“They also showed this video,” Nico said. The moment it loaded, from the very first frozen screen, I knew exactly what it would be of.
I couldn’t see my face—Alice had filmed it all from behind me, so that she would have a clear shot of the children coming out of the rooms. “My name is—” The audio recording beeped straight through my name. “I’m one of you. All of us here are like you, except the woman with the camera. We’re getting you out of here—taking you to somewhere safe. But we have to move—fast. Fast as you can, without hurting yourselves or anyone around you. Follow them—fast, fast, fast, okay?”
I gripped the edge of the desk hard enough that Nico leaned back as he said, “I take it they didn’t ask you before they used this footage?”
“They did not.” And this, too, felt personal—it felt like they were throwing it back in my face. The rest of the video was shots spliced together out of order: the bound-and-gagged PSFs, a close-up of their uniforms, equipment with military decals—smart choices, to try to lend it additional authenticity.
“From the comments I read on the different message boards, it sounds like at least two major papers picked up the story. By the time I tried streaming the TV news, though, there were already government people analyzing it, pointing things out that supposedly made it fake. Did you know they released a list of kids, too? Individual photographs of them and what their parents did for the Federal Coalition?”
“I didn’t,” I said, gritting my teeth. “Did Cole see this?”
“Yeah, he was in here watching with me earlier,” Nico said. “Look, they’re probably all down there patting themselves on the back for this. But the truth is, it didn’t stick. Less than twenty minutes after it went up, Gray scrubbed the web. Not only that, but a number of web hosting companies were taken offline. The comments on the forums—look, like this one?” He pointed to the timestamp. “From early this morning when the news broke.”
The post read: This is sickening—are they all like this?
“And two hours later,” Nico said, “the tone of the comments changed.”
This has to be a hoax. It’s too perfectly put together. I could do this in my backyard with a few actors.
The post below it read, Then how did they get images of the kids? Old stock images? Old movies?
Have you never heard of Photoshop?
“A lot of people don’t think this is real,” Nico said. “Part of the problem is that they—we, I guess—we don’t have a name or identity as a group. We couldn’t claim responsibility for this and then back it up with a history of other information dumps. Amplify is only known for boosting information that’s already been released by third parties; that’s where their name comes from. And even they haven’t had enough big breaks to seem wholly credible to the general population.”
“But people at least saw the images,” I said. No matter how Nico spun it, that was a small victory. Because now, when others thought of the camps, these images were likely the first thing that would spring to mind.
“This isn’t going to bring Thurmond down,” Nico said, his dark eyes flashing. “I believe in our plan. It’s the only option.”
“Thanks, Nico,” I said, squeezing his shoulder. “Keep me updated, okay?”
He nodded and turned back to his computer, fingers flying over the keyboard. I stood and made my way back over to Chubs. He was partially angled in the direction of Nico’s computer, wearing the expression of someone who’d been pretending not to listen, even as they heard everything.
“I’m surprised you’re not working in the garage,” I told him, taking the empty seat next to him.
“I have no idea what you mean by that,” Chubs said, though it was clear that he now had the full picture. Or, at least, Liam’s half of what had happened.
“I’m sure you don’t,” I said, “but if that’s where you want to be...I can understand you picking Liam’s side. Everyone else did.” Even Zu. Even Zu.
His hands came slapping down against the desk. “There is one side. That is the side of friendship and trust and love and that is the side that everyone should be on, and I am refusing to acknowledge that any other side could exist. Do you understand?”
I blinked. “Yes.”
“Though,” Chubs said. “I am inclined, being co-founder of Team Reality, to think the garage is being overly idealistic about how easily this will play out for them, as evidenced by your discussion with Nico.”
“What does Vida think?” I asked.
“Vi is down in the gym right now,” he said, “not in the garage. And she is, by her nature, inclined to the side that involves guns and explosions.”
I nodded, then motioned toward the books, all of which, now that I was closer, seemed to be medical texts. “Are you trying to figure out what’s wrong with Dr. Gray?”
“Yes,” he said. “Did you make any progress on that front?”
I met his weak smile with one of my own. “It’s the weirdest thing,” I told him. “When I tried to look into her mind while she was awake, everything was racing—really intense colors and sounds, and images that moved so fast. But when I tried again when she was asleep, they were real memories. Coherent, whole.”
“Were you able to stay in her mind for long—the first time, I mean?”