Chapter 20: The Garden
AFTER twenty-four hours, Lena’s wounds had healed quite a bit, but her memory hadn’t come back.
She was much more pleasant now that she didn’t remember the past that made her so angry all the time. It was nice. But the newness of the situation began to wear off and life became normal again. And so back to work we went.
Ian and I passed through the door from the East Passage into the beauty that was the gardens. The ceiling bore a sheet of fiber-optic cables more than anywhere else in Winter’s Edge, and the walls had an elaborate, life-like painting that made us feel as if we were in the Italian countryside, next to a thick forest. Real trees made up the edges of the painted forest, giving it a very authentic feel. Channels of water ran back and forth through the massive room underneath wooden structures which held our plants off the ground. Water cycled up from the ground to the plants, then back down into the water channels again where different species of fish swam playfully below. All in all, it took the prize for the most majestic aquaponic farm I’d ever laid eyes on.
I handed a large black bin to Ian, and we headed to one of the many rows brimming with vegetation. He was a little more quiet than usual, but it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary. Ian tended to get lost in his head from time to time.
“What are you thinking about?” I plucked a squash from a vine and placed it in his bin.
He shrugged. “Not much. Just thinking about what happened to Lena. Wondering what it would be like to lose my memory. I can’t imagine how scary that must be. Or if it’s scary at all. It’s hard to tell from her reaction.”
Just then, Emma hobbled up with her cane. “Mind if I join you two?”
I gave her a brimming smile. “Not at all.”
Ian smiled and rested the bin on the garden’s wooden frame, then pushed out a hand. “I’m Ian.”
Emma looked at Ian, wrinkling her aged, already-wrinkled face even more. “Have we met before?”
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“I’m Emma.” She shook his hand. “Good to meet you.” She kept eying him. “Where are you from?”
Emma’s brow rose. “Is your last name Sharp?”
Ian cocked his head with a frown. “Yeah, how’d you know?”
“Emma’s from Bennett, too.” I smiled at her. “She’s been with us quite a while.”
Emma was a little shorter than me, with long wavy white hair and more wrinkles than a Shar Pei. “I used to give you free egg custard pies at the diner when you were about five years old.”
“Weird,” he said. “I don’t remember you, and I never forget a face—literally.”
“Well, I didn’t always look like this.” Emma gestured at me. “I used to look more like her.”
“I don’t think I was alive when you looked like her.” Ian snorted a laugh.
Emma got a clever look in her eye. “How old do you think I am?”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “You couldn’t be a day over thirty-five.”
Emma snickered. “Cute. But you’re closer than you think.” The edge of her lip curled up. “I was seventeen when I last saw you. I’m only thirty years old now.”
Ian looked at me, incredulous. “No way.” He took a closer look at her. “You do look familiar. What’s your last name?”
“Gray.” She smiled. “Emily Gray.”
Ian’s features twisted. “You’re Emily Gray?”
“What happened to you?”
Emma lost some of her spunk at the question. “Supply run incident several years ago.”
“Oh.” Ian’s shoulders sank, probably realizing he’d hit on a sore subject.
Emily continued anyway. “Hunters ambushed us outside of Denver on our way back to one of our safehouses. Joseph gave the order to retreat, so everyone sprinted away to the rendezvous point a few miles away. Everyone except me.” She shook her head with disappointment. “Before I could run, something invisible grabbed my heel. It yanked hard. Slammed me into the ground. Dragged me across the gravel. When I came to a stop, a man grabbed me by the throat and lifted me in the air. He bored through me with an awful stare. He hated me. I could feel it.” She plucking an eggplant and slipped it into his bin. “I punched and kicked, but it was useless. He had some sort of shield preventing me from touching him. He was an operator. A Telekinetic operator.”
I cut in. “Operators are Hunters with powers.”
Emma nodded. “And he was about to kill me. But the one in charge—a real piece of work—ordered him to take me alive. He called him Merek.”
“How did you escape?”
“Fear.” The word seeped from her lips like fog from dry ice.
“I’ve never been that scared in my life. And I wasn’t about to be tortured by them. I’d either escape or die trying.” Emma dropped another eggplant into the bin.
“What did you do?”
“My power’s like Joseph’s. I pull static electricity out of the air and out of objects.” Her nervous eyes darted around the gardens. “But just before I used my ability, a tiny, dark voice whispered to me.” Her voiced took on a darker edge. “‘Kill them all.’ And I took its advice. I didn’t have anything to lose at that point, so I put everything I had into my power. I pulled static electricity from everywhere around me.” Emma gave a sort of wicked, guttural laugh.
Ian swallowed hard.
