Authors: Jus Accardo
Tags: #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #teen, #young adult, #denazen, #Speculative Fiction, #ya, #Paranormal, #touch, #toxic, #jus accardo, #tremble
Until one day he just wasn’t.
He grabbed my arm to stop me, then leaned back against the wall. “Just ’cause I was out of sight doesn’t mean I wasn’t looking out for you.”
“I didn’t need anyone looking out for me. I needed my best friend.”
Brandt shook his head. “I’m sorry. Nothing I say is going to seem like a good enough reason.”
“I did visit your dreams, Dez. I visited, and I got so freaked by what I saw that I made myself stay away.”
Not what I’d expected.
He pulled the wheel from his pocket and rolled it between his hands. The Brandt equivalent of a nervous twitch. “You were hurt and terrified. The way it manifested in your dreams really hit me. I—I was afraid if I kept seeing stuff like that, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from running home—and I couldn’t do that. Not when there’s so much else at stake.”
I understood—sort of—but it didn’t make me feel any better. Brandt had been my rock. Not having him there, with everything that had happened, was hard. I’d missed him. “So that’s it? You’re here now?”
He nodded and we started walking again.
It took exactly six steps for it to hit me.
I froze, heart nearly seizing. “Ten—you said—you and me…” Forming a coherent sentence was nearly impossible. “You jumped into the body of a
Brandt sighed, stuffing the wheel back into his pocket. “I didn’t plan it, Dez. It just happened.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. Deep breaths. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Nice and easy. “What happened to the Sheltie suit?”
“It’s a long story.” He glanced down the hall, like he was checking to make sure we were alone, then leaned closer. “Cross and Kiernan were wrong. A few months ago they told you they’d found a cure—but they hadn’t.”
He was wrong. Had to be. “Kiernan is over eighteen. I know that for a fact.”
“They gave her something they
was the cure, and it did work—for a while. After a few months, though, it started breaking down. She began showing signs of decline.”
She’d seemed perfectly fine at the party. “But you’re saying she’s okay now?”
“Ginger will fill you in on the bulk of it, but the short version is yes.” He gestured to himself. “But that’s where my new body comes in. To make the cure work, they needed something from someone. A man named Wentz. Ginger sent me in to get to him first, but I failed. I died trying to stop them.”
“And you ended up in the same boat as me,” I said, the knot in my chest getting bigger. “So now not only am I on death row, you’re there with me. Your strategy leaves a lot to be desired.”
He took my hand and squeezed. “We are
on death row.”
I pulled away and opened my mouth to argue with him.
He cut me off. “Dez. Look who you’re talking to. Soul Jumper, remember? Other than dealing with the current effects, I’m not in any real danger.” He thumped me lightly on the shoulder. “Come on, you
Wow. Duh. He had a point. Why hadn’t I seen that for myself? Because my own brain was starting to scramble, that’s why. Easily distracted and unfocused, I found my mind wandering lately. The Supremacy drug—it had to be. But that didn’t matter. Not now. For the first time in months, things were starting to look up. Time to suck it up and take back my life. “But what about the cure? If you failed, how—”
“Ginger will kick my ass if she knows I’m telling you about all this. Let her fill in the rest of the blanks.” He swayed a little, and I felt bad for badgering, but there was one more thing I had to ask.
“What about Kale? Do you know what they did to him? He—he’s so different.”
The sympathy in Brandt’s eyes bugged me for some reason. Maybe because, for the past few months, I’d seen it in everyone’s eyes. Annoying compassion for the poor, lost girl. “The new Supremacy drug would account for the change in Kale’s ability, but I’ve never heard of it messing with someone’s memories. I guess it
have been the thing that scrambled his eggs, but I doubt it. They’ve given it to twenty people. Nine or ten survived, and as far as I know, their heads are still in working order. If I had to place bets on the cause, I’d go with a Resident.”
Residents were Sixes who willingly lived and worked alongside Denazen. Their own personal superpowered butt monkeys. “Any ideas which one?”
He shrugged. “Wish I knew.”
We came to a stop in front of room 512—six doors down from mine. He looked a little pale, and every once in a while I swore I saw him tremble. “I have to ask—and I expect the truth. The headache—is that body declining?”
He brushed the lightest of kisses across my forehead. “Lemme crash for an hour or so. Then we’ll plot world domination, ’kay?”
Not the answer I’d hoped for. Hell, not even an answer at all. But for now it would have to do. I had a boyfriend to rescue and ten science project offspring to hunt down before they popped their lids—or Denazen did it for them.
