LAWRENCE SLOWLY CAME into consciousness but kept his eyes closed. He could tell he was on his couch because it still smelled of the 7-Up he'd spilled on it the night prior, and relief washed over his mind. It was just a nightmare.21Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ5rq2LIVmfg
But when his eyes opened, his vision was filled by the girl hovering over his body. He jumped up, unable to catch a breath. How on earth did we get back to my apartment?
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Gale's lips were pursed, her eyes wide. "You have a nice place."
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Lawrence raised a brow and looked around at his meager studio apartment—the full-sized bed in the corner, the kitchenette with dishes stacked in the sink, the pile of laundry he was too broke to take to the cleaners until payday. And where have you been living?
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She continued: "It was easy to find. Your subconscious has memorized the directions very well."
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What on earth am I dealing with? In a cold sweat, he started to back up. If I can just make it to the kitchen, I can use the landline to call the police.
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Her eyes now rolled. "Do not try to trick me, Lawrence Croxley. You know I would make it to the kitchen before you."
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Okay . . . I'm officially terrified, now. The girl seemed to know what he was thinking. His legs gave out when he backed into the wall, and he slid to the floor and curled up. Ears rushing, the room spun a little. He couldn't run, and nowhere to hide.
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He was still in the same clothes, dirt on his pants from the asphalt. I wish the zipping at light speed had just been a stress-triggered hallucination. "Look, lady. Whatever has happened since I met you I can't understand. Frankly, I . . . I don't even know if you're human. But what do you want with me? There were other people at that station. Go grab one of them and leave me alone."
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She moved closer to him, her face more serious. "Yes, but it is unlikely that any of them have your access to the CNN camera system."
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Mouth dropped open, Lawrence's heart started to pound. "I can get over the moving faster than a Maserati, I think. But, how do you know all this stuff? My name, where I live, my internship at CNN. I've never seen you before."
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Gale's gaze fell to the floor. "Because of what I am." Her voice shook and the straight posture was replaced with slouched shoulders. He'd wondered if she was an android, but seeing this show of feeling made him decide Gale was a person—albeit a strange one. Her head then perked up, eyes meeting his. "But my abilities are my business. All you need to know is that you are going to help me. Once you do, I will leave you alone." She reached to shake his hand.
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He cowered a little. "Don't touch me."
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The girl bit her lip. "Look, I realize I have given you no reason to trust me. But I promise, I am not going to harm you. Intimidation is something that has been hardwired into me." She reached again and gently held his hand in hers, then helped him to his feet. "See? I am actually pretty harmless when I want to be."
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Lawrence nodded, surprised that her touch was so soft. His heart calmed, and he tried to think clearly, still in a haze of adrenaline and something else. Curiosity killed the cat, but . . . "So what exactly is it you want me to do?"
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Her eyes lit up a little. "I want you to switch the cameras mid-broadcast from the anchor to me."
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"I have no desire to allow my Keepers to lock me up again." Her jaw cocked a bit. "I am tired of being their puppet. I do not want to do what they have planned for me."
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"What do 'they' have planned for you?"
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"If you assist me, you can find out with everyone else."
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Lawrence rapped his fingers on his arm. Do I just blindly help her? He wasn't certain if he could trust her, but he didn't seem to be in any real danger and his shoulders relaxed. But the tension came right back when he heard a window break.
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The girl's head jerked towards the noise and she yet again grabbed his arm. "They have found us."
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Here we go, again. He turned, expecting to see those two men in suits, but instead a woman reached through the hole in the glass and opened his front door. She looked to be just shy of fifty, her black bob graying, but still had her beauty. And something about her—most likely the crisp pant suit—exuded authority.
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"Let him go, Gale. Now." Though her voice was thick with a Latin accent, the way she spoke reminded Lawrence of his mother's voice from childhood, after he'd done something wrong.
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Gale scoffed. "Why? So you can inject that tranquilizer in your pocket into me, then drag me back to my dismal prison?"
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The woman shook her head. "I've always wanted you to have a life outside the organization. But, by doing this, you're ruining any chance of that happening."
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Gale tightened her grip on Lawrence. "Get out or I will hurt him."
