Kyle felt himself waking up, slowly. The first thing he was aware of was that his body ached. Every muscle was crying from exhaustion.
The events from the Tragers' house and realization that wherever he was, he was in the hands of Latnok hit him again.
His heart began to pound faster against his will. He focused, and slowed it back down, making it steady and even. He didn't open his eyes; he did nothing to alert anyone that he was waking up.
He listened carefully for anything happening around him.
He could hear the regular beeping of a machine in sync with his heart rate. He listened to the machinery and became aware of several patches attached to his face and chest, monitoring his body activity. He realized that he wasn't wearing any kind of shirt.
His bare skin could feel the cool air in the room. It was sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity of 48 percent. The ideal conditions for an operating room.
Breathing. Another heartbeat. There was someone else in whatever room he was in. The person sighed, and tapped their foot a few times impatiently. Based on the pitch and the amount of air exerted by the sigh, as well as the weight behind the tap, Kyle figured that the person was a man of a slight build, probably in his thirties. The man must have been watching over him, waiting for him to show signs of consciousness.
He twitched his muscles ever so slightly, and what he felt confirmed his fear; he was strapped to a table, tightly.
Memories from prom night flooded his mind. This was déjà vu. Except this time, he knew, it would be much harder to escape. This time, Latnok wasn't testing him. They intended to keep him trapped.
These straps were tighter than the ones on prom night had been. Tighter and sturdier.
And he'd be willing to bet that they hadn't left any scalpels or other sharp objects lying around this time.
There were more straps than last time too. Like before, both wrists and both ankles were restrained. There was one around his waist, restraining his midsection like last time as well. But, instead of a strap directly under his armpits, now there was one across his chest and shoulders, encasing the tops of his arms as well. He wouldn't be able to move anything other than his head, neck, fingers, and toes. He wouldn't be able to move anything else more than a centimeter, if that.
He focused on controlling his heart rate and breathing. If either sped up, the man watching him would think that he was coming to. Kyle wanted to delay that for as long as possible.
He concentrated more; he focused on listening. He wanted to paint himself a picture of the room and what was going on in it without opening his eyes. He blocked out the sound of the machines monitoring his system.
He listened carefully, focusing more intently, tapping into his sensitive stereophonic hearing so that he knew the distance of his surroundings from himself, so he could visualize what was going on. The man was about five feet away. Kyle could hear his breathing. It was slightly irregular, as if he was just a little nervous about something. His heart wasn't racing though, so he couldn't have been too upset. He heard rustling of the man's clothing. It sounded like cotton and polyester rubbing against more cotton and polyester. And something else.
Polypropylene. A flame-resistant material. The man must have been wearing a lab coat.
A creak and slight puff of air revealed that the man was sitting in a computer-style chair.
The man sighed again, and cracked his knuckles. It sounded like the man had hands that were slightly-smaller sized than average. Kyle listened more intently, and could hear the man swallowing, blinking, and occasionally licking his lips, as if in impatient anticipation. He could hear the man run his tongue along his teeth inside his mouth, could hear the saliva moving around in his mouth, could hear several of his hairs face fly out and land on the sides of his head when the man blew them out of his face. He could tell that the man's hair was a little on the shaggy side; it must have been about four and a half inches long. It was straight. He heard a little buzz coming from what must have been an earpiece in the man's ear. Like a Bluetooth.
Kyle was curious about the rest of the room.
He focused, listening to the sounds around the man. He listened to the airflow in the room, utilizing stereophonic hearing more than he ever had before. He let his hearing travel along with the sound waves, picking up differences in how each ear heard it, revealing details about the dimensions of the room and the objects in contained.
The room seemed to be about twenty feet by twenty feet. A square. By the way the air bounced off three of the walls, Kyle was sure that they were ordinary plaster walls. The fourth wall was trickier. There was plaster, but it only a little. It seemed to be framing something – which reflected the air differently. It seemed like glass, but something was off about it.
He continued to listen, and figured out that it was glass, but the glass was coated in something strange.
Kyle thought about a little, and determined that it must have been a two-way mirror.
Kyle continued to listen to the air in the room and the way it moved to draw out the rest of the room. There were odd little holes in the wall in one corner, grouped systematically around plastic. Some sort of intercom.
Other than the machines and monitors around him, a camera in a corner near the ceiling that focused on him, the chair the man sat in, and the Kyle and the table-of-sorts he laid captive on, the room was completely empty.
