Wildcard by Marie LuWildcard by Marie Lu

Wildcard

byMarie Lu

Hardcover | September 18, 2018

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An Instant New York Times Bestseller!

Return to the immersive, action-packed world of Warcross in this thrilling sequel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Marie Lu


Emika Chen barely made it out of the Warcross Championships alive. Now that she knows the truth behind Hideo's new NeuroLink algorithm, she can no longer trust the one person she's always looked up to, who she once thought was on her side.

Determined to put a stop to Hideo's grim plans, Emika and the Phoenix Riders band together, only to find a new threat lurking on the neon-lit streets of Tokyo. Someone's put a bounty on Emika's head, and her sole chance for survival lies with Zero and the Blackcoats, his ruthless crew. But Emika soon learns that Zero isn't all that he seems--and his protection comes at a price.

Caught in a web of betrayal, with the future of free will at risk, just how far will Emika go to take down the man she loves?

In this explosive sequel to the New York Times bestselling Warcross, Marie Lu delivers an addictive finale that will hold you captive till the very last page.
Marie Lu is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites series, as well as the blockbuster bestselling Legend series. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry as an artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing games, and gett...
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Title:WildcardFormat:HardcoverDimensions:352 pages, 8.5 × 5.88 × 1 inPublished:September 18, 2018Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399547991

ISBN - 13:9780399547997

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing! Normally I don't read books in the YA genre because I usually find the books have a love story in them that isn't much fun. However, this book, is pretty amazing. It's super cool to imagine the world Marie Lu has written out for you because of its detail and its interesting technology that you wouldn't be able to come up with. The second book is so much different from the first book, but it's exactly what you need because you're able to really understand the world these books are talking about because of the breadth of information about this world that is contained in these two novels!
Date published: 2019-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Finale Things I know: 1. The cover looks a lot better in person. 2. This was a bucket of fun Warcross was one of my favourite reads last year, and Wildcard was a worthy sequel. It was fun, inventive and highly unpredictable. I'm actually surprised by how twisty this was! When I started it, I thought I knew which team I was supposed to be on. But as the story progressed and more details come to light, black and white became grey very quickly. It made it much more exciting. That said, what made the first book a five-star was kind of missing from this one. Mainly the Warcross games. We didn't really get to dive into what the Neurolink could do, and that bummed me out a bit. I also thought it was a bit shy on Emika's hacker skills. It's what I loved so much about her in the first, and it was lacking here. I also don't recall Hideo and Emika's relationship being quite so ... tragic. I really liked the direction this story went though, delving into Zero and Hideo's brother. It was really quite heart-breaking and added to the unpredictability of the plot. I also enjoyed how it ended. It was relatively realistic and very satisfying.
Date published: 2019-01-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Futuristic, Fast-Paced, Ingenious Book Warcross, the prequel to Wildcard, was one of my FAVOURITE books of last year. Marie Lu managed to BLOW ME AWAY with her stunning world, the plot filled with twists and turns and mostly, Hideo and Emika. I didn’t know what to expect after the cover was so… underwhelming, but THE BOOK WAS JUST JAW-DROPPING PERFECTION. I was so nervous going into Wildcard because it’s HARD for sequels to meet expectations, but Marie Lu is a BRILLIANT WRITER and she somehow managed to keep the pace, the romance, the friendship, the game, technology and virtual reality on par with Warcross AND ALSO managed to end it in a satisfying manner. On another, not so zen note, I NEED ABOUT EIGHT MORE BOOKS IN THIS WORLD, CENTRED AROUND Roshan and Tremaine or Asher and Hammie with Hideo and Emika in the background because I love EVERYTHING about this futuristic world. MY THOUGHTS: 1. Wildcard is such a visually appealing book, especially the hardcover. I LOVE the green, black and blue combination! (Sorry. My amateur/ constantly learning graphic designer sensibilities comes out all the time now and is currently making me type this out.) 2. There was SO MUCH I loved about this book, but especially the world-building and pace. The descriptions of what the Neuro-Link, Warcross and Tokyo in general were so futuristic and magical that it was hard not to get sucked in and lose all sense of time and physical surroundings. 3. I LOVED the friendship between the Phoenix Riders, Hammie, Asher and Roshan in particular. They were such loyal, all-in friends and truly amazing characters. I also ADORED Roshan and Tremaine. 4. I went into Wildcard thinking I had all the information I needed and that there would be no twists, because almost everything had been revealed in Warcross, but I WAS SO WRONG. We learnt almost nothing of what really happened all those years ago in the prequel and as Marie Lu un-spun her tale, I kept flipping the pages in shock and awe because, trust me, if you’ve read Warcross, YOU WOULD’VE NEVER SEEN THIS COMING. 5. I’ll just end with saying that Hideo and Emika are life, and I LOVED the way this book ended. Would I recommend it? YES! With the duology complete, it’s the PERFECT time to dive into Marie Lu’s best series to date. A futuristic, fast-paced, gorgeously plotted novel with characters and twists that will make you remember why you fell in love reading in the first place! 5 stars to this book and this series.
Date published: 2018-11-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Most Exciting End! While I haven't been dying to read Wildcard it has been a most anticipated book for me this year. Warcross really opened my eyes. Yes, I know there have been a few futuristic novels before this duology came along (most notably Ready Player One) but my first taste was with Warcross so I was majorly impressed! Wildcard picks up shortly where Warcross left off. Emika is racing against time to stop Hideo from gaining total control of the population through his NeuroLink. The story was super stimulating. I could never anticipate what the next move would be. The chase scenes, the technical maneuvers and the emotional conflicts all heightened the already high stakes. Tension and chaos permeated the atmosphere. This duology would make a pretty awesome big screen adaptation! Marie Lu really made me care for her characters. Emika has had to make some difficult choices but she stood firm in what she believed in. The Phoenix Riders were amazing with their unwavering support. Hideo was harder to predict but I will say he lived up to my expectations. Even though they were on opposing sides throughout Wildcard, Emika and Hideo's stolen moments made me happy. More than anyone else the two of them deserve happiness! It was quite heartbreaking to learn of what happened to Sasuke. Hearing it reminded me of this Chinese drama I used to love when I was younger. What a twist Zero turned out to be. His real form blew my mind. I honestly wouldn't have thought to think of it. A big round of applause to Marie Lu! Wildcard is a fantastic finale. It cleaned up all the loose threads while leaving some things open to our imagination. If you're a reader and a gamer then this duology will definitely appeal to you. It was eye-opening for me even though I'm not much of a player!
