…. EPISODE 52…..
….. Posted by uc beverly…..
My father? My father? The words echo in my head and chase themselves around in there as shock rips through me. Rex has my father? And he’s here?
How is that even possible?
Mom’s final words echo in my mind. Rex is holding him somewhere. Using him…
Now I know where.
I blink at him, for a moment not able to think or speak or even breathe. The mini-tornado fades, the smoky water falling to the floor with a splash. It takes all my energy to keep the pink fireball alive.
“Did you hear me, Kenna? I have your father.” Think, Kenna. Think. How can you sell this to Rex?
I should be shocked. As far as Rex knows, I think my father is dead. But I’ve already gone through the shock of learning that he’s still alive. Now I’m just shocked to learn that he’s here, right now. That somehow he’s tangled up in all of this.
I use the shock I feel to project the shock Rex expects from me.
“My father is dead.” I say the words very carefully, making sure they come out right.
“That’s what everyone thinks,” Rex says just as carefully. “But he’s not. If you put that fireball away, I’ll take you to him.”
He’s manipulating me. I know he is. I can hear it in his voice. That’s the same tone he always used with Rebel when he wanted to bend her to his will, tried to get her to do what he wanted when she was acting out. She never fell for it. I’m not going to either.
He takes a step toward me, his gun pointed at my chest. With shaking hands, I hold the pink fireball in front of me. Rex gets the message. He doesn’t lower his gun, but he takes a step back.
“Why would I lie?” he asks me.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I retort, “to screw with me? To throw me off balance? Or maybe just for fun? When have you ever needed a reason to lie, Rex?” “There is always a reason.”
“Okay,” I say, pretending to play along, “then tell me why he’s here. Why would my dad, who loved me and my mom more than anything, be hanging out in your…” I wave my free hand above me in an all-encompassing gesture. “Whatever this place is?”
“Well, it’s not like he has a choice,” Rex replies with his trademark good-guy grin.
His words go through me like lightning, and my fireball turns a bright lime-green before shooting out of my palm. It glances harmlessly off Rex’s shoulder.
He smirks and holds his gun steady. I rush to get another pink fireball going. Even though I had been warned, even though Mom told me Rex was holding my dad, hearing the words was like a punch in the stomach. Some reactions you can’t fake. I finally understand why Nitro has so much trouble controlling his power. When you’re playing with fire—literally—it’s hard to keep your emotions out of the mix.
But I’ve got them under control again, and Rex and I are back to our standoff.
And I’m back to my clueless act.
“You were friends,” I yell at him. “Everyone says so. Why would you keep him prisoner?”
“Because he had something I wanted.” He shrugs, like his answer is no big deal. “His power is the key to everything. Sometimes the good of the one has to be sacrificed for the good of the many.”
“What good?” I demand. “Torturing innocent villains? Brainwashing innocent heroes? Perpetuating this war between the two sides?” “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done to keep heroes safe.”
Liar. Everything he’s done, he’s done to feed his own thirst for power. And, if his mind-control program is allowed to succeed, unchecked power.
Everything inside me screams for me to run, to get as far from this psychopath as I can as quickly as possible. But self-preservation has to take a backseat to the plan to stop Rex. And right now, my part of the plan is to buy the others more time. Besides, just because Rex knows my dad is still alive doesn’t mean he’s telling me the truth. It doesn’t mean my dad is actually here. He could just as easily be a prisoner at any of a dozen different secret hero facilities around the globe—and those are just the ones Riley’s told us about. “I don’t believe you.”
“Fine,” he says casually. “Don’t believe me. It’s your loss.”
I freeze, not because of his words—they’re what I would expect—but because of his inflection. There’s something in his voice that tells me it’s a trap. A ploy to get me back in handcuffs and under control.
And I have to play along. “I want proof.”
“My proof is that he’s here. All you have to do is come with me.” “That’s not proof,” I throw back. “That’s a trap.”
He stares at me with a blank expression. “I guess that’s a risk you’ll have to take.” I weigh my options. I could choose not to believe him and keep this standoff going, hoping I can keep Rex from killing me long enough for the others to get in place. Or I can find out if he’s telling the truth by taking his bait on the unlikely chance that my father really is here.
Both options probably end with me being dead, but at least the latter buys me some more time.
And I’m not going to lie, even the tiniest possibility that my dad is in here is worth the added risk.
“Put down the gun,” I tell him.
He laughs. “I don’t think so.”
I launch a small blue fireball with my left hand. My aim is dead on, and it hits the gun square in the barrel. It recoils but remains secure in Rex’s hand. “Nice try,” he says. “I’ll hold on to my insurance policy.”
I allow the pink ball in my right hand to grow until it’s the size of a basketball. As it turns orange, I shout, “I will melt this entire room around us.”
“That won’t change anything. The scarlet phoenix protocol will continue unfettered. Another member of the Collective will step into my shoes. The only difference is, we’ll both be dead.” He gestures toward the door behind him. “Or, you could come with me. See that I’m telling the truth. See that your father is still alive.”
He’s playing me. I know that without a shadow of a doubt. But still…it’s my
father. The man I’ve thought dead for more than a dozen years. The man I believed until recently I would never see again.
Trap or not, I know I don’t have another choice.
