Nicole turned to Sarah. “Did you know anything about them?”
“No.” She shook her head. “I didn’t have clearance for the lower levels. I never had a clue what they were keeping down there.”
Mouse, who had been silent throughout, turned to James. “So, you are one of us, right?”
I hadn’t even thought about that until she’d questioned him, but now it made sense. He’d heard the wave and he’d been able to keep up with us.
“Sort of.” His hands sat clasped in his lap and he stared at the blank screen, as though he were looking right through it. “I was part of an earlier batch,” he spat out the word, disgust lacing the single syllable, “before they got enough of an operating budget to iron out all the kinks. A lot of my generation was born with defects, inequalities in the genes they manipulated. They kept testing different variations without proper controls and some of them didn’t work out. I was one of the lucky ones.”
“What sort of defects?” Mouse asked, her natural curiosity raising its head.
“One girl was born with retractable claws; another had a striped pattern across her skin, like a tiger. There were lots of things, psychological issues too. When their funding increased they were able to blend a larger array of genetic strains more effectively and make you.”
“Did they let you go?”
“Ha.” His laughter held no humor. “What they do is illegal. Do you think they’d really let us go? No, we escaped too, a long time ago. They caught some of us, killed others, but those of us who made it out have been moving around ever since.”
A high-pitched beep sounded. James reached to his watch and silenced it with the push of a button. He reached into his back pocket and extracted a foil package, popping two pills from it. He swallowed one and tossed the other to Sarah. Julie didn’t pay any attention; it appeared to be routine.
“Have you taken yours today?” James asked, gesturing to the packet.
I shook my head in confusion, the others did the same. Our blank faces conveyed our lack of understanding.
He scanned each of us in turn. “Did they fix those problems?”
Worry flooded through me. Was that something else that we didn’t know about yet?
“What problems are you talking about?” Nicole asked.
“The seizures—we were kept on constant meds for them.”
“No, they didn’t fix them,” she replied stiffly.
Sarah’s eyes fixed on Nicole. “Have you had problems with them?”
“Mouse had one the other day,” Briana chimed in.
Sarah turned to Mouse. “Are you okay?”
“I’ve had tingling and shivers in my muscles,” I said. “Would that be caused by the same thing?”
Julie nodded. “Yes, that’s one of the common symptoms.”
“Do the pills keep it completely under control?” Fear tinged Mouse’s voice.
“Yes, just as long as you remember to take them.”
Julie’s words were an immediate relief. The seizures weren’t a symptom of something worse to come or a warning sign. If we took the right medicine, we could keep them from happening again.
“Here.” James handed the tablets out to us and I inspected mine briefly before swallowing it. The pill was the same pinkish-purple as the ones we’d been given at the labs.
A thought from earlier reared its head. I tried to push the cobwebs away so I could figure it out. “Did you say Sarah was your daughter? Your real, biological daughter?”
“Yeah,” James said.
The others seemed to have skimmed over that fact, too, judging by the varying degrees of surprise on their faces.
“Oh, wow! So are you…do you have any abilities?” Mouse asked in awe.
None of us had ever really thought of the idea of having children with regular humans. There was no point because none of us could ever have babies. According to the scientists, that was one of the adjustments they’d made when they were fiddling around with our DNA, to ensure we always operated at peak performance, they said. Knowing what we knew now, it seemed more likely they’d learned something after James’ generation. It wouldn’t do for them to have genetically modified offspring running around unchecked.
This time, Sarah responded with a nod. “Yeah. Nothing compared to you, though.” Her voice was quiet and rather husky for a woman.
“Sarah’s inherited muted copies of my advanced traits,” James said. “She’s strong and she very rarely gets sick, but neither to the same level as me.”
Sarah made a face at this.
“You forgot one thing, Dad,” she murmured resentfully, then turned to us. “They spliced his genes with a gorilla. My hair grows down my neck and along my spine like a zebra if I don’t remove it, but it’s nothing compared to Dad with his shirt off.”
Involuntarily I groaned along with the others. James actually smirked at our reaction. He seemed to enjoy our discomfort, like the dad from a television show Mom had shown us years ago. Julie just laughed.
“We need to figure out what you’re going to do,” James said. “It’s getting late. I want to be gone before sunrise.”
Nicole peered up at him. “What do you mean?”
“We need to move on, all of us.” James ran his thumb over the strap of his watch. “They’ll find out where we are shortly. We need to get out of L.A.”
“How would they know where to start?” Nicole asked what I was thinking. “Even if they knew you were here, it’s still a huge city.”
“You have no idea how long their reach is.” Julie stood. “They’ve found your kind with less than this.”
I was exhausted and all of my muscles hurt. The painkillers Julie had given me didn't seem to do anything. Talking sucked; my tongue was fuzzy and didn’t want to wrap itself around the words. I simply wanted to fall asleep.
“As far as I’m aware, they don’t even know Sarah's my daughter. That’s the way I want to keep it.”
“Oh.” Comprehension dawned. If they knew about Sarah, they wouldn’t let her go—they’d take her and experiment on her, like they did to us.
It would be worse for her though. She’s too old to be of any use to them, whereas we were young enough to shape and mold; to train us to use our abilities to their advantage. She would be nothing but a lab rat.
I shuddered, remembering all the things we’d been forced to do as children. No child should be expected to spend every waking hour training, especially when that involved learning the most effective methods for inflicting pain in others.
No wonder Mom had wanted us to escape. Well, wanted me to escape. I couldn’t think of anything that would warrant interest in me over the others.
