Authors: Jude Watson
What happens when your worst nightmare has just come true?
Amy couldn’t think for a minute. Couldn’t breathe. The thought that the serum could be
was too terrifying.
A serum that could make one person all-powerful. J. Rutherford Pierce. Someone with no scruples at all . . .
. . . could become the most powerful person in the world.
Amy’s eyes went wide with horror.
He’s already well on his way.
That’s why he targeted us.
Because we’re the only ones who can expose him.
Can stop him . . .
“Amy?” Nellie gripped the table edge. “You’re scaring us. Pierce couldn’t have taken the serum. It’s imposs —”
“No!” Amy smacked her hand down on the table. It was such an unexpected gesture that Dan and Nellie both jumped. “Just listen. There are four branches of the Cahills besides Madrigals. Four separate sets of abilities. Dan, remember how Pierce swung off the building and hit that pedestrian bridge? How does a middle-aged guy
that? What did it remind you of?”
“A Tomas,” Dan said. The branch, they knew, that had accelerated physical powers. He shook his head. “But —”
Amy shook her head impatiently, unwilling to listen. She had to make them
“And, Nellie — remember what we said — that his rise to fame just defied any sense of
? He fails at one thing after another, and then in less than a year he rises to the top. He leveraged all these buyouts and gobbled up all these companies so fast . . . and got in with politicians and power brokers. . . .”
“Like a strategist. A Lucian,” Nellie said. “Okay, but —”
article mentions his out-of-the-box thinking, and how charming he is — he manages to charm millions of people without ever letting someone trip him up! Like a Janus! And now Pony tells us that our absolutely impenetrable fortress of a computer system is breached.”
“Ekat,” Dan said. “But we’ve seen what the serum does. When Isabel Kabra took it, she didn’t look like a normal human. She was sort of . . . glowing.”
“But, Dan, think about it. Pierce wasn’t glowing, but he looked . . . I don’t know . . .
Did you notice how his skin was sort of golden?”
“Fake tan,” Nellie said.
“No.” Amy shook her head firmly. “I remember noticing how the lights just bounced off him when he took the podium.
But there were no lights on.
And if it
true, the rest makes sense — why he targeted us in the first place. Why he’s making us look like . . . like idiotic socialites. Because who would listen to us if we tried to expose him? But now maybe he’s going even further — he wants to scare us. Or kill us.” Amy turned to Dan. “When those guards told us to walk out on those girders . . . I think they were serious. Don’t you?”
Dan gulped and nodded. “I do.”
“Amy, I see why you’re suspicious, but you’re forgetting a detail,” Nellie said. “There is no serum. Anywhere in the world. We’ve made absolutely sure of that. And the only one who knows the formula is Dan.”
Dan backed away a step. She saw panic in his eyes.
“I didn’t tell anyone!”
“I know that,” Amy said. “But you
assemble it.” Six months ago. When he’d thought it was the only way to save the world.
Amy took a deep breath. She didn’t want it to be true. She didn’t want to trace the serum back to Dan. If he was responsible for the serum getting out, the guilt could crush him. She could see the telltale spots of red on his cheeks that meant he was getting upset.
“I know it’s not your fault, Dan,” Amy added quickly. “I
that. But if the impossible happened — if the serum formula got out somehow — we have to figure out
There could be some random Cahill out there who found it. . . .”
“Unlikely,” Nellie said.
Suddenly, Dan collapsed on the floor, his head in his hands. “No,” he said, his voice muffled. “It must be me. Somehow.”
He looked up at them, tears in his eyes. “Do the math. I fabricated the serum secretly about six months ago. That’s right when Pierce began his climb to power.”
“Coincidence,” Nellie said, but her voice sounded shaky.
Amy got down on the floor next to Dan. She put her hand on her brother’s arm. “Tell me what happened in that lab,” she said. She’d never asked him for details. She knew he had deeply regretted what he’d done.
Dan’s voice shook. “I found all the ingredients myself. And I had heard about our cousin Sammy Mourad — some sort of genius biochemist postdoctoral student at Columbia University. I-I contacted him and asked him to mix up something for me.”
He wiped at his cheeks. “But I took all these precautions! I’m not stupid. I gave Sammy
of the ingredients, but not all. Only the stuff that had to be done in a lab. Then I took my own vial and mixed the final version myself.”
“Where?” Amy asked.
“In Sammy’s lab. But I took the dose with me! There was a tiny bit left over, and I threw it down the sink. There is
anybody could have figured out the formula! Not even Sammy.”
Amy shook her head. “There’s no other way. Sammy has to be the key. You did everything right, Dan, but somehow . . .”
“But even if somehow, some way, Sammy found out the formula, which I don’t believe — why would he pass the formula on?” Dan asked. “He’s a Cahill.”
