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WINTER’S STORM
Retribution

Book 2 of Winter’s Saga By

Karen Luellen

Winter’s Storm—Retribution By Karen Luellen Published by Karen Luellen Copyright 2011 Karen Luellen License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook 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, then please return to the author and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Growling. An angry, guttural growl echoed from the darkened hospital room. Glowing yellow eyes only a few yards away locked on Farrow Schone and in that instant, she knew it could smell her blood, hear her heart racing, and see the pulse in her exposed neck. Farrow had never felt more like a piece of meat than she did right then. Oh, crap! She thought and began backing slowly away from the opening of the door, but as she did, the creature crouched low and coiled its legs tightly under its muscular body, ready to spring. Farrow could see now it was some kind of wild dog—a wolf or coyote, maybe. …whatever it was, it was huge, and pissed-off.

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Its piercing eyes were mesmerizing, hypnotic. Its snarling muzzle exposed flesh-tearing teeth glistening wet with saliva. There was no way she was going to be allowed anywhere near the people in that room. Not wanting to cause a scene or get mauled, Farrow made a hasty exit. Her orders were only to put eyes on the Winters and determine who was alive and who wasn’t. Dr. Williams was going to be livid to know they all survived. Farrow was also to collect Gavil and catch a flight back to Germany where she had no doubt all hell was going to break loose.

Part 1
Germany’s Creed

One week after the rescue of Dr. Margo Winter

Location: Dr. Kenneth Williams’ training camp called “The Facility” in Furth, Germany

1 Creed
October 10th Black laces, measured perfectly, slipped like silk through the metal holes of his military boots. Practiced fingers gripped each cross section and worked their way up the tongue until the top most position when both ends were tugged taught. He wrapped them once around, tied a quick double knotted bow and tucked the excess lace into the top of the boot. Creed Young stood and swept his large hands over the wrinkles that had quickly formed in his freshly pressed military fatigues. His olive green T-shirt stretched tightly across his wide chest, barely containing his massive physique. His chiseled face

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was stoic, marble and expressionless as he reached to retrieve his beret. This was the day for which he had been trained. This was the day of his Retribution. In all the years he lived at the Facility, he had watched many Retribution Matches. Watched the two metas sent into the arena together and ordered to “Kill, or be killed.” The battles were brutal. Even for the audience filled with hard-core metahumans trained to believe weakness needed to be stomped out. The Matches brought out the primal, vicious and evil. This wasn’t just a friendly competition to see who would come out on top. This was survival of the fittest in its most primitive sense. This was Darwinism deformed, but it was Creed’s way of life; all he’d ever known. And today was his day. From outside he heard the roar of the bloodthirsty crowd. His opponent must be hearing this, too. He wondered who was chosen to enter the arena with him. What

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was he thinking? How did he feel about the terms of the battle? How determined was he to win? When it came down to it, Creed wondered if he would be able to kill his opponent, as required by the rules of the event. In the mirror, the eighteen-year-old stared at his reflection and tightened his jaw. Creed struggled with this part of his discipline. He struggled simply obeying an order just because it had been handed down. Every other meta just did as they were told. They were unquestioning, unthinking and uninhibited by their thoughts. Creed was different from the others, and he knew it. The hard part was making sure no one else knew it. He was skilled at disguising his thoughts and feelings with an expressionless face. He knew the consequences of being different. Over the years he witnessed several cases where perfectly viable metahumans were removed from the Facility for lesser infractions than individual

And they were never seen again. accurate and a highly trained martial artist and weapons expert. It was time to begin. To call him “deadly” would be accurate. he looked like the perfect meta specimen. But Creed made sure that didn’t happen to him. time for Retribution. He kept his thoughts to himself. He stood six feet. The crowd’s roars echoed louder off the cement walls of the locker room in which Creed stood. One deep breath was all he allowed himself before he turned toward the door and .12/581 mindedness. two inches and weighed in at two hundred fifty pounds. More than just physical agility. Outwardly. He was solid muscle. He could bench press nine hundred fifty pounds. responsive. To call Creed “intelligent” would be an understatement. he also had mental agility.

opened it and jogged down the hall.. Oh no. no is all he kept thinking as realization sunk in. no. Then he saw his opponent. He stood bracing himself against the blaring lights. he was in the stands where the rowdy crowd stood now. Stepping into the arena was mind-blowing. This was the first time he had seen it from this point of view. surreal and eerily energizing. Previously.. Powerful memories of his brother’s numerous “lessons” that left Creed bloody and broken . Life was very different from this vantage point. Gavil.13/581 marched across the room. stood his own flesh and blood. There. Memories flooded Creed as he watched his brother’s mouth twitch slightly in what was most definitely a smile. the deafening crowd and the vibrations of adrenaline cutting his body like ice. It was terrifying. He had been pitted against his brother.no. across the arena.

. just as he had countless times before. He continued to torment Creed with vicious beatings until the day a year ago when Creed had enough.14/581 on the ground. it was Creed whose body transformed so dramatically. stronger. Nothing Creed ever did was good enough for Gavil. faster and smarter than Gavil now. Gavil was snickering as he covered Creed’s dinner in sand and laughed and ridiculed him. bloody pulp. had come to blows. who had been told they came from the same donor parents. Then. Something snapped inside Creed. It was a taunting like any other. who had grown up as his older brother’s punching bag. Time and again the two boys. But something was different that night. ripped through his body. He attacked Gavil and beat him to a whimpering. was taller. though. Gavil would have none of it. as puberty sneaked up. Creed.

Their paths didn’t usually cross because Gavil was two years older than Creed and slept in a different part of the men’s dormitory. was life here in their German compound. Creed always wanted to know what happened. All Creed remembered. though. But Gavil was two years older and had more memories of when they were brought here. . in the Americas. instead he had Gavil and he couldn’t stop himself from feeling only hatred for him.15/581 The boys had not spoken since and seemed to mutually work to avoid each other on the campus. Gavil was his only connection to the world beyond the compound. He only knew they were born overseas. Who were their parents? Why did they give the brothers up? Did they have a family somewhere? He wanted a brother to love. He knew nothing of his life outside The Facility. Creed felt avenged and empty at the same time.

bellowing horn blew. Screams of wild excitement crashed like waves over Creed. “It’s time to begin. A deep. As some of you may know. This is hand-to-hand combat . this Retribution is especially interesting because not only are the two opponents similarly matched in abilities. you know the rules. but they are also blood brothers. Retribution-ers.” Commander Oldham’s voice rose appropriately for the juicy announcement and the audience responded. Twentyyear-old Gavil Young is defender and eighteen-year-old Creed Young is the newcomer. sucking all the noise from the crowd as if in a vacuum. Commander Oldham’s familiar voice echoed around the silent faces.16/581 These thoughts churned through Creed’s mind as he watched his brother casually stretch as if preparing himself for an easy run. “Welcome! We’re here to witness the Retribution of two worthy metas.

17/581 only. To the death! Begin!” Creed hadn’t taken his eyes off his brother since the moment he first saw him. We could both concede and walk away with our . One quick movement to the side and Creed stood watching his brother fly by. before crashing into the wall of the fighter’s pit. Seems like a good day for you to die.” Gavil curled his thin lips at his brother.” The younger brother stood in the ready position and calculated his response. rolled his neck and sneered. we don’t have to do this. So. He stopped for a moment and shook his hands. trying to stop his momentum. No weapons. as good as any other. I was kinda hoping it would be you in here with me. Gavil face was pale with rage. no mercy. no reprieve. it came as no surprise when Gavil ran to attack even before Commander Oldham’s order to “begin. “Well. “Hey there baby brother.” “Gavil.

Slipping snake-like closer to his little brother until the Young men stood an arm’s length from each other. The crowd was shrieking wildly in anticipation.” He was inching toward Creed. “You know what happened last time we fought. stabbing his pressure points with deliberate skill and malice. “Concede!” Gavil spat the word like it was venom on his tongue. boy. It’s the only mercy you’re gonna get.” Creed’s mind was racing with possible options. We don’t have to…” But he didn’t have time to finish his sentence before Gavil’s hand flashed up and under Creed’s jaw. for old time’s sake. “You better take my offer.” “Gavil.” urged Creed. Creed’s nerves shot pain into his ears and pierced his .18/581 lives. Why don’t you just lay down right here on the ground? I’ll make this quick for you. don’t do this. “You want me to concede to you? Maybe I hit you one too many times in the head.

recuperating from the excruciating jolt. throwing out that hurtful nickname he’d given his little brother for all the injuries he caused him throughout the years. . “So be it. knee at his throat. The audience gasped in wild admiration. but at the arena wall beside him. Gavil smirked. Curiosity and surprise were the only two facial expressions Gavil had time to register before he realized what Creed was doing. He ran straight up the wall. loving how easy it was to trick his sucker of a brother. he slapped his brother’s hand away and leaped back. “Are you ready to fight now. Instinctively. Creed landed on top of his brother.” Creed locked his jaw and ran full-speed not at his brother. used the momentum to flip backward and caught Gavil by the neck with his legs on his way down.19/581 brain. Bleedy Creedy?” Gavil sneered.

Still locked together in a powerful struggle. Each time. just glints of light reflecting off a slice of metal that Gavil had retrieved from his boot. spat phlegm into his face and rolled out from under his knee. Gavil was lifted off the ground with the velocity of impact. head down shoving Creed against the wall and though it looked like a kind of brotherly embrace. there was something sinister about the way Gavil’s hand slipped to his boot. they had some semblance of warped integrity. Instead. Angered murmurs rose in surprise and disapproval. He jumped to his feet and charged. Creed began punching his brother in the stomach. Though they had been taught to feed off the weak.20/581 Gavil glared up at his brother. there was nothing tender about this. Audience members facing his back would later swear they saw it. .

even a monkey could be taught to use a weapon. burying the shard deep into the tender skin below the ribs. It was supposed to be handto-hand combat. Gavil pushed himself away from his brother just long enough to reposition the metal in his hand. to the death. Creed wailed in shock and anguish as Gavil continued to beat that same pierced spot with blow after blow. .21/581 No one ever brought weapons to a Retribution Match. All the years of fury and hatred for his perfect little brother. Metas were different—above. Heck. Not even the sound of the crowd roaring with frenzied excitement reached Creed’s ears. And though bloody and vicious. Creed’s anger was ice as he punched his brother. their society was built on very strict rules of conduct. more. Then it happened. and delivered a strategic and powerful punch into his brother’s kidney.

Creed slipped to the floor and curled into fetal position. grainy dirt from the arena’s floor caking to his sweat soaked skin. He could separate himself from his pain. . It was in that moment that everything became crisp and clear. He felt—nothing. Pain traced the lines of his face just as much from the metallic shard as from his brother’s vicious and absolute betrayal. he no longer felt the weapon embedded in his side. As he lay there.22/581 his archrival. The crowd roaring. He didn’t feel winded or strained at all. a deep scuff on his brother’s black boot inches away from his face—everything. came spilling through clenched teeth as he hammered Creed cutting him deeper and deeper. the scent of his own blood—sweet and coppery. And in that moment Creed discovered something about himself.

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As though he found a light switch in the dark, Creed simply reached out and turned off the pain. Gavil was more interested in the crowd’s cheers than his dying brother, so he stood with his back to Creed, arms raised in triumph. It was only the gasps of the audience that made him turn to see his opponent coolly stand, and assume the ready, fighting position. What the hell? Gavil’s mind screamed. His eyes shot a look at his brother’s shirt and confirmed what he already knew: He stabbed his brother and beat the weapon into his skin. Blood soaked the entire side of his fatigues and even was seeping down to the waistline of his pants. What the hell was going on? I won this fight! He shouldn’t be standing! Hell, he shouldn’t even be breathing!

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“You are no longer my brother, Gavil,” Creed growled softly enough to be heard only by his intended recipient. Stunned silence was all Gavil could give in retort but it didn’t really matter, Creed was on him with the speed and determination of a panther on its prey. The crowd seemed to have lost their thirst for blood as they sat in shocked silence watching the bloody figure of a meta delivering strike after furious strike. Within seconds, Gavil was face down in the dirt, screaming as his arms were yanked impossibly back and behind him. Creed stood holding the helpless appendages and placed his foot strategically on his brother’s head. One stomp and Gavil’s neck would snap like a twig. “Finish him!” boomed a voice over the loud speaker. It was Commander Oldham. He ran the Facility with an iron fist. His word was law.

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A hushed rumble radiated from the awestruck metahumans watching the drama unfold. Creed didn’t move. “Creed Young, you know the rules. ‘Kill, or be killed!’ Finish him, now!” With one quick motion, Creed let go of Gavil’s arms and stepped away. “No, sir!” His voice had no hint of fear or pain. Instead, there was strength and absolution. “I will not kill him, and he cannot kill me.” The anxious audience waited to see what would happen next. This had never happened. Never had someone refused to finalize victory. “Guards, escort the Young brothers to detention immediately! They will be dealt with there.” Commander Oldham’s voice was full of anger. The spectators were very sure this was the last they would see of the two fighters.

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Friendships were few and far between in the Facility, but Creed had a loyal following and many more who admired him from a distance. It was these metas who stood in the crowd and started clapping a slow and synchronized clap. Others joined in, until nearly the entire arena boomed in unison. Six armed meta guards entered the arena. Two of them dragged Gavil’s limp, beaten body away, and the other four surrounded Creed motioning him to move. Creed glanced up at the crowd’s obvious display of support and allowed a quick smile. No matter what, he knew he’d done the right thing.

2 Consequences
He fully expected to be killed for his disobedience. But he wasn’t. Instead, he was taken to the Facility’s surgeons who tended to his injuries; the most serious was the damage to his kidney. He vaguely remembered lying on the operating table and hearing the weapon clink into a metallic specimen bowl after the surgeon removed it from his kidney. He remembered wondering why they were bothering fixing him up if they were just going to kill him anyway. Even as he lay in recovery, staring at the sterile white curtain surrounding his bed, he wondered about his fate. Not that he was scared. Not at all. Instead, he felt numb and distant. This was all feeling like it was

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happening to someone else and he was just standing in the back of the room aware of the events, but unaffected by them. He remembered wondering if they had a medic taking care of Gavil, too. And if so, was he in a room nearby? Or, and this thought made him want to vomit, had Gavil been killed? An anguished ball of emotion churned in the pit of his stomach at the thought. Had they just killed Gavil? Was he completely alone in the world now? Having a brother who hated him was better than not having a brother at all, wasn’t it? Halfway through the second day in recovery, the flimsy white curtain encircling his bed was yanked back sharply. The sudden movement jolted Creed from his disconnected daze. Commander Oldham himself stood there staring with unconcealed hatred creasing his leathery face. He was there to deliver a message, he said.

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The Director of the Facility, Dr. Kenneth Williams, was visiting from the Americas. He witnessed the match and wanted to have words with Creed. He was ordered to report to the Director’s office at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow. A car and an escort would retrieve him for the meeting. Creed tried to ask about Gavil’s condition, but Commander Oldham, obviously disgusted to be in his presence, turned and walked out of the room as soon as he finished his message. The next morning, at oh-seven-fortyfive, Creed was dressed and waiting for his escort. Thankfully, the three days of recovery and his rapid metahuman healing had afforded him the ability to walk, though gingerly. He would be damned to show up to this meeting in a wheelchair. There was an abrupt knock at his hospital room door. He remembered looking up

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just in time to see the door swinging open, and that’s when he saw her. “Creed Young?” “Yes, ma’am.” “I’m Farrow Schone, Dr. Williams’ personal assistant. I’ve been ordered to escort you to headquarters for your meeting.” “I won’t need that,” he said defiantly motioning toward the wheelchair she was pushing. “As you wish,” she responded coolly pushing the chair aside. “The car is waiting. Follow me.” She walked like a soldier, but even with all her training and the unflattering fatigues, she couldn’t hide her definite femininity. Her dark hair was cut boyishly short, but her full lips and smattering of freckles across her nose screamed of beauty. She looked to be a little younger than himself, but it was hard to tell—she had an agelessness about her. Creed couldn’t remember seeing before. Inwardly,

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he shrugged. As the Director’s personal assistant, she probably didn’t mix with regular metas like him. Creed noticed she discreetly slowed her pace for him. Unusual, he thought to himself. Metas, were trained not to be concerned for the weak or injured any more than necessary to complete their objective. That is, unless they had been trained to work as a team. In which case, the objective was to use every member as efficiently as possible. He was noticing the concern she showed was the kind usually reserved for a team member. Curiosity got the best of him so he asked, “Why did the Director choose you to escort me?” She stiffened a bit then just as quickly relaxed her shoulders. “Why wouldn’t he?” Creed and Farrow walked in silence until arriving at the black car waiting curbside. The driver was standing beside the open

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door. Farrow climbed in the back seat and slid over to make room. Another courtesy he noticed while wincing with the effort to lower himself to the seat. He had to hold the frame of the door to maintain his balance. She was watching him carefully enough to see the pain flash across his face. “Recovery still takes time, even for a meta like you,” she whispered so the driver wouldn’t hear. Still breathing hard from the pain, Creed shot back, “What do you mean, ‘like me?’” Their eyes locked for a moment before the driver put the car in gear and began pulling away from the hospital. For the first time, he noticed her large doe eyes. The intensity of her observation made him feel a wave of dizziness he wanted to attribute to the overexertion. They turned away and stayed silent the rest of the short ride to headquarters.

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The building, though only three stories tall, was meant to be impressive. Black granite with black windows and rounded edges gave a contrasting modern feel to the old European countryside on which it stood. Flags representing the country and the company whipped in the breeze to the right and left of the entrance. A circled driveway left room for an artsy fountain in the center island. It showcased large, marbled, geometric shapes and coursing sheets of water slipping intentionally down at impossible angles until they disappeared under the pond at the base. The driver pulled around the fountain and right up to the front. Farrow opened her door and walked around to help Creed out. Defiantly, he pushed opened the door himself and shot her a pale but determined glance as he slowly rose from the backseat. The driver nodded once to Farrow and pulled the car away from the building.

Very impressed. an older man wearing a three-piece suit came rushing forward all smiles and handshakes to greet them. Creed. it is so good to see you up and around. I was just sure you wouldn’t be walking so soon after your injuries.34/581 “This way. dreamlike. If it weren’t for the pain. When Creed stepped off the elevator on the third floor. “My dear boy. Creed played along and let the stranger have his theatrics. Unsure of whom this man was. And I’m not afraid to tell you I was very worried there for a while—the way that brother of yours attacked you with a weapon.” . please. these events would feel dreadfully surreal. Creed followed his escort and wondered what lay behind the black doors ahead. but look at you! Here you are a striking example of what all metahumans should be! I’m impressed.” she said turning to walk toward the doors.

I’ll have you called up when we’re done with our talk. Creed was getting a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach about this guy. . my dear Farrow. Weird.35/581 The aging man shook his head and made tisk-ing sounds with his tongue as if reprimanding a child for getting caught with their hand in a cookie jar. And that he’s your brother. It was very unsportsmanlike behavior to have done what he did to you. it looked like it hurt his face to make it twist up at the corners. You’re free to go wait for us down in the lobby. “Oh.” When he smiled.” he said looking back over his shoulder at the escort affectionately. Thank you for retrieving our Creed. too!” The gentleman was still holding Creed’s hand as he spoke while gently leading him down the hallway. “how rude of me. my apologies. “There are strict rules in those Retribution Matches.

unassuming weakling of an old man in this tailored civilian suit was the Director of this military-run facility crawling with the most highly trained and deadly soldiers in the world? “Oh.” And with that. Farrow bowed slightly and walked backward a few steps before turning toward the elevators. we have so much to discuss. Williams? This small. . “First. it wasn’t but a few days ago when you were forced to put on a very violent display of brotherly love. Dr. Williams stopped talking and waited for his guest to speak. You must be exhausted. fragile. Dr. This guy was Dr. Williams.” the man was gushing as he opened the mahogany doors to what was undoubtedly his office. How are you feeling?” And for the first time.36/581 “As you wish. my dear boy. have a seat. I mean.

Evil.” Creed wondered if he was referring to himself or his brother. well. “Yes. I told him to have you brought immediately to my personal surgeon. Gavil had a strong mind. . Some would have cause to believe strong-mindedness wasn’t necessarily a virtue. when Commander Oldham and I saw what happened in the pit that day. sir. but I put him right in his place.” The yellow of the old man’s teeth stood in stark contrast to the glowing white that was the color palette of his office. I told him I had plans for such a strongminded meta. but definitely strong. thanks to the medical care. still unsure of what was happening. “He wasn’t very happy with my decision. He insisted that you both be terminated immediately.37/581 “I’m fine.” Creed chose his words carefully.

he’s dead. your brother.” Dr. “Dead?” Creed asked. is not of your concern any longer. . I want very much to talk about you. “Gavil. “Enough about him. Creed was sure he had whispered those words on the battlefield.38/581 “Sir. No one could have overheard them—so. “To you. How did you do it. Gavil must have been alive long enough to tell someone about their exchange. Williams said cryptically. Creed Young?” The Director came and sat next to him on the white leather couch as though he were about to lean in to hear a secret of great importance. Isn’t that what you said to him on the field of battle just before you overtook him?” A wicked grin slipped across his old face. where is Gavil?” Creed asked the one question that was weighing more heavily on his mind than his own welfare.

I wouldn’t have believed it. curled up and dying. but I can’t tell you . and not just standing. sir. suddenly you were standing. How should he respond to this question? If he told the old man he was able to turn off his pain like flipping off a light switch. So what I want to know. Then. would he believe him? Would he somehow use it against him? Does his life depend on how he answers what felt like a very loaded question? “I remember the match. my boy. I saw you with my own eyes. but charging and attacking with a fury I’ve never seen before! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Gavil beat you with that weapon into your side. sir?” Creed asked confused and still thinking about his brother and that day at the match. “You were down. is how did you do that?” Creed weighted the moment carefully. You were on the ground.39/581 “How did I do what. I’ve been reliving it over and over.

over time. to be publicly hanged.” he finally said. again in the same pit where the . in his mind.” Creed stared stone faced at the Director working hard to maintain his stoic expression so as not to give away his inner panic. “Maybe it’ll come to you. One. you are to be publicly tortured in the same pit where the defiance took place. “Now. Commander Oldham is pretty upset that you disobeyed a direct order: To kill your brother. Or two. “He offered two suggestions that would. Dr.40/581 what happened to give me the ability to get up and fight at that point. I really don’t know how I did it. Williams’ eyes narrowed skeptically and he stayed quiet a little too long. as the rules of the Retribution Match so clearly states. He insists you be made an example of for the other Metahumans so they see what would happen to them should they ever try to defy orders. as I mentioned before. make things right.

” he stopped. Pain or no pain…he didn’t want to die! In a colossal effort to maintain his composure Creed had to ask.” The Director stood from his place inches away from Creed and walked to his huge marble encrusted desk. “One more option. sir?” Creed’s voice wavered. He picked up what looked like a file and walked slowly back to where Creed sat as still as stone. That is.” Creed’s eyes widened and he swallowed hard. if you’re interested. He was fine with either one and wanted to leave the final choice up to me.” Creed stammered. sir. “And what did you decide. but that I would add one more option for you.41/581 defiance took place. “I—I am interested. but only slightly. one more. “Yes. put the folder to his side and looked up expectantly at Creed. . sir?” “I decided it was up to you what would happen.

son.” “What is it. “This is your third option.42/581 The old man smiled ruefully and finished walking the distance back to the white sofa. sir?” “An old score that needs settling.” he said motioning to a slightly yellowing photograph. Creed recognized the number immediately because all metahumans were given M-Case numbers. Creed Young.” On the next page there were pictures of two small children and a baby. His own was M429. I want her dead.” “What did she steal. Only these numbers . and I want the assets returned to me. “stole three very precious assets from me. sir?” “Turn the page. As he sat.” “Pardon?” “The woman in the picture there. Beneath each picture was an M-Case number. his wrinkled hand passed Creed the folder.

” “Why would you be aware? But no. It was at that Institute that the first serums were tested on human subjects and the results. “These children are metas. they are. all these years later. They must have been some of the first metas. . are magnificent soldiers like you. sir. It was the birthplace of the metahuman. “They were test subjects some twelve years ago at The Institute for Neurobiological Studies in the Americas? I wasn’t aware that there was another training facility. Williams was giving Creed time to scan the documents following the pictures.” Creed said. M61 and M74.” The director was smiling proudly at Creed.” Dr.43/581 were much smaller: M57. “These meta children are the ‘assets’ this woman stole from you?” Creed was putting it together now. “Yes. it was not a training facility like this one. thinking out loud.

beautifully evil to be sure.” “And you want these children back?” “Precisely. They may need some convincing.” “Are they still with the thief?” “They are.” “Will they come willingly?” “No doubt that woman has worked to turn them against me. Gavil was too evil.” “But they’re not children anymore.44/581 “Yes.” The doctor was watching Creed’s face carefully and loved what he saw.” “They are. but once the woman is killed. they’ll be much easier to manipulate. They must be teenagers by now. but for this assignment he needed a strong-minded. turn them away from who and what they truly are.” “Where are they?” “In the Americas. He knew he had chosen the right brother. .

nor a thief.45/581 gentle hand. Could I just bring her back with the children?” Creed asked hopefully. “Let me make myself perfectly clear. should you choose to accept it. Not my brother.” The venom in the doctor’s voice was potent. If you do not accept the terms of Option 3. But may I ask if there is any way to ‘settle the score’ that doesn’t involve killing someone?” Dr. there are still two other options you have from which to choose. This man had power and he knew how to wield it. “Excuse me. “It’s just that. His three-piece suit looked even more intimidating than a five-star general. sir. Period. is to terminate the woman and retrieve the three metas. son. I don’t feel right about killing anyone. The assignment. and Creed fit the profile perfectly. . Williams glared at Creed and said nothing to ease the silent anger that was clearly his response.

But sometimes we have to make a trade. Williams continued. and he wasn’t much of a family. You have grown up here at the Facility. Dr. So let me put one more thing on the table to help you make your decision. live by a strict code of conduct in my personal and business affairs. I. Have I assessed that accurately?” “Yes. You do not feel comfortable taking a life. sir.” “Have you ever wondered where your parents were? What they were like? Maybe wondered why they gave you and your brother up to the Facility instead of keeping you with them?” . myself. correct?” “Yes. Sometimes the ends do justify the means. sir. I can appreciate a man of principles.” “The only family you ever knew of was Gavil Young. “However.46/581 With a slow deep breath in an obvious effort to calm himself.

“And if I don’t agree to this assignment…” .” “And you’ll tell me where to find them if I complete option three just as you say?” “Now you’re getting the idea. given the chance? Or more pointedly. what wouldn’t you do?” If the devil himself had a face.47/581 Creed had no idea where the old man was going with this line of questions. He was nearly giggling with joy over the painful dilemma he saw in the young man sitting next to him. “What would you do to find them. “Sir. my boy. it looked like Kenneth Williams’. “I am.” beamed Williams. are you saying you know where my parents are?” Creed’s voice came out in a whisper. but he did know it was making his stomach feel like it contained boiling acid.

and walked purposefully toward the large mahogany doors. Oh.48/581 “Then there are always the death options from which to choose. And Creed. thank you.” Creed mumbled deep in thought.” Watching the conflict in Creed’s eyes was sheer pleasure to Williams. Weigh the rights and wrongs in your own mind. opened them and closed them quietly behind himself. Creed Young. I’ll be back in a few minutes. “All right. sir. “Take a few moments to think about it. and you’d die never having known your family. What was he going to do? Could he live with himself if he . so use it wisely. Would you care for a cup?” “No. Creed hadn’t moved the entire time he had been in Williams’ presence. I’m going to step out and grab a cup of coffee. that’s all the think time you’re going to get.” The old doctor stood up with a grace he shouldn’t have been able to manage.

he could shoot them with tranquilizers if he had to. no matter what her crimes? If he didn’t kill her. He could completely distance himself from the whole thing. Then all he’d have to do is coral the meta children and bring them here. He would make it a fast and clean kill. He’d been dreaming of them for the last fifteen years. What did they look like? Did . then he wouldn’t have long to regret it because Commander Oldham would have his head on a silver platter for all the Facility’s metas to see. he takes a rifle and tags the thief right between the eyes long range. She wouldn’t feel pain. Heck. Look at what individuality and disobedience gets you. and he wouldn’t have to hear the thump of the bullet hitting her skull. everyone! You get dead.49/581 killed this woman. So. That’s not a lot of work in comparison to the reward of finding his parents. that’s what you get.

What are the logistics of the assignment. son? What is your decision?” “I’m in. . So all he had to do was this one little assignment and then the rest of his life could begin. His heart tightened in his chest. Williams returned with a steaming cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other. sir?” Creed’s mouth formed the words and his mind tried to grasp the meaning of what he had just chosen.50/581 one of them have his blue eyes? Did he look like his father? Was his mother beautiful? Did she cry for him often and wish things had turned out differently? Were they nice people? Artistic? Musical? Athletic? There were so many questions Creed was aching to have answered. “Well. Maybe the doctor was right. He was trying to convince himself that this was justifiable homicide. Sometimes the ends do justify the means.

His supply of adrenaline that had run like a faucet moments before felt completely cut off now and it left him emotionally and physically drained. Without a word she wheeled it to Creed and positioned it right beside the exhausted and pain-filled young man. You still need to rest. She held . I can wait another week or so. To her credit.” The doctor walked to his desk and lifted the black phone to his ear. Now all he wanted to do was curl up under the covers of his hospital bed and forget everything he just agreed to do.” The doctor was beaming with satisfaction. “Please send Miss Schone up to retrieve our guest. Creed. Farrow arrived with a quick knock at the door. she had with her a wheelchair. I’ve waited twelve years for payback.51/581 “Excellent choice. “But there is plenty of time to discuss logistics.” Creed’s body ached miserably. Recover completely before you take on this assignment.

he forced himself to suffer.” And with that. “Thank you. Farrow wheeled him out into the hallway. sir. The doctor didn’t seem to notice. “Goodbye. You just focus on recovery for now. Williams. He needed to be believably hurt.” The doctor shook Creed’s hand and stared into his eyes. but he didn’t dare do that in front of Dr. down the elevators and up . my boy. a bit sooner than was socially acceptable. Creed felt a wave of gratitude for her thoughtfulness and discretion. He wanted so badly to turn off his pain.” the young meta mumbled and withdrew his hand instinctively. “We’ll be in touch. Goodbye. and he didn’t know if he was that good an actor. So.52/581 it stable while he tried to ease himself up from the couch and then down into it.

he slowly set the mug down on a green marbled coaster. To recreate their unique abilities. Once the doors shut behind them. . The thought of what it would be like to have Margo Winter killed made him smile with anticipation. His fingers found the familiar metallic spheres. Williams leaned against the edge of his custom made. that was enough for him to walk away from the desk with a slight skip in his step. Dr. mahogany desk and took a sip of his coffee as he watched Farrow wheel Creed Young out of his office. and reached unthinking into his front suit pocket. hand-carved. those that were above and beyond even the most trained meta at the Facility. He nearly began salivating at the idea of having the three children back so he could continue his research using their blood.53/581 to the black car waiting to return him to the hospital.

54/581 .

He had been cleared to “take a slow walk” around the pond. today he was determined to get out on the path and run at least one mile. That should be completely .3 Justified The wind cut against his face. Despite doctor’s orders. With each breath he felt the cold invade his lungs. bitterly cold and constant. His legs hit that rhythm easily. but his body was literally aching to get stretched and used. splash against the heat his core created and come out as a cloud of hot vapors. His feet were pounding the gravel as consistently as a metronome. his doctor refused to allow him to push himself to exercise until today. It had been one week since his Retribution Match and though he had been able to return to simple everyday physical tasks.

Never one to feel comfortable in the spotlight. obscuring their view of him. With temperatures hovering in the teens. Lost in his own thoughts. he was getting some fresh air. he would have picked up his pace to pull . today. most of the trail’s usual occupants had opted for warmer. indoor exercise instead. Once he did realize it. the last thing Creed wanted was attention. running twelve miles in under an hour was no big deal at all. Ordinarily. one mile should be fine. Before the stabbing. He ignored the handful of cadets he did see and chose instead to pull his hoodie up. though he was still sporting a few dozen stitches internal and external. he studied the sound of the gravel crunching under the other runner’s feet and decided it must be a female meta. he was about to go crazy cooped up in that hospital room.56/581 doable. Creed didn’t notice right away that there was someone running close behind him. Besides. So.

57/581 further away from her. Creed stopped running all together. She matched his stride and ran right beside him. and forced himself to breathe slow. deep breaths—not from over exertion. “Fine. Great. The other runner stopped and watched him for a moment. “You okay?” He heard her say.” Creed was talking through his clenched teeth a little afraid to look at the damage he was pretty sure he’d done to himself. Frustrated with the intrusion. I just don’t need an audience. their feet making unison crunching sounds into the path. Shit. but he knew he was already over doing it physically. She didn’t. He leaned over. Instinctively. he covered it with his hand. but because he had just felt the skin on his side pop open. so he opted to slow down to let her pass him. .

58/581 Ignoring that last statement. “I’m following orders. I’m thinking. more to change the subject than anything. I don’t want to have to carry your weight. it’s you. Williams wanted me to see if you were fit for duty and judging by the blood on your shirt. “I think it’s a big deal.” Farrow smiled beautifully and said. .” She parked her hands on her hips and glowered at his nonchalance. “I think you over did it.” she said flatly. “Oh. especially since we’re going to be partners. No big deal. “Nice to see you too.” Creed spun around to silence the annoying meta when he realized who she was.” “Are you following me?” Creed asked. Creed Young. not. the girl kept talking. “Dr. Inside he was fuming with embarrassment.” Creed tried to say casually.” “I just popped a couple stitches.

and I’m not going to allow you to ruin my career with your macho-bullshit. “I’ll contact you tomorrow morning with specifics. terminate her and retrieve the assets—you know. “You’d better not screw this up. Okay. Did you say ‘partners’?” “Dr. Williams. When does he want us to leave?” Creed asked worried this was happening too fast and that he hadn’t had time to process everything. Williams wants us to travel to the Americas. let me just get this taken care of back at the hospital. Winter. be ready to leave before lunch.” She .” She looked again at the large blood red stain on the hoodie Creed was holding protectively and shook her head. I have a perfect record with Dr.59/581 “Wait. Creed Young. locate Dr. the assignment you agreed to?” “So soon?” “He’s not known to be a patient man. what? Hold on. but just in case.” “Right.

” he continued. no. . I wouldn’t dare do anything to soil your pristine reputation as an ass-kisser!” Creed mumbled the thoughts to himself. but he couldn’t back out of it now. he wasn’t mad at Farrow.60/581 turned and ran back down the trail toward headquarters. You go on back to Daddy Williams. your highness. “Oh. Truth be told. he hated knowing he had sold his soul to that devil. “Oh. So much for doing the right thing. he sighed to himself. hey. I have several other pints of blood I could lose before I pass out right here in the dirt. Of course not. Morality had a new name and it was Justifiable. Williams’ henchmen. With nowhere else to go. No matter how he tried. and don’t worry about me. Creed limped slowly back toward the yellow lights of the medical building. He was disgusted with himself for being Dr.

61/581 Damn it. .

Part 2 Winters in Kansas Two weeks after the rescue of Dr. Theo Andrew’s hospital in Olathe. Kansas . Margo Winter Location: Dr.

but he put up with them without complaint. Maze whined impatiently at me so I didn’t even bother with my wildly curly hair. The boy had to pee—and he meant now. He sneezed twice before sniffing and licking his nose clean. And even though it was 2:57 in the morning. It was the collar . Grabbing his leash we shuffled through the hospital room door and softly closed it behind us.4 The Sentries Maze may be an exceptionally perceptive and highly intelligent coyote. he dutifully woke me with a slobbery lick to show me that his eyes were floating. I yawned while putting on my warm boots and coat over pajamas. but he still had to be walked once in a while. Maze wasn’t very fond of the hospital smells.

You could be sniffing out some yummy squirrels in the backyard at Dr. we have all been very protective of our mom since rescuing her from Dr. Andrews’ house. but no-o-o. so we have to act the part. Dr. .” I gently scolded. literally. you have to play sentry and guard mom like an overprotective mother hen.64/581 and leash I was required to use that Maze barely tolerated. Williams. Andrews was nice enough to allow you in the hospital under the pretext that you’re a guide dog. Maze looked up at me with a sour expression on his sweet coyote face. “Don’t give me that look. We haven’t left her alone. “I know you hate this dumb ol’ leash. but rules are rules.” I cooed at my best friend while scratching between his ears and neck where the collar was rubbing him the wrong way. “you’re the one who insists on staying with mom at the hospital.” To be honest.

Once outside.65/581 Matter of fact. I found myself smiling warmly at the sweet lug as I walked us into the elevator. But Maze won’t leave any longer than it takes for him to go relieve himself outside. Andrews’ house. we’ve worked out a schedule so there are always two of us with her day and night. Evan and I are on “Mom Watch” as we’ve come to call it. I breathed deeply and allowed myself to listen to the night sounds: The building’s sliding glass doors whooshed closed behind me. being in a small hospital room for hours on end was enough to make me feel very claustrophobic. wide blue skies and stretches of land for as far as the eye could see. Maze’s sniffing nose and padding feet in the Midwest grass. After growing up on a huge ranch in Texas with the handsome. Tonight. while Alik keeps an eye on things back at Dr. the cold breeze rustling . but he’s a devoted big ball of shedding fur. He may be a big ball of shedding fur.

66/581 through autumn leaves. buddy. It was a beautiful night. “Wily nut-ball.” he said with a hint of a smile as he stepped into the light. At the sound. “Whoa. I’ll take the leash off so you can stretch your legs. choosing instead to stay wary. but don’t be gone long. I whipped around. isn’t it?” a man’s voice asked from the shadows. He stood about ten feet away from me. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m sorry.” I mumbled as I watched him start to chase some poor unsuspecting rodent. Off he sprinted toward the nearest row of bushes. Maze whined and tugged at the leash. you know. probably sensing that if he came any closer I . “Okay. “It’s a little late for a stroll. Some of us want to get back to sleep. I didn’t respond. tense and ready for battle.” He winked his intelligent yellow eyes at me and licked my hand as I unleashed him.

” he gestured to the hospital. He pulled his hands out from his coat pockets and held them. “So again. to his sides in a gesture to show that he meant no harm. He was nowhere in sight now. Because the events over the last few weeks were underscored by some scary stuff like being followed. “I was just out here getting some fresh air after spending the entire day in there. palms out. dark hair. but I wasn’t too worried. tricked.” I glanced over to where I last saw Maze. I couldn’t decide if this guy was harmless or not. I’m sorry to have startled you. attacked. hunted and maimed. One whistle and he’d be at my side ready to fight. tall. He looked to be a little older than me. I guess my knee jerk . But it’s not every day a guy sees a girl talking to what looks like her pet coyote in the moonlight.67/581 would feel even more threatened. blue eyes and very muscular. shot at.

I turned slightly and started walking away. we were just stretching our legs. This guy wasn’t getting .” I said in a voice intended to give off a tone of leave me alone. “Well. “Yes. but they’re not known to become domesticated at all. “Is he what?” I asked not even trying to hide the annoyance in my voice.” he said all this while walking a few steps closer to me. Well.” I said not offering any more information. keeping the guy in my peripheral vision.68/581 reactions were starting to lean toward paranoid. too. you know how unusual it is to see a tame coyote? They’re part of the canine family. “You’re not from around here are you?” I ignored his questions and decided enough is enough. buddy. “A coyote. “Wow. “Right. is he?” the guy called taking a few steps to follow me.” he asked innocently.

69/581 the hint and no matter how blue his eyes flashed in the moonlight. “This is Maze. or how handsome his smile looked—I needed backup.” I said sternly.” I turned and walked back toward to the hospital’s sliding glass doors with Maze right at my side and the stranger’s eyes boring a hole in the back of my head. Maze flashed over the bushes some fifteen yards away and bolted straight toward him. licked my hand and glowered at the stranger. He trotted right up to my side. I stopped one last time. . Now it was his turn to look startled. Maze turned and growled. A low whistle from me had him change course and speed. He doesn’t much like strangers and neither do I. “Creed!” He yelled over to me. surprised my iciness didn’t scare him into the silence it should have. “Goodnight. My fingers flew up to my mouth and let out a sharp whistle.

A few doors down. and we were back in mom’s room.” I said sleepily. Maze looked up at me and cocked his head to the left like he was trying to understand what my problem was. Something about that guy was scary—in a cool sort of way.70/581 “Did you just say. waved and walked away.” He smiled widely. It’s bad manners. ‘Creed?’” I called back. wasn’t it?” I asked Maze as we rode the elevator back up to the seventh floor of the hospital. you. “Yeah. “That was a little weird. No digging through other people’s leftovers. but still. Creed Young. I locked the door behind me . “I know we could have taken him in a heartbeat so unless he had a gun in his back pocket. there was really no threat.” Maze was ignoring me now as he sniffed a meal tray one of the patients had left on the floor just outside their hospital room door. Now I’m not so much a stranger. it’s my name. “Come on.

Of course. Something about that wild-haired beauty made Creed’s heart leap in his chest. Creed shoved his hands . there was the small issue of killing the woman.71/581 and checked on mom. Maybe this assignment wouldn’t be that bad after all. Creed watched the numbers light up above the elevator she had taken. again. I found my pile of blankets on my cot and flopped down. He smiled to himself remembering their conversation and how guarded she was. It stopped on the seventh floor. Maze curled up at my feet. The night was still. He began whistling as he shuffled casually out of the building and back to his rental car waiting in the lamp-lit hospital parking lot. Tomorrow he would have to find a way to bump into her again. Back down in the lobby. She was breathing softly and her monitors showed her heart rate. oxygen levels and blood pressure all normal. Evan hadn’t moved since I saw him last.

angelic and soft even through her attempt at sounding irritated. Sitting in Williams’ office. They were good people. He sat in his car and leaned his head back staring up through the sun roof. Things seemed much less clear cut. the more he liked them. Now that he . Now that he heard her voice. right? Williams gets back the metas that were rightfully his. He found the more he watched the Winter family and how they interacted. They were a family. The stars were faint here compared to back at the Facility. The ends justify the means.72/581 into his pockets frowning now against the thought. Thief gets her comeuppance. it didn’t seem too hard to agree to terms of this arrangement: one thief killed and three metas returned in exchange for information about his long lost parents. And. now that he looked into the girl’s dark eyes and watched them flash with anger. Creed gets to be reunited with his kin.

It’s time to complete your assignment. Hopefully. it was Dr. Creed touched the screen accepting the call. sir. his cell phone began to vibrate. He needed a little shut-eye before trying to figure out what to do next.D. Williams.” “Status report.” “Surveillance still successful.” “It’s been long enough. confirmed it.” “Yes. Now everything felt as hazy as this night sky looked. slipped his phone back into his pocket and started the car. Farrow would leave him alone when he got back to . her laugh.” “Excellent. First contact with M57 has been made. One glance at the caller I. “Sir.73/581 could imagine her smile.” click Creed sighed deeply. In his pocket. Your condition? “Ninety percent recovered.

would that seem overly anxious? It’s not like Creed had ever tried to woo a girl before. How was he going to forge more of a friendship with the girl? Maybe he should keep a steak on him next time to see if that’ll win over the coyote.74/581 the hotel. She was the key to the brothers. but she was resourceful. If she wanted to. repositioned her pillow and draped her leg over Maze. he thought. she could be sitting on the edge of his bed ready to pounce him for information when he got back. He made sure she did not have a key to his room. . He needed sleep and then things will seem clearer in the morning. Creed had to think of a way to get the girl to trust him. Meg rolled over in her cot. He yawned deeply. Sleep. Or. He pushed Farrow out of his mind and focused instead on the girl—Meg. As Creed was pulling out of the parking lot. and fast.

” “Yeah. you coming?” Alik yelled up the stairs. It was depressing as heck. We’re gonna be late and you know how upset they get when we’re late. sounding out of breath and frustrated. Come on. “You can borrow mine.” Cole moaned.5 Fifteen-Year-Old Driver’s Permit with a “Cole. thumb-less. They drew us pictures of frowny faces. “Your what?” “My thumb! I can’t find it anywhere and that’s one of their favorites.” . have you seen my magic thumb?” Cole yelled back.” Alik gave Cole a look as he met him at the bottom of the stairs. I just…darn it. “Your dad’s already in the car. Remember last time. “I know. Hey.

I don’t want to get pulled over for obstructing traffic because you’re going so blasted slow.” Cole teased back. . please?” he yelled through the glass miming the request as if his dad didn’t already know what his son wanted. Andrews teased as he got out of the car and walked around to the passenger seat.” Dr. old man. “Good grief. Ever since he got his driver’s permit three days ago.76/581 The boys hurried out the front door. “Dad. Andrews rolled his eyes at his teenager. Cole had not let up about wanting “practice time” behind the wheel. can I drive. please drive the speed limit. Dr. Cole tapped on the driver’s side window. but this time. “Dad! What are you saying to me? You want me to speed? Do you know the statistics on speeding and fatalities? Safety first. “Fine.” the doctor groaned. jumped down the steps and jogged to the car.

more driving.” Alik confided.” his dad said. And she’s not as young as she used to be. only half teasing.” “Mom’s not recovering as fast as I thought she would. “Alik.” Cole mumbled. is it your turn for Mom Watch?” “I relieve Evan at noon. “I’m sure everything’s fine up there. Her body is doing the best it can to heal. Dr.” Alik responded cringing at the trash bin they were inches away from hitting.77/581 Changing the subject to take his mind off of Cole’s one mile per hour attempt at reverse down the driveway. the doctor asked. “She’s not a metahuman with rapid healing abilities like you. “Hope everyone had a good night up at the hospital.” . Andrews nodded softly. My staff has strict orders to contact me directly if there is any change in our patient. “Less talking. Alik. She just needs time.

