…. EPISODE 40…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
Three hours later we finally make it to a campsite toward the top edge of the foothills. We’re all tired and hungry and miserable, but at least we’re all alive so
I’m not complaining. Especially when Jeremy spots a giant SUV in the campsite’s parking lot with the Forest Service emblem emblazoned on the side.
“Give me a minute to figure out the alarm code,” he says, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and doing God only knows what with it.
V brushes past him. “Like we need the code.”
She reaches into her boot, pulls out a tool, and seconds later, she’s in the driver’s seat. The alarm blares for less than three seconds before she does something to cut it off.
“Get in,” she orders as the SUV roars to life.
We don’t have to be told twice. Jeremy takes shotgun—for logistical reasons, he insists—and though it’s only a seven-seater, the rest of us manage to cram in the back. Jeremy’s giving V navigational directions from the map on his phone before the rest of us can even fasten our seat belts.
The two of them are scarily efficient when they work together, though I’m not stupid enough to say that out loud. V may put up with Jeremy’s nonsense, but I’m pretty sure she’d cut me without a second thought. There doesn’t seem to be any love lost between us.
And who am I to judge? From her perspective, I’m probably a huge part of the reason her boys are in danger. If our roles were reversed, I might feel the same way.
We don’t say anything as we speed through the night for what feels like the millionth time in the last few weeks. If this is what life on the lam is like, I don’t envy lifetime fugitives.
I have no clue what everyone else is doing as the dark zooms past, but I can’t stop thinking about where we’re supposed to go from here. What we’re supposed to do. And how.
We need to stop Rex, obviously, need to keep him from doing any more damage.
But right now, I don’t know how we’re supposed to do that. He’s ahead of us at
nearly every turn, and the violence is escalating with every confrontation. A part of
me is terrified that not only are we going to end up dead, but that we’ll die for
nothing. Die without changing anything.
That scares me more than anything else.
All of this can’t be in vain.
I don’t know how long we drive before we end up in the parking lot of a diner. The mountains and foothills are far behind us, and we’re so far into the plains that I can only see the very tips of the snowcapped peaks. The sun is coming up though,
the sky in the distance a hazy orange-pink that promises daylight soon. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad one at this point.
As soon as we make it into the diner, I head for the bathroom. Not because I have to pee, but because I need a few moments to myself. A few seconds where I can just breathe after the claustrophobic crunch of the backseat. As the only child of a single mom, I’m not used to being around so many people all of the time. Sometimes it wears on me.
I just need a few seconds alone in the bathroom to get my sanity back.
I’ve barely splashed water on my face when Rebel comes in.
She flashes a small smile at me before disappearing into one of the stalls, and I take the extra minute to try to compose myself. To try to hide the dread and the disillusionment that’s pressing in on me from every side. Too many people are counting on me to figure it out—the people squished into the huge booth out there in the diner, and the countless villains that Rex is hell-bent on annihilating. I can’t let them see how scared I am of letting them down.
But this is Rebel—the real Rebel, not that automaton Rex created—and all it takes is one look at my face while she’s washing her hands to have her pulling me in for a hug.
“You okay?” she asks. “You look like hell.”
I consider lying, but only for a heartbeat. “I feel like hell.” “I’m sorry,” she says against my hair. “My father—”
“Is not your responsibility.” I lean back to look her in the eye. “What he does isn’t your fault, and neither is what he made you do. There’s nothing for you to apologize for.”
She pulls away from me, turning to look at herself in the mirror. She scrubs her hands through her newly brown hair until it’s spiking up in all different directions. Then she stands there, staring blankly at herself, like she doesn’t recognize her own reflection.
“I remember everything, Kenna.” She tears up before blinking rapidly. “I tried to kill you. I tried to kill everyone. And then I called my dad and told him where we were. If I hadn’t, we wouldn’t be—”
“It’s. Not. Your. Fault.” I turn her back to face me, look her dead in the eye as I say the words. “You were brainwashed.”
Her face twists in pain. “But how? How could I let him do that to me?” “You don’t let someone brainwash you. It just happens.”
“I must have let him. He had to get close enough to talk to me.” She shakes her head and looks up at the gray ceiling tiles as she fights away the tears. “How could he convince me to do those things? To believe him? You know how much I—” Her control breaks. Rebel has always been the strong one, the tough one, the one who took on bigger and badder heroes when they wanted to mess with us. It’s both weird and reassuring to finally be the one holding her up.
“We’ll figure it out,” I promise her. “But I promise you, we are not going to let him do that to you again.”
She wipes at her tears, sniffling through a watery smile. “That’s what Dante says. I’m not sure what I did to deserve the two of you.”
With a twist of her fingers she has a paper towel floating out of the dispenser and into her hand. I’m not complaining about the power I’ve got—after a lifetime of powerlessness, I’m not dumb enough to be ungrateful—but it would be so much cooler to have a more physical power like hers. Telekinesis would be pretty awesome.
