Kaitlyn was moved. But before she could speak, Anna did. Anna's face was even more compassionate than before, more sad-and more certain.
"No, Rob," she said quietly. "That's the one thing we can't do. It doesn't belong to us; it's just on loan.
Timon gave it to us for destroying the crystal. We can't just go around using that much power that isn't really ours. Something bad would come of it."
Then she put a gentle hand on Rob's shoulder. "You've got power of your own that you can use to help people-and that should be enough. You'll have your chance, Rob."
Rob stared at her for a long moment, then nodded. He looked from her to Kaitlyn, and through the web, Kaitlyn got just a glimpse of his thought. He was awed and a little confused at being caught between these two farsighted women. She could feel him wondering how they'd gotten so wise while he'd stayed dumb.
And thinking there was nothing for him to do but agree.
"So it's settled," Kaitlyn said quietly. "I'll take the shard and go back to the Institute, and you'll go back to Tony's friend's apartment."
"We left Tamsin there," Anna said. "We'll tell her what you're doing. She'll be rooting for you, Kait, and so will Marisol."
Kaitlyn was glad to talk about something ordinary, because she had the feeling that any minute she might start crying. "Marisol's really that much better?"
"She's still in the hospital because her muscles are weak and she has to learn to use them again. But Tony says it'll only be a few days before she's walking. Oh, Kait, I wish you could have seen his face when he came to see us! And his mom and dad-they called and just thanked us over and over. We couldn't get them off the phone."
"And Tony said he was going to light a candle for you," Lewis put in. "You know, in church. Because Rob told him you were in danger."
Kaitlyn's throat was swollen and her eyes kept filling with warmth. She gulped. "I'd better take it and get going."
Rob knelt and opened the duffel bag he'd brought. He took out the crystal shard, opened Kaitlyn's backpack, and put it in. Kaitlyn knew that he was doing it himself as a sort of symbolic offering, an admission that she was right. She also knew that he had to fight to make every move.
He stood up, very pale, and held the backpack out to her.
"Call us when it's over," he said. "Or if you think you can't do it before tomorrow. And, Kait?"
"If you don't call us by tomorrow, I'm coming in. That's not negotiable, Kaitlyn; that's my choice. If I don't hear from you, I'm assuming that something's gone wrong, and all bets are off."
What could Kaitlyn say?
Good luck, Lewis said silently as she hugged him. I'll be thinking about you.
Be careful, Anna said. Be as clever as Raven and get yourself out safe. She added a few words in Suquamish, and Kaitlyn didn't need a translation. It was a blessing.
Last of all, she hugged Rob. His eyes were still sore from the hard lesson he'd just learned. He held on to her very tightly. Please come back to me. I'll be waiting.
How many times had women said that to their men who were going off to war?
The swelling in Kaitlyn's throat was getting bigger by the minute. I love you all, she told them. Then she turned around and walked toward the back door of the gym, feeling their eyes on her. She knew they stood in perfect silence as she went out onto the blacktop, and then onto the baseball field, watching and watching until she was out of sight.
Kaitlyn was heading straight back for the Institute. It was only about a mile. She'd told Rob that she might have to wait for days to get to the crystal, but she knew that her best chance was right now. Bri, Renny, and Lydia were at school-and Gabriel was supposed to be. That left Frost and Jackal Mac in the house with Joyce.
I should be able to get in without them noticing, she thought. And then maybe they'll all go into the back lab or something, and I can get to the panel.
The walk was actually pleasant. Kaitlyn found herself noticing the sky, which was a beautiful blue with just the right amount of wispy clouds. The sun was warm on her shoulders, and the hedges by the sidewalk were dotted with starlike yellow flowers. It's spring, she thought.
Strange how you enjoyed the world more when you thought there was a chance you might be leaving it soon.
Even the Institute looked exotic and beautiful, like a giant grape monument.
Now came the hard part. She had to sneak in so as not to get caught, but do it without looking sneaky.
So that if she were caught, she could say she'd come home from school sick.
After some thought, she let herself in the kitchen door. The kitchen was right by the front lab, but no one in the lab could see her until she passed the lab doorway.
Music was coming from the lab. Good, that should cover any sounds. Squaring her shoulders, Kait walked boldly by the lab doorway, forcing herself to glance inside casually, forcing herself not to tiptoe.
