Powerless, p.8

Powerless, страница 8

 

Powerless
 

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  I’ve been powerless my whole life, but nothing prepared me for the horror that crawls through me.

  I have to do something. I can’t just walk away knowing what they’re doing to Rebel’s boyfriend. Villain or not, he’s a human being and no one—no one—deserves to be treated like that.

  With that one thought clear in my mind, I pull myself together. Crawl out from beneath the window. Race down the hall. I want out of here. Now. It takes every ounce of my self-control not to run full tilt back to the elevator. I have just enough awareness to remember the cameras. So I pause at the corner of the hallway and count. Then I run.

  Pause. Count. Run.

  Pause. Count. Run.

  I do it again and again, until I’m at the stairwell.

  I fling open the door and fall inside. I’m sobbing now, close to hysterical, but I make myself think. I drag myself up the stairs to sub-level two and press the elevator call button. When the door opens, I stumble inside. I swipe Mom’s security badge and jab the button for sub-level one.

  All I can think of is getting back to the safety of my mom’s lab.

  I need to pull myself together. Every second I waste is another second Dante will be tortured. That thought, more than any other, brings me back. My tears dry and my breathing quiets.

  I’m not calm—how can I be?—but I’m functioning. And for now that’s enough. I take a second to splash cold water on my face. Then I grab my research log and shove it into the back of my jeans. I leave the rest of my materials. I shove the boxes back into the cabinets at my station so it won’t look suspicious. I even leave my backpack. No one will know I’ve been here. Then I race toward the emergency stairwell.

  I spare a quick glance around to see if Mr. Malone’s newly installed cameras cover this part of the hallway yet. I don’t see any, so I reach over and pull the fire alarm.

  I can’t rescue Dante right now, but hopefully this will buy him a reprieve.

  As the alarm shrieks, I book it up the stairs to the lobby. By the time I get there, one of the security guards is on the phone with the fire department while the other ushers me out of the building.

  I follow his directions, but the second he turns his back on me, I sprint toward my car. I don’t think I actually breathe until I’m pulling out of the parking lot. And even then, I’m only one shaky step from frantic.

  I put some miles between the lab and me, then park at a drive-through custard shop. I pull out my cell phone and text Rebel.

  Need to c u now v important

  I wait impatiently for her answer. It only takes about thirty seconds.

  U ok?

  Yes but need to talk r u home? I reply.

  No 4179 Valmont Ct

  I don’t know where that is and I don’t care. I enter the address into the GPS on my phone, then dash off another text.

  B there in 20

  Fifteen minutes later I park in front of a large, gray house in an area of town I’ve never been before. An area said to be popular with villains.

  If I was less desperate or upset, I’d probably turn and walk away. But I am desperate and I am upset and I have nowhere else to go. No one else to trust. Not when my own mom lied to me about the secret sub-level.

  If she knows it exists, she probably knows what goes on in there. And if she does, I don’t know what to think. All I know is I can’t face her. Not now. Not with this.

  I text Rebel to let her know I’m here, and by the time I get to the door, she’s standing there waiting for me.

  The instant I see her, tears burn the back of my eyes again. I blink, try to make them disappear, but they roll down my face instead.

  “Kenna!” She reaches out for me, pulls me into a hug. “What’s wrong?”

  “I saw them. I saw—”

  “What? What did you see?”

  I choke up. “I found the secret level.”

  She stiffens against me, and before I can say anything else, the door is yanked wide open. Draven stands there, looking just as dark and scowly as he did the previous night. Just as badass. Like he can take on anything.

  I never thought I’d be so relieved to see a villain.

  “What did you see?” he demands, his voice hoarser, more gravelly than I remember.

  I swallow and force out the words, even knowing how much they’re going to hurt him and Rebel. “They have your boyfriend. They’re torturing him.”

  For a moment, silence hangs in the air as they stare at me, wide-eyed.

  Draven clears his throat, and though his face is pale, his voice is even when he says, “I think you’d better come in.”

