Chapter 34: Betrayal
THE next morning, I was visibly dragging. I sipped on a cup of coffee as a remedy then dressed in a black business dress with high slits up the legs for mobility in case we got into a fight. I’d changed my hair quite a bit, not wanting to appear similar to yesterday.
I’d had run-ins with Hunters before, but they’d never identify me. I wasn’t part of the system. I was a ghost. That took on a whole new meaning considering my ability.
I slipped on some jewelry then stuffed a change of clothes in my bag and carried it downstairs.
Soon, we were in the garage, orders distributed, and it was time to leave.
Joseph tossed me the keys to the M3. “Watch your backs today. If you pick up any tails, call me and we’ll come get you.”
As Ian and I walked to the car, I kept my voice low. “Normally, if we’re attacked by Hunters, we head back to Winter’s Edge immediately. I don’t know why we’re still here.”
I hit the unlock button on the key fob and the car beeped, lights blinking. Murph had already changed its wheels and removed its spoiler. He’d even painted over the SHO logos embossed on the bumper and sideskirts to make the car look almost just like a regular Ford Taurus.
Ian sighed. “Great.”
“Keep an eye out for anything suspicious today.” I opened the door and climbed into the driver’s seat. Ian dropped into the passenger seat a second later. “If we’re tailed again, we’ll know someone in the house tipped off the Hunters. If they want us badly enough, they’ll come for us again.”
“And if they don’t?”
“Then maybe we weren’t set up.” I started the motor and the car put out a throaty hum. “Or maybe the Hunters have a different plan in mind now.”
After retrieving our gold from the refinery, Ian and I distributed it among various banks and storage units, then headed back to the warehouse.
“Come with me,” Ian said, pulling onto the interstate.
“To check on my parents.”
My god, how could I have forgotten about his parents? He’d been training with us for three months now. He’d learned extremely fast. He’d have a lot better chance against Hunters now. And I got the impression he liked his odds against the Hunters better than he did in Winter’s Edge right now.
It was all I could do to hold back the tears wanting to form in my eyes. “Ian, you’re asking me to leave my mother, my friends…everything I’ve ever known.”
“College kids leave home all the time. What’s the difference?” He had a point, which made it all the more difficult.
“The difference is, I don’t exist on paper in the real world.” I slowed the car and turned, taking a longer route back to the warehouse. “I have no identity. No social security number. Nothing. My driver’s license is fake. Artie implanted my identities into the system.”
“Then use one of them, like a CIA agent.”
I was torn. Part of me felt like Winter’s Edge was a prison. I’d been there my entire life, never able to leave, never free to go where I wanted or do what I wanted. I had no powers before, which meant I was the only one there who could leave and live a normal life—a normal life without my family. I’d always wanted to live a normal life, but there was nothing normal about that.
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a CIA agent.” I sighed. “I might have said yes before I discovered my powers. But now, I’m not so sure. How would it ever work? You’re on the Hunters’ radar. They’ll find us eventually. Is that what you want? A life on the run?”
“No.” He shook his head. “I want a life with you.”
My stomach wrenched as I looked into his eyes. “And we can have that in Winter’s Edge.”
Ian seemed to consider it for a moment. “I don’t know if I wanna hang around there much longer. Not at the risk of Hunters coming down on us.”
“I know it doesn’t mean as much to you as it does to me. They’re not like family to you.” I took a deep breath, still fending off tears. “Please don’t go. It’s not safe.”
“It’s not safe in Winter’s Edge, either.”
“Then wait,” I said. “Wait until the next supply run to go check on them. I’ll try to get you on the next one since you’ve only been out twice. You can check on your parents then and I’ll go with you. We won’t tell anyone.”
“That doesn’t fix the problem of the killer in Winter’s Edge. What if the Hunters take down the city before then…or what if the killer gets to you first?”
“I don’t know, okay?” I ran my hand through my hair. “We shouldn’t make any huge life decisions so quickly. Please, just trust me on this.”
Ian stared out the window at the passing terrain, looking frustrated. “Okay. I’ll wait.”
A little after noon, we made it back to the safehouse.
Joseph and Artie stared at a laptop as we pulled up. They seemed to be in a serious discussion. Artie suspiciously closed the laptop before we could see what they were doing.
“All done.” I tossed the keys to Joseph.
“Any problems?” he said.
“Good. Maybe yesterday was just a fluke.” Something was off with Joseph, but I couldn’t place it.
“Let’s hope so,” I said.