“I even pulled the electricity from the Hunters’ bodies, stopping some of their hearts and making the rest go limp. All except Merek. I pulled all the electricity through him to me.” She wore a proud smile. “I thought it was clever, till he smiled at me.” Her face soured. “That’s when I realized it was just making his power stronger.” She turned intense eyes on Ian and nearly whispered the next words. “Do you know what happened then?”
Ian was a deer in headlights at that point but managed to shake his head.
“That tiny voice in my head grew monstrous. ‘Kill them all,’ it screamed.” Her voice went icy. “And I tried. I pulled every bit of power from that black, twisted feeling inside of me. I was drawing so much electrical current, it towed in clouds and sent them into a storm frenzy. Lightning arced down through me. Merek’s telekinetic barrier might have kept bullets from hitting him, but it couldn’t keep out electricity.” A sliver of a smile came back to her face. “The lightning strikes threw Merek across the construction yard. They also sparked the fumes of an empty fuel tanker parked beside the Hunters.” A menacing smile crossed Emma’s face. “The shrapnel cut a scar across Merek’s face to remember me by.”
Ian’s eyes narrowed. “Was the scar across his left eye?”
“Yes.” She frowned. “How’d you know?”
I spoke before Ian had the chance. “That’s the one who nearly caught him in Bennett.”
“You’re lucky he didn’t get ahold of you.” Her face fell grim. “I wasn’t so lucky. That voice inside of me let out an evil laugh that scared me to death, and I released my hold on the power. When I did, every ounce of energy drained from me, and I collapsed. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in Winter’s Edge in the medical center. I’d left my age of twenty-three behind, looking and feeling more like ninety.”
“I thought they left you behind,” Ian said.
“Mathis said when I used my power, he’d never felt anything like it. So he sent Joseph back for me. I still can’t believe I survived.” She paused, a wounded look in her eyes. “Well, the youth in me didn’t survive, but I did.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That must’ve been tough.”
“It was at first.” She waved off any concern. “I’m used to it now, I suppose.”
“Has the madness affected you since then?”
“Yes.” Emma sighed. “I still hear the whispers from time to time. It’s worse if I try to use my power, so I steer clear of it…most of the time. Using it here and there shouldn’t hurt anything, though.” She got a glimmer in her eye. “Watch this.”
She looked around the gardens with narrow eyes, then scooped some water from the stream below into her palm. A mischievous grin crossed her lips. Electricity flowed through the water in her hand, splitting it into hydrogen and oxygen. Another spark leapt up from her hand, causing the hydrogen-oxygen cloud to burst into flame with a whoosh!
Ian smiled. “Nice.”
“What good are these powers if you can’t have a little fun with them once in a while?” She gave a toothy grin. “I figure if I use them here and there, it might drain the life out of me that much quicker.” She shrugged. “Might be a good thing.”
“Don’t say that.” I rubbed her back. “You’re the best gardener we have.”
Emma half-smiled at that.
I barely noticed the sound of the door opening behind Ian. Ian turned to see my mother behind him.
“Guess what,” said Mom as she approached.
I frowned. “What?”
“Joseph wanted to tell you himself, but he couldn’t find you earlier.” Her eyebrows perked up. “He decided to open the graveyard for you. If you hurry, you can make it before he and Artie get it open.”
My eyes went wide as I felt the color drain from my face. “What? They’re opening it now?”
I pushed past Ian and my mom before she could answer and ran for the door.
Behind me, Mom said, “What was that all about?”
“Uhhh—” Ian hesitated, then rushed his words. “She’s changed her mind about the graveyard.”
I burst from the gardens and ran to the Old City without using my increased strength. Ian was more experienced with his powers and managed to catch up pretty quickly.
Once in the Old City passages, I ran as fast as my powers would allow. I slid around one corner and glanced off the wall. The increased speed was hard to get used to.
Several turns later, I slowed to a human pace and rounded the last two corners before the graveyard door came into sight. Joseph and Artie held large hammers, driving long, metal spikes into the edges of the door. Several spikes sat buried in the stone. Artie’s robot-pug, Killer, eyed me as I came around the corner and seemed to lock in on me, protective of Artie.
“Stop!” I yelled.
Joseph and Artie gave a start, looking my direction with confused expressions. The pug cocked his head, then barked.
I barely managed to stop before I ran into Joseph. The door had thick cracks splintering out from spike to spike. It wouldn’t take much more to open it.
Artie put a hand out to block Killer. “No!”
I reached out and caught Joseph’s wrist before he landed another strike, then pushed him back from the door. “You can’t open it.” My chest rose high as I heaved breaths.
