When you choose your friends, you also choose your enemies.
Seventeen-year old Dee wants nothing more than to help her twin brother, Dum, break free from the trauma in their childhood and speak again, but the only person who can help Dum is the alpha empath, Danyael Sabre, whom the U.S. government considers a terrorist and traitor.
The search for Danyael will lead Dee and Dum from the sheltered protection of the Mutant Affairs Council and into the violent, gang-controlled heart of Anacostia. Ensnared by Danyael’s complicated network of friends and enemies, Dee makes her stand in a political and social war that she is ill equipped to fight. What can one human, armed only with her wits and pepper spray, do against the super-powered mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution?
America, nevertheless, is ripe for transformation. Exhausted by decades of belligerence between humans and their genetic derivatives–the clones, in vitros, and mutants–society is on the verge of falling apart or growing up. Dee, with her sassy attitude and smart mouth, is the unwitting pebble that starts the avalanche of change. In her quest to help her brother become normal, Dee will finally learn what it means to be extraordinary.
Dee gritted her teeth and winced as her brother screamed. The sound raked like nails on chalkboard, shuddering down her spine. She glanced at her watch. Dum was eight minutes into a half-hour session; she did not think he would make it the entire way. He had never made it through a lesson, not without passing out or throwing up.
“You have to focus.” Arlene Gunter’s gravelly voice had the crisp bite of a New York accent. The white-haired woman sighed. She was pencil-thin and sat with her hands neatly folded in her lap. Her brow furrowed with the hint of a frown, her lined face making her appear older than her sixty-five years. “Catch your breath, and we’ll try again.”
Dum, his shoulders hunched against the pain, shuddered in his seat. His white-knuckled fingers clenched into the side of his chair, and sweat beaded on his forehead. He did not look up, nor did he attempt to meet Dee’s gaze.
Dee ground her teeth at the obvious conclusion. Dum did not expect sympathy or support from her. Idiot. Did he think it was easy for her to sit across from him each day and watch him suffer through the torture they called “training”?
“All right,” Arlene said, straightening in her chair. “Let’s try again.”
To take her mind off the erratic rhythm of Dum’s heaving breaths, Dee allowed her gaze to drift across the training room. It was small but comfortable, one of the more attractive training rooms in the Mutant Affairs Council headquarters. Framed pictures of seascapes dotted the cream-painted walls. Suede couches and chairs, the soft color of bronzed honey, were plush and inviting.
Dee flipped over to sprawl on her stomach and stared without interest at the bowl of candy. The bowl was refreshed each day; today, it offered gold- and silver-foiled chocolate, but even that treat failed to lure her. I’m way past anything chocolate can redeem.
Dum’s scream, a high-pitched sound of an animal in pain, ripped through her. Dee jerked upright and glared at Arlene.
The old woman shook her head and sighed again, a careworn sound. “I barely pushed.”
“He’s tired,” Dee retorted.
“That’s a pitiful excuse. His enemies are not going to care if he’s tired when they attack. And as for you—”
Pain stabbed like daggers into Dee’s mind. She doubled over, whimpering, as nausea churned through her stomach.
Arlene huffed, exasperated.
Dee yanked a stingy gasp of air into her burning lungs and looked up at the alpha telepath. “Damn you.”
“I’m teaching you to be strong.”
“You don’t teach strength by beating people up.” Dee threw her arm around her brother’s trembling shoulders. Gently, she brushed sweat-soaked locks from his brow. “You’ve done nothing but hurt him.”
“He needs strong psychic shields, and this is the only way to build them.”
“Your way isn’t working.”
Arlene flicked her wrist in a dismissive gesture. “I have trained hundreds of people and found none as stubborn as the two of you. This process should have taken weeks, not months. We’re coming up on six months now, and his shields are no stronger than they were the day he walked in.”
The door opened, and Seth Copper looked into the room. The newly appointed director-general of the Mutant Affairs Council was in his early fifties, but he possessed the vitality of a younger man and the chiseled good looks of a movie star. He wore a black suit, tieless, with the careless grace of a model. “Is there a problem here?” he asked. His voice, a polished bass, could have made anyone believe anything.
Dee sighed. “It depends on your point of view.”
Seth’s deep blue gaze flicked over Dum. “Arlene, call it a day. I’ll take it from here. There’s something I need to tell them anyway.”
