“Gem, the better question is: how long is it going to take you to convince them that the Ranch is...oh, run-down...stripped of anything useful...indefensible?”
Understanding froze me at my center. “You want me to influence them. There are over a dozen agents—”
“And you have three hours before we leave,” Cole said, letting his flame go out again. “So I would suggest working fast.”
IN THE SCRAMBLE LEADING UP to our departure, everyone had different tasks to attend to. Some were sent to relieve the others on watch; some packed up the spare gear we’d accumulated; others, like Liam and Chubs, divvied up the last bit of food between the different teams. I moved between the agents like an unexpected breeze, brushing up against their minds just as softly. Cole and I had decided the order I should work in to make the shift in plan seem the most natural. Which meant starting with Agent Sen.
I stood behind her, back-to-back, as she studied the map and made adjustments to the initial lists of who was driving with who. Having opened her mind once meant the second trip in was easier than fitting a key into a greased lock.
With each agent, I started to feel myself slowing down more and more, forced to fight through scenes of bleak violence, training, dreams. I’d spent six months with these people, but it took me less than two hours to finally understand the trajectory of their hatred—for Gray, for us, for everything that stood in their way. There was so much aching loss between them, they created a black hole that sucked one another in.
When I finished, I felt like a rock that had survived a landslide. Steady enough to go three doors down the hall to deal with Clancy Gray.
I nudged his side with my foot, a bit harder than I maybe needed to. “Wake up.”
He groaned, eyes bleary as I shone the flashlight directly into his face. “If this chat doesn’t involve cutting my hands free, a mirror, either of the Stewart brothers’ messy and untimely deaths, or a clean pair of clothes, I’m not interested.”
I hooked my heel over his arm, forcing him to roll onto his back. He glowered up at me through the dark fringe that hung over his eyes in spikes. The slime from the sewers he’d taken to escape HQ had faded from a sickly- looking black to a dry, crusty gray that flaked off him when he so much as cocked a brow.
“No food?” He snorted. “Using deprivation as torture is so...direct.”
“This isn’t torture,” I said, rolling my eyes. At least not in the traditional sense. I don’t know that Clancy was all that bothered that we kept him separate from the others, in a kind of solitary confinement. I think what bothered him was that he was being blocked from information, only able to catch snatches of conversation through the wall. That was Clancy Gray’s perfect hell. That, and the filthy clothes that stuck to his skin in odd places.
I held up the sweatpants and T-shirt and dropped them onto his face. “I’m going to cut your hands and feet free, and I’m going to give you a rag and bucket of water to clean yourself up with, and then you’re going to come quietly and do exactly as I say.”
I used the small knife Cole had given me to cut the zip tie around his ankles, ignoring the welts circling the skin there.
“What’s going on?” he asked, sitting up. “What are you doing?”
“Where?” Clancy asked, rubbing his wrists once they were free, too. “I heard there’s an old meat locker a few blocks away. That would be an upgrade.”
I turned my back as he stripped down, throwing the rag back over my shoulder in his general direction. I kept my eyes focused on the floor, listening to him scrub himself down.
“Of course it would be too much to ask for warm water,” he groused. “I don’t even get a blanket—”
He stopped moving. I heard the rag slop against the tile floor and glanced back over my shoulder, keeping my gaze above his bare shoulders. His eyes were narrowed at me, clearly working a thought through. “What’s really going on?”
“We’re moving,” I repeated, fighting back the usual swell of disgust. He didn’t get information. He didn’t get anything, other than the little he didn’t even deserve. When I didn’t elaborate, I felt the tickling sensation at the back of my skull as his mind casually tried to bump up against mine, as if knocking to get in. I shut it down, picturing a door slamming in his face. He flinched at the force of it.
“You’re going to trade me—turn me in,” he said in a tight voice. “That’s why you’re getting me all cleaned up.”
If it hadn’t been so close to what the agents were planning for us, I would have tried torturing him with the possibility. As it was, I didn’t have the stomach for it. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Bend a few of the PSFs to your will, orchestrate an escape...”
“Wow, so you are still capable of speaking sentences that contain more than three words,” Clancy said, sliding the clean shirt over his head and dragging the sweatpants up, one leg at a time. He looked paler than I remembered—as thin and shadowed as the rest of us. “How are you still so angry? Don’t tell me this is about that stupid kid.”
I don’t remember anything that happened after I landed the first punch on his jaw, only that when I came back to my senses, there were arms locked around my waist and I was still thrashing, trying to break free.
“Hey—hey! Cool it!” Cole released me and shoved me away from both him and Clancy. “You’re better than that. Get a grip!”