Chapter Seven: Inside Information

“This is a bad, bad idea,” Lucia said, watching the numbers above the elevator door

“Don’t be so negative,” Selena said, admiring her reflection in the metal wall. She’d changed her sweater for a rumpled button-up blouse, rubbed off all her makeup and raked her hair into a lumpy ponytail. The final touch was a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, which she’d practiced squinting through to further obscure her features. She looked like a complete nerd. It was perfect.

Lucia, in contrast, looked surprisingly respectable. A crisp shirt and a lab coat, along with a quick hair and makeup job, almost made up for the fact that her nose was too long, her jeans were stained, and her hair was…pink. But that’s what her power was for.

“I mean, you can do it, can’t you?” Selena asked.

“Yeah. Probably. Look, people aren’t like computers, okay? Some of them are resistant to my power.”

“Okay, if things don’t go well, we bail. Oh, here’s your badge,” she added, handing Lucia a security badge with the name Dr. Amy Stanton under her picture. She pinned a similar one on her shirt that declared her to be Maria Rodriguez.

“Is this real? I mean, if they scan this—”

“If you do your job, they won’t,” she said. “I mean…try not to be yourself so much and don’t hold back with your power. You’re going to need some help there to make up for, um, you know, you. Oh, and good luck,” she added, as the elevator settled to a halt. Lucia took a brief second to glare backward as the doors opened. Then she slicked her hair back, took a slow breath, and strode out of the elevator.

It was like watching magic.

Her punk attitude vanished; her slouch disappeared. She walked briskly toward the security desk with a warm, self-assured smile on her face. “Good morning, Mr Anthony. I’m Dr. Stanton,” she said.

Selena stared for a moment, completely floored by her performance. Why on earth is she so rude to everyone when she can do that?

The guard seemed less impressed. He looked her over with an expression of severe doubt, even when she kept her hand extended long after he should have reached for it. Hesitantly, he took it. The suspicion on his face slackened into confusion.

Selena felt a wave of reassurance rush past her, like a whisper that everything’s going to be okay in the back of her mind.

“Dr….Stanton?” the guard repeated. “I don’t…think we’ve met.”

“Haven’t we? I’m sure we’ve met before.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” the man said. Selena felt almost sorry for him. “Dr. Stanton. Who is that?” he asked, looking past her toward Selena, who had been edging toward the door.

“That’s just my intern,” Lucia said, with enough dismissiveness that Selena felt a little insulted. But Lucia leaned forward slightly, stroking one finger along the guard’s wrist. “You can ignore her.”

Selena watched for the telltale blankness to glaze over his eyes before she hurried to the door. It was locked with a keypad and an RFID scanner. She didn’t know the code and the barcode on her badge was fake, but it wasn’t a problem. She rubbed her hands against her skirt to grab a little more charge, and pressed two fingers against keypad. A short burst of power through the interface convinced both devices she had access.

The lock clicked open, and the security guard didn’t even flinch. Unbelievable, thought Selena. If I had that kind of power… She thought about Lucia for a moment and shook her head. Nope, not worth it. Lucia was almost as messed up as Aaron.

The door closed behind her with a definite thud and a slight hiss, leaving her alone with rows of beautiful server banks.

Inside the server room was darker, cooler, and seasoned with the hum of cooling fans and the smell of artificial air. Selena could almost feel the electricity crackling through the circuits and wires. Her power had already started working, organizing what she saw like puzzle pieces clicking into a complete picture.

She found the network switch and plugged her laptop in. It only took a moment to connect to the network, but longer to sift through the flood of data to find what she was after: classified projects with danger markers on the files—things with the potential for explosions, radiation or chemical hazard. Aaron had mentioned a yellow stripe, so she ordered projects classified “yellow” as a higher priority. The search turned up 58 active projects. More than she expected, but she copied the files to her hard drive. She and Aaron could—

0701An alarm sounded, and Selena froze as she realized what it was. The system had accepted her looking at the data, but as soon as she had tried to copy files, it had triggered a security alert. She tugged her laptop free and shoved it in her bag as she ran for the door.

