McKinley signaled toward a row of examination tables. Taha acquiesced and took a seat on the first one.
“Now what?” he asked.
“That’s obvious, isn’t it?” McKinley signaled two men in white lab coats. The tallest man wore a name tag that read Dr. Rider. The other wore a tag that read simply assistant.
They came forward tentatively. Dr. Rider removed a gleaming silver instrument from his pocket. “Is he the one?” he asked disbelievingly.
“But he’s just a boy.”
Taha sniffed. “I’m kind of getting tired of people saying that about me.”
Dr. Rider ignored Taha and addressed McKinley again. “My experiments show that they don’t reach their full potential until the completion of puberty.”
Taha balked. “Hey, I’ve reached puberty already. I’m almost a man.”
“This boy can’t possibly...”
McKinley held up a hand. “He is everything that I told you he was.” McKinley cast a cool knowing eye on Taha. “Imagine how much more he will be when he has reached true manhood.”
“You’re sure?” asked Dr. Rider.
McKinley simply smiled.
With the silver instrument extended in his hand Rider approached Taha. The other man though stopped. He was shivering and sweat beaded his forehead. A frightened little gasp escaped his lips. Dr. Rider glanced back over his shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?”
Dr. Rider’s assistant opened his mouth but was unable to speak. A thin stream of air whistled from his throat and his skin took on a dusky hue. Dr. Rider swung around to face Taha whose eyes were narrowed to slits.
“Are you doing that?” Dr. Rider’s voice wavered.
Taha nodded just as the assistant, whose lips were now streaked blue, dropped to his knees, clutching his throat.
McKinley chuckled. “I told you he was strong.”
“Make him stop.”
McKinley raised an eyebrow and his hands. “What can I do?” So afraid that he could hear his blood rushing in his ears, McKinley surprised himself by how much pleasure he was taking in watching Taha overpower and harm the assistant. He was also perversely jealous. McKinley was the most powerful Scientist alive with the allegiance and obedience of millions. He guided the Scientists and using few resources he kept the Believers under his thumb. McKinley though, at that moment, was willing to be honest. He was watching someone who, if he willed, could destroy them all. Taha, a mere boy, could subdue them all if he willed. For that matter, so could Honor, who McKinley didn’t believe for a moment would stay forever caged. Her power was so potent that he could practically see it hover around her like a cloud of energy. More than afraid, McKinley was thrilled and he couldn’t keep the awe from seeping into his voice. “Are you squeezing his airway closed somehow?”
Taha shook his head. “He can breath,” said Taha, “if he wants to.”
Dr. Rider’s panicked gaze ranged between McKinley and Taha. “Make him stop. He’s killing my assistant.”
“I am not,” said Taha. “I’ve never killed anyone in my life.” Taha propped a foot up on the table and rested his chin on his knee. “He could breathe, if he really wanted to.” Taha giggled. “I’ve just convinced him that he doesn’t want to.”
“Please,” said Rider.
Taha lifted his narrowed gaze and the assistant gasped loudly as he sucked in great mouthfuls of air. He reared back from his knees onto his buttock and scrambled backward until he was backed against a file cabinet. Taha shrugged and flashed his infectious grin. “See?”
McKinley nodded. He did see. McKinley believed he saw someone who immensely enjoyed the feel of his power, someone who was strangely buoyed by his ability, who reveled in the knowledge of what he could do. McKinley saw, he dared to think, a kindred soul.
McKinley returned Taha’s smile though a new fear nagged in the back of his mind. “Rider, take your assistant to the infirmary. Give us a moment alone.”
Rider helped his assistant, still gasping and coughing hungrily for air, to his feet. Once they’d left, McKinley said, “I have a proposal for you.”
Taha hopped off the exam table and made a slow circuit around the laboratory. He stopped at one table and tinkered with the knobs of a microscope. Taha lowered his eye to the lens.
“Did you hear me?”
“Yes, of course,” said Taha absently. “Before you ever open your mouth, I can hear what you say.” McKinley tensed as he could feel Taha’s consciousness graze his. “Your mind,” said Taha as his eyes went half-lidded and glazed, “is a marvel.”
McKinley warmed with a pride quickly dashed.
“It’s so narrow and evil.” Taha shook his head and his eyes widened. His withdrawal from McKinley’s mind felt like a plunger in a drain. “It’s like an infection.” Taha hopped back up into the exam table. “Your offer is tempting, but I’ll have to decline.” Taha cocked his head to the left as if listening for something.
“Isn’t there anything I can say to change your mind?”
“Today, I fight on the side of right.”