” Dr. “STOP!” Dr. trying to act calm about the whole teenager-behind-the-wheel thing. sir. Andrews asked. Alik?” Dr. “Sorry.” Cole blushed. I’m just worried.” “Williams could what?” Cole asked “Yellow light! RED!” Alik yelled. “Yes. he . they were stopped a little too far into the intersection and car horns were already honking.” “Yes. This time.78/581 “I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Four seconds of squealing tires later. We’re sitting ducks right now. “Son. ‘bout that. sir?” “Slowly back the car up. pushing himself back in his seat.” “So. “Um…I was just saying how worried I am about Williams sending a henchman or five to come finish what he started. Williams could…yellow light. Andrews said calmly. sir. Andrews yelled to Cole. you were saying.

Andrews asked.” . Maybe he knows something that will make our options more clear. Alik just shrugged. “After what happened.79/581 may send another metasoldier like the one that got to Meg. They didn’t want the doctor or Cole to be defenseless if the house was attacked. Even with us standing guard. chances are very good they’ll accomplish their task.” the doctor said thoughtfully. It was hard not to feel responsible for everyone’s safety. if he sent meta assassins. I’m just not sure what to do about it. They may even come after you two. too?” Dr. trying not to worry the doctor. The truth was that was exactly why the kids had arranged the schedule the way they did. “Let me call Greg to see if he has any new information or suggestions.” “Is that why Mom Watch schedules one of you kids to stay at the house with Cole and me every night? Because you are worried we’re in danger. your worries are valid.

I don’t want anything to happen to your mother either. how difficult it must be for Cole knowing everyone else was expected to protect him because he would be helpless against a metahuman. too. I guess if I were him. Alik thought to himself. Somehow. . “Is the love-fest over? Can we go entertain the sick kids with our magic tricks now?” he chirped a little over anxiously. and I’ll do everything I can to keep it that way. Alik gave his friend a sideways look and thought. “Listen.80/581 Alik stayed silent. I want us all safe. I’d change the subject.” And with that Cole pulled safely into his father’s reserved parking spot at the hospital. We’ll figure this out. not for the first time. as was his way. brooding over all that could take place.

Good grief. That was a soap opera name. Still groggy. Did last night really happen? Did I take Maze for a walk and run into a guy outside last night? A guy who wouldn’t get the hint that I wanted nothing to do with him? A guy with handsome blue eyes and a wide. I let the morning sun from the hospital window warm my face. . dreamy smile? Yeah. Who in their right mind would go by the name ‘Creed?’ I thought to myself smugly. that’s it. I slowly batted my eyes open and turned to watch my mother breathe.6 Cafeteria Food Morning shook the fog from my mind. not a real guy’s name. but definitely. Her chest rose and fell faintly. It had to be a dream.

or do you want me to?” Her littlest brother mumbled more and rolled over on his way-too-small cot.” I whispered to him.” I whispered so as not to disturb mom. That sandy blond hair falling in wisps over his long eyelashes just made him look so sweet—like he used to when he was a little boy. Evan mumbled in response. His birthday was fast approaching. Do you wanna go get breakfast. “Evan. Maybe I should just let him sleep. I’ll go fetch breakfast for us.82/581 “Evan. you coming?” I looked over at my loyal coyote fast asleep at the foot of my cot. “Maze. wake up. He was nearly thirteen-years-old. . Where did my baby brother go? I reached out and touched his unruly hair away from his eyes. kiddo. He sure was cute when he was sleeping. He opened his eyes just a crack and blinked once before letting his sleepy lids fall back closed. “Okay. though. You sleep. it’s seven o’clock. and I’m starved.

Just don’t complain if I didn’t grab your favorites. and listened for the door to lock automatically behind me. please.83/581 “Okay. that sounds delicious! I thought to myself. “Three daily specials.” I said to the cook behind the cafeteria-like counter. three milks and six biscuits to go. The hospital’s cafeteria was located in the basement. “Sausage and Eggs with Flour Tortillas. . Today’s turquoise chalk proudly announced. I turned and stepped out of the hospital room. I’ll bring back food. you guys. I placed my order. After a quick kiss to my mom’s cheek. I haven’t had good Mexican food since I left our Texas ranch. Not wanting to get my hopes too high.” I whispered to the room full of sleeping family. It usually had the standard stuff with one “daily special” posted on an old-fashioned green chalk board. Beans and Salsa!” Now.

” a vaguely familiar voice laughed beside me. He was real. “I’ll have two orders of the special. this wasn’t a dream. “Doing what?” “Sneaking up on me. and my sixty-pound coyote. a girl after my own heart and a hearty appetite. “Wow.” “You seem to be making a habit of doing that.” he called over to the cook. please.” . He glanced at me and added.84/581 “Ah. only. my bottomless pit of a brother. too!” the cook chirped happily. and the immediate magnetism I felt was enough to knock me silent. I turned and saw the blue eyes from my dreams. you must be hungry. I just smiled back. not wanting to explain that I’d just ordered for myself. “To go. We were standing side-by-side in the hospital cafeteria line under glaring florescent lights.” I said trying to regain my composure.

” he said under his breath. “I almost didn’t recognize you in the light of day.85/581 “I almost didn’t recognize you without your fur coat. referring to Maze no doubt. That should be enough. sending sparks to my tummy. barely grazing the fine hair. I scooted my plastic orange tray further away from him. Selfconsciously. it’s you I want to know. food sizzling in pats of butter. “I only have a passing interest in your coyote. . I had to force myself to concentrate on breathing because the room was getting very thick and my senses were feeling overwhelmed.” I could feel his sleeve brush my arm. The sounds of the clanking pots and pans. “I told you the name of my ferocious coyote. but came across smug instead.” His voice was barely audible above the noise of the room.” I tried to counter smartly. “You never told me your name last night.” he teased.

A little breathless. Meg: Try not to look into his eyes. The cashier looked over at Creed with a wide smile and even wider eyes. of course. voices murmuring. . “Ours are together. “Your change. sir. Note to self. Something about his eyes was mesmerizing. Any girl with a pulse could see how handsome this guy looked.86/581 scraping of griddles by metal spatulas.” Creed responded smoothly and passed the somewhat impatient cashier a hundred dollar bill.” I answered stupidly while shuffling through my small purse for mom’s credit card. At least it wasn’t just me.35. she said. “That’ll be $30. miss. “Oh. talking all around me. yes.” a female voice said. This guy was more than just a little attractive. good. laughing.” Well. “Miss?” I shook my head in a feeble attempt to clear it.

I could hear his disappointment. my mom’s really sick. “Will I see you again?” “Well. trying not to look up into his eyes. “What about you? Who are you visiting here?” “I was visiting a friend who was in an accident. “Don’t think anything of it. Hey.” Creed’s voice dropped a pitch. “Of course.” I said a little too hurriedly. but he’s being discharged today. I don’t think we’ll be leaving the hospital any time soon. “but would you be willing to sit with me for a while?” I stared at the cardboard drink holder in my hands. I know we ordered to go.87/581 “That was very nice of you. I don’t imagine I’ll be hanging out on the hospital’s front lawn at 3am anymore. “I really have to get breakfast up to my family.” I said.” I said awkwardly.” casually taking my bags of food from me.” As he was speaking he’d been leading me away .

” he simply said. I stood facing him foolishly holding the tray of milk.88/581 from the crowded dining room toward the elevators. “I need to see you again. Something about the way he moved made me want to move right with him. I didn’t mean to. He leaned up against the wall next to the elevator. but his scent was intoxicating. He didn’t speak for a moment. torn between my instincts and my urges. “Noon. My eyes studied the steady pulse in his throat for a moment before I gave in and dove into his pools of blue.” my mouth formed the . I tried to think clearly. I knew that’s what he was doing.” I said trying to think of a way to keep him with me for a few moments more. “I’m glad your friend is well enough to go home. still holding the bags of food all in one hand. I bit my lower lip. waiting instead for me to look up at him. I felt him leading me. but I couldn’t resist.

lifting a huge masculine hand to gently wave goodbye. It didn’t register till I got to my mom’s room and was unlocking the door by typing the code into the lock that I didn’t remember pushing the elevator button. but I hadn’t pushed the button. the doors opened. He stepped in briefly to hand me my bags of breakfast. allowing our fingers to touch. I had to look away for a moment as he exited the small space. “I’ll be there. but my head was screaming. slow down you dolt! “Where?” he smiled.89/581 words.” my mouth was moving of its own volition. He leaned over and pressed the up button for me. the seventh. The doors began closing with a “ding” and there he was. Immediately. “On the lawn. Did Creed? .” he said smiling that dazzling smile he showed me last night. It stopped on the floor I needed.

Meg. No.90/581 How would he have known what floor my family was on? Worry lines creased my forehead as I thought of the possibilities. It’s okay to like a nice guy. My mind was a little preoccupied just then. I told myself. to put it mildly. Especially a hottie with dreamy eyes! Don’t be so paranoid! . and just don’t remember doing it. I must have hit the button myself.

“Wow.7 Changing of the Guards “Breakfast is served. I sure have been missing authentic Mexican food.” Evan said with his mouth full of eggs.” I teased my friend while placing his plate on the floor at my feet.” Evan stopped and looked over lovingly . Here go you buddy. or you’ll get hiccups like you did last time. “me.” I swallowed. “Mmm. this is awesome.” I called over to Evan who was carefully folding up the cots and blankets.” He walked over to the makeshift breakfast table and sat down with me. She’d love this. too. “Okay. Don’t eat too fast. Maze was licking his chops waiting for his plateful of food. Maze. I’m famished.” “Wish mom could eat with us. “Excellent. and it smells delicious. too.

” “Me. “Mom loves to force vegetables down our throats. “But I love her for always wanting us to be healthy. I’ve been really interested in the hospital’s library. Dr. too.” Evan smiled. Andrews has been allowing me special access to all the medical . “So.” I smiled at the memory. “Then she’ll make you eat asparagus with breakfast. I asked. “She’ll be eating with us soon enough.92/581 at his mom who was still lying in bed.” “Yeah.” I said trying to cheer up my little brother. that never did make sense to me. what are you going to do with yourself when Alik comes to relieve your duty?” “I dunno.” Evan poked his fork into his rice and began pushing pieces around his plate. Her jaw was wired shut as it healed because it had been so horribly shattered. In an effort to get his mind off of mom.

” I said sincerely. the more I want to know. the more I read. “I dunno.93/581 books and journals. figure out what happened to us to make us so different from all the other metas. Maybe we should look into getting you accepted to a university so you could begin pre-med classes?” I asked casually after finishing my last bite of rice. And maybe. I’ve been so fascinated with medicine. I really just want to figure out how to get mom better faster. Evan. . Evan shrugged humbly. “Very cool. Ev. “Strictly selfish reasons. really.” Evan’s eyes lit up brightly as he spoke of study the way regular kids his age brightened at the thought of going to an amusement park.” He grinned adorably. “Maybe you could become a doctor someday?” I loved the thought of my brilliant little brother helping people.” “I think you’d make a wonderful doctor.

He’s done with regular hired henchmen. He’d send a meta to finish the job. That’s not his style.” “Right. “we’ve got to take care of some unfinished business.” Evan’s eyes were too busy watching Maze chase his now empty paper plate around the floor licking every last morsel off to see Meg’s face pale. I feel like Williams could walk through that door any minute and put a bullet through mom’s head. That’s who we have to look out for: Some guy who looks completely out of place here. He’d send a meta like the one who attacked you in his office.” I shivered at the thought. muscular and extremely clever.” I said clearing my plate. Meggie. . he wouldn’t get his own hands dirty. probably tall.” he said in an absolutely serious tone. Sometimes. “Naw.94/581 “First thing first. “We need to talk with Alik and get a plan in motion.

becoming lab rats again.95/581 “Of course. “That’s exactly how he’d do it. as he’s been known to do. The old goat! “Of course.” Evan leaned down and grabbed Maze’s empty plate before he started to rip it up and eat the pieces. Ugh. oh I dunno. isn’t it?” “That’s how I would do it if I were him. Blood samples only last for an hour or two before the fragile molecular compounds start to change and/or lose their blueprints. He was casually discussing the ideas that had scared the apple fritters out of me ever since this whole thing came to light.” Evan was thinking out loud now. He wanted to study us to figure out what he stumbled upon that worked so well in the serum we were given.” she whispered thoughtfully rubbing the scar on her thigh. mom . He probably still wants us. again I’m amazed at how nonchalant he could be in the face of scary stuff like. there is still the matter of our blood.

he doesn’t need all three of us.” As if my face wasn’t pale enough. come on. watching a madman use us as his weapons of mass destruction by cloning us and turning the clones into mindless drones to do his bidding. I felt myself go perfectly still at my brother’s words. “Just one of us would probably suffice for his purposes. feeling all the terror of the last few weeks wash over me with a completely different slant on what could have happened. scary books and movies love to throw in their plots. How can Evan just casually speculate and project these very real scenarios and outcomes? “Hum. Don’t freak out on me. I stared at him.” Evan ordered. Meg. unblinking for a full minute. All of this is just me throwing around ideas—you know.96/581 getting off-ed right in front of us.” Evan stopped talking and looked pensively over at me. “Breathe. . but you know. you know…all the stuff that wicked. “Meg.

Meg. “Good morning Meg. “Good. oblivious to the tension he just walked in on. I could be completely wrong. Evan. “You have got to stop drinking caffeinated coffee. there Winter family!” Dr. Andrews called through the closed door. Quick flashes of light across her eyes seemed to make the doctor happy. Out came his little flash light as he leaned over mom’s closed eyes.” he mumbled and put his stethoscope to mom’s chest.” Evan teased as he walked to the door to let the doctor in. Who knows what is logical in the mind of a madman?” Just then. good. “Hello. He gently lifted one lid at a time to expose the pupil. “Nice and reactive.” he said reading a print . lungs sound clear and pulse-ox good. After a few moments he said. Heart sounds good. How’s the patient this morning?” He asked us.97/581 hypotheticals. there was a knock at the door that scared the heck out of me.

“Yep. You didn’t have to be an emotional superconductor like me to see he loved my mom deeply. Andrews smiled mischievously.” Evan answered for us. “The kids would feel so much more assured if they could hear your voice. “Excellent. The tenderness was so clear I had to look away because watching seemed intrusive. “Uneventful night?” he asked. Her jaw looks to be healing on schedule. Alik and Cole are on the third floor doing their magic act for the kids. Well. . “Good.” the doctor’s hands gently touched mom’s face where bruises were beginning to fade. Anyone with eyes could see she meant the world to him. holding steady. I know it would be great to be able to talk.” he said nodding to himself. Do either of you want to go stand in the back of the room and make fun of them?” Dr.” he said to a sleeping patient. “Blood pressure. Margo.98/581 out from a machine beside mom’s bed.

wouldn’t he have just kidnapped or killed me last night when he had the chance? I was completely unaware of him there in the shadows. Have fun. Besides. Let it go. but here I am feeling guilty for having spoken with him. What if he’s working for Williams? But. . no. I know nothing about Creed. I thought to myself. “Hum? Oh. I feel guilty because of the attraction I have for him. Ev. I don’t even know if Creed is safe. Do you mind Meg?” Evan asked thoughtfully. Good grief. if he is.” I said thinking I’d rather not see Cole right now. that’s not exactly true. Meg. Leave that mushy stuff to the normal girls out there. He could have put a bullet right through me if he wanted to. I thought to myself.99/581 “I’ll go. Well. No time for a love life. This is crazy. I don’t mind at all. I’ve been cooped up since yesterday. You have enough to worry about.

“Great. sure. Andrews?” I asked. The media reported the event in all its television glory while the smoke was still billowing from the Institute. just in case. thanks.100/581 “Would you mind hanging out for five minutes so I can take a fast shower. I just need someone who can speak English. “I don’t like leaving mom unattended. my mind wandered back in time. When I think back to that day at the Institute.” I teased while patting his ample flank. I won’t be long. reaching for the hospital phone on Margo’s bedside table.” I said hurrying to gather a fresh change of clothes. I am still in awe we all survived.” Maze whined. Dr. Then there’s that opposable thumb thing. “Oh. Maze. “No offense. The moment I stepped under the streams of hot water. But once the ashes . Meg.” he graciously added. I have a phone call to make anyway.

when he found out Michelle had left him. Greg Burns was able to keep all details out of the news. He was last seen boarding his personal jet. Dr. he was nowhere to be found. Dr. Their flight plan indicated a trip to the Cayman Islands. He never went into the particulars with us kids. . so the authorities had a lot of questions for him. Andrews. Williams fled the country the same night his Institute burned. Williams. was quiet and solemn. Once the fire investigators released their report noting the cause of the fire and subsequent explosions was caused by arson. as well. but there was no record they ever landed there and an escape to a completely different location is assumed. Dr. Andrews’ best friend and police detective. However.101/581 cooled. even more people wanted to talk with Dr. but he mentioned in a small voice once. accompanied by a woman named Michelle Andrews.

Who could blame him? Although I did try to warn him. How much of his life had been reported back to the Institute by his own wife? . Williams of his plans to help me and my brothers. Cole’s mom. he blew his top. how far back Dr. I couldn’t bring myself to give him the infamous “I told you so” speech. Williams. Williams’ influence went with Michelle.102/581 how upset he was with himself for “allowing that rebound marriage. And that it was she who planted the GPS tracker and audio transmitter in the SUV before we left Kansas to travel to California. He wondered.” Something about his failed attempt of recreating what he lost when Jenna. though he wouldn’t say it out loud. died. Then when he found out Michelle was definitely conspiring with Dr. Especially not when I could sense he was enraged to the point of popping a blood vessel! It didn’t take him long to realize she had been the one to inform Dr.

I have found the more I let on that I know what an adult is feeling. I can’t help knowing. and not being in the position to do anything about it. It seems to make them feel very uncomfortable around me. I stepped out of the shower and dressed quickly. but sometimes men need proof. Evan and me being pulled out of hiding and back in Dr. I was so engrossed in my internal commentary on life and the world we live in. I also knew he’s been blaming himself for Alik. I have wanted to talk with him.103/581 As I said. I knew something was wrong with that woman all along. but it really isn’t my place. that I couldn’t . He had his proof now. the less I should say about it. Then she wouldn’t have been around the day I called asking for his help to find our mom. but it is maddening knowing. Williams’ radar. Still deep in thought. He feels as though he should have been smart enough to catch on to Michelle’s deceit.

undressed again. Crud.104/581 remember if I’d washed my hair. Meg. Darn it! I threw the towel down. I was still arguing with myself even as I grab my towel. . but maybe I just used conditioner and skipped the shampoo entirely. My hair smelled clean. I reminded myself. and turned the shower back on. Focus.

Andrews’ voice just then they would have noticed a big change from how he sounded just moments ago with the children in the room. Yeah. it’s me.8 Sleeping Beauty After hearing the shower turn on. Dr.” If anyone were listening to Dr. My patient is still slowly recovering. Now. “About the same. one of those habits he picked up from his job. Her kids are keeping constant vigil more for her protection than . he sounded exhausted and sad. big man? How is everyone doing?” the detective asked cryptically. He was always a cautious guy. Greg. Andrews pressed the ten digits he had memorized for a couple dozen years and waited patiently for the line to start ringing. “What’s up. “Theo?” “Hey.

I’m at the hospital. I bet you are. He has all the right people paid off.” “Yeah. The kids and I are feeling like sitting ducks here. when your girlfriend stops pissing off the wrong people. man.” “I know. It’s been a long two weeks.” “Of course you are. then I’ll take a break. Williams has another place he works out of—in Germany. Sorry.” “Well. Extradition isn’t working too well. Are you on a land-line?” he asked rhetorically. Any news you can share?” “There are a few pieces of information.106/581 anything. if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black. But for now. That’s where we think he’s holding up. this time. “Yeah. I’m a little busy. When was the last time you took a day off?” “Listen.” . Here’s what I’ve learned.

Theo. “You still there?” Greg asked after he only heard silence. it looks like a compound. .” “Oh.107/581 “When you say another place. We’re talking twice as big as that place he had in California.” Dr. He has billions. The guy is not hurting for money at all.” Theo breathed. There’re half a dozen buildings on a huge bunch of acres out in the middle of nowhere-ville Germany.” “Well. “I wish I had better news for you. We haven’t even traced a quarter of his holdings. It gets better. Andrews was rubbing his eyes with his one free hand. Leave it to Margo to piss off the most evil and powerful mad scientist in the world. “Yeah. this is pretty much what I expected.” “Wait. crap. what exactly do you mean?” “From what I can gather.

” “Good luck. I understand.” “Yeah. Theo turned and hurried to her side.” Margo moaned softly. trying to laugh in the dark. and soon. and probably the love of his life. man. I’d rather have believable deniability—just in case. “Margo? It’s me.108/581 I’m not surprised. Don’t tell me where you’re going. I…well. Theo. Margo?” .” Theo said. It was so overwhelming to feel responsible for the safety of all these children and his oldest and dearest friend. You’re at my hospital and you and the kids are safe. “Mmmm. Andrews stood for a moment with his back to Margo holding the receiver like it was his life-line. Theo. “You guys need to move.” Dr. She was so injured that it was still painful to look at her through the eyes of a man instead of a doctor. thanks.” “Thanks. He was trying not to get choked up.

Everyone has recovered from their injuries…well.” he added with a nervous laugh.109/581 “Mmuph.” Margo’s eyes looked frantically around the room. “Good idea.” . She motioned for something with which to write. “Rrrugh mmuff” “Try not to talk. We had to wire it shut so it could heal properly. Andrews was doing his level best not to burst in to sobs of relief at seeing Margo awake. “Your jaw was…seriously injured. “Meg.” Margo’s eyes fluttered open. but they’re fine.” Dr. Alik. “Let me find a pen and paper. Evan and Cole are on the third floor entertaining the sick children there—with magic tricks. Meg’s in the bathroom getting dressed. She tried to talk again. Evan and Alik are all here at the hospital. Theo guessed she was looking for the children. except you.” the doctor smiled.

then immediately winced from the pain caused by the movement. it was your children who saved you. “Don’t thank me. and to be honest. I am probably not the best one to try to answer them. “Try not to move too much. As far as I know. .” Margo tipped her head slightly to the right and gave him an inquisitive look. You still have a lot of healing to do. The doctor blushed deeply and shook his head. Margo. Are you in a lot of pain? Do you want me to increase your painkillers right now?” Margo moved the pen slowly across the paper and wrote: Williams? “You must have a lot of questions. But even through all that.110/581 Her wrists were still wrapped and one arm was in a sling because of the broken ribs and fractured collar bone. Margo grabbed the pen Theo gave her available hand and wrote two words: Thank You.

“They’ll be so excited you’re awake. they’d be upset of they didn’t get to see you for themselves. let me get the kids for you. but first.111/581 Williams is out of the country right now. Margo simply wrote: ?! “It’s a long story.” Theo’s face grew tight with anger.” . probably licking his wounds.” he walked toward the bathroom door and knocked.

“Oh. Thank God you’re awake! I love you so much!” I felt a wave of love wash over me from my mother’s heart. mom.9 Reunited I heard a sharp knock at my bathroom door just as I finished pulling one of my favorite white T-shirts on. my mind just as foggy with thoughts as the bathroom was with steam.” I called. “Mom’s awake?” I threw the door open and bolted past the doctor. nearly tackling him because he didn’t move fast enough out of my way. My connection with mom . Rushing to my mom’s side I saw for myself. “I’ll be out in a minute. Her soft brown eyes glistened with happy tears. “Meg. your mom’s awake! Hurry up!” Dr. Andrews’ excitement carried through the door.

” Dr. Don’t be worried. Andrews was nearly bubbling with joy. I could feel her emotions so clearly. I was too enthralled by my mom’s emotional roller coaster. too. He reached for the telephone and pushed a few buttons. We won’t let anyone hurt you ever again.” I was holding my . All of us will. mom. are you? You’re only worried about me and the boys getting hurt. You’re safe. We’ll get through this. “I’m going to call down to the children’s ward.113/581 was stronger than with anyone. “It’s okay. She was oscillating between feelings of thankfulness and those of terror. but I wasn’t paying attention to him. Let’s get the boys up here. ever.” I looked into her still mangled face and felt her wave of worry heighten even more. sometimes it was hard to distinguish which were hers and which were my own. “You’re not worried about yourself.

“Um. welling up with tears so often I took to gently patting them dry with tissues. I’m sure he’ll be along in a minute.” Alik was grinning adorably at his mom the whole time he spoke. “I’m so thankful you’re awake. It’s been awful having all these questions rolling around in my head and knowing only you . We heard mom was awake and we both ran full speed up the four flights of stairs. It must have been a total of two minutes from the time Dr.…sorry about that. mom.114/581 mother’s hand softly as I spoke. Andrews called the third floor until the time Alik and Evan were grinning at their mom from her bedside. Mom’s eyes kept staring at each of our faces in turn. She squeezed it in response. not wanting to bother with the elevator. “Where’s Cole?” Dr. sir. Andrews asked looking out the hospital room door and down the hall. I guess Cole had a hard time keeping up.

“He wanted to be sure you were safe. “Unnn an ur ach ish oph?” mom asked incoherently. mom. it’s a beautiful thing. He cocked his head to the right. balancing by gently placing his paws on the edge of her mattress.” Mom reached out with her one good hand and let Maze lick her fingers. “You know. “She wants to know when they can take the wires out of her jaw so she can talk. Furry love.” I translated to the room. I scratched between his ears and said.” Evan smiled widely at his mom. His sweet yellow eyes studied mom’s face. as he does when he’s trying to figure something out then let out a soft wine. Maze walked up to mom’s bed and stood on his hind legs.115/581 have the answers. . Maze has refused to leave your side the entire time you’ve been in the hospital?” At the sound of his name. Mom looked at me appreciatively. I laughed to myself.

Andrews.” I answered trying not to sound like a super freak. I’ll get in touch with your maxiofacial surgeon and ask him to come examine you. And she needs us to let her . Mom sighed deeply. He’s one of the best in the world. I think mom needs some pain meds now. All the excitement was tiring her out quickly and her pain was getting too intense. She was still trying to study our faces.” he said and gave me a wink.116/581 “How on earth did you understand her?” Dr Andrews asked amazed. but her body was telling her she needed to rest. We’ll see what he says. let’s just stick to having you write what you want to say. “For now.” The doctor still had that sweet goofy grin every time he looked at his recovering patient. or letting Meg translate for you. I just can. so happy to see all of us safe. “Margo. “Dr. “I dunno. I shrugged.

Evan was smoothing mom’s blankets. I looked away to give him is moment.” Dr. We’ll be here when you wake up. You just rest and keep healing. Alik may be the strong. Andrews—discussing mom’s current medicinal needs. then he told her how proud he was to be her son. but I knew exactly what he was saying to her. too. “It’s okay.” I said watching her face. That was his way of showing his . mom. but his emotions run almost as deep as mine. silent type. He was telling mom how much he loves her and how he will take care of everyone. just like she taught him.V. Then. I felt mom wistfully wish she weren’t so weak because she didn’t want to sleep yet. drip.117/581 get some sleep. Andrews was adjusting the speed of mom’s I. and here’s where I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting into tears. Evan was talking in hushed tones to Dr. Don’t worry. and Alik leaned down and whispered something in his mother’s ear.

Cole Andrews. . “Did you profess your undying love for her. “Darn it! I missed it!” he said sheepishly. She’s sleeping now. Cole.” I studied the lines in my mother’s face still feeling love emanating from her. I smiled up at Cole as he walked toward my sleeping mother and stood beside me. the problem solver. panting. He wanted to figure everything out for her. “That’s enough out of you. but blushed deeply.” the doctor said. and she wore herself out from all the excitement. Evan opened the door to find Cole holding himself up against the door frame. “She woke up. My sweet little brother. Mom drifted off just when a knock came at the door. “What’d I miss?” he gasped. dad?” he winked over to his father who had been gazing with obvious affection at his patient.118/581 love.

fingers intertwined. Alik was sitting with his hands draped in his lap. grabbing his son by the shoulders and directing him back to the door. Andrews called over his shoulder while Cole continued to protest gently. one might say he was feeling helpless.” Dr. “And Cole will be back on the third floor waiting for you. My brothers and I exchanged looks.119/581 “Let’s let the Winter family have a few moments alone. We hadn’t discussed how much we had all been worried about mom not waking up. Psychologically. we all needed time to process our emotions. I knew . Alik.” The door closed behind them with a soft click. “I’ll be in the ER if you need me. My little brother was always good at stating the obvious.” he said.” Evan said softly. Now that we saw mom’s condition change for the better. not getting better. “Thank God she woke up. Some of us more than others.

“…right.” I found myself looking into Alik’s sky-blue eyes and comparing them to Creed’s. My brother’s eyes were always swimming with emotions right under the surface. expressive eyes. She’s been too fragile to go into hiding so far. Meg?” my brothers were looking at me expectantly. He cleared the emotions in his throat and said. “I talked with Theo about our need to come up with a plan. Creed’s eyes had a completely different feel. We need to figure out a way to keep mom safe so she can finish recuperating. We’re vulnerable out in the open like this and Williams isn’t done with us.120/581 exactly how he felt. His were a darker blue and seemed cunning and mysterious.” “Evan and I were just discussing the same thing this morning. And they both had annoyingly long eyelashes. Both of them had wide-set. The crystal blue was strikingly handsome against his darker skin. .

“Keep up with us. Something has happened since I last saw you.” Alik gently scolded. Meg?” he asked with a scary amount of confidence. “I know. I can see it all over your face. Am I that obvious? Can’t I even think about a cute guy without my brothers giving me a hard time? It’s none of their business anyway. “No.” Alik looked into my face and squinted slightly. This is no time for day dreaming.” I stammered. Must be a little sleep deprived. there’s something else going on. my mind was wandering. What aren’t you telling us. Meggie. I only know what you know.121/581 “Hum? What? I’m sorry. or do I have to beat it out of you?” “For crying out loud. don’t you . “Nothing.” I lied. Alik! We have more important things to worry about. Alik wasn’t going to let up that easily. Are you going to tell us. “Meg.

letting a wide grin spread across his face. We can make sure Cole and Dr. Al. “Well. Heck. “We haven’t been able to spar because the only time the three of us are together these days is when we’re right here in mom’s hospital room.122/581 think? Enough with the inquisition!” Even to my ears. I didn’t care if they wanted to fight. “She’s got a point.” Evan said casually. I sounded a little too squeaky.” Alik nodded in agreement. as long as that got Alik off my back about the secret he was sure I was keeping. like Evan. Andrews know where we are if there’s an emergency. “Gotta keep up our skills. Now that mom has awakened. “I’m pretty sure we could step out for fifteen minutes. I wouldn’t mind discussing quantum physics if that got my brothers to leave me alone. it has been a while since we spared.” Evan agreed.” I tried to sound logical. .

” Alik pretended to buff his nails on his jeans then held his hand up to his face in mock adoration. .” Evan concluded. Matter of fact…I bet the children on the third floor would love to see a good match.123/581 her condition isn’t nearly as delicate. that’s a great idea. “You’re serious about this?” I asked. “Maybe little Megglet has lost her edge. “She’s probably too worried about messing up her hair…” Evan added with a knowing nod. “Or braking a nail. “Absolutely.” the boys said in unison. “Oh. Evan.” Alik smiled at his idea. I don’t think they were as much fascinated by Cole’s magic tricks as they were about laughing at him in general. And her call-button is right next to her. Pretty sure they wouldn’t mind scooting to their windows and watching us on the hospital’s lawn from there.” Alik teased.

Andrews know where to find us. You asked for it. Evan you tell hospital security that we’re just performing a martial arts ‘demonstration’ for the patients to watch from their windows and not actually trying to kill anyone. “This secret must be juicy if you’re that mad at the idea of having to spill it. I hated it when they teased me. Alik. you have to tell me whatever it is you’re keeping secret.” “And if I win.” . Meet me on the north lawn in ten minutes.” I said through clenched teeth. baby brothers. you go arrange it with the head nurse on the third floor. you have to walk around for one full day with a sign on your back that reads ‘I wet the bed!’” I growled. Meg. I’ll go let Dr.” Alik laughed. “I don’t wet the bed. and they knew it! Stupid brothers! “Okay. “Excellent!” Alik smiled widely.124/581 My blood was boiling. “And after I kick your butt.

“Thanks Evan. Evan and I followed.” “Pft. “You could win. but don’t be surprised if some of us are limping when we return.” I said.125/581 “Shut up!” I countered stupidly. He was tightening the laces on his sneakers. but instead was left pouting and kicking at the dirt in frustration. “I wasn’t trying to be funny. Alik and I looked over at our little brother and laughed. . you stay here and watch after mom. “What happens if I win?” Evan piped up from the corner of the room.” I narrowed my eyes at Alik. Ev. we needed a little comic relief just then. let’s go!” Alik was already walking toward the door. “But today. “Maze. I need to teach Alik a lesson. okay? We’ll be back in a few minutes.” Alik teased. and I could win. Enough talk.” Evan sounded like a little kid who wanted to keep up with his big siblings.

It was eleven thirty. “Come on. “Hey guys. Darn it! Even if I finished . What if…” “Are you backing out?” Alik taunted.” I said. raising one eyebrow.126/581 Maze sat dutifully at mom’s bedside and sniffed loudly. at all. Meg-a-Chicken! We won’t hurt you too badly. “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea. I’d sound worse than a drunken sailor! I closed mom’s door behind us and listened for the lock to click.” Evan chimed in. He didn’t approve of us leaving. I tightened my jaw knowing full well if I let the words I was thinking gush from my mouth. I sensed this could be a bad idea. and for a split second. Everyone would see us outside putting on a superhuman display and anyone who knew anything about us could easily conclude that our sick mom was left alone. It was only then that I noticed the time. I was supposed to meet Creed at noon.

Shoot! .127/581 kicking Alik’s butt by noon. I’d end up all sweaty and roughed-up looking when I met Creed on the hospital’s west lawn.

Creed was still amazed at some things most Americans take for granted.” the plastic menu said in a bored tone. On second thought. . drove down the street and pulled into a fast-food drive-through. it’s hard to talk with someone when we’re both chewing. Besides.10 Yelling Through at the Drive- Creed happened to be sitting in his truck in the hospital parking lot trying to decide what to do next. Maybe he should pick up some lunch for them. There were no drive-through fast-food restaurants in or around the Facility back in Germany. that may look too desperate. He had a half hour to kill before meeting the girl. He started the car. “I’ll take your order whenever you’re ready.

“Wow. “We have every kind of soda. as though the size of the drinks were common knowledge. grape.” Creed said to himself. including the diet and caffeine free versions. that’s probably way too much. hi. . lemon. “That’s sixty-four ounces. “What kind? Um.…” he said trying frantically to find the list of drinks on the menu in front of him. large or extreme?” the voice droned. lime. “Yeah.” “Small. strawberry.” deciding that medium. orange. “What kind of drink?” the voice asked. “Just give me two medium drinks. I need to get two drinks.” Now the voice sounded less bored and a little more annoyed. Cherry. “How big is ‘extreme’?” Creed couldn’t help asking. Creed yelled back to the voice. please.129/581 Still not sure how to do this. seemed like a good amount. by definition. medium.

blended or layered. “What flavor?” “Flavor? I just want water flavored water!” Creed was starting to get a headache. “We have a lot of popular drinks here. . carbonated or vitamins added?” The voice sounded like it wanted to reach through the plastic menu and slap him. mountain river.130/581 coconut and mint flavoring. “Can I just have water?” Creed asked holding his head. creamed. The feeling was mutual. stupidly. iced.” it said. “What…uh…what’s the most popular drink you serve?” he asked desperately of the plastic menu. Smoothed. oxygenated. By now there was a line of cars forming behind him. One car even honked at him.” the voice rambled through the possibilities so fast it was dizzying. waiting to place their order. running stream. “Tap. The voice sighed deeply.

” the fast food worker said. When he pulled up to the next window. . a little more politely now that he saw how hugely muscular Creed was. as instructed. “They are mint flavored creamed smoothies…that’s what the last guy ordered. “Fine. “Here are your drinks. he nearly threw the pimplefaced cashier a twenty dollar bill and stared menacingly at him. Just give me two medium drinks of whatever the last guy ordered.131/581 “Clearly. sir.” Creed yelled.” His skinny shoulders shrugged innocently.” Creed said and drove away without waiting for his change. He was wondering how anyone would want to live with all these choices when he pulled into the hospital parking lot and saw a crowd forming on the hospital grounds.

“What did you two do?” I asked motioning to the twenty or so people standing around us and the dozens of little faces pressed into the glass of the third-floor windows. We hadn’t even begun the exhibition yet and we had an eager audience. .” “Worried too many people will be around to see your butt-whoopin?” Alik grinned over at me.11 Battle at Hospital Hill I couldn’t believe the crowd that had already gathered both at the third floor window of the hospital and right here around my brothers and me as we took a few minutes to stretch. “Just what you asked us to do. “We let the third-floor and hospital security know about our ‘demonstration’ so I guess word spread.” Evan said.

Each movement was to be executed with precision and synchronicity among the three of us. You babies ready to play?” I asked. All three of us stood side by side facing the hospital.” Alik stopped stretching and took his position between Evan and me. we righted ourselves and began. my brothers and I were so familiar with the movements we could do this kata blindfolded. . “Sure thing. Matter of fact.” I barked sharply as was our way of synchronizing our starting bow. and stood arms tight at my sides in the ready-to-begin stance. we had done it blindfolded.133/581 “Pft. “Hep. we bowed deeply while maintaining eye contact. form and technique. Demonstrating respect for our imagined opponent. Slowly. And after years of training. This kata was one of mom’s most basic. It was a training exercise promoting proper footing.

kicking.134/581 Each maneuver was performed twice. as though this is exactly what I was designed to do. blocking. I loved the tug of each muscle as I moved. I was completely unconcerned with the eyes watching me. side. rear. then repeated slowly. The first time fast enough to have missed if you blinked. We flew through a blurry-fast series of defensive hand-to-hand combat movements demonstrating exact form and footing then repeated ourselves in slow motion. My senses came alive during these moments. all I thought about was how happy it made me to let myself move freely and not hold back. roundhouse—first fast. it almost brought a giggle to my throat. As I moved to the well-known kata. the wind rushing past my . Instead. my body seemed to awaken with joy. punching. We presented a series of kicks—front. then again slowly so the audience could study how we did what we did. Whipping through these familiar motions.

we didn’t know it was unusual to have the education we did from our mom. like me. I assumed some kids practiced and excelled in the art of guerilla warfare. Mom taught us well. Knowing we would need to defend ourselves from Dr. I glanced over at my brothers. I was also unaware of our superior strength compared to an average human being. Only able to practice with my brothers and my mom. When the kata ended. We all loved this. Williams.135/581 skin as I struck empty air. whose faces looked just as content as I felt. I thought everyone could do what I did. she trained us to be warriors. my brothers and I bowed to a cheering audience clapping happily for us. Like some kids went to soccer practice or took piano. We thought lots of kids grew up with combat training. Movement is joy to me. . Living back on the ranch with no other kids around.

I felt a wave of gratefulness for everything she did for us. hep!” It was our transition signal to begin a different demonstration. she had skills and training achieved through years of service as a special-forces soldier. She had trained her mind just as much as her body. “Ready. we could do a lot. But my reverie was broken when I heard Alik call. lethal. precise and if need be. Just as we were about to bow. indicating to those watching that we were about to . all the sacrifices she made to protect us. and being metas. She taught us how to push ourselves beyond what we thought we could do. I couldn’t help but smile in anticipation. I was thinking about mom in the seconds that flashed just as we completed our kata. She conditioned us to become extremely controlled. All three siblings faced each other in a loose triangle.136/581 Though mom was a regular human being.

but how about we set some rules?” Evan spoke over the crowd that was quickly growing around us. standing next to a tree in the grassy courtyard. Maybe I was mistaken. “Half?” Alik called to me. By the time I glanced back. he also looked embarrassed. Namely kicking my brothers’ butt! “I know you two want to jump right into it. He was holding a couple drinks looking bug-eyed surprised. There. was Creed. Maybe that hadn’t been Creed and my eyes were playing tricks on me. this was the most humiliating! I glanced away quickly. Creed was gone. C’mon Meg…focus. And if I were honest with myself. I tried to convince myself that was the case so I could complete the task at hand.137/581 begin battling each other. something caught my eye. . Oh. good grief! Of all the stupid things my brothers have gotten me into.

Even as Alik worked to defend himself. Alik had expected him to go after me. come on! Quit dancing around you two. “Half” to us meant we would hit with only half our strength so as not to cause lasting damage. we practiced many two-against-one battles. His strategy was perfect. Throughout the years. I jumped .138/581 “Fine. We moved around watching each other carefully. So the fluidity of our movements probably made what we were doing look easy. my round house kick knocked him on his back. so the double punch to his side caught him completely off guard. I dodged and swept his leg.” I smiled watching my brothers carefully. “Oh. but I was ignoring everyone except my brothers.” Evan chided and made the first move to strike outside the predictable. Alik punched. Alik jumped and spun into a kick to my chest and landed gracefully on his feet. The crowd cheered.

“It’s for your own good. Evan shrugged and smiled sweetly. “You two ganged up on me! Evan. “Spill it. “You’ve gained weight. how could you?” I called to him trying to guilt him into helping me.” Alik spoke softly to the back of my head. because even as Evan was flying. but apparently this was the plan. Evan came up behind me and grabbed me around the neck. red-faced.” . Get off me!” I growled. “Not until you spill it.139/581 toward Alik and whipped my hand right into his chest. Alik knocked me down face first into the cold. One quick shift of my hips and I flipped him onto his back. damp autumn grass and ranked my elbow up and behind me. little brother.” Alik cooed. His knee was digging in my back painfully. The crowd gasped.

.. I’ll say it.. “You wouldn’t dare because that would make you look like a weak little girl crying for help.140/581 The crowd was murmuring—obviously concerned for the poor girl getting her face planted into the ground by the brothers. That would make you look like bullies to all these people. “Any day now. Now let me up. “Uuhhggg…okay. “Low blow. “I could scream. Don’t you want to hurry back to mom?” Evan pleaded. okay…I met a guy. Ev.” I tried to leverage. “Just spill it.” I said seriously. so we can get this over with.” Alik shifted his weight a little more heavily onto my back. Meg..” and hesitated because I hated to give in to these oafs.” I yelled.” Alik chided using a voice that was supposed to sound like mine. “Fine. They were not going to be okay with Creed.

Both boys added to the act by helping me to my feet. “We’re not done discussing this. I was glad I couldn’t see the look in Alik’s eyes.141/581 “You what?” Evan looked completely shocked. It was bad enough I could feel his disapproval. Meg. “But stand up and wave to the crowd so they don’t start panicking. but I wasn’t fine. . I was about to get the third degree from my stupid brothers about the dangers of talking with strangers—what with meta monsters hunting us and all.” Alik growled into my ear. I dusted off the grass and leaves from my clothes and waved to the crowd to let them think I was fine.” He moved off my back and let go of my arm.

He had figured he would have to take the wild dog out anyway and had already made arrangements for just such a job. he unintentionally caught the girl’s eye. Margo Winter was alone and unprotected. The three metas were away from the target. He scanned the area around the three metas. He knew this chance probably would not come again. This was it. No coyote. tactics and scenarios. He knew what he had to do. these three would be busy entertaining for a while. From the looks of the growing crowd. but just as he was about to turn away. That’s not a problem.12 Moment of Reckoning He couldn’t believe his luck. Creed’s mind was racing with possibilities. For a split . He was a soldier trained to use his brain as much as he was trained to use his body.

Play this by the book. He tried to push her from his mind and focus on his target objective. I wish she hadn’t seen me. Creed thought to himself. barely pausing to chunk the drinks into the first trash can he passed. He remembered her gentle touch and the scent of her hair. You know what you have to do. and Williams will give you your freedom and possibly your family. He remembered watching her smile up at him trusting him when she should have been running from him. If he were honest with himself.143/581 second. Damn. . Creed. Just take things one step at a time. How could a girl who has lived through all she has still have a naivety about her? How could she still walk around with hope and trust when her life was built on deception? She looked surprised and embarrassed just before she looked away. Creed would have wished he hadn’t seen her. he hesitated. He bolted to the hospital.

down the hallway. toward hospital room number 720. It . Creed walked out the bathroom door. to himself. but the only two people there were deep in conversation. The ends justify the means. Even as he removed the gun from the bag and slipped it up the sleeve of his right arm. move. move. Just forget the girl. man. He kept his vigil as he removed the plastic bag stuffed into the small hole he dug there days ago.144/581 You’ve wanted this forever. he continued to chant. He walked directly into the farther of the only two stalls and quickly pulled the tile away from the wall just behind the commode. It’s right at the tip of your fingers. move. The nurses’ station was almost directly across from it. Move! He kept this internal dialog going the entire run up the stairwell to the seventh floor and continued his silent pep talk even as he walked into the men’s restroom.

” the doctor said gruffly. was it?” Creed asked smoothly. “Susan. His eyes were captivating. I was wondering if you could help me out? I’m a friend of the Winter family. and they asked me to come up here and check on their mom and Maze. “Yes. “Hey.” she said coyly. “Okay. “Alik. casually pointing toward Margo’s room.145/581 was a nurse and a doctor flirting on the job. I’ll catch up with you later. Evan and Meg are downstairs putting on a show for a pretty big crowd of people. He obviously didn’t like how his girl reacted to this guy. Reese. Jimmy…er. “Hey Susan. that’s right.” Creed said. Dr. I mean. She returned her full attention to the handsome stranger standing in front of her. nurse?” Creed flashed his two-hundred watt smile at her. she couldn’t stop staring. How cliché. and she immediately blushed. . “Excuse me.” the nurse stammered. listen.

just until they get back. I can tell that guy. but between you and me…you can do a lot better. she hadn’t been on duty for the last two days. really has a thing for you. shucks. “Oh. rough and experienced. I’m a harmless guy with a bunch of paranoid friends and just trying to keep the peace. ma’am. but he had an aura about him that was edgy.” Creed smiled widely and shrugged as though saying. He didn’t have much .” the nurse’s brow furrowed slightly as she tried to remember if she’d ever heard of a “friend of the family” that may come to visit. He may have only been eighteen. but then. Ah. She couldn’t think of anyone. He easily could pass for twenty-five. Maybe we could grab something to eat later? When do you get off?” Creed leaned over the counter and let his eyes smolder at the impressionable young nurse. Jimmy. so maybe there was a change in the orders.146/581 their coyote. okay. “Listen.

