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       Enders, p.11

           Lissa Price
 
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  “What?”

  “He was able to control me.”

  “How?”

  “He moved my little finger. Against my will.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “We haven’t exactly had a quiet moment, you know.”

  “But it shows he’s advanced. I need to know these things.”

  “Well, now you know.” I touched the back of my head a moment and then stopped. “And there’s something else I haven’t had time to tell you.”

  “What?” He looked at me with narrowed eyes.

  “He didn’t claim to be doing my father’s voice, when I confronted him.”

  “That’s just him.”

  “No, he always takes credit for what he’s done.”

  “He’s messing with you. Forget about it.”

  Hyden got off the freeway. After a short time, we drove alongside the dry riverbed of the L.A. River. Hyden pulled his SUV over the curb and through a hole in the entrance. We drove down a steep embankment until we were on the cement of the riverbed.

  “Hyden?” I asked, holding on to a hand grip.

  Michael woke and banged on the panel between us. Hyden lowered it.

  “What are you doing?” he shouted.

  “The Department of Water and Power built us this nice little ramp years ago. We’re going right down it.”

  He drove down an auxiliary shaft in front of us.

  “But why? Where are we going?” I asked, holding on even tighter.

  “Someplace low and safe,” Hyden said as he wound his way down, level by level. “With a restroom.”

  When we got to the bottom, it was like another world. There was a large makeshift market with all kinds of Starters and Enders.

  A scrappy Starter ran up to our car with a bottle and rags in his hands.

  “Look out!” I said to Hyden so he wouldn’t hit him.

  “It’s okay,” Hyden said. “He’s getting rid of any possible spore dust.”

  The Starter wiped down Hyden’s car, wetting it with his spray while we were still moving into a parking space.

  We got out and Hyden gave him a dollar.

  “What is this?” I asked.

  “The People’s Flea Market. We’re only going through it because of the restroom at the end,” Hyden said.

  “What are we waiting for?” Michael asked as he walked toward the entrance.

  An Ender woman wearing a head scarf in a green flowery print sat at a table with a sign reading Pay Here. Hyden put three bills on the table and she held open the entrance gate, made from a No Right Turn sign.

  “Enjoy,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

  There was something familiar about her. But it wasn’t the woman; it was the scarf. My mom used to have the same one.

  I followed Hyden, as did Michael, dazed, numb, and no doubt in shock from the shootout. We sleepwalked past the sellers sitting on blankets or folding chairs behind tables displaying odd pieces of life, some from many years ago.

  Michael noticed a large, flat piece of metal lying on a table. “What’s that?”

  The seller was an eccentric Ender with his long white hair in many tiny braids. He perked up at our interest.

  “It’s called a laptop,” the seller said. “It’s a computer.”

  “You mean that big thing is an airscreen?” I asked. “That’s how they used to access the Pages?”

  “They didn’t call them Pages then,” Hyden said. “Back then they didn’t document every second of their lives the way we do.”

  “Not all of us,” Michael said.

  The seller smiled and touched the metal, popping it open. It was even bigger.

  “Look at the keys,” I said. “Like a typewriter.” I gave the seller a nod. “Thanks for showing us.” We moved on.

  “What’s a typewriter?” Michael asked.

  “You haven’t seen the old movies?” I thought of the ones my dad had shown me. The next time I saw one, he wouldn’t be there.

  “Why did they call it ‘laptop’?” Michael asked.

  “Because it was meant to be used on your lap,” Hyden said. “But no one ever did.”

  “Why are they here and not outside?” I asked.

  “They’re part of the underground people,” Hyden said. “Starters and Enders afraid of another attack, or of spore residue.”

  “But aren’t they vaccinated?” Michael asked.

  “Not all. And the vaccine can’t protect from a new bio-weapon attack,” Hyden said.

  Bio-weapon. Attack. Spore residue. I felt dizzy.

