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       Enders, p.13

           Lissa Price
 
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  One mopey, skinny Ender sat at one of the four tiny round tables, sipping his espresso. He looked like he would have been happier with a stiff drink.

  Emma stood with her back to us, at the counter, staring at the airscreen menu. Little holo-mations popped out, illustrating the specials. A bacon sandwich spun around, emitting that bacon scent. A bored Ender barista waited with folded arms while Emma made up her mind.

  A scraggly orange cat jumped up on one of the empty tables. I stroked his fur, trying to act casual, while Hyden put his hands in his pockets and glanced around. I’d shut off my illusion dress so it was just white. Hyden was dressed casually, but Emma and I were still in our fancy club wear, grossly overdressed for this place.

  The cashier looked at Hyden and me and then looked away. He said something to Emma.

  She mumbled something back to him, and then she walked to the back.

  “Restroom?” I whispered to Hyden.

  “I think she’s slipping out,” he said.

  As the cashier turned his back, we followed Emma’s path through a doorway curtain. Our eyes had to adjust in this darkened hallway, but we followed the sound of Emma’s footsteps just ahead. When we passed the kitchen, something struck me as wrong. It was completely empty. No canisters of food or pickle jars or bread on cutting boards. Emma opened a door at the end of the hallway and exited. We followed, plunging into a pitch-black space.

  The lights burst on, harsh white, blinding us. I blinked, and eventually the world came back into focus, but all through the prism of this disorienting light. We faced a huge warehouse-sized space, with various machines, computers, and equipment I couldn’t identify lining the walls.

  We’d happened upon the worst surprise party ever. Standing around us, guns drawn, were Emma and a few Enders, one with a splotch on his neck … a silver leopard tattoo. That was the man I’d seen talking to Reece just before she died. Several other Enders stood surrounding us, dressed in dark clothing. It looked like military gear, though like none I’d ever seen. They kept their rifles aimed at our legs.

  My heart pounded in my chest.

  One of the men ripped my purse out of my hands and pulled my arms behind my back. He cuffed my wrists just as another Ender cuffed Hyden’s.

  “What’s going on?” I asked. “Who are you?”

  I looked over at Hyden. They were emptying his pockets, pulling out his phone. He was sweating. I knew the touching was killing him, but he struggled not to reveal his weakness as one of the Enders patted him down.

  “No weapons,” the military Ender reported.

  “Check her as well,” the leopard tattoo said. “Never let it be said I don’t treat women equally.”

  The military Ender patted me down and nodded. “Clean, sir.”

  “You can’t detain us. We’re claimed minors.” I realized after I said it that Hyden probably wasn’t technically claimed since he didn’t live with his father.

  The leopard man stepped up. “If that were true, you wouldn’t be chasing this girl all over town.” He pointed at Emma. “You’d be in your warm home, with your loving grandparents, watching insipid talent shows on the airscreen. But you’re here because you’re Metals.”

  Surprised, I looked at Hyden, but he kept his eyes forward. He acted like he’d been imprisoned and interrogated before. Maybe with his father, he had.

  “You led us into a trap.” I glared at Emma.

  She stood stone-faced. The leopard man was about to respond when someone banged on the door. The leopard man nodded for them to lower the lights. One of the Enders opened the door partway, standing behind it. I gasped when I saw who stood on the other side.

  Michael.

  He was squinting, trying to see in the dark. Someone put a light on me.

  “Callie!” Michael smiled with recognition.

  “Michael, no, run!”

  But it was too late. He stepped inside like an unsuspecting fawn stumbling into a hunter’s trap. The lights came on and one of the Enders snapped cuffs on his wrists. Poor Michael stared wide-eyed at the scene in front of him.

  Hyden and I sat on hard metal chairs, our hands still cuffed behind our backs. The uniformed Enders kept guard over us, but the leopard man and Emma had taken Michael through a door to the left. Large airscreens were projected on the wall, monitoring the “café” that was empty now. The charade was all for us. The sad customer and the bored barista both entered, sporting their black uniforms and no longer sad or bored.