Joseph tossed the keys back to Ian. “Take the gold left from the SHO and put it in the M3. We’re not taking it to Winter’s Edge this run. We’re gonna drop it at the south storage unit.”
Ian rounded the car and ran into Joseph awkwardly. “Sorry.” It looked like Ian had slipped something out of Joseph’s pocket and put it in his own without Joseph knowing.
He probably had a good reason for doing whatever he was doing, so I didn’t ask about it. But if he were up to something, at least I could be there to back him up.
“I’ll come with you.” I pulled the small bag of gold from under the seat and headed toward the M3.
Joseph shook his head. “Ian and I can take care of it.”
I gave him a harsh glare.
“Just stay here, Abby.” Joseph was being more insistent than usual.
“No, I’ve got nothing to do here. What does it matter if I go?” I opened the car door and climbed in the back.
Joseph seemed to consider something worrisome for a second, then sighed. “Fine.”
Ian sat in the driver’s seat getting a feel for the car as Joseph hit a button on the rearview mirror to raise the garage door. The engine started and we pulled out of the warehouse.
“Take Highway 470,” Joseph said.
I frowned. “Isn’t it faster to take I25?”
Joseph shot me an awkward glance. “We’re not in any rush. The others won’t be back for a few hours.”
About ten minutes into the drive, the gauges lit up for a split second.
“Is there something wrong with the car?” Ian said.
“Not that I know of.” Joseph frowned at Ian, confused.
“The gauge cluster just lit up like a Christmas tree.”
“You sure?” Joseph didn’t sound concerned.
“Unless I’m imagining things.”
“I saw it, too,” I said.
“Maybe an electrical problem?” Joseph leaned over and eyed the gauges for a moment. “Car’s running fine. Probably nothing to worry about.”
A moment later, the gauges lit up again.
“There it goes again,” I said.
Joseph looked at the gauge cluster. “That’s odd. We’ve never had any problems out of this car. I’ll have Artie look at it before we head back to Winter’s Edge.”
For the next few minutes, the gauge cluster lit up seven more times.
Ian kept looking in the rearview mirror. His eyes grew wide with anger as if he’d realized something. He tried to play it off at first, but he would steal a glance at Joseph from time to time out of the corner of his eye. I didn’t dare say anything.
His hand dropped to his pocket, feeling for something. Judging from his expression, it wasn’t there. Anger flashed across his face, but he replaced it almost immediately with a calm look.
Ian glanced at the rearview mirror again, trying to conceal his frustration. I looked back to see three black Audi sedans closing on us.
Joseph’s right hand came out of nowhere with an injector gun toward Ian’s leg. Ian tried to catch it but missed. The gun hit Ian’s leg and injected something.
“What are you doing?” I said.
Joseph tossed the injector gun to the floorboard. “You won’t have powers in a few minutes. You won’t last against those Hunters. But since you’re working for them, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, right?”
Ian shot an elbow out at Joseph’s face. Joseph dodged and Ian’s arm hit the headrest. Ian’s knees pushed against the bottom of the steering wheel, stabilizing it. He went after Joseph with both hands. Joseph tried to fight him off, but Ian threw an arm back against Joseph’s neck. Joseph coughed, his throat injured. Ian grabbed his neck and pinned him to the seat. Joseph fought against Ian’s strength, but it was no use. Joseph couldn’t breathe.
Ian reached into Joseph’s pocket and pulled out two of the tranq neutralizer pills. They were Ian’s. Joseph must have pickpocketed them from Ian at some point.
Ian swallowed the pills, then released Joseph.
Joseph looked stunned. “How’d you know?”
“Oh, come on.” Ian glared at him. “Your hand was clenched every time the gauge cluster lit up. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out you were drawing Hunters.”
“What did you expect?” Joseph said. “You murdered Braden and Robert.”
“I didn’t murder anyone.” Ian’s tone was indignant.
“Artie hacked the police database this morning and ran the prints on the knife.” Joseph shot Ian a harsh glance. “They were yours.”
Ian frowned, confused. “Then someone set me up.”
“That’s not the way I see it. You just got sloppy.” Joseph produced a syringe from his pocket and drove it into Ian’s right leg. “Try and get out of that dose.”
Ian growled. “Stop injecting me!” He sent a pulse at the front windshield, ejecting it from the car. One of the Audis behind us swerved as the windshield shattered on its hood.
