

“Will you be all right?”

“Yes. I have to be. I knew this day would come.”

“You must show a strong face at this meeting, especially during this time. You have to stay firm and accept what the people decide. It will affect the election.”

Grey sighed. “I know.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I don’t suppose you’re planning to run against me?”

Cage snorted so softly, he barely made a sound. “You needn’t worry about that. I still don’t want to lead the city.” He stared silently at him for a long moment. “Are you sure you still do?”

“No.”

Cage smiled. “Good. It’s how it should be. You’ve done good things, Grey. You are seeing your vision for this city realized. You are the right man for the job.”

“But there are others, too, who would do good work. People with more experience and more wisdom than me. They might do better.”

“Well, it isn’t up to you. It’s up to the people.”

Petra checked her watch. “Guys, it’s time.”

The oval table in the conference room was already nearly full. When Grey, Cage and Petra strode into the room, the assemblage stood. Grey lifted his hands in greeting and directed them to sit. He felt foolish when they rose to greet him. It didn’t seem quite right. He wondered if his father had enjoyed it. He probably had.

“Welcome, everyone, to the first Razor City Council meeting. I see we have the representatives from all the sectors here, as well as the chief of police, the city prosecutor and the head of the city Marshal service. I’m glad you all could make it.”

He sat in the seat at the head of the table between Petra and Cage. He looked around at the gathering. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves. “I know you all have many questions and concerns, and I hope to address them all today. You’ll see the itinerary for the meeting has already been set. If there’s anything we’ve missed, please hold it until the end and we will take your questions and address your issues.”

They were all looking at him. They didn’t say anything. Grey glanced at Petra. She didn’t smile or nod at him, but there was something encouraging in her eyes. He felt better.

“If everyone is ready, we’ll take the first issue.” He glanced down at the itinerary on his desk. Claire had done a good job with it. “The representative from Sector 5, you have the floor.”

A tall, powerful looking woman in a black suit stood. She had short, dark hair and pale skin, but she reminded Petra a little of Lux. Perhaps it was the hard, non-nonsense look in her dark eyes. She looked strong and fierce. She probably had to be; Sector 5 was the outlands.

“Thank you, Grey. Anna Bane, Representative Sector 5. The outlands are still being overrun by the outlaws. Our patrols are systematically gathering and arresting the wanted fugitives, but they aren’t keen on the new regime entering their territory. Some of the Marshals who have been caught out alone in the streets have disappeared.”

Grey frowned. “That’s troubling.” He turned to the tall, thickly muscled man on the other side of the table. “Mr. Wolf, do you have any thoughts on this?”

The Marshal inclined his head. “We need more resources in that area. Greater police presence and more patrols. We have lost three men. Two of them have returned, but we are still missing one. We fear the worst.”

“The outlaws are still running wild, despite the regime change,” Anna Bane added. “I propose we approve a systematic search of all the dwellings in the sector for fugitives.”

This caused a stir among the representatives. Grey frowned. “This is against city policy. It’s a violation of our people’s liberties.”

Anna frowned. “This isn’t the old United States, Grey. There is no Constitution anymore to prevent us from fighting the rampant crime that is still flourishing in our city.”

Grey shook his head. “That is not the way I intend to run this city. I’m sorry, Anna.”

“In some cases, the fugitives are wanted based on the old regime’s laws,” Cage put in. “We would be robbing innocent people who’d done nothing wrong of their freedom to live their lives in peace and privacy.”

“There is no peace in the outlands,” Anna replied.

“Then we will assign more resources to your sector, Anna,” Grey told her. “We can shuffle some of the unneeded patrols in the less populated and less concerning areas of the city. We will do the very best we can, but we can’t lose sight of what we are trying to do here. We’re trying to prevent creating a new regime in which we can declare martial law and rob our people of their basic freedoms. Mr. Wolf, can you assure me that no Marshals will be patrolling one their own? I don’t want to lose any more men.”

Wolf inclined his head. “Nor do we. We will reevaluate our patrols and assign them accordingly.

“In regard to the fugitives, do we have a plan to address the issue of those who should be pardoned?”

Police Chief Younger raised his hand to speak. “Our people are working on it. We have removed several dozen people from the most wanted list based on their alleged crimes, but it is difficult to sort through all the records. We hope to have the list updated soon.”

Grey nodded. “What about the bounty hunters?” Randall Wiley, the representative from Sector 2 asked. “Can’t they help in the outlands? The bounty hunter system has always been effective in reducing the outlaw population. They are willing to go where the patrols are not.”

“They often operate outside the confines of the law,” Chief Younger said, frowning. “We are still experiencing an influx of hunters entering uninvited to drag out fugitives.”

