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The Integer: Whitewashed, #2

The Integer: Whitewashed, #2

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The Integer: Whitewashed, #2

Length:
559 pages
7 hours
Released:
Nov 5, 2018
ISBN:
9781622535200
Format:
Book

Description

Some lies are safer in the dark.

After months of working with the MTA in search of her captured best friend, Ella Kepler stumbles upon a secret that predates everything she understood about Kara's kidnapping—including her own past. Armed with a truth that could either destroy or save lives, Ella works alongside a group of metahumans determined to battle injustice and bring every lie to an end. As Ella's involvement thickens, she's forced to realize that lies have consequences, enemies wear two faces, and even memories can't be trusted.

EVOLVED PUBLISHING PRESENTS the second book in the "Whitewashed" trilogy, following Ella as she finds her place in the world of metahumans and Grifters, a world too hungry to let one girl escape.[DRM-Free]

The "Whitewashed" Series:

  • Book 1: The Trace
  • Book 2: The Integer
  • Book 3: The Anamnesis

More Great Young Adult Sci-Fi from Evolved Publishing:

  • Star City by Edwin Peng
  • The Noah Zarc Series by D. Robert Pease
  • The Dirt and Stars Series by Kevin Killiany
  • The Silver Sphere by Michael Dadich
  • Two Moons of Sera by P.K. Tyler

Released:
Nov 5, 2018
ISBN:
9781622535200
Format:
Book

About the author

After my stick figure comic series “The Adventures of The Unstoppable” failed to garner any fans, I accepted that drawing would never be my superpower. I also accepted that I was not, after all, The Unstoppable. Twelve-year-old me never forgot the thrill of adventure, however, and the mystery of heroes, powers, and a bad guy who maybe is only bad because he feels stuck. Or maybe he’s just bad, and that’s interesting, too. My writing has taken me around the worlds of my brain, and also around a lot of restaurants. After years of being the pickiest eater in the south, I somehow got a stint as a city blogger and food columnist, which taught me that people are too obsessed with queso and not excited enough about chicken noodle soup. I’ve since said goodbye to journalistic writing and hello to creative writing, which, after all, is what I’ve always done. I currently live in Florida, where I complain about the humidity but never make any plans to move. My husband and I have two cats (only two), who are excellent sounding boards for ideas.


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The Integer - Adelaide Thorne

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THE INTEGER

Whitewashed – Book 2

Copyright © 2018 Adelaide Thorne

~~~

ISBN (EPUB Version): 1622535200

ISBN-13 (EPUB Version): 978-1-62253-520-0

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Editor: Darren Todd

Cover Artist: Tugboat Designs

Interior Designer: Lane Diamond

~~~

PUBLISHER’S NOTE:

At the end of this novel of approximately 120,741 words, you will find two Special Sneak Previews: 1) THE ANAMNESIS by Adelaide Thorne, the third and final book in this critically-acclaimed Whitewashed series of Young Adult Sci-Fi adventures, and; 2) DOWN TO DIRT by Kevin Killiany, the critically-acclaimed first book in his Dirt and Stars series of Young Adult Sci-Fi adventures. We think you’ll enjoy these books, too, and provide these previews as a FREE extra service, which you should in no way consider a part of the price you paid for this book. We hope you will both appreciate and enjoy the opportunity. Thank you.

~~~

eBook License Notes:

You may not use, reproduce or transmit in any manner, any part of this book without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews, or in accordance with federal Fair Use laws. All rights are reserved.

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only; it may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

~~~

Disclaimer:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination, or the author has used them fictitiously.

Books by Adelaide Thorne

~~~

Whitewashed

Book 1: The Trace

Book 2: The Integer

Book 3: The Anamnesis

~~~

www.AdelaideThorne.com

What Others Are Saying

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"Whitewashed is my new FAVORITE series!!! – Thorne is an epically awesome new author that bears recognition. She can weave a tale so intricate and involved, you can’t guess what’s going to happen next, nor can you turn the pages fast enough! I devoured The Trace, and The Integer was no different. You have to add these books to your ‘must read’ list!" ~ Park4

