…. EPISODE 50…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
“Can he see us?” I whisper.
My heart is trying to beat its way out through my throat.
Jeremy shakes his head. “I removed the mic and the webcam. He’s deaf and blind.”
Rex looks picture-perfect as usual. Not a hair out of order, the collar of his powder-blue button-down without a wrinkle, eyes the same icy blue as Draven’s sparkling. Pleasant smile in place.
I’m embarrassed to say I spent most of my life thinking that smile was genuine. Now I know it’s the placating grin of a sociopath. Of an egomaniacal, power-hungry sociopath at that.
If only I had believed Rebel sooner.
“You know,” Rex says in a patronizing tone, “I used to think you were smarter than this, Kenna.”
My breath catches when he says my name. My hands shake with a mixture of rage and fear. Despite Jeremy’s assurance that Rex can’t see or hear us, it’s as if he’s looking right at me. Like he’s talking only to me.
But that’s not possible. He can’t even know for certain that we’re watching. “You had so much potential,” he continues, “until you strayed from the path. You aligned yourself with the wrong crowd.”
No, he’s got that backward. I spent the first seventeen years of my life aligned with the wrong crowd. I’m finally on the right path. One that ends with him out of power for good.
“Then again, considering who your mother was—” His eyes squint, and I can’t tell if he’s wincing or hiding a smile. “I am sorry about that. I always liked Jeanine. She couldn’t help the circumstance of her birth, of course, but I couldn’t suffer a mole to live—even if she was a brilliant scientist. The trial wasn’t personal, you understand.”
Nitro spits on the ground.
If I could reach through this computer, through the wireless connection that is allowing him to transmit to Jeremy’s laptop, I would strangle him with my bare hands.
“Anyway, considering what we now know about your mother, it’s no surprise that you’re supporting the wrong team.” He shakes his head. “Still, I thought you were smarter than to believe that sending a villain girl to do your bidding would turn out well for anyone.”
He moves to the side of the screen, and V appears next to him, kicking and struggling against whatever—or whoever—is holding her. Her head is encased in a powers-neutralizing helmet, and through the shiny surface I can see a trickle of dried blood under her nose and a dark-purple bruise appearing around her left eye. “It’s a trap!” V shouts, her voice muffled by the helmet. “Whatever he threatens, don’t—”
Suddenly, her entire body stiffens and shudders. I recognize that physical reaction.
It’s the same one I saw when Rex was torturing Deacon, when he was sending
God-knows-how-many volts of electricity through him.
He’s frying her.
She slumps, unconscious. Rex shoves her off screen.
“That bastard,” Jeremy says, his voice barely controlled. “Can we kill him now?” “You didn’t already want to kill him?” Dante asks.
Jeremy scowls at the screen. “Yes. But now I want to kill him more.” Nitro pats him on the back.
“As you can see,” Rex says, “your infiltrator has failed. And as for this—” He holds up the syringe of immunity serum that I sent in with V. “My loyal scientists are already hard at work analyzing the contents.” “Shit,” Draven mutters.
There goes that plan. And now Rex has a sample of the immunity serum in his possession. It won’t take much for his team to figure out what it does. Then it will only be a matter of time before they reverse engineer it and start churning out batches of it.
The only bright side is that Rex won’t know that it breaks the mind control. But it’s kind of hard to look on the bright side right now, when everything is going straight to hell.
Plus, the last thing I wanted to do was put another weapon in Rex’s hands. Why had I thought that was a good idea?
“Now, I didn’t reach out to you just to have a little chat. I have some requests. First,” he says, holding up one finger, “I want every last one of you off my property in the Land of Enchantment.”
He knows we’re here, on-site in New Mexico. I twist away from the camera, checking over my shoulder for the hero squad that could take us out at any moment.
“Does he know where we are?” Riley asks.
Jeremy shakes his head. “No way. Between my cloaking and Kenna’s electromagnetic power, Rex can’t have a clue.” “He’s guessing,” Deacon says.
I turn my attention back to the screen. “It’s a good guess.”
“Second,” Rex continues, “I want my children returned to me for…extensive deprogramming.”
An image fills my mind of Rebel returned to her Stepford daughter personality, to Riley backsliding into the hero-supremacist he once was. Once their immunity wears off, Rex can control them and turn them into whatever he wants. He could turn them against us in an instant.
Next to me, Riley starts shaking. Nitro rubs a hand down Riley’s spine as Dante hugs Rebel to his side.
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“And last, but most definitely not least”—Rex’s smile could make me throw up on the spot—“I want you to surrender, Kenna. I want you to turn yourself in.”
