Taha didn’t bother to rise when McKinley entered his cell. He lay on the cot, gray eyes trained on an invisible spot on the painted cinder block ceiling.
“Hasn’t anyone ever taught you to show respect to your elders?” asked McKinley.
Taha chuckled. “My elders? Yes. The ancient? Nah, not so much.”Squaring his shoulders, McKinley bristled, and then to Taha’s shock he laughed. “You have fire. That’s good.” McKinley eased himself onto the cot opposite Taha; Airun’s cot. That reminded Taha. Two hulking men had entered their unit earlier that morning and took Airun away. Airun had been prepared to fight, unwilling to be drugged into servitude yet again. He’d told Taha that he would first die, but Taha thought that was foolish. Why die when you could live and make a difference? Airun had already made a difference, helping to free Truth, thwarting McKinley’s plans. There was much more he could yet do. Taha was sure that he would too, because Airun was a good man.
When the two black leather clad thugs had arrived with a breakfast tray for him and a set of cuffs for Airun, Taha had lain a blanket of protection over Airun’s mind. For the next few days, Airun would be immune to anything McKinley put to him…provided McKinley wasn’t hiding a weapon stronger than the enchantment Taha could conjure.
“Where’s my mate?” asked Taha.
McKinley’s thin dark brows climbed up his pale waxy face. “You mean Airun, my slave?”
This time it was Taha’s turn to bristle. Living underground all his life, among those who at the very core of their being resisted the trumped up Scientist rule, had taught Taha a lesson.
That he was only a slave if he believed he was.
Those who lived underground weren’t scared rabbits hiding in a hole. They were the real resistance and they’d been biding their time. Taha was no slave, and if he had anything to do with it, neither would Airun be ever again.
Taha swung his legs over the side of the cot and sat up. He locked eyes with McKinley. They were the same gray as his, but beneath the surface, the two of them couldn’t have been more different than the sun and the moon. McKinley’s eyes, for all their cunning and depth were empty.
“It won’t do, you know,” said McKinley interrupting Taha’s internal dialogue.
“You’re thinking you would like to turn my brain into oatmeal, aren’t you?”
“Actually, I’m thinking that it already is.”
“Cheeky little imp.”
Taha sighed. “What do you want?”
“I’ve come to escort you to my laboratory for...,” McKinley cleared his throat, “...testing. Will you cooperate or will I need to use force?”
Taha’s gaze narrowed on his captor. McKinley was afraid. Taha could see it in the way he held his shoulders, in the sour waves of apprehension pulsing off of him. Taha closed his eyes and probed gently, agile mental fingers caressing McKinley’s mind. McKinley’s desperation was like hunger, and that hunger was palpable, infectious. Taha withdrew. He flashed the smile that was his trademark. “Lead the way,” said Taha as much to McKinley’s surprise as to Taha’s conspirator who hid just on the perimeter of McKinley’s compound.
For a few moments, Taha felt split in two. One part of him was present with McKinley as they walked from the left wing of the sprawling marble floored mansion and entered the east wing. They were followed by the same two thugs who’d taken Airun away earlier that day. McKinley chattered, but Taha didn’t hear a word. He’d pushed out a thin strand of his consciousness, probing for that miniscule chink in the Asomatous field. Once through, Taha linked with Truth and let him in.
Ramses followed the dark haired woman. To the left, he was able to look down over a large open area. A group of children tossed a ball back and forth, their tickled screeches carrying up to the second floor landing. Adults milled about, visiting with each other. Dim lights had been strung around support columns. Sickly appearing light reflected off the gray granite walls, yet did not diminish the content smiles on faces of the children.
Ramses was awed by the fact that in such a place, the old Garden penitentiary, these people had managed to create a life with some semblance of normalcy. And, they’d done it right under the noses of the Scientists.
The right hand side of the corridor was lined with cells, each with a bed, a window the size of a loaf of bread, and a sliding door of iron bars. Each cell was uniquely decorated by its occupant, but no creature comfort could hide the fact that this place had once been a prison.
When they came to the end of the corridor, the woman stopped and nodded Ramses into the last cell. “You have a guest, Malak,” said the woman. Without sparing another glance for Ramses, she left, her receding footfalls echoing in the gray light.
Ramses bent at the waist to prevent banging his forehead on the metal overhang of the entrance. The red-headed man who occupied this cell stood quickly from his bed, the metal springs creaking and powdering the floor beneath it with rust. His hearty laugh was infectious and Ramses couldn’t help but smile.
“You big bear!” said Malak with arms outstretched. “I never thought I would see the day when you, of all people, would leave the woods.” He embraced Ramses and then stood back to gaze up into Ramses’s dark face. “How did you know I was here?”
Ramses shook his head. “I came here to gain support. The warden told me what happened to you. He told me how you and Airun had tried to get Truth here.” Ramses shrugged. “Finding you here was just a coincidence.”