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His knees knocked. This chick needs to make up her mind about hurting me.
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"You're running from me because you're not a killer." The woman chuckled and folded her arms. "You and I both know that's an empty threat."
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The woman was Latina like Gale. Maybe she was her mother. Maybe Gale would listen to her mother. Lawrence sure hoped so.
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Gale's grip softened, much to his relief. But it was short lived. In a flash, she picked him up and took off. The woman blurred behind him, and though her voice was distorted, it sounded like she was calling the girl's name. She then stopped several blocks away near a convenience store and put him down.
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"You traveled almost a mile in, like . . . forty seconds." Lawrence brushed his windblown hair out of his eyes, a little scared that he wasn't all that surprised.
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She stared straight ahead, like she was on a mission. "I need food."
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"And I need answers. What's going on."
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"Maybe after I eat something. Now come."
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You could at least say, 'please.'
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"Please," Gale said, almost with sarcasm.
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Lawrence glared. He didn't care if she was powerful, some things were sacred. "Stop reading my mind. It's creepy."
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"I wish I could."
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Gale dragged him towards the building. Lawrence had never liked this particular station. Even though using cigarettes indoors was illegal, the shop's owner smoked in there anyway. The putrid combination of gasoline, stale smoke and cheap food made him gag. Still, the thought of other people being around gave him the idea to cry out for help.
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"Do not even try it!" he heard in his head. Although it wasn't quite like hearing the words, but feeling the meaning of them, the emotions behind them. It was disconcerting, almost dizzying—and a little intimate.
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"Oh, great. Not only are you probing my brain, you're invading it, too!" Lawrence grit his teeth, wondering why he didn't say that out loud.
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She didn't answer. However, she jumped back a little when the automatic sliding doors opened.
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He snickered. "What's the matter, never seen a door?"
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Instead of answering, Gale stepped in and tried to yank him in, too.
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Lawrence resisted and raised his eyebrows. "You want me to come in there? Let go of my arm. You're sending a lot of mixed messages, girl. One minute, you claim you won't hurt me, the next you're threatening me in the privacy of my brain."
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"I did not know you would find it so intrusive." Gale tilted her head.
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He wondered if she had a clue about anything. He tried to pull out of her grip. "Look, make up your mind: either I'm your ally or your hostage—not both."
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A man on his way into the station eyed her and Lawrence, and Gale let go of him and rubbed her arms. "I would like for you to be my ally. Will you come?"
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Her confusion attached itself to that message, and he groaned and stepped in. What am I thinking?
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Her shoulders fell, and she looked around at the overly-priced junk food with wide eyes. Grabbing a bag of chips, Gale inspected it. "This is not food."
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Lawrence chuckled in desperation. "God, how would you even—you know what, I don't care how you might know. Okay, haven't you ever eaten potato chips? Of course that's food. Just not good-for-you food."
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Gale looked at him, eyes narrowed but lips quivering. "No, I have not. I have never been given anything impure."
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Impure? Good grief. He rolled his eyes, the cigarette smell getting to him. "Can you please just get some nuts or something? I want outta here."
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"Nuts?" Her eyes roved around the room. "What nuts?"
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Good Lord. He waved a hand at the display. "Those, the peanuts there."
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She picked up a packet, inspecting it the same way as she did the chips. "These are not nuts, these are legumes."
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Lawrence ruffled his hair. This was getting ridiculous. "We just call them nuts, okay?"
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Gale shrugged and started to open the bag.
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"Wait! You got to pay for that, first."
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What kind of rock did this chick crawl out from? She's like eighteen, but acts three. "Lemme guess: you have no money."
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Her head tilted. "What is money?"
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Why am I not surprised? "You know, currency? You gotta earn it, then you use it to acquire things you need or want."
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She stared at her nuts. "Should not needs, like food, be provided?" Her voice was pure with an ignorant sincerity.
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"In an ideal world, yes. But reality is anything but ideal." The discussion of money made Lawrence remember that he never showed up for work. His internship had been hard enough to get. With all the other applicants ready to snatch it out from underneath him, he couldn't afford to be AWOL. He snagged the peanuts back and paid for them, rolling his eyes as the woman behind the counter took forever to count out his change. "Look, if I get you into CNN, Gale, will you please just promise to let me go back to my boring life?"
