When it was all done, and I was in my clothes again, I sat on the table, staring down at the white sneakers he had given me. They were my size—a perfect match. My chest rose and fell in deep, slow breaths.

I was numb.

Dr. Roth explained that blood work would be done. Something about checking out the level of mutation, a workup of my DNA so it could be studied. He told me I wasn’t pregnant, which was something I already knew; I almost laughed at that but felt too sick, really, to do anything other than breathe.

After that was all said and done, Archer stepped forward and led me out of the room. He’d said nothing the entire time. When he placed his hand on my shoulder, I shrugged it off, not wanting to be touched by anyone. He didn’t place his hand on my shoulder again.

Blake was leaning against the wall outside the office, his eyes sliding open when the door shut behind us. “Finally. We’re running late.”

I kept my lips sealed, because if I opened my mouth to say anything, I was going to cry. And I didn’t want to cry. Not in front of Blake or Archer or any of them.

“Okay.” Blake drew the word out as we started down the hall. “This should be fun.”

“Don’t talk,” Archer said.

Blake made a face but remained quiet until we stopped in front of closed double doors like the kind you see in hospitals. He smacked a black button on the wall, and the doors opened, revealing Sergeant Dasher.

He was dressed as he had been before, in full military uniform. “Glad you could finally join us.”

That nervous, crazy-sounding laugh bubbled up my throat again. “Sorry.” A giggle escaped.


All three guys sent me a look, Blake’s the most curious, but I shook my head and took another deep breath. I knew I needed to keep it together. I had to pay attention and keep my wits about me. I was way beyond enemy lines. Freaking out and getting pummeled with onyx wasn’t going to help me. Neither was breaking down in hysterics and finding a corner to rock in.

It was hard—probably the hardest thing I’d ever done—but I pulled it together.

Sergeant Dasher pivoted on his heel. “There’s something I would like to show you, Katy. I hope this will make things easier for you.”

Doubtful, but I followed him. The corridor split into two halls, and we headed down the right one. This place had to be massive—a massive maze of halls and rooms.

The sergeant stopped in front of a door. There was a control panel on the wall with a blinking red light at eye level. He stepped in front of it. The light went green, there was a soft sucking noise, and the door opened, revealing a large square room full of doctors. It was a lab and waiting room in one. I stepped through, immediately wincing at the smell of antiseptic. The sight and smell brought a wave of memories back.

I recognized rooms like this—I’d been in rooms like this before.

With my dad when he was sick. He’d spent time in a room very much like this one when he was receiving treatment for cancer. It paralyzed me.

There were several U-shaped stations in the middle of the space; each one displayed ten recliners that I knew would be comfy. Many were occupied with people—humans—in every stage of sickness. From the optimistic, bright-eyed newly diagnosed to the frail, barely even aware of where they were, and all of them were hooked up to fluid bags and something that looked nothing like chemo. It was clear liquid, but it shimmered under the light, like Dee used to when she faded in and out.

Doctors roamed, checking bags and chatting with the patients. Toward the back were several long tables where people peered into microscopes and measured out medicine. Some were at computers, their white lab coats billowing around the chairs.

Sergeant Dasher stopped beside me. “This is familiar to you, isn’t it?”

I looked at him sharply, only vaguely aware that Archer was glued to my other side and Blake had stepped back. Obviously he wasn’t as talkative around the sergeant. “Yes. How do you know?”

A small smile appeared. “We’ve done our research. What kind of cancer did your father have?”

I flinched. The words cancer and father still carried a powerful punch. “He had brain cancer.”

Sergeant Dasher’s gaze moved toward the station nearest us. “I would like you to meet someone.”

Before I could say anything, he stepped forward, stopping at one of the recliners that had its back to us. Archer nodded, and I reluctantly shifted so that I could see what the sergeant was looking at.

It was a kid. Maybe nine or ten, and with the sallow skin tone and bald head, I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or girl, but the child’s eyes were a bright blue.

“This is Lori. She’s a patient of ours.” He winked at the young girl. “Lori, this is Katy.”

Lori turned those big, friendly eyes on me as she extended a small, terribly pale hand. “Hi, Katy.”

I took her cold hand and shook it, not sure what else to do. “Hi.”

Her smile spread. “Are you sick, too?”

I didn’t know what to say at first. “No.”

“Katy’s here to help us,” Sergeant Dasher said as the little girl pulled her hand back, tucking it under the pale gray blanket. “Lori has grade four, primary CNS lymphoma.”

I wanted to look away, because I was a coward and I knew. That was the same kind of cancer my father had. Most likely terminal. It didn’t seem fair. Lori was way too young for something like this.

He smiled at the girl. “It’s an aggressive disease, but Lori is very strong.”

She nodded fervently. “I’m stronger than most girls my age!”