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Just as good as the first one. Possibly better. Yes? No? I don't know; all three of them are crazy amazing. Since this is the second book of the series, I won't bother to write a full review on it—you probably don't want to see my gushing about all the wonderfulness three times. But for a super-long flashback, it was very well done. ~ Shen Shenanigans

~~~

This book hooked me big time. It is impossible to guess what happens next! Such plot twists! I love the subtle message of not judging someone for their looks. It is a really good read. Thorne does such a good job in surprising you. This is how much the book hooked me... I put aside the edits I wanted to get done that day (for my own book) and read all day!! I refused to put this book down until I had finished it. Even my back was hurting from sitting and reading too much. These books would make great movies too! If you haven’t read this then you are missing out!! ~ Melanie Clark

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Unimaginable, phenomenal, astounding. I can guarantee you these books will blow your mind in a million tiny tiny pieces! ~ Breny

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"Dear reader, if you haven’t read The Integer yet: GET READY TO HAVE YOUR MIND BLOWN. The Integer will take you on an emotional rollercoaster that will leave you breathless. " ~ Ashleigh Thomas

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Thorne once again tears her readers’ hearts in two. ...once again has created a remarkable story. It kept me guessing, unsure of how it would end. Love sci-fi with a mysterious twist? ‘Whitewashed’ is for you. ~ The Raciti’s

BONUS CONTENT

We’re pleased to offer you not one, but two Special Sneak Previews at the end of this book.

~~~

In the first preview, you’ll enjoy Chapters 1-2 of Adelaide Thorne’s THE ANAMNESIS, the third and final book in this critically-acclaimed Whitewashed series of Young Adult Sci-Fi adventures.

~~~

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

YOU’LL FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

WHITEWASHED Series at Evolved Publishing

In the second preview, you’ll enjoy Chapter 1-3 of Kevin Killiany’s critically acclaimed DOWN TO DIRT, the first book in his Dirt and Stars series of Young Adult Sci-Fi adventures.

~~~

~~~

"Down to Dirt is YA hard science fiction with an attitude, full of technical details as engaging as the characters. I was immediately drawn into the story."

~ Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Eternity’s Mind

~~~

DOWN TO DIRT [is] an entertaining and effortless read... close to perfection. Everything you could want in a YA, coming of age, sci-fi, dystopian world drama is here.

~ Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews

~~~

OR GRAB THE FULL EBOOK TODAY!

YOU’LL FIND LINKS TO YOUR FAVORITE RETAILER HERE:

DIRT AND STARS Series at Evolved Publishing

Table of Contents

Copyright

Books by Adelaide Thorne

What Others Are Saying

BONUS CONTENT

Dedication

THE INTEGER

PROLOGUE

PART 1 - THE SECOND

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

PART 2

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Index of Terms

Grifter Glossary

Special Sneal Preview: THE ANAMNESIS by Adelaide Thorne

About the Author

More from Evolved Publishing

Special Sneak Preview: DOWN TO DIRT by Kevin Killiany

Dedication

To Erica,

This one’s undoubtedly yours.

PROLOGUE

Year 3

June 28

IT WOULD ONLY TAKE a second.

Your past, One said. Discover why Chron searches for you. He took Kara Watson and Ethan Sheedy to attract your attention.

Tell me how to find it, I said. Tell me where to start.

Whale’s High School. August fifteenth. Sixteen years old.

I gaped at One. That was two years ago. What did some old memory of my high school have to do with Chron?

You do not have time for these questions, One said. Read us. Now.

With alarm threatening to overwhelm me, I looked into One’s gray, magnified eyes, and reached for his mind.

A humming noise began, like radio stations flipping through different frequencies. Mom’s voice, from far away, sounded. Meet us at Whale’s, Ella. Don’t be late.... Her voice faded out, and as I visualized Whale’s High School, a box sped into the center of the expanse of images. It grew larger and larger, until I could see that I looked over the heads of many people at a Ferris wheel....

Year 1

August 15

"PRETTY SURE THAT’S THE same Ferris wheel that broke down last year."

I rested my forehead against the passenger window and peered through the horde of sweaty figures soon to engulf us. The Ferris wheel rotated beyond the mass, touching sky and ground with one breath. That would be our first stop. I’ve always wanted to get stuck at the top, I added. Can we make that happen? I nudged Kara’s arm, my attention still outside. Ooh, park next to that SUV. Blacked-out windows and everything. Mafia or spies? I unstuck my face from the glass to catch Kara’s reaction.

Might be a press van, she murmured. She chewed her bottom lip as she skirted the traffic director. He waved her by in a seeming panic, as if he thought two months of summer break made Whale’s attendees suddenly forget how to park. His frantic gesturing had clearly affected Kara; her knuckles, locked around the steering wheel, had turned white. Curls arced from her temples and hovered over her ears.

Banter normally eased a frazzled Kara, so I said, "A press van? You’re probably right. ‘Breaking news: a student reportedly enjoyed this year’s Welcome Back, Whale’s! event. Witnesses say this student, one Kiera Watts, even laughed at Mr. Kline’s ‘Have a whale of a time’ joke, as repeated for the third year in a row. Stay tuned for more.’"

‘Meanwhile, Kiera’s surly friend, Ella Kester, died from frowning.’ Kara squeezed her car beside the black SUV and grinned. "Also, you meant ‘purportedly.’ Hand me my bag?"

I rolled my eyes and reached for the yellow satchel touching my foot. Something black and prickly crawled over the flap just as my fingers enclosed leather.

Ignore it, I told myself. The hand inches from the spider began to shake.

You okay?

Eyes closed, I forced my arm into action and tossed the bag toward Kara’s lap like it would explode if stationary.

She scrutinized me. You look really pale.

Not as pale as you. My laugh came out like a cackle.

The spider was nowhere; it could be anywhere. Moving across the floor to find me again.

I gripped the handle and shoved the door open.

The blaze of afternoon sunlight warmed my iciness. I gulped muggy air and my panic faded. Festive chatter and the scent of hot dogs could calm anyone.

Ella? What’s going on? Kara edged around her car, eyeing me like I might bolt across the festival.

If you really must know.... I held off answering until Kara’s brows looked well on their way toward permanent concerned-grandmother mode. It was, um, just a....

At once, her expression relaxed. She nodded and tucked her arm inside my elbow, steering me along all business-like. Exactly, she said. Just a spider. Nothing to be afraid of, right?

We can’t all have your non-arachnophobic courage, Kar.

At least you’re not afraid of clowns. She shivered, gesturing somewhat absently to a cotton candy vendor clad in striped pants and a red nose.

Oh no, I said. Is that Mrs. Baxley?

Don’t know. I’m not looking.

I laughed. Kara was staring determinedly in any direction but the clown’s. She would’ve smacked into the flagpole if I hadn’t guided her out of harm’s way. That haze of panic over the spider seemed long absent now. Kara always made everything better.

Come on, I said, tugging her in the opposite direction of Mrs. Clown. "Let’s go find my parents. Then we’re getting in line for that Ferris wheel. We have to get stuck at the top this year. I mean, for all we know, this could be the last ‘Welcome Back, Whale’s!’ event of our lives."

PART I - THE SECOND

Chapter 1

Year 1

August 15

I’D ALWAYS LIKED THE idea of riding a motorcycle—just feet above the ground, wind flinging your hair everywhere, the speed causing a tingle in your stomach.

My idea hit nowhere near home.

