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       Enders, p.15

           Lissa Price
 
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  “Callie Woodland, return to the stall. Stop now!”

  Callie!

  I tried not to listen to Dawson but held on fast to my anger. It seemed to be fueling me. I burst through the door. The Ender guard on the other side came at me. I aimed for his leg and pulled the trigger.

  It wouldn’t move. The trigger froze.

  Do you think we can’t control those? They don’t work outside the shooting range, little Starter.

  “Stop calling me that!”

  I raised the rifle and used the butt to slam into the Ender’s stomach. He doubled over. But what I couldn’t see was the Ender who came up from behind me and pressed something hard against my spine that zapped my nerves to jelly. My knees buckled, and everything turned black.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  I woke up in the padded room with a killer headache and a mouth that felt stuffed full of cotton. The door opened, and a female Ender guard let someone enter the room. Emma. She closed the door behind her.

  I looked at her. “No smoothie?”

  She sat on the floor next to me. “I heard they locked you up.”

  “What else did you hear?”

  “That you were an expert shooter. But you attacked a guard.”

  “I refused to shoot my best friend. What did they think?”

  “It’s just a holo. Maybe they wanted to see if you could follow orders.”

  I shook my head. “They knew I wouldn’t do it. That’s why they set up that situation.”

  She bent her knees and rested her arms on them. I noticed her large name anklet again.

  “So Michael, is he like your boyfriend?”

  “No. He’s my friend.” Why was she asking this? Did she really care? “How is he?”

  “He’s doing fine. He did all the tests.” She emphasized “he” to point out what a good Starter does.

  “And Hyden.” She played with her hair. “What about him?”

  “What about him? Is he all right?”

  “He’s okay. Is he your boyfriend?”

  I didn’t like this inquisition. The less I revealed, the better. Plus, I figured cameras were filming us.

  “No,” I said. “He’s also a friend. Where is he now?”

  “In another room. He refused to finish his tests too.”

  I imagined Hyden being told to shoot a holo of me. It made me feel good to know he wouldn’t do that. But Michael had finished his tests. Did he have to shoot me?

  She ran her hand through her hair. “It just makes everything go longer when you guys won’t cooperate.”

  “What do you mean? Have you had other Metals in here before?”

  She nodded.

  “Where are they now?”

  “I’m not supposed to talk about that.” She twirled her hair around her finger. “I wanted to ask you something. They said you knew my grandma.”

  “They told you that?”

  “Yes. That she rented you. Is it true?” She seemed sharper than earlier when she had been so spacey.

  “How do I know you’re really Emma?”

  “I thought I proved it to you, last time we talked. The bracelet, remember?”

  “Maybe you were listening when Emma and I were talking,” I said.

  “My grandma always kept a gun in her bedroom.”

  “Lots of Enders do.”

  “In the floor of their closet, under the rug, under the floor panel, in a wooden box? A Glock eighty-five?”

  That stopped me. “Okay.”

  “She said it was better to be prepared than to be afraid. I think the war did that to her.”

  “The war changed a lot of us.”

  “The one thing I hated was she wouldn’t let me get any surgery. I wanted my nose fixed. My mother would have let me do it if she were alive. I told Grandma that. She cried. I don’t know if it was because she missed her so much, or because I’d hurt her. If I do get to go back someday, I’ll tell her I’m sorry. I think about that a lot.”

  I couldn’t tell Emma the truth now. She wasn’t ready to hear it.

  “Even though she should have let me get the surgery,” she went on. “I had such a beak.”

  “Emma, I saw your pictures, from before. You had your grandma’s nose. It was strong, and it looked good on both of you. I know it sounds lame, but it’s true—what’s on the outside isn’t as important as what’s on the inside.”

  “Oh, easy for you to say.” She looked me over.

  “Sure, I got the makeover like you did, but it didn’t really change me. Someday, we’ll both be Enders, and even with green laser surgery, eventually we’ll be old and wrinkled. Like everybody. But we’ll look a lot better if we’re happy inside. If we used our brains and our talents instead of stressing over what someone else defines as ‘pretty.’ ”

  Emma frowned. “You don’t know what it’s like. You were probably never ugly.”

  “Neither were you. It’s not that we shouldn’t be the best we can be. But surgery at sixteen? Or thirteen or twelve? I’ll bet you knew some mean girls who looked like holo-stars.”

  “Oh yeah.”

  “But let me guess: no one decent wanted to be around them because they were stupid bullies?”

  She was silent.

  “I’m telling you, if there’s one thing I learned from this whole body bank mess, it’s that looks are overrated. Beauty isn’t about meeting some holo-star standard, it’s about being you. Because looks come and go. But nobody else can be you.”

  She stared at me as if I were crazy.

  “You’re never going to change my mind,” she said. “If I hadn’t already done it, I’d get this doctor who’s here to do it. He can do anything.”

  “What doctor?” I said.

  “He’s a surgeon and a tech expert.” Her eyes were on fire.

  A female Ender’s voice came over an invisible speaker. “Emma, you are wanted in the front office.”

  She pouted. “I gotta go.” She got up and left.