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She nodded, her eyes glued on the money in the open register drawer. "I already said that, Lawrence Croxley."
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I'm such a sucker. It had to be Lawrence she wanted; it would be him to be the one stuck with the supergirl without a clue. Nothing good ever happened to him. Why couldn't it have been a nice supermodel with a flat tire—not that he knew how to fix a flat—one who would've been so thankful for his help and leave him her number? But no, he had Gale, who probably didn't even own a phone.
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When the woman finally finished, he snagged the receipt and crumpled it up in his pocket. "Let's go."
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Gale clutched his elbow as he led her out and to the bus stop next door. Her hold was now loose, and he tried to ignore how nice it was to have such a pretty girl on his arm. Here in the light, she might've been prettier than a supermodel. It would be a few moments before the next bus would come, and Lawrence looked her over. Those tight, brown spirals shined in the sunlight and those vibrant, green eyes glanced around in wonder. She'd obviously been sheltered. Locked up, even. How sad. No wonder she's running.
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He sat down on the black bench, it surrounded by beige panels, and handed her the peanuts. She did say he might get answers after she ate. "Can I ask you something?"
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Gale seated next to him and turned the bag in her hands. "You may ask."
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Somehow knowing that she didn't know how to open the bag, he tore it open for her. A million things Lawrence wanted to learn, but he settled on one: "If you can read minds, how'd you not know what money was?"
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"Well, I knew it existed." She ate a single nut. "But . . . I never really understood its purpose."
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Lawrence folded his arms. "So, I guess you've never seen money exchange hands?"
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She shrugged and ate another. "If I have, I did not know it." A scoff escaped her throat. "It is not like they ever tell me anything."
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He scooted a little closer. "Who doesn't ever tell you anything?"
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"It does not matter."
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Though it mattered to him, he dropped the subject and tried to think. Lawrence wasn't sure why he was helping her. He knew he should run. Heck, I should be kicking and screaming to get away. But the desire to stay was stronger than his desire to leave. I wish I knew why.
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His heart beated faster when she gingerly took his hand and inspected it. "Heh, what's so interesting about my hand?"
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Gale looked him in the eye. "No one has ever let me just touch them, before."
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She might as well have punched him in the gut. Poor thing.
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Her mouth curled slightly, and her eyes shone. "But I appreciate you explaining money to me."
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Lawrence swallowed. "Anytime."
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Her touch as she felt the nooks and crannies in his palm was far more pleasant than he wanted to admit. Those huge eyes so innocent, something powerful ignited within him—it was hard to resist. As much as he wanted her to just go away, another part of Lawrence also wanted to hold her and tell her everything would be all right.
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Their ride came on schedule and they sat down towards the back, the girl still eating her peanuts one at a time. When Gale had finished, she rubbed her shoulders and looked out the window.
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Lawrence folded his arms and leaned back. He smiled at the way Gale pressed her hand to the glass and gazed out at the city with wide eyes. Why do I feel so comfortable around her? He'd gotten a taste of what she was capable of, and his gut told that she was able to do a lot more. No doubt about it: she was deadly. And yet, he felt more mellow than he had in years. Shock. It had to be shock, but even that didn't seem right. Something was off. He wished he knew what.
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His thoughts were interrupted when she tilted her head and gnashed her teeth. What on earth could make such a powerful creature so nervous?
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Her hands dropped and she stared ahead, gaze distant. Lawrence touched her arm, which made her shoulders jerk and eyes widen. But she quickly stiffened and her look turned emotionless.
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Sighing, he leaned in to meet her gaze. "You know, it's okay if you're nervous or scared. I won't judge."
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Gale gave him a sideways glance, and the look in her eyes seemed thankful. "I am not frightened. You . . . you merely startled me."
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"Uh-huh, sure." Lawrence flashed her half a smile. "Look, I don't know what they did to make someone as powerful as you so jumpy. But I'm not going to harm you. Heh, how could I?"
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She raised her eyebrows in agreement and looked down her shoes. But then her head jerked up, that dead-eyed stare returning. "My keepers are following the bus. They have permission to terminate both of us."
