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       Enders, p.17

           Lissa Price
 
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  They put us all in the same padded cell this time. We figured the room was bugged and they hoped to learn something from our conversations. Any smart person would have kept their mouth shut, but we were exhausted to the core and didn’t care anymore. It seemed like they knew more than we did, anyway.

  Michael, Hyden, and I sat on the floor. We kept our voices down. If they were listening, we weren’t going to make it easy for them.

  “I can’t believe she’s gone,” I said. “We didn’t even get to say goodbye. “

  “This is going to sound pretty insensitive, but … did anyone really like her?” Hyden asked.

  “There wasn’t much time to get to know her,” Michael said.

  “And what’re you supposed to say, anyway?” I asked, fighting a rising tide of hysteria inside me. “ ‘I’ll say my goodbyes now, in case something horrible happens to you’?”

  Michael sighed. I put my head in my hands.

  “So you really didn’t know your father was working on transposition?” Michael asked.

  “No, of course not. I would have told you.”

  Hyden leaned his head against the wall. “They’ll want to learn whatever they can from what’s left of Emma’s chip.”

  “Are they going to be able to duplicate the chip now?” Michael stretched out so he was lying on his back.

  Hyden shook his head. “There won’t be enough left to go that far.”

  “And you can’t make more neurochips?” Michael asked Hyden.

  “Not without my father. His strength was the hardware.”

  “And he can’t make them without you?” Michael asked.

  “No. That’s why he’s collecting all the Metals.” Hyden looked around at the padded walls. “I don’t think they’ll be content to keep us locked up in here.”

  “What do you think they’ll do?” I asked.

  “Whatever they can.”

  We fell into a hushed silence. I lay back on the floor, hoping to get some sleep, but thoughts kept rushing through my mind. What happened to Emma could have happened to any one of us. Being Metals, we were vulnerable.

  My father, working in neurochip technology? I remembered that argument between my parents about the vaccine. My mother had been angry that some adults were getting the vaccine either through the black market or because the government decided some key players in government and research should have it. Plenty of Enders and Starters didn’t get the vaccine. Some parents were terrified of it, paranoid of claims that it could cause paralysis or worse. Many just refused to get it. But she thought my father could get it. She must have known what he was working on and how important he was.

  My mother wasn’t a bad person. She’d just fought to keep her family together. Alive.

  I dreamt that I heard my father talking to me. He called my name, over and over and over.

  My eyes opened. I could still hear him.

  Callie?

  My heart leapt. “Dad?” I whispered.

  Michael lay on one side of me, sound asleep with his back toward me. On the other side, Hyden slept on his back, one leg bent at a right angle underneath the other. The vacuuming sound of the toilet helped cover the sound of my voice. Maybe I had imagined hearing my father. Or just dreamt it?

  “Daddy?”

  Can you hear me?

  It was him! His voice.

  “I hear you, Daddy, I hear you.”

  Cal Girl.

  “Tell me it’s you,” I said, my voice cracking.

  I’ve been trying so hard to get through.

  The warmth in his voice. I wanted to run into his arms, have him sweep me into a bear hug and protect me.

  “They said you worked with the neurochip. How did you know I had one?”

  Please listen, Cal. There’s little time. I left a z-drive at a place called Club Rune.

  “I know. I have it, but it was encrypted.”

  It’s valuable.

  “Tell me where you are.”

  I don’t want you to try to come. It isn’t safe.

  “What city? Daddy, tell me how to find you.”

  No, it’s too far, all the way in the desert. And this man is dangerous.

  Garbled sounds followed.

  “Daddy? Daddy.” My voice woke the guys, and they began to stir.

  “Who are you talking to?” Michael asked, his voice groggy.

  I put my fingers in my ears, willing my father to return. To talk to me again, help me get to him. Help me get out of this place. But it was as if someone just disrupted his transmission. My chest tightened.

  Michael scooted closer. We kept our voices low. “What’s up?”

  “I just heard my father.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  Hyden sat up. “What’s going on?” he asked quietly.

  “My father just talked to me in my head,” I said.

  “How do you know it’s not my father messing with you again?” Hyden said.

  “He knew about the z-drive.”

  Hyden straightened. “What else did he say?”

  “That he’s being held prisoner.”

  “Did he say where?” he asked.

  I shook my head. “No. Just that it was the desert.”

  When he heard that word, Hyden sat back. I could see from his expression that he finally believed me.

  “Then he’s with my father.”

  CHAPTER TWENTY

  “My father loves the desert. Because only the tough survive there,” Hyden went on.

  We leaned in close so we could keep our voices down. If Hyden’s father had kidnapped my father, he would have faked those death records. He might have held my father captive for an entire year.

  For a split second, I allowed myself to dream about a reunion. “I hope we both live long enough to see each other. Wait till Tyler finds out.”

  “If it helps,” Hyden said, “my father would want desperately to keep your father alive. He’d want to know everything he knows.”

  “After a year, don’t you think he’d know?” I asked. My stomach tightened. “We have to find him. Don’t you have a single clue where his lab is? An educated guess? Anything?”