It took the last of her charge to convince it to open, but she slammed it open and ran out. Lucia had both hands on the guard’s neck, and was whispering frantically into his ear. She met Selena’s eyes with an accusatory, what-the-hell-did-you-do? kind of look. When she let him go, poor Anthony the security guard gazed around him with a blank look, sank down in his chair, and fell immediately asleep.

Lucia didn’t look much better. She wavered on her feet, and Selena caught her just as she started to fall over. “I’m going to kill you for this,” she said. “Do you have any idea how hard it was—”

“Kill me later,” Selena said. “I’ve got to hack the security feed so it won’t show us in here.”

“Yeah, that would be good,” Lucia said, leaning against the desk.

Selena rounded the desk and shoved Anthony aside enough to access the console.

“Fast,” Lucia said. “Someone’s coming down the elevator. They’re not happy.”

“Get to the stairs,” she said, sending instructions through the network. “I’m right behind you.”

Lucia staggered toward the stairwell, looking like she was ready to pass out before she got there. Selena caught up to her and hauled her the rest of the way, pulling the door shut just before the elevator reached the ground floor. She pulled a screwdriver out of her pocket and wedged it into the handle before turning to drag Lucia up the stairs. Behind them, she heard a rattle as someone pulled at the door. Faster, she thought. If they could just get one floor up before they managed to get the door free, the two of them could find somewhere better to hide.

She heard a loud snap, thump as her makeshift lock gave way, just as the door above them burst open, trapping them in the stairwell.

* * * * *

Molly stared at the flame in Brennan’s hand. It flickered steadily, an impossible orange glow that didn’t seem to burn him. She raised her hand over the fire, and felt heat on her fingers.

0702

She punched him in the shoulder. “Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you say anything?”

Ow.” The fire extinguished as Brennan dropped his hand. “I would have if you’d given me a chance,” he said, rubbing at his shoulder. “It wasn’t something I wanted to announce in public.”

“You couldn’t have dropped a note in my locker or something?”

“I—” He stopped. “I didn’t think about that.”

Molly snorted. “Of course you didn’t. Your first choice was trespassing and theft.”

She shook her hair out of her ponytail and combed her fingers through it. Her heart was racing. He’s like me. There’s someone else like me. Hands shaking, she bound her hair in a loose loop while she tried to think. Brennan leaned against the wall, still wearing that stupid grin. He’d probably been waiting for this moment all week. “You could have just come out with it on the porch instead of interrogating me first.”

“I wanted to be sure about you,” he said. “I mean, I only saw you do it that one time, and I was kind of preoccupied with the house on fire.”

“But you control fire,” she said.

“I control heat,” he said. He took her water bottle and held it up. Ice crystals spread from his fingers through the water. “It’s easy to start a fire. It’s a lot harder to put it out.” He tossed the bottle at her.

She caught it, fingering the bottle. It had barely been cold a minute ago; now it was frozen solid. “You didn’t get burned,” she said. It was as much a question as a statement.

“I did, a little. But I can take a lot more heat than most people. The smoke was the worst part.” He shrugged, a gesture that looked surprisingly like embarrassment. “I’m sorry I didn’t say anything earlier. But I had to be sure. You hear rumors and things but….we thought we were the only ones.”

We?” Molly stared at him, stunned. “There are others? Who—Oh, of course. Aaron and Lucia.”

“I didn’t say that,” he said quickly.

“Is that why she’s been so hostile toward me?” she asked.

“She thinks you’re hiding something,” he said. “And, well, you kinda are.”

“I’ve never met anyone else with powers,” she said. “I thought there must be, but I never….I always had to hide.” She took a steadying breath and leaned back. “You really didn’t tell them about me?” she asked.

“No. It wasn’t easy, but I know what it’s like to have a secret,” Brennan said. “I still won’t, if you don’t want me to.” He glanced aside, with another of those embarrassed shrugs. “I mean, you said you want to be normal. I’d understand.”

