“No, it should be you.” He nudged me toward them again, ignoring the narrow expression on Chubs’s face. “Go get ’em, Gem.”
Make them love you....I shook my head, ignoring the purr of Clancy’s voice in my ear. Zu scooted back and motioned for Hina and Tommy to do the same, opening the circle.
“So this...” I began, only to catch myself. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the faces that were there, but the ones that weren’t. I turned to Chubs, who was plucking at a hole in his jeans, the perfect picture of forced nonchalance. “Where’s Liam? And Kylie...and James?”
“They must be in the bathroom,” he managed to squeeze out, his voice unnaturally high. Then, all of a sudden, no one could look at me. Not even Zu.
You didn’t, Liam, I thought, fighting against the steady rise of panic. Tell me you didn’t rush out to get supplies without even taking a weapon to protect yourself.
“They left,” a small voice whispered. I looked around but didn’t catch who it had come from.
“Who left?” Cole said, catching the tail end of this. “One of—”
I knew the moment that he spotted who, exactly, was missing. He went still, his expression controlled and blank. It was the look of someone just before they calmly and methodically stabbed someone.
“Why did they leave?” I asked.
“So we would have something to eat today!” Chubs snapped.
“Where did they go?” I had to keep myself from shouting, from reaching over and shaking him as hard as I could.
“The next town over,” Lucy said. “They promised they’d be back in an hour.”
“Did they.” Cole ground the words out. “Well. If they get their asses killed, that’ll at least bring the average IQ of this place up. Do not”—he addressed the whole group now—“go outside until you’ve had the training you need to survive, and until we’re stocked with weapons. I’m going to take care of everything, and we’re going to take care of each other, but you have to listen to what I tell you, otherwise this won’t work. All right, guys?”
Several nods. Several affirmative noises.
“Okay,” I said. Dammit, Liam. What were you thinking? “All right.” I forced my mind to click back onto the right track. “The first thing you need to know is that the flash drive containing the research Cole stole from Leda Corp, about whatever caused IAAN, was wiped by the EMP.”
Vida must have told Chubs and Zu this, because they didn’t look nearly as rattled as the others did. Seeing their faces, a sharp stab of hopelessness hit me at my center. I pushed past it again, aware of Cole’s eyes on my back.
“There’s no way to get it back?” Tommy asked.
“No,” Nico said. “We’ve tried everything. The files are gone.”
“We still have the research on the cure, though,” I said quickly. The Greens had copied it down again and uploaded it into our lone laptop. All fifteen indecipherable pages of it. “And we’ll work from there. But in the meantime, I think we should move forward with freeing the camps—it’s the right thing to do, and our strongest strategy to hold Gray accountable for what’s happened to us. But I—we—” I motioned back to Cole, “there’s no way we can do this alone. So I have to ask, are you guys with us? It’s okay if you’re afraid, or you don’t want to participate in the Ops. It really is, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There’s so much to do here that you’ll still be a part of it. Or, once it’s a little safer, we can find a way for you to go home to your parents.”
I waited until they were nodding, or had voiced their consent. “The best way to do this, then, is to think through a potential plan for a camp hit together. Can we break up into smaller groups, maybe four or five kids each, and just start thinking about how we could pull something like this off—it doesn’t matter if it seems crazy, or if we don’t have the materials we need now. Just be creative and we’ll run from there.”
I let them divvy themselves up, and was proud of the way they mixed the old League teams and the new arrivals we’d picked up along with Zu. Cole slapped a hand on my shoulder, grinning his approval, as he began making his rounds. I smiled back, feeling light enough to jump from the floor to the rafters above.
And just like that, the sensation was gone. A silent, heavy presence came up behind me, falling over me like a shadow. I didn’t need to turn to know it was Chubs. Irritation crept in the longer he punished me with that oppressive silence. I turned away, watching Vida perched like a queen in the middle of a group containing Tommy, Pat, and two other League kids. They crowned her with praise and wonder and adoration for a good three minutes before she deigned to give her input to their proposal.
“When are you going to start looping us in on these things earlier?” Chubs finally asked. “It feels like you’re springing things on us because you know we’ll disagree with something.”
I blew out the breath I’d been holding through my nostrils, returning his hard stare with one of my own. “It sounds like the real issue here is that you don’t trust me to make good calls without you.”
Cole had warned me this would happen—he’d told me that I had too many voices weighing in on my choices, and that was why I never felt fully secure in making them. They’d told me over and over that they trusted me, that they had faith. Clearly that wasn’t actually the case.