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       Enders, p.9

           Lissa Price
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  She made a motion like she was zipping her lips shut.

  “Okay?” she asked.

  “Sure,” I said.

  I looked at Hyden. We were both confused.

  “Just wait over by that door,” she said.

  She motioned to a door a few feet away. We did as we were told, and a moment later, she opened the door and let us in.

  She put her finger to her lips. We nodded and followed her silently to a back room that was filled with Enders sitting at desks. It was an eerie sight, with no light other than what was emitted from their airscreens. All the screens showed corpses.

  “This is where they do all the data entry for the deceased, mostly from treatment facilities,” the clerk said.

  She leaned over the shoulder of one of the workers and whispered to her.

  The worker typed in the air my father’s name, birthdate, and address, and an image came up. A man, lying on a cot. A tented sign balanced on his chest showed his name and a long number. His face was white and frozen.

  “Ray Woodland,” the clerk read from the screen.

  My father. Dead. The hope I’d felt spring inside me vanished. It was as if he’d died all over again.

  I put my hand to my mouth. Tears flowed down my cheeks. Hyden put his arm around my shoulders. The Ender clerk looked at me and nodded.

  “It’s better to have closure, dear,” she said. “Now you know.”

  The words stung like acid.

  “Let’s go,” Hyden said quietly.

  As we made our way to the stairs, Hyden kept his arm around me.

  Inside the stairwell, he stopped and faced me. “You okay?”

  “It’s my fault.”

  He handed me a tissue. “No, it’s not.”

  “I wanted to find out.” I wiped my eyes and struggled to get the words out. “I just didn’t think this would be the answer.”

  “I know.” He wrapped me in a gentle hug.

  I rested my head on his shoulder and let the tears fall. He held me tighter, as if he could squeeze away the pain.

  He couldn’t.

  And he couldn’t squeeze away the creepy feeling I had when the voice came into my head.

  Hello, Callie. Sorry to interrupt.

  I pulled away from Hyden.

  “Who is this?” I said.

  A friend.

  It was a male voice; sounded like a Middle. I had a guess who it was. Hyden looked at me questioningly.

  I put my finger to my lips. Hyden was disguised in Jeremy’s body. My jacker could see out of my eyes, but all he would see was Jeremy, a stranger.

  And I see you have a friend with you. I’m guessing that’s my son in there.

  I sighed. It was too late and he was too smart. Jeremy stood back, watching, his expression suggesting he knew what was going on.

  “Why aren’t you using your electronic voice this time?” I asked Brockman.

  It’s so pretentious. I decided to just be me.

  “So was that also you doing my father’s voice?”

  He was silent a moment. What do you mean?

  The stairwell began to feel hot. Stuffy. I tugged at my top, airing it out. Maybe it wasn’t him pretending to be my father.

  Hot in there? Why don’t you leave?

  “Why?” I asked. “Do you want me to leave?”

  Hyden was fuming. I shaded my eyes so they wouldn’t provide a view for his father.

  Tell my son to stop fooling around in other bodies, will you?

  “Tell him yourself,” I said.

  I have another idea.

  I looked at Hyden and pantomimed something was up. We heard footsteps at the bottom of the stairs. They continued, echoing in the hollow space. Whoever it was, they were coming up to where we were.


  The hair on the back of my neck rose. It was a girl on the stairs. We’d seen her before. It was the stunning Starter we had seen standing in line. But her eyes had a glazed, dead look. Something was wrong.

  “She’s jacked!” I shouted to Hyden.

  Smart girl.

  “Look out!”

  The girl—probably an Ender inside—rushed toward Hyden, her arms bent at the elbows in some martial arts stance.

  Black belt expert.

  “She’s a black belt,” I said to Hyden.

  Hyden—in Jeremy’s body—stepped aside quickly, expertly. The girl ran up against the wall.

  “So’s Jeremy,” he said.

  The Starter turned and went after Hyden again. They locked arms and struggled, a battle of strength and wills.

  She slammed Hyden against the wall, banging his head.

  As they continued to fight, I felt something strange. I looked down at my hand. My right pinky moved up and down. Which would not have been so scary except …

  I wasn’t doing it.

  Did you see? That’s me, making you move. Like a puppet.

  My heartbeat raced. At least that was my doing. I threw my hand down to my side. I focused my concentration as hard as I could to make my fingers like steel.

  The Metal had a hold on Hyden’s neck. She was choking him. I ran over and came from behind, grabbing her around the waist with both arms. I pulled her off Hyden.

  “Grab her feet!” I shouted.

  She thrashed and kicked, but Hyden managed to get her ankles. She didn’t weigh a lot, so we carried her down the stairs.

  “What should we do with her?” I asked.

  “Take her underground.”

  As we passed the first floor, we continued down the stairs that led to the underground parking structure. She stopped kicking and screaming.

  “Is this low enough?” I asked.

  “Go one more,” he said.

  We climbed down to the lower level. We’d cut off the signal and she became limp. She felt much heavier.

  “He’s gone,” Hyden said, nodding to the girl’s body.

  “Who?” I asked.

  “Whoever was jacking her. One of my father’s men.”