Susan. “I’ll see you then. That’s when he heard the growling start.” He turned and closed the door softly behind him. . “My shift is over at seven-thirty. Creed ran his fingers through his hair. After peaking in at the patient herself.147/581 more time to waste with the girl. she stepped back out to the hallway and whispered.” Creed smiled widely at the girl and said. flashing a crooked grin at the nurse. Her hesitation was gone as she rounded the desk with a flirtatious sway to her hips and made her way Margo’s room. Her fingers quivered as she typed in the code that unlocked the door. so he was laying it on thick.

“Not a big deal?” Alik’s sky-blue eyes flashed with fury. “He’s just a guy I met here at the hospital. “Who is he. By the time the crowd dispersed and we were out of ear-shot from passersby. We started talking. He was visiting a sick friend. “What part of that sentence are you too dumb to understand?” I growled back. His face was tight with worry. It’s not big a deal!” I shot back.13 The Third Degree I was hopping mad. so were the boys. I was ready to scream. “What if this guy is a spy sent by Williams?” . but. “What do you mean you met someone?” Alik dove right in. Meg?” Evan asked simply.

Meg. He’s just a nice guy. “How do you know he’s not?” I yelled a bit too loudly. “Well. I felt the bitter sting of guilt in the pit of my stomach at the mention of Cole. Cole’s crazy about you. and you’re wrong. “Isn’t it possible a nice. “I will not be made to feel guilty for allowing myself to experience some modicum of normalcy. you two.” “Let me put it to you this way. I know what you’re thinking.” “How do you know he’s a nice guy?” Evan asked.” Alik said softly. They do exist. of course. Lowering my voice I added. normal guy would think I’m cute and want to get to know me better?” I felt angry tears welling up in my eyes. Then a flash of resentment welled up. you know. “How would you feel if you found out Alik was keeping secret a relationship with a girl he just met here?” .” Evan said calmly.149/581 “Listen.

I regretted them. How would I feel? I would feel furious at him for not staying focused on our life-anddeath situation.” I said softly.150/581 My mouth opened. Did I just invite my brothers to come chaperone my twelve o’clock meeting with my dream guy? “Yeah. but no sound came out.” Alik said smoothly. It would help. I looked over at Alik. I’d feel scared for him that he was going to get hurt when he has already been so hurt by life. understanding more clearly why he reacted this way. And I guess I’d be wary of any girl who put a wedge between me and my brother when I needed to be able to lean on him the most. I hadn’t thought of it that way. “Would it help if you met him?” I asked my brothers. trying to figure out a way to make things right. actually. . As soon as the words came out of my mouth. “Oh.

he’s just a regular guy.” Evan muttered while chewing thoughtfully at the inside of his cheek.151/581 Rolling my eyes in unrestrained frustration. “Let us decide how harmless he is. completely harmless. “Look. I began walking and my brothers followed right behind me. .” I explained as we walked around the hospital to the front lawn where I was to meet Creed. He’s been at the hospital visiting a friend who was in an accident.

No amount of charm would affect this creature—Creed knew that. Maze was standing protectively at the foot of the woman’s bed. save the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. crouched and ready to attack. He looked over at the bed and for the first time looked into the face of his target. Dr. Excellent.14 The Scent of Death The dim light from the window’s curtain only partially drawn was enough for him to see the coyote’s eyes and teeth. he thought to himself. This couldn’t be any . He let the gun slip down to his hand and in the same fluid motion pulled the trigger. She was completely asleep. jumped back and fell to the floor in a furry heap. Maze yelped. Margo Winter lay motionless. Animals were smarter than people in so many ways.

Pulling the pillow toward his face. trying to snap himself out of it. He took a step toward the woman. It smelled exactly like Meg. Pressed her cheek into this pillow and closed her eyes. Creed shook his head. he inhaled deeply. When you’re done with this target. you can think about her. he thought to himself as he grabbed a pillow that had been lying on a neatly folded blanket in the chair beside the woman. It was then .153/581 easier. Quit thinking of the girl. The idea of running out of time and being in this room when Meg came back was enough to make him feel a wave of panic. and slipped the pillow up to her face. leaned over her. Just finish what you started before you run out of time! He scolded himself back into reality. and finish the job. He lifted the pillow and caught a familiar scent. The scent of her shampoo was on this pillow. naïve sleep. She laid on this—slept her peaceful. His imagination was crisp.

154/581 that she opened her eyes and looked with terror into the face of her executioner. .

15 He Was Just Here “Where’s he from?” Alik asked “How old is he?” Evan asked before I could answer Alik. I don’t know his friend. “I don’t know where he’s from. and he doesn’t even know my name!” I felt myself very close to the edge of panic as . He’s about eighteen-years-old. “How did you meet him?” “Who is his ‘friend’?” “What does he know about you?” “For Pete’s sake. I met him while taking Maze for a walk. Introducing my brothers to this handsome guy I barely knew was really sounding like a crazy-stupid idea. you two! You don’t even stop asking questions long enough to let me answer!” I was getting more nervous with every step.

“Listen. I don’t know how much he saw. Ev.” I swallowed hard. We’d better head back to . where is this mystery guy of yours?” Alik asked scanning the area. When you feel like a freak. He’s no mystery. it’s nice to have a built in veil that can hide your pain. Creed wasn’t there. “You know.” my voice trailed off. “Not everyone has a fascination with bathroom plumbing like you. “Well.156/581 I looked around the lawn. just a guy. but maybe it freaked him out. “I saw him at a distance while we were sparing.” Alik said. Meg. regular girls don’t fight for fun like me.” I said trying to sound composed. “Stop calling him that.” Evan offered. I felt heat spread up my neck and burn my ears and was thankful for my long hair right about then. gently. “Maybe he just had to run to the bathroom. I was looking at my sneakers wondering what I must have looked like to him.

Hot tears of humiliation brimmed in my eyes. I couldn’t look at my brothers. His dirty blond hair was just getting long enough to be called scruffy. smiling face. I couldn’t help it. Okay?” I felt my brother’s arm drape over my shoulders in an uncharacteristically affectionate way. and the idiot stands me up! “Who are we going to meet some other time?” a familiar voice spoke from behind us. I turned to see Cole’s gentle.157/581 mom’s room. His large hands were shoved into his front pockets in an obvious attempt to keep them warm against the cold Kansas day. We’ll meet him some other time. He wore a soft brown fleece hoodie and faded blue jeans. The first time I’m to introduce them to a boy I liked. His green eyes matched the evergreens behind him. even in his halfhearted attempt at gelling it up and off his forehead. I felt as safe with Cole as I did with . I loved the way his wide smile made his nose crinkle just a little at the bridge.

Why would I allow myself to get swept up by a tall. “Um…Meg? You wanna answer him? Or should I?” Alik said in a flat attempt at being politically correct. I could feel their disapproval of me.” I said walking up to him and wrapping my arm through his. no one important.158/581 my brothers. dark stranger when I know where I should be? Why was Creed’s mysteriousness so darn sexy to me? “We were just heading back to mom’s room. I couldn’t help but compare Cole to Creed. I immediately felt a calmness flood through me. “Oh.” I said changing the subject. . It was crystal clear when I was around him: Cole’s love for me was genuine and unconditional. And as I stood surrounded by my boys. “So. did the kids like our exhibition?” My brothers were uncharacteristically silent as they fell into step behind me and Cole. Cole.

I know you love me and have proven you would risk your life for me and my family. .” I said genuinely. He really did have a heart of gold. These little sick kids. See. “I’m glad they enjoyed it. all of them wearing their hospital gowns and slippers…they looked like they could sprout wings and fly with excitement watching you three!” Cole’s face flushed with happiness as he talked. the nurses came in and teased them that they would have to send everyone back to bed if they didn’t calm down. some of them with no hair. You should have seen their faces. but I kinda met some other guy and totally get hot and bothered every time he comes around. You good with that? I had to work to push their judgmental feelings away from me. skinny and pale. um…Cole. “The kids were stoked! They were cheering so loudly.159/581 What did they want me to say? Yeah.

I looked up at him. be quiet. but it still makes me stare in amazement to see you do what you can do when. that you’re a girl. “Dude.” Cole awkwardly complimented. “Um…what I mean is. basking instead in Cole’s adorable glow of admiration. just to look at you. Ali. no one would suspect you were so tough. and realized. you passed awkward a while back and are fast approaching sappy.” Alik teased. a feminine and fragile-looking girl. “Oh.160/581 “I’ve watched you three spar lots of times. “I think Cole’s observations are sweet.” I hugged his arm gently while we waited for .” I said protectively. So when you switch into meta-mode it’s just…” I giggled to myself. completely forgetting about Creed and being stood up. not for the first time. that he was a pretty tall guy who probably outweighed me by fifty pounds. I raised my brow at him mischievously.

my God! Mom!” I whipped around toward my brothers relaying the urgency with my eyes as I felt more terror gushing toward me. .161/581 the elevator to take us back up to the seventh floor. The elevator was already pretty full of people who were sure to be stopping at every floor between here and the seventh floor when I felt a burst of adrenaline fueled by terror. “Oh.

16 Eyes Wide Open Evan grabbed the elevator doors and pushed them back open for us to run out. till we arrived at the seventh floor doors and slapped them open. Two nurses were standing. There was mom. full-speed toward the exit sign above the doors leading to the hospital’s stairwell. but hadn’t had time to register what. Alik kicked it open with his foot. Alik was ahead of me and Evan was beside me. Evan and I were at his heels. We took the stairs two and three at a time. stunned and confused in the hallway. as though they knew something just happened. We ran. I heard a soft whimper coming from inside—her door left slightly ajar. nearly flying. ready for battle. We didn’t stop running until we got to mom’s hospital room door. eyes .

Damn it! If Maze is hurt. He was fighting to keep his eyes open and let out a whimper just for me. I was silently screaming at myself for having left mom and Maze alone. searching for a wound. blood—anything to have explained what was happening. I’m such a . It was Maze. half under a chair. it is my fault. He was panting softly. Alik and Evan rushed to mom checking her for any injuries. pointing to the corner of the room. but otherwise not moving.163/581 wide with fear. It was all I could do to keep from screaming in pain and fury at whatever it was that hurt my Maze. My eyes scanned the room quickly to determine what she was so upset about when I saw it. tears spilling down. She was sitting up in her hospital bed. Even as I ran my hands over his fur gently. I rushed to my best friend’s side and gently held his face in my hands. There was a silver mound of fur in the corner of the room. blood or something.

I yanked it out and set it on the table beside me thinking I may need to have it studied to figure out what it was. . Just! Just? Are you freakin’ kidding me? If Maze was shot by anything. If Williams is behind this. I could now see his left flank and there.164/581 hot-headed idiot! What the hell was I thinking. Meg. leaving him alone to protect mom? Damn it! I should know better! Feeling and seeing nothing unusual on Maze’s right side. Williams is ready to finish what he started. was a syringe-like object still stuck in his muscle. He’s not letting up. Completing the roll. right in the shoulder. Williams’ is in on it. My hands felt something immediately and upon me jarring the object. Maze whimpered painfully. then mom probably stared into the face of death moments ago. I slipped my hands under him to gently roll him over so I could examine the other side. but I was hoping it was just a tranquilizer.

I was right there with them. A ringing that existed only in my head muffled the voices in the room. My hands began grabbing her things and throwing them in automatically. My mother’s eyes were streaming tears as she slowly shook her head. The boys stood on either side of her protectively. We’re leaving…now!” Alik’s voice was icy and absolute. I’d burst into flames of rage.165/581 “Mom. and I was eternally grateful to him . I nodded in agreement. I turned to the small closet in mom’s hospital room and grabbed her suitcase. I felt torn between fear and fury. are you okay? What happened?” My voice cracked with emotion. The seething anger I felt boiling deep inside me was literally making me see red. “That’s it. Both of them looked like they were ready to rip the head off the person or persons responsible for hurting our family. afraid if I opened my mouth to speak. Alik was taking charge. Instead.

” Alik said coolly. Meg. “We’ll decide when we’re en route.” “I may have a suggestion. I rushed into the bathroom to gather .166/581 for doing that. Mom’s suitcase was stuffed. “Don’t say anything while we’re in this room. Stop it. Focus..” Evan added as he picked up the hospital room phone. Andrews and Cole up here. Alik?” Evan asked logically. “Where are we going. Get mom to safety first then berate yourself over your stupidity.” Alik and Evan nodded knowingly to one another. “Evan. so I dove back into the closet looking for bags I could fill with the remaining items.. I couldn’t think straight through my rage. We may have ears listening. Mom was almost killed and Maze was hurt trying to defend her while I was unfocused and girly-stupid over some dork who. call the ER and get Dr.I shook my head hard. Finding what I needed.

Alik opened the door just wide enough to let our friend in. “What happened?” Cole’s eyes widened looking around at the bags being packed. but .167/581 toiletries. “Would you guys quit doing that? That’s the second time in one day you’ve bolted from me and left me coughing in your dust! You’re gonna give a guy a complex you…” Cole stopped in mid-sentence when he saw Maze on the ground. I jumped when there was a knock at the door.” our friend’s voice was tense and out of breath. “Who’s there?” he barked in a voice I had never heard him use. Mom’s okay. “Cole! It’s Cole. “…while we were outside. Alik was there in an instant. and he shot Maze.” my voice caught in my throat. “What’s going on?” “Williams sent someone to break into mom’s room while we were….

mom doesn’t seem hurt. tube still dripping pain medicine into her vein. . “I’m so sorry Dr. “You must have been terrified.V.168/581 terrified. preparing for a hasty departure. Cole had already hurried to Margo to look her over himself.” he said gently patting her tears dry with fresh tissues. he’s pretty nuts about you. Winter. everything’s going to be okay. you know.” I managed to say with only a half-dozen huge tears falling off my pale skin. but Cole was sitting very still beside my mom. Don’t worry. I don’t know what stopped him from finishing what he started.” Cole spoke softly. My brothers and I were rushing around. “Dad’s going to be pretty upset when he finds out what happened. Between you and me.” he said while gently holding her hand. but fortunately. He was just holding her hand and carefully fixing her blankets around the I.

and there was the sweetest boy I’d ever known who had nothing to gain from being around me or my family…and it was he who stopped to hold my mother’s hand. my secret crush. my coyote. Andrews entered the security code and burst through the door.169/581 Here I was worried about my own feelings. Was I really so selfish not to have seen my mother just needed to be held? From the door we heard a series of beeps as Dr. It was Cole’s appreciation of a human’s most basic needs that stopped me in my tracks. “What happened? What’s going on?” .

Location: Undisclosed .Part 3 Seasons Change March 1st Five months after the Winter family went into hiding.

Deciding I was still too lazy to flip on the light switch to see where the toothpaste was landing when I tried to squeeze it onto the bristles. I sighed deeply as I brushed my teeth. Not wanting to turn on the bathroom light. I know that .17 Casting Light At 3:14am I woke from the same dream I’ve been having most nights and decided I needed to get up and brush my teeth. I opted for tipping my head back and squirting some paste directly into my open mouth. Feeling the bristles massage my gums helped me organize my thoughts. and the cylindrical shape of my automatic brush under my right. Ah yes. felt around until the familiar mushy toothpaste tube landed under my left hand. the cleansing beauty of toothpaste. I stumbled to the sink.

not unusual for a dream. There was blackness everywhere. in my dreams. I was going to tell you about my dreams.172/581 probably seems weird to most people. The light doesn’t come from me. It’s like I am some sort of angel of God. A huge hole opened. I digress. So. but through me. I don’t just fly. I knew there were children being held captive just below the surface of the earth. We’ll get back to that later. In it. But. Heck. I passed . according to my little brother’s research. and I had to go rescue them. Tonight’s dream was especially vivid. and I dove down into it. punching the ground with my fist. But. isn’t it? I’m not like most people. I can also throw streams of light from my hands as I’m battling a faceless evil. but I kept flying. in this one I’m able to fly. I’m not even human. The blackness singed my skin. and I’m battling against demons. I know. that’s just it. I prayed for strength as I leaped into the air and landed hard.

There were the children. I rushed to them. With a deep breath and intense focus. but I wasn’t there for them. It was as though I had a suit of armor made of the most beautiful iridescent light. I rounded a corner and knew I had to punch through the wall in front of me to find the children. cowering in the far corner. I knew I was only able to survive this because of the light’s pure strength. The heat could have been suffocating. I was being directed where to go. if it weren’t for the cool light I felt in me. It was both on me and inside me so I was aware of the pain going on outside this protection. but unaffected by it. protecting me. The stench from the wickedness surrounding me was horrible. I had to find the children. . I punched the cement-like barricade and it shattered open.173/581 droves of wicked creatures writhing in pain. gathered them and flew back through the wicked rooms of this hell.

delicious souls away.174/581 When the shadows would try to attack me for taking these innocent. gather them up. I repeated my mission. Every time I had this dream. I simply held out my hand. I flew the children back up through the hole I had punched in the earth’s surface and set their feet gently on the ground. and a pillar of light would shoot from my wrist blasting all the darkness away from me and my precious cargo. black hole and kept battling as I searched for more children I knew were still there. Each time I would find two or three of the innocent ones. it was similar in that I was casting light against evil and . palm up. I dove back down into the wretched. Again and again. A crowd had gathered. I handed the children to these good people telling them to take care of the children—I had to go back for more. stench-filled. cast light to clear our paths and fly them back up to the surface.

but when I’ve been fighting in my sleep all night. Apparently. I wake and my jaw is hurting so badly I can’t even open my mouth to shove that proverbial toothbrush into it. Some nights. I’m still trying to figure what it all means. A delicacy. stench. The evil became stronger the more innocent souls they consumed. burning flesh. I clench my teeth during these dreams. Well. Some mornings. Sometimes the location was different. and change my sweat-soaked bedding. now you see why I felt the need to get up in the middle of the night and brush my teeth. fire. I’m dripping with sweat and have to take a shower. but I can tell you one thing: . pain and innocent souls. They craved them. screaming. even I feel the effects come morning. I have a pretty high pain tolerance.175/581 rescuing children. but they had a common theme: Heat. The souls of the innocent were delicious to the demons.

. and I think I’m being prepared for it through my dreams.176/581 Something huge is on the horizon.

This man had been a true friend to my mother all these years by keeping her secret while she tried to raise me and my brothers in seclusion on our Texas ranch.” . It was he who Dr. This was the man who secured those fake IDs for mom when she first took me and my brothers away from Dr. Williams and the Facility as babies. Andrews called from a newly purchased cell phone even as we drove away from the Kansas hospital that day five months ago. We were staying with an old professor mom and Theo worked with some twentyfive years ago. but he insists everyone call him “Paulie. James St. our new life would be pretty great. His name is Dr. Paul.18 The Life of the Hunted If my family and I weren’t being hunted by a madman.

making him look like he’s wearing a white dress with extremely hairy. he also plays a righthanded guitar upside down to accommodate his left-handedness and can catch a gecko without breaking its tail. Not having a family of his own. Evan and Cole worship the ground he walks on. He’s like the grandfather we never had. tanned legs sticking out from beneath. He’s always wearing his swim trunks.178/581 Paulie lives in Hawaii and he can usually be found in one of two places: his personal laboratory at one end of his house or out on the waves. even under his lab coat. He says you have to be ready in an instant to hop on your board if the waves are good. and besides surfing and winning awards for biogenetic engineering. Paulie has taken them under his wing and taught them how to live like locals. . Paulie is a bit excentric. right? He is. The man is probably sixty-five. surfing. Sounds like one very cool guy. Alik. Paulie seemed to love the role.

Evan was to work with Dr. . If Williams wanted our blood so badly.179/581 They’ve done everything from cliff diving and parasailing to whittling and hiking. Cole. we needed to figure out why. Andrews and Paulie on the study of our blood to try to determine what was going on with our metahuman abilities. Cole and Theo came with us. came with his dad. Once the novelty of Hawaii wore off. We created goals together and divided the tasks. Theo gave up his entire tenure and practice in Kansas to be with our mom. That was about four months ago. my brothers and I decided it was time to devise a plan of attack. What sixteenyear-old wouldn’t want to graduate from high school early and go live in Hawaii rent free? It has been a season of rest and recuperation for mom. of course. That’s right. but for me and my brothers. it’s been a time of reflection and redirection.

Williams’ himself. Yet.180/581 Alik studied plans of attack both defensive and offensive. That just wasn’t happening. including all his holdings. but there was no way I could seek someone I only knew one-dimensionally from thousands of miles away and tune into to their feelings. We were all beginning to feel very anxious that something big was going to happen soon. Williams would not just sit back forever while we tinkered with our meta abilities on the white sandy beaches of Hawaii. He worked on digging up anything he could about the doctor’s past. I was getting better at it. I worked on trying to control my ability to channel into someone’s emotions. associates and projects. Who was this guy? Where did he come from? Who was his family? What made him tick? My task was a very internal one. . He studied information about Dr.

.181/581 He had plans for us and revenge in his wicked heart.

He had come into the living room and knelt beside our much recovered mother. Paulie and I need to discuss our laboratory findings. Gather everyone here. just as they had done for as long as Evan could remember. Dr. and we’ll talk. “All right. Andrews. she whispered.” .19 The Family Meeting “We need to have a family meeting. Margo put down her book and looked deeply into her youngest son’s eyes. Seeing the profound seriousness and concern there.” Evan’s eyes reflected the gravity of his request. Margo was such a devoted mother. She and Alik were reading thick books as they sat side by side on the sofa. Evan. It was obvious to everyone she was happiest when surrounded by her children.

Maze whined softly beside me sensing there was something wrong. Theo. as if poised to leap into protective battle. Fifteen minutes later. Evan caught his eye before he stood to leave. Paulie and Evan stood fidgeting by the bay window and mom. We even tried changing the variables and looked for environmental factors that would contribute to or . I reached to scratch my friend behind his alert ears. “We’ve checked and triple checked.183/581 Alik’s previously relaxed posture immediately responded to the tone of the room and he sat ridged. Evan cleared his throat to begin. Alik and I sat uncomfortably on the sofa. Cole paced nervously behind the couch. Without thinking. the entire household was present and accounted for. The usually cozy living room filled with local Hawaiian décor including small palms and wicker furniture felt decidedly tense. Their exchange was solemn.

who was all logic and no emotion—Evan was trying not to cry. the smartest of all of them. Nothing. surrounded by her children. It’s fact. “What Evan’s trying to say is that the data has indicated your life spans have been severely shortened because of the ‘metahuman’ demands placed on your bodies. her voice sounded frantic. Evan. Alik and I sat on either side of her protectively.” Paulie said with empathy in his voice.” Evan’s voice cracked just enough to give his emotions away. “What do you mean ‘severely shortened!’” Mom’s usual calm was gone. the baby. She was sitting on the couch. Instead. . Mom looked like she had just been punched in the stomach.184/581 alter the results. The mutations created in our bodies with the serum given to us as children did give us ultra abilities—more than any of the other metas Williams created—but at a price.

I was so scared. my voice sounding very far away to my own ears. imagine it’s very similar to the cliché ‘burning the candle at both ends. Williams’ super cocktail forced their human bodies to go into hyper mode.” Evan took a deep breath.’ The children’s bodies were human. of course.” Theo leaned in and held Margo’s hand as he spoke. Our data points to a sort of countdown. steadying himself. “How much time do we have?” I asked. Their performance levels doubled and tripled in some areas. The children are at or near their peak level of performance right now.” He breathed again. Dr.185/581 “Margo. spit it out! How long?” I couldn’t stop the room from spinning. “Evan. . timelines will vary somewhat between each of us. “And keep in mind. “We’re just able to give an approximation.

” even as I spoke. It’s okay. It’s none of our fault. Maybe there’s something I just haven’t thought of yet. Ev. Evan looked up at me almost pleadingly. Everyone understood then—it was me. tears were . “I. This is just the way it is.” Evan looked from Alik to me with exhausted eyes. Maybe even two years. to let everyone know what we have so far.186/581 “Inside eighteen months. “Who’s going to go first?” my voice had no affect as I spoke to the room. Andrews.” “Stop. As the oldest. of course it would be me whose countdown was further along.” he said waving his hands toward Paulie and Dr. He didn’t have to say a word. “we just knew it was definitive enough to talk with the family.” Evan walked over and knelt beside me. er…we.. Meggie. “I’m not giving up.. a way to slow the process or replenish ourselves. I know this isn’t your fault. if we’re lucky.

” said Alik who was looking very pale. it’s okay to take a few minutes to let our heads wrap around this. Maybe by pretending bravery.” My voice was painfully steady. We have to prioritize. “What good does that do? We’re dying.187/581 beginning to stream down my face. Let’s get started. “We have a lot of work to do. We need to leave this world better than we entered it. brushed the nonexistent lint off my shorts and stood. boys. we need to get to work. too. This had all been news to him. “a year left. even if we’re not here to live it. I sat up straight. you know. Everyone dies! We just happen to know it’s .” I began walking out of the living room and into the office where we had been collecting data on Williams. If we only have—” I stopped to swallow a knot of emotion. We have to think of what kind of world we’re going to leave behind. “Meg. I gathered just a hint of the real thing. “We have to think long-term.

188/581 going to be sooner than later for us. you know. “This isn’t just about me. “Meg. now edging toward shrill. .” I waved my hands across the room at the regular humans who loved me. by God. Andrews offered.” Cole tried to soothe. Nothing like finding out you’re gonna die to add a kick-butt dose of clarity to a person’s life!” “What can we do to help you?” Dr. I can make this a better world for you to grow old in. I can do something to help you! I can catch this asshole Williams and stop him from hurting any more kids. Please don’t think I’m so self-centered as to think this news flash only affects me. “I am ‘calm’ Cole Andrews. the humans who were staring at me with worry and fear in their eyes. He looked on the verge of tears. I’m probably the most calm I’ve been in a long time. but. I already know there is nothing anyone can do to help me. calm down.” My voice slipped.

189/581 “I’ve got to get out of here for a while. laced with emotion. .” My words came out quivering.

I just had to run. he had been more protective of me than ever. He hardly let me out of his sight. Instead of heading to the study as I had planned. I made a direct path to my room and threw on a pair of running shoes. And I couldn’t let myself feel the pain I just created in the other part of Paulie’s house. Ever since he was shot with a tranquilizer gun while protecting mom back in the Kansas hospital. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had to get away. He knew I was upset and was ready to be my trusty sidekick in whatever I was about to do.20 My Resolution My heart was screaming in my throat. but I really wanted to be alone. but I swallowed hard and forced it away. Maze followed me to my room. I couldn’t let myself listen to the emotions exploding inside me. .

I just found out I was dying. My efforts to seem completely in control are always sabotaged by my inability to breathe. Everyone I love was in that room and they all know. This is not . But in the end. He whined pitifully. I’m just a means to an end now. This was just too much. He will enjoy a good nap while I go work out my issues running.191/581 I grabbed the door to my bedroom on my way out and abruptly turned back to order Maze to stay. I told myself. but sat on his haunches and obeyed. At least I get to decide how I’m going to end it. I refuse to just let myself die. trapping my best friend inside. I had no time to swallow what was being shoved at me so I did what I always do. this isn’t about me or how I feel. I start yelling at the world in an emotional tirade. The screen door closed with a solid whack behind me as I tried to bolt from the trauma in my heart. I shut the door to my bedroom. I wasn’t any sort of good company.

I have already made my decision. How can I make that happen? How can I use what resources I have to put this man out of commission? What does he value? Power? Money? The salty. Maybe they can find a cure before it’s too late for them. And with every beat of my pounding heart I wished I were just a normal sixteen-year-old girl walking the halls of a normal high school where all I had to worry about was final exams and who was going to take me to the prom. Let me break it down: My objective is to terminate Williams and destroy his work.192/581 going to go well for Williams. I wish I could listen to music and . My little brothers have more time than me. My feet hit the pavement with a rhythmic determination. thick air washed over me as I ran following the curves and hills of the road. Now I know I have nothing left to lose. Not at all. As for me.

. Crap! I picked up my already breakneck speed.193/581 write in a diary and make plans for college. my future was primed and ready to be filled with metabattles. evil doctors bent on world domination and imminent death before I even make it to twenty-one. Feeling my new determination wash over and empower me opened my mind to clarity. Instead. blood. I need to find Dr. I need to terminate him and his work. and God forgive me. I wish I could dream of growing up and growing old with the love of my life. No. but none of that was in my future. pushing away the self-pity and allowing myself to be enveloped in anger instead. I knew what I had to do. Kenneth Williams.

her small. it was the only one he allowed her . His left hand was methodically rotating the metallic orbs—his self-soothing technique. Williams. The doctor’s face was only visible because of the reflection from the screen. three-year-old hands. He looked distinctly older than he had just two years before. brushed.21 It’s Not Just Nostalgia The room was completely dark except for the images flashing on the large flat screen on the far side. slender legs dangling several inches above the tiled flooring. In her dainty. She was perched on her bed. Stress and revenge will do that to a man. On the screen was the case study. black leather recliner sat the aging Dr. In a supple. To his memory. she lovingly held a rag doll. his first success. M57. The doll was nothing spectacular.

singing to the faceless. as though justifying himself. The room looked empty for several minutes before the door opened and a lab worker who . he thought.195/581 as he was more interested in honing her fighting skills. he made himself remember how much harder it was to come by the human samples on which he could carry out his research back then. and scampered under the bed. Then. not for the first time. There she was. puzzles and mazes. On the screen. He remembered being frustrated that the experiment continued to seek that one doll out instead of playing with the brain researched-based robotics. bringing the ratty doll with her. yarn-haired. doll. as though she heard something. problem solving. times were tough. Yes. battle tactics. He scowled at the image wondering. why he even bothered with a female case study. and so on. M57 looked up.

then hugged it tightly. of all the hours of footage he had videotaped of her time at the Institute.196/581 was there to collect a blood sample. walked in. the white lab coat looked down at the chart in his hand and flipped a few pages up before stupidly scratching his head. Instead. He scanned the room looking confused. She smiled widely. not for the first time. What just happened? Williams was thinking. you idiot! thought Williams. turning and walking out of the room. looking quite pleased with herself. Did she sense the worker’s hesitation to do his job and collect data from what he saw as a little girl and use that against him? Or . locking click behind him and moments later M57 crawled out from under the bed. That was documented and factual. The door closed with a loud. held the doll up into the air. this seemed different. spun. But this one scene. Look under the bed. He knew she could sense the emotions of others.

and he needed to know what it was. “What. something here was important to present events. when she came to the Institute last year. Though the event took place more than a decade before. Williams grabbed the remote. he looked full of doubt and walked out of the room without so much as seeing the subject. Instead. why had she only displayed this ability this once? Why. And if that were the case. he answered. Dr. The worry lines deepened in his brow. clicked to rewind and began the scene for the umpteenth time.” . Irritated. The cell phone in his upper breast pocket warbled announcing a call and interrupting his thoughts. did she not just manipulate me into freeing her mother and ending our conflict? He thought.197/581 was it something else? She was always able to sense emotions but it looked like. in this scene. There was more to M57. she was able to manipulate his emotions so he didn’t search for her.

But sir. We are on target for secured delivery. calling with a status report. Creed here.” “Excellent. sir. Williams. Farrow arrived with the ‘gift’ right on schedule. “Sir?” “Nevermind.” “Go on. I should mention that there seemed to be a change in their behavior today.198/581 “Dr. and he wondered aloud.” Dr. “what do you think you’re doing?” He rewound the scene and watched it again from the beginning. I know you have not initiated contact with them since you located . he could feel it. pressing pause on the video playback right where M57 looks up from her doll as though she heard something…or was it felt something? “Your assistant. When?” “Fifteen minutes. Williams sat quietly.” Williams barked. staring at the image of the meta child on the screen. There was something here.

“The girl ran out of the house at 11:12am and kept running. “I observed the metas conducting themselves as usual until today when all three of them changed their routines. It was obvious she was upset. but . The younger male went into the laboratory about the same time and has not come out all day. And the girl.” “Yes. sir. what brought on this change in their pattern of behavior?” Dr. The oldest male looked angry and spent the entire afternoon lifting weights behind the house in the bungalow. I wouldn’t have thought much about it. well of course. correct? So. She is the emotional one. Williams’ mind was racing on two planes of thought.199/581 their hideaway on the Big Island. “Yes. what of the girl?” Williams snapped impatiently.…” Creed’s voice wavered slightly.” Williams mused. It wasn’t her normal jogging pace. “If it were just her change in behavior.

Are you sure you want the “gift” given to the female?” Creed couldn’t completely put aside his feelings for Meg.” Dr. He didn’t like having his meta operatives away from his influence for long.” they’ll have a new reason to be upset. He and Farrow tried to track them. smiling to himself. No one knew where they were. “Sir. not the police…no one was talking. not the government. After Meg gets our little “gift. Creed was sure Williams worried that if left with too much . all he could think about was her. however important it was that he did. Not at the hospital.200/581 the other two metas behaving the way they did—something happened to upset all three of them.” “No matter. It was like they fell off the face of the earth. we could have just as much access to either of the male metas. So Williams had ordered them to return to the Facility. Williams said. but their trail ran cold. In the five months since he last saw her.

Creed was sent ahead for surveillance and Farrow followed soon after with the special “gift” designed specifically for Meg. “It absolutely needs to be given to her. isn’t it? Not very original of Margo.…” Dr. Alik’s strength and memory. “Sir?” Creed wasn’t sure he was following the Director’s line of thought. She’s the leader. It was only because Williams had spared no expense in their hunt that they were found. and then there is my M57—Meg is what they call her. Williams’ voice dropped off. Mr. Combined. he would lose them to the appeal of the American civilian lifestyle. Young. . Evan’s genius and problem solving. It had taken months of private investigation from an outside source to locate the family that had gone so deeply underground.201/581 freedom. You forget. these three are the most formidable metas I have ever created.

then the fifth letter of the alphabet is “E” and the seventh is “G. her personality is that of . M. Creed’s mind easily slipped back to the hospital corridor when he stood so close to her he could smell the strawberry scent of her hair and looked into her deep. “And what of Meg’s heightened ability?” “Now that’s the million-dollar question.202/581 “Well. He had to force himself back to the present. It is she who gives the other two directions. Not very original. isn’t it?” Williams half said to himself as he continued to stare at the image of the darkeyed child on the screen.” he said condescendingly. dark brown eyes.” His voice sounded very far away to Creed. “She can channel into the emotions of those around her. M57.’ Sir.” M-E-G. Margo ‘named’ her Meg. “‘Channel into emotions. what does that mean?” “It means she may be the most dangerous of them all.

This guy is one seriously demented individual. In a sick way. He’s proud of her. but he wasn’t making sense. Not for the last time. It is she who intends to be my undoing. “Such a delicious morsel. the two males will flounder.” he said with a strange smile in his voice that translated to Creed almost as pride.” he said with an air of effortlessness that left Creed feeling nauseous and uneasy. Creed thought to himself. Call to keep me posted. What a gift I gave her…” “Sir?” Creed heard every word the old scientist muttered. yet how near the edge of insanity he seemed to hover.203/581 leader. Creed grimaced at the thought of all the power this man had at his fingertips. . “Both you and Farrow have you’re your work cut out for you. he is happy at the thought of Meg wanting to kill him. Without her. The director continued watching the image on his screen.

” she said snidely. Her dark hair pulled back in a pony. “I just did you a favor by getting it over with. “Farrow!” he yelled. “I got her in the neck. Her long strides were graceful and poetic in their strength. There she was. She had been following Meg through a scope of a long-range. And then she wasn’t running anymore. She looked so hurt and angry. so you may want to go remove the ‘gift’ before you knight-inshining-armor her back to her precious . calm down. Creed picked up his binoculars again and found Meg motionless on the ground. she was spinning in the air and landing with a sick whack against a tree trunk. sniper rifle.” She was already packing her gear. He was so struck by what just happened that he couldn’t breathe. lover boy. Farrow was positioned about ten meters to his right.204/581 Creed put his phone back in his pocket and picked up his binoculars. “Oh.

Back in Dr. the images on the screen came back to life and he watched with horrified amusement as the child disappears under the bed.” Farrow was already walking away. Since he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Williams’ darkened video viewing room. he opted to go to Meg. Oh. and you’re welcome!” Creed was torn between chasing Farrow down to have it out with her and running down to check on Meg and carry her to safety. rifle disassembled and inconspicuously set inside her hiker’s backpack.205/581 family. But what happened with the lab worker wasn’t in her imagination. Williams watched the child’s face carefully when she climbed out from under the bed. “See you back at the hotel. the lab coat walks in and shakes his head confused at the seemingly empty room and walks out. or was it? . She looked pleased with herself and relieved. She hugged her rag doll tightly and commenced her imaginative play.

but he worked his lips tight then puckered. Yes. he thought. This little quirk of his he only showed during his most pensive. She is my masterpiece—simply magnificent. this meta may very well be the most dangerous of them all. over and over. stress-filled moments. This time he not only rolled the metallic orbs in his hand.206/581 The old man sat in his chair and rewound the scene. tight then puckered. applauding himself. he thought to himself. .

He had lost any hint of a baby face years ago and instead. Alik looked more like an adult than he should. not for the eight-hundred pounds he shouldered. wore his broodingly handsome worry lines casually. but for all the responsibility he felt for his family. He was slowly lowering a bar to his chest with hundreds of pounds of weight draped on either side. . At fifteen. His crisp blue eyes were steeped in worry and concentration. as though it had never occurred to him that life held anything less than one battle after another with brief interludes of reprieve between. a reprieve that was always more like the calm before another storm.22 Alik’s “Time Sense” He was laying on his back. muscles taught and skin glistening with sweat.

even if it was just for a few hours.” His awareness of past and present moments were as clear to him as a gymnast was aware of ceiling and floor even as he spun in mid air. Alik was in Paulie’s gym. He had a “time sense” almost like a gymnast had “air sense. a smaller building separate from the house. Alik understood life was fleeting because he’d already lived through so much. his intense ability to recollect even the smallest detail of every day since the beginning of his time had turned him in to a soul that knew how precious life was.208/581 And though he loved life and felt an obligation to appreciate every moment of it. the scent of salt from the . A battle was fast approaching. He allowed himself to focus on the feel of the metal in his hands. He was pumping iron and pushing himself to feel his muscles strain so he could live in the moment. Life was pulsing ahead and he knew his reprieve was nearly over.

The pumping of his legs at the steepest incline couldn’t force away the memory of the look on his mother’s face as she listened to the prognosis for her three children. Moving to the treadmill didn’t help matters. Her eyes gave away her feelings. he heard his brother’s voice explaining what he and Paulie and Theo had discovered through the research of their meta blood. and there was no doubt in Alik’s mind that she was flung into the Kubler-Ross stages of grief . crystal clear through Alik’s videographic memory.209/581 ocean. the strain in his brother’s voice carried through. Again and again. He wished to God he could stop replaying the conversation. the tightness in his muscles as they were forced to exert themselves against gravity. And in his mind. but there it was. He could not control his crisp mental image of Meg’s face when she realized it would be she who would pass away first.

shit. Alik thought as he pushed himself faster and faster on the treadmill. Reliving the events of this morning was more exhausting than his entire workout combined. Well. but finally ready to rest. She flew past denial and was right in the middle of anger. She ran out of the room with shadows of fury darting across her face. He allowed his pace to slow and the incline to drop so his muscles could begin to cool down. depression and acceptance were the last three stages. By the end of five minutes he was still steeped in thought.210/581 immediately. . his body only moderately spent after working out nonstop over the last two hours. I think we all have every right to be furious right now. but Alik was pretty sure Meg wasn’t leaving anger anytime soon. Alik lay still on the padded floor of the gym with his arm thrown over his eyes. Bargaining. according to the theory.

“Honest. MEG!” Alik ran full speed to the stranger who was carrying his limp sister. not much older than himself. carrying a girl. “What happened? Who are you? What did you do to her?” Alik yelled even as he ran so by the time he reached them. then standing position and slowly walked out of the gym ready to head back to the house and jump in the shower.211/581 With a muffled groan. . “Wait. “Help! Hey. he looked like he was seconds away punching a whole through the guy’s neck. he forced himself to a sitting. no…I just found her on the ground a dozen meters up that way. you! She needs help!” Alik turned to see a guy. my God. the girl was his sister. Just before he reached the screen door he heard someone call out. “Oh.” The guy jerked his head back over his shoulder without letting his eyes leave Alik’s. It only took half a second for him to realize. even from this distance.

. he fought back panic. Sensing the guy was no threat. She felt heavy. like dead-weight. “Meg. Alik allowed himself to focus completely on his sister. “Meg?” Alik spoke her name sternly. Instead. Meg!” Alik was half running back up the path to the house. And even as that phrase jumped into Alik’s mind. completely unconcerned that the strange guy who found his sister was right behind him. Meg was still dressed in the same running clothes and shoes she was wearing a couple hours before when she left the house. she didn’t make a sound. Wake up! Come on.212/581 man. All he could think about was how much he wished his sister would snap out of it.” the stranger said wide-eyed as he gently passed the girl to Alik. I didn’t do anything to her. and she didn’t move. push herself to her feet and start shouting and bossing everyone around like she usually did when she was upset.

Not now. he kept alternating from yelling into the house for help and talking softly to his unconscious sister. . “Oh. flew into the living room. “Oh. She looked as alive as a rag doll. and she was burning up with fever.” Alik kept pleading. “Evan! Mom! Someone! Meg’s sick! Come quick!” He opened the screen door. He could feel the heat searing through her thin clothing radiating off her like a bon fire. as did her arms. Her lean legs hung limp. She is supposed to have more time! We’re all supposed to have more time!” Alik’s voice was creased with anguish even as he prayed. Alik ran up the steps to Paulie’s house and began shouting. taking special care not to bump her head.213/581 Her head hung back and her long dark hair had come loose from the knot she tied it in to run. The whole while. no. my God. God. and gently laid his sister down on the sofa. Oh. trying to get her to respond. please.

not yet. I need you. Remember? We can’t do this without you. Mom and Evan need you. . kid. Meg. You can’t leave us yet!” Alik’s voice choked up completely so by the time he yelled into the house again. We have work to do. You can’t be sick. he was hoarse with tears. come on. Oh God. Meg.214/581 “Meg.

but had stepped out to retrieve some notes from his room. “What’s all the yelling about?” Cole hurried into the room and looked around trying to determine what he’d missed.23 Consequences “What’s wrong with her?” Evan had been on the other side of the house in the laboratory with Margo. It was a good thing he did too. She hasn’t said a word. Andrews and Paulie. Ev. . A guy found her like this up the path and…she’s burning up with fever. “I don’t know. because the lab was essentially soundproof.” Alik was watching his little brother’s skilled hands as he started with Meg’s head and began examining her. hasn’t responded at all. His eyes found Meg lying so fragile and small on the sofa. Evan was at his sister’s side immediately.

I’d like to stop by tomorrow and check in on her. “Hey. Alik stood. “Should I call 911?” the stranger asked from a few feet behind the sofa. “Thanks for your help. if that’s okay.216/581 “Cole. hurried to the door and opened it saying. “Oh. Really. Go get everyone from the lab.” Evan responded cautiously. Run!” Alik ordered.” Creed nodded. Both brothers turned quickly to glare at the guy they hadn’t even realized was in the room. God.” . man. Meg’s sick. “Don’t mention it. getting the hint. we appreciate it. “We got it from here. Meg!” Cole took half a moment to study Meg’s face before he bolted from the room and down the hall toward the laboratory.” “Right.” Just as he slipped through the open doorway he turned and added.

the family seemed to be reacting to Meg’s “condition” as planned. “Aloha. “It all feels wrong. Farrow’s impulsive shot was right on target.” he muttered to himself. He turned to the stranger. He shoved his hands deeply in his pockets and bit his lip. damn it. He was replaying the events of the last half hour and trying to be sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. thinking about what just happened. shrugged noncommittally and said. Creed didn’t move for a minute. man.” before letting the door shut firmly between them. and so far.217/581 Alik looked back at his sister lying on the sofa and really just wanted to get rid of this guy so he could go back figuring out what was happening to her. He took a deep breath before heading back down the steps toward the path. He was going to have to do some serious thinking tonight. He had . but he had a nagging sensation that something was wrong.

. If there was one thing he learned is that there were always consequences.218/581 to go weigh his options and their consequences. He picked up his pace as he walked toward his rental parked down the road.

none of us. Her fever is very high. What’s wrong with her?” Alik was searching his brother’s eyes for an answer. Breathing is shallow and her lips are purple. the brothers returned to their examination of Meg. but sluggish. her pupils are responsive. . Evan pulled a small flash light from his pocket.” Internally.24 Uncertainty Now that the stranger was gone. She doesn’t seem to have any bruising or lacerations I can find. Evan’s mind was racing with logical possibilities. “Evan. his face looked almost as pale as Meg’s. gently lifted Meg’s eyelids one at a time and flashed the light into them looking for pupil dilation. Evan only shook his head slowly. Her heart rate is extremely fast. we’ve never been sick. “Well. externally.

