He stared at me a full thirty seconds before he nodded.
One of the guards jerked forward, grabbing the back of the nearest man’s shoulder. He pulled him up. The Hider began kicking, trying to lift his bound hands, but he couldn’t do a thing. He flapped around like a fish. He was wearing a cap, the penguin emblem sewed into it. He rolled, but that cap stayed on.
It stayed on. Like it was trying to tell me something.
Stay on. Stay true. Stay strong.
The other Hiders began rolling around, one female screaming around her rag.
I couldn’t—I didn’t—I screamed, “I DON’T KNOW WHERE SHE IS!”
The guard lifted his gun, placing the muzzle against the back of the guy’s head, pressed right up to the cap. He waited, watching Kai for the order.
“Oh my God. I don’t. I swear I don’t know where she is,” I sobbed.
I dry-heaved again. My vision was swimming. If I moved for him, the guard could pull the trigger. If I stayed still, he could pull the trigger.
His life was in my hands, and I had nothing to give up for him. Nothing.
He was going to die.
The Hider stilled, coming to the same realization, and his eyes found mine, a stark pleading there. I felt it deep inside of me. He was scared, so scared, but calm.
He shouldn’t have been calm.
I swallowed the tears streaming down my face. “Please, Kai! Please. My God. Please! I don’t know. I swear I don’t know. Please don’t kill him—”
Then, two soft words, “You’re lying.”
And the guard pulled the trigger.
All the time with the Network, I saw people near death, but I’d never seen someone die. Never.
The Hider’s body jerked forward. Blood splattered everywhere, and the guard stepped back, releasing his body. He fell limply to the floor. His eyes were closed. He was so still, and I fell to my knees, trying to hold everything in—my tears, my vomiting, my screams, but it wasn’t working. I felt my entire body jerking, and then I hit the floor, hard.
I had no control. I was having a seizure. This had never happened to me, and I couldn’t stop myself. My teeth banged against each other. My head was going to slam into a chair, but then someone cursed.
The floor shook as footsteps rushed toward me, and someone scooped me up.
“Get them out!” Kai held me, barking over my body. “I want the fucking medic in here. NOW!”
I flailed around. My hand hit his head. He cursed again, but wound his arms more tightly around me to still my movements.
That wasn’t what he was supposed to do, but I couldn’t tell him my EMT training. He carried me back into his bedroom, and we sank down on the bed, his entire body wrapped around me to keep me from hurting him or myself. When he heard my teeth clacking together, he grabbed for a pillow and shoved it into my mouth, then sank back and held me immobile.
I shouldn’t have felt safe, but I did.
After a moment, I could feel the seizure slowing, and an intense exhaustion settled in. I heard knocking on the door, then footsteps coming in just as I fell asleep. Again.
“Pssst, Ray ray! Pssst!”
I opened an eye and saw Brooke kneeling beside my bed, her eyes lit up and an excited smile on her face. Her cheeks were red.
I groaned, burrowing my head under my pillow. “Go away. You’re too awake for me.”
She giggled, then shoved my shoulder. “Come on. Get up. I want to show you something.”
She was so annoying, so awake at a time I knew was ungodly and wrong. So wrong. It was irritating how much of a morning person she was. Five am wasn’t the time to get up and dance, but that was one of her favorite pastimes.
Thank God I bargained hard. I’d gotten her to do her dancing routine in the community room down at the end of the hall. It was a nice bonus that two girls we hated had their room directly underneath, and they hadn’t figured out who the dancer was. Not yet. The time was coming, though. We were only two weeks into school.
“Come on. I mean it. I really want to show you something.”
She was so persistent.
“What is it?” I grumbled, but I sat up, rubbing my eyes. This was not right. I glared at her, dropping my hands to my lap. “You’re not human.”
She laughed again, ducking her head behind her hands. “Come on. Come on. Quick.”
“Fine, fine.” I crawled out of bed and reached for my slippers.