  I felt like an idiot wasting my energy trying to convince her to appreciate herself. Did she listen? No. Meanwhile, Dawson was probably cooking up some new torture for me. After attacking his guard, I hated to think what would be in store for me.

  Callie?

  Someone was in my head. And it wasn’t Dawson.

  “Hyden?” I stood. “Is that you?”

  Yeah, it’s me.

  “How is this happening?”

  I stared at the gray padded walls.

  Dawson and his people made me hook up. They’re here.

  “I see.” So Dawson had some new test.

  I’m sorry. …

  “About what?” Without intending to, I was moving toward the door. The door opened. The Ender guard stepped back to let me out. I walked out into the hallway. Everything felt floaty and dreamlike.

  Keep going. You don’t have to do anything. Just don’t resist me.

  It was a strange sensation. Sort of like ice-skating down the hallway without any skates. I wasn’t trying to walk, wasn’t trying to resist. But I was moving.

  I didn’t know where I was going. Not just the final destination, but whether I was going to open a door, or turn, or go to the end of the hall. I just put one foot in front of the other.

  Surprisingly, it wasn’t alarming. It was almost calming. Maybe it was because I knew it was Hyden controlling me, even if Dawson was giving the orders.

  Just stay with me.

  I wasn’t stupid; I knew they were making him do this. Dawson probably had a rifle aimed on him. So something was going to happen. I could hear concern in his voice.

  I recognized where he was making me walk. The shooting range.

  The new Ender guard there was taller and bigger than the one I’d attacked. This one opened the door for me, and I entered.

  I looked up and saw the same elegant female Ender from before watching me from the glassed-in viewing area off the control room.

  I thought I was going to the last stall again, but I stopped midway. I
turned, and instead of a rifle, I saw a gun, a Glock 85. It was the same kind of gun that Helena had had me use. Did they know that?

  I didn’t see a target. I didn’t want to touch the gun, but it wasn’t my decision. Hyden did it for me.

  My hand moved down and wrapped around the cold metal of the gun. It raised.

  The Ender woman behind the glass spoke to someone in the control room. I heard a rustling on the range and turned my attention there. This time, instead of a target, an Ender man wearing a black bulletproof bodysuit and a helmet walked out. He faced me, a living version of the target image I’d shot at before.

  “That’s a bulletproof suit, right?”

  They tell me yes.

  Hyden raised my arm and aimed, using my eyes. My finger pulled the trigger. The Ender stumbled back from the impact but remained on his feet.

  The Ender behind glass spoke through her microphone. “Would the target please move forward?”

  The man walked toward me until he was ten feet away. I could see where the bullet had torn a hole in his suit, at the heart. It was easy to see because of a red powder that had been released where the fibers were torn.

  “Good job,” the Ender said through his protective helmet. His eyes narrowed in a look of approval.

  “Target. You are dismissed,” said the Ender behind the glass.

  He left. I wondered what that proved to them. Probably that if I trusted someone, that person could control my body more easily. So now …

  Oh, they wouldn’t.

  But yes, they did.

  Michael entered the range. He appeared to be wearing the same kind of bulletproof bodysuit and helmet.

  But was he?

  He tried to leave, but I could see that they had locked down his boots magnetically. He struggled but couldn’t lift his feet. He was forced to stand there.

  It was a horrible test. This wasn’t just a nameless, able-bodied Ender; this was someone I knew and loved like a brother. What if his suit wasn’t bulletproof ?

  They’re telling me to tell you to relax.

  “Don’t do this, Hyden.”

  They say he won’t get hurt.

  My arm holding the gun raised.

  Michael flinched.

  “Make it stop,” I said. “Refuse!”

  It’ll be just like the last one.

  “Don’t make me. Please, Hyden.”

  I could see Michael’s eyes through the helmet. He closed them.

  “I won’t do this!” I shouted at Hyden.

  I fought as hard as I could. My insides were torn to shreds. I could not gain control of my hands.

  “I’m so sorry,” I said to Michael.

  My finger pulled the trigger, the gun went off with a loud pop, and Michael fell backward to the floor.

  Instantly, I had my control back. I dropped the gun and ran to him. I pulled off his helmet.

  “Michael, can you hear me?”

  His eyes fluttered open. “Callie?”

  I looked at his chest. Same hole, circled with red, just like the Ender.

  A look of surprise came over Michael’s face. “You shot me.”

  Ender guards came and took me away, to another one of their rooms with a projection of a beach. A few chairs were placed around a plain, school-issue table. A moment later, they brought in Hyden and left us alone.

  “What were you thinking?” I said.

  He held out his arms. “I didn’t have a choice.”

  “Making me shoot Michael? I can’t believe you did that.”

  “They made me. They threatened to torture you if I didn’t cooperate.” His eyes pleaded. “They said the bullets were fake.”

  “He could have been killed. People can die from blanks, from the impact if they’re too close.”

  “We can’t all be shooting experts like you.”

  He ran his hand through his hair. He looked awful, with bags under his eyes.

  “Have they hurt you?” I asked.

  “They’ve been treating me like a prince.”

  I glanced around the room. I assumed cameras and listening devices spied on us everywhere.

