Seyah ran faster than she thought her exhausted muscles could, faster than she had when the caretaker had crashed out of the woods and all of her shots had missed. She ran and ran; it felt like she’d been doing this forever. Like she’d been born into this remade world running. In her old life, she’d preferred the kind of activity that told a story, like drama or dance. Running had seemed pointless and empty. The same thing, over and over, and the finish line was just this thing that somebody made up so they could hand out trophies. Now the only trophy was staying alive to do this for another day.
Amelia was right about that. Maybe Amelia was right about everything.
Seyah pounded her feet hard against the ground, but the heartbeat thump-thump of her feet couldn’t cover the horrible, wrenching screams in the distance.
Then they stopped.
She wanted to feel relieved, but she knew what a lack of screaming probably meant.
So she kept running, lighter on the balls of her feet to keep the caretaker from hearing. Her legs were riddled with cramps, her lungs alight. This part of the country—the Midwest, where the Gate was supposed to be, so close, just out of reach—was covered in sapling trees. They all looked the same, a faceless collection of maple and beech. In the dark, they were just slashes that she had to weave around, as fast as her throbbing ankles could manage.
She touched the energy gun at her waist every ten steps or so. She’d discharged so many shots in an aimless frenzy. It was recharging now, with a low-pitched hum. Seyah didn’t know how long it would take to work itself back up to full strength—she should have tested that before it was a matter of life and death. It heated up slowly as it charged, never hot enough to burn. Just a reminder that it was working. The gun she’d claimed after they’d raided the stash at Sanctuary usually rubbed against the skin where her shirt rode up, making her cold.
Now the gun was as warm as a sleeping body.
As warm as Inez was when Seyah got up for her patrol.
She’d rolled over and kissed Seyah through a thick frown, which never stopped being cute. “Stay.”
“What would you do if I asked you to stay when it was your turn to patrol?” Seyah had asked.
“I would tell you to get up and come with me,” Inez said, flashing Seyah a sleepy smile.
Seyah’s breath clipped short now as she remembered running a hand through Inez’s hair, kissing her long and slow and then saying, “So come with me.”
Seyah shook her head hard. She shouldn’t be thinking about Inez right now.
Her father had once told her that when he was out on his beat, he couldn’t think about Seyah or her mom. He focused on all the other people he was keeping safe—but not them. If he thought about his family, he would start a running list of all of the ways he could lose them, and they could lose him, and then instead of answering the next call, he would turn in his badge and go straight home.
Seyah had thought that was a sweet story back in her old life. Before she really did lose her parents, and they’d lost her. Before she was born again into a life where she understood exactly how her dad felt.
It didn’t matter how tired Seyah got, or how much she wanted to believe the caretaker had forgotten about her. She couldn’t lead it back to camp. She decided she would run another three of these ragged circles before she would let herself even think of going back.
One circle later, her knees knocked painfully with each step.
Two circles, and she could only look up at the stars, because if she looked down at her feet, she would stop.
Two and a half circles—she heard a soft rustle, but it could have been the wind, which was like a living thing in this flat part of the country. According to Holden, they had to be getting close to the Gate. How could she walk for three months since leaving Sanctuary—get this close—only to be attacked?
Three circles. She had gotten to the stupid finish line, and her body stopped without her mind really giving it permission.
That was exactly what the caretaker had been waiting for.
It burst from behind the trees, sliding toward her at strange angles, its red eyes catching the last of the setting moonlight. She turned the recharged pulse gun at it and shot. Once, twice. The beams flew straight for it, but the caretaker leapt as if it had anticipated her moves. She and the others had gotten better at fighting caretakers, but it looked like the machines had been learning too.
The caretaker took a huge leap and landed right in front of her. Seyah shot point-blank.
The gun clicked. Out of charge.
The caretaker slashed at her with one of its metal legs. She didn’t feel pain at first, only a sort of warm rush. Then she looked down and found that her right leg had burst open at the thigh, bleeding everywhere. Her...