” Paulie thought out loud while scratching his scruffy beard. Alik carefully lifted his sister and hurried down the corridor to the laboratory. As they worked. Andrews was the first at Meg’s side. she only allowed herself to think as a doctor. Margo took the lead in removing her daughter’s clothing so she could dress her in a hospital gown. something that triggered this early onset. She saw . “The calculations were correct. “We need to get her back to the lab.220/581 They heard the family running down the corridor and moments later burst into the room. Everyone else was right on his heels. We have to run tests on the status of her gamaglobulin and electrolytes. Maybe something set off her countdown. Dr.” “You knew this was how it was going to come on and you didn’t warn us?” Margo was seething with worry and anxiety. This wasn’t supposed to even begin happening yet.

we’re ready. Dr. so he could hydrate Meg with fluids and so there was a path already established should medications need to be administered quickly. minimizing possible contamination to the sterile room.V. Margo fought back panic because she couldn’t think of any reason for her daughter to be in the condition she was in. combined with her high fever. That. She had taken on a yellowish hue to her skin and her lips were somewhat purple. made for very strange symptoms. Her coloring was unusual.” Margo called to the other side of the privacy curtain. Andrews began setting up an I. Evan came in with a syringe and several empty vials to collect blood samples.221/581 no cuts or bruises anywhere on her daughter’s body. “Okay. Margo took on her motherly role and simply worked to position a surgical cap on Meg’s head so she could tuck in all her daughter’s dark curls. though. .

except Evan. But this guy . but he was only lacking the papers. he was specialized in the one area Meg needed most: Metahuman-ology.222/581 Alik left the room quickly to clean up and returned fifteen minutes later to the laboratory hoping he could be of some help. I wish I had. The boys exchanged helpless glances. Everyone else in the room was a doctor. “I mean. “No. Over the last five months. That’s how smart Evan is. Cole was standing in the corner looking like he was trying to stay out of the way. He walked into the room filled with people he loved and respected rushing around his sister who laid still as stone on a white-sheeted gurney. Andrews asked. “Alik. sir. was it you who found Meg?” Dr.” Alik responded a little too quickly. Matter of fact. Evan had educated himself and was as versed as anyone who had gone through four years of medical school.

223/581 said he just found her on the jogging path and carried her to the nearest house for help. “‘I just found her on the ground a dozen meters up that way. He didn’t say. “No. The guy just said. I was too worried about Meg.” he said feeling upset with himself for not having more information to give to the doctors trying to help his sister.” Alik added. mom. ours was the nearest house.” “Did she collapse?” Dr. Luckily. “I don’t know. brightening at the memory. and I didn’t ask. “But he did say he would come back tomorrow to check on her.” . Paulie asked.” Alik replayed the conversation in his mind and quoted.’” “Who was he? Did you get his name?” Margo asked. “Maybe we can ask him some questions then and get a better idea of what happened.

sensing his feelings of guilt and helplessness. “She was typical Meg until the family meeting this morning. “I’d like to rule out anything ordinary before we jump right into her meta physical status.” Evan said returning to his microscope. “I mean unusual mood changes?” “Nothing I can think of. The whole room stopped and looked over at Dr.224/581 “Right. let’s plan on that. Does anyone remember anything unusual about Meg? Did she eat or drink something different? Was she behaving differently? Dizzy spells? Mood changes?” he said as though he were gathering a typical medical history on a patient. Paulie. Dr.” Margo smiled softly at her oldest son. “I can’t think of any change in her behavior either. .” Margo added. Paulie spoke up.” Cole answered thoughtfully.

” “What do you mean?” Cole asked. “So maybe she overloaded?” Cole concluded. bag and adjusting the pace at which the fluids were dripping. What do you think. She must have been experiencing so much of her own worries and sadness.225/581 “Yeah this morning was rough on everyone.” Alik mused. but then to be bombarded with the emotions all the rest of us were feeling…” her voice trailed off. her skill is her empathy. .V. “Well. Meg is an emotional superconductor. “I wonder if that was the ‘trigger’. Andrews said even as he swabbed a Petri dish with a blood sample.” Alik continued. Mom?” Alik looked to his mother who was carefully checking the I. In a word.” Dr. right? She can sense the feeling of those around her. “Hum. “Something like that. “I think it is a possibility.

” Dr.” “Maybe this doesn’t have anything to do with the countdown. “The possibilities are innumerable. I agree.” . Maybe this is something else entirely.226/581 “Yes.” Evan’s face was tight with worry. Paulie offered. “It would be a logical conclusion.

Alik was taking his break when he heard Maze’s growling change to alarmed barking. the family was exhausted with both mental and physical fatigue. He didn’t know why he was wasn’t allowed to see his Meg.25 Choosing Sides The next morning. Everyone was keeping vigil. Even Maze howled his distress though he couldn’t understand exactly what was going on. “What’s going on boy?” he said to the coyote as he . no one was willing to leave the lab for longer than it took to grab some food and use the restroom. and he wanted the world to understand how scared and furious he was about it. Though they tried to set up shifts to monitor Meg’s condition to allow everyone time to rest. No one had slept. Maze announced Creed’s arrival.

“You’re gonna scare the crap out of him. He saw the same guy who had found his sister yesterday walking up the path. Try to calm down.” “How’s the girl?” the stranger asked seeming genuinely worried. “Not good. We were wondering if we could ask you some questions about yesterday. Alik grabbed Maze by the collar and walked him to Meg’s room. just as he had promised he would. and I’ll come back to let you out in a while.” Alik said with relief in his voice. Stay here for now.” Alik opened the door wider and motioned for the guest to come into the house. Alik hurried to the front door and had it pulled open even before the stranger had a chance to knock. okay?” he lectured the coyote.228/581 walked to the kitchen window. man. Maze. “She’s really sick. “Thanks for coming by this morning. “Hey.” .

“Scrubbed in? Like at a hospital?” Creed asked.” Alik spoke while leading the way down the corridor toward the lab. “Oh.” Alik waved dismissively toward the sound. pretending he had no idea there was a lab onsite. A mournful howling came from down the hall that stopped him in his tracks. Maze isn’t too happy with me for shutting him in Meg’s room. You have to come with me. And to be sure no containments are brought into the sterile room. No one’s going to want to leave Meg. .” Creed said. don’t worry about him. “Well.229/581 Creed stepped into the house and walked toward the living room. I’ll wait here. We’re pretty well set up back here in the lab. We’ll just get you scrubbed in. “No. yeah. and they’ll all want to hear what you have to say.” “Sure. you won’t. “We’ve got to tell everyone you’re here.

Finally. as though it were completely normal to have a hospital-like clean room in an estate on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He was trying to brace himself for what was about to happen. “If you say so.” was all Creed could think to say. Creed was feeling queasier now than ever before. focusing especially under his fingernails and continuing up his forearms. He began working vigorously on his hands. which was saying a lot . they put on light blue masks that covered their noses and mouths and were held in place by wrapping small elastic loops around their ears. plastic scrubbing brush.” Alik said matter-of-factly. and took out a premoistened.230/581 you’ll have to get scrubbed in. blue. Creed stood to the side and watched as Alik slipped a blue gown over his clothing and tied the paper-like belt to secure it. Creed mimicked everything Alik did. Then he ripped open a package.

His eyes stopped scanning the moment he found Meg. including their faces. He was about to see the sweet-faced girl who made his heart leap inside his chest. all dressed in the same sterile surgical gowns he wore himself. and he was about to confess who he was. All the equipment looked shiny. The room was large and immaculate. new and expertly maintained. Even though each person in the room was completely covered in blue. . Half a dozen people were in the room.231/581 considering how many times he had been put in situations of extreme stress. Creed could tell immediately who was who. But this was different. He was about to meet her family. Then the second set of doors opened. Nothing about the next hour was going to be easy. and closed behind Alik and Creed. The first of the double doors to the lab slid open automatically.

. this is the guy who found Meg yesterday. Alik was right. Though he could only see the eyes of those who spoke. Everyone in this room was terrified and exhausted. Creed knew he wasn’t going to be able to be their solution. but they all looked at Creed with a glint of hope as though he would have some magic answer to their questions. okay?” Margo began. At least. “Everyone. “Yes. ma’am.232/581 She looked so much worse than she did last he saw her. So. The room murmured “welcomes” and “thanks for coming backs. he could read them clearly.” “You’ll have to forgive us if we seem rude.” Alik announced to the room. but we’re desperately trying to determine what is wrong with our Meg. she wasn’t doing well at all. we’re going to skip introductions and jump right in with some questions. not the way they were hoping he would be.” Creed responded formally.

She stopped. you looked like you were about to rip my head off for touching her. Then I saw her slump to the ground holding her head. So you say she collapsed holding her head. “Regardless. only half lying.” Creed answered. Paulie redirected the conversation. . “Wait a minute.233/581 “Tell us what you saw when you found Meg. sir. I was trying to save my own skin!” Creed said. Paulie began. By the time I reached her. “She was jogging.” Dr. “Yesterday you said you just ‘found her’ on the ground. Now you’re telling us you saw her before she passed out?” “Yesterday.” Alik said. she was completely out.” Dr. “Yes. looking like she was dizzy. Like she had a migraine that came on fast.” Creed replayed the scene in his mind trying to stick as close to the truth as possible. and held on to a tree to steady herself.

“What were you doing on the path when you saw her?” Evan asked. “Excuse me?” Creed asked. “How long from the time you saw her jogging until she was on the ground unconscious?” Dr.” Creed estimated. That wasn’t part of the plan. How did you happen to be there?” Evan pressed. “I…well. These people were not to know about Farrow. I’d say maybe fifteen seconds. “No. “You were on the path where Meg was jogging. She was completely out. sir.234/581 “Did she say anything to you when you approached her?” Margo asked. stalling. “Seconds. ma’am. It all happened fast.” Creed responded. “Not that I know of. Andrews asked. ma’am.” Creed lied. “Was anyone else around to see what you saw?” Margo asked. I was…. unable to meet the intense gaze of those in the .” Creed stammered.

“Listen. “I’m not sure now’s the time to get into that. “Maybe you’d better start talking right now.” His unfamiliar eyes were both pleading and heated at the . I could have done it out there on the path when I first saw her collapse and neither of you could have stopped me. And just like that. “I’m. if I wanted to hurt her. completely aware of the change in the temperature of the conversation positioned himself beside his brother facing the interloper.235/581 room. Alik and Evan exchanged glances and without saying a word they moved themselves between the stranger and their family.” Evan was walking toward the stranger. “Who are you?” Alik asked the stranger point blank.” Alik warned. Creed lost all pretenses.. Alik.” the stranger hesitated.um.” Worry lines etched across his tanned face. “It’s not a difficult question..

you were involved in the research conducted by Dr. Dr. “You’re metahumans. Margo Winter…” . like me. The words felt like ice down Alik’s back. but I don’t know why she’s sick.236/581 brothers’ mistrust. From behind the brothers.” the stranger said and anxiously ran his fingers through is hair.” he said simply. “What do you mean you know who we are?” Alik’s eyes formed into angry slits. He was stunned into momentary silence. Kenneth Williams and were stolen by a woman who worked for his company. The stranger continued speaking. Her other hand was clinched into a fist. Evan felt punched in the stomach. “Ten years ago. so he wasn’t talking much either. “I know who you are and where you come from. now going by the name Dr. Margo Pullman. Margo eased her way to her daughter and put one hand protectively on her feverish arm.

“Crystal. “Stop right there. Andrews was at Margo’s side in an instant. .237/581 Dr. you will not walk out of this room alive. Are you willing?” Margo asked the outsider.” the man said simply. “That was my original objective. Did he send you to kill my mother?” Alik’s face could not have been redder. seething with fury. ready to lay down his life to protect her.” The stranger met Alik’s glare unflinching.” “If you came to hurt anyone in my family. Clear?” Alik’s vein in his forehead was pulsing deep purple with absolute ferocity. but things have—changed. “Yes. You obviously work for Williams. “We obviously have a lot to talk about. He could barely contain himself. But the logical part of him was forcing restraint knowing he needed to gather more information before he broke this guy’s neck.

he was a meta. “So let me get this straight. he just brought Meg to them. Of course. Instead. He forced a gasp before he continued his angry tirade. unconscious. This was all too surreal. ill. Here was the man who had been sent by their enemy to hunt them down. but alive. “And no one . “This is the guy who found Meg and brought her home yesterday.” he was so horrified at Creed’s presence in the lab.238/581 Evan couldn’t stop staring at the stranger as though through new eyes. his outburst left him breathless. but he works for that whack-job Williams who is bent on killing pretty much everyone in this room just so he can have their blood. Now he stood in front of them confessing his plot. “And now we’re welcoming him into the house and sharing a heart-to-heart talk about good versus evil over a cup of coffee?” Cole’s voice teetered on frantic.” Cole spoke up. His physique was perfect. He looked like he may even be stronger than Alik.

if you haven’t noticed. Margo walked to the stranger and watched his eyes as she responded to Cole. he would have started with Meg. He’s trusted us enough to offer his vulnerability. “Well.” Cole quipped. He’s completely aware of how outnumbered he is with all of us and especially outmatched between Alik and Evan. Creed appreciated her ability to quickly piece together the .” Margo’s voice was steady and assured. Cole.239/581 else sees this as a bad idea?” Cole blurted looking around the room at the faces of the people he cared for so deeply. she’s not doing so great. “There was no tactical advantage for him to expose himself as he has. yet he did.” Evan responded rationally. We will trust him enough to listen. He gave up his anonymity and blown his own cover. He had no reason to do any of this. “If he wanted to do us harm.

“What is your name?” “Creed. He liked her instantly.” Creed nearly saluted. “My name is Creed Young. He turned and walked out the lab’s double doors with Alik and Evan on his heels. They removed their surgical scrubs and masks and continued walking toward the living room. “I . yes. “Well.240/581 gravity of the situation and act in a calm. Young. Margo turned to the others who were left standing still and stunned in the room.” Margo smiled graciously. Okay?” “Ma’am. She looked deep into his strangely familiar eyes and asked simply. “Please wait for us back in the living room.” he responded to her questioning as a soldier would a commanding officer. ma’am. it looks as though we have a lot to talk about. ma’am. rational manner.” He stood at attention the moment Margo spoke to him. Mr.

” Theo said with worried tone. “You know. Paulie?” “As much as I’m anxious to know what’s going on. “How about I let him tell you. desperately. “Are you okay staying here to keep watch over Meg. I’m sure I’ll get the abridged version later.” “Her stats are definitely getting scarier by the hour. Meg needs help. and that kid is definitely outside the box. You .” Margo began taking off her scrubs.” Margo said aloud what she’d been thinking since the moment she saw Creed’s eyes.241/581 don’t know if we can trust him. Nothing we’ve tried has helped or even stabilized her. but I’m going to have to go with my gut feeling this time. Meg can’t be left unattended. We need to think outside the box. he’s been following us for a while now. This meta soldier could be an unexpected answer to our prayers. “How do you know?” Theo asked.

He scowled to himself as he realized even with all his protective bravado. and I’ll be right here. This was his family and he was going to do whatever it took to protect them any way he could. he was just a normal human and the meta soldier could squish him as easily as squeezing the creamy. “Will do. Please call us if there’s a change in her condition. Paulie.” Margo said pulling her cell phone out of her pocket and checking the battery.” he said affectionately looking over at his patient like a grandfather would his own granddaughter. He crammed his hands deep into the pockets of his jeans and let his hair fall into his eyes as . Cole fell into step behind Theo and Margo as they exited the lab. jelly-like guts out of a cockroach. still believing in his heart that Creed was beyond dangerous and not to be trusted. “Thanks.” the old scientist said and returned to his microscope and note taking.242/581 go on.

If he were in a cartoon.243/581 he watched his feet walk. he would have a huge sign hanging around his neck that read. . he thought to himself. “Useless Wimp” and a cone-shaped “Dunce” hat on his head.

felt very unsure.26 Creed’s Confessions “I appreciate your willingness to talk. “Are you hungry?” Margo asked with a smile. “Hungry. ma’am?” . This was way too much. “Yes. I can only imagine the conflict you must feel to have taken this step.” Margo began. Here was this tiny framed woman. Creed. a woman who he was moments away from killing with his own huge hands five months before. She was praying for the right words to say to this young man so she could determine his motives and possibly even sway him to becoming an ally. for the first time in his life. talking to him about his feelings.” Creed. ma’am.

I’m starved. You do eat. “Everyone wash up and let’s just start ‘piecing’ as my mother used to say. “Oh. ma’am. “I know we have some sandwich meat and baby carrots with ranch dip. don’t you?” she stood and waited for her guest to do the same. Creed.” Creed said with a half smile. that’s mom’s way of saying everyone grabs a bunch of food and comes to the table and we all kind of eat whatever we want . “What does she mean by ‘piecing’?” he asked Evan as they dried their hands with soft paper towels.” Margo kept talking even as she led the bunch of men into the kitchen.” she said rummaging through the open fridge. “Well.” Creed walked to the sink to wash his hands as he’d been told. “Yes. We’ve been keeping watch over Meg all night and haven’t had time to stop and eat.245/581 “Yes.

246/581 to put on our plates. Dinner conversations were usually about someone fighting someone else. who won and how. “Oh.” Creed didn’t know what to think of all this. “Anyone else want some left over pizza?” Dr. It was all so unfamiliar. There were no manners.” Evan explained. Food was scooped onto the treys and the soldiers sat at long tables. chow time was informal. it’s all very informal. It was fend for yourself. Sharing food or pleasantries was—well it was unheard of at the Facility. Creed watched what the other men did and tried to follow their lead. Growing up at the Facility. No one worried about napkins or even utensils. Andrews asked the room. but not like this. appreciating the break and truly just wanting to help the atmosphere stay relaxed. .

too. “Yep. just eat it!” she teased back. she would be blushing with happiness at how sweet the lovebirds were with one another. “You’re not supposed to smell it. gotta love stinky cheese. “I suppose you like sauerkraut and sardines.” Creed chimed in. “I like parmesan cheese. Everyone stopped and looked over at the previously silent guest at the table. “How can you eat it without smelling it?” he countered.247/581 “Sounds great.” he said to her making a face. If Meg were in the room. “Ha! See! This boy has taste!” Margo grinned and winked at Creed. This was the playful banter Theo and Margo had with each other.” Margo responded. too?” Theo smiled at Creed. . “Could you grab the parmesan cheese while you’re in there?” she asked him.

” Using that as a gentle segue. not so much. exactly. he had still been trying to wrap his head around this whole surreal conversation over sandwiches with his enemy. “I did. He was a meta too. Before now. “It’s nothing like life in the States. “Sardines. not where I lived. “Tell us about life in Germany. “I don’t know.” “What happened to him?” Alik spoke up. An older brother.” Creed hesitated. We both lived at the Facility. Margo asked. but then sighed deeply and went into the entire story of the Retribution Match against . at least. Creed’s blue eyes immediately clouded over with sadness.248/581 “Sauerkraut is kind of a staple back in Germany.” “Do you have family back there?” Margo asked.” Creed said shrugging sheepishly.” Creed swallowed a huge bite of turkey sandwich and washed it down with a gulp of apple juice before he spoke.

Neanderthal. Anything less than perfection was deemed a liability in combat and therefore expendable. He tried to explain how life was at the Facility. “Did you say your brother’s name is Gavil?” “Yes. Friendships and alliances between metas were highly discouraged. A soldier who followed orders with precision was held up as an example for the others.’ among .” “Meg described him to me as a ‘militant.” Alik said with certainty. “I can’t say I’m surprised.” “That was the name of the meta who fought Meg at the Institute. Gavil. testosterone-encased. The one who hurt her with the letter opener. Williams took Gavil with him when he traveled as a sort of bodyguard. The chain of command respected only physical and mental training for combat purposes. Alik spoke up.249/581 his brother.

” Creed answered. right?” Margo asked. none of you were at the Facility by choice. “Yeah.250/581 other descriptive words. We were all acquired by the Director somehow. but he insists on being called ‘Commander. Williams?” Evan asked. “Yes.” Theo asked between bites of pizza. “And who was Commander Oldham? You mentioned him before. ma’am. “The Director—Is that Dr.” he added. trying to redirect the conversation. remembering how colorful his sister was as she told him the story of that encounter.” Alik said.” Creed felt exhausted and relieved at the same time to be able to talk about his experiences. “His name is Rudolph Oldham. that sure sounds like him. “No.’ He’s one mean son of a gun. but we were all too young to have chosen that life.” “But. . well.

“Williams has amassed this army of metas. There were outside parties interested in buying us. sounding more and more like a mother.” he began. Then you can decide what you want to do about Meg. .” Creed sounded like a little kid for a brief moment.” Alik confessed. he cleared his throat and said. I was left alone. Realizing it himself. “I always assumed he wanted to make metas for himself. “I kept my head down. “Well. I need to tell you what I know about Williams. tried not to make myself stand out at all besides my combat abilities.” Creed explained. except for my brother. Nothing I did ever made Gavil like me. For the most part. but rumor has it he wasn’t gathering us for himself. How did you survive all those years?” Margo asked. that he was bent on world domination or something and needed the metas to do his bidding so he could make it happen.251/581 “They all sound mean.

“Well. “Rumor is he was married once. what happened to the child?” Margo asked. but afterward…. The girl was born with a disability of some kind. a daughter. Williams’ research had everything to do with trying to cure his child. this is all rumors.” Creed let his voice trail off. “Like I said. supposedly she turned into a vegetable. “Well.” The room hung on Creed’s every word. long ago and had a child with that woman. Williams has a whole other motive behind his methods. that’s what a lot of people thought.252/581 “Yeah. well. They say she was kinda normal before he tampered with her. I mean really bad.” Creed’s voice dropped before he continued as though worried someone would overhear. But it turns out.” . But the word was that the girl had a bad reaction to a treatment serum Williams tried on her.

” Creed stopped talking and took a sip of his drink. “Yeah. he remained leaning at the counter. Things were beginning to make some sense. “Whatever happened to the girl?” Theo asked. that was one heck of a story he just spun. The story goes his wife was so distraught about what Williams had done to their only child. she intentionally overdosed. but he had to admit. He hadn’t joined them at the table to eat. but that’s not the worse part.253/581 “Oh. Creed shrugged and said.” Cole said. no. “That’s where the rumors get really sketchy. away from the meta. Instead.” Margo was starting to put some pieces of the puzzle together based on what she knew and heard of Kenneth Williams herself. Apparently. “That’s messed up. Some say he . she left a diary filled with entries blaming Williams for everything. He still didn’t like the guy.

Some say he extracted her DNA and has tried to perfect her cloning.” Creed shrugged again. “I really don’t know what to believe about all that.254/581 kept her locked in a part of the Facility where no one goes but him.” he said matter-of-factly. It was definitely him. maybe one or two-years-old. darkeyed lady standing beside him. though much younger and a pretty. But I do believe he was married and had a child.” Creed looked exhausted when he finished speaking. In her arms was a little girl. And it occurred to Margo this was probably one of the longest conversations this young man had ever been allowed to have. “Why do you say that?” Theo asked. Some say he continued experimenting on her looking for a cure until she died of it all and now her spirit haunts him. “When he called me to his office a few days after the Retribution Match. She thought to herself how insightful . making her a meta. I saw family pictures on his desk.

.” he said with a shrug. anyway. He was only allowed to follow orders. “So he’s been searching for a way to make right his personal wrongs all these years?” Evan asked.” “Why sell the meta soldiers once he’s made them?” Cole asked. “I think I can answer that one. the more costly. Creed nodded. the more he needed outside funding. “That’s the way the rumors go. but after all these years. the more experimenting he needed to do. not problem solve on his own. “Williams was a wealthy man with friends in scary high places. redirecting the conversation.255/581 he was for someone who wasn’t allowed to have insight before now. “Makes sense. Creed?” Margo asked.” Margo said. “So who’s buying the metas?” Alik asked. Does that sound right to you.

very fast. That’s right.” “How many metas have been deployed?” Alik asked. sir.” Alik realized. wow.256/581 “Now that. “Yes. “This could get very messy. “I’d just be guessing. sir. “As trained as you. around fifty. So. he knows each of you . I don’t know. I suppose so. “Well.” Creed began. they never come back. “You know what I don’t understand. Assuming they’re all on the same team. that I know of. What if Williams was selling to more than one group?” Theo realized. Something like four infantries. Each infantry consisted of a chief and eight soldiers.” Theo sat thinking. Once a section is deployed.” “Fifty highly trained metas?” Theo whistled.” “That is one formidable army.” “Oh. Creed shrugged again. Creed?” “Yes.

he thinks the specific formula given to you created the heightened meta ability. From her jacket pocket the room heard a sharp ringing. .” Evan explained. “I wonder if he believes your formula to be the key to ‘fixing’ his daughter. What can he get out of you?” Creed asked. Mom destroyed all the records before she rescued us from him all those years ago. “He wants our blood. “So. But why does he want you back? He has to know you would not be willing to work for him. She sound startled her from her thoughts.257/581 three has at least one area in your meta abilities where you are even more advanced.” Margo said thoughtfully.” Creed was beginning to understand. “He wants to recreate the formula he gave to us.” Alik responded. He told me that much. but the data still exists in our DNA.

“Oh. Her brows wrinkled with worry. no. Evan.” she said. . “What’s happening?” Theo asked. “We’ll be right there. began quickly cleaning up their plates. Creed and Cole ran down the hallway toward the laboratory.” Margo said whisking away the tears that had already begun to fall. getting the gist of the conversation. “Meg’s temperature has spiked and she’s seizing. Margo. Paulie. Alik. Thanks.258/581 “Yes?” She said into the cell phone.” Evan moaned. Eyes wide with fear. Theo. Everyone.

they got to work on Meg.27 Brainstorming Session Scrubbing in took a few minutes. “Her fever was hovering around 100. the side rails were up on her bed so she didn’t fall to the ground. Andrews had retrieved a bulb syringe and started trying to extract the blood pooling in Meg’s mouth from her self-inflicted . Dr. This little girl had been through so much already. but as soon as everyone was inside the double doors. Fortunately. She does look to have bitten her tongue pretty badly. but he wasn’t doing a great job of it. The febrile seizure lasted for about forty-five seconds before stopping. though.8.” Paulie was trying to maintain his physician’s objectivity. It was breaking his heart to watch her suffer any longer. but spiked to 104.

He looked on the verge of tears himself. He carefully began pulling the tape off his sister’s arm and with expert movements cleaned the site with gauze and rubbing alcohol. His blue mask was doing a poor job collecting the tears he cried. I’ll have to reset her I. Everyone’s nerves were shot.” Evan said to the room. An angry purplish-blue color quickly formed where the I.260/581 bite wound. had been pulled partially out of place.V.V. They all loved Meg in their own way and were so scared for her.3 now. sterilizing it. She was bossy and controlling with the strength of spirit to . Her face was pale except for the trickle of blood that had slipped down from the corner of her mouth. “Her temperature is back to 100. She yanked it out during the episode. she could get a room full of people moving faster than anyone. She was always so spunky and energetic. This was all nearly too much for Evan.

Paulie grinned sheepishly and passed it over. We need to run this like we would any patient’s diagnosis. Margo.261/581 back it all up. “Let’s brainstorm. frail and broken was pushing everyone to the brink of hopelessness. “Okay. “nineteen hours after collapsing during a run. “Right.” Margo paused to look up at the wall clock. no offense Paulie. but I couldn’t read your writing when you were my professor.” Margo gently teased as she held her hand out for the marker. “What do we know?” “Good idea. Watching her lie on that whitesheeted gurney small. I’ll scribe. we know she’s been unconscious for.” .” Margo said to everyone. “Um.” Theo brightened a little at the idea of doing something productive.” Paulie said walking to the whiteboard in the corner of the room and grabbing a dry erase marker.

“But we already performed a sonogram looking at all her internal organs.” Theo thought. that’s for sure.” Paulie added with a sigh. and there was no sign of bleeding.” he offered. “Infection could cause the fever. the anemia could have caused the headache and fainting. “Her red blood cell count was low indicating possible anemia.” Evan supposed.” said Theo. “Well.” Paulie added.” Paulie said. . But what?” Margo stared at the notes she had written in black ink on the board. “Maybe we missed something. “There was the fever and seizure too.” she continued. “We’re missing something. “A bleeding ulcer could cause the anemia and high white blood count.262/581 “Her lab work indicates an increase in white blood cells—which usually means infection.

“That should have been enough time for us to see improvement. but that takes us back to the question. and he was racking his brain trying to remember anything he’d ever read that could be of help to the . Evan looked at his chart. So she’s been on them for twelve hours. Instead. what is causing the infection? We started her on the antibiotics how long ago?” Margo asked. “We began a full scope antibiotic intravenously at 11:18 last night.263/581 “Right. as though reading from a book. Not having the scientific background his younger brother and mother had left him feeling inadequate. But Alik’s memory was unmatched.” he concluded.” Paulie said.” Alik said. “A regular human being experiencing high fevers for days on end will suffer brain damage. she seems to be getting worse. This was the first he said during the entire discussion. That fever is scary.

” Creed said softly. “A whole group of specialists are out there who may be able to help her. even in her current condition. Alik. his mind raced back to an afternoon at the ranch when he was bored enough to read an entire stack of his mom’s scientific magazines. This time. “What was that. Creed?” Alik asked.” Creed said cryptically. Creed cleared the emotion from his throat before speaking. “Scientists who focus solely on metahumans.” he said letting the words sink into the room. “What kind of ‘specialists’?” Theo asked. “There’s another option.” “What option?” Cole asked skeptically. “I said there’s another option we haven’t discussed. “Right.” Theo said. I’m just hoping we can figure this out before too much time passes.264/581 conversation right now. . So. He was staring at Meg and thinking about how beautiful she looked.

“I’m not the doctor here.” Evan said evenly. “Since she’s unable to make decisions for herself right now. “It’s just an option I wanted to be sure everyone realized. You are her family.” he said almost wistfully. the answer is absolutely not!” Margo’s voice was raspy with emotion.” Creed said. so I’m not the one to decide how desperate Meg’s condition really is. “What’s he talking about?” Cole asked. “He’s talking about the doctors who work for Kenneth Williams. carefully back-peddling. it’s your call. “What the heck? You think Williams would help Meg get better? Did he grow a heart while I wasn’t looking?” Cole yelled. hating again how it felt to be the only one in the room not knowing what was going on.” .265/581 “If you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about.

“Even if Meg’s condition were desperate. you have to make decisions for her—however tough they are. “Cole’s right.266/581 Except for the beeping of Meg’s monitor. .” Creed said diplomatically. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll have to debate the issue. That’s all. As her family. I just wanted to mention the Facility as an option. Meg is unconscious. Meg’s organs are going to start shutting down because of the low levels of oxygen carrying red blood cells. the outcome would be bad. the room went quiet.” “Like I said. why would Williams be willing to help? What would stop him from taking Meg and dissecting her for his evil plans? Or use her as leverage to get me and Evan to turn ourselves in to him? Or cure her but alter her mental status and turn her against us? Anyway I think about it.” Alik said. though. Creed’s words were sinking in.

as a metahuman. hesitantly optimistic. so it’s hard to say.” Evan said. the organ tissues will begin to fail. you could donate. Now there’s an idea.267/581 Without oxygen. too. I don’t think it could hurt. so that would leave Alik and Evan as the only donors. but yes. She can’t have regular blood. “Hum.” he added with a hopeful shrug. thoughtfully.” Theo said. “What do you think about giving her a blood transfusion?” Alik asked the room. theoretically. “We would have to test your blood—to be sure it would be a suitable match.” Creed said openly anxious to be of some kind of help. nothing about her illness has been predictable.” Paulie said softly. “On the other hand. “The blood donations could help give us more time before her condition gets much worse. “And me.” Margo added cautiously. .

” Paulie said as he shuffled through a drawer to retrieve the blood drawing supplies. too. I just—I just mean even I’m not sure of the . “Okay. “How many meta soldiers like you does Williams have at the Facility?” She began sterilizing the biggest. “A lot.” Margo said.” Alik said walking toward a chair. Margo had to ask. let’s give it a try. pulling up the sleeve of the sterile scrubs he wore and extending his arm.” Creed answered. “Yes.” “How many is that?” “I don’t mean to sound secretive. ma’am. let me go ahead and draw a test sample from you so we can be working on that. He walked over to the small doctor and pushed up his sleeve exposing taut mounds of muscle. “Creed.268/581 “I’ll go first. juiciest looking vein right in the crook of his arm.

” She was trying not to let her panic show in unsteady hands as she wrapped the rubber tourniquet around his upper arm.” Margo watched Creed’s deep blue eyes as he spoke. “What about those who have already been sent on assignment? Do you know where they might be? Or what they are doing?” “I don’t know. If I had to guess. There’s no telling where meta operatives are once they leave the Facility.” Margo’s eyes widened. trying to determine his true motives. She had to stretch it hard to reach around his huge biceps. ma’am. . “That many?” “Yes. there are probably about a hundred meta men and women at different stages of training currently at the Facility.269/581 number. We’re trained to work under any condition in any circumstance by ourselves or in teams.

or the last.270/581 Unaware of the scrutiny. he knew what I was capable of and two. in politics. he has no idea how well- . “Two reasons I know of: One. they don’t come back. remember?” He shrugged softly. She was letting the idea soak in. Margo thought back to Kenneth Williams and remembered feeling his demented evil.” Not for the first time. Creed took a deep breath before answering. in positions of power—all over the world. Creed continued. “Why did Williams choose you specifically to come after us?” she couldn’t help but ask. Metas could be anywhere. Metas could be in our human military. could be one of the most deadly to have been the one Williams chose to send after them. after the Retribution Match. And this meta. “I doubt even the Commander has access to that information. right under her hands. “Once soldiers leave the Facility.

but her expression was resolved.” Margo asked feeling a wave of nausea crash over her. ma’am. “How do you know they’re trained?” Creed felt his face flush deeply. “Yes. . he would have sent an entire section after them.” Margo looked deeply into his eyes. I’m sorry.” Creed nodded to the other metas in the room.271/581 trained those three are. once. “I saw them spar. wasn’t it?” Her face was pale.” His eyes dropped and watched her still steady hands working on his arm with skill and precision. “Back in Kansas. “That was you. “What made you stop? You could have finished me right then?” Margo asked the question she had been wondering about for months. at the hospital?” Creed’s silence was his answer. “If he’d known. Deciding he needed to come clean he confessed.

make things right. the Facility is full of soldiers who would kill without a second thought. I really did. “Why didn’t you just run after the hospital—to get away from Dr. ma’am. If it wasn’t me. I’m not a killer. he would have sent someone else. Something about that was like a slap across my face. “No matter what Williams’ orders. I would have the chance again to—I don’t know. I figured. It woke me up. if I stayed the course and played along. to see Meg. But then I knew he wasn’t done with you. Winter. veins bulging.” Creed’s gripping stare unlocked as he looked back down at his arm. Williams?” “I thought about it.” . I couldn’t kill my brother and I—Dr. and help you all.” Creed’s blue eyes glistened with sincerity and pleaded with her to believe what he was saying. and trust me when I say. I am not a monster.272/581 “The pillow—the pillow had Meg’s scent on it.

” Margo stared at the young meta. She knew there was more to the story. “Yes. ma’am. unsure whether to believe him or fear him or both. but Creed’s body language was ridged now. . And Margo was just as tense. Her hand was methodically rocking the corked vials back and forth keeping the blood inside from coagulating. as though he was unsure whether he had just said too much.273/581 “So you made sure you were chosen to come after us once we were found?” Margo sat knee to knee with the meta now that she’d finished taking his blood samples.

Only Margo and Evan were in the lab with Meg. Alik.28 Margo’s Plan The blood transfusion went fine. Creed had returned to his hotel to get his things. Everyone else was trying to catch up on some sleep. The grown-ups insisted he come stay . and seemed to be helping Meg’s organs to function. That bought us some time. could give a double-red donation. being tall and weighing a considerable amount. The combination of stress and exhaustion was making everyone feel edgy and raw. if only temporarily. which basically meant he donated twice the amount of a regular donation. It also meant he wasn’t going to be able to donate again for six weeks.” Evan said to himself after checking his sister stats that evening. “Thank God.

She knew she couldn’t just trust Williams to do the right thing. no matter what. as any mother would. staying at the guest house on the grounds made logical sense to her. but your enemies closer. She just believed in the old saying. but Margo was too smart for that. let me ask you something. but what exactly are you asking?” Evan matched his mother’s hushed .” Considering she still wasn’t sure which label fit Creed. She had to think of a way to force him to help without giving up her children. mom.275/581 in the guest house. “Evan. “Keep your friends close. Margo had been thinking about Meg’s medical options. The others were behaving as though Creed was accepted as a friend.” Margo said to him in hushed tones. “How far into dissecting your meta blood samples have you gotten?” “We’ve done a lot of research on it already. obviously wanting to keep her conversation private.

from the blood?” Her eyes flashed brightly as she spoke. “We’ve already done that. though you know we were working past that and delving into the how and why of the deterioration factor we discovered.276/581 volume. but it would give us bargaining leverage with Williams. “What I want to know is: How far away are you from decoding the original serum that was given to you three as babies. Do you have the data you need to recreate the serum given to you three?” “You want me to create the formula?” Evan’s eyes were wide with uncertainty. “Why. “Well. mom? How would that help Meg?” “It wouldn’t help Meg directly.” Evan said. although there was no one anywhere within ear-shot of their conversation. for the most part. “We have the formula to offer in exchange for Meg’s medical .” Margo said. back up.

one folded into the other. though you have to appreciate that I wouldn’t have time to test it. Ev. See?” She looked into her youngest son’s eyes pleadingly. I see. That life felt very far away now. Realizing he was still wearing his gloves.277/581 assistance. just the way his mother taught him to do all those years ago in her lab on the ranch. he pulled them off. I’ll help you.” Margo stepped closer to her son and gave him a big hug. “Yes. “I would need about five hours. “And we don’t have room for any errors. so innocent. “Meggie needs .” his voice slipped. procedures and calculations to make the serum from scratch.” Evan said looking up at the wall clock and estimated the necessary samples. “The product should be exactly what was given to us since I’m using our own blueprint to recreate it.” “Your calculations are always right.” Evan rubbed his brows with his gloved hands in worried frustration.

278/581 us to come up with something. And though those doctors who work for Williams are on the wrong team. “Have I ever told you how proud of you I am?” Margo smiled up at her little boy. but he would find the energy it took to keep his promise to his mother.” “I know mom. “All the time. They are the greatest scientific minds specialized in metahumans on Earth. Evan smiled back and said. I’ll get you that serum.” Evan said before squeezing her gently once and letting her give him a mom-kiss on the cheek. and your sister is running out of time. lady. .” He was exhausted. Creed is right.

dangling that carrot in front of the . sir. “What do you mean?” “The female has been given the ‘gift’ as planned. imagining the old man’s pleased facial expression. I even sat at their kitchen table and ate a turkey sandwich with them! They think I’ve turned against you. “Excellent. I’ve gained their trust. Yes. Williams said. “I have done much more than that. Your family will be proud to hear how resourceful and successful you’ve become. and I hand-delivered her to her family.” Dr.” Creed smiled into the phone. you have done well. just as we planned. The female meta’s condition is worsening. and they’re getting desperate.” Creed surmised.” the Director’s voice was tight with anger.29 The Spider and the Fly “Tell me you’ve made contact.

“Have you proposed they seek help from me?” Williams asked loving the anguish that suggestion must have caused his old friend Margo Winter. I’d say she is . they’ve invited me to stay at the guest house on their estate. I wouldn’t be surprised if by morning they have a change of heart. is it?” Creed asked. I have. the female meta. then yes.” Creed’s voice was intentionally devoid of feeling. “Lasting damage? Well. lasting damage. and though they summarily dismissed the option at first. if you consider death. Meg—her condition does look very precarious. it isn’t going to do lasting damage. “By the way. “Yes. aware his feelings for the girl were at direct odds with his directive and may be showing right through. Sir.280/581 young meta soldier. “Yes sir. I know they’re thinking about it.” “My. The ‘gift’ we gave her. you have been welcomed into the fold!” Williams laughed.

and everything will fall into place.” Williams snickered into the phone.” Creed was just hoping the work Williams was requiring of him before he was given the information to find his biological family . that wasn’t the agreement.” “She can be cured quickly and easily—once you bring her here. “Yes. That’s all you have to do. Young. Creed clenched his jaw. He hated working for this snake and was counting the seconds until he would be free of him. Creed blurted. You told me the illness was only for show and she could be cured quickly and easily. Alarmed at how quickly Williams could knock the air out of his lungs with just these few words.” he summarized.281/581 in very real peril. “Sir.” Any pleasantries the doctor’s voice hinted to before were gone now. Mr. sir. “Bring the metahumans to me and kill Margo Winter.

the reality of his actions was stinging hornets to his heart. Creed mumbled into the disconnected phone words that made him feel better for saying. The tacky. green. This all felt so wrong.282/581 wouldn’t leave him permanently scarred and jaded. floral print on polyester bedspread stared back at him with mutual contempt. Nothing about what Williams was telling him to do felt like it was going to be worth it. He sat heavily on the edge of the hotel room bed. He was still at the mercy of Williams if he wanted a chance to lead a normal life. but had no bearing on his current situation. . Now that he’d stepped across that line by allowing Farrow to dose Meg with an obviously deadly unknown toxin.” Williams said curtly and hung up. “Call me when the family is ready to make negotiations.

Creed thought furiously to himself. I was promised more time to heal before being put on this assignment. why would Williams give it to him? Or was he just going to keep stringing him along. I was told Dr.283/581 And what assurances did he have that Williams was going to follow through with his end of the bargain? Even if he did know his parent’s contact information. Maybe Williams didn’t really know anything about his biological parents and was just pulling on Creed’s heart strings to get him to jump through hoops. I don’t know if Gavil’s alive or dead. Williams has done nothing to earn trust. Winter was a thief when it’s pretty clear the woman was just trying to protect the meta children. . He told me the ‘gift’ was ‘just for show’ and now Meg’s life is hanging in the balance. always with one more loathsome task for Creed to complete? This deal was feeling more and more shaky. Creed thought. After all.

There had to be a way to do the right thing. .284/581 He felt sick to his stomach. he still hadn’t decided what to do. And by the time he was ready to leave. The eighteen-year-old soldier continued to mumble to himself furiously the entire time it took him to pack his hotel room. Nothing about this was feeling right at all. but he was very worried it was too late for him to wind up a good guy.

He didn’t expect an answer after fourteen years of silence. He was just accustomed to speaking with his daughter like this in some vain hope that someday she might hear and know he loved her. He made sure she had the best of care in the basement of this hospital building he designed specifically around her needs. though not often enough. he assigned a trusted meta female named Esther to oversee his June’s . Kenneth Williams leaned down and kissed the papery dry cheek of the young woman lying on the hospital bed. Out of habit. dear. No change.30 June in the Month of March “Hello. his guilt-ridden conscience told him. Long ago. How are we feeling today?” Dr. he checked her chart clipped to the foot of her bed. He visited June often.

“You remember Farrow. allowing the doctor time alone with his daughter. my sweet June. She is working with a meta named Creed to make it all happen. my dear.” “You have your whole life before you. We’re just days away from your cure. No matter what he did. Dr.” he said as he absently adjusted her sheets up around her shoulders. The meta stood discreetly outside the doors now. “Well.” He smiled as warmly as his leathery face would allow at his pride and joy. Williams felt her accusatory . then we’ll get to enjoy walks in the garden and shopping at only the most exclusive shops.286/581 every daily need. I’ve sent two of my top soldiers to retrieve the serum I just know will get you feeling better. just as I used to do with your mother. I’m working on your cure. Daddy will fix everything for you. June lay as still as a stone. You’ll see.

“What are your feelings about Creed? Is he going to follow through? Or has he gotten too close to the subjects? Do I need to send you reinforcements?” “So far. sir.” Williams smiled at his daughter feeling more confident than ever things would be different soon. I’ll keep a watchful eye and let you know. They had to. Chirping came from his breast pocket. still staring at his baby girl lying helpless in the hospital room bed. “Status?” Williams said. but not for much longer. no . Farrow. and we’re on schedule. But sir. he seems on target. A phone call. “Well done. “Reporting in.” Farrow said obediently. “Creed has followed directives thus far. Farrow and Creed would bring back the cure.” she informed robotically.287/581 silence pierce his soul.

” “As you wish. I’ll take care of things myself if need be. but that was exactly why he had chosen her to aid in this most important assignment. I know you’ll take care of him.” Dr. “I will do whatever is necessary to complete the objectives. feel free to befriend the male metas. Farrow was beautiful and voluptuous but as deadly as a viper. too.” Her voice was like syrup on the phone. sir.” . “I know you will. “I am confident in your abilities. “If Creed becomes a liability. She was a valuable weapon. Yes. women had their secret weapons no man could duplicate. as he had determined female metas could be.288/581 reinforcements will be necessary. Keep me informed. sir.” Williams smiled into the phone.” Farrow concluded as any soldier would.” Her voice was like butter on a piece of hot bread. “If you find it helpful. Williams added knowingly.

Director.289/581 “As you wish. .” Farrow smiled widely.

Creed?” a sultry voice whispered from behind him at the hotel’s checkout desk.31 Professional Courtesy “Leaving so soon. .” Creed growled once they were out of eavesdropping range. “You can stop following me. He could smell her perfume. Farrow. The guest relations guy. He didn’t even turn around. who had been helping with the checkout. The girl was gorgeous. He knew who she was. He grabbed his large suitcase easily. stopped to look up at the exchange. Creed ignored his envious ogling and finished signing the receipt in front of him. turned and started walking away. He couldn’t help but stare.

“Your orders are to follow me?” “My orders are to be sure your objectives are achieved.” she smiled innocently at her fellow meta. you know. too. “What are you supposed to do if I don’t achieve objective?” “I finish where you left off. as though straightening it. “And what happens to me?” Farrow’s deceptively slender shoulders shrugged noncommittally. she had tried to use her charms on him. . Since he first met her some six months ago. “I hope we don’t have to cross that bridge. but I can’t.” She reached out and touched the collar of his shirt.” Her voice was crisp. They had stopped walking and were staring at each other in the sunny hotel parking lot.291/581 “Oh.” she said with a smile on her beautiful lips. I have my orders. Creed. Creed reflexively jerked away from her.

Farrow was pretending to pout at his obvious rejection. coupled with her innocent-looking beauty made her about the scariest meta Creed knew. deadly fighter and extremely intelligent.” he said. He knew she was a trained sniper. That’s probably why Meg’s naïveté struck him as so refreshing and sexy.292/581 She came across. Over the last six months he had watched this woman carefully. . She was poisonous. Not one bit. “I’ve been invited by the family to stay at their guest house. intelligent woman. he hadn’t opened up to her at all. as a thoughtful. He wasn’t falling for it. Those skills. If there was one thing he had learned about himself it was that he hated deceit. at first. but he learned those were just her weapons. Meg Winter was the polar opposite of Farrow Schone. Fortunately. aware of his muscles flexing involuntarily.

