Vida reached over, giving the boy’s shoulder a tight squeeze of approval.
As the engine rumbled on again and the tanker began to vibrate, I could have sworn I heard Max say, “I knew she wouldn’t.”
But even as we drove on, only Liam dared to speak. Over and over again, asking the same terrifying question of the silence.
“She’s not waking up—why isn’t she waking up?”
THE DRIVER BROUGHT US BACK to the lot where we had left the vehicles, and, to my surprise, there was already someone waiting there. Cate.
Her pale hair was covered with a baseball cap, and she was dressed casually in jeans and a loose shirt. I didn’t recognize the van she had pulled up beside the dusty sedan and the SUV, but it hardly mattered.
The distance between the bottom of the tank and the opening was so great that Chubs had to use his power to lift each of us out, one at a time. By the time I was through, Cate and Vida were already talking over a map spread over the sedan’s hood.
“I thought you said there were eight of you, plus the kids,” I heard Cate say as I helped one of the kids down the slippery ladder.
“It was eight,” was all Vida said in reply.
The driver had climbed out of the cab and was watching Chubs as he continued his work. Her face went slack with wonder, as if she were watching a magic trick. I started toward her, meaning to tell her how grateful we all were, but she only held up a hand.
“I don’t have to know the details about what was happening in the lab,” she told me. “I brought my boy there every week for testing until IAAN took him. You just take care of yourselves now, understand?”
Liam levitated Chubs up through the hatch first, then somehow passed Ruby from his arms up to Chubs before Chubs used his own power to raise Liam out.
At first I thought it was just the water soaking the side of his shirt, but the stain was too dark. He must have torn his stitches at some point. Chubs saw it, too, but neither of us tried to stop him as he carried Ruby across the back of the tank, and gently lowered her into Vida’s waiting arms.
Max had gathered up the kids and was trying to distract them with some story as he led them toward Cate’s van.
“I have a medic I trust meeting us at the safe house,” Cate said as she and the others passed by me, heading toward the SUV. “She’ll give us an honest answer.”
“I don’t want honest,” Liam said, sounding exhausted. “I just want good.”
“I know,” Cate said softly, opening the back door so he could climb in first. They lifted Ruby in after him.
I waved a hand at the driver, knowing she probably couldn’t see me. It didn’t matter.
Vida had already taken the driver’s seat of the SUV with Chubs next to her in the passenger seat. That left me to slip into the space in the back, with Liam and Ruby. Priyanka and Max took two of the kids with them in the sedan, and Cate ushered the rest into the van.
It was quiet and quick, with all the efficiency of people who wanted to get as far away from a place as humanly possible. We followed Cate out onto the street, and then out of town completely.
The radio remained on, buzzing quietly with the news so that Chubs could monitor it. I tuned it out, focusing instead on Liam’s labored breathing as he held Ruby. He caught me watching him, his eyes going soft. If I kept looking at him, I was going to cry, and right now, crying was the least useful thing I could be doing.
“I’m sorry about Roman,” he said.
I knew he was. I knew it was eating all of them up, the same way the pain in my chest felt like it had knotted my lungs together. I couldn’t tell him it was okay, and I couldn’t bring myself to explain what had happened, or what could happen with Roman and Lana back with Blue Star, so I said nothing at all. The longer we drove, the deeper the shock seemed to set into my system. I didn’t fight it. My silence had become a place of recovery, not a trap. Right now, I needed it.
Liam reached over with his free arm, drawing me close to his side and to Ruby.
Right now, I needed that, too.
The safe house in Dover must have been a relic from the days of the Children’s League, but I didn’t ask and Cate didn’t offer to explain. It sat at the end of an otherwise empty street, a weathered American flag still hanging from the front porch. Deeply ironic, all things considered. But it seemed secure enough, especially once we got the van into the garage and the kids into the house, so I didn’t understand why Liam looked like he’d seen a ghost.
“It’s the only one we kept open after the League dissolved,” Cate was telling him as she came back out to open his door. “Believe me, it wouldn’t have been my choice to bring either of you back here.”
A short dark-haired woman stepped out of the front door.
“Bring her inside,” she said, glancing up and down the street.
