…. EPISODE 37…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
“What the hell happened here?”
V stops walking so abruptly that Jeremy crashes into her back—although I can’t be entirely certain he wouldn’t have done that no matter how slowly she stopped. He was a little too preoccupied with looking at her butt to pay attention to anything else.
Not so the rest of us. We’re staring, openmouthed, at the mess that the cabin has become in our absence.
Nitro, Dante, and Riley all speak at once.
“What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.” “Rebel got loose.”
V steps into the cabin, and I get my first full look at the disaster area.
“Whoa,” Jeremy says, echoing my thoughts exactly.
Nothing in the cabin’s main room has remained untouched. The couch is upside down against the wall, with the dining table crushed beneath it. Half of the windows are broken. The kitchen chairs have been smashed into splinters.
As for the floor, it’s littered with the remains of everything that wasn’t nailed down—including what looks like most of my Froot Loops.
Dante and Deacon are kneeling over Rebel’s unconscious body, one winding rope around her wrists, the other around her ankles.
“How did you let this happen?” V demands. She turns to Riley. “I left you in charge.”
He holds up his hands defensively. “We didn’t even know she was awake until we heard the crash.” He inches back, pointing at the table full of Jeremy’s electronics. Correction, at the table that used to be full of Jeremy’s electronics. Now it’s flipped over backward like a barricade, with its former residents scattered around it like shrapnel.
Jeremy makes a strangled sound that’s somewhere between an angry bear and a drowning cat. He shoves the box of chemicals he’s carrying into Riley’s arms and then rushes to the aid of his fallen gadgets, hurtling debris as he goes.
“On the bright side,” Riley says with a nervous grin. “At least she didn’t get away.”
“You are all completely incompetent.” V drops her own load on top of Jeremy’s with a little extra oomph, and Riley almost buckles under the weight. “It has to be sheer dumb luck that’s kept any of you alive.”
“It’s not like you lot coulda done any better.” Nitro takes V’s box from Riley’s load. “It ain’t easy keeping a crazy bird with telekinesis and a serious rage issue under control.”
“Don’t be too sure about that. When I put people out, they stay out.” She gives him, hands down, the scariest smile I’ve ever seen. “Next time I’ll show you how it’s done.”
It hits me the wrong way, pissing me off more than one snarky comment should. But she’s been like that all night, telling us over and over how incompetent we are and it’s getting really freaking old.
What’s also getting old is people talking about my best friend like she’s our enemy, like she’s some kind of rampaging animal that has to be controlled. Whatever is going on with her, whatever Rex and the heroes did to her, she’s still Rebel. Somewhere inside, she’s still the girl I grew up with. I have to believe that. A quick glance at Dante’s face tells me he feels exactly the same way. “Hopefully,” I say, pushing past V hard enough to get her attention as I head toward the kitchen, “there won’t be a next time.” “There is always a next time,” she counters.
I ignore her, focusing on the job to be done instead.
“Get Rebel into the bedroom,” I order Deacon. “Put her on the bed and make sure she’s comfortable. If we’re lucky, she’ll sleep until the serum is ready.”
To my shock, and pretty much everyone else’s shock, V moves to Deacon’s side and says, “I’ll help.”
I turn to Nitro and Dante. “I need space to work, and since the table’s a lost cause, get the mess cleared off the kitchen counter. As for you”—I point at Draven and Riley—“get the rest of the equipment from the car and bring it into the kitchen. We’ll leave Jeremy alone with his electronics. Hopefully he’ll be able to salvage something.”
Although, I have to admit, that doesn’t look likely. My ex-boyfriend is currently in the middle of the living room, sorting through his broken electronics and emitting a low, mourning cry that I’m certain will have every wild animal in a fifty-mile radius trying to break down the door.
It takes about half an hour for us to get all the equipment in place and powered up. When I tell them I won’t need any more help, Riley and Nitro take over the other half of the kitchen, preparing what Riley is calling the Breakfast of Hillains. V supervises, stating that she doesn’t want to give Nitro the chance to set anything else on fire, and the twins head out the front door to do God only knows what. Draven stays by my side.
