Enders, p.2Lissa Price
More like hot and hot. Only you’ll soon see it is no game.
I stood in the middle of the mall as Starters and Enders had to move around me. He wanted me to see a Starter. There were plenty of them … but which one? Then I saw a girl with long red hair. I knew her.
She was the donor my guardian, Lauren, had rented to search for her grandson. I remembered Reece as a friend, but of course that was actually Lauren. The real Reece wouldn’t know me. But there was so much I could tell her.
“Reece,” I called out.
She looked as pretty as ever, in a short print dress and silver pumps with little heels. I dodged the shoppers to get closer to her. She was about ten feet ahead of me when she stopped and turned.
“I’m Callie,” I said as shoppers weaved between us. “You don’t know me. But I know you.”
She gave me the strangest look, an expression I’d never seen on her. The corner of her mouth turned up in a half smile, but it wasn’t a fluid move. It was more—mechanical.
Something was wrong.
She quickly turned and walked off.
“Wait,” I called out.
But she kept going. An Ender walked behind her. I wouldn’t have noticed him, but he had a large silvery tattoo on the side of his neck. The head of some animal. I could barely make it out. A leopard, maybe.
“It was Reece, wasn’t it? You wanted me to see her?”
I can always count on you, Callie.
Did Reece know the leopard-tattooed Ender was following her? I wasn’t sure. She darted into a shop. He moved to the next one and pretended to be interested in the pearl chokers in the window.
I took a step toward the shop.
No. Leave her alone.
She came out moments later and the leopard-tattooed man resumed following her. I kept walking, staying behind, watching them both.
“She’s in danger,” I said to the Old Man.
A horrible sense of dread washed over me. “Is somebody inside her?”
The body bank had been destroyed. But the Old Man was accessing me. He could have someone inside Reece’s body as well. The idea was putting my stomach in knots. His electronic voice. The leopard tattoo. Reece’s body being used.
I saw the shoe store ahead, past Reece. Tyler and Michael were just entering it.
“Michael!” I shouted across the mall, hoping he could hear me over the shoppers and the music. He was maybe six or seven shops away. He stopped and looked around but didn’t see me. He went inside.
Reece must have heard, though, because she turned and stared at me. I didn’t mean for that to happen. That gave the tattooed man a chance to catch up to her. He said something in her ear, and she shook her head with an unnatural movement. He touched her arm and she—or whoever was inside her—pulled it away.
“What’s going on?” I was frozen there, struggling to solve this dark puzzle. “Tell me.”
Just because you destroyed Prime doesn’t mean you destroyed me. It wasn’t my only facility. I can still access any chip.
Reece backed away from the man and ran toward the shoe store.
And I can turn it into a weapon.
“No,” I said to him, to myself, to anyone around.
Time stopped as I held my breath. It all happened so fast. The crowd around me became a frozen blur as I started to run toward the shop. It felt like running through water— I couldn’t move fast enough.
I was two doors away when, like a bullet, a dark-haired Starter wearing a puffy metallic airjacket came at me. I just got a flash of his face—strong jaw, piercing eyes. He threw himself against me, wrapped his arms around my body, and dragged me backward as fast as he could.
Before I could react, there was a horrible, heart-splitting explosion. It came from where Reece had been standing. As we went sailing through the air, I could only see a blinding white flash.
Pieces of glass and metal rained down from above, bounced up from below. I was on my back with the Starter squatting over me, acting as a shield, protecting me. I closed my eyes and crossed my arms to cover my face. Some Ender cried out that she’d been hit.
Screams of pain and fear came from all directions, and I couldn’t say for sure that one didn’t come from me. It felt like it lasted forever, but it was probably only seconds.
Finally, the horrible crashing and clanging from the explosion ended. The mall went silent for a moment, as if everyone was still holding their breath. Then, in a group exhale, the noise began again, somewhat muffled. It came to me in ghostly echoes. Enders moaned from their injuries; Starters sobbed. Some called out hopelessly for their mothers and fathers, who, of course, were long gone, from the spores.
I opened my eyes. The Starter who’d been protecting me leaned in, examining my face.
“You’re all right,” he said. He turned his head to look at something else. “The marshals are coming.” He was on his feet.
“Wait.” I started to sit up.
“You’ll see me again.”
By the time I got to my feet, he was already gone. I shook pieces of glass from my clothes.
Blood marked the backs of my hands. How could this happen? How did the Old Man turn the chip into a bomb?
I oriented myself and spotted the shoe store right by the worst of the wreckage. I began to run but stumbled on the debris. I worked my way to the front of the store, where a guard had just finished covering what was left of Reece’s body with his coat. One of her shoes—those heels I had just admired—lay on the floor, bits of glass littered across it, as if Cinderella’s slipper had shattered.
My own shoes crunched as I made my way inside the store. People sat on the benches meant for trying on shoes. The injured held handkerchiefs, paper towels, and even store socks—tags still on—pressed to their heads, faces, and arms.