Joseph looked behind us, then back to Ian. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Saving you.” Ian turned and shot another pulse at the rear windshield, sending it backward toward the car behind us. The Audi swerved, narrowly missing it. Wind gushed through the M3. “Your plan was to dump me and leave?” Ian gritted his teeth, growling. “You didn’t expect to draw so many Hunters, did you? And they’ve probably got operators with them. You won’t be able to run from them. Neither will Abby.”
“You should worry about yourself.” Joseph scowled at Ian. “They won’t care about us if they can get their hands on you. I’ll get Abby out of here while they’re busy with you.”
“Oh, really?” Ian produced another set of the pills from his pocket and swallowed them.
“Where did you get those?” Joseph checked his pockets, then ground his teeth. “Those are mine.”
So that’s what Ian had taken from Joseph back at the warehouse. He’d known something was up.
“You should be more careful, Joseph.” Ian threw a palm out toward the floorboard under Joseph’s feet. Carpet tore and metal groaned as it ripped apart. “Things aren’t always what they seem.”
Joseph’s eyes grew angry. “If I get shot with a tranq—”
“Then you’ll realize how stupid you were to tranq me. I’m your best bet at getting out of this alive.”
Wind rushed up from the hole in the floorboard and I buckled my seatbelt.
“Hold on.” Ian slammed on the brakes.
The concrete below the hole in the floorboard hemorrhaged. Ian dug into the road telekinetically, using it as an anchor. The car ground to a halt and the Audis flew by on each side, noses dropping slightly as they braked.
Ian thrust his hands together, causing two of the cars’ backends to collide. When they tried to correct for it, their front ends met and sent them tumbling end over end. It took extreme force to do what he’d just done.
The third car spun in a half-circle, coming around to face us. Ian dropped the M3 into reverse and floored it. As we shot backward, He jerked the wheel, whipping the car around in a J-turn, then shooting back down the highway. The Audi was hot on our tail, but we were pulling away from him.
Ahead of us, two black SUVs sped our direction as if they wanted to play chicken.
“This isn’t gonna be pretty.” Ian seemed to concentrate on something for a moment, then the remaining windows in the car burst out, flying back at the pursuing Audi. They shattered against its bumper and hood.
“Shoot their tires out,” Ian said.
Joseph scowled. “Why should I help you?”
“Look, you can shoot me if we make it through this, but those SUVs are about to kill us if you don’t shoot their tires out right now!”
Joseph growled then pulled a high-powered pistol from his cargo pants and fired several shots out the window. The front tires of both SUVs exploded one by one. Joseph had taught me how to shoot, but I had no idea he was that good.
One SUV came to a stop sideways in front of the other and got T-boned by it. The vehicle rolled one full turn and, strangely enough, came up on its tires again.
“Take off your seatbelts,” Ian said. “Quick.”
I released my seatbelt, but Joseph just glared at Ian. “Why?”
Ian unbuckled his seatbelt. “So you don’t get trapped in here.”
Joseph hesitated a second, then grudgingly followed instructions.
“I hope this works.” Ian’s hands rose and a huge pole with green signs extending out over the freeway crashed down on the SUVs and bent at just the right angle to make…
I clung to the seat as the speedometer climbed. 120…130…140. Ian hit the ramp and launched us into the air.
He thrust out his arm. “Hold on to me.”
With no time to think, Joseph and I both grabbed on for dear life. An invisible force pushed its way around me, then past me. A second later, the car began to separate in every direction.
Ian grunted, as if under great pressure, then the car separated out in every direct. The doors disconnected, hinges bursting. The engine bay pushed away with the sound of bending, tearing metal. But nothing flew away from the car. It all stayed together somehow. I held on tighter to Ian’s arm.
Below me, the floor tore apart and spread open, exposing the exhaust pipe. It ripped apart at the same time the fuel lines broke.
Oh no. Ian was trying to ignite—
The car exploded all around us, but a bubble of protection had us enveloped. The roof of the car ripped off, and the trunk crunched into itself. Our seats pushed out and twisted. The floor dropped out below us.
Ian pulled us all together, still encapsulated by the fiery mass of flying car pieces. We impacted the ground but didn’t actually touch it. The bottom of Ian’s invisible bubble must have flattened out. We skidded just above the asphalt with a fireball all around us.
Then Ian anchored us to the pavement. We jerked to a sudden stop and the flaming car streaked by all around us. We ducked when the Audi came tumbling overhead. It nearly clipped us but glanced off the top of the bubble.
More black SUVs appeared down the freeway heading for us.
Joseph and I let go of Ian’s arm and stood.
“What now?” I said.
Ian looked at me, worry in his eyes. “Run.”