He listened to the hum of electricity in the lights on the ceiling. There were a lot of lights, so the room must have been bright.
He pictured the room in his head. He knew he could blow the electricity out easily. Blow up all the lights, overload the machines monitoring him. With no one able to see him, he could probably find a way to rid himself of his straps. Maybe he would even be strong enough to break out of them himself, without any assisting tools. He was much stronger than a regular human. But Latnok had probably taken that into consideration.
Kyle's every instinct told him to resist, to fight them. Even if he couldn't break out the straps, he could make whatever Latnok had planned for him extremely difficult. They couldn't do much without electricity, or if he was making objects they were trying to use fly and fall out of their grasp.
They also wouldn't be able to do anything if Kyle tried was Jessi had done to Cassidy at the Rack. Messing with their blood vessels.
Kyle's stomach clenched. He couldn't believe that he was considering something like that for even a minute – Nicole really had been right. Kyle was changed. And he didn't like the change.
He could do it; he could resist. But Cassidy's threats echoed in his head.
"I'm gonna hurt Jessi, until she wishes she really had died.
And then, just when you think it couldn't get any worse,
I'll hurt everybody that ever mattered to you.
Starting with Amanda."
Anger coursed through Kyle's system as the scene replayed in his mind.
Raging anger, anger that made him willing to kill Cassidy again, wishing for the opportunity to be back.
But this time the anger was accompanied with an overwhelming sense of helplessness, that only made him more angry.
But the more he thought about it, the more helplessness began to win.
What could he do? Even if he escaped Latnok, even if he did get revenge on Cassidy, how could he protect the Tragers and everyone he cared about? He couldn't ask everyone to uproot their lives and go into hiding. Even if they all were willing too, Latnok would find them eventually.
Images of Jessi, Amanda, and the Tragers ran through his head. He thought of Decklin, and even Tom Foss. What would Latnok do to them if Kyle resisted?
He could try and destroy the company and get rid of everyone involved in it.
Even thinking about thinking about committing such an act made Kyle feel sick. But did he have a choice? What if there wasn't another way to keep everyone safe?
If Kyle cooperated, the first thing Latnok would do would be to force him to fix the damage he'd done; he'd have to create more of the formula. He'd have to help them restart their experiment; have to be partially responsible for robbing children of their childhood. They'd be clones, which were regular human embryos who had had Kyle's DNA infused in them, changing who they would have been naturally into exact replicas of Kyle. How could Kyle not only allow that to happen, but to become a part of it? And it wouldn't be just one child – there were tons of them Latnok were planning on growing.
They couldn't really have been planning on releasing that many versions of the same person to the world at the same age – so what were they really planning? It seemed more likely that all of those future people would be doomed to the fate Kyle barely escaped; life as some sort of advanced bio-computer.
Conflicting emotions and thoughts raged an internal war within Kyle's head and heart. What to do?
Kyle nearly jumped as the low, ominous voice emitted from the earpiece in the man's ear.
"Negative," he answered, pushing a button on the device.
There was no response from the other party.
Kyle wanted to hear the rest of the conversation. He listened past the barriers of the walls, through the two-way mirror. Sure enough, there were people in there.
"I think he's awake." It was the man that had spoken to the man in the room.
"His heart rate and breathing say differently." It was a woman, her voice cold and calculating.
"But if you look at the image of the brain, and the EEG readings – about ten minutes ago, he showed a large increase in brain activity. As if he had just gained consciousness."
"But the neural block we gave him isn't going to dissolve for another two hours. There's no way it's dissolved already. We only injected him with it a half an hour ago."
"Well, let's run another brain scan."
A whirring above him revealed that the brain scan must have begun. It must have been an advanced machine of new technology; it wasn't a regular MRI.
He continued to listen to the sounds in the next room. He heard a sharp intake of breath.
"That's impossible. The block shouldn't even have begun dissolving for two hours."
"Yes, well, apparently it's already dissolved."
"You're saying that he somehow dissolved a neural block – on his own, with no kind of equipment at all – on himself – while unconscious?"
"Apparently. How extraordinary. His abilities never cease to surprise us. Apparently we will have to stick to regular sedatives in the future. They seem to work well on him."
Kyle's heart sped up again, and he didn't bother to try and slow it down.
They knew he was awake.
