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“Too bad we can’t reuse them,” she mused.

I grimaced. “Ugh. This is already unsanitary enough, not having access to purified water.”

“What we need is free access to those supply closets on the purging level. You know where they are.”

“Yeah,” I said, in agreement. “There’s just the small problem of me never being able to get to them again, what with the massive security around here.”

She shrugged and smiled. “I didn’t say it was a perfect plan.”

“It’s no kind of plan.”

But the suggestion stirred in my mind as I went through the motions of my Alchemist schooling that day. Having talked to Adrian had lifted my spirits, as did knowing he’d be speaking to Carly soon. I hoped desperately that Keith would give them some lead to where I was. From there, I didn’t know exactly how they’d get me out, but I was already envisioning liberating the others here with me. If I could send them into the world free of mind control, it’d be a job well done.

I turned over Emma’s words in my head, trying to solve the jumble of problems before me. What I really needed was unfettered access to the floor with the supply closets, the ones Sheridan had made me organize. To get to them, I needed to move around unseen, which wasn’t easy but was actually easier than getting out of my room in the first place. Those night locks were a huge problem.

Although Emma—and a couple others—watched me eagerly throughout the day and were the ones most anxious for results, it was Duncan I finally broached the topic with in art class. He never spoke extensively about his past, but I’d gleaned some things that were important to him. The mysterious Chantal was one, of course, and he occasionally expounded on artistic pursuits before coming here. One thing he didn’t speak much about that I’d picked up on was his knack for mechanical devices. Someone had easel trouble on a daily basis, and Duncan was always the go-to person to adjust them. I’d even observed him helping our instructors, like the time Harrison’s projector stopped working.

“Do you know how the locks on our room doors work?” I asked that day. Still life was done for now, though Duncan had assured me it was a popular assignment and would be back. Now we were on to the tedious task of molding clay bowls by hand.

“They lock,” he said bluntly. “They stop the doors from opening.”

I tried not to roll my eyes. “I know that. I mean, do you know how—”

“Yes, yes, I know what you mean,” he interrupted. “And it isn’t something you should be worried about. You’re playing a dangerous enough game already.”

I peered around, but no one was listening to us as we worked at our table. “It’s not a game!” I hissed. “This is serious. I can stop others from being brainwashed. Like I did for Jonah.”

“And get yourself sent back to reflection time in the process.” A small frown between his eyebrows was the only outward sign of his discomfort. “I can’t handle another friend disappearing, Sydney.”

I had to take a moment to blink back tears as I remembered that he had been my first ally here, offering me friendship because of what he liked about me and not because of what I could potentially do for him.

“I won’t disappear,” I said, taking on a gentler tone. “But I need to get out of my room some night. Tonight, ideally. It’s important. I can help a lot of people.”

His bowl, much like his painting, was nearly perfect. I was beginning to wonder if that was some inherent skill or simply the result of having been here so long. “The locks are turned on by a central system each night,” he said at last. “It’s actually just a simple bolt shooting out from the door into the wall. It’s touchy. If there’s an obstacle, it won’t work.”

“Will it alert the central system that there’s a problem?” I asked.

“Not unless they’ve changed it in the last year. About, oh, eight months ago, someone’s door malfunctioned, and the powers-that-be never knew. They found out when one of the guys in the room made a break for it and tried to find an exit.”

That was useful—but also dangerous. “Did they fix it?”

“That particular door? Yes. But as far as I know, the bolt’s still touchy. Doesn’t matter much since even if the surveillance didn’t catch someone trying to block it, the cameras in the hall would detect—” Duncan suddenly shot me a pained look. “Please tell me you aren’t going to try to actually escape.”

“I’m staying here . . . for now.” I glanced down and lightly touched the ID badge clipped to my shirt. It was a little thinner than a credit card. “Something like this would work nicely to block the bolt.”

“Very nicely,” he agreed. “But remember there’s that tiny gap between the door and the wall, even when it’s slid closed. You can’t just stick that card in there.”

“I need some kind of adhesive to hold it there.” I racked my brain, trying to remember when I’d last seen glue around here. I hadn’t. But as my eyes rested on Addison’s desk, I found something even better. “Gum would work. I wouldn’t even need to use my card . . . I could just stick a clump over the bolt’s release, couldn’t I?”

Duncan chuckled in spite of himself. “Juvenile, but yes, you could.”

“Go ask her for help on something,” I said, inspired. “I’ll swipe the gum while you talk to her.”

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