“Do you think it will work?” he asks as I get ready to start making the serum. I want to reassure him and tell him that it will. That my mom was a genius and that the instructions look easy enough to follow. But the little flop in my stomach reminds me that nothing is guaranteed. One misstep. One timing error. One drop too much or too little, and Mom’s perfect formula could turn into a placebo. Or, worse, a poison.
But I’m not going to think about that right now. I’m going to focus on positive thoughts. I have to succeed so we can stop knocking Rebel out every time she so much as blinks.
“It has to work.” I pull out the bag of safety gear from the chemistry lab. “It just has to.”
None of the materials I’m working with are dangerous, but just in case, I put on goggles and latex gloves. Then I hand a set to Draven and he does the same. “What?” he asks when I flash him a half smile. “You look like a science geek.”
He flashes me a cocky half smile of his own. “You know you love it.” I do. I really do.
When this is all over—when we fix Rebel, when we stop Rex, when we find my dad, when I’ve mourned my mom—I can take time to indulge in my fantasies about Draven in a science lab. But for now, I have work to do. Work that requires my complete focus and attention to detail.
I pull the formula up on Mom’s phone and prepare the first step.
“What’s wrong?” Draven asks.
“Nothing.” I line up the chemicals I need for the first phase of the process. “Why?”
“You’re frowning.” He presses a latex-gloved fingertip to the spot between my eyebrows.
I force my forehead to relax.
“It’s nothing,” I insist. “It’s just…”
He doesn’t push me to finish, to explain, which is probably why I do.
“I’ve read over the formula at least twenty times since I found it. And one thing keeps standing out as really weird.”
I fill a flask with 300 milliliters of distilled water.
“Yeah?” he asks.
“I don’t know why it’s supposed to take so long.” “What do you mean?”
“It always took Mom three days to make a new batch. But see, here.” I point to the
spot in step seven where she adds the orichalcum chromate to the serum and puts it
all in the vacuum chamber for two days. “This compound is a retardant. It slows
down the chemical reaction.”
“And that means…?”
“If she added a catalyst instead, it would get done in a fraction of the time.” “Maybe it needs that time to, I don’t know, cook or something.”
I shake my head. “This isn’t like putting cookie dough in the oven. More like putting it in the freezer instead of letting it thaw.” “Maybe your mom didn’t know she could do that.”
give him a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look. When it comes to powers-related chemistry, my mom is—was—unrivaled. If any of her hero-sponsored work could have been made public, she would have won a Nobel Prize for sure. There’s no way she didn’t know a catalyst would cut the production time by eighty percent. So the question is…why? Why do it this way when there is a better, faster way available.
“She must have had a reason,” I say, staring to measure out the chemicals I need. “I just can’t figure out what it is.”
And right now, I don’t have time to wonder. Rex could find us at any moment. Or
Rebel could wake up again and bring the whole cabin crashing down around us.
Someone could get hurt, and I won’t let that happen.
For now, I’ll try it both ways. I’ll make one batch per Mom’s exact recipe and another using my shortcut.
One of them has to work.
• • •
While the first batch is cooking, Draven and I join Dante and Deacon on the porch. The twins are sitting on the thick pine railing, eyes unfocused as they stare out into the woods. They seem to be content with the silence.
Good for them. Personally, I’m not so sure I want to be alone with my thoughts. But I don’t want to break them away from theirs either, so I leave them be. Instead,
Draven and I cross to the pair of Adirondack chairs on the other side of the porch and each sink into one. Which means, of course, that we also fall into our own pensive silence.
Without a task to occupy my mind, my thoughts drift. A series of images. Mom behind ushered into the courtroom. The look in her eyes when I set her free. The look in her eyes when the plasma blast hit her in the back. The helicopter.
Draven rubs his thumb in soft circles against my palm. Somehow it makes everything a little more bearable.
The front door swings open with a bang. V storms out, car keys in hand, and a look of such utter rage on her face that it sends chills straight through me.
Riley and Nitro are right behind her, seemingly oblivious to her fury as they talk French toast recipes.
