“She doesn’t understand anything—we tried writing, speaking slowly, different languages,” Chubs said, rubbing his chin. “If there’s anything left inside of her head, she can’t get it out.”
There’s a difference between broken and ruined. With one, you can hope to piece the object back together, but the other—there’s just no coming back.
I pressed my face against my hands, giving up on trying to meet Lillian Gray’s dark eyes as they roved around the senior quarters we’d given her. She’d come into the Ranch yesterday afternoon terrified, and she’d spent the whole of the morning exactly that way, shaking like we’d dunked her into the Atlantic in the middle of January. It was a wonder she hadn’t passed out from exhaustion yet.
Inside her mind...I couldn’t describe it. There was actually nothing to describe. The first time I’d slipped into her memories, I’d immediately yanked myself back out, dizzy enough that I almost threw up. It was so cluttered, bright flashes of images flashing in no order, speeding by in a quarter of a second—too quick for me to latch onto anything. The intensity of it all was like sitting in a car that jumped from zero to a hundred. It threw me back against my seat, even as I wondered if she was doing it on purpose.
“Dr. Gray,” I said sharply, trying to drag her attention back to me. “Can you tell me what your first name is?”
“Naahhmmeee,” she muttered, hands cupping the rim of the baseball cap. “Don’t...good...pale...shade...”
“God,” Senator Cruz said, covering her face with her hands. “How can the two of you stand it? This poor woman...”
Cole pushed himself off of where he’d been leaning against the opposite wall. “I think that’s enough for the day, Gem.”
“But I haven’t made any progress.”
“Maybe there just isn’t any progress to make,” Senator Cruz offered, a hand on my back. The former First Lady had been the only thing important enough to drag her out of the senior agent quarters she’d been given, away from Rosa. I almost wished she hadn’t come, because it was bad enough feeling disappointed in myself—it was gutting to think I was disappointing her, after all she’d done for us.
“I haven’t even been trying for two full days,” I insisted. “At least give me another afternoon.”
Lillian Gray repositioned herself so she was lying down on the small bed, her face turned into the pillow. I could feel the frustration pouring off her, and didn’t try to catch her hand as she slammed it into the plastic-covered mattress over and over.
I sighed, rubbing my forehead. “All right. We’ll take a break.”
“How much should we tell the others about her condition?” Senator Cruz asked.
Vida and Chubs had promised to be tight-lipped, to claim the woman was exhausted and needed rest, if pressed by any of the kids. It only bought me a little time to figure out how to help her.
Being up-front with the others wasn’t an option that was in the cards for me. If they saw that Lillian Gray, their one shot at deciphering all the research and data we had about the cure, was like...this...it wasn’t going to do anything other than swing them more firmly to Liam’s side. The side that seemed like it was actually doing something.
From the moment we’d left Los Angeles, Cole and I had banked on having information about the cause and cure of IAAN to prove ourselves to the kids. But three weeks later, we had nothing to show that we’d delivered on our promises. Even the kids we’d pulled from Oasis spent more time in the garage than they did in the Ranch proper. The only time I saw them was when they came to the kitchen to pick up their meals, and even then they brought their food back into the garage to eat.
“I’m going to turn the door handle around so it locks from the outside,” Cole said. “If we tell the kids to leave her alone, they will.”
If they ever bother leaving the garage.
“I’m worried about the agents—Cate,” I said. “What’s the reaction going to be when they realize that the League doesn’t have her to barter with anymore?”
“The League will keep up appearances as long as humanly possible,” Cole assured me. “And I told you what Harry said. He and a few others from his old Special Forces unit are going to investigate the reports of a black site prison near Tucson. Dustin’ off the green berets, apparently.”
How Harry had managed to find out about a black site—which by its definition didn’t exist in any formal records—was beyond me. I didn’t want to press Cole on it in front of Senator Cruz.
“That’s promising,” she said, giving me a faint smile. I shook my head. It was barely anything at all.
I removed Lillian’s hat and dirty tennis shoes and tried to ease her under the blankets. Her face was gaunt as she looked up at me, but there were still traces of the rare beauty she had been.
Her eyes narrowed, and suddenly I wasn’t seeing her, but her son.
“Alban would want you here with us,” Cole told the woman gently. “You have friends here. Friends. Safe.”
“Alban?” Lillian sat straight up, her legs tangling in the blankets I’d carefully arranged for her. “John?”
Cole and I exchanged a sharp look, but, just as quickly, she fell back into muttering nonsense beneath her breath. “Hap...the...ang...moh...”
He moved to the small desk just to the right of the entrance, opening the drawer. “Dr. Gray, we have some things for you to look at after you get some rest. I’m just going to leave them here. They might be a little, uh, difficult. There’s a chart—”
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