  We heard a noise at the door. We all stopped and stared at it. It opened a crack. And then stayed like that.

  Hyden went to the door and looked out. Then he motioned to us to follow.

  The hallway was empty—no guard in sight. We followed Hyden alongside a projection of the rain forest, and I braced myself for someone to leap out at us at any moment.

  He peered in the window cut into the door of a room. It was dark, but the dim light of an airscreen chip scanner in save mode glowed like a candle flame. Hyden nodded to us, and we went inside.

  Hyden waved his hand in the air, and the screen intensified to full brightness. We left the lights off in the room—this glow was all we needed. A projection of a glacier played against one wall. Otherwise, the room was bare-bones: a table holding the airscreen, another table with a few office supplies, some folding chairs.

  Hyden’s chip ID number popped up on the airscreen. Then two other chips showed up.

  Hyden pointed to each of three numbers. “That’s mine, that one’s yours”—he pointed to me—“and that one’s yours.” He pointed to Michael.

  Hyden pointed to his chip number and tapped the screen twice. It connected with his chip.

  “I’m in,” he whispered.

  “It sees your chip,” I whispered.

  We watched in awe as his eyes turned to slits, and he used his mind, not his fingers, to move through files. He searched for “Brockman” but came up empty.

  “They don’t know where he is,” Hyden said.

  Then Hyden moved to a different area and located a new file area: “Security.” With his mind—and the chip—he fanned through files at top speed. He found the alarm system and found a way to shut it off.

  “Wow,” Michael whispered.

  We smiled. But then someone opened the door.

 
An Ender woman stood in the doorway wearing a black jumpsuit. She was slender, with beautiful bone structure and white hair she left long and flowing, just past her shoulders.

  She came in and closed the door behind her.

  “It’s all right,” she said. “Don’t be afraid.”

  I recognized her voice. “You’re the one in the office at the shooting range.”

  She was the Ender who had observed and relayed instructions to the team inside.

  She kept her voice low. “I’ve seen what they’ve put you through, and it’s shameful.”

  “Why would you help us?” Hyden asked.

  “I’m a grandmother. I was. I lost not only my children but also my grandchild in the war. She refused to get the vaccine because she didn’t trust the government.”

  I noticed that Hyden had changed the screen so it was just a pattern.

  “If you stay, what they will do to you is horrendous. That’s why I’m risking my job to get you out of here.”

  The three of us exchanged worried glances.

  “You must get away now,” she said.

  “You’re the one who unlocked our cell door,” I said.

  “Yes. I was going to lead you out, but a guard came by. I had to distract him.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out our car keys. “Here. I saw you disable the alarm,” she said to Hyden. “Go now.” She tossed the keys to Hyden.

  We turned and ran in the direction she pointed, through a series of doors that opened into a short hallway with a projection of a field. The last door was the door to the outside. It opened with no sounds, no alarms.

  We walked out into the brisk, sweet night air. We were outside. Free.

  “Where’s the car?” I asked.

  Michael pointed toward the far corner of the building, out at the end of the parking lot, toward the street. “That way.”

  We ran, crossing the street and making our way to the next block. We tried to stay behind cars and in shadows as much as possible. Finally, we reached the car, and I unlocked it so we could climb in.

  Hyden started the engine. The sound broke through the quiet night.

  “Hurry,” I said.

  Hyden drove down the empty street. Michael reached over to give me a high five.

  “Don’t celebrate so fast,” Hyden said. “I want some distance between us and that place.”

  I looked past Michael to the airscreen in the back. It was still closed, but a faint glow peeked out from under the cover.

  “My dad’s z-drive,” I said. “Maybe it finished processing.”

  We needed a quiet, safe place to view what my father had left. Hyden knew of a place that would be open—an underground hydroponic co-op garden.

  “What’s that?” I asked him.

  “A place where we can also get some fresh food,” he said.

  “Let me guess. It’s belowground because they want to avoid spore dust?”

  “It’s the new ‘organic,’ ” Michael said.

  “That,” Hyden said, “and some of the people stay low as much as they can. The Enders come right after work. They’re that afraid of a future attack.”

  We got out of our car. A Starter immediately wiped it down like at the flea market. The air here was humid and warm and smelled earthy. We didn’t care; we were so glad to be free from Dawson.

  We had to step into shallow troughs filled with a murky liquid before we were allowed to enter the green market. They had several set up.

  “So we don’t track in spore dust?” I asked Hyden as I swished my shoes in the trough.

  “It’s got a chemical agent in it.” He stepped out of his trough. “We’re lucky the head gardener isn’t here today. She makes you put a paper gown over your clothes.”

  I looked to my right and saw Michael shaking his wet shoes like a cat coming in from the rain. Inside, there were tables of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, all manned by Enders and Starters alike.

  “They get the light from tubes leading to the outdoors,” Hyden said. “And from lights run on portable batteries they charge in their cars.”