“What’s up?” Draven asks, straightening from where he’s slumped in the chair. “These two idiots,” she replies, gesturing over her shoulder, “insist that the world will end if we don’t go get maple syrup and chocolate chips right now.”
“It won’t end,” Riley argues, “but breakfast will be terrible.”
Nitro shrugs. “Can’t have a proper pancake bar without them two. Like trying to bake an apple pie with no apples.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” I ask. “I mean, going out.”
Our faces have been plastered on every billboard and TV station in the Front Range. And since the security guard on campus caught us and radioed his boss, the whole law enforcement world—and the whole hero world—knows we’re around. V rolls her eyes as she shakes her head. “It’s fine. The Gas ’n’ Grocery in Bear Lake doesn’t have a security camera.”
“I don’t think anything in Bear Lake has a security camera,” Draven amends. “We’ll just fly in and out,” Riley says with a huge smile at his own pun. The rest of us groan.
The three of them tromp down the porch steps and cross to the car. As they do, Nitro leans close to Riley and whispers something only he can hear. Riley laughs so hard that V spins around and spears him with a fierce glare.
Riley stands up straight and stops laughing…at least until she turns and he starts giggling.
can’t help exchanging a half-amused, half-concerned look with Draven. If this keeps up, the two of them will be lucky to make it back alive.
As the trio climbs into the car, Dante runs a hand over his head, flattening his fauxhawk. “God, I’m going stir-crazy in there.”
“You could go with them,” I suggest. “The first batch of serum won’t be ready for a couple hours. There’s nothing to do until then.”
“I can’t leave her when she’s like this. What if—”
“Go,” Deacon says so quietly I almost don’t hear him. “We’ve got her.” “Yeah, man.” Draven pushes to his feet and crosses to his cousin’s side. “We’ll watch over her. We won’t let anything happen to your girl.”
Dante hangs his head and roughs up the rest of his hair, and I can almost see him debating with himself. V is just closing the driver’s side door when he lets out a frustrated growl.
“Hang on,” he calls out to her, jumping down to the ground and jogging toward the car. “I’m coming with you.”
As they drive away, I watch until the dust settles back onto the road.
“Is he okay?” I ask, joining the guys at the railing.
Draven nods. “He will be. As soon as we get Rebel under control.”
“He takes it personally,” Deacon adds. “Blames himself for what’s happened to her.” There is a long pause and then, “For what happened to Draven. And to me.”
I take a long look at Deacon. He looks a lot better than when we first got him back. Some of the color has returned in his cheeks, and he’s regained some of the weight his unwilling hunger strike took off. As he fills out, he’s starting to look more like Dante again—minus the fauxhawk, of course.
It’s amazing how much damage the heroes did to him in only a few days. How much they broke him. Draven, by comparison, is already almost recovered. The dichotomy has my mind firing with questions like why and how, and is the difference power related or something else entirely.
“Can I ask…” I start, but then realize I’m about to sound like a scientist more than a friend. And though I barely know him, Deacon is my friend. I rephrase my thoughts. “How did they get you? The heroes—did they grab you off the street?” Draven doesn’t move, but I can tell he’s listening. He wants to know the answer too, probably more than I do.
“Hardly.” Deacon lets out a weak, humorless laugh. “I walked right through their front door.”
That is pretty much the last thing I expect him to say.
Why would he do something like that? It’s practically suicide. He had to know what the heroes were doing to villains. He had to know he wouldn’t walk away from that.
“I don’t understand.”
“It was all part of the plan,” Draven says. “Only he went in without us, before we were ready, and never came back.”
“I couldn’t wait any longer,” Deacon replies, his gaze still focused somewhere off in the forest. “I couldn’t risk it.”
There’s something about the dark implication in his tone that makes me afraid to ask, “Couldn’t risk what?”
Deacon turned his haunted eyes on me. “Her life.”
“They had his girlfriend,” Draven tells me, steeping forward to place a comforting hand on his cousin’s shoulder. “Becca.”
Neither of us misses the flinch.