  Why did they take Michael away?

  “What’re they doing with him?” I asked Hyden.

  A uniformed Ender nudged me with the nose of his rifle. “Quiet.”

  The cold metal against my skin made me flinch. Why, why, why? Why were we there? All I wanted was a normal life with my brother, and here I was, a prisoner again. Only this time it wasn’t Institution 37.

  It was a lot worse.

  Besides the airscreens, there were special projections in the room that transformed the space. It cycled through different scenes accompanied by scents and soft sounds that matched the scene. Right now it was a bamboo forest rustling in the wind and a grassy perfume. I didn’t know if this was their idea of decorating the warehouse space or if it was some special technique to keep us disoriented. If it was the latter, it was working really well.

  Hyden glanced over at me. His eyes communicated sadness. He sighed and closed them a moment. I knew it was a “sorry” gesture.

  If I had been allowed to speak, I would have told him it wasn’t his fault. I was the one who had insisted we follow Emma. If I hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be handcuffed here, and Michael wouldn’t be off in some room possibly being tortured.

  My eyes blurred. I knew what that meant. Another memory of Helena’s was coming on. My sight soon sharpened to show me a vision as clear as an Xperience. I was in Helena’s bed with the canopy, in the moonlight. I turned on the table lamp and slipped out of bed to the open closet. The carpet was pulled back, exposing the hidden compartment in the floor. I lifted the lid to the case and saw the gun inside.

  I picked it up and held it against my cheek, feeling the power it contained. The metal was icy cold.

  The memory ended abruptly—like I’d woken from a dream. I was freezing. I shivered but couldn’t shake the memory. Her memories seem to come on most during times of stress. Sometimes they helped me. But I couldn’t see any meaning in this one. Just one more sign that my brain really didn’t belong to me.

  I was very much awake and aware, here in the bamboo forest environment.

  Hyden’s head was forward and his eyes were closed. Asleep? I couldn’t tell.

  The door to the side room opened, and the leopard man came out. Alone.

  “Bring the girl,” he said.

  CHAPTER FIFTEEN

  Hyden’s eyes opened as one of the military Enders came over and yanked me to my feet.

  “What about him?” the Ender asked the other guard.

  “Just the girl,” the first one said.

  “No, take me!” Hyden shouted. “I’ll go instead!”

  “You’ll get your turn,” his guard said as he kicked him in the shins.

  My guard pulled me harder, through the door on the left, and then shoved me into a small room. It had the projection illusion of being inside a rock cave. He pushed me into a metal chair.

  “You can go,” a voice said to the guard. It was the leopard man.

  The guard hesitated, as if I were some kind of dangerous assassin he didn’t dare leave with his boss.

  The leopard man stood with his hands on his hips.

  “Yes, sir,” the guard said, and left.

  Leopard Man wore a black long-sleeved knit shirt and black jeans. He kept his white hair as long as a mane. In fact, when he walked around my chair, I was reminded of a lion on the prowl, stalking his prey. He examined my face from every angle. Then he went to the back of my chair and pushed my head forward. He parted my hair, exposing my chip insertion scar. I felt
his cautious fingers probing it.

  “What are you doing?” I said.

  He ignored me. After a moment of examination, he moved away, and I raised my head.

  “You have no right to keep us here. I want a lawyer.”

  A sharp laugh blew from his lips. “You think we care about rights? Lawyers?” He bent so we were eye to eye. “You’re mine. Like a doll. I’ll do what I want, when I want.”

  I detected a slight accent, but it was too subtle to place. His eyes were gray-blue and lined with fine wrinkles. His face might have been called handsome once, but now it was just cruel. His hands were rough, with large knuckles and calluses. I had no doubt he was capable of any level of torture.

  My eyes scanned the room. Two doors. Nothing that could be used as a weapon. I looked up at the ceiling. Through the cave illusion, I noticed panels in the ceiling. It might be possible to hide up there.

