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       Enders, p.6

           Lissa Price
 
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  “What’s Emma like?” I asked.

  “All the ladies in that family are stubborn and opinionated. Must be in their genes. Especially Emma. Thought she knew how to fix the world. Typical Starter, as you call them.”

  “If you see her, will you tell her about her grandmother? And her inheritance.”

  “If I do, I’ll tell her.” He stared at his coffee. “What’s it like living in Helena’s house?”

  “Beautiful. Feels like she’s still there.”

  “She was quite a gal,” he said. “She wanted to save the Starters. If only she had known that the man she hated the most had a son, a Starter who shared her goal.”

  I thought about Hyden. He was so complicated.

  “What’s wrong with his arm?” I asked. “Do you know?”

  “His arm? You mean his whole body, don’t you?”

  I was totally confused.

  “I should let him explain it to you,” he said.

  “Was he injured?”

  “Just don’t touch him and you’ll be all right. Once I accidentally brushed his hand. It took a week before he relaxed around me again.”

  “And he trusts you?”

  “As much as he trusts anyone.”

  That reminded me of his father’s warning.

  “Do you know his father?” I asked.

  “I know of him. And what he wants to do. If he can get ahold of the full technology, he’ll have no qualms about selling it to the highest bidder—a terrorist regime or worse. And that’s why I’ll put up with living like a gopher.”

  “Can’t we just reclaim it? Get the rest of the Metals and find a way to eventually remove or nullify the chips?”

  “We can’t take it back. We need to work on countermeasures.”

  “Why not just give it to the government and let them work on it?”

  “Hyden doesn’t trust them. I’m not sure I do either. It’s an outrage, locking up homeless Starters in institutions.”

  I saw his point.

  “Redmond, for someone to connect to my chip, they’d have to have access to the technology. But only Hyden and his father have it, right?”

  “Far as I know.”

  I thought about the voice that had sounded like my father. Where would he have gotten access to the technology to get in my head anyway? One more reason it couldn’t have been my father.

  When I found Hyden later, studying a pad in his tech lab, I asked if we could talk. He was working with equations I couldn’t decipher. Redmond was on the other side of the lab.

  Hyden got up and walked me to a conference room. We sat at chairs around a table. A fat, leafy plant decorated the middle of the table, with a grow light aimed on it.

  “This space is perfect for thinking. And private conversations,” he said. He opened a drawer under the table and pulled out two Supertruffles. “You look like you could use one of these.”

  He tossed me one, making sure we didn’t touch.

  “What did you want to talk about?” he asked as he unwrapped his Supertruffle.

  “Don’t worry, it’s not about you.” I fiddled with my Supertruffle. “Your father pretended to be my father.”

  “He did? When?”

  “The day of Prime’s demolition. He sounded just like him. Even knew our personal code phrase.”

  “I wouldn’t put anything past him. It’s not hard to create a voice. He just needed to find a sample on the Pages and then extrapolate from that. I’m sure your father had a voice sample on his Page, right? Everyone does.”

  Images of my dad fishing, talking to the camera, flashed through my memory. Only the oldest Enders didn’t believe in documenting some part of their lives for everyone to access.

  “Of course,” I said.

  “He used his voice to get to you.” Hyden thought for a moment. “What did your father do?”

  “Inventor. He was part of the team that invented the handlite.” I unwrapped my Supertruffle.

  Hyden leaned forward in his chair. “The handlite? That’s huge. What else did he work on?”

  “I don’t know. He didn’t talk about his work much. If we asked, he would joke, say it was too boring to be of any interest. And then he’d talk about holos or old films. He loved those.” I took a deep breath. “He never knew his parents,” I said. “And my mother lost hers to a car accident. Then she had me in her thirties. But the spores took her.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  I shrugged. “You just never know, do you?”

  An image of my mother rose in my mind, and I suddenly felt exhausted and on the verge of tears. The chocolate tasted bitter in my mouth.

