I was on fire again. Worse than when I got sick from the mutation or when onyx was sprayed in my face. The mutated cells in my body bounced around as if they were trying to claw their way through my skin. Maybe they were. It felt like I was splayed wide open. There was a wetness gathering on my cheeks.
They were tears, I realized slowly.
Tears of pain and anger—a fury so potent it tasted like blood in the back of my throat. Or maybe it really was blood. Maybe I was drowning in my own blood.
My memories after the doors had sealed shut were hazy. Daemon’s parting words haunted every waking moment. I love you, Kat. Always have. Always will. There had been a hissing sound as the doors closed, and I’d been left alone with the Arum.
I think they tried to eat me.
Everything had gone black, and I’d woken up in this world where it hurt to breathe. Remembering his voice, his words, soothed some of the torment. But then I remembered Blake’s parting smile as he held the opal necklace—my opal necklace; the one Daemon had given me just before the sirens went off and the doors started coming down—and my anger flared. I’d been captured, and I didn’t know if Daemon had made it out along with the rest of them.
I didn’t know anything.
Forcing my eyes open, I blinked at the harsh lights shining down on me. For a moment, I couldn’t see around their bright glow. Everything had an aura. But finally it cleared, and I saw a white ceiling behind the lights.
“Good. You’re awake. ”
In spite of the pulsating burning, my body locked up at the sound of the unfamiliar male voice. I tried to look toward the source, but pain shot down my body, curling my toes. I couldn’t move my neck, my arms, or my legs.
Icy horror drenched my veins. Onyx bands were around my neck, my wrists, my ankles, holding me down. Panic erupted, seizing the air in my lungs. I thought about the bruises Dawson had seen around Beth’s neck. A shudder of revulsion and fear rocked through me.
The sound of footsteps neared, and a face, cocked sideways, came into view, blocking the light. It was an older man, maybe in his late forties, with dark hair sprinkled with gray buzzed close to the scalp. He wore a military uniform in dark green. There were three rows of colorful buttons above the left breast and a winged eagle on the right. Even in my pain-clouded mind and confusion, I knew this guy was important.
“How are you feeling?” he asked in a level voice.
I blinked slowly, wondering if this man was being serious. “Everything…everything hurts,” I croaked.
“It’s the bands, but I think you know that. ” He motioned to something or someone behind him. “We had to take certain precautions when we transported you. ”
Transported me? My heart rate kicked up as I stared at him. Where in the hell was I? Was I still at Mount Weather?
“My name is Sergeant Jason Dasher. I’m going to release you so we can talk and you can be looked over. Do you see the dark dots in the ceiling?” he asked. My gaze followed his, and then I saw the almost invisible blotches. “It’s a blend of onyx and diamond. You know what the onyx does, and if you fight us, this room will fill up with it. Whatever resistance you’ve built won’t help you here. ”
The whole room? At Mount Weather, it had just been a puff in the face. Not an endless stream of it.
“Did you know diamonds have the highest index of light refraction? While it does not have the same painful effects of onyx, in large enough quantities, and when onyx is in use, it has the ability to drain Luxen, leaving them unable to draw from the Source. It will have the same effect on you. ”
Good to know.
“The room is outfitted with onyx as a security precaution,” he continued, his dark brown eyes focused on mine again. “In case you somehow are able to tap into the Source or attack any member of my staff. With hybrids, we never know the extent of your abilities. ”
Right now I didn’t think I’d be able to sit up without assistance, let alone go ninja on anyone.
“Do you understand?” His chin lifted as he waited. “We don’t want to hurt you, but we will neutralize you if you pose a threat. Do you understand, Katy?”
I didn’t want to answer, but I also wanted out of the damn onyx bands. “Yes. ”
“Good. ” He smiled, but it was practiced and not very friendly. “We don’t want you to be in pain. That is not what Daedalus is about. And it is far from what we are. You may not believe that right now, but we hope you will come to understand what we are about. The truth behind who we are and who the Luxen are. ”
“Kind of hard to…believe right now. ”
Sergeant Dasher seemed to take that for what it was worth, and then he reached down somewhere under the cold table. There was a loud click, and the bands lifted on their own, sliding off my neck and ankles.
Letting out a shaky breath, I slowly lifted my trembling arm. Entire parts of my body felt either numb or hypersensitive.
He placed a hand on my arm, and I flinched. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. “I’m just going to help you sit up. ”
Given that I didn’t have much control over my shaking limbs, I wasn’t in any condition to protest. The sergeant had me upright in a few seconds. I clutched the edges of the table to keep myself steady as I took in several breaths. My head hung from my neck like a wet noodle, and my hair slid over my shoulders, shielding the room for a moment.