  “Who are these people?” I whispered.

  He rubbed his forehead. “I’m not sure.” He kept his voice low. “They want the chip, my chip. They’ve figured out how to use it. So they’re competitors.”

  He covered his mouth with both hands so a camera could not read his lips, and whispered, “The question is, are they my father’s men?”

  I hadn’t even thought of that possibility. That would explain why they had mastered the transpositions.

  I remembered what Hyden’s father said to me. Trust no one but yourself, and then question that.

  Not long after our conversation, they finally brought in some food and water. It was just bread and a thin soup, but we were starving.

  “Where’s Michael?” I asked the Ender guard who brought the food.

  He ignored me.

  “What could they be doing to him?” I asked Hyden.

  “It could just be tactics. Keeping us separate. Who knows? Maybe he’s getting a cheeseburger and fries?”

  He smiled a little, to try to cheer me up. It didn’t work. My mind went to the worst places, worrying about Michael. I didn’t know why they’d want to interrogate him. Of the three of us, Hyden had the most to reveal. Was it possible they didn’t know who he really was?

  I looked at him.

  “What?” he asked quietly.

  “Nothing.” I didn’t want to risk even whispering it.

  After we finished, the same Ender guard who had brought the food returned. “Hold on,” Hyden said. “Be strong.”

  I gave him a half smile. He nodded.

  The guard escorted me down the hall to a small, stark room with a table and two chairs. A female Ender entered, wearing a white turtleneck and pants. She nodded to dismiss the guard.

  “Hello, Callie. Please sit down.”

  She sat in the chair opposite me. She turned on her palm airscreen so it could transcribe our conversation. I could see the letters, backward, as she spoke.

  “So, Callie, how long ago was your chip implanted?”

  “Three months, two weeks, and five days.”

  “Do you have any physical problems that you can attribute to it?”

  “Headaches.”

  “Is that all?”

  I thought about not telling her. But I could see something else on the airscreen—a moving meter that looked like a graph. It was a lie sensor, and it now wavered just because I was thinking of a lie.

  “I have memory episodes.”

  She leaned in. “What are those?”

  “Times when I relive a memory from my renter, when she was in my body. When I was unaware. They come back to me, out of the blue.”

  “How does it manifest itself ?” Her words flashed across the airscreen.

  “It’s like watching a holo,” I said. “A short holo. It only lasts a minute.” I shrugged to try to make light of it. But she was far too interested to buy that.

  “And you say it is a memory from your renter’s experience? How do you know that?”

  “Because …”

  I hesitated and the graph spiked.

  “Just tell the truth,” she said.

  “I knew who she was. I recognized the places in the memory, her room.”

  “And is there some emotion that comes with this?” Her brows raised. She licked her lips and drew closer.

  “Yes. It’s like I’m reliving her experience at that time. But I don’t know why. It’s not like it answers any questions. Or like I can explain why it comes on. There’s no revelation, just this stupid holo in my head, and then it’s over.”

  I saw my words form on the screen. It was strange.

  “So who is this surgeon you have here?” I asked.

  She looked up at me. She didn’t deny his existence; she didn’t answer. She just kept on quizzing me.

  “And what do you know about Hyden?” she ask
ed.

  My muscles tensed. I heard her device make a high-pitched sound like a bird.

  “Relax, please,” she said.

  “I think you should ask him that,” I said. I relaxed my muscles and the sound subsided.

  “But I’m asking you.”

  “And I’m saying you should ask him.”

  Her machine went silent. So did she. She wrapped up her palm airscreen and stood. Without another word, she left the room.

  Dawson entered. I hadn’t seen him face to face for a while. But having him in my head was a creepy experience. It felt almost embarrassing to see him in person again.

  “You are a feisty little Starter,” he said.

  I stared back at him. He pulled out a chair and sat.

  “I would like to know more about Hyden,” he said.

  “As I told the last Ender, I think you should ask him.”

  “Wouldn’t you rather we not do it that way?” He squinted, as if contemplating some unsavory task.

  “I don’t know much about him.”

  “Is it true he invented the chip that you have in your head?”

  “He would have to be pretty smart at his age, to do that.”

  “He is pretty smart.” He leaned forward on the table and grabbed my wrist. “You, Callie Woodland, were the one we wanted. You’re the only one with an altered chip that allows you to kill. You’re the only one who is an M.A.D.”

  I tried to pull away, but he held on.

  “Multiple Access Donor. You’re the only one who can have someone in your head without totally transposing you. You are still aware. You can hear them. And that means that you can also have another person inside. This is something no one has been able to re-create in any other Metal.”

  His nails were digging into my skin. “You’re hurting me. Do you really want to hurt the only M.A.D. Metal?”

  He looked down at my wrist and let go. I put it behind my back. I didn’t want him to see me rubbing it.

  I remembered what Hyden had said. So these guys were his father’s competition? Maybe they were going to sell the chip off to some terrorist group or enemy country. Or maybe they were a terrorist group themselves.

  “So you’ve been doing all this research about chip technology …”

  “Yes,” Dawson said. “We have.”

 
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