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       Enders, p.21

           Lissa Price
 
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  “I’m so pretty” came out of my lips.

  The voice didn’t sound exactly like me, but it didn’t sound like him either.

  “Excellent,” Brockman said. “Look how fast you got the hang of it.”

  Now every male hand rose to volunteer. Some of them were shouting in their native language. One man in a tux leapt up onstage as the green-robed man removed his headset and handed it to Brockman. I felt my control come back, but it was getting blurrier now, this moving back and forth so quickly. I didn’t feel completely in control, but more in a state of limbo.

  I glanced at Hyden. His face was red: he was livid. A guard restrained him by the arms.

  This new Ender volunteer had a tan, short white hair, and a huge diamond ring.

  Brockman put the headset on him and he concentrated for a moment. Nothing was happening. The audience shifted in their seats. Someone coughed. Then I felt my hand raise and move to the top of my shirt.

  It went to my top button. And undid it.

  No. He wasn’t going to … but he was. My hands unbuttoned my shirt; my hips swayed as if I were some cheap stripper. He closed my eyes and tossed back my head as if I were in ecstasy over this. My hands undid the last button, revealing my camisole underneath. I was grateful for this underlayer, but how far would he go?

  I sensed everyone holding their breath, including me. He had me take off the shirt, twirl it over my head, and toss it at the audience. A man in African robes caught it and waved it triumphantly.

  The jacker made me tease the audience by lifting up the bottom edge of my cami, pulling it out from side to side. Then he had me lift it up all the way, exposing my bra. My hands pulled the cami over my head and tossed that into the audience, to the delight of another creepy Ender.

  The jacker then had me look at him, on the stage, and slowly walk toward him. What was he going to make me do? With every step, my imagination came up with worse scenarios.

  “Stop this!” It was Hyden’s voice.

  I was able to look in his direction. My jacker had lost his concentration. Hyden was being held back by two guards.

  “That’s enough,” Brockman said. “We have a spectacular demonstration for you now that will show the full power of this technology. It is something you will never see anywhere else, and something you’ll never forget.”

  One of the guards handed me my shirt, and I quickly put it back on. I glared at the man with the diamond ring.

  “You are a perv,” I hissed.

  “Let us begin,” Brockman said.

  One of the doors toward the right of the stage opened, and they rolled in a man standing up, strapped at his wrists and ankles to a board larger than a door. It was like a dangerous circus act. He had dark hair and a beard, a Middle.

  As he was brought closer, onto the stage, I knew who he was.

  A Middle I had not seen in over a year. A Middle I thought I’d never, ever see again because I was told he was dead. A Middle that I shared a lifetime of memories with. And our own special code.

  My father. I ran to his side.

  “Daddy!”

  “Callie,” my father said, his voice weak.

  His eyes looked worse than in the video. He was gaunt and frail compared to the dad I knew.

  “In case you didn’t hear that, this is Callie’s father,” Brockman said into his mike.

  “What have you done to him?” I whipped around and glared at Brockman.

  “The question is, what are you going to do to him?” he said with a wicked grin.

  I felt sick at the thought of what was to come.

  My body felt flushed as Brockman took control. He made me walk away from my father, about ten feet. A guard came to me, holding a tray with a gun on it.

  “Ladies and gentlemen, this girl is about to shoot her own father, in a final demonstration of how powerful this process is,” Brockman said. “If we can make her do this, the person who walks away with this package I offer tonight will be able to use her to assassinate anyone.”

  My body broke out in a damp sweat. He couldn’t really mean what he was saying. My father had expertise Brockman could use.

  No, no, he can’t, he can’t want to really do this.

  As the audience buzzed with anticipation, only one Ender, a woman, got up and left. Brockman turned off his mike and leaned over to me.

  “All we needed was his research. Thank you for delivering the z-drive. We’ve started the decryption process. In a few hours, we’ll have your father’s technology.”

