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       Enders, p.5

           Lissa Price
 
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  I squared my jaw. “I’m not going to leave them.”

  “Your mountain cabin would be safe for them,” he said.

  He reached in his pocket and pulled out a package of mint strips. He popped one in his mouth and then looked embarrassed. “Sorry, would you like one?”

  I took the mint strip and it melted quickly on my tongue.

  “But he accessed me there, at the cabin.”

  Hyden squinted. “He knew your chip identification number, which makes it easier to access you. It’s a unique number. But he lost the other chip numbers when Prime was shut down.”

  “So how did he hijack Reece?”

  “He found her on a scan.”

  “Just a random scan?” I said.

  “He’s looking for Metal. I can do that, but it takes time.”

  “A Metal detector?” I pictured something I’d seen in an old movie.

  “A very sophisticated one,” he said. “So now that you believe what I’m saying, that the Old Man is really my father, and you understand more about how this all works, you’re ready to hear the next part.”

  I waited to see what could possibly be next. “Tell me.”

  “I’ve already arranged for Michael and Tyler to be delivered to the mountain chalet.”

  “You what?”

  “And Eugenia.” He looked at his watch. “They should be there now.”

  I was about to ask him more, when I started to feel sleepy. I leaned against his SUV.

  “You okay?”

  I nodded. “I’m fine. Just really tired.”

  He opened the passenger door and I climbed in. I settled back in the seat and felt like I could sleep for a … hundred … years. …

  CHAPTER FIVE

  I was having a dream: I was in our house. It was before Tyler was born. My dad and I were huddling on the couch with a blanket over our legs. I could smell the buttery popcorn my mom was making in the kitchen. We’d ordered up a vintage movie on the airscreen, an old Western.

  My dad laughed his warm laugh at how the gunslingers were mishandling their guns.

  “That’s all wrong,” he said.

  All of a sudden, a gun appeared in his hand. He wrapped my hands around the gun and pointed it at the airscreen.

  “Hold it like that, see?” he said.

  I wrapped my tiny fingers around the big, heavy gun. When I pulled on the trigger, the airscreen actor fell back, shot.

  “I killed him, Daddy!” I cried. “I killed him.”

  My father laughed.

  I woke up with a dry mouth, in the SUV, rocking to the movement as Hyden drove the freeway. Below us, in the distance, the city lights sparkled.

  “Hey, have a good nap?” Hyden asked, taking his eyes off the road for only a second.

  “I was so sleepy,” I murmured, stretching my arms.

  “All the excitement must’ve gotten to you.”

  He exited the freeway. I didn’t recognize the area. Industrial. Seas of empty asphalt surrounded silent warehouse buildings. We entered the driveway of one of them.

  “Where are we?” I asked, still groggy.

  “My lab.”

  I felt so tired. What had we been talking about before I dozed off ?

  Hyden drove behind a boxlike, windowless building, then pulled up close to a metal panel. A red laser beam scanned his license plate. Then the panel rose, revealing an orderly garage. No bikes or toys stored there, just some strange tools and a few metal containers. He drove in, and the panel shut behind us.

  Hyden turned off the engine and I reached for my door handle.

  “Wait,” he said. “Don’t move.”

  “Why?”

  “Let me check it out first.”

  “But this is your lab, your home, right?” I asked.

  “My safe house.”

  Hyden got out and examined every corner of the garage, holding a device and running it over the walls and behind each container. I figured he was looking for electronic bugs. I noticed a heat sensor panel on the wall showing Hyden’s body as a moving red blotch. His was the only one, but still he checked everywhere, looking up, down. He couldn’t have been more thorough.

  He went to an old-fashioned communication system on the wall and pressed a button. After talking into the speaker, he came back.

  “Okay,” Hyden said. “You can get out now.”

  He watched over me as I exited the SUV, then led me to a thick metal door and pressed some numbers on a pad on the wall. An elevator door slid open with a heavy grinding sound, like a sliding stone revealing a portal to a magic lair.

