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       Enders, p.19

           Lissa Price
 
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  Michael pulled me aside, away from Hyden.

  “What do we do now?” he asked in a low voice.

  I rubbed my temples. The desert was playing tricks on me. The cacti seemed to be moving, vibrating.

  “My father’s so close.”

  “But can we trust Hyden?” Michael said. “Talk about a trap.”

  Doubts crowded my brain. But I needed to make this work.

  “You can trust me!” Hyden shouted.

  I turned back and took a few steps closer. “Why?”

  “Because one thing Trax said was true. About me and you.”

  “It’s a trick.” Michael took my arm and pulled me away from Hyden. “You can’t listen to him.”

  My stomach ached. What Michael said made sense. But we needed Hyden.

  “If Hyden was leading us into a trap, I don’t think Trax would have come out the way he did. Trying to separate us. And Hyden never helped Trax, he fought against him.” I shook my head. “I don’t know. I can barely wrap my mind around this.”

  I looked back at Hyden, standing there in the desert moonlight.

  “All this time,” said Michael, “he was the one behind the mask. Think about that.”

  I thought about all the things I’d done with the Old Man while he was in Blake’s body. How much I liked that guy—not Blake. And how it had horrified me to learn it was really the Old Man. I didn’t know how I could live with that. Now it turned out he wasn’t a creepy Ender after all, but a Starter. A Starter I thought I knew.

  But who was he really? And could I trust him?

  No matter what, there was one thing I knew. One thing I wanted. And it was true in spite of Hyden and his lie.

  “We have to save my father,” I said. “So let’s go.”

  “With him? Shouldn’t we cuff him?”

  I thought about it for a second. “What good would he be to us then? We need all the help we can get against Brockman. I believe he hates his father. He’ll want to take him down as much as we do.”

  We left Trax, still cuffed, lying on the backseat of his jeep. Before we took off on foot, I looked back at the mask lying on the desert floor. Random pixels were still pulsing, doing their sad dance for no one but the cacti and the stars.

  The three of us still had a long walk to go across the hardened sandy soil to Brockman’s compound.

  “Callie, talk to me,” Hyden said. “I know you must have a million questions.”

  “I don’t talk to liars, you lying liar.”

  “Come on, ask me anything,” he said. “I’m serious. I’ll tell you anything you want to know.”

  “Where do I begin?” I shrugged. “How about what the heck was going through your mind? Why?”

  “It isn’t what you think,” Hyden said. “I was trying to save the unclaimed Starters.”

  “By turning them into permanent rental bodies?” I asked. “Putting them to sleep forever?”

  “I was never going to do that. I just wanted the Enders to believe that. I was in complete control. I never would have let anyone hurt the Metals.”

  I stopped to take this in. “But you used us. You sold our bodies for profit.”

  “I had to establish the business to attract the rich Enders. And to get them used to switching bodies. Revolution isn’t cheap.”

  “So you were going to kill the Enders?”

  “Keep them in a deep sleep. Somebody had to do something,” he said. “I was going to set their alarm clocks for one minute after I made the world a better place.”

  I tried to let this sink in, but it was the opposite of everything I had believed about the Old Man.

  “I was going to find out where they kept their money so I could drain their bank accounts,” Hyden said.

  “So you’re a thief,” I said.

  “To use the money to finance change. To get the Starters out of the institutions and then disband that system altogether.”

  “But you had nothing to do with Helena?”

  “I was suspicious of her. I followed her and that’s when I met you. At Club Rune.”

  “And you kept track of me so you could keep track of her.”

  “Partly.”

  “And you wanted to see what my altered chip could do.”

  “Partly.”

  “You wanted to see if I could kill. And I almost did.”

  “But I also came to help you. To help save you.”

  I glanced at Michael. He was walking with his hands in his pockets, just listening.

  “What do you think, Michael? Would you trust him?”

  “Are you kidding?” He pointed at Hyden. “He kidnapped your little brother and put a chip in his head!”

