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       Enders, p.14

           Lissa Price
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  She sounded like she’d rehearsed a speech. I let her go on.

  “They are required of all of us. I went through them,” she said. “They’re fine.”

  I could see in her eyes she was lying.

  “Maybe for you,” I said. “But I’m not doing them.”

  Her shoulders dropped. “Callie, please, listen to me. You have to; you really don’t have a choice.”

  The leopard man—Dawson—came in the room.

  “You can go, Emma,” he said.

  He spoke sternly and firmly as though to a child. She looked afraid but didn’t move.

  “Emma, go,” he said.

  She took the drink with her and left. Dawson leaned on the wall of my bed, his white hair falling down around his shoulders like some evil wizard’s.

  “So how do you feel?” he asked without a smile.

  “How do you think I feel, tied up like this? Like an animal,” I said.

  “If you agree to cooperate, we can release you. No shackles whatsoever. But you have to agree.”

  “I want to be untied and set free. There’s nothing else I’ll agree to.”

  He sighed and pressed a button. The walls of my bed slid down to the floor with a heavy thunk. No safety codes here. He pulled a large knife out of his pocket, flicked it open. The long blade gleamed in the light as he turned it. I tried not to flinch as he brought it closer.

  He slipped the blade under my restraints and sawed through them until I was free. He pulled them away, closed the knife, and slid it in back into his pocket. I rubbed my sore wrists.

  I got out of bed. I was still in my clothes.

  “Where are my shoes?” I asked.

  He grabbed me by the upper arm and pulled me out of the room. Barefoot.

  The guard followed us down the hallway. We came to a turn and he went right, dragging me roughly along the tiled floor. “You’re hurting me,” I said.

  “Really? So sorry, Your Majesty.”

  Muffled screams reached us as we approached the end of the hall.

  I recognized the voice. Hyden.

  Terror shot through me. “What are you doing to him?” I yelled, struggling to pull myself from Dawson’s grasp.

  He gripped me harder and shoved me in front of a large window, pressing my face against the glass. Inside a room sat an enormous tube-shaped machine. A projection of a tranquil forest on the wall was in direct contrast to the violent scene being played out in front of it. Two Enders held on to Hyden’s arms as he tugged and twisted, trying to get away. A third Ender stood against the wall, watching. He had an amused look on his face, which disappeared as soon as he spotted Dawson.

  This would have hurt anyone, but for Hyden, who felt pain just from touching, it must have been torture.

  Dawson nodded curtly to the men. Instead of being more gentle with Hyden, they began to push him back and forth between them, as if they were tossing a ball. Hyden struggled to stay on his feet.

  “Stop it! Stop them!” I pounded my palms on the glass. My insides were being twisted.

  Sweat beaded on Hyden’s face, and his skin had never looked so pale. Dark circles ringed his eyes. Had he been beaten?

  “You don’t understand. This could kill him,” I said.

  “Only you can stop it,” Dawson said. “You know what I want to hear.”

  Hyden fell, but the Enders caught him as he slumped and pulled him back up on his feet. They dragged him over to the window, right in front of me, and pressed his face flat against the glass.

  “Hyden.” My heart felt like it was going to crack in half.

  “I’ll do it,” I said to Dawson. “I’ll do your tests.”

  Dawson smirked and nodded to the Enders behind the glass. They let go of Hyden. But he stayed against the glass, his hand moving up to match my palm.

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  “What about Michael?” I asked as Dawson escorted me back down the hall. I was still barefoot, but for the first time since I’d arrived I was walking on my own instead of being dragged. They knew my weakness and how to get to me. But I couldn’t help it; I had to stop them. Now I was even more determined to find a way to get us all out of here.

  “What about him?” Dawson said.

  He opened a door, and we entered a lab where a female Ender was putting on white rubber gloves.

  “Where is he?” I asked Dawson.

  “Resting,” he said before walking out.

  I wondered if Michael was really all right. Or whether “resting” really meant some Ender was now jacking him.

  The female Ender wore white rubber clothing, pants, boots, and an apron over a nylon shirt. She made me strip and then stand on a rubber platform that drained to the floor while water sprayed at me from different directions. She put on goggles and rubbed me with a rough cloth. It reminded me of the body bank, only not as fancy. Whatever this place was, their budget was a lot smaller.

  After I dried off, she handed me a surgical gown.

  “What is this for?” I asked her. “What’s going to happen to me?”

  She didn’t even make eye contact. It was like I had no voice. She took my arm before I could put on the gown. I held it to my front while she pulled me into another room. A different Ender waited for me there.

  I hurried into the gown while this new woman, short and pasty, watched. She had me lie down on a platform. They put a helmetlike cage over my head and locked it down so I couldn’t move at all. I hated it. It was so restrictive, I could feel my pulse speeding up in the blood vessels in my head. Pound, pound, pound. I wanted to scream.

  “Just relax,” she said. “You’re not going anywhere, anyway. Don’t move.”

  She pressed another button and a coffin-like cage device encased my body.

  “What is this?” I screamed.