Date published: 2018-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from As incredible as its prequel! 4.5 ⭐️ Marie Lu said it herself in her acknowledgements, Wildcard is that kid who always gets called to the principal’s office. It wasn’t perfect, and there are many things that could have been explored deeper (mainly the 3 pairs: Jax and Sasuke, Roshan and Tremaine, Hammie and Asher). But it’s still a pretty good ending. There are as many twists and turns in Wildcard as there were in Warcross. Emika is facing something much bigger than herself and needs all the help she can get to unravel the mysteries of the NeuroLink. Some allies are unexpected, as are the real enemies. I remember finishing Warcross and being so mad at Hideo for what he did. I am still a bit mad at him, but Marie Lu makes you understand why he ended up there and you slowly realize that he plotted all this when he was a teenager. Teenagers don’t think clearly. And Hideo having gone through his brother’s disappearrance obviously had a big trauma that did not help his decision-making skills. There’s plenty of action in this book to content all the sci-fi fans, while those who crave more character development will be served. While Hideo was the brother we focussed on more in the first book, Zero has the biggest arc here. His allegeance is ambiguous until the very end, and you never really know what he’ll do until you finally meet Sasuke. A very good ending to a duology that retains its #1 spot in my heart for videogame stories.
Date published: 2018-11-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Awesome! This was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw mixed reviews but I still wanted to see for myself how this duology ended. I really had no idea how this story was going to pick up after Warcross and I was so surprised! The mystery of Zero was definitely more complicated than I could have have guessed, it was so crazy. We finally get a bit more character development from Hammie, Roshan, Asher and Tremaine as well. Jacks was a new character who I liked, I really enjoyed her ending. Even with everything that Hideo did in the first book as well I was still rotting for him and Emika to be together. This is a pretty quick series to read and I would recommend it if you enjoyed Marie Lu's other books. It also has some Ready Player One vibes, but it's a lot more tame.
Date published: 2018-10-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMAZING!!! I've been waiting for this sequel for sooooo long, and I can't tell you how happy I am that it's here. My hopes were pretty high, given how the last book ended... and I was not disappointed! The story started off a little slow, focusing more on characters and build-up, all so it can explode in the middle. From there, it's a wild ride that had me flipping pages so I could find out what happened next. The story was completely fantastic and beautiful with its emotion. I could literally feel my heart pound near the end, and everything turned out the way it needed to. I was very happy to learn more about all the beloved side characters and their pasts, as well as new and complicated character, Jax. But of course, the two main leads, Emika and Hideo, shone in the spotlight. Emika is always going to be my most favourite rainbow-haired hacker, and Hideo's emotional and mental torment is always a wonderful thing to read. They were almost over shone by Zero and his tragic backstory. Almost... but I may have been playing favourites. The world is always fantastic and I really don't want to leave it behind. The pacing is spot on and the action is always intense and thrilling. I really can't recommend this duology enough to lovers of cyberpunk, strong women, romance, and fierce bonds of friendship. It's truly one of a kind!
Date published: 2018-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wildcard did not disappoint Wildcard did not disappoint, at all. Marie Lu has a brilliant writing style and the ability to craft an interesting, original world and cast of characters. I loved this story, the constant plot twists, and I loved having the chance to learn more about Emika, Hideo, Sasuke and the other characters. I cannot wait to read more books by Marie Lu in the future. If you loved Warcross, chances are you will love this one too; I know I did.
Date published: 2018-09-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exciting! These covers look so good, cannot wait for the second instalment in the Warcross series!
