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       Enders, p.4

           Lissa Price
 
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  You don’t have to be afraid, Callie. I’m not going to hurt you. I need you.

  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it made the hairs stand up on the backs of my arms. How could I get out of this? I couldn’t go to a marshal, couldn’t call Lauren or the senator. Anything I did, he would see. Anything I said, he could hear.

  I couldn’t even warn Michael. Not that he could hide anywhere.

  The freeway on-ramp came into my view. I passed it by, thinking that the longer I was in the car, the more chance I had to somehow avoid the unavoidable. I hated being the Old Man’s puppet from a distance, but I was terrified of being under his control in person. The times I had been close to him at the institution, he had scared me more than anyone I’d ever known. That mask with the electronic buzz that crackled—I often had nightmares where I was alone with him in the dark and all I could hear was that sound.

  And yet he was also capable of being inside Blake and acting smooth and charming. How was that even possible? How do you disguise that much evil? He has no soul, no heart. I should have been able to tell when he was in Blake. How did I miss it?

  I see where you are, you know. You should have taken the freeway.

  “You’re getting what you want. I’m coming to you,” I said. “And you want to tell me how to drive?”

  It was all put on so he wouldn’t see how afraid I was. Inside, my stomach ached.

  “So how do you access our chips anyway?”

  You’ll see soon enough.

  I thought back on all his cruel acts. “Did you kill Helena yourself ? Or just watch?”

  Someone else killed her.

  “Who?”

  It doesn’t matter. They work for me.

  “You killed Reece.” My mind flashed back on the bombing. “You hurt a lot of people in the mall. Grandmothers. Children. Some were injured badly. They were in pain.”

  I had to demonstrate my power to you. They were just casualties of war.

  “Whose war? You against everyone? Starters, Enders, everyone?”

  Now you finally understand me.

  I drove in silence. I couldn’t take him anymore. I didn’t want to hear his creepy voice in my head. After a while, I approached the cross streets he had given me. I was already there, in Hollywood, near the hills. My heart started beating faster. No, it couldn’t be. I thought somehow I’d find a way out of this.

  Do I cause an accident? Run away?

  Don’t try anything. Remember why you are doing this. For Michael and Tyler.

  It was like he could read my mind—which of course he couldn’t. But he knew what he held over me.

  “Which way?”

  Up the hill.

  I turned around the curve of the road and had to slam on my brakes.

  A strange vehicle blocked my way. It looked like a cross between an SUV and a tank, and it was stopped in the middle of the narrow street, facing me. I couldn’t see the driver: the windows were tinted. The whole thing was steel gray.

  “What is that?” I asked.

  But before I could hear an answer, or do anything, the SUV door opened and a guy ran out. He wore black clothing, gloves, and a ski mask that covered his face.

  I jammed my finger on the button and locked my doors. He held something shiny in his fist and aimed it at my car. CLICK. My doors unlocked.

  What happened next came in flashes. Black clothing against my window—my door yanked open—a black bag thrown over my head.

  Before I knew it, my hands were cuffed behind my back. I resisted as best I could, kicking and screaming, but the bag muffled my voice. It was hot and so heavy it had to be made of metal.

  The man pulled me out of the car and carried me to what I figured was his SUV. I was tossed onto the seat. I heard the door slam, then footsteps, then him getting into the driver’s seat and shutting that door.

  As the car started to move, I soon heard scraping. He must have been forcing his SUV past my car. It didn’t really matter anymore.

  “Please take this bag off,” I said. “I can’t breathe.”

  “Just hold on.”

  I was surprised to discover his voice sounded really young, like my age. Like a Starter. It seemed strange the Old Man would send a Starter to get me.

  We drove in silence. Of course the Old Man wouldn’t give me his address. He just wanted to get me close enough so he could be in charge. Take me someplace where I wouldn’t know the address—or maybe even the city.

  I felt the driver reach over and tug at the Velcro at the base of the bag. He pulled the bag off my head. The tinted windows kept the car dark, but I saw that he had removed his ski mask. I could make out the outline of his face, his cheekbone, jawline. And those piercing eyes.

  It was the Starter who had protected me from the explosion.

  I’d never forget those eyes. He was good-looking in such an intense way, it almost scared me.

  “Can you remove the cuffs now?” I asked.

  “Not until I’m sure you understand.”

  “Understand what?”

  “That I’m not going to hurt you.”

  “You pushed me out of the way just before the explosion.”

  He didn’t deny it. It made no sense. First he saves my life; then he kidnaps me? Was he sent by the Old Man to retrieve me or not?

  “My name’s Hyden.”

  “Like the composer.”

  “Just spelled differently.”

  I noticed weapons of all types hugging the walls and ceiling. They fit into special slots, cut to accommodate them perfectly. A shiver ran up my back.

  He pulled over to the curb but left the car running. “Lean forward.”

  I hesitated, then cooperated.

  “Don’t move.” He pulled out a knife.

  He used it to cut through my plexi-cuffs. Managed to do it without even touching me.

  While he was busy putting his knife away, I went right to my door handle to make my escape. But it was locked.

  “Hey, you said you trusted me,” he said.