  I washed my face in the restroom and wiped my hands with the paper napkins neatly stacked on the counter. The scarf woman must have swiped those from hot dog stands. As I stood there alone, the deaths at the lab finally hit me like a punch to the gut from an unfriendlie. It was surreal being here at the flea market after what we had just gone through.

  Redmond. Ernie.

  I joined the guys in the refreshment area. They had bottles of water and cheap chocolate patties trying to pass for Supertruffles. Minimal amount of vitamins just so they could say they had them.

  Hyden tossed one to me. “Here.”

  I grabbed the chocolate. He threw the water bottle, but I missed and it thudded onto the ground. Michael picked it up and handed it to me. I stood there, not moving.

  “What’s wrong?” Hyden asked.

  “What isn’t wrong?” I said.

  He came closer and carefully plucked the chocolate from my hand, opened it, and held it out for me to take. I took it without touching him, broke off a small piece, and chewed it slowly.

  “Come on,” he said.

  The fake Supertruffle was dry in my throat.

  “I want my life back, okay?” I said.

  Hyden stared at me. So did Michael.

  “I only had a couple of weeks with my brother as a normal family, living in a home, and now he’s up there on that mountain, and I’m down here, underground, wondering if I’ll ever get to see him again. I was supposed to give him a life, not a nanny. And the way things are going, we might not all live to see tomorrow anyway.”

  Hyden took a step closer. “I want the same thing you do—to be untethered. I want all of us to be free. But not now. We just have to take it one step at a time, okay?”

  I looked away.

  “It’s not like we’ve lost everything,” Hyden said.

  I swallowed hard. How could he say that?

  “We haven’t, Callie. Redmond is gone and we’ve lost the Metals. Lily and Savannah and Jeremy and the rest.”

  I thought for a moment about the danger they were in—no matter what that dying Ender said, Hyden’s father could always turn them into human bombs.

  “But we’re going to work to get them back. I have a bag packed with essentials. And cash.” Hyden gestured toward the car, where he’d put the large black duffel bag. “Research I can re-create.” He pointed to his head.

  “But your lab, the computers,” I said.

  “They didn’t get my computers,” he said. “I had a panic button set up to destroy the computers.”

  “But then you lost them.”

  “Let me show you guys something,” Hyden said.

  We followed him out the flea-market exit and walked toward his SUV.

  “I have the scanner. And I have backup.” He pointed to his car. “This is a portable lab.”

  “Where?” I asked.

  He opened the back. A black leather lounge-style seat was carved into the cargo panel, running across the width. It was shaped so a person would sit back in it with their legs bent. Hyden reached over that and lifted a panel, revealing a mega-computer.

  Michael let out a low whistle. “Not just an old Metal detector.”

  Okay, it was something. But no cause for celebration.

  Hyden cocked his head. “You’re right, Callie, it’s bad. For the Metals. And Redmond. But don’t give up.”

  I looked from Hyden to Michael. Their strength ground
ed me. And gave me a little hope.

  We slept in the SUV—Hyden in the front, Michael and I in back. I’d drifted off after what seemed like hours trying to get comfortable with no blanket and no pillow, only to wake up disoriented in the dark. I could hear Hyden’s and Michael’s rhythmic breathing. It was dim, with just some small lights on the dashboard and around the interior of the car, glowing like luminescent bugs in a cave. Through the smoked windows I could see the handwritten Closed sign the scarf lady had propped up at the entrance. This was a permanent market, and many of the vendors had draped towels and rags over their wares. Other spaces were now empty. Several of the sellers slept in their parked cars so they could monitor the market.

  As I looked through the window, my eyes focused on the window itself, and my vision became blurry. When it refocused, it was like the window was a screen, and across it played a scene that soon enveloped me. I was in Club Rune, moving across the dance floor, past the glamorous “teens,” mostly Ender renters in donor bodies, the way Helena had rented me. I glided up to the bar and showed the bartender a small holo of a girl. It was Emma, Helena’s missing granddaughter—blond and regal, with Helena’s noble nose and strong chin.

