The train rocketed through the dark landscape, away from the bloodthirsty caretakers, away from camp. Away from Jing-Wei and Wesley. Nevaeh couldn’t stop replaying what had happened over and over again in her mind. Wesley, ripped to shreds as the caretaker shrieked in machine anger. The sudden violence of Jing-Wei’s death at the hands of the firing squad.
“Hey! Am I talking to myself here? What the hell is wrong with you people?”
The cheerleader’s voice pierced the loop of carnage, bringing Nevaeh back to the here and now of the train. The new girl had been talking pretty much nonstop since they’d boarded a few minutes earlier, but Nevaeh hadn’t caught more than a word or two. No one else seemed to be in any condition to hold a conversation. It sounded like the lack of response was starting to piss New Girl off, but it was hard to care when people had just died.
Hyrum sat next to Nevaeh with his face mashed into her shoulder, wetting the sleeve of her jumpsuit. Not that she cared about that either.
“It tore his arms off. Why did it do that?” he asked in a small voice.
“I don’t know,” said Nevaeh.
She rested her cheek on the top of his head and would have probably stayed there crying for a while if the cheerleader hadn’t leaned down toward them.
“What. Are. You. Talking. About,” she said, enunciating like they might all be stupid instead of traumatized.
Hyrum shrank away from the stranger, and Nevaeh put her arms around him protectively. She wanted to scream, but that wasn’t going to help anything. Instead, she summoned up every ounce of patience she had left.
“Calm down. I’ll tell you what happened,” she said.
But before she could get any further, the train rocketed over a bump, and Cole yelped in pain. Hyrum jerked at the sound, sobbing in fear and grief, and clutched at her with panicky strength. He wasn’t the only one who cried out, either. People started shouting out names of missing companions as if that might make them appear.
Nevaeh would have tried to help them, but Hyrum wouldn’t release his death grip on her torso. The wave of renewed tears around her told her everything she needed to know, though. Those kids were gone. Had they been shot by the firing squad like Jing-Wei? Dismembered like Wesley? Or were they still out there, hiding from the caretakers, wondering where everyone had gone?
Next to Amelia, Holden was muttering to himself. His face held a mixture of grief, anger, sorrow, and confusion that was all too familiar to anyone who had spent much time around the dying.
“Thomas. Jing-Wei. Wesley,” he said. “All the others. Too many.”
“Yeah.” Nevaeh blinked back tears. “Are you okay?”
It was a stupid question, but what else could she say? There were no words, not even from the expert. If there was a right thing to say after a death, she should know it after all that time she’d spent in the hospital, but she had nothing. He didn’t even seem to notice.
“I’ve had it,” he said. “This ends now.”
“We organize or we die. Don’t you see? This isn’t going to stop just because we want it to.” He stiffened his shoulders. “Okay. We need to know who we have left.”
Nevaeh shook her head helplessly. “I haven’t counted. I’m not sure I want to.”
The new girl let out a sigh of impatience. “Get it over with already.”
The train shook and bounced over the uneven track, and Cole cried out again.
Holden swallowed. He looked all pale-faced and wide-eyed, like he’d seen a ghost, but his jaw clenched in determination.
“I’m going to do a head count, then,” he said.
“Are you okay?” she asked again, even though she knew it was a silly question. She put her hand on his shoulder and felt its trembling.
“Doesn’t really matter, does it? Somebody’s got to do something, or we’ll get picked off one by one until nobody’s left. I’m somebody, right? I’ve got to try.”
He started to pull away, but she held on tight with the urge to soothe, to say something that he could cling to. This felt like one of the moments in her favorite TV shows, a dramatic turning point where relationships were forged. After what had happened at the camp, she didn’t want to feel alone.
“What?” he demanded. “Is there something wrong?”
“No. It’s just . . . you’re a really good person, Holden.”
The words tumbled awkwardly from her mouth. She never would have made it as a leading lady in a TV drama. That was for girls like Seyah, poised girls who didn’t get nervous when people paid attention. But Holden offered her the barest of smiles, and his tremors eased.
“Thanks,” he said.
“I can check on the injured.”
“Thank you,” he repeated.
Holden put a hand on her shoulder, which made her shake off Hyrum’s desperate grip and stand up. Out from under his hand. She didn’t want to be taken care of anymore.
“It’s no big deal.” She shrugged.
Holden gave her a faint, worn smile before he walked away, and Nevaeh’s eyes flicked to Seyah, who huddled in the corner of her seat like she was trying to...