  “I would never. That was Tinnenbaum, Trax, and a doctor under my father’s thumb.”

  “How did you even get yourself in that position?” I asked. “Running Prime.”

  “When my father wanted to sell off the research to the wrong people, I had to create an Ender identity to front Prime. And it worked. People believed I was an Ender. I was already wearing some protective gear. …”

  “Because you were scared of being touched?” I asked.

  He nodded. “I added more and created a disguise. But the whole reason Prime existed was to end the slavery of Starters.”

  He stared off at the moon over the desert landscape. “But when you broke apart Prime, there went my plan.”

  “How do I know you’re not working with your father now? He admitted that he was using the Old Man’s electronic voice.”

  Hyden nodded. “That was him at the mall in your head. And ever since Prime came down.”

  “Why would he do that?” Michael asked.

  “To test it. He wanted to gain access to her chip, to map it. Once Prime fell, Trax gave him as much tech as he could get.”

  “Testing,” I said.

  “And messing with your head. Power plays,” Hyden said. “Because that’s what he does.”

  “So what else is a lie? What else should I know?”

  “The rest is true. My father is evil. He’s got an auction planned for the richest Enders in the world, and he’ll sell the Metals and the technology to the highest bidder. And odds are, they’ll use it against us. Against our country.”

  “All that stuff you just said.” I pointed at him. “How he was messing with my head, that he likes the power—it was really about you.”

  “No,” he said.

  “Because you’re a lot like your father after all. That’s how come you understand him so well.”

  My words had the effect I wanted—he looked pained.

  I stopped walking and faced Hyden.

  “We need you. So we have to work together. But it doesn’t mean I forgive you or even trust you, after what you’ve done.”

  “I don’t blame you,” Hyden said. “Just give me a chance to win back your trust.”

  I wasn’t about to grant him anything at that point.

  Brockman’s facility was in the middle of the desert, and yet it seemed oddly unprotected.

  “There’s no fence,” Michael said. “How come?”

  “It’s pretty isolated out here,” I said.

  “It would draw more attention. And there are more dangerous barriers than fences,” Hyden said. “It’s like saying to the world, my security’s better than some puny fence.”

  We walked around, past the side of the building. There was no landscaping, just some small cacti around the edge. Windows dotted the upper part of the building, too high to do anything but let light in during the day.

  Hyden went to a set of tall double doors that formed the back entrance. I looked at the back parking lot, which was huge. There must have been room for over a hundred cars. At this late hour, I counted only seven. That was consistent with what Trax had said. It gave me some hope that we weren’t facing overwhelming odds.

  Hyden pulled out a passkey from his pocket that he waved over a metal panel to the right of the doors. We heard a click. Then one of the larg
e doors silently swung open.

  “Thank you, Trax,” Hyden whispered. He motioned for us to follow him inside.

  We were in some sort of lobby. An illusion of green bamboo stalks was projected onto a glass floor. I spotted two doors to the right labeled Employee Lockers. One was for women, one for men. We all had the same idea at once. Michael and Hyden ducked into the men’s room, and I slipped into the women’s locker room.

  Inside, it looked like what I’d seen in the holos as a luxury spa. More illusion floors, teakwood cabinets, giant bamboo plants and orchids, even a waterfall. I imagined that during the day they probably played peaceful flute music.

  I opened a locker and found their version of a lab coat— a short white kimono. I put it on over my clothing and tied it at the waist. I put on a white surgical hair cap. When I came out, both the guys had their kimono lab coats and caps on as well.

  “Now what?” I said quietly.

  “Let’s go to work,” Hyden said.

  Hyden opened the door leading to the main part of his father’s facility. I looked over his shoulder and saw only a dark expanse of hallway.

  While we held back, Hyden started down the hallway, which blossomed with gently glowing lights as he made his way. Hyden had decided that he would go first and look for a computer while I split off to look for my father. He turned a corner and disappeared. Michael was set to go last and be on the lookout for our Metal friends.