Then I spotted Michael behind a display counter in the rear of the store, looking down, his head hanging low. I ran through the store to get to him.
He looked up at me with an expression of relief. “Callie.”
“Where’s Tyler?” I screamed.
Tyler stood, revealing himself from behind the counter. A few scratches, but fine. I came around and hugged him to me.
“What happened?” he asked.
“It was an explosion,” I said quietly.
“But why?” Tyler asked.
I could see the confusion in his eyes. He might be all right physically, but this would leave another scar inside.
“I wish I knew,” I said.
Hours later, marshals had blocked off the shoe store and turned the space outside it into an interrogation area. Marshal detectives, wearing suits instead of uniforms, borrowed tables and chairs from the fancy shops and created stations set far enough apart that witnesses couldn’t hear each other. Tyler and I stood in line waiting our turn. I had my hands on his shoulders, keeping him close to me. We were up next. Should I reveal what I knew? What would they do with me if I told them I could hear voices in my head? Would they believe me? Or think I was crazy?
A Starter finished her interrogation and left one of the tables. A marshal nodded to us and motioned for Tyler to take her place. He walked to that table while I went to the next empty station and sat in the chair, facing a detective. Even sitting, he towered over me. He was a muscled Ender maybe a hundred years old, with a tan and a full head of white hair. I noticed his gun, but it was the sight of his ZipTaser that made me tense.
“Name?” he asked.
His palm-sized airscreen recorded my voice as I spoke. I could see the words in reverse, spelled out in the display.
I shook my head. I explained that Lauren had recently become my legal guardian so I wouldn’t be considered an unclaimed,
“What were you doing in the mall?” he asked.
“Going to meet my brother, Tyler, to get shoes.”
“Is he here?”
I nodded. He pointed at the airscreen display.
“Please state it verbally,” he said.
“Yes, he’s being questioned at that other table.”
I scratched the back of my head and then realized what I was doing. I stopped. The detective looked at me—had he noticed? I tucked my hand under my leg.
“Tell me what you saw,” he asked.
I inhaled. I had practiced this while in line. But would I get it straight?
“I saw a girl walking in the mall.”
“Can you describe her?”
“She had long red hair, was about five four, beautiful. …”
My eyes filled with tears. I tried to fight them. I didn’t want him to guess I’d known her.
He squinted at me. “It’s all right. Tell me when you’re ready to go on.”
I nodded. “I’m okay.”
“What was she wearing?”
“Um, a green print dress. And silver shoes.” My voice cracked.
Our eyes met. I hesitated.
“And … ?”
“She was acting strange.”
Don’t say anything.
I became alert. The detective looked up from the airscreen.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
You know what I can do now, Callie. Understand?
“Can you continue?” the detective asked.
“The girl seemed nervous. She was looking around.”
His eyes narrowed. “Go on.”
“She stood in front of the shoe store. All of a sudden, there was an explosion. I closed my eyes. And—and then I saw she was dead. She must have had the bomb on her.” My voice broke as the pain of the awful memory returned.
He looked at me. His expression softened and he seemed sympathetic. I almost wanted to tell him the truth. But I didn’t dare.
“That’s all I know,” I said.
He detained me a while longer. I saw Tyler stand. Michael escorted him in the direction of the long walk to the mall exit.
By the time I left the interrogation, the Old Man had left me. I knew because I heard the vacuum, the total silence whenever he disconnected. I guessed he had to talk to his minions, maybe whoever had controlled poor Reece. I was thankful he had any reason at all not to be with me.
I walked like a ghost through the empty mall. I remembered what my Ender friend Redmond, Helena’s tech guy, had told me. He’d predicted that the chips in our heads might act like bombs and explode.
Poor Reece. How had the Old Man done it? Why? To prove that we could demolish Prime but not him? Or just to terrorize me?
My stomach tightened. I really hated this chip—this thing—in my head. I was not going to let one creepy Ender control me for the rest of my life.
Big words, trembling hands.
I felt unsteady. I stepped into an alcove near a service door and took a few deep breaths. I couldn’t get the image of Reece and her shoe out of my mind. Was there anything I could have done to save her? I wrapped my arms around my belly to calm myself down, hold it in, pull myself together.
I looked back. I was far enough from the disaster site that no one would notice me. I pulled out my phone and called Senator Bohn. I made an effort to sound calm and rational. I was pretty sure I succeeded at rational.
The senator had helped me take down Prime Destinations. He was one of the few people who knew the whole story and had the connections to do something about it. I explained what had happened. He had been trying to locate the Old Man, without any success. I explained that the bombing was his doing.
“I have an idea how we might track him down,” I said, describing my plan.
Senator Bohn listened. After a moment he said, “Callie, let me see what I can do. We’re going to need a special search warrant. If I pull favors, I might have it in a couple of hours.”
After we hung up, I called my guardian, Lauren, and filled her in. And then there was something else I had to do. I was going to have to break a promise.
