“Yes, very happy,” Sonya adds.
I clench my fists.
“Thank you,” I say to them. “Thank you—I’ll see you soon,” I’m saying. “Very soon—” And I’m backing out, backing away, rushing down the hall and I hear them shouting for me to be safe, and good luck, just behind me.
But I don’t need luck anymore. I need these two fists and this spine of steel. I waste no time at all getting to the blue room. I’m not afraid anymore.
I don’t hesitate. I won’t hesitate. Never again.
I kick it down.
Kenji’s voice hits me like a fist to the throat.
I don’t even have time to blink before I’m thrown against the wall.
My back, I think. Something is wrong with my back. The pain is so excruciating that I can’t help but wonder if it’s broken. I’m dizzy and I feel slow; my head is spinning and there’s a strange ringing in my ears.
I clamber to my feet.
I’m hit, again, so hard. And I don’t even know where the pain is coming from. I can’t blink fast enough, can’t steady my head long enough to shake the confusion.
Everything is tilting sideways.
I’m trying so hard to shake it off.
I’m stronger than this. Better than this. I’m supposed to be indestructible.
Something hits me so hard I fly across the room, slamming into the wall. I slide down to the floor. I’m bent over now, holding my hands to my head, trying to blink, trying to understand what’s happening.
I don’t understand what could possibly be hitting me.
Nothing should be able to hit me this hard. Not over and over again.
It feels like someone is calling my name, but I can’t seem to hear it. Everything is so muffled, so slippery and off-balance, like it’s there, just out of reach, and I can’t seem to find it. Feel it.
I need a new plan.
I don’t stand up again. I stay on my knees, crawling forward, and this time, when the hit comes, I try to beat it back. I’m trying so hard to push my energy forward, but all the hits to my head have made me unsteady. I’m clinging to my energy with a manic desperation, and though I don’t manage to move forward, I’m also not thrown back.
I try to lift my head.
There’s nothing in front of me. No machine. No strange element that might be able to create these powerful impacts. I blink hard against the ringing in my ears, trying frantically to clear my vision.
Something hits me again.
The intensity threatens to beat me back but I dig my fingers into the ground until they go through the wood and I’m clinging to the floor.
I would scream, if I could. If I had any energy left.
I lift my head again. Try again to see.
And this time, two figures come into focus.
One is Anderson.
The other is someone I don’t recognize.
He’s a stocky blond with closely cropped hair and flinty eyes. He looks vaguely familiar to me. And he’s standing beside Anderson with a cocky smile on his face, his hands held out in front of him.
I’m ripped from the floor and thrown back against the wall.
These are pressure waves, I realize.
Anderson has found himself a toy.
I shake my head and try to clear it again, but the hits are coming faster now. Harder. More intense. I have to close my eyes against the pressure of the hits and try to crawl, desperately, breaking through the floorboards to get a grip on something.
Hard to the head.
It’s like he’s causing an explosion every time his hands clap together, and what’s killing me isn’t the explosion. It isn’t direct impact. It’s the pressure released from a bomb.
Over and over and over again.
I know the only reason I’m able to survive this is because I’m too strong.
But Kenji, I think.
Kenji must be somewhere in this room. He was the one who called my name, who tried to warn me. He must be here, somewhere, and if I can hardly survive this right now, I don’t know how he could be doing any better.
He must be doing worse.
That fear is enough for me. I’m fortified with a new kind of strength, a desperate, animal intensity that overpowers me and forces me upright. I manage to stand in the face of each impact, each blow as it rattles my head and rings in my ears.
And I walk.
One step at a time, I walk.
I hear a gunshot. Three. Five more. And realize they’re all aimed in my direction. Bullets breaking off my body.
The blond is moving. Backing up. Trying to get away from me. He’s increasing the frequency of his hits, hoping to throw me off course, but I’ve come too far to lose this fight. I’m not even thinking now, barely even lucid, focused solely on reaching him and silencing him forever. I have no idea if he’s managed to kill Kenji yet. I have no idea if I’m about to die. I have no idea how much longer I can withstand this.
But I have to try.
One more step, I tell myself.
Move your leg. Now your foot. Bend at the knee.
You’re almost there, I tell myself.
Think of Kenji. Think of James. Think of the promises you made to that ten-year-old boy, I tell myself. Bring Kenji home. Bring yourself home.
There he is. Right in front of you.
I reach forward as if through a cloud, and clench my fist around his neck.
Squeeze until the sound waves stop.
I hear something crack.
The blond falls to the floor.
And I collapse.
Anderson is standing over me now, pointing a gun at my face.
I close my eyes and pull deep, deep within myself for my last dregs of strength, because somehow, some instinct inside of my body is still screaming at me to stay alive. I remember Sonya and Sara telling me once that our energies could be depleted. That we could overexert ourselves. That they were trying to make medicines to help with that sort of thing.
I wish I had that kind of medicine right now.
I blink up at Anderson, his form blurring at the edges. He’s standing just behind my head, the toes of his shiny boots touching the top of my skull. I can’t hear much but the echoes in my bones, can’t see anything other than the bullets raining down around me. He’s still shooting. Still unloading his gun into my body, waiting for the moment when he knows I won’t be able to hold on any longer.