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       Enders, p.16

           Lissa Price
 
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  “With these experts …”

  “We have some of the best.”

  “But you can’t re-create the chip yourselves.”

  “It is the keystone, and it eludes us.”

  “We don’t want these chips in our heads anymore,” I said. “You can have them. I believe you have an expert here who can remove them.”

  “You know it is very difficult. Very precise work. The skill required is a cross between a demolitions expert and a brain surgeon.”

  “Yes. But you have the person to do it, don’t you?”

  He stared at me with piercing eyes. I could tell he was considering it, as if it could be the answer to all his problems.

  “Remember, you asked for this,” he said.

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  Dawson gathered all of us in the large room where we’d first entered. Hyden, Emma, me, and Michael. The projection now was of the snowy Himalayas.

  I rushed over to Michael, wanting to know how he was, what they’d done to him, but Dawson stopped me. He’d brought in an Ender he referred to only as “the Doctor” to talk to us. He had an accent, Swedish or Norwegian.

  “Removal of the chip is a risky process,” the Doctor said. “We know from the scans that it is attached with a weblike pattern.”

  “It’s quite ingenious. The chip itself creates the web,” Dawson said.

  “Due to variations from human to human, it makes it trickier to determine how to unhook it,” the Doctor said. He motioned with his fingers, curling them like hooks. “But finally we have the inventor of the chip here with us to ask.”

  Hyden glared at him. “You need to ask my father. I had the concept and the initial designs. He created the physical chip and figured out how it would be implanted.”

  The Doctor’s smile melted.

  Dawson pulled out a chair and sat. “Have you ever watched an implantation surgery?”

  “Lots of times,” Hyden said. “But never a removal.”

  “But it can be done?” Dawson asked.

  “Theoretically. But practically, I wouldn’t touch it.” Hyden folded his arms. “And neither should you.”

  “Why is that?” the Doctor asked.

  “Because it’s a big risk.”

  “Any surgery is a risk,” the Doctor said. “But we do them.”

  People started talking at once, arguing the pros and cons of chip surgery until no one could be heard.

  Emma stepped forward. “I want mine out.”

  Everyone stopped talking and turned toward her.

  “Take it out,” she said. “You can have it.”

  With a surprised expression, the Doctor turned to Dawson. “We have a volunteer.”

  She held up her hand. “Yes. Use me.”

  “Emma, are you sure?” I asked.

  “Why, you want to go ahead of me?” she said. “You can’t. I asked first.”

  “Do you know the risk you’re taking?” Hyden asked her, shaking his head almost imperceptibly.

  “Don’t you try to talk me out of this. I hate this thing in my head. Worst decision ever,” she said. “I don’t want men tracking me, chasing, hunting me down.” She pointed at me. “You know, you all do, that this is what it’s going to be like for the rest of our lives. We will always be hunted for what we can do, for the chip itself. Let’s just get it over with now and go back to living our lives. I want to go back to my grandma. Finish school. Go to parties again. The war is over, but I’m still living it, every day. I’m so sick of it. Take the stupid thing out of my head. Please.”

  An icy silence fell. Dawson cleared his throat.

  “All right,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

  Emma smiled. I went over and took her arm.

  “We know chips can explode,” I said. “I saw it happen, at the mall. Someone set it off.”

  “That’s different.” She pulled her arm away. “No one’s going to be setting mine off. They’re going to remove it.”

  She had a point.

  Hyden came over. “It’s proof there’s an explosive component in there.” He gestured to her head. “The webbing of my design is entwined with the explosive.”

  “So you do know something about removing the chip after all,” Dawson said.

  “It’s like a hundred random cords in a junk drawer,” Hyden said. “I can’t tell you how to untangle them.”

  Dawson stared at Hyden a moment. Then he shouted to the Doctor. “Get Emma prepped for surgery!”