“We don’t know how it happened,” Deacon begins. “How they got her. When she didn’t call me after work and didn’t answer when I called her, I stopped by her house. We had plans. She wouldn’t stand me up without a reason. But she wasn’t there. Her parents hadn’t seen her, and neither had any of her friends. Disappearing like that—it wasn’t like Becca. She didn’t do that. That’s how I knew the heroes had taken her. And that we needed to get her back.”
My heart aches for him. I saw how messed up Dante was over Deacon’s capture and then Rebel’s. I know how I felt when I knew the heroes had Draven and my mom.
“We put together a plan to get her out,” Draven says.
His words seem to snap Deacon out of whatever hell he’d gone to, because he continues. “It went like clockwork at first. ESH Labs was having orientation for new interns, and Rebel got me on a list so that I could get in.” “You were in the new batch of interns?” I ask, startled.
He turns to look at me, like he’s the one surprised by my question.
“I just…” I give him a weak smile. “I led the facility tour for the last bunch of
interns. I must have seen you.”
He nods. “I remember.”
I try to think back, to cull my mind for some memory of anyone who stood out in that group. If Deacon was there, in that group, right in front of me, how could I not have noticed? A villain right under my nose.
The old Kenna would have been disgusted and terrified at the very thought. Then again, the old Kenna would have been the first to run to Rex to turn in the infiltrator. It’s that knowledge, more than anything else, that tells me what happened.
“Someone caught you.”
I almost phrased it as a question, but considering the outcome—a.k.a. Deacon becoming the heroes’ favorite torture test subject—I know it has to be true. But I am still surprised by his answer.
“Yeah. Your mom.”
My breath catches in my throat. “My mom turned you in?”
“No,” he says. “She recognized me. She tried to help me, told me to get out of there. But I wouldn’t listen. I wouldn’t leave without Becca.”
That makes way more sense. Mom had been friends with Deacon and Dante’s mom, just like she was friends with Draven’s mom. She’d recognized Draven immediately when she saw him, which means she must have kept up with the Coles over the years. So of course she would recognize Deacon when she saw him in the lab. Of course she would try to get him out safely.
Deacon half smiles, mostly to himself. “I might have caused a bit of a scuffle.” “Might have?” Draven asks with a laugh.
“Next thing I knew, alarms were blaring and I was surrounded by pissed-off heroes.”
I can definitely picture that. Three weeks ago, when Deacon got taken, I would have counted myself among them. And so would Riley.
The golden boy is very much on our team now, but I can tell he still harbors sympathies for the heroes. For his dad and the Collective. He might be working against them, but that doesn’t mean he considers them the enemy yet.
It’s only a matter of time before he finds out the truth. Before he realizes just how awful they are.
“They had powers like I couldn’t believe.” Deacon runs his palms over the knees of his jeans. “Not much my ability to manipulate water could do in a situation like that, unless I wanted to drown every last one of us.”
I find the courage to ask the question that is hanging heavy in the air. “Did you…find her?”
The agony on Deacon’s face is all the answer we need. He suffered more than just physical torture at Rex’s hands. The psychological torture had to have been as bad or worse.
No wonder he is still such a wreck.
I glance at Draven. The anguish in his clear-blue eyes may only be a fraction of what Deacon is feeling, but I know the pain is the same. The source is the same. Draven could make it all go away. With just one deep stare, one gentle twist of the memories that haunt Deacon’s dreams, he could pull them right out of his mind. But he won’t. He wouldn’t mess with his friends’ memories without their permission. And Deacon has made it clear that he isn’t going to ask.
Some pain you have to hold on to. Some pain makes you stronger. I know I’m going to remember watching that chopper blow up with my mom’s body in it for the rest of my life. And I’ll fight anyone who tries to take away that memory, hideous though it is. Partly because it was the last moment I will ever have with my mom. But also because it fuels my determination to bring Rex and the heroes down for good.
Pain is a powerful motivator.
In my back pocket, the alarm on my mom’s phone dings with the timer that I set. “Time to add the next reagent.”
I head back inside. Hopefully, when V and the other guys get back, the immunity serum will be ready to try.
And if we’re really, really lucky, it will actually work