The gray faded from Kat entirely. The pink washed from her eyes, revealing the hazel I so loved.
“The toxin is gone,” Hodad said.
“She’s a Witness,” Ms. Smith said.
Their excitement was contagious. Toxin...gone. Witness...like Emma and Helen.
It was a miracle. More than I’d ever dreamed possible.
If I’d had this ability sooner, Trina, Lucas and Collins could have been saved, too.
Joy and despair...a painful combination. I gritted my teeth against it. I blamed Ms. Smith for what should have been. Her unconcern for collateral damage. Her lack of ethics. Her. Just her. She was more evil than the zombies I fought. They, at least, were mindless, operating on instinct. Her every action was a conscious decision.
She had to be stopped.
Kat’s collarbone snapped into place. Her leg straightened out, and she looked around the lab with confusion. “Where am I? What’s going on?” Her gaze lit on me and widened. “Ali! You’re hurt.”
“Move on to phase two,” Ms. Smith said.
Using a remote control linked to Kat’s collar, Hazmat forced her to exit the cage.
“What’s going on?” Kat repeated, trying to dig her heels into the floor. “Why can’t I stop?”
“Stop this!” My chains rattled as I struggled. “Let her go!”
Kat walked to a gurney off to the side. There was a body strapped atop it—hers. She reached out, touched it. When nothing happened, she reached out again...and again.
“Ma’am? Sir?” Hazmat asked.
“It’s not working,” Hodad said.
“Ali!” Kat said with a whimper. “Help me!”
“Let her go!” I shouted.
Ms. Smith sighed, ignoring me. “This is disappointing, but not devastating. We’ll study the Witnesses, find a way to make use of them.”
As determined and wild as she was, Kat managed to fight past the pulses, fight Hazmat, kicking and punching, using the skills I’d taught her, and he lost his hold on the remote. It shattered, and the collar separated in the center. Kat ripped it off, tossed it away. Suddenly my best friend was floating up...toward the ceiling. She reached for me, and I reached for her.
Our gazes met for a final time—and then she vanished.
Sorrow ravaged me. I dropped to my knees. Gone. Again. But at least she was safe now. Anima would never be able to hurt her.
“Idiot!” Ms. Smith snapped.
“I’m sorry,” Hazmat replied, inclining his head.
“Save your apologies. They won’t bring back the girl.” She flattened her palm over her forehead, as if feeling for a fever. “Just go get the next zombie, and be more careful.”
He rushed off, soon returning with an older zombie. Male. The cage door opened, and the collared zombie entered.
He raced for me, and I had no compunction about punching him in the head. As he stumbled back, I kicked him in the chest. Again, he stumbled. I tried to step out of my body, tried to summon the fire, but failed at both.
“You’re too weak, Miss Bell,” Ms. Smith called. “And don’t waste our time trying to use your other abilities. I took them. Helen wasn’t the only one capable of stealing.”
When the zombie came at me again, I shoved my palm into his nose. Cartilage to the brain didn’t slow him down. He snapped his teeth at me. I twisted, elbowed him in the temple, sending him to his hands and knees.
“Restrain him,” she said, and Hazmat thrust a metal hook into the cage, grabbing the zombie by the neck.
He’d been dead a long while. His hair was gone, all of it. Eyebrows, eyelashes. No lashes. His eyes glowed redder than most, as if he was fed well and often. He was tall. Or would have been, if his shoulders hadn’t been stooped. He wore an old suit, the cuffs and ankles frayed. I’d broken his jaw, and it now hung at an odd angle.
“Sedate her,” Ms. Smith said. “Not enough to put her to sleep, but just enough to make her too weak to fight.”
A fine mist sprayed into the confines of the cage. I held my breath as long as possible...my lungs, burning...come on, come on...not long enough; I sucked in a mouthful of air. It tingled going down, and I coughed. And whatever they’d laced it with broke the blood-brain barrier fast, removing the starch from my knees. I collapsed.
The zombie was released. I tried to push him away, but the dizziness distorted my vision and I missed. His teeth sank into my shoulder and gnawed. I’d hurt when Kat bit me, but this went beyond hurt. His teeth were like razors that had been dipped in salt. I batted at his head until I finally managed to dislodge him.
He convulsed on the concrete floor for one minute...two...and stilled. The gray tint faded from his skin, returning it to its natural tan—meanwhile, I lost the natural rose tint to my skin and turned gray. Fire spread through every inch of me, burning me from the inside out, and the gray left me, too.
Fire, and yet, I saw no flames.
I stayed on the ground, right where I was, stealthily looking over everyone in the room. A guard had joined the party. He had a .44 sheathed at his waist. Hodad had a pen in his pocket. Ms. Smith wore a necklace. If I could get my hands on any of those things...the rest would be history.
I moaned, collapsing and pretending to sink into a state of unconsciousness.
“Take my father’s spirit to the special cage I had made, then take his body to the cooler,” Ms. Smith commanded. I think she pressed a button. “I want the girl restrained.”