“Yeah, and we’ve seen what towers of integrity Cahills can be,” Amy said, with a lift of an eyebrow.
Nellie slid off her chair and landed on the floor next to them. “If it’s really out there . . .” she whispered. She couldn’t finish the sentence.
The three of them looked at each other. The horror they felt was reflected in each other’s eyes.
Nellie swallowed. “We have to send out a Cahill alert. We need help on this.”
“Not yet,” Amy insisted. “We don’t know what we’re dealing with yet. First we have to talk to Sammy. In person.” She glanced at the clock. “If we leave now, we can be there by eleven
Nellie stood. “We’re on Level Five alert, remember? If we leave the house, it’s Endgame. Grab your gear.”
They had established the Endgame strategy soon after returning home from the Vesper battle. If ever they felt in real danger, they had to be prepared to go into hiding. Their backpacks were already packed with the essentials, and they had money belts and passport slings to wear under their shirts.
“Chances are we’ll be back. But better safe than sorry,” Nellie said. She went into the pantry, where the gear was stowed. She brought the packs and belts back and handed them over.
Silently, they suited up. The word
echoed in Amy’s head. This was the worst. Everything they feared. Pierce was willing to kill them to get what he wanted.
And what is that?
If he had all the power in the world, what would he do?
Somewhere in the Australian outback
The prefab housing was designed to be taken down within minutes. Inside the flexible skin stretched over aluminum rods were rudimentary sleeping quarters but state-of-the-art technology. Satellite-equipped phones, computers, tablets. Emergency generators. And a box of thermonuclear devices.
The dust swirled around three men as they walked from a military helicopter to the first building. The heat was a blunt force, bouncing off the flat, scorched land and slamming against exposed skin.
The short, muscled man with a red beard was flanked by the two taller men. One of them wore sunglasses and a shoulder holster with an automatic weapon. The other was tall, lanky, and kept nervously pushing up his glasses with a sweaty finger.
The silver-haired man with the Hollywood good looks was already on the screen.
“You’re late,” he spoke as the three men came into camera view.
“We just exploded a thermonuclear device, Mr. Pierce,” the man with the red beard said. “I think we’re allowed a little leeway.”
“I don’t give leeway, Mr. Atlas. Especially when it comes to thermonuclear devices. Results?”
The nervous-looking man pushed up his glasses. “I’ve sent all the data. Seismic activity log, radiation levels, impact calculations, spec models . . .”
“Any local reactions?”
“Several reports of a flash in the sky, earthquake . . . It made the paper in Perth —”
“We took care of it,” Atlas interrupted. “As far as the public knows, it was a meteorite impact.”
“We’ll take care of that, too. That’s what you pay us for.” Atlas smiled without humor.
Back in his office in Boston, Pierce concealed his exhilaration. The plan was working! He’d found the group and investigated them thoroughly. Atlas was a former mercenary. He’d developed a global business of testing and selling nuclear weapons. He’d bought various testing sites around the world — roughly a half-million acres in the outback, a couple of uninhabited Pacific islands, and probably some sites Pierce didn’t know about — and provided one-stop service for rogue governments, terrorists, and visionaries like Pierce.
“So you keep the weapons until I send word,” Pierce continued. “And you can get them where I need them?”
“Anywhere in the globe.”
“The evidence . . .”
“Will be planted. Relax, Mr. Pierce. We’re here to serve.”
“I’ll be in touch.”
Pierce cut the connection and walked to the window.
He was almost there. The last piece was in place. Years of planning came down to this, and now things would move fast.
The thing was, it was remarkably easy to start a world war. History had taught him that. It just took strategy and enough nerve to order several simultaneous nuclear explosions in key cities around the globe. Plant some evidence, and the next thing you know, governments started accusing. Started mobilizing.
As president, he could escalate the war. And when invasion seemed to threaten and the grateful people looked to him to save them, he would take complete control. The world would beg him to take absolute power, they would be so grateful.
And then, he would take over the broken world and rebuild it. Soon, only those with absolute loyalty would be able to enjoy the good things in life. Housing, transportation, information. Piercers would be the powerful, and all the world’s riches would go to them. The worthy ones.
Only one problem remained. No one could know about the serum. No one could find out the source of his power.
Once, the fact that the two Cahills managed to outsmart his guards would have ruffled him. No more.
Using his media empire to set them up had been a brilliant stroke. Now the public thought they were silly socialites. Irresponsible daredevils. Accidental deaths wouldn’t even be investigated. A few headlines, and it would be over.
He thought back to seeing the girl up close. Her hair was the reddish brown of an autumn leaf . . . so close to the shade her mother’s had been. She had the same curve to her upper lip.
