“Until what?” I asked quietly, innately knowing this wasn’t something he talked about a lot. Maybe ever.

He was still staring at the empty walls. “Until I became self-aware. Sort of like Skynet. You know, Terminator? I just woke up one day and was like, I’m smarter, faster, and deadlier than those who created me. Why was I letting them tell me when I could eat and sleep, when I could leave my room and when I could go to the bathroom? So I stopped obeying.”

I imagined that didn’t involve him just walking out a door. “What were you created for?”

“The basics,” he replied. “World domination.”

I choked on a laugh. “That’s basics?”

“Isn’t that what every idiot who goes down the wrong path in life wants? Maybe it doesn’t start out that way. The Daedalus believed they were on the good side. They’re the heroes in the story, but before they know it, they’re the villains. Same with the Luxen who invaded Earth. They wanted to dominate, because they thought they were the better species. And the Daedalus? They wanted a perfect army, a perfect government—a perfect species. That was us. That was me.”

“God, Luc. I’m so—”

“Don’t. Don’t apologize.” He looked at me. “You have nothing to do with any of that.”

“I know, but . . .” Pressure clamped down on my chest. “Did my parents have anything to do with those experiments?”

“Are you really ready for that answer?”

My breath caught. “I am.”

“Jason was one of the people who oversaw the Daedalus. He knew exactly what they were doing and how they were doing it.”

I already suspected as much, based on what Mom had told me, but still, that was a punch to the stomach. “And Mom?”

He picked up his soda, popping open the lid. “I never saw Sylvia at any of the facilities, but there is no way she didn’t know what they were doing—what her husband was doing. She may not have been part of any of the experiments, but she was sure as hell complicit.”

I didn’t want to believe that. Mom was a good person.

“Good people do terrible things when they believe in what they’re doing,” Luc commented.

“You’re reading my mind.”

He turned his head toward me. “You’re broadcasting very loudly.”

My eyes narrowed.

One side of his lips tipped up. “I’m not saying Sylvia is a bad person. There were a lot of decent people in the Daedalus who believed they were making the future a brighter, safer place.”

“But . . . that doesn’t make what they did okay. What you’ve described to me is horrific.”

“It was.” His eyes met mine. “And I didn’t even tell you half of what they were responsible for.”

My stomach twisted as I squeezed my eyes shut. I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t picture Mom knowing about forced breeding and children being raised in cells, and being okay with that. If so, it was . . . It was sickening, and I wasn’t that surprised that Mom had left all of this out when she told me about the Daedalus.

“You know what I’ve realized?”

“What?” I opened my eyes again.

Luc watched me. “Most people are capable of doing horrible things or looking away from them while they’re doing amazing things. People aren’t one-dimensional.”

“I know, but . . .” I trailed off, staring at my hands. My mom was kind of my hero. She was badass and strong. She kept it together after the invasion and Dad’s death. I didn’t want her tainted like this, but it was too late. The truth had a way of erasing the past you knew.

Smoothing my hands over my legs, I exhaled roughly.

“I mentioned a man’s name earlier. Paris? I said that I got him killed. That’s true,” Luc said quietly as he rose from the couch, and I turned my attention back to him. He was staring at me, his eyes a little wide. “And the really messed-up part of it? He knew what he was getting into. He knew why I was risking him, risking everyone, and he went along with it. And I know if there was a rewind button on life, he would’ve done the same thing—if not for me, for her.”

I had no idea what he was really talking about, but there was no mistaking the hint of pain and sorrow that pinched his striking features. “Who is . . . her?”

“That’s the story I’m going to tell you.” He paused. “If you still think you have the brain space for it.”

I nodded slowly. “I think I do.”

He backed up and leaned against the wall. In that moment, he looked almost normal. Like he could be any teenage boy out there, but it was his eyes that set him apart. Not the color, but what was in them. An aged weariness churned in the purplish hues.

“I knew a girl once,” he said. A wry grin appeared on his lips. “You know that saying, right? All great stories start with a girl? It’s true, and this girl . . . she was special. Not because she was the most beautiful. Not that she wasn’t, because I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, but that wasn’t what made her special. She was the kindest and strongest human I’d ever met. She was brilliant and she was a fighter, surviving unimaginable things.”

A twinge of sorrow blossomed in my chest. I already knew this story wouldn’t have a happy ending.

His eyes drifted shut as he tipped his head back against the wall. “She was probably my only real friend—no, she was my only true friend. She wasn’t like me—an Origin. She wasn’t Luxen or a hybrid. She was just a human girl, a tiny thing, who had run away from her home just outside of Hagerstown—a house without a mother, and a father who cared more about getting drunk and high than he did caring for his child.”

Hagerstown? That was where I was from—where I lived before the invasion. What a hell of a coincidence. The world truly was small sometimes.

Luc continued, his eyes still closed. “Somehow she made it from Hagerstown to Martinsburg, a town in West Virginia. I didn’t find her. Paris did, and yes, he was a Luxen. He came across her one night. I don’t even remember what he was doing, but I guess he felt bad for her, so he brought her back with him. She was this filthy, mouthy little thing, about two years younger than me.” The grin appeared again, this time a little sad. “I didn’t like her very much at first.”

“Of course,” I murmured, trying to picture a much younger Luc.

“She never listened to anything Paris or I told her, and no matter how annoyed I’d get with her, she was my . . .” He let out a heavy breath. “She was my shadow. Paris used to call her my pet. Which is kind of offensive when you think about it now, but yeah . . .” A shoulder lifted. “We tried to keep what we were a secret from her, because this was before the invasion, but that lasted all of about fifteen seconds. She wasn’t scared when she learned the truth. If anything, it just made her extraordinarily curious . . . and more annoying.”

A small grin tugged at my lips as I picked up my soda. Now I pictured a young Luc with an impish little girl tagging along behind him.

“Eventually, she grew on me.” The sad smile returned. “She was like a little sister I never wanted, and then as she grew older, as we grew older, she became something entirely different to me.” His eyes closed as a shudder worked its way through him. “I respected her before I even really knew what respect meant. She’d been through so much in such a short life. Things that even I couldn’t comprehend, and I was never quite worthy of her—of her friendship, her acceptance and loyalty.”

A knot formed in my throat. “What was her name?”

His striking eyes held mine as his head tilted to the side. “Nadia. Her name was Nadia.”

“That’s a pretty name.” I toyed with the tab on my soda can. “What . . . what happened to her?”

“Jason Dasher.”

A piercing pain hit my chest as I looked away. I’d known it before I’d even asked it, hadn’t I? My father—the man who I’d just learned was responsible for horrible experiments on innocent Luxen and humans.