Date published: 2018-08-10

Read from the Book

1   Eight Days until the Warcross Closing Ceremony       Someone is watching me. I can feel it—the eerie sensation of being followed, an invisible gaze locked on my back. It prickles my skin, and as I make my way through Tokyo’s rain-soaked streets to meet up with the Phoenix Riders, I keep looking over my shoulder. People hurry by in a steady stream of colorful umbrellas and business suits, heels and oversize coats. I can’t stop imagining their downcast faces all turned in my direction, no matter which way I go. Maybe it’s the paranoia that comes with years of being a bounty hunter. You’re on a crowded street, I tell myself. No one’s following you. It’s been three days since Hideo’s algorithm was triggered. Technically, the world should now be the safest it’s ever been. Every single person who has used the new Henka Games contact lenses—even just once—should now be completely under Hideo’s control, rendered unable to break the law or harm another person. Only the few who still use the beta lenses, like me, are unaffected. So, in theory, I shouldn’t be worried about someone following me. The algorithm won’t let them do anything to hurt me. But even as I think this, I slow down to stare at the long line wrapping around a local police station. There must be hundreds of people. They’re all turning themselves in to the authorities for anything and everything unlawful they’ve ever done, from unpaid parking tickets to petty theft—even murder. It’s been like this for the past three days. My attention shifts to a police barricade at the end of the street. They’re directing us to detour down a different block. Ambulance lights flash against the walls, illuminating a covered gurney being lifted into the vehicle. I only need to catch a glimpse of officers pointing up at the roof of a nearby building before I figure out what occurred here. Another criminal must have jumped to their death. Suicides like this have been peppering the news. And I helped make all of this happen. I swallow my unease and turn away. There’s a subtle but significant blankness in everyone’s eyes. They don’t know an artificial hand is inside their minds, bending their free will. Hideo’s hand. The reminder is enough to make me pause in the middle of the street and close my eyes. My fists clench and unclench, even as my heart lurches at his name. I’m such an idiot. How can the thought of him fill me with disgust and desire at the same time? How can I stare in horror at this line of people waiting in the rain outside a police station—but still blush at my dream of being in Hideo’s bed, running my hands along his back? We’re over. Forget him. I open my eyes again and continue on, trying to contain the anger beating in my chest. By the time I duck into the heated halls of a Shinjuku shopping center, rain is coming down in wavy sheets, smearing the reflections of neon lights against the slick pavement. Not that the storm is stopping preparations for the upcoming Warcross closing ceremony, which will mark the end of this year’s games. With my beta lenses on, I can see the roads and sidewalks color-coded in hues of scarlet and gold. Each Tokyo district is highlighted like this right now, the streets shaded the colors of the most popular team in that neighborhood. Overhead, a lavish display of virtual fireworks is going off, piercing the dark sky with bursts of colored light. Shinjuku district’s favorite team is the Phoenix Riders, so the fireworks here are currently forming the shape of a rising phoenix, arching its flaming neck in a cry of victory. Every day over the next week or so, the top ten players of this year’s championships will be announced worldwide after a vote by all Warcross fans. Those ten players will compete in a final, all-star tournament during the closing ceremony, and then spend a year as the biggest celebrities in the world before they play again next spring, in the opening ceremony’s game. Like the one I once hacked into and disrupted, that upended my entire life and landed me here. People on the streets are proudly dressed up as their top-ten vote this year. I see a few Asher lookalikes sporting his outfit from our championship game in the White World; someone’s decked out as Jena, another as Roshan. Still others are arguing heatedly about the Final. There had obviously been a cheat—power-ups that shouldn’t have been in play. Of course, I had done that. I adjust my face mask, letting my rainbow hair tumble out from underneath my red raincoat’s hood. My rain boots squelch against the sidewalk. I have a randomized virtual face laid over my own, so at least people who are wearing their NeuroLink glasses or contacts will look at me and see a complete stranger. For the rare person who isn’t, the face mask should cover enough to make me blend in with everyone else wearing masks on the street. “Sugoi!” someone passing me exclaims, and when I turn, I see a pair of wide-eyed girls grinning at my hair. Their Japanese words translate into English in my view. “Wow! Good Emika Chen costume!” They make a gesture like they want to take a photo of me, and I play along, putting up my hands in V-for-victory signs. Are you both under Hideo’s control, too? I wonder. The girls bob their heads in thanks and move along. I adjust my electric skateboard strapped over my shoulder. It’s a good temporary disguise, pretending to be myself, but for someone used to stalking others, I still feel weirdly exposed.   Emi! Almost here?   Hammie’s message appears before me as translucent white text, cutting through my tension. I smile instinctively and quicken my steps.   Almost.   It would’ve been easier, you know, if you’d just come with us.   I cast a glance over my shoulder again. It would’ve definitely been easier—but the last time I stayed in the same space as my teammates, Zero nearly killed us in an explosion.   I’m not an official Rider anymore. People would ask questions if they saw us heading out as a group tonight.   But you’d be safer if you did.   It’s safer if I didn’t.   I can practically hear her sigh. She sends the address of the bar again.   See you soon.   