  As we rode down, the air grew colder, making me more alert. I wasn’t particularly claustrophobic, but the idea of going so far below ground level seemed wrong. Unnatural.

  Hyden must have read my face, because he gave me a small reassuring smile.

  The elevator door opened up to a corridor. From there, Hyden opened a metal door that led to a large, darkened tech lab. Small lights illuminated various spots, giving the space the effect of a museum exhibit. Airscreens dominated every corner, and strange components filled the room, some hanging from the ceiling—twisted bits of metal, thin, glistening strands of poly-tubing with colored specks moving through them. When I examined them more closely, I saw that the specks were tiny geometric shapes with moving parts. It was geek heaven.

  Across the room, hunched over a desk, a man with long, wild white hair kept his back to us as we approached. Could it … ? Could it be him?

  “I brought someone,” Hyden said to him.

  The Ender turned around. Even in the darkened space, I recognized him.

  “Redmond!” I shouted.

  I rushed up and hugged him. No sooner had I done it than I felt the awkwardness of it. He was an Ender who wasn’t even related to me, and I felt more for him than I was sure he felt for me. Embracing him just made me ache for my father. I pulled away.

  “Callie,” he said with his clipped British accent. “That’s a much better greeting than the last time, when you held a gun to my head.”

  I felt my cheeks redden.

  “No hard feelings,” he said.

  “I thought the Old Man had you captive,” I said.

  Redmond looked at Hyden. “Hyden came to me, explained what he was doing, and I signed up. The paycheck is rather good, and I can’t say I mind working for a genius.”

  Hyden shrugged in a halfhearted attempt at humility.

  “But if the Old Man didn’t take you, who burned down your lab?” I asked Redmond.

  “I did,” Redmond said. “We didn’t want to leave anything behind.”

  I thought about the safe where he had indeed left something for me—the special key drive that detailed how he had adapted my chip. I didn’t know if he’d ever told Hyden about it, but there was no reason to bring it up. It was more of a backup in case anything happened to Redmond. And he was fine.

  “So you’ve been working together. What can you do now?” I asked. “You can’t remove the chip?” Even though Hyden had already told me, I had to ask.

  He shook his head. “No. I haven’t made much progress there.”

  I knew he was going to say that. But the chance that we could get it out of me and Michael and my brother …

  Suddenly I remembered Hyden saying something about the chip and my brother before I fell asleep. I turned to face him.

  “What was that you said about everyone going to the cabin? My brother, Michael, Eugenia?”

  “Ernie, my bodyguard, made sure they got there safely,” Hyden said.

  “They’re safer there, at that altitude,” Redmond said. “He can’t access a chip there that he can’t identify.”

  Redmond’s level of comfort with this plan reassured me … somewhat.

  “Like the way they say phone reception used to be?” I asked.

  “Very much so,” Redmond said.

  “There was no time to discuss it with you,” Hyden said. “Once I saw that my father could blow up the chips, I h
ad to move to protect your family.”

  My brother. So far away in the mountains. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

  “I know. I’m really sorry about that. But I’ve rigged up something for you.” Hyden brought me over to an airscreen. “We can’t risk this again—the fewer signal links, the better. But I knew you’d want to see for yourself. So we’re doing this once.”

  He pulled up a chair in front of the screen and I sat. He touched an icon and Tyler’s face appeared.

  “Tyler!” I leaned in closer to the screen.

  “Monkey-Face!” Tyler grinned.

  I recognized the weavings behind him from the family room of the chalet. “You look so good. Everything okay?”

  “We had ice cream sundaes for dessert tonight.”

  “It’s really late. You should be in bed.”

  Michael joined him on the screen. “I let him stay up to see you.”

  “So everyone’s all right there? Eugenia too?”

  “We’re all fine,” Michael said. “Now.”

  “What do you mean, ‘now’?”

