Chapter 10 The Reunion
The labs are empty. They’re not just empty, they’re abandoned. It’s almost like all the people have been zapped out the second before we got there. The Bunsen burners are still on, the whir of the centrifuges and the steady thrum of the generator. The generator’s on, which means the power’s out. I step into my mom’s office, its coordinated chaos causing my elevating heartbeat to slow down just a little. But it’s just a little, because even though there’s no sign of violence I feel her absence just as strongly as I would feel her presence. She didn’t leave this place, no one did. They were taken.
It’s the middle of the day, but in every floor the Vertex is just the same, work left in the middle of the day. I remember the organization of my previous visit, the peaceful disciplined harmony of the people. Something is wrong.
“This is a really quiet planet you’ve got here,” Mark comments. He feels it too, his gun’s in his hand and he’s checking every corner before we walk. We hear footsteps and freeze, Mark’s finger tapping the trigger of his gun.
It’s the silver-haired woman that greeted on my first day at the Vertex. Her hair is matted with blood, her previously ageless face covered with a thousand wrinkles all induced by terror. She collapses in my arms, her tremors giving way to silent sobs.
“They’re all gone,” she whispers. “All of them, taken. I never should have trusted that man. Never should’ve trusted him.”
“Who? Who took them?” I ask. I hope that she’s right, that everyone in the Vertex have only been taken and not something worse.
“Benson,” she answers. “General Benson.”
I have more memories of that man than I care to. He’s the reason why Maggie is the way she is. The reason why she’s not like other girls, why she’s slow to smile, why she has a quick temper. She’s perfect the way she is, but because of her father she doesn’t see herself as anything more than inadequate.
She weighs next to nothing, and we continue downstairs with her in tow. She tells us there’s a back exit that will help us get to the harbor faster, give us a better chance of escape. We finally reach the door and Mark is the one to open it. I see his body hitting the ground, and then I see the armada.
They’re all around me, in a courtyard that is at the heart of the Vertex. As far from escape as possible. The woman slips out of my arms and runs to the other side. A trap so simple I’m infuriated and ashamed that I didn’t see it coming. I trusted a woman I met once before, and she led me right to the butcher’s knife.
Mark’s getting up, slowly. But his gun has been thrown ten feet away. There’s no hope of getting our weapon back. Soldiers with tranquilizers and shock guns stand at the ready, three dozen of them surrounding us like we’re feral animals.
The woman looks sorry, but I don’t care anymore. No matter where I go, which world I’m in, no matter which name I go by I end up in these situations where I’m helpless. Where I’m at the mercy of fate, and that hasn’t worked out well for me. Just when I’m getting used to a place, to an identity I’m torn away. My mom and my best friend are missing, and thirty guns are pointed at me. My only ally is in immense pain, and judging by the yellowish tinge on his face I sense it’s not just a bullet they’ve hit him with.
The truth is, I’m furious. I’ve spent my entire life holding things in, my needs and my emotions. I’ve hid them from people and bottled them up. I’ve channeled them into basketball and but I’ve never let myself feel my emotions. Until now. I’m about to die, I might as well go up in flames.
It’s only a second before I feel them, the flames floating an inch away from each of my palms. They’re little balls of white fire, crackling and hissing with all of my fury. I don’t care if there are lives in front of me now. Lives are nothing more than heartbeats. Heartbeats stop all the time. They stop for no reason, they stop because of accidents and because fate hasn’t been kind to them. They stop too early, too often. And they’ll stop now I think as I unleash the flames.
They’re white serpents at first, winding around me and then they twist and spread, coil and form a web that separates me and Mark from the outside. I close my eyes and curl into a ball. The whiteness of the light is blinding, and I can feel the heat pulsing on the other side. But on our side of the barrier of fire, it’s normal. I hear the yells and the chugging of machinery, the explosions of what I know are fire extinguishers.
I imagine the white-haired woman’s hair singing at the ends, her scalp burning and turning black. I imagine General Benson’s evil face melting away in the pure white fire that I created. It sickens me. The fire fizzles out, and I’m left in the middle of a black courtyard. The soldier’s guns are nothing more than charred blocks on the ground.
The soldiers are all safe behind their shields. The thing inside me, my newly awakened anger is disappointed at not destroying them. I’m relieved more than anything, and frightened. I can feel it now, this entity within me. It’s been dormant all these years, keeping me alive and freeing me from capture. But now it beats on the inside of my skin, rearing to release energy, to destroy or create, to overthrow me in this new struggle for control.
“Charlie,” Mark says to me. And that’s the trigger. My body finally remembers that I’m a seventeen-year old human boy, not the vessel of the energy force within me. I feel it there still, stewing, waiting for me to lose control again.
General Benson is unharmed except for a burn on his arm. It scares me that I wish I’d hurt him more. I step towards him, trying to look as menacing as I can. It’s not much, but the brute display of strength has unnerved him. When we were children he forced Maggie to compete with me, drove her to exhaustion because he couldn’t find my father’s formula for superhuman.
“Where are they?” I ask. “And don’t make me ask again.”
“I’ve emptied the city for the day. God knows what you were intending to do,” he answers. “And you brought along one of them.”
I hear the threat in his voice and stand in front of Mark. I feel the energy inside me, coaxing me to blow his head up. I decide to teleport instead. The control is killing me. This thing has far more will power than I do, but it’s the thought of survival that keeps me strong.