I pass through the mall and out the other side. Here, the colorful blocks of Shinjuku shift into the seedy streets of Kabukichō, Tokyo’s red-light district. I tense my shoulders. It’s not an unsafe area—certainly not compared to where I came from in New York—but the walls are covered with glowing screens featuring the services of beautiful girls and handsome, spiky-haired boys, along with shadier banners I don’t want to understand. Virtual models dressed in scanty outfits stand outside bars, beckoning visitors to enter. They ignore me when they realize my profile marks me as a foreigner and turn their attention to the more lucrative Japanese locals navigating the streets. Still, I pick up my pace. No red-light district in the world is safe. I duck into a narrow street on the border of Kabukichō. Piss Alley, so this cluster of little walkways is called. The Riders picked it for tonight because it’s closed to tourists during the Warcross championship season. Scowling bodyguards in suits stand at the entrances and exits of the alleys, shooing away curious passersby. I take down my disguise for a second so they can see my real identity. One bodyguard bows his head and lets me in. Both sides of the alleys are lined with tiny sake bars and yakitori stands. Through each of their fogged glass doors, I can see the backs of other teams huddled in front of smoking grills, arguing loudly at virtual projections on the walls showing interviews with players. The scent of fresh rain mixes with aromas of garlic, miso, and fried meat. I pull off my raincoat, shake it out, and fold it inside out into my backpack. Then I head to the last stall. This bar is a little bigger than the others, facing a quiet alley blocked off on either side. Its doorway is lit by a row of cheery red lanterns, and men in suits stand in strategic positions around it. One of them notices me and moves aside, ushering me forward. I walk under the lanterns and enter through the sliding glass door. A curtain of warm air envelops me.   Checked into Midnight Sense Bar! +500 Points. Daily Score: +950 Level 36 |  N120,064   I find myself standing in a cozy room with a handful of filled seats arranged around a bar, where a chef is busy putting out bowls of ramen. He pauses to call out my arrival. A round of greetings hits me as everyone turns in my direction. There’s Hammie, our Thief, and Roshan, our Shield. Asher, our Captain, is sitting on one of the stools with his stylish wheelchair folded behind him. Even Tremaine, who technically plays for the Demon Brigade, is here. He keeps his elbows propped up on the bar as he nods at me through the steam rising from his bowl. He’s sitting away from Roshan, who’s fiddling with a bracelet of prayer beads on his wrist and making a point of ignoring his former boyfriend. My team. My friends. The eerie feeling of being watched subsides as I take in their faces. Hammie waves me over. I slide gratefully into the empty stool beside her. The chef puts down a bowl of ramen before me and steps out to give us privacy. “The whole city’s celebrating,” I mutter. “People have no idea what Hideo’s done.” She starts pulling her curls tight into a thick pouf high on her head. Then she juts her chin at a virtual screen playing footage from the Final against the wall. “You’re just in time,” she replies. “Hideo’s about to make his announcement.” We stare at the screen as Hammie pours me a cup of tea. It now shows a room of reporters with their faces turned toward a massive stage, all waiting impatiently for Hideo to arrive. Kenn, the Warcross creative director, and Mari Nakamura, Henka Games’ chief operating officer, are already there, whispering to each other. The room on the screen suddenly bursts into commotion as Hideo walks onstage. He straightens the lapels of his suit jacket once as he strides over to join his companions, shaking hands as he goes with his usual cool, careful grace. Even the sight of him onscreen feels as overwhelming as if he’d walked right into this bar. All I see is the same boy I’ve watched my whole life, the face I’d stop to look for at newsstands and take in on TV. I dig my nails into the counter, trying not to show how embarrassingly weak it makes me feel. Hammie notices. She casts me a sympathetic glance. “No one expects you to be over him already,” she says. “I know he’s trying to take over the world and all, but he still rocks a suit harder than a Balmain catwalk.” Asher scowls. “I’m right here.” “I didn’t say I wanted to date him,” Hammie replies, reaching over to pat Asher’s cheek once. I look on as Hideo and Kenn talk in low voices and wonder how much Kenn and Mari know about Hideo’s plans. Has the entire company been in on this all along? Is it possible to keep such a thing secret? Would that many people take part in something so awful? “As you all know,” Hideo begins, “a cheat was activated during the Final of this year’s championship that benefited one team—the Phoenix Riders—over the other—Team Andromeda. After reviewing the matter with our creative team”—he pauses to glance at Kenn—“it seems the cheat was activated not by one of the players, but by an outside party. We’ve decided the best way to resolve this, then, is to hold an official rematch between Team Andromeda and the Phoenix Riders, four days from today. This will be followed by the closing ceremony four days later.” An instant buzz of conversation fills the room at Hideo’s words. Asher leans back and frowns at the screen. “Well, it’s happening,” he says to us all. “An official rematch. We’ve got three days to get ready.” Hammie slurps up a mouthful of noodles. “An official rematch,” she echoes, although there’s no enthusiasm in her voice. “Never happened in the history of the championships.” “Gonna be a lot of Phoenix Rider haters out there,” Tremaine adds. Already, a few shouts of “Cheaters!” can be clearly heard from the other bars outside. Asher shrugs. “Nothing we haven’t faced before. Isn’t that right, Blackbourne?” Tremaine’s expression is blank. The excitement of the new game is lost on all of us as we continue to stare at the screen. A rematch isn’t the big news. If only those reporters knew what Hideo was really doing with the NeuroLink. I’m tired of the horror in the world, he’d said to me. So I will force it to end. “Well,” Roshan begins, rubbing a hand across his face, “if Hideo’s bothered by anything that’s happened in the last few days, he’s not showing it.” Tremaine’s concentrating on something invisible in his view and tapping rapidly against the bar. A few weeks ago, I would’ve bristled at being in the same room as him. He still isn’t my favorite person, and I keep wai a covered gurney being lifted into the vehicle. I only need to catch a glimpse of officers pointing up at the roof of a nearby building before I figure out what occurred here. Another criminal must have jumped to their death. Suicides like this have been peppering the news. And I helped make all of this happen. I swallow my unease and turn away. There’s a subtle but significant blankness in everyone’s eyes. They don’t know an artificial hand is inside their minds, bending their free will. Hideo’s hand. The reminder is enough to make me pause in the middle of the street and close my eyes. My fists clench and unclench, even as my heart lurches at his name. I’m such an idiot. How can the thought of him fill me with disgust and desire at the same time? How can I stare in horror at this line of people waiting in the rain outside a police station—but still blush at my dream of being in Hideo’s bed, running my hands along his back? We’re over. Forget him. I open my eyes again and continue on, trying to contain the anger beating in my chest. By the time I duck into the heated halls of a Shinjuku shopping center, rain is coming down in wavy sheets, smearing the reflections of neon lights against the slick pavement. Not that the storm is stopping preparations for the upcoming Warcross closing ceremony, which will mark the end of this year’s games. With my beta lenses on, I can see the roads and sidewalks color-coded in hues of scarlet and gold. Each Tokyo