Shaking her head, Arlene pushed to her feet and stalked out of the room. Seth shut the door behind her and sat down in the chair that Arlene had vacated. “How are you two doing?”
“Better, now that you’re here. I don’t see why you can’t train Dum instead of Arlene and Henry training him. You’d do a much better job.”
Seth chuckled, but the sound lacked humor. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, but training is what I’ve come to talk about. There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just get it out and then answer all your questions. I’ve just been informed that we’re no longer allowed to train you…” His gaze flashed over to Dum. “Specifically, we’re no longer permitted to train Dum.”
Dee’s jaw dropped. “But without training, he’s never going to be normal. You promised to train him to use his powers.”
“And someday, I’m sure we can. It’s just that, right now, the political climate isn’t receptive to the idea of training mutants who were formerly associated with a terrorist group—”
Dee bristled. “We were never a part of Sakti.”
“But you lived at Elysium, which was a front for Sakti, and you were both openly mentored by Elysium’s founder, Reyes Maddox.”
“Reyes had nothing to do with Sakti.”
Seth’s tone remained calm, even reasonable. “Reyes had everything to do with Sakti. His clone led Sakti—”
Dee shot to her feet. “His clone, not Reyes!”
Seth sighed. “Dee, things aren’t as black and white as they appear to you—”
“Nothing has been black and white for months now. I don’t know enemies from friends. After the council attacked and destroyed Elysium six months ago—and killed hundreds of its residents—you took us in and offered to train Dum. Now that the political opinion has flipped, you’ve decided not to help us? He needs your help.”
Seth reached for Dee’s hand. His grasp was firm but gentle. Dee’s racing pulse steadied at his touch. He smiled, and the corner of his eyes crinkled, matching his warmth and humor. “You’re right, Dum needs help. Officially, the Mutant Affairs Council can’t help you, but I still can, and I want to. I’m not going to abandon either of you.”
“Okay.” The tightness around her chest eased. Dee glanced at her brother, but Dum’s brown-eyed gaze was rooted to the carpet. She exhaled, the sound scarcely more than a sigh. “Won’t helping Dum get you into trouble?”
“Yes, and that’s why we’ll have to keep it low key. My position at the Mutant Affairs Council won’t protect me from the repercussions of working with someone on the blacklist. I can train Dum, but it’s not going to stay a secret for long if you’re at the training sessions with him. It’s best if you run interference. If others are busy watching you, they won’t have time to question what Dum is doing with his time.”
Her instincts flared and Dee scowled. “I don’t like that. I’m sticking with him.”
Dee shivered at the barely perceptible, downward curve of his lips.
Seth’s tone remained reasonable, but she acutely sensed his displeasure when he asked, “And what have you accomplished in the past six months of attending his training sessions? Nothing.”
The truth rankled, but Dee braced herself against the nagging doubt and shook her head. “I need to watch out for him.”
“Dee, you’re both seventeen. He can watch out for himself, and you’re going to have to start living separate lives.”
“Maybe, but not yet.”
“It’ll have to be soon. I am the only one who can help you, but you can’t, in all fairness, expect me to take that kind of professional risk for Dum without your cooperation.”
Dee swallowed hard. Her legs trembled at the thought of losing their only friend and supporter at the Mutant Affairs Council. She sank into her chair and laced her fingers around her knees. She looked up at Seth. His expression was compassionate, and she garnered enough courage to ask, “What…what about Danyael?”
An expression flashed across Seth’s face, too fast, indecipherable. “Danyael Sabre wants nothing to do with the council.”
“But he’s an alpha empath, and if anyone can help Dum—”
“Danyael is a class-five threat, and Dum is on the blacklist. The last thing Dum needs at this point is to be associated with a class-five threat.” Seth pushed to his feet. His disapproval rocked her like a blast of frigid air. “Think it over, Dee, and get back to me when you think Dum is ready to move ahead with his training.”
He closed the door behind him and left them to the silence of their thoughts. Dee’s sigh broke the quiet that fell over the room. She glanced at her twin brother. Dum huddled in his chair, his arms wrapped around his denim-clad legs. His brown hair fell in an unruly mop, concealing his eyes. “What do you think?” she asked him.
Dum said nothing. She did not expect a reply from him. After all, he had not spoken since he was five.
Fifteen minutes later, Dee and Dum left the training room, tossed out by two alpha telepaths who had a working session scheduled in the room. Dee’s stomach rumbled as she headed down the corridor toward the dining room. Dum followed, lost in his own world. Dimly, Dee could hear the music blasting out of the ear pods tucked into Dum’s ears.
