My thoughts spiraled, spinning together until they formed a whole, gut-wrenching realization.

He’s planned an out.

They’re coming.

Someone is coming to get him—and he used me to arrange the ride.

“There’s been a security leak,” I told them. “Me.”

“What the f**k does that mean?” Vida said, helping me up from the ground.

“Nico...he noticed someone sending messages outside of the Ranch and trying to cover them up, delete them from the server activity log, we thought it was—” I turned toward Alice. “We thought it was you, or one of the kids working with you. But it wasn’t, was it?”

“No, dammit, I told you that!” Alice said.

“I know, I’m sorry. I know that now. He’s been walking me around, using me to spy on what’s happening. He had me send messages for him. Shit!”

Escape. I let my mind work it through the way he would have. The only group that could extract him was his father’s military or some kind of contractor. He hadn’t known exactly where the Ranch was, likely, until I’d gone out to Oasis and he’d been able to watch through my eyes how to get back.

He’d only need the soldiers to unlock his cell, and then it’d be as easy as compelling them to leave him alone, to turn their attention to rounding up the other kids in the Ranch. All he’d have to do was slip away.

But why hadn’t he just compelled me to open the cell door for him? Why wait, go such a roundabout way?

“You weren’t in control of yourself?” Dr. Gray said. “Who was, then?”

I stared at her and I had my answer. Clancy wanted us to find her. To bring her here, to finish what he’d started. Only, she’d been right—he would never kill her.

He’d have me do it for him.

I looked away. She’d know soon enough that I couldn’t keep our bargain.

“Lillian, let’s go,” Senator Cruz said, “I have to get Rosa—the others—Ruby will follow us, won’t you, Ruby?”

“That’s—” I could see the need to protest this in her eyes, but the senator took her arm firmly and began walking her to the door.

I ran to the board at the front of the room, wiping it clean, tearing down the satellite image of Thurmond, folding it up, and tossing it at Vida. “Please,” I said to her and Chubs, “go get the kids, get them out—I need to take care of Clancy, but I’ll be there soon. Guys—please! Pull the server and take whatever you can out of the locker.”

The weapon stock would be low; the kids who’d gone out to the water treatment facilities had taken most of the handguns as a precaution. There were so few of us left in the compound—Oasis kids, mostly, who were still too wet behind the ears to go out into the field. We hadn’t had time to train them for something like this.

“If you think I’m leaving you, you’re out of your damn mind,” Chubs said.

I doubled down on my grip, broken nails cutting into his skin. “Go! You have to go right now—right now. The Ranch’s location has been compromised. You have to get the kids out. Take Senator Cruz and Dr. Gray. Charles! Listen to me! I’ll be right behind you, but if—if you stay, no one is getting out. Go!”

Vida’s dark eyes flashed as she took his arm and started to drag him away by force. “Right behind us?”

“Right behind you.”

I ran from the computer room, shouldered my way through the double doors and stopped dead. A shiver raced through me as the unnatural silence in the hallway was punctuated by the sound of a hysterical voice. I recognized it with a terrible, sinking feeling.

I pivoted toward the storage room. The door was already unlocked, left partly open. My anxiety spiked and I couldn’t tell if the low growls I heard in the distance were actual helicopters or the product of my frantic imagination.

“—you promised! You promised you wouldn’t do this again!”

I bolted down the small hallway, through the open door, and into the scene already unfolding.

Nico’s hands were gripped in his black hair, destroying its slicked-back shape, making it stand on end. He was pacing alongside Clancy’s cell, his face bright red, as if he’d been crying. “And you did it to her! How could you hurt Ruby? How could you?”

Clancy sat cross-legged on his bed, looking annoyed but other wise unfazed by the breakdown Nico was having in front of him. His eyes shifted over to me as I entered, his arms coming up to cross firmly over his chest. Nico hadn’t gone into the cell, thank God, but I saw a copy of the same keys I had in my hand.

Cole’s set, I realized. We’d kept this area a secret from most everyone here at the Ranch, but Nico could have seen any one of us go inside, or found some kind of layout of the building on one of the servers. Hell, he could have just deduced it.

“Ruby—he can’t keep getting away with it! He can’t!” There were tears in his eyes. “You have to make him leave, just let him go, before—”

“Finally,” Clancy said to me. “Can you please get him out of here? I already have enough of a migraine.”

“If your head aches now, imagine how it’ll feel when I rip it off your neck,” I snarled.

Clancy smirked, looking me up and down. “It looks like you had an interesting night.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Ruby, he—” Nico sucked in a breath. “It’s like I told you—he can control other people’s bodies. He can move them around like puppets without them realizing it. He did it all the time, to all of the researchers, I know he can do it—and he made you—he made you send those messages through the server!”