“I told you to stay out of this,” Clancy said, his voice shaking, even as he eyed the exit, even as I could see him considering it. “Why can’t you ever listen?”
“Please,” Nico begged.
“It’s too late,” he said, hands fisted in his sweatpants. “If you weren’t so stupid, you’d have realized that. Can’t you hear it? They’re on the roof. They’re here.”
“But you could get them to leave. You could make sure they go.”
He’s working him, I realized, half-amazed. Clancy was actually considering this, weighing Nico’s words. I didn’t move, too afraid I’d break the strange spell that had fallen over the room. My eyes kept darting between the two boys just outside of the cell. The tension in the room was softening, easing naturally.
“Who’s here?” came a soft voice from the doorway. “Who did you call to get you?”
And just like that, Clancy hardened again, shoving past Nico. “Hello, Mother. Were you hoping I’d leave without saying good-bye?”
“Who did you call?” she repeated, her stiff posture perfectly mimicking her son’s.
“Who do you think?” he said, all sweetness. “I called Dad.”
“I told you to leave!” I barked at her.
“No, stay,” Clancy said. “Clearly, last time didn’t take. We’ll have to try again, and this time Ruby won’t be there to help you.”
There was a beat of silence, and then the whole building rocked, shuddering under the force of some kind of explosion. Clancy looked past her, toward the door, and in that moment I was sure I had never hated him more.
The light caught the gun—my gun, the one that had been knocked out of my hands in the computer room—as Lillian Gray raised it and aimed at Clancy.
“I love you,” she said, and fired.
A SPRAY OF BLOOD BURST from his shoulder, knocking him back against the glass wall. But Lillian wasn’t finished. She took another step forward, ignoring her son’s scream of pain, and aimed lower, this time firing at his leg. The whole time, her face was a cold mask, as if she’d had to shut off some crucial part of herself to see this through.
Nico and I jumped with each shot. He covered his face and turned away so he wouldn’t have to see it. I watched. I had to make sure he didn’t get away this time.
The ceiling shook, the sound of heavy footsteps thundering over our heads. We’d have minutes, maybe, before they found us. It would need to happen fast. And wouldn’t you know it? The only thing I could think of as the old, familiar calm came over me was one simple phrase: accept, adapt, act.
The certainty of it was more comforting than terrifying. That, too, seemed so strange—at some point, after pushing the possibility to the darkest corner of my mind, it had taken root and flourished. The old plan was gone. The new one bloomed in its place.
The string around his neck holding the flash drive had slipped clear of Nico’s shirt as he stumbled away from Clancy, falling back against the cell’s glass wall. I was in front of him before he could catch his breath, gripping the black piece of plastic and yanking hard enough to snap the string he’d threaded it on. And before he could react, I shoved a shell-shocked Nico back into the empty cell and slammed the door shut.
I had the keys. I barely heard the lock as it clanged into place.
“No, no, no,” he moaned, “Ruby, you know what they’ll do. They’ll take you back to that place, they’ll kill you—they’ll kill you.”
Dr. Gray had moved over to her son’s side, dropping to her knees to apply pressure to his wounds. At that, she looked over, startled.
“I won’t let them hurt me,” I said, knowing what a hollow promise it was. But in that moment, I felt so sure of this plan, wanted so badly to make sure that it wasn’t derailed in the aftermath of all this, that I felt confident I could, maybe, influence enough of the PSFs to keep my life.
I want to live.
“It was supposed to be me. It should be me!”
“Tell the others March first,” I said, pressing my palm against the glass and letting the keys fall to the floor. “March first. Harry knows the plan.”
“Ruby,” he sobbed, “don’t do this.”
I leaned my forehead against the cool glass and said quietly, “I can see it now—the road Jude talked about. It’s so beautiful. The rain’s gone and the clouds are moving out.”
I want to live.
I shouldered Dr. Gray aside and reached to take Clancy under the arms, refusing to sag under his dead weight. I dragged him through the doorway, into the short hall.
“What are you doing?” The woman trailed after me, her hands, shirt, face all stained with her son’s blood. “Where are you taking him?”
“Shut the door!” I said sharply.
Nico was still pressed up against the glass, slamming his palms against it, when Dr. Gray shut the door on that last image. I looked down at Clancy’s dark head as I moved, listening to his half-conscious mutterings. The coppery stench of blood filled my nose. I looked down at my hands and thought, even now, he’s staining me.
They cut the power just as I pulled Clancy through the last door. He slid free of my hands, thumping bonelessly against the tile. I glanced back, making sure Dr. Gray had shut the last door, securing Nico safely inside. I slid the flash drive into my boot and lay down flat on my stomach, stretched out over the cold tile. I was proud of the fact that my hands didn’t shake as I put them behind my head.