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I don't like the sound of that. But Lawrence found he was more amused than anything. It all didn't seem real: he was running from people willing to kill him, and there was a supergirl at his side. He wasn't certain if he could trust Gale, but—at least for the moment—she seemed like the lesser of the two evils. "How do they keep finding you?"
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Gale didn't answer.
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He folded his arms and huffed. "You ignore me a lot."
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Her eyes started to dart back and forth. "Because I must concentrate."
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Lawrence raised his eyebrows but didn't say anything. He couldn't really question the statement of a mind reader.
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Gale's eyes stopped moving. "They have paralysis darts."
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He let out a laugh at how ridiculous this had become. It was like he'd been teleported into a thriller movie. "I'm guessing that's bad."
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He looked over his shoulder, out the back window. Sure enough, there was a black SUV tailgating the bus.
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As they slowed to the next stop, Gale pulled him up. "We get off here."
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As Lawrence followed her lead down to the curb, the girl jerked him to the side. He opened his mouth to complain—but then noticed a small, black cylinder on the pavement in front of him. There was a tiny needle protruding from the tip.
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His stomach knotted as she pulled him away from there. "Was that one of those darts?"
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His fear came back—but not of Gale. Now he was scared of these Keepers, since they were trying to hit him. He felt something buzz by his neck. Another dart hit the ground. This wasn't a movie. This was reality, his life in the balance, and the prospect of losing it made him run. She moved faster with him and led him around the corner to a small warehouse.
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"It's locked!" Lawrence continued to pull at the door, his grip loose from sweaty palms.
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It was protected by a keypad. Gale pushed Lawrence back and stared at it, the device sparking and the lock disengaging. The place was filled wall-to-wall with white, plastic shipping containers and cardboard boxes. She led him inside, then behind a shelving-unit stocked full of them. There were more rows of shelves behind him, lined up in the opposite direction. The lights were off, but frosted glass windows let in enough sunlight to see, though some places were shrouded in shadow. It smelled of dust and paper, and he did his best not to sneeze.
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"Stay here and do not make a sound." She walked away, then a few seconds later other voices echoed.
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"Where's your friend, Gale?"
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Lawrence recognized the voice. It was that Keeper she had called, "Reg." Deciding that he was obnoxious for some reason, Lawrence could appreciate Gale not wanting to be near Reg. In fact, Lawrence wanted to be far away from the guy, even though he didn't know why.
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"He is not here," Gale said, her lie not well executed.
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Lawrence ground his teeth. She could be a little more convincing . . .
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"We know you're lying," said the other Keeper. "And you know he's seen too much to just let him go."
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"What does it matter?" Gale's voice wavered, like she was breathless. "I doubt he would tell anyone."
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"He works at CNN. I know you don't really understand, but try to: he could blab everything to one of those news anchors—things would get complicated for all of us. Including you, Gale."
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"That is what I am hoping for." Her voice was now steady and cold. "I can believe that you would try to hit me with the darts. But him? Why? You know the risks with that chemical compound, and you do not know what medication he takes. It could kill him."
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Lawrence's teeth clenched. It hit that he'd forgotten to take his pill that morning.
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"We have authorization to use any force needed to keep this quiet," said Reg.
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Stomach churning, Lawrence pulled his knees under his chin. Being silenced wasn't something he'd signed up for. I didn't sign up for anything.
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"But Gale, I'd rather just take you back quietly," Reg pleaded. "Carmen wants you in one piece. I'll even make sure that kid gets treated well, if that's what you want."
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"You can have me," Gale said. "Just leave him alone. I do not want to see him fall victim to your memory-erasing experiments."
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Uh . . . Lawrence's hair stuck to the back of his neck and sweat dripped into his eyes—and not just from the heat in the stuffy warehouse.
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"You should have thought of that before you dragged him into this," said Reg. "You tethered with him, didn't you? That's why you care so much."
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"That is none of your concern. Now please, let him just go home."
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Lawrence wiped his sweaty palms on his pants and wondered what they were talking about. She seemed to take whatever a "tether" was personally, and he wasn't sure he liked the idea of being on the other end of it.
