It wasn’t until I reached for the button that I remembered.
“Shit,” I breathed out.
The doors slammed shut as soon as I lifted my hand from the button. I hit it again and darted forward, only for the heavy metal to snap shut in front of my nose. I pressed my face up to the small window on the right-side door, searching the darkness of the hallway there for any sign of the others. I pounded on it, holding my breath…and releasing it again when no one came.
Think….There had to be something on that floor I could use to pry open the doors, or keep them from completely closing.
My breath was ragged as I rolled one of the chairs out of a nearby office, trying to cram it into place, but the doors shut with such force they splintered the chair’s plastic frame and sent the wheels sliding through to the other side.
There were the downed security officers and soldiers on the floor, but…I shook my head to clear the gruesome images from it. Bones would break, but a Kevlar vest might be enough to withstand the force of the doors’ impact. My whole body shook from the effort of stripping one off a soldier, feeling the hot blood that had soaked through the fabric.
I held the button to keep the doors open, then slid the bundled-up vest between them with my foot.
They didn’t cut through the fabric, no. But the force of the impact flipped the vest out of position and into the other side of the hall. I slammed my fist against the button again, shouting, “Hey! Priya! Vida!”
But I could barely hear myself over the alarm.
Idiot, I thought savagely. I didn’t have a phone. I didn’t even know where the secret exit emptied so that I could meet them down on the street. My options dwindled, running through my mind like the last gasp of power from a battery.
Releasing the button, I stepped back, assessing the two slender windows on the doors. I was small…I could maybe contort my body enough to drag myself through. I took careful aim, my arms absorbing the kickback of the shot. Instead of shattering the glass, the bullet ricocheted off it. Reinforced. The cartridge clicked empty.
“Shit,” I breathed out, wiping the sweat off my face. My thoughts spun out, dwindling with the last few possibilities. I could use my power to overload the doors’ circuitry and fry the wiring. That might be enough to lock them in an open position. Or it might activate a fail-safe that would only lock them down further.
I blew out a shaky breath, trying to steady myself with reason. At this point, there was really nothing left to lose. No one was coming to get me, except for the soldiers and security officers currently combing the floors. If the doors opened, great. Easy. If they jammed, I’d take my last option: trying to get out of the building another way and rendezvousing with the others somewhere else.
I’ve wasted too much time already, I thought.
I reached out for the door control again, only to feel something hard jab against the base of my spine. The flush of hot, numbing needles in my mind left me screaming in frustration. The alarm droned on and on, forcing Lana to speak directly into my ear. “Be a good girl and put your hands on the doors.”
Not like this.
The words burned through me, catching inside of my chest.
I just wanted to save Ruby. I just wanted to help.
Lana directed me forward with a push of her gun. I saw my shadowed reflection in the dull metal of the door. It was freezing to the touch as I rested my palms and forehead against it.
“If I can’t bring him her, at least I can offer you up,” Lana said, wrenching one of my arms behind my back. “This wasn’t a wasted trip after all.”
“You can definitely try,” I told her, ignoring the cold dig of the barrel against my spine. I squeezed my eyes shut, narrowing my concentration on finding that silver thread, on digging that spark out from under the hold she had on my mind. These powers were mine—no one got to take them from me—no one—
The tightness that had clamped over my skull, the pressure, seemed to shiver.
“What are you doing?” Lana growled. “Stop it—”
It happened so quickly, I didn’t realize I was falling until the doors disappeared from in front of me, and my body slammed into the freezing tile. My teeth clacked together, biting my tongue as pain rang through my knees and palms. I flipped myself over, lashing a foot out toward Lana, but the quarantine doors had already snapped shut again behind me. I gasped as the knot binding my mind snapped, and warm power surged through it again.
For one insane second, I thought I had actually done it—but I was through the doors, and she was…
There was a muffled scream from the other side of the door, loud enough that I could hear it over the alarms. What the hell just happened? Red light washed over the hall as I pushed myself back up onto my feet.
Run, you idiot, I thought, even as I peered back through the window at Lana.
My blood stopped in my veins.