Potential decisions and emotions flared up inside him again.
He thought of the innocent children that would be robbed of life he cooperated.
He thought of the life in captivity that awaited him, no matter how long or short, if he did what Latnok wanted.
He thought of the people he cared about that would be hurt if he resisted.
Thoughts sped through his mind at incredible speed.
Doubts threatened to undermine what he had just figured out.
Either way, people would get hurt.
But his decision was made.
"Stephan. When we agreed to adopt Kyle – I wanted to take him back in, but I was so afraid of losing him again. Now it's – happening. And last time I only had a bad feeling. I thought he was with his parents. This time we know the truth -" Nicole choked a little on her last words. She cleared her throat and wiped away the tears on her face.
They were sitting on their bed, the bedroom door closed.
"I know it's not his fault – but – Stephen. I feel terrible in thinking this, but he can't keep doing this to our family." Her voice was harsh, but from restrained emotion.
"Nicole. He's part of our family. "
"I know but – Stephen."
He put his arms around her, drawing her closer to him, pulling her into his lap.
She broke down, and began to sob. She leaned into him, burying her head in his chest.
"I'm just – I'm just so worried about him," she whispered after a minute.
"I am too, Nicole. This is why Kyle didn't tell us the truth the first time he left. To protect us. Now we know the truth, and no, it isn't better. But at least we aren't ignorant this time."
"There's still nothing we can do!" She sobbed.
"I know. It isn't fair. All we can do is wait. And hope that Kyle gets back to us soon."
"I can't handle this, Stephen. I can't handle not knowing what's happening to him. What they could be doing to him. Jessi said that Cassidy electrocuted Kyle until he lost consciousness. If that's the kind of thing they are willing to do just to get him in there, just imagine what they could be doing to him!"
"Nicole, we have to stay optimistic, or we will kill ourselves like this. It's not fair, and we can't do anything about it, but Kyle can handle himself. He won't let them hurt him. He's able to do so much – no doubt they will be negotiating on his terms. He'll be making them deals in exchange for him staying and working with them."
"He doesn't deserve this life, Stephan. He was so pure, so innocent. So kind. This life has taught him to lie, to steal, and to break laws. But he resisted it the whole time. He still wants to be pure. They were already ruining him. He was changing, Stephan. I still love him regardless, but – what if, when he comes back, he's not Kyle anymore? What if everything they do changes him so much that -"
"Nicole. It's Kyle. Through everything he'd been through with Tom Foss, with Zizzics, Medacorp and Adam Baylin, he still strives to be good. I've never known a more pure-hearted, kind person in my life. I've never met a person half as good as Kyle. And for now, we should just be thankful that we have Jessi. Maybe she'll be able to maintain contact with Kyle. We can check up on him occasionally."
"You have no idea how much I hate them, Stephen. How much I hate them all – Zizzics, Medacorp. And mostly Latnok. For everything they did to Kyle."
"Oh, I have an idea," Stephen responded, his voice and face simultaneously getting darker.
"Amanda," Lori started, "What is it?"
Her nervous gaze shifted between the siblings and the door Jessi had just exited.
"Amanda! We already know everything you just discovered about Kyle! Probably more! So spill!" Josh demanded, "Why did Jessi say it would be more than three days? What do you know?"
"Not much," she admitted reluctantly.
"But what do you know?" Lori asked.
"Well, right when Jessi got – er – back from talking to Kyle – well, she sort of woke up – she said Kyle told her to tell me everything about him…"
"Yeah? And?" Lori demanded.
"And she said," Amanda's voice lowered to a whisper, and her eyes filled with tears again, "And she said Kyle might – might never be back."
"And what gives her that extremely incorrect and ignorant idea?" Josh asked indignantly after a moment of stunned silence.
"I'm sorry, this is all just so much – but I think – Kyle must have told her something. She seemed different. She was determined to do something before she – er – talked to him, but afterwards she seemed determined to do nothing. Well, more resigned, then determined. Like whatever Kyle told her, she's accepted that she can't help, and that he won't be back for a while. I guess he told her -" Her voice got higher, as if she was going to start crying.
"What?" Lori asked gently, "What did he tell her?"
Amanda sniffed, and swallowed. "Well, I guess he told her that the reason he wanted her to tell me everything about him was so that I wouldn't have any questions, so that I could make peace with it and move on. In case he never comes back to tell me himself."
