“I know,” Kaine said, his voice soft. “But stopping it isn’t that easy. I was someone’s pawn and I didn’t realize it until I began to lose my power. Now I’m nothing but a scapegoat for all this violence.”

Michael looked at Helga, then his friends. They all seemed just as confused as he felt.

“I can see that you’re having trouble trusting me. Which I can respect,” Kaine said. “The best way to deal with this is to have you think about everything. I’m going to send you all a link—it’s heavily protected. If you want to contact me, it will work one time. When you’re ready, we can work together and stop this madness.”

Not a second after Kaine stopped speaking, the giant square of light flashed, then vanished, and the shapes reappeared beneath their feet, silently dancing. All was as before.

“What in the world is he talking about?” Bryson asked the silence.

2

After they Lifted out of the Coffins, Helga was a flurry of motion. She moved through the barracks briskly, checking in with her people, finishing up any last-second tasks. Then she ordered Michael and his group to get in the cars that were leaving—three off-road four-wheelers that had been hidden behind the barracks. Yet when Michael tried to ask her where they were going, she wouldn’t answer.

And then there was the problem with Sarah. Her parents, understandably, refused to give her permission to leave. When Michael confronted her about it, she was angry. She snapped at him in front of Gerard and Nancy, which embarrassed him and made him just as angry.

“Then I’m staying, too,” he said stubbornly.

This time, Sarah yelled at him. “Would you just go? You’re making it worse every second you’re still here. I’ll be fine!” She stormed out the back door of the building and slammed it behind her.

There had been something there, in her eyes, but Michael couldn’t read it. So with actual physical pain thumping in his chest, he turned away from Sarah’s parents, and without saying another word, he walked out, too.

3

“She’s really not coming?” Bryson asked. “Really?”

Michael sat between him and Helga in the backseat of one of the four-wheel-drives. The vehicle churned up a sheet of mud, spitting rocks and gravel as it turned out of the damp parking area—nothing more than a trampled expanse of weeds and brush. The engine roared and they set off, driving down the long dirt road they’d taken to get there. Walter was at the wheel, and Amy sat in the passenger seat. Both were very quiet.

“Yes, really,” Michael answered his friend, not bothering to be nice about it.

“How can we just leave her there?” Bryson said. “We’re nothing without her.”

“Yeah, well, her parents make her rules, not us. By the time I left, she was acting like she didn’t want to go anyway.”

“We’ll be back for her,” Helga said. “Don’t worry. We can do what we need to now, and then we’ll have her join us again when we go back into the Sleep.”

Michael wanted to ask Helga what exactly they needed to do now, but he was too exhausted to speak. He slumped in his seat, figuring explanations would come soon enough.

A figure darted out of the woods up ahead, scurrying from the tree line into the middle of the road. Walter slammed on the brakes and the car fishtailed before coming to a stop only a few feet short from the person. For a split second Michael thought it was one of those strange girls from Trae’s group. But his heart soared when he saw that it was Sarah.

“No way,” he whispered. “She wouldn’t.”

“Yes, she would,” Bryson replied.

Both boys pulled open their doors and ran to her, with Helga trailing them. Sarah went straight for Michael and hugged him fiercely.

“Sorry,” she said. “I had to make them think I was staying.”

Michael was so surprised and happy, he could only get out an “Okay.”

“As soon as I went out the back door, I sprinted into the woods, ran until I thought my heart was going to explode. I barely made it here ahead of you guys.”

Bryson lightly punched her on the shoulder. “Your parents are going to murder you. Were you always this bad?”

Helga didn’t seem too pleased about the situation. “Sarah, this is a really terrible idea. I can’t just go against your parents’ wishes. They’ll murder me, too.”

Sarah shook her head adamantly and ran to the backseat of the first car, jumped in, slammed the door. “I’m going!” she yelled through the window.

“At least tell them I tried to stop you,” Helga muttered as she walked back to the car. “Get in. We’ll just have to squeeze the four of us into the backseat.”

4

It took a lot of effort for Michael not to grin from ear to ear as they bounced along the rough road leading them out of the wooded valley. The relief he felt at having Sarah by his side—literally—was stronger than he could’ve guessed. It made him think of when her Aura had died on the Path, in those caves full of lava pools. After she’d disappeared, he’d never felt lonelier. He needed her, now more than ever.

“So what’s the plan?” Bryson asked. “High time you told us.”

“Exactly what Michael suggested,” Helga responded, looking out the window as she spoke. “The Alliance has pretty much exhausted what we can do on our own. We need to find an audience with some senior lawmaking officials who hopefully haven’t been compromised, and I know the perfect place.”

Michael had two questions, but Sarah was already one step ahead of him.

“What exactly have they been doing?” she asked. “The Alliance, I mean. Back at the barracks, it was like we didn’t exist to them.”

“Lately they’ve been studying patterns in the Tangents that Kaine has sent into the world,” Helga answered. “Trying to figure out their purpose. Gathering data. In the Sleep, I had people working hard on the Mortality Doctrine program, trying to deconstruct it, figure out how to reverse it. How it connects to the Hive, how the humans taken over by Tangents connect to their counterparts within the Hive.” She sighed. “But we have a long way to go.”

Michael asked the other, more obvious question. “So where is it that you think we can meet up with some fancy government types?”

They all bounced half a foot off the seat when the car lurched over a huge bump in the road. Michael’s head actually hit the roof.

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