That one glance showed her Frost sorting through a tray full of watches and keys, while Joyce sat beside her with a notebook. Frost was facing the back lab-great. Joyce was facing Frost, but bent over her notebook. Pretty good.
Jackal Mac was nowhere in sight. Kait prayed he was in the back lab, in the tank.
Still forcing herself not to be stealthy, not to creep, she walked through the dining room and out and around the staircase. She looked around the corner and saw the little hallway that led to the other door of the lab.
Okay, how to make this look casual? I've got to wait here . .. maybe I'm tying my shoe.
Without taking her eyes off the figures in the lab, she knelt and undid her shoelace. Then she stayed that way, with the laces in her hands, watching Joyce.
I can't go into the hall until she turns around or goes into the back lab. It takes a few seconds to get the panel to slide back, she could just glance up and see me from where she is now.
Time dragged by. The backpack began to feel heavy, dragging at Kaitlyn's shoulders.
Come on, Joyce. Move. Go get a book from the case or something. Go change the CD. Do anything, just move.
Joyce stayed put. After what seemed like an hour, Kaitlyn decided that she was going to have to risk stepping out anyway-and then she saw Joyce was getting up.
Kait's vision seemed to go double. Joyce's face was a tan blur. Then Joyce's back was a pink blur. Joyce was going into the back lab.
Oh, thank you! Thank you!
The instant the last bit of pink disappeared, Kaitlyn stepped into the hall. No time to be stealthy, no point in looking casual. All that mattered was to be quick.
Her fingers stabbed out at the wood paneling, once and then again. The click seemed agonizingly loud.
She threw a glance at Frost-Frost still had her back turned.
The panel had recessed. Kaitlyn stepped into the gaping hole.
Down the stairs. Quick. Quick.
She'd never learned the secret of closing the panel from inside. Well, it didn't matter much. As long as she got to the crystal. She didn't care if they discovered her after that.
As she reached the bottom stair she shrugged off her backpack and pulled out a flashlight. She'd taken it from the kitchen drawer that morning.
Quick. Move quick. The little circle of light showed her the way.
Aha. There it is.
The combination lock shone softly on the wall by the door, looking like something from a science fiction set. A door to the starship Enterprise.
Although her heart was beating in all sorts of funny places-her throat, her ears, her fingertips-Kaitlyn felt calm. She'd rehearsed this all in her mind last night.
Put the backpack down. Flashlight in your teeth. Take out the paper with the possible combinations on it.
Make every move count.
Paper in one hand, she began to punch in numbers with the other.
Each little rubber pad gave under her fingertips, and the number she'd punched appeared on an LED
display at the top.
1...4...1...2...2...5...9...2. Enter. Nothing. The LED display blanked out. Okay. Next!
1...4...2...5...1...2...9...2. Again, nothing. Tiny threads of panic began to unwind in Kaitlyn's gut. Okay, so she still had six combinations to go, but she'd used the best two. What if Mr. Z had changed the numbers? She should have drawn again last night to make sure. Oh, God, she hadn't even thought of that.
. .. Wait a minute. I didn't press Enter. She pressed it. Immediately she heard a sort of pleasant hum, an accepting sound that reminded her of an ATM machine getting to work. With a soft click, the door opened away from her. I did it! It worked! Oh, thank you, Columbus-I'll love you forever!
Her heart was beating all over now, her entire skin tingling with the pulses. Excitement and fear swam inside her, and she had to take a deep breath to keep her head.
Okay, quick, now, quick. A light might be seen upstairs, so get the shard out first.
She fumbled getting it out of the backpack. The flashlight kept sliding out from under her chin. The paper with the combinations had fallen on the floor. She ignored it.
Okay. Got it.
With both hands, she held the crystal shard.
It had never felt so good to her. Cold and heavy and sharp, it was like a weapon in her hand, strengthening her. It seemed to be telling her, Don't worry about anything from here on in. All you have to do is get me to the crystal. I'll take care of things from there.
Yes, Kaitlyn thought. Now.
In the end, it had almost been too easy. Why had Rob been so worried about her?