district is highlighted like this right now, the streets shaded the colors of the most popular team in that neighborhood. Overhead, a lavish display of virtual fireworks is going off, piercing the dark sky with bursts of colored light. Shinjuku district’s favorite team is the Phoenix Riders, so the fireworks here are currently forming the shape of a rising phoenix, arching its flaming neck in a cry of victory. Every day over the next week or so, the top ten players of this year’s championships will be announced worldwide after a vote by all Warcross fans. Those ten players will compete in a final, all-star tournament during the closing ceremony, and then spend a year as the biggest celebrities in the world before they play again next spring, in the opening ceremony’s game. Like the one I once hacked into and disrupted, that upended my entire life and landed me here. People on the streets are proudly dressed up as their top-ten vote this year. I see a few Asher lookalikes sporting his outfit from our championship game in the White World; someone’s decked out as Jena, another as Roshan. Still others are arguing heatedly about the Final. There had obviously been a cheat—power-ups that shouldn’t have been in play. Of course, I had done that. I adjust my face mask, letting my rainbow hair tumble out from underneath my red raincoat’s hood. My rain boots squelch against the sidewalk. I have a randomized virtual face laid over my own, so at least people who are wearing their NeuroLink glasses or contacts will look at me and see a complete stranger. For the rare person who isn’t, the face mask should cover enough to make me blend in with everyone else wearing masks on the street. “Sugoi!” someone passing me exclaims, and when I turn, I see a pair of wide-eyed girls grinning at my hair. Their Japanese words translate into English in my view. “Wow! Good Emika Chen costume!” They make a gesture like they want to take a photo of me, and I play along, putting up my hands in V-for-victory signs. Are you both under Hideo’s control, too? I wonder. The girls bob their heads in thanks and move along. I adjust my electric skateboard strapped over my shoulder. It’s a good temporary disguise, pretending to be myself, but for someone used to stalking others, I still feel weirdly exposed.   Emi! Almost here?   Hammie’s message appears before me as translucent white text, cutting through my tension. I smile instinctively and quicken my steps.   Almost.   It would’ve been easier, you know, if you’d just come with us.   I cast a glance over my shoulder again. It would’ve definitely been easier—but the last time I stayed in the same space as my teammates, Zero nearly killed us in an explosion.   I’m not an official Rider anymore. People would ask questions if they saw us heading out as a group tonight.   But you’d be safer if you did.   It’s safer if I didn’t.   I can practically hear her sigh. She sends the address of the bar again.   See you soon.   I pass through the mall and out the other side. Here, the colorful blocks of Shinjuku shift into the seedy streets of Kabukichō, Tokyo’s red-light district. I tense my shoulders. It’s not an unsafe area—certainly not compared to where I came from in New York—but the walls are covered with glowing screens featuring the services of beautiful girls and handsome, spiky-haired boys, along with shadier banners I don’t want to understand. Virtual models dressed in scanty outfits stand outside bars, beckoning visitors to enter. They ignore me when they realize my profile marks me as a foreigner and turn their attention to the more lucrative Japanese locals navigating the streets. Still, I pick up my pace. No red-light district in the world is safe. I duck into a narrow street on the border of Kabukichō. Piss Alley, so this cluster of little walkways is called. The Riders picked it for tonight because it’s closed to tourists during the Warcross championship season. Scowling bodyguards in suits stand at the entrances and exits of the alleys, shooing away curious passersby. I take down my disguise for a second so they can see my real identity. One bodyguard bows his head and lets me in. Both sides of the alleys are lined with tiny sake bars and yakitori stands. Through each of their fogged glass doors, I can see the backs of other teams huddled in front of smoking grills, arguing loudly at virtual projections on the walls showing interviews with players. The scent of fresh rain mixes with aromas of garlic, miso, and fried meat. I pull off my raincoat, shake it out, and fold it inside out into my backpack. Then I head to the last stall. This bar is a little bigger than the others, facing a quiet alley blocked off on either side. Its doorway is lit by a row of cheery red lanterns, and men in suits stand in strategic positions around it. One of them notices me and moves aside, ushering me forward. I walk under the lanterns and enter through the sliding glass door. A curtain of warm air envelops me.   Checked into Midnight Sense Bar! +500 Points. Daily Score: +950 Level 36 |  N120,064   I find myself standing in a cozy room with a handful of filled seats arranged around a bar, where a chef is busy putting out bowls of ramen. He pauses to call out my arrival. A round of greetings hits me as everyone turns in my direction. There’s Hammie, our Thief, and Roshan, our Shield. Asher, our Captain, is sitting on one of the stools with his stylish wheelchair folded behind him. Even Tremaine, who technically plays for the Demon Brigade, is here. He keeps his elbows propped up on the bar as he nods at me through the steam rising from his bowl. He’s sitting away from Roshan, who’s fiddling with a bracelet of prayer beads on his wrist and making a point of ignoring his former boyfriend. My team. My friends. The eerie feeling of being watched subsides as I take in their faces. Hammie waves me over. I slide gratefully into the empty stool beside her. The chef puts down a bowl of ramen before me and steps out to give us privacy. “The whole city’s celebrating,” I mutter. “People have no idea what Hideo’s done.” She starts pulling her curls tight into a thick pouf high on her head. Then she juts her chin at a virtual screen playing footage from the Final against the wall. “You’re just in time,” she replies. “Hideo’s about to make his announcement.” We stare at the screen as Hammie pours me a cup of tea. It now shows a room of reporters with their faces turned toward a massive stage, all waiting impatiently for Hideo to arrive. Kenn, the Warcross creative director, and Mari Nakamura, Henka Games’ chief operating officer, are already there, whispering to each other. The room on the screen suddenly bursts into commotion as Hideo walks onstage. He straightens the lapels of his suit jacket once as he strides over to join his companions, shaking hands as he goes with his usual cool, careful grace. Even the sight of him onscreen feels as overwhelming as if he’d walked right into this bar. All I see is the same boy I’ve watched my whole life, the face I’d stop to look for at newsstands and take in on TV. I dig my nails into the counter, trying not to