Oh. And a cure to find so Brandt’s current body and I didn’t die a horrible, insanity-laced death.
Easy. Reeeal easy.
Showered and dressed, I found everyone clumped in the living room talking quietly. Dax and Mom looked cozy on the couch, while Alex was crammed into his beanbag chair—an essential piece of furniture for every living room, according to him. Ginger sat in her normal armchair by the door, wooden folding tray upright in front of her. There were a lot of Sixes under our roof, but the people gathered here had formed a sort of leadership chain. We were the enforcers of Ginger’s little army.
“So what’s the plan?” I asked, flopping down next to Mom. There was a renewed energy humming through my veins. Having seen Kale last night and getting Brandt back this morning had recharged my batteries some. A direction and a goal. We were facing one hell of a mountain, but I had my climbing legs back and wanted to get started. “How are we gonna use the info we have to get Kale back?”
“We’re not,” Ginger said. She picked a manila envelope off the tray beside her and waved it back and forth, accidentally smacking Vince as he walked in the room.
“Come again?” I’d heard her wrong. Had to have.
“We’re not going to do anything about Kale. At the moment, he’s not a priority.”
The temperature in the room plummeted and everything blurred to a filmy haze. “Not a
? You’ve gotta be shitting me!” I jumped up and jabbed a finger at Mom, who seemed oddly unbothered by Ginger’s words. “Tell me she’s kidding.”
Mom opened her mouth but Ginger, with a stern look and sharp shake of her head, cut her off.
Wow. So my own flesh and blood wasn’t going to side with me? She’d raised Kale inside Denazen as though he were her own for Christ’s sake. “He’s
priority. If he’s not a priority for you guys, then he’s one for me. The
“Deznee—” Ginger tried, but I steamrolled her.
“No way. No excuses. This is crazy. He’s your grand—”
“Dez!” Alex roared. He slammed the coffee table, rattling the cereal bowl Vince had just set down. “Sit down, shut up, and let her finish.”
I glared, wanting nothing more than to punch him, but sank onto the couch. Lately Alex seemed to have subscribed to the Church of Ginger. He backed her decisions—even when they made no sense. Made excuses for her—even when it was obvious that she was wrong. And now he was ready to let Kale flop in the wind because Ginger
Okay. Maybe that one wasn’t such a big surprise, given the shared animosity between the boys.
Ginger cleared her throat. “As I was trying to say, there are more pressing matters. We know Kale is unharmed. He’s not going anywhere for the time being. Denazen is going to move on the Supremacy subjects swiftly.” She shot a glare in my direction. “In case you’ve forgotten, Deznee, that includes you and Brandt.”
I hadn’t forgotten. I’d
, but I hadn’t forgotten. They wouldn’t let me. Mom was constantly bringing it up, working it into conversations at the most random times, and Ginger dropped hints on an almost daily basis.
“We haven’t long to find them.” She ripped open the envelope and leafed through a file, pulling out a wallet-sized black-and-white picture. Handing it to me, she said, “We
get to this woman before they do.”
Reluctantly, I took the picture. I was still pissed—but curious. The girl in the photograph was pretty, somewhere in her twenties with big hair and out-of-date clothing. I flipped it over. In small, blocky handwriting, it said,
, 1974. “Who is she?”
“She is the last remaining survivor of the
Alex took the picture from me and let out a wolfish whistle.
I snagged it back and rolled my eyes. “Ew. She’s, like,
Across the room, next to Dax, Mom cleared her throat.
I corrected quickly, waving the picture at Alex. “Too old for
Dax snickered and threw his arm around Mom’s shoulders. “Smooth.”
I coughed and turned back to Ginger to avoid Mom’s stare. I’d made the mistake of mentioning makeup to her once, and she thought I’d implied she looked old. Didn’t take it very well. “Didn’t Denazen kill everyone from the first trial? That’s what Dad said…”
Ginger took the picture from me and stuffed it back into the envelope. I didn’t miss how she snapped the file shut, either, as I leaned in to get a closer look. “This is the one that got away. She is, in part, how Marshal Cross was able to cure Kiernan.”
I froze. “Kiernan?” This must be what Brandt was talking about. The
“You mean this chick has the cure for the crazies? She can save us?”
the cure. Like Kale’s blood renders Sixes pliable, Penny Mills’s blood cancels the negative effect of the Supremacy drug. From the information Henley gathered, we believe they combined it with a formula stolen from a scientist named Franklin Wentz to create the third generation.”
“If she escaped back when the first trial went live, how did they get her blood?”
