Scotia took a long, deep breath, her dark eyes burning into mine. I refused to look away, and at last she nodded curtly and stepped aside, allowing Rivers room in the center. He took her place, directly facing me now.

“The Blackcoats need weapons, and nearly three quarters of the nation’s artillery is stored here, in Elsewhere,” he said. “The Mercers aren’t just overseeing the section. They’re also tasked with protecting the armory. We need those codes to get inside, overthrow the Mercers, and arm the rebellion.”

The weight of what he was saying settled over me, and my mind spun. The Blackcoats were going to break everyone out. Thousands of ex-prisoners loyal to them, with three quarters of America’s weapons at their disposal—that could be enough to rival the Shields and the armies Daxton had at his.

He’d said that Knox was behind the failure of the first raid—was that why he was here? To stop the second? Was that why Daxton hadn’t killed me in the first place? So I would be Knox’s excuse to come here and cherry-pick without raising suspicions?

“You can’t trust him,” I blurted. “Knox Creed—whatever you do, don’t trust him.”

Scotia scoffed. “Why the hell would we? He’s one of them.”

Yes, he was. I glanced at the weapons scattered carelessly throughout the room. “Don’t you have enough weapons here to get started?”

“There are hundreds of sections in Elsewhere just like Section X,” said Scotia. “Not even the guards know exactly how many there are. These weapons might be enough to hold the dining hall for a few days, but we might as well be ants against giants.”

“We need the codes if we’re going to have any chance of succeeding,” said Rivers. “Not just us, but the entire operation. The entire rebellion. And if the Mercers offered you a spot in their home—”

“Knox Creed is her fiancé,” said Scotia, crossing her arms as her stare settled on me. “There’s a chance he knows where the codes are hidden.”

“Was my fiancé,” I said, “and even if he does know, I’m the last person he’s going to tell. There’s no point.”

She scowled. “I saved your life today. This is the least you could do to try to repay me.”

“I never asked you to save it,” I snapped. “And I don’t owe you a thing. Knox Creed won’t tell me anything you won’t be able to kiss out of Mercer, and even if he did, you can’t trust a word out of his mouth. He swore he’d protect my b—my best friend, but Benjy’s dead. He swore he’d kill me before he ever let me wind up Elsewhere, but here I am. Dying’s the only thing he’s good for anymore, and I owe him a bullet.”

“If you raise a hand against a guard, let alone a senior official, you’ll be dead in a second,” said Rivers quietly.

“Good.” I clenched my fists. “It’ll be worth it. Knox Creed is a spy, and not only did he kill my best friend, but he sabotaged the last raid, too. He knows everything you’re planning, and I guarantee you he’s here to stop it. Might as well let me kill him. You’ll be doing all of us a favor.”

A ripple of murmurs rose up among the crowd, but Scotia raised her hand, and they quieted. “You want to die?” she said dangerously. “Fine.”

Without warning, she pulled a pistol from the inside of her jacket and pointed it directly at me.

Bang.

I ducked half a second too late. By the time I fell to the concrete floor, crashing into the machine gun and another pile of crates, the plaster wall beside my head had already exploded, leaving white dust clinging to my hair.

My heart pounded, and adrenaline rushed through me as images of white and crimson flashed through my mind, blinding me. Every inch of me felt as if I were on fire, and my muscles tensed, ready to run if she tried again. I groped around for something to use against her, and my fingers wrapped around the handle of the machine gun. I had no idea how to work it, but I would be damned if I was going down without a fight.

Scotia laughed. It was a dark, humorless sound that could’ve easily come from the depths of my nightmares, and I cringed. “What are you going to do with that, princess? Shoot me? You couldn’t find the safety on that if I gave you an instruction manual and circled it in red.”

I clutched the gun to my chest anyway. It was better than nothing.

She huffed, and my vision began to clear in time to see her tuck her pistol back into her coat. “You might think you want to die, princess, but you want to live as badly as the rest of us.”

“You’re crazy,” I said, my voice laced with residual panic.

“You’re crazy.” She moved toward me as if she were the predator and I were the prey. “Do you know how many people die in here every day? Hundreds, if not thousands. Do you know how many of them would’ve killed to be in your shoes and have a chance to stop it all? Every last one of them.”

“Then let one of them do it,” I spat, struggling to my feet. The machine gun fell to the floor, and I winced, but it clattered harmlessly against the concrete. “They’d have a better chance anyway.”

Scotia was silent for a long moment, as still and cold as if she were made of ice. “You’re right,” she said at last. “They probably would. And this close to the raid, the last thing we need is another liability. We can manage just fine without you.”

“And that’s what you’re going to have to do,” I shot. “Because I’m through.”

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