“You’re not that good of a liar,” I said. “I believe you. I’m even horrified for you. But what I’m struggling to get over is the fact that you knew who was behind the kidnapping all along.”
He shook his head. “I swear, I didn’t. Priya and I wondered, but we didn’t recognize any of the kidnappers. We didn’t know for sure until we saw Lana. Mercer would never have let someone else use her, even for a job. She is his and his alone.”
“Then you’ve known a few days,” I pointed out. “You knew when we found Ruby’s car. You knew when we went to see Gray. You knew when we went into that house. You saw how much I was struggling with not knowing who was behind the bombing and kidnapping, and you still didn’t tell me?”
His face went tight with pain. “I wanted to. But until we had the information to prove it, to expose Mercer, it was too dangerous.”
“I decide what’s too dangerous for me,” I said sharply. “That wasn’t your call.”
“It’s more than that,” he said. “We’re not the only ones in danger.”
“Well, we’re the ones in immediate danger,” I said. “Did you know Priyanka was the reason Lana and that team found us?”
He scrubbed at his face, making a sound of frustration. “Really?”
“She took the tracker from that drone,” I said.
“Priya…” Roman’s face was pained. “She doesn’t want to wait until we find Ruby. She wants Lana out now, so she can protect her. It’s not that she won’t listen to reason, it’s just that her love is stronger.”
“What happened to her in the house?” I asked. “Before you gave her that cocktail of drugs it was like she went superhero. Or took a hit of PCP.”
Roman opened his mouth to speak, then shut it. “I have to back up again to explain it. Is that okay?”
“Okay…” he began. “Priyanka arrived about three years after we did.”
“Mercer brought her into the country, too?”
“No, she was already in America. Priya’s father was a rival of Mercer’s, and Mercer kidnapped her as leverage. It didn’t work. Mostly because if there is one man alive more ruthless than Mercer, it’s Priyanka’s father.”
“Anyway, it doesn’t feel right to tell the whole story for her.” I nodded again, and he continued on. “For a while, nothing much happened. Mercer kept us all in a compound together, just outside New Orleans. We had survival training. Lessons on how to fight and shoot. Mercer acted like a benevolent father, always showering us with attention and praise when we did exactly as he asked. Then, one day, when Priya and I were twelve and Lana was ten, he brought in a man named Wendall—Jonathan Wendall. He worked for Leda Corp, in their research and development sector.”
Leda Corp—the company responsible for both the creation of Agent Ambrosia and the years of testing that went into what caused IAAN. Even just the mention of their name sent anger shooting through me.
“That’s when the experiments began,” Roman said, rubbing at his forehead. “Every day, Dr. Wendall would take one of us into his lab. Do blood work. Scans. Inject us with something or other. Record the results. It made us violently ill, but nothing more. Two years of this. Then, finally, when the camps were closed and the United Nations swept in, things changed. Kids fell through the cracks in the system, and Mercer was able to get his hands on actual Psi. Unclaimed Psi.”
Unclaimed. Those kids whose parents had abandoned them to the government all over again by not retrieving them after the camps fell.
“That’s where the real money was. He hired all those skip tracer types to find kids, then he’d turn around and sell them again to other countries looking to study or use them. But some he kept for Dr. Wendall. He became obsessed with one Psi in particular, the one whose power he wanted more than anything else. Ruby Elizabeth Daly.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
“She was in the newspapers. On the television. He tried to take her from a park once, but his men were repelled by the UN protection detail she had. One of them injured her father.”
“I remember that,” I whispered.
“Because of his background with Leda, Wendall knew, before the wider scientific community confirmed it, that the mutation couldn’t be passed on naturally from parent to child. Using Agent Ambrosia on women he could hire to act as surrogates was too inefficient, and the results were too unpredictable. Mercer wanted Wendall to find a way to induce a specific Psi mutation in us, otherwise clean slates.”
“What?” I managed to get out. “You didn’t have the mutation to begin with? None of you?”
“None of us had Psi abilities at the start of this,” he confirmed.
I took a step back, shaking my head. That was impossible. They were mutations that had developed while we were all in utero.