Standing tall, holding the crystal like a spear, she pushed the door open and stepped into the office. It was dark and she'd lost the flashlight. She reached for the wall, fingers groping across it. She found a light switch and got ready to throw it, planning to charge toward the great crystal as soon as she could see. A battle yell, some legacy of distant Irish ancestors, gathered in her throat.
Now . . .
She threw the switch-and froze.
The charge never happened. The crystal was there, all right, huge and deformed and grotesque as she remembered. But it wasn't alone. There were two- other things-in front of it.
Kaitlyn's eyes opened wide as she saw them. She felt her lips stretching open, not for a battle yell, but for a scream. A scream of perfect terror.At first all Kaitlyn was able to take in was her feeling of disgust and horror. It was something like the disgust she'd felt at home when her dad would turn over a shovelful of earth in the garden-and reveal something soft and squirmy or hard and chitinous hiding underneath.A little like that, but magnified hundreds and thousands of times.She guessed these two things were human. Or had started out that way. But they looked so deformed and felt so wrong, they gave her the sick feeling she'd gotten when she first saw a potato bug, that huge, unnatural, semicrustacean-looking insect. Or when she'd seen her first picture by Hieronymus Bosch, the artist who did scenes from hell, with people who had lobsters' claws or windows in their bodies.The other thing she knew immediately was that they were guard dogs. Mr. Z's new guard dogs, put here to protect the crystal.Sasha and Parte King.She knew them from Bri's descriptions-although it took a lot of imagination. Sasha had skin that was chalky white, unnaturally white, like something that had never seen the sun. Almost translucent, with lines of blue veins showing through. His eyes were like the red eyes of albino mice, or the blind eyes of cave fish.He did have blond hair, as Bri had said. Hair that was not just unkempt but full of things. Bits of garbage and paper like the rubbish that covered the floor.He looked like a slug: white, flaccid, immobile.Then there was Parte King-whatever that weird name might mean. Bri had said he was skinny. Now he was skeletally thin, wasted away like someone about to die. Skin stretched across his bones-almost as if he had an exoskeleton, like a bug. His brown hair was falling out in clumps, exposing naked skull.He looked like some kind of cricket, as if he would rattle if you shook him.And they were both alive, even though they looked like nothing that could survive long. Kaitlyn realized with a qualm of pure horror that they lived down here, alone and insane, chained to the floor. Biting at people's ankles, grinning face-splitting grins.She thought she was going to vomit."Muh-muh-muh," Sasha said, beaming. His teeth were wet; wetness spilled onto his chin. He made a wormlike movement toward her.I should run, Kaitlyn thought dispassionately. Her thought seemed to die somewhere before it got to her legs. She stood still and watched the swollen white grub thing inching across the floor toward her. It was like a human being in the process of mutating into something.They weren't going to let her get to the crystal. She could feel the power of their minds like a curtain across the room. So strong it almost knocked her over, invading all her senses. The touch of their minds made her think of rotting things, bugs, pus.Parte King was making a clicking noise in his throat. Pushing himself into a sitting position. They both wore canvas jackets which held their arms behind their backs with many straps.Straitjackets.Below that they wore garbage bags. Kaitlyn couldn't make sense of that until she realized: diapers.Run, you stupid girl. Please run now.Parte King fell over backward, his stick legs waving slowly in the air."Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch." He was still grinning.So this is what happens to Mr. Z's old students. It could happen to you, too. A little too much time near the crystal and . . .Hey, but they're still terrific psychics!Please, run.At last she seemed to tune in to her brain's terrified whimpering pleas. She turned around to run. She saw the open door of the office, took a wavering step toward it.And ran into a sort of invisible wall, a thickening of the air. Cold air. Or maybe there was nothing wrong with the air, and it was just her muscles.She couldn't move a step closer to the door. They had her, they were draining her volition, her will to run.She couldn't get away, and maybe she'd known that all the time.Sasha laughed bubbles, like a baby."You poor things," Kaitlyn whispered. Pitying them didn't change an ounce of her loathing for them. She knew somehow that they were beyond any kind of healing. Hurt worse than