The wind pushed so fiercely against me that my fingers had frozen; the gloves had vanished somewhere into space. Streams of electric blue fanned over the helmet screen, irritating my eyes and making me dizzy. My limbs had gone numb, so I couldn’t readjust myself behind the guy.

"You can call me Sheedy," he’d said, like that should have meant something, but I didn’t know any Sheedys. More pressing, I had no idea why anyone, Sheedy or not, would want to abduct me.

After thinking the word, the truth hit like a bucket of ice. This guy, for whatever reason, had kidnapped me, and I was stuck to him with no means of escape.

Screams from the school festival replayed in my ears, the only sound the wind hadn’t overwhelmed. A knot grew in my throat at the thought of Kara and my parents at Whale’s with those gray alien creatures, monsters right out of a nightmare. Had they been wearing masks? Realistic, unearthly masks? I needed to contact my family, make sure they’d made it safely home—but calling them required access to a phone, and that depended entirely on Sheedy.

Eventually, the wind stopped thrashing and settled into a vague push. The blur over my vision steadied into the shape of farmland speeding past on either side, a backroad outlined in the blue haze that coated my helmet’s visor. Cows ignored us with their backs to the sherbet sky. The sun was a crack now, a slit of peach in the distance. A thirty-miles-per-hour speed limit sign popped ahead of us, then disappeared behind Sheedy’s speed of seventy-two. He swerved around vehicles like only his path mattered. Each time he drove into the opposite lane to dodge a car, my heart got a little smaller.

My helmet interface displayed a growing mileage as Sheedy drove me farther from familiarity. I’d often wondered how I’d handle myself in a crazy situation like this. Imaginary me always fought back, demanded answers, and wound up escaping. In reality, I just clammed up, instantly losing the fervor that had encouraged me to struggle against Sheedy earlier. Fear settled in my chest and wrapped cold arms around me.

The motorcycle slowed, from sixty miles an hour to thirty, according to the numbers that blinked in the corner of my helmet. 19:37 passed; my temples throbbed to convert the military time. Just subtract twelve, middle-school Kara had whispered in homeroom. Works every time.

Every time! You get it, Kar? ‘Cause we’re learning about time?

Oh, yeah! Pretend I did that on purpose.

Sheedy ignored a stop sign and zoomed over train tracks toward a highway exit. He actually paused at a traffic signal, where the few idling cars reminded me of the normal world outside my situation. After the light flashed green, the bike aimed left. Fast food restaurants and convenience stores neighbored us.

A lone gas station loomed beyond an overpass. Its logo had peeled off the signboard, and it sat in a puddle of blackness; the busted streetlamps around it offered nothing. Instead of shooting past it, Sheedy slowed, then turned into the parking lot. Boards covered the store’s windows, and graffiti covered the boards. The pumps had been removed, so only weeds and broken concrete lived beneath the roof. The stench of mildew found its way inside the helmet. Bars hid the front door with the cracked OPEN sign.

I’d expected Sheedy to have a hideout somewhere more modern than a rundown gas station. Though maybe deception was the point. My stomach clenched at visions of rusty hooks ready to string me up. Somehow, a crazy, futuristic location would have appeared less alarming than this weathered building.

Sheedy sped across the gravel toward the side of the store. The bike slowed, though not enough.

Forget hooks—Sheedy’s driving would kill me first.

Right when collision seemed inevitable, light appeared at the base of the wall. Instead of sliding over, it floated upward like a garage door. Brightness shone off a concrete interior wide enough for Sheedy’s motorcycle to fit beside an SUV, as blacked-out as the one parked at my high school. Most likely not a coincidence.

Pegboard slats like in my garage covered the wall, only motorcycle gear, not hammers and screwdrivers, hung from these. Leather jackets suspended beside gloves and helmets.

Sheedy drifted to a stop inside the boxy room. The vibrations faded, the mechanical whirring ceased, the bike tipped. He unbuckled the seatbelt and moved, which proved difficult, since my arms had frozen around his waist. He managed to shake my limbs off, then climbed from the motorcycle.

We haven’t been followed, he said. You’re secure here. He slipped off his helmet to reveal the same serious expression that had scrutinized me across the school grounds. His eyes, as bright a blue as my helmet screen, seemed permanently tight with a We have five seconds to disable this bomb intensity. They found mine, like he could see through my helmet. Come on, Kepler.

Fear kept me stationary on the bike. I told my legs to race toward any direction other than Sheedy’s, but they just locked like stubborn logs.

Sheedy frowned at me. I understand you’re confused, but don’t make this more difficult than it needs to be. He took my arm and hauled me off the bike. As if my feet had wheels, Sheedy eased me farther into the garage.

Punch him, run—do something!

A steel door interrupted the concrete wall; he steered me to its oval face. Shimmery blue raced in a pattern around the frame, and a screen at shoulder level lit to life at Sheedy’s touch. He pressed his palm against the screen; my eyes calculated his movements as if hypnotized.