Artie dropped his hammer, still wrangling the dog.
Joseph stared me down with a confused frown. “But you’ve wanted me to open this ever since we found it. What’s going on?”
“I changed my mind.” I let go of his hand.
Ian panted lightly as he came up behind me.
“What? Why?” Joseph lowered his hammer to his side, dumbfounded.
“Maybe you were right about the chamber.” I couldn’t very well tell him why I was scared to death of the chamber without exposing my powers, so I played dumb. “I have a really bad feeling about it.”
Joseph eyed me with a confused stare.
Footfalls resonated through the hall we’d just come from. They approached quickly.
Jesse came around the corner with a frustrated look. “The supply run’s leaving soon and no one can find Braden. He’s not answering his door.”
Joseph looked from Jesse to me, then sighed and dropped his hammer.
Ian and I stood back as Joseph knocked at Braden’s door.
“Like I said, no answer.” Jesse’s jaw muscles flared. “We’ve looked everywhere.”
“Braden?” Joseph knocked again. He looked down for a moment, a more serious look on his face now. “I’ll go get the key.”
He started down the hall, and Jesse and Artie followed. Artie carried Killer in his arms, petting him, then sat him down on the ground. “Go find Braden.”
The little dog barked, excited tail wagging, then said, “And explode?”
“No, no. He’s a friend. You know what he looks like.” Artie’s eyes urged him on. “Go find him. Disengage guard dog mode.”
The dog looked a little sad but complied. How had he programmed simulated emotions into the dog? It was impressive.
As they left us behind, Ian stepped up to the door. “Let me give it a try.”
What did he think he was going to be able to do against Artie’s nearly-impenetrable locks?
He jiggled the handle, then pushed against it too hard, snapping it against the door frame. “Crap.” The door swung open.
“You didn’t have to break—”
Ian held up a hand to cut me off, then stalked slowly into the room with an intense look.
“Braden?” Ian’s call was met with silence. He went for the stairs and climbed them cautiously. “Braden?”
I followed him up the stairs and chirped a scream at the top, covering my mouth.
Braden lay on the bed, soaked in blood, a large knife protruding from his chest.
Ian coiled around me, shielding me from it, and hauled me down the stairs.
“He’s dead.” I was on the brink of tears. “I can’t believe he’s dead.”
Ian took me out the door, then loosened his hold on me. “It’s okay. Everything’s gonna be okay.” He held me, his hand keeping my head against his chest, brushing against my hair soothingly.
“Somebody killed him,” I said. “Right there in his room. Someone killed him with a knife.”
He kept his hold on me. “Don’t worry. We’ll get this figured out. Let’s get Joseph.”
It was several hours before Joseph and Artie finished examining everything in Braden’s quarters. Even Killer had scanned the entire room, taking note of everything.
Afterward, Joseph gathered everyone in the town square and stood on the East Bridge.
“Braden was killed sometime in the middle of the night.” His tone was cold and unfeeling except for the tinge of anger that boiled beneath it. “Someone planted a knife in his chest. The knife is from Murphy’s Tavern, but it was wiped clean of prints. His door was locked and his key was on him. We’ve taken fingerprints from everything in his quarters. We’ll run a check on them during the supply run leaving tonight.”
People stirred with erupting whispers at the news.
“Until we get this sorted out, please be cautious and keep an eye out for any suspicious behavior,” he said. “We’ll be questioning people the next few days.”
People began talking among themselves, worried tones passing through the crowd.
Then Jesse spoke up. “Braden and I got even with Ian a couple of days ago.” He sounded sorry, but his tone changed suddenly. “Now Braden’s dead.” He ran toward Ian, slamming into Lena’s shoulder, nearly knocking her to the ground. Murph stepped into his path, and Reilly grabbed a hold of him as he tried to get around Murph.
“Now hold on!” A vein nearly popped from Joseph’s forehead. “We don’t know who did this, and we’re not accusing anyone of it until we investigate and have solid proof. Go to the entrance tunnel and wait for the supply run to leave, Jesse. You’re going with them.”
Jesse jerked free of Murph and Reilly and stormed off into the East Passage.
“If anyone else gets the bright idea that they know who did this, you’d do well to keep it to yourself until you’re brought in for questioning.” Joseph sighed. “Now, get ready for the supply run or get to your quarters and get some sleep.”
Several people stared at Ian, unsure and angry. He looked worried.
“So, how did Ian look when you saw him yesterday at his room?” Joseph said, shifting his weight onto his arms, propped against the table in his quarters. Artie stood in a corner with a notebook, watching and writing down things from time to time.
Ian sat beside me, across the table from Joseph. Why Joseph had me in the room I’d never understand.
