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       Enders, p.8

           Lissa Price
 
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  “With Eugenia, at the cabin. He’s okay.”

  Hyden came closer to follow the conversation.

  “Why did you leave the mountain?” I said. “It was safe. No one could scan your chip.”

  At that Hyden shook his head. “Why’d he leave?” he muttered.

  “I remembered something,” Michael said. “Something that didn’t happen to me, but to my renter. I needed to get away from the house so my call wouldn’t be traced to it.”

  “What did you remember?” I asked.

  Hyden took the phone from me. “Don’t say any more,” he said to Michael. “We’ll come get you.”

  He pressed the off button and grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair. “Let’s bring him in.”

  When we got to what used to be the Flintridge library, we parked across the street. Sometime during the Spore Wars, the library had been closed and barricaded. A chain-link fence surrounded it.

  “I’ll go alone,” I said. “You stay.”

  “Callie.” Hyden put his hand on his door handle.

  “He knows me. He’s never even met you. And you aren’t even you right now,” I said, looking at Jeremy’s face. “I’ll just go get him and we’ll be right back.”

  I got out and climbed under a hole in the fence. A sea of encampments covered the parking lot. Tents filled with unclaimed Starters, some with down-and-out Enders who’d run out of their money decades ago.

  Living longer isn’t always the greatest thing.

  Some of the Starters stared at me. I didn’t look like them anymore. My clothes weren’t in tatters, and my face and hands were clean. I had no water bottle over my shoulder, no handlite. And I was no longer emaciated like them.

  I tried not to look scared, tried not to draw any more attention to myself as I scanned the crowd.

  Michael, where are you? Why aren’t you out front?

  I made one whole sweep of the parking lot and came back again. Someone touched my arm, asking for money. I started to open my purse and a swarm of people surrounded me. I felt clammy. This was not a smart decision.

  I was having trouble breathing. People grabbed at my arms, pulling me in different directions.

  “Please, stop,” I said.

  I threw down some bills. They scattered off in the wind and the crowd chased after, leaving me free to get away.

  As I made my way toward the car, I heard a familiar voice in my head.

  Cal Girl? Can you hear me? It’s Dad.

  I gasped. Don’t get excited, this could be the Old Man. “Yes, I hear you.” I stopped walking and concentrated.

  I’m alive. Don’t worry.

  It sounded just like him. But it had before too.

  Callie?

  “How do I know it’s really you?” My heart was pounding. “How can I tell?”

  Remember what I gave you for your tenth birthday? A red bicycle?

  I gasped. The bicycle with the big ribbon. “Where did you hide it?”

  In the laundry room. Behind the door.

  My heart leapt. It was him. “Where are you? I want to see you.”

  I know. I want to see you too. How’s Tyler?

  Tears formed in my eyes. “He’s fine. He misses you so much. He used to look at your holo every night, but then we lost it. …”

  It’s okay, Cal Girl.

  “Dad? How are you doing this? Reaching me this way?”

  Suddenly it was very quiet. I sensed the vacuum, the lack of any sound, emptiness. That awful disconnect that happened sometimes. He was gone. I was hollow inside, worse than when I was hungry and starving on the streets.

  I became aware of my surroundings again. Several people were standing in a semicircle behind me. They were sizing me up, this rich girl who talked to herself. Was I crazy and dangerous? Or someone they could attack?

  Now that I’d made eye contact, they moved in.

  I had to sprint to the car. Hyden saw me and opened the door. He reached out to hoist me up with Jeremy’s strong hand. I jumped in, and he screeched away before I could even close the door.

  “Where’s Michael?” he asked.

  “I don’t know, couldn’t find him.”

  I pulled the door shut. The people chasing us were a mix of Starters and Enders, all in tatters. They looked like monsters chasing our car, their faces contorted with anger.

  It didn’t take long to lose them. I wanted to tell Hyden about my father, but this was not the time.

  “Use your phone. Call him,” Hyden said. “It’s worth the risk, just do it!”