  They’d found Hyden’s car. Now they had everything they needed from my father. And we had brought it to them.

  Brockman switched his mike back on. “Watch carefully,” he said to the audience.

  My hand picked up the gun.

  My father looked at me.

  There was so much I wanted to say to him, how I’d been mother and father to Tyler, how I tried to do everything he’d taught me to protect my brother. How I did my best but it ended up making everything worse. I just wanted to be his little girl again and curl up on his lap and be told everything would be all right.

  Then the worst thing possible happened. My arm began to tingle. It rose—not of my doing—until the gun in my hand aimed directly at my father’s head.

  My father hadn’t seen me in a year, had probably thought he’d never see me again. And now here I was, pointing a gun at him. It was the last thing on earth he’d ever see.

  I’m inside. Controlling you. And it feels so good.

  Hearing Brockman’s voice inside my head, I wanted to crawl out of my own body. I tried to force myself to take control again, tried to move my arms or legs—anything—to drop the gun, to not do this horrible thing.

  But the only thing I was responsible for were the tears streaming down my face.

  Please don’t make me shoot my father.

  Brockman’s voice came into my head.

  A perfect test. And ironic, since he’s the one who taught you to shoot so well.

  “It’s all right, Callie. It’s not your fault,” my father said. His sad eyes were still soft and kind. “No matter what, I love you,” he said. “I know this isn’t you. It’s not your fault.”

  I heard Hyden shout out, “Callie, fight back now!”

  In the trauma, I had forgotten. I had to try. I remembered what Hyden tried to teach me, my father’s method. Picture the cord with a light. … What color was it? Blue. A blue light running from Brockman to me. Then a gold light going from me to him. Make the blue light turn to gold.

  I’m still in control, Callie. Brockman’s voice boomed in my head.

  My poor father stood rigid, the agonizing threat looming, my gun still pointed at him. I tried to focus my mind, visualizing the cord, blue to gold, then pushing Brockman out. I pictured him as I saw him last, standing there, so smug, and I saw myself, with my arms pushing him away as far as I could push him.

  My gun hand began to tremble.

  It was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life. I had to maintain complete control. If I faltered for a second, my hand steadied. I had to forget about the gun, forget about my father, forget about everything but the cord. I kept at it even though it was like holding your breath forever, longer than is humanly possible, and my hand shook wildly.

  Callie … Brockman’s voice in my head now sounded desperate. That gave me strength.

  I visualized myself pushing so hard that Brockman fell backward, until he got smaller and smaller.

  My hand came back to my control. I was able to drop the gun, and it fell to the floor. The audience gasped. Brockman glared at me.

  I wanted to run to my father, but I had to maintain focus. I still had the connection to Brockman; I only had to reverse it, to see myself in his body. I felt myself going into Brockman. It felt cold, as if ice water were running through my veins. But I was in his body.

  I made him walk to the gun. I felt his resistance.

  No sense fighting me, I communicated to him.

&n
bsp; You can’t do this.

  “Just watch yourself,” I said.

  I made his body bend down and pick up the gun. He tried to resist me, but it was a losing battle.

  “How does it feel now?” I said.

  I swung him around and made him point the gun at the guards at the back of the stage. I make Brockman speak.

  “Lay down your weapons,” I made Brockman say.

  The guards hesitated, their faces taut with confusion.

  “Do it now!” I made Brockman command. “And throw down your cuffs.”

  The guards obeyed, placing their guns and cuffs on the floor.

  “Keep your hands in the air,” Brockman said.

  The audience murmured, obviously confused. Some seemed unclear whether this was part of the show.

  “It’s part of the act,” the perv with the diamond ring said, laughing.

  A few laughed nervously along with him. I made Brockman point the gun at the perv and he stopped laughing.

  “The show is over,” I made Brockman say.

  I aimed Brockman’s gun high, pointing at the empty back row, over the heads of the audience, who were all seated in the lower seats. I fired off some shots.