” Farrow cooed. Just as he turned to walk away from her and toward his car. “I would appreciate your showing me professional courtesy.293/581 “Goodie. . “Please stay in touch.” She stopped.” Creed’s jaw tightened in anger. “but I will if I have to—or.” he called condescendingly over his shoulder.” “Right. if you want me to. faced Creed directly. he heard her phone vibrate in her handbag.” She slipped a smolderingly wicked smile across her full lips. “You can tell Williams that I’m being a good boy and obeying all orders. I don’t want to have to come knocking on the door. and raised one beautifully arched brow before adding.

Back at the Facility he would spend hours . sleep was never easy for Creed. though simple enough. or how tired his body. In the back was a small kitchen and bathroom stocked with all the essentials. The windows were easily opened allowing the ocean breeze to move freely through the small space. There was a large bed with freshly washed sheets and an extra blanket folded neatly beside four of the fluffiest pillows Creed had ever seen.32 Faith The guest house was more than comfortable. Creed could even hear the ocean waves as they rolled and crashed and retreated down on the beach. It was his mind that wouldn’t be calm at night and it had always been this way. But no matter how comfortable the bed. or how rhythmic the ocean sounds.

damp sheets now. Usually. Usually he could achieve a good three or four hours a night. So it came as no surprise to Creed that he lay staring out of the open window at the bright stars glowing against the velvet black night. but what choice did he have? He knew he had to act soon before Farrow decided she needed to take over. Creed began walking toward the bathroom as he thought. He eventually learned to exist on far less sleep than most. The next morning. He wasn’t looking forward to what he had to do today.295/581 listening to the meta soldiers snoring soundly in their meager bunks while he tossed and turned trying to quiet his mind. Creed woke feeling exhausted and drained. having sweat through his thin T-shirt and shorts. Farrow’s version of . He was lying in musky. A slight groan escaped his throat when he threw his legs over the edge of the bed and sat up.

Creed stood in the shower much longer than he usually would have. He knew he wanted to keep casualties to a minimum. The hot water felt amazing on his back. and he knew it.296/581 “achieving objectives” with the Winter family and their friends would turn in to an all-out bloodbath. Creed. Angrily. and you can do it with the least harm coming to these people. but he was procrastinating. He tried to psych himself back into the mindset he needed to get through the task at hand. He let the pulsing spray dig into his skin in hopes that some great idea would occur to him. You know what you have to do. he flipped the shower off and grabbed a towel. but he still hadn’t figured out how he was going to pull that off. He couldn’t let that happen. This is just a means to an end. No matter what Williams says he’ll give you for doing this. preferably none at all. in the end you know this family is in for trouble and it may as well .

297/581 come from you so you can minimize the damage. He opened it and stood face to face with Dr. If you really care about Meg.” he called as he hurried across the room to the door. “I’m coming. I’d be fine with just a glass of milk. Focus. Do your job because you know you have to. but still unable to get to where he was ready to leave. Just get the metas back to Germany. Creed.” she smiled.” he said trying to pretend he hadn’t noticed . and his game face was on. “Good morning. completely dressed. “Oh. you need to get her the help she needs and that help can only come from Williams. Winter. “Are you hungry for breakfast?” He saw right away the dark circles under her eyes. He stood staring at himself in the bathroom mirror. A knock at the front door jarred Creed from his solemn reverie. She looked like she had aged five years in one night. Creed. The pity party was over immediately.

“I might just take you up on that someday.” she smiled ruefully.” she said with a tired smile. . “Coffee does sound good.” Margo said as though she were casually discussing the 7am news.” he offered politely. I usually end up with coffee and a piece of toast on the days Paulie cooks. Winter before following her in.298/581 how haggard she looked.” Creed said opening the door to the house for Dr. at basic stuff. I can fry a mean egg. I’ll be relieving him after I grab a bite to eat. He keeps trying to perfect local dishes and well…I’d rather not know what concoction he’s created this morning. and Alik is on watch. “Evan was up all night with Meg. “No telling what he’s cooked up for us. but Paulie is the chef this morning. so he’s taking a nap now. “How about I cook something for you? I’m pretty good in the kitchen. you know. Well.

These were good people. . “Yeah. “About the same as she was after we gave her the blood transfusion last night.299/581 “How is Meg this morning?” Creed asked hesitantly. sir. His guilt-o-meter was flipped all the way into the red range. Crap. Creed. At least she’s not worse. Can I give you a hand with anything?” Creed asked trying to be of some help. “Good morning. He looked almost as exhausted as Margo.” the worry lines grew deeper in her brow just talking about her daughter. probably the best people he ever met. “Morning. and he was here to hurt them. can you stir the sauce over there on the stove? It just brings out the rich flavor of the squid. You’ll love it!” he said happily. The two walked into the aroma-filled gourmet kitchen.” Paulie said with obvious forced chipperness.

“What are we laughing at?” Dr. didn’t I? “Squid for breakfast. She really was a beautiful woman when she smiled. or lack thereof. Even Margo was giggling. Creed couldn’t help but laugh at the good-natured old guy. if that woman hadn’t already been married I would have pursued her myself just for her cooking!” Paulie looked over at Creed mischievously and winked.” Margo teased.300/581 Margo exchanged a look with Creed that said. Andrews asked as he walked into the kitchen and headed directly for the coffee pot. eh?” he said taking up a wooden spoon to stir the sauce. . I tell you what. I tried to warn you. “Oh yeah! The locals love it! I got this recipe from a rather large Samoan lady who used to teach marine biology at the university. “Paulie’s telling us about his love life.

All three of these doctors had every reason not to trust him.301/581 “Gee.” Theo smiled over at Margo as though they shared an intimate secret. She had given up everything to live in hiding with three children who weren’t even her blood. but he still didn’t understand it. but they did. but she didn’t. I’m glad I missed that. She has to know things are going to be a whole lot worse before they’re better. He was willing to play along. She suffered horribly at the hands of Williams. yet maintain a sense of humor and closeness. How . Margo had more reason than any of them to hate. but they didn’t. Creed wondered how these people could be so obviously stressed and terrified for Meg. They all had every reason to shake their fists to the sky and hate everyone and everything out of spite because one of their own was critically ill in the next room.

302/581 can she feel any sense of peace? Yet. shoot. “Faith. My faith that God’s hand is on Meg—on all of us. so how is it that you’re able to keep your spirits up when we all know Meg is so sick?” “Isn’t that obvious.” he said unsurely. “It’s obvious you love your children. That is how I stay strong. ma’am?” “Yes. “Okay.” . faith that God’s will. Creed.” Margo’s voice was steady and sure. is solid. What were you thinking?” Margo asked him even as she handed him a glass of milk. “Hum?” “You have a strange look on your face. “What is it Creed?” her voice came from the other side of his thoughtful fog. Creed could see it in her eyes that she did. will be done. “I have to ask you something. “I have faith.” Margo said. too?” she asked cocking her head to one side studying him even as he studied her.

” Margo was pouring herself a cup of coffee. Andrews was looking intently at Creed. Don’t you have more faith in science to cure Meg?” “Of course. Any ‘cures’ that may come our way will be there because God allowed them to be there. son?” Dr. “No offense. He had never shared his fear of being soulless with anyone before. not.303/581 “God. “Hasn’t anyone ever talked to you about your soul. . sir. but you’re a scientist.” Creed responded without thinking. “My soul? I don’t think I have one. Creed.” Margo said matter-of-factly. “Of course you have a soul. God is your strength?” Creed asked skeptically. “How do you know?” Creed asked waiting for some philosophical explanation that would be easily refuted because he wasn’t a human being.

please call me. bowed her head and began saying a blessing over the food. Thanks.” “Oh. if you say so. Margo. He watched her soft. Now. let’s eat!” “Say grace with me first. Awkwardly.” “And me. Creed wanted to crawl into a hole like the soulless snake he knew he was. “Um. .304/581 “Because I can see it in your eyes. Creed stared at her as though he had never seen her before.” “And me. Theo. you old coot!” Margo smiled widely at her old friend. Paulie. brown eyes full of sincerity. Creed answered.” she said simply. Dr. Winter. She made a pretty tough argument.

It was a contingency plan he hadn’t even concocted yet. No one but his mom and he would know about the third batch. and the third was a backup to the backup. One. it made a sucking. one would remain here at the lab as a backup. He put batches one and two in the laboratory’s locked refrigerator. he was able to extract the original serum from his own DNA blood samples inside five hours. And true to his word. No one needed to know.33 Final Countdown Evan spent the night in the lab working on his mother’s request. self-contained cooling unit. he assumed would travel with Meg. He made three sets of the serum. As he sealed it shut. he first slipped into a small. vacuum- . Before he did the same with the third. but knew life well enough to know it is always a good idea to have a plan B.

I got it from here. Fever down. Ev. He finished cleaning up his materials before Alik arrived to take over watch. Satisfied.” Evan’s eyes looked over his sister’s face and welled with tired tears. She’s the same. You go on and get some sleep. Good deal. so she’s good to go for you. I just finished documenting everything on her chart. he put the whole unit into the fridge and closed the door. Stats are constant. Gone were the days of stoic. “How’s our patient?” “Alik.” Alik called to his baby brother when he was finished scrubbing in. man. okay?” Alik knew his brother better than anyone else and to see his formerly unemotional little brother .306/581 like hiss before it locked into place. “Hey. he’d cried more in the last few days than his entire life previous. hey. detached Evan. He didn’t want to worry his brother any more than he already was. “Great.

. The last note was written about ten minutes ago. big sister. Alik put the clip board down softly. “Right. Then again. He reached over and grabbed the clip board off of the table beside him. Alik could hear the whoosh of the sliding doors as his brother stepped on the sensor. He glanced up and saw the top of his baby brother’s head as he pulled off the scrubs he was wearing and tossed them into the biohazard hamper.” Alik said. the woosh of the doors closing behind him.307/581 suffering so deeply was making everything feel even more desperate.” Evan sniffed. it’s just the two of us. “Well. He pulled on his plain blue T-shirt and walked out of sight. He turned and walked stiffly out of the room. so as not to disturb his sister. trying to pretend his sister was just sleeping and not on death’s door. He saw his brother’s notes written in his typical neat script.

something would come to him. There’s got to be something they were missing.308/581 Last night he had decided to read everything he could get his hands on having anything possibly to do with Meg’s medical condition. he felt so helpless that he was determined to at least know what the heck all these doctors were saying when they spoke. He never before needed to study medicine. the truth of the matter is that nothing was adding up. Alik flipped open the laptop he brought with him and linked quickly to the wireless internet. but he didn’t know enough to know what. Alik was still concentrating on the . Maybe if he kept looking. at least. After all the research. Nothing about his sister’s illness made sense. but now. His mind was moderately dizzy with data. Two hours later. not according to regular human biology and physiology. that was Evan and Mom’s specialty.

That’s when he had designed and easily rigged an alert system that would sound if Meg’s machines went off. everyone in the entire house leaped to their feet . Alik had worked to solve the problem of not being able to monitor his ill sister from different parts of the large house.309/581 physiology and anatomy of the human heart when Meg’s monitors woke instantly and screamed behind him. no! She’s crashing! Two days before. kitchen and patio. my God. bedrooms. Alik looked over at her heart monitor. He was thanking God for his forethought because he was depending on the alarms to get help in here fast. With alarms sounding in the living room. Something was wrong with Meg. Oh. “BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!” Alik nearly flew out of his chair at the sound of Meg’s machines going off. blood pressure monitor and pulse-ox.

Maze howled and panted and howled again instinctively aware that something horrible was happening. Not thirty seconds later. two. Evan ran into the room. Margo was the first person to arrive sprinting into the room. One.” And even as his body jumped into action performing CPR on his sister. four.310/581 and ran full-speed toward the lab. four. three. flush and panicked. trying to revive Meg. two. Knowing every second counted. five—breathe. “Oh. turned on the defibulator. three. “One. Alik jumped on the table with his sister and began compressions. She saw her son performing CPR on the frail body of her baby girl. his mind was praying fanatically for more time. . five—breathe. dear God! No!” She ran to her children and took over the breathing part of the CPR while she and her son worked as a team. and without saying a word.

Alik jumped off the table. The jolt caused Meg’s body to spasm up and off the bed for a moment. For a moment. willing it to begin beeping a rhythmic tone instead of the flatline scream it was sounding now. “Again. then she flopped back down and lay as still as a rag doll. “Clear!” Evan called as he placed the paddles again and prayed over them. and Margo stepped back. one in the center and the other closer to her left arm pit. With a loud “WHOMP” the machine shot a jolt of electricity into Meg’s heart. “Clear!” he called out and placed the paddles strategically on his sister’s chest.311/581 “Charging!” he warned. Nothing. everyone stopped and stared at the heart rate machine. trying to jump-start her like a dead car battery. . Charging!” Evan called to the room now filled with two more doctors and Creed.

Not yet.… . Brain damage is likely after four minutes.” he pushed the paddles back into place and held the jolt an extra half second. “Wake up. Meggie! Come back to us! It’s not time to go yet. Meg!” he pleaded. Beep. It had been two minutes. “Charging. He glanced at the clock and quickly calculated how long his sister had been without oxygen.312/581 The merciless machine screamed the dead monotone as everyone watched in abject horror. “Come on. “Charging!” Evan called for a fourth time. Meg’s lips were blue and her skin ashen.…beep.…beep. Meg! Fight with me!” The room was silent. except for the sound of the machine flat-lining. Time was slipping away. thirty-six seconds. She already looked dead. he thought to himself and pushed the thought aside.” Evan’s voice caught in his throat. “Clear.

she’s back!” Margo wailed in relief. When she spoke. her voice was strong and carried a tone of unwavering certainty. and kissed both of their cheeks. Minutes passed like this. Margo grabbed both her sons. Margo stood up and locked eyes with Creed.313/581 “Wait!” Margo yelled to Evan. “Contact Williams now. And with the strength of a bear.…beep. If . God! Evan. she draped herself protectively over her daughter’s frame and cried for the preciousness of her life. “Oh. still recovering from the rush of adrenaline.…beep. Beep. everyone lost in private prayers and thoughts. thank God! Thank you. as any mother would.… Evan looked back and forth from the beeping machine to his sister’s lips pinkingup. pulled them tightly to her. tell him we’re willing to make a deal. “Thank you boys! Thank God for you!” And then.

I’ll give him the serum. .” she called sternly.314/581 his scientists can cure Meg.” “Yes. Please take care of her. “Ma’am?” “I am trusting you with my daughter’s life.” “Creed. ma’am.” Her bloodshot eyes shown a resolve Creed recognized and respected.” Creed said solemnly. ma’am. He nodded once. Have him commission an ambulatory jet to leave immediately. He had a phone call to make. “Yes. turned and walked briskly out of the room.

this isn’t like you’re taking Meg to a regular hospital up the street or even in another country.” .” “Don’t you see how useless it is for you to go?” “I only see that my daughter is dying.” “No. and I need to take her to get medical help.” “You don’t have a choice. and though I think it’s very sweet. I know you’re just trying to be protective of me.” “I’m completely serious.34 Conversations at the Edge of a Bed “You can’t be serious.” “Margo. This is Kenneth Williams’ hospital. You would do the same if it were Cole.” “Theo. it is completely misdirected. I am not letting you put yourself back in harm’s way.

Specifically he wants you. I don’t care what serum you have to offer as a trade. Margo Winter. He didn’t know which hurt worse: his head ache or heartache. he still wants vengeance on you. He just wanted a chance to love her. exhausted from arguing with the most illogical woman on the face of the Earth. to take care of her. You.316/581 “Margo. dead! Why can’t you get that through your thick skull?” “I don’t care what happens to me. All he wanted to do was curl up in this big old bed and hold that precious woman until some common sense seeped into her. I care about what happens to my little girl. Was that asking so much? Why did everything with this woman have to be so damn complicated? . Theodore Andrews. And if it means I have to trade myself for her life. I would do it in a heartbeat!” Theo sat at the edge of her bed.

Period. You have work to do in the lab.” “You can’t.317/581 “It’s not complicated. My daughter is hurt.” Margo said. She stopped packing for a moment and sat beside her best friend. I would go to the ends of the earth for you. “I love you too. you crazy woman. “And if I haven’t said it lately. my sweet Theo. remember?” . I love you. reading his thoughts. too. You have to stay here and take care of Cole and Maze. I need to get her help. So if you’re going into the lion’s den. then I am too. You’re still decoding blood samples. “I am a mommy. and I thank God for you. Her cool hand acted as a tonic to his soul and he felt himself melt into it. You are a blessing to my life. Thank you for all you have done for me and for our children.” Theo’s bloodshot eyes glistened instantly with tears.” She reached to touch the scruffy beard that had started to grow on his sweet face.

“You know what you have to do. Theo continued to sit on the edge of the bed and hopelessly watch as the love of his life continued to pack her bag for a flight leaving in less than two hours. We’ll get this all taken care of and meet back here as soon as possible. and I know what I have to do. Andrew’s voice had taken on a distinct pouting tone that made Margo smile widely. Okay? God willing. Meggie’s recovery will be rapid. and we’ll all be back in less than a week. too. Theo.” Margo said hopefully. .” Dr. and he can work on the blood samples.318/581 “Paulie can look after Cole and Maze.

” Evan concluded as he zipped the last black bag closed. Evan was barely able to revive her after shocking her with a defibulator three times.” “So. “Yes. The conversation with Dr.35 The Travelers “Okay. and she’ll give you the original serum. Winter told me to call you and tell you she wants to trade. Dr. Creed’s mind was still trying to process it. what? Are they ready to make a deal?” he asked coldly. sir. “The ambulance and town car will be here any minute.” Creed said checking his watch. “Meg’s condition is perilous. Her heart stopped beating for three minutes just now. Your doctors cure Meg. I think we’re all packed. Williams was surreal. She asks that you send transportation .

sir. So. Instead. “Excellent! Make the arrangements. He was pure evil.” “She has the serum?” he asked excitedly. he focused on what had to be done to get Meg her cure. This man was evil. “Sir. There was no other way to say it. Creed was sure he actually heard the doctor giggling. He tried not to think of Dr.” Creed felt like Williams was only hearing part of what he was saying. “Yes. She wants to trade it for her daughter’s cure.” Creed could almost hear him drooling in anticipation. He had no compassion. Williams anymore. He had no sense of morality. yes. even as he waffled between bouts of guilt and anger and .” And before he heard a click. I know she’s worried Meg won’t make it through the night.320/581 immediately. Do what you have to do to get the serum here. I’ll make the arrangements immediately.

Now Alik was standing beside Evan. . Evan had one hand on his sister’s gurney and the other hand on her heart monitor stand on wheels.321/581 determination. The flight would leave when he wanted it to. Commissioning a private ambulatory jet from Hawaii to Nuremburg. He asked for three hours preparation. The pilot was agreeable once he knew of the large cash payment he’d receive. he functioned on autopilot to accomplish the logistics necessary at this point. Since money was no object to Dr. Williams. Creed had long ago been authorized to spend whatever he had to during his objectives. He hurried to his guest house and used his laptop with secured wireless access to arrange for the transport of one very sick girl and her brothers who would surly want to accompany her. Germany cost a small fortune.

They felt better about Alik holding the serum. actually. “Yeah.” he mumbled. . Thanks. They turned to each other and hugged as brothers do so their exchange was unnoticed by anyone in the room.322/581 “Can I help carry anything?” Alik asked his brother nodding toward Meg and all her equipment.” Evan and Alik exchanged a knowing glance. “It’s in my front left pocket. “Would you rather hold it?” “Sure. They were both scared out of their minds and doing their level best not to show it. “Where’s the serum?” Alik whispered into his brother’s back.” he whispered over his shoulder. I need us to take this portable defibulator and that case of meds. You have your hands full with Meg and her stuff. Evan was worried he’d lose it and Alik was just glad to feel some importance.

” Alik said matter-of-factly. Margo. Her eyes widened and tears began to stream down her tired cheeks. you’re not going. “Mom.323/581 “The cars are here.” Creed called back in to the house from the front porch. boys. She wasn’t strong enough to be an asset to her children . Please don’t add another liability to the equation. “Mom.” Evan said logically. we have enough to worry about getting Meg and ourselves in and out of there safely. She hadn’t thought about it that way. I’ve been trying for the last two hours to talk her out of this. but her mind’s made up.” Theo sighed. “Don’t even bother. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Alik looked furious. “What?” the brothers said at the same time. It’s too dangerous. “I’m ready to go. suddenly looked very small and frail.” Margo spoke from behind the brothers.

Alik walked to them and enveloped both his brother and his mom in an even bigger hug.324/581 anymore. The three huddled together for a moment in silent prayer. We’ll bring her home to you. and she would slow them down. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as the travelers grabbed their bags and their sister and headed for the waiting cars.” Evan wrapped his long arms around his mother and hugged her gently. The realization struck her like a punch to the gut. Even through her tears the boys could see fierceness in her. at least. not physically. We promise. It’ll be okay. “We’ll take care of Meg. mom. “Don’t cry mom. .” The boys walked their mom to a chair and sat her down carefully.

36 What’s a Guy Gotta Do to Get a Pretzel on this Flight? Tearful goodbyes were said as quickly as possible for everyone’s sake. in no uncertain terms. The boys carefully loaded their sister’s gurney into the ambulance. Evan refused to leave her side so he rode in the back with the paramedic who was ordered. making sure they were still back there and that everything seemed okay. Maze obeyed orders to “stay” but was . Paulie. Alik and Creed slipped into the town car and sat silently for the twenty-minute drive to the airport. and Cole waving softly and hugging each other as they watched them drive away. He couldn’t stop recalling with his perfect clarity the image of his mother. Alik kept looking behind them at the ambulance. Theo. not to touch the patient by a very intense looking Evan.

reached up and . Cole had become even more distant over the last several weeks and Meg’s illness seemed to have pushed him further away.326/581 howling his worry after the doors to Meg’s ambulance closed. He stood somewhat separate from the others. and Theo kept a protective arm over her shoulder. again. Paulie. without thinking about it. His mom kept whisking tears away from her cheeks. Alik recalled the way the palm trees danced in the ocean breeze. He remembered the way his mother’s brown hair whisked into her eyes and how she. but he only stood with his arms crossing his ample belly and nodded encouragingly his farewell. Cole was not at all discreet about his frustration at being left behind. was terrified for everyone. hands crammed into his pockets and chewing on his bottom lip. and the way Paulie’s house stood happily on the hilltop. in his own way.

“There’s our jet. All Alik wanted.” Alik said. so he was really just trying to make idle talk.” Creed was very much aware how tense Alik was. He loved his family so much.327/581 tucked the errant locks behind her ear with those hardworking hands of hers. Alik sighed deeply. making conversation.” Creed said softly as he nodded toward the medium-sized liner parked on the tarmac. He was also very . “It’s larger than I expected. more than anything in the world was to have his family healthy and happy and living right here with their friend Paulie on the beach. too. He saw Maze’s body tense as he tossed his head back in frustrated howls. “It has to be at least that size so it can carry enough fuel to get us stateside. We’ll refuel at LAX. so lost in thought he was unaware that he’d made a sound there in the back of the town car.

Though Alik was thankful for the smooth transition from Paulie’s laboratory to here. Getting her settled in the plane and properly situated was less difficult than Alik imagined. The time was nearly three in the afternoon local time. he was maintaining his skepticism. his ill sister. Everyone was very professional and adept at their jobs. He heard stories of what happened back at the Institute. especially when he felt his family threatened.328/581 aware how dangerous this guy could be. by proxy. None of this . The pilot stood at the doorway monitoring the lift that was bringing Meg and her gurney up to the special ambulatory door on the side of the plane. he wanted to avoid a battle with him if possible. Williams was evil however you try to sugar-coat it. And though Creed thought he could take Alik. Williams had spared no expense in hiring this team to transport his precious serum and.

where they had secured Meg’s gurney. He smiled affectionately at his brother as they caught each other’s eyes. and that would have just complicated things. Alik appreciated his brother’s medical knowledge now more than ever.V. Without . How would he be able to transport their sister safely without his brother’s expert care? They would have had to bring another person. Evan the logical planner and Alik was the muscle. Creed sat closer to the pilot’s cockpit and Evan was toward the back of the plane. burgundy upholstered passenger’s seat. He was carefully hanging a new I. just as Evan had said to their mom an hour before. bag for Meg and discreetly checking her catheter bag that hung below the bed’s mattress. He wanted that serum. The three of them had always made one heck of a great team. and he was getting it. Meg was the moxie. Alik settled into a plush.329/581 was out of the goodness of his heart.

he whisked a tear away from his eye. three-sixteen local time. This is your pilot. In the unlikely event there is an inair emergency there are a series of procedures we must advise you of . The temperature is steady at eighty-one degrees. It is. Vince Trainer. reviews the safety features of this aircraft and proper safety protocol.” The overhead intercom hissed then went silent before Missy began her spiel at the front of the plane.330/581 thinking. Mr. Missy. Please listen carefully as our flight attendant. “Welcome Mr. Our copilot today is my good buddy. The pilot came over the intercom with a robotic hissing sound. and visibility clear. uh. Our first stop will be in LAX to refuel before heading on to New York then Europe. “Good afternoon. wind five to ten knots south-south-west. Young and guests. Young and guests to flight 310 Air Ambulance to Germany. Captain Bob Jacobi at your service.

by the tower for takeoff.” Missy was finally done with her canned safety speech when the overhead intercom hissed to life again. uh. He was too worried about Meg’s monitors to think about “first placing the oxygen mask over his own face before assisting someone else. So. least of all.…eighthour flight to LAX. buckle up and double-check our patient’s safety harnesses as well. please be sure your carry-on luggage is properly stowed in the available compartments. Evan. please don’t hesitate to push the red call button above your head and one of the flight crew will come to assist you. Thank you. . we have just been cleared. flotation devices and exit routes while the passengers barely listened. “Uh. and if you have any questions now or anytime during the uh.331/581 for your safety and for the safety of others on this plane…” Missy droned on in her squeaky voice to recite her memorized speech about the cabin pressure.…ladies and gentlemen.

thank you for allowing us to be of service to you Mr. This is your captain. bag swing gently as the plane picked up speed.V. Of course. out. With a swift pull. Evan and their dying sister were en route to a devil’s den. Alik. rising quickly. the plane was up and off the ground. again.” The engines began to roar louder as the craft taxied to the start of the runway. There was no turning back now. A quick glance out one of the many oval windows showed the scenic Hawaiian landscape blur by. Bob Jacobi. Alik watched his sister’s I. Young and guests and we look forward to a smooth flight. there probably never was.332/581 Uh. with copilot Vince Trainer. .

37 Farrow’s Fury
Farrow hated be left behind. Williams had informed her of Creed’s progress and told her to keep her distance from him as he maneuvered the metas and the serum to Germany. “Keep your head down, Farrow,” he hissed into the phone when she had objected. “Sir, with all due respect, Creed may need to be monitored more closely. I think he’s unsure of his true intentions. The family is getting to him, and he looks like he’s on the fence. He doesn’t even know which side he wants to be on.” “While I appreciate your reporting your observations, I cannot risk introducing you into the fragile mix right now. Let Creed bring them in. You will fly back separately.”

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Williams’ voice waffled between coaxing and barking. He was on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but no one knew that better than Farrow. She had watched this man spiral into depression and power almost equally as fast. Farrow had been his trusted weapon for the last year. She had seen him try to work with his daughter. She saw him use humans like test rats for his scientific purposes. He was a genius and a monster, but that drew Farrow to him. She was mesmerized by his power. Besides, being his personal aide had its benefits, too. She was privy to more information than any other meta at the Facility. “Farrow, do you understand?” Williams asked, disturbing her thoughts. “Yes, sir.” “I’m trusting you to follow my orders.” “Of course, sir.”

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“Before you leave, take care of one thing for me?” “Name it, sir.” “Creed never got around to killing Margo before he left. Terminate that wretched woman.” Farrow smiled softly, “With pleasure.” “Call me when she’s out of the picture. I’ve been waiting for revenge too long,” Williams’ voice had a tired hint to it. “I’m on my way to Dr. St. Paul’s home now, sir,” Farrow smiled widely at the prospect of finally doing something. “Do you have a preference as to whether Dr. Andrews is terminated as well?” “No, no preference there. He’s only in the picture because Margo brought him in. He poses no threat to us, but if he gets in the way, take him out, too. “As you wish, sir.” “Farrow, my dear. I treasure you as my assistant and look forward to many more

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years of you being my personal right hand, but if you fail me by allowing Margo Winter to live, don’t even bother coming home. Have I made myself clear?” The old scientists’ voice was throaty with old anger by the end of his statement, and knowing him as well as she did, she was sure he had spittle dangling from his leathery mouth. She grimaced at the image. “I understand, sir.” She waited respectfully for the audible click indicating he had hung up the phone, and bit her lip furiously forcing herself silent as she waited. Click. With that sound, Farrow felt both liberated and isolated, and the thought occurred to her. What would happen if she just walked away? She could catch a flight stateside before Williams would cut off her financial support. She may even be able to buy a car when she landed in California. All she would have is her suitcase, her sniper rifle, the clothes on

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her back, the cash in her wallet, and hopefully a car with a full tank of gas. Would it be worth it? Is any of this really worth it? All she had ever known was the Facility and Dr. Williams. She thought power and prestige were the world. The more she did his bidding, the more in his good-graces she was, the more power she felt she received. All the other metas knew who she was and never even thought to challenge her. Her status as Williams’ personal assistant kept her an elite at the compound. But she was having second thoughts now. Something about this particular assignment was making her question her personal motives. Farrow shook her head as though swatting away a pesky gnat. It was easier not to think. Just obey orders soldier, she told herself.

38 In-Flight Conversations
Only twenty minutes in to the flight and Alik was already bored. Missy came by with a tray of sodas. “Is there any access to internet on the flight?” he asked. “I’m sorry sir, but wireless devices are prohibited because they could interfere with communications in the cockpit. I could bring you an assortment of in-flight movies that are available for viewing on your personal screen. We also have a large collection of magazines and books if you’d prefer.” Missy smiled helpfully. “Yeah, I could read something. Anything having to do with medical news or current events would be great.” “I’ll see what I can dig up for you,” she said with a wink and sashayed down the aisle.

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“‘Medical news or current events,’” Creed echoed. “A little light reading, eh?” “Not much else to do,” he said, obviously uncomfortable talking with Creed. “We have seventeen hours to kill,” he glanced up at his fellow meta warily. “No pun intended.” “What were you planning to do?” “Well, I thought of taking a nice long nap, myself,” Creed leaned back in his plush chair causing the leg rests to extend. “Didn’t you sleep well in Paulie’s guest house last night?” “Oh, well, don’t get me wrong. The accommodations were great. It’s just…” “Bad dreams?” Alik asked probing. Creed shrugged. “Hum…” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “Nothing, man. It’s just not unusual for a guilty conscience to cause a person

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unsettling dreams,” Alik shrugged innocently. “At least, that’s what I’ve heard.” Creed shook his head and gave a half laugh. Missy was hurrying back down the aisle with her arms full of reading material. “Well, we have Science Weekly, Scientific Now, and I found a Physician’s Desk Reference,” she said proudly. “Then there are all of these I brought just in case none of the others sounded good to you.” “Thanks, Missy. I appreciate it,” Creed smiled back at the flight attendant as he took the stack from her. She looked pleased with herself and sauntered away. Alik started sifting through the first magazine. Evan unfastened his seatbelt and walked over. “Hey, I’ve got to run to the bathroom. Keep an eye on Meg, will you?” “Sure. How is she?” “Stable, for now.”

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“Do you think she’s going to crash again before we get to Europe?” “I have no idea. I don’t even know why she crashed the first time. Heck, I don’t know anything anymore.” He shook his head obviously discouraged. “Why don’t you go play with the plumbing in the bathroom? That usually cheers you up,” Alik said to his little brother trying to lighten the mood. Evan smiled, but only slightly. “I don’t even think airplane plumbing could get me to relax right now.” Evan walked up the aisle toward the cockpit to the lavatories slightly hunched over as the head room in the plane didn’t allow for a tall person to stand upright without regretting their attempt. “What was all that about the plumbing?” “Long story; you kinda had to have been there,” Alik said smiling at the memory. Then his facial expression changed.

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He was squinting as though trying to see something far away. “Wait…maybe you were there.” Alik peered over at Creed and replayed scenes in his mind. He made himself think back and ran Creed’s face through sort of his own mental image search engine. “I can’t believe I hadn’t put the pieces together before,” Alik said after a few moments. “What are you talking about?” Creed asked, though his heart began pounding violently in his chest. “You were there, at the hospital in Kansas. I saw you in several locations there: once in the corridor, again in the cafeteria and the last time I saw you, you were standing in the crowd of people watching me spar with Meg and Evan on the hospital lawn. You were the guy Meg met there. She didn’t want to tell us about you, but we made her. Then you stood her up. She was supposed to meet you at noon, but you weren’t there.” Alik was tensing his muscles reflexively and sitting at the

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edge of his seat. He looked about ready to leap down Creed’s throat with each new piece of the puzzle he snapped into place. “Look, she was just an assignment. You were all just assignments,” Creed looked heart-sick with guilt. “Assignments? You were the one who tried to attack our mom that day! You shot Maze!” Evan had been on his way back to his seat when he just caught the tail end of this conversation. It sent him into a furry. Before Creed knew what was happening, Evan charged down the aisle and full-on tackled him out of his seat. “You piece of crap! My family trusted you and you have been trying to hurt us all along!” Evan was whaling on Creed. He had him pinned against the cabin wall and was smashing his face into the leather side paneling. “Evan, cool it! We’re forty-thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean!” Alik had to work to

I will kill you. Alik said. so for your sake. asshole. and no one will mourn your loss. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as ready to kill as he is right now. . Turning back to the stunned Creed. enough. “Dude.344/581 pull his brother off Creed. quietly. man! This isn’t the time or place!” Evan allowed himself to be separated from Creed long enough to deliver a stream of expletives Alik didn’t even know his brother knew.” Alik’s hand was still on his brother’s shoulder. you’d better start talking. This isn’t helping Meg! Beating the crap out of the guy who’s taking us to get her cure isn’t going to help her. but held back. waiting for the vermin to speak. The veins in Evan’s neck were pulsing and his fists were involuntarily clenching and releasing. “Cool it.” “Just so we’re clear. If you try to deliver even a fraction of a lie to us.” Evan fumed.

” Creed explained. Williams offered me another option.” Creed nodded.345/581 “You’re right. “He said that he would help me find the rest of my real blood family and release me of duty as a meta soldier if I completed two objectives for him. I’ve done nothing but hurt your family since the moment I snuck into your lives. Commander Oldham wanted me dead for defying his orders in battle.” “You’re not helping your case here. “Remember the story I told you about the Retribution Match where I was set up to fight my brother?” Creed stopped and waited for acknowledgement.” Creed had never been to confession. but he felt an unreal need for .” Alik cautioned as he felt his anger surge. Everything right up until I was three days out of the surgery to fix my kidney. “You have every reason to off me now. “That was all true.

” “Just to be clear. “I didn’t complete that objective.’ right?” Alik looked sick to his stomach.” “What do you mean. “I mean. he was so thrilled that I got you three on a plane en route to Germany that he didn’t bring it up.” “So your first objective—to kill our mom?” asked Alik. you ‘don’t know’?” Alik yelled. “Yes. The first was to find and kill the ‘thief’ Margo Winter.” Creed explained.” growled Evan.346/581 absolution from these two men whom he had harmed. . we’re the ‘assets. “My objectives were laid out by Williams.” “Williams is going to let her live?” asked Evan. “I don’t know. “Keep talking. The second was to bring the three ‘stolen’ assets back.

. the captain asks everyone to please calm down and take a seat. “What the hell did you do to our sister! Was it poison? A deadly virus? What did you do to Meg?” Alik was so angry spittle was flying from his mouth and now it was Evan who was holding him back. He didn’t say a word. The looks on the faces of the three huge.347/581 “He’s not going to just let it go.” Missy. appalled. and you’ll need to fasten your seat belts. It was all part of the plan. the flight attendant spoke in a squeaky voice. Without saying another word. “So this whole thing with Meg getting sick was just a convenient excuse to get us back to Williams?” Evan asked. We’re headed for some unexpected turbulence. “No.” Alik said. fighting men was arguably the scariest she had ever seen. deep in thought. “Gentlemen.” Alik was revving up. little brother. Creed’s face fell.

” “What?” “Answer him! What did you do to Meg? Why is she so sick?” Evan’s voice rose with every word until he was yelling.’ Farrow shot Meg in the neck with it—it looked like a small. silver dart. a female meta named Farrow Schone. with something he called a ‘gift. Whatever that dart was tipped with. Ignoring the attendant. “Answer him. “What the hell do you mean. you ‘don’t know?’” Creed looked painfully over at the frail waif of a girl dying because of him. she fell.” . running a shaky hand through his hair.” he stammered. As soon as she was hit. that is what has made Meg so sick.348/581 she turned-tail and slipped behind the blue velvet curtain. “I…I don’t know. Evan growled. “Williams sent his assistant.

out. Bear with us while we get the craft to a smoother flying altitude. All the guilt and self-loathing Creed felt forced his arms to hold at his side instead of up defensively. Creed knew he deserved it. The three men glared at each other. yanked it off and started beating Creed.” Alik administered one more whack to Creed’s neck with the chunk of plush leather wrapped around metal that was the arm rest. not .349/581 “You knew all this time that Meg was poisoned and you didn’t stop this Farrow and you didn’t tell us so we’d know what to look for? You sick freak!” Alik flew into a rage. As Alik unloaded his anger. “All passengers please take your seats and fasten your safety belts. Captain Jacobi. We’ve hit some unexpected turbulence. I’m sure you noticed we are pulling up. in an effort to fly over the bumpy air. He grabbed the nearest arm rest of a passenger seat.

The nose of the jet fell into a steep decline. but he was also forcing himself to calm down and think before he said another word. The three men standing in the private jet’s passenger galley instinctively reached out to grab something to steady themselves. . Evan hadn’t taken three steps when whole plane shook spastically and dropped a couple thousand feet. From all around them. Feeling more a sense of responsibility to his sister than bravado. Under his breath he was mumbling furiously. plastic and metal rattled fiercely indicating a worrisome level of breakability to what only moments before had seemed like a safe aircraft. Just then. Even with the warnings.350/581 wanting to be the first to move. Evan turned toward Meg and started to walk down the aisle to check her safety harnesses for the umpteenth time. what happened next hit the three boys with complete surprise. as though free-falling. the plane vibrated violently.

Oxygen masks burst out of the panels above the seats and an alarm screamed a high-pitched. sounding distinctly like metal on metal screams.351/581 Not having heeded the repeated warnings and instead choosing to continue their furious discussion standing in the aisle turned out to be a really bad idea after all. “beep. beep!” The aircraft was making terrifying noises. beep. The nose of the plane dipped and with it anything that wasn’t bolted or secured. They scrambled to regain their balance but everything was happening so fast. even they couldn’t help but be thrown around the cabin. Alik. The overhead compartments popped open releasing even more debris into the storm that was the inside of the private jet. Their fight abruptly interrupted. Evan and Creed flew up and hit the ceiling of the cabin. Even during the . the three metas scrambled to their seats and for their safety harnesses.

We’re now traveling at an altitude of about fifteen thousand feet above sea level. despite the airplane safety rules. Evan crawled back toward his sister’s gurney. The plane was leveling off some by the time he could get the mask over his own face and secure himself in the seat closest to his patient.352/581 brutal turbulence of the plane. He was more worried about checking Meg’s oxygen levels than himself. . Young and guests. thirteen thousand feet. I hope everyone is okay back there. That was a highly unusual pocket of fast forming wind conditions causing us to drop…uh. but it left everyone onboard rattled and out of breath. the plane felt like it was leveling off and the sadistic screaming of the alarm stopped. Captain Jacobe’s shaky voice came over the intercom. “Mr. Everything happened in the span of no more than three minutes. if you look out your window. Finally. and boy.

My copilot. “If my sister dies because of you. The vein in his forehead was bulging as it always did when he was angry. “Yes. I’m going to rip you limb from limb. Mr. deep breath and slowly released his vise grip on his chair’s arm rest. Trainer and I are sincerely sorry for the scare and will do our level best to make the rest of the flight as smooth as possible. Missy will be back momentarily to check on you and straighten up the cabin. hoping to avoid any more surprises. We’re going to stay at this altitude for a while. well. still recovering.” Creed looked warily at Alik and took a slow. Alik broke the quiet. Evan glanced at .353/581 you can almost see the scales on the fish!” No one laughed at his attempt at humor. Alik was rubbing his temples as though trying to fight off an oncoming headache.” The passengers were silent for a few minutes.

He was exhausted and revved up at the same time. you think we’re upset? You just wait till Meg wakes up. thinking back to many an argument back on the ranch. . checking Meg’s vitals and making sure none of her tubes or monitors had come undone during the turmoil. Picking up on Evan’s lead. Once he was satisfied she was stable. Alik forced himself to calm down and think of his sister.” Evan was staring at his sister’s pale hand as it lay vibrating slightly with the movement of the plane. You’d just better run!” Alik mused affectionately at his big sister.354/581 his brother and thought how grateful he was not to be the object of Alik’s anger. I wouldn’t even bother trying to explain yourself. “If Meg were awake. she would be the one ranting louder than any of us. he returned to his seat. He was up and out of his seat again. And if I were you. “Oh yeah.

but—I’m sorry. We’re going to get her better. Evan.” “I don’t know what I’d do without her. “You don’t have to worry about that. I never knew what it was like to have a family.355/581 “I saw her fight that day on the hospital lawn. “If you two hadn’t ganged up on her.” Creed said. “Listen. She’s one tough girl. she would have won.” Alik was smiling softly at the memory of it.” Creed looked earnestly from one brother to the other. Watching you guys with your mom and Theo and Paulie these last few days has made me do some serious thinking. guys. I really just want to make it all right.” Alik glared at Creed. “I know it doesn’t help matters.” Evan confessed softly. They were trying to decide whether this guy was . I don’t want to be a bad guy. “Yeah. I’ll tell you that. she was pretty mad. Alik and Evan exchanged looks.” he said.

” Evan said calmly. but she’s not able to help now. “Meg would know whether or not you were lying. Alik squinted at Creed. or if it was just a lie. “Good idea. This is the kind of situation where they would usually defer to Meg’s skill of being able to feel people’s emotions. “It could already be too late.” Creed said and looked down at his watch shaking his head. . So we’re going to have to find another way to figure out your true intentions. She’s probably still on the island.356/581 full of it or if he was being sincere.” “Let us contact our mom to warn her that Williams knows her location and is probably setting her up as a target. She would be able to tell if he was honestly remorseful. Who do you think he’s sending to finish your job?” asked Alik.” He looked up at the metas apologetically. “Farrow. thanks to you.

Make the call.” he said.” Alik said evenly. Creed nodded and flipped open the inflight phone console. He typed in a code before passing the receiver to Alik. then so are you. “Go ahead.357/581 “If our mother’s dead. .

Margo’s soft brown eyes were completely obscured by the powerful microscope in . she found if she kept her hands busy. Margo returned to the lab.39 Love Story In an effort to stay busy. Knowing Margo must be exhausted with worry. “Can I get you something to eat?” Theo asked. then at least she could try to distract herself long enough not to go insane with worry. To control her anxiety. Theo had come to check on her in Paulie’s laboratory. but beginning a journey that was going to unfold painfully made Margo sick with fear for them. Watching the car drive away with the three most precious gifts she had ever known was enough to make any mother sob silently. Knowing they weren’t just leaving her.

she followed protocol for a sterile environment to the letter. “Margo? Are you hungry?” Theo tried again. Her simple and beautiful short dark hair was tucked neatly into a protective blue cap.359/581 which she peered. her scrubs had become like a second set of skin. Perched on the edge of a stool he saw she was even wearing blue booties over her shoes. basking in the glow that was her aura. Ever the scientist. She was mumbling something. Theo thought to himself how much he adored this woman. He loved her passion for science just as much as her love for her family. though their patient was no longer in the room. She probably did everything automatically after all these years. All he wanted was to live out his days beside her. With as much time as she had been spending in the lab these days. But keeping this love of his life safe had .

and she was still weakened by the long-term effects from her extensive injuries at the hands of Williams’ henchmen. He stood in awe of her and for a moment allowed himself to imagine that beneath that size small latex glove was a . As he stood in the laboratory doorway watching her enveloped in her research.360/581 been terrifyingly difficult. His beautiful Margo. His eyes slipped to watch her tiny. A year hadn’t passed. gloved hand move to adjust the view in her scope. her spirit made him want to drop to his knees and beg for her hand in marriage. he couldn’t help himself but remember how close to death she already had been. small-framed and delicate and fiercely devoted with the strength of a lioness. Most men only have to worry about their love leaving them for another man—maybe someone who made more money or had more hair. Theo had to worry about another man taking his Margo away by snuffing the life out of her.

Instead. Hurry so you can see for yourself. With his teeth.” He couldn’t think of anything a microscope could show her to make her sound so excited right now. “This can’t be right.” Margo muttered to herself. he hurried to put on his blue scrubs. “Okay. Scrub in. “Theo. I need you to see something.361/581 band of gold wrapped around her finger. “Margo?” She spun in her chair and said. be right there.” she said and spun back to look into the microscope again. I don’t even know if I believe me. but he wasn’t going to argue. two simple words of devotion: Love Story. cap and booties. And engraved words inside pressed against her warm skin. quick!” “What did you find?” “You’re not going to believe me. . he ripped open a sterilizing scrub presoaped package and began vigorously cleaning his hands. still unaware of Theo’s presence.

