“I’m not going to pretend this doesn’t completely suck,” Jacob said. “They left us in charge, and while we got everyone out, it still hurts. But Haven is people, not a house. You could ask anyone here and they’d tell you that. As long as we can take care of each other, it doesn’t matter what roof is over our heads.”
I nodded, but the guilt didn’t ease.
“—and this is the standard prop,” Priyanka said, from somewhere behind me. “It pulls the quadcopter-style drone through the air, while the pusher prop at the back does what the name implies and pushes it forward. This is the memory card, which I will be taking with me. Ooh, and do you know what this is?” She paused for effect. “A motor mount. You should always check to make sure it isn’t cracked and the screws aren’t loose.”
I looked back, just in time to see several small heads nod, riveted. My eyes found Roman, whether they meant to or not. Sasha had waved him over and sat him down in the center of a circle of younger kids. Judging by her big hand gestures and the way stoic Roman’s cheeks were going pink, she was clearly regaling them with the story of her escape. Another one of the girls stood up and helpfully smoothed down his mussed hair for him.
“—emergency plan is already in play,” Jacob was saying, pulling my attention back to him.
“Are those the supply bags?” I asked, nodding to the large camping backpacks interspersed among the kids. Liam had mentioned them to me in passing during my last trip; they were outfitted with just about everything you could need for living rough for a while. The black trash bags they’d been wrapped in were currently being used by the kids as blankets to cover the ground.
“They are,” Lisa said. “There’s food, water, first-aid kits, and just about anything else you could want. It’ll tide us over until Liam’s dad and his friends get here.”
At my surprised look, Miguel held up a flip phone. “Sent the distress-code word as soon as I was through the tunnel. He’s checking the backup shelter for squatters and any monitoring, but he should be here fairly soon.”
A backup shelter. I took in a deep breath, eyes closing for a moment. That was a small relief, even though I’d never doubted that Liam and Ruby would have some kind of emergency plan in place if the house was exposed.
“And then what?” I asked.
“We’ll find a new house, or build one,” Lisa said. “And the littles will come to love that place, too.”
I glanced over to where Owen was sitting, alone. A few of the kids tentatively tried to approach him, to lay careful, hesitant hands on his shoulder, but he didn’t react to any of their touches. He stared straight ahead, toward the sunrise. I knew, without seeing them, how empty those big dark eyes would be.
“What are your plans, Zu?” Miguel asked. “There’s room for you here with us.”
“I’m going to go find them,” I said.
“I thought you would say that,” Lisa admitted. “I’d rather have you safe here with us.”
“People are looking for me,” I reminded her. “As much as I want to stay, you guys will never be fully safe if I’m with you. Not until I fix this mess.”
“With them?” Jacob clarified, tilting his head in their direction.
I glanced back at them—Priyanka, still showing the kids various parts of the drones, letting one of the Yellows zap what I assumed was a tracking device in it, and Roman, dropping a daisy chain he’d made onto Sasha’s head like a crown. She beamed up at him, the white flowers like stars in her dark hair.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think I can handle them.”
“Figured as much,” Miguel said. “You’d better take the getaway car.”
“Liam stashed a Toyota sedan in the woods, about a hundred yards past that line of trees,” Lisa said, pointing across the field. “Bring one of the packs with you. It’ll have everything you need, including a burner and a charger for it.”
I shook my head. I’d already taken far too much from them. “I can’t—”
“You can,” Lisa assured me. “We won’t need it.”
That’s what it came down to in the end. Need. If nothing else, we needed the burner, both to communicate and for Priyanka to create another device to make the cameras blink. Need made us do things, take things, we never would have otherwise.
“Please,” Miguel said. “Just try to check in with us. If you get any information, to let us know you’re okay…”
“I’ll try,” I promised.
“Wait,” Lisa said suddenly, turning back toward the pile of items salvaged from the house. Digging under some of the drawings, she pulled out a singed photograph and handed it to me. “I thought you might want this. I grabbed it from their room.”