Marisol in her coma.Even if they would let her approach them with the crystal shard, even if she were a healer like Rob, it wouldn't help. Kaitlyn knew.Her knees were giving out. She let it happen, sitting on the floor and watching the creatures who shared it with her crawl closer. There was nothing to do.Nothing except wait for Mr. Zetes to come."I thought you'd bring that to me," Mr. Zetes said. "Thank you, my dear."He held his hand out for the shard. Kaitlyn looked at the long fingers with their square, perfectly manicured nails. She tried to stab him.It was stupid. There were the human pupae behind her, dragging her every gesture into slow motion, and there were the psycho psychics behind Mr. Z. They'd all come to see the fun. Besides, Mr. Z himself was strong.He took the shard from her, hurting her wrist. Deliberately, she thought."In a way, it's too bad you decided to come out of the closet now," Mr. Z said. "I wish you'd kept the pretense up for just a few more days. My next job for you was silencing the Diaz family."His handsome old face was absolutely diabolical."I like your old students," Kaitlyn choked out. "The ones with very good minds. What a waste.""Muh-muh-muhhhh," Sasha drooled behind her. "Muhhh."Mr. Z glanced at him almost fondly. "They're still useful" he said "The crystal has made them more powerful than ever; in a way, it's allowed them to achieve their true potential. I'm afraid you can't join them, though." He turned slightly, speaking over his shoulder."John, please put this in Joyce's room. Laurie and Sabrina, take Kaitlyn upstairs and get her ready. Paul, watch them."Who are all those people? Kaitlyn thought whimsically. Jackal Mac took the shard and disappeared, presumably heading for Mr. Z's car. Frost and Bri stepped forward and each took her by an arm, leading her out of the office. Renny followed.Joyce and Lydia were standing in the hallway by the hidden panel. Frost and Bri marched Kaitlyn by them.As they reached the second floor, Kait spoke. "What's going to happen to me?""Never mind." Frost gave her a push and Kaitlyn stumbled into the room Frost and Bri shared. Frost's face was sparkling with malicious triumph. She looked almost beautiful, like a Christmas tree angel with hair made of spun glass. She had on bubble-gum pink lipstick, so glossy it reflected light."Bri? You going to tell me?"Bri looked angry instead of triumphant. "You sneak. You dirty spy." Her deep boyish voice was rough with anger and revulsion. "You get what you deserve."Renny stood just outside Bri's door, arms folded, his clean-cut narrow features severe. He looked like an executioner.Frost was groping through a pile of clothes on the floor. "Here. Put this on."It was a bathing suit, one piece, black-and-white striped.Kaitlyn thought of saying "Why?" but therewasn't any point. She said, "I'm not going to undress in front of him.""Mr. Z told me to watch," Renny said. Not lecherously. Flatly."You got better things to worry about," Bri said, her voice harsh.Kaitlyn decided not to argue. Bri was right; what difference did it make at this point? She turned her back to the door and stripped, ignoring Renny like a piece of furniture. She tried to hold her head high, make every movement regal and indifferent. Even so, by the time she had pulled the bathing suit on her face was burning, her eyes full of tears.Frost tittered and snapped the elastic on Kaitlyn's back. But Bri said nothing and kept her head down.Even Renny seemed to avoid Kaitlyn's gaze as she turned around again."I'm ready."They marched her downstairs.Not back to the crystal room. Into the front lab. The door to the back lab was open.And then Kaitlyn knew.I will not scream, she told herself. I won't whimper and I won't scream. They'll just enjoy it more. They'd love me to start screaming.But she was afraid she would scream. Or that she might even beg."Is everything ready?" Mr. Z asked Joyce. Joyce was standing in the doorway to the back lab. She nodded.Jackal Mac was staring at Kaitlyn as if he wanted to drink her face through his eyes. His evil jackal eyes.His mouth was partly open, making her think of a panting dog.Loving this. Loving it."You're going to end up like the ones downstairs," Kaitlyn told him. Jackal Mac grinned like a fox.Mr. Zetes made a gesture, a formal gesture that reminded Kaitlyn of the first time she'd heard him speak.When he'd welcomed her and Rob and the others to the Institute, telling them how special they all were.It seemed like years ago."Now," Mr. Z said, addressing the whole group, "I think you all know the situation. We've discovered a spy. I'm afraid I suspected this from the beginning, but I decided to give her a chance." He looked at Joyce, who looked back with a blank face. "However, there's no longer any doubt about why she came to us. So I think the best solution is my original one."