  I pulled out my phone and called his number. It rang and rang.

  “He’s not picking up.”

  The airscreen started to beep. We had a signal on the chip scanner.

  “Could that be him?” I asked, looking at the screen.

  “It’s toward the mountains,” he said.

  We drove a short distance, tracking the signal. Flintridge was in the foothills, so the terrain became mountainous quickly. The homes thinned out, giving way to stretches of land where some houses had been burned down due to fear of spore contamination.

  I prayed the signal was Michael’s. It got louder, brighter, and faster.

  “We’re close,” I said. “Here.”

  “Where?”

  “There.” I pointed to a body lying on one of the scorched lots.

  He slammed his foot on the brake, and I jumped out of the car. Michael’s body lay facedown.

  “Michael!” I shouted.

  I knelt beside his body. Hyden came and stood behind me.

  “Michael!” I said, but no response.

  I eased him over onto his back and put my ear to his chest. It was warm.

  “He’s breathing,” I said to Hyden. A sense of desperate helplessness filled me. I didn’t know what to do. It was awful seeing him like this, unconscious and limp.

  I cradled Michael’s head on my lap. “What happened?”

  “My guess, he was jacked. Then they lost the connection. It’s like a dropped call.” He looked around. “We can’t stay out here in the open. Between us, we’ve got three chips here. Might as well hang up a sign.”

  I glanced down the street. I saw some people coming our way. Friendlies? Or not?

  “We have to move him,” I said.

  I was so glad Hyden was in Jeremy’s body; his being able to touch people without some barrier made all this a lot easier. He bent down to pick up Michael.

  “You know the drill,” he said.

  I wrapped my arms around his legs. Hyden did most of the lifting.

  Once we got back to the lab, Ernie took over, carrying Michael’s body. Hyden had sent him a Zing explaining everything.

  “So this is the body you’re borrowing,” Ernie said, nodding. “I’ve been waiting for you to do this.”

  Ernie put Michael in one of the unused bedrooms. One of the Metals, Avery, checked him over, taking his vitals. Avery was petite and gentle. Her mother had been a nurse.

  “All his numbers are pretty normal. Blood pressure, temperature,” she said. “Sometimes, all you can do with a patient is wait.” She eyed Hyden in Jeremy’s body.

  “That’s actually Hyden,” I said to her.

  “I know. Ernie told us,” she said.

  I sensed some disapproval there. But she was too polite to say anything outright.

  “I’ll stay here with him. You guys can go,” I said.

  After they’d gone, I looked at Michael lying there. It was good to see him again, but not like this. He looked so vulnerable.

  Would he come back to us? What happened?

  “Michael.” I took his hand in mine. “Michael,” I whispered, as if that would somehow reach his subconscious.

  It didn’t.

  If someone had jacked his body, they would have given it up by now. So why wasn’t he coming to?

  I sat on his bed for a while, thinking about how fragile life was. Thinking about what Hyden had said about how we’re more than just our flesh. I sponged Mic
hael’s forehead and spoke softly to him, trying my best not to think negative thoughts. I grew more fearful, wondering if he was ever going to be revived.

  His eyelids fluttered.

  “Michael?”

  He started kicking and tossing from side to side.

  “Michael, it’s me, Callie.”

  He stopped thrashing. His eyes opened. He stared at the ceiling.

  “Michael?” I whispered.

  I wondered if it really was Michael in there. He patted the bed as if trying to find his bearings. Then he looked at me.

  “Callie?”

  It was him. “It’s me, Michael. How are you?”

  He sat up. He was covered in sweat.

  “Easy,” I said.

  Michael swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat there a moment, looking down. “My head hurts.”

  “How do you feel? Other than the head?”

  “Foggy. Like I slept for a thousand years.”

  “What do you remember?”

  He rubbed his forehead. “We talked on the phone. …” He seemed uncertain, as if fishing for confirmation.

  “Yes,” I said. “You called me.”