show how embarrassingly weak it makes me feel. Hammie notices. She casts me a sympathetic glance. “No one expects you to be over him already,” she says. “I know he’s trying to take over the world and all, but he still rocks a suit harder than a Balmain catwalk.” Asher scowls. “I’m right here.” “I didn’t say I wanted to date him,” Hammie replies, reaching over to pat Asher’s cheek once. I look on as Hideo and Kenn talk in low voices and wonder how much Kenn and Mari know about Hideo’s plans. Has the entire company been in on this all along? Is it possible to keep such a thing secret? Would that many people take part in something so awful? “As you all know,” Hideo begins, “a cheat was activated during the Final of this year’s championship that benefited one team—the Phoenix Riders—over the other—Team Andromeda. After reviewing the matter with our creative team”—he pauses to glance at Kenn—“it seems the cheat was activated not by one of the players, but by an outside party. We’ve decided the best way to resolve this, then, is to hold an official rematch between Team Andromeda and the Phoenix Riders, four days from today. This will be followed by the closing ceremony four days later.” An instant buzz of conversation fills the room at Hideo’s words. Asher leans back and frowns at the screen. “Well, it’s happening,” he says to us all. “An official rematch. We’ve got three days to get ready.” Hammie slurps up a mouthful of noodles. “An official rematch,” she echoes, although there’s no enthusiasm in her voice. “Never happened in the history of the championships.” “Gonna be a lot of Phoenix Rider haters out there,” Tremaine adds. Already, a few shouts of “Cheaters!” can be clearly heard from the other bars outside. Asher shrugs. “Nothing we haven’t faced before. Isn’t that right, Blackbourne?” Tremaine’s expression is blank. The excitement of the new game is lost on all of us as we continue to stare at the screen. A rematch isn’t the big news. If only those reporters knew what Hideo was really doing with the NeuroLink. I’m tired of the horror in the world, he’d said to me. So I will force it to end. “Well,” Roshan begins, rubbing a hand across his face, “if Hideo’s bothered by anything that’s happened in the last few days, he’s not showing it.” Tremaine’s concentrating on something invisible in his view and tapping rapidly against the bar. A few weeks ago, I would’ve bristled at being in the same room as him. He still isn’t my favorite person, and I keep waiting for him to sneer and call me Princess Peach again, but for now he’s on our side. And we can use all the help we can get. “Find anything?” I ask him. “I dug up some solid numbers on how many people have the new lenses.” Tremaine sits back and huffs out a sigh. “Ninety-eight percent.” I could cut the silence in here like a cake. Ninety-eight percent of all users are now controlled by Hideo’s algorithm. I think of the long lines, the police tape. The sheer scale of it makes me dizzy. “And the other two percent?” Asher manages to ask. “Is made up of anybody still using the beta test lenses,” Tremaine replies, “and who haven’t switched over yet. Those folks are safe for now.” He peers around the bar. “Us, of course, and a number of the official players, since we got the beta lenses before the full version went out. A lot of people in the Dark World, I bet. And the tiny number of people worldwide who don’t use the NeuroLink at all. That’s it. Everybody else is locked in.” No one wants to add anything to that. I don’t say it out loud, but I know we can’t stay on the beta lenses forever. Word on the street is that those lenses will download a patch that converts them into algorithm lenses on the day of the Warcross closing ceremony. That’s happening in eight days. “Seven days of freedom left,” Asher finally says, voicing what we’re all thinking. “If you want to rob a bank, now’s your chance.” I glance at Tremaine. “Any luck digging up more info about the algorithm itself?” He shakes his head and pulls up a screen for all of us to see. It’s a maze of glowing letters. “I can’t even find the faintest trace of it. See this?” He stops to point at a block of code. “The main log-on sequence? Something should be here.” “You’re saying it’s impossible that there&rsqting for him to sneer and call me Princess Peach again, but for now he’s on our side. And we can use all the help we can get. “Find anything?” I ask him. “I dug up some solid numbers on how many people have the new lenses.” Tremaine sits back and huffs out a sigh. “Ninety-eight percent.” I could cut the silence in here like a cake. Ninety-eight percent of all users are now controlled by Hideo’s algorithm. I think of the long lines, the police tape. The sheer scale of it makes me dizzy. “And the other two percent?” Asher manages to ask. “Is made up of anybody still using the beta test lenses,” Tremaine replies, “and who haven’t switched over yet. Those folks are safe for now.” He peers around the bar. “Us, of course, and a number of the official players, since we got the beta lenses before the full version went out. A lot of people in the Dark World, I bet. And the tiny number of people worldwide who don’t use the NeuroLink at all. That’s it. Everybody else is locked in.” No one wants to add anything to that. I don’t say it out loud, but I know we can’t stay on the beta lenses forever. Word on the street is that those lenses will download a patch that converts them into algorithm lenses on the day of the Warcross closing ceremony. That’s happening in eight days. “Seven days of freedom left,” Asher finally says, voicing what we’re all thinking. “If you want to rob a bank, now’s your chance.” I glance at Tremaine. “Any luck digging up more info about the algorithm itself?” He shakes his head and pulls up a screen for all of us to see. It’s a maze of glowing letters. “I can’t even find the faintest trace of it. See this?” He stops to point at a block of code. “The main log-on sequence? Something should be here.” “You’re saying it’s impossible that there’s an algorithm here,” I reply. “I’m saying it’s impossible, yes. It’s like watching a chair float in midair without any wires.” It’s the same conclusion I came up with over the past few sleepless nights. I’d spent them searching every crevice of the NeuroLink. Nothing. However Hideo is implementing his algorithm, I can’t find it. I sigh. “The only way to access it might be through Hideo himself.” On the screen, Hideo is answering questions from the press now. His face is serious, his stance easy, and his hair perfectly tousled. As put together as ever. How does he stay so calm? I lean forward, as if the few moments we’d had together in our brief relationship were enough for me to see what he’s thinking. My dream from last night flashes through my mind again, and I can almost feel his hands running down my bare arms, his expression undone. I’m sorry, he’d whispered. Then, the dark silhouette watching me from the corner of the room. The glass all around us shattering. “And what about you?” Tremaine says, snapping me out of my reverie. “Heard anything new from Zero? Have you contacted Hideo?” I