Think, I told myself. There has to be a way out of this.
“Enough talk,” Mrs. McCall said. “I know you’d love for me to carry on until someone comes to save the day, but I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen, Toby. It’s sad,” she said. “It really is, and I am sorry. These are supposed to be such precious years, but I’m afraid I have no choice—”
I’d never been so glad to hear a bossy, clear, more-popular-than-thou voice in my life. I looked past Mrs. McCall and saw Brooke standing in the doorway.
She was holding a gun.
Code Word: Teamwork
I never thought I’d be so glad to see my school’s Queen Beeyotch holding a gun, but my joy was short-lived. Psycho Mom was way too psycho to go down without a fight.
“Move at all, and I’ll shoot,” Brooke said, her voice pleasantly deadly.
“You must be Karen’s girl,” Psycho Mom said, her voice equally pleasant and twice as unhinged. “You look just like her, you know.”
“Thank you. Drop the box. Now.”
“We weren’t in the same program,” Mrs. McCall continued. “But I heard about her. I went to Quantico when I graduated, you know, and all anybody could talk about was your mother. And then I met my Larry, and we got married, and well…sometimes, family just has to come first. I dropped off the radar, but when Kiki was born, I put in my notice, let them know that I’d be training her, and that if the program was still operational, she’d be ready.”
Mrs. McCall frowned. “I never heard back, but I did some digging and when I realized your mother was living in Bayport, well, I knew this must be the place. I talked Larry into moving here. This school has one of the best cheerleading programs in the country, I told him. And it does. And Kiki’s done so well in it!”
Brooke cocked the gun. “Box. Floor. Now.” Her voice was absolute steel. Gone was the teenager, gone was even the artifice of pleasantries. This was the warrior. I wondered how she was doing it—holding the gun, preparing to fire, doing it all without showing any external signs of weakness.
Then again, this was Brooke Camden. Team Captain. Showing weakness wasn’t exactly part of her MO.
Mrs. McCall held her hands out in front of her, like she was going to drop the box, but I knew beyond all knowing that she was going to open it instead. I flew toward her then, driven by the pull of survival.
I should have known that Brooke had another trick up her sleeve, and I should have known that the trick in question had a PhD. Brooke never went anywhere without a partner. Girls traveled in flocks, and the Squad wasn’t an exception to this. There was safety in numbers.
In the instant before Psycho Mom opened the box and I took her out (no idea which one of those possibilities was going to come first), I heard someone entering a number into a cell phone and turned to look at Zee. I didn’t have to glance down at the Bayport High emblem beneath my feet to know what Zee was doing, and I short-circuited my attack plan, putting every ounce of momentum I had into jumping straight up into the air.
Mrs. McCall moved to open the box.
And the floor beneath her feet gave way to nothing as Zee’s code activated the trapdoor mechanism on the emblem. Mrs. McCall disappeared, and then the emblem came back up into place, just as I crashed to the ground.
Remember when I said that some of the entrances to the Quad were less convenient than others?
This was one of them.
If you were standing within a six-foot radius of the center of the gym when the mechanism was engaged, you fell down and landed on the world’s largest trampoline in the middle of the Quad. Lucky for me, the floor mechanism was blindingly quick—otherwise, I would have fallen, too, and if I’d fallen with Psycho Mom and the bots, I’d be dead.
“They can’t get through the floor, can they?” I asked.
Brooke gave me a look. “Puh-lease,” she said. “You think we’re not equipped for nanoattacks? What do you think we are, amateurs?”
Her hands shaking, Brooke lowered the gun to her side even as she smirked in my general direction.
“Shouldn’t someone go after her?” I asked. “I would, but I’ve got this funny fondness of living.”
“Yeah,” Zee said, managing to keep a straight face. “You have a real love of life. It’s a major contributing factor to that sunny disposition of yours.”
Considering she’d just saved my life, I refrained from retorting.
“And we don’t need to go down there,” Brooke said.
“The others are already there. Chloe’s working on something to catch the bots, and the others are all ambush-ready.”
“All of them?” I asked. Brooke nodded.
“How?” I opted to stick with simple, one-syllable questions. As the reality of the situation sank in, I couldn’t handle much more.
“Amelia took Connors-Wright down. We took her down. It was all very food chain–like.”
Zee picked up where Brooke left off. “Then we confiscated the weapon.”
“Did you realize it was a decoy?” I asked. After all, Brooke had never seen the real deal. Mrs. McCall had stolen it before she’d had the chance.
“Not at first,” Brooke said, “but then Connors-Wright came to and started babbling about how much he’d paid for the right to kill his father, and we realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t nearly as much as a professional would have charged for the real deal.”
“Of course, the fact that the payment was funneled through the Bayport PTA was a pretty big tip-off, too,” Zee added. “So we started thinking about what you said, about it being a rogue operative, and then it finally occurred to us to look at things from a different angle. Connors-Wright’s motivation for getting the nanobots was personal. What if the enemy operative’s was, too?”
“What if,” Brooke said, “that person just really didn’t like you?”
Oddly enough, this was apparently a really easy idea for Brooke to wrap her mind around.
“What if Kann was never the target?” Brooke continued.
“What if you were? What if the whole purpose of stealing the weapon from Ross’s office was to discredit you?” She paused. “And then there was that minivan that tried to run you off the road…”
“If you were the target all along, and the enemy realized we’d left you alone…” She shrugged. “We hurried back.”