By the time the gate had lowered I was back to my old self. With Mariana trailing behind me we made the trek back to Ira’s residence where he had been waiting expectantly. He was lounging in the great room with a book pinched between his fingers, feet up on the marble coffee table, popping grapes into his mouth every now and then when we found him. He simply glanced up from his book, dog-eared the page, and set it down.
“Nice to see you back,” he said with a smile. His eyes flickered to Mariana standing quietly beside me. “And who have we here?”
“This is Mariana. Mariana, this is Ira. He’s the one who’s been helping me look for Julian’s brother.”
Mariana nodded and shook his hand gently. She usually wasn’t so quiet. Ira was silent for what seemed like an eternity. He stared at Mariana intently before nodding to himself and returning to his perch on the couch.
“Pleasure to meet you,” he said finally.
I sat down beside him and motioned Mariana to do the same. I had been brainstorming ideas during our journey there and was ready to get a second opinion. If anyone else had heard me explaining my plan, they’d think I was crazy. What I really wanted to do was stage a rebellion and enlist warriors from different colonies. My hope was that we’d be able to come in contact with the other Forces—if there were any— and most importantly Julian’s brother. After my long-winded explanation, Ira stared at me with a frown.
“You really expect me to help you topple my father’s empire?”
I shrugged. It wasn’t as if I thought about it that way. “I was just explaining one of my ideas.”
“Well let’s hear another.”
I swallowed. “Focus on finding Kali first. We know he’s in the area…at least for now.”
“I’ve been tracking him while you were gone.”
Ira stood, crossing the room to retrieve Kali’s picture from the mantle of the fireplace. Photo squished between his index finger and thumb, his eyes stared intently at the photo. He made his way back to the couch, his eyes glazing over just as the seat of his pants came in contact with the plush white material. The air was thick with anticipation, mainly from me, but I could feel the anxiety radiating off of Mariana just as hard. Ira twitched, his eyes dancing back and forth as he watched Kali pace manically in his mind’s eye.
“He’s in prison,” Ira said finally. His eyes still hadn’t gone back to normal, nor had they stopped moving. “I… I thought we eliminated prisons. That was the point of the colonies! That’s what my father told me…”
“Looks like your father lied to you,” Mariana chimed in.
Ira ignored her and continued. “Wait…I don’t think that’s a prison. It looks like…a lab almost.” Ira shuddered, slumping back against the couch as his body began to go numb. The veins in his neck were protruding and a singular vein in his jaw fluttered sporadically. His brow was furrowed in concentration. “Kali isn’t a prisoner. He’s a lab rat. They’re running some strange tests…”
All at once the milky glaze left his eyes but Ira still hadn’t moved. He once again seemed disappointed. He didn’t have to tell me for me to know he had lost the image. Running his fingers through his hair, he cleared his throat and slowly stood, wobbling a little.
“We can find the location of the lab in a little bit. I just need to lay down for a while.”
With that he shuffled off to his bedroom, closing the door softly behind him. My curiosity was gnawing at me. Why did they have Julian’s brother held in a lab? What were they running tests for? Where exactly was this lab?
“Kali must be a Force.”
“What makes you say that?” Mariana asked.
“What else would make sense? Why else would he be in a lab?”
Mariana shrugged. “Sounds like you’re the expert. Why don’t you tell me?”
“I’ll do you one better,” I said, standing abruptly. “Let’s go find out ourselves.”
Bounding towards the door, I didn’t wait for an answer. The sun had just dipped below the horizon and I pulled the hood of my cloak over my head to fend off the oncoming cold of night. I could hear Mariana’s small feet hurrying behind me. I could practically feel the questions brewing in her head.
“We’re going to find Central Headquarters. There must be some answers there.”
“You told me yourself! That photo is six years old. That kid is a teenager now. You really think you’ll recognize Kali?”
“There’s only one way to find out,” I insisted.
I continued on, my feet pounding loudly on the cracked clay. I kept my head bowed and, finally heeding Ira’s cautionary tale, didn’t speak unless I found it necessary. After a while I reached back and grabbed Mariana’s hand to help her keep up. The streets were fairly busy, enough to keep curious eyes off of us. My eyes spotted a large glass screen with a directory displayed on it. Pausing for only a minute, I scanned the map and took hold of Mariana’s hand once more and tugging her forward. We were getting close. My heart was thrumming a loud rhythm in my ears. Sweat had begun to form on my palms despite the weather beginning to grow colder.
Mariana was getting restless. Her endless sighing was what tipped me off to her disposition. Just as I was forming some sort of reassurance in my head, the glass walls of Central Headquarters started coming into view. The large building loomed over everything in its surroundings. The moonlight was glinting off the exterior, making it sparkle beautifully. I paused mid-step, staring awestruck at the architecture of the building.
“How do we get in?” Mariana asked, sending a worried gaze my way.
There were cameras fitted to every corner of the building. The little red recording lights gleamed menacingly in the dark. Biting my lip, I scanned the night for any blind spots in the cameras’ field of vision. There were none. This place might as well have been a prison. I hesitated for a moment before finally coming to a decision.
“I can try to teleport in.”