With visible effort, Liam carried Ruby up the path and up the porch steps. Chubs kept close to them, a supporting hand under her prone form. Just in case.
“Thank you for doing this, Maria,” Cate said as the boys lowered Ruby onto a bed upstairs. It was bare, save for a sheet over the mattress. The doctor stripped off her own oversize cardigan, rolling it up to give Ruby some kind of a pillow.
“What do you need?” Cate asked, hovering anxiously beside the bed.
There was an array of small handheld equipment over the nightstand, as well as an IV bag.
“Clean water and a washcloth, clothing for her,” Maria said. “I looked just in case, but didn’t see much of anything in the cabinets.”
“We stripped the house of anything that could ID us as its owners,” Cate said apologetically. “But I do have purification tablets in my bag. I’ll bring a pitcher up for you.”
“I’d also like the room to do my examination,” Maria said, giving Chubs and Liam a meaningful look.
Liam tensed, but Chubs put a hand on his chest and shook his head. “Come on. I can patch you up, at least.”
I lingered in the doorway, even after the others left. I wasn’t sure what to do, other than wander out to the cars and assess what we had by the way of supplies and what food we could give to the kids.
Hauling the bags inside, I was careful not to wake the kids sleeping on the couch and the rug on the living room floor. They’d curled up together like kittens, and it reminded me, again, of how resilient kids were, and how much this world was testing the limits of that resilience.
There was nothing for me to do but disassemble the packs and sink into the mindless task of laying out the supplies on the kitchen counter. Max and Priyanka drifted in and out of the edge of my vision, but none of us seemed capable of talking just yet. I reached for the last bag. My fingers brushed a bundle of fabric.
The familiar gray shirt took the air out of my lungs. This was Roman’s pack. It was empty, save for this spare set of clothes, a flashlight, and the remnants of the first-aid kit we’d taken from Haven.
“Zu?” Chubs called from upstairs. “She’s ready.”
The words shook me from the trance I’d fallen into. I made my way back up to the room, not realizing I was still holding Roman’s shirt until Vida gave it a quick glance. Someone had found an extra set of clothes for Ruby; the gray sweatshirt was too big for her, but it disguised her skeletal form better than the blankets had.
“As far as I can tell, there’s nothing wrong with her,” Maria said slowly. “She’s dehydrated and slightly malnourished, and I found various cuts and stitches from where they probably took tissue samples.”
Liam shook his head. “That’s not nothing.”
“I meant,” Maria said, raising her hands, “they didn’t operate on her.”
I slumped back against the wall in relief.
“Then why hasn’t she woken up?” Chubs asked, his arms crossed tight over his chest. “Is it a bad reaction to the sedatives? Even a strong dose should have worn off by now.”
“I don’t have the right kind of equipment here to confirm that she doesn’t have a traumat
ic brain injury. She needs a real scan and an actual neurologist, but if the point was to study her specific ability, they wouldn’t have wanted to harm the normal processes of her brain,” Maria said. “My guess is that it could be a medically induced coma to combat brain swelling incurred during their testing. I find it equally likely that they wanted her completely subdued, knowing how powerful she is.”
Could some part of a person still be aware, even if they were trapped in unconsciousness?
Liam shook his head, pressing his face into his hands. “Dammit…She had to have been awake at some point, otherwise Max wouldn’t have been able to do his reading. We wouldn’t have seen what she was seeing well enough to find her.”
Cate’s brows rose at that.
“Has she shown any kind of reaction?” Maria asked. “To your voices, to being moved…?”
I haven’t told them. “Yes.”
“Zu…?” Liam said. “You saw something?”
“She showed me where to find the kids upstairs,” I told them. “When we found her, I touched her to check her pulse and she…it was like I wasn’t in the room anymore. I was upstairs, being walked down the hall. I know it sounds impossible, but it was a memory, and it wasn’t mine.”
Liam’s face transformed, his expression blossoming with hope as he turned back toward Maria.
“I haven’t the slightest idea of what’s possible,” she told him. “She could wake up in a few minutes, or she could wake up years from now, or she might not be able to wake up at all. Like I said, you need a specialist. What I do recommend, in the event that she’s unable to wake herself up by this evening, is keeping her on an IV drip and using a feeding tube. I can do that much, at least. Let me get what I need from my car”