I twisted to look at him again—the dirt-caked bottom of his sneakers, at least. His breathing had evened out somewhat, and even with the lack of light I could see him twisting his body to try to catch a glimpse of me. “No flamethrowers?” I said. “What kind of evil organization is this?”
“A particularly stupid kind,” he whispered back, “one that was reckless enough to try taking you and foolish enough to underestimate your ability to fight back. I think you gave them the shock of their lives.”
It was what I wanted to believe more than anything in that moment: that I was capable of both getting us out of here, and making whoever had taken us regret it. That strand of confidence wove through me. “And that’s too bad. About the flamethrower, I mean. I do know how to use one, you know.”
“You say that like it’s meant to surprise me,” the boy said quietly. “Like I didn’t watch you punch a man twice your size with a fistful of lightning.”
That’s right—I had, hadn’t I? That memory was enough to send the aftermath of the explosion crashing back through my mind. Him and the girl being beaten and slammed against the ground. The armor the soldiers wore that blocked my power. The boy shouting at me to run.
Would he have told me to go if they were involved? Would they be locked in here—wherever here was—with me? He’d held himself together after the bomb in a calm, composed way. Even as the men attacked us, he’d seemed to sink deeper into that control, as if he’d merely clicked into a different, more lethal mode.
But a minute ago, I’d heard his strained breathing. I’d felt his rising panic as if it had been my own pulse fluttering beneath my skin.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “There’s nothing funny about this.”
“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “Humor is good for the alleviation of stress.”
Now that I could hear him clearly, my ears picked up the faint trace of an accent. Polish, maybe? Russian?
I gave a faint laugh. “That sounds like something a friend of mine would say.”
God. Chubs would be so worried. He and the others were probably losing their minds. He’d be my first call once I got us all out of here.
Get out, find a phone, make the call. It wasn’t even enough to really be considered a plan, but I clung to it. Even if there were a hundred steps that I still had to sort out, it gave me something real to start planning for. Just the possibility of hearing his voice after everything was enough to make me test the strength of the restraints again.
“I’ve been informed that I have the sense of humor of a rock,” he whispered, “which I’m interpreting as nonexistent and not surprisingly colorful.”
“I don’t know, you seem to be doing okay,” I told him, pulling at my restraints again. “We can work on it after we get out of here. You didn’t happen to notice where that is, did you?”
It was a long moment before he responded. I heard him swallow hard, the creak of leather as he tried to move. When he did speak, his voice had gone hollow. Remote. “Storage container—some kind of rail yard.”
The waves of fear rolled out, releasing the unbearable tightness in my chest, carving out pockets of paralyzing anxiety. In those places, something new bloomed.
For the threat during the speech. For Mel. For the wounded. For Cooper. For shattering that small measure of peace we’d managed to scrape together after almost five years of struggling. For the boy and the girl caught in this dark web with me.
It had to be connected—the bombing, being taken. From the moment the Defender had walked me down the steps of Old Main, toward the second Defender with the wrong baton and the gun, to when we’d reached the lot and had been confronted by a man with protective tactical gear that had nullified my specific power.
They had targeted me.
“I’m getting us out of here,” I told him, not bothering to keep my voice down. “Do you see anything around you we could use to pry up the bolts on our restraints?”
“Guards,” the boy reminded me quietly.
Right then, I couldn’t hear anything other than the wind blowing outside the storage container. My job required me to be so reserved, so careful with every small word choice, it felt like a relief to finally be able to say exactly what I wanted to.
“Let them listen, I don’t care.” I raised my voice, loud enough for it to echo off the metal walls. “I want them to know exactly how fucked they are the second we get out of here.”
Silence. The boy shifted, craning his neck to watch what I assumed was the entrance.
“Is she—the girl—is she okay?” I asked. “It looked like she took a big hit….”
“Priyanka? She’s taken bigger ones,” he said unhappily. “A word of warning: she’s going to wake up in a few minutes and will absolutely fight you to be the first one out of here. Please do not forget to unchain me when the two of you escape.” Somehow, he didn’t need to raise his voice the way I had for it to carry through our prison. His words were pure ice. “And when you’re done with them, I’ll make sure no one will recognize they were ever human.”
No response. Not even a bang on the door to tell us to shut up. No taunts, either.
I breathed in and out, cringing as a fat droplet of rust-stained water dripped onto my forehead.
“Maybe they’re gone,” I ventured. “Taking a break to do something else horrific. I should have asked before, but are you all right?”
“I just…want to get out of here,” he said haltingly. He shifted again, and I wondered what he was trying to see. “Can you think of any reason why they’d want to grab you?”
So he was also operating under the assumption that they had targeted me, and he and his friend had just been collateral damage.
Collateral damage who happened to be able to fight with an efficiency I’d only ever seen in trained soldiers.
“To make a statement? For ransom?” I decided to feel him out, see what he’d tell me about himself before clamming up. “Why do you assume they weren’t targeting you? Or Priyanka?”
“Because I’m no one,” he said quietly. “And I can’t imagine what they’d gain by taking Priyanka, unless they’re just planning on selling us to the highest bidder. But even that doesn’t seem likely, considering your high profile. It’s too big of a risk.”
“I doubt they’d risk selling any Psi. The government has shut down every attempt to illegally move P
si both inside and out of the country,” I said. “That’s why they keep such close tabs on all of us, to protect against that possibility.”
“All right,” he said slowly. “So what do you want to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“How do you want us to handle the escape?” he clarified. “I can’t tell how long we’ve been here, but if the guards are really gone they might be prepping to move us.”
As his words sank in, I felt something bright, something steady and calm break open inside me. He was looking to me again for what to do.
Relying on me.
“Normally, I love a good road trip, but we can’t let them move us,” I said. “If they come in to remove the restraints to bring us to another transport, wait until we’re all freed. Then we fight.”
I closed my eyes briefly, exhaling through my nose.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said softly.
“I was about to say the same thing to you,” I said. My bottom lip must have split open at some point after I lost consciousness, because the cut reopened as I spoke, and I tasted blood. “People will be looking for me, and once we break out of here, these assholes will have to face the full measure of the law for the lives they took. I’ll make sure of it.”
Silenced pooled between us once more. Finally, he asked, “What about me?”
“Well, you’re welcome to help,” I told him.
“No,” he cut in. “I mean, will you do the same for me? Make sure I don’t escape the law?”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
“The men,” he continued. “The ones I killed.”
The ones he’d dispatched with cool efficiency, and that expressionless mask on his face.
“That was self-defense,” I said, wondering who I was trying to reassure. “Anyone with eyes could have seen that.”
“For us,” he said, “there is no such thing as self-defense.”