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       Lost Boy, p.18

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “Son of a . . .” Candace moved to the next one and followed the procedure for pod failure. Like the first, the two others shook and went still. Their pods went silent and dark.

  She released a shuddering breath of disappointment. They hadn’t been there long enough for her to give them names. They were newer, younger, and not as resilient as Alice or the first generation. None of them were. It’s why Neverland wanted the first ones so bad.

  Three. They’d lost three, which meant they needed three more to take their place. They had never lost that many so close to each other before.

  She picked up the phone and had to clear her throat twice before his voice came on the line. “Sir, there’s been a loss. Yes, we lost three pods.”

  His reply was cold and calculated, and her hands shook when she put the phone back on the receiver.

  Ten minutes later, the doors flew open and a slew of curse words spilled in as Hook marched into the freezer. Candace could tell Hook was on a rampage. Something must have gone wrong with the most recent reaping team harvest since she hadn’t seen Jax in the last few days. Jax always came to visit at night. Like clockwork. Something must have happened.

  Candace quickly looked down and pretended to be buried in her paperwork as Hook headed over to Alice’s pod. But she knew a trick to keep an eye on him. She hit the power-off button on one of her many monitors and watched his reflection while she pretended to work.

  Hook entered a code on the keypad on the side of Alice’s pod, and a panel door that she could never manage to open unlocked. He inserted a cylinder of serum that released into her pod, making her more susceptible to commands. He closed the hatch, and then he leaned close to the pod to whisper instructions to the sleeping girl inside. Candace didn’t dare breath or rustle a paper as she tried to listen in.

  “He’s at Neverwood. He betrayed me again. Hunt him down. Hunt them all down!” he snarled.

  The activity on the monitor changed as Alice’s brain received Hook’s instructions and her dreams began to transform.

  Hook pulled back and surveyed Alice in the pod, a slow, wicked smile settling on his lips.

  “Soon,” Hook whispered.

  The hair on the back of Candace’s arms rose, and she shivered with trepidation. Whatever Jax had done since his last reaping had served to bolster Hook’s villainous resolve. Apparently, he was determined to see someone dead . . . and seemed to think somehow Alice could make it happen at his command.

  Her computer began to beep, drawing Candace’s attention to her screen, which mirrored the one above Alice’s pod. The girl began to have nightmares—horrible images of shadow monsters appearing and then flickering out, unable to hold their shape for long.

  Candace had never seen morphlings in person, but she knew enough to realize Alice was dreaming of those terrible things. But how did Alice even know enough about those creatures to dream of them? Given the timing of the nightmares, Candace couldn’t help but wonder if there was a connection between those creatures and the power Hook seemed to think she had. Candace had gotten pretty good at picking out the bits and pieces of what she saw on the blurry screen of Alice’s mixed-up dreams. She was positive when a familiar figure appeared that the girl was dreaming of Jax.

  She bit her lip in worry when Alice began to thrash about in her pod, her adrenaline reading going off the charts. Hook must have given her a stimulant to make her frightened. And Candace knew what happened when Alice became frightened. Her dreams became chaotic, and the monsters kept coming into this world as they began the hunt for him.

  She was confident that she could make out Jax, and wave after wave of morphlings were coming his way.

  Jax was one of the few at the facility that was decent to her. She wouldn’t dare assume that he would ever call her a friend, but she hoped one day she could say that.

  Run, Jax! Candace thought, knowing that he couldn’t hear her.

  The sound of Hook’s boot steps drew close, and Candace barely looked up as he loomed over her desk.

  “I’ve been told you’re the one working on the virus, correct?”

  “Yes, sir. I finished it this morning.” She couldn’t meet his eyes, for it was a lie. She had finished it days ago.

  “Upload it to the boy . . . now!” he commanded.

  “I tried, but he was fighting me. I might permanently damage his mind.”