take a deep breath and shake my head. “I haven’t reached out to anyone. Not yet, anyway.” “You’re not still seriously thinking about Zero’s offer, are you?” Asher has his head propped against one hand, and he’s looking warily at me. It’s the same expression he used to give me as a Captain, whenever he thought I wasn’t going to listen to his commands. “Don’t do it. It’s obviously a trap.” “Hideo was a trap, too, Ash,” Hammie says. “And none of us saw that coming.” “Yeah, well, Hideo never tried to blow up our dorm,” Asher mutters. “Look—even if Zero is serious about wanting Emi to join him in stopping Hideo, there’s got to be some strings attached. He’s not exactly a model citizen. His help might come with more problems than it’s worth.” Tremaine rests his elbows against the counter. I’m still not used to seeing genuine concern on his face, but it’s comforting. A reminder that I’m not alone. “If you and I work together, Em, we can try to avoid Zero’s help. There have got to be hints about Sasuke Tanaka out there somewhere.” “Sasuke Tanaka vanished without a trace,” Roshan says. His quiet voice is cool and cutting as he wraps a length of noodle around his chopsticks. Tremaine glances at him. “There is always a trace,” he replies. Asher speaks up before things turn more awkward between Roshan and Tremaine. “What if you contact Hideo first? Tell him you found out that his brother’s alive. You said he created all of this—Warcross, the algorithm—because of his brother, right? Wouldn’t he do anything for him?” In my mind, I see Hideo look at me. Everything I do is because of him. He’d said that to me only a couple of weeks ago, in the steam of a hot spring, as we watched the stars wink into existence. Even then, he’d been planning his algorithm. His words take on new meaning now, and I shrink inward, the warmth of that memory hardening into ice. “If Zero really is his brother,” I reply. “Are you saying he isn’t? We all saw it.” “I’m saying I can’t be sure.” I stir the noodles around my bowl, unable to work up an appetite. Hammie tilts her head thoughtfully, and I can see the cogs of her chess mind working. “It could be someone who stole Sasuke’s identity. It could be someone trying to throw people off his trail by using a dead boy’s name.” “Ghosting,” I murmur in agreement. I know the term for it because I’ve done it before. “Emi can’t tell Hideo something this big if it might not even be true,” Hammie continues. “It could make him do something unpredictable. We need proof first.” Roshan suddenly gets up. His chair scoots back with a grating clatter against the floor. I glance abruptly up to see him turning his back to us and heading out of the bar through the sliding door. “Hey,” Hammie calls out. “You okay?” He pauses to look back at us. “Okay with what? That we’re all sitting here, talking about the technicalities of how Emi should throw herself into a situation that might kill her?” The rest of us halt in our conversation, words hanging unspoken in the air. I’ve never heard real anger in Roshan’s voice before, and the sound seems wrong. He looks around at his teammates before letting his eyes settle on me. “You don’t owe Hideo anything,” he says softly. “You did what you were hired to do. It’s not your responsibility to dig deeper into this—into Zero’s past or what happened between him and Hideo or even what he plans on doing to Hideo.” “Emi’s the only one who—” Asher begins. “Like you’ve always looked out for what she needs,” Roshan snaps back. My eyebrow raises in surprise. “Roshan,” Asher says, watching him carefully. But Roshan tightens his lips. “Look—if Zero’s team is still set on stopping Hideo, then let him do it. Let the two of them go at each other. Step back and remove yourself from this. You don’t have to do it. And none of us should be convincing you of anything different.” Before I can respond, Roshan turns away and heads out into the night air. The door slides shut behind him with a sharp bang. Around me, the others let out an inaudible breath. Hammie shakes her head when I look at her. “It’s because he’s here,” she mutters, nodding to Tremaine. “He throws Roshan off.” Tremaine clears his throat uncomfortably. “He’s not wrong,” he finally says. “About the danger, I mean.” I stare at the space where Roshan had been and picture his prayer beads sliding against his wrist. In my view, I can still see the last message from Zero sitting in my archives, the letters small and white and waiting.   My offer to you still stands.   Hammie sits back and crosses her arms. “Why are you going on with this?” she asks me. “Is the fate of the world not enough of a reason?” “No, there’s more to it than that.” Irritation rises in my chest. “This is all happening because of me—I was directly involved.” Hammie doesn’t back down from the edge in my words. “But you know it’s not your fault. Tell me—why?” I hesitate, not wanting to say it. In the corner of my view, I see Hideo’s profile haloed in green. He’s awake and online. It’s enough to make me want to reach out and Link with him. I hate that he still has this pull on me. After all, everyone has had that one person they can’t help but obsess over. It’s not like I haven’t enjoyed flings that came and went in the span of a few weeks. And yet . . . He’s more than a fling or a bounty or a mark. He’s forever bound to my history. The Hideo who has stolen the world’s free will is still the same Hideo who grieved his brother so deeply that it left a permanent thread of silver in his dark hair. The same Hideo who loves his mother and father. The same Hideo who once lifted me out of my darkness and dared me to dream of better things. I refuse to believe that he’s nothing more than a monster. I can’t watch him sink like this. I keep going because I need to find that boy again, the beating heart buried underneath his lie. I have to stop him in order to save him. He was once the hand that pulled me up. Now I have to be his.   ***   By  the  time  we  leave  the  bar,  it’s  well  past  midnight,  and  the pouring rain has dwindled to a fine mist. Some people still dot the streets. The first two all-star players have just been announced, and virtual figures of them now hover under every streetlight in the city.   