When he saw her in person, it was like seeing a ghost. A ghost in a nightmare of shame. Just remembering Hope Cahill made his blood rise. The girl not only looked like her, she was a know-it-all like Hope had been. Seeing her had made him want to smash something, kill something. . . .
Yes, the girl looked so much like her mother.
He smiled. Soon they’d be resting side by side.
New York City
Darkness fell as they drove toward New York City. The windshield wipers marked their progress with a steady
Dan sat in the back, looking out at a blurred landscape. With every mile, the guilt stabbed him more acutely.
If the serum was loose on the world . . . it was his fault.
If Sammy Mourad had sold the formula . . . it was his fault.
My fault, my fault, my fault.
Whish, whish, whish.
He was staring down a tunnel of horror.
If Pierce really had the serum . . .
. . . the most destructive item known to humanity . . .
. . .
My fault, my fault, my fault.
Whish, whish, whish.
I can’t do this anymore,
Dan had texted Sammy from the car to ask if he was working late and if Dan could bring him a pizza. The returning text was only one word:
Sammy was waiting outside the chemistry building on the Columbia University campus. He stood leaning against a stone wall, not caring about the drizzle. His longish, thick black hair was stirred by the breeze, and his gray sweater was pushed up his forearms. He had a straight nose, a curving half smile, and thick dark brows over liquid black eyes.
“Oh. My. Goodness,” Nellie said in three short bursts under her breath. “Dan, you said he was a genius Ekat. You did
say he was a work of
“What?” Dan turned around. Even Amy was staring. “Oh, yeah. Sorry. I didn’t think the handsome part was relevant.”
“It’s always relevant, kiddo,” Nellie said.
Sammy came forward, smiling. “Dan! You are the man! Bringing a snack to a starving grad student counts for hero status around here.”
Dan handed Sammy the pie. He quickly introduced Nellie and Amy.
Sammy swiped them into the building with his ID card, and they followed him upstairs to his lab. It was neat and orderly, with stacks of file folders and notebooks. A pyramid of orange soda cans had been connected with purple duct tape and sat on a wide windowsill. Sammy pushed some wheeled stools toward them and swept aside the folders to plop the pizza on the lab table. Then he reached inside a file drawer and came out with paper plates, napkins, oregano, crushed red pepper, and garlic salt.
“The works,” he said with satisfaction. “You see the garlic salt? I don’t cook with it — I’d rather control the garlic and salt separately. But for pizza, you gotta go with it. It’s a classic.” He put slices on plates and handed them to Amy and Nellie, along with napkins.
“Word,” Nellie said, reaching for the red pepper flakes. “Nobody gets that about garlic salt. What do you like to cook?”
“Well, I started out with Egyptian food,” he said, “because of my grandmother. My parents are Egyptian, but they don’t cook. She really taught me. Now that I live on my own, I’ve branched out. I just took a Vietnamese cooking class, and it was awesome.”
Nellie dropped her pizza. “Shut up! Vietnamese is my favorite!”
Dan kicked her. They’d come to find out if Sammy had betrayed them. If Nellie started talking about cooking, they’d never be able to get a word in edgewise.
She picked a piece of cheese off her pizza and ate it while gazing into Sammy’s dark eyes. Dan was surprised Sammy didn’t burst into flame. His pizza stayed in the air, inches from his mouth, as he gazed back at Nellie. Seconds passed.
Dan kicked her harder.
“Actually,” Nellie said, “there’s a reason we’re here. We wanted to ask you some questions.”
“Fire away,” Sammy said. His smile was so open and amiable that Dan hoped Amy was wrong. Sammy couldn’t possibly have passed along the serum to an outsider.
“Sammy,” Dan said, “do you remember that favor you did for me last year?”
“Sure,” Sammy said. “I mixed up a little potion for you.”
“When I contacted you, you said you would keep the secret.”
Sammy looked uncomfortable. Dan’s heart began to beat faster.
“We need to know exactly what happened,” Amy said.
Sammy seemed to swallow his bite of pizza with an effort. He wiped his mouth hard with a napkin. “The thing is, I’m a scientist. And the number one quality you need to be a scientist is curiosity.”
Dan’s voice came out hoarse. “What did you do?”
“I work with substances that have to be disposed of according to regulations,” Sammy said. He pointed to a red box sitting on the counter that said
. “One sink is for washing up. One sink is for chemicals. There is a trap in the sink that I empty into the container.”
Dan sank back. The one bite of pizza he’d taken rolled over in his stomach. “I poured the rest down the drain. . . .”
“Into the trap,” Sammy said. “So I had a tiny bit. A residue. But it was enough.”
“Enough for what?” Amy asked sharply.
“To experiment on.”
Nellie let out a breath she’d been holding. “Oh, no.”