  Hook glared at her, and she started to shake in her wheelchair. She knew she was coming close to insubordination.

  “He is expendable, as are you. Break his mind if you have to, but upload the virus now. I’m done waiting.”

  He stormed out of the room. Not until the lock on the door latched did she remember to breathe, and then let out a sigh. She knew never to make a fuss, keep a low profile, and never interrupt or distract the captain. The one time that Candace had questioned Hook, he had flown into a rage and hit the black button on one of the pods. She’d never told anyone what she had witnessed that day, how she had seen a faint ghostly figure appear next to the broken pod before it vanished.

  Her hand trembled as she picked up a headgear covered in wires and sensors, which was a duplicate of the one Hook had, and placed it on her own head. The older Michael grew, the stronger his mind became. She had to keep upgrading the headgear. She pulled the glass screen over her eye and brought up the virus on her computer. She hadn’t really tried earlier, just merely attempted to upload it. Now, however, she had no choice. She was going to have to break him.

  “I’m sorry,” Candace plugged a USB cable from the head gear into her computer. “Please forgive me,” she whispered, as she attempted for the third time to hack the young boy’s mind, typing her override command code over and over again.

  Tick

  Tick

  Tick

  Tock

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Michael groaned out loud, biting his lip to keep from causing a ruckus. He was losing the battle. His will wasn’t as powerful as their technology. Neverland was syncing with him, and they were using his telekinetic gifts against his will.

  “No,” he mumbled and tried to fight them mentally. He always lost, but he had fought bravely for weeks. He was tired and weak.

  Something warm touched his lip, and he wiped it with the back of his hand. It came away covered in blood. He was getting a nosebleed. That wasn’t good.

  “Tick . . . tick . . . tick.” He mentally saw a young woman in a wheelchair back at the headquarters using a computer to fight him, uploading more malware into his subconscious, trying to rewrite his brain and override him, taking him over.

  I’m sorry Wendy . . . I tried to fight them. I’m just not strong enough.

  He endeavored to stand and go to the window for help, but he collapsed on his way, crashing to the floor.

  That was all it took. Michael felt Neverland break down his walls. His mind exploded in pain, although it was physically impossible. He could feel the signal reverberate through his central nervous system.

  “Tock.”

  The program Codename: CROCODILE began transmission through his psyche and began to infect Neverwood’s computer system telepathically.

  In the middle of dinner, the lights began to flicker. Some of the boys looked around the dining hall, but most of them just ignored the flickering. Wendy, however, was not unaffected. She lowered her spoon and stilled, distinctly uncomfortable.

  Peter, who’d found himself spending every spare moment with Wendy, set down his plate of uneaten food and gestured to the older students and staff members to meet up.

  Without alerting anyone, they slowly slipped out. Wendy, not willing to be left behind, joined them in the hall.

  Peter’s face was stern. “Staff, you know the drill. If this is anything more than a glitch, you head to the safe rooms and stay low, like before. Please check the backup security systems until I know more about what’s going on.”

  They nodded and scattered.

  “Peter
,” Wendy whispered. “Is everything okay?”

  He tried to hide his worry, but she could see right through it. “It’s fine. I hope it’s just a glitch in the system. Computers control Neverwood, and something could be draining our power. Tink is probably going to reboot the system, and we will be good.”

  Wendy’s mind kept going back to Jax’s warning. “Peter, I have a bad feeling about—” She was interrupted as the hallway went dark and the emergency lights powered by the backup generator kicked on. “This,” she finished.

  “Okay, see, Tink just needed to do a manual reboot,” Peter said. “It should only take about ten seconds, and then, we’ll be up and running. Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . and . . .” He frowned.

  A loud piercing alarm rang through the hall. Wendy covered her ears as a herd of boys began running down the hallway. “Fox, Onyx. This way,” Peter called out, then turned to Wendy. “Go to the main control room. Find Tink.”

