The army had given Jack and Aubrey bracelets, just like the ones they’d used at the Gunderson Barn. They also got plastic handcuffs because they had tried to run. They were considered dangerous.
Jack still didn’t know what to think about Aubrey. It was true—she was exactly what the army was looking for. If it was anyone else, he thought he’d just urge them to tell the truth, to turn themselves in. But this was Aubrey.
She’d lied to him. She’d ditched him. She’d given up a lifelong friendship in favor of parties, malls, convertibles, and dresses. And it wasn’t like he’d forgiven her for any of that. The truth was, when the black ops guys burst into the trailer with tear gas and machine guns, she’d disappeared. She’d tried to escape on her own, to leave Jack by himself yet again. Even in the chaos and the smoke, he’d known.
But he wouldn’t turn her in. He couldn’t. He’d seen the look on her face when she’d confessed what she could do, that she had some kind of superpower. It wasn’t a look of guilt, like she’d been caught, and it wasn’t a look of shame, like she was admitting how poorly she’d treated him. It was a look of fear. Fear of what she could do. Fear of who she was.
He didn’t trust her. He didn’t know if he ever could. But he wasn’t going to turn her in.
She was Aubrey Parsons.
The bus pulled into the parking lot of North Sanpete High School, entering a hive of military activity. There were at least eight Humvees and two other buses. Tables were set up on the asphalt and soldiers sat at laptops. Others patrolled the perimeter with M-16s and night-vision goggles.
When their bus parked, an officer told Jack and Aubrey to stay where they were, and then he and all but one of the soldiers left the bus. The last man stood at the door, his focus more on what was going on in the parking lot than on the two teenagers he was guarding.
Aubrey was fidgeting in her seat. “These cuffs are digging in to me.”
“I know,” Jack answered with a nod.
“Where is everyone?” she asked, her voice a whisper so the guard at the front of the bus couldn’t hear.
“Maybe in the school?” Jack said.
“Maybe. But where are the other buses?”
He shrugged, and felt the awkward pain of his twisted arms. “Moved on to the next town? Ephraim or Manti? Mount Pleasant was probably an easy target because we were all at the dance. It’ll be harder to round up the other kids.”
All the more reason for offering a reward, Jack thought, though he wondered where that money was going to come from. There were a lot of kids, and he still doubted that most parents would give their kids up without a fight.
An idea struck him, and made him sick to his stomach. “What if they’re testing for something different? Something else besides what you’ve got—what you can do.”
“What do you mean?”
He made certain he was talking too quietly for the guard to hear. “There’re terrorists all over the country. And as of today they’re in Utah. What if something was put into our water supply, or our food? What if this has nothing to do with Nate or you? What if it’s a real virus?”
Aubrey let out a long slow breath and then smiled for the first time in hours. “I don’t know whether to be happy about that or horrified.”
Jack chuckled softly.
The guard stepped farther down the steps so he was looking outside.
“So how does it work?” Jack asked. “It’s not invisibility like in the comic books.”
She paused for several seconds and then spoke. “Here’s my best guess. I don’t think I’m actually changing—I don’t think my skin goes transparent or anything like that. I mean, my clothes disappear too, and people can’t hear me when I’m gone. I think, instead—and I know this is going to sound crazy—but I think that my brain talks to your brain and tells you I’m not there. So your brain just ignores any sign of me. Does that sound nuts?”
Jack thought it over for a moment. “Yes. But not any crazier than just turning invisible.”
She smiled again, and then leaned forward to try to take pressure off her bound hands.
“How long have you been able to do it?” he asked.
Aubrey was silent for several seconds, like she was trying to decide what to say. “About six months,” she finally answered. “It was in March. I’d been at a church activity and all of a sudden I couldn’t see.”
“Yeah. So, my leader drove me to the clinic and they were going to do tests, but my eyesight came back. I was sitting in an exam room and someone walked in, and I freaked out—I was just wearing one of those flimsy hospital gowns—and I realized they couldn’t see me. Something about wanting to be hidden made me just disappear.”
“That’s so weird.”
“Tell me about it.”
“How could you tell they couldn’t see you?”
“Because they just stood there and stared, and then started looking all around—in the bathroom, in the hallway—and they couldn’t hear me or see me. They were sure I’d just been there—they just couldn’t figure out where I’d gone. I finally reappeared, by accident. It took a long time to control it.”
“So the hospital knows?”
Aubrey looked instantly uncomfortable, turning to gaze out the window into the darkness. Jack wished he was back with the old Aubrey. They never used to have secrets.
He prodded. “Did they do tests?”
She slumped back in her seat, her weight on her bound hands again. “It wasn’t a doctor.”
“Your dad?” he asked.
“No.” She let out a long breath, and then laughed. “I was about to swear you to secrecy, but who are you going to tell? The army?”
Jack grinned. “If I could reach, I’d cross my heart.”
“Nicole,” Aubrey said. “Probably the best-kept secret in Mount Pleasant is that Nicole Samuelson, the queen bee of North Sanpete, has kidney failure. She’s on dialysis. She walked in thinking it was her room.”
She was getting fidgety again, like she’d just realized she’d told some enormous confidential secret.
“You can’t tell anyone,” Aubrey said, making eye contact for the first time since they’d sat down. “She’d kill me.”
Jack opened his mouth, but stopped himself. He carefully considered his words. He didn’t know how much of the old Aubrey was still there, but maybe it didn’t matter. They were tied up, on a bus to who-knows-where, captured by the military for some mysterious testing.
And besides, he’d wanted answers to this for a long time.
“That’s when you became Nicole’s friend,” he said.
“Yeah, you can call it that,” she said. She laughed again, but it was colder, more bitter. “We were never friends. Nicole asked the nurse if she could get her dialysis in that room, and of course they let her because she’s a Samuelson. So we shared it, and she talked to me. And she told me what she’d seen. I was freaking out, and I didn’t know what to say.”
Jack could imagine it all. That was the old Aubrey—the Aubrey Parsons who was too shy to talk during class at all, even though she knew every answer. She was probably as terrified of Nicole as she was of what was happening to her body.