Josh and Lori exchanged horrified looks, both thinking the same thing.
Kyle was usually so optimistic.
Had he already surrendered to a life at Latnok in order to protect his loved ones?
"He'll be back," Josh choked, not quite sure if he believed it himself, "It's Kyle. He can do anything. You all doubted he'd be back last time. But he did. He came back." He tried not to start crying.
Lori bit her lip, her eyes filling with tears, "Josh, I want to believe that too. But last time was different. Last time Kyle wasn't being held prisoner; he was getting answers to his past and discovering his abilities. He had the choice to come back, so he did. This time…"
Josh scrunched his nose in anger and crossed his arms. He cleared his throat.
"I don't care. He'll find a way to come back. He escaped them last time."
"Last time it was a test; they didn't want to make it impossible for him to escape. And they took Amanda to guarantee he'd find a way," she glanced over at Amanda, whose eyebrows furrowed in confusion, "Now they're using us all as a threat to keep him there."
"This isn't fair!" Josh retorted.
"As long as we're in the picture, I don't think he'll try to escape."
"Why do you have to be so pessimistic, Lori? He will be back. I know it. He hasn't disappointed us yet."
"Yet. Amanda," Lori said, turning to her, "Are you okay? Really?"
Amanda had begun to slip out of focus again, lost in her own thoughts.
"I don't know. Like I said, it's just so much to take in. I mean, I saw some charts on Nate's desk before, so I had ideas… but just to have it all confirmed, to know that these people are out there messing with life in the name of science… And on top of it all, the predicament Kyle is in right now – that's what's hardest to handle of all. And I just don't know how to do it. I'm so worried about Kyle. And so confused about everything."
"Well," Lori answered slowly, "We're all worried about Kyle. But Josh is right in saying that Kyle does know what he's getting himself into and he does know how to handle himself."
"Yeah," Josh cut in, "Think about it. They want Kyle's wholehearted cooperation. I'm sure they will be doing crap on Kyle's terms."
"Yeah. Maybe," Lori answered, trying to be optimistic.
Amanda jumped, noticing the clock.
"I have to go!" she said suddenly, "It's so late. My mom is going to kill me… But I don't know how I can go. I'm a terrible liar; I don't know how to act like nothing happened, like Kyle isn't being held prisoner somewhere," she began to panic, "I can't go!
"Well, you can't stay here forever," Josh told her, "The last thing we need is the police poking around and finding you here in this mess, and Kyle missing."
"He has a point," Lori agreed, "You need to go. Come over tomorrow if you can get out of your house. We can answer questions you no-doubt will have, and try to make each other feel better about Kyle."
Amanda seemed consoled by this idea, "But what do I say in the mean time? I can't just act normal…"
"Well, you have to," Josh informed her, "I had trouble too, but I did it. Word about Kyle can't get out."
"Why not?" she asked innocently.
"'Why not?'?!"Josh retorted, "How would you like the whole world to know that you're a parentless freak that was made in a petri dish and grown in a tank? How would you like everyone to know that you possess amazing abilities and are the smartest person ever, by far? How would you like that kind of pressure?! How would you like the entire world to sit around and wait for you do something amazing? When Jessi let some of her 'tricks' fly, everyone wanted demonstrations. Do you really want that life for Kyle? Not to mention all the people that would try to get to him and use him. Terrorists and everyone evil would love to get an influence over Kyle. Look at Latnok and what they're doing now! And they are practically the only people that know about him!"
"Okay, she gets it," Lori stopped him.
Amanda seemed appropriately abashed.
"Alright," she said meekly, tears glistening in her eyes again, "No, I don't want any of that for Kyle. I'll try my best to seem normal; I'll – I'll say I'm not feeling well."
"Better," Josh answered, nodding in approval.
Amanda sighed and stood up.
"Well, goodnight then."
Josh and Lori were silent until they'd heard the front door shut behind her.
They exchanged similar looks, no doubt thinking the same thing; had informing Amanda about Kyle been a huge mistake?
Jessi was a mess.
She paced back and forth in front of Kyle's tub. His room was the most comfortable spot in the house.
But it lacked its usual comfort without him. It was like the room knew that Kyle was gone, was being maltreated. It seemed darker, more ominous. Too empty.
Adrenaline pounded through her veins with every step.
She couldn't just sit here. She couldn't honor Kyle's request.