  “I saw the spore fall on her arm,” I said softly. “My world stopped that day.”

  “I know,” he said.

  For a moment, his eyes locked onto mine. I knew he wanted to comfort me. This was the kind of moment where any normal person would touch your shoulder or offer a hug. But not Hyden. I swallowed hard and tried to change the subject.

  “Do you hate Enders?” I asked. “Except for Redmond, of course.”

  “I don’t hate all of them, just the ones who make the rules, who set the laws that say Starters can’t work and have to be locked up in institutions. Didn’t they see they were giving Starters no way out?” He shook his head. “You must hate them too. Look at what they’ve done to you. Killed your parents, forced you out on the streets.”

  “I don’t hate all of them.” I rolled the wrapper in my hands into a ball. “Some of them … I know they were scared too. They saw themselves getting older with no income to support themselves. They needed those jobs.”

  He finished his Supertruffle and rubbed his hands to wipe off the crumbs. “What do you want, Callie Woodland?”

  “I want my family back.”

  “Can’t have it, sorry. You have to make a new family out of what you have left,” he said. “We all do. You’re lucky you’ve got your brother.”

  Tyler. He was the one person who could make me stop obsessing over the voice.

  “I want him to have real peace,” I said. “A safe home where he won’t have to worry about being kidnapped by your father, by anybody. I want the chip out of his head. That would be a start.”

  “I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do that.” He looked down. “Maybe you’ll settle for just feeling safe a day at a time?”

  “No. I won’t be happy until I know he and I are no longer Metals.”

  Hyden’s eyes told me he didn’t think that was possible.

  “What, you think we can’t have that?” I asked.

  “I didn’t say anything,” he said.

  “You don’t know what it’s like, to feel this foreign object in your head that someone as vile as your father can invade. It’s something I live with every minute of the day. Sometimes I want it out so bad I think I’ll do it myself.”

  “Callie,” he said, “you don’t mean that.”

  “I want to have someone try to remove it.”

  Hyden shook his head. “We’ve never been able to successfully remove a chip. Not that Redmond’s tried with humans, but he did with lab animals. And we lost every one.”

  “Don’t tell me that.” I took the chocolate wrapper I’d been holding and flung it into a trash can. “I need to believe that someday this will be out of Tyler and me. That we’ll be free from him. I’m sure I’m not the only Metal who feels this way.”

  I looked at the green plant on the table and realized my vision was going blurry again.

  “Callie?” Hyden said.

  His voice seemed very far away.

  Helena’s memory this time was in Prime Destinations. Images of donor girls, with words—“skier,” “snowboarder,” “ballet dancer”—flashing around them. The voice of Tinnenbaum, the master salesman, selling her on their skills. A rush of feeling from Helena.

  Those happy faces—No idea what they’re getting into—Save them!

  “Callie?”

  The memory faded. But Helena’s
sense of purpose lingered. I knew what we had to do.

  “We should go find the other Metals,” I said.

  Hyden stared at me like I was speaking a foreign language. I looked back at the plant on the conference table. Everything was now crystal clear.

  “We need to find the other Metals, the donors that your father created,” I said. “And keep them safe.”

  “Where?” He looked around the room. “Here?”

  “Where else? It’s big, it’s underground. These will be Metals that your father can’t get, can’t blow up or use in other ways. Until you and Redmond can develop a way to block your father completely, this makes the most sense.”

  Hyden folded his hands behind his head and gazed at the ceiling. “I guess we have the space. We could get more furniture.”

  “You said you could scan for them. Show me how.”

  We entered the lab. Redmond was still working on the other side. Hyden went right to his airscreen, and began plucking the icons. A grid appeared over a map of greater Los Angeles.

  He squinted at the image and changed the view, looking at different sections. Finally, he stopped and locked on the grid. A red dot pulsed.

  “What’s that?” I asked.

  “That could be a Metal.”