“You’ll probably be a little dizzy. That should pass. ”
When I lifted my head, I saw a short, balding man dressed in a white lab coat standing by a door that was such a shiny black it reflected the room. He held a paper cup in his hand and what looked like a manual pressure cuff in the other.
Slowly, my eyes traveled over the room. It reminded me of a weird doctor’s office, outfitted with tiny tables with instruments on them, cabinets, and black hoses hooked to the wall.
When motioned forward by the sergeant, the man in the lab coat approached the table and carefully held the cup to my mouth. I drank greedily. The coolness soothed the rawness in my throat, but I drank too fast and ended up with a coughing fit that was both loud and painful.
“I’m Dr. Roth, one of the physicians at the base. ” He put the cup aside and reached into his jacket, pulling out a stethoscope. “I’m just going to listen to your heart, okay? And then I’m going to take your blood pressure. ”
I jumped a little when he pressed the cold chest piece against my skin.
He then placed it on my back. “Take a nice deep breath. ” When I did, he repeated his instructions. “Good. Extend your arm out. ”
I did and immediately noticed the red welt circling my wrist. There was another above my other hand. Swallowing hard, I looked away, seconds from slipping into full freak-out mode, especially when my eyes met the sergeant’s. They weren’t hostile, but the eyes belonged to a stranger. I was utterly alone—with strangers who knew what I was and had captured me for a purpose.
My blood pressure had to be through the roof, because my pulse was pounding, and the tightening in my chest couldn’t be a good thing. As the pressure cuff squeezed down, I inhaled several deep breaths, then asked, “Where am I?”
Sergeant Dasher clasped his hands behind his back. “You’re in Nevada. ”
I stared at him, and the walls—all white with the exception of those shiny black dots—crowded in. “Nevada? That’s…that’s clear across the country. A different time zone. ”
Then it struck me. A strangled laugh escaped. “Area 51?”
There was more silence, as if they couldn’t confirm the existence of such a place. Area mother-freaking 51. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
Visions of probes and all kinds of nasty things lit up my brain. I slid off the table quickly, backing away from the men, on legs that barely held my weight. “No. You can’t do this. You can’t—”
“We can,” Sergeant Dasher interrupted. “Under the Patriot Act, we are able to apprehend, relocate, and detain anyone, human or nonhuman, who poses a risk to the Nation’s security. ”
“What?” My back hit the wall. “I’m not a terrorist. ”
“But you are a risk,” he responded. “We hope to change that, but as you can see, your right to freedom was relinquished the moment you were mutated. ”
Legs giving out, I slid down the wall and sat down hard. “I can’t…” My brain didn’t want to process any of this. “My mom…”
The sergeant said nothing.
My mom…oh my God, my mom had to be going insane. She would be panicked and devastated. She would never get over this.
Pressing my palms against my forehead, I squeezed my eyes shut. “This isn’t right. ”
“What did you think would happen?” Dasher asked.
I opened my eyes, my breath coming out in short bursts.
“When you infiltrated a government facility, did you think you would just walk out and everything would be fine? That there’d be no consequences for such actions?” He bent down in front of me. “Or that a group of kids, alien or hybrid, would be able to get as far as you did without us allowing it?”
Coldness radiated over my body. Good question. What had we thought? We had suspected it could be a trap. I had practically prepared myself for it, but we couldn’t walk away and let Beth rot in there. None of us could’ve done that.
I stared up at the man. “What happened to…to the others?”
“They’ve escaped. ”
Relief coursed through me. At least Daemon wasn’t locked up somewhere. That gave me some sort of comfort.
“We only needed to catch one of you, to be honest. Either you or the one who mutated you. Having one of you will draw the other out. ” He paused. “Right now, Daemon Black has disappeared off our radar, but we imagine it won’t stay that way for long. We have learned through our studies that the bond between a Luxen and the one he or she mutates is quite intense, especially between a male and female. And from our observations, you two are extremely…close. ”
Yeah, my relief crashed and burned in fiery glory, and fear seized me. There was no point in pretending I had no idea what he was talking about, but I would never confirm it was Daemon. Never.
“I know you’re afraid and angry. ”
“Yeah, I’m feeling both of those things strongly. ”
“That is understandable. We are not as bad as you think we are, Katy. We had every right to use lethal methods when we caught you. We could’ve taken out your friends. We didn’t. ” He stood, clasping his hands again. “You will see we are not the enemy here. ”
Not the enemy? They were the enemy—a greater threat than a whole flock of Arum—because they had the entire government behind them. Because they could just snap up people and take them away from everything—their family, their friends, their entire life—and get away with it.
by Jennifer L. Armentrout / Young Adult / Romance / Science Fiction & Fantasy have rating 4.3 out of 5 / Based on43 votes