“Jack,” she shrieked, reaching through the bars to touch him. She could only get her hand in up to her wrist.
The loudspeaker blared. “Step back!”
Jack grabbed her hand, a look of panic in his eyes.
“I’ll disappear right now, right here,” she whispered fiercely. “They’ll have to take me with you.”
“Don’t you dare.” He let go of her hand and tried to push her away. “You’re free. I’ll get out.”
“But I can do it right now, and then I can go with you,” Aubrey insisted, forcing her hands between the bars and grabbing his shirt.
“No! If you’re free you can get me out. Who knows what will happen if we’re both Positives?” He took her hand in his own.
“I want to come with you!”
“No. You get me out.”
“I will,” she promised,
“Step back!” the voice repeated. “We will use force.”
“Go,” he said, pushing her hand through the fence. “Don’t get killed like this.”
Pain burst through Aubrey’s head and rippled down her body. It was as though she were being beaten with a baseball bat, but couldn’t tell where she was getting hit. She saw Jack stumble and collapse. Her legs felt like overcooked noodles, and she could barely muster the strength to bring her weak arms to her ears. Noise was coming from somewhere—piercing, thundering noise that seemed to sap all of her energy and cripple her brain.
And then, as suddenly as the noise came, it disappeared, leaving her crumpled in a heap, unable to move.
She felt a hand on her shoulder, and saw that she was being dragged away from the cage.
The world was silent. Whatever had happened had completely deafened her.
“Jack,” she shouted, though she couldn’t hear her own voice. “I’ll get you out.”
ALEC SAT UP GINGERLY AND swung his legs over the side of the bed. He took a breath and wheezed at the pain. He tried to focus his bleary eyes. A bare, hardwood floor. A worn La-Z-Boy draped with an afghan. A stack of quilts. A plate of food—a sandwich and potato chips—that he hadn’t touched.
“I’m sorry ma’am,” a young man’s voice said in the other room. “Nobody hates this more than me. They took my own nephew, little Levi. Yeah, you know him.”
Alec couldn’t hear the old woman’s voice, but he could hear the old man snoring loudly in a neighboring room.
“Listen,” the young man said. “I know you’re just trying to do right by this boy. We heard about Parley’s car accident, and we know you’re just trying to protect him.”
Alec stood and crept toward the door on bruised legs.
The woman’s voice shook with Parkinson’s. “I’ve seen the news. If we took the boy to the hospital then you would have taken him away.”
She’d been easy to play. Her mind was so decrepit as it was that he hardly had to try to implant new memories—memories of her husband driving the old 1970s Chevy Impala into town and hitting Alec as he was crossing the street. Memories of Alec being a boy she knew—a grandson of a neighbor. That was all it took. People in this little town—even ancient people like Mr. and Mrs. Lyon—had no love for the government, and the thought that the army was stealing kids was abhorrent. And so the old couple had taken him in, treated his injuries as best they could, and let him sleep.
After a twenty-five-mile hike out of the mountains, with at least one arm broken from the avalanche and a hundred black bruises, all Alec wanted to do was sleep. He didn’t know how long he had been out, or how his arm had ended up in a bandage.
That was probably what did him in, though. Mrs. Lyon would have been too trusting, too concerned. She would have sought help and that’s how the police found out.
Alec looked at the window, with its heavy wooden frame and its thick leaded glass. There was no way he could open it with one hand.
Dan had been too reckless. Laura had abandoned him. Alec had saved their asses a hundred times and they just let him get caught in the avalanche. Left him to die, buried up to his waist, one arm broken and the other smashed.
“Please tell me where the boy is,” the young man said.
Think of a story. Think of a story.
But his mind was too blurred. There wouldn’t be any getting out of this. Alec cursed himself. He’d snuck into the bathroom less than an hour before and found an old bottle of narcotic painkillers. Two Lortab to take away the excruciating pain.
And now his mind was so muddled, so numb, that he couldn’t concentrate. He couldn’t implant a memory. He wondered if he could even speak coherently.
He sat back on the bed.
“Mrs. Lyon,” the man said, his voice more firm. “Please tell me where the boy is. I have half the guys from Castle Dale surrounding the house. We have orders from the army.”
Alec couldn’t fight; he couldn’t use his mental abilities. He could barely stand.
Laura and Dan were as good as dead. Traitors. If Alec ever made it out of this house alive, Laura and Dan would pay.
“He’s badly injured,” Mrs. Lyon said, her voice quivering. “My Parley—he just can’t see as well as he used to, and he didn’t mean to hit the boy.”
“Is he back here?”
There were heavy footsteps on the wooden floor, and the door was pushed open fast and deliberately.
Whether there was a gun pointed at him, Alec had no idea—all he could see was the blinding bulb of a flashlight as it passed back and forth across the room.
Alec couldn’t even raise an arm to block the beam.
“What’s your name, son?”
“I heard you had a nasty accident.”
Alec just nodded his head.
“What were you doing out on the road?”
“Hitchhiking,” Alec said, repeating the same story he’d told Mrs. Lyon. “Trying to get up north.”
“Well,” the man said, turning off his flashlight and revealing himself to be a stocky man with a goatee and a deputy uniform. “We’ve got orders to take you up to Price—there’s a quarantine on. But I think we’ll make a pit stop at the clinic and see if we can’t get you patched up.”
Alec nodded again. He knew there were things he needed to do—stories he needed to create and memories to manipulate to get himself through the quarantine. But it would have to wait until the drugs had worn off.
“Can you walk?” the deputy asked.
“I’ll bring in some of my guys. Don’t worry. We’ll get you taken care of.”
AUBREY’S EYES BURNED, AND SHE didn’t bother to wipe away the tears that were dripping down her flushed cheeks as the armored transport sped away from Jack and the other Positives. Something had failed, something had gone wrong. She’d changed her own test results—had someone changed Jack’s?
None of the other teens in the transport said anything. Kara, the girl who had been picked just before Aubrey, sat directly across from her, their knees almost touching. Kara’s hands were clasped in her lap, and she looked relieved and happy. Aubrey wished that she could feel the same way. It’s how she should have felt, how she’d expected to feel if she was declared Negative.