  It was another memory of Helena’s playing out before me, a little differently this time, more visually. When she was using my body, she must have gone to Club Rune to ask about Emma. But the bartender looked at the holo and shook his head. I felt this heavy sadness tear at my heart.

  Helena’s sadness, a moment preserved from the past, was frozen now in my memory banks. I was not only reliving the memory, I was also feeling it as if it were my own.

  The vision ended and I was back in the car, staring at the window, a tear running down my cheek. Helena would have been there over two months ago; that was how old this memory was. And now it was resurfacing.

  I had many sad memories of my own since the Spore Wars, but Helena’s dug into me. She had this intense determination, this desperation, this passion to find Emma. To find her answers. She wasn’t giving up. So how could I?

  “I had another memory last night,” I said the next morning.

  We’d all woken up around the same time, with fuzzy mouths and wrinkled clothes. I was in the back with Michael, leaning on my elbow. Hyden brought his driver’s seat up to its regular position and smoothed his rumpled hair with his hands.

  “A memory hit?” Hyden asked.

  “Yes. And it made me think about my father.”

  Michael put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s hard, Cal,” he said. “We just went through so much loss. You know how it turns everything upside down.”

  “I know, but …”

  “Callie, remember what we saw in that Hall of Records,” Hyden said.

  “It’s just a feeling. I can’t shake it.”

  “What do you want to do?” Hyden asked.

  I looked at each of them. “I want to go home.”

  CHAPTER THIRTEEN

  Hyden, Michael, and I drove through the neighborhood in the valley north of Los Angeles where Michael and I grew up. Now it was an abandoned suburb. We passed house after boarded-up house with markings on them in red paint. Some said Relocated but Condemned was the most common.

  Being here reminded me of how awful it had been as all our parents came down with the disease inflicted by the spores. How the marshals came to take them away to treatment facilities where no treatment waited. They were places people went to wait to die. How the Starters were taken to institutions unless grandparents claimed them. These were the homes of my friends and neighbors, the Surratts and Perrys and Rogers. All empty now, with overgrown lawns of dead grass and Condemned notices stamped on every door. These were the houses where I had trick-or-treated, had barbecues, celebrated birthday parties.

  Now it was as if zombies had taken it over.

  I touched the back of my head. We passed Michael’s house and he turned around to look back at it. I couldn’t read the expression on his face; I think that was the point.

  “Do you want to stop?” I asked.

  He shook his head. Hyden glanced at me.

  “His old house,” I said.

  Hyden nodded. “You guys were neighbors.”

  “Yeah,” I said. “But we didn’t really spend time—”

  “We didn’t hang out together,” Michael said.

  Hyden nodded. “I get it.”

  We drove in silence for a few more blocks. I pointed to the right. “That’s it.”

  He pulled up in front of my house. Strangling the barren rosebushes was a haphazard wire fence that wrapped around the perimeter.

  My mother’s prized roses were dead, the bushes just thorny skeletons reaching out for someone to save them, someone who never came.

  I had to swallow what would have been too many tears. Michael reached forward from the backseat and squeezed my shoulder.

  “Ready?” he said.

  I took a deep breath. “Let’s go.” I put my hand on the car door handle.

  “Wait,” Hyden said.

  “Why?”

  He held up a gas mask for me. He tossed one back to Michael.

  The idea of wearing a mask like that in my house made me sick. “I’m not wearing that. It’s my home.” This was the place where I’d had sleepovers with my best friends. Baked brownies. Had pizza night every Friday. Not a place for gas masks.

  “It might be dangerous. If not the spore residue, the chemicals that were sprayed after,” he said.

  Michael fiddled with his mask strap. “He’s right.”

  Hyden tossed him gloves.

  “I don’t care.” I opened the door and got out while they were putting the gear on.

