Inez leaned forward and dipped a hand into the pocket of the seat in front of her. She pulled out a square, translucent sheet with cartoons of people in various states of panic and distress. She couldn’t read the writing, of course, but the bottom of the sheet had a picture of one of those camera robots, what the others called caretakers.
The swirls and squiggles under the caretaker appeared in many of the other captions, suggesting that if the train had a water emergency (she really didn’t want to know how that would happen), as illustrated by one cartoon of a woman pinching her nose and puffing her cheeks as a fish swam out of her ear, passengers should listen for the caretaker’s instructions. While holding their breath, it seemed. Helpful.
The cartoon blurred and Inez was surprised to find tears in her eyes. Stupid. She crumpled the sheet and dropped it to the floor. After a moment, the page unfolded and smoothed itself out like new.
She kicked it under the seats ahead of her.
“Hey, you okay?”
Inez twisted around and saw a desi girl holding a cup of something that looked like coffee and smelled like coffee. Inez had learned the hard way that it tasted like hot orange juice, with a twist of ass.
Inez rubbed the tears from her eyes and nodded.
“I’m Sunita Persaud.” The girl sat across the aisle from her. “And you’re Inez?”
“I guess word travels fast.”
“It’s a short train, and you and Teddy made quite an impression.”
“Because of our dramatic appearance at the train station, or our ridiculous clothes?”
When Sunita smiled, her nose crinkled. “Both were memorable. But mostly it’s because we’ve seen Teddy Young on Football Nights. Plus . . . either we talk about you two, or we talk about what happened.”
“And no one wants to talk about what happened,” Inez said.
Even so, she had learned enough about the caretakers and their murderous rampage while helping Nevaeh tend to the other teens’ injuries. Inez and Teddy had been on a vacation compared to what this group had gone through. A psychotic, forced vacation, but still. No one had died.
“I’ve been trying to find something to read for distraction,” Inez said. “But so far all I’ve found is twenty copies of what look like safety instructions in High Emoji, or whatever that wackadoodle writing is. All I want is one trashy magazine or a shitty bestseller, preferably in English or Spanish. I’d even settle for Esperanto. By the way, I wouldn’t drink that.”
“Too late.” Sunita lifted the cup and inhaled deeply. “But it still smells good.”
Inez was about to ask if she could take a whiff when she heard a shout and a muffled pop from up ahead.
She was out of her seat and moving up the aisle before the first person asked, “What was that?”
“That sounded like trouble,” Gabe said.
“What now?” someone else cried.
Holden was also standing at the front of the car, looking around. “Loki! Where’d he go?”
“Um.” Hyrum held up his hand, like a kid asking for permission to go to the bathroom. “I saw him with Nevaeh a few minutes ago. They went to the next car up.”
“Shit,” Holden said.
Inez quickly surveyed the car. Was anyone else missing?
“I’ll go check it out,” Holden said. “The rest of you stay here.”
But Inez was already past him and moving across the gap to the sleeping car, Holden’s protest drowned out by the rattle of the train. Umta poked her head out of one of the high bunks as she ran by.
Holden caught up to Inez in the Barbie Nightmarehouse. He stared at the bizarre plastic furniture in the train car. “Jesus.”
Inez stopped at the door leading to the next car up. “They must be in there.” She pressed an ear to the door and heard humming machinery and muffled voices. “I don’t know how to open it.”
Holden pressed a hand to the panel beside the door. “Huh. That should have worked.”
Inez rolled her eyes. “We tried that yesterday.”
“Did you try this?” He knocked on the door. A moment later it opened. Teddy was on the other side.
“What’s going on? We heard a shot,” Inez said.
Teddy held up his hands. “Hold on, everyone’s fine. Don’t get angry, okay? Let me tell you what—”
“Telling me not to get angry makes me angry.” Inez pushed past him and took in the scene.
The camera—the caretaker—that had greeted Inez and Teddy when they boarded the train lay at Loki’s feet, now as motionless as a knocked-over trashcan. Multicolored lights flashed erratically over its body. A black bolt protruded from the single eye in the center of the robot’s head. Smoke curled from its shattered lens, and Inez smelled burnt toast.
So this is where the camera went, she thought. She’d been looking for it as they explored the train, but since they knew it was harmless, she and Teddy had decided not to tell everyone it was on board until they had calmed down a little. She had figured this was exactly how they would react.
Loki pointed his gun at the caretaker, hands wrapped around the grip just like the cops did on TV. Only the...