  “After that, I walked around looking for someplace to wait for you. There were so many people outside the library: Starters, Enders. I headed for the street. Then—then …”

  “What?”

  “Everything went black.

  Hyden was right; he was probably hijacked outside the library. Why? Were none of us safe?

  “What about Tyler?” I asked. “Is he okay?”

  Michael nodded. “He loves Eugenia. Don’t worry. He’s good, Callie.”

  Someone knocked at the door. I opened it and saw Hyden and Avery standing there.

  “We heard you talking,” Hyden said.

  “Is he okay?” Avery asked.

  They stepped into the room, their voices hushed, as if they were visiting a patient in the hospital.

  “He looks pretty good,” Hyden said.

  “Very good.” Avery nodded.

  “This is Avery,” I said to Michael.

  “And who’s he?” Michael asked, staring at Hyden inside Jeremy’s body.

  “His name is Hyden,” I said. I decided it was easier not to explain that he was not in his own body.

  Avery took Michael’s temperature with a forehead monitor. He looked at me with raised brows and a smile.

  “How do you feel?” she asked Michael.

  Michael rubbed his head. “This is a killer headache.”

  “I’ll get some ibuprofen. And something to eat.” Avery hurried off.

  “Callie said you had something important to tell us. Something about a memory?” Hyden prompted.

  Michael stared off, not looking at any of us. “The strangest thing happened to me at the mountain house. I was outside, watching Tyler fishing in the lake, when I got this flash in front of my face like an Xperience. Like I was right there in the theater. It was like I was watching a movie where I was the star—no, the camera, really. It was my point of view as I walked through the body bank. I had just come out of the restroom and couldn’t remember my way out. I went down the wrong hallway and turned a corner and saw a thin body on a gurney, completely covered with a sheet. It looked like a woman, a dead woman. The gurney was being backed out an exit door and the person pulling it was outside already. The sheet slipped, revealing the face. It was an Ender. Now here’s the weird part. In the memory, I didn’t recognize her. But as me, watching this memory, I knew who it was.”

  He looked at me. “It was Helena.”

  I think I had guessed it, but it was hard to hear. “Helena,” I repeated.

  Michael nodded. “I recognized her from all the pictures in the mansion. But anyway, in the memory, I looked up and saw that it was Trax pulling the gurney.”

  “Trax? Glasses Trax?” I pictured his thick black rims. “The Ender geek who handled my rentals at Prime?”

  “Transpositions. Call them transpositions,” Hyden said in a monotone. He seemed a bit shaken.

  Michael looked from him to me, as confused as I was over Hyden’s reaction. “Yeah, that guy with the glasses. Anyway, I pulled back before he could see me. That was it.”

  Hyden now looked pale. Sick, even. He stood and walked slowly out of the room.

  “What’s it mean?” Michael asked.

  “The memory belongs to your renter.” I rubbed my arms. “So this must be what he saw.”

  “But why would I remember it?”

  “It’s been happening to all of us. Your renter must have just gotten your body. Then he stumbled onto this.” I paced the room. “I heard Helena die in my head. Trax killed her.”

  “You don’t know. I mean, it could have been someone else. He could have just been doing the cleanup.”

  “He was hiding the body,” I said. “At minimum, he’s involved.”

  Michael looked at me with pleading eyes, as if I had all the answers. I wish.

  “Why do we have their memories?” he asked. “Isn’t it enough that we gave them our bodies to use?”

  I could only close my eyes and nod.

  CHAPTER TEN

  Hyden drove me to downtown L.A., still in Jeremy’s body. Michael wanted to come, but Hyden insisted only the minimum number of Metals could risk getting scanned by being outside. I stared out the window at the grayness and graffiti.

  “You sure you want to do this?” Hyden asked.

  “I have to try,” I said.

  “My father has the technology to re-create anyone’s voice,” he said. “He can access old phone records, any recordings left on the Pages, and extrapolate to create new sentences. You can’t trust what you hear, you’ve seen that now.”