I glanced at Ian, worried that my statement wasn’t going to help him in any way. “His face was red in a few spots. He looked like he’d been in a fight.”
“He said Jesse and Braden had tranqed him and beat him up, but that he didn’t want anyone to do anything about. He said he didn’t think it would happen again since they’d finally gotten even.” I glanced at Ian again.
Joseph looked at him. “Is that all you told her?”
“More or less,” he said.
“And did you plan to do anything to get even with them?” Joseph said.
Ian shook his head. “I didn’t wanna stir the pot again.”
Joseph looked back to me. “On the last supply run, were you with Ian the entire time?”
I nodded. Why was he asking about the supply run? That had nothing to do with the murder.
“Did you see Ian use his powers to keep Artie from being shot?”
I tensed, seeing where he was going with the questions. “Yes.”
He turned to Ian. “You knew our protocol. No powers unless absolutely necessary. But you used them anyway.”
“There were already Hunters there.” Ian turned his palms up, confused. “Why not use my powers if I don’t have to worry about drawing Hunters? They’d probably already called for backup.”
“Artie carries a scrambler.” Joseph’s eyes darkened a shade. “There’s no way they could’ve radioed out. Using your powers drew more Hunters. You’re lucky you got out of there before they arrived.”
Ian’s jaws clenched. “Look, if I hadn’t used my powers when I did, Artie would be dead. I thought you’d be happy your friend’s okay.” Ian looked back at Artie for a second before he leveled a harsh stare back on Joseph.
Joseph didn’t move, as if he couldn’t care less what Ian had said. “You won’t be going out on a supply run for a while.”
Ian rolled his eyes and let out a huff.
Joseph continued his barrage of questions. “So where were you last night?”
“In my room, asleep,” Ian said.
“Can anyone vouch for you? Did anyone else see you?” Joseph peered at Ian through the tops of his eyes, not looking particularly friendly.
Ian shook his head.
Joseph turned to me. “You live next door. Did you hear or see Ian in his quarters?”
I pressed my lips into a thin line. “No. I was asleep.”
Joseph turned back to Ian. “So you ran right to Mathis in Denver and he takes you right to our city. Sounds like something Hunters might do to find the location of Winter’s Edge.”
Ian jerked backed from the table, sitting up straight, rigid. “Are you serious? I get beat up by your people, save Artie, and sleep through the night last night like a normal person and now suddenly I’m a Hunter spy?”
“Come on, Joseph,” I said.
He ignored me. “Or maybe Braden and Jesse pissed you off a little too much.” Joseph played it cool, not getting upset, just stating it as if it were a fact. “You took a knife to scare Braden. Things got out of hand, and you killed him.”
“That’s absurd!” Ian stood up. “I get to this city and you people attack me for a test, then act like it’s completely normal.”
The table moved toward Joseph and he slid his chair back, eyes widening. My chair slid away from Ian with me still on it. If he didn’t watch out, the power would explode out of him with that kind of rage at the surface.
“I defended myself during your little test, and Jesse and Braden beat the crap out of me for it. How the hell did I become the bad guy here?” Ian stormed off toward the door. “I should’ve just left after the test.”
“Hold on,” Joseph said. “I didn’t say you did it.”
Ian turned around. “Then what are you saying?”
Joseph stood. “I’m saying that things were calm here before you arrived. We rarely ran into Hunters on runs. And people weren’t turning up dead before.”
“I didn’t kill Braden,” Ian said. “I’m just here to train a little longer, then I’m gone.” Ian slammed the door as he left the room.
I turned a burning glare on Joseph. “He hasn’t been here long. You didn’t have to be that way with him. You realize he could’ve killed us all just then if he’d lost control of his powers?”
That’s when I realized why Joseph had me in the room. He knew Ian would make sure he kept his power from exploding out and killing them if I were in there.
I stood to leave. “Are we done here?”
Joseph put his hands on his hips, giving me a flat stare, then nodded.
I left to find Ian and caught up with him outside the town square. “Sorry, about that,”
“You don’t have to apologize for him.” Ian turned the corner by the showers.
“Well, you can’t blame them for thinking you might be the murderer. Our biggest fear is of the Hunters sending someone out to purposely get caught by us. It wouldn’t be too hard to figure out where we are and lead them here if they could see through walls.”
Ian’s brow furrowed at me. “Are you defending them, now?”
“No…” I stared at the ground as we walked. “…just trying to help you understand where they’re coming from.”
“Look, I just need to cool off, right now, okay?”
Before I got an answer out, Ian reached his door and disappeared inside his quarters, leaving me in the hall…alone.