Grey considered this. “I am inclined to allow the bounty hunters to continue their work. Most of them follow the code, and they are effective in bringing in fugitives.”

Anna lifted her chin. “I am willing to allow the bounty hunters in to clean up my sector.”

“They’re still busy rounding up the Nobles who are in hiding,” Petra put in. “I don’t think they’re interested in small fish right now.”

“And they have done very well in bringing in the remnants of the old regime,” Chief Younger said. “We have assigned a task force to deal with the Nobles and Scarlet’s supporters. They are a full time job on their own.”

“So, what am I to do in Sector 5?” Anna demanded.

“We will get you more people to patrol your streets. We will move as many as we can,” Grey told her. “A stronger presence in the streets might prevent opportunity street crimes. As long as the outlaws remain in their homes, we are unable to invade their privacy. On the other hand, if they remain in their homes, they are less likely to be committing crimes.”

Anna didn’t look entirely satisfied with this, but she finally nodded. Petra looked at her. “I know someone who might be able to help you. Our compound’s head of security has trained an entire army, and she is in contact with some of the old Uprising militia members. Perhaps what we need is a street militia to deal with the task of rounding up the outlaws.”

Grey looked at her in surprise. “A street militia?”

She smiled. “Who act within the confines of the law, as you say.”

He considered this. He looked at Wolf and Younger. “Do you have any thoughts on this, gentlemen?”

They thought about it. “It wouldn’t hurt,” Wolf said. “At least until we have control of the outlands. It would be no different from the bounty hunter system.”

Grey looked around at the assemblage. “Anna, is this sufficient for you?”

She thought about it. Finally, she nodded. “I think we should put this to a vote,” Danny Chang, the representative from Sector 3 put in. “If we sanction a street militia, how can we be sure they won’t abuse their power and march on the other sectors?”

“Their authority will extend only to the outlands and with respect to the fugitives,” Petra replied.

Grey looked around. “All in favor of installing a temporary street militia in the outlands?”

Most of the table raised their hands. Grey nodded. “Petra, get Lux into contact with Anna and Wolf.” He looked back down at his list. “Onto the next item, then.”

The rest of the issues were more mundane: the quality of the drinking water; deciding what to do with the newly empty prisons and buildings around the city; public transportation; public schools, and appointing the headmaster of the lost children’s home. Running a city, Grey had realized early on, was not as exciting as he would have expected. Most of it was tedious and time consuming.

Many of the representatives wanted to talk about money. Much of his time had been spent redistributing the money the King’s people had seized from the accused. Scarlet had amassed a fortune during his reign, and most of it rightly belonged to someone else. Grey had set up a fund for the accused from his father’s money and the money of the Nobles who had profited from the accused and their families, and he had been trying to make reparations. It took time to sort through all the claims.

Tru Haven, the representative from Sector 1, raised her hand. “The city center and the outlands are still overrun with violence. I want to make a proposal that we outlaw guns in Razor City.”

This caused quite a stir. The representatives and the guests began arguing loudly. Some of them liked the idea of taking the guns away from outlaws. Others wanted to be able to protect themselves. Grey listened to them for several moments. Finally, he stood and faced them. “This is a serous issue, and we should take the time to share it with the people and get their thoughts. I agree that outlawing guns would seriously decrease the violence, especially in the outlands, but there is a lot to consider. If we outlaw guns, police and Marshals will still need to carry them for protection.”

“The bounty hunters won’t like it,” Petra said.

“It might not actually be a bad idea,” Cage remarked.

“What are you talking about?” Petra asked him quietly. “You have tons of guns. You don’t want to give them up.”

For a moment, his mouth twitched, but then he shrugged.

“I think this is an issue we should take to a city wide vote,” Grey said. “Furthermore, I propose we table it until after the election. It’s not a decision we should make lightly, and I think it would be best to wait until the people have made their decision about who will lead them.”

The assemblage didn’t seem to like it one way or another, but they agreed.

“Is there anything else?”

Now Erika Brana, the city prosecutor rose. She was a tall, slender woman with long, wavy dark hair. She looked grim. Grey suspected he wasn’t going to like what she had to say. “The trials for Scarlet and the Nobles begin next week.”

“Yes, I have heard.”

“We’re afraid it will be difficult to find impartial jurors,” Chief Younger added.

Grey thought about this. “We will have to trust our citizens to act responsibly.”

“They are all guilty,” Danny Chang put in. “There is plenty of proof. The jury will not have much to decide upon. They already know.”

“That is not the way the justice system works,” Erika said, frowning.

“There is no justice system anymore,” Anna Bane argued. “All that ended after the war. Why are we even bothering to try them? Why not just put them to death?”