  I’d told him about my dad accessing me. How he knew about the birthday present. Hyden told me that it was just wishful thinking—that it was his father, not mine, in my head. I leaned my forehead against my hands, searching myself for some way to make him see. Feeling empty was worse when no one understood.

  “I can’t help it.” I pulled my hands away. “If you were me and you loved your father and heard his voice in your head, alive, you’d want to investigate, wouldn’t you?”

  “You lost me at the ‘loved your father’ part.”

  A sigh escaped my lips. “He asked about Tyler.”

  “It’s easy to find that information, even for a normal person. This is my father you’re dealing with.” He said “father” as if the man were a demon.

  “But it sounded so much like him … the way he spoke …” I stretched my mind for any bit of hope. “And he was cut off.” I was grasping at straws, but I kept going. “If it had been your father, he would have gone on longer. Messed with my head more.”

  Hyden looked at me the way you’d look at a child trying to revive a dead goldfish. “I wish I could convince you how dangerous it is for you to be out there”—he pointed out the window—“with your chip signal just blowing in the wind for my father to access.”

  He pulled up to a block of government buildings decorated with once-noble statues, now chipped and crumbling. Bored marshals ensured that the line of protestors stayed behind ropes. Hyden paid to park in an underground lot. We climbed the stairs to ground level and looked up at the building with the large engraved letters reading Hall of Records.

  “You sure you want to do this?” Hyden asked.

  I gave him my best “don’t ask” look and climbed the stairs.

  Inside the lobby, we passed through a body scanner. It went off as I stepped through. Did my chip set it off ? I started to perspire. What would I say?

  A guard motioned for me to step aside. She waved a wand over me and stopped on my pocket. I pulled out some dollar coins.

  We continued walking and passed a Starter leaning against a wall, at the end of a long line. She had the typical Starter gear: layers, tatters, handlite, and a water bottle slung across her shoulder. But she also had a perfect shape, a model’s face, and no visible flaws.
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  Metal? Maybe if examined under a magnifying glass, she’d display signs of a normal Starter—a few acne scars, some freckles.

  Hyden glanced in her direction, then quickly looked away. I smiled at him.

  “Bet you’d like to scan her,” I said.

  His lips barely hinted at a smile. “I think we need to go to the second floor,” he said as he pointed to the stairs.

  The building was ancient, and neither of us would have trusted the z-lift. Some of the newer buildings were zaprophyte-powered, a complex system of energy created by plants feeding on fungi. The spore dust was a temporary resource for that, and some enterprising people were turning lemons into lemonade that way. But it was controversial, as some felt it released dangerous spore contamination into the air. And it wouldn’t last.

  On the second floor, after waiting in line, we finally spoke to an Ender at a counter. She had an old airscreen in between us. The images it produced were faded, scratchy, and broken, a lot like the Ender herself.

  “Ray Woodland, did you say?” she asked in a croaky voice.

  “Yes, he’s my father.”

  “But he’s a Middle, right?” she said.

  I nodded.

  “Then, honey, he’s gone,” she said in a tired voice, as if this wasn’t the first time she’d had to tell a teenager that a parent was dead. “They’re all gone.”

  “Not all of them,” I said. “I personally know one. And what about the holo-stars and politicians?”

  “They’re in a special category,” she said, as if I were a child. “But everyone else …” She shook her head.

  “Can you just look him up, please?” Hyden said.

  Her lips pressed together and she started moving her fingers across the airscreen. It was slow to respond and she had to retry several times.

  Finally, she came up with a result. She pushed an icon that then reversed the text so I could read it.

  RAY WOODLAND, age 55, deceased.

  It had his address and occupation, “inventor.”

  “I don’t … Couldn’t there be some mistake?” I said. “There were so many Middles at the same time, there were bound to be some errors.”

  Hyden looked at me. His expression—on Jeremy’s face—was so sad.

  The Ender tilted her head. “I feel for you, honey. I really do. You Starters need closure. I’m going to show you something I really shouldn’t. But—”

 
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