Cate switched off her headlights. “I would think so. The PSFs don’t have the manpower to launch a full hunt for us, but I’m positive they’ve put two and two together about what you are.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “That we’re Orange? I thought you said they already knew. That was why we had to leave so quickly.”
“They were on the verge of finding out,” Cate explained. “They were testing the Orange and Red frequencies in that Calm Control. I don’t think any of them expected it to work that quickly—that’s why we had to get you out, and fast.”
“Frequencies,” Martin repeated. “You mean they added something to it?”
“That’s exactly right.” Cate smiled at him in the rearview mirror. “The League got wind of their new method of trying to weed out kids who had been labeled incorrectly when they were brought into camp. You know that adults can’t hear the Calm Control, I’m sure.”
We both nodded.
“The scientists there have been working on frequencies that only certain kinds of Psi youth can pick up and process. There are some wavelengths you all can hear, and others that only Greens, or Blues, or—in this instance—Oranges can detect.”
It made sense, but it didn’t make it any less horrifying.
“You know, I’ve been wondering,” Cate began. “How did you two do it? You especially, Ruby. You went into that camp so young. How did you get around their sorting?”
“I…just did,” I said. “I told the man who was supposed to run my tests that I was Green. He listened.”
“That’s weak,” Martin interrupted, looking right at me. “You probably didn’t even have to use your powers.”
I didn’t like to think of them as powers—that seemed to imply they were something to celebrate. And they were most definitely not.
“I told someone to trade places with me when they started separating all the O’s and R’s out. Didn’t want to go down with them, you know?” Martin leaned forward. “So I took one of the new Greens aside who was about my age, and made him and that warden think he was me. Same for anyone who asked. One by one. Cool, huh?”
The disgust coiled in my gut. He didn’t feel sorry about doing any of this, that was clear. Maybe I had lied about what I was, but I hadn’t damned another kid to do so. Was that what having control over your Orange abilities turned you into? Some kind of monster—someone who could do whatever you wanted, because no one was capable of stopping you?
Was that what being powerful was like?
“So you can make people believe they’re someone they’re not?” Cate said. “I thought Oranges could only command someone to do something. Sort of like hypnosis?”
“Nah,” Martin said. “I can do much more than that. I get people to do what I want by making them feel what I want them to feel. Like that kid I switched places with? I made him feel too scared to stay in his cabin, made him feel like it would be a good idea to pretend to be me. Anyone who questioned me—I made them feel crazy for doing it. So I can sort of command people to do stuff, but it’s more like, if I want someone to hurt someone else, I have to make him feel really, really pissed at the person I want him to attack.”
“Huh,” Cate said. “Is it the same for you, Ruby?”
No. Not at all, in fact. I looked down at my hands, to the dark mud still caked under my fingernails. The thought of revealing exactly what I could do made them shake in a way I hadn’t expected. “I don’t throw feelings into someone; I just see things.”
At least, as far as I knew.
“Wow…I just…wow. I know I keep saying this, but you two are really something amazing. I keep thinking of all the things you could do—how much help you’ll be to us. Incredible.”
Twisting around, I lifted my head just enough to look out to the road. Behind me, I felt Martin grab a few loose strands of my hair and begin to twirl them around his fingers. I could see the reflection of my round face in the rearview mirror—the big eyes that seemed almost sleepy; thick, dark brows; full lips—I could see the revulsion slide over it.
I shouldn’t have, but I took the bait. Martin barely had time to brace himself before I whirled around and slapped that same clammy hand back down into his lap. My next breath caught in my throat. Do not touch me, I wanted to say; don’t think I won’t break every single finger on that hand. But he was grinning at me, his tongue on his cold sore, his hand rising again. Only this time, he wagged his fingers in my direction, taunting. I leaned forward, ready to grab that same wrist, to shut the pig down cold, hard, and fast.
But that was exactly what he wanted. The realization flowed thick and slow through me, inching its way to my guts. He wanted me to show him what I could do, to be willing to fuel my abilities with the same kind of viciousness pumping through him.
I turned my back on him again, my fists tightening with his triumphant chuckles.
Had the anger even been mine, or had he pushed it into me?
“Everything okay back there?” Cate called over her shoulder. “Hang on tight, we’re almost there.”
Whatever Marlinton normally looked like, it was that much worse under the cover of gray clouds and a layer of misty rain. Strange and terrible enough to distract even Martin from the games he was playing with my head.
The deserted shopping centers with broken storefronts were disturbing enough before we cut into the first neighborhood of little brown and gray and white houses. We passed a number of empty cars along the street and in driveways, some with bright orange FOR SALE signs still stuck in the back window, but all of them covered in a thick skin of brown, rotting leaves. The cars were surrounded by piles of junk and boxes—furniture, rugs, computers. Entire rooms full of rusting, useless electronics.
“What happened here?” I asked.
“It’s a little hard to explain, but do you remember what I told you about the economy? After the attack in D.C., the government was thrown into a tailspin, and one thing led to another. We couldn’t pay off our national debt, we couldn’t provide money to the states, we couldn’t provide benefits, we couldn’t pay government employees. Even small towns like this one didn’t escape. People lost their jobs when companies failed, and then they lost their homes because they could no longer pay for them. The whole thing is terrible.”