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       Enders, p.10

           Lissa Price
 
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  “Good.” His eyes narrowed. “Keep it there. Don’t give it to anyone.”

  I saw a sadness behind his eyes and wasn’t sure why. I nodded.

  “I have a favor to ask you,” I said.

  “I can’t take that chip out of you, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

  “Not the chip. The plate in my head. The one you put in as a blocker.”

  “Why?”

  “It doesn’t work anymore.”

  “I told you it would only last a short time.”

  “So I want it gone. I think it’s irritating me. I keep scratching at it.”

  He pushed his bowl away. “It’s better to just leave it alone. Less trauma to your head. It’s not causing you any harm, the way it is.”

  “It’s my head. And I say the less metal, the better.”

  Redmond pursed his lips. I folded my arms. I wasn’t going to back down, even though I knew he was right. It was just that somehow, I felt if we removed the plate that covered the site of the chip, then we were one step closer to removing the chip … someday.

  Redmond got Hyden’s approval to remove the plate. I made Michael come with me, for moral support. We followed Redmond to a small medical room with a sink, bottles of medicines, and drawers of instruments. As Redmond prepped the instruments, a sharp medicinal scent stung my nose. Michael stood close by.

  “Ready?” Redmond asked.

  I nodded. He had me lie facedown with my head resting in a hole in the operating table. It was anything but comfortable. The edges of my face stuck to a sanitary paper protector as Redmond put something cold on the back of my head.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  “Just placing waterproof strips around the plate to protect your hair.”

  “The plate’s tiny. It feels like you’re covering my whole head.”

  “The wider the protective barrier, the safer it is.”

  “Is this going to hurt her?” Michael asked.

  “It shouldn’t,” Redmond said. “There’s no cutting involved.”

  I wished he were cutting and removing my chip. But this was the next best thing. I heard the sound of a spray and felt my scalp go icy.

  “This forms a final protective bond over your scalp so the solvent I’m about to use won’t burn you.”

  “What’s the solvent for?” Michael asked.

  I imagined Michael’s expression as he watched Redmond’s procedure, picturing him observing it with the fascination of a science experiment.

  “I better not see a sketch of this, Michael,” I said.

  He touched my arm. “Hey, where’s my drawing pad?”

  “The adhesive used to attach this tiny metal plate to the back of her skull has to be dissolved in order to break down the compound. It was strong to begin with—which is why I didn’t want to remove it”—he said this last part louder for my benefit—“so it needs an acidic solvent.”

  “Just do it,” I said.

  “All right now, don’t move.”

  I could hear the solvent foaming, bubbling, near my ears. A pungent smell filled my nose.

  “Whoa,” Michael said. I imagined he was waving his hand over his face.

  “Don’t get too close,” Redmond said to Michael. “These are just tweezers so I can get a grip on it and pry it off.”

  Then I felt Redmond tug on the plate.

  “I have the left side loose … just need the right.”

  Redmond kept working, and this time I felt the plate release.

  “There. It’s off,” he said. “Brilliant. Just let me clean up the area.”

  It was just my imagination of course, but I felt lighter. Michael patted my arm.

  “Good job,” he said.

  As Redmond turned away to get the sterile solution, a high-pitched siren screamed in the hallway.

  “What’s that?” I shouted to Redmond over the noise.

  “Security alarm. Stay here.”

  He rushed out of the room and closed the door.

  I sat up.

  “I don’t think you should move, Cal,” Michael said, looking nervous.

  My throat felt scratchy, and another smell mingled with the medicinal scent in the room. I coughed. Michael and I exchanged worried glances. Then he coughed.

  I looked up and saw a white smoky mist streaming in through the vent like dragon’s breath.

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  I scrambled off the operating table and grabbed a towel. I wet it quickly with cold water and handed it to Michael. “Put it over your mouth.”

  I wet another one for myself. The towel blocked the smoke but didn’t make it any easier to breathe.

  Outside, in the hall, smoke poured in from every vent, and the bitter odor overwhelmed us. Michael stayed close to me.