One-four-one-one-four-seven, he spoke to the door. A chime issued from the screen, and a green haze glinted around Sheedy’s hand. The door got sucked into the floor like a card through a slot. Fluorescence illuminated a hallway that stretched ahead.

No need for your helmet any longer, he said as he pulled it off my head. Go in.

My surroundings lost the blue glow from the visor, and my toes found firmer footing. The inner room beckoned as warmly as a prison. No doubt he would lock me in a cell with a leaky pipe and eerie lighting.

Finally, my voice escaped the icy clamp around it. I’m not going anywhere with you, I said as boldly as I could muster.

Sheedy shoved me inside anyway.

***

EVEN A MOLDY TOILET might have reassured me, because at least I expected it.

Circles of fluorescence crackled with too much life in the hallway, giving me the impression that we’d found the airlock of a spaceship. Nothing decorated the walls or floor. The hallway seemed to serve no other purpose than separating the garage from the room ahead.

Sheedy plowed me forward with no concern for my shoes, which squeaked in protest along the floor. He lugged me along until the airlock deposited us into a room busy with beeping and voices.

Most gas stations overflow with aisles. Most have a checkout counter complete with a cluster of candy. This place had none of the above.

Three people sat at a circle of connected tables in the center of the high-ceilinged room. They enclosed a woman dressed for the sort of top-secret mission that people normally didn’t survive. She wore all black, from her long-sleeved shirt to the cargo pants that disappeared into shin-high boots. Gadgets hung from her waist, and the fingerless gloves looked tough enough to survive a few punches. Suspenders strapped over her shoulders, though a blade handle, not a gun, peeked from the holster under her armpit.

K-one acquired, she said as soon as Sheedy pushed me out of the hallway.

The others responded by swiping swift fingers over computer screens that blinked at their touch. Their desk modules were equipped with flat monitors and a panel of buttons, like the command center of a spaceship.

The woman faced a projection on the wall that showed an overhead view of my high school grounds. Figures peppered the image. The Ferris wheel still made its loop, undisturbed by the chaotic crowd.

I froze, assessing the military environment I’d entered. The uniforms, high-tech equipment, and cleanliness of the room gave me the impression that Sheedy belonged to something entirely official. No longer was I the captive of some teenaged guy with iron strength but the victim of something big enough to disguise itself inside a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

Sheedy dragged me a few more feet, but my eyes stayed glued on the projection, which might have included Kara and my parents.

Standard protocol, Sheedy, the woman said.

I swiveled to her. She met Sheedy’s height, around five-eleven. Her age might have been twenty-five, though her attitude added another decade. She had pitch black hair in a bun, coal eyes, and a marble-hard expression trained on Sheedy.

Use that console, she said, indicating one near us.

Sheedy nodded and unclenched my arms. He took a seat at the station while the woman resumed her pacing and the rest their typing. I might have hovered in confused terror for several minutes if another woman hadn’t emerged from a doorway off the main room.

Ah, she called, edging around the circled desks. "You’re early, and she’s unharmed. Well done, Sheedy. Is this your first solo?"

Sheedy glanced up from the monitor he’d hunched over. Yes, ma’am, he said.

The first of many, I expect. She stopped before me with the only smile I’d seen since Whale’s. Instead of battle gear, she wore a lab coat that fell knee length over slacks and a plain top. Her ebony hair was cropped close to her chin, and her eyes shone bright, the same copper color as her skin. Wrinkles near her mouth put her age around late thirties. Ella, I’m Dr. Saini, she said. I’m here to streamline your transition, answer questions, and perform a physical. Only to ensure you’re healthy, so don’t fret. If you’ll follow me.

I swallowed. Were they military, criminals, or neither? Well, she said she’d answer my questions. They’d fully bloomed, petals and all, by this point.

Dr. Saini led me around the computer stations toward the room she’d just exited. Beeping faded as we stepped through the doorway and into another room of machinery, though at least I could figure out the purpose of this room.

The clinic spanned slightly larger than my bedroom, without the hominess and with the coldness I’d expected. White walls wrapped us, and white linoleum shone under my feet. A waist-high cot jutted parallel to the wall, bolted in place. Drawers similar to ones in morgues sat snug in the wall; one was cracked open, revealing—to my relief—equipment and not bodies. An IV machine idled by the cot, and a pod like a giant, robotic egg sat where the window might’ve been.

First, Dr. Saini said, I’ll have you step in here. She gestured to the white pod without any sense of I know that dinosaur egg thing looks threatening, but don’t worry. Her nonchalance eliminated my muteness.

What... what’s that? I asked.

This will give me your weight, temperature, blood pressure, and body mass index with one simple scan. Conveniently thorough. Don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt.

Why do you need that information? What is this place?