I was pulling on my robe, following her out of the room, when it hit me that I wasn’t cold. I should’ve been cold. It was always cold this early in the morning.
“Wait.” I stopped, five feet from the door. “Where are we going?”
She poked her head around and waved me forward. “You’re going to miss it. Come ON!”
She was too annoying for this to be a dream. “Fine, fine, fine.” I rubbed a hand over my face. I just wanted to go back to sleep. “But where are we going?”
She disappeared back into the hallway as I reached for the door.
Then I heard her words, and an eerie laugh echoing from down the hallway. “My execution, silly.”
My eyes snapped open.
I was awake, and not back in Hillcrest, not following Brooke.
To her execution.
My heart pounded in my chest. I was in Kai’s room, in his bed. Fear paralyzed me for a second, as I remembered the last time I’d woken here, remembered everything. Then I scrambled out of bed, hit the floor running, and dashed into the main room.
I skidded to a halt.
I was alone. Completely. There weren’t even guards inside.
I slumped down in a chair at the table and took everything in. So much had happened, and my mind was swimming. I felt like I was drowning, and Hider operatives didn’t do that.
I’d been playing defense this whole time, just trying to catch up. I had to stop. I had to formulate a plan.
They knew everything. Blade. The Network. The Hider operatives who came to help me—I felt sick again just thinking of them. If I hadn’t made that call, that guy would still be alive. His death was on me.
I had to make it right somehow.
She was another piece of the puzzle.
Kai didn’t believe me. He was desperate to find her.
The possibilities were endless, and none of it would get figured out unless I got out of here.
I had to get out. Somehow.
Getting out of this room would be a good first step. After showering, I grabbed some clothes and runners from the closet.
With clammy hands, and a pulse that didn’t seem it would ever slow down, I started for the door.
It swung open before I could get there.
I opened my mouth, thinking that had happened fast, but then Tanner strolled in. Hands in his pockets, head down, he walked like he was out for a stroll he didn’t want to be on.
Noticing my shoes first, he paused and lifted his head.
“Oh, hey. You’re awake. Good.” He turned around and called back over his shoulder, “Follow me.”
I wasn’t going anywhere.
I had to. I had to see if I could escape or find the other Hiders.
Tanner hadn’t waited for me, but there were two guards outside the door. Sighing, I headed out, but I kept my head up. I tried to memorize the way to wherever I was going, which was ridiculous because I was just guessing at where Tanner had gone. I must’ve been correct for the most part, but after I made a turn down a hallway, the guard behind me cleared his throat and said, “Other way.”
“Thank you.” I glanced at him and veered to the left hallway instead.
After that they had to direct me down three flights of stairs and through so many hallways I lost count. I’d felt like I was going back to the main door where they’d first brought me in, but I wasn’t certain. I was getting a headache trying to track where I was and look for escape routes at the same time.
I should give up. Or wait for an opening.
This was the fewest guards I’d had, but there were still two of them. I had no doubt that whenever I got to where I was supposed to be, there’d be more.
Then I rounded a last corner and saw I was on the main floor. I could see the front door, but Tanner hollered from the other direction, “In here!”
He was in the kitchen, an entire grand room with a long dining table taking up one side, and an open kitchen on the other.
Tanner stood at the marble countertop, frowning at a coffee pot. “You drink coffee, Ray ra—Riley?”
He was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt with the hood pulled over his head. With a big yawn stretching over his face, he glanced to me. “Hmmm?”
I normally didn’t, but I shrugged. “Sure.” Maybe it’d help me stay alert.
My stomach rumbled, hurting. My throat was painful too.
He finished getting the coffee ready to brew, smiling as he punched the last button. “There. Ready.” He patted the top of the machine, a look of pride flashing over his face. “I just got this new sucker. About time to see if its espresso really does remind me of Paris.” He winked. “I doubt it will.”
“Tanner?” Someone called from behind me.
A guy was coming in. His head down, a bag like an EMT’s over his shoulder, he frowned at his phone on the way toward us.
“You in there?”