  “Well, it was weird,” Michael said. “One minute we were at home, and the next moment we woke up at the cabin. None of us can remember coming here. This guy, Ernie, shows up—”

  “You tackled him,” Tyler said.

  “What would you do when a strange guy shows up—”

  “A Middle!” Tyler bounced up and down.

  “Don’t interrupt,” I said softly

  Michael continued, “He explained to us why we’re safer, but never how we got here.”

  “We were kidnapped,” Tyler said in that half-joking, half-truthful way that only kids can pull off.

  I glared at Hyden standing beside me. He shrugged as if to say it had been the only way. Then he motioned to his watch to remind me to wrap it up.

  “I have to go. But you do what Michael tells you, okay?”

  “Okay, Callie. You come join us soon,” Tyler said.

  Michael looked serious. “Be good.”

  “Be careful,” I said.

  The screen went blank as their images faded into pixels.

  “Sorry it couldn’t be longer,” Hyden said, nodding to the airscreen. “But we can’t risk any interceptions.”

  I stood and faced him. He stepped back.

  “So you drugged my family?” I said.

  “Ernie probably gave them a light sedative so they wouldn’t panic. He had to get them out of the house fast, don’t forget.”

  I felt my face get hot. “That’s what you did to me. That mint strip. I never fall asleep in cars.”

  “Today was a rough day,” he said. “We had to get you all to places of safety. And we did that. Tyler is safe there. You’re safe here.”

  “Don’t ever do that to me again.” I clenched my fists at my sides. “Or to my family. Just try talking to me next time.”

  “Okay,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

  His shoulders lowered. If he wasn’t truly sorry, then he was a pretty good actor. I focused on the blank screen. I wanted to go back to that good feeling of seeing Tyler’s face again, smiling. I had hated the chips for a million reasons before, but now it was worse. Now they were responsible for keeping us apart.

  “Why can’t you take me there?” I asked.

  “They’re safer without you,” Hyden said. “You’re the one he wants.”

  “How many times do I have to say goodbye?” I stared at the airscreen, willing it to come on again.

  Hyden was silent for a moment. “It’s late. You must be tired.”

  I rubbed my face. “Where do I sleep?”

  He showed me the section with the living quarters, which were surprisingly modest. My room, like the others, looked like a dorm room. Really small, with just the basics. A tiny desk and bathroom.

  “It’s not fancy,” Hyden said. “I put all the money into the technology. And I try to keep moving for security reasons.”

  “That’s got to be hard.”

  “You know what it’s like,” he said. “Running from place to place.”

  Images from the past year flashed through my mind—sleeping bags on floors, overturned desks, running from marshals.

  “How many Metals do you think there are?” I asked.

  “I’m guessing my father has close to fifty. So there’s about another fifty out there somewhere.”

  “Have you heard of a Starter named Emma?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t think so. No. She someone you’re looking for? Or avoiding?”

  “She’s Helena’s granddaughter. I promised I’d find her.”

  “I understand,” he said, hands in pockets. “You just have to realize, not everyone wants to be found.”

  That night I dreamt I was standing in a field alone at night, with tall grass up to my waist. One tree stood in front of me. A red tree.

  The Old Man walked out from behind the tree. The pixels on his mask danced and chased each other, glowing blue and giving off that slight buzzing sound.

  “Callie. Where have you been?” he said in his raspy electronic voice. “I’ve missed you.”

  “I thought you were gone,” I said.

  “I’m right here, Callie. You know that. I’ll never leave.”

  He approached. I backed up. Hyden rose from the tall grass underneath the tree. I thought he was going to help me. But he stood beside his father, walking toward me.

  “We’ll never leave,” Hyden said.

  As they got closer, all I could see were the blue pixels.

  CHAPTER SIX

  When I woke up, it took a moment to remember that I was at Hyden’s place. My head hurt. It could have been whatever Hyden used to sedate me. Or it might have been my chip. I blamed a lot of things on my chip these days. Anything that messed with your head that much had to have side effects.