“Tomorrow is another day, isn’t it?”
“Is that why you haven’t lobotomized me? You could have, if you had wanted to, but you didn’t. Why?”
“Ask me tomorrow.”
Kaia leaned with her forehead pressed against the wall. She squeezed her eyes shut in an effort to throw off the wispy shackles around her mind.
“What’s wrong with her?” whispered Siti who kept glancing back to see if they were being followed. Her nerves were frayed. Since the girl had let them in through a side door several minutes ago they had been moving from one corridor to the next, hiding in closets and side rooms each time they thought they heard someone coming. They’d had too many near misses. That, coupled with the internal battle that Kaia was obviously waging, Siti’s patience was wearing dangerously thin. She would have felt safer if Seraph and Michael had accompanied her and Truth into McKinley’s mansion, but it had been Truth’s idea for them to remain outside as backup, in case their plan didn’t work. Siti doubted that anyone could truly get the upper hand with Truth though.
“She’s trying to fight Taha’s hold on her.” Truth glanced back at Siti but turned away blinking rapidly. Apparently Siti was back to her usual blazing self. “Don’t worry. She won’t get loose. She can’t.”
“Seems like she’s making a hell of a go at it.”
Truth chuffed softly. “That boy, Taha, he’s a killer.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Siti alarmed.
“She’s under the influence of a McKinley cocktail and yet Taha has managed to redirect her. Not just that, but he’s got her thinking that she is supposed to free Honor. She’s not fighting Taha so much as she is fighting herself.” Truth’s smile chilled Siti to her bones. “He’s a killer, that boy.”
Just then, Kaia straightened and started forward again. They came to stand at a door at the end of a marble tiled hall. Kaia waved her arm over flat panel and then they heard the lock disengage with a loud charged click. They followed her down a spiraling staircase and halfway down a hall. They stopped in front of a door. Kaia waved her arm over another panel. This time after the lock disengaged the door flew open. Honor stood on the other side, eyes wide and hands raised as if ready to engage in combat.
“Sister,” Truth said breathlessly. Honor said nothing, just stared in awe at her brother, the face she’d been seeing in dreams for months. She’d never realized in all this time how much like hers it was. The same, yet different, and not just because he was male.
Siti busied herself with removing the key bracelet that Kaia wore so that they could pass through locked doors in the mansion. She clasped the bracelet to her own wrist and then pushed the girl into Honor’s apartment and pulled the door closed.
“Are you alright?” she asked as she took Honor by the shoulders. She looked Honor over. “Have you been hurt?”
Without taking her eyes off Truth, Honor shook her head. “Only my pride.”
“Good,” said Siti surprising Honor with a tight hug. “I’ve never met a person who didn’t benefit a bit from having their pride bruised. You’ll be better for it. Believe me.” Siti noticed that the chill waves that had been rolling off of Truth were now gone and his eyes, those ghostly silver discs were now acorn brown. “Can you see?” she asked.
Truth nodded. “It’s amazing.”
“No, you are amazing. You and Honor.” All three of them glanced up as they heard a scream cut through the silence. It came from somewhere above them. “But, I think we’d better talk about that at another time. Maybe we should get out of here before that’s one of us screaming.” The three of them started for the staircase. “I think I can remember the way we came. Once we’re off McKinley’s grounds we’re pretty much safe.”
“We can’t go yet,” said Honor stopping. “We can’t leave Airun behind. And there are others. We have to help them get out of here.”
“No.” Truth grabbed his sister’s hand and pulled her forward. “We are here for you. No one else matters.”
Honor snatched her hand away. “What are you talking about?”
“I didn’t come here to risk my life for a bunch of nobodies. You’re the only one who means anything to me.” Truth grabbed Honor by the shoulders and pressed his forehead against hers. His smooth skin felt dry and feverish.
“This isn’t about you,” said Honor as she backed away. A chilled chased the nerves of her spinal cord and she shivered convulsively. “This is about everyone. The Believers, the Midlings, even the Scientists who see how wrong they are and who want a better life. This is about human beings, and if we just save ourselves and leave everyone else, we can’t claim that distinction, can we?”
Truth said nothing.
Honor looked to Siti. “Can we?”
“Listen to me Honor,” said Siti advancing with her arms outstretched, “Truth might be right.”
Honor took another step back. “What?”
“We should leave and come back later, with help, that way we’ll be stronger.”
Truth stood akimbo, his angular jaw harder than ever. “I have no intention of ever returning here.” Truth extended his hand to Honor. “I’ve found what I wanted.”
“That’s a shame,” said Honor taking a third step backward. “I wish I had.”