” “I ran a standard workup on it and found nothing unusual.” “Okay.” she said waiving toward a complex machine in the far corner of the room.” “Right. So I went further. healing and so on. he was sitting in the same stool that had been occupied by Margo and peering into the same microscope. Margo?” “Remember the blood samples I took from Creed when he offered to donate for Meg?” “This is Creed’s blood?” “Yes. Paulie happens to have one of the few forensic DNA testing facilities on the island right here. It looks like the children’s blood. . “What am I looking at. I believe it has to do with their rapid regeneration. for a meta.” “Makes sense.362/581 Within minutes. I assume the increase of plasma and white blood cells is a standard meta thing. clotting.

“Margo.” “The first three lines are Alik’s.” Theo looked at her incredulously. Evan’s and Meg’s. I thought maybe. “I know. being a more recent creation of Williams’. did I.” she said excitedly waiving a computer color printout under his nose. I’ve been an ER doctor for more than a decade.” “But you did?” “Boy. Look at this. you’re going to have to help me here. I told you I was just grasping at straws. I really didn’t think I’d find anything of interest. It’s been a long time since we were in medical school and studied how to interpret forensic DNA strands.” .363/581 “You ran a DNA test on Creed’s sample? Why?” “I really was just fishing. his DNA might hold some information I hadn’t thought of before.

” Theo said and began looking among the three Winter children’s DNA data and Creed’s. too?” “A match?” “It sure looks like it. It only took a moment for him to realize Margo’s find.9 percent accurate result.” “Seven out of a possible thirteen bases including the Y-chromosome!” “That’s a 99.” “Okay.364/581 “Okay.” he said looking at the jagged lines on the page trying to compare them but not really sure what it was he was supposed to be comparing.” “How could that be?” “What are we going to do?” “Do we tell them?” “How do we explain this?” “And that means…” . Margo put a second sheet of paper next to the first. “What in the heck?” “So you see it. Theo. “And this is Creed’s.

” . the data is pretty conclusive.” “They’re brothers.” “They share the same genetic pool.365/581 “Yes.

rural town in Germany. At the center of the thirty-seven acres were the buildings. green land. The original architects of The Facility spent a lot of time and care to be sure they created the most efficient infrastructure. at first glance. The Facility covered thirty-seven acres of rich. The first building a visitor (not that there were ever very many visitors) . There were six main buildings all surrounding a magnificent courtyard. A fifteen-foot electric fence surrounded the entire compound.40 A Well-Oiled Machine It looked. to be a wellmaintained military college campus located outside a small. Clusters of evergreen and deciduous trees were encouraged to grow throughout offering not only aesthetic appeal but coverage from both aerial and land surveillance.

It stood three stories tall with walls made of black. three Olympic-size swimming pools. This was one of the busiest buildings in the entire complex. The metas also attended classes in this building. In this building. gymnastic equipment and a martial arts dojo. It was a one-story building sectioned into three parts. . just to name some of the options housed inside. Each section housed a different age group of female metasoldiers. The next building was a three-story. The building to its right was the woman’s barracks. tactical strategies and conditioning. the metas had every possible indoor physical activity available to them including weightlifting equipment. weaponry. state of the art training facility and gymnasium. one-way windows. basketball courts. They were schooled in the art of combat. It was open all day and all night and was in constant use.367/581 would come to would be Headquarters.

No soldier had money because they didn’t need any. but the metas on base didn’t question what they didn’t . Everything was provided for them. only inventoried.368/581 Continuing counter-clockwise around the center courtyard. If a meta needed a shirt or a pair of socks. This building opened at 4am and closed at midnight. To the west of the “mess hall” was the campus’ Research Hospital. This hospital was a mystery to most of the metas on campus except the first floor which held the triage and emergency room. he or she just went to the commissary. Meals were served every three hours. next to the training facility is the “mess hall” and commissary. visits to the first floor were inevitable. The building was three stories tall and was rumored to have a basement. In their line of work. Nothing had to be purchased. The commissary wasn’t like a standard military commissary. checked them out from the stockers and left with them.

369/581 know. Each section was home to a different age-group of soldiers. The last building is the men’s barracks. The oldest group was sixteen and up. It too was sectioned into three parts. If there were things happening on the other floors of the hospital. It was all very orderly. Most soldiers on campus didn’t need to know. All meta instructors lived in the barracks with the cadets in all three sections. There were never any problems with impropriety because it was made very clear what would happen to rule breakers. The next was twelve to fifteen. Forming a large rectangle around the outside of the buildings and courtyard was a road that doubled as a race track. The youngest were age five to eleven. Male instructors resided with the male cadets and female instructors with the female cadets. Period. They only did as they were ordered. it was on a need-to-know-basis. regimented and disciplined. At the .

Commander Oldham stood looking out the window of his office in the Headquarters building.370/581 southeast corner of the compound was a shooting range. through to anyone else. Even through the thick. gazing at the majesty that was the Facility. Oldham’s . The Retribution Arena was in the northeast corner. The south west corner of the compound was designed around a meta-worthy obstacle course. A pleasant stream cut across the northwest corner of the campus and sported two bridges that allowed the jogging trail to flow uninterrupted around the inside perimeter of the entire campus. He smiled approvingly. no doubt heading toward more exemplary training. plate-glass window he could hear them grunting a familiar cadence to keep their rhythm. He watched as two platoons ran in formation across the courtyard. and that’s just the way Oldham liked it. This day was like any other on the compound.

with and for whom. .371/581 smile looked like a pained grimace. Unquestioned synchronicity. Every meta was conditioned to be exactly who and what he told them to be and the Facility was run like a well-oiled machine. a group of more seasoned cadets was carrying huge boxes of supplies into the side entrance of the hospital. His facial muscles weren’t meant to smile. Immediately. There was a tremendous amount of synchronicity required when scheduling which platoon would be where and learning and doing what. meta soldiers were on hand to begin unloading the goods. From the opposite side of the courtyard. That’s what made this place run like the Shangri-La it was. He ordered the senior ranking metas and they disciplined their underlings. A service truck lumbered into view and stopped by the Mess Hall with a squeal of breaks in need of attention.

There were always “new-recruits” being brought in and the Director just expected them to be vigorously trained and “brought up to speed” on how things were done at the Facility.372/581 There were all the shipments of food and miscellaneous supplies to arrange. Instead. Williams put both of those boys on undercover . with no mercy and in front of the entire meta campus so any other young gun with a miniature thought in his or her thick head would stop to smell the dead bodies before they decided to act on their own volition. Oldham was completely against Dr. The hospital needed constant deliveries kept completely quiet. Then there were always the concerns about what the Director was going to want from him beyond his standard duties. Williams’ tampering with how he handled his soldiers. Then there was the concern about the acquisition of new metas. The Young boys should have been disciplined immediately.

these two rotten apples were exactly the wrong kind of soldiers to trust. To a man like Oldham.373/581 assignments where they were out among regular people. And though he had tried to express his concerns to his Director. Instinctively. All he could do is wait and hope that he was wrong about the Young boys. he knew it was just a matter of time and he was furious at the thought of what two rogue metas could do to his perfectly maintained world. Oldham’s body was tight with anger as these thoughts coursed over him like fumes from rancid meat. who respected only those who gave and obeyed orders. he began to formulate a plot for self-preservation. he was immediately put in his place. a plot that would mean knocking some sense into Dr. Everything he . Kenneth Williams. again. But in his gut. That gruesome smile etched its way across his meaty face.

He had a few phone calls to make. Anything less than model behavior from anyone in this Facility required immediate and uncompromising punishment. . Commander Oldham returned to his desk and picked up his telephone.374/581 had worked for to make this Facility the exemplary product it was depended on its leaders modeling the restraint and obedience they expected of their cadets.

mom. I thought you were calling to tell me…” “No. immediately. but why are you calling? Is Meg okay?” “She’s stable.” “What’s going on?” “You need to go into hiding. thank God. thank God. Williams has a meta already on the island that was sent there to kill you.” “How much time do I have?” . Listen. you’re okay. I have to tell you something really important.” “I’m fine.” “What are you talking about?” “Mom.41 The Brothers Grim “Mom?” “Alik?” “Oh.” “Oh. We’re still flying over the Pacific.

Take the truck.” “What about Theo and Cole and Paulie?” “They should disappear. It’s 6:05. Her name is Farrow and she’s deadly. Get out of the house now. and get out of the house right now! I’m going to call you in exactly thirty minutes to check on you. Tell Evan I love him. He’s trying to earn his soul back. mom.” “We love you too.376/581 “None. the car keys. drive and don’t stop until you’re sure no one has followed you. Alik?” “Creed. grab your purse. Ali. the meta is female. Just go!” “I love you. Now. Mom. too. She might use them to get to you.” “She?” “Yes. I’ll explain later. go!” . take Maze for protection. Do you understand?” “How do you know about the meta. I’ll call you at 6:35.

42 Farrow’s Pursuit The humidity and heat were extreme. Farrow would be waiting. had not shown her face yet. but she had already calculated for that. Lying in wait for nearly three hours now had left Farrow’s usually steady nerves somewhat frazzled. she could stalk her target as long as necessary without the slightest unease. the primary target. Winter. and when she did. Dr. Something about this assignment made the hair on the back of her neck bristle. The home of Dr. St. but this was different. Under ordinary circumstances. southeast of the position she chose because of its dense foliage and easy line-ofsight to the front door of the house where the doctor’s vehicle was parked. but she would eventually. Paul was thirty-nine meters south. . Three hours felt like three days.

one kill. One shot. He was huge—probably fifty-five or sixty pounds. One shot. Right at his heels was the bizarre pet the Winter family kept. Get it together. Paul. Come on. That was the growling thing that looked at her like fresh meat. St. soldier. It was Dr. one kill. and you’ll do it again. she got a clear picture of the coyote. Her mental brow-beating was halted the moment she saw movement at the back door. She had seen him before—back in California when she was sent to the hospital to count dead bodies.378/581 Sure she was just psyching herself out. A male with white hair was exiting the house with a long surf board tucked under his left arm. You’ve done this before. one kill. she allowed herself a moment to look away from the sniper rifle’s telescopic lens and rub her eyes. she scolded herself. One shot. This is just another assignment. Even through her scope. And it behaved like a loyal .

His nose was to the ground as his silver coat shinned in the Hawaiian sunlight. Farrow repositioned her scope to the house. He was really after something. There was no movement there. but it hadn’t occurred . but observed them instead.379/581 dog. The coyote was almost completely obscured by the undergrowth along the trail. he was already on his board and paddling out into the water. The coyote had wandered away from the water’s edge following instead an interesting scent back up toward the trail that ran beside the house. Farrow chose not to fire at the aging man or the coyote. Not wanting to get distracted. not a wild canine. Not wanting to alarm her primary target. By the time she panned back to the old surfer. The old man walked toward the beach. He lifted his right hand to his brow to block the sunlight so he could see more clearly the waves as they broke.

Maybe there would have been a negligible spot of redness at the injection site itself once the dart was removed and…that’s when she realized what was causing the coyote to howl. Not until it was too late. It would have left a very small mark where the dart impacted her neck.” The coyote must have been tracking the girl’s scent. Was she bleeding? Doubtful. That spot was the exact location on the trail where M57 was running days before when she had delivered Dr.380/581 to Farrow that he may have been tracking a very familiar scent. an image darted across her mind. He was howling like a bloody demon now. but what would he have found that had Meg’s scent on it? Did she drop something that day? Farrow didn’t think so. . She was. Just as the coyote began to howl mournfully with intermittent barks. after all. Williams’ “gift. his owner. It was clear he found something.

The coyote jumped up and down excitedly beside him as he frowned at the object in his hand. This was bad. moony-eyed. Her one last glimmer of hope was lost when it was Dr. the metasoldier watched the man run to the coyote. Winter. Andrews who came running out of the house to check on the coyote. Creed. Paul. and ran back into the house.381/581 The dart. yelled to Dr. Within seconds. lean down and pick something up. idiot! He must have left the dart in the grass! Farrow was mentally screaming in fury over Creed’s misstep that could cost them their objective. and not Dr. St. . who was already on his way back to shore with all the ruckus from the canine. all the subjects were out of sight and the gift was in their hands. the incompetent. With an anger that seethed hotter and hotter inside her.

Oh. She didn’t want to talk with him until her mission was complete. because after taking a breather to regroup her thoughts. she decided her next step would be to wait until dark when she would finish this. . Williams’ name showed up on her cell phone. cleaning her favorite handgun with deft movements. including the flea-bitten mongrel they called Maze. and she was anxious to get back to it. She had a life. when Dr. once and for all. hell no. She thought to herself. and she sure as hell wasn’t going to be the one to tell him Dr. Winter had the “gift” that had so perfectly given him the upper hand in his quest. she ignored it. Later that afternoon.382/581 Only afterwards did Farrow kick herself realizing she should have taken her chances and killed everyone in her scope. It didn’t matter. She was not going to take the fall for Creed’s sloppiness.

383/581 .

Her heart was pounding. Esther felt instantly wary of her superior officer as goose-bumps formed on her arms beneath her standard issue uniform. Not letting any of her feelings show. Esther wasn’t even aware . standing a little too close for a comfortable conversation. she saluted. The commander never had been down here.” As it was ingrained in her. but her facial expression gave nothing away. Esther immediately clasped her hands behind her back and spread her stance slightly. sir. He stopped directly in front of her. soldier.43 Oldham’s Plot “Commander Oldham. “At ease.” Esther stood at attention the moment she realized he was walking down the hospital corridor.

Kenneth Williams.” “An inspection.” “Soldier. No exceptions. himself.” Esther tried to . Williams’ daughter or her condition. it was screaming a warning now. “Sir. she thought quickly. Never having encountered anything like this in the past. I am not to allow anyone entry into this room without explicit orders from Dr. sir? I have not received any notification of an inspection. Esther frowned at the document.” He flashed an important looking document in front of the young soldier. “Sir.” If Esther’s guard was up before.385/581 he knew of Dr. I’m here to perform an inspection of the patient to which you are assigned. my orders are clear. her mind was racing with possible protocol she was to follow. “The Director himself sent me. Maybe this is a test.

I will have to make a phone call to confirm these orders. he caught her slumping body.” He showed his teeth in a bizarre attempt at what was supposed to be a smile. Her hand reached to her pocket to retrieve her phone. zapped her with a tazor. “I’m sorry. but I can’t let you do that. too. soldier. “I understand you’re just trying to do your job.386/581 speak with strength and purpose.” Esther’s acting skills couldn’t stop her voice from quivering this time. opened the door to the patient’s room and dragged her body inside. when inside she was shaking with fear.” His face curled malevolently and he moved even closer to the girl and grabbed her wrist with one hand and with his other hand. “Sir. He closed the door behind him softly. no disrespect intended. With the fluidity of a highly trained Special Forces soldier. . You have to understand that I’m just trying to do mine.

He saw the small frame of a girl lying on the hospital bed. Rudolph Oldham needed to help remove the thorn in his master’s paw. a thorn in his brilliant lion’s paw? Weakness has no place in my Facility. his Achilles heel.387/581 The room was dimly lit by a side table lamp. . he was feeling compelled to help his leader in any way so their end objective was achieved. this had to be done. cut off the gangrene before it spread any further. Why didn’t Williams understand that this diseased body was his anchor. The commander shook his head in disgust. Yes. She did not move or make a sound. Nothing good can come from this gangrene. He walked to her bedside and looked into the face of the reason his Director was losing his edge. the commander thought to himself. useless excuse for a human stood between himself and all his goals. This weak. As any loyal soldier would.

After slipping them onto each of his thick hands. including the thumbprint on the plunger itself.V. He strategically placed her fingers around the syringe he just used on the girl being sure her prints would be found all over it. he grabbed his black case. his fingers returned to the case and found a specific syringe. turned and walked back to the female meta. Satisfied with himself that the entire dose was rapidly rushing through the sickly body. He popped the yellow plastic cap off carefully placing the small piece back into the case before reaching for the I. . She was still lying on the ground where he left her. tubing attached to June Williams.388/581 He reached into his pocket to retrieve a small black case. He then dropped it on the floor beside her. he opened it and removed a pair of large latex gloves. He grabbed her arm and unbuttoned the cuff of her sleeve. Esther. Carefully. With absolute irreverence.

he grabbed the folded. His final chore was to clean off the doorknob to the room itself. making it look as though she dosed herself. he double-checked that he didn’t touch anything that could have collected his fingerprints. He slapped her arm looking for a healthy vein. he slipped the needle into place injecting the woman with the contents of the syringe. Finding one. typed note from the black case. Retracing his steps. just as he planned. He left it peeking out of Esther’s breast pocket. Finding the vein he was looking for.389/581 Oldham yanked her sleeve above her elbow. This one had a red cap he deftly removed. He repeated the process of putting this syringe into her hand. . he retrieved a second syringe from his case. The final touch. sure it would be found and read by the right person. he accomplished inside three minutes. All this. Oldham grabbed his black case and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.

390/581 Everything went perfectly. He was smiling and whistling an unrecognizable tune as he exited the hospital and walked through the courtyard with the kind of bounce in his step that could have only been achieved by a wellplanned and executed assignment. he thought happily to himself. as he removed his gloves and slipped them into his pocket before he reached the first floor. .

” “A ‘development?’ Are you crazy? Farrow is probably outside the house right now just waiting for you to try to get to your car!” “That’s exactly why I’m not leaving the house.44 The Giving “Gift” That Keeps “Mom?” “Yes. Alik.” “Where are you?” “I’m safe. You’d better calm down because I need you clearheaded. listen to me.…” “You listen to me. Meg needs you clear-headed!” . Alik. I’m here.” “Mom.” “What?” “Alik. Alik Winter. honey. There’s been a development I need to talk to you about. I’m at Paulie’s still.

Paulie and I are trying to decode the poison so we can make an antidote. You and Evan and Meggie. It was clear things weren’t going as planned. “What could possibly be so important that you are risking your life?” “You.” Feeling a flash of shame. Alik looked down at his feet and listened.” Margo waited breathlessly for Alik to respond. we won’t need Williams. Do you understand. me. Maze was sniffing around on the trail where Creed told us he found Meg when she collapsed. Alik? I think we can use the original poison to create an antidote that will cure Meggie. “Ali. Alik. Creed and Evan watched Alik and listened to his onesided conversation. again. Maze found the dart that poisoned Meg. Theo.392/581 Alik’s face was beet-red and that vein in his forehead was bulging. If we can do this ourselves. He found something. . Alik.

Creed turned and hurried toward the cockpit. Alik. but we’ll get her home. his mind racing with all the new possibilities. now!” “We’re halfway across the Pacific Ocean now mom.” Hearing this. “Ali. We may have to land in California first to refuel.393/581 “Oh. I’ll bring her back to you. He needed to figure out .” Alik locked eyes with his little brother. my God. mom. can you get the plane to turn around? You can’t go to Germany. Maze finding this needle on a mountainside is truly a gift from God. I’m so scared that Meg will die there. I promise. “Well. He’s faster at equations than any of us. mom! How soon can you create the antidote?” Both Creed and Evan’s faces lit up with equal amounts of surprise and confusion as they watched Alik talk. We need to get Meg home. that’s hard to say. I could really use Evan’s help with this.

Ignoring him. “Does the plane have enough fuel to turn around?” . “Um…sir. Creed asked.” Creed’s voice was commanding. button-and-switchfilled compartment.” The captain was unnerved enough what with the rough flight and now a passenger barges into his cockpit. Creed repeated himself. “Does the plane have enough fuel to turn around?” “What?” Trying to remain calm. He was going to do whatever it took to get this family put back together. Even as he yanked the door open and stepped into the small. Missy will come help you. if you would please return to the cabin and press the red button. he felt a surge of power that was wrapped in the bright light of hope.394/581 what options they had with the remaining fuel. “Captain Jacobe.

“Mr. Trainer anxiously. zero fuel weight.…” he stammered and looked over at his copilot. “Things are going to be different from the original plan because of the unexpected weather that caused us to change our altitude. could you run that calculation.” he said flustered. Using that geographic waypoint. “I’m using our current longitude and latitude as the starting point for the system and asking it to work its way backward to the flight’s origin. Give me a moment. Trainer.…” . Payload. sir. the system is calculating all the variables that would effect the fuel measurement. ramp weight. I’m going to have to recalculate with the flight planning system. the copilot punched furiously at the keyboard in front of him. operating weight empty. Glancing over his shoulder nervously at Creed.395/581 “Um.” yammered Mr. please?” “Yes.

but I really don’t have time for a class on the subject now. “Sir. crosswinds.” Creed ran his fingers through his hair in his typical anxious gesture. no turbulence. “He means if everything goes perfectly on our return trip. The short answer is. We have enough fuel. “Of course not. sir. “He’s a computer geek at heart.396/581 “Mr.” Captain Jacobe chuckled nervously. but we will be using all our reserves.” The copilot turned pale. Mr. “I’m afraid to ask what that means. Young. yes. bad weather at the airport that would delay our landing—if everything goes . Trainer!” Creed couldn’t stand the man’s babbling.” “Okay.” “Don’t mind him.” He glanced over at Jacobe worriedly. I appreciate that you know all about flying this plane. probably.

“Um…the system says we would have an extra seven minutes of flight beyond the calculated plan.397/581 perfectly. like the wings of a plane—pretending to fly. “Yes. literally. You tell me. Trainer?” Jacobe asked.” He looked sick to his stomach. The girl back there is dying and they think they have created the antidote back on the island. Right.” “So. sir.” It was Jacobe’s turn to look pale. We will be landing on fumes. Trainer?” Jacobe’s face looked determined. It showed a plump-faced little boy smiling with his arms stretched out beside him. Can we get her there safely?” Mr. none. basically. “How many tons of fuel do we have to play with. Jacobe looked at the small photograph he always taped to his control panel when he went on long flights. we’ll be okay to make it back. “You two are the pilots. We’ll get her back. .

you put your geek hat on. please be seated immediately as we’re about to make an illegal U-turn. I’m going to turn this big-ass bird around. Jacobe. out!” Creed grinned widely as he held on to the frame of the doorway. Then reality kicked in when he remembered what else was waiting for him back on that island: One very pissed-off meta named Farrow. Watching the skyline tip was awesome. .398/581 “If you say so. I’m going to keep working with the system planner to see if there’s any way I can reduce our fuel consumption.” He flipped a switch and spoke in his usual cocky-captain voice. The plane banked hard left. “Ladies and gentlemen. sir. He felt a wave of happiness at the thought of heading back to that sweet house on the beach and those kindhearted people.” “Great.

He smiled to himself at his . In his boney hands he held a large bouquet of sunflowers already trimmed and on display in an equally large.” The only way that button would work was with the key and the code. and Dr. someone could stand there and push that “B” button until they were blue in the face and nothing would happen.45 A Significant Chunk of Sanity Just Crashed to the Floor Things were looking up. pink vase. He adjusted the greenery slightly while waiting for the elevator. Otherwise. Once it opened and he entered. he slipped his small silver key into the control panel. Williams was anxious to go share the good news with his beloved. His little girl’s two favorite colors: pink and yellow. typed a code and pressed “B. some would say gaudy.

400/581 clever security. There was always the sound of her monitors beeping softly in the background. Dr. he chanted to himself with every step down the corridor toward her room. He reached out to the wall switch right inside the doorway with one hand and balanced the heavy vase of flowers with the other. he knew immediately something was wrong. “Esther?” he called. looking toward the door leading to the private bathroom. But this time. Only silence came in response. Then the old man realized why he felt things were wrong the moment he opened the door. The lights were out. It was the silence. With a quick tap. Williams opened the door to his daughter’s hospital room as he had hundreds of times before. There was always a . “Esther?” he called again. Nothing but the best for his June.

He stood there shocked long enough for the heavy vase to slip from his arms and smash to the floor. People who had been on the first floor talked in whispers about the screaming they heard from the hospital’s mysterious . As the light burst on. She lay motionless as well.401/581 light on by her bedside. and Esther was always sitting right beside his daughter in that chair. His feet wouldn’t move from that tiled spot. the gruesome scene was exposed. It took the old man a moment to wrap his head around what he was seeing. Her chest did not rise and fall. There was his precious little girl lying motionless on the bed. Her face was a sickening bluish-gray. And there on the floor beside her was Esther. The soldier he had given the most important assignment in the history of metas: to take care of his daughter. None of these things were in place.

truth be told. very wrong. Well. and it was absolutely haunted by the deceased Mrs. parts of each of those ideas was right. Watching her wasting away year . Williams. A monster was created in the basement that very day. And the typed note found tucked in the front breast pocket of the impeccably uniformed meta. Esther. contained words that cut what sanity the grieving father may have maintained into slivers of glass. Sir. All of this did happen because of experiments gone wrong.402/581 basement. Others believed they were torturing disobedient metas down there. Williams. And still others wondered aloud about what monsters the doctors in that hospital had created in an experiment gone wrong. Some of the metas were sure it was the ghost of Mrs. I could not stand seeing June suffer anymore.

Keeping June locked away in the basement of your life was selfish and undisciplined. I feel peace knowing I have been a true friend and protector to June and as such came to realize it was up to me to free her from your prison of shame. even you can move on and focus on your brilliant scientific work here at the Facility.403/581 after year waiting for you to save her was agonizing. Esther M402 . Now.

“Well. ‘Maze was sniffing around on the trail where Creed told us he found Meg . finally.” He was looking affectionately toward Meg.46 U-Turns in the Sky “So that’s the plan. He had returned from the pilot’s cockpit even as the plane was still angling the aboutface to tell the others the good news.” Evan rubbed the emotion out of his eyes wishing desperately to change the subject. “Alik. tell me exactly what mom said. Creed’s face blushed as he mumbled. this was one heck of a way to prove your good intentions. Creed. The brothers sat quietly for a moment before Alik spoke. “Thank you for doing this.” Creed said. Clearing his throat first.” He allowed himself a half smile of appreciation. “It’s the least I could do for her. Evan asked.” “She said.

“Wow. “That sounded like exactly what Dr. He was walking toward his sister and adjusting the straps holding the gurney safely to the cabin wall. ‘Well.’ Then when I asked her how soon she could have the antidote ready she said. Maze found the dart that poisoned Meg. “Do what?” Alik said absently. that’s hard to say. He’s faster at equations than any of us. how did you do that?” Creed said looking over at Alik with his head tilted a bit to the side like a curious puppy dog. I could really use Evan’s help with this. Paulie and I are trying to decode the poison so we can make an antidote. He found something.405/581 when she collapsed. He was much more worried about . Theo.’ ” Evan continued to stare at his brother deep in thought.” Evan stood and started pacing the aisle. Winter would have said—word for word!” “It was. Alik.

He’s got an eidetic memory. “Can you remember your parents? I mean.” “It’s not a ‘trick. “Wow. He was starting to feel a little uncomfortable talking about himself so much. “Everything?” “Yes.’ It’s his gift. perfectly. His mind was whirling around thoughts of curing his sister. that’s a cool trick. hear or read.” Alik answered for himself in a distracted monotone.” “How far back?” Alik shrugged. .406/581 the implications of creating an antidote based on an unknown toxin and not having time to test it for accuracy or safety before his sister needed it.” Evan was only partially engaged in this conversation. “What’s an ‘eidetic memory?’” “I can remember everything I see. your biological ones?” Creed asked.

Right now.” He rubbed his hands on his jeans before standing and wedging past his brother who was still pacing the aisle.” Creed mused to no one in particular as he watched the meta close the cockpit door behind him. “Undoubtedly. I might know of a way to ration our fuel. I hadn’t really thought about what he meant by that until now. Creed. I need to go check on the pilots. We can talk about that some other time.407/581 “Listen. he’s read a few books on how to fly a plane.” Evan murmured. I guess. Williams mentioning that each of you had something special about you. he said these were the ‘gifts’ he wanted back. “You said it was his ‘gift?’ I remember Dr.” . Each of you had an enhanced gift. Alik’s gift is his memory? It’s pretty clear you’re a medical genius and Meg—” his voice trailed off as he looked at her beautiful profile from where he sat. “Let me guess. “Anyway.

Alik has the eidetic memory as well as ultrastrength.” Evan smiled at his sister remembering how annoyed she got constantly bombarded with everyone else’s . Well. “You said Meg is an ‘empath?’ What is that. Meg is an empath. Her gift is the ability to sense the feelings. She calls herself an emotional superconductor. though lately I’m inventing.408/581 “Right. And I am not as much a ‘medical genius’ as an engineer.” Creed found himself looking at the younger male meta in front of him with a whole new sense of awe and respect. as you mentioned. so I can appreciate the assumption. thoughts and emotions of others. “I just see everything as a puzzle to be solved.” “No wonder Williams wants all of you back. exactly?” “‘Empath’ meaning empathy. especially those to whom she is linked somehow.” Evan shrugged modestly. building and problem solving the mechanics of the human and meta bodies more than anything.

not minds. her coyote?” “Yes. She reads emotions. “Exactly.” . They are quite a team. “Can she read minds?” Creed was very afraid of the thought that she knew what he was thinking all along. “No.” Evan gently corrected Creed’s grammar. She hand-raised him when he was orphaned back on the ranch in Texas.” “Maze. “Like who? You? Her family?” Creed asked ignoring Evan. those two.409/581 feelings and struggling to untangle them from her own. She has a really tight connection with Maze. too.” “Only her family?” “No.” “You said she could only do this with people she is linked with?” “With people to whom she is linked.

Alik couldn’t hold it any longer and busted out laughing.” Alik was only half joking as he looked around the cabin for something heavy and expendable. We could look around to see what we could dump.” Evan offered. The lighter the plane. ‘This is Your Life?’” Alik was walking back toward the boys with one eyebrow raised. “Now there’s an idea! Do we really need two pilots? I say we dump the heaviest one.410/581 “Are we still playing. Not knowing the boys well enough to get that they were kidding. . “You should see the expression on your face! That was priceless!” “Glad to help lighten the mood for you. “We’ll see. the less fuel it uses. Creed’s eyes widened with surprise. “Any luck helping ration the fuel?” Creed asked.” Creed chuckled good-naturedly at himself.

assuming she hasn’t had the opportunity to complete her objective yet. “If I don’t call him.” Evan concluded. “We have approximately 3 hours 47 minutes before we land.” From his pocket.” “Right. She’s probably stalking the house with her sniper rifle right now. that gives us about four hours before he is aware something’s wrong. He will be expecting me to call when we were to arrive at LAX. Creed removed a sleek-looking cell phone. When is Dr. he’ll call me on this. and we have a lot of planning to do. “What about Farrow?” Evan asked.411/581 Evan looked at his watch and said to the room. Come dark. “He wants status reports constantly. well. She’ll wear night . “Okay.” Creed looked down at his hands. she’ll switch weapons and tactics. Williams expecting you to check in?” Alik asked Creed. “She’s ruthless.

There’s a reason Williams sent her above anyone else. once Williams gets wind something’s wrong he’ll have a whole platoon on a private jet headed right to us.” Evan said logically. “Not a lot of room for error.” Creed agreed. One thing at a time. “Our first concern is getting Meg back to the house before .” Evan sighed. Matter of fact.” “Let’s not think about that yet. The sun sets at 7:22 today. have a powerful handgun with a silencer and she’ll find a way into the house. “Which is why we need to get to the house with Meg before sundown.” Alik offered. “No room for error.” Creed added sensing the level of anxiety bouncing off the walls of the small aircraft.” The brothers stared at him with wide eyes. “Farrow won’t be easy to defend against.412/581 vision. “Four hours from now will be just before 7pm.

Give him a few minutes. then he’ll be ready to share the plan with us.” Creed thought aloud.” Creed added looking at the metas in front of him. then locking the house down so we can work on Meg’s antidote.” Alik smiled proudly at his little brother and waited.” Evan said matter-of-factly. “I’ve seen this look before.413/581 nightfall. Evan had a far-away look on his face. He may even order a complete take-down. It .” “The most dangerous part will be when we’re outside the house trying to get Meg’s gurney out of the ambulance and into the house. “When Farrow sees us. “How are we going to do that?” Creed asked. safely. It depends on how badly he wants your blood. The more time Creed spent with the two Winter brothers. she’ll contact Williams immediately. the more he liked them. “Then we can’t let her see us.

at least I’ll die with honor fighting beside honorable men. if I’m going to die. Well.414/581 felt so good to know he was on the right team now. There was nothing Williams would want from a disobedient soldier who had betrayed his trust. he thought to himself. There would be no reason for her to hesitate pulling the trigger the moment she saw his face. . though it may only last a few more hours if Farrow has her way.

Theo. St. “He had her shot with malaria?” Margo was stunned. Williams must have created an unbelievably potent . Genus.” Paulie whispered.47 From Illness to Antigen “Malaria?” Theo asked. still unknown. Plasmodium.” Theo hurried to the computer to look up malaria’s signs.” Paulie was staring in to his highpowered microscope at the thin smear he made an hour before. Paul. “Yes. There were definitely parasites there. symptoms and treatments. sure he had misheard Dr. “Evidently. Meg was hit with this dart and dropped to the floor immediately. “But Malaria takes weeks to incubate before the infected person shows symptoms. “Consider the source. Species.

There must not have been enough parasites for us to detect yet. It’s also possible he had this dart tipped with a cocktail of toxins. one of which knocked her out immediately and/ or weakened her immune system.” Theo was trying to maintain his cool.” Paulie said. dear God. ” “Oh. but he was angry.416/581 strain of parasites. “Yes.” Theo summarized from the article he was reading. however super-mutated Williams made them to grow and spread. “How did we not see the parasites before? We’ve been studying her blood for days now!” “The parasites are most evident when the sample is taken during the infected patient’s highest fever.” Margo moaned. We didn’t see them because they weren’t there yet. . “We studied the sample we took when she first fell ill. this smear I’m looking at was taken right before she crashed. Her fever was up then.

Meg doesn’t have a lot of time for us to play scientists with trial and error. but these aren’t ordinary parasites. We probably need to prepare ourselves for the very real possibility that we’re going to have to create a unique antigen to fight these unique parasites. “Ordinarily. I would say she was still within the window of successful treatment. I really don’t know how effective the standard treatments are going to be on her.417/581 “She has been sick for four days now.” “I know. “To make matters worse. He didn’t even look .” Paulie just said aloud what the others in the room were thinking. Margo’s short-lived outburst didn’t faze the old scientist one bit. so scared for her little girl. I know…Paulie! You’re not saying anything I haven’t already thought of!” Margo was holding her head in her hands. How effective will any known antigen for malaria be four days into the illness?” Margo asked.

and we’ve all been working directly with Meg’s contaminated blood.” Having stayed quiet for as long as he could stomach. “Not to beat a dead horse. Theo couldn’t hold his tongue anymore. depraved. we all need to be treated against this strain of malaria. .418/581 away from the microscope as he added. “I want to wring the life out of that wicked. Paulie. but this is too much! I want his head on a platter!” Theo couldn’t contain his rage. poor excuse for a man! How dare he attack that innocent child! She’s done nothing to deserve his evil! I am a God-fearing man. Margo looked up at her usually mildmannered. too. immoral. but on a side note. sweet Theo and felt three things: 1) Pride in his protective nature for this little girl who wasn’t even his own blood. It’s highly contagious.” Margo’s face was still buried in her hands as she sighed and said. Crap. “Now that I hadn’t thought of.

Not having been a part of Margo’s amorous thoughts or epiphany. . In that instant.” She reached out and touched his arm affectionately. Yeah.” Theo breathed through clenched teeth understanding Margo was trying to help him calm down by giving him a menial task outside the lab. gentility. right. sense of right and wrong and unwavering determination to see good prevail against all odds. Margo decided she wanted to marry that sweet lug of a man. Theo was still seething and muttering under his breath. loyalty.419/581 2) Guilt for dragging him into her fight against Williams. “Theo. 3) Love for his kindheartedness. and she smiled to herself at the realization. “Coffee. would you please go to the kitchen and make a fresh pot of coffee for us? We’re going to need it. The stress was getting to all of them.

” His hands were shaking with anger as he scooped the coffee grinds into the machine causing him to spill. he didn’t even notice his son sitting at the kitchen table until Cole spoke. hey. super parasite and tipped that damn dart with it. shamelessly seeking an affectionate scratch between his ears. Williams created some mutant. “Malaria?” Cole turned in his seat to look at his father. He draped his head on Cole and whimpered. Cole. Whether it was because he heard Meg’s name or just was lonely enough for company. Well. we think we’ve figured out what’s making Meg so sick: malaria. “Not just a normal species of malaria. either. .” His voice was strained and exhausted. Maze’s large frame came lumbering into the kitchen.420/581 Deep in thought. “What’s the latest?” “Oh. His nails clicked softly on the tile floor as he made his way to the first lap he could find.

“I was wondering the same thing. We won’t know until we start to try.” “How soon will they get here?” “We have about two and a half hours before their plane is expected to land. It’s those unknowns that could make curing Meg very difficult.421/581 “What does that mean. “This parasite has some of the same components as the known species. With four normal species of malaria. but not all. dad?” Theo was leaning against the sink. arms crossed.” The coffee maker was gurgling already and the aroma of coffee was beginning to fill the room. dad? Can she be cured?” “We’re still not sure. which antigen was needed to treat the illness. usually a smear of the patient’s blood would be sufficient to determine which parasite was present and subsequently. Even I don’t know enough about all of this to .” “What can I do to help.

Mostly Evan. You’re welcome to join us in the lab. Meg needs a completely different kind of science. “I’m just an ER doctor. “Wow.422/581 be much help.” He paused for a moment before adding.” “Yeah. Maybe you and Maze could walk through the house again? I don’t know what else to offer. .” Cole mumbled. right. If someone’s in a car accident and comes in with broken bones and blood coming out of everywhere. “You’re doing everything you can already.” Theo walked over to his son and put his hand on his shoulder. but there’s not much for you to do there. We’re really going to have to lean on Evan. then I can help. I suppose. Paulie and Margo as this is more along the lines of their science. That thirteen-year-old kid is smarter than all of us combined. blinds and curtains closed and lights on. either. kiddo by making sure the house is locked up. what I wouldn’t give to be able to think the way Evan does.

“Me. He got up and grabbed a broom and tray to clean up the spilled coffee grinds. Cole threw the collected grinds into the trash.” With that. Andrews grabbed the pot of freshly brewed coffee. . three clean mugs. as it is I’m just the guy they send to go get more coffee.” Cole called back automatically. and began walking back down the corridor toward the lab.” Dr. Talk about feeling helpless. “Damn it’s hard being a regular human. It’s not even the same playing field between humans and metas. “I love you.” he called over his shoulder. Heck. Maze. or has a nicer car.423/581 “I’ve got to get back. son. too. Most guys are worried about how much taller another guy is. I’m not smart enough or strong enough to help when the girl of my dreams needs me. or if he makes more money.

Winter back in California and they left me again flying off with that psychopath Creed to Germany. doesn’t it? We both love Meg. “I guess you get left behind.” he said miserably. Cole sat on the floor beside him.” He looked over at Maze who was lying on the tile now with his head resting on his front paws.” He patted the coyote’s meaty flank good-naturedly. too.” Maze stood beside Cole obediently and walked the already well-worn path around the house. “And I’m always getting left behind.” The coyote whined pathetically. As they were passing through the . “They left me when they went to get Dr.424/581 Angry tears started to form. “Hey. It sucks. “You wanna go check the house with me again? Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a juicy gecko to chase. at least you get to snuggle with her in bed most every night. Don’t think I’m not jealous of you. but all she ever does is ditch us. too. then sighed. but Cole refused to cry.

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living room, the coyote deviated from the path and walked to the back door. He scratched twice then turned to look at Cole. “Dude, do you have to go?” Maze whined in response. “Hum…okay, but make it fast. We’re supposed to be in lock down, remember?” Cole walked to the door and pulled the curtains aside just enough to look out. He saw the blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean. He saw the green plants leaning with the will of the wind. He saw birds preening themselves on the telephone wires. What he didn’t see was Farrow three-quarters of a mile away in full camouflage peering through her sniper rifle’s scope. Cole unbolted the lock and opened the door just enough to let Maze through, then closed it behind the coyote. He watched as Maze sniffed around the grassy area seven yards away from the door.

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48 K.I.S.S.
“I need to call mom,” Evan said after a few minutes of silence. “Okay. The code is 992-996, and then wait for the dial tone,” Creed called to Evan who was seated next to his sister again. “Thanks.” Evan picked up the phone and dialed as instructed. It only rang once before he heard his mother’s familiar voice. “Hey, mom. It’s Evan.” “Evan, is everything okay?” “We’re fine mom. We’re on schedule to arrive at nineteen-hundred hours.” Evan and Alik had decided not to worry their mother about the low fuel issue, so they hadn’t told her. There’s nothing she could do about it and they had already made up their minds to turn back anyway. She had enough to worry about as it was.

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“Meggie? How are her stats?” “Stable, thankfully. She’s been stable the entire flight.” “Listen, Ev. It’s malaria. Not any of the normal species of parasite, but Paulie’s sure it’s malaria. He thinks Williams tipped the dart with some super mutant species he created. We’re trying to figure out if any of the known treatments will work on this strain.” “Mutant Malaria? Doesn’t this man have a life outside of his evil science? What’s next? A new plague? Mind-controlled gorillas? Flesh-eating tomatoes?” “Evan, calm down.” Margo had to remind herself sometimes that he was just a thirteen-year-old boy, however intelligent. And sometimes he was going to have age-appropriate reactions under extreme stress. She heard him take a deep breath and exhale. “Better?” she asked. “I guess I have to be,” he resigned.

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“How’s Creed? Can you tell if we have his allegiance or is he still on the fence? “No, he’s a good guy now. He threw his lot in with us the minute he told the pilots to turn the plane around. There’s no turning back for him now.” “Good. I thought that’s what happened, but I wouldn’t have put it past you and Alik to have duct taped the boy to the wall if he tried to stop you from bringing Meg home,” Margo only half teased. “Duct tape probably wouldn’t have held this guy, mom. He’s incredibly strong. Let’s just say I’m glad he’s on our side now.” Evan looked over at Creed and smiled into the phone. “Williams is going to be livid when he finds out.” “Speaking of Williams, how do you guys plan to get back into the house safely? That female meta is still outside waiting for a target, right?”

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“Yeah, that’s really the reason I called. I need you to make us one heck of a smoke screen.” “Excellent idea.” “Yeah, I was thinking you could make the kind out of instant cold packs and newspapers. Remember when we did that back at the ranch?” Chuckling Margo said, “Oh, yes. I remember that mess! The breeze blew all the smoke right into the house!” “Yeah, those were some good times.” Evan was grinning widely. “We’re going to have to time it perfectly,” Margo said. “Make as many as you can, mom. Smoke grenades may come in handy later, too.” “Will do. I’ll get Theo and Cole to help me.” “Okay, I’ll call in thirty minutes to check in. I love you, mom.” “I love you, more, Evan.”

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Click. Evan didn’t hang up the phone right away. Instead he held it to his forehead, thinking. He was trying to remember everything he ever read about malaria. “That’s the plan?” Creed asked. “Smoke bombs?” “Sometimes the simplest tactic is the best.” Evan looked up, and shrugged at Creed. “Ever heard of K.I.S.S.?” Alik interjected. He had been drawing a schematic of Paulie’s house from memory and didn’t look to have been listening to the conversations going on around him. “Kiss?” Creed blushed as his eyes darted involuntarily toward Meg. “No, not ‘kiss,’—K.I.S.S. It’s an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Alik smiled widely at Creed before returning to his drawing.

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“Oh, right. K.I.S.S.” Creed murmured as though he knew it all along. “Sometimes the more elaborate the plan, the more room for errors. See what I mean?” Evan said. “Yeah, that’s a military tactical maneuver we were taught at the Facility. One of many. It just wasn’t called that,” Creed thought back to his life on the campus and shook the memory from his head. “How do you know about ammonium nitrate bombs? That’s not exactly common knowledge to American kids, is it?” Creed asked. “Not much about our childhoods could be considered ‘common.’ Mom taught us how to make different bombs when we were little kids,” Alik answered. Evan was still listening to the conversation, but had stepped over to the gurney and was retrieving a new bag of I.V. fluids for his sister. “How did she know about bombs?”

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“Mom knows a lot about a lot. She’s a very intelligent and resourceful person. She was special forces before she was our mom.” Evan’s skilled fingers were checking his sister’s vitals. “I had no idea she was anything besides a doctor,” Creed picked up the broken arm rest from their fight and pulled out a SwissArmy knife. “She’s still a regular human being though she acts unbreakable. She really is just all heart with a fragile body. That’s why we’re so protective of her,” Evan was finishing his notes on Meg’s chart when he heard Creed inhale sharply through his teeth. “What’s wrong?” Alik was up and out of his chair in the blink of an eye. “Nothing. I’m fine—just a little tender from getting my ass kicked by two metas a couple hours ago.” Creed had been kneeling beside the broken arm rest with his small screwdriver. Alik and Evan watched as

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Creed’s facial expression changed from a grimace to blank. Then he stood looking as though nothing had happened. “What the heck was that about?” Alik asked genuinely confused. “Nothing. I told you; I’m fine.” Creed said nonchalantly helping himself to a soda from the small fridge bulk side. “Anyone want a drink?” Evan squinted at the meta and said, “Lift your shirt, please.” “What? Why?” “Don’t freak out, dude. He’s basically a doctor. Let him check you out.” Creed rolled his eyes, but lifted his Tshirt up over his head. Even Alik could see the problem. Something was wrong in his lower left ribcage area. “You have at least one, possibly two broken or fractured ribs,” Evan said matter-

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of-factly. “I would need to do X-rays to be sure.” “It happens,” Creed said with a shrug and began putting his T-shirt back on. “Let me at least wrap that for you.” “I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt anymore.” “C’mon, we’re on the same side now. You don’t have to keep playing tough meta soldier with us.” “I’m not. Look, it hurt at first, but I just turned off the pain, so I’m good.” The brothers exchanged looks. “You ‘turned off the pain?’ What does that mean?” Alik asked. Creed felt embarrassed talking about himself, especially to these two guys who he really admired…and because they’re the brothers of the girl he couldn’t stop thinking about. “Do you mean you can turn off your pain sensors at will?”