They were not the only ones at dinner, but somehow, Dee did not think she and Dum would be welcomed by the quartet of alpha mutants chatting at a corner booth. Instead, she filled her plate at the buffet table and settled down a small table on the opposite side of the room. Dum sat across from her and began eating in his precise, methodical way. She watched him for a moment and then, with a sigh, started on her own dinner. The food was good, the selection extensive, and the quality exceptional; nothing at all like the single-course, mass-produced meals at Elysium.
Elysium, tucked into a Colorado mountainside, had once been a thriving sanctuary, a home to human derivatives—clones, in vitros, and mutants—seeking a fairer and simpler way of life. It was gone now, and with it, the chaotic swirl of people and the bustle and laughter that accompanied each day. At the council headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, Dee was surrounded with more comfort, ease, and luxury than she had ever enjoyed in her life, but she missed Elysium desperately.
“Can I join you?”
Dee looked up into Jessica Richardson’s bright blue eyes. The teenager balanced her tray unsteadily on her hand. Slim and attractive, with long blond hair that fell like silk around her shoulders, Jessica was two years younger than Dee and Dum, but had lived at the council headquarters for most of her life. She was one of the council trained; a young and powerful alpha mutant raised by the council.
Jessica was also a girl in the flush of a youthful crush. Dum glanced up, looked at her with as much attention as he would have given a blank wall, and refocused on his dinner plate. The hopeful expression on Jessica’s face fell.
Dee chuckled. “Have a seat.”
Her welcome lured the smile back to Jessica’s face. Jessica pulled out a chair with one hand. Her tray wobbled, tilted dangerously, and then straightened, as if supported by an invisible hand.
“Those telekinetic powers sure come in handy,” Dee said with a straight face.
Jessica giggled as she sat next to Dee, conveniently, Dee noted, in full view of Dum. Dee kicked him under the table to get him to notice the pretty blond flirting with him, but he only moved his legs away. Stupid lump, she thought.
“It’s okay,” Jessica said, a soft sigh in her voice.
Dee glared at her.
Jessica had the grace to flush. “I’m sorry. I know you don’t like people reading your thoughts, but you’re not shielded, and it’s hard not to eavesdrop.”
Dee shrugged. Jessica could not help being an alpha telepath and telekinetic, just as Dee could not help being a boring and untalented human. “After living here for half a year, you’d think I’d have figured out how to take mutants in stride, but I haven’t. Then again, I don’t exactly score points for being clued in.” She waved her fork at her twin brother. “I lived next to a mutant all my life, but never knew until six months ago, either.”
“Empaths are hard to identify,” Jessica said quietly.
Jessica’s mention of empaths triggered the memory of Danyael Sabre. “How well do you know Danyael?”
A hint of sadness passed over Jessica’s vivacious features. “Not well. He’s council trained, like me, but he chose not to become an enforcer. We met a couple of times previously when he came through the council headquarters on visits, but I never really knew him well.” Her voice trailed off briefly. “He saved my life, you know.”
“He did? When Sakti attacked D.C.?”
“What happened out there? It’s been two months, but everyone shuts down when I ask about it. Is it supposed to be some kind of secret?”
Jessica shook her head. “No, of course not. It’s just…difficult.”
“Difficult to do what? Provide a simple narrative of what happened?”
“It’s not simple. Power scares us, especially power we don’t understand and can’t control.”
“But all of you are alpha mutants.”
“Danyael’s the only alpha empath most of us know, and after what he did on July Fourth, I don’t think anyone sleeps easy at night anymore.”
“Is that why the council won’t train Dum? Because he’s an empath, like Danyael?”
“Yes, that’s part of the reason. There are lots of empaths, but most don’t account for anything. Empathy is weak, mostly, but the council is worried because Dum has the potential to be a powerful empath like Danyael.”
“Really?” Her brother? An alpha empath? Who would have thought it? Dee propped her elbow on the table and rested her cheek against her fist. “What really happened out there with Sakti?”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “The story goes way too far back.”
“You don’t have to start at the beginning. I already know that Danyael was used as the physical template for Galahad, the perfect human being, and when Galahad escaped—”
“Was freed,” Jessica corrected.
“—from Pioneer Laboratories a few years ago, Danyael got into a heck of a lot of trouble.”