  We pushed the door open with our feet and came out into the underground parking area. Not seeing any guard on this level, we put her down on the ground.

  “I’ll go get the SUV,” he said.

  I looked down at her. She was suddenly so harmless, so peaceful, her brown hair flowing around her shoulders. I held out my hand and stared at my pinky.

  It was still. Motionless. The way it should be.

  Before long, Hyden drove up in the SUV. He leaned out the window.

  “How should we do this?” I asked.

  He looked past me. “Hey there,” he said.

  I turned around and saw that she was awake and sitting up.

  I walked toward her. “Hi. I’m Callie.”

  She put her hands on the ground as if she was going to bolt like a feral cat. I came a little closer.

  “It’s okay, I’m like you.” I turned and lifted my hair to expose the scar. “See?”

  “You’re a Metal,” she said with a Southern accent.

  “Yes. And I can help you.”

  She relaxed. “Do you get strange dreams? Not just at night?” Her lip trembled. “They’re so weird.”

  “Yeah, I get them,” I said. “Come with me. We’ve got food, and you’ll be safe.”

  “Y’all have food?”

  “Supertruffles in the car,” I said.

  She gestured at the SUV. “Are there Enders in there?”

  “No,” I said. “Just us Starters.”

  She approached cautiously. Hyden stayed in the driver’s seat and unlocked the passenger’s-side back door. She hesitated, looking at me with a question in her eye.

  “He’s okay. He’s with me,” I said.

  Hyden’s eyes connected with mine, and the Starter climbed inside.


  The girl’s name was Savannah. She ate three Supertruffles while we sat in the car. We had to stop her before she ended up emptier than when she started.

  “You’re right. I s
hould know better,” she said as she wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “My father was a nutritionist.”

  “So do you know anything about medicine?” I asked. We could always use more medical help.

  “A lot. My mother was a surgeon,” she said. “I wanted to be premed, but then everything changed with the war.”

  “What made you go to Prime Destinations?”

  She stiffened. She looked at me out of the side of her eyes. I could see she was trying to decide whether she should reveal her story.

  “It’s okay. We understand better than anyone,” I said. “I went there to get money for a home for my sick brother. He had this respiratory condition, and living in abandoned office buildings was just making it worse. I saw it as our only way out.”

  “I wasn’t going to let the marshals take me. I saw them taking the other kids on our block,” she said. “I could have stayed in the house, but the government condemned it, said it was contaminated. So I did the body bank.”

  “When?” Hyden asked.

  “A few months ago,” she said. “But then some renegades stole all my money. The first day back.”

  I nodded. I’d heard that story before.

  “Guess that didn’t happen to you,” she said, looking at the SUV.

  “We’ve got plenty of time to tell our stories,” I said. “The main thing is, you can trust us.”

  She hugged her knees to her chest and rested her head against the window. “That sure sounds good to me.”

  When we brought Savannah into our place, I tugged on Hyden’s shirt. I mouthed, What about … ? and gestured to Jeremy’s body.

  He shrugged.

  “Wow, this is nice,” Savannah said as she walked into the main room. “Thanks so much for bringing me here, y’all,” she said, turning to us. “So this is your place, Hyden?”

  “Yeah. By the way, this isn’t my body. I’m just borrowing this one,” Hyden said.

  “Really? I thought only Enders wanted to rent out our bodies,” she said, squinting.

  “Usually, that’s true,” Hyden said.

  “Where is your body?” she asked.

  “In another room,” I said. “Why?”

  “Can I see?” she asked.

  Hyden started to shake his head, but I stepped forward. “Sure. You might as well meet the real Hyden.”

  Hyden shot me a look. I knew he wasn’t crazy about this, but I thought it was important not to make any of the Metals feel excluded.

  We went to the room where his body was. There he was, the real Hyden, sleeping on the bed. His breathing was shallow. He looked pale.

  “How long has the body been like this?” Savannah asked.

  “Not long,” Hyden said.

  “Because if it goes too long, he needs fluids,” Savannah said.

  “I know,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

  “Good,” she said. “It’s a very nice body, by the way.”

  “Thanks,” Hyden said.

  His surprised expression almost made me laugh.

  “Come on.” I motioned to Savannah. “Let’s go find you a room.”

  Savannah wasn’t picky. In fact, she was so exhausted, she fell asleep on top of her small bed while I gathered towels and toiletries for her.

  I went back out to the main room and found Hyden standing there.

  He was in his own body.

  His back was to me, but I easily recognized his muscular shoulders, his tousled hair that was neither curly nor straight. My legs weakened. Everything was upside down. He was there, but he was gone. It was the way it should be; he was back where he belonged. In his own body.

  But it meant no more touching.

  “Hyden?” I whispered.

  He turned. I looked at his real body, with that face that I was getting to know, that handsome face with the pain in the eyes.


  “You didn’t wait for me? You just did it?”

  He cocked his head. “You wanted me to,” he said. “Didn’t you?”

  I did, of course. But this seemed so sudden. I realized I was secretly expecting something—some last kiss or touch goodbye. Some small moment before it was back to “don’t-touch-me” Hyden.

  But that was selfish.