“Where are we going?” My words slurred. It pissed me off I couldn’t even talk properly.
“We’re splitting up,” he said. “For now I can keep Sarah safe. They want you…a lot. We really can’t take the risk of staying together.”
His bluntness surprised me, but I could understand his stance. If leaving with just Nicole could save her from harm, I would do it in an instant, with no thought for anyone else. Would Nicole be safer if I was to leave her?
“We don’t have a car anymore,” Mouse reminded everyone.
“I’ve sorted that out,” James responded. “A new one will be here before morning.” He looked like he was going to say something else, but he stopped himself and stared at his hands.
We said our goodnights and turned to go, but as I was about to go up to Sarah’s room, which she’d vacated for the night, another thought occurred to me. “At the labs, was there anyone else? Any more of your people?”
“No.” He lifted his face to mine, confusion evident upon his features. “Just Sarah. Why?”
“I was just wondering,” I said, turning to follow the others.
If he hadn’t been the one Guy had spoken to, who was? Whoever the person was, he or she wasn’t telling us everything about the creatures, of that I was sure.
I clutched my injured arm to my chest with the healthy one. Every movement sent pain tearing through some part of my body; it seemed there was no piece of me that remained bruise-free. The soft pile of the carpet cushioned my sore feet. My shoulder and my arm were the worst of my injuries, but every single part of my body had taken a battering.
“So what are we going to do?” Briana closed the door to Sarah’s room. It was a pretty space with white furniture and pale purple walls.
“Run away again,” Mouse replied quietly. She seated herself on the window seat.
“We’ll go somewhere far away from here and Carolina,” Nicole said.
I curled up at the head of the bed. Nicole sat at the other end and Briana slumped into a white wicker chair.
“We should withdraw more money before we leave too,” Briana said. “It won’t matter, they know we’re here now.”
“I think we should go back to South Carolina.” I braced myself for the response.
“I don’t care what you think. This is all your fault.” Briana’s voice was harsh and I couldn’t help but gape at her words.
“What?” That was more than I’d expected.
“If you hadn’t gone chasing after that little brat, they wouldn’t have a clue where we are. We’d be able to stay here. They’d never have found us!” Briana was practically spitting as she released the fury that had been brewing inside of her. She was on her feet, glaring daggers at me. With her muscles tensed as they were, it was easy to believe she’d have hit me given the chance.
“That’s enough.” Nicole was standing between us in an instant. She glared at Briana until the shorter girl turned away. “You can’t blame her for saving someone’s life.”
“One life doesn’t matter,” Briana muttered below her breath.
“What was that?” Nicole demanded.
“Nothing.” Briana stared at the wall, obstinately refusing to look at us.
“Why would you want to go back there?” Nicole sat down on the lilac comforter again. She looked as if she was humoring me, not actually caring about my reasoning.
“We can’t let those creatures roam free. They need to be rounded up, and the government isn’t doing a very good job of it,” I said. “And I want to find out more about Mom, too, but that’s not a priority right now… Anyway, she always said, ‘The closer to danger you are, the further from harm.’ They won’t think to search for us there.”
“I agree—I don’t think they’d look for us there—however I don’t think it’s the best place for us to be,” Nicole said. “It’s not our problem. We’re not the ones who created those creatures. They can tidy up their own mess.”
“But they’re not. The people who are in trouble are normal people who don’t have a clue how to protect themselves. The scientists have washed their hands of this. They’re obviously not doing anything.”
“What about the decapitated creatures on the news?” Nicole asked.
“What about them? There have hardly been enough of those to say they’ve sorted the problem out.” I paused for a breath, releasing it as I contemplated my twin. “I can’t understand why you don’t care. We have the ability to help people. We can protect them from an enemy they don’t understand.”
“I agree with Kayla,” Mouse said quietly, not turning to us. “There’s nothing worse than not knowing what’s attacking you.” Her voice sounded far away as she stared through the darkened glass. It took me a moment to realize she was talking about the seizures. Briana and Nicole didn’t seem to get it. “I want to go back, too.”
“Are you as insane as she is?” Briana demanded.
“And I want to help you find out more about your mom,” Mouse continued saying to me. “I never knew mine. Mary was the closest thing I had to one.”
Briana snorted. “I never knew my mom or my dad. Do you see me bitching about it?”
Nicole lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling. Her cheek moved slightly as she chewed on it. The familiar gesture was comforting.
“Even if you don’t want to go to South Carolina next, I want to find out more about the creatures…and us. I want to track down whoever was on the other end of Guy’s phone,” I said, hoping they might see that as a reasonable compromise for now. “If we can make that person talk, we might be able to get that information to someone who can make use of it to fight the creatures.”
“Is that possible?” Nicole asked, opening her eyes and turning her head to Mouse.
“Yeah, but I can’t do it without the right equipment.”
“Could you find it?” Nicole pushed herself up on her elbows. Her thumb ran back and forth over the nail of her index finger, her eyes glazed over in concentration.
“Yeah, but I could find someone to do it easily and for less money. I’d still need a decent computer and an internet connection.”
“Okay. We’ll find somewhere you can do that tomorrow. We’ll decide exactly where we want to go then. Okay?” Nicole said. The way she said “okay,” however, sounded more like, “Say yes because this is the best you’re going to get.”
“Yes,” Mouse said.
“Yeah.” I let a small smile curve my lips. Pain shot through my face and I immediately regretted it.
“Whatever,” Briana said, stalking to the door.
“Where are you going?” Nicole asked, her words dripping with authority.
“To sleep on the couch.” Briana didn’t even turn around.