Molly bit her lip. “I don’t know. I—I need to process this.”

They both jumped as the doorbell rang. “The pizza,” Molly said. “I’d forgotten about it. Just a second.” She ran up the stairs, grateful for the temporary reprieve. Her mind was still racing.

Of all the people in the world, Brennan Haley had to be the one with super powers? And Aaron and Lucia, too. He hadn’t confirmed it, exactly, but he hadn’t really denied it. She didn’t waste time wondering what they could do. It was hard enough to wrap her mind around what she already knew.

He hung back while she was paying for the pizza, maybe because he didn’t want anyone to see them together. He lounged against the wall by the stairs, frowning at his phone.

“Do you want a slice?” Molly asked as she closed the door.

“No,” he said, pocketing the phone hurriedly. “I’ve got to go.”

“Is everything okay?”

“It’s fine,” he said, a little too abruptly. He backed toward the door. “I, uh, forgot about something I was supposed to do.”

Molly considered arguing. It was clear Brennan was worried, and probably lying. But he’d as much as asked her to stay out of it, and she was supposed to be avoiding these kind of situations anyway.

“Yeah, okay,” she said.

Halfway through the door, he paused. “Listen, we’ve got this place we go sometimes. We’re meeting up there tomorrow morning. I’ll come by, and if you want to go…open invitation, all right?”

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

He gave a her a brief nod, and hurried down the steps. He had his phone out again before the door closed. Molly sighed and leaned against it, letting the maelstrom of emotions flood over her. There was so much noise in her brain, she couldn’t even sort out what she was feeling, much less what to do about it.

Pizza, she decided. Pizza first. She pushed herself to her feet and headed for the kitchen.

* * * * *

“It’s only us,” Aaron said, just before Selena hit him with a screwdriver.

She didn’t relax. “They’re right behind us,” she said, shoving Lucia toward them. “Take her.”

Carter pushed past Aaron and swept her up in his arms. “Go!” he said. Aaron held the door open while Selena ran through it, followed closely by Carter. The four of them collapsed in the narrow space outside the stairwell, but they only had a moment to catch their breaths before the security team was at the door.

0703

Carter shoved his weight against the door and gripped the handle, holding it fast while they struggled to turn it.

“This one’s locked,” a muffled voice decided, and the clamor rushed up the stairs.

Everyone relaxed. All four of them spent a long minute just leaning against the wall, breathing hard. After a few minutes, the blaring alarm cut off.

“That was close,” Selena said. “How did you know where we were?”

“Lucia texted us,” Aaron said. “Said you triggered an alarm in the server room.”

“But how did you get here so fast?”

“Carter ran. I used my power.”

They all spent a moment catching their breaths. Aaron closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. “What were you thinking?” he asked. “We agreed hacking the servers was too dangerous. You were supposed to go upstairs. Plant the virus—”

“I got what we needed,” she said.

“And you almost got caught,” Aaron said. “You almost got Lucia caught. You don’t do something like that without telling the rest of us!”

“I don’t think anyone put you in charge,” she snapped at him. “Just because you had this stupid vision doesn’t mean you get to make all the rules.”

“Well, maybe someone should,” he said. “Since you’re keeping secrets from us, and not following the plan that we made together.”

“Both of you shut up,” Lucia said. She pushed herself to her feet. “It’s done now, and you two are pissing me off arguing about it. The stairwell is clear of people. We need to get somewhere safer, and I need something drenched in caffeine and sugar.”

* * * * *

Even after Molly had devoured half the pizza, she still had no idea what to do about Brennan. So she went for a swim.

It was late now, and the sun glimmered orange across the water. Molly took half a second to admire it before she dove in. Underwater, her thoughts felt clearer, sharper, and the exercise untangled the anxiety clouding her mind.

With each stroke, her doubts began to fade. She swam the width of the lake and back, letting the cool water leech away the tension. When she finally pulled herself out, the sun was barely a sliver over the trees. Molly found her dad sitting on the dilapidated pier, sipping a cup of hot chocolate.