“If you’re lying, I will kill you,” I tell him, my voice shaking with conviction. “I’m not lying,” he tells me, taking a step toward the open hallway door. “Put your fireball away and I’ll take you to him.”
I lift a brow at him. “Me putting away this fireball isn’t going to happen, Rex.” “Your powers won’t work on me anyway,” he says. “Thanks to that little injection you sent in with your friend.”
“True,” I reply, “but they still work on everyone else. And they still work on the objects around us.”
He tips his head at me, as if acknowledging my point.
The truth is, I think I could whip the gun out of his hand in a number of ways— with Dante’s wind, Deacon’s water, or a good old-fashioned fireball. But if the gun makes Rex feel safer, makes him relax his guard, that can only be a good thing.
I just have to make sure he doesn’t use it.
“Okay,” I say, trying to sound reasonable, “you keep your weapon, and I’ll keep mine.”
“Fair enough,” he says with a smirk that tells me he doesn’t think it’s fair at all. He thinks he has the upper hand. But he’s going along with it, and for now that’s all that matters. “I’ll lead the way, shall I?” I give him a fake smile. “Please.”
He turns and starts for the door, and I focus on keeping the pink fireball alive while using Draven’s glacial-blue thread to sense for any conscious heroes who might be lying in wait.
“It’s another serum, right?” Rex asks as we step out of the hall and into another stairwell. “You’ve managed to make some kind of serum that gives you multiple powers. Is that another one of your mother’s secret projects?” I snort—quietly, so he doesn’t hear.
No, it’s not a serum; it’s my second power. But the last thing I want is Rex knowing that I can absorb additional powers simply by reaching out with my mind and taking them. I have a feeling that would change whatever he has planned, and not in a good way.
So I ignore his questions, let him assume what he wants. I’ll let my little revelation be a surprise for later.
If I thought that first staircase descended into forever, I had no idea. We go down so many levels, pass so many landings with doors that lead to who knows what, that I’m beginning to feel like we’re actually journeying to the center of the earth. We finally reach the bottom, which opens onto a short hall that leads to a steel vault door. It’s guarded by two very large heroes with very large guns. Most supers would rather rely on their powers than a traditional weapon. That Rex thinks they need the added security of automatic rifles tells me that whatever is inside is really valuable to him.
There is an access panel with a retinal scanner and a handprint reader in the center of the door.
The hero guards don’t even blink at the fireball I’m holding on Rex, which makes me wonder just what they see down here on a regular basis. And whether or not an ambush is waiting for me inside that room.
Though I try to keep my cool, my stomach clenches and my heart starts beating double time. This is an awful lot of security in a place that is already more secure than the president’s underground bunker.
As Rex gets his palm and his eye scanned, I scoot closer to one of the guards. I can feel his power—super strength, big surprise. I reach out with my mind, grab onto the silver power pulsing through his body, and then draw it into mine. I might not be able to use any powers against Rex, but that kind of strength might come in really handy down here.
I start to scan the other guard, but I can’t get a read on his power, and before I can try harder, Rex yanks the giant lever and the door glides open. He gestures for me to precede him into the room.
I almost don’t do it. I’m not stupid. Walking in front of him is a terrible idea. But at the same time, I can’t not go. Not when he says my father is in that room. Not when the others haven’t signaled that they’ve succeeded. Not when they still need more time.
And so I do as he indicates, sliding into the room sideways so that I can keep my fireball trained on him the whole time. No way am I letting Rex out of my sight. Once we’re inside, with the door sealed behind us, I take a chance and look around. Disappointment burns in my stomach. I knew it was a trap, I knew it. And yet…I still wanted to believe. I wanted so much for it to be true, that I convinced myself Rex might actually be telling the truth.
Bracing myself for whatever attack is coming, I press my back into the nearest corner with my fireball in front of me like a shield.
“Nice trick,” I say.
He just raises a brow. “Your lack of faith in me is devastating.”
“Your lack of humanity is repulsive,” I throw back. “So I guess we’re even.” “You never did answer my question.” He flashes me that hero-perfect grin. “How did you create all these powers for yourself?”
I ignore him, focusing my attention instead on studying the room. It appears to be the interior of a large vault. The walls are the same two-foot-thick steel as the door. So thick that Draven’s power can’t sense anything beyond.
So thick they would probably contain all but the most destructive of Nitro’s fireballs. Unless I’m willing to conjure a nuclear bomb—which would not only kill me and Rex, but everyone in a two-mile radius. Including my friends and the innocent heroes and villains of Rex’s drone army. “You’ll tell me eventually,” Rex says.
I pull my attention back to him. “They say hope springs eternal.”
“Now, now,” he chides. “Is that any way to treat the person who reunites you with your long lost father?”
I keep my fireball aimed at him as he turns to face the door, then punches a code into what looks like a standard alarm panel. The floor in front of me starts to rise, and I brace myself, expecting the worst. Expecting an army of mind-controlled superheroes to come running out, determined to kill me at any cost.
But as the floor slides up, what I find is so much worse. Because it turns out Rex
was telling the truth. Lying in what looks like a coffin-size aquarium, suspended in
a thick, clear liquid, with a web of wires hooked up to his head, is a pale, fragile,
sick-looking imitation of my father.