  “It’s not very far away,” I said. “We could go find out in person.”

  “Wait, we’re going to jump in without a plan? How can I trust this random Metal?” he asked. “Bringing them in here, with all my research?”

  “Any Metal out there is like me, right? They don’t know what to do with your research and they don’t care. But if you’re worried, there’s a lock on your lab. Use it.”

  I could see he still had his doubts.

  “What if you had found Reece before your father did?” I asked. “She’d still be alive. I think that’s worth any imagined risk.”

  Hyden rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know, Callie. We’d need help.”

  “You said your father was doing this, collecting the Metals,” I pressed. “Don’t you want to beat him at his own game?”

  I saw his eyes narrow. That got him. He pulled out his cell phone and sent a Zing to someone. In less than a minute, a man appeared in the doorway of the lab.

  “Callie, this is Ernie,” Hyden said.

  Ernie commanded attention, with his smooth, dark skin and muscles that threatened to burst out of his expensive suit. But his most unusual feature was the thick black hair that covered his head. It was a rare sight on an adult.

  He was a Middle.

  He extended his hand. I was still staring at that hair. I caught myself and shook his hand.

  “You’re the one who took Tyler to the cabin?” I asked.

  “And the other two, yes.”

  “So you live here too?” I asked, thinking of his quick appearance after Hyden’s Zing.

  “He does. He’s my full-time bodyguard and an all-around good guy.” He turned to Ernie. “Callie wants to find more Metals. So we’re going to try.”

  “I’ll go prepare the car,” Ernie said.

  He gave me a polite nod and left.

  “He’s a Middle,” I whispered.

  “Yeah, very valuable,” Hyden said softly.

  I wondered how a Middle bodyguard could have afforded the vaccine.

  CHAPTER SEVEN

  I sat in the passenger seat of Hyden’s special SUV, and Ernie rode in back. Hyden pressed a button, and a massive airscreen came up between him and the dash. A grid of the area filled the space.

  I looked around. “Where’s the computer for that?”

  Ernie popped the console between us. It looked like he’d opened up a service bot, there were so many parts inside.

  “I have another one in the back,” Hyden said. “You can never have too many computers.”

  The airscreen had everything: depth, dimensionality, and animation. Hyden reached in, plucked out a hidden page, and pulled it to the front.

  “How can you scan when we’re in here?” I asked. “Isn’t it blocked?”

  “Blocked from incoming signals. I raised the antennae to extend our reach.”

  “Where’s the red dot now?” I asked.

  “Long gone,” Hyden said. “But there’s got to be another one nearby.”

  I saw a black dot pulsing on the grid. It moved as we did, so I figured that was the marker for us. I watched the screen for any sign of a red dot.

  “How long will it take?” I asked.

  “I’m guessing it could be a lot like fishing,” Ernie said. “Ever been fishing?”

  “Yeah, I have.” I thought about those times with my dad.

  “Then you know. It could take all day.” He stretched out the “all” to make it sound like an eternity.

  We drove on the freeways for half an hour with no sighting on the grid. Ernie saw a city sign and suggested we exit. He said this zone had a reputation for being a little wilder, and he just had a feeling about it. Not long after we got off the freeway, a blinking red dot appeared.

  Ernie pointed to the grid. “Chip alert.”

  Hyden zoomed in on the screen. “Okay, Metal, just stay there until we can get to you.”

  “How far away are we?” I asked.

  “About fifteen minutes—if that dot stays in one place.”

  I kept my eye on the screen. The red dot held steady. We drove a couple of miles on city streets. A group of protesters was holding signs near a government building. There were Enders and Starters, waving signs at cars. One read Bring Back the Red Cross, referring to one of the many charities that had lost its funding in hard times. Charities that would have helped unclaimed Starters.

  I agreed with them, but they didn’t know that. They just saw a big, expensive SUV, and they shouted at us as we drove past.

  Hyden looked at the grid. “We’re almost there.”

