“What is?” I asked, freezing in place. I turned to see him let the blanket fall into his lap. “The blanket?”
Owen nodded, not meeting my gaze. His thumbs ran along the edge of the blanket. “She’s so cold.”
It was only when those words ran through my mind a second time that I understood what he’d said. “You mean she was cold the last time you saw her?”
“She’s cold,” Owen said. “She’s so cold.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. “Did she say something to you before she left?”
His dark gaze lifted from his blanket again. “Just good-bye.”
My pulse was already thrumming hard in my veins before I turned—before I heard Miguel’s “Oh, shit!” from across the field.
He, Lisa, and Jacob were huddled over one of the burner phones, each of their faces looking more horrified than the next. A short distance away, the burner phone they’d given us began to blare in Priyanka’s hand. Roman was already there beside her, and even from my distance, I could see the color drain from his cheeks.
The static was growling loudly in my ears again as I made my way over to Priyanka and Roman. They both glanced up, not saying a word as they passed the phone over to me.
At first I didn’t understand what I was seeing. There was a live-streaming video of an airplane burning, its broken pieces strewn across a runway. The camera shifted over to the sight of a motorcade roaring away from it, police lights flashing.
The words scrolled across the bottom of the video, their truth blistering.
JOSEPH MOORE’S CAMPAIGN PLANE EXPLODES ON RUNWAY
“What is happening to this world?” I heard Lisa say.
AN EXPLOSIVE DETONATED JUST BEFORE THE CANDIDATE WAS DUE TO BOARD. TWELVE CREW AND STAFF ARE DEAD. NO SURVIVORS.
“I don’t understand,” Jacob said. “Why would anyone do this?”
SUZUME KIMURA, LEADER OF THE PSION RING, CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
THE SEDAN WAS AS OLD as it was plain-looking. It was the kind of car Liam had always favored: safe and completely nondescript. The beigest of beige. His only other requirement, aside from a decent engine and standard safety features, was a working radio. I would have left it off, except we needed to hear the latest updates about the bombing and the fallout from it.
An hour into our drive, I had the shock of hearing a recording of my voice, one that had clearly been cobbled together from a number of other speeches. “This is in retaliation for all the crimes against Psi.” An hour after that, I had serious thoughts about melting the radio altogether.
The only channel we were able to pick up for miles and miles and miles wasn’t the official zone channel, but a new one clearly unsanctioned by the interim government called Truth Talk Radio with Jim Johnson. It featured an endless programming loop of subjects that became progressively viler with each passing hour.
My mind was buzzing with anxiety and impatience. Roman had insisted on resting in the car and waiting until we had the cover of nightfall before hitting the road. I hadn’t been able to drop into sleep the way the others had; the impatience to go, to get to Mississippi, was itching beneath my skin. Even if Ruby wasn’t there, I told myself, her last known location was the only lead we had.
“I mean, listen to this—it’s unbelievable. Just listen,” Jim Johnson said, his voice so smug it made my skin crawl.
Then it was a different voice coming to us over the airwaves. President Cruz’s.
“As a result of the act of terror perpetrated at the airport,” she said, her voice as steady and bold as it almost always was—it was a voice that was never allowed to be wrong—“I am temporarily reassigning the Defenders to a new role in the protection of our country. They will use all the many resources available to them to track down these…rogue Psi elements, the so-called Psion Ring. To that end, they have been authorized to use force in situations that call for it. They will be offered new specialized training that focuses on the unique dangers of dealing with psionic abilities. Those who previously received training in such matters will be cleared for duty in the next twelve hours.”
There was only one group who had “previously received training” in dealing with us: former PSFs. The thought chilled my blood.
But President Cruz still wasn’t finished.
“In exchange for their assistance in the identification of potential members of this domestic terrorist group, as well as any information they might have about the histories of these Psi, the interim attorney general will be dropping all charges against the remaining camp controllers who are still awaiting trial.”
The splotches in my vision reappeared, and if the two-lane road hadn’t been deserted, I would have pulled us over onto the shoulder to breathe through the panic. I wasn’t just shaking—I was glowing with fury.
I could still hear her voice, her promise. You’ll never have to suffer as you did in the past. This is a new world, and it belongs to you as much as any of us.
There was going to be so much work to do when I got back to DC. For the first time in years, Cruz would hear me go off-script. She’d hear every thought storming through my mind.
“I’ve got none other than Joseph Moore, presidential candidate for the Liberty Watch Party, on the line. Mr. Moore, it’s great to have you back on the program.”
“Great to be here, as always.”
“The circumstances are horrible—can you assure the listeners that you and your family are all right?”
Moore let out a deep sigh. “My wife is rattled, and the campaign staff has been made to face an unimaginable reality. We lost so many good folks. The only thing we can do now is mourn them and pull out a win in honor of them.”
“Was that supposed to be him grieving?” Priyanka asked. “Because that whoosh in the background sure sounded like him seizing an opportunity.”
“On today’s welcome news: Were you surprised to see the interim president cave on these points?” the host continued.
“Of course Cruz finally gave in—she’s seen both her dismal polling numbers and the writing on the wall. Look at her favorite pets: one turns out to be behind the Psion Ring, and the other has finally been forced to disband that ridiculous sham of a council. I expect we won’t hear from him for quite some time, not until they’re through interrogating him.”
Chubs. The car lurched to the right with the force of my reaction. Roman reached over to steady the wheel.
“Sorry,” I breathed out. “Sorry…”
“That’s your friend?” Roman questioned. “The one you called before?”
I gave a weak nod.
“We’ve also received unconfirmed reports the Psi Council
has been dissolved, but what makes you believe they’re interrogating him?” the newscaster asked.
They had him. They had probably grabbed him for initial questioning after the explosion, and then, when I’d called him directly, I’d confirmed that we were still close. That he might know where I’d go, and who’d I’d seek out for help or shelter.
“Well, he’s the link, isn’t he? Between Kimura, and even Daly and Stewart, who still have yet to be found. Who’s to say they aren’t involved with the Psion Ring, too? That he isn’t a mole for them? That’s the question I’d be asking.”
No. God, no—
I wished I wasn’t driving. My body wanted to curl into itself, just for a moment, and let my bones and skin deflect the truth.
I hadn’t just destroyed Ruby and Liam’s dream. Someone was using me to destroy Chubs’s as well, and I was powerless to stop it.
Not for long, I thought, gripping the wheel harder.
“It’s only a matter of time before Cruz is forced to face the truth,” Moore was saying. “In her heart, I think she knows that her UN overlords are running this country into the ground with their un-American restrictions. She’s got no shot at winning the election as long as she refuses to initiate some kind of program to reeducate the Psi on how to be members of our society. It’s one generation, but it doesn’t have to be a lost one. Rather than brush them aside, let’s ask them to work for this country. Haven’t we seen that across history? Training for service will get them off the streets—heck, it might even reestablish our dominance in global politics.”
“Her reluctance truly makes you wonder if the United Nations has any intention of releasing their death grip on us. Mark my words, they will cancel this election before they let you win.”
“That is ridiculous,” I snapped.
“Let’s hope that’s not true,” Moore said. “At this point, I think we can all agree on one thing: even Gray was a better president—”
I slammed my clenched fist against the volume button. I only meant to shut it off, but the spark that jumped from my knuckles to the dash crawled over the display. Joseph Moore’s rant ended with a satisfying snap.