She’s blowing her nose before it hits me.
“Rebel! You just used your power!”
She looks at me like I’m nuts. “Yeah. So?”
She crumples up the paper towel and shoots it at the wastebasket near the door, sending it twirling through the air like something out of a Disney movie before letting it land in the bin.
“I gave you immunity serum. That’s what brought you out of the brainwashing.” Which was weird because I only thought it was going to take her powers and stop her from trying to kill us every two seconds. “So how are you still able to use your telekinesis?”
My mind is whirling at the possibilities.
All those years, Mom’s immunity serum hid my power. Why isn’t it hiding Rebel’s? Is there something different about her? Or something different about me? Maybe I should run a small-scale experiment with some of the others. Maybe the results vary depending on the individual super. Or the specific power. Or whether one’s a hero or a villain. The possible variables are almost limitless.
“That doesn’t make sense,” she tells me. “You used the same immunity serum your mom gave you, right? The same one that took your power away?”
“Yeah, of course. I—” I break off, because that’s not necessarily the truth. I used my mother’s formula with one exception. Substituting a catalyst for a retardant shouldn’t have affected the results. But what if it had? What if that subtle change had actually made an exponential difference in the function of the serum?
Only one way to find out.
Focusing my power energy on my hands, I send a spray of electricity straight at Rebel.
“What the hell?” she barks, ducking to the floor to avoid the sparks.
But she didn’t need to. My electricity moved faster than her, and before she hit the ground I saw it warp around her like a stream around a rock.
“You’re immune,” I say. “But you still have your power.” As she gets back to her feet, I see it.
“And you still have your mark.”
She examines herself in the mirror, confirming my observation.
When Mom gave me the serum, it not only suppressed my power. It made my villain mark disappear too. I understand now why she did it. If anyone in the hero world had seen my mark, they would have known—or at least suspected—that maybe my mom wasn’t who she said she was. And they would have been right. So why didn’t my serum erase Rebel’s mark? Why didn’t it suppress her power? “Kenna? Earth to Kenna?” Rebel waves a hand in front of my face, but I’m lost in thought, following the logic trail.
I reconsider the facts. My serum left Rebel with her powers while still making her immune to other people’s powers. My serum broke the brainwashing. Which can only mean…
“Oh my God.” I stare at her wide-eyed as the truth occurs to me. “You weren’t brainwashed!”
She looks horrified. “What? Of course I was brainwashed! I would never do any of the things I did if Rex wasn’t controlling me—”
“Exactly! He was controlling you. Not brainwashing you. Controlling you!” “I don’t understand.”
But the look on her face tells me she’s beginning to.
“Come on.” I grab her hand and pull her out the door. “We need to tell the others.” “What exactly are you saying?” she asks as we make our way over to the corner booth where the others are sitting.
I don’t think the booth is designed to fit nine people, but between the curved bench seat and a pair of chairs stolen from another table, somehow we manage. “You said yourself that you can’t believe you did the things you did,” I tell her as I drop into the empty spot next to Draven. His hand immediately goes to my thigh, his thumb rubbing a spot right above my knee. It’s a gesture meant to soothe as well as show support, and I take a moment to shoot him a smile before racing ahead with my new theory. “Real brainwashing means you have control over your
actions, that you’re doing what you do because you believe the lies. You believe in the cause. Did you?”
“Of course not,” she says, her face paler than I’ve ever seen it. “I mean, I know what I did. At the time, it felt like I believed that Rex was good and you guys were bad.”
She breaks off, and Dante smoothes a hand over her shoulders.
“But I didn’t really believe. The instant you gave me that immunity serum, that belief went away. I suddenly remembered that you were my best friend and that Dante was my boyfriend. I’m so sorry for all the terrible things I said to all of you.”
Tears stream down her cheeks, and I feel awful for making her relive this, especially in front of everyone. If it weren’t vitally important—literally—I would make her stop.
“As soon as the serum hit my bloodstream, I knew you were good, knew that I would never want to hurt you.”
“Kenna’s right,” Draven says slowly, his thumb still rubbing small circles on my leg. “That doesn’t sound like brainwashing. It sounds like outright control.” “Especially considering the immunity serum changed everything,” I say. “You snapped out of whatever it was Rex was doing to you. And you still have your powers.”
“She still has her powers?” Jeremy demands. “I thought that was impossible. The serum you took—”
“Masked my own power,” I finish for him.
I think he’s still more than a little miffed that I never told him about the immunity serum. Since I’m not an electronic gadget, it wasn’t like he could try out his power on me anyway. It never came up. Plus, Mom would have killed me if I went around telling people about the serum. Only Rebel knew, and I made sure Mom never found out she did.
“Pardon me for being ignorant here,” V says, leaning forward to brace her elbows on the table, “but what the hell are you all talking about?”
