Every street and bridge, every garden or alley, people had cleared from his path—and they’d recoiled just like Yotiluzzi’s guard was doing now. Though at least the people of Veñaza City hadn’t uttered Voidwitch, or swiped two fingers over their eyes to ask for the Aether’s protection as this guard did now.
There was another loud groan of protest from the tunnel door—the sound got me on my feet, and both of us rushed out into the hallway. I was so sure that I’d see Cate charging down into the darkness, about to make good on her promise to leave, that the dirty, tired faces of the eight kids standing there hit me like a blow to the chest.Each of them looked a little more terrified than the last. Senator Cruz brought up the rear, brushing away all of the hands that reached in to help her climb the last few steps. She glanced around, avoiding the assessing look from Dolly as she appeared to my left.
Made it in record time! Cole said, pounding each of them on the back in turn, earning a few smiles and even more relieved hugs. Did you have any problems?No, we were a little confused about the instructions you gave us on how to get down into the base from the pub, but once we saw the place we figured it out. Zach, a tall, tan-skinned leader from one of the League’s Blue teams, seemed as unshakeable as ever. He dragged a hand back through his dark hair and surveyed the place.If Zach looked relaxed now, confident, Nico had swung to the other side of the spectrum. He looked small and terrified, black hair standing up every which way, like he’d spent the last day running his hands back through it in dismay. Nico crossed his arms over his chest, cupping his elbows, breathing in deep. At least, until he saw Cate. She pushed toward him, shouldering her way through the other agents, but instead of flinging himself at her the way Vida had done, he reached up, covered his face with his hands, and began to weep.
It was the only word to describe the sounds coming from him. They rose over the excited chatter, smothered each and every question, sapped the laughter until it died down to a whisper. My guts twisted until I finally had to look away, and let gray static fill my ears instead. None of the other kids moved toward him, only Senator Cruz, who made it very clear with her expression what she thought of us for that. Her arms were around him even before Cate’s.I turned to Dolly and asked where to find the showers and the sleep rooms, grateful for the excuse to get away from the horrible sound of Nico crying, from Cate’s disappointment, the others’ unknowing excitement for a place that had been stripped to the point of being almost uninhabitable.
From what I could see, the Ranch was split along two hallways that ran parallel to each other and were connected by double doors at either end. The lower level had the same floor plan as the upper one did: two narrow, twin halls with over a dozen closed doors lining each of them. One hall the stairwell emptied into was little more than a series of bunk rooms to sleep in, the kitchen, and a laundry room. One of the doors had been left open and I glanced inside at the four bunk beds.
The voices in the next room were muffled, but I recognized Chubs’s What? when it burst out of him. I crossed the last few feet to the door and gripped the door handle, wondering why they’d shut it at all.I dragged myself up and out of a haze of pain and grogginess. My eyes were crusted with sleep. I tried lifting a hand up to wipe it away, to ease the tingling at the tips of my fingers. The Velcro restraint jerked but held firm, cutting into my bare wrists with a vicious bite as I tried to rise up off the freezing metal examination table.
The cold water hadn’t been water at all, but sweat. It dripped down into the white plastic muzzle trapping each labored, heated breath. The black spots floating in my vision cleared, adjusting to the room’s harsh artificial light. The pieces began to make sense. The poster on the wall, the one with the color chart outlining each of the abilities, Red to Green—Psi Classification System, my lips formed the words on top.High up in the corner of the room, a lidless camera eye was blinking like a heartbeat.
Calm down, Ruby. The rational part of my brain was still firing, at least. Calm down. You’re alive. Calm down....It was sheer will and nothing else that finally brought my pulse back down. I breathed in my through my nose, out between my teeth. This was Thurmond—the Infirmary. I recognized the lemon-scented terror of it and the sounds of kids crying nearby, the rattling of carts, heavy booted footsteps, and still some part of it felt unreal to me, even as the last moments at the Ranch slammed back into me. The flash drive—my boots were still on, they hadn’t taken them, thank God. I tried twisting my foot around the restraints, but I couldn’t feel it against my ankle bone. I flexed and then pointed my toes, nearly crying in relief when I felt the sharp plastic corners under my heel. It must have slipped down.