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Reg sighed. "I would. But we have our orders, and it'd be my head if I disobeyed them."
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"Then you will need to go through me." There was silence for a moment, then there was a strange noise, similar to the electric buzz heard around a Tesla coil. "Lawrence Croxley, you need to r—"
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Her presence left his mind but her worry remained, and he brushed his sweaty hair back. There was no getting out without Gale, Lawrence wasn't a fool. When something warped loudly, he moved a box to peek through and watched the scene before him with wide eyes.
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Both men held some kind of device that was bulky and rounded, and shot blue-ish beams at her. Gale had one hand in front of her, and a blue, translucent disk had formed in front of it. With it she blocked each of their attacks, and with her other hand, she shot similar beams back at them. They barely missed being hit by her counter fire.
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One of her beams hit a plastic crate, the side of it melting. Whoa. While Lawrence didn't think that would be a fatal blow, it looked like it would leave a terrible burn.
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Reg pulled out a Taser, sparks rising from its tip, and charged at her. She backflipped as he ran by beneath her airborne body, and her ankles gave out as she landed behind him. Well that was sloppy. Lawrence gripped the shelf in front of him tighter as she grew limp, her eyes glazed over with exhaustion.
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Reg shook his head and put the Taser away, his hands at his sides. "You can't keep this up forever."
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"W-watch me." Gale started to back up into a corner, her tired eyes now full of fear.
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As one of the men kept a beam on her, the disk in front of her began to fade. She slumped against the wall, trembling, and Reg moved in closer and waved to other man. He lowered his ray and Gale dropped the force field as she slid to the floor and curled up, her chin on her knees.
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"Now," said Reg as he stood over her, "I understand you running away, but it's over. And I really don't want to hurt you or that boy. Just surrender and I'll see what I can do to protect him."
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She looked at him for a second. "Liar."
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Before either of them could react, she had stood up and put both her hands out. Static electricity arced out from her into the men, their bodies violently convulsing as they fell to the ground. She then took a deep breath and collapsed with them.
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Lawrence clutched his stomach and crawled out from behind the shelves with bated breath. He checked the two men. They were out cold, but still breathing. Lawrence then walked over to Gale. Her eyes flicked at him and she tried to sit up, but fell back just as fast and groaned.
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He touched her arm. "Are you okay?"
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Not wanting to be there when those goons woke up, Lawrence went to carry Gale out. She looked svelte, but when he tried to lift her, it was like bench pressing a three hundred pound dumbbell.
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He motioned for her to move. "Sit up as high as you can."
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She complied, her body shaking as he slipped his arms under hers and helped Gale up to her feet. Lawrence supported her—the deadweight killing his back—and went back outside.
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There was a similar warehouse right next to the one they were in. It was empty, too, since it was Sunday. They made their way over to it and she crushed the padlock, her breaths becoming more rapid. It looked a lot like the sister warehouse, but much smaller, only a couple rows of shelving to hide behind. Finding a hidden spot behind some shipping crates, he set Gale on the floor and kicked up a wall of dust that finally released that sneeze.
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Lawrence then slid to the floor and smiled at her.
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Curled up in a ball in front of him, she met his gaze. "W-why did y-y-you stay . . .?" Her presence left his mind as her eyes closed and breathing stabilized.
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She really was exhausted. Those powers apparently came at a cost. Lawrence stared at Gale for a while, mind racing. What is she? An alien crash-landed on earth? A genetic experiment? And who were those two goons? Government lackeys? Private security? Too many questions, all the answers locked beneath those infuriating curls. And why am I still here? She was right, he didn't have to stay. I could've just left her and washed my hands of the whole thing. They would've woken up, found her there. By then, he could've hopped on Amtrak, and been halfway to Huntsville or Charleston. He let out a dry chuckle at himself. Maybe it's hormones. Between her dark, swarthy complexion and big, green eyes . . . she was so gorgeous.
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Or there's possibly something else at work here, like she took over my brain. Wow, I need to lay off Netflix. He decided it was likely just selfish instincts, because Lawrence knew if they found him without her, he was toast.
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Whatever the reason, Gale had gotten under his skin—and he wasn't going anywhere.
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