I clung to his hand, marveling at the feeling of it, at the air going into my lungs with each shaky breath, at the sunlight through the window. I’d never known quite how amazing being alive was until I thought I’d given it up.
“The bad news,” Nisha said slowly, “is that it didn’t work. We have no vaccine.”
“Wait, what?” I was still light-headed. I hadn’t heard right.
She got out of her chair. “We’ve looked at your blood already. If the modification was going to take, it would happen quickly, and it hasn’t. It appears the Great modification does nothing to you. Maybe Olympias designed a safeguard that you two wouldn’t kill each other. We may never understand how, just like we don’t understand how she created the virus in the first place. But it also means we can’t make the vaccine replicate like we wished to.”
“Then why did I pass out?”
“The pain? The fear? Perhaps some of the other agents we put in the serum? You should be fine.”
Another wave of dizziness hit me, and I curled back into the couch cushions. “So what do we do? We have no vaccine and no plan, and the meeting is set to happen sometime in the next twelve hours.”
“That is the million-dollar question,” Rocco said, his hands on the back of Luc’s chair.
Stellan got a text and went upstairs to retrieve Anya, and soon she was sitting on the floor at our feet coloring while everyone tossed out ideas. If we could get ahold of the Saxons’ virus supply, we could destroy it. But without someone on the inside, that seemed unlikely. Maybe we could somehow force the Circle to take the cure. And Colette could post a video warning people in the cities not to drink tap water in case the Saxons released it anyway.
“That would cause a whole new level of mass panic,” Jack said. “And if the virus were released in aerosol form, it’d be no use at all.”
He startled when Anya tapped on his knee and handed him a crayon and a page out of her coloring book, saying something bossy-sounding in Russian. Jack looked taken aback but obeyed, sitting cross-legged on the floor and shading in a bright orange sun.
“What if . . . ” Luc started hesitantly. “What is the word in English? When you are playing cards and you lie about what you have.”
“Bluff?” I said, sitting up.
“Yes. We bluff. If we thought distributing this vaccine could work, the Circle will think so, too. For all they know, we could have sent out the vaccine the second Lydia made the threat.”
For once, no one shot down the idea immediately.
I held a velvet cushion in my lap. “So we’d go to the meeting. We tell the Circle we’ve mass-released the vaccine and their territories are safe from the virus. We tell them the Saxons’ plan to kill them, and we give them the vaccine in small doses, just in case. Then we get them to . . . physically overpower the Saxons, all before Lydia can pull the trigger?” I said doubtfully.
“Or hope enough of them side against the Saxons that it’s no longer in her best interests to pull the trigger at all.” Elodie had moved to lie on one of the couches, her feet in Colette’s lap. She chewed her thumbnail thoughtfully. “Even if the Saxons themselves don’t take our bluff, actually releasing the virus on a grand scale has got to be their last resort, right? Dealing with the fallout from that would be messy and difficult and not what they want at all.”
I looked outside. It was late morning. We had a few hours until we’d know where the meeting was. A few hours more until it was all over. “Let’s say we decide to do this. What are the problems?”
“It’ll be incredibly dangerous,” Jack said. “Fitz tried to make me promise that we wouldn’t do anything like this.”
“That doesn’t mean I don’t think we should do it,” Jack said quietly, tapping a crayon on his hand. “I think it might be our only hope.”
“Okay, next,” I said. “How would we convince them we’re telling the truth? You heard what Luc said yesterday. The Circle doesn’t know what to believe, but I bet anything we say comes in last on that list.”
Anya handed Stellan a finished picture of a purple-and-green castle, and he grinned at her. “Everything is our word against theirs besides the actual science of the virus and the vaccine,” he said. “How can we use that?”
“Yes,” I said excitedly. “We show them. We bring a mouse, vaccinate it, then expose it to the virus.”
“A mouse won’t prove anything,” Nisha said, “and they’ll know it.” She was sitting on the arm of the sofa nearest me. Anya thrust a new coloring page at Jack, with a picture of a princess on it, and Jack looked up helplessly. Nisha rolled her eyes and joined them on the floor, taking the page out of his hands and attacking it with a red crayon. He pulled out yellow and pink and handed them to her, too. I did a double take at the familiarity that had sprung up between them, thinking suddenly of the times I’d seen them together last night. Jack caught me watching, frowned at what he read on my face, and gave me a warning look.
“Maybe it shouldn’t be a mouse.” Colette hadn’t said anything the whole time we’d been plotting, but now she sat up straight, her hand wrapped around Elodie’s ankle. “I’ve taken the vaccine. Infect me.”
We all looked at her, her strawberry-blond curls forming a halo around her heart-shaped face in the midday light. “Colette, you don’t have to—” Stellan started.
“Just because I’m not good with a gun like the rest of you doesn’t mean I’m useless. All I’ve wanted since Liam died was to make sure it didn’t happen again. And then I’m the one who took you all to that show where Cole—” Her big green eyes flicked to me, and away. “We know the vaccine works. I’ll be okay. Let me do this.”
Elodie pressed her lips together, but nodded. “Okay. And if we can prove we’re telling the truth about the vaccine, they’ll be more likely to believe the rest. Just one tiny problem: despite the fact that they heard Lydia saying those things on tape, some of them still don’t believe it. And the ones who do are afraid of us anyway. They might not even let us into the room.”
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