Saini’s tawny eyes—pretty, even though they potentially belonged to a criminal—inspected me. She nodded; her straight hair tickled the collar of her coat. Sheedy told you nothing, she said. Well, I can see why you’d be alarmed. What’s your current assessment of the situation?

Something happened at my school with those gray creatures, something that somehow affects me, and Sheedy took me here.

Spot on. She smiled again, like she knew it might help me trust her, so I just strengthened my suspicion. The creatures at your school are called ‘Grifters,’ you’re called a ‘Fallow,’ and our operation is called the ‘Metahuman Training Academy.’ You’re currently in safe house number forty-seven, and Sheedy is someone who’s evidently followed very strict orders to tell you nothing.

But you’re allowed to tell me?

I’d thought Agent Chang might brief you, but she’s apparently busy. Saini looked close to rolling her eyes. All right, she said, clasping her fingers, let’s forget the physical for now. Take a seat. Are you hungry? Thirsty? A drawer slid forward from the wall, presumably responding to Saini’s motion.

No, I’m— My mouth got stuck as a water bottle floated from the open drawer. The bottle hovered without strings attaching it to the ceiling. It hung still, so surreal that it looked fake.

What! I said, tripping backward.

Saini searched the clinic like she’d find a mouse. The bottle followed the movements of her gaze. Is there a problem?

How—how are you doing that?

Have you never seen telekinesis?

Tele... kinesis?

Yes, the ability to move inanimate matter without touching it. I assumed you’d have this skill yourself.

I shook my head. Was she somehow creating an optical illusion?

Interesting. One finger tapped her lips. Well, I assure you this water is perfectly ordinary. Take a seat, and I’ll show you something that might alleviate some of your confusion. She pointed to the cot, and the water bottle settled on the pillow as if the wind had blown it.

I blinked. Any feeling of control over my situation vanished. If these people could move things with their minds, what else could they do?

I turned my back on the magic bottle. It would cease to exist until my brain figured out how it made sense. Time to focus on what really mattered.

What exactly is going on? I asked Saini. Are my parents safe? My friend? They were at Whale’s when the... the Grifters came.

Agent Chang is currently running command for the operation, which includes ensuring your family’s safety.

Can I talk to her? My request came out shaky, with none of the demand I’d imagined having, but Dr. Saini responded without laughing at me.

Sure, let’s talk to her, she said, and she tilted her head toward the exit.

Agent Chang towered over the three workers. Her dark bun gave her an additional two inches of height; it sat on her head like a knob.

...worth the effort of a full disclosure, she was saying.

Diagonal from us, Sheedy met my gaze before he resumed his work at the computer station. Half an hour earlier, he’d been my biggest threat, but now he blended in as just another obstacle to normalcy.

Agent Chang, Dr. Saini called from the doorway to the clinic, what’s the status on the Keplers? She’d like to make sure they’re safe.

The agent answered without shifting her attention from the monitor. Dr. Saini had maybe fifteen years on Agent Chang, but it seemed Chang carried more authority. Maybe, in whatever world I’d entered, agents trumped doctors, no matter the age.

Walker’s detailing, so your answer depends on your confidence in him, Chang said.

"He is first officer, isn’t he? My confidence is dependent upon Andrews’ ability to choose qualified agents—such as yourself, Agent Chang, Saini said with a pointedness that dragged Chang’s eyes up and split the marble of her demeanor. Saini turned to me without leaving room for Chang’s response. Are you happy with that?" she asked.

Is anyone monitoring my friend, Kara?

The hostiles are primarily concerned with Fallows, Chang said.

What she means is, Saini said, Kara doesn’t need monitoring like your parents do.

Why do my parents need monitoring?

That brings me back to what I was about to tell you. Inside again, Ella. Saini touched my elbow until I relented and reentered the clinic.

Strain had started kneading my temples. I wished I had only one concern, but I had to divide my anxiety between Kara, my parents, and myself. Who was the real threat, and who faced actual danger? This operation, whether or not it worked for good, didn’t seem to mean me any harm. How long did they intend to keep me, though, and why did they believe those Grifters had wanted me, of all the people at Whale’s?

I spotted the magic water bottle on the cot and looked quickly away. Adding telekinesis to my stress made my brain hurt.

A flat, rectangular screen like an oversized cell phone floated out of Saini’s inner coat pocket. So much for ignoring telekinesis. Simply put, Saini said as she configured her device, you’re a metahuman. We protect civilians from Grifters. Your parents had the choice to keep you or give you to the MTA. You obviously know what they chose.

My mouth moved several times before sound came out. This—that’s—no way. You’re saying I’m part of this?

You’re a Fallow, Ella, Saini said, "a metahuman raised outside the MTA. Your parents kept you, but now the Grifters know, and that’s why you’re currently in danger."

There’s just no way. My parents aren’t liars.

Did you ever ask them whether you were intended for a private subdivision of the government?

Well, no.