  I went into the cramped bathroom, showering quickly because I wanted to go find Redmond. Alone.

  But when I went into the main lab, Redmond wasn’t there. Hyden stood at an airscreen, his sleeves rolled up, punching in codes. Before I could duck back out, he spotted me and waved me over. Surrounding him was a magical clutter of weird plasmas, elements that looked like bundles of tiny threads, the ends floating in the air. Liquids moved through invisible tubes.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  “I’m working on a blocker for you,” he said.

  “So my chip can’t be tracked?”

  “Don’t get too excited. It could take a while.” He stepped away from the airscreen.

  “Redmond made a temporary one for me.” I felt the back of my head. “It’s still there, it just doesn’t work.”

  I thought about my dream last night. How could I trust the son of the Old Man? My mom used to quote an expression, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Hyden clearly had the technical genius of his father. But what else did he have?

  He gave me a curious look. “Do I make you nervous?”

  I shrugged. Was I that easy to read?

  “I know,” he said. “You woke up thinking, what am I doing with the Old Man’s son?” He wiggled his fingers in a spooky motion. “Just because my father is a monster doesn’t mean I am. In fact, I know exactly what I don’t want to be, because of him.”

  “And sons never turn out to be a lot like their dads?”

  “Well, you’ll just have to watch me to make sure I don’t go to the dark side.” He ran his hand through his hair and stared at his airscreen. “I’ve been working twenty-four-seven to try and stop him.”

  Hyden had to feel responsible. Because he was. He was the one who’d come up with the technology.

  “And now we’re running out of time,” he said. “He escalated everything with that bombing.”

  I stared at one of the tubes near him. A rainbow of colors flowed through it.

  “Wasn’t it a waste for him to destroy a Metal?” I asked. “He can’t make any more.”

  “It was worth it to him to ge
t you. Which he almost did.”

  I turned at the same time he did and accidentally brushed his bare arm with my hand. Hyden recoiled, held his arm, and squeezed his eyes shut as if to will away the pain.

  “Are you okay?” I remembered the way he’d reacted at the parking garage.

  He sucked in a breath. “It’s nothing.”

  But it obviously was something. He opened his eyes. A flush of embarrassment came over his cheeks.

  “Don’t worry about it,” he said, not making eye contact.

  “I didn’t mean to,” I said. “What’s wrong, Hyden? What happened to you?”

  He looked at me as if he wanted to explain but couldn’t find the words.

  “I have to go. Sorry,” Hyden said over his shoulder as he left.

  The sterile lab was empty. I went into the hall, wondering where else a scientist would be. Then I smelled coffee. I followed the smell, and it led me to the kitchen.

  It was a utilitarian, almost industrial kitchen, very basic, but large. Redmond stood with his back to me, brewing coffee. “Hello, Callie,” he said without turning.

  “How did you know it was me?”

  “Your footsteps are much lighter than Hyden’s or Ernie’s. And I knew you’d come looking for me.” He turned and smiled. “Want some?” He raised the coffee carafe.

  “Sure.” I looked at the counter and saw various cereals in glass jars. “I thought you Brits only drank tea.”

  I took a cup and stirred in some milk.

  He put his finger to his lips. “Shh. Don’t tell the queen,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “So I hear you’re living in Helena’s house?”

  “She left it to me. Half of it. The other half goes to Helena’s granddaughter. Once I find her.”

  “I know Emma. Met her several times. And her mother.” He looked down.

  “I’m sorry.” I sipped my coffee.

  Emma’s mother—Helena’s daughter—would have been a Middle, of course. Whenever anyone spoke of Middles, it brought up the sadness. I didn’t know her. Whether Redmond had known her well or not, anytime the conversation went to losing a Middle, it brought on the memories of all the Middles you’d lost. It would just make both of us sad. I wasn’t going to let him go down that path.

 
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