Ishee wasn’t really the warden, but he led the people in the Garden. He had explained everything to Ramses. That Airun had escaped McKinley and had recruited Malak to help him free Truth from his caretakers and reunite him with Honor. Ramses had been speechless with pride when he heard what his cousin had done.
“I see.” Malak sat on the edge of the bed. “Support for what?” Malak asked warily, though he could guess at the answer. The thought of meeting with Truth again made his skin crawl.
“The Midlings have finally decided to throw in with the Believers.”
“I thought you were opposed to this.”
“Times change. I decided to stop in to see if you would like to join my group.”
Malak’s brows drew together to form a single line across his forehead. “Where are you going?”
“We’ll be leaving within the hour to rendezvous with the other two teams at McKinley’s compound.”
The lights in Honor’s apartment were off and she lay in bed. She wasn’t sleeping. Honor had been awake for hours, her emotions strangely numbed, her powers extinguished, and her mind plunged in silence. She felt alone and adrift.
She awoke hours earlier to the sound of clattering silverware and clinking plates. Kaia, the girl assigned as Honor’s handmaid, had brought her morning meal and tried to encourage her to eat, going so far as lifting the spoon to her mouth and trying to push the contents in.
“Miss Honor, you must eat if you are to keep up your strength,” she’d said. But Honor didn’t see the point.
Her gifts, as unwieldy and dangerous as they were, Honor realized, had been a crutch. End Row, her neighborhood in Soroton, was as harsh an environment for a child to grow up as any, but it had been predictable. There were no doubts as to who was friend and who was foe. Everyone understood which parts of the neighborhood were most dangerous and which parts could be chanced. Everyone knew who to go to for help if the need was most dire, and who would sell you out for the price of a word. Honor had enemies and the best friends in the world back on End Row.
In the midst of this environment, that broke far more spirits than it bolstered, Honor had flourished, not in small part to the confidence she had in her ability to without fail, rise to the top of any challenging situation unmarred, and even stronger yet.
“Your strength places a duty on you,” Old Mother had often reminded.
Now, Honor wondered if she would have been brave enough to stand and fight had she not been gifted. Who would she have been otherwise? Would she have been like those who chose the path of least resistance?
“I’ve spent so much time relying on this thing, this power, that I don’t know what to do without it. I’ve let myself be crippled.” Honor sat up in the bed and wiped her face with the back of her hand. “I deserve this.”
That’s no way for my sister to talk. At first the voice was a whisper, like a sigh carried on the back of the wind, but Honor heard it nonetheless. “What?” she said.
I never thought that my sister, nay, my twin and other half, would descend into such self-pity.
“Truth? Is that really you?”
The one and only. Truths voice rose abruptly as he laughed. Are you ready to blow this cage?
“You don’t need to ask me twice!”
Siti sat cross-legged on the mossy earth with her back pressed against the rough trunk of a tree. The night was warmer than usual but she watched Truth’s face, placid one moment, hard as ice the next, and then confident and pleased. He’d been having intermittent conversations with Taha for the last couple of hours. They were laying their plan against McKinley together step by step. When Truth emerged from his mind meetings with Taha, he would update Siti and her partners. The plan actually sounded as if it might work. For the first time ever, Siti felt she could actually hope for success for her people against McKinley.
McKinley. Since their first encounter more than a decade ago, when she’d touched him, smelled his apprehension and madness, Siti’s feelings regarding McKinley had been mixed. Could he really be blamed for being the monster he was?
When Siti’s unfocused gaze cleared, she noticed Truth staring in her direction, his silver eyes glinting eerily in the yellow moonlight. “Your light is usually so white and intense.”
“Gray,” he said flatly. “Whatever you’re thinking, it’s dimming your spirit.”
Siti glanced at Seraph who hunkered in the shadows close by. He shrugged.
“It doesn’t matter. Your spirit is yours to tend. Not mine.” Truth’s frigid attitude matched the chill he radiated. Siti inwardly cringed.
Michael stepped from behind a bush and squatted next to Seraph. “Are we ready to move against McKinley?” he asked.
Truth smiled. “Any moment. Taha, has allowed McKinley to escort him to his lab. The old madman wants to run experiments on him to see if he is as strong as he seems.”
Madman? Truth had echoed Siti’s thoughts about McKinley. Had Truth sensed this too, or had he been drifting around in her mind?
“We can’t let that happen,” said Seraph. He started to stand, but Michael pulled him back down. Voice lowered, Seraph said, “Taha is one of our most gifted children. We must protect him from McKinley.”
Truth snorted. “Taha is more than capable of protecting himself. Besides, McKinley knows that Taha is special and isn’t likely to want to do anything to harm him. Right now, he just wants samples of his blood.”
Siti thought back on how she had denied McKinley this, so many years ago o n Segher. “He wants to isolate the genes responsible for his mutation,” stated Siti. She’d always known, but the implications were only just now solidifying in her understanding.