My mother leaned down, gently brushing my cheek with her hand. She said… something, but I couldn’t make it out.
“What?” I croaked, my voice hoarse.
“Welcome to the Resistance,” she said, her voice calm and soothing.
“The what?” I said, confused.
I tried to stand, pushing my mother out of my way, but I was wobbly on my feet.
Chad was suddenly at my side. “Sorry about that. I didn’t want to drug you but we knew you’d put up a fight, scream, and probably wake up Drew,” he said, wrapping his arm around my waist and holding me close.
“You drugged me!?”
He winced. “Not my idea.” He glared at Paxton.
My vision started to blur. “What is this?” I asked as Chad lowered me back down to the ground.
“There’s so much to say,” my mother said. My mother. I couldn’t believe I was sitting just a few feet away from the woman who died eight years ago.
I was in too much shock to feel anything. Numbness took over my body and it was like I was slipping into a haze.
The only thing I could focus on was Paxton’s tone of voice when he said, “We don’t have enough time to explain everything.” He was strictly business.
What is Paxton even doing here? I thought to myself. He’s one of them. He’s the guy who “tested” my amplification ability by making me blow up a car battery alongside another Institute resident. He’s the one who deemed me good enough to be recommended for the agent program. He showed me around the training centre, inducted me into the program. He’s one of them!
Ignoring his words, I glared at my mother, wanting answers. “You’ve been alive this whole time? You walked out on us, abandoned us, for what?”
“It’s not as simple as that, Lia.” Her voice was small. “If you come with us, we’ll have all the time in the world to discuss it.”
“Go with you, where?”
They all started talking at me, cutting each other off, trying to explain what was happening. Whether it was the drugs or the lingering shock, I don’t know, but my brain wasn’t in comprehension mode. All I could gather was they wanted to take me somewhere, over the small mountain range that has been the backdrop of my horizon for my entire life. They were all expecting me to make this momentous decision on spur of the moment. To go with them or to stay? I sat there, watching the five of them talking and arguing over what would be best for me like I wasn’t even there.
It didn’t help that Paxton kept saying over and over again, “We don’t have time for this. She needs to decide now, before it’s too late.”
That’s when I snapped.
“Everyone shut up!” I yelled. They all turned to look at me, stunned at my outburst. “Stop talking about me like I’m not here. I need to get this straight. You’re saying the Resistance have a compound out west, close to the radiation perimeter, completely secure from the outside world. And you want me to go there?”
They all nodded.
“Okay, so what about Shilah? I can’t just leave him at the Institute.” I shake my head, my decision made. “No way. It’s not going to happen. You don’t think Brookfield will punish him if I go missing?” I turned to Chad. “How did you get away?” I looked down at my wrist but my tracker was gone.
“It was always the plan to get out,” Chad said with little emotion.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I wanted to. Tate wouldn’t let me.”
“So Tate’s in on it, too?”
“He’s kind of our leader,” Ebb added.
“There’s eight of us, actually,” my mother said.
“Total?” I asked, which received a few chuckles.
“Eight leaders,” Paxton clarified. “Tate, your mum, me, Chad’s mother, and four others you’ll meet when you come with us.”
I shook my head. “No. I’m not leaving Shilah.”
“He’ll be safe, I’ll make sure of it,” Aunt Kenna said.
“How could you make sure of it?”
She came to sit beside me on the hard ground. When I turned to look at her, I was no longer looking at my Aunt, but at the doctor who treated me at the hospital when I hurt my ankle at the Institute.
“You!” I screamed.
“I wanted to tell you. So badly.”
I reached over to touch her face and she let out a small laugh. Her face contorted slightly, making my hand flinch away from her. When I looked back at her face, she was Aunt Kenna again.
“I can shape shift. But it’s not all that impressive considering I only have the two faces to change into.”
In the middle of a forest, surrounded by these people who were meant to be my family and friends, I realised I truly knew nothing about any of them.
“Is there anyone who hasn’t lied to me?” I asked no one in particular.
“It was too risky to tell you, Lia,” Aunt Kenna said. “I’m not Kenna to the Institute. They only know me as Kandice Randall. They don’t know I’m your aunt, they don’t know I’m Defective. I’ve been working for them for years and they’re none-the-wiser about my true identity. I couldn’t risk exposing myself.”
Ebb suddenly appeared at my other side. She didn’t walk over to me, it was like she blinked and was suddenly there. I stared at her, wide eyed. “I can teleport,” she said nonchalantly, wrapping her arm around me.
With each new reveal, it’s was like a wire in my tiny, naïve brain short circuited. I furrowed my brows in confusion and pain.
“I know how you’re feeling. I felt the same when Chad approached me to join them,” Ebb said, like it was meant to reassure me.
“I’m really sorry, Allira. You need to make a decision,” Paxton cut in.
“What happens if I say no?”
“You won’t remember this ever happened,” Paxton replied.
Paxton gestured to my mother.
“I tamper with memories,” she simply stated.
“What if I don’t want to forget? If what you’re offering me is real, I want it. I want it more than almost anything. Almost. But Shilah’s safety comes first.”
Chad asked for a moment alone.
“Two minutes,” Paxton said, gesturing for the others to leave us.
Chad took Ebb’s spot next to me. “I wanted to tell you.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how to.
“Come with me.”
“Just like that? Leave and don’t worry about the consequences? You’re not scared about what will happen to Tate with you gone?”
“He told me to leave. He also told me to drag you with me – kicking and screaming.” He took a piece of paper out of his pocket. “This is from him.”
I was hesitant at first, but reluctantly reached for it. Placing it on my lap, I stared at it, willing myself to build the courage to open it. It didn’t come. “I want to. I want to go with you, be with you… and my family,” I added, suddenly aware of the words that were falling out of my mouth.
“Then come with me,” he repeated. He reached over and tucked my hair behind my ear. With that one simple gesture, I was so close to saying yes.
“Get Shilah out, and I will,” I whispered as a lump formed in my throat.
That was it. I’d made up my mind. "