  Wendy ran up the stairs to find John and Tink standing close to the screen, analyzing the readings.

  “What is it?” Wendy asked.

  Tink gave her a look. Her face was pale. “We’re losing power. Our whole system is shutting down.”

  “How can that happen?”

  “We got hacked. I’m trying to fix it, but without our security systems, we’re sitting ducks. Something is broadcasting loud and clear, like a signal beacon. It’s been transmitting for the last two hours, and I can’t shut it down,” Tink said. “That source is also messing with my systems.”

  She slid her chair across the floor to a separate computer. “The backup generators are set up in the event of power outages. I have to shut down certain areas of the school and force it to focus our energy on our doors and our light weapons. It’s going to leave whole areas without power still, but I don’t know what else to do.”

  She started typing frantically, reading the green words of code as they flickered across the screen.

  “Is anyone in the medical wing?” Tink asked.

  John shook his head “no”. “I was just in there for an ice pack a half hour ago and didn’t see anyone.”

  “Good, shutting down the power there. The west wing is down now too. Which means our reinforced doors won’t close.”

  “What do you need me to do?” John asked.

  “How good are you at hacking?”

  “Pretty good.”

  “Then, help me find whatever is attacking my software. Every time I find a backdoor, I’m shut out.”

  “On it.” John was stone-face as he went to another computer and typed in code.

  Wendy couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She didn’t even know her brother was that good.

  “I don’t recognize this code,” John said. “It’s not by any black hat I know.”

  “Me neither, and I know most of their signatures.”

  “Black hat?”

  “Dark internet hacker,” John answered and gave his sister a serious look. “Like me.”

  “What?” She was stunned to learn that about her brother, but was distracted by the loud thumping sounds coming from above and the synced vibrations through the floor.

  “Is that . . . ?” Wendy asked, knowing the answer as the rhythm matched her frantic heart.

  Tink’s grim face turned white. “Go faster.”

  A loud explosion came from nearby, and the doors of the cabinets burst open.

  “Too late,” Tink whispered. “They’re here.”

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  “It was only a matter of time. We knew as soon as the morphlings appeared on our doorstep that they would be here soon after to investigate,” Tink said, her voice deadpan.

  “What do we do?” Wendy asked.

  “We’ve been doing everything in our power to prepare for this moment. We’re not going down without a fight,” Tink promised.

  “These are real people with guns. This is not like the morphlings,” Wendy said, worried for her brother’s safety, who wasn’t a lost boy and didn’t have any super powers.

  “You think we don’t know that?” she hissed, pulling the headphones off her ears, and glared at her. “What do you think we teach here? The boys were created to be weapons by Neverland. We didn’t just teach them algebra and physics but advance weaponry and four schools of martial arts. It’s in their blood to fight. It’s part of their genetic makeup. No matter how hard we tried to fight it, they always started to fight with each other.”

  “You continued with the D.U.S.T. program.” Wendy’s face fell with disgust.

  “Not intentionally. Neverland made us. They started the program. It takes years for the effects of the PX-1 to take hold of a person’s genetic makeup. It would have been wrong for us to leave the boys untrained. We told them we were training them to fight the morphlings, but we knew it would come down to this. That eventually Neverland would come for them—to either capture them or destroy them.”

  Hearing it from Tink’s lips made it worse. Wendy understood the serious expressions on the boys’ faces. They knew it was fight or die. Wendy wasn’t prepared to be in the midst of it and to be filled with turmoil. She wasn’t like them. She didn’t have the same training. It wasn’t instilled in her to fight till death. Then again, Wendy had quickly destroyed that morphling in the alleyway. Maybe it was?

  “What do you need me to do?” John asked, surprising Tink and Wendy.

  Tink arched an eyebrow. “Ever play Warfare 8?” She walked over to the cabinet on the wall and punched in a digital code.

  “Who hasn’t?” John grinned. “I’m on the top ten of the leaderboards.”