  I made my way down the sterile hallway, moving between shadows and pools of light. I cradled the holstered gun underneath the kimono, hoping I would not have to use it.

  I opened a door at the end of the hallway and stood there a moment, stunned at what I’d found. The room stretched on forever and contained a wild profusion of plants and small trees with low-hanging branches. I entered the lush space. The air felt warm and smelled rich and earthy. It seemed like they’d modeled it after a rain forest—a total contrast to the desert outside.

  I spotted Hyden in one of the side rooms, working on an airscreen. He looked up and motioned for me to join him. I popped in.

  “I’m in, so take this.” He gave me Trax’s passkey and I slipped it into my pants pocket.

  I went to the back of the jungle room and exited through another door. It opened to a hallway that had a wall fountain halfway through. The sound of the bubbling water filled the space. I walked on, peeking in what appeared to be offices or meeting rooms. They’d decorated the spaces in the style of various countries—India, Russia, Japan. I recognized them from my school studies before the war. School. Would I ever have a chance to return? Not to a Zype School, to a real one.

  At the halfway point, near the fountain, all the rest of the rooms had closed doors.

  I loosened my kimono for faster access to my gun and went to the first closed room. Even with my ear to the door, I couldn’t hear any sound inside. I held up Trax’s passkey to the metal plate to the right of the door. Click. Slowly, I opened the door.

  My eyes quickly adjusted to the dim lighting. In sharp contrast to the spa atmosphere of the rest of the place, this was clinical. No plants or pictures here. The large room was crammed with metal platforms that served as beds. Night-lights dotted the walls, illuminating the bodies. One perfect body after another, all with flawless faces, all asleep. The Metals were bound to their beds with restraints around their wrists.

  My heart sank. So Brockman was as bad as Hyden had said—and worse.

  One thing I didn’t understand at all—the Metals had tubes in their noses that led to small plastic pouches strapped across their chests. Why?

  As I glanced around, I recognized some of the faces: Briona. Lee. Raj. I’d spent time with those bodies, but not those people. I knew them only as donor bodies occupied by Doris, Tinnenbaum, and Rodney, the horrible Enders at Prime Destinations. They’d spied on me. At least, I’d thought so at the time. Now I knew differently. Doris and Rodney had been keeping an eye on me for Hyden. To make sure I didn’t kill the senator. And then maybe to protect me.

  Tinnenbaum had been keeping an eye on me for Brockman.

  I stepped on a squeaky floorboard and the nearest Metal, Lee, stirred. I took another step and he opened his eyes.

  The real Lee was the Asian guy with incredibly good looks. He squinted at me a moment in the dim light. “Who’re you?” he asked in a groggy voice.

  Briona, nearby, was awakened by his voice. She turned her head to examine me. “She’s new,” she said slowly.

  She was as beautiful as ever, with her buttery bronze skin, but now she had desperate, haunted eyes.

  “How come you’re dressed like that?

  “I’m here to help,” I whispered, hoping she’d keep her voice down.

  “And they let you walk around?” she asked.

  The nearest Metals began to wake. Raj was one, the third member of their trio. No one was able to sit up; they were all tied to their beds. I examined Lee’s restraints. They had small metal pads on them. I pulled out Trax’s key and pressed it to Lee’s right arm restraint. It unlocked, but he didn’t move.

  “What’re you doing?” he said. “I’ll get in trouble.”

  “What have they done to you?” I asked. “What’s that tube?”

  “It’s how they feed us if we’re not working,” Lee said. “It keeps our weight steady.”

  “And makes us dependent on them,” Raj said in his lilting Indian accent.

  “Please undo me,” Briona said. “I have nightmares. Things they made me do … I relive them.”

  More Metals started to wake up.

  Raj stared at Briona. “Shut up, Briona,” he said. “She can’t help you. She’s stuck here like us now.”