I shake my head. “Why?” I ask, as if he could hear me. “What makes me so special?”
“I told you,” Riley says. “You publicly humiliated him. He wants to punish you.” Draven steps up behind him, wraps his arms around my waist. “No way he gets that chance.”
“I think you understand the seriousness of what I’m trying to accomplish here. And just in case you’re inclined to turn down my polite invitation,” Rex stares intently into the camera, “I think you’ve figured out the special tool I have at my disposal.”
Mind control. I know he’s talking about the mind control.
“You might not fully comprehend the ramifications yet. But you soon will.” My stomach twists.
“If you don’t knock on my door within the next fifteen minutes, Miss Swift, I will kill a super. Thanks to my current…capabilities, I can do so from the safety of a great distance. I might start with your friend Victoria here.” He nods offscreen toward where he shoved V. “Or maybe your blundering ex-boyfriend. What was his name? Oh yes, Abernathy.”
I flick a glance at Jeremy who is, literally, white as a sheet.
“He can’t,” I remind Jeremy. “You’re on the immunity serum. He can’t control you.”
“I know,” Jeremy says. “It’s not…I’m not scared for me. But…” He turns to look at me, his eyes wide and more serious than I have ever seen him look. “He can do it, Kenna. He can really kill a super—any super in the world who’s under mind control—from anywhere.”
I place my hand over Jeremy’s, and Draven reaches around me to pat him on the shoulder.
“That’s why we’re going to stop him,” I say. “That’s why we’re going to make sure he can never hurt anyone again.”
“And I’m going to keep on killing supers,” Rex says, “every fifteen minutes until you turn yourself in. I might start with one. I might start with fifty. Their blood”— he leans in closer to the lens—“will be on your head. The clock starts now.”
The video feed cuts out, and we all sit there staring at a black screen.
Jeremy fiddles with his smartwatch and a countdown timer appears on the face.
Ticking down from fifteen minutes.
Fifteen minutes until a super dies. Until another super dies at Rex’s command. My mind is racing, trying to process everything he said, everything he is capable of doing and, apparently, prepared to do. It’s overwhelming. “What do we do?” Riley asks.
Nitro’s hands fist at his sides. “I say we blow the whole place, soup to nuts.” “We can’t,” Draven says, sounding unhappy to be the voice of reason. “There could be hundreds of innocent villains inside. Innocent heroes.”
“Well, we’re not doing what he wants,” Dante argues. “We’re not turning Rebel and Riley over to him.”
Rebel clings to his side. “And we’re not sending Kenna in there alone.”
The cumulative gravity of our situation steamrolls over me. All the horrors I’ve seen flash through my mind like an old-timey movie.
Deacon being tortured in the secret sublevel at my mom’s lab.
Guards at the lab tossing villain-filled body bags into an incinerator.
My mom’s lifeless body.
The devastation at Dr. Harwood’s lab.
The death toll keeps rising, the tragedy becoming more and more unbearable. But I have to bear it, and I have to do something about it.
My mom had a favorite quote by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I never truly understood the meaning—and what it meant to my mom—until now. To sin by silence, when we should protest,
makes cowards out of men.
My mom couldn’t sit by and do nothing when she knew what Rex and the heroes were doing, and neither can I. Even if I have to pay the same price.
All the fear washes out of my body, and I’m left with a calm. I’m at peace with what needs to be done. What I need to do.
My voice steady and my spine stiff, I say, “We are going to do exactly what he’s asking.”
There is a moment of stunned silence, and then everyone speaks at once.
“Are you crazy?”
“I won’t let you.”
Everyone, that is, except Draven. While our team is loudly proclaiming me completely insane, he watches me with those icy blue eyes, hooded by dark lashes and even darker shadows. For just a moment, a fleeting look crosses his face— agony and panic and more worry than anyone should have to endure. But it’s gone almost as soon as it comes, and then he’s nodding. “So what’s the plan?” he asks quietly.
Though it’s little more than a whisper, his voice carries through the pandemonium and the rest of the team falls silent, stunned that he is actually going along with my suicidal idea.
“That depends,” I say, my confidence growing with Draven’s support. “How
attached are you to your powers?”
• • •
Once the others are safely off the grounds of Rex’s secret compound, Rebel, Riley, and I walk the long dirt road up to the front door of the facility.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Riley whispers.
Rebel snaps, “As long as you do your part.”
“Well, forgive me for being scared out of my mind, Rebel,” he throws back. “It’s not like Dad tried to kill us both or anything… Oh wait, he did!”