  “Redmond?” I shouted, pulling the towel away from my mouth for a second. I heard nothing but the pulsating alarm ringing in my ears.

  The hazy air stung my eyes. I was barely able to see more than a couple of feet. Movement was only possible by feeling my way along the hallway with my free hand.

  “Redmond!” Michael shouted over the alarm. “Hyden!”

  I looked back over my shoulder, but the smoke was so thick now I couldn’t even see Michael following me. That, and the blasting alarm, were deadening my senses. Then someone gripped my arm. Hard.

  It wasn’t anyone I knew.

  It was a beefy Ender wearing a gas mask that made him look like an overfed space alien. He had a ZipTaser in one hand and a slim, lightweight gun that Enders favored in his belt.

  I brought my leg around the back of his and tried to push him off center, but it didn’t faze him. Michael tried to help, but the Ender slapped him with the butt of the ZipTaser and he fell. I dropped the towel and used both hands to fight off the Ender, but he was strong and soon had my wrists in his grip.

  And now that the towel was gone, the bitter gas was making my head swim.

  The Ender aimed the ZipTaser at me. I pulled to the side just as the Taser shot out—and the dart of electrodes burned the wall.

  He yanked me hard. I was inches from his masked face, weak from the gas. Suddenly, his eyes widened in surprise, and he dropped to the floor. Ernie stood behind him, gun in hand, gas mask on his face. The alarm must have covered the sound of Ernie’s gun. He ripped off the Ender’s mask and gave it to me. I only hesitated a second. Breathing trumped squeamishness.

  “Okay?” Ernie asked, his voice muffled by the gas mask.

  I pushed a stray lock of my hair out from under the mask and nodded. “Michael. He’s hurt.” I pointed back behind me.

  “Anyone left here?” Ernie asked.

  I shook my head. “Where’s Hyden?”

  “He’s okay. But they took everyone else.” Ernie pushed past me, looking for Michael in the smoke.

  “Everyone?” I said to myself.

  My skin felt clammy. I looked down at the Ender who’d been shot.

  “Scum,” I said to his body.

  He opened his eyes and I gasped. He reached out and grabbed my ankle.

  “Ernie!” I shouted. I tried yanking my legs free, but the Ender held on.

  Our Middle bodyguard returned, gun extended, with Michael right behind him. Ernie bent and pointed the gun at the Ender’s head.

  “Release her now!”

  The Ender let go of me and fell back, drained from his efforts.

  “Callie, move.” Ernie gestured with his head.

  I stepped away and Michael put his arm around me. The smoke had cleared enough that Ernie and I could remove our masks.

  “Who do you work for?” Ernie asked the Ender.

  He kept silent, a bitter look of resignation on his face.

  “Look, grandpa, you’re bleeding to death every second that goes by. I’d say you only have sixty of those left,” Ernie said. He reached into his pocket. “See this?” He pulled out a jet-syringe. “This will stop your bleeding.”

  The Ender perked up, his eyes wild, alert.
<
br />   “It’ll save your miserable life. Just talk. Who sent you?”

  I looked at Michael. Would the Ender talk?

  The Ender’s lips began to move. “Brockman.” He coughed.

  “What’s he going to do with our Metals?” Ernie asked. “Blow them up?”

  He shook his head. “Sell them … big …” He reached for the syringe. “Gimme.”

  Ernie pulled his arm back, out of reach. “When?”

  The Ender grimaced from his pain. “Ten … days.”

  “Who’s he selling them to?”

  “The richest … Enders … in the world.”

  “Where?”

  “The shot …” The Ender reached out.

  Ernie looked at his watch and injected the syringe with a touch of his thumb. The Ender didn’t even flinch.

  “Where?” Ernie asked, getting right in his face. “Where’s the auction?”

  The Ender’s eyes went glassy and his head listed to the side.

  “Where’s Brockman’s lab?” Ernie shook the Ender.

  “Ernie.” I touched his shoulder. “I think he’s gone.”

  Ernie felt the Ender’s pulse and then got up.

  “The shot didn’t work,” Michael said.

  “Yeah, I knew that,” Ernie said. “But it made him talk.”