  “I never said that. I said I understood you weren’t going to hurt me. Now open the door.”

  “You really don’t want to go out there.”

  “I have to go. If I don’t, my brother and a friend will be killed.”

  “By the Old Man? He said that?”

  “So you know who he is.”

  I wondered if he was a Metal. I scanned his face. He looked perfect. Well, maybe not exactly. He had a few flaws, some tiny scars.

  “I know who he is, how he thinks. I know exactly what he’s capable of. I know him better than anyone else.”

  What he was saying was outrageous. How could he know the Old Man so well?

  “Better than anyone else?” I asked. “A man who always wears a mask? How?” I stayed close to my door.

  He leaned forward and said words that seemed painful to get out, as if he’d never said them before.

  “Because I’m his son.”

  CHAPTER FOUR

  My eyes locked on Hyden’s as we sat there in his SUV. Was he going to break into a grin and say he was joking? Was he lying? Or crazy?

  His expression never wavered. I sucked in a breath of air.

  He was serious.

  “I know him better than anybody,” he said. “And I hate him.”

  He stared at me with those eyes. I saw a flash of pain behind them. But was that real or faked?

  “He’s your father?” I struggled to make my voice sound even. If he was crazy, I didn’t want to anger him.

  He took a deep breath, then exhaled. “Yes.”

  “He can’t be.” My mind whirled. “He’s an Ender. More like your grandfather.”

  “He wore a disguise.”

  “His white hair—”

  “Wig. Didn’t you wonder why he always wore all that clothing, even indoors?”

  “We were told he had a condition. That he was always cold.”

  “More like coldhearted. Condition?” He shook his head. “That li
e was just his cover.”

  This was too much for me to accept. “So you’re saying he’s your father and he’s actually a Middle?”

  “That’s right.”

  “Then how come he’s alive?”

  “Black market vaccine.”

  I’d heard of Middles doing that. You didn’t see them very often because they weren’t welcome on the street unless they were part of the privileged class that was allowed the vaccine—politicians, generals, scientists. Then there were the well-connected Middles with clout—holo stars and the überrich. Stars were forgiven, but the others were so resented that if they were caught in the wrong place without their bodyguards, they had a habit of turning up dead.

  “Must have been really expensive,” I said.

  “Cost him half his fortune.”

  That was hard to believe. We were talking about a cruel, hard man. I doubted he’d given up so much. “What about your mother?”

  “Gone.”

  “Spores?”

  “Something else.” He looked so pained.

  I didn’t want to push and make him feel worse. I thought back on how my parents had argued over the vaccine. My mother wanted my father to use his connections to get the vaccine for them, so they could survive to take care of us. But he refused on principle, because he didn’t feel he should push ahead of Starters and Enders who were more vulnerable and should have the vaccine first. I admired that, but I also resented it.

  Hyden’s eyes glazed over. “My father’s evil. There’s no other way to say it.”

  I glanced out the window. Was he lying to me? It didn’t seem like it. “I don’t know what to believe. But the Old Man threatened my brother, Tyler, and my friend Michael. Said he’d blow them up. So you have to let me go.”

  An SUV pulled up and parked behind us.

  “I think that’s my father’s men now.” Hyden peeled off his gloves.

  “What’re you doing?”

  “Getting ready.” He dropped his left hand to the side of his seat.

  I hoped he wasn’t reaching for a gun.

  Two men cautiously emerged from their SUV and walked toward our car. They were Enders, their short white hair made whiter by the contrast with their black suits.

  “Callie Woodland?” one of them shouted. “It’s all right now. We’re here to help you.”

  “Let her go!” the other Ender shouted at Hyden.

  “Unlock my door,” I begged Hyden. “Let me go, please.”

  The Enders were almost at our windows. Hyden moved and I thought he was going to press the unlock button. But instead, he grabbed the steering wheel and pulled away from the curb.

  “No!” I screamed.

  I reached for the wheel but he yanked hard to the left, blocking it with his elbow. I turned and saw one of the Enders take a gun out of his jacket. He aimed it at my head. Everything stopped, my breath, my heart. The other Ender reached out and pushed his gun away. Then they bolted back to their car.

  “You want to turn yourself over to those guys?” Hyden said.

  I gulped a breath of air and watched as they pursued us in their car. “They’re coming.”

  Hyden made a sharp left turn.

  “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll make sure they can’t follow us.”

  He drove with purpose, making sudden sharp turns. He was an expert driver, and soon he lost them. Moments later, he pulled into an underground garage.

  “Where’re you taking me?”

  “Down where it’s safe.” He held his phone up to the entry gate to pay to admit us.

  The gate opened and we started our descent. We curved down, level after level. Once we had made it to the lowest level, he parked the SUV in a spot in the corner. This far down, we were the only vehicle.

  He turned off the engine.

  “I’m going to let you out, but you’ve got to listen to me. You can’t run away. There’s nowhere to run. Give me a chance to explain everything and you’ll see why the safest place to be is with me.”

  I was trapped down there in a garage with a Starter who said he was the son of the Old Man. Great.

  “Okay?” he asked.

