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       Enders, p.20

           Lissa Price
 
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  He made me walk to the end of the hall and turn right. It was so strange moving this way. When Hyden had controlled me at Dawson’s lab, it felt like when you stepped on your daddy’s shoes and let him move your feet to dance. This was like being invaded, possessed but aware of every awful moment of it.

  I tried to hide my torment as I watched my arm shoot forward to open a door at the end of the hallway. Then I remembered—the reversal. It hadn’t worked before, but I could try again.

  I concentrated on pulling my arm back before it could open the door. But my fingers wrapped around the handle.

  No, I told myself, don’t. Let go of the handle.

  But I had no control. Brockman overpowered me. My hand opened the door.

  I entered the lobby of a building. It had an open configuration, with a second story, all surrounded by glass. Several guards approached me.

  I handed them all my weapons. My own hands patted me down to make sure nothing was left.

  The guards took the weapons away, leaving me alone. Then I felt my body return to me. It started from the tip of my head, a tingling sensation that vibrated down through my face, my neck, my chest, my belly, my hips, my legs, and finally my feet. It felt like shaking the pins and needles from your foot after it’s fallen asleep.

  I looked around, trying to decide where to run. I started to go across to the other end, but I heard a noise up above, on the second story.

  “Where are you running to, Starter? Or would you prefer to be called a Metal?” I looked up and saw a Middle standing there above me. He leaned casually against thick, bulletproof glass, grinning down at me like the Cheshire Cat in his tree.

  He looked to be in his forties, fit and stylish in an illusion suit that changed colors as he shifted his weight. His handsome features, his chiseled bone structure, even his posture looked exactly like Hyden’s.

  So this was Brockman. Hyden’s father.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

  Brockman stared down at me, arms folded like a pompous dictator. Now that I had control of my body again, I moved toward the open stairway. A guard stepped out of the shadow, blocking the way.

  A microphone in Brockman’s room amplified his voice. “So, it turns out you are very easy to control.”

  “Where’s my father?”

  “You’ll get to see him very soon,” he said with a smile. “In fact, I’m dying to have you see him. But first, let’s talk a little. You are a very special girl, Callie Woodland. And of course you are the only M.A.D. Oh, if only we had more of you.”

  “But you don’t,” I said. “And you don’t really have me.”

  “Oh, that’s where you’re wrong.” He looked past me. “And you know who else we have?”

  He nodded to someone behind him, there in his office, someone I couldn’t see. Two guards stepped forward, wrestling another person between them. Michael. His hands were cuffed behind his back. He pulled away from them and lunged toward the glass.

  “Don’t hurt him,” I told Brockman.

  “I don’t think there will be any need to,” Brockman said. “Because you’ll be doing exactly what we want you to do.”

  He motioned for the guards to pull Michael away, out of sight.

  “What do you want from me?” I asked.

  “I have several prominent guests staying here from various countries. Now that you have arrived, we’re going to hold a special demonstration of the technology. And then we’ll have a little auction.”

  My pulse raced.

  “You’re going to sell us like slaves?” I asked.

  “No one is going to hurt you. They’ll want to take very good care of their investment.”

  “So you’re all about the money? You’re not even doing this because you believe in something?”

  “People will do anything for money.” He examined his fingernails. “Don’t you know that by now?”

  I hated him. He was as cruel as Hyden had said. It killed me to see so much of Hyden—his facial features, voice, even little mannerisms—in this despicable excuse for a human being. Why did the good people like my mother die and scum like him survive?

  “My son is obviously infatuated with you, and I can see why. You have everything—brains, looks, courage, and the only killer neurochip.”

  He turned and walked down the open stairway until he was on my level. He came closer.

  “Yes, you are exquisite. The bidders will be excited to see you. They have been notified of your arrival and are getting ready.”

  A guard whispered in Brockman’s ear.

  “Wonderful. Bring him in.”

  Another guard escorted Hyden into the atrium. Brockman looked at Hyden from head to toe. “You’re looking fit. Good to see you without that silly disguise. Now that you’re here, I can demonstrate this to both of you.”

  Brockman pressed a spot behind his ear while staring at me. I felt that awful sensation come over me, from my toes on up to the top of my head. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t make an expression, no way to let Hyden know what was going on.

  But I’m sure he guessed, because his face reddened.

  “Stop this,” he said to his father. “Leave her alone.”

  I saw my body turn toward Hyden, my arm lift, and my hand slap him hard across the face. Brockman broke out in a huge grin.

  “I just love controlling Metals,” he said. “And it’s even better with you, Callie, because you’re aware of it. Such an intimate, sharing experience. Makes me tingle all over.”

  Hyden glared at his father and leapt toward him, punching him hard in the jaw. Brockman was caught by surprise, and Hyden grabbed his shoulders and took him to the floor, attacking him. Rage, it appeared, was the cure for his condition. The guards jumped in and pulled him off his father.

  I regained my control the moment Hyden hit him.

  “Hyden!” I shouted.

  Hyden was on the floor with one guard holding him down. Brockman grabbed the ZipTaser from the other guard and turned it on Hyden. The blue light arched to Hyden’s body. Hyden shook and let out one piercing scream.

