As the group marched to wherever Jing-Wei’s glorified Roomba was taking them, Inez stuck firmly to the middle of the pack. She had agreed to this little excursion because more weapons would help them rescue Holden and the others from whatever mess they’d gotten into at Sanctuary. Plus, Inez wanted to show she could be a team player. Really. But she didn’t want anyone to think of her as their leader anymore; this was not her freaking circus, and these were definitely not her damn monkeys.
“You aren’t fooling anyone,” Seyah said as she walked beside Inez. “At least not me.”
“Say what?” Inez asked.
“You keep saying you aren’t in charge—”
“‘The lady doth protest too much, methinks.’ You’re still acting like you’re responsible for the team. You keep glancing behind us to check that everyone’s okay.”
“Because if something gets the ones behind us, we’re next.”
“And the rest of the time your eyes are glued to Jing-Wei.”
“Jealous?” Inez asked.
“Yeah, you two are perfect for each other.” Seyah laughed. “But I don’t think she has room in her heart for anyone but Sparky.”
“That’s what I’m worried about,” Inez said.
Seyah lightly touched Inez’s arm and then removed her hand at just the right time. Anyone else, and Inez would have felt crowded and annoyed. But Seyah seemed to get her.
“I just can’t help thinking: Why her? Why did they bring her back when it could have been anyone?” Inez asked.
“When it could have been Teddy,” Seyah said.
Inez nodded. Without him, she felt alone here—even with so many other people around. Even with Seyah always close by when she needed her.
It had been the same when her father had died. Their tiny house was full of aunts, uncles, and little kids, but Inez had felt isolated, apart from everyone else. Being surrounded by people who depended on you, or always needed something from you, could be lonelier than being on your own.
“What do you think of this Jing-Wei? Is she the way you remember?” Inez asked.
Seyah studied Jing-Wei. “Sometimes. But she’s quieter. She keeps to herself more. Our— The girl we knew was really excited at figuring out solutions to problems, always finding ways to help us. She was easy to get along with. Why?”
“Just wondering how much she’s changed. If the caretakers changed her.” Inez kicked a rock out of her way.
“The keepers, you mean,” Seyah said, reminding her of Jing-Wei’s quaint name for the machines who had remade her this time around.
Inez rolled her eyes. “‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would’”—she paused—“still have thorns. And a caretaker by any other name would smell as likely to slice your nose off.”
Seyah laughed. “I like calling them keepers. They can’t all be caretakers when some are good and some are bad. That’s just confusing.”
“If some of them are actually good.”
“Jing-Wei trusts them.”
“This Jing-Wei didn’t experience that slaughter, when those machines killed her and her friends. This Jing-Wei doesn’t have any friends other than her little robot sidekick,” Inez said.
“I can’t imagine what it was like to be on her own like that. She’d have to be a little different because of it, right?” Seyah said. “She has a different set of memories that don’t include us.”
Inez nodded. Who would she be now if Teddy hadn’t been there when she’d woken up in this world? Who would Teddy have become if anyone else had been paired with him in that house—or if he’d been a member of the group from the beginning? Since almost everyone knew him from his TV show, he might have defaulted to playing his character. Or maybe he would have had an even weaker grasp on reality.
Would she want him back if he became a stranger?
Ahead, Jing-Wei, Sparky, Gabe, Hyrum, and Alex stopped at the top of a ridge.
“Great, another break,” Inez said.
Seyah brushed against her shoulder. “Go on. You belong up there.”
Inez shrugged. She pushed her way forward, passing May, Sebastian, and Amelia, to stand beside Jing-Wei.
“I have a bum ankle, and even I don’t need to stop every hour,” Inez said. So that was a bit of an exaggeration—her sprained ankle was pretty much healed by now—but she was trying to make a point. “At this rate we’re never going to get wherever we’re going.”
“We’re here.” Jing-Wei pointed to a five-story building in a valley below.
“Oh,” Inez said.
A broad, paved road leading to a wide door on...