Oh right. V is a late addition to our group. She doesn’t know the history. “Dr. Swift cooked up a serum that made someone immune to other people’s powers,” Draven explains. “For a long time, that’s why Kenna thought she was taking it. To protect her because she was powerless.”
“But we recently found out,” Jeremy says, way too excited to let Draven finish, “that the serum actually kept Kenna’s power locked away. Even made her villain mark disappear.”
Jeremy reaches across the table, pushes my hair back to show the newly revealed mark behind my left ear.
“We dated for more than a year,” he says, sounding insulted, “and I had no clue.” Draven glares at him, though I’m not sure if it’s because Jeremy is touching me or because he’s reminding everyone that we dated for that long. A tiny part of me likes the idea of Draven caring enough to be jealous, even if he has no reason to be. I reach under the table and take his hand.
“My mom’s version did both. Made me immune and masked my power.” “But your version didn’t mask Rebel’s power?” Dante asks.
Rebel jerks her head at the collection of condiments in the center of the table. The red plastic bottle of ketchup slides easily to the other side.
“And my mark is still here.” She twists her head to the right, showing everyone the spot beneath her right ear.
“Did you change the formula?” Riley asks.
“Not exactly,” I reply. “We didn’t have time to wait around the three days my mom took, so I took a shortcut. It must have changed something.”
“I’m still immune to powers,” Rebel says, like she’s trying to reassure me that the formula worked.
“Are we sure?” Deacon asks.
“I couldn’t use my biomanipulation on her,” Draven says. “Once she had the serum, I couldn’t knock her back out.”
“Maybe you were still too weak,” Riley suggests.
Draven shakes his head. “I wasn’t.”
Nitro ends the debate by lobbing a small fireball straight at Rebel’s head.
“What the hell?” Dante exclaims, using his wind to bat it away at the same time as Deacon uses his water power to douse it.
“Draven, use your power on her,” I say. “Try to manipulate her memories for the last ten minutes.”
“Don’t you dare!” Rebel says, pressing herself back in her chair. “I don’t want anyone else running around in my head.”
It’s a strange way to put it—that Rex was running around in her head. I don’t say anything though. I’m too busy waiting for Draven to confirm my hypothesis.
He looks uneasy, his gaze going from Rebel to me to Dante, who says under his breath, “Don’t even think about it.”
“Screw this,” Nitro says, lobbing a second fireball at her, this time much faster than the first one.
Dante isn’t expecting it—too busy glaring at Draven to see it coming—so he doesn’t have time to react. I can see that Deacon’s already onboard with what I’m trying to say, and he doesn’t do anything to stop the fireball either.
Then again, he doesn’t have to. Because it does exactly what I expect when it comes in contact with Rebel—exactly what used to happen when someone tried to use their powers on me. It hits a kind of invisible force field and dissipates immediately. We’re all left staring at the intended point of impact, which in this case happens to be Rebel’s shoulder. She’s totally unharmed, and the fireball has ceased to exist.
Draven stops hesitating. From the icy swirl in his eyes, I can see that he’s trying to use one of his powers on Rebel. It doesn’t work.
If Dante and Deacon’s wind and rain powers wouldn’t be completely inexplicable inside a roadside diner—not that Nitro’s isn’t, but it’s at least fractionally more plausible—then I have a feeling they would both be testing out the theory themselves.
“So, it half worked?” Jeremy says. “The serum made her immune to other powers, but she still has her own. That’s better than what your mom gave you.”
“Way better,” I agree. “I mean, we were trying to block her power the way my mom hid mine. But instead, we made her immune to others…”
I trail off at the end, waiting for someone to fill in the blank. Waiting for someone else to figure it out. Because if I tell them what I’m thinking, that might bias their interpretation of the data. But if they come to the conclusion on their own… Well, then, maybe—just maybe—I’m on the right track.
“We made her immune,” Deacon echoes, “and we broke the brainwashing.” I nod expectantly. Come on, guys…
“Oh my God!” Jeremy exclaims, the first one to put all the pieces together.
“What?” Riley asks.
“Oh my God!” Jeremy repeats. His eyes are wider than I’ve ever seen them.
Draven punches him in the shoulder. Just because, I guess.
“Making her immune,” Jeremy says, laying it all out, “broke the brainwashing. Which means whatever Rex was doing to Rebel…”
“Was a power?” V says slowly, her eyes narrowed and face serious. “The brainwashing is an actual power?”
I release the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. They’ve confirmed my thoughts.
Rex was using a power to brainwash—to control—Rebel.
“It has to be,” I tell her. “Rex or someone close to him must have the power of mind control. Nothing else makes sense. Not when you think about how Rebel was acting—and not when you realize that the immunity serum freed her.”
“Hold on a minute,” Dante says. “Do you even know what you’re saying?” The way my stomach plummets to the floor tells me I know exactly what I’m saying. “Someone out there has the power of mind control.” I scan my gaze over the eight pairs of eyes focused entirely on me. “And has no problem using it to further Rex’s agenda.”