“I’m sorry,” the silver-haired woman says. “I didn’t have a choice.”
She’s near tears, and I see that it’s not her that trapped me, but Benson. He’s standing with his muscled soldiers around him, all of them sneering at me. They may think that this is the extent of my power, but the thing inside me tells me otherwise. I’m capable of so much, so much more. I start to phase, controlling the speed of my disappearance so they don’t even notice me becoming more and more transparent until it’s too late.
As soon as I can feel the grass beneath my feet in front of the little house in Merlin, I feel Mark hit the ground behind me and puke out his lunch. Apparently teleportation isn’t smooth on the stomach. I help him and through the door. My mom is sitting at the little desk with a mug of tea in her hands. The girl, as I’ve become accustomed to call her, is sitting at the window overlooking the ocean.
“Finally, you’re back,” she says without emotion.
“And I feel so welcomed, Maggie,” I say sarcastically, running over and giving her a tight hug. She pushes me away, her brown eyes widen and for the first time since I’ve come to Eden, she smiles.
“You remember, “she states.
“Yeah. You owe me a ride on your bike,” I say. “I’ve got this awesome memory now, so I remember that.”
She just shakes her head. Mom is looking over Mark’s wound, a mottled purple mess on his side. I know they’ve hit with him a strong bolt of electricity, but this is uglier than I anticipated. She takes only a second to give me a kiss on the cheek and then rushes off to get the first aid kit.
“They had us evacuate the city,” she says as she comes back. “The general wanted you now that you’re here physically.”
“Well, he’s not going to get me,” I reply.
Mark hisses with pain as my mom begins cleaning the wound. In a minute the ugly purple is hidden away beneath a layer of sterile bandages and I see the color returning to his cheeks.
“I’m Mark,” he introduces himself, giving his hand. She gingerly shakes his hand and walks off.
The house feels complete now, with my family and my memories. I take my seat at the kitchen table and settle down to think. I know I wasn’t intelligent before, but I feel that if I put my mind to the task now I can outsmart General Benson, trap him in a much more humiliating way than he did me.
I don’t know where this newfound ego of mine has come from. I want to be a step ahead, have the last laugh. I want to emerge from this victorious, and the thing inside me is telling me that this is more than just about the general. It’s going to be a war, and soon.
I lean back and close my eyes, delving further into the capacity of my mind. General Benson will know perfectly well that I’m in Merlin. It takes an hour and a half to get here through the trains, faster by air. I need a place he won’t search, a place he won’t expect. There will be fighting and death. I’ll be the cause of it. I need to get Maggie and my mom out of the line of fire. There’s only one place the general wouldn’t think to look. Only one place within reach that he doesn’t know about.
“Maggie,” I say. “Mom and you need to pack your bags.”
The house in Merlin is quaint, and as rustic as anything in Eden can be. It gives off the appearance of being simple, the same way a microchip is nothing more than a green square. But it was built by the great Zachary Stanley, my grandfather, and renovated by maddest genius of them all, my father. My mother’s not even aware of half of the things hidden away behind the walls and decorations of the little house.
There were renovations done fifteen years ago, a time that I shouldn’t remember but I do. Renovations kept secret from my mother. The house is now nothing more than an entrance for the true dwelling. My mom and Maggie bring out the luggage and the four of us head into the basement.
The basement is set up as the security room for the house. There are monitors set up all over the outside walls. I try to take in all the images at once. No one’s come in yet. I hunt around in the drawers for a screwdriver. The second plug from the right is free, and I jam the screwdriver in.
My mom screams, and Maggie tries to pull me out. But the deed’s done. The wall of surveillance monitors falls away. I let go of the screwdriver and proceed to walk down the illuminated ramp. My fingerprint is authorized at the side of the door and I walk down. Nothing’s changed in the hallway in all the years that I’ve been gone. The same stark plainness. I feel like I’m descending into hell.
This is the one place that my dad kept from everyone. It was the place I spent most of my time when my mom wasn’t around. Now that I think of it, just saying one word about the whole thing to my mom would’ve changed the whole course of my life. I was a really stupid prodigy.
The place I’m entering is my dad’s lab. It’s the place that most toddlers have nightmares about. Needle after needle after needle, day after day after day. I didn’t tell my mom because I loved my dad, no matter how much of a monster he was.
“Charlie, what is this place?” Maggie asks.
“It’s my dad’s old lab. This is where he did most of his experiments,” I say. I continue softer, “On me.”
“When did he do this?” my mom asks.
“You were working on that big thesis. You’d just joined work again, and he was getting the house renovated? This was the big renovation,” I inform her.
Surprisingly, the computers downstairs are still running. I can hear the old fluorescent lights flickering. Everything is just as I don’t want to remember it. I even see the examination table where he drugged me, where he turned me from a normal human being into something else.
I walk into the deeper parts of the lab. The laboratory is metallic, with dusty furniture and outdated technology. Somewhere I hear a cough, and Maggie pulls a gun out. Where she hid it before, I have no idea, but it makes me feel safer.
“Who’s there?” I call out.
A man comes out from behind the racks. His lab coat is worn and grey, his brown hair long and his beard unshaven. He looks like half a hermit, until he looks up. Even behind the thick bushy beard and the long bangs, I see the same narrow face, the face that’s just a mild distortion of mine.
“Dad,” I say, answering my own question.