He made us. Lana had meant that literally.
“Just listen, please,” Roman said. “Once the cause of IAAN was confirmed and Wendall had Psi to study, he became increasingly more effective. He came up with a chemical compound that was one part Agent Ambrosia, a thousand parts poison. To induce the mutation in our minds, he force-fed us the chemical and conducted operations. Most of the kids who’d been brought to the States with us died in different phases of the trials, until there were only four of us left. At one point, when she was only twelve, Lana went into cardiac arrest, too.”
“Her body never fully recovered from her illness as a child. Wendall managed to revive her, but…from that moment on, I just had this feeling, this sense that she’d somehow suffer worse for having survived. Priyanka’s power manifested immediately, and mine soon after, but Lana went nearly two years without showing any ability. The truth was, she just didn’t know how to access it. Up until that point, we had been able to find some sense of normalcy outside of the testing and experiments. That changed once Mercer understood what she could do.”
“When did her personality start to change?” I asked. “Priyanka said it happened slowly.”
“When Lana was sixteen, and the rest of us eighteen, we were sent out to do work on Mercer’s behalf. But someone caught Priya and Lana slipping away together and exposed their relationship to Mercer. He made it clear relationships were not allowed. When they were caught a second time, he made good on his threat to separate them. He pulled Lana onto his personal security detail and began working with her. Shaping her. They traveled when we were at the compound, we traveled when they were. He had become paranoid that his rivals would use Psi to assassinate him. Lana was his guarantee they couldn’t. She’s a Limit.”
“I don’t fully understand how her ability works,” I told him. “In some ways, it does remind me of Ruby’s ability. Lana is obviously suppressing the part of our mind that controls and regulates our abilities, the way Ruby might suppress someone’s memory.”
“And she can do it with enough force for it to be painful,” Roman finished. “None of us became Ruby. None of us were what he wanted, so he found uses for us and continued the experiments. Priyanka can use her mind to infiltrate complex machinery, like computers, and assume control of them. She calls herself a Hacker.”
I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. “The highway cameras and drones…”
“The phones did nothing,” he said, confirming my suspicion. “She switched them on and off while we passed under them. Priya is the reason we’ve managed to stay undetected by Mercer for so long. He used to use her a lot for thefts. She can get through any security system an
d any electronic safe.”
“And what about you?” I asked.
“Mercer’s garbage, mostly,” he said with a humorless laugh. “Priyanka calls me a Mirror. I can mimic another Psi’s abilities for a short time through touch, but not without consequences. Mercer had to find other uses for me.”
“Wait…” I began. “In the truck after we were taken…I didn’t have enough power to kill the engine. You grabbed me, and there was a surge, like I’d tapped into another source of power. I thought it was because you were a Yellow.”
“I wish,” he said, smoothing his hands over his knees. “I just amplified what you were already doing.”
“Is that what causes your migraines?” I asked. “Using your ability?”
“Yes. We all have side effects—well, everyone but Lana.”
I blew out a sigh. “Of course. But what happened with Priya?”
“She explodes. Her adrenaline spikes along with her heart rate, and it’s too much for her body to handle if it goes on too long. She loses all sense of fear. Her mind is telling her that she’s invincible. The drugs are to counteract the adrenaline and to sedate her, so she doesn’t go into cardiac arrest or experience a seizure.”
“Holy shit,” I said.
“Most of the time—for instance, when she was turning the cameras on and off—she’s fine. It gets her going, and makes her anxious to move and get things done. But controlling those servers was too much this time.”
“Why did she do it, then?”
“She doesn’t…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “She wants to help, but that feeling, that surge, is like an intense high. For a while, she was addicted to getting to that point. Mercer loved it. He thought it made her extra effective, so long as we could bring her back down.”
“How did you guys finally get away from him?” I asked.
“We were on a job we couldn’t finish,” he said simply. “It got to be too much, and we ran. I was so sure I’d be able to get to Lana within a few days. Mercer was always traveling. We could extract her while he was busy with his meetings. But after Priya and I left, he kept her back at the compound. Haven was the first time I’d seen my sister in almost six months. And tonight…”