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Shutdown (Glitch #3)
Heather Anastasiu

Chapter 1

THE SUNSET BLAZED FINGERS OF bright purples and oranges outward over the mountains. The breeze tugged at my hair. I shivered even though it wasn’t cold and wondered if I’d ever get used to it: the open sky, the wind, the feel of sunshine on my face.

I leaned against the rock wall where the transport bay opened to the Surface and breathed in deeply. After months of practice controlling my mast cells with my telekinesis, my throat didn’t even begin to close up during an allergy attack. It was still amazing to me to be able to stand here without fear of my allergies killing me. Thanks to the Chancellor, I’d been allergic to everything—plants, molds, even sunlight. But as I stood here now, there was no shortness of breath, no swelling tongue, no rash.

When Adrien had first told me of his vision of me standing under the open sun a year and a half ago, I thought it would mean I’d one day find a cure for my allergies. Instead, it was a constant battle to use my telekinetic powers to internally surround and suppress my mast cells from releasing deadly amounts of histamine—at least any time I was outside of the Foundation with its complete air-filtration system. I couldn’t say I did it quite without thinking yet, but I was getting there. I let the breath I’d held in my lungs out in a steady stream. Everything was ready. I was the Resistance’s strongest asset now, and tomorrow I’d leave for a mission that could change the world.

But then a lump formed in my throat that had nothing to do with an allergy attack, and everything to do with the empty space beside me. Adrien first showed me this spot near the top of the mountain where the transport bay opened to the Surface. Just six short months ago. Back when everything was … back when he was whole.

I shook my head, letting my hair fly in the breeze for one more short moment before turning back and walking through the transport bay to the elevator.

I stepped off the elevator and went through the allergen wash-down container. I tried not to let my thoughts wander. Empty mind, that was what Jilia always talked about in our Gifted Training class. The thoughts usually flitting through our head at any given moment were rarely about what we were doing now, but so often only worries about the past or the future. The trick of controlling our Gifts was to silence all thought and be completely present.

Emptying one’s mind, however, was much more difficult than it sounded, especially when my mind was so full, like now. I used the breathing trick, counting my breaths in and out up to ten, then started over again. I’d catch a stray thought of worry about Adrien or the mission and consciously push it away until there were only the numbers. By the time I had tugged on my soft pants and pullover tunic, it was so quiet in my mind that I almost felt peaceful.

Until I opened the door and saw Max waiting for me.

Any peace I’d achieved was immediately replaced by anger. I brushed past Max, but he followed at my heels.

“You have to talk to me. We’re going on a mission together tomorrow and you’re not even going to say hello?”

I stopped midstride and spun on my heel toward him. “You’re going on a mission tomorrow because we need your Gift. That’s the only reason. Believe me, you’re the last person I want as my mission partner.”

I continued forward, loathing the fact that we had no other choice but to take him on the upcoming mission. I had liked it better when he’d been locked away for months and I didn’t have to look at or speak to him. Even once Henk had put a tracking anklet on him and released him for a few hours a day, I’d still managed to avoid him for the most part. Whenever he tried to approach me, I headed in the other direction. Which I intended to do now. We both knew our roles for the mission. There was no need to talk about it.

“You can’t be mad at me forever,” he said, putting a hand on my arm to stop me from walking away. His face softened. “We were friends once.”

I stared at him open-mouthed. Did he really think we could just pretend the past year hadn’t happened? That he hadn’t let the Chancellor capture and torture the boy I loved? That he hadn’t impersonated him for two months? But then again, Max’s powers of self-deception had always been more impressive than his shape-shifting ability. He only cared about what he wanted, and he barely even noticed the people he destroyed to get it.

Max would pay too. He thought eventually I’d forgive him for what he’d let happen to Adrien. While Max was impersonating Adrien, Adrien was off being tortured by the Chancellor because his love for me had somehow enabled him to fight back against her compulsion. When even the torture couldn’t make him tell her his visions, she’d cut out portions of his brain to make him compliant. The lobotomy had succeeded in making him obedient, but it also made him stop having visions altogether. And it had left him a shell of a person who, in spite of some groundbreaking tissue regrowth treatments, still didn’t seem to be able to feel emotion.

I’d forgiven Max for every other horrible thing he’d done in the past. But he was wrong this time. He’d live his whole life and then die, and I’d still never forgive him.

I didn’t know which was healthier—sadness or anger—but anger was certainly more productive. Sadness made me numb, like I wanted to sleep for a hundred years. Anger, on the other hand, made me active, gave me energy and purpose, and kept me busy planning my revenge against the Chancellor. Most of the time, if I kept busy enough, it even staved off the guilt. Or, at least, I had so many things to do, I could push it to the back of my mind and let it feed the anger instead of consuming me.

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