“About as good as knowing you’ll never experience it for yourself again.”
“It’s incredible how things have turned out,” he said. “A year ago, you were still in that camp, still behind that fence. Now look at you. Look at me.”
“I am looking at you,” I told him. “And all I see is someone who wasted every chance they had to really make a difference for us.”
“But you understand now, don’t you?” he asked, surprised. “You see why I made the choices I did. Everyone survives in their own way. When it really comes down to it, would you have changed any of the decisions you made, good or bad? Would you have stayed in Thurmond, with the opportunity to escape within reach? Would you have gone straight to Virginia Beach, not let them convince you to try to find East River? Would you have sealed off the younger Stewart’s memories? You’ve come such a long way. It’d be a shame for our friendship to end here.”
“I think there was a compliment buried in there somewhere...?”
He snorted. “Just an observation. I wasn’t sure you had it in you. I’d hoped, though.”
“Didn’t you ever ask yourself why I wanted you to come with me after East River was attacked? It wasn’t because I liked you all that much.”
“Obviously not. You wanted me to show you how I messed with others’ memories.”
“Well, that. But also because I was trying to gather people around me who could step up and help me build this future. Granted, I probably wouldn’t have wasted time trying with this camp strategy. I would have taken us straight to the top. I still will.”
“If only you weren’t trapped in this little glass cage,” I said flatly.
“If only.” Clancy smiled. “It’ll be so easy to get rid of everyone now—if what Stewart, the elder Stewart, told me is true, you’ve badly hurt the government’s credibility. I’ll take it a step further. My father. His moronic advisors. The camp controllers. One by one, I’ll tear their lives apart. The thing is, Ruby, you can stand at the head of those kids, and they’ll listen, they will, if for no other reason because you’re an Orange and it’s the hierarchy of things. But you can’t bring the world to its knees the way I will.”
“The way you will, huh?” I asked, knocking against the glass. “When’s that?”
One corner of Clancy’s lips turned up, and I felt a cold drip of something run down my spine.
“Ruby, this is your last chance to align with the right side of history,” he said. “I’m not going to offer again. We can leave now and no one will get hurt.”
His gaze was as black and bottomless as it had always been, sucking me in, trying to drown me in the smooth, easy possibilities he presented.
“Enjoy your time in your box,” I said and turned to go, holding his laundry out in front of me in distaste.
“One last thing,” Clancy called. I didn’t look back, but it hardly mattered to him. “Hello, Mother.”
I whipped the door to the hall open, but the woman was already gone, chased out by her son’s laughter.
That night I fell into a deep sleep, the kind that grips you by the ribcage and refuses to be shaken off easily. The voice in my dream, the same one that had been echoing somewhere behind me as I walked down the familiar path to Cabin 27 at Thurmond, shifted from the deep baritone of a man to a loud, almost shrill call, this time from a woman.
“—up! Ruby, Ruby, come on—”
The lights in the room were on again, highlighting the ashen quality of Vida’s face as it hovered over mine. She shook me again, violently, until I broke free from that last bit of disorienting sleep.
“What happened?” Five minutes could have passed, or five hours—I couldn’t tell. Zu hovered behind Vida, her cheeks already wet with tears. Fear ripped through me as I grabbed Vida’s arm, feeling the way she trembled.
“I was in the computer lab,” she began, the words pouring out of her. Was she shaking? Vida—shaking? “I was talking to Nico, watching the photos come in as Cole took them, and it went quiet for about an hour—I had just left to go to bed but then another photo came through and Nico ran out to get me and...and, Ruby...”
“What? Tell me what’s going on!” I tried to untangle myself from the sheet, my heart hammering in my chest like I’d just sprinted ten miles.
“All he kept saying was...” Vida swallowed. “He kept saying one thing—Stewart is dead.”
“LIAM OR COLE?”
The question, the same one I’d asked her a hundred times, became more frantic as we made our way down the hall toward the computer room. The clock on the wall inside said it was two in the morning.
“Vida,” I begged, “Liam or Cole?”
“They don’t know,” she said, the same answer she’d given me the first ninety-nine times I asked. “They can’t tell from the photo.”
“I can—” The words were out before I could think about why it would be a terrible idea. “Let me see it. I can tell them apart.”
“I don’t think so.” She caught my arm before I could go charging into the room. I barely felt the touch. My whole body had run ice-cold. Panic made my thoughts disjointed, bursts of terrifying images interlaced with thoughts of not him, not them, not now—I couldn’t break the pattern, I couldn’t catch my breath.