  “Stop!” I said.

  Brockman shut off the ZipTaser. It had done its job. Hyden was unable to move, on the floor in extreme agony. Then he went completely silent. Was he all right?

  I knelt by Hyden. “Hyden.” Without thinking, I unbuttoned the top of his shirt and slipped my hand in to feel his heart.

  It was beating.

  Then I stared down at my hand, realizing my mistake. Hyden opened his eyes, his lids heavy from the trauma of the ZipTaser, and looked at my hand. He gave me an almost imperceptible smile.

  He could tolerate my touch? Or maybe he was just numb from the ZipTaser.

  Brockman did not notice. He was busy addressing the room.

  “You see? My son makes bad decisions. That’s why I will be the one to handle the sale of the technology.”

  I removed my hand as the guard came over. He yanked Hyden to his feet, gripping him by the arm. I stood with him.

  “You killed Reece.” Hyden lunged at his father. The guard held him back. “And Helena.”

  “She was about to kill a senator,” Brockman said to his son. Then he spoke to the guard. “Put them in room fourteen until it’s showtime.”

  The walls and floor of the small windowless chamber were made of steel. The door was also made of thick metal, affording no method of escape.

  “They didn’t even bother to cuff us,” I said.

  Hyden sighed. “That’s because there’s no way out of here.”

  “Is that why he put us in here together?”

  “We are his most valuable commodities. So we have to share the escape-proof room.”

  I looked up at the flickering light from fluorescent tubes embedded in the high ceiling. “What kind of man needs a room like this?”

  “A man who has more enemies than friends,” Hyden said.

  We sat on the floor with our backs against the wall.

  “None of the Metals had seen
my father,” I said.

  Hyden lowered his voice. “Don’t talk about them. In case …”

  “You think he’s listening?” I whispered.

  He shrugged. “Unless he’s too busy getting ready for the auction.”

  “It doesn’t really matter now what we say. We’re headed out of here. Probably somewhere very far away, someplace where we don’t speak the language,” I said.

  “We probably won’t be together,” he said.

  I looked at him. “Were you really going to use the money to end the institutions?”

  “Lobbyists to senators, I had it mapped out. Even had plans drawn up to convert the institutions to schools equipped with the latest airscreens and privatecasts.”

  “I’m sorry I got in the way,” I said.

  “No. No, don’t ever say that. I learned a lot from how your chip was altered, and I used Blake to keep close to you so I could stay on top of the no-kill change, but more than anything, it was about you. I felt responsible for you. Everything in your life would have been different if I had never started Prime.”

  “So … you felt sorry for me?”

  “No.” His eyes met mine. “I fell in love in with you.”

  I froze. Time froze.

  There might have been a cold metal floor beneath me, but I was not present in this cell. I was somewhere else, struggling to put it all together. I hadn’t had a chance to process the discovery that Hyden was really the Old Man. It explained so many things. At least I knew now why I felt so connected to him. We’d shared so many special times together, when he was inside Blake.

  A warmth radiated from my core. Hyden was waiting for my reaction, but I didn’t know how to put it into words. I saw the burn mark on the back of his wrist. It was in the shape of a diamond.

  I wondered if the touch before was a fluke. I reached out my hand. He didn’t back away. With my forefinger, I touched his skin that encircled the ZipTaser mark.

  “The ZipTaser,” I said.

  His eyes reflected some pain, but he let me touch him.

  “Is this all right?”

  “It’s not easy.” He swallowed. “But it’s worth it.”

  “You had a breakthrough,” I said, removing my hand.

  “Getting zapped with that many volts will do it to you, I guess.”

  “Maybe. And all the manhandling you had here and at Dawson’s.”

  “Desensitize or die,” he said.

  I guessed that confronting the monster who was the source of his pain was the real reason. But it didn’t matter why.

  I put up my hand, hoping he’d remember the time at Dawson’s, when we were separated by glass.

  He lifted his hand too. Our palms met and touched in the air. He tensed, but he held his palm there. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them he looked a little more relaxed. He nestled his fingers and wrapped them in mine, our palms still connecting. He pulled me closer as he leaned in and kissed me.

  He kissed me. For the first time as himself. Not as Blake or Jeremy or anyone else.

  It was never better.

  But all too soon, the door opened.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  Briona held Trax’s passkey in her hand. “Come on,” she said quietly as she gestured for us to get up.

  “It’s okay, that’s Briona,” I whispered to Hyden.

  “I know,” he said. “From Prime.”

  We followed her down the hall. Briona looked a lot better without her nose tube.

  “Where are the others?” I asked.

  “Hiding. Some are looking for food.”

  “No one’s been caught?” Hyden asked.

  “Can’t say. None that I know of. But everyone’s scattered.”

  “I don’t like this,” Hyden said.

  “I know where your father is,” she said to me. “Woodland, right?”

  “Yes,” I said. “Where?”

  “I’m taking you to him. One of the Starters found a file. This way.”

  “Is he okay?” I asked. “Did you see him?”

  “No time,” she said. “I wanted to get you first.”

