Something between us has changed.
I can feel it. Can feel the shift in his attitude toward me. It takes a minute to piece together the various emotional cues long enough to understand, but when it finally hits me, it hits me hard.
For the first time in my life, my father is staring at me with something like respect. I tried to kill him, and instead of being angry with me, he seems pleased. Maybe even impressed.
“You did good work back there,” he says quietly. “It was a strong throw. Solid.”
It feels strange to accept his compliment, so I don’t.
My father sighs.
“Part of the reason I wanted custody of those healer twins,” he says finally, “was because I wanted Evie to study them. I wanted her to replicate their DNA and braid it into my own. Healing powers, I realized, were extremely useful.”
A sharp chill goes up my spine.
“But I didn’t have them under my control for as long as I wanted,” he says. “I was only able to extract a few blood samples. Evie did the best she could with the time we had.”
I blink. Try to control the expression on my face. “So you have healing powers now?”
“We’re still working on it,” he says, his jaw tight. “It’s not yet perfect. But it was enough that I was able to survive the wounds to the head just long enough to be shipped to safety.” He smiles a bitter smile. “My feet, on the other hand, didn’t make it.”
“How unfortunate,” I lie.
I test the weight of the syringe in my hand. I wonder how much damage it could do. It’s not substantial enough to do much more than stun, but a carefully angled attack could result in temporary nerve pain that would buy me a sizable amount of time. But then, so might a single, precise stab in the eye.
“Operation Synthesis,” my father says sharply.
I look up. Surprised.
“You’re ready, Aaron.” His gaze is steady. “You’re ready for a real challenge. You’ve got the necessary fire. The drive. I’m seeing it in your eyes for the first time.”
I’m too afraid to speak.
Finally, after all these years, my father is giving me praise. He’s telling me I’m capable. As a child, it was everything I’d ever wanted.
But I’m not a child anymore.
“You’ve seen Emmaline,” my father says. “But you haven’t seen her recently. You don’t know what state she’s in.”
“She’s dying,” he says. “Her body isn’t strong enough to survive her mind or her environment, and despite Max and Evie’s every effort, they don’t know if there’s anything else they can do to help her. They’ve been working for years to prolong her life as much as possible, but they’ve reached the end of the line. There’s nothing left to do. She’s deteriorating at a rate they can no longer control.”
Still, I say nothing.
“Do you understand?” my father says to me. “Do you understand the importance of what I’m saying to you? Emmaline is not only a psychokinetic, but a telepath,” he says. “As her body deteriorates, her mind grows wilder. She’s too strong. Too explosive. And lately, without a strong enough body to contain her, she’s become volatile. If she’s not given a n—”
“Don’t you dare,” a voice barks, loudly, into the room. “Don’t you dare say another word. You thickheaded fool.”
I spin around, surprise catching in my throat.
Supreme Commander Ibrahim. He seems taller than I remember him. Dark skin, dark hair. Angry.
“It’s okay,” my father says, unbothered. “Evie has taken care of—”
“Evie is dead,” Ibrahim says angrily. “We need to initiate the transfer immediately.”
“What?” My father goes pale. I’ve never seen him pale. I’ve never seen him terrified. “What do you mean she’s dead?”
Ibrahim’s eyes flash. “I mean we have a serious problem.” He glances at me. “This boy needs to be put back in isolation. We can’t trust any of them right now. We don’t know what she might’ve done.”
And just as I’m trying to decide my next move, I hear a whisper at my ear.
“Don’t scream,” she says.
I’m running for my life, bolting down hallways and up staircases. A low, insistent alarm has gone off, its high, piercing sound sending shocks of fear through me even as my feet pound the floor. I feel strong, steady, but I’m increasingly aware of my inability to navigate these snaking paths. I could see—could feel—Emmaline growing weaker as I left, and now, the farther I get from her, the dimmer our connection becomes. She showed me, in her memories, how Max and Evie slowly stripped her of control; Emmaline is more powerful than anyone, but now she can only use her powers on command. It took all her strength to push past the fail-safes long enough to use her strength at will, and now that her voice has retreated from my mind, I know she won’t be back. Not anytime soon. I have to figure out my own way out of here.
My power is back on. I can get through anything from here. I have to. And when I hear someone shout I spin around, ready to fight—
But the face in the distance is so familiar I stop, stunned, in my tracks.
Kenji barrels into me.
Kenji is hugging me. Kenji is hugging me, and he’s uninjured.
And just as I begin to return his embrace he swears, violently, and launches himself backward. “Jesus, woman— Are you trying to kill me? You can’t turn that shit off for a second? You have to go and ruin our dramatic reunion by nearly murdering me even after I’ve gone to all the trouble of f—”
I launch myself into his arms again and he stiffens, relaxing only when he realizes I’ve pulled my power back. I forgot, for a second, how much of my skin was exposed in this dress.
“Kenji,” I breathe. “You’re alive. You’re okay. Oh my God.”
“Hey,” he says. “Hey.” He pulls back, looks me in the eye. “I’m okay. You okay?”
I don’t really know how to answer the question. Finally, I say, “I’m not sure.”
He studies my face for a second. He looks concerned.
And then, the knot of fear growing only more painful in my throat, I ask the question killing me most:
Kenji shakes his head.
I feel myself begin to unravel.
“I don’t know yet,” Kenji says quietly. “But we’re going to find him, okay? Don’t worry.”
I nod. My bottom lip trembles and I bite it down but the tremble won’t be killed. It grows, multiplies, evolves into a tremor that shakes me from stem to sternum.
“Hey,” Kenji says.
I look up.
“You want to tell me where all the blood came from?”
I blink. “What blood?”
He raises his eyebrows at me. “The blood,” he says, gesturing, generally, at my body. “On your face. Your dress. All over your hands.”
“Oh,” I say, startled. I look at my hands as if seeing them for the first time. “The blood.”