“Kind of hot for that, isn’t it?” Molly asked as she dried off.

“Maybe. A little late to be swimming, isn’t it?” he asked. “You know, M, If you were anyone else, I’d be grounding you for a month.”

“If I was anyone else, I wouldn’t be your daughter,” she said.

Dad didn’t smile. He scooted a chair toward her with his foot, and handed her a second mug. He waited until she’d lifted it to her mouth to say: “So. Detention.”

She barely managed not to choke on a marshmallow.

“Your first week, too,” he added. “That must be some kind of record.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Molly said, wiping chocolate from her lip.

“Oh, of course it wasn’t. It’s never your fault.”

“I didn’t start that fight,” she insisted. “They were pushing this girl around. She tried to fight back and they hit her. They could have really hurt her. If I hadn’t gotten involved– And then they gave this made-up story to the counselor, and no one even asked my side.”

“But fighting, Molly? That was your solution? You couldn’t have called for a teacher?”

She just looked at him.

“Right, okay. I remember being a teenager. Barely,” he said. “But you shouldn’t have hit her, whatever she did. You have enough training and experience to avoid having to fight.”

Despite her instinct to argue, she realized she wasn’t going to win this one. So she just watched her marshmallows dissolve into the chocolate.

“M, are you actually listening to me?”

Yes. I don’t know what you want me to say.

“I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to rein this temper of yours in. Don’t let things escalate again.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. It was more of a mumble than anything. “I am trying.”

“If you want me to believe that, you need to make it a week or two without getting in trouble.” They drank their hot chocolate in silence, looking out over the lake.

“Am I grounded again?” Molly asked.

It took him a minute to answer. “I’m still deciding. It doesn’t seem to help.” He mulled over the dregs of his hot chocolate. “I think I might try community service instead of incarceration.”

What now?”

“Well, Clarissa’s flying in this weekend. She’ll need help unpacking…redecorating…And she would love to have help with the wedding planning.”

“You wouldn’t,” she said with quiet dread.

“You can be her personal assistant all week. Flowers and cake and pink dresses.”

“That’s cruel and unusual.”

“Then maybe it will make an impression.”

Molly glowered at him, and he beamed at her over his mug, far too pleased with his own cleverness. “Fine,” she said with a sigh, and curled up in her chair, sulking over her hot mug as the sun set. It would have been a perfect moment—if not for the threat of spending a week with Clarissa, or thoughts of Brennan’s offer worming their way through the back of her thoughts.

0704

Others. Others with powers. Other people like her. She could keep her distance; pretend not to know, pretend to be normal. Brennan would keep her secret, and she could start over like she’d wanted to, living a normal, boring life. Or at least the pretense of one.

Flowers and cake and pink dresses.

The last shimmer of sunlight faded over the far shore of the lake. Cold stars shone above her—more than there were in the city, even with the light pollution from Lartech. Her hot chocolate was lukewarm.

“Dad,” she said. “Clarissa’s not getting in until Sunday, right?”

“That’s right,” he agreed.

“So would it be all right if I go out tomorrow morning? It’s not a big deal, just…hanging out. Normal stuff. I already said I’d go…”

He didn’t answer right away. Her question trailed into a silence while he stared into his mug, his usually cheerful face pensive and drawn. “Sure, M,” he said at last. “But only because I think you need to make friends. Maybe if you have something to lose, you won’t be so reckless. And if you get in trouble again, you will be under house arrest until Christmas.”  He drained the last of his chocolate and started back toward the house.

“Dad,” she said, stopping him. “I really am sorry.”

The porch light illuminated the faint, sad smile across his face. “I know, M. That’s part of the problem.”

* * * * *

Brennan slouched on the narrow porch in front of Lucia’s house, waiting for her to come home. It was cool for this early in September—barely seventy-three degrees—and he hunched his shoulders as he leaned against the screen door, trapping what heat he could under his jacket. The familiar smell of smoke and car oil mingled with the warmth.