  Before Emma left, she leaned over to me and whispered, “You should get yours done too. What if they don’t want to take out everyone’s? Better get in while you have the chance.”

  She looked the happiest I’d ever seen her as she strolled out of the room with the Doctor, Dawson, and a guard.

  Michael came up to me. “Are they really going to do this?”

  Hyden shook his head. “It’s insane.”

  But I understood everything Emma said. I felt the same way. I wanted more than anything to be normal again. And she was right: we’d never be safe until we were rid of the chips. Someone would always be jacking us or trying to kidnap us to get the chip. And I’d rather be opened by this expert surgeon than some thief.

  Still, Hyden, who should have known better than anyone, looked pale at the thought of Emma going under the knife.

  “I’d heard maybe the chip would be disabled if someone tried to remove it. To protect the technology, it would self-destruct,” I said to Hyden. “And maybe explode.”

  “It was my father’s idea. I found out too late he’d put the explosive in my design.”

  He looked distracted. Upset. Michael held my hand to comfort me. Hyden noticed and his eyes reflected pain. I wanted to do something, anything to connect the three of us in this moment, while we waited to hear the fate of one of our own.

  I reached out my hand to him.

  He looked surprised. Then he walked away.

  I knew he couldn’t touch me. But I had to try.

  An Ender brought out hot chocolate and sandwiches for us. Hot chocolate? I felt so confused. Were we prisoners or experiments? Were we going to get what we wanted most, to get the chips removed? But then they wouldn’t need us anymore. Maybe we were stupid to hope they would let us go.

  All we could do was wait and see how well it worked with Emma. We pulled a table and chairs over into the corner of this huge space, far away from the doors and walls, to feel like we had a little privacy from any hidden cameras. We ate in silence, inhaling the food due to our hunger. Like all the furniture here, the table was totally utilitarian: folding legs, metal. Maybe they’d rented it. This whole place seemed like they’d moved in no more than a couple of months ago.

  I sat between Hyden and Michael. When we finished, Michael pulled his chair over to my side. Hyden looked at us with a question on his face.

  Michael put his arm around the back of my chair. Hyden got up and walked to the other side of this huge space, far beyond hearing range. I felt sorry for him, because it wasn’t his fault he couldn’t handle touching; it was his curse.

  “Hey,” Michael said to me.

  He tugged on my hair. He had that look on his face, that caring look that told me he understood how I felt. I was scared for Emma and scared for us. If they were able to get the chip out of her, what would happen next?

  I leaned in to whisper to Michael, hoping the room was large enough that any cameras and mikes wouldn’t pick up our conversation. “So if they can get the chip out of Emma, they won’t need her anymore.”

  He squinted, as if he was unable to imagine that. “What’re you saying?”

  “What will they do with her? She could talk. She knows about this place. She knows about them,” I said.

  I stared at the table. It had paint splatters on it. Red. I looked away.

  “Don’t even think about that,” he said.

  “What would they need with us, if they took the chips out?”

  “Nothing,” he said. “So they’d let us go.


  “They’d want to keep Hyden because he invented the chip,” I said.

  “You don’t think they bought that story that his dad invented it?”

  “I don’t know,” I said. “You didn’t, did you?”

  Michael leaned his head on my shoulder for a moment. “Nope.” He sat back in his chair.

  “And my chip is different. I don’t know if that means they’d want to remove it or if they’d want to preserve it in me.” I touched the back of my head. “Who knows if it would make the next donor act the way I did?”

  “You mean giving that person the ability to kill?”

  “No, I mean the way I can stay aware while someone is jacking me. I can hear them talking to me. They see out of my eyes, but I’m still there, conscious.”

  “That had to be scary when you watched yourself shoot me. It sure was for me.”

  I swung my legs over the side of my chair so I sat facing him.

  “I don’t ever want anyone jacking me again. Emma’s right. Our best hope is to get the chips out.”

  “You sound like the next volunteer.”

  If I died, Tyler had no family left. If I made it through, then I was free.