  I hesitate. These are villains, I tell myself. Bad guys. If I walk through this door, I’m committing treason. But then an image of Dante comes back to me, strapped to that chair with electricity running through his body until he screams and vomits and cries.

  Black and white is dissolving. So is right and wrong. If some heroes can be bad, maybe I have to trust that some villains can be…good?

  I don’t know if I can, but I don’t have a choice. I haven’t since the moment I peered in that window.

  Taking a deep breath, I walk through the door. As I do, I feel the ground shift beneath my feet.

  Chapter 8

  I only thought I was mixed-up before.

  Because the moment I cross the threshold and get a good look at who Rebel’s hanging out with, everything I thought I knew, everything I thought I saw, gets a little more chaotic.

  Dante stands there looking whole and healthy and entirely untortured. His fauxhawk’s perfectly groomed, though his eyes look dead and his face is completely drained of color. It’s as if I had only imagined the scene back at ESH.

  But I didn’t imagine it. I might be confused, but I’m not crazy.

  “You… Y-y-you’re… I saw you.” I shake my head. “How is this possible?”

  I can’t help but back away from the ghost. As I do, I collide with something. Someone.

  “Deacon.” Draven’s voice is low and hard against my ear. “You saw his brother, Deacon. This is Dante.”

  “Deacon?” I echo.

  “Identical twins,” Rebel says as she wraps her arms, her whole body, around Dante as if she’s trying to protect him. Shield him.

  “I—” My voice catches in my throat. “I didn’t know.”

  When she said they were brothers, I never imagined they might be twins. Does that make it worse? I look at Dante and think maybe it does.

  For several long, heavy moments the room is silent except for our breathing and the soft, gentle words Rebel whispers into Dante’s ear. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but it seems to be having some kind of soothing effect on Dante because he’s clinging to her like she’s the only thing keeping him standing.

  Not that I blame him. Not when he just found out that his brother is being tortured as we speak.

  His twin brother. Deacon. The guy they broke into the lab to find.

  The puzzle pieces start assembling themselves to form a picture.

  No wonder they had been so angry and frantic. No wonder Nitro nearly blew the place to bits. If they had even a clue what was happening to Deacon, then their restraint was actually pretty impressive. If something like that was happening to Rebel and I couldn’t get to her, couldn’t find her… Well, let’s just say I’m shocked they didn’t do more damage to the lab. A lot more damage.

  I want to say something, to apologize for what’s happening. To apologize for ratting on them to the SHPD last night, for stopping them before they found him, for not doing more for Deacon than pulling the fire alarm tonight. But before I can get out much more than “I—” Draven slams his fist into the wall. Slams it through the wall, to be more exact.

  “Two-faced sons of bitches.” He hits the wall again. And again. By the time he pulls back to smash his fist into t
he drywall for a fourth time, his knuckles are bruised and bleeding.

  “Hey.” I don’t know what possesses me—or why it bothers me so much to see him hurt himself—but I wrap my palms over his fist. “Don’t. That won’t help anything.”

  I rub my thumb gently over his injured knuckles. He stiffens and glances down at where our skin touches.

  His voice is rough when he says, “How do you know what will—”

  “Was my dad there?” Rebel interrupts, talking over him.

  I can’t even form the words. How do you tell your best friend that you saw her dad standing over her boyfriend’s twin, casually watching a torture session as if it were a baseball game? Tears spring to my eyes as I drop Draven’s hand and shake my head helplessly. Not to say no, but because I don’t know how to tell her yes.

  “I knew it,” she whispers, then turns back to Dante. “I’m so sorry, baby.”

  He doesn’t answer. While Draven looks like he’s ready to tear the whole world apart, Dante just looks like he’s in shock.

  Who could blame them?

  “Of course Rex was there.” Draven wipes his bloody knuckles on his jeans. “It’s as bad as we feared. It goes all the way to the top. The whole damn hero world is corrupt.”