I guess so. most metas are strong and smart. but I seem to have an ability. again. “I don’t know why. It’s how I survived the match against my brother Gavil. but yeah. . I can turn off my pain. “Look.” “Does Williams know about your—gift?” Evan asked.” Creed really wanted to change the subject. You each had at least one enhanced ability he believed came from the formula he gave you to turn you into metas.” Creed paused to shrug humbly.436/581 “I don’t know how it works. right? Williams always wanted you three back because you weren’t just strong and smart. “Yeah. but…. Realizing they weren’t going to drop the subject until he explained more he said. too. Nothing as cool as you three. like flipping a light switch.” Creed was fidgeting with the top of the soda can in his hands.

” Alik said with a grin. timidly walked into the main cabin and asked.437/581 “I think he suspects. I told him I didn’t know. Creed wasn’t used to compliments at all. “What do you mean ‘nothing as cool as you three?’ I can’t tell you how many times I would have loved to switch off pain! I think that is an awesome ability. who had made herself very scarce since witnessing the boys fighting. Missy. so he just shrugged and turned away.” Her eyes darted to the floor then got huge as she caught sight of the .” Evan said thoughtfully.” “Hum…. interesting. After the match. he questioned me about how I could come back from being stabbed in the kidney to win the fight. “The pilots insisted I offer. “Is there anything I can get any of you?” All three boys looked up at Missy as though they had forgotten all about her until now.

gentlemen. “Food would be a good idea.” Alik smiled innocently at Missy. “That poor girl is probably going to hand in her resignation the moment we touch ground. “Okay. I could eat.438/581 passenger seat that was still missing an arm rest. “She’ll probably consider suing for posttraumatic stress disorder that forced her to give up her promising career. poor kid. “Food would be nice. It’ll just be a few minutes.” Evan shook his head in an exaggerated gesture of sadness.” Alik teased knowing the lady was at least ten years older than himself.” Evan said. this trip has not been an easy one for her. Then she’ll write a book about how to survive an in- . “Yeah. You guys hungry?” Creed asked casually.” Missy smiled warily at the boys before turning to busy herself in the galley. “Sure.

but you may as well plan for it to be considered science fiction.439/581 flight threat from terrorists and make millions. leaned back and closed his eyes.” Evan muttered mostly to himself. Maybe after all this is over. anyway. I’ll write a book about what happened to the three of us.” “Well Ali. For the first time in longer than he could remember.” “Which part?” “The writing of a book part. No one would ever believe it really happened. Ev.” “There are times even I don’t believe it. He was hoping to get a short nap before the dehydrated meals were served. you have the memory for it.” “Yeah. Moments later the brothers heard Creed snoring softly from his seat.” “Now there’s an idea. Creed chuckled at the brothers. you’re right. he felt hopeful about his future. . fantasy.

440/581 .

a soldier known for her ability to stalk a target for hours on end. Yeah. Three hours had passed since she last saw movement outside the house and for three hours she had waited for her chance to finish this assignment. Farrow. So. . Farrow had lain on her stomach in the dirt and grass with her eye glued to her scope. for six and a half hours. the wait was definitely getting to her. She had to wipe her hands on a chalk bag periodically to help her maintain her grip on the rifle. A pool of sweat had formed in the small of her back. It was hot and humid. was feeling very itchy. and the front of her uniform was drenched. but she didn’t know whether it was more from perspiration or the moisture in the dirt.49 Target Practice The wait was getting to her.

At the doorway. hell yeah. and the longer she had to think about it. She was getting very angry. Movement. If she played this right. she thought to herself. One shot. then the canine. Oh. No. she could take out the human first. She . that wasn’t the problem. The back door opened and out came the coyote again.442/581 but not because of the aforementioned conditions. and that’s when she saw it. This woman and her metas felt like a personal threat to Farrow. the more she determined that life as she knew it was hanging in the balance here. a human’s head peeked out briefly before ducking back inside and closing the door. one kill. A droplet of sweat trickled down her cheek and fell to the already damp dirt below. One shot. She wasn’t getting tired. one kill. Farrow was resolute in her intention to remove that threat.

It was half in. The coyote finished doing its business and began trotting back to the house. half out of the doorway with its legs still visible to Farrow. Controlling her breathing to steady herself. She didn’t care which human it was. she squeezed the trigger and watched happily as the figure spun around with the bullet’s impact and fell to the ground.443/581 resumed chanting the sniper’s mantra in her mind. she was not going to miss out this time. She had half a second to respond to the figure standing only partly exposed. . She didn’t have long to wait. It was dead meat next time the door opened. The person must have been watching for the animal because the door opened when it approached. After missing out on eliminating three targets three hours ago because of fear that she’d give away her element of surprise.

Margo Winter because of the . she took aim. The door slammed shut. She resisted the natural urge to stare at the motionless body that was her first target and instead quickly located the barking coyote in her scope. but he didn’t fall to the ground like he should have. “Damn it.” Farrow cursed herself for missing the kill. panicked bark that carried over the distance to Farrow’s ears. She wasn’t given another chance. She inhaled slowly. She was pretty sure that human wasn’t Dr. The coyote’s yelp was instantaneous. and squeezed the trigger.444/581 The coyote immediately began barking. a piercing. Again. Weighing her options. again controlling her breathing. Farrow decided it was getting late enough for her to prepare her next attack. The coyote ran into the house. yelping and moments later. the body of the human was dragged back into the house. and all was still.

dense and inaccessible her location had been. Because of how remote. it took her a while to make it down to where she left her motorcycle hidden in the greenery. When she arrived.445/581 size of the frame. St. Paul and Farrow knew of no other persons in the house. changed clothing. Even as she watched the sun get lower in the sky. Paul house. Andrews or his son. She believed it to have been a male. gathered the gear she would need for this next attack and waited for nightfall. It wasn’t a fat enough shape to have been Dr. She stayed on her belly as she packed her gear quickly and crawled back down the other side of the hill until she was sure she couldn’t be seen from the St. She was anxious to get her hands on Margo Winter. she replenished fluids and calories. either Dr. even with high powered scopes. She may . she thought through all the possible scenarios and savored the idea of finishing little Miss Margo last.

She smiled at the thought. He would really love that! And when she returned to the Facility. .446/581 even take pictures with her cell phone to send as a gift back to Dr. he would shower her with honors in front of everyone. but no one was there except a deadly Farrow in the bush. If anyone had been nearby they would have swore they heard giggling coming from what looked to be a thickly overgrown section of the mountainside. Williams.

son. “Whose house is this?” “Paulie’s. one at a time. “Do you know where you are?” “Apparently.” “Why am I on the floor?” “Cole. and flashed a small pen light into them checking for reaction. look at me.” Theo lifted his son’s eyelids carefully.” “What?” “You were shot. “Cole!” .” Cole’s speech was beginning to slur.50 Patients Without Patience “What happened?” “You were shot. I’m on the floor. We need to get you back to the lab.” “Do you know what day it is?” “Um…” Cole mumbled and his eyes rolled back.

With a strength he didn’t even know he had. gosh stop yelling at me. Perfect! Though he didn’t want to let go of the pressure he was keeping on the gunshot wound.” Cole furrowed his brows defiantly. They were on the opposite side of the house from the lab. Keeping one hand on his son’s body to both steady him and . I just got shot.448/581 “What?” His voice was groggy. he pulled the unconscious boy into a sitting position on the chair. His eyes scanned the room for anything nearby that could help. The desk in the corner of the room had a plush rolling chair. blinked twice. he needed to get the boy on the chair and wheel him to the lab—and he needed to do this quickly. “Stay with me. Theo knew the others in the house wouldn’t hear him if he yelled for help and Cole was much too heavy for him to carry. then passed out. buddy! Stay awake!” “Okay. ya know.

“Cole’s been shot! Margo. and the other hand on the back of the chair. this was completely different. He was shaking violently as he rushed his son to the same gurney Meg had occupied hours before. This was his little boy. Theo ran directly to the sliding doors of the lab and cursed the slowness of the doors as they parted for him. He was already yelling to the two doctors inside for help before the second set of sliding doors even began to open. literally . Andrews had seen gunshot wounds hundreds of times in the emergency room of his hospital back in Kansas. he steered as quickly as he could across the house. “Oh. my God! What happened?” Margo had dropped what she was doing. Paulie! My son’s been shot!” Though Dr.449/581 maintain pressure on the bleeding wound.

V. I think he let Maze out to relieve himself and…oh.” Margo said slipping easily into the role of ER doctor. God. There’s so much blood.. She reached for the medical cart beside her.” Paulie .” “Did he say anything before he passed out?” Paulie was just a few steps behind Margo and was already reaching for saline to start cleaning the wound. rifle—I’d put money on it. a long range. She helped him lift Cole onto the bed. “No.450/581 and came running across the large room to Theo. herself. “I’m starting an I. “I don’t know. highpowered.” Theo was standing back a little now. A sniper rifle did this. making room for the other two doctors to work on Cole. “The bullet looks to have gone right through the muscle in his upper arm. nothing really—it all happened so fast. yanked open a drawer and found the package she needed.

” “Missed?” Theo yelled in a flash of anger. Theo. Andrew’s face fell silent and pale.” As Paulie examined. “Damn. the bullet missed the bone. “Okay.” she said as she grabbed white tape to secure the needle in place and covered the site with a large piece of sterile gauze. from what I can see so far.” “Well. She . Two inches north and we would have had a blown out shoulder joint. let’s roll him. Margo? We need to turn him on his side so I can look at the back. The shooter was aiming for his head.” Dr. “You done over there. He’s lucky it missed.451/581 said shaking his head as he continued to assess the damages.” “Almost. this bullet was traveling at one hell of a velocity. Margo set up a blood pressure and heart rate monitor. I can tell you that. “Yeah.

452/581 also finished cutting off the remainder of Cole’s shirt to get it out of the way. Back in the living room where all the chaos had begun. “I should be helping. Never thought I’d have to use my skills as an Army surgeon after forty years. Maze was crouched under . Theo.” he said weakly. and began numbing the area. St. but here we are. Shall we?” he said to no one in particular. let’s get this boy fixed up. “We need to finish cleaning the wound and get started on reconstructing this muscle. though. ready with the anesthesia?” “Yes. sir. but the humerus looks intact. We’re going to have our hands full putting his biceps back together. Okay?” Margo said soothingly. “Well. Margo.” she said and handed Dr. You pray while we work. Paul a syringe filled with a local pain killer. “It’s pretty miraculous. “You are helping.” Theo had found a chair.

He had several large splinters of wood lodged in his flank. I hadn’t even thought about Maze. but everyone was so worried about Cole no one thought to look for Maze. Unfortunately. “I don’t know. He was doing what any coyote would do when hurt. was he?” Margo asked. He whimpered softly as he licked and tried to gently bite at the painful wooden shards. Not until Cole’s surgery was complete and he was stabilized did anyone think to wonder about Maze. Farrow’s missed shot hit the wooden door right beside Maze sending an explosion of wood splinters into the air. “Theo. I’ve been so worried about Cole. He was methodically licking his wound.453/581 the sofa table. It wasn’t a bullet wound he was nursing. do you remember seeing Maze? He wasn’t hurt.” Theo felt guilty for inwardly blaming the coyote for his son’s injuries. and he was hurting too much to go look for them. It wasn’t Maze’s .

She rounded the corner to look in Meg’s room. . but I’ll come with you to look for him.454/581 fault.” he said. I need to get some food in this old belly of mine. “Paulie?” “Nope. With a sinking feeling settling in her stomach. I haven’t seen the fur ball in hours. “Maze? Are you in here?” she called. Margo excused herself from Cole’s beside and began walking the house in search of her daughter’s coyote. I’ve been stuck in the lab most of the day. come here boy!” She waited quietly for the familiar padding of his paws on the tile floors of this Hawaiian house that had become home. “Maze? Maze. He’s just an animal who was doing as he has been trained. Paulie took a detour to the kitchen to throw a frozen dinner into the microwave. patting his ample middle. but no sound came.

. “What’s gotten into you? Honey. Maze growled. then whimpered apologetically. she heard a faint whimper from under Meg’s bed. Maze. Will you please come out from under there?” She spoke to the coyote as though he was a child. I only want to help you.455/581 In response. a sign of stress in canines. Let me see what happened to you. no. “Oh. “Maze!” Margo gasped. “Maze? What are you doing under there?” Margo leaned down and reached to lift the bedskirt. surprised and quickly withdrew her hand. He yawned widely. come here boy. That’s when she noticed the blood stains. but didn’t move. His yellow eyes glowed in the darkness and if Margo weren’t sure this coyote was perfectly tamed.” The coyote whimpered again. she would have thought twice about reaching her hand in to touch his soft fur.

” The doctor grimace when she saw his back and hind quarter with chunks of fur and flesh mangled with both dried and oozing blood. Several large pieces of splintered wood were still deeply lodged into his flank.” she coaxed. Crawling. “Oh.” She stood slowly so as not to startle the anxious. clean the wound. Every movement caused him to moan and yip painfully. the two doctors worked to anesthetize the coyote. I know it hurts. the coyote made his way slowly out from under the bed. Maze. belly to the floor. . “That’s my boy. “I’m so sorry. I’m going to get help. Good boy. I’m in Meg’s room. Mazie.456/581 “C’mon Mazie. and Maze is hurt!” Together. You stay right here. hurting animal and hurried to the doorway. you poor dear. keep coming.” she cooed softly. okay. “Paulie! Come quick.

457/581 remove the pieces of wood.” Paulie was saying as they finished cleaning the impromptu operating room that was Meg’s bedroom floor.V.” She was gently rubbing his ears and stroking his sleeping eyes. but . “We did good. The kindhearted. but I’m getting too old for this. He loved it when she did that and if he were awake he would be making the cutest happy noises. “Well. stitch up the cuts and start him on a round of I. he’ll need to stay tranquilized until we get the full round of antibiotics in him anyway. “Well. “I don’t have an Elizabethan collar for him. “I hate to say it. but we could make one if he needs it when he wakes up. Paulie stood slowly and stretched his back. I’m thinking two days will do. we’re not veterinarians. thankful for his help. antibiotics.” Margo called to Paulie. quirky doctor turned and said.” He smiled ruefully and made his way stiffly out of the room.

. We’ve always been our strongest when we’re together.” She heard the sound of his sandals getting further away. we’ll all be back together. Margo curled a blanket around the sleeping coyote. Paulie!” she called affectionately after him. this injury was pretty much like treating a human. “A very hairy human. you know! And we’re going to get her all better so you two can…” her voice caught in her throat. “You’re not so bad yourself. kiddo!” he called back.” He smiled wider and added.” She blinked back tears and forced herself to think positively. Maze.458/581 besides knowing what kind and how much anesthesia to give a sixty-pound canine. “Meg is going to be so happy to see you.” “You’re the best. She’s coming home. “Well. “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.

When the wailing continued. everyone on the first floor of the hospital was alarmed. she was one of only a handful of staff who had been given a numerical code that would give access to the building’s stairwell down to the basement. are you all right?” More polite knocking. Having earned her status with years of exemplary service to the Facility’s hospital. “Hello? Is someone in there? Is everything okay? We heard…well. Determined to restore order to her hospital. This was to be used in emergencies only and in all her years of service at the . the charge nurse from the first floor decided to investigate the sounds herself.51 Infinite Possibilities “Hello?” a voice came from outside in the corridor accompanied by a soft rapping.

460/581 hospital. she spoke again. unaffected by the light streaming in from open door. “Hello? I’m a nurse. It turned easily in her hand and sprang ajar. Not wanting to startle the person inside. Then the innocent nurse heard a guttural. She reached down and tried the knob. Can I help you?” The dark room became silent for a moment. she decided she had no choice but to open the door. Knowing there was no other room in the basement except this one. she had never had a reason to use that access until today when the screams and wails continued to echo through the floor boards. but she . The sobs continued. animal-like growl reverberate from the far corner. the nurse had to assume the cries came from behind the door to which she now held her ear. When only muffled sobs answered her patient knocking. She couldn’t see.

That she had never seen him before. . Though very much afraid. In his arms.461/581 could hear and it didn’t sound human or meta. What looked at first to be a bundle of clothes tossed into the corner was instead a man she didn’t recognize. she swore she hadn’t recognized the man. she regretted it. He was cradling her thin frame in his arms like a baby and rocking back and forth. She described what she saw and felt terrified tears stream down her face during the entire interview. and the memory was seared into her mind even as she ran screaming from the room. he held a girl. Upon subsequent interrogation by the Commander himself. When he lifted his face the nurse later swore it was the most horrifying sight she had ever witnessed. The moment she did. morbid curiosity commanded her hand flip on the light switch.

He had chunks of hair ripped off his scalp leaving bloody. “Beside him were vials. clasped his hands . He looked monstrous.” The commander removed his piercing gaze from the nurse.” she said motioning to her own head.462/581 “The man’s eyes were sunken deep into his skull and dead. Swallowing hard. black like a shark’s.” “What were the markings on the vials?” the commander asked. sir. “Blood ran down his face and dripped on the body in his arms. the nurse continued. I’d recognize that symbol anywhere. I recognized them immediately by their packaging. “They were vials of the Infinity Serum. but he just kept rocking back and forth like he was going to sing a lullaby to the woman.” Shaking. she reached for the bottled water in front of her before finishing. though he knew the answer to his question even before he asked it. bald patches.

“Sir.’” The woman looked up with pleading eyes.” The nurse stood and began walking obediently toward the door but stopped halfway there.” Commander Oldham closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath. and .463/581 behind his back and asked. “It was something like: ‘Ego sus-ci-tatio bestia intus. “Was there anything else? Did he say anything to you?” The girl was so scared her mouth went dry and her heart thumped hard enough to vibrate her vision. I’ll have a chaperone escort you back to your quarters. “And that’s when I ran. He laughed and screamed something I couldn’t understand—it—it was a different language!” “Say what you remember of it!” The commander was losing his patience with this witness. what’s going to happen? Who was he. She turned and blurted. sir. “Yes. “Please wait outside.

“Silence your tongue! You forget your place!” he spat. shocked.” He slammed the phone down and sat at his computer to think. He expected sorrow. picked up the phone and pressed a single button.464/581 who was the girl? Did he kill her? Did the serum do that to him? Why…” “Soldier!” barked Oldham angrily. The Director had dosed himself with the Infinity Serum. the woman nodded once and left the room to wait in the seats outside the Commander’s office. Oldham walked to his desk. Startled by his reaction. that much was just confirmed by the nurse. Call me when it’s done. sure—a grieving period where he . “The woman seated outside my office is to be terminated immediately. He had crossed the length of the room instantaneously and was now inches away from her face. It never occurred to him that the scientist would react like this. Oldham shook his head.

each new meta was volatile and unpredictable for a while.465/581 mourned the girl. understandable. He’d heard there was a huge mortality rate during the initial days after a subject was dosed. Refining his search. but even he knew that the Infinity Serum was only tested on expendable subjects. the more worried he became. He flipped open his laptop and typed in the search engine the words the woman had remembered. Others were too unstable and were considered inadequate for meta training. Some went on to be added as a cadet to the Facility. most of them referred to the words as Latin. And even then. Of all the sites that pulled up. What would it do to a sixty-five-year-old man? What was Williams thinking? The more he thought. he found . But he never knew of the serum to be given to a subject older than fifteen. But this? This was…unthinkable! Oldham wasn’t a scientist. Those subjects were terminated.

It only took a couple attempts for him to get the general idea of Williams’ statement. “Ego suscitatio bestia intus” translated to “I awakened the beast within.” . He whispered the translation to himself and worried that he was about to get what he had wished for.466/581 a Latin to English translator.

” Evan said as he made his way back down the aisle after visiting the cockpit. He’s lucky to be alive. too. Evan sat down slowly muttering. Creed said. She’s . “Cole and Maze are stable.” Alik stared at his brother with wide eyes.52 Coming in for a Landing “Okay. Mom and Paulie just finished reconstructing his biceps. “I was just about to say the same thing. “I can’t wait to get my hands on that—” Interrupting. it was by flying debris from a missed shot and not directly from a bullet. “Farrow played target practice with Cole. She clipped his arm. But thankfully. I have some good news and some bad news. Maze was hurt. Farrow must be getting desperate if she missed her targets like that.” Alik said after having just spoken with his mom.

what’s your news? What’s going on with the pilots?” Alik asked.” “What was the good news?” Evan asked somberly. The cabin was quiet for a moment as the metas imagined being partially blinded for four minutes while trying to get Meg safely out of the ambulance and rolled up the walkway and into the house.” Alik said trying to sound positive. What’s the bad?” Creed asked. This is more telling of her state of mind than anything. It was going to be tricky. “The pilots tell me that we’re going to begin our decent now.” “That sounds like good news. Evan said. “Evan. “The good news is that mom made enough smoke bombs to give us near blackout coverage for probably four minutes. Sighing deeply to clear his head.468/581 usually an expert sniper. .

but I’m going to check Meg’s safety straps for the hundredth time. “Well. I’ve been in contact with the tower and they have cleared the path for us to just come on in. We’ve already begun our decent and can see the island in the distance. “They’ve been fighting crosswinds that have taken up more fuel than the flight planner anticipated. that’s for sure.” He looked over at his brother and nodded. The speaker hissed awake and the captain’s voice came on.” . boys…we’re in for a bumpy landing. They’ll have emergency vehicles standing by to help as soon as we’re down. then strap myself in.” All three boys began moving around the cabin quickly in preparation.” “What can we do?” Creed asked the room. I don’t know about you.469/581 “We’re riding in on fumes.” Evan said seriously. “Well. “Then we’re going to pray.

and with a little luck we may just pull this off. they were taxing casually to the terminal. From below their feet. with the softest of bumps. It all felt so surreal. and then. or am I dead?” Creed asked to the stunned cabin. The gray of the tarmac was right below them. . We’re going to do our best to keep this bird behaving as we need her to. the tires touched the runway. It’s been an honor serving you. they felt the vibrations as the landing gear was deployed and locked into place. The flaps were pulled up to slow the plane and just like that. please make sure the safety harnesses on our patient are secure then secure yourselves into your seats. Jacobi out. The green of the island replaced the blue of the water.” From the windows the passengers saw the ocean move closer and closer into view. “That was it? Have we landed.470/581 At this time.

” Creed was unfastening his seatbelt. “Except him. That was the damn-dest thing I’ve ever seen! Trainer? Have you ever heard of something like this? Me either! I’ll be talking about this flight for the next fifty years! That was awesome! Hang on. God!” Alik said aloud.” Alik smiled. “Thank you. Captain Jacobi came over the speaker laughing. . a tailwind carried us right to the tarmac and set us gently on the ground.471/581 Before anyone could answer. “Did you feel that? Guys. that was probably the smoothest landing I’ve ever made at this airport. the tower’s calling me…” and the ecstatic voice of the pilot clicked off. brother! Mom’s going to love this story!” Evan grinned widely. Somehow. “Williams. “Amen. “You kidding? Who wouldn’t?” Creed said relieved.

“The tower’s givin’ me a hard time about them having to pull out all their emergency . now—enough with the mushy stuff. he brushed his lips softly against her pale cheek. I can’t wait to see you smile.472/581 “Farrow. “Hi. We’ve got to get her unloaded and on that bus down there.” Alik was so thrilled to be so close to safety.” Creed walked over to Meg and gently touched her forehead with his hands.” Without thinking.” Evan added jumping up from his seat and looked at the ambulance waiting for them at the gate. “…and her. Leaning down he whispered. he felt like running the whole way home. “Hey. beautiful! We’re back on land and taking you home. The ground crew was opening the special ambulatory hatch that acted as a ramp for Meg’s gurney when the two captains came back to help.

. Trainer was saying. They could afford to relax and celebrate now. The two men were smiling and smacking each other on the back like a couple of football players who just threw. They weren’t on their way to face a furious female meta named Farrow who had personalized bullets waiting for them.473/581 vehicles and personnel for nothing! Ha! They don’t believe me that we have zero fuel left on this bird!” “It really was the most remarkable landing I’ve ever been a part of. caught and scored the winning touchdown.” Mr.

so I thought I’d go out with a bang. I also gave . Creed smiled.” “You don’t mean…” Alik started. “Working for Williams. All that’s about to be cut off. frowning. her gurney and all her medical equipment.53 Orographic Effects “How did you talk the driver out of giving you the keys to this ambulance?” Evan asked Creed as they were cruising down the road with Meg. I had access to as much money as I needed to accomplish my objectives. “I asked him how much money he made in a year working as a paramedic and gave him double that in cash. “I gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Creed glanced over at Alik and Evan. taking his eyes off the road only for a second.

and here on . “Is that a huge rain cloud up there?” Creed said amazed at how quickly the weather changed from the crisp blue skies of the airport. “I’ll feel better once we get Meg healthy.” “It’s time to text Mom.” “Is it just me or does it seem to be getting darker?” Creed said. They certainly earned it!” “Nice.” he said changing the tone of the conversation. “Yes. This isn’t good. “Oh.” Alik moaned. “We all will. The greatest influencing factor in Hawaiian weather is orographic. Creed! So. Do you see that?” Evan pointed upward as they rounded a ridge. how does it feel to be a good guy?” Alik teased.475/581 the pilots and Missy double their yearly salaries each.” “What is our ETA?” “GPS says eight minutes. “Damn it. no.

Smoke bombs don’t work in the rain. Paulie’s house is on the west coast—great for surfing.” Alik explained. West side of the island is wetter than east side.” Evan finished and pulled his head back into the ambulance. sloppy. . The higher up on a mountain.…” Splat! “…rain.” Alik had to raise his voice to be heard over the hugely thick droplets that had begun to splat flat onto the windshield of the ambulance.” Evan was craning his head out of the window to look upcountry. “This is going to pose a serious problem. black clouds are already starting to release.476/581 the Big Island. “Elevation. but also great for rain bursts. “Those dense. “What is he talking about?” Creed asked Alik. He wiped the big. the more dramatic the weather. raindrop from his forehead with his T-shirt.

“Do you want me to pull over and wait it out?” Creed asked. “Well. They looked at one another and nodded in agreement. The other two boys looked back at him with raised eyebrows.477/581 “Maybe Farrow will be caught off guard by the rain. “Let me cover Meg. Leave all the . “We’re all going to cover her as we push her gurney and run like heck. too. We’re going to have to just do this. can’t one?” Ignoring Evan and his goofy optimism Alik said. “It’s too late.” Evan said hopefully. Mom’s expecting us now and will have already lit the bombs—or tried to. guys. “We can’t call mom now.” Creed said seriously. We have to maintain silence since Farrow is probably listening in on a scanner.” Alik said. one can hope.” Alik said ominously.

doesn’t it? I am completely healthy. “Absolutely.478/581 medical equipment on the bus. I’ll cover her with my body so any bullets will hit me and not her. “Are you serious?” Alik asked. I put her in this position to begin with. “It makes sense. ignoring his brother’s logistics. so you guys don’t have to worry about me whining like a baby if I’m hit…and besides. I’ll be her shield. I don’t want anything else to hurt her.” “You’ll have to be careful not to crush her with your weight. I can turn off pain. and the gurney’s going to be really heavy with you on it. Ever. “That’s not what I mean. too.” “You’d do that for her?” Alik asked.” . Just worry about…” Alik was talking a mile a minute. I’m saying.” Creed’s eyes didn’t leave the road as he struggled to see through the flapping windshield wipers.

Evan. release the legs. Try to park as close to the house as . what do you think?” Alik asked his brother while staring at Creed’s profile.” Alik nodded. I climb on. crouch on top of her and cover her as much as possible without hurting her. “He’s going to have to help us unload her first. “I’m going to start getting Meg ready to unload.” “Okay. I don’t think the gurney could sustain his weight and release its legs and wheels correctly. Sound like a plan?” “Sounds like one hell of a plan.479/581 “I think it’s a good idea. We don’t want to end up on the ground out there. so as soon as we get the gurney on the ground. You guys both run along the safer side of the gurney—the side that is furthest away from the hills and greenery where Farrow will be hiding—and roll us all into the house.

I’d drive us right to the front door.480/581 possible. “Well. if I could.” . “Heck. “You guys ready? We’re home.” Alik was already unfastening his seatbelt and climbing to the back to help Evan.” Creed said. “Too bad there are all those giant palm trees in the way. maybe they’ll help supply some cover.” Evan said as he crawled toward the back of the bus.” Evan said hopefully.

They wouldn’t even stay lit. the smoke bombs were useless in the downpour. It had to be a torrential downpour that exploded right above their heads with no warning! Sure enough. She had been praying the boys had come up with another plan. oh. no! That would be too simple! Margo peered anxiously through the closed window blinds. so Margo gave up after throwing five and watching each of them fizzle pathetically. . she could do some serious damage despite the rain and darkened skies. because if Farrow were standing nearby with her handguns loaded. talking to herself. as Margo suspected she was.54 Welcome Home Of all the times for it to rain! And not just a regular rain shower.

After that.” Theo was standing beside her trying to calm her down. she wasn’t making any promises that she wouldn’t go take care of the wretched female meta herself! “Okay. as if on cue. but there was no time. Right now. the ambulance rounded the bend and came to a skidding stop at the end of the front walkway. It’s going to be okay. the boys were holding their sister stretcher-style before the legs popped down and locked into place. He yanked the gurney out of the vehicle and anticipated Evan to catch the other side smoothly. They’ll figure something out.482/581 Margo was so mad at the whole situation she had half a mind to gear up and go after her own assassin. For half a second. she had to be focused on helping her children safely in the house. Margo. Margo watched in amazement as the back doors to the bus flew open and out jumped Alik. The boys are incredibly resourceful. . Just then.

amazingly. literally. From the back of her waist band she pulled out her own gun. “Oh my. Theo stood with his hands covering his ears watching the whole scene take place as . God!” Theo was yelling as he watched amazed at what he was seeing. but she knew the gunfire would force the shooter into a defensive position. just as I suspected. ducking. right where she would be hiding if she were Farrow.483/581 Then. Creed jumped carefully on top of Meg and laid his body down on her. And then came the loud bangs of shots being fired. cowering and hiding between shots. She ran to the other side of the room and yanked the window open just enough. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! She was shooting in the dark. and pulled her trigger smoothly again and again. She aimed into the dense thickage. Margo thought to herself. Pop! Pop! Pop! Handgun shots.

mom! You’re awesome!” Alik said sweeping his mother up into his arms even as she held the still smoking handgun. “My boys!” she yelled and hugged them to her. “Is everyone okay? Anyone hit?” . Showers of bullets spun through the wet air. ignoring how wet they were. smiling from ear to ear as they helped Creed off the gurney. Margo continued to fire into the night for a few extra moments before she turned and looked at her children. dripping wet with their T-shirts stuck to their strong torsos. Theo flung the door open just as the boys reached it and slammed it shut right behind them. “Now that was one heck of a plan! Thanks for the cover fire.484/581 though it were an old black-and-white western. There stood Alik and Evan.

Outside.” Margo took on her motherly tone and everyone hurried across the house to the lab. make sure Meg’s okay first. “Me.” he said nonchalantly.” Alik said patting himself all over making sure adrenaline hadn’t disguised the pain of a bullet wound. Now. lying in the mud. let’s get you and Meg to the lab. “Don’t worry about me. so I don’t know if there’s more.” “What? Never mind. Farrow cursed furiously as she struggled to locate her satellite phone in one of her many pockets. I took at least one. . explain it to me later.” Evan said inspecting his clothing for blood. She had to tell him that the whole plan—the metas on a plane headed to Germany with the serum to trade for the female’s life—was dead. but I shut off the pain. She had to tell Williams what just happened. “Well. too.485/581 “I’m good. “Creed?” Theo asked.

Of all the times not to answer his phone. Farrow tried to ignore the metallic. Winter’s random bullets. As she listened to the ringing. He did need to send reinforcements though. Farrow thought miserably. He didn’t need to know that. she decided to just leave out the part about the coyote finding the dart. but couldn’t. . She spat angrily and heard the doctor’s voice mail pick up. considering she had just been shot in the stomach by one of Dr. coppery taste of blood from her mouth.486/581 The metas were back home on the island and Creed obviously chose his allegiance to them over Williams.

for the four to seven known species of Plasmodium that have been successfully treated but the trick is to know which species .55 The Plasmodium Parasite “We need a current blood sample.” Paulie was saying much of this so everyone in the room was included in the process whether they had a medical background or not.” Margo said. aren’t there?” Creed asked the room. “Yes. “Right. “We’ll need to make another thin blood smear so we can estimate the parasite density and hopefully determine what species it is so we can treat her. I’ll collect that myself. “There are treatments for malaria already. Her hands worked as efficiently as possible gathering the supplies she needed.” Paulie was saying as they were finishing settling Meg back into the lab.

anemia. Impaired consciousness.488/581 infected the patient. His hands were busy working on removing a second bullet from Creed—this one located in his side. It has behaved differently from anything I can find in documented medical cases. jaundice. With Meg. Evan?” Theo asked anxiously without looking up.” Paulie explained patiently. so we’re trying to determine the appropriate antimalarial treatment—the sooner. things get even more complicated because we believe she was infected by a laboratory-grown super-parasite—compliments of Williams. seizure…these are all clear indicators of the severity of the disease. . The first struck his shoulder and was trickier to remove. the better. clean and stitch up than this one. “With her clinical status.” Evan concluded. “What are you thinking. clearly we’re working with a severe manifestation of the disease.

“Take a look. He had his face pressed into the viewer of the high-powered microscope where he was studying his sister’s blood. but nothing about what I see in this smear contraindicates that course of treatment.” Margo said with obvious respect for her son’s medical opinion. We’ll keep taking samples of her blood. .” Evan’s voice was steady and calm.489/581 “I’m thinking we start her on a drug combination that is recommended for treatment of severe malaria and see if that can’t knock this out of her system. and watch for confirmation of parasitologic response to the cocktail treatment.” Evan motioned to his mother as he stepped away from the microscope. either. It may not kill off the parasite completely. but we wanted to wait to double-check a fresh smear and discuss it with you to see if you agreed. “Paulie and I were thinking the same thing.

falciparum or Species Not Identified. though we haven’t definitively determined the species. “Okay. He accessed a member’s only medical research site and began peeling through the cyber pages for what he was looking for. I can tell the density of the parasite has definitely increased from the sample we were looking at before. She’s getting worse.” Margo nodded to Paulie to come look for himself. this is beyond doubt a kind of malaria. now to create the cocktail. “Both this site and the Center for Disease Control recommend either the combination atovaquone-proguanil or artemether-lumefantrine.490/581 “Even at first glance.” Evan jotted down those names and their common brand names as .” Evan said. They are both considered very effective in treating P. Her fragile condition demands a presumptive treatment.” Paulie nodded to the other doctors in the room. “Evan’s right.

Theo hurried to his son. but the problem isn’t going to be finding the . “Any ideas how we can get this stuff immediately?” “I’m sure I can make a phone call. They turned and looked in surprise at the patient everyone thought was sound asleep.” Evan looked over at Paulie. I’ll try to never get shot again. smiling widely. it certainly isn’t over the counter. Cole.” he grinned weakly up at his father. “Sorry ‘bout that dad. “You’re awake! Wow.” Cole mumbled from the corner of the lab. so let’s get the stuff and get it started. you sure gave us a scare!” His father held his right hand and squeezed gently.491/581 well on a piece of paper and looked up at his mother. “Is that medicine hard to get?” “Well. “Great. Redirecting the conversation he called across the room to Evan.

as though he just offered to go pick up a pizza.” “I’ll go get it.” Alik was saying. “We don’t have time to argue about this mom. You’ve been shot twice and are sedated!” Margo shooed her hand at him dismissively. I know you’re a meta and heal faster than humans. “No sedative necessary. but his patient kept moving. “I really don’t recommend you do anything active for at least five days. Creed Young.” Theo had just finished stitching the last hole and was trying to put a sterile dressing on the site. Creed. “Paulie.492/581 medicine. can you get on the phone to a pharmacy and have that medicine put together for us?” . safely. but you still have to give your body time to recover. It’s going to be getting it here. Creed was already reaching for his T-shirt.” Creed said and sat up effortlessly.” Creed said casually. “Don’t be ridiculous.

He charged the order to the credit card they had on file and sweetly negotiated an earlier pickup time than the standard one hour.” He smiled and closed his eyes. He added some other meds and supplies to the list. He hung up the phone with a grin and said. Clever. he was talking smoothly into the receiver sounding very convincing and matter-of-fact about needing to place an order for these medicines. his body had . “I like how you ordered the malaria medicine buried inside an entire list of other stuff so as not to draw suspicion.” Cole said. “Okay.” “Smooth.493/581 Paulie nodded and grabbed the phone from his pocket. His energy was already depleted and though he wanted to stay awake and be a part of what was going on. the meds will be waiting for pickup at the hospital’s pharmacy. They’ll be expecting my ‘courier’ to come by in half an hour. Moments later.

.” Creed said determinedly. “We’ll be back in about one hour.494/581 other plans. Creed and Margo headed out of the lab and back through the house. Creed blushed deeply at her obvious display of affection. but I’d rather maintain silence in case she’s listening. mom?” Alik asked realizing his mother was still a primary target. He drifted to sleep thinking how frustrating it was to be a human. Ever. Alik. “Are you going to be okay.” Alik said looking at his watch. Winter’s simple hug gave him wings. the sooner we’ll be back. “Excellent. “Be careful. He couldn’t remember being hugged before. boys. “Sooner we go.” Alik gestured toward outside.” Margo said hugging Alik first then Creed just as though he were one of her sons. The burst of joy he felt because of Dr. It was already dark outside. I’ve got my cell.

“I was hoping to just sneak out to the ambulance this time. “You listen to me. ma’am. again?” Margo had turned back to the window to peer into the darkness. . That’s it. your sister will die. Focus.” from Creed.” “Yes ma’am. and I’m hunkered down in here.495/581 She turned to face her sixteen-year-old who stood towering above her. you go ahead and return fire. “Do you want me to provide cover fire.” Alik said meekly. hearing Margo’s sheer determination and spirit when she spoke brought out a “yes. Without this medicine. All you think about right now is getting your sister’s medicine and getting home safely.” Alik said calmly. “You’re driving Creed?” Margo asked. I’ll be fine. There’s just one meta out there. but if she starts shooting. too. Alik Winter. And though she wasn’t even talking to him.

“No! Never mind. I need to tell you two something. we’ll have time to talk. she immediately saw the resemblance between the two and wondered how she had missed it before now. In response to her question. I know now’s not the best time to talk. “Boys.” he reassured her. “We’ll be right back. Creed pulled the keys out of his front pocket and held them up. “Okay. Are we in trouble?” Alik teased.496/581 The eighteen-year-old boy stood just a couple inches taller than Alik and. Don’t worry. No strategy except run fast.” “Uh-oh.” Margo ran her fingers through her hair. she heard her voice say. mom. though she didn’t have time to ponder it right then. on the count of three we’re going to bolt. get in the . I shouldn’t have mentioned it. Feeling remiss for not already having the opportunity to tell them what she had discovered about their DNA mapping. But when you get back.

497/581 car and drive. “Love you. “You ready mom?” He asked her as she positioned herself at the window. handgun cocked and loaded. “We made it! I didn’t hear gunfire. jumped in and within fifteen seconds were peeling-out back down the long gravel driveway to the main road. Now. did you?” Alik asked. too.” she said affectionately. you wanna tell me where this hospital is?” . Creed? One-Two-Three!” The boys flung the door open and ran to the ambulance. They each yanked their car doors open. “I love you. but we can talk about that after we get Meg started on her meds. Alik nodded.” Alik instructed. Makes me wonder…” Creed said. “About Farrow?” Alik asked.” “Ready. thinking. “Yeah. “No. nothing.

Paul is a popular guy. I just wanted to be sure. “Good. ‘Tell Paulie the gang has been asking about him and that he needs to stop by the hospital sometime for lunch.” Creed said even as he was pulling away from the curb. St. “I’m not surprised.” Alik said while shuffling through the contents of the bag.” . he just handed the bag to me and said. her meds are here.56 Meg’s Medicine “Did the pharmacist give you a hard time?” Creed asked when Alik opened the door to the ambulance holding a brown paper bag full of the items Paulie had ordered. “Nope.” “Don’t have to tell me twice. “I hope it’ll be just as smooth getting back into the house as it was getting out.’” “Dr. Let’s get home.” Creed thought out loud.

Creed found himself counting the yellow road reflectors strategically placed down the center of their two-way road to calm his nerves. The sun had completely disappeared past the horizon so there was minimal light to help the boys follow the winding road.499/581 “Me too. Now that the cloudburst had past. the night sky was clearly visible.” The drive back to Paulie’s house was nerve wracking.” . I’m fine. The bluishwhite moonlight and crisp. “Sure. just worried about everything. starlit diamonds in the sky only left the two feeling small and insignificant. A bead of sweat trickled down his temple causing Alik to feel this uncontrollable urge to scratch his sideburn sympathetically. “You sure you’re okay?” Alik had been watching Creed’s face tighten. Startled from his count he almost blurted “seventy-two” but caught himself.

“How can you be so sure?” “You don’t know Evan like I do. She looked beautiful in the moonlight—luminous skin framed by long . she would tell Evan to just hurry up and do whatever it is he thought he should do.” “She’s going to be okay once we start her on these meds. and so does mom. I’m not worried about me.” Alik motioned to Creed’s side.” Alik said smiling at the thought. I trust him completely. If he says this is the answer. “You’re bleeding a lot again. “Not a whole lot of patience in that girl. “Just a couple scratches. then it is.500/581 “I mean.” Creed’s face softened at the memory of the first night he met Meg outside the Kansas hospital.” Alik said confidently. And if Meg could give her opinion right now. Do you feel okay?” Creed glanced down at his side and shrugged. it’s Meg that I’m thinking about.

“Yeah. “Extremes?” Alik offered smiling at Creed’s interpretation of his sister. and reacts to everything in—” Creed paused searching for the right word. that’s it. . it was upside down in a ditch off to the side of the road that had been rigged with an explosive. They had just turned onto Paulie’s long private drive.501/581 dark curls that had a mind of their own. I had no doubt she was a handful. Creed didn’t have a chance to answer before the world blew up. The ambulance flew off the ground and flipped over sideways so when it landed.” Creed was glad for the darkness if only to hide the blush he felt on his face. “Even from the small amount of time I got to spend with her. don’t you?” Alik blurted. “You have feelings for her. She’s a fighter and opinionated.

he forced his arms to reach back to release his seatbelt. Somehow he managed to push the release button and his entire body fell the two feet to the floor (the ceiling) with a sickening thwump.502/581 Alik’s head was throbbing. Moaning softly. except now his arms were hanging so the bag was resting on the ceiling of the ambulance cab. They were numb and as useful with the belt’s clasp as a mannequin arms would be. Feeling the blood rush from his pounding head made it clear they had been upside down for at least ten minutes. “Creed. “Creed.” Alik whispered not sure if Farrow was nearby. He was suspended by his seatbelt upside down. he reached out to Creed who was also suspended by his seatbelt upside down. Ignoring his disorientation. come on! Wake up!” . In his right hand he still held the brown paper bag with Meg’s medicine.

503/581 Ignoring the silence. He could run up to the house with the medicine and get help to come retrieve Creed. . “Oh. Wake up! We gotta get the hell out of here!” Alik was already thinking through his options if he couldn’t get Creed to wake up. “Oooph. “Dude! Creed. Alik reached around Creed’s body and found the seatbelt release button with fingers that were tingling as they regained normal blood flow. my God. What do I do?” Alik whispered his desperate prayer. he couldn’t leave him. He braced himself to catch his friend as soon as he hit the button. but…Meg would die if she didn’t have this medicine.” Creed moaned when he landed on top of Alik. but what if Farrow swooped in just then and finished off what the road bomb didn’t. No. Alik shook him even harder. Trying not to get squished under the two-hundred-fifty-pound guy.

“And I think we should avoid the road in case Farrow left us any other surprises.” Alik pulled the handle and pushed on the door with no results.” “Agreed. ‘cause mine’s not budging without a fight. “Got the bag?” “Yeah. Creed tried his door and felt it give a bit then caught it before it slammed open. let’s get moving before my mom tries to come to our rescue. thank God you’re awake!” Alik grinned despite his startled nerves. scaring the heck out of Alik. Can you run?” . too. “Creed. you could start by helping me open one of these doors so we can get out of here. He slipped out of the overturned cab easily despite his injuries then stopped to help Alik out.” Creed whispered back.504/581 “Well.” Alik wiped his brow with his shoulder. “Check your door and see if it’ll open.

but the noise didn’t repeat itself. Then they heard another noise.” Creed lead the way as Alik watched their backs and held on tightly to the bag containing his sister’s medicine. Let’s go. Darkness enveloped their feet. crouched and listened. Snap! The boys stopped. That was definitely a twig or branch being stepped on. but they kept walking toward the lights of the house visible through the thick foliage. Hesitantly.” “Stay right on my heels. This time it sounded like a thump and a voice let out a noisy breath. but the question was.505/581 “Yeah. by whom? They exchanged worried looks and continued waiting. they began moving again this time walking as quietly as possible.” . “Oomph.

“Your mother heard an explosion and was insisting she was coming out here to check on things. you called it.” Dr.” Alik looked smugly over at Creed and whispered. “Did I call it?” “Yeah.” “Called what?” Dr. . Andrews asked as he patted his sweaty forehead with the sleeve of his white lab coat. but I talked her into letting me come instead so she could stay with Meg. but familiar voice called back. Andrews?” Alik whispered toward the sounds. This didn’t sound like the stealth meta soldier they believed was stalking them. This sounded more like— “Dr. The boys grinned and moved toward the voice saying.” “Oh thank God. “It’s just us—Alik and Creed. “Who’s there?” a scared.506/581 The boys looked at each other confused and shrugged. Andrews sighed. obviously relieved.

