“I’m saying that the kids who’ve had years of their lives stolen have had time to weigh what they would choose if the opportunity came to be cured of it,” Chubs said. “They’ve had time to think about what they would choose, and can make an educated decision. Trust me, that’s all any of us ever thought about, as every hour of every day was controlled down to the minute, or when we had to struggle every day for food and water and shelter, while men and women literally hunted us. You’re going to set the mark at eighteen, knowing that eighty percent of all kids previously interned at a camp can’t meet that benchmark? I, at eighteen, was in a camp for a year. One of my best friends was in hers for six years, but she’s only seventeen. She has to subject herself to a decision made by the same people who sent her away in the first place?”
I grimaced, fighting not to look over at my parents. I didn’t need them feeling any guiltier than they already did.
“We need to move on from this topic,” another one of the men said, “otherwise we won’t be able to take questions—”
“I agree,” Dr. Gray said suddenly, then clarified. “With the young gentleman. Unless they’ve committed a crime, or the psychological toll of their experiences has impacted their decision- making abilities, or they’ve harmed someone, I believe the children we take out of the camps should be able to choose. However, parents of children who haven’t reached the life-or-manifest threshold should be allowed to make the decision and will need to do so before their child’s seventh birthday.”
Her voice was strained to the point of fraying, beyond tired. The reporters ate up every single word she offered, jumping to their feet to launch a volley of questions at her, all of which could be summed up as: Where is President Gray?
Senator Cruz stared at her notes, then asked casually, “Do you believe you could figure out a better system, given what we have to work with?”
“Yes,” Chubs said without a hint of arrogance. “And I think if you proceed with this option, you’ll not only be ignoring the mental and emotional health needs of the children coming out of the camps, but you’ll be condemning them to a life of fear and shame. And if it’s going to be that way, then you might as well have left them in the camps.”
“Good,” Senator Cruz said, “We’ll reconvene our discussion on this point following the conclusion of this panel. Should any other Psi-afflicted youth like to join us, please speak to me.”
In the midst of all of this, someone had disappeared from the front row of seats—a young man in a baseball cap. He’d faded to the outer edge of the room, and was moving quickly toward the exit. With his face turned down and his arms crossed over his chest, he could have been anyone.
But I knew exactly who he was.
I slipped away, waving off Liam’s and Vida’s questioning eyes, and held up a single finger. I had a feeling this was going to take far longer than a minute, but with Senator Cruz talking again, this time about future congressional and presidential elections, their attention was drawn back to her.
The hall outside was ten degrees cooler than the stuffy sweatbox the ballroom was becoming. I had a feeling he had come out here for the silence, though, more than the cool air. He’d walked nearly to the end of the long hall, and taken a seat across from a window overlooking the hotel’s parking lot.
“Come to laugh, have you?” Clancy asked, his voice hoarse. He never turned his head, only kept his eyes trained on the window. “Enjoy it.”
“I’m not here to laugh,” I said.
He snorted, but said nothing. Eventually, his hands tightened in his lap, clenching and releasing. “I keep losing feeling in my right fingers. They said they’d never seen the complication before.”
I bit back the reflexive I’m sorry. I wasn’t.
“I told you this would happen, didn’t I?” Clancy said. “That the choice all of you were stupidly chasing ended up in the hands of the people who put you away in the first place. It didn’t have to be this way.”
“No,” I said pointedly. “It didn’t have to.”
For the first time, he turned and looked directly at me. The recovery from the surgery had drained some of the meat from his bones and the color from his skin. I had a feeling that if I were to lift off the baseball cap, I’d find a newly shaved head and fresh scars hidden there. “What happened to Nico?”
Well. I hadn’t expected that. “He’s here. Didn’t you see him?”
His shoulders rose and fell with the next deep breath he took in.
“Did you want to talk to him about something?” I prompted. “Maybe about something you regret?”
“I only regret losing control of the situation. But...it doesn’t matter. I can figure a way around this, how to deactivate the device she planted there. How to get everything back. I can do it. I’m closer to the right people than ever. I can find my father, wherever he’s hiding. I can do it.”
And, somehow, I’d known that would be his answer. Because this is who Clancy was at his core: someone who’d always had everything, and still needed more. Still wanted the one thing he’d never, ever be able to achieve.
But when he looked at me, his dark eyes sunken back into his skull, it told me something else—that maybe what he really wanted, what he couldn’t admit out loud, was the exact same thing his mother had wished for all these years. Pride played a dangerous game in his heart, warring with exhaustion. I felt myself hesitate, fingers curling into fists as I thought of all of the lives he’d played with so callously, the good ones that had been lost, so that he could find ways to survive.