The pulse of power flared white as it met the resistance of his body armor and traveled out through the air, looking for another conductor.
Shit. There wasn’t anything electrical on him that I could sense, not even a comm in his ear. Shit!
My body knew what to do a full second before my mind did. I went limp, making myself deadweight. The asphalt dragged against the back of my legs, tearing at my calves, but the shock of that one movement was enough for him to relax his grip in my hair.
I swung my leg so that my foot caught his ankle. At the edge of my vision, the boy came tearing around the side of the car, a small gun in his hands. He wheeled back in surprise as I shoved myself up off the ground and launched my fist one, two, three times into the attacker’s throat.
I threw myself to the left as his first shot rang out. The attacker staggered back, pressing a hand to where his rubber vest had caught the bullet. The boy’s face was utterly expressionless as he adjusted his aim by less than an inch and fired again.
What the hell? It was an impossible shot, catching the man between the low-slung helmet and the rise of the vest that covered the lower half of his face. Even Vida would have struggled to make it.
The man dropped to the ground, bleeding out onto the cement between us.
The boy took a step toward me. I took a step back, heart jumping into my throat. This wasn’t just another Psi—this wasn’t just another kid. The training that took…
“Who the hell are you?” I snarled.
He’s part of this, that voice whispered. Him and the girl.
That unreadable mask faltered as he lowered his gun, only to draw it back up again, spinning toward the fountain.
The girl in the yellow dress was knocked back by another man dressed in solid black, but she went down kicking, beating her foot against his kneecap. Her impressive height and strong, athletic figure made them evenly matched—until the attacker trained his gun on her.
I took a running step toward them on instinct, but he wasn’t alone—we weren’t alone. Three more men, all in the same dark uniform, came running up from behind the police cars, guns trained on us.
“Go!” the boy shouted.
I swung my gaze to him as he squeezed off a shot at the other girl’s attacker. He spared only a single look at me, then pivoted toward the girl. The soldier dropped both knees onto the girl’s stomach, pinning her there.
The girl screamed in pain as she reached up to knock his helmet back, then clawed at its strap hard enough to choke him. With her kicking up to flip them, and the soldier trying to pin her, the boy couldn’t get a clear shot.
“Priya!” the boy shouted. “Stop!”
The man—the soldier—whoever it was—reached into a pocket on his vest and pulled out a yellow handheld device.
It had been so long since I’d seen one, and an old model at that. Years and years and years, hundreds of miles from this place, on the road in the middle of nowhere. The memory invaded my mind, filled my mouth with static until I was sure I could feel sparks traveling over my teeth.
But when the White Noise sounded, I couldn’t hear it. Didn’t feel it.
It tore through the others, and I knew exactly what they were feeling, how it must have shredded their thoughts and set fire to their nerve endings. The boy fought to stay on his feet as blood began to drip from his nose. The girl went terrifyingly still. The man laughed as he punched her again and got no response.
The other men were on the boy in an instant, kicking and beating him until, finally, he collapsed onto the sidewalk. He strained to lift up his head, finding my gaze.
I read the word on his lips: “Run!”
I could. I could take one of the deserted cars left in the lot and be in the wind, be gone. The realization made my knees lock, my hands shake.
But I hadn’t been able to leave that stranger at the gas station in West Virginia when she needed help. I couldn’t leave these strangers now, not after they’d tried to help me. Even if it came to nothing, I had to try. I’d cheated death once today. I could do it again. I wasn’t weak or small or frightened—I wasn’t that little girl anymore.
He’d trusted me. I’d brought them here, right into this. I had to be the one to get us out.
The words blazed through my mind as I threw myself onto the man holding the device, raking my broken nails down the exposed skin of his cheek. I knocked him sideways off the girl, clawing until I could get the device in my hand. My fingers brushed against it, making it spark and crackle as the plastic casing melted down into its wires.
The others stopped writhing, but before I could try to wake them, a pair of arms locked across my chest. They hauled me up until my feet dangled over the ground. I bucked, trying to smash my head back into his face, but I only hit the helmet. Black stars burst in my vision.