  “That’s not true,” I say. “It’s not all heroes.”

  He sneers at me, his fierce eyes blazing with a rage that paradoxically sends a shiver up my spine. “Don’t be naïve, hero girl.”

  While he didn’t say “hero-worshiper,” his tone tells me that’s exactly what he means. He thinks I’m no better than the men who are torturing Deacon.

  “Draven’s right,” Rebel says, like she’s begging me to understand. “It’s time you finally saw the truth.”

  “You’re wrong.” I’m not trying to be difficult, but I can’t accept the idea that all heroes are bad. “I work in that lab. I see heroes being heroic every day. Just because a few bad apples—”

  “No, Kenna,” Rebel interrupts. “It’s not just a few. I’ve been digging into this for almost a year. It’s way more widespread than you think.”

  My mind reels at the thought. It’s bad enough to think that a small group of rotten eggs have worked their way into power. What she’s talking about is so extreme it’s practically incomprehensible.

  Some heroes, yes. Obviously. But not all. Not even most.

  I can’t believe the League would let that happen.

  “I don’t—” I shake my head. “There must be a logical explanation. Like mind control or—”

  “You don’t get it!” Rebel shouts.

  I jerk back, stunned at her rage. This is my best friend, the girl I’ve known all my life, the girl I know better than anyone. How could I not realize how bad it’s gotten?

  “Rebel, I—”

  “Of course she doesn’t get it.” Draven again. “She’s been drinking the League Kool-Aid. Cherry-flavored, is it?”

  “Hey, screw you!” I turn on him, frustrated and furious. “Just because you think you’re so big and bad doesn’t mean you’ve got all the answers. In fact, last night you seemed pretty—”

  I freeze as it hits me that I’m not supposed to remember the break-in. Rebel might have told me about her boyfriend, but I’m not supposed to know who Draven is, am not supposed to remember him at all. The last thing I want is for a bunch of villains to know about my immunity, even if they are friends of Rebel’s. Whatever Draven does to push my buttons almost pushed me into revealing my biggest secret. I can’t lose control like that.

  “Stop,” Rebel says, calmer now that she’s taken a few breaths. “Just…stop. You can’t defend them, Kenna. You have no idea—” She closes her eyes. “This is only the tip of an iceberg of evil. Trust me when I say it’s not just a few bad heroes, and it’s not as simple as mind control. It’s much bigger and much worse than anything you can imagine.”

  I open my mouth, but what can I say? I trust Rebel. The villainous identity of her secret boyfriend aside, she has never lied to me. And while she may be a bit out there, she’s never been one to leap to unjustified conclusions or make unfounded accusations. Why would she start now?

  Part of me refuses to accept her claims though. Part of me believes that she’s wrong and there is some non-world-shattering explanation. Except right now, it doesn’t matter. Right now, the only thing that matters is getting Deacon out alive.

  As if reading my thoughts, Dante whispers, “Tell me.”

  My heart thunders.

  Rebel turns to him, taking his face between her palms. “Babe, no.”

  Behind me, Draven says, “Don’t.”

  I don’t want to relive any of it. What I saw—I’m not sure I can put it into words. I’m not sure I should.

  But when Dante pushes Rebel’s hands away, his cheeks splotchy and eyes glistening, I can’t look away. I try to imagine what I would want if I were in his situation, if it were my mom or Rebel in that chair on sub-level three. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like if it were my twin.

  Still, if it was me, I’d want to know. I would need to know. And as painful as it will be, Dante deserves to know.

  I have to tell him.

  “They had him strapped to a chair,” I begin, and have to pause to maintain my composure. “I think they were shooting electricity through him.”

  Dante squeezes his eyes shut and Rebel hugs him tighter, petting him softly while she rests her head on his chest. I want to close my eyes too, to shut out the memories, but I can’t take my gaze off Dante. As I replay all the horrifying details for him, for all of them, Dante’s legs give out and he collapses onto the couch. Rebel goes down with him, holding him still.