  He came around and sat on the table. He stared into my eyes. I wasn’t sure what he was doing. Was he examining me for something in particular? Or was he just doing it to intimidate me? I refused to look away. Finally, he straightened and walked to the other door.

  He opened it, and a female Ender guard with cropped white hair stepped in.

  “Take her,” he said.

  The wiry guard lifted me roughly by the arm. As she dragged me past the leopard man, I didn’t take my eyes off his. I wanted to show him I would stand up to him, even if it meant dying.

  Then I thought of Tyler, and my bravado melted. He would have Eugenia and a good life but zero family if he lost me. I had to find out what they wanted, find out if there was some way to negotiate for my safety. And for Michael’s and Hyden’s too.

  The guard marched me down a hallway that had a projection of a rushing river and took me into a room that looked like a high-tech doctor’s office. A pine forest was projected on one wall, with birds flying through the trees. The guard sat me on an examining table and raised it with a foot pedal. The motor buzzed as I was elevated to the perfect height to be scrutinized.

  A doctor entered. A short, plump Ender, he nodded solemnly to me.

  “I’m just going to examine you.” He said it as if he needed my consent.

  “And what if I say no?”

  “I’m afraid that is not an option,” he said. “So can we proceed?”

  “No. I refuse. I’m here because I’m being held prisoner.” I jiggled my cuffs. “You can see I’m handcuffed. But I’ve done nothing wrong.”

  The doctor’s arms hung at his sides.

  My voice softened to a plea. He might be the last reasonable person I encountered.

  “Please do what’s right,” I said quietly. “Let me go.”

  He exchanged a look with the guard. My words must have reached him. He had to see how wrong this was, holding me this way. He went over to her and whispered something. I hoped he’d asked her to undo my cuffs. They were so tight, and my arms ached from being forced in this position for so long.

  Then they turned to me. The looks on their faces, those stone-cold expressions, were not ones of sympathy.

  The guard held me down with all her strength.

  “What’re you doing to me?” I screamed, struggling on the cold table.

  The doctor had his back to me, but I could see that he was preparing an injection. He came over with a hypodermic syringe. The guard dug her bony fingers into my skin as the doctor stabbed my arm with the needle.

  I dreamed of being back in my family home, the nice middle-class ranch house where my brother and I grew up. Tyler and I were in the living room, playing a silly card game on the floor, on a Saturday afternoon. It didn’t make sense, because he looked his present age. Then my father came into the room.

  “Daddy?” I asked, surprised to see him.

  “What, Cal Girl?” he said.

  For some reason, he was wearing a black suit. Then my mother came in the room wearing a floaty evening gown and put her arm around his waist.

  “Mom?” I said.

  She cocked her head. “What, dear?”

  “I thought you were both gone,” I said.

  “No,” she said. “We’ve always been here.”

  I awoke in a cramped room atop a thickly padded hospital bed. It reminded me of a baby’s crib. But instead of bars, I was encased on all sides with clear plexi walls.

  Above me, stars twinkled. Projections. An illusion to calm? Or to confuse?

  “She’s awake,” someone whispered.

  I turned my head to the sound. A female guard was outside the room, her face bisected by the door.

  An Ender wearing a tight, light-colored jumpsuit entered. In her hands, she held a small machine with a cord that she drew out and touched to my forehead, then my wrist, then my heart. It was then that I realized my wrists were bound to the bed with hospital restraints.

  She checked her machine and seemed satisfied. She left without ever having met my gaze.

  I turned my wrists and pulled on the cuffs to see if I could get out of them. Impossible. Panic crept in like water under a door. I twisted harder, but it just made my wrists raw.

  Someone opened the door. This time it was Emma. The Ender guard remained in the hall as Emma entered and then shut the door.

  She carried a shopping bag.

  “Hi, Callie,” she said, all smiles and cheekbones.

  “What do you want?” I didn’t trust her, but it wasn’t like I could get up and leave.