  The crowd leapt out of their seats and dashed for the exits, tripping over their gowns and each other.

  I swung Brockman around to check the guards. They were scattering, not to be trampled by the crowd scrambling for the exits. I shot a few rounds in the wall behind them, and the last guards also ran out the doors.

  My father and Hyden were left, but I couldn’t think about them. I was still seeing the room through Brockman’s eyes, still in control of his body. I made him walk to the cuffs on the floor left by the guards. I had him set his gun on the floor and pick up a pair of cuffs. I moved his hands so he clamped the cuffs around his ankles. Then I picked up another set and clamped those around his wrists.

  Done. Time to leave this creepy body. I let go and was soon seeing the room through my own eyes.

  Brockman started screaming at the top of his lungs.

  I rushed to my father’s side.

  “Daddy!”

  “Cal Girl.”

  I threw my arms around him, kissing his cheek, until Hyden came over to untie his restraints. My dad rose on wobbly legs and held me tightly.

  “Callie, baby.” He held my head with one hand against his chest.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  Some three dozen marshals came to arrest Brockman, the guards, and any of the billionaires who hadn’t escaped by helis. They confiscated the airscreens and led the hundred-plus Metals to sit at the back of the auditorium to begin debriefing. I saw all the Metals who had been taken from our lab, including Savannah, Avery, Lily, and Jeremy. I was glad to see nobody was hurt. And I was thrilled when I spotted Kevin, Lauren’s missing grandson. She was going to be ecstatic.

  We gathered in the large atrium downstairs, my father and I sitting in the lobby seating just below where Brockman had stood when I first saw him.

  The marshals brought one more Metal into the room—Michael. He was all right. I ran over to give him a hug.

  “What happened to you?” I asked.

  “The guards caught me, but I managed to escape and join the other Starters.”

  We sat next to my father, who put his arm around my shoulder. He felt so bony. He was about thirty pounds thinner than when I’d last seen him, and the year in captivity showed in his eyes. But he was alive. I couldn’t stop smiling when I looked at him.

  Hyden entered from a door at the far end of the room, where the head investigator was standing. Following Hyden was a group of Enders dressed mostly in black. Dawson and his gang. I tensed and looked at Michael. At the same instant, we got up and went over to the head investigator.

  “That man,” I said, gesturing to Dawson, “kept us prisoner.”

  Dawson approached. I stepped back, my body tensing at the sight of him and his leopard tattoo. He flashed his air badge. A ray of color sparkled from a symbol I couldn’t make out.

  “Callie, I’m Matt Dawson, head of the Transposition Research Team.”

  “No way you’re with the government,” I said.

  Hyden came closer and stood next to me. Michael was on the other side.

  Dawson lowered his voice, conspiratorial. “We operate off-book, so officially we don’t exist. We do things outside the rules because we have to.”

  Images of the horrendous treatment we suffered flashed through my mind. “What about Emma?”

  “That was an unfortunate casualty,” he said.

  “Enders,” I said under my breath, mostly for Michael and Hyden. “But the way you treated us … You were brutal,” I said, not understanding. Was he really on our side?

  “You’ve never been in the military,” he said. “We were not authorized to divulge anything at that point. We didn’t know how much we could trust you.”

  “What about all that testing?” Michael asked.

  “We had to assess the threat to national security.”

  I started to put it together. “So you wanted us to come here?”

  He nodded. “We couldn’t raid the place. We knew that Brockman would destroy everything, the Starters, the scientists, your father.”

  “And the technology,” Hyden said.

  “And we had to catch him in the act of committing treason, as well as round up these dangerous people who would buy and use the technology. Timing was crucial.”

  “You used us as bait,” Michael said.

  “You didn’t care if we survived or not,” Callie said.

  “But you did. The three of you. And you came through golden,” Dawson said. “And that’s why we want to recruit you as our first enrollees in our special academy. Whoever passes will join our team.”