  With a buzzing sound that made me think of a saw, the platform slid back into the tube-shaped machine. There was no opening at the back. At the front, where I had entered, a panel slid down, shutting off any glimpse of the space outside.

  Air started blowing, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I felt like every nerve in my body was on fire. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin, and I thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. The Ender’s voice came through a speaker near my ear.

  “Hold your breath until I tell you to breathe again.”

  “Starting when?” I asked.

  “Now.”

  I inhaled and held it for what seemed like a very long time. The machine made loud clanking noises, as if someone was working on the outside with a jackhammer. Just when I was about to burst, she spoke.

  “Okay. Breathe.”

  This went on for an eternity. Once, she claimed I took a breath too soon and I had to do it all over again. Eventually, the panel opened and she removed the restraints.

  I rubbed my neck. I felt completely drained but so relieved to be out of there.

  The next test involved one Ender holding a scanner near my head while another Ender monitored a computer to see the results. Of course they grabbed my chip ID number: they did that first thing. But what they were looking for after that, I had no idea.

  “Why are you doing this?” I asked. “What are you trying to see?” They weren’t answering any of my questions. I was their lab rat.

  I endured many more tests that examined my physical abilities, my eyesight, my ability to identify smells, tastes, tactile properties. Finally, they finished, or at least I thought so, because they gave me fresh clothes—a T-shirt and olive-colored pants—and gave me back my shoes.

  I had to drink a glass of red liquid, and the next thing I knew, I was asleep.

  I woke up on the floor of a room with gray padded rubber walls. A foam cushion sat in the corner, a cube that could be used as a stool. And in the opposite corner was a hole in the floor that made a constant vacuuming sound. The toilet.

  This was my cell, outfitted so I could not hurt myself.

  No projections in here. Or my shoes.


  I spotted a security camera in the ceiling and one in the corner, up high. I yelled at it. “I’ve done all your tests. I want to see my friends!”

  The camera lens just stared back at me.

  There I was, locked up again. I pounded the walls with my fists but only made dull thumps. I screamed. No one answered.

  I was far away from the outside world, far away from Tyler. He had to be worried about me. This was all supposed to be over with when the body bank came down. We were supposed to have a normal life, one where he would attend school and play games and fish in the lake. We were going to be a makeshift family, Michael and me and Tyler with Eugenia, a sort of substitute grandmother.

  Eugenia. What could she be thinking, with Michael and me gone for so long? Was she calling the authorities? Would she try to comfort Tyler, making up a lie, assuring him we were fine? He’d see right through that.

  I missed my little brother. I missed his rabbit-brown eyes, his soft hair, his shy smile. It was so good to see him healthy again, but I hardly had time to enjoy that because suddenly we had to leave the mansion, to run and hide. Had anything changed? It seemed like we were always running and hiding. Only now we ran from bigger and better houses.

  What would happen to him if I never came back? Could Eugenia take care of him? Lauren was his legal guardian, but would she actually want to raise him?

  I thought about the last time I was locked in a cell. Institution 37. No good had come of that.

  How long had I been lying there unconscious? They must have drugged me.

  Then I heard a man’s voice in my head.

  Callie.

  I sat perfectly still, waiting to hear it again.

  Can you hear me?

  It sounded like Dawson, but I wasn’t positive.

  “Who is this?” I asked.

  Who do you think it is?

  “No games. I have too much time on my hands, so I’ll win.”

  It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is that you can hear me.

  It was Dawson, I was sure.

  How are you feeling?

  I remembered he had asked me that before—in that same clinical tone that contained no hint of actual concern.

  “Tired. Tired of being in here.”

  Would you like to leave the room?

  Was he really asking me that? “Yes.”

  The door opened. Was that a trick? Whatever, I’d be a fool not to try to leave. I got up and walked out. The Ender guard was nowhere in sight.

  We don’t need the guard if we can watch you.

  I gasped slightly.

  Don’t worry, I cannot hear your thoughts. Those are yours. Private.

  “It’s the only thing left that’s private around here.”

  I walked to the end of the hall and went through the door. Another hallway. I followed it and turned right.

  It’s quite a maze, this place.

  “So where’s the exit?”

  He laughed. I hated having him laughing in my head. I had a horrible desire to knock him out with something hard and heavy. Lot of good that would do me.

  The hallway ended at another door. I opened it and saw a child’s playroom. Tables heaped with colorful wooden blocks and puzzles lined the room. But there were no children in sight. And it was too clean, too set-up.

  You’re in the fun room, I see. Why don’t you have a seat?

  I went to the door opposite the one I entered and tried to turn the knob. It was locked. I went back to the door I had entered through, and it was locked from the other side.

  Yes, you really should sit down.

  I pulled up a chair and sat. I was clearly stuck in this room with locked doors and no windows.

  You see before you several colored blocks of wood in various shapes. Can you pick up the red circle?

  I picked it up and held it in front of my face so he could easily see it.

  Perfect. Now place it on the tray in front of you.

  I did what he asked.

  Now lay your hands on the table, straight out in front of you. Keep them relaxed.

  I had no idea what he was testing. This seemed too easy.