  “I could be a normal girl again. It would be a nice life, in the mansion, Tyler and you. Emma could come back and live there too.”

  He let out a soft laugh. “Seeing as she owns half of everything, I think she might.”

  “What about you? Are you going to volunteer?” I asked.

  “Somehow, I don’t think it’s going to be up to us,” he said. “But yeah, if given the choice, I will. Otherwise, we’ll be running for the rest of our lives. The war may be over, but it will never be over for us.”

  I looked into his eyes. I hadn’t realized it, but at some point his hand had traveled down from my shoulder to my hand. It felt so warm and comforting to have human contact again beyond being shoved around by guards. This was how people were supposed to treat each other.

  Tears sprang to my eyes, but I forced them back. This wasn’t the place or the time to get emotional. Soft. Too much was at stake.

  I let go of his hand and stood.

  “Shouldn’t they be done soon?” I said. “How long is this going to take?”

  Hyden was at the far side of the room, pacing like a caged animal. I walked over to him and tugged on the collar of his shirt. “How much longer do you think it’s going to be?” I said.

  “Dunno.” He shook his head.

  “Will you volunteer?” I asked.

  He looked at me like I was crazy. “Are you kidding? It’d be suicide. Of course not. And you better not.”

  “It’s my only way out of a lifetime of being someone else’s puppet. If they’ll remove it from me.”

  “I don’t know who these people are, but they’re not as bright as you think to risk this. We have to find a way out of here.”

  “How can we get out? They have guns. Guards.”

  “Did you ever escape from someplace before?”

  “Yeah. Institution thirty-seven.”

  “That’s rough. But you got out.”

  An Ender guard stood against the far wall, staring at us with an icy face.

  “This place seems a lot harder,” I said.

  “I know.” He looked around and then lowered his voice. “The guards were talking about my father and the summit meeting.”

  “What did they say?” I whispered back.

  “Just confirming what you heard when they raided my lab. Some of our enemies—some countries, some shady groups, are gathering at my father’s lab. He’s going to sell the technology to the highest bidder, along with the Metals he’s collected.”

  I put my hand on my stomach. “That’s horrible. Not just for the Metals, but for the country.”

  “It’s just like my father.”

  I was going to ask him more about his father and what he’d do, but a loud sound interrupted us.

  An explosion.

  CHAPTER NINETEEN

  Hyden, Michael, and I ran toward the sound, down a hallway past peaceful waterfall projections. Guards spilled out of rooms along the corridor and followed us. As we approached, we heard agonizing screams.

  A group of Enders bunched up in a doorway at the end of the hall. Frantic voices, confusion, and a bitter odor in the air—a chemical, burnt smell—assaulted me.

  I heard a man screaming in pain, but I couldn’t see him over the tall Ender guards. I hunched low and caught a glimpse of an Ender sitting on the floor. It was the surgeon. He clutched one arm, which shook violently. His hand was burnt, his arm black up to the elbow. His cries subsided to a horrible moan, but then they started up again, just not as loud or as constant. The hairs on my arms rose. The pain must have been unbearable.

  Someone shouted, “Get a doctor!”

  “He is the doctor,” an Ender guard said.

  A few of the Enders in front of me left and I straightened to get a better view. A shield meant to separate patient and surgeon was blackened and shattered but might have saved the doctor’s life. Next to it, Emma’s body lay on the operating table. Someone had covered her upper body and head with a sheet. All that was visible were her feet and her anklet that spelled out

  Emma.

  Dawson went to the Doctor and got down on one knee. “What happened?” he asked.

  The Doctor struggled to push the words out through his pain. “It … blew up.”

  My chest tightened. By “it” he meant Emma.

  “When you touched it?”

  He gritted his teeth. “I had almost thirty percent done and then I made one cut exposing it, and—” He shook his head. “Boom.”

