Chubs finally released the parking brake. “Later. I can’t safely and successfully navigate the roads if I don’t have quiet.”
“Grannie,” Vida said, “that’s pathetic, even for you. You want one of the big kids to drive?”
“I’ll do it!” Jude offered, snapping the cover of his compass shut and sitting straight up. “I had a few lessons at HQ.”
“You had one lesson,” I said, “and it ended when you side-swiped three other cars while trying to park.”
“You killed that beautiful Mercedes,” Vida said. “That beautiful, beautiful car.”
“That wasn’t my fault!”
Chubs ignored us, and we made our way back onto the highway as he proceeded at his usual careful speed. I settled in to tell the story again, the best I could, about what Cole had planned to do with the flash drive once he had it. Everything came tumbling out, from the moment they had brought Blake’s body in, the escape in Boston, meeting with Chubs, and finding him in Nashville. Liam had questions—good ones—about how Cole and Cate were going to try to use the research as leverage for turning the League onto the right course.
“Okay,” Liam muttered when I was finished, more to himself than me. “Okay… It’s just, I have one more question. If you were going to risk your neck escaping that Op and trying to find me, what was in it for you?”
Wasn’t it obvious?
“I told you. Cole said if I brought back the flash drive, Alban would give him anything he wanted. Including working on freeing the camps,” I said. “And, in the meantime, I’d be able to make sure you were safe and that Alban would have no reason to come after you and bring you back into the fold.”
When Liam finally did speak again, his voice was almost hoarse. “Not…that they would let you out of your deal? Let you go?”
He took my silence as the no it was.
“Did you even think to ask?” he whispered, the first traces of anger slipping back in. “You’re going back, just like that—like those agents aren’t dead set on killing other kids?”
“I have to finish this,” I said.
“Yeah, and who’s going to protect you?” he shot back. “You’re just going to give them the intel and hope for the best, hope that they won’t go back on their promises or kill you because they feel like it? I just want to know why. Why give it to them when there’s a chance we can use the intel to help ourselves? If what Cole says is true and they did find a cause, then don’t we deserve to have it? Make decisions about what to do with it?”
Liam was so earnest, so passionate when he said that, it was like he was blooming back into his old self. Even the color was returning to his face.
“It’s not up for discussion,” I said. “I’m sorry, but we have to be realistic. Before…before we thought we could make it on our own, that we didn’t need any help—and look how that turned out. We need help. We can still get our way, but we can’t do it by ourselves.”
“And the help you pick is the League?” he demanded.
I pressed on, ignoring that and the indignant noise Vida made. “All the tribes are scattered, and we have no way to bring them together in any kind of force that would matter—and even if we did, it’d just be bait for the PSFs to come round us up. I know, I know that you hate this, that this isn’t what you would choose, but what do you honestly expect we’d be able to do with the research? Broadcast it out all over the world? Do you have the tech for that? The resources? I’m trying to think about what’s best for the kids in those camps—”
“No,” he said coldly, “no, you’re not thinking at all.”
“It’s done, Liam,” I said. “Maybe they’ll go back on their word, but I’m not willing to go back on mine. Not when the stakes are so high. If…I won’t like it, but I’ll understand if you want to split now, instead of in Colorado. This shouldn’t be your problem at all.”
“Colorado?” Chubs and Liam said together.
“We finally got a message from Cate,” I said, holding up the Chatter. “She wants to meet in Pueblo, Colorado.”
“She does?” Jude started. “But why—”
“When were you going to tell the rest of us?” Chubs cut in.
And as angry as he might have been at his friend, Liam was all too happy to back him on this. “You just expect us to dump you off there? What happened to us staying together until we get to California?”
“If she’s coming to get us, it’s probably because she thinks there isn’t a way for us to safely cross the border into California,” I lied, and hated myself for it. “She probably wants to fly in. I’m sure she’ll let you hitch a ride—”
“Don’t even bother finishing that sentence,” Liam said.
“Okay, okay, okay!” Chubs shouted over us, making a hard turn to the right. “Please, for the love of God, can we just be quiet and okay for five freaking minutes and remember that we are actually friends who care about one another and don’t want to wrap our hands around one another’s necks? Because that sounds really nice right about now!”
“Somehow,” Vida said after a long, uncomfortable, silent five minutes had passed, “this is worse.”
Liam must have agreed, because he reached over and knuckled the radio on, humming something under his breath as he scanned through the static, the Spanish chatter, the commercials, until he finally landed on a woman’s deep, even voice.
“—Children’s League issued this statement about the Christmas Summit—”
“Oh no you don’t,” Chubs said, reaching over to turn it off. “We’re not getting into this again.”
“No!” all three of us protested from the backseat. Jude practically mashed his face against the metal grate between him and the radio dial, and the instant Alban’s voice came pouring out of the speakers, Vida was right there with him.
“That’s—” Jude began in an excited voice.
“We do not believe that the peace Gray is trying to prescribe is in anyone’s interest but his own. If this false meeting of the minds is to take place, it will ruin the good work that common American citizens have done to rebuild the lives he shattered. We will not sit idly by while the truth is buried under heaps of his lies. The time to act is now, and we will.”