  He took the lead as Michael and I followed to the main lab. Hyden appeared with a thick black duffel bag over his shoulder. Redmond was behind him.

  “They took all the Metals.” My voice broke.

  “Not all,” Hyden said, a flash of sadness in his eyes. “Not you. Lucky you were in surgery.”

  We made it to the end of the main lab room. Just as I wondered why Ernie was leading us to a dead end, Hyden slapped the wall, and a panel slid open to a narrow hallway. We entered, and it closed behind us with a snap.

  Hyden opened a door and we rushed up the stairs. I stopped counting the flights; I was gasping for breath. Ernie put his arm under mine and helped me the rest of the way. Redmond, being an Ender, was also panting. He was lagging a half flight behind us.

  Finally, we reached the last landing. Hyden pressed another pad, and a steel panel opened to the garage. It closed behind us, totally masking this secret passageway.

  We stepped out into the garage and were near the SUV when the elevator door opened. Two Enders with gas masks and guns poured out. One was very tall, with long white hair like a Viking.

  Hyden motioned for Ernie to get Michael and me into the SUV. I climbed in the front, Michael in the back, and Hyden scrambled into the driver’s seat. Redmond was coming, running as hard as he could, but he was grabbed from behind by the tall Ender.

  Ernie lunged back to help him, but the shorter Ender took aim and shot Ernie.

  “No!” I yelled.

  Redmond turned on his long-haired captor and they struggled. The gun went off and Redmond slumped to the ground, shot in the heart.

  I screamed Redmond’s name. Hyden was shouting, but I couldn’t make out his words.

  Ernie grabbed the SUV door and put his feet on the step. Michael reached out and held on to his arm.

  The men rushed us. Hyden sped in reverse out of the garage as Michael hoisted Ernie into the backseat. Hyden pressed the button for the garage panel and it started to lower.

  The Enders raced toward us. They were almost to the garage door just as our SUV left.

  Hyden pressed the button again, and the panel roared down at five times the normal speed. The Ender with the long hair was caught by the door, which dropped on him like a guillotine. I averted my eyes, focusing on his gun as it flew out of his hand and spun on the ground.

  My stomach lurched.

  “Don’t look,” Michael said.

  Hyden sped away.

  I glanced at Michael in the rearview mirror. His face was pale.

  “Redmond …” My voice cracked. I put my hand over my mouth as tears rushed hard to my eyes.

  “I know,” Hyden said.

  Everyone was quiet for a moment as I sobbed through my palm.

  “He was gone fast,” he continued softly.

  I nodded. Ernie groaned from the backseat.

  “Callie, I need you two to check on Ernie,” Hyden said.

  Michael was sitting right beside Ernie. I knew Hyden just wanted to take my mind off Redmond. I pulled myself together and turned around to see our bodyguard slumped in the backseat, his hand covering his heart. Blood stained his jacket.

  I felt sick. But I leaned over the seat to get a better look.

  “Can you see where the wound is?” I asked Michael.

  Michael carefully opened Ernie’s suit jacket to look. The hole was high on his chest, well above his heart.

  “It’s in his shoulder,” I told Hyden, relieved. “Shouldn’t we be putting pressure on it?”

  Michael put his hands over the wound and pressed.

  “He needs a doctor,” Hyden said, keeping his eyes on the road.

  Ernie shook his head, trying to be brave. But he couldn’t hide a grimace from the pain.

  “He doesn’t want one,” Michael said to Hyden.

  “He’s overruled. One of the perks of being boss,” Hyden said.

  Hyden drove fast. The navigation system directed us to the Sisters of Mercy Hospital in minutes. We pulled onto the property, passing plastic flowers in planters—another hospital barely holding it together, a victim of our times. We drove toward the emergency entrance. Ernie was perspiring, and his eyes appeared glassy. Michael was comforting him, his hand on the top of his shoulder.

  “You’re going to be okay,” I said. “We’re here.”

  Ernie pulled out his gun and pointed it at Hyden.

  “Stop the car,” Ernie said.

  Hyden stopped it a little short of the patient unloading zone.