Someone had grabbed her from behind, gripping her across the torso and pinning her arms down at her sides. I saw the head of dark hair in the flashing emergency lights, and I knew. Even before he looked up, I knew.
That’s…That couldn’t be right. I’d left him in the operating room. He’d gone down ahead, with Liam and Chubs and Ruby. Why wouldn’t he have left with the rest of them?
Why was he on the wrong side of the doors?
I banged my fist against the glass, trying to get his attention. Lana was thrashing wildly, but he only tightened his grip, his face pained as he told her something I couldn’t hear.
If I had my power, that meant—what did that mean? That he’d been able to surprise her and mirror her ability before she’d been able to turn it on him? That he’d nullified her power to nullify our powers?
“Roman!” I shouted, pounding harder. I raised my hands, ready to try frying the doors, but Roman finally noticed me. He swung the two of them around, his arm shaking as he shot out the control on the wall. There was a metallic clang inside the doors, and, just like I’d feared, the fail-safe kicked in. The power drained from it like a soul leaving a body.
“No! Roman!” I wedged my fingers into the crack between the doors, bracing my feet on the floor. I could melt the lock, I could do something—they were heavy, but—
He kept looking from me to his left shoulder, where his right hand, the fingers out straight and together, was pressed. He lifted the hand slightly, then pressed the palm to his shoulder again, repeating the motion. The signal.
“No!” I shouted at him.
He did it again, struggling to keep Lana still.
This is okay.
I knew I was sobbing when it became impossible to take in any air, when my hands were too slick with sweat and my own tears to get any sort of purchase on the metal. I moved toward the window, trying to get his attention. The effects of mirroring Lana’s power were already ravaging him. His face was locked into a grim mask of pain as he tried to maneuver them down onto the floor.
I screamed as the armed soldiers poured out of the stairs down the hall. Not the uniformed army officers, not building security, not even Defenders—these men and women were dressed in familiar gear and all black.
The way Lana suddenly relaxed—that horrible, victorious smile that came over her face—turned my blood to ice and choked off my next breath.
“No!” I shouted. “Let her go!”
He couldn’t go back—they’d kill him—Mercer would kill him, if not with a bullet, then through crushing emotional and mental torture.
But Roman wasn’t going to let his sister go. Not again. Not even to get away and save himself.
He looked back at them, then turned his gaze toward me, his blue eyes as bright as the lightning had been in the stormy sky. His expression was terrifyingly calm. I read the word on his lips.
A canister rolled toward them. Roman twisted, keeping his back to the soldiers to shield Lana.
The soldiers formed a defensive line down the hall, several raising their guns to cover the ones who were approaching with handcuffs. It was the last sight I had before the flash of the stun grenade went off, and dissolved their images into light.
I pressed my hands against the glass, banging against it.
Run, I thought. You have to run.
I couldn’t stay here. I couldn’t leave.
But the others…Ruby and Priyanka and Liam and Chubs and Vida and those kids, they needed me. They needed me to run. I wasn’t done yet.
I wasn’t done.
I don’t know how I got back to the operating room, or how I got down the narrow, crude stairs. I had enough sense left in me to drag the shelves back into place behind me, and to overload the keypad lock on the door until the metal hissed and melted into itself.
What I did know was that when I made it outside, the others were still there. The sight of them didn’t make sense at first. I didn’t recognize this strange little side street, tucked against the back of the building, where there was a loading dock with a brick overhang above the ramp, shielding it from any eyes above. Parked there was one of the white tankers that the UN and interim government regularly used to bring in clean water to population centers.
Max stood next to a middle-aged dark-skinned woman in army fatigues. She was gesturing toward the truck, her face tight with panic. Chubs was on the roof of the tank, lowering the small kids down through one of the hatches. Liam and Ruby must have already been inside.
The only others who hadn’t climbed onto the truck were Vida and Priyanka, who were having a conversation of their own. Priyanka made a heated gesture back to the building. Vida pointed up, where helicopters were buzzing nearby.
It was Chubs who spotted me first. He called down to the girls, pointing to me as I made my way along the side of the loading bay toward them. I took a deep breath. The ringing in my ears sounded like screaming, and it tore at me a little more with each second. Each step forward.