  “I pulled the fire alarm on my way out,” I tell them, “hoping it would”—I look at Draven—“distract them, maybe.”

  I feel so helpless. When I stopped these villains in the lab last night, I hadn’t known the truth. But tonight…I know. And I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I’m not used to feeling helpless. Powerless, yes, but helpless? It’s not a feeling I like.

  There must have been something more I could have done for Deacon. I should have burst into that room and made them let him go. I should have threatened to expose them. I should have done something, anything, rather than run away.

  I don’t realize there are tears streaming down my cheeks too, until Draven reaches out to wipe them away. His eyes are distant, but his hands are gentle.

  Rebel, the girl who never cries—not even when she broke her ankle flying off the swing set in fourth grade—sobs into Dante’s shoulder.

  The seconds tick by as we each dwell in our own private torment. Then Dante lets out a primal scream.

  The windows rattle and a picture falls off the wall.

  “Dante, no—” Rebel shouts, but she’s cut off by a roar of wind.

  Draven shoves me behind him as a dining room chair flies across the hall, slamming into the wall and splintering into kindling. Books fly off shelves and the TV crashes to the floor.

  A mini tornado tears through the house, tossing around everything in its path. Every time Dante yells, it gets stronger, adding another gust of wind to the destruction.

  Guess I know what Dante’s power is.

  “Baby,” Rebel yells above the din. “Baby, come back to me. We’ll find him.”

  Draven shields me against the nearest wall.

  “You shouldn’t have told him,” he growls at me, as debris pelts him in the back.

  Who is he to decide what Dante should hear? “It’s his brother. He has the right to know.”

  I shove at his shoulders, but Draven doesn’t move. He just glares at me. His obvious blame mixes with my own guilt about abandoning Deacon, leaving me angry at myself instead of him. I stop trying to push him away. Take the protection he’s giving me.

  “We can go get him,” Rebel
says, still trying to get through to Dante. “Kenna knows how to get to the secret level. We can rescue him.”

  In a blink, the wind is gone. Airborne objects fall to the ground and the windows stop rattling.

  “Now.” Dante’s voice is rough and harsh. “We go now.”

  “Damn straight now,” Draven replies, backing away now that the threat is gone. He asks me, “How do we get in?”

  “You don’t.”

  “The hell we don’t. Either you tell us how or I will make you.” His voice is calm, which only underscores the menace in his gaze. And the absolute confidence that he can bend me to his will.

  His irises grow colder, start to crystallize, and I know that if I don’t stop him, he’s going to use his mind power on me. And when it doesn’t work, I won’t have to worry about keeping my immunity a secret anymore.

  “I mean you can’t,” I hurry to explain. “No villain can.”

  He frowns, like he wants to argue, but his eyes go back to normal.

  “She’s right.” Rebel squeezes Dante’s hand. “The new security protocols the zeroes put in place will keep out anyone with a villain power signature.”

  “They can’t keep me out,” Draven insists.

  Everything about him—his shoulder, his jaw, his voice—is tense. He might be looking for a fight, but he and Dante would be dramatically outnumbered. They would never stand a chance, and then neither would Deacon.

  “Even without the new protocols,” I interject, trying to be the voice of reason, “the place is swarming with guards and heroes. They’re on high alert, especially since I set off the fire alarm. There’s no way we’ll be able to get in, get him, and get away without being caught.”

  Draven’s eyebrow shoots up in the middle of my speech. I lift mine right back up, as if saying, Yeah, I said we.

  “Then what do you suggest, hero girl?” he asks. “Call and ask them to release him? Politely?”

  “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far.” In fact, my thinking hasn’t progressed much beyond don’t-get-killed. “But I know that running in, powers blazing, will only get us caught and you dead. Deacon too, probably.” It’s a low blow, but I figure even if they’re willing to endanger their own lives, they won’t want to do anything that might turn retribution against Deacon—especially after everything he’s suffered.

 
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