It was a picture from five years ago, taken by Vida, of me, Chubs, Ruby, and Liam standing in front of Betty the van, out in the middle of the forest near Lake Prince in Virginia.
At the time, Liam had wanted to go looking for Betty so he could bring her in and fix her up. But by the time we found the old van, nature had done its worst to her engine and undercarriage. It would have been a nightmare to try to get a tow truck in there to haul her out. So we left Betty behind, as a kind of monument to what we had done together—who we had been together.
Liam had taken one of the hubcaps, though; he tucked it under one arm and Ruby under the other.
I looked so young in the photo, dressed in bright pink, face beaming. My hair was in a long pixie cut and the way I was smiling so wide made me seem almost impish. Chubs had glanced up at the sky, clearly exasperated by something that Vida had said the instant before she took the picture. Liam was looking over my head, smiling in Ruby’s direction. She was still in a walking cast after what happened at Thurmond, and was leaning back against Betty’s passenger door for balance. Her smile was small, but…peaceful.
I thought Chubs had had the only copy of it. He’d shredded it an hour before he testified in front of Cruz, UN representatives, and interim members of Congress that he no longer considered them friends, and that he had no idea where on earth they’d gone.
I took the scrap of memory, tucking it into my back pocket for safekeeping.
“Are Lee and Ruby going to meet us there?” I heard a boy ask Lisa. He twisted his hands together, turning his fingers into anxious knots. “Are they going to be able to find us?”
They are, I thought, because I’m going to bring them back to you.
But before I went looking, there was one last person I needed to talk to.
Roman looked up as I walked by him and headed for the lone figure sitting a few dozen feet away.
Owen had scrubbed the soot from his face, but the attack had left its mark on him. His expression was vacant as he held a blanket to his chest despite the heat. It was obvious that even his small stature and quiet, almost doe-like nature wasn’t enough to fully counteract the fear others felt at learning he was a Red.
“Hey, Owen,” I said, kneeling down beside him. “We didn’t really have a chance to meet before. I’m Zu.”
Nothing. No movement. Not a word.
“Thank you again for what you did,” I continued. “I can’t say it enough. Thank you. None of us would be here now, safe and together, without you.”
His only response was a slight nod as he tucked his chin against the blanket.
“Are you all right?” I asked him. Even at dawn, the humidity was setting in, and the blanket looked like it was made of wool. “Are you cold?”
He could be in shock, I thought. Owen, however, didn’t make any move to wrap the blanket around himself. He didn’t move at all.
“I have to ask you a question, if that’s okay,” I said, taking his silence in stride. “It’s about Ruby.”
Another nod. Progress.
The others had said Ruby was working with him one-on-one, trying to help him break Project Jamboree’s hold on his mind. This might be a long shot, but if she had mentioned anything to him about her trips, even in passing, it could be useful.
“Do you remember what the two of you talked about when she last spent time with you?” I asked. “She’s misplaced her phone, and we’re trying to track down where she might have gone.”
This wasn’t my first encounter with a Red who had been part of the ill-fated Project Jamboree, but it didn’t make it any easier. President Gray’s brainwashing program had been designed to turn them into weapons of mass destruction, but ultimately had only broken their minds and wills.
Ruby had worked with a number of them, until the world had tried to break her, too.
The longer I sat there, the longer that silence went on, the tighter my throat became. “It’s all right,” I told Owen. “You don’t have to say anything. But you should know that your voice is necessary, and you deserve to be heard.”
He looked up again, brow creasing, and I realized I’d had it wrong. It wasn’t that his gaze was empty; Owen’s eyes were like the deepest part of the sea, the darkness disguising every feeling, every fear, forcing them all deep below the surface.
“Well, no problem,” I said, tamping down the frustration I felt. “I’m really glad I got to meet you, Owen. If you think of anything, let Jacob or Lisa know. They can pass it on to me.”
I had just started to stand when a small voice said, “It’s for Ruby.”