  “If I do this, will you let me—”

  One thing at a time. Just stay there, like that, until I give you another instruction.

  I waited for a few moments. Then something horrible happened.

  My right thumb moved. Only I wasn’t making it move.

  A chill ran up my neck.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  Just relax. Don’t speak.

  My right hand vibrated uncontrollably, shaking back and forth. Then it rose an inch off the table and moved toward the red circle block. It hovered over it, shaking, while I could do nothing but watch.

  The hairs on my arm raised.

  Just relax, let go. His voice sounded smooth and even, as if he were trying to lull me into a trance.

  Then my hand fell on the red block like a claw in an old-time arcade machine, and my fingers clumsily clutched it. My hand rose and brought it back in front of me. And dropped the block there, on the table. My hand then collapsed on top of it.

  “What did you do?” I asked.

  I controlled you. He couldn’t contain the glee in his voice.

  I hated this. I focused with all my will to kick him out of my head. I didn’t know how to do this, I just knew that I wanted it, I was willing it. I concentrated on picturing him gone, blown away by an invisible tornado, until my mind was clean, clear, and all my own.

  I don’t know if he left on his own or if I’d actually succeeded, but suddenly all was quiet.

  I sat there in silence for fifteen or twenty minutes, until an Ender guard arrived. He brought me to another room—a large indoor shooting range.

  “Proceed to the last stall,” a female Ender’s voice boomed over the loudspeaker.

  I looked around. She stood behind a glass wall, in a viewing area off a control room on a second level. She wore the black military uniform but was tall and elegant, with her white hair worn upswept.

  A rifle waited for me at the last stall. I picked it up. I wondered—if I shot the glass wall, would it be bulletproof ? Of course it would.

  The rifle was heavy for my weight. I heard the creaking of a target moving into place with a mechanical sound. It was a special holo of an Ender man, dressed in what looked like terrorist gear. A mask covered his face, and he held his own gun pointed at me.

  “On the count of three,” the Ender woman said over the mike. “One.”

  I put the rifle to my cheek and aimed.

  “Two.”

  I breathed in.

  “Three.”

  I took one shot at the target, aiming for the heart. The rifle kicked back, but I held my ground.

  “Hold your fire,” she said.

  The target was moved forward so I could examine it. The holo had frozen and recorded the shot. The hole was right at the heart. I turned and stared up at the Ender. Her face was expressionless.

  She had me repeat the test several times, and each time a red circle lit up for the spot I was to aim for. Each time I hit it. My father’s lessons were not forgotten.

  Then the target holo changed to an Ender woman wearing a floral dress and carrying a cane.

  “Shoot,” she said.

  “At an innocent civilian?” I asked.

  “Shoot.”

  “No.”

  She turned away so I couldn’t see her face. I could vaguely make out that she was conferring with another Ender in the control room.

  My scalp started to tingle. I sensed someone inside me.

  Callie?

  Dawson. Oh, I hated having him under my skin!

  Don’t worry, little Starter. You don’t have to do anything. Just relax.

  Oh. He was going to try to control me again. I tried to resist. I gripped the rifle.

  But my arms raised slowly. This was horrible. They rose into a shooting position. I tried to fight, tried to push them down.
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  He had control of me.

  My head lowered so my cheek was up against the rifle, and my eye lined up the shot. It pointed toward her heart.

  Sweat beaded on my forehead. I tried to make my hands stiff, so they wouldn’t be able to move. But my finger slowly bent and pulled the trigger.

  BANG.

  I glanced up at the control room. The Ender at the glass-enclosed viewing area spoke to someone inside.

  The target rolled closer. That poor old Ender lady had been killed by a fatal wound to the heart by my gun.

  Excellent.

  I felt my fingers loosen their grip on the rifle. Dawson had given me back control. It must have taken extreme concentration on his part to maintain a connection, and now he had to recharge.

  “This is disgusting,” I said. “You’re a horrible, sick person.”

  Sometimes we have to do things that aren’t pretty. For the greater good.

  The Ender target moved away with a sad electronic buzz of the motor, and a new target moved into the original position.

  Let’s try this one.

  It was a holo of a Starter. At this distance, I guessed he was about my age, in typical street Starter wear: rags and a water bottle, handlite. Dirty, scraggly.

  It was an image of Michael.

  I felt my stomach lurch. I was going to put the rifle down, but I couldn’t.

  “No …”

  My hands brought the rifle into position, and my eye focused on the target.

  “Stop this!” I screamed.

  My mind raced. Was there anything I could do to stop his control? If relaxing helped, then would panic break the connection?

  “You can’t make me do this!”

  But in painfully slow motion my finger pulled the trigger. Nothing I could do would stop my finger from moving. Everything was happening in spite of myself.

  The rifle fired with a bang.

  The Enders in the control room pressed buttons that made the target move forward so I could see the results.

  A wound was outlined in red, showing that my bullet had gone clean through the holo image of Michael’s forehead.

  If it were really him, he would be dead.

  My stomach tightened into a knot. I felt my arms get lighter. I had control again.

  I gripped the rifle and sprinted down the walkway to the door. The female Ender shrilled over the microphone.

 
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