  “I brought you a smoothie. Thought you’d like it.” She pulled it out of her bag. “Strawberry-banana.”

  “I can’t hold it. If you untie me—”

  “I’ll hold it for you.”

  She came over to the bed and held the straw to my mouth. I wanted to refuse it, but I was so thirsty. And hungry. It flowed cold and sweet down my throat.

  “Easy,” she said. “Not too much at once or you’ll choke.”

  Emma looked a lot like her grandmother, up close. Helena must have looked like this when she was younger. That stately face, high cheekbones. Of course, Emma’s nose had been reduced at Prime.

  She pulled back the smoothie cup while I swallowed.

  “Why did you do it?” I asked.

  “What?”

  “Act as the bait. You were the lure … for them.”

  She looked down at the cup and fiddled with the straw. “I didn’t have a choice,” she said in a lowered voice. “They made me.”

  “How?” I kept my voice low as well.

  I wondered if she was being jacked right now. Could I trust what she said?

  “They said they would hurt my grandmother if I didn’t do what they said,” she whispered.

  “Your grandmother? Helena?”

  “That’s right.” She winced, as if she couldn’t bear to think of Helena being hurt.

  She pulled up a chair and sat with her legs crossed. I noticed she was wearing a large anklet, the latest style, her name in gold script around her ankle:

  Emma.

  “That’s pretty,” I said, pointing to the anklet.

  “Thank you. It was a gift from Grandma.”

  I took a deep breath. Emma didn’t seem to know anything about me. She had no idea that her grandmother rented me to assassinate the senator. And when that didn’t work, her grandmother had come up with another plan: to find out what happened to her granddaughter. This seemed like a lot to unload on Emma. But she had to know the bottom line about Helena, especially since she was operating on the misconception that she could still save her.

  This was, of course, if she was telling the truth.

  “That must be your favorite piece of jewelry, that anklet,” I said. “What other kind of jewelry do you like?”

  “Other jewelry?”

  “Yeah, what do you wear, collect?”

  “Lots of stuff. Pins. Things my mother gave me. Things my grandmother gave me. A charm bracelet that Doris gave me.”

  I nodded. She wasn’t being jacked. This was the real Emma I was talki
ng to. I’d seen the bracelet in her bedroom when I first went to Helena’s house, when I was a donor.

  “I had one just like it,” I said. “From Doris too.”

  “It was pretty.” A wistful look came over her face. “Wish I still had it.”

  Her expression and the way she spoke made me aware something was wrong. She seemed off, the way people do when they’ve been kept captive for a long time. I’d seen that look in some of the institution girls—even in my friend Sara. Emma was submissive and dreamy, not fully present.

  “Emma, when did these men get to you?”

  “When?”

  “You did the body bank rental; then what happened?”

  “I couldn’t go home. Grandma would have been so angry. I couldn’t lie. She would have seen my makeover.”

  “So you ran away?”

  “With my friend Kevin.”

  My focus sharpened. Kevin. That was the name of Lauren’s missing grandson.

  “Did Kevin also go to Prime?

  “Yes. He said he wanted the makeover, but I think he went there because I did. He liked me, but he wasn’t my boyfriend. We pooled our money from Prime. We were going to get an apartment.”

  “But the man with the leopard tattoo found you?”

  She nodded. “Dawson. He was the man who said he owned the apartment.”

  “I see.”

  “Kevin was supposed to meet me there, but he never showed up.”

  I wondered if Brockman’s men found him. But she wasn’t ready to hear any of that.

  “How long have you been with these people?” I asked. “Dawson’s people?”

  “I don’t know.” She shook her head. “What day is it?”

  She was really out of it. She could have been here a week or a month.

  “Emma, these ties are so tight. They hurt,” I whispered. “Could you just loosen them?”

  The guard opened the door wider to let us know we weren’t alone. Emma glanced in the woman’s direction. She straightened.

  “Callie, they need to perform some important tests on you.” Her voice was louder now.

 
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