Someone was watching them.” “Yeah. “Farrow left us a welcome home gift on the road. I wonder why she hasn’t jumped out of the bushes. He was definitely not meant for this kind of work. “What was that explosion?” Dr.507/581 “Never mind.” Alik whispered. “You’re lucky you didn’t run into Farrow instead of us. Andrews asked as they turned toward the house and picked up the pace. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up.” Alik glanced behind them anxiously. grinning. Theo was cleaning off his glasses with a tissue from his pocket. We haven’t heard a peep out of our friendly neighborhood . The poor man had ripped a hole in the knee of his dress pants and had leaves sticking out of his hair. I know. Creed must not have noticed because he just kept talking softly. Let’s just say the ambulance company may be sending us a bill.

turned back and squinted in to the darkness. let’s just hurry up. So. “No arguments here. she thought to herself. “Me too. she could not do anything to take them out because of her condition. happy to see the house up close again. Williams . I have the strangest feeling we’re being watched. From the darkness. but for now. Paul home and decided her best effort at this point would be to set some explosives on the road so anyone coming and going would trigger them.” Dr. Andrews stopped for a moment.” Alik mused. Even though the metas were right in front of her. She was furious at herself for getting shot. And if she were lucky.” Theo explained. Farrow grimaced painfully. she may just be able to pick off one or two of them before Dr.” Alik agreed. “I wonder what’s going on. she had regrouped away from the St.508/581 stalker since you all first came back with Meg.

She looked down at her stomach and stifled a moan. Blood was oozing through her makeshift bandage from the gunshot wound. . She just needed backup. and she needed it now. She gingerly pressed her hand against her belly and curled up on the damp earth. She didn’t care what he called them.509/581 arrived with the soldiers he told her he was bringing. she began drifting in and out of consciousness. What had he called them? His “perfecto rez?” Whatever that meant. Farrow found herself rocking back and forth. instinctively feeling some comfort in the rhythmic motion. And even as tears pooled and spilled over.

Thank God she’s such a fighter. Paulie.” Paulie yawned. “Nine. “You need to go rest. “I think you’re right. Margo. “I think she’s out of the woods. .” The scientist stood and stretched.” Margo patted her friend on the back. Let’s give it another hour. “Stable.” Margo reflexively reached out to stroke her daughter’s hair.57 Changes “Time?” Margo’s voice was groggy from her nap in the desk chair. She was rubbing her eyes trying to read the clock ten feet from her. She’s looking good.” Paulie nodded slowly.” “Is it time to draw another blood sample?” “Nearly. “Vitals?” Margo yawned back.

These kids are lucky to have you. When she’s awake. No one could love them more. “She has so much life all packed into this small frame. you need to know you gave these children more of a chance at life than they would have ever had without you. and see her little body barely lift the covers off her bed. No matter what happens with that guy. Williams. and then I go check on her in the night. Paulie reached around his former student and old friend and squeezed her shoulder encouragingly. her personality just glows around her making her seem twice as large as she is. Margo. isn’t she?” Paulie smiled widely thinking of the spunky teenager.” Margo’s heart welled up with the kind of mother’s love that can’t be explained. She’s always been like this.” .511/581 “She is one amazing little spit fire. “You are a great mom.

Paulie shrugged and blushed before turning to head out of the lab.” Not being a man who discussed matters of the heart very often. “Can I send in a fresh cup of coffee for you?” “Nope.512/581 “Thanks. laid it back down on the bed and draped the sheet back over it before reaching for her daughter’s right leg to begin the process again.” Margo smiled at her daughter’s still sleeping frame. Her mind was wandering back to the days when the children were little. “Okay. thanks. “For everything. Margo finished flexing and stretching Meg’s left leg. “Come on sweetie.” She moved the sheet off Meg’s left leg and began rubbing it vigorously getting ready to start her daughter’s physical therapy. young lady.” her mom smiled. As a seven-year-old Meggie. I’m good. You have slept long enough. We have to keep you battle ready.” she said. loved to . It’s time to wake up and get back to work. Paulie.

eyes. She finished working on Meg’s legs and rolled her chair around to work on her daughter’s arms. thank God. honey. just like her brothers. it’s okay honey. . Oh. “Meggie. Let me get you some water. knowing. That’s when she noticed Meg’s eyes were open. “Hang on.” She hurried to retrieve a cup and slipped a straw in place just as she held it up to her daughter’s lips. you’re awake!” Meg tried to speak but all that came out was a raspy croaking sound. She was fearless and headstrong with those large soulful eyes that commanded respect even way back then.513/581 run around the ranch wearing shorts—only shorts. “Meg?” Meg turned her head slightly to look at her mother with those beautifully dark.

” “That’s right. “Look at you! You’re awake!” “Sick?” “Yes. but she was able to get her question out. “What happened?” “Well. We were only able to isolate an antigen for your illness last night. We weren’t sure it would work but. you’ve been very sick for about a week now. but obediently took a few sips before trying to speak again. Her voice was still scratchy. What is the last thing you remember?” “Evan told me we were—that I was going to die because of the serum that changed me into a meta. and then you left the house…” “…and went for a run to think things over.” she grinned widely. very sick.514/581 Meg looked very worried.” “Do you remember what happened during the run?” .

emotions linked with images flooded her. “You were struck in the neck by this.515/581 Meg tried to remember. but got nothing for her efforts. she felt a rush of emotions. intentionally leaving out much of the details. Like a movie being played at twenty times the regular speed. Meg watched her mother sit back down beside her and carefully open the envelope. “Meg! What’s wrong?” Margo was on her feet and quickly snatched the dart away from . It was tipped with a deadly parasite that quickly began taking over your system.” Margo explained. Margo stood and walked over to a nearby counter where she retrieved an envelope from a refrigerated cabinet. overwhelming her senses and causing her to draw her breath sharply as though she were in physical pain. Meg reached out and took the dart from her mother’s hands. In that instant.

Hurry!” Meg was quieting down.516/581 her daughter’s hands worried she had somehow been hurt by it. Meg’s awake. . “I’m calling the others. Williams sent a meta to deliver this to me. She was gulping for air as though she had sprinted fifty-yards. Meg couldn’t respond right away. can you tell me what just happened?” Margo’s brows were deeply etched with worry. but something—something’s wrong. my God. again.” Meg looked at the dart still in her mother’s hand like it was a viper. but when I touched the dart I could feel what the person was feeling each time they touched it. get everyone and come quickly. Images too.” Margo turned around and grabbed the phone off the jack. He called it his ‘gift’ to me. mom. Oh. “Meg. “Theo. “I’m not sure—I don’t know why. though she was obviously still upset.

Meg couldn’t have agreed more. a soldier—she was the shooter. “Have you ever been able to touch something and know its history—who touched it before and what they were feeling when they did?” . A female meta—yes.” Meg reached out to take another sip of water as though she were trying to wash a bad taste from her mouth. “Meg. but Williams wasn’t the only one who touched it. there were several scientists at—Williams’ hospital who created it. But even before that.517/581 “You mean you could feel what Williams was feeling just by touching something he touched?” Margo looked awestruck and terrified at the same time. “Yes. has that ever happened before?” “What?” she said after swallowing a large gulp of water.

and watched as Meg yanked out her own I.518/581 “Nope.” she motioned to the tubes and wires still connected to her. slow down! You’ve been in a coma for days! You can’t just…” Margo was trying to push her daughter back onto the bed. Then she hopped down off her hospital bed wearing only her gown and began detach herself from everything. It’s all new to me. “Meg. Give me a few minutes to think this through.V. I think I have an idea. . flung the pulse-ox monitor off her finger and peeled off the heart monitor electrodes from her chest.. Margo stood. “Mom.” Meg looked around as though she was just realizing where she was and sat up. jaw agape. but her daughter easily resisted her. I’ve gotta get out of this. but my head’s still too foggy.

There’s a lot going on and we don’t have much time.519/581 Immediately.” Meg closed the bathroom door behind her. “You can turn that off now. . The bathroom door opened and out walked Meg. Margo hadn’t moved. She was standing and staring at the bathroom door seconds later when the rest of the family came running into the lab expecting the worst. “Where is Meg?” Evan called from across the room after seeing the bed empty. the warning system Alik had set up to alert the entire house of a Code Red began screaming. “You’re not going to believe this. Meg turned to walk herself to the bathroom. tell them I have to have a family meeting. so shocked at her daughter’s words and actions. and when everyone gets here.” she began.

“You have come a long way. please. Her eyes widened with an instantaneous understanding of the young man standing in front of her. “Well. My tushy is getting far too much exposure in this.” She called over her shoulder as she hurried past the growing crowd of stunned observers. I have to get some clothes.” she surmised.” Meg blushed and motioned down at her hospital gown. Everyone meet in the living room in fifteen minutes. my God! What are you doing out of bed?” Theo called from behind Evan. As an unplanned experiment. He had heard the alarms like everyone else in the house and came running. for one thing. Creed Young. “And I’m dying to brush my teeth. she reached out to touch his hand and received an immediate jolt. She stopped dead in her tracks the moment she saw Creed. .” she said coolly. “You.520/581 “Meg? Oh.

His eyes followed her hand. but dang. “I feel stronger than ever. Creed stood with his jaw slack and his eyes wide. she demurely grabbed the gown at her back to keep it from exposing any more skin to the eyes she knew were following her. “Meg?” Her knowing fingers released his hand and reached to touch one of the holes in his shirt from the bullets he took for her. “Meg? How are you feeling?” Meg smiled beautifully at her brother. “Okay. Creed and Cole stood exchanging confused looks for a moment before Cole blurted out. Evan. Alik. did she look amazing or what?” .521/581 Just as surprised as anyone to see Meg up and around. “Thank you for helping my family. it could just be the pain killers talking here. Paulie.” And before she turned to hurry down the corridor to her bedroom. Theo. and for helping me. All he could think to say was. Margo.” Alik who was standing right beside Creed asked.

Too steeped in thought to answer Creed directly. Evan walked to his computer and began working. “I have a theory. “That was the fastest recovery I have ever seen. but—mom.” Margo was still staring . “Evan.” Evan said thoughtfully. did Meg seem different to you? And I don’t mean different from her comatose state. “I don’t think it was just the medicine working here. “Boy.” Paulie smiled at his fellow doctors. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Creed asked.522/581 “Remarkable. Meta. Meg’s gift seems to have—changed. you don’t know how right you are. or not!” Theo’s eyebrows were still raised in the surprised position.” Margo said breathlessly. I mean changed from the way she behaved prior to her illness?” Evan asked without looking up from what he was typing.

” His back was turned to everyone while his fingers flew across the keyboard as if possessed. He stopped typing and turned to look at his mom. can you tell us what’s going on?” “Let Evan and Meg explain it. “Margo. I’ll meet everyone in the living room. “I need to work for a few minutes. “Changed?” Evan asked. His honey eyes were crisp with excitement.523/581 down the hallway where her daughter was moments before. “Could you mean evolved?” Margo exchanged a look with her youngest son that spoke louder than words. please don’t start the family meeting without me. I just have a hunch right now. but what I can tell you is . The group began walking back toward the other side of the house—most of them lost in their own thoughts until Theo broke the silence.

True to her word.” “Meg’s awake. she was wearing blue jeans and a simple pink T-shirt. Maze stared adoringly up at her and whimpered happily at her touch.” Creed whispered to his still tingling hand where she had just touched him. . more capable. her dark curls bounced right back out of place after being tugged on. Defiantly. She’s stronger. She gently rubbed his ears and was careful to avoid his still-tender and healing wounds from just a couple nights before. Meg walked into the living room fifteen minutes later with Maze nudging against her bare feet. Fresh from the shower. He felt a surge of joy and fear all at once as he quietly brought his hand to his lips. In her hands was a towel she was using to squeeze the excess water from her long wet hair.524/581 that Meg is even more vibrant than she was before.

.525/581 She looked radiant. Meg had changed. The whole household sat expectantly. There was an air about her and everyone in the room could feel it.

” I began. I’ve been out of it for the last week. Evan was grinning as he sat next to me with papers in his hands. but noticed my youngest brother wasn’t present. .” a voice came from the hallway with the sound of a few quickened steps. “I need to ask for your patience while I try something. I would like to try something. Rather than you explain from the beginning what part each of you played in the events as they unfolded. Meg. and I can only imagine at this point all that you have gone through in your efforts to help me get better. Everyone was staring at me expectantly so I began.58 I Have Evolved “Thank you all for meeting me in here.” I stood and carefully draped my wet towel over the back of my chair. so please bear with me. “Where is Evan?” “I’m right here.

“Of course. When I opened my eyes and looked up at my mother. and again when I held Creed’s hand just a while before. .527/581 “May I start with you. I actually felt her fear and anger. I pulled my mom into a tight hug. “Oh mom! I love you so much! Thank you for doing everything you could to take care of me and the family. I was crying her tears. but what do you need me…” “Nothing.” Without hesitation. She was smiling at me as though we had a secret we were about to share with the rest of the room. that instead of flashing images and corresponding emotions witnessed in my mind. But it was different with my mother. Just let me hold your hand. I already have such a strong bond with her. mom?” I asked. finished reading her. I closed my eyes and felt the same rush of images as I did when I touched the dart.” I smiled reassuringly and reached to take my mother’s hand in mine. You don’t have to do anything.

I held the hands of each of my family one by one and let their memories become part of me. he smiled at me widely. And so it went for the next thirty minutes. Evan? This is amazing! I’ve never been able to read people like this. With a reassuring nod. Our connection was so tight she probably received some of my own emotions and didn’t just feed me hers. She knew me and she loved me. “Meg. When it came time to hold my youngest brother’s hand. Not like this. The memory images are so crisp and precise. she handed me a tissue and let me proceed. we all knew you were going to be able to focus your empath abilities with practice. to just touch their hand and know what they have felt. The emotions attached to the images are exact!” I was . “What do you mean. is it?” Evan kept smiling smugly at me. but that isn’t your newest gift.528/581 I knew she would already understand what I was doing.

Instead of reaching his hand out to me he folded his arms across his chest. Evan?” Margo began.529/581 feeling frustrated with my brother. but I forced myself to swallow it down and give him a chance.” “Evan. “I will.” Evan winked at his mother and returned his gaze to me. Don’t read the words on the paper. I went to flip the papers over to read them. “I know she can do this. mom was trying to . Hold the paper and ‘read’ it like you ‘read’ their hands. think about it. mom.” “Here. Meg. “No. but she needs to know it. “Why won’t you let her ‘read’ you. just not the way she ‘read’ you. but he stopped me. “Meg. When you first woke this evening.” he said and handed me the thin stack of papers he was holding face-down. what are you talking about?” I asked feeling what little patience I had waning.

How is it that you already knew what happened to you after only touching the dart?” . It’s an object. I was starting to feel tired. “So you were able to ‘read’ the dart? That doesn’t make sense. and I was not happy about it. “A dart is just a thing. The excitement of being with my family again was wearing off and now. I already knew. “Why not?” Evan asked. He didn’t let up. I was just sleepy. But did she tell you everything you wanted to know?” “She didn’t have to. why you were so sick for the last week.530/581 explain what happened to you.” I said stubbornly.” I said exasperated. the fatigue this body felt still from the effects of the illness was undeniable. “Because.” “When?” “When I held the dart. It doesn’t have feelings for you to read.” Evan was egging me on. Meg.

” I said raising my voice a little. Several images flashed including snapshot-like images of the words on the pages. “Now. Evan.” he encouraged. I felt everything—everything the others who had touched it felt—at least the way they felt right when they were holding it.” Evan nodded his approval. there it was…my brother Evan feeling pride and excitement as he held the papers and hurried to meet us in the living room. . I sighed deeply and squeezed my eyes shut concentrating on the papers in my hands and feeling a little stupid about it. These images were obviously captured by Evan’s memory. The emotions and the snippets of phrases I caught from my mental image of the document made me gasp happily. After a moment of blackness. “All I know is that when I touched it. ‘read’ those papers and tell me what I have been feeling.531/581 “I don’t know how.

All the other faces in the room were looking confused.532/581 “Evan! Oh my goodness! Is it true?” I beamed. It’s a countdown to an evolution. Meggie.” I paused. not for dramatic effect. but because I felt so choked up—so happy to have been given the chance to do all the things I knew I was still meant to do. Evan grinned at me and said. a . “Why don’t you tell them. The calculations made you all think it was a deterioration of our human cells at an advanced rate which you initially believed meant that we were headed toward a fatal end. “It is a countdown. “I think you’re living proof of it!” He smiled back at his sister and finally allowed her to give him a big hug. “You two wanna tell us the good news?” Cole asked. but not to death.” “It’s not a countdown to our death.

Meg. “Ev. you did it! You ‘read’ using only the papers—objects that themselves have no emotional abilities.” Alik was sitting at the edge of his seat. literally. . I’m so proud of you!” He gently slugged me on my shoulder in his affectionate atta-girl kind of way. “I believe Meg’s illness triggered an early onset of her evolution. you explain the rest. I was afraid I was going to pass out from it all.” I said.533/581 metamorphosis. you all told us we had some time before anything was going to happen.” Evan concluded logically. “Wait. first of all. It’s not unheard of in human physiology for such a thing to happen. a severe trauma such as cancer has been known to compel early onset menopause in women.” I watched the faces of my mother and brother change from confused to excited and relieved. of sorts. so happy and tired. “Well. For example.

you’re saying that Meg’s empath ability evolved sooner than it would have because of the malaria and now she’s…?” Cole stopped. “How do you do it Meg?” Paulie asked trying to understand. It’s all new to me. “I don’t understand it either. “I don’t understand. He was sitting farthest away . again?” Creed’s steady voice asked. I can understand you all having a heightened intelligence and strength. isn’t beyond belief even from a scientific standpoint. looking for the right word.” Evan answered simply. Even your ability to be ‘in tune’ with people’s emotions.534/581 “So. Paulie. “I mean. Alik’s memory and Evan’s problem solving skills are all explainable. too. But this ‘evolved’ ability—” the doctor waved his hand toward me. Meg.” Even through the fog of exhaustion hovering around my mind.” “Can you show us. I felt a surge of frustration and even a little defensiveness. “Evolved.

I breathed deeply.535/581 from the group in a chair against the wall to my right. closed my eyes. black rims. so I had to order these. I’ve misplaced my old pair. I’m awfully sleepy and this is a little overwhelming. Andrews. but please be patient with me. actually.” I began with a disclaimer. I had noticed he was wearing a pair of glasses with very thick. “Well. yes. “Maybe we should start with something entirely different. . Andrews?” I asked him.” I glanced around the room and stopped to look intently at Dr.” “May I hold them?” I asked simply. Theo looked a little surprised and answered. At the time. “Okay. “Are those new glasses. Dr. He nodded reassuringly. I just giggled to myself thinking how similar my mother and this man were in their taste in eyewear and thought how perfectly matched they were for each other.

” I stopped relaying my mental images because . “These were made in a factory where the Asian worker who assembled them was worried about her bothersome mother-in-law. She waved you over to a microscope and had you look at…what is that? A blood sample? Mom is talking fast and holding paper in front of you as if she’s trying to explain something. Mom was there. The room let out a nervous chuckle. I closed my eyes and forced myself to concentrate on the plastic in my hands.” I said. She looked excited about something.” I paused not wanting to embarrass the doctor by elaborating too much on his thoughts of marriage. “You put them on for the first time when you were heading toward Paulie’s lab. but you were thinking about….536/581 “Sure. “…how pretty mom looked.” Theo removed his glasses and handed them to me.

I looked back and forth between my mother and Theo—then to Alik and Creed.” Margo shrugged. “While Mom was studying your blood samples she stumbled across . I reached down and pulled Alik to a standing position. Andrew’s surprise at what he just learned.537/581 I felt Dr. nearly dropping the doctor’s new glasses. “What’s going on?” he asked worried. My eyes flew open. You can say it. and I stood abruptly. so you may as well put it out there for everyone. I couldn’t help but smile—this was so amazing. “Go ahead. completely confused with the turn of events that brought him into the spotlight. “Put what out there?” Creed asked. Then I walked us over to Creed and took his hand encouraging him to stand. Theo and I haven’t been able to find the right time to bring it up. honey.

“Now. pointedly. All we can tell for sure is that Alik and Creed have the same biological father. “Is this a trick?” Creed looked around the room as though waiting for the punch line. “You’re my brother?” Creed’s dark-blue eyes were beginning to tear up.538/581 something. “How in the heck are we brothers?” Alik looked over to his mom. Margo spoke over the room. “Of all the—you’re kidding.” “What?” “Brothers?” The boys looked at each other as though they had never seen one another before. right?” Cole blurted. “Are you sure?” Alik’s crisp. light blue eyes flashed with emotion. She determined through your Ychromosomes—that you are brothers.” . we have no idea how this happened.

Meggie!” . “This is one heck of a way to prove your ability.539/581 Evan’s eyes were wide with surprise.

Though silence had been ordered across the Facility. every meta knew something was wrong. Even the veteran metas—the instructors—had never known the entire campus to be on lock down before. the cadets were anxious to get back to their routine—whatever it was they were doing when the first announcement was made over the campus-wide intercom. they’d all had drills in the past. They had even practiced how to assemble in case of immediate mobilization. They practiced fire and disaster drills.” Being creatures of habit. .59 Perficio Res Something was going on. Sure. But they had never been ordered to lock down “until further notice.

541/581 The voice identified itself as Dr. of course. Some metas couldn’t hold still and found ways to entertain themselves by doing as much physical exercise as possible within the confines of their crowded quarters. seven minutes ago. immediately and without exception until further notice. . Now they looked out the windows of their barracks in restless hopes of seeing something that would explain what was going on. Others just sat at the edge of their bunks sharpening or cleaning their weapons of choice. and dropped what they were doing. Everyone listening to the bizarre announcement just assumed the voice was distorted because of the intercom system. The cadets obeyed. though it didn’t sound at all like the doctor. Williams. They murmured to each other possible scenarios that may have brought this on. The entire campus was ordered back to their barracks. That was three hours.

542/581 The crackle of the intercom broke the anxious silence across the campus. but this time everyone knew something was very different. And it wasn’t just his deeper. Williams. Though I have known of this—terrorist cell . all your loyalty and dedication to physical and intellectual perfection. so they stood at attention and listened. his behavior and word choice was different. “Yes. too. in our hour of need. your training. raspier voice. we are in grave danger as there are those outside these walls who hate us and want to exterminate us. All your diligence. But they were soldiers taught to obey their superior officers without question. it is with great pride that I speak with you on this momentous day. my meta children. “Metas. your expertise. The voice that began speaking again identified itself as Dr. everything you have worked so tirelessly for is to be called upon now.

I had hoped I could change their thinking. They blame their self-loathing on you. but they are going to fail in their attempts to cause us harm because they have evil in their hearts. They’re building an army. If there is a battle they want. then it is a battle they will get. patience and forgiveness of transgressions. The first . my children. spirit and earth is now threatened. Despite years of earnest due diligence. no.543/581 for years. They hate you for your perfection. So they have convinced themselves to ease their suffering. They believe metas are freaks—born of a lab—with no heart or soul. “This terrorist cell that means us harm is mounting their forces even now. it was made abundantly clear today that our love of mind. “Do not fear. mass metacide is the answer. body. “But alas. I have foreseen their sinful stratagem and have prepared for it. to balance the scales.

“I began moments ago by telling you how proud of you I am. Tonight there will be a preflight meeting. orderly. you are my ‘Perficio Res’—my ‘perfect beings’ ready to fight the oppression come to hunt us. We have created what the human species has not: a perfect. Williams’ voice resounded triumphantly off the concrete walls of the barracks. but they leave us no choice. horrified at the thought of outsiders wanting to kill them because of . powerful civilization of superior beings. The metasoldiers who previously stood in abject silence. to all of us and to our way of life. but ‘pride’ doesn’t even come close to explaining my devotion to you. We will be teaching them a lesson they will never forget!” Dr. you are to be proud.544/581 platoon of metas leaves at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow. “We have never before had to demonstrate our power to the outsiders. If your name is called.

ending the intercom communication with the entire campus. From his hospital’s fourth floor. After each name. A simple . Dr. He saw them nod respectfully to those who were heading to the hospital because they had been handpicked for this auspicious mission. then quieted just long enough to hear the next name called. the barracks screamed in bloodthirsty pleasure. Thirteen names in all were summoned to meet in the lobby of the hospital building in precisely fifteen minutes.5 . He turned around and checked the white table to be sure it looked as he wanted it to.545/581 their way of life. Williams pressed the yellow button on his landline phone. There were thirteen syringes. He watched with dead eyes as his soldiers scurried around ground level. now were yelling—roaring with excitement! Their frenzy didn’t cool as the names of the Perficio Res—the first strike—were called. each filled with one dose of the Infinite II serum.

Even before the elevator reached the first floor of the hospital. Satisfied the room was ready. they had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time.546/581 milligrams turned a human into a meta—just like every meta walking around his campus right now. the metas were standing at attention. strong and keyed-up. the soldiers’ bodies would house twice the amount of serum required to change a human to a meta. He smiled at the raw anger. He didn’t want to keep his guests waiting. Williams could smell their anticipation the moment he stepped into the lobby. Dr. he walked out and headed toward the elevators. inhaled the blind trust and watched the red heat glowing off his soldiers. . This syringe was filled with precisely . These thirteen men and women he summoned were already treated with that first . Besides.5 milligrams of the Infinite II serum.5 milligrams. staring straight ahead—silent. Once dosed.

As always. For now. He looked normal from the neck down. cadets. “I know you have questions and concerns. this evening. this is what happened to me. To their credit. please.” Dr. tailored . and I appreciate your trust that I will explain everything to you in due time. As they did. they allowed themselves to look at the Director. My apologies. stand at ease. only their eyes widened in surprise at his horrendous change in appearance.” He watched as the line of soldiers stepped out with their right feet and clasped their hands behind their backs in the customary relaxed position.” he began. he was wearing a custom. “I realize how I must look to you. they did not gasp in horror. In my efforts to correct the current situation with the terrorist cell.547/581 “Thank you for coming. Williams removed the black fedora hat from his head so everyone could see and know.

What was clear were the injuries to his skin from the neck up. His eyes were bloodied and wept uncontrollably so the doctor had to dab them with his monogrammed handkerchief. He looked as though he must have been in a tremendous amount of pain. His scalp was a mangy mass of bloody bald skin and tufts of white hair. Dr. He wore black gloves. His face was swollen and glistened painfully red. “You can see we are dealing with a heartless enemy.548/581 three-piece suit.” Again. so the condition of his hands was not clear. Williams returned the black hat to his head and said. he didn’t show it. but if he were. Casually. “Please don’t worry about me. he dabbed his weeping eyes. This particular one was black with faint pin-stripes. Blood was seeping down his swollen neck and stained the white collar of the button down shirt he wore. I am being cared for by our excellent doctors here at this .

except one.” “You want to fight? Why should I trust you again. that is. “Sir. Dr. He was the last in the line and instantly recognizable to the doctor. All of them. and you dishonored yourself in the . Young? You failed me in California when you didn’t kill M57 at the Institute.549/581 hospital. Spittle flew from his bloated. Williams walked over to the soldier. The soldiers forced themselves to look away from the gruesome sight that was their leader. Noticing this. Mr. I did not call you here tonight.” He waved as though motioning to the physicians. and I will go wherever you send me.” The doctor’s voice changed from its former soft raspiness to an angry growl. but no one else was in the lobby with them. Without flinching Gavil replied. “Gavil Young. I want to fight. red lips right into Gavil’s face.

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Retribution Match against your own little brother! You’re lucky I let you live!” “You have let me live because you know I am of value to you. This team needs a leader, someone who can think for themselves when the need arises. They are drones, I am an individual. Let me lead this group to right the wrongs done against you—against all of us. I will not let you down, sir. You will be avenged,” Gavil’s gaze was unwavering and determined. Inhaling deeply, Dr. Williams smelled something about this boy. He smelled intense hatred that stung the nostrils like acid. His facial expression changed at this and he smiled. “Yes, Mr. Young. I do believe you have a score to settle. Your fervor may be exactly what I need for this mission.” The doctor smiled his approval at Gavil revealing bloody gums. Gavil smiled back. “Well, excellent,” he said, then addressed the room. “Our meeting will continue

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upstairs on the fourth floor. Please follow me.” Gavil’s excitement was hard to contain. He knew Williams had great things in store for him and he couldn’t wait to get started. The other thirteen metas whispered softly to one another as the elevator moved up, but Gavil stood apart from them. He wasn’t here to make friends or even be civil; he was here to command and be feared. It all started now and he could taste the venom of it churn in his mouth. It was delicious. Once inside the laboratory, Dr. Williams began explaining briefly what it was they were about to do. “You see, children. My scientists have continued work on various subjects here on the fourth floor of this hospital. Our science has gone beyond and what is now considered standard operating procedure to us is still unknown and unaccepted outside the walls of our Facility.” He was pacing the room,

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gloved hands clasped behind his back as though he were giving a lecture at a university. “One of the areas we have been studying is the effects of our Infinite II serum at different dosages. If ‘X’ amount of the serum turns a human into a meta, then what does ‘two times X’ do? Or ‘three times X?’ Do you see what I mean?” He stopped and looked up at his students checking for understanding, as any good teacher would. Satisfied with their facial expressions, he continued. “What we found is that ‘two times X’ increased the performance dramatically. The strength and intelligence factors nearly doubled. Also, a very interesting theory about Infinite II came to light. Listen carefully, my children because this is very important.” He paused to look pointedly into each set of eyes watching him. His students sat motionless, completely focused on what the doctor was about to say.

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“The theory states that the Infinite II serum, in a certain dose, is able to exaggerate the subject’s natural personality traits,” he said slowly so to be sure his audience had time to process the meaning of his words. “For example, if a human child came to us as a subject and they already had a propensity for athletics, once dosed, they would be a physically ‘gifted’ meta who could outperform other metas in athletics.” He continued to watch the faces of his audience. He was looking to see who was able to take this new knowledge and quickly apply it to themselves and those around them. He was checking for the highest levels of thinking in his students. It was no surprise to Dr. Williams when he saw it was Gavil who showed the clearest understanding of this theory and its effects even with this minimum amount of information. He smiled at the thoughts he knew were going through that violent meta’s mind.

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“If a human child was good at reading people’s body language, tone of voice and word choice, then as a meta they might be able to…” “Read someone’s mind,” Gavil finished in a whisper. His thoughts were replaying the events with the female meta M57. “Precisely, Mr. Young,” Dr. Williams beamed with a sick sense of pride. “Right now I want each of you to think about yourselves. What seems to come naturally to you more than others around you? Now imagine doubling or even tripling that ability.” Williams smiled as he watched each of his chosen. Gavil spoke out, “What happened to the subjects who were given three times the dose?” “Ah, now you’re thinking!” The doctor tapped his temple with his finger and didn’t notice when it came away bloodied.

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“Three times the dose did one of two things. Either it a) tripled the subject’s strength, agility and fighting skills, or b) it killed the subject within forty-eight hours. However, all of these subjects were very difficult to command. It’s as though they changed into mindless animals. None of them were stable enough to be released into the Facility. They were useless as soldiers and therefore terminated,” Dr. Williams said coolly. “What I’m offering you, cadets, is a very special opportunity not only to defend your meta family and our way of life, but also to become more.” He stepped aside and motioned to the table full of syringes. “Now that you know the effects, you may choose to inject yourself with the Infinite II serum. Each syringe is already perfectly measured and waiting to give you more strength, more power and more of your natural abilities. The choice is yours.” He

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stepped back from the table, as though respecting their individual decisions in the matter, but knowing full well what they would do. Without hesitation, the original thirteen metas stood up from their seats, walked to the table, picked up a syringe and injected its contents into their own meaty arms. Gavil remained seated. “Oh, Mr. Young. Do not worry, I will personally prepare your syringe.” He turned toward a refrigerated cabinet and retrieved a bottle with the Infinite II symbol printed clearly on the label. He removed a fresh syringe from its packaging and began measuring carefully the exact amount. When it was to his satisfaction, he laid it carefully on a blue surgical sheet and stepped back motioning for Gavil to help himself. All eyes were on the last meta as he took the syringe and confidently located a vein in which to dose himself. Once he was done, he

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looked at each of the metas sitting in front of him then back to Dr. Williams. He could feel the cold of the serum slipping up his arm and into his chest. It felt awesome. “My Perficio Res,” the doctor cooed at the fourteen soldiers. “You’ll all begin to feel the effects throughout the night. By morning, we’ll be ready to discuss the logistics of this mission as we’re en route. Meet me in the courtyard at oh-eight-hundred. Our flight leaves promptly at oh-eight-thirty. You do not need to bring anything as I will have the plane stocked with supplies.” “Sir, what is our destination?” A meta named Slider, who had no memory of a life outside the Facility, spoke for the first time. “That all depends on our target. For now, we’re heading to the Hawaiian Islands.” Dr. Williams smirked.

60 We’re Better Than That
An hour or so after the big revelations, the family was still talking, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. “I don’t think people will understand,” Theo’s voice sounded far away. He continued, “What I mean is, we know you four. We love you and accept you just as you are. But if anyone out there knew of your abilities—or your potential abilities—they could be very skeptical of your motives. Powerful people could try to manipulate you for their own purposes.” “They’ve already tried,” Evan said with an edge of anger in his voice. “Exactly. You could be ostracized or worse, hounded. We have never really discussed the social ramifications of these beyond-human characteristics you all

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possess. We’ve been so wrapped up in just staying away from Williams and his hunters.” Theo stopped talking, and the room was silent. Then I heard my mom say: “We do not need to worry about that, Theo. All we need to do is keep our eyes and hearts to heaven and let God take care of what is out of our control.” “Well said, mom.” Alik sounded pensive. “She’s out,” Creed nodded toward my sleeping body. “I’ll carry her to her room, if you all don’t mind,” Creed asked hesitantly and looked to Margo for approval. “Sure, Creed. She needs her sleep. It’s been a very busy few hours since she came back to us.” Creed walked over to my sleeping body and effortlessly lifted me up and off the couch, carefully tucking my head in the crook of his shoulder. He smiled contently at my closed lids, so familiar to him after a

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week of watching me “sleep,” and walked out of the living room back down the hallway to my room. “Can you really trust that guy with her?” Cole said in a not-so-quiet voice moments after Creed was out of view. “Cole! I’m surprised at you!” Margo gently chided. “If Creed were a threat, don’t you believe Meg would have ‘read’ that of him?” “I still don’t like the idea of him being alone with her,” he mumbled to himself. Margo looked outside the window into the darkening sky. “I wonder why we haven’t heard anything from that female meta in a while.” “I heard enough from her, thanks,” Cole grimaced slightly at his shoulder as he tried to stand. “I’m just gonna go check on Meg.” “I don’t know, mom. We haven’t heard from her since we ran over her land mine in the driveway. So it’s been, what, twenty-four

561/581 hours?” Evan walked over to refold Meg’s wet towel and place it back on the chair. “Look for her? You’re kidding.” Margo said as calmly as if she had said she wanted to go look for a missing sock. .” he answered himself. right?” Theo was studying Margo’s face trying to read her. “I want to go look for her. “You’re not kidding.

I hope she’s hurt! Then maybe she’ll leave us alone!” “You don’t mean that. Margo!” “And she shot my daughter with a deadly malaria parasite. But Theo. Margo! I hate it when you put yourself in harm’s way for no good reason! Why on earth would you go out there and look for the person who was sent to kill you?” Theo was exhausted and frustrated.61 We All Make Choices “Dang it. too. “Because she might be hurt and need help. we can’t just leave her . but she was also decided. And she shot at all the children and hit Creed twice and heck—she even hurt Maze. She was tired.” Margo walked to the closet and retrieved a flashlight she knew to be kept there.” “Good! Good. Margo stood. With a deep sigh. Theo. “Why not? She shot my son.

Alik looked like he could squash the life out of anything that stood in his way—so tall and built like a bodybuilder’s trainer. Andrews. In that moment. Paulie—who had stayed out of the most recent conversation—and Theo. were both struck by the magnificence that was Evan and Alik.” Margo remained standing. runner’s body.563/581 out there to die. He was lean. He stood nearly as tall as his brother now. They were both so much stronger than their mother. Evan had been growing like a radish seed. shoulders back and resolved. That is wrong. and had a naturally athletic. protectively. Evan nodded in agreement. Dr. That’s what Williams would do. the two human men. We’ll bring her back safely. but muscular with . Evan and Alik quietly stood during the exchange and were now on either side of their mother.” Alik’s voice was steady. and we are better than that. “Don’t worry.

boys. looking suddenly. but I have a wicked headache coming on. “Let’s go find her.” Paulie stood slowly and stretched. all of his sixty-six years of age.” The old doctor shuffled out of the room leaving Theo alone. “Gotta go get some medicine or it’ll turn into a migraine. Paulie and Theo said nothing more. “I don’t know about you. Margo looked up at both of her boys who followed her without question and smiled. he stood and walked to the window. hoping to watch for her to return .564/581 chiseled facial features that were beginning to need a good shave. so struck were they by the gravity of the moment. How could he get her to understand he only wanted to protect her? Sighing deeply. He held his head in his hands and tried to breathe deeply.” The three walked out of the house and closed the door securely behind them.

mom.565/581 soon because he wasn’t going to be able to think about anything until she did. . Wherever she was shot. You didn’t have to be a tracker to see the bullets stuck in tree trunks and remnants of a makeshift nest where the shooter had stayed. I must have hit her that when I shot blindly into these bushes. “She’s hurt. There was a bloodstained. Outside. I hope she’s not—” Margo’s voice caught in her throat. “She’s a meta. Oh my goodness.” Evan said encouragingly. she has a much better chance of survival just because she’s stronger and probably a faster healer than a human. Margo lead the boys to where the gunfire originated the night they brought Meg home. Not sure how to proceed. army-green cloth tossed carelessly to the ground nearby. the sunlight was fading fast. Nor was it difficult to conclude she had been shot.

where are you?” across the hills of the Big Island smacked of a bad idea. then she surely wouldn’t answer their calls anyway. “Yes.566/581 “We’ll find her. trained to survive.” Margo nodded. they decided not to call out to the injured girl. Didn’t you say the sniper’s shots came from up there?” Alik pointed to the hill north of Paulie’s house. Not wanting to draw attention to themselves. If she were seriously hurt. “She’s a soldier. “Okay. If she were okay. yelling “Farrow. . Either way. So instead. the three kept watching for signs of the girl. She probably had a campsite with supplies hidden not too far from here. let’s try that way.” Alik began walking toward the hill.” Alik said confidently. They didn’t have to go very far. she was probably unable to answer their calls. I think so from the angle Cole was shot.

ever the doctor. “Farrow? Honey. wake up. curled up in fetal position.567/581 Twenty yards from the first nest they found was a second—except. this one was more like a ditch between a large boulder and a tree root. Evan and Alik climbed down in to the crevice to help. dear God.” Again. Alik thought but said nothing.” Margo said softly. We’re here to help you. Farrow didn’t move. reached down with his two fingers and tried to find a pulse in the girl’s neck. there was no response. “Oh. Evan and Alik exchanged worried looks. Evan. still dressed in camo fatigues. . are you okay?” Leave it to mom to act as though she found a lost camper instead of a deadly assassin. There was the girl. Margo climbed down closer to the girl and tried to rouse her again. “Farrow? Farrow.

I’d hate to get stabbed with a hunting knife on the trail. Alik lifted the girl out of the mud that occupied the floor of her nest and held her while Evan and Margo checked her for weapons. but it’s there.” Carefully. They found several and removed them from the meta’s person.568/581 “Her pulse is weak. as though she did her best to stop her own bleeding. “Alik. Alik focused . goodness. can you carry her?” “Sure. Not wanting to think too much about how beautiful the girl was underneath all that face paint and blood.” Evan said. She’s a mess!” Margo breathed worriedly. “Look at her stomach. “Oh. Her hands were holding her stomach.” Alik cringed sympathetically as he could see from his angle a blood soaked area on the front of her fatigues. but let’s make sure she’s unarmed first.

“You found her?” “She’s hurt.569/581 instead on the trail ahead of him. Theo. I think I shot her in the stomach and she’s been like this for twenty-four hours.” . now!” “I’ll scrub in.” Margo was trying hard to stifle tears of guilt. Andrews opened the door to let them in. “We have to get her to the lab.” Theo heard himself say. Dr. “She’s going to need surgery. When they reached the front porch. They made quick time back to the house.

Damn it! Cole reached the scrub room of the lab and tried to follow the rules by washing his hands before entering the clean room. Just standing up from the living room couch pushed tears into his eyes. Though he planned to go check on Meg and Creed like he said to the others. and acted as though they bothered him less than a mosquito bite. Especially when the meat head was sporting two bullet wounds he received acting as a metashield for Meg. he couldn’t stand being thought of as weak by Creed. Trying . and all he could think about was trying to stop the throbbing.62 What Were You Thinking? The nagging ache in his left arm made him sour. The painkillers were wearing off.

literally. he admitted to himself.571/581 to tear open the scrub package using his teeth and good hand just brought more tears to his eyes. He was in so much pain he hadn’t even stopped to ask his dad for help. useless and unworthy. it occurred to him it may be locked. . while Cole couldn’t even open a bottle of ibuprofen made him feel more than emasculated. That’s not true. he felt helpless. He knew his way around well enough to know where the meds were stored. stupid. Angrily. These thoughts were swirling around in his head when he reached out to try the cabinet door. As he walked to the back of the room toward the cabinet. he threw the brush into the trash and walked. He hadn’t stopped to talk to anyone because he was sick of needing to ask for help all the time. into the lab. with dripping hands. Watching Creed sweep Meg off her feet.

considering it was just used a few hours before. He remembered his dad pulling out an orange bottle with large. Shuffling through the items. At first. Cole assumed the one he was looking for would be near the front. The name of the med escaped his memory.” Inside the cabinet were dozens of bottles and vials.572/581 It popped open. but it started with the letter “M. Come on! He spoke to the cabinet as though it had intentionally hidden the pills from him. pushing some aside and pulling some to read. . The meta serum. oval. he thought it was just another vial of some unknown liquid and was already shoving it aside to look behind it before he realized what it was. Cole began to feel an itch of panic that he couldn’t find the painkiller. And that’s when he saw it. green and pink pills.

had bothered to draw that symbol they all had etched into the back of their necks: ∞ Evan. had asked Alik to put the serum he was still holding from the plane trip. he would be an asset and not a liability. holding the vial as though he had just found his Holy Grail. heal more quickly and worthy of running with Meg and the other metas. neither Evan nor Alik had thought anyone in the house a threat to take the serum. The vial was labeled “Infinite Serum” and someone. into the refrigerated medicine cabinet. Finally. probably Evan. One. He would be stronger. in his haste to help Meg. Right in his hands. this was his answer to everything. no one was around to stop him. And yet. And two. He could be a contender. Two thoughts rushed into his still aching mind. .573/581 There it was. here was Cole. In his defense. smarter.

like how much was a dose and how it was given. he continued his search for a syringe. His mind was racing. not swallowed. He blinked deliberately trying to get his vision back. In the fifth drawer. He was pretty sure he remembered that much. He looked at the bottle carefully. What he didn’t remember was how much of the serum he was supposed to take. He was trying to remember anything he had overheard when the others spoke of the serum. Again. There was only a small amount of fluid inside to begin with. all he could see was stars bursting. Once the stars dissipated. Sharp pangs pierced his arm forcing him to steady himself against the countertop. it looked to be about one teaspoonful. using his teeth and .574/581 He grabbed the vial and closed the cabinet door. He opened the first two drawers he saw looking for a syringe. This was to be given by needle. When he opened his eyes. he struck gold.

There was exactly . tipped the whole thing upside down and pulled the syringe’s plunger down. held it up to the light and tapped it against the corner of a cabinet. That sounded like a good amount to Creed. he tried to rip open the foil packaging that housed the clean needle. He only stopped when he saw the syringe was beginning to pull in air instead of fluid. forcing the bubbles to the top. extracting the fluid from inside the vial. He separated the syringe from the vial. who was just trying to hold himself together long enough to get this serum into his bloodstream.575/581 good hand. filling the syringe. . he had a pretty good idea what to do next.5ml of the serum in the syringe. He punctured the top of the vial with the needle. Having watched his father work over the last sixteen years. Cole then squeezed the plunger back in slowly forcing the air out of the needle tip.

exposing the flesh at the top of his left shoulder. felt an uncontrollable wave of nausea. emptying the contents of the syringe into his muscle. . Cole’s last human thought was: The faster I do this. Some forty minutes later. when Theo. He yanked the needle out. began shaking violently and saw blackness close around his line of sight until there was nothing.576/581 Cole yanked his short-sleeved shirt up higher. It didn’t take but a cursory glance at the scene to realize what Cole had done to himself. His whole left arm hurt so badly. they nearly tripped over the body of Cole Andrews. Margo. He quickly jabbed himself and pushed the plunger down. Evan and Alik came running into the lab with Farrow barely hanging on to life. the sooner I will stop feeling so much pain.

577/581 THE END .

as long as I’m surrounded by my husband and kids. It has been. ABOUT THE AUTHOR I have several spots throughout the house where I go to curl up with my laptop to write. but no matter where I am.If you enjoyed the first two books of Winter’s Saga. an honor. and continues to be. I hope you’ll recommend them to your friends and take a moment to help maximize their exposure on Amazon. Thank you for traveling on this roller coaster ride with me.com by writing a quick review. I’m at peace enough to go create turmoil in the world of my Winter Clan. .

so I use it as a catalyst to help me create.579/581 Usually I have a glass of sweet tea within reach to remind myself to drink something once in a while. comments and . by the way. Strategically chosen music is loud (probably too loud *blush*) and pulsing through my earbuds.” (That’s what my husband and kids call it when I’m deep in thought. Your supportive reviews. I have a giant iTunes library at my finger tips sorted by the emotions the songs bring out in me. writing.) Thank you for reading my books. the world around me easily melts away as my fingers tap frantically trying to keep up with my imagination. I get so caught up in my stories. I’m thankful to my family for being so supportive of me as I do tend to forget the world when I’m “in the zone. What can I say? I’m deeply affected by music.

facebook.com/karenluellen Email at karen.saga Twitter @LuellenBooks . please! Hugs.580/581 emails mean the world to me! Keep ‘em coming.com/ winters.com at Facebook at http://www.luellen@gmail. Karen Visit Karen Luellen’s page www.goodreads.

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