It was almost nine when Lucia finally showed up, brooding down the sidewalk with her hands shoved in her pockets. She stopped at the end of the sidewalk, eying him through the loose strands of hair around her face.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

It was the wrong thing to say. She shook her hair back in agitation. “Yeah? It’s too late for that.”  Lucia stomped up the creaking, paint-chipped stairs and glowered down at him, flexing her hands like she wanted very badly to hit him. After a minute she sighed and slumped agains tthe wall, drawing her knees to her chest with a sigh. They shared a long silence, so tense he could almost feel the anger rolling off her, the same way he sensed the currents of heat around her body, swirling from her head to her heart as she wrestled with her emotions.

“I really am sorry,” he said again. “I didn’t get your message—”

“My message?” She snorted. “Try messages. Plural. Eight messages. Three calls. I needed you and you weren’t there. And it’s not the first time. All week you’ve been spacing out on me. It’s like you’re not even around anymore.”

Brennan took his time responding. He couldn’t get angry with her. He couldn’t even think about it, or she would rebound off the emotion and heat up even more. “It’s been a bad week. There’s been…a lot going on.” It sounded like a bad excuse, even to him.

Lucia tensed like she was going to make some angry response, but then it all drained out of her. Suddenly, she seemed almost cold, and he resisted the urge to slip his arm around her. As angry as she was, that would be a mistake. He figured he would just wait until she was ready to talk. But as they sat together, she just grew colder–the chill spreading until he realized she was trying very hard not to cry.

“Hey, are you okay?”

A couple of strangled sobs escaped. He slid an arm around her shoulder and she grabbed it like a lifeline.

“What is it? Did something happen?”

She gave a little laugh. “You have no idea,” she said, and all the tears turned into hysterical laughter that took a while to die down. By the end of it she was leaning against his shoulder, hiccuping through the tears running down her face. Her attempts to wipe them away smeared mascara across her cheek.

“Lucia? What happened?”

“I don’t even know where to start. Aaron had this crazy idea—” She let out a long sigh and giggled for a moment, but didn’t say anything else.

“And? Is that all you’re going to tell me?”

“Depends,” she said. “Where were you all night?”

“I….can’t tell you.”

“Yeah. Of course you can’t.”

“I want to, Lucia.” You have no idea how much I want to. “I kind of promised I wouldn’t talk about it.”

“It doesn’t have anything to do with Molly, does it?” she demanded.

“Molly? What— Why would you think that? I don’t even like her.” She should have caught him lying in an instant, but she’d apparently overused her power enough to dull those senses.

“Selena said you’ve been stalking her.”

“She stole my shirt,” Brennan said. “By accident, I think, but I really like that shirt. I promise, Lucia. I have zero interest in Molly Young.”

Lucia hugged her knees. “I hate new kids. Every time we get one, everyone goes batshit crazy over them.”

“Not much happens around here.”

She laughed again. “You didn’t have the night I did, then.”

“You really aren’t going to tell me about it?”

“Maybe tomorrow,” she said. “You are still coming tomorrow? Because if you bail again—”

“I haven’t forgotten,” he said. “But uh…” He considered telling her about Molly. Between the two of them, he’d rather have Molly mad at him than Lucia. And she deserved to know. They all deserved to know. He just didn’t know how to tell them without breaking his promise. “Ivy might come with me,” he said, hating himself a little bit.

“Really? Doesn’t your sister have her own friends to hang out with?”

“You’d think so,” Brennan said. “I mean she does, but…”

“She doesn’t have to tag along every time we go to the cabin,” Lucia said. “It’s kind of annoying.”

“Would it make a difference if she had powers, like us?”

“Yeah, sure,” Lucia said, without hesitation. “Then she’d be one of us. But she’s not. And normal people—” she shrugged. “They just can’t understand.”

He couldn’t help thinking about Molly then—how she’d had to hide her powers, how she didn’t know anyone else like her, how freaked out she’d been, and scared. He decided he could deal with Lucia being mad at him. “I know what you mean,” he said.

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