“I’m a Cahill on both sides,” Sammy said. “My mother is a Lucian, my father is an Ekat. My father was part of the leadership circle before he quit. He knew about the serum, and he told me about it, too. So when Dan Cahill walked into my lab . . . I couldn’t help but be curious.”
replicated the serum
?” Amy asked. “Do you realize how dangerous that was?”
Sammy held up two hands. His eyes pleaded with them. “I know! I was very careful! I know I shouldn’t have done it! But this is supposed to be the most powerful substance in the history of humanity. So I couldn’t resist just running a few simple tests. I mean, think about it. How does the human mind really work? Is it biology and chemistry or some hybrid we haven’t even
yet? The serum itself brings up so many fascinating questions.”
“It does,” Nellie said. “It totally does.” She cleared her throat. “But those aren’t questions you were allowed to be, um, asking.”
“Those are questions that, if we could answer them, could benefit
,” Sammy declared, leaning forward intently. “And the more I thought about it, the more I thought about all those Cahill legends about the physical strength of the Tomas, and the way the Lucian mind works . . . and how these serum strains entwine with DNA . . . and I thought, okay, if I just run a few experiments, maybe I can find some
from this crazy serum. What if certain parts could be recalibrated and I could lessen the side effects, boost the separate elements, and
it for whatever the person taking it would want or need? What if I could eliminate the DNA factor? Just make it a kind of
? Just as an experiment,” he added quickly. “Think about it. There have been
leaps in the field of biochemistry since Gideon Cahill’s time. If he knew what we know, what would he have crafted? How could he have made it safer? What could he have
make it safe,” Amy said. “That’s the whole point. It’s a destructive power! It can lead to . . . terrible things.”
“I know that,” Sammy said quickly. “That’s why I closed down the research.”
Amy sagged in relief. “You did?”
“I realized pretty quickly that I was heading down a dangerous path. If we’re able to artificially boost things like physical prowess, creativity, the part of the brain that controls strategy and analysis . . . well, who would control it? Who would decide who gets what strain? There are some things that are better not invented. I mean, that kind of goes against the Ekat philosophy, but my mama raised me right.”
“Sammy, we believe that you didn’t mean any harm,” Amy said. “But is there any way someone else could have gotten their hands on your experiments?”
“Of course not!” Sammy exclaimed. “I know how sensitive this is. My notes were coded and behind a firewall while I did the experiments, and then I wiped them when I was done. The lab is always locked. And I always destroy whatever serum I’ve made.” He looked at each of their faces. “Anyway, Gideon’s original formula? It’s basically a death sentence.”
“A death sentence?” Amy asked. “We knew it was dangerous, but . . .”
“It’s the way it reacts with the human nervous system,” Sammy said. “It shuts it down. It would take about a week and then . . .”
“So, with these experiments, what exactly did you find?” Nellie asked.
“I experimented with tiny doses in a variety of fillers,” Sammy said. “Now we have centrifuges, automated analyzers . . . machines and procedures that Gideon couldn’t even dream of. I basically altered the formula in a sophisticated way.”
“Well, the first job was to make it less toxic. I was able to do that.”
version isn’t a death sentence?”
“I don’t think so — but I can’t say there wouldn’t be side effects. There’d be no way to really know without animal testing, and I’m not going to do that. I
able to do some rudimentary boosting of the separate traits and then get it down to a daily dose — a small trace element of serum suspended in a liquid — fruit juice worked well. I even made four formula strains for each branch: Lucian, Ekat, Tomas, Janus. The next step would have been figuring out exactly how to combine them in different strengths.”
“Are you sure that you told no one?” Nellie asked.
“I’m positive,” Sammy said.
Dan closed his eyes. Relief flooded him. The leak hadn’t come from him.
Amy picked up her slice of pizza.
“Except for Fiske, of course,” Sammy said. “And he was fine when I said I didn’t feel comfortable doing any more work on it. He agreed.”
Amy dropped the pizza.
Fiske?” Dan blurted.
Sammy nodded. “Your Uncle Fiske. Tall guy, black jeans, silver hair? I recognized him from my dad’s description. He came to see me, oh, about five or six months ago? He said Dan had told him about fabricating the serum, and he guessed that I had figured it out. I told him about the experiments. So he asked for all my notes and said that they belonged in the Madrigal archive.”
“What Madrigal archive?” Amy asked. “Do you know about this, Nellie? Dan?”
They both shook their heads.
Dan swallowed. “What . . . month did you meet him?”
“Fiske was in rehab the entire month of October,” Amy whispered.
Sammy’s voice shook. “Are you telling me that the man I spoke to
wasn’t Fiske Cahill
“I doubt it,” Dan said. He felt sick.
“But he knew so much about the Cahills.” Sammy looked pale.
Amy looked at her watch and jumped up. “We’ve got to talk to Fiske. Right now!”