I swear under my breath, hating myself for my hesitation. I drag him a few feet back away from the edge of the dock so he doesn’t roll off and drown. I scan the three boats tied to the post he was kneeling by and choose the one whose gas gauge is highest. I don’t know where I am, but I’ll pick a direction and get as far from here as I can, and pray I hit a patrol from the base.
Unable to resist, I sneak one last glance at Cormac, sprawled on the dock. I peel off the jacket he gave me and drop it beside him—I’ll miss its warmth out in the swamps, but if I do get recaptured, the jacket will be a dead giveaway he helped me. Cormac’s arm is outflung, like he’s reaching for something, and the genetag tattoo there is unmistakable now with his sleeves rolled up. The coded spiral of data would match his sister’s in the database if I scanned it. And yet, it’s clear they’re not the same person. Orla would have killed me in the alley behind Molly’s.
Voices down the corridor interrupt me, and I grab for the boats on either side to start pulling myself toward the exit.
Sorry, Romeo. You’ll be glad when you wake up and you’re still a part of your gang.
Revving the motor, I turn the boat and speed out toward the channel.
He helped me—it’s the honorable thing to do, not turning on him and bringing him in. Honor, payback. He saved my life and I’m doing the same for him, just this once. And if anyone’s voice should be heard among this rabble, it should be the voice of someone whose first instinct isn’t blood and violence. His place is here, and he shouldn’t be cast out for helping me. I keep trying to tell myself it was the logical move.
But I’m struggling to convince myself that logic had anything to do with it.
“Don’t watch that show.” The girl’s father jabs the power button on the holovid, his dark eyes stormy and his jaw tense. “I never want to see you watching that again, you hear me?”
“But Daaaaad, the other kids watch it. Their parents watch with them. It’s just cartoons. And Mom would like it, they’re all Chinese stories.”
“Our family doesn’t.” His voice is sharp, frightening the girl. Her father looks at her again and sighs. “You don’t have to understand, Jelly Bean, you just have to do as I say on this, okay?”
The girl waits, ears straining, until she hears the chime of the shop door opening as he leaves. Then, her little heart dancing with daring, she crawls over to the set and hits the power button. But when the HV comes back on, suddenly she’s not in her parents’ shop anymore. She’s on a military base on Avon and she’s being made to watch interrogation footage. The rebel leader is young, with a long black braid over her shoulder and a proud, unremorseful bearing. She’s been permitted a visitor on this, her last day before execution: a little boy with green eyes and dark, tumbly hair. He doesn’t let go of the woman in the cell for a single second of the ten minutes they’re allowed together. She’s whispering something to him that the microphones can’t pick up.
“Turn it off!” shouts the girl, but she’s the only one there, and the HV is too far away to reach. The video keeps playing.
MY HEAD IS POUNDING. Every shout reverberates inside my temples; every lantern beam slices through my vision. I’m sitting against the stone wall of the harbor, cursing this concussion, waiting to be able to stand without dizziness.
As I fight a wave of nausea, two versions of Sean run past, moving perfectly in sync, their edges blurred. He’ll have two dozen children to watch, their parents all out searching. Jubilee is gone, and with her, whatever chance I had of keeping my people in check tonight.
That fool of a trodaire—this didn’t have to happen. If she’d just waited, just let me take her, I’d have had time to come up with—hell, I have no idea what I’d have done, but at least I’d have had a chance to think. Instead, this. She’s spared me any suspicion from my people that I helped her escape, but at what cost?
By now signal lights, our answer to Avon’s radio troubles, will have spread throughout the swamp, inviting the boats of our allies to peel quietly away from the docks in town to come and help. Half the time when people report seeing wisps dancing in the swamps, it’s actually some distant signal light trying to speak to us. The other half the time…well, not even TerraDyn’s scientists have an answer there.
We have search grids for times like these, with a level of organization that would surprise the soldiers. We know the places the swamps can channel a boat, and we know where they send you if you’re lost. What I wish I knew is how long a head start Jubilee has, and whether she is lost.
All around me the Fianna are pairing off and climbing down into currachs, the first wave of searchers already gone. The shouts that set off bursts of pain behind my eyes are urgent, but disciplined—there’s anger, but no panic. I press two fingers gently to the side of my head, finding the lump there as the O’Leary brothers cast off, their boat vanishing into the dark of the night. Damn her.
“Well?” I look up and find the last wave of searchers standing over me, lanterns in hands. It’s Connor Tran speaking. “Do you remember anything yet, Cormac?” There’s a frustration in his tone echoed in all their faces, and I’m pinned to the wall by half a dozen pairs of eyes. “You must have seen something. You must remember some part of getting up here.”
I start to shake my head, then think better of it when the room starts to spin. “I don’t know what happened,” I murmur. I know it sounds weak, but the truth would be worse.
“He knows nothing.” McBride pushes his way through the crowd to look down at me. His voice is calm, cutting through the others with an easy authority, but his gaze is for me and holds nothing but contempt. “It’s not his fault. He’s young; no one could expect him to defend himself against a trained fighter. What matters now is whether she makes it back to her base and, if she does, whether she’s got our location.”
And just like that, I’m sidelined from the discussion.
“We’re trying to get an update from someone at the base,” Tran replies as all eyes swing toward McBride. “We radioed Riley, but he doesn’t have a shift on the base for another two days. They’ll look at him too closely if he tries to get in before then.”
“Who else, then? Forget the janitors, maybe someone who does deliveries.”