“It’s not like we have another choice,” Rebel argues. “We can’t just let him kill an innocent—”
“I’m not saying we should.”
“No, you’re just saying it shouldn’t be us.” “I’m not saying that either. I just think—”
“Shut. Up.” I grit my teeth as we approach the door.
They stop bickering.
Rebel reaches over and squeezes my hand.
We’ve been over the plan a million times. Or at least as many times as possible, given that Rex’s countdown was underway.
There are so many things that could go wrong, but this is our best shot. Our only shot.
stand there patiently—okay, impatiently—waiting for the door to open. It doesn’t. I glance up at the security camera staring down at us. I wave, if you can call flipping Rex off waving. Nitro would be proud.
“You have got to be joking,” I mutter to myself. Riley asks, “What?”
I ignore him as I step up to the door. Lifting my fist, I give the security camera an angry glare as I rap my knuckles against the rusty metal door.
Only Rex would be egomaniacal enough to make me actually knock. Almost immediately, the door swings open on creaking hinges.
“Here goes nothing,” Rebel whispers.
Together, we step across the threshold.
The inside is just as run-down and dilapidated-looking as the exterior, but it is spotlessly clean. Not a speck of dirt or a dust mite on-site. I always knew Rex was a bit of a clean freak. Rebel’s disaster of a room was one of the many things she and her father clashed over.
Obviously it was not the last.
“I guess we go down?” Riley doesn’t sound thrilled at the suggestion as he peers over the edge of a metal railing covered in chipped paint and even more rust. His voice echoes around the metal space.
We join him at the edge, and I find myself staring down into a never-ending spiral. Like something out of a postapocalyptic movie, a staircase winds its way around and down, deeper than my eyes can focus.
We start for the stairs, but before we take four steps, Rex’s voice booms into the chamber.
“Only Miss Swift, if you please,” he instructs. “I will send someone for my children shortly.”
The three of us exchange nervous—but determined—looks. Then, even though I know Rex is watching, I wrap my best friend in the tightest hug I’ve ever given— tighter even than one of her patented oxygen-deprivation hugs. I’m confident in
our plan, or at least as confident as I can be when facing down a genocidal megalomaniac in person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not scared. That doesn’t mean I’m not realistic about what could go wrong.
“I’ll get you back,” I promise softly in her ear.
“No matter what it takes,” she whispers back. “You stop Rex, no matter what it takes.”
My gut twists at the implication of her words, but I won’t let myself think that is a possibility, even for a second. Because it’s not. “I will get you back,” I repeat.
And then I release her, turning away before I can see the look in her eyes. Because this won’t be the last time I see my best friend. I won’t let it be. • • •
The climb down the spiral staircase feels never-ending. Around and around, down and down. When I am half a spiral from the bottom, a light floods the space below me and the floor finally comes into view. I keep descending until I reach the source of the light: an open door.
I fight the urge to turn around and look back up the shaft.
Knowing how far down I’ve come will only freak me out, and when I’m about to stand toe-to-toe with Rex, that’s the last thing I can afford.
But when I walk through the door, Rex isn’t there. A pair of tall guys, in matching gray suits and shiny aviator sunglasses—seriously, who wears sunglasses in a freaking mine shaft?—greet me with matching grim expressions. The only difference between them is one is wearing a stainless-steel dive watch and the other has a black rubber watchband.
“Well, well,” I say, trying for as casual a tone as possible, “if it isn’t the Ray-Ban brigade. I’ve missed you guys. What’ve you been up to? Hitting the semiannual sale at the Shade Shack—oof!”
I buckle over as one of them punches me in the stomach.
“Touchy, huh?” I gasp. “Maybe you should think about shaking up the uniform. Try some tortoiseshell or maybe even—oof!” Oh, that one’s gonna hurt.
Or it would, if I didn’t know Draven’s power could heal it in an instant.
I’m not normally one to bait people with words. Maybe I’ve brought a little too much Nitro in with me.
The guy on the left pulls back for another punch, but Rex’s voice booms into the room from a speaker somewhere in the ceiling. “Enough. This one is mine.”
As the two guys reach for me, I hold up my hands in mock surrender. Or, I suppose, actual surrender, since that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t put up a fight as the guys pat me down for weapons and then cuff my hands behind my back. And then, for the final touch, the one with the stainless watchband grabs a powers-neutralizing helmet from a cabinet in the corner and heads my way.
Right before he slides it over my head, I send out a tiny pulse of my electro-power, frying its circuitry. Take that, powers-zapping helmet. Nothing like giving Rex a false sense of security.
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