Then you can hardly know whether your parents are liars if they were never given the opportunity to lie.

I actually laughed then, a high-pitched titter that sounded nothing like me. This is crazy! Where are my parents now? If I call them, they’ll tell you this is ridiculous.

"You’ll have the chance to phone them once we’ve received notice from Chang that the crisis has abated. You don’t need their word for proof, however. The evidence is in you."

I can’t make stuff float with my mind.

Not yet, perhaps, Saini said with her coy smile. Why don’t we test your potential, Ella?

No, look, I— I closed my eyes, feeling shaky. I could handle secret government operations, eerie Grifters, and maybe even telekinesis, but not the idea that I belonged in that world. Yet Saini stood there, grinning like I was a kid sitting in the ocean and claiming that water didn’t exist. She thought I had my whole existence wrong.

Maybe this is real, I told her, "and maybe I could’ve been part of it, but I’m not. I promise you, I’m the exact opposite, actually. I’m not at all athletic. You’d think, if I had all this potential, I’d be—I don’t know—some star athlete by now."

Elaborate on ‘exact opposite,’ she said.

I’m clumsy, I hate exercising, I’ve never made it onto a sports team, and I’m pretty sure I can’t even do a pushup.

Show me.

A pause followed, during which my mind repeated, Does she really want me to start exercising? The desire not to embarrass myself kept me stiff, but when I caught the doubt narrowing Saini’s eyes and realized she didn’t believe me, I found myself moving toward the floor.

A flush stirred in my cheeks as I set my palms flat. I spent a moment berating myself for giving in to this stupid request; though, if I hadn’t, no doubt Saini would continue with all the other things I never knew about myself, and she’d do it while smiling and nodding. Poor Ella doesn’t know her own body.

My arms trembled as they bent. They gave out, and my chin smacked linoleum.

Hmm, Saini said with a heaviness like I’d insulted her. Can you read this?

I got to my feet. Saini indicated the chart hanging on the wall that the egg-pod rested against. Letters started big and got smaller in the shape of a pyramid, the typical sight-testing graph. She pointed with her pinkie to the bottom row.

Looks like a blob, I said.

A blob. Interesting. Her shoulder jerked, so quickly that it seemed unintentional—until a pen came flying toward my forehead.

I had no time to protest Dr. Saini’s decision to impale me before the pen stopped an inch above my nose, floating with the tip almost touching that space between my eyebrows. My delayed reaction kicked in, allowing me a flinch, but Saini had already sent the pen back to her coat pocket. Her grin had changed directions by this point.

Poor response to stimulus. Humor me once more, Ella, she said.

I waited for her next command. We stood in silence until Saini said, I’m assuming you didn’t hear that?

Hear what?

I see. She nodded. That’s plenty. Dr. Saini sighed and pounded her fingers over her electronic screen.

I shifted with a listlessness that increased the more Saini typed. I felt as conspicuous as someone painted purple. My hands, itching for usefulness, reached for the water bottle before I remembered it could float.

When the quiet became unpleasant, I said, Sorry, but maybe these Grifters got me mixed up with someone else, because there’s really no way I’m the person you think I am. I would know, and my parents would’ve told me.

"But they didn’t tell you, Ella." She spun her screen around and held it at her chest. It displayed a paused video of a man seated in the sort of empty room people used for interrogation, with a single lamp the only light. The quality was grainy, and the man hunched over the paper in his hands, but I recognized the crown of his head.

Saini pressed play. The man shifted, then cleared his throat.

I, Thomas Kepler, hereby affirm that one Agent Roberts has informed me of the existence of the Metahuman Training Academy and its relationship to my daughter, Eleanor Jane Kepler; and I, of my own violation, have chosen to raise her outside of the MTA, fully aware of the dangers such a life may pose to both my child and myself; and, should any harm befall my family due to this decision, I understand that the MTA is not culpable, and that it is my responsibility to ensure no undue duress on account of my decision. I understand that I am bound to confidentiality and that, should I disclose this information to any alien party, I face legal penalty. He set the paper flat on the table. Through the foggy filter, I caught the fold in his eyebrows as he stared downward.

A second person stepped into view, dressed in an outfit similar to Agent Chang’s. Sign here, the man said. He plunked a finger on the paper. Date.

My dad scribbled his signature. The feed cut out.

Your mother took the same oath, Saini said. She swiped sideways over the screen.

Stop! I almost shouted, but my eyes had already frozen on the pixelated silhouette of my mom, with her hair smoothed of frizz and redder than usual.

I, Helen Kepler....

Like my dad’s, her voice stayed a steady stream. It carried the same firmness used when reprimanding me, though I would have expected at least one quiver.

My mom signed and dated. The video ended. My heart seized when Saini swiped yet again, but the next chunk of evidence was an image: the document, stamped CONFIDENTIAL, with the squiggle of Dad’s signature. The next image appeared the same, only with my mom’s neat cursive at the bottom.