  My heart was racing. The thought that I was finally about to see my father, alive …

  We turned a corner. The number on the door read 511.

  “He’s supposed to be in here,” she said, pausing. She looked confused.

  I was about to shove the door open when she grabbed my arm. “Wait. This room connects to the back of the theater.”

  “I don’t care if it’s the bathroom as long as my father’s there,” I said, pushing past her and opening the door.

  As I stepped inside, I heard applause. Brockman stood on the opposite side of a round stage in this small theater, about twenty feet away.

  “There is our star, ladies and gentlemen,” said Brockman, using a microphone. He stepped onto the stage, turning his back to the audience to face me from across the room.

  Hyden was right behind me. We were all still standing in the doorway.

  “No, it’s a trap!” Hyden said.

  We turned to run, but three guards appeared in the hallway, blocking our path. They forced us to turn around and enter the theater.

  One of the guards whispered in my ear, “You don’t think we have monitors everywhere?”

  Briona, who looked genuinely upset, was pulled over to the side. She’d been used. Maybe if I’d listened to her doubts at the door, we could have run. But they had probably been watching us all along.

  The theater was in the round, with a small stage in the center and a sharp slope to the seats that surrounded it. The lights made it hard for me to see the audience, but I could make out about twenty Enders wearing tuxes or evening gowns or brightly colored traditional robes of their nations. It was like they were dressed for opening night at the opera. Huge jewels glittered on the women, and the sea of illusion fabrics made me almost dizzy.

  Hyden was taken by a guard to stand out of the lights of the stage, off to my right. Another guard escorted me to Brockman’s side, in the center of the stage. To my left was a small table and to my right was a larger table with various colorful objects on it.

  “She’s a little shy, ladies and gentlemen. This is Callie Woodland, the only transposer who is a true M.A.D., Multiple Access Donor, which means more than one person can inhabit her body at the same time. And they can communicate with each other. Sort of like riding tandem.”

  He laughed. I wanted to hit him the way Hyden had. But that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I couldn’t be stupid. I had to stay smart to survive and rescue my father.

  “And that’s not all. All of the other transposers have no-kill programming—except for this one. When she is being occupied, she is the only one who can be used as a weapon. And her muscle coordination skill set is phenomenal—she is a perfect marksman, able to use any weapon, to eliminate any opponent or terrorist or competitor. Imagine this. You could have a team inside her body—say, an intelligence expert, a hacker, a bomb specialist all at once. And when they’ve found their way into the hideout of that terrorist or that ex-employee who has stolen your trade secrets, you personally can enjoy the thrill of being behind her eyes when she takes him out. Could there be anything better?”

  The glittery international crowd of Enders laughed and applauded. I looked to my right, at Hyden. He was shaking his head, signaling me not to say or do anything.

  “But let’s see her in action,” Brockman said.

  Brockman turned his head away, and this time I could see he was wearing a small headset that almost blended in with his hair. There was a small disc attached to it that pressed against the base of his head. This must have functioned as a wireless remote so he didn’t have to be hooked up to a computer.

  “I’ll need a volunteer for this. Who would like to come up?”

  An Ender woman wearing a sleek evening gown with an upswept hairdo was assisted onstage by a guard and positioned behind the small table, which held a stack of large white cards.
<
br />   “I could make her move like a puppet, but you would never know, if she was just doing as she was told. As proof that I am controlling her body, you are going to pick the objects that Callie will lift. Are you ready?”

  Brockman stared into space for a second. Then I felt the heaviness, the sinking sensation of losing control again. Brockman inhabited me. I felt that awful, violated feeling of having him move my body as he made me turn so I could not see the woman or the cards she was about to pick.

  “Now, if you’ll be so kind as to choose one card and show it to the audience,” Brockman said. “Good choice, thank you.”

  My arm jutted forward and waved over the objects. There were at least twenty. My hand lowered on an ugly pink stuffed bear. I lifted it high. The audience reacted with oohs and aahs and then applauded.

  This continued for several more objects, and then he had the woman return to her seat.

  “Now, who would like to make her move?” Brockman asked.

  Half of them raised their hands. But one very old Ender with flowing silver hair and wearing green robes volunteered himself by coming up onstage. Brockman fitted him with the same almost-invisible headset that he wore.

  “We’ll just outfit you with this, and she’s all yours,” Brockman said. “Remember what I said earlier, and concentrate.”

  Brockman must have given them a little training session before I arrived. I felt Brockman release his control, but only for a moment. Too soon, this green-robed Ender began to work his way into my body. What was strange was that I could feel a difference. I couldn’t explain it, but I sensed a different person inside.

  The green-robed Ender made me look at the audience and wave my hand.

  “Very good,” Brockman said. “You got it right away. See how easy this is?”

  He then made me walk across the stage as if it were a catwalk, making my hips jut out in that exaggerated way. I stopped, smiled at the audience, and turned around to sashay back. He had me stop with my back still to the audience. Now what? That creep had me wiggle my butt. Everyone laughed. It was awful.

  He made me turn and face the audience. I felt my mouth open. He’s not going to make me talk! But he did.

 
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