HAMILTON JIMÉNEZ of USA | PHOENIX RIDERSPARK JIMIN of SOUTH KOREA | BLOODHOUNDS   Hammie barely glances at the images of her best in-game moves now dancing below the light posts. “You should head back with us,” she says, eyeing the neighborhood. “I’ll be fine,” I reassure her. If someone really is following me, best not to make it so that they’re following my teammates, too. “It’s Kabukichō, Em.” I give her a wry smile. “So? Hideo’s algorithm is running on most of these people now. What’s there to be afraid of?” “Very funny,” Hammie responds with an exasperated lift of her eyebrow. “Look, we shouldn’t all be traveling together. You know that makes us too tempting a target, regardless of the algorithm. I’ll call you when I’m in back in my hotel.” Hammie hears the note of finality in my voice. Her lips twist in frustration, but then she nods and starts to walk away. “Yeah, you better,” she says over her shoulder, waving her hand at me as she hurries off. I watch her join the others as they head toward the subway station, where a private car waits for them. I try to picture each of them before they were famous, the first times they arrived in Tokyo, whether or not they felt invisible enough to take the subway. Whether they felt alone. When my teammates disappear into the haze of rain, I turn away. I’m used to traveling by myself. Still, my solitude feels sharper now, and the space around me seems emptier without my teammates. I shove my hands back into my pockets and try to ignore the virtual male model that now saunters up to me with a smile, inviting me in English into one of the host clubs that line the street. “Nope,” I reply to him. He vanishes immediately, then resets at the entrance of the club and looks for another potential customer. I tuck the rest of my hair completely under my hood and keep going. Just a week ago, I probably would’ve been walking with Hideo beside me. His arm wrapped around my waist, his coat over my shoulders. He might’ve been laughing at something I said. But I’m on my own here, listening to the lonely splash of my boots in the dirty street puddles. The echo of water dripping from signs and overhangs keeps distracting me. It sounds like someone else’s footsteps. The feeling of being watched has returned. A static buzz vibrates in my ears. I pause for a moment at an intersection, tilting my head this way and that until it stops. I glance again at Hideo’s green-haloed icon in my view. Where is he now, and what is he doing? I imagine contacting him, his virtual form appearing before me, as Asher’s question rings in my ears. What if I did tell him about Zero’s connection to his brother? Would it be so bad to see what happens, even without being entirely sure? I clench my teeth, annoyed with myself for thinking of excuses to hear his voice. If I just give myself enough distance from him and focus on this whole thing like it’s a job, then maybe I’ll stop wanting to be near him so much. The static buzzes in my ear again. This time I halt and listen carefully. Nothing. Only a few people are on the street with me now, each a nondescript silhouette. Maybe someone’s trying to hack me. I start an inspection of my NeuroLink system to make sure everything’s in order. Green text floats past my view, the scan looking normal. Until it skips over running a diagnostic on my messages. I frown, but before I can examine it closer, all the text vanishes from my view. It’s replaced by a single sentence.   I’m still waiting, Emika.   Every hair on the back of my neck rises. It’s Zero.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Wildcard:An Instant New York Times & USA Today Bestseller!Fall 2018 Kids’ Indie Next List – Teen PickA Publishers Weekly Most Anticipated YA Book - Fall 2018An Amazon Best Young Adult Book of the Month Pick – September 2018An Amazon Editors' Favorite Young Adult Book of Fall 2018A Seventeen Magazine Best YA Book of 2018A Kirkus Reviews Best YA Book of 2018A BuzzFeed Best YA Book of 2018★ "Lu’s futuristic world, with its immersive technology, feels dangerously within reach in this action-packed escapade with a thoughtful, emotion-driven core."—Publishers Weekly, starred review ★ "The plotting is exquisite, with tiny details connecting back to the first book, big twists that never feel forced, and emotional power drawn from character growth. The flawlessly rendered characters anchor the sophisticated themes and world-altering stakes right up to the end game. A fast, intense, phenomenal read."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review "There’s plenty of high-stakes double-crossing here, and this finale moves along at a breakneck clip. Series fans will be only too happy to zoom along for the ride."—Booklist"Fans of Warcross will enjoy even more time spent in the game, along with intrigue, action, and mystery."—School Library JournalPraise for Warcross:A New York Times BestsellerAn Amazon Editor's Favorite YA Book for Fall 2017 An Amazon Best Young Adult Book of the Month Pick — September 2017An Amazon Best YA Book of 2017A Kirkus Best Teen Book of 2017A Publishers Weekly Best YA Book of 2017A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2017A Boston Globe Best YA Book of 2017A POPSUGAR Best YA Book of 2017A Paste Magazine Best YA Book of 2017A Bustle Best YA Book of 2017A 2018 YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Pick “A vibrant, action-packed shot of adrenaline. Lu delivers characters with heart and determination, then sets them loose in a luminously conceived world of infinite possibility.”—Leigh Bardugo, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Six of Crows★ “With a keen eye for detail, Lu (the Young Elites series) vividly imagines a future society where gaming is woven into daily life . . . Think The Hunger Games meets World of Warcraft.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review“Marie Lu’s Warcross is unlike anything I’ve ever read—clever, smart, romantic—yet exploding with color, action, and unrelenting speed. I flew through this book—it’s absolutely fantastic.”—Sabaa Tahir, #1 New York Times bestselling author of An Ember in the Ashes★ “A stellar cyberpunk series opener packed with simmering romance and cinematic thrills.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review “Clear your schedule, because you won’t stop reading Warcross until you’re done. Addictive, fast-paced, and totally immersive, this book takes you from a futuristic Tokyo on a high-tech tour of incredible virtual worlds. Packed with danger, intrigue, and heart-pounding gameplay, set in a world built with an incredible eye for detail, Warcross is Marie Lu’s best book yet.”—Amie Kaufman, New York Times bestselling author of Illuminae★ “A highly engaging and incredibly exciting science fiction novel for young adults.”—School Library Journal, starred review  “An immersive world that I didn't want to leave. Warcross is pure genius. I'm ready for the sequel!”—Kami Garcia, #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Beautiful Creatures and author of The Lovely Reckless“[A]s brightly hued as Emika’s sleeve tattoo and rainbow hair — a fast-paced, fun-filled adventure.”—The Washington Post “The novel is a page-turner, and even those who are not gamers will cheer for Emi as she tries to discover who is genuine and who is not.”—VOYA “The Hunger Games meets Minecraft as a teen hacker enters a virtual reality in Marie Lu’s electrifying novel Warcross.”—Seventeen “[A]n inventive first in a series that showcases Lu’s versatility as a storyteller. . . . Dystopia, dark fantasy, and now a sci-fi thriller—what can’t Lu do? Her boatloads of fans can’t wait to find out.”—Booklist“[A]s visual, kinetic, and furiously paced as any video game. . . . It’s ‘Gleaming the Cube’ meets ‘Strange Days’ meets ‘Blade Runner,’ and it’s a lot of fun.”—The New York Times "Warcross is the kind of all-consuming fantasy novel that pulls you head-first into a brand new world that begins to feel so familiar you can’t wait to get your hands on the next one."—New York magazine