  I looked at the guys. We had to all be thinking the same thing—why would we ever want to be part of a team under Dawson?

  A woman came up and stood beside Dawson. I recognized her as the Ender who had pretended to feel sorry for us and slipped us the keys.

  “No wonder we could escape your compound,” I said.

  She put her arm around his waist.

  A smile lit his features. “My wife,” he said.

  Three days later, I stood at the gate to Institution 37. A male Ender guard scanned me with a body wand; then a female Ender patted me down with a rough hand.

  “She’s clean,” the woman said.

  The male guard pressed a button and the gate opened with a grating sound. It made me close my eyes a moment, taking me back to the day Sara died. The day I escaped because of her sacrifice.

  With the guards flanking me, I marched to the administration building. Our shoes clacked and echoed in the heavy dark hallway with its musty odor and walnut sideboards with twisty legs. When we reached the headmaster’s door, it opened before the guards could knock.

  Beatty appeared in the doorway. I had heard her voice over the gate’s intercom, consenting to my visit, so her face registered no surprise. She wore an expensive suit that her bulky, shapeless body couldn’t do justice to. She’d probably always had a body for a uniform.

  “Callie, what a delicious surprise.”

  The guards stepped forward to accompany me, but Beatty’s raised hand stopped them.

  “We’ll be fine, thank you,” she said. “You can go.” When they hesitated, she asked, “Did you search her thoroughly? Both of you?”

  “Of course, ma’am,” the woman said.

  “Then I can handle her.” She pulled me inside by the wrist. “I always did.”

  She closed the door in their bewildered faces. I yanked my arm back out of her grasp and rubbed my wrist.

  “I’ll remind you I have my ZipTaser, Callie.” She patted a bulge in her suit pocket.

  “Of course you do.” I thought about Sara.

  Beatty’s face was as mean and ugly as ever. But something was different, as if she looked the slightest bit less hideous.

  “That’s it,” I sa
id. “You got rid of your moles.”

  Her eyes widened.

  “That’s one way to blow your headmaster’s salary.”

  “Still haven’t learned your manners, I see.”

  She crossed to her desk. It was military-neat, with only her airscreen, the stiletto letter opener, and a set of crystal glasses and a bottle half-filled with an amber liquid. She poured two glasses one-quarter full.

  “Let’s toast to your visit.” She held out a glass for me. I didn’t take it. “Just a sip.” She pushed the glass until it touched my hand.

  “What is it?”

  “Two-hundred-year-old scotch. Better than maple syrup.”

  “I’m a minor. I can’t.”

  She smirked and put the glass on her desk. “Suit yourself.” She sipped hers and savored it.

  “So why are you here, Callie, all by yourself ? I thought you were smarter than that. Something change in your life? Guardian changed her mind? Had enough of you?”

  She obviously knew nothing of Brockman.

  “I have news for you,” I said. “The Old Man? He’s really a teen boy.”

  I noticed her pupils enlarge. She’d had no clue.

  “So?” she said.

  She was trying to hide her surprise.

  “He used you to release Starters from your institution,” I said. “So they could run free.”

  She put down her drink and folded her arms. “What do I care? He paid me.”

  “Couldn’t have been much. Because he was just a Starter.”

  “Ten thousand dollars. Per child. That’s nothing to sneeze at.”

  “You sold them, knowing they were going to be used by Enders, maybe forever.”

  Her hand moved to her ZipTaser.

  “You can hurt me, but you can’t kill me with it,” I said. “Not like Sara.”

  “Sara had an unfortunate condition.”

  “You knew about her weak heart. And you allowed your guards to use it on her anyway.”

  “Nobody escapes my institution.” She narrowed her eyes and picked up her drink. “Not Sara. Not you.”

  She threw the scotch at me, drenching my face, my shirt. I wiped at my eyes and saw her grab an object off the desk. The letter opener. She gripped it like a dagger.

 
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