  The cabinet swung open, revealing rows of guns. Tink pulled one out and handed it to John. “Modeled after the weapon. Made of light aluminum. So, it’s not as heavy and has a harder trigger. So that you don’t accidentally shoot one of our own. When you aim, be darn sure that you’re ready to shoot.”

  “John, no!” Wendy stood in front of him as he tested the weight in his hands and looked down the sight. He ignored her; so, she confronted Tink. “I’m not letting you turn my brother into a killer.”

  “Wendy, do you think any of the Red Skulls are going to just high-five us and give us a slap on the back? They are killers. The boys here at our school can take care of themselves, but some of us don’t have those gifts, like John and me. I won’t leave us defenseless.”

  “Oh,” Wendy said sheepishly and went back over to the cabinet, reaching up and pulling a gun down. “Well, why didn’t you say so?”

  Tink shook her head and pointed to the screen. A blip was moving toward them. “I think it’s another chopper. According to the size, it is probably going to hold at least ten soldiers including the pilot. But it’s hovering. Waiting.”

  “What’s it waiting for?” John asked.

  “The first wave,” Peter said, entering the room with Fox in tow. “The morphlings.”

  “John, Fox can take you to one of the tunnels to wait out the morphlings, and the rest of us will stay hidden until they appear. Tink, Wendy . . . take care of each other.” Peter turned to leave, with John at his heels, but then he stopped and looked back at Wendy and Tink. He took a deep breath and was speechless. Peter’s fierce gaze spoke the words that he was unable to voice.

  “We’ll be okay,” Wendy said, reaching into her pocket to pull out the thimble and hand it to Peter. “This token is redeemable for one free kiss upon your safe return.”

  Peter grinned. “Is there an expiration date?”

  Wendy shook her head “no”. Peter’s smile faltered and became determined, a soldier’s mask, as he signaled to John that it was time to go.

  “You’re my favorite sister,” John called over his shoulder.

  “I’m your only sister,” Wendy called out after him, but he had already turned the corner and was out of sight.

  “What about me?” Tink pouted. “He didn’t say anything to me!”

  “What should I do?” Wendy asked.

  “Can
you take Tootles and Michael here?” She pointed to a room on the computer screen. It was a map of their school, one that Wendy had never seen before.

  “What is it?”

  “It’s a safe room of sorts.”

  “I can fight,” Wendy said. “I don’t want to hide.”

  “I know you don’t,” Tink said, pulling her ponytail tighter, then tucked a gun in her waistband against her back. She reached out and touched Wendy’s arm. “I’m not asking you to hide. Wendy, I’m giving you the hardest job of all, to protect our youngest and most vulnerable. I’m asking you to do this because you can pan. I’m asking you to give your life to protect them,” Tink said, choking on the words, and her head dropped. Her eyes glistened in the corners as she held back her tears.

  “I’ve done a lot of things I’m not proud of over the years. I’ve not been a great daughter, and though I’ve tried to be a good mother to the boys, truthfully, I’m not the mothering type. Neverwood needs to survive, and if it’s going to survive, you need to be here to help it. Do you understand?”

  “Yes, I understand,” Wendy said, keeping her voice from breaking. She took the gun and headed downstairs to find Tootles. She couldn’t help but look at each of the stony faces of the boys as they ran past her. They were grim. Determined. None of them wanted to go back to Neverland, and she could also see the fear in their eyes. This was different than fighting their enemies out in the field. They had an edge out there, if only because they always had a place to run. But at the moment, their home was about to be invaded. When that battle was over, who knew if it would even still be standing?

  “Tootles!” Wendy yelled over the banister as the boys ran to their stations. “Has anyone seen Tootles?”

  A few looked her way and shook their heads “no”. She ran to the commons space and scanned the area around the pool table and the open kitchen, but the room appeared to be empty. “Tootles!” she cried again and heard a whimper from behind the couch.

 
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