  His face contorted in pain. Then his eyes rolled back, and he slumped over. Just before his head hit the floor, Dawson grabbed him by the shoulders.

  “Someone take him.”

  “Is he … ?” a guard asked.

  “He’s just out,” Dawson said, disgusted. Two guards wheeled in a gurney.

  Emma was gone.

  I’d never really gotten to know her. I thought we’d have time for that once she moved back into the house with us.

  “Everyone get out of here.” Dawson swept his arm over the room. Then he looked at me and pointed. “Except you. And your friends.”

  I swallowed hard. It sounded like we were going to be blamed and punished for this horrible outcome.

  Enders filed out. The guards came and stood by Michael, Hyden, and me. We traded nervous looks as the room emptied, and it was just us, the guards, and Dawson.

  And poor Emma.

  Dawson grabbed Hyden’s arm. The pain was obvious. Everything that would just hurt anyone else was excruciating to him.

  “Let go of me,” Hyden said.

  “You knew this would happen!” Dawson shouted.

  “I told you it was risky. That there was an explosive. You didn’t listen,” Hyden said. He motioned to Emma’s body. “She wouldn’t listen.”

  “Come on, let him go,” Michael said to Dawson.

  “You let it happen to Emma,” I said to Dawson. “It’s your fault more than his. You call the shots around here.”

  Dawson released Hyden and came up to me, his face inches from mine. I didn’t step back or look away, just held his gaze as coolly as I could.

  “You think I wanted to waste a Metal?” Dawson said. “There are only so many of you. And most of them are kept by one man. His father.” He pointed at Hyden.

  I must have made a small involuntary gasp, because Dawson turned to me. “Oh, we know,” Dawson said. “We know everything.”

  He stormed out the room and we followed, a guard at our backs. I tried not to give anything away. How much did he really know?

  “And we know about your father, Callie,” Dawson called over his shoulder.

  “My father?” I said. My heart beat faster.

  Dawson stopped and crossed his arms. “Your father also worked in neurochip technology.”

  “My father invented the han
dlite,” I said slowly, not sure where this was going.

  “And what did he do after that?” Dawson prompted.

  “He didn’t talk about work. The most he’d say was ‘research.’ And then he died, like my mother.”

  “He was trying to do what he”—Dawson pointed at Hyden—“and his father were able to do. Create the neurochip for transposition. He specialized in trying to create chips that can communicate with other chips.”

  The thought that my father was involved in this chip tech made me dizzy. And Dawson seemed so sure. But Hyden and Michael stared at me like I had kept some huge secret from them all this time.

  “And now the two of you are together.” Dawson gestured to Hyden. “Coincidence?” He shook his head. “What exactly are you working on?”

  “We’re not working on anything!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t even know about my father.”

  Hyden kept quiet. I realized that was probably what I should have been doing. Too late now.

  “I just wanted to get the chips out of all of us,” I said.

  “Well, after what just happened to Emma, you don’t anymore, do you?” Dawson said. “Kaboom.”

  I swallowed hard. I was exhausted. Everything in my body hurt. I hated this. I had no idea who to believe. Who was Dawson really? Maybe he was making all this up to cause some rift between the three of us. Wouldn’t I have known that was what my father did?

  I crossed my arms. “My father never said anything to me about this. I was just a kid.”

  Dawson stared at me. “You expect me to buy that? You’re no ordinary kid.”

  I let out a small laugh. “How do I know you’re not just making this up?”

  “You don’t.” Hyden got in Dawson’s face. “We know what your agenda is. You just want the secrets. You’ll say anything to get it.”

  “Now you know,” I said, “you can’t take the chips out of us. We’ve told you everything, you’ve tested us backward and forward, so let us go.”

  Dawson stared at us with his deep-set eyes. His hair gleamed under the bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling in the hallway.

  “No.” His eyes shifted between us. “He knows too much,” he said, nodding at Hyden. He turned to the guard. “Lock them up.”

 
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