Michael and Tyler were waiting for me at the mall exit. I saw through the glass doors that marshals were stationed outside to bar anyone from entering. We paused there, still inside, all of us looking a mess.
“How did it go?” I asked them.
Michael threw his hands up in the air. “We told them what little we knew.”
“A big explosion.” Tyler followed by putting his arms up too, and spreading them to shape a huge ball.
I couldn’t help but hug him. “You’re squishing my nose,” he said with a muffled voice.
He was handling it much better than I’d expected. Maybe living on the streets had actually toughened him. I let go and turned to Michael.
“Can you take Tyler home and help him clean up?” I asked.
Michael cocked his head. “Where are you going?”
“I’m going to wash up in the restroom. Then I have something to do.”
Michael didn’t look happy. “Come on, Tyler, let’s go. She’ll catch up to us later.”
I took both of them into my arms in a group hug. Michael felt warm. “I don’t know what I’d do without you guys.”
“You won’t have to worry about that,” he said close to my ear.
I turned to look at him. “Thank you.” I rubbed his back, gave Tyler a kiss on the cheek, and then let them go.
As they left, I sighed, grateful to have Michael to watch over my brother. Then I took out my phone and stared at the Zings from Blake.
As I drove over to meet Blake, my vision started to get hazy. I knew what was next because this had happened before, recently. I pulled over to the curb.
I was reliving a memory of Helena’s, as if it were my own. This was some aftereffect of the transposition—the mind-body transfer process.
It played in my mind the way one of my own memories would. I could see it happening, and I could feel Helena’s feelings. She walks into Prime for the first time. Everyone smiles at her: the receptionists, Mr. Tinnenbaum, and then the Old Man. Her thoughts become mine, but it is not like I hear her voice; no, I actually feel her desperation. How these people stole Emma from me, ripped her away and lasered her and cut into her flesh and changed her. How, because of them, she’s lost. Gone. Disappeared. And probably dead.
I felt Helena’s emptiness. How deeply lonely she was. Like most memories, it was short and then it was gone. But it passed through me like an emotional wave, and the sadness lasted for most of the drive. Why was this happening? And was I the only donor experiencing these strange souvenirs of our mind-body transfers?
I’d picked Beverly Glen Park to meet Blake. When I saw him waiting for me, sitting on top of a picnic table, my heart skipped a beat.
Seeing him with the setting sun backlighting his hair, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the time we had met there before. Only then, it was really the Old Man inside Blake’s body. I’d picked this place because it was close by and there was a private guard to protect us. But maybe there was another, subconscious reason I’d picked the same park.
I continued walking, watching him all the way. He leaned his elbows on his thighs, his hands clasped, just like I remembered. But I had to remind myself this wasn’t the person I’d been with then. This was the real Blake, Senator Harrison’s grandson, who thought he had been sick, who knew nothing of the body bank, whose only clue that we once had a relationship was a photo on his phone of us together.
He held out his hand to help me onto the tabletop.
“Glad you came,” he said.
“I’m really sorry, but I don’t have long.”
“I’m waiting for an important Zing.” I knew that sounded lame. “But I came because there’s something I have to tell you.”
“That’s not important now.”
“It’s important to me.” He pulled out his phone. “So what about this picture of us?”
He showed me the happy image of the two of us, arms around each other. But it was a lie. It was really the Old Man.
It hurt to look at it.
“What were we doing?” he asked. “I mean, that day?”
“At my grandfather’s ranch?”
“Yes.” I hated thinking back on that day. At the time, I’d thought it was one of the best days of my life.
“Looks like we had a pretty good time.”
I sighed. “We did.”
His eyes met mine. “What else did we do?”
“We went to the music center and to a drive-in restaurant. We watched the sunset.”
I didn’t fill in the details that I saw in my mind’s eye: How we’d watched the sun set over the mountains, our horses side by side, shuffling their hooves. How he’d handed me that spotted orchid, the first flower any boy had ever given me. Reliving those memories hurt. Not because they were gone, but because they never really existed. Not with him, anyway.
“No, I mean, did we do anything else?” He stretched his neck as if his collar was too tight. “Anything … more?”
“No. We just kissed.”
At the time, it wasn’t “just” a kiss to me. But he didn’t need to know that.
“I wish I could remember that,” he said.
“I wish you could too.”
He hesitated for a moment, as if he was trying to see if I meant what I’d said. Then he leaned forward, tentatively, his eyes searching for clues every step of the way.
I leaned closer until our faces were almost touching. He smelled wonderfully woodsy and grassy, same as before.
We kissed. It was … not like before.
It started out the same, the smoothness of his lips, the smell of his skin. But the spark I had once felt, that sweet electricity, was gone. It was only in my memory. I tried again. Maybe it was there, and I just wasn’t being sensitive enough. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was nervous.
Enders by Lissa Price / Young Adult / Science Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes