This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE CHAPTER SIX CHAPTER SEVEN CHAPTER EIGHT CHAPTER NINE CHAPTER TEN CHAPTER ELEVEN CHAPTER TWELVE CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHAPTER FOURTEEN CHAPTER FIFTEEN CHAPTER SIXTEEN CHAPTER SEVENTEEN CHAPTER EIGHTEEN CHAPTER NINETEEN CHAPTER TWENTY CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE CHAPTER THIRTY CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE old friends reunited memories a typical morning birthday surprises men in black phone calls new york city answers? knowledge is power the world of politics wake-up call working on the weekend prank calls sunday is the day of rest playing detective five children robert connor’s story kidnappers the message captured rescue mission the perfect race lost new address showdown death by manipulation puppeteer failure morals explanations
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO
CHAPTER ONE old friends reunited A taxi, more gray than yellow, stuttered to a bumpy stop in front of a grim black apartment building. The grass in front was long since dead and yellowing, and the solitary tree had already shed its few brown leaves. A young man stepped out of the taxi, closing the door behind him with more force than strictly necessary. The taxi sped off immediately. “I guess you can keep the change,” the man muttered under his breath. He stepped onto the curb and then paused, trying to shake off the tingling sensation on the back of his neck. Sighing, he strode to the building‟s door and jammed his finger on the buzzer. Shifting from foot to foot, he stuffed his numb hands in his pockets and bent his head against the wind as he waited. A minute passed; the man glanced behind him uneasily. Finally, he heard light footsteps and the door cracked open. The barrel of a gun was the first thing he saw, but before he could react, it was quickly retracted and the door opened wide. “Charles!” exclaimed the man in the doorway. He was in his mid-twenties, dressed casually in cargo pants and a simple t-shirt. A lock of wavy auburn hair fell over one of his bright blue eyes as he examined his visitor. “What a surprise!” “Save it, we both knew I would come,” said Charles Terrence, stepping inside with a wry smile despite his aloof tone. Piles of neatly stacked cardboard boxes lined the hallway to Phillip Miable‟s living room. The apartment, small but clean, was nearly empty; only the bare necessities remained. boxes. “„Baby Stuff,‟” Terrence said, reading one of the labels aloud. He lifted a pale blue bib out of the top box, which had the additional label „Derek.‟ You‟ve had a kid?” “Not quite,” said Phil, gently taking the bib and replacing it in the box. “What‟s this? It appeared that everything else had been packed. Terrence took this emptiness in his stride, but stopped short in front of a set of five particularly large
Terrence waited impatiently for his friend to elaborate, but Phil was staring out the window meditatively and did not seem to notice. “You know I haven‟t got any time to waste.” Terrence prompted, looking at his watch. “I have a meeting in an hour.” “Then I‟ll start,” said Phil. “This is about the conference last March.” The two men wandered over to the only furniture left unpacked: two folding chairs. “I‟ll explain everything as clearly as I can, although some of it I don‟t even understand myself,” Phil said, gazing out of the window thoughtfully. “But first- what‟s most important is that we are in danger.” Terrence‟s face did not change, but his hands clenched into fists. “We‟re both still alive.” “For the moment,” said Phil lightly, smiling to ease the tension. change.” Terrence sighed. “You know, sometimes I wish we‟d never even come up with our stupid theories.” He drummed his fingers on his legs. “It‟s changed our whole lives. And not in a good way, either.” “You must admit there have been...compensations,” said Phil, “even if we have all been in hiding for months.” Terrence smiled without any trace of humor. “It does make hiding easier. Still, though...” “What‟s done is done,” Phil said, speaking over him, “and I have other things to talk to you about. But I needed to bring it up- you‟re not being careful enough. He‟s powerful, smart, and has all the money in the world. And he‟s not going to give up on us, not since he went through all that trouble with the others.” He paused. “Anyway, that‟s not the reason we‟re here…I don‟t even know where to start. Do you remember our old physics theories?” “Not really. I never understood the physics parts,” said Terrence vaguely. “That was always more you and Isabel. Hannah and I dealt with the psychology part of it.” “Then let me give you a quick refresher. Bear with me for just a few minutes, because the psychology comes after, and that‟s what you‟ll be interested in. “That could
“Now, on the most basic level, there is matter, and there is the absence of matter: space,” said Phil. “But matter is in fact composed mainly of space. Matter is composed of atoms, and there is a great deal of unoccupied space between these atoms. “To go a level further, the atoms are composed of concentrated matter in the nucleus, and electrons which rotate around the nucleus in a cloud. These electrons are everywhere in this cloud at the same time; they are also nowhere in this cloud.” “I don‟t want a chemistry lesson, Phil,” Terrence said. “I never liked the science part, remember?” He checked his watch pointedly, but both men knew he wouldn‟t leave. “Exactly! There is space, and a tiny amount of matter, and more space. That idea was the base of our theory, do you remember?” “It‟s coming back to me,” nodded Terrence. “Now - and here is the part that‟s hard to understand - since everything is only space and matter, the only thing that separates the two is our conception of them. If we believed space was matter and matter was space, it would be. We only know that matter is composed of actual stuff because we believe it is. Instead of solid beings walking through space, we could be areas of space moving through matter. That is, if we didn‟t believe that something was solid, it wouldn‟t be.” “That‟s what as we concluded,” Terrence agreed. “It follows, then,” Phil continued, “that if we weren‟t so convinced, so absolutely convinced that we were solid beings who exist, we wouldn‟t exist. Such is the power of the human brain. Both the strongest and the most fragile aspect of the modern human, the brain requires undeniable proof of its existence. If that was to be removed…the brain would shatter. Instantaneous insanity at the very least and brain death for most.” Terrence considered that for several seconds. “So you‟re saying that the only thing that keeps us here is that we believe we are here. Interesting. That‟s a jump from what we used to hypothesize...but this brain shattering? I understand why it would occur- for a person‟s consciousness to have its own existence questioned would obviously induce insanity and even brain death, but how would that happen?”
“Manipulation, of course,” Phil answered. Terrence wrinkled his forehead. “Yes, but…who would even think of something like that?” “We‟ve only just begun learning firsthand the incredible power manipulation can wield,” Phil said slowly. “You can‟t possibly be implying that he would…” Terrence said incredulously. Phil shrugged. “There is no motive. It‟s just an idea. But one that we have to keep in mind. We already know the controlling power manipulation has, but this new, deadly power is a very real possibility as well. And physical manipulation…” “Physical manipulation?” Terrence repeated blankly. “Manipulation. Real, physical manipulation.” Terrence laughed; a short, harsh laugh. “Like what we can do isn‟t real enough?” He shook his head in disbelief. “I thought this was enough for you. Hannah, too. Haven‟t we screwed ourselves up enough? Why are you going to push for physical manipulation, too?” “Not us,” Phil answered quietly. “It‟s impossible for adults.” “Adults?” Terrence echoed. “Then who? Children?” Phil turned and met his friend‟s eyes for the first time. “Suppose that you grew up away from all that. Suppose you were never taught the basic laws of nature. What if you were taught that there is no such thing as solidity? That the law of gravity was amendable? What could you do, simply with your power of thought? The possibilities...” He trailed off and shook his head in amazement before continuing. “Hannah and I have been working on this theory for months and refining an idea to put it into practice; there‟s not much else we could do in hiding. Although you, I see, are just going on living your life normally.” He raised his eyebrows. “Holding a public office- that‟s not exactly in hiding, Charlie.” “I refuse to let this ruin my life,” said Terrence coolly. “I‟ve taken the risk for months, and I‟m still alive and well. Maybe it‟s you and Hannah who are mistaken“Phil, you‟re going way beyond what we actually know. This is all just guesswork. What are you getting at?”
maybe he‟s forgotten.
It‟s safe now.”
He sighed heavily.
“Six months, Phil.
months! How long are you going to hide?”
Phil shook his head. “We won‟t be in hiding for much longer. But you‟ve gotten me off track. This is what I was getting at: perhaps children raised away from society would have a greater chance of manipulating these quantem energies.” Terrence looked away from his colleague‟s eyes. “You‟re leaving?” he asked, ignoring Phil‟s last statement. “Yes. Hannah and I are moving. We‟ve each gotten a house, and we‟re neighbors. That‟s all I can tell you- I don‟t want him getting it out of you if he finds you.” Phil turned and fixed Terrence with an intense gaze. The silence stretched on for a minute longer. “Look, Phil,” said Terrence finally. “It sounds like the plot to a bad science fiction movie…but then again, our own abilities prove that our old theories were at least half right. I see what you‟re saying. It could work. But I don‟t think you should do it.” He chuckled humorlessly. “You see where this has gotten us? Our lives thrown away, living in fear? Our own minds so messed up? And you would willingly do this to someone else?” He shook his head. “You, me, Hannah, Isabel- we had no choice. There‟s a choice here.” Phil looked down. “I thought you‟d say that. But this is different. Physical Can‟t you see the manipulation only would keep them safe from mental danger. them see it that way!” “What if it doesn‟t work?” “Then they‟ll be normal kids, and Hannah and I will still raise them. No harm done; they‟ll live normal lives. And we‟ll know for sure that physical quantem manipulation is just a dream.” Phil‟s expression was inscrutable. “But what if it does work? It would ruin their lives! They‟d be freaks! Outsiders, always! They‟d never be able to live normal lives! They‟d hate you for it.” Terrence gestured wildly, so intent on getting his point across that he broke off, stuttering incoherently.
possibilities? Kids who could do the impossible- just because Hannah and I helped
“They‟ll know how to control their...abilities,” said Phil slowly and deliberately, “and, if they so choose, they would be able to...put them aside, so to speak, and live as ordinary people.” “You‟re taking innocent children and using them for your own experiments.” Terrence snarled. “We are taking children who would have grown up in an orphanage and giving them the chance to have a better life.” Phil asserted coldly. The two men stared at each other; the gap between them suddenly felt miles wide. Then Terrence stood abruptly and the tension dissolved. “Well, I‟ve got to go. City treasurer, you know. Meetings nonstop.” Phil stood as well and put a hand on his friend‟s shoulder. “I appreciate your coming, Charlie.” “Sorry I couldn‟t give you my support, but I really don‟t think you should do it,” said Terrence, walking down the dark hallway. Trailing him, Phil chuckled. “I can‟t say I wasn‟t expecting it. But I thought I‟d have a go at convincing you. It gave me an excuse to see you before we leave.” He hesitated. “Take care of yourself. We -Hannah and I- think he‟s here in the city. That‟s why we‟re leaving so suddenly. We‟d feel so much better, leaving you, if we knew you were in hiding...” Terrence paused. “Don‟t worry, Phil. I can take care of myself. I‟ll be fine. So I won‟t be seeing you for a while? How long? Ten years?” “Fifteen. Just to be on the safe side. Maybe- maybe we could email once or twice. It‟s too dangerous otherwise,” said Phil sadly. He opened the door for his friend. “Goodbye, Charlie. Take care.” “Goodbye, Phil. Good luck.” Terrence turned sharply and strode briskly down the path. Phil watched him go with an unidentified sense of grief that he could not really name... His cell phone rang, startling him; he fumbled in his pocket and finally extracted it. “Hello?”
“How did it go?” said Hannah Park without preamble. “Like you thought it would.” Phil sighed and drew back the curtain to watch Terrence climb into a taxi and speed off. “I told you he wouldn‟t agree,” Hannah said, but Phil could tell she took no joy in being right. They both had wanted Terrence to come with them so badly. It had been dangerous to meet with him, but both Hannah and Phil had agreed to risk it. “I know. I‟ll meet you at the bank in ten minutes,” Phil said, snapping the phone shut. He grabbed a jacket from a nearby box and headed outside, taking special care to lock the door behind him. Twenty-four hours later, a nondescript black van with fake license plates skidded to a stop in front of the very same apartment building. Three men dressed identically in black jumped out and sprinted up the path. One kicked down the door while the other two flanked him, aiming their guns cautiously into the dark apartment. It took the men less than a minute to search the entire apartment; there were no furnishings of any kind. After they were done, two of the men waited on the doorstep while the leader stepped out, slamming the door behind him. He had a white slip of paper in his hand, which he crumpled in his hand and then dropped in disgust. “Missed them,” he muttered. The three men climbed back into the van as the driver slammed his foot to the pedal. The sound of screeching tires filled the air as the van sped off. The white slip of paper slowly unfolded in the wind, and its message was now visible to any passerby: YOU’LL NEVER FIND US.
chapter two memories A bird fluttered from the depths of a thick New Hampshire forest and soared into flight, passing before a newly risen sun. Golden beams of sunlight streamed down into the solitary landscape: low purple mountains, carpeted in thick green trees. situated right in the middle of the isolated forest. Each house was three stories high, and unusual in many ways. Every wall was constructed of glass; the outer walls were completely transparent, and gleamed in the November sunrise. The inner walls were frosted glass. Both houses were also furnished in the most modern of ways; each room was airy and contained only sleek, monochromatic furniture. The decorations were quietly tasteful but had an expensive quality about them at the same time. The southern house was decorated with bright colors distributed throughout the furniture; the northern house contained only glossy furniture in varying neutral shades. This northern house belonged to Phillip Phil, who was at the moment lying awake in one of the house‟s upper rooms. The other inhabitants were asleep, and Phil lay just as motionless as he reflected on the events of the past fifteen years. Fifteen years ago today, he and his colleague Hannah Park, had adopted children who were only about a year old. They had pooled their considerable resources and bought two remote houses- a movie star had ordered their construction but lost interest in the project before it was completed- , the northern one in which Phil now laid. Each adult had chosen some of the children and picked a house to raise them in. They‟d taken a two-week trip to Vegas in order to help fund the transactions; they couldn‟t leave any paper trail, so they‟d paid in full and bribed someone to destroy the records. You couldn‟t be too careful. Even after all this time, he was wary that they would eventually find him and Hannah... Phil shook off the troublesome thought and returned to his recollections. The unending foliage was broken only by two buildings: two extremely modern houses,
He and Hannah had devoted their entire lives to this one experiment- this one project: raising children away from society and teaching them that anything was possible. To outsiders, it might have seemed the supreme sacrifice. But, thought Phil wryly, we‟d have had to leave anyway. Both of them had had to leave their careers in the public eye; Hannah especially had been devastated that she had to leave her teaching position at Yale University and her boyfriend Tom. Phil winced as he remembered how heartbroken Hannah had been after she ended their three-year relationship to vanish to New Hampshire. She and Tom had been very serious, but Hannah had admitted years later that it was probably for the best. He could never know the secrets that were her life‟s work. Nowadays, Phil and Hannah both dated casually but knew that nothing could ever develop into a real relationship. It was a lonely life at times, but Phil liked to think of it as the sort of life a government spy had to live. He could tell no one what he did lest it put them in danger…he and Hannah had come to this realization many years ago. Phil thought back to those first few years, in which he and Hannah had been skeptic about the success of their project. Their idea was simple. Phil had come up with the hypothesis that the only reason humans cannot bend the laws of nature is they were taught that they cannot. Hannah, who was a psychologist specializing in the power of human thought, had eagerly accepted the hypothesis. Along with two other colleagues, Charles Terrence and Isabel Dentry, they had developed a plan for raising children away from society‟s misconceptions. And, after Isabel‟s death had forced them all to go into hiding, Phil and Hannah had seized the chance to put their fantastic idea into practice. He remembered the extreme precautions they had had to take for the first five years. They had kept the only computer under lock and key, had no televisions in either house, and had not allowed the children to see anyone who could have contaminated their view of the world. The only books they kept in the house were fantasy books, where anything was possible. Toys that promoted imagination were encouraged, and neither he nor Hannah had ever demonstrated to the children what they called the “adult” form of quantem manipulation.
When the children were young toddlers, he and Hannah had told them that anything was possible if they concentrated hard enough. This one idea had been drilled into the toddlers‟ heads day after day, until it was an unspoken mantra that encircled both houses and insulated them from the rest of the world. The children had focused as hard as they could, but displayed no unusual abilities. Their one exciting breakthrough had been almost immediately been followed by a great tragedy; after such a setback, spirits were low. years of their lives. After five years, Hannah had persuaded Phil to allow the children a television and Internet access, as well as normal books and toys. “We‟ve already ingrained our philosophy into their heads. Nothing we show them can change that,” she had argued, and then paused. “And besides, if it doesn‟t work out, we want them to be normal.” Phil had consented, but with the condition that they would continue to homeschool the children until they all could manipulate easily. “No. We are not going to isolate them for their whole lives, Phil!” Hannah had said angrily. “We‟ll wait ten years. Ten years- that‟s it! If none of them can manipulate by the time they‟re ten, we‟re giving up. And don‟t get your hopes up.” She had looked him sternly in the eye. “Odds are, we won‟t see anything from them. “ Yet all of their hard work had paid off within ten years. When she was six years old, one of Hannah‟s children, Samantha, began to show signs of an incredible skill. After noticing how the television remote always zoomed out of Derek‟s hands and over to Sam whenever the latter wanted to change the channel, Hannah finally figured out her ability: she could move objects with her mind. At such a young age, Sam‟s ability was not very reliable. On some days, she could move objects easily; on others, she had trouble manipulating even the smallest things. Hannah was always patient with her, and under her guiding hand, Sam was able to control her manipulation much more easily as she grew older. A few months later, Phil had been watching Derek and Benjamin wrestle playfully when he noticed that Derek never seemed to be able to hit Ben. Derek was sitting next Phil especially had been devastated by the lack of initial results and had wondered dejectedly if they had wasted
to Ben, punching him as hard as he could; Ben was laughing gleefully as Derek‟s fist continued to sail right through him. Phil had leaped off his chair and rushed to Ben. “What are you doing, Ben?” he had asked. “Could you do it for me?” The pudgy seven-year-old had nodded. He took Phil‟s hand and passed it right through his own chest. “I make myself fuzzy,” he had explained happily. He released Phil‟s hand and closed his eyes. “Hit me.” Phil had punched Ben lightly and discovered no difference. “Harder!” grunted Ben, still with his eyes closed. Phil punched Ben as hard as he could and had recoiled in pain, nursing his clenched fist: the child was as hard as rock. Through weeks of experimentation, Phil and Hannah had concluded that Ben was able to manipulate his personal molecules so that he was at times insubstantial enough that solids could pass through him; at other times he could force his molecules together so that he was incredibly dense and completely impenetrable. Phil remembered how happy he and Hannah had been that their project had been halfway successful. They had each watched their own remaining child carefully for months, waiting for some sign of a possible ability, but there had been nothing for many, many months. Finally, when the children were eight, Hannah had come barging into Phil‟s house at six o‟clock in the morning, shouting she had discovered the most impressive talent yet, and had half-dragged the groggy Phil into Derek‟s bedroom. The young boy sat there calmly eating a waffle. “He‟s eating a waffle,” Phil had grumbled sleepily. “Now can I go back to bed?” “Don‟t you understand?” Hannah had shouted. “There are no waffles in the
house! He made it!”
This news had woken Phil up immediately. waffle?” Derek looked up at Phil without interest. “I made it. From the air.” Derek‟s talent had proved the easiest to determine. He was able to manipulate atoms and rearrange them to form new patterns, therefore forming any object he “Derek- where did you get that
wished. Hannah was extremely proud of Derek; (and although she never said it) Phil could tell that deep down inside she enjoyed the fact that her two children had developed their manipulation abilities, but only one of Phil‟s could manipulate. The last child, Alicia, was a problem. Unlike the others, she was never able to manipulate space or matter, and by the age of nine Phil had begun to worry: he only had one year left to discover her talent before Hannah would force him to put her in public school. Once she was in public school, Phil had been certain that she would never reach her potential. Yet Alicia‟s talent, once Phil had finally discovered it, was the most intriguing of all; she was able to exist in multiple places at once for short periods of time. Phil encouraged Alicia to stretch herself and find out just how many co-existences she could keep up, but Alicia had little interest in existing in more than two places simultaneously. Phil had discovered that Alicia could manipulate herself into two places for an indeterminable amount of time, but the amount of time she could maintain three, four, five, or even more Alicias was severely limited. Upon the breakthrough of Alicia‟s talent, Phil and Hannah had celebrated happily, for their entire project had finally been proved successful. On Ben‟s tenth birthday, which fell right before school started, Phil and Hannah had sat them down and explained to them their uniqueness. (Hannah had advised against this; she worried that once the children were exposed to the rest of the world‟s misconceptions, they would lose their abilities). The children had been incredulous that people believed in such ambiguous things like the law of gravity, but had accepted it as true. After their tenth birthday, Phil had enrolled them in public school. The children had been excited to get into the world, and submitted to the one rule without objection: they must never use their manipulation in front of everyday people. Phil thought fondly of each teenager. Benjamin- Ben, as he liked to be calledwas definitely the boss. The two girls looked up to him, and Derek had always been more of a follower than a leader. Phil didn‟t know much about the kids‟ school lives, but he was pretty sure that Derek and Ben saw little of each other outside of their tiny shared neighborhood, which
suited them; they were as different as two boys could be. Although they were both slender, Ben was outgoing and athletic, while Derek was quiet and bored with everything. Phil had a feeling he could excel at anything he wanted to; Derek usually just didn‟t feel the need. The two girls, Alicia and Samantha- Sam-, were almost inseparable. Hardly a day passed that Sam wasn‟t in Phil‟s house, gossiping happily with Alicia, or that Alicia spent the night at Hannah‟s. They weren‟t complete opposites, like the boys were, but they were still very different. Alicia was the athlete, while Sam was more quiet and introverted. Sam was more adaptable than Alicia, and Phil feared that Alicia would take his decision the wrong way. would… Phil shook his head to clear his thoughts. After school today, he‟d explain everything. He would clarify how it was they were able to manipulate (a subject he had always carefully avoided), why he had helped them to develop their abilities, and, most importantly, the job they must now set out to accomplish. Phil winced in memory of this last part. The job they had to do...such an enormous task. It was unfair to force four inexperienced teenagers to take on an organization powerful throughout the world. But there was no choice. Their abilities made them the only ones who even had a chance of surviving an encounter with KP. And, if he was right about the election, time was running out. Phil sighed. One last day of freedom, and then they would get to work. However…she would understand eventually…they all
chapter three a typical morning Across the hall, a loud beeping was cutting into Benjamin Miable‟s dream. He groaned and rolled over, stuffing a pillow over his head, but it was no use. He couldn‟t fall back asleep with the high-pitching beeping in his ears. He stuck a hand out blindly and fumbled about, knocking the clock to the floor. There was a temporary silence; then the clock began to roll away. (Sam had bought him one of the moving alarm clocks for his last birthday.) He groaned to himself. He listened to its beeping for a minute and was just about irritated enough to actually get up when he noticed the sound growing fainter and fainter; he peeked one eye out from beneath the pillow and spotted it zooming around the corner towards Alicia‟s room. Ben grinned and settled in for ten more minutes of sleep. Twenty feet away, Alicia Miable was slowly awakened by a high-pitched beeping. For a moment she struggled to place it-she didn‟t have an alarm-and then realized in annoyance that Ben‟s clock had wandered out of his room again. Why does it keep
A blonde girl flashed into existence in the middle of the floor; groggy, the new Alicia stumbled and fell against the wall before taking in her surroundings. She zeroed in on the source of the beeping and smiled; picking up a heavy book from her desk, she smashed the clock happily. “Hey!” Alicia turned and shrieked as she noticed Ben‟s head sticking through the wall. “Ben! I told you not to do that!” she said shakily, putting a hand over her heart. “You just killed my clock!” Ben said indignantly, ignoring her request. “I said that your clock would die if it came in here again,” snapped the Alicia on the bed, clearly grumpy in the early hour. “Now get out so I can get some sleep.” Ben retracted his head back into his room, frowning in annoyance. That was the third clock Alicia had killed this year. He was going to go broke paying for new ones if she kept this up. And it had been Sam‟s birthday present to him- she knew how irritated he got when Alicia broke them.
“Get up, lazy,” Alicia said, glancing over her shoulder at the motionless figure in the bed. “I need you to do my hair.” When there was no response, she sighed and closed her eyes for a brief second, reopening them just in time to see another Alicia flash into existence directly behind her. The newcomer picked up a brush and began to comb a lock of long blonde hair. “Let me guess. She wouldn‟t help?” she said, jerking a finger over her shoulder at the bed. “I can hear you,” the grumpy Alicia snapped. “If she stays there, I‟m more rested in school,” said the Alicia in the chair, leaning forward to apply mascara. “Have we decided yet?” asked the standing Alicia, beginning a tiny braid at the top of the other girl‟s head. “Keep him or no?” It was one of the things she liked best about her manipulation ability. Whenever she had an important decision to make, each of her selves assumed a side and argued it out until they were all in consensus. “I say no,” the sitting Alicia said immediately. “Time to move on.” “He‟s been nice lately,” the Alicia in the bed pointed out, propping her head up with her hand. “Only because I‟ve been acting distant,” the sitting Alicia countered. “True…you‟re right. Ditch him today,” the sleepy Alicia seconded. “So we‟re agreed? persisted. “Don‟t worry, I won‟t forget,” the sitting girl answered, winking at her sisters in the mirror. “You know who I‟ve been thinking about,” –they all giggled- “and I‟ve got to get rid of Greg first.” The Alicia behind her tsked softly. She held up a chunk of her own hair for her twin to examine. “Split ends.” Alicia rose out of the chair and pulled a strand of her hair towards her face to examine the evidence. “Damn! I‟ll have to fix that later.” She picked up her sports bag and turned towards the other two. “Time for school.” They managed grim smiles before flickering and disappearing. Dumping Greg after school today?” the standing Alicia
In the neighboring house, Sam leaned toward the mirror and carefully began applying her eyeliner. She held her breath in concentration- today, everything had to be perfect… The door to her room flew open and the wood slammed against the wall, making Sam jump. Her hand slipped and the eyeliner brushed against her face, leaving a dark black line down one of her cheeks. “Happy birthday, Sammy!” said her brother, grinning. She turned toward Derek, exasperated. “Look what you made me do!” He bit back a laugh. “Don‟t worry. It‟s a good look for you.” A pillow zoomed at his head; he ducked and winked at Sam. “Your aim sucks!” Then he yanked the door shut just in time for the next three pillows to bounce harmlessly off of it. Sam sighed and flicked her wrist toward the pile of pillows against the door. One by one, they flew gracefully into the air and hovered over her bed. Sam turned her attention to her sheets and comforter, which, with a quick movement of her hand, snapped into position. She turned toward the door and the pillows dropped unceremoniously onto the bed. “Good morning, Samantha,” said her guardian, Hannah, cheerfully as Sam appeared in the kitchen. Sam stopped in the doorway and inhaled deeply; the scent of homemade cooking filled the air. “Pancakes!” she cheered, dropping her bags and sitting down at the table. “Happy birthday,” Hannah said, smiling, placing a full plate in front of her. Derek walked, yawning, through the door and immediately began shoveling down a plate of pancakes. Hannah pulled off her apron and then sat down in the empty chair across from Sam. “Remember, I want you both home tonight,” she said, uncharacteristically serious. Derek groaned. “How come?” he complained through a full mouth of pancakes.
“Don‟t give me that,” said Hannah sharply. “I‟ve told you not to make plans today for a week. It‟s not my fault if you didn‟t listen. There‟s something important Phil and I need to talk to you about.” “You and Phil?” said Sam curiously. “What?” Hannah shook her head. “You‟ll find out soon enough.” The door to the kitchen opened and their next-door neighbor Alicia Miable walked in, stopping quickly to close her eyes and concentrate on enjoying the delicious scent. “Hey, Leesh,” said Sam, smiling. “I knew there were going to be pancakes!” Alicia declared happily, pulling out a chair. “Happy seventeenth, Sam!” She pulled a small box wrapped in silver paper out of her bag and tossed it to her friend. “Where‟s mine?” said Derek. Alicia flashed him a playful look before standing up again and pulling on her jacket. “I‟ve got to go, Ben‟s driving me today and he likes to get there early.” “No pancakes?” Hannah waved a full plate toward Alicia invitingly. Alicia sighed. “No, he gets really mad if I make him wait. I wish, though!” Her eyes lingered wistfully on the pancakes for a few seconds; she shook her head and her gaze snapped back to Sam. “Can you give me a ride home today?” she added quietly after making sure Hannah had disappeared down the hall. Sam glanced down the hall, checking to make sure her guardian was out of earshot before whispering, “Leesh, I‟m not legal for another two weeks! Can‟t Ben take you?” “He has practice,” Alicia said, looking at Sam beseechingly. “I thought you had a motorcycle?” Derek interjected. “It‟s in the shop,” Alicia said, her eyes still on Sam. “Okay, fine,” Sam pointed a fork at Alicia threateningly. you.” “But if you get my license taken away when I‟m legal to drive other people in two weeks, I‟m going to kill
“Deal!” said Alicia cheerfully. They heard a horn honk angrily outside. “That‟ll be Ben,” said Alicia, rolling her eyes. “I‟ve got to go. See you at school!” The door closed behind her, leaving a whiff of her perfume. “She seems hard to say no to,” Derek said wryly. Sam laughed under her breath. “You have no idea.”
chapter four birthday surprises Almost nine hours later, and ten miles away in a public New Hampshire high school, Sam sat in American History class. Although she normally hated History, Sam always enjoyed this particular class because she sat behind her best friend, Alicia, and next to her brother, Derek. The three of them, along with Alicia‟s boyfriend, Greg, always made the class bearable, at the very least, and today was no exception. In fact, since it was Sam‟s birthday, the foursome had been much more reckless than usual. Sam tapped her pencil impatiently against her desk as she waited for the bell to ring. Four minutes, and then she‟d be free to go! Thank God it‟s Friday... A tiny piece of paper appeared on her desk. She smiled to herself. Derek. He was the only one who quantem manipulated- that is, used his abilities- constantly, and in full view of everyone else. Then again, she thought to herself, he‟s kinda hard to catch. As if to prove her point, Ms. Smith, the history teacher, stalked down the aisle between the brother and sister. “Ms. Park,” she sniffed. “Kindly give me the note on your desk.” “What note?” smirked Sam, using the few seconds she knew Derek needed. It was enough. While Ms. Smith‟s eyes were fixed on Sam‟s face, Derek carefully dissolved the miniscule piece of paper. Ms. Smith glared pointedly at the empty space where the note had been; her smug expression quickly shifted into one of embarrassed bewilderment. After several long seconds, she regained her composure. “Pay attention, Samantha.” Sam nodded, and as the teacher turned to storm to the front of the room, glanced over at her brother. “That was a little risky,” she whispered. Derek smirked. He closed his eyes briefly and another small note appeared on Sam‟s desk. She was careful to remove it quickly this time. Keeping a wary eye on Ms. Smith, she unfolded it surreptitiously.
Come on. Playing safe is no fun.
She glanced at him. He wiggled his eyebrows, daring her to react. He wanted her to use her powers? Then she‟d use them. She concentrated slightly and watched
Derek‟s pencil rise of its own accord and begin to scrawl an untidy message on his notebook. Glancing over at Sam, Derek grinned appreciatively and then slumped over his desk to hide the pencil from others‟ eyes. Alicia nudged Sam. “One minute,” she whispered. She flipped her long, straight blonde hair over her shoulder and resumed her hushed conversation with Greg. Sam turned back to Derek just in time to see a tiny note materialize on her desk. She moved to grab it, but Derek got there first; he snatched it and clenched his fist tight as the bell rang. “C‟mon, Derek,” pleaded Sam. “I want to know what it says!” Derek flashed her his famous half-smile, the one that had effortlessly broken fifty girls‟ hearts and earned him his womanizer reputation. He opened his fist slowly and Sam could just see the last remains of the note fading into the air. She shoved him half-heartedly and ran to catch up with Alicia. Derek turned to gather up his black messenger bag. Reaching down, he felt two small hands clamp themselves over his eyes. “Guess who!” trilled a happy voice. Derek sighed tiredly. Shannon. He turned to her and managed a pained smile. “Hey.” “You don‟t seem happy,” Shannon pouted. She tossed her red curls anxiously and peered up at him. He sighed and resigned himself to the worst, fidgeting with a pencil between his fingers. “Look, Shannon. What happened between us...” he paused, then squared himself and pressed on: “I‟m not into relationships. You know that.” Looking down at her, he felt a slight twinge of guilt; her bright amber eyes were filling with tears. He slung his bag over his shoulder and patted her on the shoulder awkwardly. “I‟m sorry. And...who knows? Maybe I‟ll text you later.” He smiled to himself and walked out of the room. He could hear Shannon sniffling behind him. Ben fell into step beside him. “Yo,” he said, nodding. “Who is it this time?” Derek almost smiled. “Is it that obvious?” Ben smirked at him.
Derek exhaled heavily. “Shannon Hank. It wasn‟t my fault. She threw herself at me, and it was at that party at Matt‟s and it just sort of happened.” Even as he said it, he had to laugh. Then he caught a glimpse of Shannon watching him laugh it off; her eyes filled with tears again and she hurried off. Oops. Ben had noticed nothing, he was laughing to himself; as the two weaved their way through the crowds of people, he slapped hands with a bunch of football buddies and waved to a few girls. “You just have that look. Like, „tall, dark, and handsome,‟ you know, that crap. Girls love it, and you have it.” “Hmm,” said Derek, not really listening. Alicia Phil, Ben‟s hot sister, sauntered by and he turned to check her out. “Dude, she‟s got a boyfriend. Derek‟s interest. And off limits anyway,” Ben teased, noticing He scanned the He continued talking but Derek tuned him out.
hallway of teenagers for a second- There she is. “Oh, hold on. Here comes Kayla- I gotta talk to her.” Derek lifted a hand, catching the attention of a striking black-haired girl walking nearby. “Alright, but hold on a sec,” said Ben, stepping in front of Derek to stop him running off. “I got practice till late tonight, so I can‟t give you a ride.” “What? Yes,” said Derek, clearly distracted. Ben laughed to himself, but allowed Derek to slip by him. He walked towards his locker, in a strangely good mood, but was almost immediately intercepted by a man in a tidy grey business suit. “Benjamin Phil?” the man said warmly. “Is that you?” Ben was a little taken aback, but recovered quickly. “Uh, yeah. I‟m Ben.” He glanced up at the hall clock and realized he only had a few minutes to get his stuff and meet Sam if he wanted to make it to practice on time. He continued walking, hoping the man would get the hint, but the businessman just fell into step beside him. “It‟s nice to meet you, Benjamin. My name-” began the man, but Ben was already distracted; he craned his neck to see if he could spot Sam- was she already at his locker? “Look, I was just stopping by- I‟m pretty friendly with your head basketball coach
here, and he happened to mention you. Said you‟re a very promising talent,” continued Grey Suit. He noticed a short girl with long black curls waiting in front of his locker; the person turned and he recognized Sam. He quickened his pace and tried to furtively catch her eye while looking cordially interested for the benefit of Grey Suit. “Made varsity as a freshman, started by the end of the year,” Grey Suit was saying. Ben nodded vaguely. Not for the first time, he wished he had Derek‟s talent for unconsciously attracting the attention of any teenage girl within a thirty-foot radius. “-an opening for a shooting guard the year after you graduate-” Sam was beginning to get annoyed. Ben watched desperately as she glanced around the hallway, not seeing him, and then stalked off to her own locker. Crap. He had told her he‟d meet her after school- she was not going to be pleased with him. He sighed and returned his attention to Grey Suit, who was still talking. “-so keep it up, Ben, and we might be able to offer you a full scholarship to North Carolina.” Ben was jolted out of his thoughts immediately. “What? A full ride to UNC? Are you serious?” he blurted quickly. Then he realized what he‟d said. I must‟ve sounded
like a total idiot. He coughed. “I mean, uh, yeah, that‟d be cool.”
The man smiled. “Keep shooting. I‟ll have a scout at most of your home games this year- don‟t let me down.” He clapped Ben on the shoulder and walked away. Ben stood in the hall in shock. A full scholarship- he had never imagined this. And they were already scouting him, and he was only a junior! None of the other guys on the team- not even the seniors- had been approached by such a good basketball school. “Heads!” shouted a football player from behind him. Ben twisted around and saw a football flying towards his head, too quickly for him to move out of the way. He reached inside him and tugged on the molecules in his head; they spread apart instantaneously and the football sped harmlessly through them. Ben winced inwardly.
I shouldn‟t have done that, he thought nervously, what if they noticed...?
But the football player- Matt- seemed to have noticed nothing. “Hey, Ben, sorry,
man,” he said, pounding him on the back. “Close one, huh?” Ben faked a smile, slapped Matt on the back, and continued to his locker. It took his three tries to do the correct combination on his locker because his hands were shaking so badly. Ever since Phil and Hannah had told them about the rest of the world‟s misconceptions, Ben had rarely ever used his abilities outside of their tiny neighborhood; the only time he manipulated was when it was a reflex, and he didn‟t have time to think about what he was doing. Like the incident a minute ago. He hadn‟t known what he was doing- it was just an instinct. He couldn‟t help it. It was only natural that he‟d use his...abilities...to protect himself. He‟d worked hard to control the impulse in sports, but -if he was honest with himself- he had probably gained some unfair advantages by unconsciously making himself rock-hard. But I try to control it, thought Ben angrily. And that UNC scholarship
doesn‟t have anything to do with manipulation. I earned it.
He slammed his locker shut and stalked outside. Being forced to manipulate in public had completely sucked away all of the happiness he felt at the possibility of a scholarship. Glancing up, he noticed Alicia and Greg cuddling together on one of the benches outside the school. The sight of the couple only made him madder; he hated Greg. The guy was a complete jerk who was just waiting to break Alicia‟s heart. Obviously he was protective of his sister, but the bad feeling he had about Greg was worse than any of Alicia‟s many past boyfriends. Alicia turned to watch Ben storm away, frowning. I wonder what he‟s so upset
about, she thought. It‟s Sam‟s birthday, he should pretend to be happy for her.
Especially since Sam likes him. And he likes her too! I wish they‟d just admit it. “What‟s he so mad about?” she wondered aloud. Greg spun her around to face him again. “Forget about him, baby,” he whispered. “You have me.” He brought one muscular arm around her waist and pulled her closer to him. Alicia tensed; usually she felt safe in Greg‟s arms, but this time was different. She felt restricted, almost trapped. She reached up and ran a hand through his hair,
then pulled his head down to kiss him one last time. When they broke apart, Alicia quickly removed his arm from around her waist. She had better get this over with- she had a feeling Greg wasn‟t the kind of guy who took rejection well. “Greg, we need to talk,” she said firmly. “About what?” he said, leaning in to kiss her again. She moved away and steeled herself. She needed to just say it. “I‟m sorry, Greg. But I‟ve been thinking about us and I‟m just not feeling it anymore. I think it‟s time we broke up.” She didn‟t dare meet his eyes. Instead, she grabbed her sky-blue sports bag and stood up, ready to leave. He stepped to meet her and grabbed her arm. “You don‟t mean that,” he insisted. “We belong together.” Alicia glanced up at his face. She‟d expected to see sadness, or maybe indifference if Greg tried to save his pride. But anger? Suddenly she felt uncomfortable and tried to pry off his hand. “We don‟t, Greg!” Alicia protested. Her voice was higher than normal and a little louder, too. She swallowed and tried to calm herself down. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed some guy walking from the parking lot to the school. Had he heard them fighting? She didn‟t want this story all over school on Monday. She lowered her voice and looked straight at him. “Greg. Please. Just let me go.” Greg‟s expression hardened and he jerked Alicia back to him violently. She gasped and dropped her bag, thrown off balance. He shoved her down on the bench and stood over her. Now she could see the clear anger in his eyes. “Listen, Alicia, I don‟t know what‟s going on with you, but-” Alicia glanced over his shoulder and recognized the guy running towards them. She couldn‟t decide whether she was angry or grateful for what her brother was about to do, but before she had a chance to decide, he was steps away and was pulling back his arm. Greg seemed to realize that he‟d lost Alicia‟s attention; he started turning around right in time for Ben‟s fist to connect with the side of his head. He groaned and collapsed at Alicia‟s feet.
“Leave my sister alone, you idiot,” said Ben angrily. Then he glanced down at Alicia. “You‟re lucky I left my history book in my locker.” He held out a hand and helped her up. She smiled sheepishly and picked up her stuff. “Thanks.” “Seriously, Leesh, you choose the worst guys,” said Ben as they walked back into the building together, leaving Greg clutching his head on the ground, shouting obscenities after them. “You‟re my older brother. You‟re supposed to hate the guys I date,” Alicia pointed out. Ben stiffened as Greg called out something particularly insulting to Alicia, but Alicia grabbed his arm before her brother could go back and send Greg to the hospital for sure. “Don‟t. He‟s not worth it.” Ben closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and then continued the conversation. He was very good at controlling his emotions and not letting them get out of hand, much better than Alicia was, at any rate. “Older by like a month! Just promise me: no more players,” said Ben, looking at her sternly. “And no one like Greg.” Alicia laughed. She was still on an adrenaline rush from the shot of fear she‟d experienced when she‟d realized Greg‟s strength. “I was dumping him! It‟s not like I really liked him.” Ben seemed unconvinced. “Anyways, I could‟ve manipulated if he got too out of control.” she added. Then she winced inwardly. I shouldn‟t have said
that. He doesn‟t like thinking about it...
“What are you talking about?” said Ben angrily. He stopped so suddenly that Alicia went a few steps ahead of him before realizing they were at his locker. Ben glared down at his lock and twisted it a few times. “Don‟t bring that up, Leesh. Especially not here.” Alicia glanced around. The halls were practically empty and no one was close enough to hear what they were saying. She sighed. Ben was just paranoid someone would find out their secret. “I was just kidding,” she said soothingly. “Of course I wouldn‟t do that.” Ben grabbed his book and slammed the locker shut. “Yeah? Well, then, what if I hadn‟t been walking by? Huh?”
“Well...” said Alicia slowly, “I guess I would‟ve just let things happen. But,” she added quickly, sensing Ben was about to interrupt, “if he did get too violent or something, I could‟ve made another me sneak up behind him. He wouldn‟t have had to see me.” “What if he did?” said Ben. Alicia sighed. Now she was getting just a teeny bit annoyed. She‟d thanked him. She‟d reassured him that she would have been fine, even if he hadn‟t intervened. She‟d dealt with his fears that they would be discovered. But he just kept going with the “what-ifs”. “Who cares, Ben?” she said, frustrated. “He would‟ve thought he imagined it! Everyone knows you can get double vision if you‟re hit too hard.” Ben opened his mouth to argue, but she cut him off. “Look. No one will find out. Our abilities make us safe, okay? So stop worrying about them. You‟d have to worry a
lot more if we didn‟t have them.”
Ben didn‟t say anything for several moments. By this time they were back outside and heading towards the parking lot. “You‟re right,” he said finally. “No one would believe what they saw, anyway. Manipulation keeps us safe. I gotta go, though. I have basketball practice.” As Alicia watched him lope off towards the gym, something she had told Ben was on her mind. Our abilities keep us safe. And what had Ben said? You‟re right. But Alicia couldn‟t shake the feeling that she had never been more wrong.
Sam closed her locker and picked up her bag. She glanced at her cell. She‟d better hurry; Alicia didn‟t like to be kept waiting when Sam drove her home. As she walked outside, Sam remembered how Ben had ditched her after school and her mood instantly darkened. She sighed to herself. She‟d been so sure that he was going to tell her he liked her! But he couldn‟t even be bothered showing up. “Hey! Alicia!” Sam opened the school door and waved. She jogged over to her friend, noting thankfully that Alicia didn‟t look annoyed. In fact, she was staring at Sam with an odd expression on her face.
Alicia watched Sam approach, considering how good Sam and her brother would look together. Ben was tall and well-built; pretty cute, if Alicia thought about it objectively, with a decent face and closely cropped brown hair. He‟d look perfect with Sam, who was short and curvy, with tan skin and pretty black ringlets. “What are you thinking about?” Sam asked curiously when Alicia didn‟t answer. Alicia flashed Sam a mischievous grin. “Just how adorable you and Ben will be when you finally admit that you both like each other.” “Yeah, well, don‟t hold your breath for that,” Sam said glumly. “He said he needed to tell me something important after school.” “What was it?” asked Alicia gleefully. “He asked you out, didn‟t he?” “No, he stood me up.” “Oh. Well, there was probably a reason,” Alicia offered. “Maybe,” said Sam dejectedly. “Hey, where‟s Greg? I thought you were going to hang out with him today.” “I dumped him,” Alicia said nonchalantly as the two started towards the parking lot. “He‟s been way controlling lately and it‟s been so long. I need someone new.” “So long?” Sam repeated incredulously. “You‟ve been going out with him for like a month!” “Three weeks,” Alicia corrected. “But you know me. I get bored easily.” She glanced at Sam, smiling suggestively. “Oh, you‟ve already got someone in mind,” Sam shook her head, laughing. “You‟re unbelievable. Who is it?” Alicia tapped one manicured finger against her lips. “I‟m not telling you.” “Leesh-” “You wouldn‟t approve, and Ben definitely wouldn‟t. I don‟t want to get anyone in trouble. I‟ve got to go, though. See you later!” Alicia flashed her a quick smile. “Wait- I thought I was driving you home today?” said Sam, grabbing her arm. “Yeah, but they just dropped my bike off from the garage today,” said Alicia. She laughed at the confused expression on Sam‟s face. “Yeah, I know, usually you have to
go pick up your car or whatever. But Paul works there and he likes me, so he drove my motorcycle to school for me today.” “Ohhh,” said Sam. “Kay. I‟ll see you later. Want to go see a movie or something?” “Nah,” said Alicia. “I feel like staying home tonight. How bout I walk over at like seven? I can bring Ben, if you want,” she added sneakily. Sam blushed. “Oh, uh, I don‟t care.” “Kay. It‟ll just be me and you then,” said Alicia. Sam tried to hide her disappointment. “Bye!” added Alicia. The two girls hugged and walked in opposite directions. On one side of the parking lot, Alicia pulled a bright red helmet out of her bag. Strapping it on, she slid the visor down and expertly straddled the black motorcycle. She closed her fist tightly around the clutch and the motorcycle shot out onto the main road. On the other side of the parking lot, Sam laughed as she watched Alicia‟s attention-grabbing swerve into traffic. She stepped into her sky-blue convertible (a sweet sixteen present from her mother) and closed the door. She sat there for a second, fighting with her disappointment about Ben. She‟d been so sure that today something would have happened- but he couldn‟t even be bothered to show up. She put her purse on the passenger seat and searched through it, finally pulling out her cell phone. Maybe Ben had called her with an excuse? Her heart sank as she glanced at the tiny screen and realized he hadn‟t even texted. She glanced into the rearview mirror and froze. Three men dressed in black were standing behind her car. Why hadn‟t she seen them when she was getting in? Why hadn‟t she heard them walk up? Her intuition screamed at her that they were dangerous. Sam swallowed heavily. Why wasn‟t the top up? she thought quickly. I left
it up this morning...
“Samantha Park,” said one of the men. It wasn‟t a question. “You‟ll need to come with us.”
chapter five men in black “Who are you?” said Sam shakily. “Get out of the car, Samantha.” said the same man, the one in the middle. Something about the way the other two watched him made Sam label him as the leader. “Go away!” said Sam, wincing as her voice cracked, completely destroying her credibility. “Or I‟ll call the police!” She held up her cell phone to show she meant it. The two men flanking the leader moved so quickly that Sam had no time to react. One appeared on the passenger side of the car; the other was suddenly only a foot from Sam, right next to the driver‟s door. He grabbed the phone out of Sam‟s hand and threw it to the ground. She heard a crunch as he smashed it into pieces with his shoe. “Get out of the car,” said the leader coldly. He pulled a gun out of his black jacket and pointed it straight at her head. Her blood seemed to turn to ice; terror ripped through her and she was momentarily paralyzed with fear. She could not have moved to obey, to run, to scream. She could do nothing but remain frozen. Then something seemed to snap into place and her mind cleared; some tiny part of her mind recognized it as the adrenaline kicking into gear. Sam took a deep breath, mentally preparing herself for a fight. Time for her to utilize her self-defense training.
Aim for their weak spots.
Sam grabbed the driver door handle and slammed the door into the man who was standing right next to it. He gasped in pain and crumpled as the sharp corner hit him in the groin.
Neutralize any gun threat.
She dove out of the car and rolled to the ground, anticipating the bullet that the leader fired. It shot just over her head, hitting her side mirror. You‟re going to pay for
that one, thought Sam. No one messed with her car.
With one quick motion of her hand, the leader‟s gun flew straight into her fingers. She pointed it at him. Then, too late, she remembered the essential rule from her selfdefense class.
Keep all enemies within your sight.
The third man, the one who had been by the passenger door, had snuck around the front of the car. He grabbed Sam from behind and pressed a long knife to her throat. “That‟s enough from you.” She froze. “Drop the gun,” he ordered. She did nothing, weighing her chances. Could she shoot him from behind before he slit her throat? But the other two had recovered and were steps away. She was cornered. He pressed the knife harder against her neck. “I said drop it!” She fell to the ground, the gun tumbling out of her grasp. “No more trouble or you‟ll be seeing the sharp end of this,” growled the one with the knife. He faked a jab and Sam winced. The man laughed obnoxiously. Sam tried to manipulate the knife out of his hand, but her mind was fuzzy and she couldn‟t concentrate. She blinked back tears as her vision swam; her head was pounding and the spot where he had hit her was throbbing painfully. The leader walked around to stand right over Sam. She got a better glimpse of him now. He was wearing shiny black shoes, black dress pants, and a dark button-up shirt with the top buttons undone and the sleeves casually rolled up. There was a large purple symbol embroidered on his shirt pocket. The other two were dressed similarly, with the same odd purple symbol. The leader cleared his throat and Sam‟s attention snapped back to him. He had another gun stored in a holster at his waist, her mind noted professionally. knife, stood behind Sam and out of her vision. The third attacker, the one who Sam had slammed with the door, appeared in her line of sight. This one was a little shorter than the other two and he looked Spanish. Sam squinted. He looked…Italian? The second man, the one with the growly voice and the He jabbed her in the head with the butt of his knife and Sam felt a throbbing pain right behind her ear.
He glared down at her. Sam swallowed. She hoped he wouldn‟t hold a grudge about the door thing- he looked dangerous. He spit on Sam‟s face and then turned to the Italian. “What the hell happened to your gun? But there were supposed-” “Where is she?” said the Italian, ignoring the short man and addressing Sam. “Who?” said Sam, dazed. “Where is she? And you don‟t want me to have to ask again.” He fingered the handle of his second gun threateningly. “I don‟t know what you mean,” Sam choked out. “Who are you talking about?” “Alicia Phil. Where is she?” “Looking for someone?” called a voice from behind them. The men spun on the spot, looking almost comical; Sam would have laughed if the situation hadn‟t been so serious. Three blonde girls with shiny red motorcycle helmets stood a few feet away. The middle one took off her helmet and smiled coldly at the men. “I‟m right here.” The Italian yanked his second gun out of his holster and fired, but all three Alicias had already dived to the ground. One snatched up the leader‟s abandoned first gun and trained it on the attacker with the knife, who backed away with his hands up. Another tackled the Spaniard and began wrestling with him. The Italian leader, however, had recovered by this point. He shot the third Alicia, who was charging him, straight in the chest. All three Alicias cried out in pain, but only the middle one fell to the ground, flickered, and then disappeared. The Italian looked confused. Another Alicia shimmered into existence right behind him. She kicked him in the back, and he went down hard. But right as she was about to finish him off, the African attacker who had the knife slashed at her, getting her in the upper arm. She cried out in pain and turned, knocking the knife out of his hand. Sam watched all this from the ground, still a little woozy from the hit she‟d taken to the head. As the knife dropped from the African‟s hand, Sam grabbed it and stabbed it into his back. He fell with a groan and did not move.
“One down, two to go,” said the Alicia. Then they both turned to assess the situation. One Alicia had gotten a deep cut on her cheek and was sitting on top of the fallen Italian. She punched him in the back of the head twice, hard, and he lay flat without moving. She dissolved immediately. The other Alicia was still wrestling with the Spaniard, and she wasn‟t doing too well. Even though Alicia had a black belt in karate, he obviously knew what he was doing too. He had her pinned on the ground and was slowly strangling her as she gasped for air. Quickly, Sam jumped the guy and pulled him off of Alicia. The other Alicia kicked the man in the groin and he crumpled to the ground. Then she punched him in the face. “And that,” she said, “was for trying to kill me.” The Alicia on the ground gasped a little longer, clutching her neck, and then dissolved. The remaining Alicia staggered and fell; Sam, who had been expecting this, caught her and steered her over to the car so they could sit down. Alicia touched her throat. “I don‟t feel so good,” she said hoarsely. Sam could see purplish marks all along her throat. A gash had formed in her cheek and was trickling blood. Another injury had opened in her chest, right under her neck. It was a shallow wound, but it had been a gunshot wound on another Alicia. It was the price Alicia had to pay for being able to exist in multiple places. If she fought with three of herself, she would feel all of the injuries that every Alicia had sustained once she returned to one form. Luckily, however, they were only a third as serious. That way, one of three Alicias could take a fatal bullet, but when there was one Alicia, she would only have a small gash where the bullet wound would have been. “Just relax,” Sam said quietly. Alicia sat behind her, panting with her eyes closed. Sam fumbled in her bag and found a half-empty water bottle, which she quickly passed to Alicia. “Are you okay?” said Alicia, accepting the bottle and taking a long drink. “Yeah, I‟m fine,” said Sam quickly, “but what about you?”
Alicia opened her eyes and glanced at her friend. definitely scary, though.” “You handled it really well,” Sam pointed out truthfully.
“I‟ll be fine.
Alicia stared at the ground broodingly. “Yeah, it must‟ve just been the instincts taking over, because I barely knew what I was doing. I just wish I knew why they came after us, though.” Sam nodded. “Yeah, me too. Me too.” She glanced at the three bodies on the ground next to them. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how she considered it, she didn‟t think any of the men had been killed and only one had been seriously injured. A thought occurred to her and she went over to the nearest man, the African. Trying to ignore the knife she‟d imbedded in his back, Sam rolled him over. “Hey. Look at this.” She was staring at the purple embroidery on the man‟s shirt pocket. It was a circular symbol with writing inside. Alicia came over and studied the symbol. “It looks like it says…Knowledge is Power. Knowledge is power? What does that mean?” “I don‟t know.”
“Five minutes!” screamed the head coach of the boys‟ varsity basketball team. “Or I‟ll make you run your-” Woah. Ben nodded and grabbed a drink from the cooler before slipping outside. It was about a thousand degrees inside the gym and he was longing for some fresh air. The gym door banged shut behind him, but he didn‟t think anyone noticed. The coach was yelling at some freshman and everyone else was taking advantage of the short break and relaxing on the bleachers. He drained the plastic cup in one gulp and crunched it in his palm. Ben was still angry about the incident with Greg, and the thing with the idiot football player who‟d almost figured out what Ben could do. Sometimes I wish we couldn‟t manipulate, Ben thought sadly. It just causes problems.
He turned to go back into the gym. Going outside was stupid; it was getting really cold. He wasn‟t even sure why he‟d come out in the first place. “Benjamin Phil?” a man in a black suit asked. He was standing fifty feet away in the middle of the empty gym parking lot. Ben smiled to himself. Another scout. “Yes, that‟s me. Did you want to talk to me about your school?” The man frowned. “My school?” He seemed confused. Then he shook it off. “You‟ve been giving us a lot of trouble, Ben.” “I have?” said Ben. He had been taking a lot of floaters lately, but surely most colleges wanted a shooter who could do more than just drain three-pointers. “Did you think you could hide forever? Did you think we wouldn‟t find out what they‟d done?” He smiled, but there was no humor in his face. Ben frowned; he had a feeling that he and the man weren‟t talking about the same thing. “This is nothing personal,” the man continued. “But knowledge is power, Ben. And anyone who knows too much is a potential threat.” one shot. Before the man even had his finger on the trigger, Ben had already pulled on his particles and changed his shape so that he was denser than diamond. When the bullet connected with Ben‟s chest, it bounced off and ricocheted back, hitting the man in the chest. He fell to the ground. Ben knew he was dead. He also knew that, now, Greg was the least of his problems. He pulled out a gun and fired
“So you‟ll be okay?” said Sam worriedly. It was only fifteen minutes after the unexpected attack, and Alicia was claiming she was fine. “I‟m fine, Sammy,” Alicia said impatiently. “Now. There‟s things we have to do.” “Like what?” “Like call the police! Alright. Here‟s the plan. I‟m going to pick up a pizza on the way home. You‟re going to go straight home. On your way, call the police. Tell
them what happened- you have to do that, not me, because you were there for all of it. After you do that, call Hannah and tell her what happened.” “Can‟t you just come straight home?” Sam pleaded. “It‟s too dangerous. What if there are more of them waiting for you?” Alicia snorted. “At the pizza place? Come on, Sam. Do you hear yourself? Seriously. You can‟t let this make you all paranoid. I‟ll be fine.” Sam still didn‟t look convinced, so Alicia added what she hadn‟t wanted to say. “Besides. I can take care of myself. I saved you, remember?” Sam nodded. “Okay. Let‟s go. I want to get home fast. And I think we both have some calls to make.”
chapter six phone calls “Hello?” “Hello? Ben?” “Leesh?” “Yeah. Hey. Something‟s....happened, and I thought you should know.” Alicia reached up and adjusted her earpiece. She hated earpieces, but driving a motorcycle required some sacrifices. Alicia looked around and sighed impatiently. She was stuck in traffic. And even though their fight with the bad guys might have made Sam jumpy, it had just made Alicia pissed. No one messed with Sam. No one. Alicia had always been a little protective of her, but why not? The two had been best friends since they could talk and Alicia had always been the stronger, more athletic and outgoing one. Alicia shook her head. She needed to concentrate on telling Ben the story in a way that didn‟t completely freak him out. Hmm. How can I tell him that three guys
with guns knew where we were going to be and tried to shoot us and make it sound nice?
“Leesh! I‟m on my way home now. You should be too.” said Ben urgently. “Wait, what?” said Alicia, completely thrown. “You already know?” “Know what?” said Ben. He didn‟t wait for an answer but continued with his own news. “Anyways, I‟ve got to tell you something. I went outside for a sec during practice and some guy was just standing in the parking lot. He asked who I was and when I told him, he shot at me!” “What?” Alicia yelped. A car horn blared behind her and she realized the light was green. She sped forward. “He shot at you?” “Yeah! But I guess I had already manipulated myself rock-hard...I mean, I didn‟t mean to do it but it was just sort of an instinct. Anyway, he hit me but it bounced back and hit him. I think he‟s dead. I got the hell out of there, told Coach I was sick and had to leave early. I‟m on my way home now.”
“You killed someone?” said Alicia. Her motorcycle started shuddering; with a start, she realized that her hand was trembling on the gas. With an effort, she clutched her fingers tighter and held them steady. “What the hell is going on, Ben?” Alicia‟s confidence was shattered and she was shaking badly, terrified. An isolated incident with her and Sam was one thing, but multiple attacks simultaneously? That meant the enemy was much larger and organized than she had assumed. What if there were more of the assassins downtown? She was an easy target on her bike. She closed her eyes for a second and felt the faint vibration as another Alicia flashed into being on the sidewalk next to her; a quick survey of the area revealed that no one had noticed. “Look, I didn‟t mean to, okay?” said Ben sharply. “It was just a reaction! But how the hell am I supposed to explain that to the police? „Sorry, officer, I didn‟t mean to kill him, but when he shot me the bullet bounced off me and hit him‟? Stop being so freaking naïve, Leesh. We‟re different, okay? And if stuff happens to us because of that…we can‟t stick around to explain.” The blonde girl on the side of the road began jogging, easily keeping pace with the girl on the motorcycle just a few yards away. She was glancing around her as if she was looking for someone, and had one hand on her cell phone like she was ready to make an emergency call. The sight of her reassured Alicia. Her lookout would spot any would-be attacker before they even got close. “Well, what are we supposed to do?” said Alicia. “You can‟t just leave a dead body there.” She thought back to the men who had attacked her and Sam. They hadn‟t thought to cover the bodies, but, then again, none of them had actually been
“Why not? No one noticed me leave, and there‟s no evidence that I was ever outside. The police will figure out that the bullet was from his own gun and maybe they‟ll think it was suicide.” “Now who‟s being naïve?” Alicia snapped. “They‟ll know that the bullet came from far away, not from right next to his body.” In her anger, she lost control and the Alicia on the sidewalk flickered out of existence. Alicia quickly shot a panicked look over,
but none of the passerby seemed to have noticed anything strange. People can be so
“Look, do you want to believe they‟ll figure it out?” Ben growled. Alicia was silent. “Yeah, I didn‟t think so. It doesn‟t matter if they can‟t figure out what happened as long as they don‟t figure out I was there.” “Fine,” said Alicia coldly. “You should go back to the school and see if the body‟s still there. It‟ll look suspicious if you were the only one who left practice early.” “Go back?” said Ben incredulously. “What am I supposed to tell Coach? That I had a miraculous recovery?” “I don‟t know, say you forgot your jersey or something! Just find a way to get back in the gym and pretend you never went outside.” “Fine,” said Ben reluctantly. “So why‟d you call, anyway?” Alicia remembered with a start. With all the arguing over Ben‟s problems, she‟d completely forgotten about her fight. “The same thing happened to me and Sam. Well, mostly Sam, and she would‟ve been kidnapped or worse if I hadn‟t been there. I left her in the parking lot, but I‟d only driven for like thirty seconds when I realized I had a lacrosse meeting after school. So I turned around and came back and when I got back to the parking lot, there were three guys standing around Sam‟s car. The weird thing was, no one else was around. The parking lot was completely deserted.” “That‟s weird.” Ben frowned. “There‟s always people around.” “It gets worse,” Alicia warned. She filled him in on their fight with the three men, and finished off, “I don‟t think we killed any, though. I think we just knocked them out.” “That‟s good,” Ben said. “I‟ll check if they‟re still there, but I doubt it. They‟ve probably woken up and gotten out of there by now.” “Be careful!” said Alicia worriedly. “They were dangerous. We took their guns and threw them away, but one of them had a knife, and they could‟ve had more weapons.” “I doubt they‟ll be there, but I‟ll check anyway. Which parking lot? East? Hey, I‟m almost at the school, so I‟ll talk to you later.” Ben paused like something was just
occurring to him. “Hey- maybe you should call Derek? If there were guys waiting for the three of us…maybe there was one for him.” He paused again, waiting for Alicia to say something, and then continued when she remained silent. “I mean, that‟s the only connection I can think of- and the only reason we‟re any different...” Seconds passed, then, “You‟re right,” said Alicia reluctantly. “I didn‟t want to think about it because it means they know, but there can‟t be any other reason.” She suddenly realized she was talking to the dial tone- Ben must have hung up. She scrolled through her contacts to find Derek, hit SEND, and waited anxiously. What if the men in black had gotten to Derek before she could warn him? Calm down, she instructed herself. He‟s fine. He has to be. “Yo, it‟s Derek.” “Hey, Derek, it‟s Alicia.” “Hey, Alicia. What‟s up?” He sounded confident. “You wanna hang out with me or something?” Alicia bit back a laugh. Was this how he treated all girls? “Actually, that‟s not why I‟m calling.” “That‟s a shame,” Derek said casually. “Open offer.” “I might take you up on that sometime,” she said coyly and then mentally slapped herself. Alicia! You‟re calling him to warn him, not to flirt with him. Plus, she barely knew him. The only time she really ever saw him was when she was at Sam‟s house, and even then he was barely home. But he was really hot and really confident. She shook her head. “Where are you?” “Why, you wanna hang out now?” “No, this is for something else. Something important.” Alicia‟s voice lost its flirty edge and turned serious. “The mall...why?” Derek sounded creeped out, and Alicia couldn‟t blame him. “Okay. Look. This might sound weird, but it‟s very important. Look around you.” Alicia instructed. “Do you see any men in black?” “Men in Black? Like the alien movie?” said Derek.
“No! Like actual men. Men dressed all in black. Well, they might not even be wearing black,” Alicia realized. She‟d never asked Ben what his attacker looked like. Maybe it was a coincidence that the three who attacked Sam had worn black. She tried to remember back to the fight. It had happened so fast…glimpses of black…a flash of purple… “Any suspicious-looking men.” Alicia finally decided. “If you see them, get rid of
them. Don‟t try to fight them. They have guns.”
“Are you trying to pull some crap on me?” Derek seemed annoyed.
”Derek!” Even Alicia could hear the strain in her voice. “Trust me. Men with
guns showed up and tried to kill Ben and Sam. It might be because of…” -she hesitated, not wanting to say it, but knowing it was the only way to convince him she was serious- “manipulation, okay? Now do you believe me?” Derek said nothing. “They‟re dangerous. Get home. If you see them, try to lose them.” “Oh, I see them,” said Derek. There was no emotion in his voice. “Two of them. Alright. I‟ll take care of these guys and meet you at home.” The phone went dead. Alicia sighed. It was all she could do not to completely flip out. She took a deep breath. In and out. In and out. All she had to do was get home. She‟d done everything she could- helped Sam stay calm, told Ben what had happened, and warned Derek. Now it was up to everyone else.
“911 Emergency, how may I help you?” “I need to report an attack.” The operator was a woman with a cool, calm voice. She listened patiently while Sam hastily listed the details of the attack. “And I need to deploy an emergency vehicle for every 911 call, so may I have your name and your address, please?” the woman inquired professionally. “Samantha Park, 2 Forest Lane, Needham, New Hampshire.” The phone clicked off. Sam was surprised. The woman had just hung up, without any warning…why? There were a lot more questions she should‟ve asked. Like,
how many attackers? How were they dressed? It seemed as if she‟d hung up as soon as she‟d gotten the information she needed. What had Sam said?
2 Forest Lane, Needham, New Hampshire…
Sam swore. If the people who had sent the men in black had been organized enough to correctly predict the locations of Sam and Ben, then of course they could tap her phone and listen to her conversation. Except…why had the woman hung up? She was a trained professional. Or was she…?
What if the woman had been working for the people who sent the attackers?
Sam swore again. Now that made sense. They had sent attackers and somehow rigged the phone lines so that if any of them had managed to escape and make an emergency phone call, it would go straight to the main organization… That way they could make sure their attack wasn‟t reported, and also that they could get the information they needed- her address -and finish the job… Sam swallowed heavily. That meant the people- the enemy- were way more organized than she had thought. And she had just given them her address. She took a deep breath. No need to panic. The three men were definitely not going to try another attack tonight. They had all been seriously injured. Even if the base of the organization was in their town (which Sam seriously doubted, because then why hadn‟t they done anything until now?), it would take them at least two hours to round up fresh men and send them to their house. The thing to do, she reasoned, was to get home ASAP and let Hannah decide what to do. Her cell phone rang. Sam jumped. She fumbled with the buttons for a second, and then pressed SEND. “Hello?” “Sam? It‟s me, Alicia.” She didn‟t wait for a respond but plowed on immediately. “So apparently there was a guy waiting for Ben outside practice, but he‟s dead now. And two more were following Derek at the mall, but he managed to get them arrested by the mall security. Apparently he manipulated some marijuana into their pockets?” Despite the stress, Sam couldn‟t help but laugh.
“Anyway, they had guns on them too, without a license or whatever, so they‟re being taken to the police station right now. Just wanted to let you know. Anything new with you?” Sam told her about the emergency call, and her suspicions that she had never actually been connected to a government-run police station. “And…I gave the woman our address,” she admitted. There was silence on the other end. Finally, Alicia spoke. “Well, they probably already knew where we lived, if they could track us down to three separate locations. So don‟t worry about it. We‟ll get home, we‟ll get some answers, and then we‟ll call the
real police and get this whole thing straightened out.”
She hung up, clearly pleased with her reassuring statement. Sam, however, was not comforted. Alicia had made it all sound so simple, but Sam knew better. Her attempt at contacting the police had proved one thing: Whoever they were, the enemy was powerful. Very powerful. And that meant that Sam and the others were on their own.
chapter seven new york city Ben pulled into the driveway. Finally. It had taken him forever to get home. First, he‟d gotten stuck talking to Coach, who had chewed him out for leaving practice early. Then there was a ton of traffic on the way home. The trip had taken almost twenty minutes longer than it should have. He got out of the truck and slammed the door behind him. Walking up the front steps, he tensed. Unfamiliar bangs and thuds were issuing from the slightly ajar front door. Ben moved cautiously through the foyer and into the kitchen, where he discovered the source of the commotion: Phil was shoving pots and pans into cardboard boxes with no regard for the clamor he was causing. Ben walked silently through the kitchen, glancing around at the piles of boxes all around him on the floor. Not watching where he was walking, his foot caught the edge of a box and he stumbled, catching himself on the marble countertop. Phil‟s head snapped up at the noise and he whipped a gun out of his belt, immediately finding the source. “Oh, it‟s just you,” he said, recognizing Ben. He made as if to stow the gun back out of side, but then paused, considering. “On second thought, you should probably take this.” He flipped the safety on and slid the gun down the length of the polished countertop; Ben caught it and felt it in his hand. Its weight was oddly reassuring. He tucked it in the back of his jeans, feeling very much like a secret agent in a spy movie. “No time to talk,” said Phil before Ben had a chance to speak. He ran a hand through his graying hair, looking stressed. “Go upstairs and get as many clothes as you can fit into those two boxes.” He gestured at a pile of large cardboard boxes labeled
Ben. “You have one more box for anything else. Your iPod, stuff like that. Oh, and
leave your phone at home. In fact, give it to me now.” Ben pulled his Sidekick out of his pocket and tossed it to Phil, who caught it and whipped it across the room. It shattered and broke in two.
“What did you do that for?” Ben demanded. Phil had his back turned and was rummaging through a box on the opposite counter as Ben continued to question him. “And what‟s going on? Some guy came and shot at me today!” “I know, I know,” said Phil, turning to face Ben again. He pulled out a shiny new iPhone and slid it down the counter like he had the gun. Ben caught it and turned it over in his hands appreciatively. “What‟s this?” “Your new phone. New number, too. None of the old ones are safe anymore,” Phil said, distracted, now carefully loading his two laptops into yet another box. “What‟s going on, Phil?” Ben demanded angrily. “Didn‟t you hear what I said? Some guy tried to kill me!” “I told you, I already know. Men tracked Alicia and Derek and Sam, too. They were also waiting at Hannah‟s office and at my science lab.” Ben opened his mouth to speak but Phil continued hurriedly. “No time to talk now. Just go pack. Quickly,” He checked his watch. “It‟s quarter of seven. We‟re leaving at eight, and if your stuff isn‟t in the van, it isn‟t going.” “Pack? Are we moving? Where are we going? Does this have anything to do with the attackers?” Phil almost never got angry, and so Ben knew to take him seriously when he did. And he was angry now. “Benjamin, listen to me. This is very important. Don‟t ask questions and don‟t waste time. Just, please, pack and be ready at eight.” An hour later, the four teenagers were sitting on the Parks‟ lawn eating the pizza that Alicia had brought home. Hannah and Phil were running around, loading everything into two grey vans which had mysteriously appeared in their driveway ten minutes before. Ben had offered to help, but Hannah and Phil insisted the kids rest while they could. Alicia dashed inside to grab a soda before settling down to eat. As she opened the fridge, she felt an arm wrap itself around her waist. “Hi, Derek,” she said without turning.
“What‟s wrong?” said Derek, correctly interpreting her frosty tone. She faced him, closing the fridge behind her. “Nothing. I just don‟t think now‟s really the best time for this, that‟s all.” “The best time for what?” Derek said innocently; his smirk gave him away. “What, do you think I‟m into you or something?” She moved closer to him and stared up at him. “Yes, that‟s exactly what I think.” In spite of herself, she could feel herself smiling. He just had that effect. “Someone‟s full of themselves,” Derek grinned, ducking around her and choosing a soda for himself. She‟d reached the end of the counter before he called, “Besides, you‟re not my type, anyway.” Alicia stopped and looked back at him, laughing. “Oh yeah? What‟s your type?” He walked past her and opened the door. Then he glanced back at her. “Sorry, Alicia. Can‟t tell you that.” Then he slipped outside. Alicia followed him out, laughing to herself. She had to admit he was good. The two sat down near Sam and Ben and quickly rejoined the conversation. “It‟s lucky Alicia was there,” said Ben, after Sam finished telling him about the afternoon‟s attack. “That‟s weird they sent three for just you, Sam. There was only one guy for me.” “They were for Leesh too,” Sam remembered. “They kept asking where she was. What‟s really weird is that they went through all of that trouble to track us down, and couldn‟t find Alicia.” “But they did!” said Alicia excitedly. “Remember? I was supposed to go home with you today, but I changed my mind at the last minute cause I wanted to bring my bike home.” “I don‟t understand why, though,” said Derek. “Like, yeah, we can manipulate and stuff. But it can‟t be „cause of that. It‟s not like we even do it a lot. No one knows. There‟s got to be another reason.” “Maybe Phil or Hannah is a criminal on the run!” offered Sam. “And the men were government agents.”
They weren‟t government agents.
weren‟t connected to the government at all. Government people don‟t just show up and start shooting. They go through all sorts of legal stuff.” “Well, they‟ve obviously hacked into the emergency response system,” Sam argued. “You‟d have to be in government to do that.” “What are you talking about?” said Ben. about her address. “Just what I thought,” said Ben in a self-satisfied tone. government.” Sam opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. “A different organization. And that‟s even scarier. They‟re so powerful. Like when I went back to pretend to find the dead body. There was nothing there, not even blood or anything. I checked the whole East lot, too. Nothing. They‟ve cleaned up their tracks.” “What‟s more important is them messing with the 911 system,” said Alicia. “That‟s supposed to be completely hacker-proof. Maybe your signal just got cut off, Sam. Here.” She flipped open her cell phone. “I‟ll try now. If it really was the men in black, they‟d have blocked my phone too.” “But what if it goes through?” said Sam. “Who cares? I‟ll report the attack. Might as well give the men in black Please check the something to worry about.” She dialed and hit speakerphone. “I‟m sorry, the number you have dialed is not in service. number or try your call again,” said a woman‟s voice coolly. Sam gasped. “That‟s her! That‟s the woman I talked to before. This proves it. It wasn‟t a real call. Somehow they‟ve rigged it so we can‟t talk to the police.” “I‟m sure we could,” said Derek evenly. “They can‟t have messed with every pay phone in Needham. And we could go right to the police station in town, if we wanted. But I‟ve got a feeling they don‟t care about that. I don‟t think the police would be much help, even if we had time to drive into town and talk to them.” “They‟re not in Sam quickly recounted her failed attempt at contacting the police and her suspicions about the woman‟s questioning
“What do you mean?” Alicia asked hesitantly. This was a completely different side of Derek, one that was totally opposite from the playful, flirty personality that Alicia had witnessed in the kitchen moments before. This Derek was dark and ominous. And, as much as Alicia didn‟t want to accept it, this Derek was probably right. “They just messed up the 911 line from our cell phones and house phones, probably,” said Derek. “Just for convenience. That way they don‟t have to worry about the police. They know we don‟t have the time to report the attacks personally. And who knows? Maybe they want us to. That would definitely delay us by at least an hour, and give them more time.” “More time to do what?” said Sam nervously. through her fingers over and over. Derek didn‟t answer. The ominous silence was broken by Hannah, who came over to the little group, a bit short of breath. “Hey, guys. Everything‟s just about packed up and we‟re about to leave. Alicia, would you mind coming with me for just a quick second?” Alicia looked confused, but got up and followed Hannah to where Phil waited in the shade of a large elm. Derek watched curiously as they spoke for a few minutes; then Alicia walked directly into the nearer of the grey vans and climbed inside. Moments later, Hannah returned to fetch Ben, and then Sam; each time, the two adults spoke intensely for a quick moment, after which the teenager would invariably climb into a van dazedly. When Hannah came over for the fourth time, Derek was already on his feet and moving toward her. “What‟s this all about?” he asked as they headed across the lawn. She smiled sadly. “You‟ll see.” They had reached Phil, who stepped forward. “I‟m truly sorry about this, Derek.” “Sorry about what?” asked Derek, but Phil looked him in the eyes and suddenly whatever else had been on his mind was wiped away; he felt as if a thick cloth had been pressed over his mind. Everything was fuzzy and confused; he vaguely recognized his feet as carrying him into one of the vans. She twisted a strand of hair
The next few hours were a blur of movement and color.
sporadically, moving ahead in odd little spurts and occasionally slowing so that the minutes stretched into what felt like hours. Ben couldn‟t remember leaving their houses, but there was definitely a moment when they passed his high school- a moment where a sinking feeling deep in his intuition told Ben he would never set foot in that building again. Suddenly they were on the highway, and the green informational signs flashed by so quickly that Ben barely had time to register the continuous change of towns before they were already out of New Hampshire. At another point he glanced over at the speedometer and noticed that the needle never dipped below ninety and was often over a hundred. At this Ben sat up and made an effort to watch for cars ahead of them in the fast lane, but whenever one appeared in his line of vision, it would immediately move out of their way. And later- Ben could not be sure if they had been traveling for twenty minutes or three hours- they passed a cop on the side of the road with a radar gun who, incomprehensibly, did not immediately jump into his car and pull them over for traveling forty miles above the speed limit. He must have dozed off, because by the time he woke up again, they were deep in the middle of a large, bright city. Dazed, it took Ben several minutes to register that they weren‟t just in any city- they were in New York City. He struggled to remain conscious as they sped through the city at speeds that were surely illegal- not to mention unsafe- and eventually screeched to a stop in front of a majestic-looking brick apartment building. He glanced over to ask Phil what they were doing there, and realized with a shock that his guardian was already out of the car. Then a gust of cool city air rushed against Ben‟s face as the passenger door opened. A uniformed man smiled at him and said something, but Ben couldn‟t make out the words... Now he was in a pristine elevator, with mirrored walls and a creamy marble floor. Bleary, Ben glanced up at his reflection and almost yelped in shock. The confident, handsome, high school jock he had been only hours before was gone...Instead, a weak, scared-looking young boy stared back...
Then he was being shown through an apartment, and handed a box of clothes. Strong hands guided him in front of a door and pushed it open. Ben took in only blue walls and a large window before he collapsed on the bed, and after that it was only moments before he had sunk into the forgiving unknowingness of sleep.
chapter eight answers? Slowly Derek became aware that he was lying in a bed. This was unusual, at least for Derek. He normally slept on the floor, or on the couch, or wherever he had crashed, but he very rarely actually made it to his bed. It took a few more moments for him to realize that he wasn‟t on his bed. He opened his eyes and glanced around the room. He was lying in a bland sort of room, the type he might have expected to be in a hotel- nicely furnished, to be sure, but also with a vaguely lonely feeling, like it had been uninhabited for a while. Eventually it occurred to him that he should probably get up. He no longer felt the dragging tiredness that had weighed him down so much last night, but he still felt stupid and confused. happened before that? He was still trying to remember when his door opened and Hannah walked in. “Good afternoon, Derek,” she said, smiling. “How are you feeling?” “Afternoon...? How long have I been sleeping?” “Almost twelve hours. Don‟t worry, you‟ve been through a lot and you definitely deserved it. Phil and I didn‟t want to wake you kids up until we had to, but it‟s time you ate something and I‟m sure there‟s a lot you want to know.” “Want to know?” repeated Derek. He was feeling very stupid this morning, and the early-morning grogginess was proving especially difficult to shake. “Oh! I‟m so sorry, Derek, I completely forgot,” said Hannah, flustered. She looked deep into his eyes for a full second; suddenly, Derek felt as if a heavy curtain had been lifted off of his mind. He could think again, and now he could remember last night...with a flash, yesterday‟s memories hit him with an impact like a speeding bullet. He actually fell back on his bed and stared at the ceiling while he sorted through the memories and tried to decide what to ask first. In fact- he screwed up his face in concentration, trying to remember- he couldn‟t remember much of last night. It was all a blur- but what had
“I‟m sorry, Derek, I know it can be very disconcerting,” said Hannah.
seemed genuinely sorry, but Derek couldn‟t think what for. But he had more important questions to ask. He opened his mouth, but Hannah seemed to sense his queries and she cut him off. “Why don‟t you just come downstairs and have some breakfast, and then we‟ll try to answer your questions, okay?” she said quickly, before he had a chance to formulate a question. extremely hungry. She slipped off of his bed and disappeared through the open door. yawned and followed her. Derek His door proved to open out onto a luxurious balcony Derek nodded. Now that she had brought it up, he was
overlooking half of the bottom of what he supposed was their apartment. The balcony was ridged with elegant black metal banisters which met the black marble floor in an almost seamless line. In one corner, the metal twisted gracefully down into a spiral staircase, leading to a large, airy room with two-story windows and an incredible view of some large city. More rooms opened off of these- he could vaguely see a shiny silver kitchen and what looked to be a bathroom- but all Derek really noticed was the distinct hotel-ness of the decorations. They were all tasteful and quietly expensive without screaming their opulence too aggressively. He made his way to the kitchen, where he found Sam and Ben sitting at barstools eating cereal. He grabbed a bowl and nodded good morning, but neither of the others spared him so much as a glance. A minute later Alicia appeared at the top of the stairs and, coming downstairs, followed suit. “Does anyone know where we are?” said Derek finally, unable to stand the silence. The other three turned to look at him, fixing him with expressionless gazes and faces completely devoid of intelligence. The two girls blinked dumbly before putting their heads back down and focusing on their cereal; Ben furrowed his brow as if he was concentrating hard and opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something, but after a few seconds closed it again and returned to his breakfast.
“Alright then…” Derek said slowly. Perhaps the others just weren‟t feeling very talkative at the moment. He could relate to that; by no stretch of the imagination was he a “morning person.” But Sam always had been annoyingly cheerful in the morning, and besides, it was the afternoon according to Hannah. Derek was puzzled by their behavior but copied them and finished his breakfast in silence. He noticed that the other three seemed to have no inclination to find out where the hell they were or what the hell happened last night. They finished breakfast and Ben and the two girls mechanically washed their dishes and put them away, then went and sat on one of the black leather couches. They sat there in silence, occasionally glancing around the room or opening their mouths, but never actually speaking. Derek sneaked a glance at them from behind the fridge. He was beginning to feel more than a little creeped out by their zombie-like behavior. What was wrong with them? He was about to try and find Hannah when Phil came out of one of the doors off of the main room. “Ah, Derek, you‟re up,” he said genially. He scrutinized Derek for a second, and then continued, “and it seems like Hannah‟s already put you right! Now, let me just help the others out...best not to leave them like this too long, you know...” Derek walked over and sat near the other three; he still did not feel comfortable being too close to them. He hadn‟t really understood a word of what Phil had just said, but he nodded and tried to look like he had a clue. Phil bent over each of the others and stared into their eyes for a full beat, after which intelligence seemed to return to their eyes and they started actively looking around, looking just as confused as Derek felt, and whispering to each other in murmurs. Phil seemed to feel Derek‟s questioning eyes on him, because he turned and said, “Hold on just a second, Derek, and Hannah and I will explain everything.” He disappeared through one of the doors, and three sets of eyes whipped towards Derek; clearly, the others thought that Phil had confided in him.
“I don‟t know anything,” said Derek, before they could pelt him with questions. “I don‟t even know where we are.” “New York City,” said Ben immediately. “I saw the signs when we came in last night.” Before they could continue pooling the little information they had, the door swung back open and Phil returned, closely followed by Hannah. They took the two armchairs in front of the windows, facing the three on the couch and Derek on the other chair, all of whom immediately fell silent in anticipation. “I‟m sorry,” said Phil finally. “It‟s just that I‟ve -we‟ve- been planning this moment for years and this isn‟t exactly how we wanted to do it.” There was silence, but Phil did not seem to have expected anything more. He looked down at his lap and then met Hannah‟s eyes; she nodded as if bidding him to continue. “Almost twenty years ago, Hannah and I met attending Yale University‟s undergraduate program,” said Phil. “I was pursuing a degree in quantem physics; she was a psychologist who was particularly interested in the power of human thought, or the power of suggestion.” “The power of suggestion?” Sam wrinkled her forehead. “What does that mean?” Phil held up a finger, which Ben interpreted to mean that her question would be answered as he continued. “As friends, we eventually began to talk about our respective fields of study, and by the time we were in graduate school, we‟d discovered an entirely new field of study which combined physics and psychology to form an obscure subject called quantem psychology. The core of quantem psychology was the idea that human thought is the most powerful of all the elements, and that apparently supernatural feats may actually be attainable through the power of suggestion. This is quantem manipulation.” Ben looked up at the others, who all had glazed looks on their faces; none of them seemed to have registered the implication he‟d caught. Supernatural feats? “Two mutual friends, who were also psychologists, joined our little team in study- Isabel Dentry and Charles Terrence.”
The names seemed vaguely familiar to Ben. It wasn‟t as if he knew he‟d heard it before but just couldn‟t remember the actual person, like what happened to him a lot in history class. This was different. This was like he felt he should know the names,
should remember the person, but although he strained his memory, there was nothing
there. “You have to understand, though, that the theory of quantem manipulation is unbelievably obscure- perhaps a few hundred people in the world have even heard of it, much less studied it. And because the number of people in this field was so small, we quickly came in contact with the leading expert- Thomas Bell. “After a few months of exchanging theories and notes, Bell invited the four of us to a special conference he was hosting in Philadelphia. He insisted that it was essential we attend, but he wouldn‟t tell us exactly why it was so important. All we knew was that it had to do with quantem manipulation, and that he claimed it would change our lives forever.” Phil gazed out of the window, then took a deep breath and continued talking. “Of course, when someone promises an effect like that, you really have no choice but to go. We didn‟t know at the time, but Bell‟s conference was top-secret and extremely exclusive- invitation only. He had invited the top one hundred notables in quantem manipulation; obviously he had made a big breakthrough. “So Hannah, Isabel, Charlie, and I took a train down to Philadelphia. conference surpassed our high expectations- it was incredible.” Hannah had remained motionless throughout Phil‟s story, but she seemed to break out of a trance. She put a hand on his arm, and he instantly quieted, looking respectfully at her. This exchange was not missed by Sam, who got the feeling that this was a topic that was hard for Hannah to discuss, and so Phil would defer to her whenever she wanted to speak. “He was an extraordinary speaker, and he fully convinced us of the incredible power of human perception, especially in relation to defying physics,” Hannah said softly, looking at her lap. “For the first time, I was completely aware of the power our thoughts have. And my believing in that power made that power real.” She saw their The
confused looks and half-smiled. “I know it sounds ridiculous. But we believed, so our perception changed. And because we believed, truly believed, that our thoughts were supremely powerful, they were. All of us who attended that conference from then on could use the power of our thoughts to influence others.” Four sets of eyes snapped immediately to her face. “Like...like mind control?” Ben asked in a low voice. Hannah smiled grimly. “Not exactly. We can‟t force people to do anything, but we can change the way they perceive things.” She seemed to know this wasn‟t enough of an explanation. “For example, I couldn‟t force a cop not to pull me over. But I could convince him that his speedometer only said 55 instead of 95.” Ben remembered how everyone on the highway, cops included, had just gotten out of their way. This, he supposed, was exactly what Hannah was referencing. Suddenly Alicia got up and walked out of the apartment. Ben glanced at Sam and Derek‟s eyes; they looked just as confused as he felt. Less than twenty seconds passed, however, before she returned and took her seat again. “What?” she said defensively, meeting Ben‟s eyes. “I was claustrophobic.” Ben frowned; something wasn‟t right. Not only were they sitting in a large, airy room, but Alicia had never claimed claustrophobia before... “You‟re doing it,” Ben said quietly. “You just did it to Alicia.” “Very good, Ben,” Phil smiled. He glanced into Ben‟s eyes for a second, and Ben felt himself growing hot in the cheeks. He felt a little dizzy, the room seemed to be closing in on him, and suddenly the coolness of the hallway seemed extremely tempting... He was halfway out of his seat before he became aware that the nausea wasthere was no other way to describe it- thin. He could feel it intensely, but he was also aware that it was not all-reaching into his mind, that there was something behind its shield; with great effort, he forced his consciousness through it and it snapped; he felt perfectly normal once again. He sat down slowly, aware that the other three were staring at him.
“As Ben and Alicia have just proved, there are both severe advantages and disadvantages to messing with someone‟s perception,” said Phil. His face was deadly serious. “First of all, it is extremely subtle. If I had forced Alicia to walk out of the room, she would have done it, but she would have been aware it was against her will. You could never control someone for any length of time that way. Sooner or later, they
will attempt to revolt. But since I only changed Alicia‟s perception, she thought that she
was doing it of her own free will. That makes our manipulation even more dangerous. “But it is possible for someone to figure out their perception is being changed if they are aware it‟s a possibility.” Phil nodded at Ben. “Since I had just demonstrated on Alicia, Ben knew what could be coming. That made it easier for him to shake it off. But someone who had no idea- like a random person on the street- would have no chance of ever realizing.” “This is a nice story and all, but what does this have to do with us? Or the men in black?” said Alicia impatiently. Sam glanced at her, hoping Alicia realized how rude she sounded, but Alicia seemed completely unabashed; she was staring at Phil expectantly. “We‟re getting there,” Phil assured her, not appearing bothered by her impatience. “Anyway, there was a man who somehow snuck into the conference. Apparently he impersonated one of those invited. This man, Leonard Croftus, was no ordinary gatecrasher. He had made quantem manipulation his passion.” “Then why wasn‟t he invited to the conference?” said Sam. “If he was so important?” Phil‟s face was grim. “You‟ll understand why not. After Bell had given his major speech, the keynote address, we had a two-hour adjournment for lunch. One hundred people who had suddenly acquired „mind control‟ were unleashed on Philadelphia. Needless to say, everyone discovered their newfound ability before our return- I heard there were a lot of free lunches given away.” He smiled wryly, but the humor didn‟t quite make it to his eyes. “There‟s a saying that there‟s no such thing as a free lunch, as most of our fellow attendees soon discovered. Leonard Croftus, it later transpired, had spent his break
doing something a little more sinister than conning restaurants out of lunch. We‟re guessing that Croftus had already possessed the ability to manipulate well before the conference and meant to take out his competition…Or maybe he‟d only cooked this up before, and was just waiting to be handed his powers by Bell?” Phil shook his head. “Either way, it doesn‟t matter. The point is, ten minutes into Bell‟s farewell addresswhere he was warning us to use our powers very sparingly, incidentally- Croftus blew up the conference room.” The four teenagers gaped at him. Whatever Sam had been expecting, it definitely wasn‟t this. “Seventy-three of the one hundred and one people in that room were killed instantly. Isabel Dentry, our close friend, was one of them.” Phil bowed his head and paused before continuing. Tears were falling quietly into Hannah‟s lap. Sam looked away; she felt as if she was intruding on something private, something that she shouldn‟t witness. “Hannah and I were extremely lucky. She was sitting close to the front with Isabel, but she was in the bathroom when the bomb went off. Charles and I, having arrived late, were in the very back row, so we survived the explosion without any injuries. Then Croftus pulled out a gun and started shooting the survivors. That was when we got the hell out of there; Hannah met us back at Yale. “Only ten people, including the three of us and Croftus, ever walked out of the conference room again. Our first instinct, of course, was to go straight to the police. But I guess Croftus had already gotten to them, because when one man tried to report the incident, he was arrested and executed later that day.” “How is that even possible?” Sam said shrilly. “Croftus must have manipulated the police,” said Ben wisely. “That still doesn‟t fit,” Derek dissented, looking at Phil. “If the man went right to the police, how would Croftus have had time…?” “For all we know, Croftus could have manipulated the police weeks ahead of time,” Phil pointed out. “And if not, perhaps he was quicker to the police station than that unlucky man, Derek.”
“But you just said that everyone at the conference had gotten mind manipulation too,” Alicia protested, forgetting her impatience and getting caught up in the debate. “So couldn‟t they have just manipulated the police back to normal?” Hannah shook her head. “You‟re forgetting that Croftus likely already had his manipulation. You remember how long it took the four of you to be able to control your manipulation- years and years. These people had been manipulating for a few hours at most. Is it any wonder that Croftus‟ experienced manipulation won out over the man‟s beginner attempts?” “But what could he have possibly told them to make them kill someone?” Sam said wildly, still hung up on this one detail. “Most states don‟t even have the death penalty!” “Pennsylvania does,” Phil said grimly. “And there are a number of things he could have told them. Like, anyone coming to them with a story of a gunfight in a private conference was an escaped psycho on death row.” Seeing their skeptical looks, he added, “Remember, anything is believable if someone changes your perception. “When the same thing happened to two other women a day later, the three of us decided to lay low for a while. We kept in touch with one of the three other men who had escaped, and he told us of the eventual deaths of the other two men one month later. Both of them had died in gas leak accidents, the authorities claimed.” “Yeah, right,” Alicia scoffed. “Our thoughts exactly. And our friend lasted only another week before he was tracked down and killed as well.” Hannah took up the story. “So, since we were finished with graduate school and only teaching, we decided to go into hiding. We stayed undercover for six months, and started working on a new theory. What would happen, we asked ourselves, if people believed, really believed, that they could defy the laws of physics? Now that we‟d seen for ourselves how powerful human perception was, we were optimistic about putting our idea into practice. So we adopted orphans,” – he nodded at the four of them, smiling – “and moved to New Hampshire. We invited Charles to come with us, but Charlie is very...self-sufficient. He couldn‟t stand being in hiding, so he changed his
name – we all did – and then ran for city treasurer. His idea was to hide in the open, where Croftus wouldn‟t think to look for him.” “That‟s stupid,” Ben interjected as Phil paused to take a breath. “What an idiot, why wouldn‟t he just listen to you?” “Charlie didn‟t approve of our idea, and didn‟t think going into hiding was necessary months after the conference,” Phil continued. “I found out recently that he was killed less than a year after we left.” He bowed his head. Hannah put a hand on his leg as if to console him. This seemed to strengthen him and he continued. “We thought it would be enough. We left no paper trail- we paid for our houses in cold cash and bribed the right people to destroy the records, opened different bank accounts, legally changed our names, and even entered the Witness Protection Program to get new social security numbers. And you know what happened next. We were able to successfully raise you to manipulate quantem energies, and we lived undetected for years.” “Until now.” Derek said hoarsely. “Yes. Leonard Croftus has since founded an organization- I call it that for lack of a better term. Really, it is a group of terrorists whose aim it is to take over the world. They call themselves KP, which stands for Knowledge is Power.” “Knowledge is Power?” Derek snorted. “Like those lame library slogans?” “There‟s nothing funny about it, Derek,” Hannah snapped. “They believe that their knowledge gives them power over everyone else; they believe that, because of it, they are superior and deserve to rule. Like many terrorist organizations, KP is so extremely dangerous because every member is completely convinced that they are right and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. They are a rich, powerful organization that doesn‟t care what means it needs as long as they reach their ends.” Derek dropped his gaze, sufficiently abashed. “We don‟t know how they found us, but we were going to tell you about them soon enough, anyway,” Phil said, “so, other than losing the element of surprise, no harm done.”
He glanced at Hannah, seemed to firm his resolve, and then said steadily, “The four of you need to take KP down.”
chapter nine knowledge. is. Power.
“You can‟t be serious,” said Alicia flatly. “You‟ve got to be joking.” “Alicia-” Hannah pleaded. “No!” Alicia shrieked. “Don‟t you remember what they did to us? They almost
freaking killed us! And that was just because they thought maybe we would have the
mind ability! They have no idea we can do other things! And now you want us to go after people who we know want to kill us?” “Alicia, please-” Phil said, stretching out a hand to her. She threw a pillow at him, screeching incoherently, and stormed out of the room. There was a very awkward silence. “What‟s her problem?” Derek muttered. “Don‟t,” Sam said beseechingly. “She‟s just...” “Sam‟s right,” Hannah added. “Alicia is having a hard time with what happened.” “Well, she was fine yesterday,” Ben pointed out. “Sometimes, it takes a little while for things like this to sink in…actually...she‟s the only one who‟s reacting like I expected. It‟s perfectly normal to be traumatized after an experience like that.” Hannah said neutrally. Ben glanced at Phil, who was sitting with his head in his hands, his body language suggesting severe disappointment. Hannah followed his gaze and patted him on the back reassuringly. “Just...keep going,” Sam insisted. “I can tell her everything later.” “Sam‟s right,” Ben put in. “This is too important to stop just „cause of my sister‟s stupid nerves. How are we stopping them?” “That‟s just it. We don‟t exactly know yet,” Hannah said tentatively. “So you‟re sending your kids to take on a bunch of psycho terrorists with no idea what to do?” Alicia snapped. Ben jumped; he hadn‟t noticed her re-enter the room. “If we were any use against KP, believe me, we would have tried ourselves and never involved you four,” Phil answered. “We‟re middle-aged scientists. What use would we be in a fight?” Ben could see it pained him to admit this. “Hmm...Let‟s see...you could mess with their minds!” Alicia snarled.
“No, we couldn‟t,” Phil replied. “If someone knows that their perception can be changed, it‟s very difficult to manipulate them. And I‟m sure that Croftus has every member of KP very well-trained to resist manipulation.” “Well, we‟re teenagers!” “Not normal teenagers and you know it,” Phil said, looking straight at her. “You‟ve all attended martial arts classes and self-defense classes since you were five. Alicia, I think I‟m right in saying you‟ve got the farthest? What level are you now?” “The highest,” she muttered unwillingly. “So you‟ve been sending us to learn how to fight three times a week for ten
years just in case this happened?” Derek asked in disbelief.
“We knew the risks that we were taking by raising you like we did. It would have been wrong of us not to teach you to defend yourselves,” said Hannah levelly. “It was wrong of you to do this to us anyway,” Alicia said in an undertone. Ben jabbed her in the side- that was taking it too far –but no one else seemed to have heard. “And even besides that, your manipulation abilities enable you to fight in ways you‟ve probably never dreamed of,” Phil continued. “Look at what happened yesterday. KP sent six trained assassins after you. At least three of them are dead. The others, I am sure, are fleeing the country; I for one would not want to be them when Croftus discovers they have failed. Look.” Phil put his head in his hands for a full beat before glancing up at them desperately. “This has to be done. You four are the only ones besides us who can resist their mind manipulation, and you have additional abilities of your own.” Alicia scowled but sat back down at the coach and glared out the window in silence. She could obviously think of no other objections. “You all know about the upcoming presidential election?” Phil inquired. They all nodded. “You might not know that the Democratic candidate, Richard Greene, is the current governor of New York State. It appears that Greene has a lock on the election.” “What does this have to do with KP or us?” Derek complained.
“Croftus is the mayor of New York City. He is extremely friendly with Greene, and we suspect that Croftus is controlling him,” Hannah explained. “Needless to say, it would be terrible if Greene was elected. Croftus would essentially have complete control over the leader of the free world.” “Why doesn‟t Croftus just get himself elected president?” Sam asked. “Why should he waste all that time manipulating politicians and voters? This way he just picks the winning side, manipulates the candidate, and boom! he‟s practically the next president.” Ben said in disgust. “So you want us to try to get Greene to lose the election?” Alicia questioned, momentarily forgetting to be mad in her eagerness. Hannah snorted. “Like four teenagers could change the course of an election in three days. No, at this point we‟re better off just resigning ourselves to the fact that Croftus will be controlling our next president.” Seeing this did nothing to boost their moral, she added hastily, “For now we‟re just aiming to find out KP‟s goals. Once we know that, we‟ll have a better idea how to stop them- and hopefully before Greene comes to power in January.” “I thought you said KP wanted to take over the world?” Ben interrupted. “We don‟t know that for sure,” Phil admitted. “But we know that KP wants everyone who knows about them out of the way- so they‟ve got to have something planned.” When no one said anything, he continued, looking at each of them in turn. “And besides, it‟s not like you have much choice. If you try to go back to your normal lives, assassins will keep coming after you until they succeed. The only way to put everything right is to eliminate KP.” “I believe they‟re doing something bad,” Ben allowed, “and I also believe what you said about us having the best shot...I‟m in.” “What the hell? Sounds like a rush,” said Derek, leaning back on the sofa confidently. “I guess you‟re right,” Sam said tentatively. “We don‟t really have much choice, do we? I‟ll do what I can.”
They all looked expectantly towards Alicia. She sighed. “I don‟t like it. And I don‟t think we can do much. But I‟ll help.” “Great,” said Phil, leaning forward. “Now, here‟s the plan.” An hour later, Sam was sandwiched between Hannah and Derek in the back of a dingy New York taxi. Phil, Alicia, and Ben were in the cab behind them. Sam stared out the window and watched the sights of New York flash by at alarming speeds. Any other day, she‟d have given almost anything to have a weekend in the Big Apple, but now she‟d give anything to be home... “Here we are,” said the driver and Sam realized the car had jolted to a stop. She got out, looking tentatively up at the towering skyscraper in front of her. Alicia emerged from a second cab and came to stand beside her. “Weird, isn‟t it? That they all have offices in the same building?” she murmured. “That‟s the point, isn‟t it? A little suspicious,” Sam said quietly. Hannah strode over to them imperiously and began to bark out directions. “Right. Ben and Sam, you wait out here. Alicia, you‟re coming with me. Derek, go with Phil.” She turned and addressed Ben and Sam. “We‟ll go inside and get them set up, then come back for you. Remember, once we‟re inside, we don‟t know each other.” Hannah said urgently. “You all have money; take a cab home when you leave. We‟ll meet you back at the apartment. Everyone ready?” She didn‟t wait for a response. “Let‟s go.” She strode away importantly; Alicia followed a half a step behind her. Ben and Phil stood chatting for a minute longer, then strolled up to the building at a leisurely pace. “Wow. This is really hard-core...wow,” Sam breathed. “It‟s to keep us alive,” Ben said, looking around them. “They can‟t know we know each other...we probably shouldn‟t even be standing together.” “No!” Sam said instinctively, clutching at his jacket as he started to move away. “Two kids just hanging out alone in the business section would look even stranger.”
He paused. “I guess you‟re right.” He slung an arm over her shoulder and then leaned in confidentially. “I don‟t get how this plan is going to help us find out what KP‟s doing, though.” “Well, Hannah and Phil are putting us in offices of people they think are leading KP officials, right? People who have risen suddenly to power and seem to have uncanny charisma...people who could possibly be manipulating others. Maybe we can snoop around and figure out what they‟re up to.” “What, play detective?” Ben grinned at her, but it seemed forced. “Do you really think they‟re going to leave top-secret files around for interns to read?” “Well, we‟re not exactly normal kids,” Sam said, smiling up at him. He hesitated, then leaned closer... “Okay, Ben,” said Hannah. “It‟s your turn.” Slightly disappointed, Ben gave Sam a quick, reassuring hug before following Hannah into the lobby of the Supreme Tower. The lobby was sleek and quiet; everyone spoke in hushed voices as if afraid to disturb the silence that came with the presence of the rich and influential. “Now, remember,” said Hannah out of the corner of her mouth, “you‟re being placed in the office of Chester Carlnere. He is the Republican senator from New York and an extremely important man. He has risen to power-” She cut off as they approached the desk, where a guard in a crisp navy suit was sitting behind an array of bright computer screens. “4:00 appointment with Senator Carlnere,” she said. “Name and I.D.?” he asked, not looking up. “Benjamin Hart.” They‟d agreed it was safest if they all used different last names. Hannah slid Ben‟s newly made fake driver‟s license across the counter, along with one of the seven fake IDs Hannah carried in her bottomless purse. The guard examined it closely and then pushed it back across the counter along with a visitor‟s pass with Ben‟s name on it. “Fifty-fourth floor. Hey, weren‟t you just in here?” the guard asked, looking confusedly at Hannah.
“No, I wasn‟t. You must have me mistaken for someone else,” Hannah said haughtily. She stared at him for a second. “Oh, of course. My apologies, madam.” He waved them through the security gate. “That was close,” whispered Ben as they stepped into a mirrored elevator. Hannah waved a hand airily. “That was nothing. The hard part is convincing Mr. Carlnere that you are his new intern. You see, senators do not usually take on seventeen-year-olds.” Ben nervously straightened his tie and tried to smooth down his hair in the mirrored walls. He had to admit he was a little thrown off by the speed at which they were operating- barely an hour had passed since he‟d learned of KP, and he was already being thrust into action. The elevator dinged softly and the doors slid smoothly opened to reveal a crisplooking office upholstered in forest green and a creamy off-white shade. A pretty blonde receptionist smiled at them as they came in. She held up a manicured finger to indicate she‟d just be a moment, and then removed her headset a minute later. “Welcome to the offices of Senator Carlnere. How may I help you?” “This is Senator Carlnere‟s new intern, Benjamin Hart,” said Hannah. The woman looked confused, but smiled a second later. Expecting it this time, Ben registered the slight shift behind her eyes as Hannah worked her manipulation on the receptionist. “Of course! The winner of the Leadership Conference contest.” She smiled at Ben. “I really enjoyed your essay- you definitely deserved to win.” “Er- did I?” said Ben, not knowing quite what to say. “So modest,” beamed Hannah, putting a hand on Ben‟s arm. “He‟s quite a dear, I‟ve picked him up from his apartment and brought him here with me so he‟d have someone from the organization to tell him a little about his new job.” “Wonderful,” said the receptionist just as the phone began to ring. She flashed them an apologetic smile before turning away and answering. “Remember what we talked about,” Hannah whispered quickly, so quietly that Ben almost had to read her lips. “Be careful, don‟t take any unnecessary risks, and-”
“So he‟s here today to learn the ropes?” said the woman brightly, having already finished her call. “Exactly,” Hannah said smoothly, turning back to the receptionist. “He‟ll be with you today just to get oriented, you know, and he‟ll start work tomorrow. Good luck, Benjamin.” She gave him a cool smile and stepped back into the elevator. He watched the doors slid shut on the only familiar face with apprehension sick in his stomach. Only now was it fully hitting him that he was deep in enemy territory and completely on his own. He turned back to the receptionist, who introduced herself as Taylor. She was very friendly and kept up a continuous flow of conversation that allowed him to get a good feel for the office. “Now, Chester isn‟t in today, or tomorrow, which of course is a shame. Not going to be back until Monday,” she said as they walked down a long hallway. “There‟s his office,” – she pointed out a door furnished in handsome dark oak – “which is always locked, and we‟re not supposed to go in there! Here are the rest of the secretary offices...you can have that one...and here‟s some copying for you to get started on. Of course, it‟s a Saturday, so not much to do, and it‟s just you and me in the office and the day‟s almost over, but the election is on Tuesday so we‟re very busy! Oh, and if you could answer any phones, I‟d really appreciate it.” She flashed him a dazzling smile, then disappeared down the hallway with a whiff of designer perfume. Ben sat down at his cubicle and loaded up his computer. Now what was he supposed to do? The senator wasn‟t even going to be in the office for two more days. Then he remembered Carlnere‟s office. What had Taylor said? There‟s his
office....we‟re not supposed to go in there....it‟s just you and me in the office today...
He stood and walked cautiously down the hallway to the heavy wooden inlaid door and put a hand on the handle. He tested it: locked. Of course. He smiled to himself; this was where his special talents came in handy... He had just begun manipulating his particles when the phone rang shrilly. “Ben, can you get that?” Taylor shouted down the hall.
Ben sighed to himself and returned to his cubicle, picking up the phone just as it began its third high-pitched ring. “Senator Carlnere‟s office, how may I help you?” he said in his best secretary voice. “Gimme Chester,” growled a low voice. “I‟m sorry, Senator Carlnere is out of the office today. Would you like to leave a message?” said Ben politely. “Tell him he‟s running out of time, and that he needs to make a decision. Soon.” Ben paused. “May I ask who is calling?” “Leonard Croftus.” The man hung up. Ben stared at the phone in his hand. Croftus had just called Senator Carlnereand referred to him as „Chester,‟ indicating he knew him well...here was proof, in Ben‟s first ten minutes, that Carlnere was indeed a part of KP... He sat lost in thought for a while before remembering the locked office he had been trying to get into. He quickly returned to the spot he had been before and concentrated on pulling his molecules far apart. “Ben?” Damn. Taylor was coming down the hall. “Are you okay? You look sick.” “I‟m fine,” he managed. Go away, he urged her telepathically. If only he could manipulate her mind like Hannah and Phil. “Well, it‟s ten of five,” she said, checking her watch. “I‟m closing the office early today, so why don‟t you take off? Here‟s a card key to get in tomorrow. See you at nine!” Ben accepted the card key and made his way out of the Supreme Tower, still thinking about the mysterious phone call. Was Carlnere really part of KP? Or was he being threatened by KP? And what was in Carlnere‟s office that he wanted to keep hidden so very badly? Ben stared down at the card in his hand: his key into a dangerous world. He weighed it in his hand for a second, seemingly making a decision, then slipped it in his pocket and set off down the streets of New York.
chapter ten the world of politics Alicia stared out her window, which displayed a breathtaking view of New York, but she wasn‟t in any mood to enjoy it. She stared down at her hands, which were shaking slightly. She sighed and clenched them tighter, digging them into her sides, refusing to give into the terror that threatened to overcome her. She sank back against the pillows in despair. What was wrong with her? Every time she thought of what Hannah and Phil had told them, another hot wave of anger welled up inside her. But almost immediately the wave broke and a sense of shame overlapped it, only to be followed in turn by fear. Why couldn‟t she be like the others? They took the news so calmly, so well. And yet she was the one with the least to fear. Apart from Ben, who was bulletproof, her manipulation protected her from severe physical harm the most effectively. Sam and Derek had no such reassurances, and yet they‟d agreed to fight KP with barely a second‟s thoughts. Alicia felt ashamed again. What was wrong with her? She turned as the door opened and Ben came in. “Hey,” he said gently. She knew he‟d come in to cheer her up. He‟d always known how to read her. “Hi,” she said stiffly, looking down at the comforter. “How was work?” “Well, Croftus called Carlnere and it sounded like he was pretty mad about something, but Carlnere wasn‟t there and I couldn‟t get into his office. So, not a complete waste of time but pretty close,” Ben said lightly, plopping down on the bed next to her. When she wouldn‟t meet his eyes, he leaned in. “Hey. Alicia. Look at me. Don‟t beat yourself up, okay? The rest of us are just as upset.” She looked at him in disbelief. “It‟s true, okay? They‟re just hiding it better. None of us actually want to do this, but what choice do we have? You‟ve just got to look at it like that.” Ben looked at her earnestly. “Do I want to do this? No. Do I have a choice? Yeah. But the choice isn‟t fight KP or go home and forget this ever happened. The choice is fighting KP or waiting for KP to kill us.”
“I know,” she said quietly. “I don‟t want them to kill us. And I really do think they should be stopped. But I just don‟t want to be the one who has to do it.” “I know,” said Ben heavily. “Me neither. But we‟ve all got to do things we don‟t want to do, right? Just think of this like that. And before you know it this will be over, we‟ll all be home safe and sound, and then we can forget this ever happened.” He got up and smiled at her. “But before we can do that, we‟ve got to take care of KP.” “You‟re right,” Alicia said, a little cheered. “Once we end this, everything will just go back to normal.” “Great,” Ben said, opening the door. “Oh, and could you come downstairs? Me and Sam and Derek are practicing manipulating and they really want you to come.” “More manipulating?” Alicia muttered. But she slipped off her bed and followed Ben out the door, because one thing Ben had said really rang true: She had a choice. It was kill KP or wait for KP to kill her. And reluctant as she might be to take down Knowledge is Power, Alicia was even less willing to go down without a fight. Ben hadn‟t been lying; Sam and Derek had indeed been eagerly awaiting her appearance, but only because she was the best practice partner they had. When she realized what they wanted, Alicia had sighed inwardly, but she couldn‟t begrudge them an opponent. If the roles were reversed, she knew she‟d want the same. Alicia manipulated herself into three while Phil and Hannah stood behind her, facing Ben, Sam, and Derek. They would be helping with the exercise by adding the manipulation skills every KP agent was likely to have. Coupled with her own excellent hand-to-hand combat training, Alicia was confident the other teenagers would all be on the ground in under a minute. “And…go,” Hannah said. Immediately Ben and Derek charged the side Alicias; the right rolled out of the way and, sticking out a hand, grabbed Ben‟s leg and swiftly knocked him flat on his back. The left was less lucky; Derek managed to lock his hands around her neck, but right as he began to squeeze she kneed him in the groin and he fell to the ground.
Alicia stood poised for another attack, but neither of the boys stirred from the ground. Directing her attention toward Sam, the three Alicias turned and awaited the last fight. Sam raised her hands and three kitchen knives came zooming out of the hallway; the Alicias yelped and dove to avoid them, but Sam was equally skilled and two found their mark. The last embedded itself in the wooden floor and the uninjured Alicia, not wanting to give Sam time to direct it into her neck, jumped her and knocked her to the floor. “And…stop,” Phil said calmly. Ben, Sam, and Derek arose, throwing Alicia grudging looks, and plopped down on the sofa. Alicia felt the sharp pains on either side of her chest as the wounded Alicias disappeared; she lifted up her shirt to check, but neither had broken the skin and she assumed she‟d just be bruised. “Okay. I think Alicia‟s just demonstrated what the main focus needs to be here. Remember, when you‟re actually around any KP agents, you‟ll be armed and protected, but the results are the same. The defense you really need to learn,” he said, throwing the boys stern looks, “is mental. When Alicia knocked you two to the ground, Hannah and I immediately jumped in with manipulation. When you‟re dazed or disoriented like that, especially after suffering a hard blow, it‟s even easier to control you.” Ben and Derek‟s willingness to simply lie on the floor after being taken down once was suddenly explained to Alicia. She got up and went into the kitchen to get a glass of water as Hannah continued to lecture the others on mental defenses. Phil appeared behind her moments later; she sighed inwardly and prepared for an admonishment. “Good job, Alicia. Self-defense classes really paid off, huh?” he said, smiling at her and pouring his own glass. “I thought you were going to tell me to go back and listen,” she admitted. “I don‟t really think mental defenses are as important for you,” Phil allowed. “Any manipulation someone tries on you will be half as effective even if you only have one other Alicia. And usually you fight with three or four.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she admitted. The question that she hadn‟t wanted to ask suddenly burst from her lips. “If you knew KP was planning all this, why didn‟t you tell us earlier? We have only four days to do something before the election.” “Because I was selfish,” said Phil honestly, looking out the window. “I didn‟t want to mess up your lives when I wasn‟t entirely positive what KP was doing…I cared more for you and Ben than the rest of the human race.” Alicia was unconvinced. “Also, our plan was more to do something after Greene was elected but before he was sworn in in January. That‟s when we intended to strike, hoping that KP would be sitting back and thinking they had it in the bag at that point. But KP changed all that by attacking first and giving us no choice but to end them before they ended us.” “Still…” “And, remember, you‟re not trying to stop the election.” Phil took a sip of water. “I doubt that would work anyway, although it‟d be great if we could get Greene to lose.” “Can‟t we try, though?” Alicia begged. “It‟s so stupid just to sit here and do nothing. There‟s got to be something we can do!” “I told you, we‟re waiting until after the election, when Croftus gets complacent. They‟d be expecting us to try something now.” “But I don‟t want KP controlling the next president! Then they‟d have complete power and this would never end!” Alicia said, getting worked up. “He‟s going to win by a landslide,” Phil said in despair. “What could change the course of the election days before it takes place? Nothing.” “But,” said Alicia excitedly, seized by a sudden idea, “what if there was a huge scandal? Something that would really make him fall from grace?” “Greene‟s had an impeccable track record for his entire political career. Croftus made sure he picked the right guy,” Phil answered tiredly. “There‟s got to be something we can do,” Alicia said stubbornly. She marched past Phil into the other room, where the other teenagers were sitting, ruefully rubbing their injuries. “What makes a politician fall from grace?” she barked.
“When they get greedy and steal,” Sam responded. “Cheating,” Derek said wisely. “Getting caught lying,” Ben put in. Alicia whirled on Phil. “See? There are all sorts of things we could do!” “How do you expect us to force Greene to embezzle, cheat, or lie publicly, though, Alicia?” said Hannah wryly, seeming to have picked up on what she was talking about. “We can, okay?” Alicia sat down and ran a hand through her hair, running through their options. Cheating on his wife would definitely be the most difficult to arrange. Lying was a possibility, but it‟d have to be about something that was really of consequence. Embezzling? That would be by far the easiest. Framing Greene should
be a piece of cake. “Sam‟s right. Embezzling is the way to go.”
“And how do you propose we do that?” Hannah said skeptically. Alicia hesitated. “How do they usually get caught?” “One of the geeks they paid off to help them rats them out,” Ben suggested. “It‟s not the most common way, but it‟s happened and it‟ll be the easiest to arrange.” Phil was nodding thoughtfully. “It could work. Hannah and I could hire our own computer guy to manufacture the fake documents needed. One of us could manipulate a representative from the bank.” “We‟d still need to produce an actual geek to turn Greene in, though,” Hannah pointed out. The adults both turned in unison to study the four teenagers. “Alicia could never pull off the geek part-” Hannah said immediately. “And not Sam, she‟s too...” Phil added. “Not much we could do to disguise Ben,” Hannah countered. “And if we send Alicia tomorrow we‟ll still have at least one person in the office…” They both stopped talking immediately; a decision appeared to have been made. “Derek…” Hannah said slowly.
He jumped up, alarmed, as they both turned toward him. “No! Come on. Why me? Can‟t someone else? He could do computer geek way better than me,” he protested, jabbing a finger in Ben‟s direction. Nettled, Ben glared at him, but Phil spoke up before he could think of a retort. “You‟re the best one for the job. Besides, tomorrow everyone else will be heading to work. Alicia will just divide her time between Martinez and Croftus- it‟s the only way,” Phil explained. “We‟re working tomorrow?” Ben complained. “It‟s Saturday!” “All of your offices are open Monday through Saturday,” Hannah told him. “And as the newest worker, of course you‟ll be required to work on the weekend.” “Why can‟t one of you do it?” Alicia jumped in. Derek shot her a grateful look. “I mean, I get why you can‟t actually fight them, but this seems like it‟d be more believable coming from an adult.” “When possible we‟ll help as much during attacks,” Phil said. “But that‟s not the point here. KP knows our faces. You can bet they‟ve been pinned up on some wall ever since we escaped ten years ago. You‟re all new to them- they don‟t even really know what you look like. They relied on descriptions and predictions of where you‟d be in order to attack you in the first place. And no one would be expecting you to talk to the press or show up in their own office.” “Phil and I are going to be continuously manipulating so his story works,” Hannah added. “It‟s going to take both of us working all day to fill in the holes.” “And you know that as soon as they figure out what we‟re doing, KP will be sending agents of its own to manipulate the reporters back and defuse the situation.” Phil argued. “We‟re going to have to undo anything they try or the story will never get out.” Derek knew they were right, but he still didn‟t want to be the one singled out for this job. Especially because it didn‟t seem all that great. No danger, just some acting and a good disguise. It didn‟t help when he caught Alicia looking at him pityingly. She noticed him looking and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, Hey, I tried. “Fine,” he said grudgingly. “Just tell me what I have to do.”
chapter eleven wake-up call After ten minutes of listening to Derek‟s detailed instructions, Sam gave up and went to bed. Listening to the computer jargon he was supposed to spout was mindnumbing and she was tired, anyway. She opened the door and was surprised to see someone already sitting on her bed. “Hi, Ben,” she said tentatively. He looked back at her and sighed. “Hey, Sam.” He didn‟t seem in the mood to talk, which Sam found odd because he was in her room. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, waiting for him to speak. “I just feel like there‟s so much stuff we don‟t know,” he said finally, turning away from the window. “About KP, yeah, but just things that Hannah and Phil aren‟t telling us.” “They tell us everything,” Sam said immediately, relieved that he had a concern which she could actually address. “We know as much as they do.” “You really think so?” he asked. But he wasn‟t looking for reassurance; he was questioning her. “Because I don‟t. And I have a feeling that we‟re going to be finding out a lot of stuff they don‟t want us to know.” He swung himself off of the bed and headed to the door, pausing with his hand on the doorknob. “Good night, Sam. Get some sleep while you can.” “Night, Ben,” she answered, completely confused. After he left she got into bed and watched the stars outside her window. Right now, they were the only things in her life that were the same, and she desperately needed something to stay the same. She didn‟t want to think about what Ben had insinuated. She trusted Phil and Hannah completely; she didn‟t really have a choice. And what was Ben basing his assertions on? Just a hunch? She rolled over in bed and tried her hardest not to doubt them as she drifted off to sleep.
“Rise and shine, Derek,” someone whispered. Derek groaned softly and lay still. There was a fumbling noise to his left and then the covers were thrown off of him and someone grabbed him roughly underneath the arms and hoisted him out of bed. He protested weakly, but he still was groggy from sleep and allowed himself to be dragged down the hallway. It occurred to his sleepy mind that this could be a member of KP kidnapping him, but the voice was familiar and he was pretty sure it belonged to Phil. “Wow, he‟s really out cold, isn‟t he?” said Hannah. He felt her grab hold of his legs and the two of them swung him over something. Then there was the creaking of a dial and suddenly cold water was pouring onto his face. “Arghh!” Derek sputtered, opening his eyes for the first time and scrambling out of the way. He was lying face-up in the shower, fully clothed. Hannah and Phil were standing over him, looking amused. “Sorry, Derek,” said Hannah, although she didn‟t look sorry at all. “You‟re impossible to get up and it‟s pretty early. Okay, I‟ll be downstairs waiting. Phil- you show him what to do.” She slipped out the door. “Okay, Derek. We‟re going to try to disguise you as well as we can,” Phil said. “You know what a spray tan is, right? Ever had one?” Derek shook his head. “Well, this is the opposite. It‟ll make you paler.” He held out a few cans. “Make sure you put enough on, and try to make it even.” He noticed Derek‟s face. “Don‟t worry; it‟ll wash off in the shower tonight.” He turned around and picked up a pile of what looked like soft, flesh-colored pillows. “These are to make you look fatter. Strap these here, and here.” He showed Derek how to attach them around his chest and stomach. There were even skinnier ones for his arms and legs. “Your new clothes are right there, since you probably won‟t fit into your old ones after you put these on. “Once you‟re done with all that, head down to Hannah. She‟ll finish with your makeup and hair.” Phil opened the door. “Wow, you‟re really taking this seriously, aren‟t you,” Derek said before Phil left.
“I almost forgot,” Phil reached into his pocket and held out a tiny black chip. “Here, put this in your ear and one of us can feed you your lines as you go.” After he‟d left, Derek glanced up at the clock and received a small shock. It was only five in the morning! How long did Hannah think it was going to take to make him ugly? He took one last look at himself in the mirror and sighed. It‟d be a while before he‟d be good-looking again. A knock on the door woke Ben; he‟d always been a pretty light sleeper. He rolled over and stared at the clock: 7:30. Plenty of time before he had to be at work at nine. He felt refreshed; amazingly, he‟d gotten a sound nine hours of sleep, and he felt confident about attempting to crack Carlnere‟s office today. He walked down the hall and took a quick shower, shaved, and then came back to his room to find a new suit waiting for him. He picked an attractive light blue dress shirt and slipped into the navy jacket, admiring the exact fit. He picked a dark blue tie and stepped back to examine his look in the mirror. He smiled to himself. Nice. Wondering if anyone else was up yet, he padded downstairs in his socks and headed over to the kitchen to grab a bowl of cereal. But before he reached the fridge, he noticed a chubby guy he‟d never seen before sitting on the couch. Adrenaline pumped through him and he grabbed a gun out of his pocket, training it on the back of the guy‟s head. “Oh, relax, will you, it‟s only me,” the guy said irritably in Derek‟s voice.
“Derek?” Ben asked incredulously. “Is that you?”
Derek turned and Ben half-gasped. Hannah had done a tremendous job disguising him. His skin, three shades paler than normal, was pockmarked and pimply. His normally blue-black shaggy hair was gelled back in a truly unattractive way and seemed to have been dyed a poopy brown shade. His eyebrows were so thick it was hard to distinguish one from the other, and his lips were puffy and swollen. He also looked as if he‟d put on sixty pounds that were struggling to escape from his too-tight pea green sweater and khaki pants. “Yeah, you idiot.” “You look terrible! Wait till the girls see you!” Ben said gleefully.
Derek glared at him. “Just wait until I‟m back to normal.” He turned back towards the television and smirked. “Alicia won‟t be able to stay away.” Ben‟s insides tightened and he took a few steps towards him. “Don‟t talk about her like that,” he snapped. “What?” said Derek innocently, sitting back down and flipping through a few channels on the television. “It‟s true. You‟re just mad because you‟re not having any luck with my sister. But even if you were, I‟m cool with that.” There were a number of things Ben wanted to bite back, like that the reason he didn‟t want Derek near Alicia was because of his track record and her history of terrible choices. He was exactly her type. And, despite Derek‟s taunting, he was a cool guy. They hung out occasionally. And Ben didn‟t want to have to hate him when he broke Alicia‟s heart. So he really didn‟t want anything to happen, but he felt like he was fighting a losing battle. Instead he settled himself with a dignified silence, pouring himself some Cheerios and wordlessly choosing a good seat to watch the basketball game with Derek. “Why do you have to do this?” he asked finally. “I like you but I don‟t want you to hurt her.” “It‟s cool, okay?” said Derek. “I like her. I‟m not going to hurt her. And, honestly, in this relationship it‟s me who has to worry about getting hurt.” “What do you mean?” said Ben, because this was news to him. “I don‟t think she‟s ever been dumped,” Derek said. “She‟s always the one breaking it off.” “Yeah, well, you‟re always the one ending it, too,” Ben pointed out. Derek smiled. “Touché. But clearly you‟ve got nothing to worry about, because odds are one of us will dump the other before long.” There was enough truth in his twisted logic that Ben nodded in agreement and they sat back, watching the game in companionable silence, occasionally making comments about particularly good or bad plays. It wasn‟t until fifteen minutes later that the girls appeared at the top of the stairs. They both made a few snide comments about Derek‟s appearance, but for the most part stayed quiet as they ate breakfast,
looking queasy; Ben knew that they were apprehensive, to say the least, about infiltrating KP‟s offices. It was near eight when Hannah and Phil finally came downstairs; Ben was surprised to see they had disguises almost as good as Derek‟s. Phil appeared to be twenty pounds heavier, with a thick head of red hair and a bushy beard; Hannah was as slender as ever, but had covered her brown hair with a blonde bob wig and had lightened her skin several shades. “Very good, girls,” Hannah said, nodding. Ben followed her gaze and noticed that Alicia and Sam both looked much older than usual; whether it was a different way they‟d done their makeup or their business clothes, he couldn‟t tell, but it definitely worked. Still, she whipped out a bag and did a few finishing touches on all four of them, touching up Derek‟s makeup and aging the others slightly. It was past eight-thirty when they‟d all been deemed suitable enough. “You three should be leaving soon,” Phil said, checking his watch. “Remember to take a gun and keep it with you at all times. Try your hardest not to be discovered, but remember that you‟re there to get information. There‟s still Monday before the speech, too.” “And if you still haven‟t gotten anything, we can always continue sending you in after Tuesday,” Hannah added. Ben imagined having to sneak into KP‟s offices every day for a month, having this nightmare never end. He immediately resolved to find anything out he could. Anything to speed this process up.
chapter twelve working on the weekend “Thank you,” Sam said timidly, stepping out of the cab and closing the door softly behind her. The driver grunted in answer and sped off. She reached into her designer purse and searched blindly until her fingers closed around the cool metal of the revolver. It made her feel safer, even though Hannah had promised no one would recognize her. They won‟t expect you to be right in their
backyard, she‟d assured Sam.
A door slammed a few yards down and she turned; Ben was just getting out of a different taxi, looking handsome in a sharp navy suit. He looked around and held her eyes for a long second before hiking up the strap on his leather bag and striding towards the door. Sam bit her lip as she watched his retreating figure, remembering yesterday, when they‟d stood on this very same sidewalk together. When he‟d slung his arm around her and held her, reassuring her. She wished he could comfort her today, but she knew that was impossible. To reveal they knew each other? Yesterday, it had been risky. Today, it would be suicide. She steadied herself and then marched toward the Supreme Tower, matching the long strides of the other businesspeople around her. To her relief, no one gave her a second glance as she mingled with the flow of people heading towards the back of the lobby. She pulled out her security card and flashed it to the same guard behind the desk; if he recognized her, he didn‟t show it. She slipped into a crowded elevator and hit the button for 54, noticing in annoyance that there were already ten lower buttons pressed. She stared at the mirrored walls as the elevator slowly emptied, dispensing one or two workers on each highlighted floor. “Croftus is going to be a nightmare today,” a woman said to her male companion a few feet from Sam; she stiffened and surreptitiously scanned them in the mirror, but neither appeared to be wearing the sign of KP.
“Everyone will be,” the man said huffily. “Making us come in on a Saturday! I know the election‟s this week, but really! You‟d think we were interns and not experienced workers.” The woman made a sympathetic noise as the elevator doors slid open and the pair departed to floor 27. Sam sneaked a peek of Croftus‟ main setup, but all she caught was a glimpse of shiny glass walls and black carpeting. Finally the doors slid open to reveal floor 54, and Sam exited nervously. The doors began to slide shut behind her, but a hand reached out and stopped them and its owner slipped through to stand next to Sam. The man looked down at Sam gruffly. “And who are you?” She glanced up at him but only registered one thing: the purple logo on his chest. “Oh!” she said in alarm, stumbling backward. She feverishly rooted through her purse, searching for the revolver, but right as her fingers closed around the handle, another voice startled her. “You‟re early, Mr. Slater,” an alluring voice cooed, and both Sam and Mr. Slater turned to see an impossibly lovely woman gliding towards them. She wore a flouncy white blouse tucked into a tight grey pencil skirt, both of which emphasized her incredible figure. She was deeply tanned and simply looked too perfect. If Sam had to choose a word, she would have picked airbrushed. The woman looked as if she had just stepped off a movie poster. Sam relaxed her fingers around the gun and slowly withdrew her arm. “Just dropping off the payment,” Mr. Slater said gruffly. He turned toward Sam as he extracted a manila folder from his briefcase, and she realized ruefully that the symbol that had scared her so much was simply a large, purple Ralph Lauren RL logo. Not KP. Mr. Slater handed off the envelope to the woman, who tossed her long blonde waves giddily. “Thank you so much!” He mumbled a response, apparently as in awe of her beauty as Sam was, and quickly stumbled out the door.
Supermodel turned her perfectly made up face to Sam, her large blue eyes framed by voluminous black lashes. She blinked in confusion and then something seemed to click into place. “You must be Sam!” she exclaimed happily. “I‟m Kendra Perkins. You can call me Kendra.” Sam raised an eyebrow in disbelief. This was the woman she was supposed to be investigating? She had as much chance of being a member of KP as Sam did. She looked like Office Barbie. “You look just like I wanted,” Kendra was gushing. She took Sam by the hand and led her forward. Sam glanced around the room; it was tastefully but neutrally decorated. There was a large wooden counter and desk at the back, which was where Kendra led and then deposited Sam. “Here we are, then. All you‟ll have to do is do a bit of typing, answer the phones, and make appointments. Oh, and of course you‟ll send any clients who come through straight to me.” There were two doors on either side of the desk. Kendra pointed to the right-hand one. “That‟s my office- you‟ll just send them straight through there. Very important, though: don‟t ever come in while I‟m with a client.” Was that because Kendra didn‟t want anyone to see her manipulating? Maybe she acted ditzy to avoid suspicion. It had certainly worked on Sam. “The left-hand door leads to the rest of the office- my assistant Caroline‟s office, the secretaries, the bathrooms, etc.,” Kendra was saying. It seemed an odd setup to Sam, but she nodded anyway and Kendra breezed through the right door and was gone in a blink. Sam sat down at her new computer and frowned, trying to decide how best to look around. She knew Kendra was in her office, so that was out. Should she try to snoop in the rest of the offices, through the left door? The left door opened and a short, mousy sort of woman with brown hair marched through. “Are there any messages for me?” she barked to Sam in lieu of a greeting, her eyes glued to her smartphone‟s tiny screen. “I‟m sorry, who are you?” Sam asked uncertainly.
“Caroline Brown,” the woman squawked indignantly. When it was clear that this meant nothing to Sam, she added in annoyance, “You know, Kendra‟s personal assistant? I‟m sure she told you about me.” “Right, right,” said Sam hastily, even though Kendra had mentioned nothing about Caroline or an assistant of any kind. “No, no messages, sorry.”
“Okay, Derek,” Hannah said bracingly. “This is it.” “Remind me what to say again,” he begged, feeling more than a little queasy. Evil enemy agents? That he could handle. Speaking in front of a large crowd? Not really his strength. The pair stepped out of the steady flow of people moving on the sidewalk- Derek was amazed at the sheer number of inhabitants New York City could hold –and Hannah pulled him close, clutching her coat against the wind. “Go in there and say you‟d like to tell them something. Once you‟ve got an officer alone, tell him the whole story. Give him that packet of papers,” –she indicated the manila folder in his hand –“as proof. Likely they will call the bank. Text me as soon as you give them the folder, and I‟ll call Phil and let him know to start the manipulation. It‟s got to be timed around the same time, because if the bank discovers the missing money first, it‟ll seem like you‟re just trying to blame Croftus.” “Got it,” Derek lied, stepping away from her. He was far from ready, but he wasn‟t going to get any more prepared. Besides, he didn‟t think his stomach could hold on to his breakfast for much longer unless he got this over with. He pushed open the door of the police station and stumbled inside. A large rectangular hole in the wall up ahead served as the counter for the front desk; glass stretched from the ceiling to the counter. A studious-looking cop sat at the computer with his hands flying across the keyboard, probably typing a report. Derek waited for about a minute, but the cop didn‟t look up, even though he obviously knew Derek was there. Derek could feel himself getting annoyed but he resisted the urge to spit out a
snarky comment, knowing that he needed to stay in character. So he stared humbly at the ground until the cop finally looked up. “Can I help you?” he said, pushing a button down so his voice blared through a tiny speaker. “Yes, I‟d, uh, like to talk to someone,” said Derek, not meeting his eyes. “Gonna need you to be a bit more specific, son,” the cop sniggered. “I want to report something….I think….can I just see an officer, please?” Derek asked, pushing back his anger. The officer entered another few sentences into his computer before finally responding. “This better not be a waste of time, kid. Follow me.” He got up and opened a door to reveal a short hallway; Derek followed him a few paces and into a cramped office. The officer shoved a few folders to the side and dropped into the chair behind the desk. Derek had hoped he‟d get to talk to a more inviting police officer, but no. Instead he got stuck with the cranky guy who‟d clearly been on desk duty too long. “Okay, kid,” the officer said wearily, folding his hands behind his head. “What‟s your story?” “It‟s about Richard Greene,” Derek said, meeting his eyes. “You‟ll want to put out a warrant for his arrest.” The officer sat forward, looking surprised. “You‟re accusing a presidential candidate of breaking the law only days before the election?” He shook his head, chucking. “This I‟ve got to hear.” Alicia pushed the button for Floor 27 and took a cursory look at the other people in the elevator. One was a middle-aged man who had to be at least six and a half feet tall. Three other men stood in a huddle near the far corner. A woman with her brown hair in a tight bun snapped orders into her Blackberry. The elevator stopped on a lower floor and no one left, but instead a lithe figure darted in just before the doors slid shut again. A teenage boy with messy black hair, dressed casually in jeans.
“Going up,” he announced to the elevator as a whole. No one really paid him much attention. The elevator stopped on another floor and the three short men filed out. The boy watched them go and then noticed Alicia. His eyes widened. He moved to stand next to her and the elevator slid upward again. She pretended not to notice him; she was supposed to be a businesswoman and she was not about to let some guy, no matter how cute he was, blow her cover. He opened his mouth to speak but then the door slid open again and Alicia noticed with relief it was her floor. She slipped by him and into a futuristic office. Frosted glass surrounded her wherever she looked, thin walls stretching from the ceiling to the glossy black floor. In front of her loomed a frosted glass hallway; to her right and left, short glass walls in front of long ones formed doorways into other corridors. From the right of these doorways a voice called, “Over here.” She gripped her purse tighter and slipped through the opening. “Hello,” said the voice again, and Alicia located the speaker: a tall Hispanic woman in a tight black dress and razor-thin stilettos. She was sitting behind a plain black desk. Over her right shoulder was a hallway to a large, open room bustling with people. The woman looked up and smiled. “You must be Alicia Blackwell, Leonard‟s new assistant?” Alicia nodded in confirmation. “Yes, Lenny does go through them so quickly,” the woman mused to herself. “There was an assistant for me who was supposed to start today, too…” She flipped through a stack of papers. “Derek Noler. Hmm. My last assistant is on maternity leave…I‟m happy for her, of course, but such a bother…” She clicked on something on the computer and hummed to herself as she read. “Oh, it seems Mr. Noler is starting
Monday, how did I mix that up? Well, Alicia, it‟s your lucky day, then! You can help me and Lenny today. Answering the phones is the big thing to do on Saturdays, so you
just need to answer and connect the caller to the right person.” She showed Alicia the list of extension numbers. “You should probably go into the mayor‟s offices first, though, make sure his secretaries know you‟re here. I‟m Nicole Martinez, by the way, the mayor‟s personal assistant. Such a big job!” Her eyes gleamed as she pointed Alicia down the hall.
Alicia wandered down the hall until a nice woman directed her to a small, glassringed cubicle. The woman promised to let Croftus know she‟d arrived, but told her that she should concentrate on the phones, because the lines opened at 9:30 A.M “sharp.” Finally alone, Alicia looked around her office, impressed. She was the first to admit she didn‟t know much about office decorations, but Croftus‟ whole floor seemed to be pretty swanky for a lowly mayor. Wasn‟t the government scrambling for money? It wasn‟t even like he was the governor of the whole state, like Greene. So where had he gotten the money to decorate his offices so lavishly and equip even the lowest secretaries with state-of-the-art computers? She knew the answer to that one: manipulation. She checked the time on her glossy Mac computer: 9:15 A.M. She had thirty minutes before she‟d be glued to her desk, the way Nicole and the other woman had told it, with the phones ringing off the hook. What should she do? Croftus was in his office, so it was a no go trying to snoop there. Should she try to sneak past Nicole and check out the right-hand section? But Alicia was more drawn to the left-hand section. In the center were Croftus and government workers. To the right were Nicole and the secretaries and assistants. What could possibly be on the left? But then she remembered that the frosted glass walls were transparent on one side, allowing anyone sitting at that black desk where Nicole had been to watch the hallway undetected. If Nicole was there, she‟d see Alicia for sure. But Alicia decided to risk it. Besides, if Nicole noticed, she could always pretend she‟d gotten confused and taken a wrong turn. She slipped out of her office and tiptoed down the center hallway, pausing steps from the elevator. To her left was Nicole, hidden behind that wall. Was she watching? To her right was a chance to explore. She darted behind the frosted glass and waited, but there was silence. Either Nicole was in the back room, or she was keeping silent. Alicia turned the corner and stopped, facing a thick metal door. There was no keyhole, only a keypad with blinking purple lights. To her right, a clear glass wall showed a room filled with blinking computer screens and television monitors. She
squinted; some displayed flashing purple screen savers. Alicia was sure it was one of KP‟s information sources. She swore inwardly. If only Ben had been placed here. He‟d be able to get through this door. But she was stuck. She glanced at the glass next to the door and for a fleeting second considered smashing it. But that would definitely get her found out and at the very least, arrested. She stepped a little closer, half-hoping there‟d be fingerprints or something on the keypad (hey, it happened in movies!), and must‟ve triggered some sort of sensor. Hundreds of poles slid up from the floor of the unreachable room and clicked into place in indentations in the ceiling, completely locking the room down. Damn. Alicia almost stamped her foot in frustration. Now she couldn‟t even manipulate another Alicia on the other side of the door; the poles were inches apart. Even as much as she hated asking for help, this was a job that her manipulation wasn‟t right for. So instead she headed back to her desk, disappointed, just as the first phone began to ring. “Thank you for your time. Yes, I understand the importance of the matter. We are grateful for your cooperation. Good-bye,” said the officer gravely. He replaced the phone and then looked up at Derek. “That was the bank. They‟ve just discovered the loss. The story matches exactly.” He paused, studying Derek closely. “I‟m not going to lie, kid- when you first started telling your crazy story, I thought this was some sort of prank. But the bank is backing you up.” “I‟m not lying,” Derek said earnestly, widening his eyes. “How would I even make something like this up? Why would I do it?” The officer shrugged. “Politics is a dirty business. Some might go as far as staging a fake bank robbery to discredit a candidate. But this is no hoax.” “As soon as I did it, I felt bad,” Derek mumbled, trying to look downcast. “I knew it was wrong. I‟ll return what he paid me.” Even though his acting skills were virtually nonexistent, the policeman seemed convinced. The officer patted him on the shoulder. “You did the right thing. And don‟t worry. No one is going to press charges against you for coming forward. I suppose
now that the story‟s been confirmed, we should let the newspapers know. People need to know about this before they vote on Tuesday. We can‟t let Greene be President now. I‟m glad I was on duty. You changed my mind, that‟s for sure. Now let me go call Dave and we can tell him what happened.” Derek nodded and, when the officer left the room, pulled out his phone and checked his texts. There was one from Hannah. PHIL GOT THE BANK ALL STRAIGHTNED OUT. He quickly replied. YEAH, HE CALLED THEM AND THEY CONFIRMED. HE‟S GETTING A REPORTER NOW. He could hear the officer on the phone with someone in the hall. Probably a newspaper reporter, who‟d be heading over to the station soon. His phone buzzed in his hand and he flipped it open. I‟LL BE THERE TO HELP WITH THE REPORTER. TELL ME WHEN HE GETS THERE.
Help with the reporter? Derek frowned. What did that mean? He slipped his
phone back into his pocket as the door opened and the officer reappeared, followed by a heavyset man with tiny, beady eyes. After introducing Derek, the officer basically told the reporter, Dave, everything, speaking in a crisp, official way and handing him a copy of the fake computer records Hannah had somehow produced that morning. After ten minutes, Dave fixed his eyes on Derek instead and started questioning him. “You say Croftus found you through a website? What website was this?” he said suspiciously. “What number did he use to call you? Do you have the phone records?” There was no question that Dave was an inconveniently sharp man. Derek fumbled around for something to say, but he was saved by Hannah, who made an exceedingly timely entrance and sat down next to Derek. The officer started to get up. “Who are you? Ma‟am, I‟m afraid I‟m going to have to ask you to leave.” Hannah ignored him and dropped into the chair next to Derek. The officer cleared his throat expectantly.
Hannah simply looked at him. “It is procedure to have a witness to all interrogations. Surely you hadn‟t forgotten…?” “Yes, yes,” the officer said, looking dazed and sitting down. “Procedure…” Dave looked utterly confused, but shook it off and looked at Derek questioningly. “Well?” “The website was computerexpertsforhire.com,” Hannah continued smoothly, turning her mind to Dave‟s. “Derek has been a member since April. Here is his membership information.” She picked up a completely blank piece of paper from the desk and handed it to him confidently. “That seems to be in order,” Dave mumbled, peering at it closely. “He called from a pay phone in New York, number 743-555-2810,” Hannah said sleekly. “Derek broke his cell phone yesterday and so cannot show you the call, but if you contact AT&T in a few days, the records should be in.” She continued to bat away all the questions Dave threw at Derek, fabricating insanely complex explanations on the spot and manipulating him when he asked too detailed questions. Sitting there, Derek realized what she‟d meant when she‟d said she needed to fill in the holes in his story. No matter what he said, there would be things that didn‟t add up. Because the story wasn‟t true. “Well, I think we‟ll be able to run this on the front page tomorrow morning,” Dave said finally, closing his notebook. “Thanks for taking this to us first.” He smiled at Derek. “This‟ll be the difference on Tuesday.” Derek felt relief well up inside him. He hadn‟t thought framing Greene for embezzlement was going to work, but it had and it changed everything. Croftus wouldn‟t be able to make his speech, KP would be crippled, and they‟d be able to kill the top members within a week. He felt more hopeful than he had days. But then everything went wrong. For the second time, the interview was interrupted as the door flew open. But this time, it wasn‟t someone coming to help. Instead, a man and a woman burst roughly into the room. Hannah jumped up in alarm and Derek‟s eyes went straight to the symbol stitched on their jackets: the intertwining purple letters of KP.
chapter thirteen prank calls Sam‟s phone buzzed insistently but she ignored it, instead concentrating on finishing the final sentence. There. She hit ENTER with satisfaction and breathed a sigh of relief. She‟d been typing that document for over an hour and deciphering Caroline‟s messy handwriting had given her a major headache. It had been a long, slow day, with absolutely no evidence that Kendra or anyone in her company was associated with Knowledge is Power.
In fact, she thought ruefully, the most exciting thing that happened all day was that man‟s shirt this morning. She‟d gotten so jumpy that she mistook a preppy man
with a purple Ralph Lauren logo on his polo for a sinister KP agent. She fumbled around her designer purse- Hannah had dressed them as luxuriously as possible- for her phone and finally extracted it. It took her a few seconds to work out the new controls on the touch screen, but eventually she was able to open Alicia‟s message. THERE‟S A DOOR I NEED TO GET THROUGH. A second text arrived with more information as Alicia explained the problem more thoroughly. Sam frowned to herself as she assessed the situation. How did Alicia expect her to help with this? Even if there was a keyhole, that sort of thing was more up Derek‟s alley. But the pole problem…Sam could sense Alicia‟s frustration. Did that mean KP knew about Alicia and her unique manipulation skill? Or was it just an extensive precaution, to ensure that the only entrance was through the door and the keypad, instead of smashing through the walls? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO HELP WITH THAT? Sam responded. WHY DON‟T YOU TRY TO FIND THE COMBINATION? And do something helpful, she added in her head. She texted Ben, explaining Alicia‟s problem and asking him for help. He replied almost instantly.
WE WERE GIVEN THESE ASSIGNMENTS FOR A REASON. I‟VE GOT TO KEEP AN EYE ON CARLNERE. ALICIA WILL HAVE TO DEAL WITH THIS ON HER OWN. Her phone vibrated again and she opened another message from Alicia. YOU‟VE GOT TO CONVINCE BEN TO HELP ME. I KNOW THIS IS IMPORTANT. HE‟LL ONLY LISTEN TO YOU. As much as Sam liked the idea of her having influence over Ben, she didn‟t think Alicia was right. Nevertheless, she figured she had to try. SHE THINKS IT‟S REALLY IMPORTANT, Sam persisted, hoping Ben would feel guilty. She had just hit Send when a sharp voice cut in. “I was under the impression we had hired you to work, Samantha.” Sam jumped and dropped her phone. Red-faced, she knelt down and surreptitiously slid it into her purse. “I‟m sorry,” she apologized, standing up to face Caroline. “I was just going to the bathroom.” The tiny woman stood there scowling and tapping her foot as Sam grabbed her purse and stepped through the narrow doorway, awkwardly edging by Caroline. Sam walked slowly down the hall, stealing glances into the various rooms as she passed. She was very aware of Caroline‟s eyes boring into the back of her head. Sam stopped in front of the second-to-last door on the right and caught her breath. A large purple KP was embossed on the glass door and she could see an office inside. Was this where Kendra stored her information? She took a half-step towards the slightly ajar door, but suddenly Caroline was there. “That‟s Kendra‟s private office, not the bathroom,” she snipped. “And it‟s not for the likes of you.” She jerked her head toward the door directly across. “That‟s what you‟re looking for.” Sam slipped inside the bathroom and held her breath as she listened; after a few seconds, she could hear the clicking of Caroline‟s heels fading away. Thank God. Well, at least she knew she was onto something. She quickly pulled out her phone before the witch could return and dialed Alicia. “Hello? Did you convince Ben?”
Her phone buzzed in her hand. “Hold on, I think he just answered.” Sam quickly relayed his message. “He says he‟ll try to come down later but you should try to look for the code.” “Yes! Thanks, Sam. I know this is important,” Alicia cheered. “And of course I‟ve been trying to look for the dratted access code, but I‟m stuck in my office and it‟s not like they‟re going to leave that code pinned up everywhere.” “You‟re that busy, then?” “Yeah, busy answering phones,” Alicia said gloomily. “And I don‟t care what Phil says- we‟d better find some stuff before the election. I am not doing this for another month. What about you? You find anything?” “I think Kendra might have a separate KP office in the back,” Sam offered, “but she‟s got this irritating personal assistant who watches me all the time. It‟s going to be tough getting by her. Kendra‟s clearly got her well-trained. She‟s like a pit bull.” She sniggered, picturing Caroline‟s frowning face on a stubby bulldog body. “Tough,” said Alicia sympathetically. “Well, at least it‟s almost lunch. Day‟s half over! Wonder how Derek‟s doing? He‟s our best bet for ending this soon. Ah, hold on. Someone‟s coming and I‟ve been on my break way too long. See you later.” She clicked off. Sam adjusted a few strands of hair in the mirror, thinking about what Alicia had said. Derek really was the best chance for taking down KP before the election. But that didn‟t mean that Sam couldn‟t give it her best shot, too. And maybe she‟d be the one to save the day for once. “Could you make me seven copies of this, Ben?” Taylor poked her head around the corner and tossed a thick sheaf of papers on his desk. “Of course,” said Ben, forcing a smile. When she‟d disappeared, he got up with a heavy sigh and plodded across the hall to the ancient copy machine, which he‟d already discovered took ages to scan even one sheet. Seven copies of a forty-page packet? He‟d be there for hours.
After placing the packet in the slot, Ben wandered down the hall to Taylor‟s office, which was much bigger than his, much more luxuriously decorated, and –most importantly- empty. She was nowhere to be seen and since he‟d seen Carlnere in the hallway this morning, hers was the only office Ben felt safe investigating. Keeping an eye on the door, he sat down at her computer and froze for a second while he tried to figure out what to look for. Unable to come up with another idea, he decided to look through the folders on her desktop. He idly clicked through her recent documents but found nothing of interest. “What am I doing?” he muttered to himself after the tenth billing sheet. “I don‟t know how to hack a computer.” He was about to give up when he opened the next document, which was a detailed phone bill of the office‟s calls. Then a thought struck him. He checked to see when it had been updated and grinned broadly. This morning! He quickly scrolled up and wrote down the number that Croftus had called from yesterday on a pink Post-It. Then, feeling like a real spy, he scanned the rest of the list, looking for any other calls between Carlnere and Croftus.
That‟s strange. Ben frowned. The first call between the two numbers was only
four days ago. And there had only been four total- and none were over five minutes long. It didn‟t make sense for them to talk so little if Carlnere was such an important member of KP. But maybe Croftus usually used another number? Ben was sure he had plenty. He heard footsteps in the hall and quickly jumped away from the desk, making sure to close both the programs, and ducked out of Taylor‟s office, clutching the sticky note behind his back, right as she came around the corner. “I think the copier‟s just about finished,” she said, smiling brightly. “Yes, I‟ll go check,” he said, edging sideways and past her. Once in the privacy of his office, he opened the tiny slip of paper. 729-555-9013. Croftus‟ phone number. All he had to do was figure out how to use it.
Derek slumped back in his chair and sighed heavily, staring at the ceiling. No one was paying him the slightest bit of attention. Ever since the KP agents had busted in on the interview, it had been a full-out battle of mind manipulation. Dave and the police officer had changed opinions so many times, Derek was sick of trying to keep it all straight. And the worst part? He checked his watch. They‟d been going at it since eleven in the morning- which was almost four hours ago. Multiple KP agents had come and gone, seemingly mentally exhausted, but Hannah had continued to manipulate consistently. Phil had showed up a few hours ago to help her out, but Derek‟s skills hadn‟t been needed. “Hold on,” said Phil, rising and leaving the room. Derek watched him go, bored out of his mind. He reappeared a second later with a senior officer. “We‟re closing early today,” the chief reported assertively. “This boy here will be holding a press conference on Monday night. The story will be kept secret until then. We‟ll have to ask you all to leave now.” The two KP agents jumped up immediately and turned their attention on the chief, clearly trying to change his mind, but he ushered them out with authority. Phil and Hannah flanked them and escorted them to the door, sighing in relief once the door shut behind them. Hannah immediately sagged, stumbling into the nearest chair; Phil helped her sit and then turned to Derek. “Well done, Derek.” He looked exhausted but happier than Derek had ever seen him. “I think we might actually have pulled this off.” “What just happened?” Derek asked. It seemed an abrupt end to a long mental battle. “And why didn‟t you just shoot them?” “I convinced the chief to close early,” Phil answered. “Then Hannah and I protected his mind so the KP agents couldn‟t change his decision. They‟re not open on Sundays, so we‟re safe for now. And on Monday, a press conference will be too many reporters for KP to control all at once. The word will get out.” “So it‟s not going to be printed tomorrow?” “Unfortunately, no,” Hannah replied, coming over to them and grabbing her purse. “The agents were strong enough at least to prevent that. They‟ve only bought
themselves some time. Don‟t worry, though; it‟ll be near impossible for them to manipulate every reporter at the press conference. Monday is when we will see if this will really work. Good job, Derek.” “I still don‟t get why you didn‟t just shoot them? Or they didn‟t just shoot you?” “Well, you dissolved all of their bullets like we asked, right?” Phil loosened his tie. Derek nodded. “It would‟ve been tremendously difficult to manipulate the police about murdering someone on their premises,” Hannah interjected. “Way too much work. And they knew we had guns and that they weren‟t armed, so they played by our rules.” Derek checked his watch. “It‟s almost three. Can I go back to the apartment now?” Phil nodded. “It would take too long to get you un-disguised and to the office, so it‟s not worth it. The others should be back in an hour or so, anyways.” He put an arm around Hannah and hoisted her up. “Let‟s get back and rest.” “Come on, come on,” Sam muttered under her breath, watching the flow of people streaming from the doors of the Supreme Building. She checked her watch5:13. What was Alicia doing? Sam was on the other side of the street, leaning up against a bike rack as she waited for her friend to emerge. Alicia had made her promise to wait so they could go home together. Sam was reminded of her birthday, when she‟d waited for Alicia with the same petty annoyance. She wished she could go back in time and warn herself not to go to her car- to ride home with Alicia or call Hannah. Would everything have changed if she hadn‟t met the three men? What if Alicia hadn‟t come back? Sam swallowed. She knew the answer to that one. She‟d be captured at the very least, and most likely dead. “Hey,” Alicia said brightly. Sam stumbled and made a very odd yelping noise; she hadn‟t noticed Alicia approach. “That was graceful,” Alicia snickered, raising a hand and hailing a cab. “Lucky Ben didn‟t see that.”
“Shut up,” Sam said, following her into the backseat. “What kept you? Don‟t you get out at five?” “Yeah, but I thought I‟d have another go at that door after everyone left,” Alicia said. “I couldn‟t go near it all day- they weren‟t exaggerating about the phones. I barely had five minutes to eat my lunch.” “Did you get in?” “Didn‟t even get near it. Nicole was still there and I didn‟t want to risk it,” Alicia sighed gloomily. “At least we get tomorrow off,” Sam said, trying to cheer her. “No lifethreatening missions to complete! It‟s practically a vacation.” “Yeah, and then back to this on Monday.” Alicia set her face in determination. “I‟ve got to get into that room Monday. I just have to.” Ben sighed in relief as the elevator doors slid open. Finally home. He walked down the hallway, his heart pounding, and surveyed the scene. Sam was on the couch watching television. The rest of the floor appeared deserted. “Hey, Ben,” she said, looking up. “How‟d it go? Find anything?” “Not really, no,” he said, clutching the sticky note behind his back. “You?” He figured she wouldn‟t be talking this casually if anything had happened to any of the others, but he still needed to know for sure. “Nothing. Well, an office, but I couldn‟t get in,” Sam reported gloomily. “Where is everyone?” Ben asked, trying to look like he wasn‟t paralyzed with fear of her response. “Are they back? Are they okay?” “Everyone‟s fine,” she said, and a huge weight lifted off Ben‟s shoulders. He didn‟t know why, but he felt a strange sort of responsibility for them all. Like it was his job to keep them alive. “Hannah and Phil are napping,” she continued. “Far as I can tell, whatever they did with Derek today really tired them out. Alicia and Derek are somewhere, I don‟t know. Phil said we should all take today and tomorrow to rest.”
Ben nodded and went upstairs to change, passing Derek‟s room as he went. He poked his head in to find the other laying on his bed, listening to his iPod. “Hey,” he said, but Derek didn‟t move. “Hey,” he said again, louder. “Oh, hi,” Derek said, noticing him and pulling an earphone out. “You find anything?” “Got Croftus‟ phone number,” Ben said, pulling it out. He wasn‟t sure why he‟d felt the need to hide it from Sam, but a similar urge demanded he show Derek. “Oh, great job, Sherlock. Not like we couldn‟t have just Googled it,” Derek sniggered. “It‟s his personal number,” Ben snapped. He opened a search engine on the computer in the corner and quickly pulled up Croftus‟ page. “See? That one‟s different.” “Prove it,” said Derek, watching him lazily. “Call him.” “Call him?” Ben sputtered. “What would I say?” “Pretend to be Carlnere,” Derek suggested. “Didn‟t you say Croftus was calling for him before?” “Nice!” Ben said, impressed. “How‟d you come up with that?” Derek shrugged. “I‟m a natural at this.” “At what?” said Sam, appearing around the corner. “Ben‟s got Croftus‟ number and is about to call him pretending to be Carlnere,” Derek said immediately. Ben shot him a look. Derek knew that Ben was trapped- he couldn‟t back down in front of Sam. Derek raised his eyebrows, Well? “Fine,” Ben conceded. He dialed the number. “Put it on speaker phone!” Sam flopped down on the bed next to Derek, watching Ben with a rapt expression. He obliged. “What‟s going on?” asked Alicia, padding in to sit on the floor against the bed. They all shushed her furiously and the four sat in silence, listening to the phone ring. One ring, two rings, three… “Hello?”
Ben jumped and almost dropped the phone; he fumbled around with it for a second before securing it and bringing it to his ear. “Yes, it‟s, uh, Chester. What did you want, Leonard? I‟m very busy,” he said aggressively. Derek looked impressed and flashed Ben a thumbs-up; Alicia was watching him with a similarly pleased expression. Croftus seemed just as taken aback. “I must admit, I expected a man in your position to be a bit less hostile,” he remarked mildly. “Does this mean you‟ve made your decision?” “Decision?” Ben mouthed at the rest of them, but no one seemed to have any helpful suggestions on how to keep the façade alive. “You know I haven‟t,” he answered roughly, playing for time. “Well, you‟ve got a day,” said Croftus, sounding unconcerned. “You know it doesn‟t matter to me one way or another. It‟s completely up to you. Of course we‟d be delighted if you accepted.”
Accepted? Ben frowned. Was Croftus proposing a new KP project to his head
executive, which Carlnere was wary about accepting? He cleared his throat. “And if I don‟t?” “You know the consequences,” Croftus said in a sinister tone. “You have twentyfour hours to decide. Good-bye.” He clicked off. “Accepted what?” said Derek, staring at the phone meditatively. “He sounded pretty threatening to me,” Sam observed. “If Carlnere‟s part of KP, why would Croftus be threatening him?” Alicia shook her head. “It doesn‟t make sense.” “Maybe he got cold feet or something,” Derek suggested. “Maybe he‟s trying to convince Croftus to dissolve KP or something, and Croftus is telling him he‟d better accept it…or else.” “Maybe…” Ben frowned at the phone. “I don‟t know. We‟ll figure it out Monday, I guess. Anyone want some dinner?” “Hannah left money and a phone number so we can order pizza,” Alicia said, jumping up. “I‟m starving; let‟s order now.”
It turned out that the pizza place didn‟t deliver - “Thanks a lot, Hannah!” said Derek indignantly –so Alicia volunteered to go pick it up. She slipped on a black jacket and stole out of the imposing brick building with relief. She enjoyed the excuse to get away from everyone. The constant stress was giving her a migraine. The pizzeria was only ten short blocks away, so Alicia reached it in no time. As she was paying for the two large pizzas, she noticed a dark-haired teenage boy staring at her. Normally the attention would have been excellent fuel for her ego, but with everything that had been going on, she barely had the energy to flip her hair over her shoulder and preen. He tried to catch her eye and stepped to meet her as she left, but she put her head down and stoically avoided his gaze. There would be time to make friends back in New Hampshire. This boy was no one special. Of course, like everything else in her life, that was about to change.
chapter fourteen sunday is the day of rest Ben yawned and stretched, opening his eyes and blinking in the dark room. He tugged on the curtains next to his bed and recoiled from the thick sunlight; he quickly yanked them closed again and glanced at the clock next to his bed. 10:49. He got out of bed and pulled on a pair of socks and then headed downstairs. Last night they‟d all gone to bed pretty early. After Alicia had returned with the pizza, they‟d had a quick dinner together. Phil and Hannah had immediately said goodnight; Ben suspected they had been pretty worn out from the frantic manipulating they‟d been doing all day. Sam had retreated to her room not long afterwards. Ben, Alicia, and Derek had sat down to watch some action movie together, but Ben‟s desire to sleep soon won out over his determination to keep Derek away from his sister, and he‟d headed upstairs after only a few minutes. “Morning, Ben.” Sam looked up from her laptop as he came down the spiral staircase. “Sleep okay?” “Yeah, I slept fine.” Ben poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch across from Sam. “Is anyone else up?” “Haven‟t seen Alicia or Derek, but Phil and Hannah already left for the day. I think they‟re getting everything set up for Derek‟s press conference. They left us a note. It‟s on the kitchen counter.” Sam nodded in Ben‟s direction. He looked down and noticed a sheet of paper with Phil‟s neat print. By the time you read this, we’ll already have left. We’ll be out getting everything organized for the press conference. Derek- it’ll be Monday night at 8:00 (the best we can do on such short notice), so you can go to work for the day. There’s money for lunch and dinner if you want to go out, but make sure you don’t let anyone in the apartment and it would probably be better if you stayed out of sight as much as possible. If you DO run into KP agents, do
NOT fight them or try to follow them. Play it safe for now. Time is on our side with the press conference tomorrow. Spend today practicing your manipulation and combat skills and DON’T TRY ANYTHING WITHOUT US. –Phil & Hannah “Derek has to go to work tomorrow,” Ben observed gleefully. “He won‟t be too pleased about that.” He scanned the rest of the note. “Great. We can‟t even fight KP if we find them? What‟s that about?” “What did you say about me?” Derek asked sleepily, trudging into the kitchen. Ben handed him the note and offered him a cup of coffee, but Derek waved it aside. “I‟m working tomorrow? Even though I have to do the press conference?” he complained. He yanked open the fridge and opened a can of Red Bull. “That‟s crap! And we‟re just supposed to waste a whole day sitting around?” “The morning‟s practically gone,” Sam pointed out neutrally. “Yeah, but we‟ve still got all afternoon,” Ben said, feeling motivated. “We‟ve got to do something. I want to go back to New Hampshire! Back to school. The basketball team needs me.” “That‟s not going to happen until we get rid of the crazy terrorists,” Derek commented, opening a second energy drink. “And since that could be a while, look on the bright side. No school.” “That‟s a downside,” Sam snapped. Derek shrugged. “Maybe to you.” “What can we do, though?” Sam asked Ben, ignoring her brother. “All of our offices are going to be closed on a Sunday. And we don‟t have any other leads on KP.” “We could Google where Croftus lives and try to break in?” Ben suggested. “Oh, come on. You think he‟s not going to be expecting that?” Derek countered. “Go to the police station and try to track those KP agents from there?” Sam offered. “They didn‟t leave their names,” Derek shot back sarcastically.
“We could call Croftus again and try to get more information?” Ben proposed. “Oh, yeah, because that worked so well the first time,” Derek snipped.
“Derek!” said Sam angrily. “Why are you shooting down all of our ideas?”
“Because they stink,” said Derek casually. Ben glowered from the couch. “Then why don‟t you think of something to do?” Sam challenged. “Because there‟s nothing for us to do.” Derek slid his arms behind his head. “I don‟t like it either, but we‟ve got no leads on KP, and if Phil and Hannah know anything else, they‟re not telling us. Besides, they‟ve made it clear they want us to stay safe today, and they‟re probably right. And even if they‟re not, we don‟t have a choice.” Ultimately they decided that Derek was right: none of them very much liked the idea of wasting a day doing nothing, but they didn‟t have a choice in the matter. Phil and Hannah had all of the information, but since they were gone and not answering Ben‟s texts, there was nothing for them to do. Alicia turned up about two in the afternoon, causing Ben to wonder exactly how late she and Derek stayed up the night before. He considered asking her, but decided he was too scared of what she might say and decided against it. Sam spent some of the afternoon practicing fighting techniques with Alicia. After about an hour, Sam retreated into a corner and practiced manipulating with a stack of deadly sharp kitchen knives. After a few close calls, Ben quickly learned to avoid walking too near her in case she became distracted. He went for a short walk in the late afternoon, mostly to get some fresh air and partly to get out of the apartment; large as it was, it felt much too small with four frustrated teenagers cramped up inside. He took a gun for reassurance, but wasn‟t much concerned with meeting a KP agent. There were millions of people in New York City; the odds of him meeting a terrorist who tried to attack him were slim to none, as he pointed out to Sam when she tried to talk him out of leaving. He returned after only about twenty minutes; it was unseasonably cold for late November and he hadn‟t worn a jacket. He reentered the apartment to find Derek watching football; Sam and Alicia were in a different room watching a scary movie and clutching onto each other, terrified.
“They really need to be scared right now?” Ben asked, amused, sitting next to Derek; he‟d just poked his head in to the other room and had scared the girls so badly that they screamed for almost ten seconds. “Reminds them of home, probably,” said Derek, offering Ben a bag of Doritos. “They used to have scary movie sleepovers all the time, remember?” Ben laughed. “Remember when they watched Saw? Alicia slept with the light on for three days.” Derek chuckled. “Sam slept with hers on for a week.” The elevator doors dinged softly and Ben sat up immediately, putting a hand to the gun at his side. Derek met his eyes and then pulled out his own, longer gun. Both boys crouched behind the sofa and waited with bated breath. “We‟re home!” Hannah called out cheerily. Ben breathed a sigh of relief and stood up. “How‟d it go?” Derek asked, stowing his own gun in the waistband of his jeans. “Everything‟s all arranged,” Phil said, putting two bags of Chinese takeout on the table. “Tomorrow night, eight o‟clock. There will be over fifty reporters there. It‟s been hard to get them all committed without telling them the exact reason, but we‟ve managed it.” “We want it to be a complete shock,” Hannah explained, handing each boy a pair of chopsticks. “Imagine: the night before the election, one candidate is exposed as a liar and a thief!” “KP will never recover from this blow,” Phil said happily as Sam and Alicia appeared, drawn by the rich smell of the food. It was a cheerful evening; everyone talked and laughed over takeout, their spirits high because of the promise of the next day‟s press conference. Sam felt hopeful that within a week, she‟d be back at Riverwood High where she belonged. But a few hours later, when she was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, her thoughts turned darker. This intense, deadly world of manipulation was not hers. It scared her. But what scared her even more was how quickly the others were adapting to it. Derek made constant jokes about the terrorists. Ben was always running over
tactics, making suggestions and drawing conclusions. Even Alicia, who had been extremely reluctant to help in the first place, acted as if she relished the idea of getting to use her lethal combat skills on real people. Sam felt as if she was the odd one out. It reminded her of a childhood rhyme which ran on a constant loop through her head.
Which of these things is not like the others? And the answer, of course, was Sam.
chapter fifteen playing detective The next morning, Alicia handed the driver a twenty and stepped out of the cab, blinking in the early morning New York sunlight. Across the street, Derek was just emerging from a sleek black Mercedes. She waited for him to catch up to her. “We shouldn‟t really be going in together,” he whispered as he approached her. “We‟re not supposed to know each other, remember?” Alicia rolled her eyes. “Oh, give it a rest. We work in the same office. And we‟re the only two teenagers on our floor. It makes perfect sense that we‟d be friends.” Derek sighed but didn‟t press the point. They entered the Supreme Tower together. Although Alicia was tense with anticipation, no one gave them a second look; they were just another well-dressed couple of young workers. Inside the elevator, Alicia dropped her sunglasses in her purse and studied their reflections. A pretty blonde woman in a flouncy white blouse and tight grey pencil skirt stood next to a young man in a crisp navy suit. Hannah had done a good job on them, she mused; they looked well over twenty. The elevator doors slid open and they entered the fourteenth floor. A spotlessly white office greeted them; sleek frosted glass stretched from ceiling to floor in strategic locations in place of walls. Alicia put a hand on the closest one and sighed; they reminded her of home. “Do you think we should try to find someone?” Alicia murmured softly, eying the long hallway in front of them. “On Saturday someone was waiting for me. I feel weird just standing here.” They both stiffened as a teenage boy with messy black hair emerged from a glass door to their left, glancing around him surreptitiously. When he noticed them, he immediately tensed but then visibly relaxed and sauntered down the hall, adjusting the navy tie sitting flat against his grey suit. “Wonder what he‟s doing here?” Alicia whispered, her eyes on his retreating back. He looked oddly familiar. Then she recognized him and her stomach lurched; he was
the guy from the pizza shop. Her mouth dried. Was it a coincidence, or had he been set to tail her? But her brother had other things on his mind. “Remind me again why I‟m the secretary and you‟re the big shot?” Derek muttered out of the corner of his mouth. Just then, a striking Spanish woman with pin-straight black hair and a deep tan emerged from behind a wall of glass. She wore a very tight red dress and sky-high heels. “Welcome,” she purred. “And you are Derek? You will be working mostly with me.” Her eyes traveled up and down him and she smiled prettily. “Uh, yeah. I‟m Derek,” he stammered. She winked. “Follow me.” Her eyes lingered on Alicia and she frowned. Alicia felt a sudden need to please her. There was a sharp prod on her mind, and she felt Nicole‟s wish for information. Even though they knew Nicole worked for Croftus, this blatant manipulation took her by surprise. But then she thought it through. Nicole expected her to be a regular human. She could be as upfront about her manipulation as she liked; someone who‟d never studied quantem psychology would never realize if their perception was being changed. She suddenly realized she‟d been standing there, lost in thought, for almost ten seconds; Derek looked nervous. Nicole looked annoyed- Alicia realized she needed to succumb to the manipulation. “I‟m Alicia Blackwell,” she said, hastening to explain herself. “I started Saturday.”
You were the one who showed me around, she wanted to add, but had a feeling that
wouldn‟t be a good idea. She held out her hand but Nicole simply looked at it, raising an eyebrow. Alicia withdrew her hand, feeling snubbed. “Then you should know where to go,” she said carelessly, disappearing before Alicia had a chance to respond. “On second thought,” Derek murmured as he passed Alicia, “I‟m liking our assignments.”
“Alright, Derek,” trilled the Hispanic woman, who had introduced herself as Nicole. “You just sit here, answer the phone, and do whatever anyone asks. „Kay?” She left him. He sat down at a modern-looking black desk and discovered that the frosted glass wall that separated the secretary section from the entrance area was completely clear from this side, so that he could observe any comings and goings without being seen himself. Had Nicole been watching him and Alicia before making her entrance? The thought creeped him out. He glanced down at the pile of work that she had left for him to start. Screw
this, Derek thought. I‟m here to spy, not to work.
He got up and went to the glass door that Nicole had left through, but then stopped, considering. He returned to his desk and propped his phone up facing the clear glass wall and hit record. This way, he‟d be able to see if Nicole or anyone else got up to anything while he was gone. He smiled, pleased with himself. He was a natural at this spy stuff. He went back to the door and was reaching a hand out for the knob when it suddenly flew open; Nicole was striding toward him, talking furiously into a headset. “-I don‟t know what‟s gotten into him, with the election tomorrow and the speech the day after, about to see him right now-” She saw him and covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “Where are you going, Derek?” she hissed. “Uh, bathroom,” he explained. She nodded and swept by him. He closed the door behind him and continued down the spotless white hallway, which eventually opened up into a large room with offices around the perimeter and a mass of cubicles taking up most of the middle. He slipped around the edges and walked purposely, like he knew where he was going. A woman in a tidy suit passed him, but she only nodded instead of challenging him. He reached one of the corner offices and noticed the label on the closed door said NICOLE MARTNIEZ. Was this the same Nicole that he had met? He tried the handle; it was locked.
Derek smiled to himself and put his hand in his pocket. He pulled out the newly formed little key and inserted it into the lock: a perfect fit. He slid inside, taking care to lock the door behind him. Nicole‟s office was large and very spacious; she had clearly opted for as little furniture as possible. He didn‟t waste time taking in the scenery, but stole over to her desk and turned on the computer. PASSWORD, requested the computer. Derek frowned. He tried NICOLE. Then MARTINEZ. Then KNOWLEDGEISPOWER. Then KP. He continued to plug in every idea he had, but to no avail. The computer stayed firmly locked. He tried QUANTEM MANIPULATION. WELCOME, NICOLE MARTINEZ, said the computer screen. Derek inhaled sharply. He hadn‟t actually expected that to work. He sat staring at the screen for a second- he had no idea how to hack a computer, or even what he should be looking for. He felt a flash of annoyance at Hannah and Phil for not equipping him with any useful computer skills. He settled on checking her email. She had a number of emails from Mayor Croftus, but as she was Croftus‟ personal assistant, that wasn‟t enough to prove her connection with KP. He clicked on one at random. NICOLEPLEASE ENSURE THAT THE LOGISTICS ARE TAKEN CARE OF FOR MY SPEECH. REMEMBER TO FIND A SAFE LOCATION FOR THE BROADCAST, AS THERE MAY YET BE MORE RESISTANCE. I HAVE NOT HEARD FROM MIKE OR ANY OF HIS CREW, SO I AM UNSURE AS TO WHETHER THAT LAST THREAT HAS BEEN ERASED, BUT YOU CAN NEVER BE TOO CAREFUL. -LEONARD Derek frowned. What broadcast? He checked the date. It had been sent little over an hour ago. He gazed at the screen in confusion until he heard footsteps in the corridor outside.
“-and no, Maryann, don‟t bother me. I have a call with the mayor that I am already late for, and Lenny does not like to be kept waiting. You‟ll just have to-” Derek swore. He leapt up from the desk and scanned the room frantically for a hiding place; he dashed behind one of the heavy white curtains just as the door swung open. He heard heels clicking across the marble as Nicole crossed to her desk. She paused. Derek swore in his head. He‟d forgotten to close the email! “Maryann?” she called sharply. “Yes?” said a nervous female voice. “Who has been in my office?” “No one, ma‟am. It‟s been locked, like you said.” Derek shifted position just a little, anxious to see what was going on. He peeked out just a millimeter, enough to barely see. Nicole was staring at the screen. Eventually, she waved her hand in dismissal and the door swung shut. She picked up the black phone and pressed a number; whoever was on the other end must have picked up immediately, because there was hardly a second‟s pause before she said, “Lenny. Someone‟s been in my office.” She paused. “Because everything on my desk is moved around and the email is open on the screen.” Derek hardly dared to breathe. “The last one you sent me. I know it doesn‟t tell anything, but who knows what else they‟ve found on here!” she said, striding over to peer out the window. “I‟ve been gone for almost half an hour. They‟ve had plenty of time.” There was a longer pause, and then she said, “I‟ll ask them. Hold on.” “Maryann! Has anyone unusual been back here today?” “No, ma‟am. Just the new boy who started today.” “Derek,” she hissed. She yanked up the phone and stalked over to stare out the window again. “Lenny. There was someone new in the office today- a young man.” She paused. “I don‟t know. Hard to tell. He could have been anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five. Lenny- do you think it‟s the boy from New Hampshire?” She whirled and scanned the office, but apparently did not see Derek.
“I see. Mike is usually very prompt with his reports.” Her voice was suddenly very brisk and business-like. “I think it safe to say, at this point, that either the attempt failed or the entire team was killed in the process. Or both. We very much underestimated this threat.” Derek gulped. “Do you think so? Very well. I will take care of it.” She slid open one of the desk drawers and pulled something from it, hanging up the phone. “Derek.” An icy chill rippled through Derek, almost paralyzing him with fear. “I know you‟re there, darling.” She took a step toward his window, and Derek realized she was holding a pistol. Realizing the game was up, he emerged from behind the curtains. “I know what you‟re up to. And I have backup. If you shoot me my people will be all over you.” Against his will, his voice trembled. She smiled. “Oh, Derek. Why are you lying to me? You have no idea what we‟re doing.” “You‟re trying to take over the world!” he blurted. “And we‟re not going to let it happen.” She cocked her head, studying him. “Who is „we‟?” Derek closed his mouth and stared her down stubbornly. She sighed resignedly. “If that‟s the way you would like to be. Goodbye, Derek.” She pulled the trigger; nothing happened. But Derek was already moving toward her. He punched her as hard as he could in the face, and she crumpled to the ground. He kicked her in the stomach and then pulled the gun away and trained it on her. “So, little Derek knows how to play,” she said, watching him from the ground. Blood was trickling from a gash on her cheek, and she had a hand curled around her ribs, but still she watched him. “I should kill you now,” he said, imagining how it would be to kill a woman in cold blood.
“Go ahead. Do it,” she said. He pulled the trigger. Instinctively, she flinched, but nothing happened. “How...?” she breathed. He laughed, cruelly. “There are no bullets in your gun, Nicole.” “That‟s impossible. I re-loaded it just this morning,” she said, staring at the gun. “But if you don‟t tell me what I want to know, there will be a bullet in your head
very, very soon.” Derek put his other hand on the gun and stared at her.
She smiled and then began to laugh. “You can‟t take over the world!” he heard himself shout. He jabbed the gun at her. She quieted. “It doesn‟t matter if you‟ve got the President wrapped around your finger. You still won‟t control the world,” he said harshly. He wasn‟t really conscious of anything he was saying, except to make her stop laughing and wipe the triumphant smirk off her face. Nicole began to laugh again. “You don‟t know anything about what we‟re doing! And you can‟t stop us.” He stared down at her. He began to be aware of screaming and running in the hall behind him- Nicole must have pressed an alarm... She simply stared at him, daring him to shoot her, but he couldn‟t concentrate enough to re-form the bullets. She was recovering from the hits she‟d taken, and was beginning to press her mind against his...he shuddered as slowly his perception began to shift; then, knowing it was no use and he couldn‟t resist her, he ran as fast as he could, tearing through the room with the cubicles, barely slowing to retrieve his phone from his desk, bypassing the elevator and throwing himself down the stairs five at a time. But when he finally burst out into the crisp November air, he could still hear the laughter of a woman who knew more than he did ringing in his ears.
chapter sixteen five children Alicia sighed and tapped a pen impatiently against her desk. She glanced around the mayor‟s private offices again. Important-looking people rushed back and forth, yet No one was always speaking in murmurs and retaining the heavy aura of silence.
paying any attention to her. It was the perfect time to search Croftus‟ office. She just hoped it wasn‟t locked with another key code like the one securing the right-hand section of the floor, or she wouldn‟t be able to search that, either. She concentrated for a moment. A tiny silver bell tinkled as the door swung open and a young blonde woman walked in. Alicia looked up and scowled. “You idiot! They‟ll notice we‟re dressed the same. Why didn‟t you change?” she hissed angrily. “I‟m sorry, but you didn‟t have any extra clothes in your bag,” retorted the newcomer. “Now, you stay here and I‟ll go check it out.” “Fine,” said Alicia sulkily. As the other made her way down the hall purposefully, she grabbed a black sweater and pulled it over her head, then yanked her hair up into a bun. Hopefully no one would notice the uncanny resemblance between the new secretary and the visitor. The newer Alicia strode down the hall imperiously until she reached the end office, which had a handsome mahogany door that was slightly ajar. She slipped inside, closing the door softly behind her. She stole over to the desk and sat down at the computer, but gave up on it once she realized it was locked. Her glance fell on a few sheets of paper on the desk. She picked up the top one. “What are you doing?” Alicia jumped and dropped the papers guiltily. A scowling woman was standing in the doorway, her eyebrows raised. “I was just, uh, dropping something off for the mayor.”
“Well, be quick about it,” snapped the woman, and she stalked off. Alicia breathed a sigh of relief. She picked the paper up again. WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, NATIONAL SPEECH, the title blared. Alicia wrinkled her nose. What was this? Since when did the mayor of New York City go around making nationally televised speeches? She picked the packet up and slipped it into her purse. She glanced longingly at the locked computer, but knew she was already pushing her luck. As she pushed out of the desk chair, the door opened again and she froze. It was the teenage boy she‟d seen in the hallway, the same one who‟d tried to talk to her in the elevator and the pizza shop, she realized. He stopped and looked at her. “Who are you?” “Alicia Blackwell,” she said quickly, “I‟m the new assistant secretary.” “You look a little young for a secretary,” he said, tilting his head. “How old are you?” She had a strange desire to tell the truth, but she knew she wasn‟t being manipulated. Besides, the Alicia at the desk would protect her against any mind attacks. “Seventeen.” He flopped down in one of the plush chairs in front of Croftus‟ desk. “That doesn‟t seem right…” “Who are you?” she challenged, hoping to draw the attention away from herself. It worked. The boy looked surprised. “I‟m Connor.” He waved a hand around the room. “And this is my dad‟s office.” “He has a son?” Alicia repeated, too surprised to realize what she was saying. “Yup,” said Connor unhappily, “although he likes to pretend he doesn‟t. I‟m not exactly the son he‟s always dreamed of.” “What do you mean?” “Never mind,” he said, abruptly snapping his eyes back to her. She felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny and scrambled for something to fill the silence. “So, do you work here?”
Connor almost grinned. “Me? Work here?” When he saw she was serious, he softened. “No, I don‟t. I don‟t agree with my dad‟s…policies.” “Well, politics can be a touchy subject,” said Alicia tactfully. “That‟s not what I meant,” Connor said, flashing her a meaningful look. “And I think you knew that.” There was a very awkward silence while Connor stared at her and Alicia tried desperately to avoid his eyes. “I have to go,” she said, fumbling with her purse. “Got to get back to work.” She hurried toward the door, but Connor moved with surprising speed and blocked her way. His hand closed around her wrist. “I need to talk to you,” he said urgently, leaning close. Despite the situation, Alicia didn‟t feel threatened. “It‟s really important, okay? Can I take you to coffee after you get off?” Footsteps passed inches away from them, and men‟s voices could be heard through the slightly ajar door. Connor glanced at the door and then loosened his grasp. “This was stupid,” he said in a low voice. “I‟ve got to get out of here…” And without another look at Alicia, he fled the room. “Sam?” Kendra poked her head out of her office. “I‟m expecting a very important visitor at two, so make sure you‟re extra polite to him. I need to seal this deal!” She winked and withdrew. Some time later, “Hello, I‟m here to see Miss Perkins,” said a smiling man in his early thirties. Sam glanced up at him, slightly alarmed; she hadn‟t heard him come in. “Of course,” she said, recovering. “Please take a seat; I‟ll let her know you‟re here.” The man nodded genially and sat down on one of the plush armchairs, taking out his Blackberry. Sam picked up the phone and pressed 1. “Kendra? Your 2:00 is here,” she said, feeling very official. “Thanks, darling, send him in.”
Sam waved the man in. Barely ten minutes had passed when Caroline stormed out of the other door, looking extremely peeved about something. “Where is Kendra?” she demanded. “Uh, in with a client,” Sam answered. “Well, go get her!” Caroline snarled. “But, she said not to go in her office, and never go in when she has a client, do you want me to call her-” “No!” Caroline hissed. “She won‟t pick up. Go and get her.” Sam swallowed. “Couldn‟t you go in? I really don‟t feel comfortable-” “I don‟t want to see it,” Caroline said disgustedly. “Go. Now.” Confused, Sam got up and knocked on the door tentatively. There was no answer. She turned and looked pleadingly at Caroline, but the tiny woman was scowling so fiercely that Sam didn‟t dare stall any longer. She opened the door a crack, and couldn‟t help gasp. Kendra and the man were leaned up against her desk, kissing passionately. The man‟s shirt was half-unbuttoned, and Kendra‟s blouse was off. Kendra opened her eyes and smiled when she saw Sam. “I‟m sorry,” said Sam to the floor, “but Caroline needs to see you, she insisted...” “Of course.” Kendra pulled her shirt on and padded toward Alicia. The man smacked Kendra‟s butt as she passed him, and she let out a high-pitched giggle. Caroline said nothing, but merely glared as she stalked imperiously back into the right-hand door. Kendra followed, looking not at all abashed. Sam sat back down at her desk, thoroughly annoyed. So this was how Kendra was moving up so quickly, and how her company was doing so well...Sam shook her head. What a waste of a job. She texted Hannah with the news, asking if she should call it quits and go home. NO. came the immediate reply. HOOKING UP WITH CLIENTS DOESN‟T EXPLAIN HOW FAST HER COMPANY ROSE. KEEP LOOKING AROUND. Sam sighed. 3:46, read the clock on Ben‟s computer screen. He surveyed the scene; secretaries and
personal assistants rushed back and forth, shouting instructions and calling orders; no one paid him any mind. Finally. This was the first time Taylor had left him alone for more than a minute all day, and since she‟d said the Senator was going to be out again today, it was the perfect time to look around in his office. He snuck up to the thick door, and after checking to make sure no one was watching, he passed through the door- and stopped short, because Chester Carlnere was sitting behind his desk, twirling a gun between his hands. “Hello, Benjamin,” he said slowly. Ben reacted instinctively; he crossed the room in three long strides and wrenched the gun out of Carlnere‟s hands, knocking his nameplate to the ground. Golden letters spilled everywhere as Ben backed up, panting, pointing the gun straight at the Senator‟s head. Carlnere did not try to resist; he simply looked at Ben. “I know who you are, Benjamin Miable. And your attempt will fail.” “No,” said Ben quickly, “no, it won‟t. You don‟t know what you‟re talking about...” “I do,” said Carlnere, regarding him sadly. “Oh, but I do. The end is very near, Ben, and there‟s nothing you can do...” “So you are a part of KP, then,” breathed Ben, “and we knew it, see? We know how to handle things...I could kill you right now...” Suddenly the heavy wooden door flew open and a woman dressed in black clutching a pistol shot the Senator right in the chest; he crumpled to the floor. Ben looked up, stunned, and barely had enough time to make himself insubstantial before she turned the gun on him and began firing. The bullets flew through him; she seemed to realize it was no good and tossed the gun aside, but he was already rock-hard by the time she‟d dived at him and after that, it was child‟s play to knock her out once she was already dazed. Two more men appeared; Ben flew toward them, grabbing one of their guns, shot them both; they staggered and fell. He turned his attention back to the Senator, who was panting heavily; blood was gushing out of a wound in his chest, right above his heart.
“So you‟re not with them, then?” whispered Ben, dropping to his knees. “Then who...?” Carlnere shook his head weakly; he was doing something with his fingersrearranging the letters of his name that had spilled when Ben attacked him. Ben watched, amazed, as slowly the man‟s trembling hands changed CHESTER CARLNERE to CHARLES TERRENCE “Charles Terrence?” Ben said softly. “Then you know Phillip and Hannah- you can help us –you‟ve got to help us, KP is so powerful, please, help us, how are you not dead-” Terrence held up a hand and Ben broke off, watching him anxiously. “No,” he whispered. “Manipulation...is wrong. It defies the laws of earth, and there is always a price to pay...” Ben felt helpless, watching the life drain out of him. Terrence shuddered. “Too dangerous...always ends in death...” “No, sir, you‟ve got it wrong, I‟m fine and I‟ve done it my whole life-” “Ask them,” croaked Terrence, “ask them about Robert, they‟ll tell you...Robert was the first to go...and if you don‟t stop, you‟ll be next...” “Who was Robert?” asked Ben urgently. “They didn‟t...tell you...there were...five...” said Terrence, his voice growing fainter. “Five...children.” His eyes closed. “Too…dangerous...” he repeated, and then his head thudded to one side, and Charles Terrence was no more.
chapter seventeen robert Shock. That‟s all there was. Shock as Ben half ran, half stumbled, out of the building and out to the street. Shock as he hailed a cab and fell inside. Shock for the ten minute ride home. Shock as he sprinted up to their apartment. It was only as he flung the door open and Hannah and Phil jumped up, looking alarmed, that the shock morphed into an insatiable combination of anger and curiosity. “Ben, what‟s wrong?” Hannah said. “Who was Robert?” he forced out. Hannah gasped; Phil dropped the book he was holding. “What-how did you find out?” Hannah whispered. “Is. It. True,” he hissed. Their silence was confirmation enough; Ben whirled on his heel and turned to leave, but suddenly he was caught by a firm desire to stay, to never leave... “Stop it!” he roared. But with their combined power of mind, he couldn‟t resist; he was forced over to them and onto the couch. Hannah remained, staring at him, while Phil shut the door and bolted the lock. “Ben. You will listen to us before you run off,” said Phil. “Like I‟ve got much choice!” Ben snarled. “We will let you go – if you still want to – after you listen to us,” Hannah interjected. “Okay?” Ben glared at them both, but didn‟t argue. “Robert was just a toddler. He couldn‟t control himself, or his ability. His death was a tragic accident,” said Phil quickly. “So there were five?” Phil glanced at Hannah. “Originally, yes.” “What could he do?” said Ben sullenly. “Robert could...teleport, so to speak,” said Hannah finally.
“From what we could figure out, he dissolved himself- kinda similar to what you do, Ben –and then moved his particles to a new spot, but almost instantly.” Phil explained. There was silence, then, “What happened to him?” Ben said finally. Phil exhaled. “He was so young that he could not really control his ability. We think that he was trying to teleport somewhere, but after dissolving he could not reform. And for a human to stay in that dissolved state for more than a nanosecond...death is immediate.” Ben was quiet for a long while. “How did you find out?” Hannah asked softly. Ben wavered but found his anger was swiftly draining out of him, being replaced by a strange sense of loss for the brother he had once known but long since forgotten. Finally he shook his head, clearing his thoughts, and dropped the bombshell. “Your friend Charles Terrence told me.” “Charles?” repeated Phil, his brow furrowing. “He‟s dead.” “I guess not.” Ben told them all he knew. “He must have faked his own death...and then used his abilities to get back to the level he was at...” Hannah mused. “Clever. Even we thought he was dead,” Phil said thoughtfully. “What he said, about manipulation,” said Ben hesitatingly. “Is it true? What he said about it being dangerous?” Hannah looked uncomfortable. "Ben, now's not really the time-" "No, Hannah, they deserve to know," said Phil firmly, speaking over her. "It's only fair- what we're asking them to do, they deserve to know everything we can tell them." He turned his gaze on Benjamin. "From what we know, manipulation is the most dangerous when you are extremely young and extremely old; this seems to make sense to us, because that's when your control is weakest. This explains what happened to Robert. And, Benjamin," he faltered, "you should know- when you were very young, we used our manipulation to change your perception to believe anything was possible."
Ben didn't know what to say. "It was because of what happened to Robert," Hannah said sadly. "His belief was entirely of his own making, so if it wavered, even for the tiniest fraction of a second, the results were fatal. So we did it for your own good, so that your perception would always be open." "So, we're not even special?" Ben said, shocked. "You could do that to anyone and they'd be able to manipulate like we can?" "No," said Phil quickly, "no, no. Your personal worldview was already cemented in place. All we did was add a layer of safekeeping. If we were to remove that layer, you would still be able to manipulate- you would just be at the risk of failure." "So, what would happen? We'd lose our ability to manipulate?" "There is a chance it could happen- when you are not sufficiently focused.” Phil replied. "And what would happen then?" "For Derek and Sam, nothing too bad. Whatever Sam was moving would simply drop to the ground; whatever Derek was making or dissolving would freeze in the halfstate it was in." Something about his half-evading the question made Ben‟s insides twist. "And for me and Alicia?" he choked out. "The results would be almost instantly fatal," said Phil gravely. "If you were diamond-hard, your blood would not be able to flow and you would die from lack of oxygen. If you were insubstantial, you would dissolve into nothingness. All of Alicia's selves would be erased, and she herself would simply vanish from the world." Ben gulped. "How big a chance?" "Hard to say. Perhaps one time in fifty. Perhaps one time in ten. We don't know for sure. Like I said before, it depends on your focus. Were you to manipulate without the layer, sitting here in front of us now…we are reasonably certain that the risk is practically zero. But in a high-pressure situation, like a fight…” Miable shrugged helplessly. “Your focus isn‟t nearly as strong.”
"But, we still have this layer, right? This protective layer?" Ben asked, desperate for some sort of reassurance. "Yes, of course," Hannah said soothingly. "While this is in place, you are in no danger. We would never remove it. KP does not know about it, but Croftus is very cunning and may have guessed." She sensed his alarm and pressed on. "Don't worryonly the person who changed your perception may ever change it back. Yet he may try to break through this layer, or else put a false layer of doubt on top. You must shake this off, or you may be in danger yet." "And, perhaps the most difficult part," said Phil, "is that he might try to use you to break through it." "I don't understand," Ben said, confused. "Why would I break through it?" "It would be very difficult," Phil answered, "as this has been in place for so long. It might even be impossible, at this point; for your sake I hope this is the case. But we can't count on that. Croftus might draw your attention to the layer's existence, and your mind may subconsciously try to eradicate the disturbance. Even as we speak, your subconscious is undoubtedly looking for the layer, now that it knows of its existence." "Is there anything I can do to, like, fool my mind?" said Ben, alarmed. "It'll find the layer eventually, won't it?" "Oh, it will definitely find it," Phil replied. "It's just a question of whether or not you have enough control to stop your mind from breaking through it." "Great," Ben muttered, "great, that's really comforting." Louder, he asked, "Even if I broke it myself, you could just put a new layer on top, right?" "We could," Hannah agreed, "and we will definitely put an additional protection on all of you soon. But this will be an extremely thin layer, easily broken. It's hardly any protection at all, because it will have been administered so recently." "Great," Ben said again, under his breath, "great, this day just keeps getting better and better."
"Take this into the mayor, won't you?" said a woman carelessly, tossing a sheet of paper onto the desk. Alicia jumped and then blushed. She stammered a response, but the woman had already disappeared down the hall. Alicia seized the paper and jumped up. Here was a ready-made excuse to finally get inside his office again. She practically ran to the wooden door and knocked softly. "Come in," called a voice. Disappointed, Alicia slipped inside. "This is for you," she said, holding out the paper. She glanced at him. Croftus was a trim man, in excellent shape for his fifty or so years. He had a handsome greying hair, and a full, trimmed beard which still grew brown by his chin, but sneaked up to grey by the time it joined with his hair. His intelligent blue eyes seemed to pierce her as he looked her over. She was reminded irresistibly of Connor, whose bright blue eyes had gazed at her with the same burning intensity. "Thank you," he said finally. "If you don't mind me asking, who are you, exactly?" His tone was not rude, merely perplexed. "Alicia Hart," she said, hoping she could lie convincingly. When he still looked confused, she added, "I'm the new secretary, in the outer office." "Ah," he nodded. He glanced down at the memo and skimmed it for a few minutes while Alicia stood awkwardly, unsure as whether or not to leave. He motioned for her to sit down, which she did, and had just opened his mouth when his phone rang. Croftus reached out a hand absentmindedly and fumbled around until he found the receiver. Turning towards the window, he began to speak in a low murmur. As she watched him, Alicia felt the tension drain out of her. He seemed a genuinely nice manhow could she ever have been afraid of him? He was harmless, and she was starting to seriously doubt he could be a terrorist. Lost in thought, she didn't register he'd already hung up until he spoke. "Alicia, my assistant has just told me something very interesting." Something was different; his voice was carefully controlled. She glanced up and realized it was his eyes. They were shrewd, cold, and calculating.
"Has he?" she forced out. "She, actually. And yes. She is a few hours late telling me this news, but she is very important to me and I will forgive this. Apparently her office was infiltrated earlier today by a teenage boy who goes by the name of Derek." He scrutinized her carefully. She was cautious not to let any flicker of emotion betray her recognition. "That's...unfortunate." "Yes, it is," he agreed. "And my assistant has a theory. That this boy was one of the four teenagers from New Hampshire who escaped the assassins I sent. And, do you know, she suspects that one of these teenagers might be in my very office." Alicia could barely breathe. He was unarmed as far as she could tell, and she was sure that she could manipulate and overpower him, but there was a cold kind of power in him that froze her to her seat with fear. She decided there was no use in pretending not to know anything; he clearly knew who she was. "You think you are different," she eventually got out, "because you know how to manipulate." "We are different," he agreed again, cordially, but there was an iron will beyond the pleasantries. "Knowledge is Power," she spat. "You‟re trying to keep this knowledge of manipulation within yourselves? To use it to control the world? You're evil." She glared at him. "If I were you, I would rethink your ideas of good and evil," he said forcefully. "KP, take over the world?" He laughed harshly. "Hardly. We are an organization set to achieve a higher purpose. You think we aim to keep this knowledge? Not at all, my dear. We at KP seek to spread this knowledge to all." Somehow, Alicia knew he spoke the truth, and she was stunned into silence. Yet at the same time she was acutely aware that he was not manipulating her at all; this certainty came from her intuition. "We are not the selfish ones here. The finger of blame is to be pointed at your beloved Phillip and Hannah. They are the ones who seek to keep this knowledge among a few. KP is trying to spread it."
She gaped at him wordlessly. "Come to the right side, Alicia," he said softly. There was a gleam behind his eyes that showed he meant every word. "Join the side of truth and freedom for everyone. Knowledge is power; help us spread that power to all." She didn't know what to think. Never before had her worldview been so suddenly flipped upside down, her sense of right and wrong so completely skewered. She got up. He watched her mildly. "I...need to think about this," she said. "Of course," he said. "If you would like to pledge your allegiance to the higher cause, you will be able to find me. And, believe me, my dear,” – he looked at her sternly – “I will know whether you are lying, and I warn you that if you attempt to do so, it will be the last thing you ever do. "I will let you go now," he continued, "in the hopes that you may be able to convert the others to our noble cause." He smiled at her and Alicia felt a desire to leave, to go back home. She could feel his mind working at hers, but he was doing it very gently, simply prodding her lightly. A tiny part of her consciousness realized that here was an expert at mind manipulation- someone who could poke her gently or force her to bend to his will. She did not try to resist but stumbled out of the Supreme Tower. She had never been more confused in her life. She was completely sure of Leonard Croftus and his utter truthfulness in his telling her his dream. And spreading the ideas and abilities of manipulation to everyone seemed fair, at the very least, and not at all malicious. Could it be true that Phil and Hannah just didn't want everyone being able to do what they could do? On the other hand, Phil was her father, and Hannah practically her mother. She didn't think they were bad people, but could they be the delusional ones? Alicia shook her head to clear her thoughts. She had no idea what to do. Return to the Tower, and ask Croftus to tell her more? Or return home, and ask Phil and Hannah about their real motives? She dithered on the spot, then made her choice and stuck with it.
chapter eighteen connor’s story She felt a hand on the small of her back. “Hey,” said a gentle voice. She turned and glanced at Connor. “Hi,” she said in a small voice. He glanced at her and seemed to read her emotions perfectly. “Look. I‟ll bet you anything my dad just talked to you, didn‟t he?” She nodded. He sighed and turned away, running his hands through his hair. “That‟s my fault. I‟m sorry. I was so focused on getting out of there before he showed up that I forgot to warn you he was on his way.” She glanced at him. “He‟s your father. Why are you talking about him like that?” “Like what? Like he‟s some evil psycho? Because he is, Alicia. And you knew that this morning, I could tell. But now you‟ve gotten screwed up.” “Screwed up?” Connor glanced up at the Supreme Tower anxiously. “We need to get out of here. It‟s not safe at all- god, he could be looking out his window himself and see us.” He grabbed her wrist. “Look, how about that coffee?” Alicia hesitated. “Look, Alicia, you can‟t believe anything he says. It doesn‟t matter if he was manipulating you or not- even if he wasn‟t, he‟s still telling you what he thinks is the truth. But he‟s crazy, okay?” “You know about manipulation?” Connor flashed her an exasperated look. “I grew up with Leonard Croftus. Of course I know.” “Okay, fine,” Alicia said. “I‟ll go with you.” “Not now,” said Connor, shooting a covert look around. He slipped a piece of paper in her hand. She started to open it, but he slapped her arm down. “Not now,” he hissed. “Meet me at that address in an hour. And make sure you‟re not being followed.”
Derek walked aimlessly down the street, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He was still shaking a little, but not from the cold. The encounter with Nicole had really unsettled him, but now that he was out in the fresh air he felt ashamed of his behavior. Why had he let her get to him like that? Why hadn‟t he just shot her and put an end to it? He sighed in frustration. He considered fleetingly the idea of attempting to re-enter the Supreme Tower, but it seemed imprudent with Nicole clearly on the alert. Instead he stopped randomly and turned into a small corner restaurant. Although the restaurant was packed, the waiting crowd seemed to be composed mainly of large parties, so Derek was able to snag a tiny window table fairly quickly. He ordered a cinnamon bun and a soda and leaned back to wait, idly watching the other customers. Across the cramped aisle, two elderly women were each trying to outdo each other with stories of their grandchildren‟s accomplishments; in the booth in front of him, two teenage girls were alternating between gossiping viciously and shooting him coy glances. Oddly, this made him feel very old. It seemed so long ago that he‟d been worried about school and girls. Now he was just concentrating on staying alive. He flipped open his phone and found the video that his phone had recorded. He hit play and watched as his own hands appeared on the screen, placing the phone to point across the hall. Then they disappeared and Derek walked in front of the camera and then disappeared to the right. “-I don‟t know what‟s gotten into him, with the election tomorrow and the speech the day after, about to see him right now- where are you going, Derek?” That was Nicole, coming into the room and spotting him. “Uh, bathroom,” he heard himself offer feebly. There was the click of a door closing and then Nicole walked into view, talking into her headpiece. “We shouldn‟t be taking any risks. We‟re so close. I know it‟s hard.”
Derek frowned. So close to what? He didn‟t like the sound of that. Nicole crossed to the left side of the camera and disappeared, but returned moments later, retracting her steps. She continued to pace. “Yes, in New Hampshire,” she said after a long pause. “It was the last one. I don‟t know why it was left for so long…” She paused again, walking into view. She frowned. “Mike? No, I don‟t think so. I‟ll check, though.” Nicole disappeared to the right and then came back into view on the other side of the glass wall. She glanced around as if to check if anyone was watching. Once she was certain she was alone, she ducked behind the frosted glass wall over to the lefthand portion of the office. Derek strained his ears. He could just hear a faint beepingwas she punching numbers into a keypad? A mechanical click followed. Derek watched the empty screen for less than two minutes before she returned. “Just like I said. He hasn‟t sent in a report yet,” Nicole was saying as she resumed her pacing in front of the camera. “You don‟t think…no, I‟m overreacting. But I have to go. I have a call with Leonard in five minutes. I‟ll talk to you later, Carol.” She pressed a button on her Bluetooth and then marched down the hall. Derek fastforwarded the rest of the video. No one else had come into sight. “-really not much of an issue anymore, Reese-” Two middle-aged businesswomen swept down the aisle toward Derek and he ducked back into the corner to let them pass. The one with the knotted blonde bun was talking. “-and besides, Nicole has been strict on that the entire time,” she finished, sliding into the booth behind Derek. “It‟s just not worth the risk.” The other woman, Reese, had dark, shiny black hair. She sat down opposite her companion, so both of them were completely out of his vision. “Worth the risk? Carmen, this boy broke into Nicole‟s office! We‟re just lucky she wasn‟t killed!” Derek‟s head snapped up and he accidentally knocked over his soda. Mumbling swears under his breath, he reached for the napkins and began blotting up the spill as quietly as possible, straining his ears to catch every word of the hushed conversation behind him.
“Lucky he didn‟t find anything, more like,” Carmen said darkly. “Exactly- it was much too close for comfort,” Reese pressed. “I don‟t care what Nicole says. Are we going to let all this work go to waste because of her? We need to find this Derek kid and take care of him and his friends.”
Of all the rotten luck, Derek thought.
Alicia paused on the sidewalk and looked down at the piece of paper in her hand, then glanced up at the brightly lit coffee shop in front of her. It looked normal enough, and although it was crammed between a laundromat and a tattoo parlor and was situated in a tiny alley, only a few hundred yards away was a busy corner restaurant, with patrons talking and laughing loud enough for her to hear. Just past that was a bustling main street with cars whizzing by and a steady flow of pedestrians clogging up the sidewalks. She had just about resolved that it was safe to enter when Connor spoke. “Having second thoughts?” She jumped and whirled around; he was leaning up against the brick wall of the coffee place, dressed simply in dark jeans and a leather jacket. “No,” she said defensively, but he was laughing. “It‟s fine,” he said, pushing off the wall and grinning at her. “Honestly, if I was you, I wouldn‟t trust me, either.” He opened the door and slipped through; not altogether reassured, she followed. Above them, a tiny bell tinkled to announce their presence. She claimed a booth in the window while Connor retrieved two coffees from the woman behind the counter. She tapped her fingers against the polished wood and cast an anxious glance around the coffeshop. The only other customers were a pair of old men hunched over a chess board and three preteen schoolgirls chattering excitedly to each other. “Thanks,” she murmured, accepting her mug as Connor slid into the bench across from her.
“I know a lot about you,” Connor admitted. “And about your guardians, and your brother, and your friends.” He slid a thin manila folder across the table to her. She opened it curiously and noticed immediately Ben‟s name blaring out at her from the title. She scanned the first sheet. NAME: BENJAMIN MIABLE AGE: 17 YEARS, 5 MONTHS APPEARANCE: 6’2”. MUSCULAR. APPROX. 175 LBS. SHORT BROWN HAIR. GREY EYES. LIGHT-SKINNED. FIRST DISCOVERED: OCTOBER 24, 2011. ADDRESS: 1 FOREST LANE, NEEDHAM, NH PARENTS: DEAD. GUARDIAN: PHILLIP PHIL. EDUCATION: 2 FULL YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL (RIVERWOOD PUBLIC) MANIPULATION ABILITY: UNKNOWN. CAN MAKE HIMSELF COMPLTELY DENSE OR INSUBSTANTIAL. THREAT LEVEL: 2. ( VERY LOW) 9. (VERY HIGH). EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
Next to MANIPULATION ABILITY and THREAT LEVEL, someone had crossed out the previous entries and updated them by hand. “Yeah, that stuff about his abilities and the threat he poses was written in a few days ago,” Connor said, following her eyes. “Probably after you got rid of those assassins.” But that wasn‟t what was holding her attention. She flipped through the other pages in the folder until she found her sheet. NAME: ALICIA MIABLE AGE: 17 YEARS, 1 MONTH APPEARANCE: 5’8”. APPROX. 130 LBS. LONG BLONDE HAIR. BLUE EYES. LIGHT-SKINNED. FIRST DISCOVERED: OCTOBER 26, 2011. ADDRESS: 1 FOREST LANE, NEEDHAM, NH
EDUCATION: 2 FULL YEARS OF HIGH SCHOOL (RIVERWOOD PUBLIC) PARENTS: DEAD. GUARDIAN: PHILLIP PHIL. MANIPULATION ABILITY: UNKNOWN. EXISTS IN MULTIPLE PLACES SIMETANESOULY. THREAT LEVEL: 1. (LOW) 10. (VERY HIGH). EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. EXPERIENCED FIGHTER.
Her finger pointed to one line, the date of discovery. “Is this true?” Connor glanced at the paper, then up at her. “I guess so. No reason for them to lie. Apparently a clip of one of Ben‟s football games was aired on the regional news, and a KP agent saw what she considered a suspicious play. From what I understand, everyone else saw an ingenious play where Ben somehow managed to get past multiple defenders. But she saw Ben actually going through the other team. That must‟ve been aired around October 26th.” The idea that Croftus and the rest of KP could have known about them months before they acted was intensely disturbing to Alicia, who had assumed that they‟d been attacked as soon as they were discovered. She struggled to voice an argument. “That doesn‟t make sense. They didn‟t come after us until almost a month later. They would have attacked as soon as they knew about us.” “Actually,” said Connor carefully, and she got the sense he was trying not to upset her, “there‟ve been hundreds of instances like this over the years.” He closed the folder and pointed to the block title. “CASE 438. The agent was unsure of what she‟d seen- this sort of thing happened all the time. Just in case, though, you were scouted and a routine sheet done on each of you. It wasn‟t until they figured out who Phillip and Hannah were, in November, that they actually decided to do something about you. They didn‟t even notice Sam and Derek until then, too.” “Routine?” Alicia questioned. There were definitely a few things that didn‟t add up in what Connor was saying. “First of all, how would the KP woman even know to look for physical abilities like ours? I thought they only knew about the mental ability. And why would they scout me and not Ben‟s parents, too?” “Oh, they know what happens when children are raised with manipulation,” Connor answered. “And it wouldn‟t have to be the parents who raised the child like
that. That‟s how the most powerful ones are raised, of course, like you and Ben. But kids with lesser abilities sometimes just stumble upon it on their own. That‟s what KP has agents looking for. Siblings are likely to have grown up in the same situation, so if Ben could manipulate, there was a good chance you could, too. But there was no reason to think that it was because of your parents. KP only researched Miable and Park when they found out that you had no parents, only guardians. That was suspicious enough to warrant a full-out investigation. And once they found out who Miable and Park really were, it was enough to call for assassins.” Alicia reopened the folder and glanced through the rest of its contents. There were information sheets for Sam and Derek, too, but whole packets of information on Phil and Hannah. There was also a detailed account of the attack on Derek at the mall, of the attacks on Phil and Hannah, and of the attack on Sam and Alicia. Ben‟s attack had been left out, she supposed, because the one agent dispatched had not returned to report. “Bet your dad wouldn‟t be too happy if he knew you were telling me this,” she said lightly, closing the file and resting her hands on it. “When I was nine, my mother died,” Connor said quietly. “He loved her. She‟d been keeping him in check for years, with all the Knowledge is Power ideas he had. To tell the truth, she didn‟t know about much of it. He did it in secret. But me and Sean always knew.” “Sean?” “My brother. He was two years older than me. Anyway, after my mom died my dad went a little crazy. Just threw himself into his work, his research. KP turned a little more evil after that. When I was twelve, Sean confronted our dad about KP‟s intentions. He knew it wasn‟t right, what my dad was planning. They had a huge fight. I was listening from outside the study. “Sean ended up saying that if my dad didn‟t turn KP around, he was going to turn them in. I think my dad tried manipulating him out of his ideas, but Sean had always been strong mentally and it didn‟t work. So he killed him.” “He killed his own son?” Alicia gasped. Connor looked down. “I‟m so sorry.”
“My dad came outside and found me spying,” Connor said, relentlessly pushing on with the story. “He manipulated me, found out that I was thinking along the same lines as Sean. But I‟ve never been as brave. He saw I wasn‟t a threat like Sean had been. Told me that he loved me, but KP came first and that if I wanted to live, I had to play by his rules. Sent me away to a boarding school in England and has people tailing me all the time during holidays. “He thinks I‟m in England right now,” Connor told her. “It‟s been safer for me to just go along with him and pretend to believe in KP then to put up a real fight. I‟ve actually been on my own in New York for almost a month.” Alicia was impressed; she couldn‟t imagine running away from the only parent she had and living alone in a huge city. Even if Croftus had killed his brother. “I realized that the only time I could hope to stop KP was right when they were about to strike,” Connor told her. “If I tried stopping all the stuff they‟ve been doing working up to this speech, my dad would find me out and they‟d fix any damage I could do easily. That‟s why I‟ve waited so long to do anything. If I kill my dad right as he steps onto the stage…well, that‟s a blow that they‟re going to have a hard time recovering from.” “You really think you can do that?” Alicia asked. “I know I can. I‟m not stupid enough to think I‟ll survive, but I‟ve got to try, haven‟t I?” Alicia glanced down. Her respect for Connor had grown tenfold with his story. She knew she could never kill the one parent she had left, no matter how evil they were, and she knew she definitely could not attempt something knowing that she‟d die regardless of whether she failed or succeeded. “Yeah, we‟ve got to try,” she said, her face burning as she remembered how very reluctant she‟d initially been to help at all, and she didn‟t have half the personal stake in it that Connor did. “For a few weeks I‟ve been sneaking in their offices whenever I can, hoping to find out more or find other resistance to team up with. The problem was, almost everyone else they even suspected had already been killed. But then I found your file,
and from the updates it looked like you‟d survived the attacks.” He looked her straight in the eyes. “Help me bring KP down.”
Derek couldn‟t believe his luck. All he wanted was a chance to just get away and clear his head for a few hours and instead he ended up next to two KP agents who seemed intent on killing him. He weighed his choices carefully while the two women continued talking in hushed voices behind him. Should he attack? Clearly there was a significant risk if he did. He was outnumbered two to one and there was a chance he could be captured or killed. The last time he‟d attempted to take on a member of KP- Nicole –it hadn‟t gone too well. In addition, the women were both carrying large handbags that he assumed contained guns. Not to mention their creepy mind manipulation ability, which he seemed completely unable to resist. But, on the other hand, he had the element of surprise on his hand. They hadn‟t recognized him when they entered, but he knew exactly who they were. He fingered the handle of his gun. He could probably shoot one of them down, but the other would be manipulating him before he could react and dispatch her, too. He glanced around the restaurant. He‟d certainly cause a commotion. Maybe some well-intentioned customer would call 911, and he did not want to have to deal with the police. That would be announcing to the world where they lived and such, since the police would take that information down and KP would certainly find it. Besides, it would waste valuable time and money for Phil to either bail, bribe, or manipulate him out. Derek sighed. As much as he wanted to redeem himself, attacking was not the right decision. Instead, he‟d try to follow the women and gain some more information. The only risk he spotted in that plan was that they‟d recognize him on the way out now that he was on their minds, so he pulled his hood low over his eyes and kept his face down out of the light as the women paid up and brushed by him. Then, throwing some money on the table and keeping his head down, he started out after them.
chapter nineteen kidnappers To avoid Connor‟s eyes, Alicia glanced down at the paper again and something caught her attention. “Hold that, there‟s other things I need to know. „Manipulation ability?‟ We thought KP only knew about the mind manipulation. How do they even know there are physical ones, too?” “They thought it was only mental until Sean and I came along,” Connor answered. “My dad theorizes it‟s because we were so young when we could manipulate that we attained physical abilities. The adults all get the same mind manipulation because they‟re jaded and the first thing they think of, consciously or subconsciously, when they hear “power of thought” or “manipulation” is mind control.” “Yeah, that‟s what Phil and Hannah think, too,” Alicia agreed absently. Then something else struck her. “Hang on- you and Sean could manipulate? What were your abilities?” Connor grinned at her sudden curiosity. “Yeah, I was the same way when I found out there were other kids like me. We all just want to compare our manipulation, see how it measures up, right? Sean could read minds.” “Read minds?” “Yeah, that‟s how he knew for sure everything my dad was planning. He couldn‟t change anything, the way the adults can with perception. But he could just look at you and know exactly what you were thinking.” “What about you?” “It‟s a little hard to explain,” Connor frowned, seemingly considering something. Then he appeared to make a decision. He leaned forward and grabbed her hand, holding it between both of his. “Okay. I‟ll just show you.” Alicia stared at him, confused. “What? I‟m doing it. Look around.” Only then did Alicia become aware that the coffee shop had fallen curiously silent. She glanced around. The two old men were frozen in their positions, one of them with his hand outstretched over a rook. The gossipy preteens were completely still, their
mouths half-open and their eyes staring into nothingness. Across the room, the employee behind the counter was pouring coffee into a black mug, but the liquid was trickling so slowly Alicia could just discern the movement. But suddenly everything returned to normal; a loud burst of laughter from the girls startled her. The old man finished moving his rook. The woman at the counter filled the mug and placed it on the counter. Alicia whipped back toward Connor for an explanation. He released her hand and sat back. “Well, that‟s it. Not much, and not nearly as impressive as what you can do.” He looked very tired. “Not much? You can stop time!” Alicia protested. “That was incredible! How does it work?” “Usually I can fully stop time for a few feet around me, and then time continues, just slower and slower, the farther out you go. I tested it once. About fifty yards away it had no effect, but if someone walked toward me they would get slower and slower until they were frozen too,” Connor explained. “And anyone whom I‟m not concentrating on gets frozen. It helps if I can hold on to them.” Seeing her gleeful face, he hastened to lessen her excitement. “Really, Alicia, it‟s not useful really at all. It tires me out so much, and I can only do a few seconds at most.” She was about to argue the point, but a blast of gunshots rang out and silenced her. Connor reacted so quickly it was if he‟d been expecting it. He dove across the bench and pinned Alicia down as one hand extracted a gun from the waistband of his jeans. “Do you have a gun?” he said urgently, still searching for the cause of the commotion. “Yes,” she panted, pulling it out. They both cringed as a bullet found the coffeshop window, which shattered into a thousand pieces on top of them. Alicia scanned the street and saw two women firing at a third figure, who was returning their fire enthusiastically but with little accuracy. Then he ducked out from behind a pole and her heart jumped. Derek? “That‟s your friend, isn‟t it?” asked Connor, who had noticed Derek as well. When she nodded, he rolled off of her and onto the floor. “Then that means those
women are KP. I‟ve got to clear out of here.” He dashed to the door but Alicia cried out. “Wait!” she pleaded; he halted, bracing himself against the wall as a stray bullet punctured the glass door. “When will I see you again?” she asked desperately. There was still so much he hadn‟t told her. “Same time and place. Tomorrow,” said Connor, and with that he ducked through the empty door frame and scampered down the alley. Ignoring the girls, who were screaming loudly, Alicia ran out into the street, nearly upturning the chess board of the old men, who appeared to have noticed none of the gunfire around them. She paused for a second right outside the door and concentrated; as she opened her eyes she noticed the reassuring sight of the two Alicias flanking her. Derek was taking cover behind a parked car while one of the women shot at him; the other, apparently having used up her supply of bullets, was hastily reloading with her back to the coffeshop. Alicia aimed her pistol at the back of the women‟s neck and fired a few times. The fourth bullet caught her in the head and she collapsed to the ground. The dark-haired woman had turned at the sound of new gunfire and shouted in alarm when she noticed her companion injured on the ground. She turned her own gun on the Alicias, who all hit the pavement immediately. Alicia felt the impact in her left arm as her wrist twisted beneath her, but it was worth it; the spray of bullets the woman unleashed sailed harmlessly over her head. Her moment‟s distraction was just what Derek needed; he popped up from behind the car, and was able to take careful aim. His first bullet caught the woman in the side of the head and she crumpled instantly. “Thanks for the backup,” said Derek, coming over to meet Alicia, who was just getting up, rubbing her wrist and wincing. “But I would‟ve handled that.” “What was that all about, anyway? Weren‟t you supposed to be at work?” she demanded, more than a little peeved. She‟d just begun getting some answers from Connor when the KP agents had scared him off.
“I could say the same to you,” he said sleekly. “But since my boss shot me out of her office this morning, I don‟t think I was welcome back after lunch.” “Then who were these two?” Alicia poked one of the women in the shoulder with her toe. “Not my fault,” Derek said, holding up his hands in defense. “I just went to get something to eat and I heard them in the next booth over. I could tell they were KP, so I followed them when they left down this alley. They were about to get into the car when they noticed me and started shooting, so what was I supposed to do?” “You shouldn‟t have followed them down here in the first place! It‟s an empty street; of course they would notice you.” “Speaking of empty streets, why were you down here, anyway? You‟re skipping work, too?” “Just getting a drink,” Alicia said cagily. Derek raised an eyebrow. “Alone?” “Croftus knows it‟s me,” Alicia told him, dodging the question. “He told me all this stuff about KP. Says they‟re not really trying to take over at all. That they have a better purpose.” She peeked sideways at him, trying to gauge his response. Derek snorted. “Come off it. You don‟t really believe that crap, do you? He‟s just saying stuff to mess with you.” “Of course not,” Alicia answered quickly. She stared into the gutter. “Of course not.” “Good,” said Derek with satisfaction. “Now let‟s call a cab and get home.” He didn‟t notice Alicia‟s ears turning red, but even if he had, it wouldn‟t have meant anything to him. He didn‟t know her well enough to realize what it meant. Ben and Sam would‟ve noticed instantly and understood. They knew Alicia‟s ears always turned red when she was lying. But Derek didn‟t know that, and so he dropped the subject. “Do you mind if I take a different taxi?” she asked quietly. “There‟s something I want to pick up.”
Her excuse was flimsy, but Derek didn‟t seem to notice anything amiss. “Sure. I wanted to pick up some Red Bull anyway. See you later.” He kissed her on the cheek and ducked into the waiting cab. Alicia was silent the entire ride home, wrestling with what Croftus had told her. She was right to do so; had Croftus had similarly color-changing ears, his would not have turned red. He was telling the truth. Sam checked her computer screen. 4:54. She sighed in relief. Thank. God. It had been the most boring day. After she'd walked in on Kendra, she was too embarrassed to look at her, much less ask her for something to do. So she'd sat idle at her desk for hours. Occasionally Caroline would emerge and snap at her to do some menial task, which Sam could never complete to her liking, but for the most part it‟d been just hours of infrequent phone calls. "Samantha?" said a haughty voice. Sam sighed inwardly. "Yes, Ms. Browne?" "May I see your cell phone?" "My, uh, phone?" "Yes," said Caroline briskly. "Mine has died and I need to make a call to someone." "Sure," Sam said dubiously, handing it to her. Caroline disappeared back into her office with it, which Sam thought was a little odd. However, she returned less than two minutes later and returned it promptly. On her way down in the elevator a few minutes later, Sam checked the call log, but Caroline hadn't actually made a call. She frowned; had Caroline wanted her phone for some other reason? She scrolled through the few texts she had on the new phone; nothing much of interest was there: Alicia complaining about her job, Hannah texting her the address of their apartment for the cab ride home, Ben flirting wildly... She smiled to herself, reading through Ben‟s last texts, and was still smiling when she reached the sidewalk outside of the Supreme Tower. Dropping her phone into her bag, she tried to hail a cab, but it was rush hour now and no taxi driver would
stop for a teenage girl when she was surrounded by equally desperate businesspeople. After five minutes of futile attempts, Sam stepped away from the curb, frustrated. A group of about ten men emerged from the Supreme Tower. Sam watched them; they were all dressed the same: black from head-to-toe, with a largish purple logo embroidered right above the shirt pocket. Maybe they were collecting for some charity, or part of some stunt? She watched them as they strode right up to two shiny black SUVs idling by the curb; she took a few steps towards them as they began climbing inside. Soon she was right in front of them, and she could almost read the logo... The doors slammed shut and Sam sighed; she hadn‟t gotten close enough. Then someone brushed by her; it was another man, on his way to the driver‟s seat, and she could clearly read the purple slogan on his jacket: KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. She edged a little closer; the passenger window was down on the closer of the two cars. “Well?” said the man riding shotgun as the eleventh man climbed into the driver‟s seat. “Got it. Ivy Apartments, floor 14,” the driver reeled off. He honked once, and then both SUVs swerved into traffic and sped off. Sam stood there, stunned. That was her address. She looked around at the speeding yellow cabs and grimaced. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Maybe no one would notice... She thrust out her hand, and a wad of bills that some businessman was waving to allure cabbies flew into it. Ignoring his surprised yell of outrage, she leapt to the edge of the curb. A petite silver-haired woman was climbing into the back of a taxi; Sam seized the back of her coat and threw her aside. The driver started to protest, but Sam had already slammed the door shut. “Ivy Apartments,” she said, pushing the money at him, “and if you get me there
fast, you can keep the change.”
Perhaps she shouldn‟t have said that. He didn‟t touch the brake once the entire way. When the cab finally jolted to a stop in front of the apartment building, tires squealing in protest, Sam‟s heart dropped. The two SUVs were parked right in front and the men were piling out. They were quickly falling into some sort of pre-arranged formation, pulling out guns and checking cell phones. Sam jumped out of the cab and threw out her hands. Two of the men‟s pistols flew to her and she turned them on their owners. They fell to the pavement; some small part of Sam‟s mind marveled at her good aim; another part wondered, had she just killed two men? But the sane part of her mind brushed these concerns aside. She turned her attention to the nine remaining men, but they obviously learned quickly; they‟d already stashed their guns out of sight, and when she couldn‟t see exactly where something was, she couldn‟t touch it with her mind. Two of them detached themselves from the group and came at her. She dodged the first‟s lunge and kicked him in the chest; turning, she saw the other seven were already casually strolling through the Ivy Apartments‟ glass doors. She started after them, but one of the men caught her leg and threw her down on the pavement. The other man pounced, but Sam rolled out of the way. They both gasped aloud in pain; he because he‟d hit the pavement, she because he‟d just landed on her arm. She rolled farther away. He moved toward her, and she saw the glint of something metal in his pocket. Without thinking, she stretched out her hand and, catching the knife, drove it into the man on the ground‟s stomach and pulled it out again. He shuddered and lay still. Sam scrambled to her feet; the other man was eyeing the blade in her hand warily. She threw the knife at him, not troubling to see whether it hit its mark, and ran into the lobby. One of the elevator‟s doors were just sliding shut; she managed to slip between them and stumbled into the crowded compartment. The other people in the elevator gaped and subtly moved away from her. She glanced at one of the mirrored walls and bit back a smile; she actually looked dangerous. One of her pant legs was torn up to
the knee, her hair was a mess, and there was blood spattered across her white shirtbut she had more pressing worries. Someone had already pressed the button for her floor, but there were three other buttons pressed- lower floors that would waste precious time. Sam gritted her teeth and threw her mind out as hard as she could, but it was no use. Her manipulation had always been unstable and inconsistent, and she realized with a sinking feeling that it had completely abandoned her now. She doubted if she could manipulate so much as a penny right now, much less an entire elevator. The next three minutes were the most agonizing of her life. What was happening in the apartment? Were the others back from work yet? Was everyone already dead? Finally, the doors slid upon to reveal her floor. Sam stepped cautiously into the hallway, and then cocked her head to the side. The apartment was deadly silent. She entered the large sitting room and gasped. Some sort of fight had obviously just happened. Two of the armchairs were overturned, with stuffing spilling out of several large gashes. One of the floor-to-ceiling windows had been shattered; tiny bits of glass were scattered on the floor around it, and a cold wind was blowing through the room. Bullet holes littered the entire room, creating a terrible combination when they coincided with the dark red stains spattered everywhere. A ceramic vase lay in sharp pieces around the coffee table; the flowers from the vase lay soaked in a pool of blood. A black envelope emblazoned with a purple seal sat propped up on the table.
chapter twenty the message Sam heard the elevator doors slide open and immediately her blood turned to ice. What if the men had come back? She snatched up a sharp piece of the flower vase and crouched behind the couch, listening hard. Desperately, she practiced manipulating the shard in her hand, but she couldn‟t move it an inch. Why did her manipulation always fail when she needed it most? The intruder paused. Then footsteps came down the hall. “Hannah?” Phil called out. “I‟m back!” Sam stood up, relieved, just as Phil came around the corner. “What the...” He dropped the black duffel bags he was carrying. “What happened here?” Sam ran to him and hugged him tightly. She felt her eyes begin to water and pressed her face into his jacket; right now, all she wanted was physical reassurance that not everyone was dead, that she still had someone. Gently, Phil led her over to the couch and sat her down as she started to cry. He moved about the room quietly, cleaning up what could be cleaned. A few minutes later, most of the blood had been scrubbed away, the furniture righted, and the flowers and vase replaced. Nothing could be done, however, about the broken window or the bullet holes, and Sam tried her best to suppress the wave of nausea that flooded her whenever she saw them. Eventually she was able to talk and she told him haltingly of seeing the men come out of the building, noticing their slogan, and overhearing their destination. “I don‟t know how they found us.” Phil frowned. “It shouldn‟t have been possible...” A thought struck him. “Did you tell Kendra where you lived?” Sam shook her head. “She never asked.” He shook his head, too. “Well, that‟s not important now. Go on.”
She finished the story by explaining about fighting the two men on the pavement, and then rushing up to the apartment but being too late. Phil got up immediately and crossed to one of the far windows, glancing down. “Just as I thought,” he said, turning back towards her. “They‟ve cleaned up again...Look. No bodies.” “I don‟t know if I killed them,” Sam admitted. “I didn‟t stop to check.” “Bloodstains?” he said, almost to himself. “Will they have gotten those, too? I can‟t imagine...” His eyes alighted on something and he pointed. “What‟s that?” Sam followed his gaze to the black envelope. “Oh! I don‟t know. It was there when I got here. I was going to open it but I forgot when you came.” He had already gone to the table and ripped open the envelope. Sam hurried next to him and caught the shreds of black as they fell. She checked the seal; yes, it was the mark of KP. “They‟ve kidnapped someone,” said Phil, skimming the letter. “They say „she,‟ so it‟s got to be Alicia...Where is Derek?” This last question was directed to her. “I don‟t know. Shouldn‟t everyone be back? If they have Alicia, where are Ben and Derek?” “Ben...needed some time to cool off,” Phil murmured, distracted. “I sent him to find Derek but they should have been back before now. Derek had left work in the morning.” “Then why-” Sam knew the answer before she‟d finished the question. Because it was Derek, and once he‟d left work, why would he come back to hang out with Phil and Hannah all day? He was probably checking out the city, or the city‟s girls. “What‟s with the window?” Ben asked. Both Sam and Phil jumped. Sam glanced up to see Ben standing in the hallway, still in work clothes. He flashed her a quick smile; her heart leapt. “Where‟s Derek?” Phil said, frowning. “I sent you to get him.” “Yeah, I texted him, but he said he‟s on his way home. Should be here any minute. Guess he stopped to buy something, said he was in a store.” Ben had barely finished speaking when the elevator doors slid open again.
“Why‟s the window broken?” Derek said lazily. Sam was startled to see he was covered in dust; one of his sleeves had torn and she could see a bleeding wound in his arm. “What happened to you?” she said, hurrying over to him. “Were you in a fight?” “Alicia‟s in trouble,” Phil told them solemnly. Ben paled and Sam watched his hand fly unconsciously to his gun. “Where is she? What‟s wrong?” “Alicia?” Derek repeated dumbly. He shook his head definitively. “But she was-” “You‟d all better sit down,” Phil cut in. All three obeyed, but before they could ask a question, the elevator doors dinged. A moment later, Alicia appeared and sat down next to Sam. Alicia looked even worse than Derek. Her arms were covered in tiny scratches, her wrist was bruising, and there were bits of glass caught in her hair and on her clothes. “Alicia! Then...” Phil‟s eyes suddenly went glassy and he mouthed something inaudible, apparently transfixed in horror. “-right behind me in the lobby,” Derek finished, gesturing towards her impatiently. “Which is what I was trying to tell you…” Sam held up a hand and flapped it at her brother in annoyance. “Shush. Phil, what did you say?” She glanced over and caught Derek watching Alicia; he felt his sister‟s gaze and dropped his eyes, blushing. “Hannah. They‟ve kidnapped Hannah,” Phil repeated hoarsely. They all made various noises of disbelief, but he held a hand up and read aloud from the letter in his hand. “We have taken your friend hostage. Attend the press conference tonight and she dies immediately. If you wish to see her alive again, be at Warehouse 17 in Armonk at six o‟clock tomorrow night. Attempt to enter the Warehouse before that time, and you will be killed. Fail to be there at the appointed time, and she will die. We look forward to seeing you.”
Derek made a noise of disgust. “We look forward to seeing you? What kind of sick joke do they think they‟re playing?” “It‟s not a joke,” said Sam timidly. “They‟re going to kill her unless we go. And if we go, they‟ll kill us.” Derek felt despair overwhelm him as something clicked. “We can‟t go to the press conference. Greene‟s going to be elected. Come on!” He kicked the chair in frustration. “They took her to stop us going, which means they saw the press conference as a real threat,” Phil confirmed. “You‟re right. It‟s completely out of the question for us to go now.” “I don‟t think they‟d kill her if we go to the press conference. Or if we don‟t go to the Warehouse,” said Ben. “They‟re just trying to scare us. We shouldn‟t let them stop us from killing Green‟s chances.” Sam and Derek whipped their heads around and glared at him. “Just a suggestion,” he added hastily. “Ben‟s right,” Alicia said slowly. “They‟re not going to kill her just because Derek goes to the press conference or we don‟t go to the Warehouse tomorrow. They‟re trying to bait us.” “Yeah? And what if they do kill her?” shouted Sam. “It‟s a risk we‟ll have to take,” Alicia hissed. Ben was surprised to see the two best friends glaring at each other. “Sam-” he started, but Derek cut him off. “Shut up, man. She‟s right and you know it.” “Okay, that‟s enough,” Phil said sternly. “We have to look at this logically. We can‟t let our emotions direct our actions,” –Sam and Derek glared- “but we have to remember that Hannah is a part of our team and we don‟t desert someone.” He glanced at the piece of paper and took a deep breath. When he spoke again, his composure had returned and his voice was once again smooth and calming. “Even though our first plan to take Greene out of the running- the embezzlement framing- is
now useless, at least we know that we were a real threat to them. We can‟t go to the press conference, and we will be at Warehouse 17 in Armonk at six tomorrow night.” Derek smirked at Ben. “We‟re going to need all the help we can get,” Ben murmured. Sam glanced at him admiringly; he was already running through tactics, the argument already forgotten. He glanced at Phil. “That layer you were talking about earlier? And supplies...” Phil nodded. “You should get some physical protection.” He tossed the boy a set of car keys and a credit card. “Go...I‟ve got some explaining to do, and you‟ve heard it all.” Ben tried not to look superior as he sauntered out the door.
Ben returned to the apartment three hours later. He walked inside, half expecting Alicia and Phil to be in some sort of shouting match, or Sam to be in tears. When he got to the main room, however, it was just Derek sitting watching television. “Where is everyone?” he asked. Derek glanced up. “Umm, Alicia‟s just getting something to eat. Sam‟s in her room, I think, and Phil‟s in the dining room figuring out stuff.” Alicia appeared in the doorway from the kitchen, carrying two sodas and a bag of chips. She danced over to the couch and sat down on Derek‟s lap. He took her hand. Ben raised his eyebrows at her sister; she looked at him as if daring him to protest. He bit his lip and weighed his options, but quickly realized that at this point, it was no use resisting. They wanted to be together, and he knew it would help Alicia deal. As long as Derek didn‟t do anything to hurt her. He scowled at the mere thought, and then sighed in resignation and went to the dining room, leaving them alone together. “Hey, Ben,” said Phil, glancing up. “You‟ve got some stuff, then?” “Yeah.” Ben heaved two heavy bags on the table. “It was kind of expensive,” he said apologetically.
“Ben.” Phil chuckled. “Do you really think money will ever be a problem for someone with my abilities?” He didn‟t wait for an answer but reached behind him and pressed a button on a small white intercom device. “Sam, Derek, Alicia, get in here. We‟ve got some preparations to go over.” Ben sat down at the polished mahogany table and glanced around the room. It was bland enough, with cream colored walls and simple but expensive wooden furnishings. He turned his gaze to the table; here was the evidence that a rescue mission was being planned. Phil‟s two laptops sat open and running, one with a long word document open, one with an aerial view of the warehouse complexes. Detailed maps of unfamiliar buildings lay half-open. The bags that Ben had placed on top had fallen over and their contents were spilling out. Ben quickly stuffed his purchases back out of sight. He didn‟t want to freak the others out right when they walked in. In the other room, Derek kissed Alicia quickly and strolled ahead of her into the dining room. He was surprisingly interested in her. Of course, she was hot and athletic and stuff, but that never meant anything to Derek. What was really intriguing about her was that he couldn‟t tell if she was interested in him. Oh, she definitely flirted with him, but that didn‟t necessarily mean anything with Alicia. He watched her idly as she sauntered in and took the seat opposite him. Plus, there was the added bonus of watching how ticked off Ben got. He smiled widely. “Okay. Now, we have exactly twenty-one hours before the appointed time,” Phil began. “Assuming you all need eight hours of sleep, and factoring in the three hours it takes to drive to Armonk, that leaves us ten hours to prepare. I‟ve obtained detailed maps of the complex and Warehouse 17 itself- we‟ll be studying those. Alicia will be teaching you all to fight.” “I don‟t need a girl to teach me to fight,” Ben complained. Phil looked at him. “Alicia?” She got up; Ben did, too, confused. She faked a lunge. He reacted, and she grasped one of his arms, flipped him over her head, and stabbed one sharp heel into his chest.
Ben glared and she lost her balance as her foot fell right through him into the ground. Alicia hissed angrily and carefully stepped out of Ben. “Alicia is a master black belt in tae kwon do and karate,” Phil reminded him. “You would do well to listen to her if you want to stay alive.” Ben got back in his chair, effectively silenced. “I‟ll be placing an additional layer on all of your minds,” Phil continued. Ben glanced around, but Phil must have caught the others up, because they all seemed to understand. “Sam.” Phil tipped one of the bags Ben had brought over. Sam looked up; out spilled several black vests, leggings, cargo pants, and tight black shirts. “You‟ll be in charge of outfitting everyone. These are bulletproof vests, and special combat clothes. You need to read the manuals and teach them how to use these.” Sam nodded, but she winced inside. Teach them how to use clothes? Once again, she was given the meaningless task. Did everyone else question her effectiveness like she did? “Derek.” Phil placed the two black duffel bags he‟d brought home earlier on the table. He unzipped one, and Derek could just see the glint of metal. He reached his hand in and brought out at .89 revolver. “Nice,” Derek said approvingly. “These are nice...” “I thought you‟d have a feel for them,” said Phil. “You‟ll deal with the weapons. Make sure everyone knows how to use them, and that everyone has the right type for them.” “What about me?” Phil turned and looked at Ben. “Oh, and Ben‟s the leader here. You all, listen to him. Especially when you‟re inside the warehouse, because I won‟t be there.” Ben had expected this. What Phil had said earlier was true. We‟re middle-aged scientists. What
use would we be in a fight?
“You‟re not coming in with us?” Sam asked woozily.
“You‟ll need backup if something happens,” Phil replied. “I‟m much more of a liability than any of you, but if you need me I‟ll come in. Otherwise, though, you must understand I‟ll be very easy for them to kill.” “Oh, like we‟re any harder?” Sam questioned incredulously. “Sam, all four of us are very difficult to kill,” Ben said, speaking clearly and enunciating every word. He seemed to be trying to impress this view on everyone. “Alicia is nearly impossible to kill when there‟s more than one of her, and I‟m bulletproof. Add in there that no KP agent can keep a bullet in their gun around Derek, anyway, and that no KP agent can keep a gun in their hand around you, and the odds are looking pretty damn good to me.” Everything Ben had said was true, but Sam knew the odds were still not good. Yes, they had every advantage that Ben had mentioned, but KP also had a hostage, knew the layout of the building, and outnumbered them twenty to one. If Sam had to bet, she wouldn‟t have chosen her own side. The next twenty-one hours passed in a haze of action. From nine to midnight, Alicia had multiplied herself into three and showed them all moves they could use against attackers. She demonstrated how to disarm a gun threat and how to render a man unconscious without killing them. Sam couldn‟t help but notice Alicia showed the boys how to attack, but only taught Sam defensive moves. Then it was sleep time. Derek fell, exhausted, onto his bed only to be woken at 8:00 sharp for a quick explanation by Sam of the combat clothes they were to wear. He and Ben had tight black shirts with bulletproof vests over them and black cargo pants; the girls were in formfitting sleeveless tops, bulletproof vests, and tight stretchy pants with multiple pockets. While he didn‟t much appreciate the sight of Ben in a muscle shirt, Derek definitely liked the outfit on Alicia. She caught him checking out her butt and blew him a kiss; he smiled but quickly averted his eyes when Ben growled. Then it was his time to be in charge, and he was glad he‟d been given control of the weapons. He‟d only messed around with a few guns before, but he knew the basics: how to load, reload, flip the safety on and off, and fire.
In the bag he‟d also found four cargo belts with double holsters. He‟d spent a little time deciding how to equip everyone and was reasonably pleased with his choices. He‟d actually put a lot of thought into it and had realized that weapons weren‟t all the same. He‟d had to take into consideration their different personalities and fighting styles. It had required a lot of thought for Derek‟s sabbatical from school. The others were looking at him expectantly, waiting in a line in front of him. Derek reached into his bag and pulled out the first cargo belt. “You‟ll have the heavy duty guns, Ben.” Derek handed him the heaviest belt. Ben grunted as he felt the weight, but he buckled it around his waist and nodded appreciatively. “You‟ve got two large, powerful firearms there. Practically machine guns. They shoot out five bullets per round, which means you‟ll get whoever you‟re aiming at almost every time, but the downside is they only hold forty bullets each- you can only press each trigger eight times before you‟ve got to reload, so make sure you practice that and can do it quickly.” Ben nodded. “Alicia. You have the revolvers,” Derek said. “They‟re pretty small and lightweight, so they won‟t get in your way. They shoot quickly and you don‟t have to reload that much. This is a tricky safety, though, so make sure it‟s off before you fire.” She took the belt from him and slipped it around her hips. He noticed how good it made her tiny waist look. “And Sam. You have my favorite weapon.” He handed her a belt. “You‟ve got a small pistol, but I don‟t think you‟ll use that much. He gestured to the back of the belt, where one long pocket took up almost the whole length. “There‟s the beauty.” She flipped open the pouch and took out a foot-long pole. There was a black button in the middle. She pressed it, and two deadly six-inch blades flashed out of either end. Derek grinned appreciatively. “I thought you wouldn‟t have much use for guns, because you could just manipulate them into your hands. This thing, though- swing that in a fight and no one will be able to touch you.” “What have you got?” said Ben.
Derek took out his own belt and fastened it around his waist. “Me? I‟ve got a sniper gun. Great long-distance, not much use up close. But that‟s okay.” He pointed at his other hip and withdrew a long, deadly dagger. “I‟ve got this for hand-to-hand.” They all practiced with their weapons for an hour or so and then had a quick lunch at noon. Afterwards, Phil called them individually into the dining room and placed an additional layer of protection on their minds. To Alicia, it felt uncomfortable, but not extremely so. It was like having a tic-tac in your mouth that didn‟t dissolve; slightly irritating, but not painful. She just had to be careful not to accidentally break the layerthat is, not swallow the tic-tac. At two o‟clock they got into a navy Range Rover-Sam would never cease to be amazed by the seemingly never-ending supply of luxury vehicles to which Phil had access- and started for Armonk. The four teens sat in the back and Ben passed out earpieces and tooth microphones, instructing everyone how to use them. After a few feeble attempts at conversation they all sat silently for the remainder of the trip. Ben‟s hand stayed near his earpiece and he muttered things to himself, staring at a map. Sam was practicing manipulating her pistol. She was frustrated because whenever she thought about what they were about to do, she lost her focus and the pistol fell into her lap. She stared sadly down at it after failing to keep it aloft for the fifth time. Maybe I am useless, she thought sadly. I can‟t do anything right. Derek‟s hand twitched towards his gun often but he kept his iPod in and his eyes closed, not saying a word. Alicia stared out the window. She wasn‟t quite certain about her choice to stay with Phil and her friends. She was sure, however, that there was something Phil still wasn‟t telling them, and that Croftus had been telling the truth. The question was, who really was right? She hadn‟t had a chance to talk to Phil alone about it because of the frantic preparations, and she didn‟t want to bring it up in front of the others and distract them when Hannah‟s life was at stake. For now, she decided, she‟d concentrate on getting in and out of Warehouse 17 alive, and figure out her morals afterward.
Then, sooner than anyone had anticipated, Phil pulled the car to a smooth stop and said simply, “We‟re here.”
chapter twenty-one captured They all got out silently and stared up at Warehouse 17. It was an imposing block of granite with plain windows and heavy iron doors. A timer had been placed above the central doors. It was ticking down to zero and had approximately twenty-three minutes left on it. Ben didn‟t need to check his watch to know that it showed twenty-three minutes until the appointed time, six o‟clock. There didn‟t seem to be anyone else around. There were no cars parked anywhere in sight and they were surrounded by the huge granite buildings that were other warehouses. Ben jogged a hundred yards away and tested their microphone and earpiece system, but it worked fine, and they ended up in front of the building with fifteen minutes left. Sam began manipulating, just to calm her nerves, and Ben and Alicia followed suit. Ben paced back and forth, flickering between insubstantial and rock-hard; another Alicia flashed into existence. The two girls began fighting with each other. “Two of you is even hotter than one of you,” said Derek casually, walking over. One disappeared and the remaining Alicia stepped closer to him. “Can‟t have too much of a good thing, right?” She laughed. From a few yards away, Sam watched them enviously. Alicia didn‟t even like Derek, and he wasn‟t really interested in her, either. They were just two players, out of their element. They were playing the game because it was what they knew. She glanced at Ben, who was muttering to himself. Why couldn‟t the stress make Ben feel closer to her? When Alicia finally playfully pushed Derek away and came over to Sam, there were only three minutes left on the clock. “Hey,” she said. “Ready to play?” Sam tensed. “Play? What is this to you, some game? We have to rescue Hannah!” Alicia rolled her eyes. “I don‟t think that will be the hard part. The real issue is the terrorists themselves.”
Alicia glanced at Sam and could tell this statement did nothing for her friend‟s confidence. “Don‟t worry. It‟ll be fine.” She left to stand next to Ben, leaving Sam breathing in and out, trying desperately not to hyperventilate. “You seem pretty calm,” said Ben, not looking up as Alicia approached. “Real, or an act?” She couldn‟t lie to him. “An act,” she answered, leaning on his shoulder. “Inside, I‟m scared just as much as Sam. And she‟s freaking out. This is how I have to handle it- by thinking of it as, like, a scene from a movie. Not a scene from my life.” Ben looked at her seriously. “Whatever works. Just remember that the danger is real.” Derek and Sam came over to them. Thirty seconds. Alicia checked the revolvers on her hips. Twenty seconds. Phil flashed them a thumbs up from the van. Fifteen seconds. “Testing, testing,” Ben muttered into the mikes. Ten seconds. Sam squeezed Alicia‟s hand. Five seconds. Derek put a hand on his sniper gun. Three, two, one. The timer beeped once and then the lights flashed out. Ben tried the door; it was unlocked. Cautiously, they stepped through it. They were in a long, dark hallway. Ben led the way until they came to a closed door. He put a finger up, indicating they should wait, and turned the handle. The door swung slowly open to reveal a small but wide empty room with two identical doors leading forward. “Okay, we‟ll split up,” Ben said. “Two for each door.” He studied them, trying to decide the best pairings. They needed to balance their skills. He and Alicia were best in hand-to-hand, but Derek and Sam were more talented at a longer range, not to mention locks and doors and things. Yet Derek and Alicia together might distract them. On the other hand, the girls were the most nervous, and he knew both of them would feel safer with a guy. What to do? Sam bit her lip but didn‟t protest. She knew they had a limited time to find Hannah and get out, and splitting up did increase the chances of finding her. And they did have the headsets for communication.
“Sam with me and Alicia and Derek together,” Ben decided. He tried hard not to see Derek‟s pleased grin. Sam followed him tentatively to the first door, and after Alicia and Derek had disappeared through the other, they slipped inside. Immediately Ben knew it was a trap. Croftus had intentionally designed the building like this, knowing that together the four of them would be almost unstoppable. Three men were coming at him, shooting, and there were more all around. The room was large and lit with fluorescent lights, and as far as he could see, there were agents with the KP seal. Damnit. He flickered into rock-hard mode; for a second he considered that the bullets could ricochet and hit Sam, but he didn‟t have a choice. “Sam! Get their guns!” he yelled, his voice strained, as he dodged a man charging him and flipped another over. He heard her whimper behind him and turned, but she was handling herself fine; she had the pole knife out and was slashing it viciously. Two men already lay bleeding next to her. She looked up, and then looked past him. “Ben! Look out!” But it was too late; he felt a shock of electric pain jolt through his body, and then he knew no more.
Derek awoke in a tiny room. Looking around, he quickly amended that. A tiny
cell. He was laying on a cot the length of a twin mattress, but half as wide. There
were a few feet of space to one side, and at the foot of the bed, the wall was iron bars from floor to ceiling. The rest of the walls were metal. There were no windows. He laid back and tried to remember what had happened. His head ached so badly that it was hard to concentrate. He and Alicia had left Ben and Sam at that second room. When they‟d gotten into the next room, there were men everywhere. Derek had quickly dissolved all their bullets and Alicia had split herself into three, and for a minute he‟d thought they‟d had a chance. But then one Alicia got her throat slit, and the other two staggered and fell.
He‟d tried to go and help them, but he could barely see what was going on beyond the ring of attackers surrounding him; with a dagger in each hand it was taking all of his concentration to stay alive himself. Eventually five or six of them overpowered him.
But I did take a lot of them down, he thought happily. He had to admit to
himself he was pleasantly surprised to still find himself alive. In that last second before someone had knocked him out and he knew he was a goner, he‟d fully expected never to wake up again. But there was no fear in that realization. He‟d gone down fighting, and now, look! They‟d given him a second chance to kick their butts. He couldn‟t figure out why, though. Did Croftus think he could convert them? Did he want to tempt Phil in after them? Derek shuddered at the idea of Phil trying to fight his way to them. He slid to the edge of the bed and peered out through the bars. Was there a keyhole? He could manipulate a key and get out. Damn. There was a number pad affixed to one of the bars. “Damn,” he said aloud. “Derek?” said a timid voice to his right. “Sam?” “It is you! I thought it had to be, they‟ve put the four of us in this square of cells.” Derek glanced up. Across a narrow hallway he could see Ben in an identical cell, and if he slid all the way to the left and looked diagonally to the right, he could just make out Alicia in the last one. He guessed Sam was in the cell to his right, across from Alicia. But something was wrong- Ben and Alicia weren‟t moving. “What‟s wrong with them?” he said sharply. “I think they‟re sedated,” Sam said nervously. “Every hour or so, someone comes in and injects something into their arm...they haven‟t bothered with us because they know we can‟t use our abilities to get out.” Derek considered this. Ben would of course be impossible to contain, but Alicia? Oh. She could make another of herself, outside the cell, and then delete the one inside. Did this mean she could teleport, like Robert? He made a mental note to ask her when he got the chance.
“Every hour?” he asked finally. “How long have we been in here? How long was I out?” “I don‟t know for sure,” Sam answered. “They‟ve taken our belts, so I don‟t have a watch or anything. But I don‟t think I was unconscious for more than an hour. You‟ve been out for a while, though; they sedated Ben and Leesh three times before you woke up.” Derek examined a long gash in his arm which was still bleeding, although not very much. “Are you hurt? I‟m guessing they outnumbered you and Ben, too?” Sam nodded. Then she remembered he couldn‟t see her. “Yeah, there were a ton of them.” She looked at herself. “I‟m fine. I‟m going to hurt like hell tomorrow, but I‟ve only got one scratch.” She touched the thin cut on her cheek. She could hear Derek pacing restlessly in his cell. “We‟ve got to get out of here,” he said furiously. “I don‟t know why they haven‟t killed us yet, but there‟s no guarantee they‟ll keep Hannah alive now that they have us. We have to get out, find our supplies, and rescue Hannah.” “Our belts are over there.” She pointed to the corner by Ben‟s bars. “They obviously don‟t think we can get out.” Sam sat down on her cot and tried to run through tactics mentally. She knew the combination to Ben‟s cell, and Alicia‟s, too, after watching the guards enter them three times. But what good did that do her if she couldn‟t enter them? Unless... She concentrated on the buttons opposite her: Alicia‟s keypad. If she used her mind to push them down...well, it wasn‟t really that different than moving an object away from her. Five, three, seven, two. Alicia‟s door swung open. “What the hell?” said Derek. Sam laughed gleefully. “I did that! I can move the buttons. And I knew her combination from watching them enter it.” “That‟s great, Sam, but you need to close it before they come back and realize you can do that,” Derek instructed.
This was easier. For a metal door, it was simple to move back into position, and she heard the affirming click as it swung into place. “Okay, here‟s what we have to do,” she said quickly, a plan coming to her. “The guards will be back in about half an hour, if I‟m right about them coming every hour. They need to think you‟re a threat, Derek. Start working on dissolving the bars.” “Sam!” Derek cried, exasperated. “I can‟t dissolve these. You know I can only do small stuff.” “You can start,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “Just make a hole. They don‟t know this took you thirty minutes. For all they know, you woke up two minutes ago and made a hole quickly.” He didn‟t argue further, so she kept talking. “He‟ll drug you, too. Watch them enter the keypad number and remember it.” “What good will that do me if he knocks me out right away?” he shot back. “Dissolve the drug in the needle as he‟s coming to you,” she said with clenched teeth. Sometimes she forgot how irritating her brother was. “Pretend to be knocked out. He‟ll leave.” “And, what? I get out of here by myself?” “No,” she hissed. “I‟ll open your door. You go get your belt. Then go back in your cell. Then, when the guard comes the next hour, you need to shoot him.” “Then how will you get out?” “Damn.” Sam thought hard for a second. “Okay, scratch that. You need to disarm him if he has a weapon, and then force him at gunpoint to open my cell. Then we‟ll open Ben and Alicia‟s, grab our belts, and go.” “Go where?” “I haven‟t gotten there yet!” she said, irritated. “Just work on dissolving the bars.” They sat in silence for the next twenty-five minutes, Derek hard at work dissolving the bars, Sam muttering the two combinations in her head so she didn‟t forget. After what seemed like hours, the young KP guard came strolling back into the hallway.
“Time for more drugs,” he said to Ben and Alicia, who of course couldn‟t hear him. Sam watched him carefully as he entered their combinations; she had them right. After he‟d sedated Alicia and then Ben, he turned and noticed the hole Sam supposed Derek had made. “Oi! What‟s this?” He crossed to the keypad in front of Derek‟s cell and began punching in a code. “Guess I‟ll have to drug you, too.” Sam heard him cock a gun. “Try anything and I‟ll shoot you,” he warned. The door slid open. Sam listened carefully, but she couldn‟t make out what was happening. Ten seconds later, she heard the door click back into place and the guard sauntered back past her cell. “What‟re you lookin‟ at?” he said aggressively, glaring at Sam. She shrank away and dropped her eyes. She waited five minutes, and then said tentatively, “Derek?” He laughed gleefully. “I got it, Sam. Part one of the plan, complete.” He rattled off the numbers - two, eight, one, four - and she opened his door. He loped over to the belts, found his, and returned to his cell. Then it was just the monotony of a fifty-minute wait. Derek had the idea that Sam should have a gun, too, in case the guard tried to run, so he took her pistol and slipped it through her bars. Then he went back inside his cell and they sat silently, waiting. Finally, Sam heard footsteps coming down the hall. She tensed and shifted to make sure the pistol was hidden from sight; she didn‟t want him sedating her before Derek got a chance to attack. The guard walked by her cell and she held her breath. Could Derek pull this off? Derek laid motionless as the guard approached him. He opened his eyes just a crack, so he‟d time it right, and then leaped up as soon as the man opened the door. He held his gun in one hand and the deadly blade in the other. “Hands up.” The guard looked shocked, but did as he was told. Keeping the gun trained on him, Derek quickly stepped to him and removed the syringe and his revolver from his holsters. Then he placed the cold barrel of the gun against the man‟s head. “Open her cell. Now.”
The guard stared back at him with steely eyes. “Kill me. I‟m serving a higher purpose, and I‟m not going to help you.” Derek swore inwardly; he had not expected such a zealous terrorist to be sent to guard them. He kept his face expressionless as he pointed the gun toward the floor. “Then I guess you need a little convincing.” He pulled the trigger and slapped the other hand, holding the knife, over the guard‟s mouth to muffle the howl of pain. “Do you want me to shoot your other foot?” said Derek quietly. “There‟s a lot of pain I can cause you, and we‟ve got a whole hour before someone will come check on you.” The man shook his head, whimpering, and stumbled toward Sam‟s cell. Derek kept the gun between his shoulder blades as he punched in a code and then slumped to the ground, wincing. Derek took the syringe and jabbed it into the man‟s arm; he immediately fell unconscious. He looked at Sam and grinned. “We‟re free.”
chapter twenty-two rescue mission “Did you have to do that to his foot?” Sam retrieved her belt and then opened Ben and Alicia‟s doors. “Would you rather I‟d have killed him and you still be in the cell?” Sam ignored him. “What are we supposed to do with Ben and Alicia? We can‟t leave them here.” “Carry them, I guess,” said Derek. “You get Alicia; she‟s lighter. Don‟t forget their belts.” Derek pulled Ben‟s arms around his shoulders and started to heave him up, but Ben‟s hands twitched. Derek dropped him on the cot. “Sam! Come here. I think Ben‟s waking up.” Derek slapped him. “Come on, Ben. Wake up. Wake up.” He hit him again. Ben‟s eyes fluttered open and he groaned. He blinked a few times. “Where am I? What happened?” “You got Tasered and then they drugged you,” Sam said, coming over. “They‟ve locked us up for hours and we‟ve only just got out. They were drugging you and Alicia every hour so you couldn‟t manipulate out.” “Sam was great,” Derek said warmly. “She came up with this brilliant plan and it worked! We‟ve got to get out of here, though. Someone will be wondering why the guard hasn‟t come back.” Ben sat up. “I feel better already…everything‟s more clear. I think the drug‟s almost worn off. Is Alicia awake?” Sam shook her head. “We have to go, though. Someone‟s going to have to carry her.” “I‟ll do it,” Derek said immediately. “I got it,” snapped Ben, glaring at him. He slung Alicia over his shoulder and gestured to Derek sarcastically. “Lead on.”
