“That’s a tall order,” Cole said. “There’s almost no way to keep it quiet.”
“Once the procedure is complete, the plan has always been to take Clancy and go into hiding. I want a return to a life that resembles normal, with the son I once had.”
The cure is another way to control us, take decisions out of our hands. Clancy’s words worked through my mind in a whisper. I listened.
“I don’t...” I started to say. What was really my problem with this, though? Clancy had proven over and over to me that he couldn’t be trusted to use his abilities in a way that wouldn’t hurt others. East River...Jude...how many times did he have to show me the lengths he would go to? All to avoid becoming what he’d been at Thurmond: powerless. I’d felt his helplessness when he was strapped down on the table at Thurmond, the pain of having volts of electricity shot through his mind. I’d felt the embarrassment of losing control of my functions, the fury of being treated like an animal.
He’d save himself before a group of thousands. This time, we had to choose the thousands over him.
“Okay,” I said, when it was clear Cole had been waiting for me to respond. What was it I saw flicker in his eyes—disappointment? Understanding? It was there and gone so fast, masked by his usual grim smile, I wasn’t sure I had seen it at all.
“It’s a deal,” he said. “We’ll round up the troops tonight so you can explain. Tomorrow morning, we’ll start looking into viable hospital options for you.”
Dr. Gray inclined her head, a silent agreement. I stood up, muttering some excuse about needing to check on Vida and the training upstairs. In truth, I couldn’t seem to get the room’s heavy air into my lungs—not in, not out. I was suffocating on the words left hovering inside those four walls, and I couldn’t shake the feeling, not even as I wiped them frantically against my legs, that I had spilled blood on my hands.
I was alone in the computer room with Vida, telling her about the short conversation I’d had with Cate, when Zu’s face suddenly appeared on the news channel livestream Nico had set up.
I’d been sitting with my knees drawn up to my chest, doing the best I could to answer her questions, all of which seemed to be a variation on, “But she’s okay, right?” My eyes had stayed peeled to the screen, waiting for any late-breaking news from Kansas, and when I saw Zu I dropped my feet back to the floor so quickly that the chair rocked forward with me.
“Turn the sound back on,” I said.
“—more footage released today from sources tied to the rehabilitation camp scandal that’s rocking a newly reopened Washington. This evening, Amplify released a series of videos, purportedly of the children who were removed from Nevada. Let’s take a look....”
I didn’t know if it was the news network or if it had been Alice’s clever mind at work with the editing, but the initial seconds of footage were of each of the ten kids who’d agreed to be interviewed, introducing themselves.
“Zach...I’m seventeen years old.”
“My name is Kylie and I’m sixteen.”
On and on until finally the video showed Zu; there was footage of her shot later, introducing herself this time. Immediately, the video launched into her describing the way her parents had dropped her off at school. Each of the kids got to tell their own version of how they had gotten away from PSFs, their parents, the world.
I pressed a hand against my mouth, looking over to gauge Vida’s reaction. She took a sip from her water bottle and slammed her palm back down on the cap to close it again.
“They’re fast on pulling the trigger, I’ll give them that,” she said. “But boo, you know I’m with you. This is great for tugging some heartstrings, but how many asses is it going to get off of couches? Where’s the call to action with this? They needed our input. There’s too much hope here, not enough strategy.”
“They were right, though,” I said, feeling strangely hollow at my center. “We did need something like this—we have to set the public up with the truth, so that when the kids do get out, they’ll be accepted. This is good.” Liam’s instincts had been right.
“Just because they’re right, it doesn’t make you wrong, boo,” she said, lowering the volume. “Charlie was right. You dipshits fell apart without us there to tell you what to do.”
The newscaster, a perky blond woman in a deep red suit, appeared back on the screen, but almost immediately cut to a photo a program viewer had sent in. At the center of what the program had identified as New York City’s Times Square, Zu’s face glowed from a cluster of three billboards, a stark contrast to the dark billboards around it, the ones that hadn’t been lit up for years. It was a heartbreaking photo—even without knowing the girl or the context of the interview from which the still of her had been taken, it tugged at you, demanded your attention. The words PUBLIC ENEMY, AGE 13 flashed over the image, a perfectly calibrated piece of emotional manipulation.
“Where is Chubs?” I asked.
Vida began to peel the label off her water bottle. “I asked Cole if our boy there could use one of the empty senior agent quarters to set up a kind of...medical bay, or something. First-aid station. A place to put all of the medical junk and books he’s been carting around like a freaking nerd. He’s in there measuring out all of his jars of cotton balls and Q-tips.”
“You’re going soft on me, Vi,” I said. “That’s almost sweet—”
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