  I nodded. He unlocked the doors and we got out. I looked for the exit. There was one door that led to the stairway, one that was a service door. And an elevator. Otherwise, there was the ramp we came down on.

  “Hey,” he said, leaning his back against the side of the SUV. “Remember our deal? You’re going to listen and give me a chance to explain.”

  I stood several feet away from him and also leaned against the SUV. One of the many things I learned from my year living on the streets was that mirroring a pose put a person at ease.

  What he was claiming, could it be? Why would anyone claim he was a blood relation to a monster unless it was true?

  To gain my trust.

  “So you ready to trust me? Enough to listen?” he said.

  “I don’t know who to believe anymore. I’ve been told not to trust anyone.”

  “Let me guess. My father told you that, right? I know. I know that he can communicate with you in your head.”

  Hair rose on the back of my neck.

  “So he said, ‘Trust no one but yourself, and then question that,’ right?” He folded his arms.

  The eerie feeling of having someone repeat words you heard inside your head … there was nothing quite like it. It was worse than if he had seen me naked. “How did you know?”

  “That’s exactly what he used to say to me,” he said. “He messed with my mind my whole life. He’s good at messing with heads.”

  “In more ways than one,” I said.

  So Hyden was the Old Man’s son.

  “We have to protect you from him. This is the safest thing for you.” He knocked on the side of his SUV.

  I looked it over. It was painted a matte gunmetal gray and was built low and heavy, like a squashed tank. I guessed that it was bulletproof. Maybe even bombproof.

  “Your car?” I asked.

  “My protection,” he said. “And now yours.”

  I was about to protest when we heard the hum of an engine. A car was coming down the ramp. I got closer to him and accidentally brushed his hand with mine.

  He sucked in air as if I’d burned him.

  “Sorry, did I … hurt you … ?” I asked.

  He pulled his arm close to his body, as if he was wounded. “No, it’s all right.”

  It was clear it wasn’t from the visible pain in his eyes. Even the edge in his voice betrayed him—he was lying. But there wasn’t time to pursue it because a vehicle entered our level, drawing our attention. It was a beat-up truck. As it passed us, I saw that the driver was an Ender wearing a scruffy green uniform. Maintenance man, maybe. He stared hard at us and parked his truck at the other end of the level.

  Hyden watched the maintenance man get out of his truck and walk toward the service door before he unlocked the van doors.

  “See this?” Hyden pointed to the thick walls of the vehicle. “It’s a blocker.” He knocked on the side of his door. “Lined with ti-steel.”

  “This must have cost a fortune,” I said.

  “How much is your life worth?” He looked directly at me.

  “I don’t know.”

  “You’re priceless to some people,” he said, looking away. He patted the side of the car. “When you’re in here, my father can’t access your chip.”

  Just hearing those words made me shiver. I was there, talking with the Old Man’s son. I never could have predicted this.

  “What does he want with me?” I asked.

  “You’re one of a kind. The only Metal whose chip has been altered so you can kill when someone’s occupying you. And you retain your consciousness. I’m sure he wants to study your chip.”

  “I’m happy to give it to him. I’d like nothing more than to get it out of my head.”

  Hyden looked at me with serious eyes. “If only it were that easy.”

  My stomach tightened.
r />   “There’s so much I have to explain,” Hyden said, “and it’s all going to sound weird.”

  “What’s not weird? Voices in my head, a chip that could explode, now you telling me the only way to be safe is to be in a tank lined with ti-steel for the rest of my life.”

  “Or very high up. Or deep enough underground, like here. That way my father’s scanning technology can’t access your signal.”

  “He accessed me when I was in my renter’s mountain cabin.”

  “I know. I’ve been able to follow him in the chiptalk airspace.”

  “What?”

  “It’s like this: sometimes I look for his signal trying to access Metals—I call it chipspace. And I work to block him.”

  “How do you know how to do that?”

  “Before I was born, my father—his name is Brockman—was working on developing a chip for mind-body transfers. Lots of other scientists were trying. My mother told me that when I was young, I’d wander into his lab and stare at the whiteboard. She said I was listening, absorbing. I don’t remember it. My father didn’t believe her. Then, as she told it, one summer day, before I could speak, I picked up a pen and figured out an equation that had been eluding him for days.”

  “Really?”

  “Maybe she was exaggerating.” He smiled. It was the first time I’d seen that.

  “From then on, he observed me, treating me like another research project. Eventually, I figured out how to make it all work. We developed it together but argued about how it should be used. I saw medical uses, but he of course chose to go for the money.”

  “Why didn’t he just sell it off, then, instead of building Prime?”

  “He needed Prime to raise capital to perfect it. Prime also publicized the tech to the top-level buyers.”

  “Like who?”

  “Foreign governments, terrorists.”

  “He’d be selling out his country.”

  “That’s the kind of man he is. He only cares about himself. That’s why you have to be in a safe location.”

  Something about the way Hyden said those words made me wonder. “You mean I can’t go back to my home?”

  “There’s no choice.”

  “But my brother, what about him? And Michael?”

  “First of all, they’ll be safer if they’re not with you. You’re the prize, the one he must have.”

 
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