Grey frowned. “Because that is what is old regime used to do. We are going to do things fairly. We will do what we can to give them a fair trial.”

“Grey, we need to discuss whether or not executions will continue in Razor City,” Erika said. “Do we wish to seek execution in these trials?”

Grey was silent a long moment. “I do not believe I can be trusted to make such a decision, Erika,” he said finally. “I cannot be considered objective in this case. Despite his crimes, I do not wish to see my father dead.”

“Perhaps we should give the people the chance to decide,” Tru Haven said. “Call a city wide vote.”

“There isn’t enough time for that,” Erika replied. “It would take too long to organize it, and we would have to put the trials off. No one wants that.”

Grey sighed. “We have to put it to a vote, then. We have to decide.”

Cage rose. “We should think about this rationally before we make an emotional decision based on what Scarlet and his Nobles have done to this city. We all want to see justice, but we have to ask ourselves if we are willing to start our new lives by killing the old regime. Showing mercy to the King and his people would be a message to the people that things have changed. We will punish the guilty, but an eye for an eye is the way of the old regime.”

They all thought about this. “But Scarlet and his people reigned in terror. They killed hundreds of innocent people. They deserve to get paid back in turn,” Danny said.

“Violence is not the answer, Danny,” Tru told him. “This is the defining moment of the new regime. The way we handle this will decide what sort of city we’ll have in the future.”

“Yes, and we don’t want to appear weak in front of the people. We want to prove we are strong enough to control the city,” Danny replied.

“Showing mercy is not a weakness,” Cage argued. “Scarlet and his people showed they were strong through violence and imprisonment. If we decide to execute them, we are showing that we are dangerously close to becoming exactly the same.”

They all thought about this. No one else argued. “Are we prepared to put it to a vote?” Grey asked. He looked around at them. He lifted his chin, but his eyes were stormy. “All in favor of execution.”

Danny, Brana, Younger and Wolf raised their hands. No one else did. The four were not enough. Grey’s let out a long breath he didn’t realize he was holding. He’d at least expected a tie. He was surprised Anna hadn’t raised her hand, but perhaps she was not as cold and vengeful as she seemed. Perhaps she, too, simply wanted to live in a world where no one had to live in fear for their lives.

Those who had voted for execution didn’t argue, but they did not look satisfied. Brana nodded a little curtly. “Fine. We will seek life imprisonment.”

“This decision will send a positive message to the people,” Cage said. “We are a society who punishes the guilty, but we show mercy.”

Grey found his voice again. He looked around. “The final issue on the agenda is the election for city leader. Representatives, do you have candidates to present from your sectors?”

Tru spoke first. “Yes. We held sector-wide elections. Individuals were nominated by the people, and the nominees were voted on. The Sector 1 candidate is Neil Burns.”

“The former city councilman from before the war?” Younger said.

Tru nodded. “He is a good man, and he is popular among the people.”

Grey had expected the representatives to challenge him for city leader. None of them did. Anna presented Hansel Graves, a well-known bounty hunter. Danny presented Marshal Wolf.

Grey looked at him in slight surprise. “I hadn’t realized you had designs on the city leadership.”

Wolf smiled. “Are you concerned, prince?”

Grey wasn’t offended by this. “I only want what’s best for the city.” He looked around. “Are there any other nominees?”

Randall Wiley lifted his hand. “Sector 2 presents Victor Harrington.”

“Scarlet’s business manager?”

“Harrington worked for Scarlet before the war. He was not part of the regime.”

“How can he have worked for Scarlet and not have been part of his empire?”

“Simply working for Scarlet is not proof of guilt,” Randall argued. “He handled his export business, but he was not a Noble. He was just trying to stay alive. He was quite gifted in his position, and he was skilled at keeping out of Scarlet’s line of fire.”

They all considered. “If there is no reason to believe he is guilty of crimes, he is as welcome to run for leader as anyone else,” Grey said. “Campaigning will begin right away. It promises to be a very exciting race. It will, at the least, be a learning experience for the city and the regime.”

“But you have not announced your candidacy, Grey,” Anna said.

He looked around at them, then at Cage and finally at Petra. She smiled at him. “I have not been nominated,” he said finally.

“But you are the incumbent. You do not have to be nominated,” Cage told him.

Tru rose. “I nominate Grey for city leader.”

He looked at her in surprise. He hadn’t even fully decided whether he would run.

“I second the nomination,” Anna said.

“All in favor?” Petra said quickly, before he could change his mind.

Everyone at the table raised their hands. Grey looked around at them for a moment. Finally, he smiled wanly. “Well. I suppose it looks like I’ll be running, too.”

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