  “I thought maybe—” I said.

  “I know,” he said. “Me too.”

  An invisible wall seemed to stand between us. Finally, the words came out of my throat.

  “I hoped … you’d wait for me.”

  “Couldn’t. It was getting to be too long. Savannah was right—my body would need fluids.”

  He was acting like he didn’t care, but his eyes met mine and they betrayed him. He looked away. Jeremy’s body was lying on the couch next to the bed where Hyden’s body had been. Near Jeremy lay a small airscreen unit.

  “That’s linked to the one in the car?” I asked.

  “Shhh …” Hyden put a finger to his lips.

  Jeremy’s eyelids fluttered, and his lips twitched.

  He was coming to.

  “Aren’t you going to do something to control him? He might just come out swinging,” I said quietly.

  “I’ll call Ernie,” he said. He pulled out his phone and sent a Zing.

  But before Ernie could arrive, Jeremy opened his eyes. His face registered panic. He scrambled to a sitting position, his back pressed against the couch. His head jerked around as he fought to make sense of his location.

  “It’s all right, Jeremy,” I said.

  Hyden motioned for me to be silent, but it was too late. Jeremy had heard me.

  “You? Who are you?” he asked, turning to look at me.

  I could have said that was no way to talk to a girl he’d kissed, but that wouldn’t have gone over well. He held his head, as if he had the world’s worst headache.

  “My name is Callie.”

  “I don’t know any Callie,” he said.

  His voice was sharp. It made me feel like he was issuing orders every time he spoke.

  “That’s right, you don’t know me,” I said. “Can I get you anything? Do you want some water?”

  He started to nod and then stopped, from the pain, no doubt. “Yeah.”

  Hyden motioned he would get the water. As he left the room, Jeremy noticed him for the first time.

  “Who’s that?” Jeremy pointed.

  The guy who used to be you, I wanted to say. But I stopped myself.

  “That’s Hyden. He’s a friend.”

  “I think I know that guy. …”

  I didn’t want him to think about the confrontation, when Hyden first captured him. “No, you’re just a little disoriented. We’re Metals, like you.”

  “Metals. Like me … ,” Jeremy said to himself.

  Hyden returned with the water. Jeremy took it and downed the glass.

  “So, you two have the chip too?” he asked. “From Prime?”

  We both nodded.

  “That body bank,” he said. “If I ever see that Old Man, I swear I’ll break his wrinkled neck.”

  I looked at Hyden, but he never took his eyes off Jeremy.

  “You look really fit,” Hyden said. “What skills did you list at Prime?”

  “Mixed martial arts,” he said. “Tae Kwon Do, Kali, Gatka.”

  Hyden nodded slightly.

  We’d seen Jeremy’s skills in action. Deadly. We opted not to reveal very much to him right away but to let him get used to things gradually. Except for my adapted chip, the chips prevented a Metal from killing anyone while being rented. But we doubted that held true when we were just being ourselves. And this was no time to find out.

  That night, as we all filled our plates in the kitchen, Hyden came up beside me—keeping his distance—and smiled.

  “What?” I asked. “You’re that happy over chili night?”

  “I just wanted to tell you thanks.”

  “For what?”

  “For this. For convincing me we should gather the Metals.”

It makes you feel good, doesn’t it? See, I was right.”

  “Yeah. It’s good to see all of these people protected from my father. To be part of our community.” He grinned. “And now we have better cooks.”

  I rolled my eyes and went around the table to get the bread.

  In the dining room, I sat by Redmond. Hyden was at the other end, sitting opposite Jeremy. Near them were Lily, the acrobat, and Derek, known for his climbing skills. He was trying to pass a salad bowl to Savannah, but she was busy laughing with Michael. He’d finished his food already and he was sketching her. The other tables were filled with more Metals.

  Someone tapped their water glass and the conversation quieted down. It was Jeremy.

  “I want to talk memories,” Jeremy said to the group.

  “You mean from our renters?” Savannah asked.

  “I know I’m not the only one who has them. I hear things. So let’s get it out in the open. Who’ll start?”

  Savannah raised her hand. “My renter wanted my black belt body to go beat up her old boyfriend—some old Ender guy. When I relived that memory, I was shocked. I don’t know what he did to her, but she felt so satisfied.”

  Michael raised his hand. “My renter was a sleazy Ender.”

  “I know, I met him,” I said under my breath.

  “He wanted my artistic talents to impress Starter girls with. He offered to draw them,” Michael said.

  “In the buff ?” Jeremy asked.

  “Of course.”

  Everyone reacted with disgust.

  “You must have some interesting memories,” Jeremy said to him.

  “No, they turned him—me—down,” Michael said. “Guess they saw right through the jerk.”

  Lily raised her hand. “My renter was a hundred-year-old Ender dying of cancer. Her dream was to soar on the trapeze. I felt how thrilled she was, how light she felt. It was wonderful.”

  People murmured and then went back to their private conversations.

  Redmond turned to me and spoke softly. “So that key I left in the safe for you?”

  “The one that told how you altered my chip?” I said quietly. “What about it?”

  “Do you still have it?”

  I wondered why he was asking. “I put it in a safe place.”

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