“Stupid bitch!” the man yelled, throwing me back down. I slammed into the cement, gasping. “I’ll fucking kill you, I don’t care—”
“Easy!” someone else bellowed. “Come on, there’s no time—”
A cloth reeking of damp, sickly sweetness was shoved up against my face. I crawled forward, toward the unconscious boy, only to have the cloth pressed in tighter. Chloroform.
Let me help—let me help—let me— I bucked against the weight that fell over me, hating the hot sting of tears in my eyes, and the way the growing darkness took the sight of him, the words, the pain from me, until all I had left was the deepest black of sleep.
I FADED—IN AND OUT OF consciousness, in between reality and dream, and through light and darkness.
My mind spun inside my skull, light as a passing breeze. The bite of the leather straps holding me down—across my shoulders, my stomach, my legs—was disorienting. Half of me was there. The other half was rising toward the cracks in the metal roof, pulling myself up on those narrow ropes of light. The shadows on the walls were like long-forgotten nightmares, circling their prey.
Each time I closed my eyes, a new scene played out. Campfires. Dark roads. Electric fences. Closer and closer, faces edged forward out of the darkness. They watched me, blurred and unreal. They were all here, everyone I had known. My friends. Caledonia’s controller. Gabe. Mel. The old woman. My head was crowned with sparks and crackling threads of power.
They watched, but didn’t come closer. Didn’t help. They spoke in broken thoughts and uneven voices.
“—everywhere, looking for her—”
“Stay here, wait for orders—”
My eyelids burned. They drooped shut under their own weight; the tears and crusts caught in the lashes were as heavy as lead. This time, there was only darkness.
There was nothing at all.
At first, I thought it was blood.
The metallic stench seeped into my nose, my hair, my skin until I couldn’t escape it. I forced my eyes open, cringing at the intensity of the light from above. As the black spots floating in my retinas faded, I could finally make out the stains on the ceiling. On the walls around me.
It was only rust. But seeing it smeared everywhere, the red-tinged droplets falling steadily into a small pool near my head, made the bile rise in my throat again, until I was sure I would choke on my own vomit.
Breathe. I sucked one breath in through my nose, then released it slowly. Just the way Doctor Poiner had taught me in our very first session, three years ago, when the past suddenly grew teeth and started following me everywhere.
Breathe through the panic, she’d coached. Find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.
Three walls, the ceiling, my shirt, I counted. The ridges on the metal, the damp strokes of condensation, the clumps of rust both old and new, the rough wood of the floor beneath me. My heartbeat, drips of water, my breath. Gasoline and something rotting. My sweat.
Breaking down all those senses one at a time made me realize something
else: I could hear again. The static whine had subsided enough that it no longer blocked out every other sound. It was still there, though, buzzing like a fly trapped in my ear.
I took in another breath, trying to sit up. The straps keeping me in place creaked but didn’t stretch. I was flat on my back and wet where my body touched the ground. Judging by the shape of the small space, it had to be some kind of shed—or a shipping container?
I craned my neck back, catching sight of two long, still shapes in the shadows. It all came back in a jolt that sent awareness shooting through me. Wherever I was now, they hadn’t brought me here alone.
Someone was taking shallow breaths, pulling hard against their restraints. There was an edge of panic to it, and I had to fight to keep it from infecting me, too.
“Hello?” My throat felt blistered.
“Try to keep your voice down.” The boy. He spoke so softly, I barely made him out. He was still tugging at his restraints when he added, “There are guards posted outside.”
Some of the tension in my shoulders eased, making it easier to breath.
“Oh good,” I whispered back, forcing a brightness into my voice. The patented Liam Stewart method of trying to defuse someone else’s fears while swallowing your own. “I was worried escaping would be too easy.”
“Too easy?” he repeated, momentarily forgetting the restraints. I was just about to explain the art of inappropriately timed sarcasm when he said, almost as if testing a joking tone for the first time, “Then…you’ll be excited to know that it looked like they were armed with everything but flamethrowers.”