I hadn’t done it since bringing Mariana here and truthfully I was still a bit sore from the last time but now was as great a time as ever to use my gift. I wrapped an arm around Mariana’s waist and pulled her tight against me before running full speed towards one of the glass walls. With a rush of wind I felt myself slip through the barrier easily but heard a loud crashing sound as Mariana didn’t make it through with me. I panicked, turning back and banging my hands on the glass wall to get her attention where she laid unmoving on the ground.
Spinning around, I searched for any indication of a way back outside but came up short. I didn’t want to leave her laying there but now was my chance to find Kali in this massive place. Hey, where did you guys go? I jumped at the sound of Ira infiltrating my thoughts. He was probably going to be livid that we went ahead to find the lab without him. He’d done enough for me at this point. It was time for me to finish the job I had started.
We went to find Kali. Mariana is knocked out outside Central HQ. Come find her while I find him.
I’m on it.
His response was curt and just as quickly as he’d came into my mind he was gone. At least he wasn’t upset. With one last dejected glance at Mariana’s still body I turned and hurried up the nearest flight of stairs. I was perpetually looking over my shoulder, afraid someone would see me but the building seemed deserted at this time of night. There was nothing remarkable on the second floor, just offices. I hesitated at a door that read “Jasper Collins, CEO” and against my better judgement pushed it open. Moonlight flowed in through the windows, illuminating the otherwise dark room. I could tell he was here quite often judging from the pristine bed on the left side of the room, beside a simple clothing rack with a few tailored suits hanging from it. My steps echoed loudly on the glass floor. I could see straight through to the lobby below. I side-stepped a pair of minimalist grey armchairs and a small table with a stack of science magazines to get to his desk. The once blank screen of his computer came to life when I poked the mouse gingerly. I flipped through some pages of reports on the desk but it might as well have been in another language. Shaking my head I rifled through some of the drawers of his desk before coming upon one that was locked.
“Hiding something?” I said to no one in particular.
I re-scanned the unlocked drawers for a key but came up short. Running over to the suits hanging up I checked the pockets of each one, coming up with nothing but business cards and lint. A bookshelf loomed over the right side of the office and I made that my next place of search. I pulled out various books, flipping through the pages to see if any were false and contained the key. Grabbing a red, leather-bound novel next, I pulled only to find it wouldn’t leave the shelf. Confused, I yanked the book once more. It fell, spine down but managed to stay on the shelf. The bookshelf creaked and with a loud groan moved aside to reveal a door behind it. I tried the handle and it easily opened, a sterile, almost antiseptic scent wafting out from its depths. I entered and made my way down the narrow hallway that opened up to a larger concealed room. The walls were bare save for the rows and rows of filing cabinets lining them. They were organized in alphabetical order.
“This must be where he keeps the birth certificates.”
I found the letter ‘P’ and pulled open the heavy drawer, thumbing through files until I found "Park, Kai". I swallowed thickly. My file was in my hands but I couldn’t bring myself to open it. It was thicker than the rest, with a manila envelope tucked inside. I took the envelope first, opening it to find a plain silver charm bracelet. Something urged me to put it on. It fit perfectly, as if it was made for me. When the cool metal touched my skin, the charm glowed a bright green. Taking a deep breath, I opened the file at last, flipping through pages of medical records, dental records, hand-written notes I failed to recognize, before coming upon the holy grail: my birth certificate.
“Ira was right,” I whispered.
Gathering the papers, I placed them back in the file and tucked it under my arm. I ran back out to the President’s office and returned the bookshelf to its original condition. I slipped out of his office and continued to the third floor. Shades covered the glass walls either to keep the light out or nosey eyes from looking in. It seemed to be a board room. A door on the opposite wall caught my attention and I passed the rows of chairs to get to it. Upon opening the door that same antiseptic, hospital smell greeted me, except this time much stronger. There were rows of twin beds on each wall with people handcuffed in place to them. Many of them were children. There was a large operating table at the end, flanked by two smaller tables covered in everything from beakers and bottles, to syringes and scalpels. There were monitors mounted on the wall above each bed, displaying vital signs. One of the older children had been struggling with their restraints from the moment I walked in. I recognized him instantly.
The struggling stopped immediately. “It’s pronounced KAY-LEE,” she said with an exasperated sigh.
“You’re a girl,” I said, walking over to her bedside.
“Judging from the boobs it seems I am,” she replied with a roll of her eyes. “You just gonna stand there or you wanna grab my key off the far wall and unlock these damn things?”
I could tell she was exhausted and had probably been struggling for hours to free herself. I went over to the wall she indicated and located the key for Bed 5. I returned and unlocked her restraints. Kali began ripping the wires stuck to her head and body off one by one. There had been an IV in her arm, pumping her full of unidentifiable liquid which she promptly tore out as well, ignoring the fresh blood that sprung up from the wound and spilled over her forearm.
“Who are you?” she asked, looking at me wearily.
“My name is Kai. Julian, your brother, sent me to find you.”
“And that dipshit told you I was a boy?”
I extended the photo of her from six years ago. “You kind-of did look like one.”
“Yeah, all girls are flat-chested at 10 years old. Go figure.”
She hopped off the bed, wobbling as she got to her feet. She swatted away my hands when I went to steady her and marched over to the wall containing the other keys. Kali grabbed each one and went around unlocking everyone else who was being held captive. The ones that were alive ran without so much as a thank you. The ones that were dead… well, they remained.