He’d known this would happen—had banked on it. He’d shown Cole the camp, planted the images of it in his mind knowing that Cole was the kind of person who wouldn’t be able to let it go, seeing others like him treated so damn badly. He would obsess over it, stop thinking about the odds of an actual rescue. After all, how many times had he beaten the odds?
He never had a chance.
The words blistered over my mind. I swayed with the force of the hot, singeing rush that ran from my temples to the base of my neck. My vision flashed, splitting the door in front of me into two, then four. I saw, rather than felt, my hand rise up and reach for the handle. The closer I got, the further back I seemed to be; someone dragged me back and back and back...
It was the last thing I remembered before the blurring dark turned to a gray static, washing over me, hooks and needles running through my veins.
When I surfaced again, there was a cold gun in my hand, and it was pointed at Lillian Gray’s head.
“—DOING? STOP IT, STOP—”
“—Ruby, wake up!”
“You can’t do this—stop—Ruby—STOP!”
I was floating underwater, deep enough where there was nothing but sweet, cool darkness. I didn’t need to move, I couldn’t speak—there was a gentle current, and it was taking me where I needed to go. It was urging me forward and I went willingly, giving myself over to the feeling. This was better than the pain.
“—look at me! Look at me! Ruby!”
The voices were distorted by the waves, stretched into a long, continuous drone. The words filled the spaces between heartbeats, the steady ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum in my ears. I didn’t want them to find me here.
Gem. Hey, Gem.
I turned, looking for the source of the words, forcing my stiff muscles to move.
Take care of things, Boss.
There was no one there. The black currents around me were swirling harder against my freezing skin. There was nothing there.
The air burned where it was trapped in my lungs. Where are you?
Roo, are you okay?
I thrashed against the water, stretching my arms up and up again to drag myself to the surface. Up—there was a light, a pinprick of it, growing larger, waiting—
Come on, darlin’, come on...
I pulled, dragged, clawed my way up—
“She’s going to—”
“—do something! Stop her!”
I slammed back into my own mind. The thick, murky water drained around me as reality took shape. The static, dry smell of the computer lab. The glow of monitors reflecting against the nearby white wall. Nico’s face, bloodless, hands up in front of him. My eyes shifted from the cold, heavy gun in my hand to the pale-haired woman on the floor, her arms up over her head protectively.
I jerked, looking at Nico again as the gun came down a fraction of an inch. My arm was on fire, aching like it had held the weight for hours. Comprehension dawned in his eyes, and I saw his stance relax, only to tense again as he shouted, “Vi, no!”
One minute I was vertical, the next I was on the ground, pain consuming every confused, disoriented thought. I’d been laid out flat by a hit between the shoulder blades, and what breath I had left flew out of my lungs as Vida kept me pinned to the ground.
“Wait!” Zu said. “Ruby...?”
“What...” My mouth felt like it was full of sand.
“Ruby?” Chubs’s face floated above me. “Vi, get off her—”
“She was going to shoot her—I thought she—she was going to shoot—”
“What is going on?” Senator Cruz cried, somewhere above us.
“I don’t...” I started to say, the pain splitting my head in two. I felt turned around and upside down, flipped inside out. “How did I get here?”
“You don’t remember?” Dr. Gray asked, sounding the calmest of anyone in the room. “You left and came back in—you shoved me to the ground. You didn’t say a word.”
“What?” My nails scraped against the tile. “No! I wouldn’t—I don’t—”
“You weren’t yourself,” Chubs said, gripping my shoulders. “You didn’t respond to anything we said—”
“I’m sorry, shit, I’m so sorry,” Vida said. “I didn’t know what to do—every time we got close, you looked like you were going to shoot!”
“Nico?” I said, pressing a hand against my eyes to stop the flow of tears. There was no way to hold them in; the pain was clouding my brain, overriding my body’s response. “Nico?”
“He just ran out—” Senator Cruz said. “He looked at the monitor and just took off—what is happening?”
Him. It was him. And through the pain, through lingering confusion clinging to my mind, I finally understood what was happening.
I clutched at Chubs’s arm. “You have to—listen to me, okay?”
“Okay, Ruby, okay,” he said, “just take a breath.”
“No, listen. Go...you and Vida go get the others. The kids. Go get them and take them, Senator Cruz, and...and Dr. Gray out through the garage. Go into one of the nearby buildings. Don’t let anyone leave. Understand?”
“Yes, but what are you—”
“Take what food and water you can carry, but wait in the building until you get the all clear.”
The gaps in my memory, began to color themselves in. If I closed my eyes, I could see myself in the middle of a conversation I didn’t remember having. Sitting down in the computer room with all the lights off. The tips of my fingers remembered each keystroke, tingled with the thought. Sleepwalking. The messages that were sent. The communications that were sent. He can move people around. Like they’re toys. Clancy’s last warning.