She wanted to make Latnok pay.
Anger blurred her vision.
She wanted nothing more than to hurt Cassidy, to hurt everyone who had thought of hurting Kyle.
Her blood boiled.
If she ever came face to face with Cassidy again, she'd kill him in a heartbeat.
Even if he was, impossibly, the brother of the boy she loved.
And it didn't matter.
She'd wanted to be a better person, had wanted to become someone that Kyle deserved, or at least become more worthy of him.
Kyle was the one that helped people, all the time.
He'd helped her to feel, to learn how to empathize and sympathize with people. He'd shown her that there was good in the world. He'd demonstrated how important it was to help people, always, no matter what.
Much as she wanted to, Jessi didn't know how to begin to help people without Kyle.
The irony in the scenario disgusted her.
Here she was in Kyle's room, essentially living Kyle's life with Kyle's family and Kyle's friends. The fact that that had been all she'd ever really wanted made her sick. Because while she was here, living Kyle's life contentedly, Kyle was undoubtedly being tortured and inhumanely tested by the organization that had rejected her for the same treatment.
It was hard to believe that she'd wanted to be a part of Latnok at one point, that she'd wanted to be in Kyle's shoes.
Again, she yearned to be among them – but this time the yearning stemmed from an entirely different set of reasons.
Suddenly, she angrily sat down in Kyle's desk chair.
The injustice was infuriating. Being bound by her promise to Kyle meant that she couldn't leave, couldn't search for Latnok. But her every instinct was screaming at her to find him, to help him. To harm Latnok.
The feeling that something was wrong, that something bad was happening with Kyle had hit her about the same time that Kyle must have been confronting Cassidy. It hadn't left her, and she doubted it would until she was with him again.
It was a constant headache and never ceasing reminder of Kyle's predicament.
She drummed her fingers on Kyle's desk.
She closed her eyes, and thought of their last kiss, in Kyle's head.
It had been so passionate; it was as if Kyle was positive he'd never see her again. Perhaps he hadn't told her everything.
She focused on him again, trying to reconnect, to get back into his head.
He must have been awake, and he was too far away for her to make that connection while they were conscious.
She moaned in frustration.
She had to do something.
What was the point of it all, if Latnok had Kyle now? What was the point of prom night – of leaving Sarah alone to help him – if they had him now? If she hadn't left Sarah to save Kyle from Latnok, Sarah wouldn't have been killed and the two of them would be living happily somewhere else. So what was the point of Sarah's death?
Jessi's eyes snapped open.
She couldn't let her mother die for nothing. Her mother had hated Latnok; it was the reason they'd been so willing to kill her. So by letting Latnok win, she was letting her mother's murderers win.
Sarah wouldn't have wanted Kyle in their control.
Jessi didn't want it either.
She stood up. That was it. Much as she honored Kyle and wanted to keep her promise to him –only because she'd promised him – she knew that she couldn't. She shouldn't have made a promise that was so impossible to keep.
She started towards Kyle's door.
"Jessi, wherever they have me, I'm sure they'll do a better job keeping me contained than they did on prom night; they saw how I escaped. And they'll use you and the Tragers to get me to do what they want."
Jessi jumped as Kyle's words rang through her head.
Kyle had wanted Jessi to stay to keep the Tragers safe. If she left to find him, would she be putting the Tragers in danger?
She thought of each one of them; after Kyle, they were the people she cared about most about in the world. She couldn't live with herself if her actions were responsible for one of their deaths. It would be like Sarah all over again. And she wouldn't be able to handle that.
She closed her eyes again, her emotions in agonizing turmoil.
She contemplated her choices.
It looked like it was going to be either Kyle or the Tragers. And Kyle would want it to be the Tragers. There was no other way. No matter what she chose, she'd be hurting someone. There was nothing to do. Latnok had won.
Jessi eye's snapped open as another idea occurred to her.
There was another way.
Kyle would hate it – there was no way he'd participate in it at all, and he'd hate Jessi for doing it.
But still, it would set both Kyle and the Tragers free. Free to live their lives in peace. And though Kyle would never want to see Jessi again, he'd have Amanda.
He'd be happy.
He didn't need her anyway.
Her heart contracted in pain as she thought of Kyle, unable to meet her eye. He'd never want to see her again, and that would be the hardest part to live with.
But anything was better than this.