  He drove a few more blocks, and I watched our black dot get closer to the red dot.

  “Look around, the Metal could be here,” Hyden said as he turned the corner.

  The two dots overlapped. Ernie spotted her first. A Starter sitting on a bus bench. Asian, with short hair.

  “That’s her,” I said. “The pretty one with black hair.”

  “The perfectly pretty one with zero physical imperfections,” Hyden said.

  She stood, as if tired of waiting for the bus, and started walking.

  “You’re sure she’s the one?” I asked.

  “Only one way to find out,” Ernie said.

  Hyden pulled over to park ahead of the girl as she walked toward us.

  Several blue lights flashed on the computer. It reminded me of Redmond’s monitor back at his old lab, the one that showed my chip.

  “Go, Ernie,” Hyden said. “Cover her eyes!”

  “Wasn’t I supposed to persuade her?” I said.

  Ernie had his hand on the door. “You want to talk to her?”

  “No,” Hyden said. “We don’t want to lose her.”

  As the petite girl passed our car, Ernie jumped out and lunged for her. But she spotted him. Her face registered alarm but she wasn’t intimidated. She leapt straight up into the air to get away from him, then did a somersault midair and landed on a thick wall. She ran along it until she came to the end; then she leapt off and reached for a tree branch. She swung out and landed on a table at an outdoor café, sending cups flying and patrons scattering.

  Ernie tried to chase her, but she was outsmarting him. He couldn’t seem to anticipate her next move. She went right, he went left.

  I watched it all from the car window. “This is not how I thought it would go.”

  “At least we know her body’s not being hijacked. She’s too good, too smooth,” Hyden said. “That’s all her.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You saw—Reece had the jerky movements.”

  “The Old Man used to be able to hijack people perfectly.”

  “Under perfect circumstances. Here, he has no cooperation of the do
nor body. It’s not like he’s in the Prime lab, setting up both donor and renter. His first-access signal from a distance has far less control.”

  I nodded, even though I wasn’t positive I understood. I turned my attention back to Ernie. Finally, he anticipated the girl’s move correctly. As she leapt out, hoping to catch a store’s awning to get away, he caught her in his arms on the upswing instead.

  “He’s got her,” I said.

  Hyden unlocked the back panel door and raised it with a button so all Ernie had to do was throw the kicking, biting, screaming Metal in the back. He kept one hand over her eyes, then climbed in after her. She stopped screaming, but I was afraid she would tear his eyes out, because she reached for him as he slammed the back door. But in one quick move, he put his hand to her neck and she froze. Her eyes became glassy; then she slumped down as if she’d suddenly fallen asleep.

  “She okay?” Hyden yelled back to Ernie.

  “Out like a baby,” he said.

  I saw Ernie held a tiny disc in his palm. He slipped it into a pocket as Hyden drove us away.

  “Why cover her eyes?” I asked.

  “In case she was being hijacked,” Hyden said. “But she wasn’t.”

  “If I’d had time, I would’ve blindfolded her,” Ernie said. “But she was hopping around like a bunny rabbit with its tail on fire.”

  Ernie sat beside her body in the back cargo area.

  “Is she going to be all right?” I asked, staring at her shiny black hair.

  “Sleeping Beauty will wake up,” Ernie said. “Eventually.”

  CHAPTER EIGHT

  By the time we got to Hyden’s place, the Metal Ernie had captured lay in the back, gently rocking to the car’s movement. It was hard to believe this was the same girl who just an hour ago had been leaping through the air and clawing at Ernie like a wildcat. I wondered what she’d be like when she woke up.

  “Wouldn’t it have been better if she came of her own free will?” I asked. “Now she’s going to be angry.”

  “You wanted her, we got her,” Ernie said.

  Hyden gave me an apologetic look as he pulled into the garage. Ernie got out, holding his gun close to his chest. He checked the place over just as Hyden had before. Then he pressed the button on the wall.

 
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