Derek took the lead and pulled out his gun, walking quickly down the hallway. They soon came to a locked door. “You‟ll have to go through and open it from the other side for us,” Derek explained. He glanced at Ben, who unwillingly gave him Alicia and then walked through the door. He pushed it open, and Sam and Derek came through. They were in a large room, perhaps the size of a professional basketball stadium. Huge shelves stood every ten yards or so, stretching up to the ceiling, stacked with sealed crates. Fluorescent lights hung way above them, flickering eerily. “Let‟s go,” said Ben uneasily. “Let‟s find Hannah and get out of here.” There were doors all around the perimeter of the room. “It‟ll take us forever to search them all!” said Sam in exasperation. “Derek, give Alicia to Sam and pick a door,” Ben instructed. “Sam, stay here with her.” The two boys picked different doors and disappeared. Sam sat next to Alicia. Looking around the large, creepy room, she wished desperately that she hadn‟t been left alone with only an unconscious Alicia for company. What if some of the members of KP showed up? She could barely fight herself, much less protect Alicia. One of the doors opened and she tensed, but it was just Derek. “Nothing in there,” he said, shaking his head. He went into another room. She waited ten more minutes anxiously, but nothing happened. “Sam!” said Ben frantically. “Sam, can you hear me?” She touched her earpiece. “Loud and clear.” “There‟s like ten men up ahead. I think this is where they‟re keeping Hannah! Come on, I need backup.” “But what about Alicia?” “She‟ll be fine,” Ben answered impatiently. “Put her in a corner, and come on! If you hurry, we‟ll be done with these guys in five minutes and we can go back and get her on our way out.”
Sam pulled Alicia into a dark corner and pushed a few empty crates in front of her. She felt bad leaving her, but odds were no one would find her and they needed to help Hannah. She ran through the door Ben had gone through and crashed into a wall. “Shh!” said the wall, and she realized that it was Ben, rock-hard. “Oh, sorry,” she said, dazed. “They‟re right up there.” He pointed. Sam and Ben were standing in a tiny corner of a large room, dimly lit by hanging light bulbs. About ten men stood talking in the far left corner; Hannah was tied to a chair directly to their right. “-don‟t know why we have to be here,” one was saying loudly. “This one is no threat, and the others are all locked up and drugged.” “Do you want to be the one to tell Croftus that she escaped?” another pointed out. “We might as well guard her. In less than a day this will all be over.” They fell into quiet murmurings, and Ben raised his eyebrows at Sam. “Ready?” he whispered. She nodded and pulled out her knife. She pressed the button and the twin blades spun out; just having it in her hand made her feel braver. “I‟ll start shooting. You go around the back and try to get to Hannah. Use your knife to cut her free, and try to get their guns away from them if you can,” Ben muttered. She nodded again and started creeping around the edge of the room. When she was halfway across, she touched the mike in her ear and whispered, “Go.” There was a blast of light as the rapid fire of Ben‟s gun cut through the dank air. Several of the men fell instantly; the others dropped to the ground, pulled out their guns, and began firing. Ben dropped his gun and sprinted toward them, bullets bouncing off him harmlessly. Sam laughed to herself but didn‟t dare follow suit; she wasn‟t bulletproof and just one lucky shot could kill her. The thought sobered her and she stole toward Hannah. By now there were only four men left. Four men would usually be a piece of cake for Ben and Sam combined, but Ben was weaponless. Sam was also sure the men
had other guns on them, but were keeping them hidden, at least for now, so that she couldn‟t manipulate them away. She scowled in frustration. Sam crept up to Hannah and began sawing at the ropes binding her. Hannah was smart enough to keep quiet as Sam worked, but Sam was still terrified that one of the men would notice her and come after her instead of chasing Ben around the room. “And what do you think you‟re doing?” said one of the men. Sam glanced up. A man was standing over her, leering. “Teaching you not to mess with me!” she snapped, standing up quickly. She lunged and plunged her knife into his side. He cried out, but clasped one hand bravely around the handle and yanked it out. Then he looked at Sam. She already had her tiny revolver out and pointed right between his eyes. “Oh, but you don‟t want to do that,” he whispered, staring at her. She faltered. Shooting him wasn‟t really necessary. What had he ever done to deserve it? In fact, she should just hand him the gun right now, and let him take control. After all, he was the adult here and he knew what to do... “Sam!” Hannah screamed. “What are you doing? Shoot him!” Sam realized she was clutching the barrel of the gun and offering the handle to him. What just happened? She fired the gun and then dropped it. She turned away from the messy sight and finished untying Hannah, who immediately pointed behind Sam. Sam spun and noticed Ben grappling with two men. Another lay groaning on the floor, blood flowing from a tiny hole in his chest. Just two more. Then Sam remembered she was unarmed. But it was too late- one of the men had decided she would make an easier target and was already coming towards her. She glanced around, but there were no weapons visible. In desperation, she tilted her head up to the ceiling and pulled with all her might. Right as the man dived toward her, his fists clenching on empty air, part of the ceiling collapsed on him and he was immediately buried beneath a pile of wood, metal, and rubble. On the other side of the debris, Ben pulled himself apart as the last man lunged at his chest, brandishing a knife. The attacker stumbled through empty air and fell to
the ground. Ben grabbed a piece of metal from the pile of debris behind him and struck the man twice in the head. His head fell limply to one side and he did not move. “Ben? Ben, are you okay?” Sam said anxiously. “I‟m fine,” he answered, coming around the pile. He glanced up at the gaping hole in the ceiling, impressed. “Quick thinking with the ceiling- nice going.” “Thanks,” she blushed. He grinned at her and couldn‟t help but notice how cute she looked with her hair all messed up and dirt smeared on her face. “We‟ve got to get out of here,” Hannah said, already striding toward the exit. “Others will have heard the gunshots and will be coming to investigate.” Ben and Sam hurried along behind her. They made their way back out to the large room with the crates. “Where did you leave Alicia?” Ben asked, surveying the room. It appeared still to be deserted, but he didn‟t see any sign of Alicia, either. “Over here,” Sam walked over to the nearest corner and dragged one of the crates aside. Ben supposed it was a clever hiding place. She turned and looked at him, her face white. “She‟s gone!” “Come on!” Ben glared at the wall angrily. Alicia would go and get herself captured once they‟d finally gotten Hannah. And where was Derek? He touched a finger to his earpiece. “Derek? Alicia? This is Ben. Where are you?” “Shut up,” crackled the immediate reply. “I‟m spying on Croftus and I need to hear.” “Derek,” said Sam, exasperated. “We‟ve got Hannah. Just come back.” “No,” Derek whispered. “This is important. I‟ll meet you outside in a bit.” “I‟m outside,” Alicia piped up. “I‟m in the car with Phil.” “Derek, it‟s too dangerous,” Ben snapped. “We have what we came for. Now get out.” “Shh, you‟re making noise,” Derek hissed. “I‟m trying to listen, Ben, and I‟m not moving „til I get something good.” “Let him,” said Alicia. “This is too good a chance to miss.”
Ben felt Sam‟s eyes on him and winced inwardly as the pressure of making the decision landed on his shoulders. “Fine,” he hissed angrily. “Alicia, stay where you are. Sam, Hannah, and I are coming out. Derek, if you don‟t have your butt outside in twenty minutes, we‟re coming in to get you, and I don‟t care how much noise we make.” As he, Hannah, and Sam returned the way they‟d come in, Ben‟s thoughts returned to Derek, still somewhere in Warehouse 17. There were probably many more KP agents inside. What if Croftus was inside, too? He‟d capture or kill Derek and then get the rest of them when they came to the rescue. Ben sighed angrily. Why had he allowed Derek to go off on his own? He knew Derek was tough and could take care of himself, but he just hoped that Derek knew what he was doing.
chapter twenty-three the perfect race Derek crouched in a corner, thoroughly irritated. Like he was going to listen to Ben. Who even put him in charge, anyway? Ben was just another hot-headed jock who thought with his fists. How could he not see the possibilities of Derek eavesdropping on Croftus and his cronies? The risks were almost nonexistent- Derek had perfected the art of skulking unseen –and the likely benefits far outweighed them, anyway. Besides, if it wasn‟t for Derek, Ben would still be locked up in a cell and out cold. He shifted his weight slightly and listened, but Croftus had evidently hung up. From what Derek could tell, Croftus was around the corner, in some sort of office, because he‟d just been on the phone. He hadn‟t heard much of the actual conversation because Ben had interrupted, but he was pretty sure that Croftus had mentioned he was waiting for another call, an important one. So Derek was keen to stick around until he heard what he could. The phone rang and Derek tensed in anticipation. “Hello? Yes, it‟s...” There was a soft noise followed by a click, and Croftus‟ voice suddenly became strangely muted. Derek edged around the corner to see Croftus had shut the door, which appeared to be soundproofed. He swore under his breath and began working on manipulating a tiny hole through the bottom of the door. As it was unusually thick, it took him nearly a minute before he succeeded. He pressed his ear to the hole and listened eagerly. “...creating the perfect race here, Frank,” Croftus was saying. “A few lives lost in the process are regrettable but ultimately unavoidable. Besides, think of the death toll during the cleansing process! This is nothing compared to that.” There was a pause, and then he spoke again. “I‟m just pointing out that practically all of those killed now will have been disposed of in a day, so there‟s no real loss there.”
Derek turned this over in his mind. The perfect race? Cleansing process? He didn‟t like where this was going at all. Almost a minute of silence, then Croftus sounded irritated. “I‟ve explained this a hundred times. Without previous study, the weak minds will not be able to bear the load of this knowledge and they will collapse. I know what I‟m talking about, Frank. We‟ve tested this on hundreds of people. It will work.” Derek inched closer to the hole. “He was officially elected today. Tomorrow morning I will make my speech.” Croftus sounded as if he was wrapping up the conversation. “It‟s almost over, and then the weaklings will finally have been eliminated and only the worthy ones will remain.” He paused. “Knowledge is Power.” This seemed like a parting line to Derek, so he silently stole back along the corridor and hurried out to the waiting car. He had a feeling that KP knew a lot more than he‟d given them credit for.
Alicia watched sleepily as Derek trotted across the parking lot. Wordlessly, Ben slid open the van door and Derek slipped in. With a clang, Ben shut it and Phil sped off. There was silence for a moment. “Good job, Ben,” said Phil; his voice was cheery. “You‟ve gotten everyone in and everyone out, and rescued Hannah.” Hannah turned in her seat and smiled at them. “Thank you so much- all of you. I‟m guessing you want to know what happened.” They all nodded. “It‟s not a very exciting story,” she admitted, smiling ruefully. “I was careless...they caught me off guard. Phil had gone out to pick up some supplies, and I was alone in the apartment. I was on the couch when some men burst into the room. There were a lot of them, maybe eight or nine. I was no match for them. They quickly overpowered me. One of them smashed a window and jumped out; I remember thinking he was crazy. Another one strapped me to him and jumped, too. He had something in his hands that he used to travel the zipline set up between this building
and the next. The others followed us out, and then they drugged me. I woke up in the chair where Sam found me.” “A zip line?” said Phil, frowning. “That means they had time to set one up...well, I suppose it wouldn‟t have taken long from the other side.” “Well? What happened?” Hannah said impatiently. “Was he elected?” “What?” Alicia was confused. “Oh...Richard Greene. I don‟t know. We were concentrating on rescuing you!” “I had the radio on,” Phil said grimly. “It was a landslide, of course. Greene will be our next president.” “So, what now?” Derek said, suddenly pissed off. “We‟ve gone through hell in the last few days, and for what? Greene‟s already elected and we didn‟t even get a chance to stop him.” “And we‟re no closer to figuring out KP‟s real goals,” Alicia added. They all looked at her. She realized she‟d given herself away, and reluctantly recounted Croftus‟ words to her. “Alicia, he was clearly lying to you,” Hannah said chidingly. “How could you have believed him? He‟s a master at manipulation.” Alicia glared down at her lap, abashed. She was certain he‟d been telling the truth, but no one believed her. When she‟d talked to Connor, everything his father said had just faded away. But now that his logic wasn‟t readily available, what Croftus had said was sounding more and more like the truth. She knew he hadn‟t been lying. That he really did want to show everyone manipulation. What she was convinced of was his motive. Derek put a soothing hand on her back, but she shifted and pushed it off. “Well, he was talking about creating the „perfect race‟,” Derek remembered. “Something about...a great cleansing? Lots of deaths, I remember that. He said the weak would be eliminated, and the strong would be left standing. Something like that.” Hannah‟s head snapped around and her eyes met Phil‟s. “Phil- you don‟t think-” she gasped. He slammed on the brake. “No-no! He can‟t! That‟s insane!” “What are you talking about? What‟s insane?” Ben asked urgently.
“In his inauargal address, Greene said Croftus would be making an important speech tomorrow morning-” Phil said quickly to Hannah, completely ignoring Ben. “Where? In Washington?” Hannah sighed in frustration. “We‟ll never make it. It‟s already midnight. What time‟s the speech?” “Nine. We‟ll never get plane tickets in time- the train?” “Too slow- we need time to prepare. It‟s impossible,” Hannah groaned. Phil suddenly cut across three lanes of traffic and took a sharp left. Horns blared and the tires screeched in protest, but he didn‟t seem to notice. “Where are we going?” Alicia had never seen the two adults so upset. “To cash in a favor.”
Sam stared out the window moodily as a cloud brushed the plane‟s right wing. She hated flying, but it was the fastest way to Washington, and they didn‟t have time to spare. She still wasn‟t quite sure what Phil had done, but they‟d been ushered onto a sleek private jet within ten minutes of stepping foot in the airport. She sensed some manipulation had been involved, but what did it matter? No one would explain anything. All she wanted was for this nightmare to be over. To go back to school, back to New Hampshire, without people trying to kill her. She glanced around the plane. It certainly was luxurious. The inside was just as sleek and black as the outside. Phil and Hannah sat in the back at a table, talking in low voices. Derek had his iPod in, and Alicia looked like she was sleeping. Ben sat down in the plush seat next to her. “Hey,” he said softly. “You okay?” She shrugged. “No.” He looked at her. “What do you want me to say?” she exploded. “That I‟m fine? Well, I‟m not! I just wish this whole thing never happened.” She felt guilty for yelling at him as soon as the words were out of her mouth, but she was frustrated and overtired. “I know,” he said, taking her hand. “I know. It‟s going to be okay.” He brushed one of her curls out of her face.
Sam felt all the anger evaporate inside her as a warm feeling slowly crept up from her heart, making her blush. “I hope so. I really hope so.” “Don‟t worry,” he said. “I won‟t let anything to happen to anyone.” Then he got up and returned to his seat a few rows back. Sam stared after him, confused. She had thought Ben was so close to admitting he liked her, but then he had just left. Her bad mood returned even fiercer than before. “Okay! Can everyone come back here, please?” Hannah said loudly. They all obliged and sat themselves around the large wooden table. “Now are you actually going to tell us what‟s going on?” Derek asked. “Where are we even going?” Ben added. “We‟ve got Hannah back. We‟re not any closer to figuring out what KP‟s up to.” “But we have figured it out,” said Phil, his face alight with excitement. “Something that Derek overheard- we‟ve finally pieced it together.” Derek raised his eyebrows at Ben in an I-told-you-it-was-important kind of way. “Just in time, too,” Hannah muttered. “Like Croftus told Alicia, KP‟s goal is not to take over the world,” Phil explained. “KP has been working to get Greene elected just so that Croftus could make a televised speech.” “Make a speech?” said Alicia, grumpy from sleep. “That‟s what they‟ve been after this whole time? Big deal. Let him make his stupid speech and then we can all go home.” “Why did he need to get Greene elected just to make a speech?” Ben interrupted, following a different train of thought. “So much trouble just for one speech?” “This speech will be internationally televised,” Phil said. “Like the Olympics are. Every country in the world will be watching it. Greene has advertised it as his radical new plan for America- of course people will be interested.” “I still don‟t understand what the point is,” said Sam. “Do you remember how we got our powers, Sam?” Phil said quietly. “Because of Bell‟s...speech. Ohhh,” she gasped.
“So Croftus was telling me the truth?” Alicia asked, suddenly awake. “All he wants to do is let everyone manipulate, and you guys just want to keep it among a few people?” “You have witnessed first-hand the extraordinary power of human thought and perception,” Hannah said, speaking very quickly. “You can‟t doubt the effectiveness of it. Now, imagine that you are suddenly told that the only reason you exist is because you believe you do. Imagine that this thought is drilled into you by a master of mind manipulation. Knowing how powerful human perception is, can you guess what might happen?” “The only reason that Hannah and I gained powers during Bell‟s speech was because we had been studying quantem manipulation for years,” Phil added. “Our minds were completely receptive of the idea; we just needed to be convinced of our own powers. These people Croftus will be addressing will have no such training. They will effectively be told that the only reason they exist is that they believe they do. Once this belief is questioned, what will anchor them to life?” Ben gasped, horrified. “He‟s going to kill everyone.”
chapter twenty-four lost “Wait, then what about the „perfect race?‟” Derek looked up, confused. “No, he‟s not going to kill everyone,” Hannah said reassuringly. Phil shot her a look and she reluctantly continued. “There will be maybe three people in a million who will have the presence and strength of mind to continue existing.” “Then the perfect race is those who are strong enough to live?” asked Ben, piecing it together. Phil nodded. “Exactly. It will be mass murder of everyone else, and only the perfect race will remain. KP, with its additional mind control abilities, will easily seize control and rule this new world.” “So he was telling the truth,” said Alicia slowly. “Croftus said he wanted to tell everyone about manipulation...and he does. But he‟s not trying to give them the power, he wants to use it to kill them.” She smirked at Phil and Hannah. “I told you he was serious about that.” “You were right,” Hannah conceded. “You gave us the information earlier. We just weren‟t smart enough to recognize it. We needed Derek‟s additional clues to figure it out. Our fault.” “So, we‟ve got to stop his speech?” Ben put his head in his hands, trying to think logically. “When is it again?” “Eleven o‟clock.” “What time is it now?” “Two in the morning,” said Hannah, checking her watch. “You‟d all better get some sleep.” She smiled grimly. “Tomorrow‟s going to be a long day.” Derek later found out that Phil had paid the pilot to stay in the air for seven hours, until eight a.m. They circled and circled, probably alarming the air traffic controllers to no end, but eventually landed on a deserted strip of road. Phil got up,
thanked the pilot, and made a call on his phone. Ten minutes later, two taxis pulled up and they all got in. Alicia and Derek quickly claimed the first cab, and Sam was about to try to coerce Ben into the other one when she felt a hand on her shoulder. “Sam?” Hannah murmured. “Would you mind coming with Phil and I?” “Yeah, sure,” Sam said, confused. She noticed Ben staring after her, but he ended up inserting himself between Alicia and Derek with ill grace. By the time they were on the road, Sam was feeling very anxious. Phil and Hannah kept exchanging worried glances, but she didn‟t have the courage to ask why they wanted to talk to her. Instead, she stared out the window silently and waited for them to speak. “Sam, can you feel the layer I put on your mind before we went to rescue Hannah?” Phil questioned abruptly. Sam thought. Thinking about her mind was odd, but she had gotten accustomed to it in the past week, and she was able to obtain the answer without difficulty. “No. I don‟t think it‟s there anymore.” From the looks on their faces, this did not surprise either of them. “Now, concentrate,” Hannah instructed. “Go deep into your mind; try to find that layer we told you about earlier. You‟ll have to dive very far. Can you do it?” They were both watching her intently, so Sam returned her gaze to the window to avoid their eyes. She concentrated hard. Finding a surface layer was one thing, but finding a layer that‟d been buried by years and years of thoughts and memories? She doubted it was even possible. She wasn‟t sure exactly how to go about it, but she squeezed her eyes shut and started flipping through memories. She sped backward through years of her life, rewinding everything. It was an unsettling experience, and yet not wholly unpleasant. Within a minute she‟d reached the end of her recollections, and then there was just...nothingness. She attempted probing a little deeper, but there was nothing beyond this well of blackness. It was the bottom of her mind.
“I...can‟t find it. There‟s nothing there,” she said finally, biting her lip. “I‟ve gone through everything. It‟s gone.” “We thought as much,” said Hannah timidly. “Because we placed the layer, we could feel when it had been broken...of course, we hoped we were wrong.” They were both studying her with a resigned look. “So, that‟s it, then? I can‟t manipulate anymore?” Phil shot her a warning look and then slid the divider shut so the driver couldn‟t hear them. “Of course you can still manipulate,” he said. “It‟s just that now there‟s a slight chance of it going wrong and you losing your powers. For good.” “Your abilities are not extinct yet,” added Hannah with a wry smile. “For now, consider them endangered. But know that eventually they will die.” Sam considered this, and then felt a wave of frustration roar up inside her. “So, I‟m going to lose my powers? Just like that? And there‟s nothing we can do?” “We don‟t know that for sure,” Phil said, placating her. “We haven‟t had much chance for research, these last years. KP, on the other hand, has had ample time...I‟m sure that if it is possible to reinstate such abilities, they would know the method. Maybe, after this is all over, we‟ll find a way to bring them back.” He sighed. “Maybe it‟s impossible, so don‟t get your hopes up. We‟ve told you this so you know to use your abilities sparingly, so to reduce the risk of losing them.” “Does everyone else still have their layer?” Sam asked, a lump in her throat. Was she, the most useless of them all, to be the only one who lost her ability to manipulate? Phil nodded. “Then why me?” Sam felt her eyes tearing up. It didn‟t even make sense. “We think it‟s because your mind was working the most actively toward finding the layer. Think of it as a compliment- your mind was the quickest to find the intrusion. You also manipulated a lot, from what you told us,” Hannah explained. “So I‟m the only one at risk?” “For now.”
They arrived at a small, seedy-looking hotel, but Alicia didn‟t care about niceties anymore. Her attention was focused on Sam, who was stumbling out of the other cab with a miserable look on her face. “Hey, Sam, what‟s wrong?” she asked quietly as they hurried through the hallways of the Holiday Inn. Sam shook her head. She was too embarrassed to tell Alicia. How could she tell her best friend, who was already such a good fighter, that soon Sam wouldn‟t be good for anything? Alicia sensed Sam‟s discomfort but didn‟t press the point. She noticed Hannah detach herself for the group and head outside, probably to get the supplies they needed. She took a deep breath. This time, she couldn‟t afford to get knocked out. The whole operation was entirely dependent on her, and she could feel the pressure. Derek was opening a duffel bag, searching through their weapons. “We didn‟t lose much at the warehouse,” he said, satisfied. “We had a few extras so I can replace everything.” Alicia checked the clock. 8:19. Two hours and forty-one minutes until the end of almost all mankind. Unless Alicia could come through. No pressure.
The guard shifted his weight irritably. He checked his watch. How long „til he could get off his feet? Still fifty-three minutes until the speech, and he wasn‟t allowed to leave until two hours after. What did Croftus think was going to happen? He scanned the flow of people moving into the huge stadium. They were all well-dressed people. Several carried microphones or cameras- reporters. None of them fit the description he‟d been given. Then he noticed four people dressed in headto-toe black. He watched them carefully. There was a short girl with black hair, a tallish blonde girl, a tall, buff boy with a buzz cut, and a slender boy with longish brown hair over his eyes. He smiled to himself. Bingo. “Targets acquired,” he said, speaking into his mouthpiece. “All security to the main entrance. I repeat, all security to the main entrance!”
He already had his gun out, pointed discreetly at the ground. He considered for a second- what to do? Take them down now, and cause a huge commotion? Or try to get them inside, and risk them getting away? His choice was made for him. The four didn‟t seem to realize there‟d be lookouts; they headed directly for a security entrance on the far right. He pushed off the wall and followed them. “And what do you think you‟re doing?” he sneered, putting one hand on the handle the blonde was about to turn. She smiled at him sweetly, flashing a discreet look to her friend to tell her to do the same. “I‟m sorry, we were just trying to get into the auditorium,” she said, batting her eyelashes. Distracted, the guard didn‟t even see the beefy boy‟s fist until it connected with his head. He groaned and then fell to the ground, unconscious. “Nice one,” said the blond girl. The shorter girl nodded in agreement, eyeing him appreciatively. From his vantage point inside the hallway, another guard could see the teenagers open the door and creep inside. The dark-haired boy pulled out a gun and took the lead; the others fell back. The guard smirked to himself. Even with their abilities, these kids didn‟t stand a chance against thirty of his best men. No one did.
On the other side of the building, Ben straightened his tie and glanced over at the other three. Sam and Alicia were both dressed in neat skirts and blouses, and Derek had also been coaxed into a suit. At least they blended in. “Ready?” he said. They all nodded. He checked his watch. It was 10:47. He glanced at the two girls, who both looked sick and nervous. Derek, on the other hand, looked raring to go. He saluted Ben mockingly and stepped in front of him to open the door. Ben gritted his teeth but allowed Derek the lead.
“Wait,” said Sam suddenly. Derek froze with his hand on the handle. “Shouldn‟t we wait longer? We‟ve got almost fifteen minutes „til the speech. They‟re going to know we‟re here as soon as we walk through that door.” “I can‟t keep this up much longer,” growled Alicia, her teeth clenched. “Go. Now.”
Alicia groaned softly and slowly opened her eyes, allowing them to adjust to the brightness. She was in a small white room, thrust in a corner. Her hands were tied together, as were her feet. The other teenagers were slumped in other poses, still unconscious. She nudged the black-haired girl, who slowly woke. Alicia gestured to her hands, and with the other‟s help, her hands were soon freed. Alicia then quickly untied her own feet, then stood up and stretched. She went to the door and tried it, but without much hope. If they had left them alone in a room, of course it was locked. She frowned. Why hadn‟t they tried to drug them this time? She turned to the other three in the room and untied them, too. “Thanks,” said the dark-haired girl, rubbing her wrists ruefully. Looking at the others, Alicia felt satisfaction in their plan. She‟d manipulated herself into four Alicias, and then had transformed three of herselves to resemble the other teenagers. For Sam, she‟d put on dark makeup and dyed and curled her hair. For Derek, she‟d dyed her hair and cut it shaggily, then dressed like a guy. For Ben, she‟d cut her hair, then wore padded clothes to disguise her figure. The men hadn‟t noticed that all four of the captured teenagers had the exact same face. The four Alicia decoys were meant to attract as much attention as possible, so that Ben, Sam, and Derek could sneak in unnoticed from the back. She‟d even made a fifth her, and sent the last one to help the others, but she didn‟t think she‟d be able to keep that Alicia alive for long. She could only hold five Alicias for an hour or two, and the last one was hard to maintain because she was so far away from the rest.
The decoys had easily been overpowered by almost thirty guards, and Alicia assumed they‟d been knocked out. She wasn‟t surprised that they were captured instead of killed; Croftus probably wanted to speak to them privately. Alicia hoped the others would hurry. Otherwise, they‟d soon be working with three team members instead of four.
They hurried through the back passageways of the auditorium, but found no more guards. Ben checked his watch, growing anxious. There were only six minutes until the speech! Where was Croftus? They kicked down every door, but Croftus was nowhere to be found. What was more, the entire backstage was completely deserted. Ben started to feel like something was missing. Two minutes until the speech. “He‟s not here,” said Derek, voicing the thought they‟d been too afraid to realize. “He‟s got to be here,” Ben hissed, refusing to believe it. He yanked aside the heavy stage curtain. “Everyone important is here. He wouldn‟t stand up the President.” Just then, Sam heard footsteps approaching. She pressed the two boys back into a corner, signaling them to be quiet with a finger to her lips. “-downstairs, all locked up. He could‟ve just given the speech here,” one man was saying. “Well, he‟s only across town,” the other man said reasonably. “Not too far, so he can personally apologize to all these people afterward.” He sniggered. “That is, if any of them are left.” Sam melted out of the shadow and cleared her throat behind them; they both whirled, guns out, but she‟d already manipulated them into her hands. “Where is Croftus?” she said coldly. The first man glared at her. “Like we‟d tell you.” The other man seemed to be trying a different tactic. He was staring intently at her, pushing at her with his mind. She tried to resist, but he was clearly an expert. He was jabbing sharply at her, and her mind was weakening. She felt her resolve
wavering, and then a sharp pain as something within her snapped wide open. Her entire mind turned upside down for one unnerving second, and she fell back against the wall for support. The men moved as if to escape, but Derek was already there with his gun, threatening them and shooting their feet. She barely heard his cry of triumph as one of the men revealed the address. She barely felt Ben‟s concerned arms around her. She realized she was crying. Faintly, she heard Ben‟s murmurs of reassurance, but they didn‟t know what was wrong. They couldn‟t know the reason she was upset. She‟d just lost her manipulation.
chapter twenty-five new address Derek didn‟t know what was wrong with Sam, but he did know they didn‟t have time to waste, so he and Ben hustled her out of the Rowling building and into Phil‟s waiting rented van as soon as possible. Derek shot the address at Phil, who immediately peeled away from the curb. “What happened?” Hannah asked anxiously from the front seat. “Is Sam hurt? Where‟s Alicia?” Phil slammed on the brake. Ben and Derek locked gazes. “She must have dissolved when we were leaving,” Ben murmured. “Just go,” Derek instructed. “They‟re just keeping her prisoner,” he explained to Ben. “They won‟t hurt her.” Slowly, Ben nodded. “He‟s right. Stopping the speech is our main priority right now.” He glanced at the clock. 11:07. “Don‟t worry,” said Hannah, noticing his gaze. “There‟s always an introduction speech; that‟ll take at least ten or fifteen minutes.” Derek laughed humorlessly to himself. They were facing the end of ninety-nine percent of humankind, and Hannah told them not to worry. She‟d always been an optimist. Alicia sighed and stared at her three other selves. They were out cold; she had to keep them like that because she needed to conserve all the energy she had left, and having four people alert and sitting prisoner was just as effective as one person alert and sitting prisoner. She felt bad about leaving her friends, but she just couldn‟t keep up five persons for long, especially not when one was so far away from the others. Now all she had to do was sit tight until the others came to rescue her. “Alicia?” said Ben. She touched her earpiece, suddenly alert. “Yes?” “We‟re on our way to the other location. Can you hold on for now?”
“What? Why?” “Croftus is about to begin his speech,” said Ben hastily. “We don‟t have time to come and get you.” The microphone abruptly crackled off. “Great,” she mumbled under her breath. Now she was on her own. Suddenly a tall figure appeared in front of her, quietly replacing the door in the frame and glancing around cautiously. He sighted Alicia before she had time to do anything. “Alicia!” “Connor!” she said in relief, leaping up and hugging him. He hushed her, but he was smiling. “Careful. There are three guards out there; I had to freeze time to get in here.” He glanced around the room and his eyes lit up as he noticed the others. “Am I finally getting to meet the others?” He glanced at the dark-haired girl sprawled facedown nearest him. “Sam, right?” “No, the others are breaking in the back way. These are all me.” He gently rolled the girl onto her back and inhaled sharply as he took in her face. “It is you! But the disguise is excellent…would‟ve fooled me…” He pronounced the Derek and Ben lookalikes almost as convincing. “I was supposed to attract as much attention as possible,” she explained. Connor continued examining the Alicias as she spoke. “We went in the front and got captured pretty quickly. I got knocked out, but when I woke up I decided to leave them all unconscious. Uses less of my energy. I‟ve got to keep them here, though, in case they check on us.” “I‟ve been really worried,” Connor said finally, kneeling back. “When you didn‟t meet me again. I thought you‟d been captured or killed! Went to your apartment but no one was there. You really scared me.” “KP kidnapped Hannah and we had to rescue her,” Alicia retorted crossly. “And as soon as we got back we had to focus on stopping the speech.” “Yeah? And how‟s that working out for you?” Connor demanded. “You‟re trapped here and the others will be lucky to make it to the real location by the time my dad‟s done!”
“At least we tried!” Alicia replied. “What did you do? You knew the speech wasn‟t here, but you‟re still here. What good are you doing?” “There was still so much I had to tell you!” Connor said loudly. “If you hadn‟t screwed everything up, we could‟ve worked together! Now it‟s too late!” “It‟s not too late!” she hissed angrily, her voice rising as well. “Ben, Sam, and Derek are going to stop your dad and kill him!” “Keep quiet!” Connor snarled. “You‟ll get the guards!” But it was too late. Footsteps were pounding down the corridor toward them, and as the door flew open, banging loudly against the wall, three burly men armed with large, ugly guns burst in. Connor had just enough time to grab Alicia‟s hand and freeze the world before the men reached them. He began talking very quickly. “We have to trust that your friends will get the job done and stop my dad. Neither of us can get over there in time to make a difference, and you‟re stuck here being a decoy anyway.” She started to argue, but he cut her off, speaking, if possible, even more rapidly. “I‟m only here because I just found something out. There are two heads of KP- my father‟s only one of them, and I‟ve just found the other out. She‟s been controlling my father for who knows how long, and she knows there‟s a chance he‟ll be attacked. She‟s here but she won‟t be for long. I‟ve got to track her and kill her. If she survives today, anything your friends do will be for nothing.” His words were tripping over each other in their haste to reach Alicia‟s ears. “You need to get out of here and be my backup. If she kills me I‟ve got to know someone can still catch her before she gets to the Supreme Tower.” The scene around them flickered; the men charged forward for the tiniest fraction of a second before Connor regained control. He was panting and sweat was pouring down his face. “I‟ll meet you at-” But then he lost the manipulation; Connor collapsed to the ground as the guards, unfrozen at last, descended upon him and dragged him away. One roughly pushed Alicia to the ground, too, and the door slammed shut. Alicia slumped to the wall in
despair: her one outside ally was gone, captured or worse. And if he was telling the truth, she needed to escape. Now. The car skidded to a stop in front of an ordinary-looking office building, only about ten stories high. Derek checked the time: 11:14. The only reason they‟d gotten there so fast was because the streets were practically deserted- was everyone really watching the speech? Croftus had probably already started. How long would it take
him to convince everyone that they don‟t exist?
“Go!” Phil urged, and Derek realized that Ben and Sam were already out of the car and waiting impatiently on the sidewalk. He stumbled out of the car; Ben spared him only one scathing glance before taking off towards the door of the building. Sam seemed to have gotten over whatever was wrong with her, because she was hot on his heels. Derek scrambled to catch up, pulling his gun out as he ran. “Don‟t you think,” he panted, as Ben wrenched open the door, “that we should try not to...” They were standing in a large lobby. At the very far end, Croftus himself was standing at a podium, speaking directly to a large video camera manned by a man in black. A dozen or so other people with KP logos had been milling around, talking to each other or watching Croftus, but had all turned to stare aggressively at the intruders. “...let them know we‟re here?” Derek finished. Too late. Croftus didn‟t glance up from his speech and Derek felt a hot flash of anger. Didn‟t he think they were a threat? With another stab of fury he noticed Nicole standing near the camera. She noticed him and winked. He flipped her off. “Way to antagonize them,” Ben hissed. “Oh, like you running in here did any good?” Derek shot back. “Sam,” Ben muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “now would be a nice time to pull down the ceiling...” She didn‟t have the heart to tell him she couldn‟t.
Alicia took a deep breath. She was already tired from manipulating all day, but she didn‟t really have much choice. If Connor had been telling the truth- and Alicia was sure he was, what reason did he have to lie? –there was little time to catch the other head of KP before she made her escape. Some more details from Connor would have been nice, but she wasn‟t one to doubt him. Besides, Alicia did not want to still be imprisoned if Croftus finished his speech uninterrupted and showed up here. One, that‟d mean everyone was dead and the others failed. Two, who knows what he‟d do to her…She knew all too well his incredible mind ability. She squeezed her eyes shut. “Yes!” crowed Alicia. She looked around. She was in a narrow hallway, dingy and windowless. She stood in front of a white door, but also in front of a woman with a gun. The three guards who had dragged Connor away had vanished. “What the…” said the woman, looking astounded. She fumbled with the holster at her side for a second, but Alicia already had her gun pressed between her eyes. The woman gulped and raised her hands slowly into the air. “They don‟t make them like they used to, huh?” Alicia said, forcing the woman up against the wall. She started to frisk her, looking for hidden weapons. Then she felt a thin veil creep over her thoughts. She fought to remain in control of her mind, but her body was obeying the intruder- relaxing, slowly removing the gun, stepping back… She gathered all of her mental strength and stabbed at the intrusion with as much force as she could muster. The woman gasped and Alicia felt a flash of triumph as the manipulation ruptured; she forced her mind through the gap before it could be closed, then turned her attention to ridding herself of the remaining fragments. With a tremendous effort, she wrenched her mind back from the woman with a force that surprised both of them. Alicia pressed the gun back between the woman‟s eyes and glared at her. “Try that again and I will shoot you,” she warned. The woman stared back with intense hatred in her eyes. “You don‟t deserve to live,” she hissed.
“That‟s your opinion,” said Alicia. “But, unfortunately for you, it‟s my opinion that matters right now. And I‟ll let you live.” The woman spat in her face. “You know what?” Alicia said, whirling. “I‟ve changed my mind. You don‟t deserve to live, either.” And with a quick movement of her finger, Alicia was standing alone in the corridor. Derek raised the gun again and scanned the room. He was pleased to take full credit for the six dead terrorists scattered across the lobby, but there were still at least ten others taking cover. The good thing, however, was that KP seemed completely unprepared for an attack; clearly, they hadn‟t counted on their new location being discovered. Plus, they probably thought they had all four teenagers captured. Thanks to Alicia. He scanned the lobby again. He, Ben, and Sam were crouched behind a couch near the entrance. After the initial surprised stare down, Derek had pulled out his gun and started sniping everyone he could. He‟d gotten six of them, too, before there were answering gunshots and Ben yanked him behind a couch. “We can‟t stay here forever,” Sam said quietly. “I don‟t know how much more time Croftus will need.” Ben nodded. “I‟ll go,” he said. When Sam looked about to protest, he continued. “I‟m bulletproof, remember? Derek- see how many you can get when they come out to stop me.” Sam looked resigned and Derek nodded grimly, tightening his finger on the trigger. “Stay here, okay?” Ben whispered to Sam, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear. “I don‟t want you to get hurt.” Turning, he sprinted out from behind the sofa. Sam heard the immediate ear-splitting rattle of gunshots for a second or two, and then utter silence. She and Derek exchanged worried looks. Had they shot Ben
down so quickly?
Derek glanced around the edge of the couch; thankfully, Ben was still up, fighting hand-to-hand with half a dozen KP agents. Derek frowned- why were none of them using guns? Then he saw Nicole manning the camera and understood. They
don‟t want anything to interfere with Croftus‟ speech. Ben‟s gun lay abandoned a few
yards away; someone had probably forced it out of his hands. Derek steeled himself and rolled out from behind the couch. He knelt and aimed, but there were pillars in the way and he didn‟t have a clear shot at any of the men. He ran silently around the perimeter of the enormous lobby, trying to find a good vantage point. From her position in the back, Sam peeped fearfully from over the couch. Her gun was clutched in one hand, and her knife in the other, but she couldn‟t will herself into the fight. She wasn‟t much of a fighter even with her manipulation, and now that it was gone, she‟d be killed instantly. Instead, she watched and waited as Croftus brought humankind closer to its end with every word out of his mouth… Alicia stumbled through the open door and almost fell onto the sidewalk, blinking in the bright sunlight. The sidewalk was mostly empty; clearly everyone had filed into the speech already. She bit her lip in concentration- what to do? Head straight to the Supreme Tower and try to head the woman off? Or hang around and try to spot her as she was leaving? But how would she be able to tell which agent was the head? In fact, how did Connor even know? It must‟ve been a very well-kept secret if Croftus‟ own son hadn‟t known he was simply a puppet, even after multiple searches of his private offices. The only thing Alicia could think of that would have alerted Connor to the pretense was if he actually witnessed the unidentified woman manipulating his father. Alicia frowned to herself, trying desperately to work through the logic. Connor had only recently, probably hours ago at most, discovered the woman. He‟d immediately headed to the Rowling Theatre, meaning he knew the woman to be there. He‟d checked the guarded room, perhaps supposing that the woman would be safely concealed there. Yet he also knew she was soon to leave for the Supreme Tower,
where presumably she would make her getaway if Croftus was indeed attacked and killed before the plan succeeded. How did he know all this? Connor had likely first been at the other location, Alicia mused. Then he‟d witnessed something- what? –that had convinced him to travel across town and place the fate of his father in the hands of Ben, Sam, and Derek, instead choosing to attempt to take out the woman, whom he clearly saw as more of a threat. Alicia knew that it was possible to manipulate someone through a television, but doubted it would work on the phone; eye contact, at least with the camera, seemed very important. Then something clicked. She flagged down a cab and jumped in. “The Supreme Tower,” she ordered, tossing a wad of bills at the man. “And hurry.”
chapter twenty-six showdown Ben slammed the last KP agent to the ground and sprinted the last few feet, arriving directly behind the camera that Croftus was still addressing. He could vaguely see Derek grappling with a Hispanic woman off to his left, but he could only think of Croftus. “And I‟ll give you a chance to mull that over, and we‟ll be right back after this short break,” said Croftus, smiling at the camera. A light blinked off, and he turned and fixed Ben with a heavy stare. “Aren‟t you supposed to be at the other location?” he said, frowning. “I was told they‟d captured all you brats over there.” Ben said nothing. Croftus pulled a tiny pistol out of his pocket and pointed it at Ben. “I could shoot you right now, couldn‟t I, Ben? But that wouldn‟t do much good with you, I‟m afraid.” He replaced the gun in his pocket. “You have a gun, though, Ben. You could shoot me right now and end this whole thing.” Ben nodded and trained his gun on Croftus. “That‟s right. I could. And unless you start talking, now, I‟ll be shooting you very soon.” He cocked the gun. “How many people are in KP?” “Is that a threat, Ben?” said Croftus, softly and dangerously. He did not wait for a response but acted immediately. Ben felt his arms throw the gun yards away and snap back to his sides in less than a second. “I think you will find that threatening me will do you very little good, Ben,” Croftus smiled widely and walked to a door in the wall behind him. Ben followed. “Now, since you can do nothing to hurt me, and I have no intention of killing you just yet, let‟s have a little talk.” They entered a small sitting room. Ben was vaguely aware of himself sitting down in one of two plush armchairs. Croftus sat in the other and surveyed him thoughtfully over interlaced fingers.
“What are we to do with you?” he mused out loud. “You continually screw up my plans- at great expense to both myself and Knowledge is Power, I might add. If we cannot convince you to come to the right side, you will have to be killed.” “The right side?” Ben said, sitting up and clenching his fists. “You really believe that garbage?” “How can I not?” Croftus exclaimed. “Look at the world, Ben! Look! It is a terrible, disgusting, ruthless place entirely populated by terrible, disgusting, ruthless people. Is that right to you?” He continued without pausing. “Let me tell you how I lost all shred of respect for humanity. “I was in New York City one day, walking along the streets. I‟d just come from church- I‟m Catholic, you know –and we‟d heard the parable of the Good Samaritan. I‟m sure you‟ve heard of it; everyone has. It‟s the one where a man is beaten and robbed and supposedly good people walk by him without helping him. That‟s what I saw in New York, Ben. A man was begging for money at the corner of a street, and he reached out a hand to a businessman walking by. The businessman yelled at him and pushed him, into the street, in front of a cab. The beggar was hit and crumpled to the ground, bleeding. And do you know what happened, Ben?” Ben winced inside and shook his head. He did not want to know what had happened. “The businessman laughed. I was close to him, Ben, and I could hear what he said next. He said, „Thank God I‟ve rid the world of another piece of vermin.‟ And then he walked off. The cab driver just maneuvered around the beggar and took off. No one stopped to help. Not even all those supposed Catholics who‟d just been to church.” “That doesn‟t usually happen,” Ben argued. “That was an exception…” “Was it?” Croftus said, leaning closer. There was a fanatical gleam in his eyes. “Remember the news, Ben? Full of stories of war and violence, of murder and rape. The world is a horrifying place. We needed a way to start over. Think of how happy I was when I found that way!” He was staring past Ben now, caught up in his delusions. “The perfect way! Almost everyone would be gone, and those that remained had
proved their worthiness…with only the Perfect Race left, humankind would not remake its mistakes, but instead, grow, and prosper…” “You‟re crazy,” said Ben, his voice shaking. “Completely crazy.” “I am sorry that you think that,” said Croftus. His attention had snapped back to Ben completely. “You would undoubtedly have been an asset to our new world. But that, it seems, is no longer an option. And that means you have to die.” Derek pushed Nicole to the ground and stumbled towards the door Ben had disappeared through. He desperately wanted to finish her off, but helping Ben stop Croftus took precedence over his personal revenge. But he had only gotten a few yards when he felt his legs lock together. “Where are you going, Derek?” she crooned behind him. He willed his body to move, but she had a complete lock on his mind. He could hear her stilettos clicking softly across the marble as she moved toward him. “I‟m afraid you‟ll never leave this room again.” He watched, enraged, as she sauntered in front of him and lazily pulled out a gun. This close, he could see the eyeliner smudged under her eyes and the tiny mole above her lips. “You‟ll be-” Something slammed into her from the side, and she immediately crumpled to the ground. Derek felt his mind relax, and he grabbed the gun from where it had fallen to the ground and shot her through the head. “Thank you,” he said fervently, turning to face his savior. “Welcome,” said Sam, dusting herself off. “That‟s the thing with the good agents- they‟re too good. You can‟t fight them, you‟ve just got to take them by surprise and finish it quick.” He glanced around the room. “Did we get them all, then?” Sam frowned. “I think so. Ben killed a lot of them. Ben!” she exclaimed, remembering. “Where is he?” “He went through there, with Croftus,” Derek pointed. She looked shocked, and he steadied her. “Stay here- I‟ll go take care of it.”
She would have protested further, but her cell phone rang and she recognized Alicia‟s personalized ring tone. “Hello?” said Sam. “Sam! Hi!” Alicia shouted. “I need you to do me a favor. You‟re where Croftus is, right? Is there a laptop around there?” It was an odd question, but Sam didn‟t doubt her friend. She glanced around the area quickly. “N-Yes.” An open Mac was tucked neatly into one of the shelves in the back of the podium. “Are there any programs open?” Sam clicked on an icon in the bottom. “Yeah. One. A videochat program, I think.” She selected the most recent conversation. “Alicia- it‟s the woman I worked for! Caroline Browne!” She hit play and Caroline began to talk, staring intently at the camera the entire time. Sam‟s head began to feel a bit woozy, but Caroline seemed to be drawing her into the screen… “Sam!” Alicia said sharply. “Turn it off. That‟s all I needed to know. Oh my gosh!” There was a pause. “She‟s in the car behind me! Maybe I can just get rid of her now…maybe if I can just get one good shot in before she notices…” There was the sound of rapid gunshots. “Damn, it looks like she‟s on to me-” The connection broke and Sam heard a dial tone. She stared at the phone in her hand for a few seconds, breathing heavily. Was Alicia okay? She glanced up at the door that Ben, Derek, and Croftus had disappeared through. Was anyone okay anymore? Derek burst loudly through the door, panting. He had a second‟s eye contact with Ben, who glanced up from a chair facing the door, before Croftus turned and shot him. Ben let out a strangled gasp as Derek collapsed instantly. He half-rose out of his seat, but Croftus looked sternly at him and Ben returned to the chair. “Let‟s just get rid of that irritating little protection on your mind, shall we?” said Croftus, smiling at Ben. “I wouldn‟t want anyone else to, ah, interrupt us.”
Ben glared at him silently, but Croftus didn‟t seem much bothered. “Close your eyes,” he instructed, and Ben felt himself obey. He clenched his fists against the chair, frustrated beyond belief. He‟d gone through so much, only to die like a puppet? “Clear your mind,” Croftus continued. Ben‟s mind wiped clean, and in his mind‟s eye he saw only blackness. “Now, I want you to think about…wait a second,” said Croftus. He seemed to be considering something. “Won‟t it just be much easier if I do…this?” He held the gun out to Ben invitingly. Ben took it slowly, wondering if it was a trap. As soon as his fingers closed around the handle, he knew it was; Croftus had snapped back into control of his mind instantly. Ben watched his arm place the gun against his own forehead and heard it cock. “Much easier, don‟t you think?” said Croftus, watching him amusedly. Ben was panting from the effort of trying to resist. He gritted his teeth together and pushed against the mind control as hard as he could. He would not kill himself. He could feel Croftus wrapped around his consciousness, hiding control from Ben. Ben stabbed against the intrusion; his will was weakening, but he looked up at Croftus, who was pale and sweaty as he struggled to hold control, and Ben‟s strength returned and with one final surge he broke the manipulation. His arm dropped to his side and his fingers went limp around the gun, which clattered to the floor. “So,” said Croftus through clenched teeth, “Phil and Hannah have been teaching you some tricks, have they?” Ben‟s elation was short-lived; he knew that he couldn‟t win a showdown like that again. “It doesn‟t matter,” said Croftus, when Ben was silent. “I‟ll just have to do this the hard way…Close your eyes,” he instructed again. “Clear your mind…” Croftus‟ manipulation was much sneakier this time; Ben felt himself relax even as he tried desperately to maintain his tension. His shoulders drooped and his head thudded forward as his mind blanked. He tried halfheartedly to resist, but his fears were realized: he had no strength left.
“Think about that layer on your mind,” Croftus said quietly. “It‟s there. Phillip and Hannah put that on you when you very little, did you know that, Ben? From the beginning you never meant anything to them. You were just a part of their little experiment.” “They were protecting us,” Ben forced out, trying to fill his mind with something other than the empty blackness. “Protecting you?” Croftus scoffed. “They didn‟t care about you, Ben. They cared about their own selfish interests and needed you to survive. Remember what happened to Robert? That could have been you.” Ben said nothing. “It would have been you, too, Ben, if I hadn‟t stepped in. You see, Phillip and Hannah didn‟t intend to let you live much longer, I‟m afraid. You were already starting to question their motives. What if you turned on them? You were a threat.” Ben‟s face grew hot and his throat closed. “That‟s not true.” “Is it?” said Croftus mildly. “Do you really want to continue to be their plaything, Ben? Let your mind see the world the way it should be seen. See the truth, Ben. The truth.” Croftus‟ voice continued along a similar tangent, but to Ben it faded away. The room was swimming as Ben‟s mind flipped backwards through every one of his memories, flying through years at a breathtaking pace. Ben tried to stop himself, but his mind was beyond his conscious control; it was speeding toward its own destruction, intent on destroying the façade that had hidden the world for so long. Faster and faster, then the memories were gone and there was simply a shiny, reflective surface. A mirror. Ben saw his own startled face reflected back at him for one millisecond, but then his mind gave one final push and the mirror shattered, leaving Ben cold, vulnerable, and alone.
chapter twenty-seven death by manipulation “This is good, thanks!” Alicia shouted, opening the back door. The cabbie started swearing in indignation, slamming on the brakes as Alicia fell ungracefully to the pavement. Unfortunately Caroline‟s driver seemed to be a bit quicker on the uptake; she had already exited her cab and was disappearing through the doors of the Supreme Tower as Alicia got up and brushed herself off. Dashing through the other two lanes of traffic, she paused on the sidewalk and quickly surveyed the closest lane. There didn‟t seem to be any getaway vehicles waiting…how was Caroline planning to escape? And why was she going into the building? A whirring noise caught her attention and she looked up at the sky, using a hand to shield her eyes from the bright sun. A black helicopter was just maneuvering onto the top of the tower. Although she couldn‟t tell from this distance, Alicia knew that it, too, bore the purple seal of KP. It all made sense now. Caroline had been at the Rowling Theatre to oversee the fake speech and to ensure the pretense was kept up as long as possible. But once the speech had already started and it was clear it was coming from somewhere else, Caroline‟s part was played and she was able to head safely to the Supreme Tower to wait it out on the off chance that someone tracked down Croftus and was able to stop the speech. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Croftus, as the only other KP agent skilled enough in manipulation, was delivering the real speech. Croftus would be the only one in danger, because anyone who arrived at the Rowling Theatre to stop the speech would quickly realize he was nowhere to be found. The ruse was, after all, welldesigned. It was only by luck that Connor witnessed the last-minute instructions Caroline imparted to Leonard Croftus, or that Ben overheard the agents talking about the other location. Alicia shook her head and tore into the Supreme Tower. She had
no way of knowing how the others were faring, but all she could do was try to stop Caroline and hope that humanity was still around to see it. Ben sat in shock, staring at his lap. The world seemed clearer somehow- more vibrant, his senses sharper. Phil had been right; Croftus had used Ben‟s own mind against him to destroy Ben‟s only protection. “Much better, don‟t you think?” Croftus said softly. Unwillingly, Ben raised his eyes and found himself staring down the barrel of the gun. “You could manipulate and allow this bullet to bounce off you, or go through you,” Croftus mused. “But your confidence is very shaken, Ben. Who knows if your manipulation will hold? It appears that death by manipulation, even though it‟s fast, is very painful.” He smiled slowly. Ben stared at the gun. Inside he was torn. What should he do? Allow himself to be shot or try to stop it, risking his own death by manipulation? He swallowed. Then the entire world slowed down, or maybe it was just the adrenaline rushing through Ben‟s veins that allowed him to perceive several things in rapid succession. Croftus finger tightened on the trigger. Behind him, the door to the tiny room flew open. Croftus began to turn, but Ben remembered what had happened to Derek and he grabbed Croftus‟ wrist, hitting the gun to the floor. Croftus was caught off guard, but Ben quickly felt the familiar control creeping over his mind, but then there was a loud gunshot and Croftus slumped down in his seat, blood trickling out of a perfect circle in his forehead. Behind him, Sam stood, panting, with a gun clutched in her hands. Sam stared at Ben, breathing heavily. “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I guess,” Ben said slowly, getting up. He couldn‟t believe what had just happened. “How did you do that?” “I was outside listening the whole time,” said Sam, staring down at Croftus‟ body. “Guess I was just lucky that I picked the time he was distract- what happened to
Derek?” She dropped to her knees and felt his neck for a pulse.
“Derek tried to help me, too, but Croftus wasn‟t distracted,” said Ben grimly. He watched Sam crying softly over her brother and felt a sharp pang of regret. How many times had he inwardly cursed Derek for his attention to Alicia, his annoyingly clever retorts, his easy confidence? And now Derek had sacrificed himself to try to save Ben. “He‟s alive,” gasped Sam, cradling him in her arms. “He‟s still alive! Give me your shirt.” Ben stripped off his shirt immediately and watched as Sam tied it firmly over the wound in Derek‟s chest. He tried to hide his revulsion as blood immediately blossomed through the sheer fabric. The door flung open and Phil skidded to a halt. “What happened?” he gasped, keeping one hand on the doorknob to steady himself. He looked around the room, taking in Croftus, Sam, and Derek, and seemed to answer his own question. He pulled a cell phone from his belt and tossed it to Ben. “Call Alicia,” he ordered. “Sam, give me Derek. You two get yourselves over to Alicia- Hannah and I will meet you there. I have a feeling this isn‟t over yet.” Ben watched, confused, as Phil lifted Derek, staggering slightly under his weight, and hustled out the door. Sam turned her tearstained face to his and watched him anxiously. “What‟s going on? What does he mean, it‟s not over yet? Why do we have to help Alicia?” “I don‟t know,” said Ben helplessly, his fingers fumbling over the tiny keypad. Finally he entered Alicia‟s number and waited while it rang. She picked up after the first ring. “Hello? Ben? What‟s going on?” “Croftus is dead, Derek‟s been shot,” Ben said quickly. “We‟re fine. Phil said you needed our help, what‟s wrong?” “There‟s another here!” Alicia answered. “She‟s going to get away, though, if you don‟t get yourself over to the Supreme Tower to help me! Fast!” Sam watched, confused, as Ben‟s expression slowly morphed into determination. He gestured to her to follow and strode out the door quickly. She walked quickly behind him as they retraced their steps, weaving through the blood-stained lobby and
eventually ending out on the street. Still with one ear to the phone, he pointed at a motorcycle lying abandoned nearby. She understood and straddled the back; he jumped on the front and yanked on the clutch. “We‟ll be there as soon as we can,” he said into the phone and then snapped it shut, tossing it to the ground. “Hold on,” he said to Sam, and then the motorcycle roared into the streets. “What‟s happening?” Sam shouted over the wind. “Alicia has another agent at the Supreme Tower,” Ben yelled back. “She‟s trying to delay her until we get there.” “What if she gets away?” “Then this will all have been for nothing,” said Ben grimly. “Come on, come on, come on,” Alicia muttered impatiently, watching the elevator display slowly creep up. 23, 24, 25, 26… “Why can‟t we just let her go?” said another Alicia grouchily. She‟d manipulated herself into three in preparation for the coming fight with the woman. “They killed Croftus, right? It‟s not like she‟s gonna be able to do anything to us.” The elevator suddenly jolted to a stop and the lights flashed twice and then went out. The girls screamed and then stared at each other, wide-eyed, as the soft red emergency light flickered on. “She must‟ve cut the power on the whole building!” groaned the third Alicia, pulling the elevator doors open and looking down the long, dark shaft. “Now what?” “This is no big deal,” said Alicia soothingly. She concentrated for a second and then opened her eyes. She was standing right outside the elevator doors on the twenty-sixth floor. Soft morning sunlight was streaming in the hallway. She pressed an ear to the cold metal. “Can you guys hear me?” “Yes,” came the muffled responses. She smiled; she was in the right place. She concentrated for a second more and felt the other Alicias wink out of existence. It was too much effort to keep them there, and they weren‟t much use trapped in an elevator shaft, anyway. She would manipulate more of herself later, once she actually caught
up to this agent- what had Sam said her name was? She couldn‟t remember. Besides, she needed all of her strength if she was going to stop this KP agent- a woman who obviously knew what she was doing.
chapter twenty-eight puppeteer Alicia‟s footsteps echoed loudly in the deserted stairwell. She glanced at the large blue number as she rounded the corner. Floor 43. She looked up at the neverending cement staircase in despair. What were the chances she‟d get up to the roof in time?
Come to think of it…Alicia frowned. There was no way the woman could have
cut the power from the roof- and she wouldn‟t have bothered stopping Alicia if she‟d already made it to the top. So had she seen the elevator rising and stopped it on her way up? No, that didn‟t fit, either. Cutting off the entire building‟s power would involve something with the generator or energy source, both of which would be in the basement or lobby.
She must‟ve hid and waited for me to get in the elevator, Alicia realized. Then killed the power so I‟d be trapped. She gulped.
Turning it over in her mind, Alicia hurried up another a few flights of stairs. 44,
Alicia gasped sharply and stopped dead in her tracks as an awful thought struck her. If the KP woman had waited in the lobby to cut the power, she wouldn‟t have had time to get very far before Alicia got out of the elevator, which meant she was
somewhere behind Alicia on the stairs.
Alicia pressed herself to the wall and tried to listen over the sound of her pounding heart, but she heard nothing. Cautiously, she poked her head into the gap between staircases and looked up and down, but there was no one there. She must be
on the other staircase.
She opened the door with the big plastic 43 and raced down the long hallway. Luckily, this floor seemed to be laid out with a hallway cutting directly across the building, so she followed it to the end wall and stopped, panting, in front of the door marked Emergency Stairwell.
Alicia slowly opened the door, careful not to make any noise. She slipped into the stairwell and closed the door gently behind her. She could hear the clicking of heels against the granite staircase. The woman was here. But was she above or below Alicia? She tilted her head to the side and listened. She couldn‟t tell where the noise was coming from, but it was definitely getting closer. Which meant that if the woman was heading up, she must be behind Alicia. She deliberated for a second. Stay where she was and try to stop the woman en route? No. What if the KP agent cut over to the other staircase, or, worse yet, shot Alicia from behind? She shook her head. She‟d just head to the helicopter pad and ambush her there. Alicia quietly slipped off her high heeled shoes and started quickly climbing the staircase. 44, 45, 46… She stopped and listened again, frowning. The noise seemed to be getting closer. She poked her head into the gap and looked down, but saw no one. The clicking seemed to be approaching rapidly, and Alicia tensed. She braced herself against the wall, pulled out her gun, and stared down the staircase anxiously. The footsteps grew louder and louder and then…stopped. “Hello, Alicia,” said a cold voice. Alicia spun slowly on the spot. The woman was standing half a flight above her, pointing a gun at her chest. She didn‟t think but only acted. Another Alicia flashed into being behind the woman and punched her in the head. The woman staggered for a second but then flipped the gun around and shot the double before Alicia had time to dissolve her. Alicia cried out in pain and glared at her. The Alicia near the woman disappeared and only the original was left standing a flight below, angrily rubbing her shoulder. “Who are you?” “My name is Caroline Browne,” said the agent. “It‟s over, don‟t you know?” said Alicia angrily. She couldn‟t help herself. “We killed Croftus and stopped his speech! Your leader‟s dead. You can just give up. It‟s
over.” She took a few steps up the staircase tentatively, wondering if she could convince Caroline to surrender. “I know that,” Caroline hissed. “But this is only a minor setback. Croftus was nothing, don‟t you know that?” “Nothing?” said Alicia. “He was the founder of KP.” The woman screeched angrily. “Him? As if! No! I was the founder of KP, and I am the leader. He is only the face of KP; I am the real leader.” “That‟s not true,” Alicia protested, but her heart sank. “It has always been me,” snarled Caroline. “Even from the beginning! Almost twenty years ago, when I‟d first discovered quantem manipulation, even then- I knew I needed someone to front my organization. What if there were enemies to my noble cause? Enemies who would want to take down the leader? Why would I risk myself? It made much more sense to recruit Croftus and allow him to pretend to lead.” “No…” whispered Alicia. But Caroline was not listening anymore. “He thought we were partners, and that was fine with me. The manipulation I‟d done on him when we first met was strong enough that he‟d always end up deciding to do what I wanted anyway. Meanwhile I was free to recruit and experiment while he worked his way up. I allowed him to acquire his powers from Thomas Bell, who I‟d already tried to recruit but failed. Then, of course, Bell and all others had to be disposed of, especially since Bell had already showed opposition to my plans. Then it was simply a matter of experimenting until I knew everything about manipulation, expanding KP, and tracking down and killing all other students of quantem manipulation.” “Why are you telling me this?” Alicia asked in horror. “Because I want you to know how much you ruined!” Caroline shrieked. “And I want you to know that you‟ll have died in vain, because I‟m the true leader of KP and I‟ll be alive to fulfill our mission long after you‟re dead.” She cocked the gun and pointed it at Alicia.
Alicia dove to the ground as a shower of bullets began peppering the granite around her. She quickly manipulated four more Alicias, and the five of them headed up the stairs toward the gun. Caroline seemed to realize she would never be able to gun down all of them, so she turned and ran. Up and up the stairs she flew, with the five Alicias hot on her tail. Ben slammed his hand on the brake and the motorcycle stopped so suddenly that he and Sam both tumbled off. He helped her up. “Look!” she said, pointing to the top of the Supreme Tower. He looked; there was a helicopter waiting with its blades whirring. “That‟s probably for the KP woman.” They both stood and stared for a second before remembering why they were there. “Come on!” said Sam, tugging at Ben‟s arm, and the two sprinted into the Tower. When they reached the lobby, Ben headed directly for the elevators, but Sam stopped him. She pointed to the unlit lights all around them. “The power must be off- we can‟t take the elevator,” she realized. “The stairs it is,” said Ben in resignation, and they hurried to the closest stairwell. “You couldn‟t just leave it alone!” shouted Caroline down the steps. “You had to stop us!” “You would have killed everyone!” Alicia yelled. “We couldn‟t let that happen.” “I would have let you live,” Caroline replied. “I would have let you live if you‟d just let the undeserving die. You could have been part of the Perfect Race.” “Why not just kill me now?” Alicia panted, stumbling up the last few flights. “Because,” Caroline was standing in front of a metal door marked ROOF. “I am not a stupid woman, and I know I cannot overpower you. Your irritating power means I would have to control five minds at once and that is beyond even me. And there‟s no way I can shoot all of you when you keep making more.” She pulled out a different gun. “But I can do this.”
She fired and Alicia stumbled to the ground; vaguely she saw the other Alicias dropping to the ground as well. The last thing she saw was Caroline slipping through the iron door, and then her eyes closed.
chapter twenty-nine failure Ben staggered up the last flight of stairs, holding a stich in his side and gasping for air.
Finally. He nudged Sam and pointed to the entrance to the roof. She smiled but then
gasped in horror, pointing at the floor, where Alicia was lying on her back. “What happened here?” Ben crouched down and felt for a pulse. He sighed in relief; Alicia was still breathing. “She must have knocked her out,” Sam panted. Ben stood up and tried the door. He grimaced. “Locked. I‟ll have to go through.” “Ben, you can‟t!” Sam protested, leaping up. “You don‟t have your layer anymore- you could die!” “I have to try, don‟t I?” said Ben; his face was steely. He took a deep breath and walked through the door. Sam waited anxiously; a second later the door slid open and Ben grinned at her in relief. “It worked! Come on.” Sam glanced back at Alicia. “She‟ll be fine,” Ben insisted. “We‟ll get her on the way down.” She followed him up the steep staircase and waited patiently while he fumbled with the trapdoor. Finally, he flung it open and they climbed out, blinking in the blinding morning sun. Sam instinctively covered her ears; the loud whirring of the helicopter‟s blades was almost deafening. “Look!” Ben shouted. She followed his gaze to where a woman was running across the roof to the helicopter. Sam squinted as the woman turned and looked back at them-was that Caroline? “Caroline?” she breathed to herself. Ben was already sprinting toward Caroline, and in a few seconds he‟d used his perfect football tackle and brought her to the ground. She had two guns, but was clearly not much of a fighter, because within a minute he‟d wrestled both of them away from her. Sam hurried over; Ben handed her one. Then he turned and shot the pilot of
the helicopter, who was watching them from fifty feet away. The deafening roaring slowly faded into nothingness. “Ben!” Sam said sharply. “It was just a tranquilizer gun, right?” he said, looking at Caroline. “That‟s what you used on Alicia.” Caroline stared at them defiantly. “Right,” said Ben, taking charge. He took the real gun from Sam and slapped the tranquilizer one in her hands instead. He pointed it at Caroline sharply. “Try any manipulation on either of us and the other‟s going to put a bullet in your head before you get anywhere.” “It‟s been you all along, hasn‟t it?” Sam said slowly. “You let Croftus pretend to be in charge…but the whole time it‟s really been you.” Ben looked shocked, but Sam knew in her gut it was true. “Of course it was me,” Caroline snapped. “I built KP from the ground up! The entire Perfect Race was my idea.” “I wouldn‟t be proud of that,” Ben shot back. “Maybe if you knew anything about manipulation, you‟d think differently,” Caroline hissed. “Your friend Charles Terrence- he warned you, didn‟t he, Ben? He knows how terrible it is. And he didn‟t know a tenth of what I do!” “She‟s bluffing,” Sam said to Ben. “She doesn‟t know anything.” “Am I, Sam?” Caroline watched them, amused. “Did you know there are ways to reinstate abilities, even if your belief is gone?” Sam‟s head snapped around. “And,” Caroline continued, turning her attention to Ben, “there are foolproof ways of protecting yourself against death by manipulation...” He watched her, holding his breath. “You two would have undoubtedly been great assets to our Race,” she breathed. She got up slowly. Neither teenager made a move to stop her. “Too bad you two won‟t be around to see KP‟s real ascent to power.” She held out her hands. “Now, let me show you how real manipulation is done…”
Ben was aware of her gently pushing his mind, but he was so exhausted from the last few days and the mental strain of his showdown with Croftus that her gentle prodding seemed entirely harmless, and he allowed himself to be manipulated until he realized with a start that he and Sam had both tossed their guns aside. Caroline turned and began to run to the helicopter, but the door to the roof flew open and Hannah and Phil came tearing through. She had just reached the door when Hannah shouted, “Oh, no, you don‟t!” Immediately, Caroline froze. Hannah and Phil walked slowly over to her, circling her, examining her. “So it was you all along,” said Phil, and Ben had never heard such fury in his voice. “Let me go,” Caroline snarled. “What, you can‟t overpower us?” said Phil quietly. “Just two scientists, Caroline? Don‟t you consider yourself an expert in manipulation?” “Two against one and as you very well know, I‟m mentally exhausted,” Caroline spat. “Hardly fair odds- any other day I could kill you two weaklings without breaking a sweat!” “But this isn‟t any other day, is it?” Hannah said, circling the other woman. “This is the day all your dreams were supposed to come true- and tell me, how did that work out for you?” Caroline glared at Hannah, and there was such intense hatred in her eyes that Ben was surprised Hannah stood her ground; he would have cowered before such a powerful gaze. “You may have destroyed most of KP, but there are others. And I will build them up again. And this time,” she said, turning to Ben and Sam, “I‟ll be sure to take out you stupid kids before it‟s too late!” With that she gave an earsplitting shriek and both Phil and Hannah stumbled forward; she seemed to have wrenched control of her mind back from them. “Ben, your gun!” Phil yelled desperately. He fell to the ground, scrambling to pick it up in time, but Caroline had already turned- now she was yanking the door open, pulling the unconscious pilot out, starting
the rotor…He began a desperate run to stop her, passing Sam, who was still looking for the guns. Then the door to the roof flew open and Alicia sprinted across the roof as the helicopter began to slowly, haltingly, rise off the ground. Sam found one of the guns and began firing at the helicopter. Ben made a desperate grab for the helicopter but came down just a few feet short. Alicia skidded to a halt halfway across the roof and closed her eyes. Sam shouted in triumph as the glass front of the helicopter shatteredshe‟d connected-and continued shooting. Another bullet connected with the rear of the helicopter and gasoline began leaking out. “Alicia, what are you doing?” Hannah screamed, passing the motionless girl and pulling out a pistol of her own, desperately attempting to gun down the helicopter. The new Alicia in the back of the helicopter blinked and glanced around as she tried to orient herself with her surroundings. She clutched the side of the cabin for support as the helicopter careened dangerously to one side. She heard Caroline scream and looked up in time to see the side window shatter; either Sam or Hannah had connected again. Alicia scrambled to the front- maybe she could push Caroline out of the now gaping hole in the side“Alicia.” She looked up just in time to see Caroline press a gun against her forehead. “Lights out,” she whispered. The last thing Alicia saw was a triumphant smirk before Caroline pulled the trigger.
chapter thirty morals “Well, they‟re both going to be fine,” said Phil heavily, sinking into a plush chair next to Ben. Ben sighed in relief; suddenly, the hospital waiting room didn‟t look quite as ominous. “But they had a lot taken out of them,” he added. “Wouldn‟t be surprised if it takes them a few weeks to recover.” Ben nodded, his throat tight. The pain he‟d felt watching Alicia‟s lifeless body tumble out of the helicopter was too great to remember, eclipsed only by the panic he‟d felt when he‟d seen the rooftop Alicia pass out cold. “You did very well, Ben,” Phil said quietly. “Couldn‟t have trusted any of the others to get everyone through safely.” “There are still a few things I don‟t get,” he said finally, when he was able to speak. “One thing- I don‟t understand why KP had to go through all of that trouble to get on Greene‟s televised speech. I mean, couldn‟t they have just bought up all the airtime on some program or something? And not that many people watch the speech, anyway.” “You‟re right, of course, but it‟s probably one of the most-watched programs they could have interrupted,” Phil clarified. “And they had to strike the entire country simultaneously. What if Croftus had just given a speech to New York? Once word got out that ninety-nine percent of the population had dropped dead because of his speech, I don‟t think many other people would be keen on letting him anywhere near them.” “But Caroline got away! Can‟t she just buy up the next Olympics ceremony or something? Or even just get out on the streets and start converting?” Ben said desperately. Now that he was sure Alicia and Derek were going to recover, this was the emotion pressing down on him the most: this sense of futility, like everything they had suffered through had been for nothing. “Remember what happened after Alicia got shot? What did I say to you?”
“Yeah, you told me and Sam to take Alicia straight to the hospital, that Derek was already there, and that you and Hannah would meet us there.” “Don‟t you want to know where Hannah and I went?” Ben glanced up and saw that Phil was smiling. “You caught Caroline, didn‟t you!” “No, but rest assured, she won‟t be manipulating anyone for at least a few weeks. I jumped in my car and followed her. I knew she couldn‟t be going far, because one of Sam‟s shots had hit the gas tank and it was already pretty empty. I was right- she was headed just a few towns over to the airport. Well, you know what she said about being mentally exhausted?” “Yeah.” “I drove about a thousand miles an hour and beat her to the airport, since she had to find a spot to land the helicopter. Then I manipulated the attendants to say that every flight was sold out, except the next one to Iran. Then I hid and waited. When she arrived, she only asked for a ticket to the next flight out- clearly she thought we might be following. The attendant sold her a ticket to Iran. The plan had worked. I called Hannah to let her know, and then I found the pilot of the flight, and manipulated him to believe that he must land the plane in Siberia or risk a terrorist attack.” “Brilliant!” said Ben, laughing. “So she‟s in Siberia?” “Oh, I doubt that. But while Caroline was en route to Siberia, Hannah took the next flight to New York and quickly got herself in touch with the right people. With the help of a little manipulation, Caroline is now officially banned from re-entering the United States- her passport was destroyed. She will be stuck either in Iran or Siberia for weeks while the paperwork files.” “Excellent,” grinned Ben. “Now, this is Caroline, so I‟m sure it will take her a day or two at most to regain her full manipulative abilities. But Hannah was also in touch with the Iran and Siberia authorities, and manipulated them so each is convinced Caroline should under no circumstances be allowed to leave their country. Hopefully she will be detained in Siberia, then Iran, before she‟ll be able to get back to the United States. The passport
paperwork itself will hold her up at least a month, no matter how much she bribes people. I think it‟s safe to say we‟ve bought ourselves a few weeks.” “But,” said Ben, a terrible thought striking him, “can‟t she just work from Siberia or Iran? She can recruit there as well as anywhere!” “Ah, but you‟re forgetting the essentialness of language to her cause. Yes, mostly everyone speaks English, but it is much easier to convince someone in their native language- the ideas of quantem manipulation are very hard to comprehend, and someone must have a complete grasp on English to really stand a chance of being convinced.” He put a hand on Ben‟s shoulder. “Don‟t worry, Ben. Caroline won‟t be bothering anybody for a while.” “Good,” said Ben quietly. Then he thought of something else. “And we‟ll be able to get my protection back, too, won‟t we? Once we track her down?” “You know, I‟ve been wondering a lot about that myself,” said Phil honestly. “Hannah and I have that layer of manipulation holding our thoughts in place put in by Bell, but I‟m not sure if Caroline has one, which means she must be cementing her mind together somehow. Because with our form of manipulation, death by manipulation results not in actual death, but in death of the mind.” Seeing Ben‟s blank look, he clarified, “We‟d go insane.” “Oh,” Ben said, subdued. “And you‟ll be able to get Sam‟s manipulation back, too, right?” Phil hesitated. “I can‟t promise that. You I know we can fix because Caroline proves there‟s a way to manipulate safely without that initial layer. But Sam…” “But Caroline said there was a way!” “She may have been just trying to get you and Sam worked up,” Phil said grimly. “There‟s no guarantee anything she said then was true. She was under a lot of pressure to keep you and Sam distracted.” “I know there‟s a way,” Ben repeated stubbornly. “There‟s a way.” “Ben, at this point you just believe whatever you want to believe, okay?” Phil had his eyes closed and was leaning heavily against the wall. “What do you mean?” Ben was momentarily thrown.
“Manipulation‟s screwed with my life so much, I‟m not sure I know what‟s real and what‟s not anymore.” Phil sighed heavily. “For all I know, we‟re all just crazy already and we can‟t do any of this physics-bending stuff.” “You know that‟s not true,” Ben said, trying to remain calm, but he couldn‟t pretend the thought hadn‟t occurred to him, either. “Do I? I don‟t know anything anymore. Sometimes I question if it really is such an inherently evil thing, for humans to control others, to mess with the way the world works.” “Yeah, me too,” said Ben sadly, staring at the ground. “Me too.”
chapter thirty-one explanations Derek woke slowly. He blinked a few times and realized he was lying in a bedthe third time in the past week he‟d woken up somewhere different than where he had fallen asleep. How irritating. Why did people keep moving him? He opened his eyes and surveyed the tiny white room in confusion. Where was he? It looked like a hospital room. But why would he be in a hospital? He wasn‟t sick or anything. Derek fell back against the itchy pillow and tried to remember what had happened. They‟d broken into the Rowling Theatre…found out that the actual speech was being filmed across town…gotten to the hotel, fought a bunch of agents….Ben was off with Croftus, Derek tried to rescue him, and then…nothing.
Croftus must‟ve shot me, Derek realized. Then he panicked. What if the others
hadn‟t managed to stop Croftus? What if he wasn‟t in a hospital, but was a prisoner of Croftus right now? What if everyone was dead? He heard footsteps in the hall and tensed, but it was only a pretty blonde woman in scrubs who walked by his window, smiling. A few seconds later two men in white lab coats with clipboards hurried by in the opposite direction. Derek felt relieved. If KP and Croftus had succeeded, the world wouldn‟t be continuing as normal. “Hi, Derek,” said Hannah, coming in the room and smiling. “How are you feeling?” “Fine,” said Derek truthfully. “What happened?” He knew that the others had probably succeeded, but he wanted to know the details. Why do I always miss all the
Hannah smiled. “I thought you might want to be filled in.” He just stared at her, waiting. Hannah sat down in the chair by his bedside and glanced at Derek‟s chest. “That‟s going to take some time to heal, you know.”
Derek looked down at himself and was surprised to notice he was tightly bandaged in thick white layers of gauze. He pressed a hand to his chest and winced; the area was extremely tender. “Two broken ribs,” Hannah said, wincing with him, “and recovering from being shot. Takes a lot out of you. Anyway, from what Ben and Sam have told us, Croftus broke the layer on Ben‟s mind shortly after you tried to rescue him.” “Great, so that was for nothing,” Derek said glumly. “Luckily, Sam came in right when Croftus was distracted, and she was able to shoot him from behind,” Hannah added. “Sam ended up losing her manipulation back at the Rowling Theatre, though- I don‟t know if you knew that.” “I didn‟t,” Derek started, but was interrupted as the door swung open as Ben, Sam, and Alicia entered, smiling. “I‟m so glad you‟re awake!” said Sam happily, giving Derek a big hug. Alicia followed and kissed Derek quickly. Derek snuck a look at Ben, who surprisingly nodded his permission. Derek nodded back. Somehow, he knew that the rift between him and Ben had been sealed; even though Derek had only gotten himself shot, he‟d tried to save Ben. Obviously Ben was willing to put their differences aside now that Derek had taken a bullet for him, Derek reflected wryly. “Are you guys okay?” Derek asked, looking them over. Ben and Sam looked mostly fine, except for some light bruising on Sam‟s arms and a few scrapes on Ben. But Alicia looked terrible; she had a bandage wrapped around her head and many tiny scrapes all over, including a nasty-looking slit on her throat. Alicia seemed to know the question was meant mostly for her. “I‟ll be fine,” she shrugged. “That‟s what happens when you fight with so many people, you know?” She touched the bandage on her head lightly. “It‟s just a few cuts, except for this concussion I got when Caroline shot me out of the helicopter.” “Who‟s Caroline? What helicopter?” Derek asked, feeling out of the loop. “I forgot you were out cold for so much of this!” Sam looked surprised. She glanced around the room. “Who wants to recap for him?”
They spent the next fifteen minutes combining stories to get a reasonable, if somewhat patchy, account of what had happened from the time Derek was shot to when Alicia was. They‟d all been tripping over each other in their haste to regale him with the most exciting parts, but Derek thought he‟d gotten the gist of it. “So it was Caroline all along,” Sam finished. “That‟s how they found you, Hannah. That was my fault. She asked me for my phone that day I was working for Kendra and there was a text from you with our address on it.” “So if it wasn‟t for Sam, we wouldn‟t have had to make that trip to Armonk!” Ben said, pushing her jokily. “Hey, if it wasn‟t for Sam, Croftus would have killed Ben, made his speech, and wiped out almost all of humankind,” Alicia countered. Sam blushed. “Who‟s this Connor guy again?” Derek asked, remembering something Alicia had said. “Croftus‟ son,” Alicia told him. “I met him in the office and he‟s told me a lot. He tried to rescue me, but he got captured.” She looked down. “I‟m sure he‟s fine, Alicia,” Hannah said consolingly. “Croftus was killed less than an hour after the guards took Connor. All of KP was thrown into confusion. Connor probably escaped. I doubt they would have killed him right away.” “Yeah, I guess,” Alicia said softly. “I just want to make sure he‟s okay. He‟s done so much for me…if it wasn‟t for him, we wouldn‟t even know about Caroline!” “That‟s true,” Phil conceded, although he looked troubled. “It does appear that Connor has completely turned against his father.” There was a long pause. “I‟m sorry about your manipulation, Sam, and yours,” Derek said quietly, nodding in Ben‟s direction. “It‟s okay,” said Sam softly. “We‟ll get them back.” When Derek looked confused, she explained what Caroline had told them. “Yeah, well, we‟re not going to spend years experimenting on manipulation,” Derek pointed out. “So how we would figure out how to do that?” There was an awkward silence as everyone avoided looking at one another, and something heavy hung unspoken in the air.
“What?” Derek demanded. “Derek,” Phil said finally. “You realize that we‟ll have to track Caroline down, right?” “What? Why?” “We can‟t let anyone from KP live,” Hannah put in hesitantly. “They‟re just going to keep trying to create the Perfect Race until they succeed. We can‟t let that happen.” “There are very few KP agents left,” Phil offered. “Only Caroline and a few others in hiding. We‟ll have to find them and either kill them or manipulate them out of their beliefs.” “Can‟t we wait a little?” Derek begged. “Do we have to go right now?” “Of course not!” Hannah exclaimed. “You have two broken ribs,” Phil said indignantly. “So the only thing keeping us here is my broken ribs?” Derek asked, his relief evaporating on the spot. “And Alicia‟s concussion,” Hannah said, nodding to her. “Once you two are cleared, which will be in about a month, we‟ll be headed out to find them.” As Derek began to argue with the adults, Alicia nudged Sam softly. “Wanna go outside? I need some fresh air,” she whispered. Sam nodded and the two surreptitiously slipped out of the tiny hospital room, unnoticed by any of the others. They walked in silence until they reached a pretty park bench on the hospital‟s side lawn. ”How do you feel?” Sam said. Alicia smiled grimly. “I‟ve been better. But it‟s just a minor concussion; I‟ll be fine in a week or so.” Sam traced one of the deeper scratches on her friend‟s arm. “What about these?” “You know me,” Alicia winked. “I heal much faster than normal people.” She jerked her head towards the three blond girls sitting together in the sun several yards away. “With four immune systems going, these will be gone within days.”
“Alicia,” Sam admonished lightly. “Aren‟t you supposed to rest your brain when you have a concussion? I don‟t think manipulating is going to help you get better any faster.” “Those doctors don‟t know anything about manipulation, so their rules don‟t apply,” Alicia argued playfully. Then she dropped her head and lowered her voice. “And, if it keeps us here a little longer, I‟m not going to mind.” “I know what you mean,” Sam said, looking out over the nearby pond, which was green with mossy water lilies and glistened in the morning sun. “I‟m not really in any rush to have people start shooting at me again.” Alicia nodded and sighed heavily. “I wish we could have our old lives back. Manipulation when it was fun, without all the responsibilities and consequences.” She forced a smile. “And people shooting at us.” “I thought you liked all this,” said Sam, surprised. “You and Derek, you never seemed scared or anything.” Alicia looked straight into Sam‟s eyes, and Sam thought her beautiful friend looked sad and defeated. Alicia let out a bitter laugh. “It‟s the only way I can get through it, you know? By putting on a mask and not letting anyone see how scared I really am.” “You don‟t have to hide it,” Sam said, putting an arm around Alicia and hugging her gently. They stayed like that for a minute, and Sam felt an odd sort of strength. For once, she was the one protecting Alicia, instead of the other way around. But then again, Alicia was at her most vulnerable, in a hospital gown and heavily bandaged. “I feel the same way,” she continued, stroking Alicia‟s back. “But you have to keep going. You‟re our best fighter now that Ben‟s protection is gone. We can‟t fight KP and find Caroline without you, Alicia. We couldn‟t even have stopped Croftus without you. And we wouldn‟t have even known about Caroline if it hadn‟t been for you.” “Yeah, I guess,” mumbled Alicia into Sam‟s shoulder. Then she pulled away and Sam knew Alicia‟s brief moment of weakness had passed. Her friend was once again the proud fighter Sam knew she really was.
Alicia held her arm in the sunlight and tilted her head, studying it. “It‟s a shame these will be gone so quickly.” Her light tone insisted that Sam forget the weakness she had just shown. “I kinda like them. Battle scars, you know?” They were both laughing when a uniformed nurse tapped Alicia on the shoulder. “Miss, you‟re not supposed to be outside.” She gently put an arm around Alicia and led her back to the hospital. Alicia looked back at Sam, made a face, and then blew her a kiss. Sam was laughing again when she felt the bench shift as Ben sat down next to her. “Hey.” She noticed one of the Alicias on the lawn tap the others on the shoulder and point at them. The three of them giggled together for a moment, then disappeared. Sam smiled to herself; Alicia was allowing her privacy. “Hey,” she said. “How do you feel about it?” He knew what she meant without her having to explain. “I saw it coming. Because they‟re right, you know? We can‟t let anyone who knows about manipulation live. KP or otherwise.” He stared over the pond moodily. “Once we take care of everyone who knows about it, we‟ve got to destroy all the records of it. Because power like that is just too dangerous to exist.” “Then maybe Charles Terrence was right,” Sam murmured. “Maybe manipulation really is too dangerous.” “And maybe Croftus was sort of right, too,” Ben continued. She looked at him sharply. He raised his hands defensively. “I only mean that maybe humankind is just too messed up to be trusted with power like manipulation. Think of what the world‟s likeall the evil things people do- and that‟s without manipulation. Manipulation is just another weapon waiting to be handed to them if we don‟t completely destroy it.” She nodded slowly and turned to look at him; he looked down at her and brushed a stray curl out of her face. Then he leaned down and kissed her. As she pulled away, Sam wrapped her hand around Ben‟s and put her head on his shoulder. He rested his on top of hers, and she was filled with contentment.
Because even though Alicia and Derek were in the hospital, she and Ben had lost their manipulation, and they still had to track down Caroline and the rest of KP- even in spite of all that, everything just felt perfect.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.