“Henley said they didn’t know about the blood until June. Each Resident has a vial on file. Mills’s was lost in storage, and because they thought her dead, they had no reason to go looking for it. You see, the first trial’s symptoms were ten times worse. After it was clear that batch wasn’t viable, they simply turned them lose and let them fade away.”
“So they didn’t monitor them at all?”
“There wasn’t any reason to. The trial was conducted in private; none of the volunteers knew the names of the other participants. When nothing happened right away, they were informed the experiment failed, and they were released—Denazen found the fatal flaw in its formula and knew the members would all grow sick and die.”
“But Penny Mills didn’t.”
Ginger shook her head. “No. She didn’t. Recently they discovered she was the only one still alive. Of course they went after her, but by some miracle, she evaded them. They assumed Penny’s survival was genetic and searched for the blood. What they found was a component that bypassed the side effects as well as bridged a gap in Wentz’s research, making a successful trial of Supremacy possible and curing Kiernan.”
“So we find Penny Mills and, what? Get her to bleed on me?” If they thought I was drinking some chick’s blood, they were in for a surprise. I’d start digging my own grave now.
“The blood alone won’t cure you because it stopped working after a while. However, with Franklin Wentz’s formula and some of the blood, we can duplicate a cure.”
“They had the blood in storage,” Mom mused. “That would be why there wasn’t much to go around. The vials are only several ounces. They take them from all Residents.”
“And since they can’t find Penny, they have no way of getting more,” Dax said.
I hated to be the naysayer of the group, but someone had to put it out there. “If they’ve already started producing the new trial—which uses the blood—what are the chances there’s any left for the cure?”
“Henley has confirmed that a small amount remains.”
It bugged me that she kept calling him Henley. His name was
—no matter what his outside looked like. And worse than that, I hated that she’d involved him at all. If Dad were to get his hands on someone like Brandt, with his soul jumping ability, the potential damage could be catastrophic. Denazen could simply kill Brandt off a thousand times, allowing him to gather multiple Six abilities, giving them an all-powerful weapon.
This whole thing was a disaster and I was torn. On one hand, I wanted to try talking some sense into Kale. If anyone could get through to him, I was sure it’d be me. On the other hand, while I’d always been a little careless with my own life, ten others were now on the line. “Okay, so we need to get the blood, like, yesterday. But say we do find this Penny Mills chick—we need the formula Denazen stole from that Wentz guy.”
“Technically we don’t need the formula. We have something better. We have Wentz,” Ginger said with a grin. “He’s been here for about a week now.”
“He’s here? As in, right now? How have I not seen this guy?”
Mom rolled her eyes. “He’s a little bit…different. Ginger set him up in a lab on the third floor. He doesn’t come out much.”
I hadn’t known we
a third floor.
Ginger tapped her cane against the floor. “We need that blood.”
“And Denazen has the blood. Maybe Kale can help with that. He’s obviously been on the inside. Maybe if I talk to him—”
Alex snorted. “Are you really that stupid? You saw what he did to that guy last night! What the hell makes you believe he’d think twice about doing it to you? In case you missed it, you’re
to him anymore. Worse than nobody. You’re the girl he blames for all this. The person he
I flinched as if each word were a physical blow. Knowing it was one thing, but hearing it was another—especially from Alex.
His eyes widened and he shook his head. He’d gone too far and he knew it. Alex had always acted first and thought later. Most people got better with age—he’d gotten worse. “Dez…”
Alex could be a dick—hell, he’d perfected it to an art form—but I knew he was only trying to keep me safe. He was wrong, though. Kale would never hurt me. Not really. He might not remember my face, but I’d seen something in his eyes at the party. Something deep down that could never let me go. Kiernan was proof of that. She had to dress like me, make him call her a name that sounded like mine, and had to redirect his anger by slapping
crappy name on
. All I needed was a little time and an opportunity.
I turned away from Alex and focused on Ginger. “If I could just get him alone… It seems like we’d have a better chance pursuing Denazen to get the blood rather than a woman who could be God knows where. The world is a big place. Kind of the ultimate needle in a haystack, don’t ya think?”
She shook her head. “We find Penny and the others first, then we’ll deal with him. It’s late December, Deznee. You’ll be no good to Kale if something happens to you. For the moment, he appears to be safe.”
She was right. My birthday was only a few months away, and whether I admitted it to them or not, I was beginning to show signs. I asked Mom once why it happened at eighteen. She told me that the way she understood it, there was a protein in the original formula that kept replicating. By the time the subjects reached eighteen, it was too much for their bodies to handle. The sand in my hourglass was almost gone.