  Hyden and Michael followed me out of the car. Hyden quickly got to work using a wire cutter to get through the fence. Michael looked up and down the street, always on the watch for unfriendlies. But there was no sign of life, not even a squirrel.

  As we walked up the path, I felt my pace slow to a crawl. My home. We’d played in this yard, and it had been full of life and laughter. Now it was deadly quiet. The lush green lawn where my dad would play ball with Tyler was now brittle yellow weeds.

  We stood at the front door. Planks of wood had been hammered across the middle of the door. Condemned was splashed across the planks in paint as red as blood. A cheerful tune broke the silence, startling the guys. It was my mother’s small framed holo, activated by our presence. She used to change this with the seasons, and this one had a picture of us—Dad, her, Tyler, and me—smiling, holding a big cardboard heart. At the end of the short tune we all said, “Welcome.”

  A little of the red paint had splattered on the corner of the solar frame.

  My legs felt weak.

  Michael looked at me. “Want it?”

  I nodded. He took a penknife from his pocket and pried off the frame. “Here.”

  I slipped it into my purse.

  Hyden rolled down his sleeves to cover his arms all the way to his gloves.

  “You should do the same,” he said. “What’s the best way in?”

  I led them around to the back door. The backyard looked like a graveyard with brown grass and Tyler’s toys lying on their sides—a small bike, a broken metal robot. We went to the back door and I waved my hand over the pad.

  It didn’t open.

  “It won’t work without electricity,” Hyden said.

  Michael used his knife to trip the lock. Hyden pried open the door with the help of the wire cutter. Together they got it open.

  Inside, it was dark. It was as it was when we’d left it, the day Tyler and I had to run from the marshals. The sun fought to pierce the drawn curtains, casting a dark yellow light on our belongings. We needed handlites, but we didn’t wear them anymore.

  Michael pulled back one of the curtains in the kitchen. “Where do you want to start?”

  “In my father’s office,” I said.

  I pushed aside my temptation to grab every sentimental object in the house: the last sweater m
y mother was knitting, the last book my father was reading, a mold of Tyler’s old baby shoes, and my last good report card stuck on the refrigerator. But we had to focus. We pored through my dad’s papers, his file system. Hyden picked up my dad’s airscreen.

  “It’s dead. I’ll have to charge it,” Hyden said.

  I waved my hand. “Just take it.”

  We spent longer in his office than Hyden wanted us to, going through boxes and drawers. We didn’t find anything that would give us any clues to where he might be—if he was still alive.

  We were almost ready to leave. I had filled a box with a few mementos and was trying to decide whether I should also bring one of my dad’s physical file folders. Hyden watched over my shoulder as I flipped through the small pieces of paper and business cards it held.

  “Wait. Stop,” he said.

  He plucked a business card from the file.

  The holo-mation set off, a thumping beat sounded, and Starters danced on top of the card.

  “What is it?” Michael asked.

  “That’s Club Rune,” Hyden said.

  He was right; the words on the card said it all.

  A Place to Be Somebody Else.

  Where I first met Madison and Blake.

  We all stared at it. “Club Rune?” I said. “My father?”

  I couldn’t imagine why my father would have a card from Club Rune. It was a hangout for renters and regular teens. What would a Middle—especially my father—be doing there?

  Hyden picked up the box. “We should go.”

  “Just give me a minute,” I asked. “Please.”

  “It’s not safe for the three of us to be out here,” Hyden said.

  “Hey, give her minute, will you?” Michael shifted a box he was holding on his hip.

  “You don’t get it,” Hyden said, putting down his box. “I do, because I know how the chipspace works.”

  “You’re the one who doesn’t get it.” Michael practically threw his box down. “How about thinking about her? You, you can’t even touch her unless you’re in someone else’s body.”

  I breathed in and stared wide-eyed at the two guys. “Michael!”

  Hyden froze. I held my breath. They were like two animals, wound as tight as possible, ready to strike.

 
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