I forced a smile I didn’t feel as he stepped to the side, allowing a doctor to check the bags. Her bright baby blues bounced among the three of us. “They’re giving me medicine that’ll make me get better,” she said, biting down on her lower lip. “And this medicine doesn’t make me feel as bad.”

I didn’t know what to say, and I couldn’t speak until we stepped back from the girl and moved to a corner where we weren’t in anyone’s way. “Why are you showing this to me?” I asked.

“You understand the severity of disease,” he said, turning his gaze to the floor of the lab. “How cancer, autoimmune diseases, staph infections, and so many more things can rob a person of his or her life, sometimes before it really gets started. Decades have been spent on finding the cure to cancer or to Alzheimer’s to no avail. Every year, a new disease arises, capable of destroying life.”

All of that was true.

“But here,” he said, spreading his arms wide, “we take a stand against disease with your help. Your DNA is invaluable to us, just like the Luxen chemical makeup is. We could inject you with the AIDS virus, and you wouldn’t get sick. We’ve tried. Whatever is in the Luxen DNA, it makes both them and the hybrids resilient to all known human diseases. It is the same for the Arum.”

A shudder rolled down my spine. “You’re really injecting hybrids and Luxen with diseases?”

He nodded. “We have. It enables us to study how the hybrid’s, or the Luxen’s, body fights off the disease. We hope to be able to replicate it, and in some cases we have had success, especially with LH-11.”

“LH-11?” I asked, watching Blake now. He was talking to another young kid—a boy who was having fluid administered. They were laughing. It seemed…normal.

“Gene replication,” the sergeant explained. “It slows the growth of inoperable tumors. Lori has responded well to it. LH-11 is a product of years of research. We are hoping it’s the answer.”

I didn’t know what to say as my gaze moved across the room. “The cure to cancer?”

“And many, many more diseases, Katy. This is what Daedalus is about, and you can help make this possible.”

Leaning against the wall, I flattened my palms. Part of me wanted to believe what I was hearing and seeing—that Daedalus was only trying to find the cure for diseases—but I knew better. Believing that was like believing in Santa. “And that’s all? You’re just trying to make the world a better place?”

“Yes. But there are different ways, outside of the scope of medicine, to make the world a better place. Ways that you can help make the world a better place.”

I felt like I was getting a sales pitch, but even in the position I was in, I could recognize how powerful a cure for such deadly diseases could be, how much it would change the world for the better. Closing my eyes, I drew in a deep breath. “How so?”

“Come.” Dasher cupped my elbow, not giving me much of a choice. He led me to the opposite end of the lab, where a section of the wall appeared to be a shuttered window. He knocked on the wall. The shutters rolled up, making a series of mechanical clicks. “What do you see?”

The air went out of my lungs. “Luxen,” I whispered.

There was no doubt in my mind that the people sitting in matching recliners on the other side of the window, letting doctors take their blood, were not from around here. Their beauty was a dead giveaway. So was the fact that a lot of them were in their true form. Their soft glow filled the room.

“Do any of them look like they don’t want to be here?” he asked quietly.

Placing my hands on the window, I leaned in. The ones who didn’t look like a human lightbulb were smiling and laughing. Some were snacking on food, and others were chatting. Most of them were older, in their twenties or thirties, I guessed.

None of them looked like hostages.

“Do they, Katy?” he prodded.

I shook my head, thoroughly confused. Were they here of their own volition? I couldn’t understand how.

“They want to help. No one is forcing them.”

“But you’re forcing me,” I told him, aware that Archer was now behind us. “You forced Bethany and Dawson.”

Sergeant Dasher cocked his head to the side. “It doesn’t have to be that way.”

“So you don’t deny it?”

“There are three kinds of Luxen, Miss Swartz. There are those who are like the ones on the other side of this window, Luxen who understand how their biology can greatly improve our lives. Then there are those who have assimilated into society and who pose little to no risk.”

“And the third group?”

He was silent for a moment. “The third group is the one that generations before us had feared upon the arrival of the Luxen. There are those who wish to take control of Earth and subjugate mankind.”

My head swung toward him. “What the what?”

His eyes met mine. “How many Luxen do you think there are, Miss Swartz?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.” Daemon had once mentioned how many he thought were here, but I couldn’t recall the amount. “Thousands?”

Dasher spoke with authority. “There are roughly forty-five thousand inhabiting Earth.”

Whoa, that was a lot.

“About seventy percent of that forty-five thousand have been assimilated. Another ten percent can be trusted completely, like those in the other room. And the last twenty percent? There are nine thousand Luxen who want to see mankind under their thumbs—nine thousand beings who can wield as much destruction as a small warhead. We barely keep them under control as it is, and all it would take for a complete upheaval of our society is for them to sway more Luxen to their side. But want to know another startling number?”

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