  He hadn’t seen what I could do. I unlocked Briona’s restraints. She sat up and rubbed her wrists.

  “Says you. Look at me. I’m free,” Briona said.

  “Do me!” a blond girl shouted.

  “Shhh,” I said, my voice lowered. “I’ll unlock all of you. We can’t get you off the compound right away,” I said. “But we will. For now, tell me what you know about this place.”

  Lee found the courage to sit up. I moved on to unlock the rest. There must have been twenty Metals in this one room. One of them looked familiar.

  Blake.

  He looked so pitiful and strange with a tube coming out of his nose.

  He was groggy. He struggled, as if trying to sit up, but his bindings kept him down.

  “Blake, it’s me, Callie.” I unlocked him.

  “Callie?”

  “How long have you been here?” I asked.

  “Too long,” Blake said. “But not as long as some. Some have been here for months. Did they catch you too?”

  “No, I’m here to get you out,” I said. “Are there more of you?”

  He nodded.

  “How many?”

  “Another three dorm rooms,” Lee said.

  Maybe as many as one hundred Starters here, kept captive.

  “Have any of you ever seen a man, a Middle, named Ray Woodland? He has dark brown hair, tall, good-looking? He has one scar on his cheek, here.” I pointed to my face.

  They shook their heads.

  I refused to believe my father wasn’t there. Brockman was keeping him hidden, I was sure of it.

  “Where are the guards?” I asked.

  “Don’t know. Asleep? It’s late,” Briona said.

  “No, someone’s awake.” Raj came up and joined us. “There’s always someone at night.”

  I was hoping that was Trax.

  “Are you guys healthy enough to fight?” I asked.

  “Absolutely,” Lee said.

  I asked them all my questions and they answered them. I promised that my two friends and I would help them escape. But first, I had to find my father. Then I heard a voice in my head.

  Callie Woodland?

  “Who is this?”

  “Who’s she talking to?” Briona asked the others.

  I walked away from them, toward the doo
r, so I could listen.

  I’m disappointed. You seemed like such a smart girl.

  Of course I knew who it was. But I was so hoping he’d be asleep right now and never know I’d crashed his facility.

  “So do I call you Brockman or just Hyden’s dad?”

  He chuckled. I am so happy you finally came. As I’d hoped.

  “You hoped?”

  I opened the door and motioned for the Starters to come with me. Briona, Lee, Raj, and several others followed. I averted my eyes from them so Brockman wouldn’t see them.

  I couldn’t get my latest young Starter to bring you in.

  “That driver.”

  Yes. Shame to lose a valuable commodity like that.

  I slipped the key to Briona behind my back and closed my eyes. I let the Starters move down the hallway without me. When I opened them, they had disappeared in another room, probably one with more sleeping Starters.

  But I needed both of you, and Hyden isn’t good about keeping in touch.

  “You didn’t really expect that Metal to get us. You just wanted him to lead us to you.”

  It worked, didn’t it? He paused. What are you looking for here?

  “My father. Where is he?”

  Would you like to see him?

  “Of course.”

  I can arrange that. But first, why don’t we take this opportunity to meet each other?

  All of a sudden, I came to a halt. I stood rooted, growing slowly aware of someone gaining control of my body. It felt like I had heavy mercury rushing up through my spine. From my feet to my legs, my hips, my abs, my chest, my arms. Even my throat felt constricted. One female Metal came out of a room. With what was left of my voice, I shouted, “Run. Run and hide!” It was raspy and not as loud as I’d hoped.

  Fear clouded her face. She hesitated, then ran off, notifying the others.

  The sensation continued up my neck and finally reached my head. I felt like I’d turned to stone.

  My right foot moved forward, then my left. I was jerky at first, almost robotic. After a moment, I walked in a smooth movement that would have fooled an onlooker into thinking I was doing exactly as I wanted.

  I bet you’re wondering where you’re going.

  I would have answered, but unlike previous times when I’d been controlled, I could not speak.

 
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