  “I’m taking you in,” Hyden said. “You’re wounded.”

  “Bleeding is in my job description.” Ernie waved his gun to punctuate his words.

  “Cut the drama, Ernie,” Hyden said. “We both know you’re not going to shoot me.”

  “You Metals can’t be sitting in a hospital. They could be after you.” Ernie struggled to get the words out. “My way … or no way.”

  Hyden looked resigned. Michael and I exited, opened Ernie’s door, and helped him out. He leaned against the wall near the emergency entrance and put his gun away.

  “I’m sorry I couldn’t save Redmond,” Ernie said.

  “Hey, man, you tried.” Michael patted Ernie’s forearm.

  “You saved us, Ernie. Thank you.” I hoped he was going to be all right. I squeezed his hand. “Get well.”

  “Get outta here,” he said with a small smile.

  He waved us off and we got back in the SUV. I watched as an orderly came out of the hospital with a wheelchair for Ernie.

  “He’s tough,” Hyden said, pulling onto the freeway and heading east. “He’ll contact me when he can.”

  I perceived a note of doubt in his voice. Hyden gripped the wheel as if it were grounding him. Maybe not being able to touch people also meant it was harder to let them touch your heart. I knew he cared about Ernie—and Redmond—but he sure wasn’t letting himself show it.

  I looked at back at Michael. He looked about as shell-shocked as I felt. My face felt itchy. I scratched my cheek.

  “Don’t,” Hyden said. “Don’t touch your face.”

  He opened a panel near the ceiling and pulled down a slim medical kit. He took out two white packets, each about the size of my palm. He tossed them to me. “Open them.”

  I handed one to Michael. The only thing printed on the packet was a long chemical name I didn’t recognize. I tore mine open and pulled out a wet cloth.

  “Wipe your face first. Be sure to get your nose. Then do your hands, legs, any exposed skin.”

  I pressed the cool cloth to my cheek. “Feels good.”

  “It neutralizes the residue from most gases.”

  Michael wiped himself with his cloth. “What wou
ld it do to us?”

  Hyden shook his head. “You don’t want to know, trust me.”

  “Poor Redmond.” I wiped my face and the rest of my exposed skin.

  “If it helps,” Hyden said, “he would have taken himself out before he’d ever work for my father.”

  A hollow feeling ate away at my insides. It was like when our building was smoked and we lost everything, including the last pictures of our parents. A desperate feeling came over me to go to my little brother immediately, grab him, and hold him tightly.

  “I need to be with my brother,” I blurted out.

  “You’ll lead my father’s men right to your cabin.”

  “He’s right, Cal,” Michael said.

  Hyden opened the scanner.

  “What’re you doing?” I asked.

  “Scanning.” He said it like it was obvious.

  He punched a button and the car went into autodrive, allowing him to let go of the wheel.

  “Is it really the time for this?” Michael asked.

  “I’m trying to see if we can grab their signals,” Hyden said as the airscreen came on. “They’ve got all our Metals. This thing should light up like Christmas.”

  “You mean we might get them back?” I asked.

  “That would be the idea,” Hyden said.

  I watched the screen as Hyden plucked it, widening the search area. Michael leaned forward from his backseat so he could also focus on the screen.

  But the grid was quiet. After a bit, Hyden ran his hand through it, sending the display into disarray for a moment.

  “They’re too smart,” Hyden said with an edge of cynicism in his voice. “They’ve got protection the way we have.” He sighed. “They’re gone.” He slapped the steering wheel. “All those Metals, they depended on me.”

  “What’re we going to do?” I asked.

  “I don’t know. We can’t go back to the lab.”

  He took the autodrive off and we continued for a few miles. I turned and saw that Michael had fallen asleep.

  “Can you raise the panel?” I whispered to Hyden.

  Hyden glanced in the rearview mirror, then pressed a button. A plexi-panel slid up to meet the roof, making it impossible for Michael to hear us if he woke up.

  “What’s up?” Hyden asked me.

  “Back at the Hall of Records, when your father got in my head, he did something new.”

 
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