“None of which had anything to do with Galahad,” Jessica pointed out. She sipped her drink before continuing. “Galahad was just an excuse for the Mutant Assault Group to go after Danyael. The assault group had always wanted an alpha empath, and they did everything possible to get him, including kidnapping Danyael’s best friend, Lucien Winter, and implanting mental blocks in Lucien’s mind to turn him against Danyael.”
“The assault group got Danyael in the end, didn’t they?”
“They nearly didn’t. Alex Saunders, the former director general of the council sent Danyael to a maximum-security prison to keep him out of the assault group’s hands, but the assault group conspired with the mutant terrorist group, Sakti, to spring Danyael from prison. Sakti dropped Danyael off at Elysium, and you know what happened there.”
Dee nodded. “The council came looking for Danyael, and the Elysium was destroyed in an explosion after Reyes, Dum, and I escaped with Danyael. Danyael insisted Dum and I wait in Aspen while he and Reyes went to see Lucien Winter, but Danyael never came back for us.” Dee’s voice trailed into silence. How different might her life have been if Danyael had come back for them as he had promised? Instead, the council had found them—
Jessica shrugged. “It’s a good thing we found you instead of the assault group. The assault group picked up Danyael and Reyes when Lucien turned them away. Danyael started training the assault group’s super soldier army, and that army helped save D.C. when Sakti turned on the assault group and attacked the city.”
“But why did Sakti attack the city?”
“I think Sakti’s leader, Thomas Maddox, didn’t like the fact that his father and donor, Reyes, was paying Danyael more attention.”
Dee’s eyes narrowed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“Jealousy and insanity drive people to do strange things,” Jessica said. “When Sakti attacked D.C., Danyael came up with a plan to stop them. We lured Sakti to Theodore Roosevelt Island—”
“We? Were you part of the plan too?”
Jessica chuckled. “Danyael was furious when he learned that I was involved—he has some weird notion about keeping kids out of fights—but I was the only person capable of channeling the combined power of the council’s enforcers. Of course, I had to be there. I was shot by accident, but Danyael healed me and saved my life. I then blasted apart Sakti’s psychic shields, lowered a telekinetic dome, and Danyael lowered his psychic shields.”
“And then what?” Dee asked when Jessica remained silent.
“They died. Sakti died, all five hundred of them.”
Dee’s brow furrowed. “How?”
“Danyael’s pain drove them to suicide.”
“He can do that?”
Jessica shrugged. “He’s an alpha empath. He can do things that telepaths and telekinetics only dream about.”
“You dream about killing five hundred people at a time?”
The younger teen flushed. “That’s not what I meant. Alpha telepaths and telekinetics are used to looking down on empaths, and then Danyael comes along and proves, in ten seconds, that we’re not nearly as impressive or invulnerable as we think we are. It’s humbling.”
“Most of the people from Sakti who died that day were mutants, weren’t they?”
Jessica nodded. “They could have been any of us if we’d believed differently about the path to social equality.”
“Wow,” Dee murmured.
“Yeah, wow. Makes it hard to sleep at night.”
“But it’s still not fair that the council won’t help Dum just because of something Danyael did.”
“The council’s not so good at fair these days. Just ask Danyael. The council royally screwed him over. But you know Danyael too, don’t you?”
“Yeah, for all of a day. We met him at Elysium, and that same night, the council destroyed it.” In her few hours of contact with Danyael, Dee had come to like him. She had asked him to help Dum, and he had agreed, but he had never had the chance. He had, however, protected them through the terrifying chaos when Elysium burned. “Do you know where he hangs out these days?”
Jessica nodded. “He works at the free clinic in Anacostia.”
“That’s not far, is it?”
Jessica looked up from her plate. “You don’t get out much, do you?”
“No, the council hasn’t exactly encouraged sightseeing.”
“Well, it’s been a bit hostile out there, especially since the Fourth. No one has the energy to fake normality these days. Anacostia isn’t far from Alexandria, but it’s a total dump. I wouldn’t go there, especially not after dark.”
Dee snorted. “You’re an alpha telepath and telekinetic.”
“Which has nothing to do with not wanting to go into Anacostia.”
Dee looked across the table at her brother. Dum had finished eating and was sitting at the table, his eyes closed as he bobbed in time with his music, oblivious to the world around him. The ache that clawed at her chest was so familiar that she scarcely felt it anymore. She did not want to go into Anacostia either, but for Dum’s sake, she had to.