  The garden itself was behind the tables of produce. Large trays of vegetables were set in larger trays of a water bath. I looked at the range of gardeners spraying water on the plants.

  “The people here … ,” I started to say quickly.

  “All kinds,” Hyden said in a low voice. “They just don’t trust the safety of food sold up there.”

  “Can’t blame them,” Michael said.

  We picked up fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and juices. Having paid for the produce, we were able to stay in the parking spot to look at the airscreen. Hyden and I got in the backseat and popped up the airscreen while Michael stood outside, leaning in, munching on a cucumber. The drive had finished deciphering the encryption and was ready to play. Hyden started it and an image of my father appeared on the airscreen.

  Dad looked worried. His hair was uncombed. There were dark circles under his eyes. He seemed to look directly at me when he spoke, as if he knew I would be here someday.

  “This drive contains confidential proprietary material not intended for any other transmission. In the case of my death, I, Ray Woodland, declare that the research contained herein should benefit my two children, Callie and Tyler.”

  He was doing this for me. My heart ached.

  “Callie, if you are watching this, the work I leave behind may provide for you and Tyler. I’ve been developing a process of transposition, a mind-body transfer. I know I am not alone, that others have succeeded and surpassed me, but my findings on reverse transposition have a particular function that I believe no one has been able to achieve to date. It will be of value for you to sell to provide for yourselves.”

  “Reverse transposition?” I asked.

  Hyden froze the image in the air with a tap of his fingers. “That’s when a donor body, like you, gets back into the body of the renter and controls it. It’s something no one has done yet.”

  Me? Control my jacker? What a concept.

  “Going into my jacker’s body? Seeing through his eyes? Making him move? That would be incredible.”

  “It’s still just theory,” he said.

  Hyden touched the airscreen and it resumed playing. My father continued speaking. I’d never seen him so serious.

  “I may not be alive by the time this is played, I know that,” he said.

  It hurt to hear those words. But he’d just been in my head. He had to be alive. Unless…

  “During the past month, I’ve been followed and confronted and harassed because I refused to work for a man whose vision for the technology did not match mine. I’ve documented my key research on this drive in the event that something happens to me. Protect it and use it wisely.”

  His image cut to black and then a series of numbers and formulas flashed at a rapid pace. Hyden watched the screen with fascination. Suddenly, it went blank. Just like that, gone.

  “What happened?” I asked.

  “It’s okay, it’s all there,” Hyden said. “Don’t worry. I’ll examine it later.”

  The video “visit” with my father was painfully short. I longed to play it again and again.

  “Those numbers you saw flying across the screen?” Hyden said. “Well, now I can use his program and upgrade your chip. This opens the path for you to reverse the transposition.”

  “Then if Brockman jacks me, I can see through his eyes,” I said slowly. “Make him do what I want.”

  I was sure my father never could have imagined that I’d be the one to use his discovery. We had to make it work.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  Hyden believed the transmission would be easier outside. With time closing in on us, he wanted to increase our chances of success, so we parked outside, near a shut-down miniature golf course. The barbed wire at the top of the fence made me sad and afraid. It was late and dark, but I could see that the windmill inside was broken, with only two blades left. It reminded me of the last time I was at a pla
ce like that, with my mother. It was the day the spores fell.

  “You coming, Callie?” Michael poked my arm with his finger.

  I got out as Hyden opened the back of his vehicle and started up the airscreen.

  He used my father’s program to try to wirelessly upgrade my chip. “Stand over there,” he said to me, pointing to a small tree about ten feet away. “No guarantees it worked. We’re going to have to test it.”

  Michael stood behind Hyden and looked over his shoulder. “What’re you doing now?”

  “Setting her chip ID,” he said. “There. Got it.”

  Hyden then climbed into the lounge-seat and closed his eyes.

  In a few seconds, I could hear Hyden inside my head.

  Can you hear me?

  “Loud and clear,” I said.

  It was strange having Hyden inside my head again. The last time had been when Dawson was forcing me to shoot Michael at the range. But now we were the ones pulling the strings.

  Okay, don’t move, don’t do anything. I’m going to establish control.

  I stood there and waited, my arms at my sides. Then my right arm rose slowly, until it was over my head.

  Good. So now see if you can resist. I’ll keep your arm up there and you try to bring it down.

  It was sort of like arm wrestling with an invisible opponent. Hyden was strong, mentally, and I was not making any headway. I focused, even gritted my teeth, but my arm stayed up.

  “I can’t,” I said.

  It’s because you’re not scared. You know this is safe. Okay, I’ll lower your arm.

  My arm came down. I felt like a failure.

  Let’s try the reversal. Just work on getting inside me.

  “How?”

  I found something in your father’s notes on the drive. He suggests focusing on imagining a string between us. A taut cord. Visualize a blue light around it running from me to you. Now picture a gold light going from you to me. Take the blue light and turn it gold. See the flow from you to me.

  I tried to see what he wanted me to. I understood it intellectually, but making it real was something else. I worked at it for several long minutes, but I never was able to get inside his head and see what he was seeing. I was still in my own body.

 
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