I grew up with the MTA, Dr. Saini said, angling the screen away from me, but I suppose I might have felt shocked when I first realized the truth. I don’t remember. You have my sympathy, Ella.

I closed my eyes. It felt like someone had dumped sand on me, burying me so deep that light failed to penetrate anything more than the splotches on my eyelids. This sand stuck inside my nose and pressed my limbs, so heavy for so weightless a particle. I wanted to twist free but also wanted to stay immobile permanently.

I’ll give you some time to process, Saini said. She tiptoed around me and let the closed door bury me deeper.

Chapter 2

THE ECHO OF THE door sealing after Dr. Saini’s exit reminded me that I hadn’t imagined our conversation. My eyes saw the white walls around me, and they also recalled a brunette head and auburn curls and two familiar signatures that had toured report cards, permission forms, and silly notes passed back and forth. The videos seemed the most obvious proof, but those signatures hit me hardest. I knew those letters, those crossed Ts and crooked slashes. I knew the hands that wrote them, hands that had followed me around my entire life, tucked me into bed and wiped my tears.

And when the shock turned to doubt, then doubt to resignation, I found myself asking a single question.

Why didn’t they tell me?

Once my brain allowed the question, it expanded and repeated. I paced the floor with fingers tangled in my hair. Never had my parents uttered an accidental recollection or even a vague statement. I raced through memories in search of that dropped hint and found nothing. In fact, my childhood had been so utterly opposite of what the MTA had expected that I found myself leaning again toward doubt. Then the vision of those signatures flashed once more.

I plopped on the cot and grabbed the water bottle at last. My hands twisted the cap until the seal broke and water leaked. Spilled water never hurt anyone, but lies did, and apparently I’d lived one giant, sixteen-year-long lie that concluded in a government hideout. This was no tiny We never told you that you used to have eleven toes but a whopping You should have been raised as a superhuman, but somehow you’re normal.

Yeah, how did that make any sense? Maybe if I’d displayed some athletic skill my entire life, I could have accepted this bombshell with less skepticism. But me? Even Dr. Saini had resigned herself to my inability. Did these supposed skills need training before they appeared?

I sunk my face into my hands. This night needed to end. At the same time, I had no clue how I’d face my parents with this new wedge between us. I’d always had a close relationship with my mom and dad. Now, thoughts of them made me queasy.

Kara—she had no idea, either. I could trust her, even if she didn’t know how to answer my confusion. At least my relationship with her contained no plot holes. I’d speak to her first before bringing this up to my parents. She’d help me figure out how to approach the topic without exploding.

Dr. Saini left me a good twenty minutes to torture myself. The twistiness grew so heavy that I almost thanked her when she reentered and disrupted my thoughts. Then I saw the graveness of her features and the man who followed her. My gut told me that the older man dressed like Agent Chang was Agent Walker. My gut also hoped he wasn’t, because Agent Walker was the one monitoring my parents, and this man’s expression weighed more than my current alarm.

...anything you discuss with Ella should—

Alone, Doctor, he said to Saini. His age lingered between forty and sixty. A thick mustache topped his mouth, and silver streaked near his temples.

Saini shook her head. I’m her acting physician, and this impacts her well-being. I’m staying.

He gave her a flinty stare that she returned without blinking. His chest heaved before he turned to me. I’m Agent Walker, tasked as one of your parents’ security details.

Are they hurt? I asked.

Agent Walker’s mustache bristled. Your parents had an altercation with the Grifters. We have since apprehended the Grifters responsible, but the damage appears irreparable.

Terror pinched my heart. W-what damage?

Agent Walker, iron hair and iron voice, dropped his punch. The Grifters have taken your parents’ memories.

Distrust quickly followed relief; I’d expected him to say lives, not memories. His actual statement felt as foreign as if he’d said my parents had moved underground.

Taken my parents’ memories, I said. You don’t mean... taken them how?

Recent incidents have revealed that Grifters now have the unique ability to diminish cognitive awareness. This includes memory loss. They’ve managed to isolate their interference to select memories. In this case, those of you. Your parents currently have no recollection of your existence.

My eyebrows narrowed. Mom and Dad had ingrained in me a respect for elders, so I knew I couldn’t call him a liar or laugh in his face. This realization stayed sturdy amid the panic that made me want to rush my response. With all due respect, I said to Agent Walker, there must be a mistake. Grifters deleted my parents’ memories? That’s not even possible.

It’s entirely possible, Kepler, and it’s happened. I’m sorry for your loss. He half-barked his apology and sped to his next point. In the matter of your placement. As you are a Fallow, the MTA will see that your temporal needs—

"That’s

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