David raises a dark, bushy eyebrow. "Water?" He checks his scanner, puzzled, as if it could somehow confirm her powers even though he never scanned her. "Well, I guess the facility might try to pair like powers." He crosses an arm over his chest, the scanner dangling lazily from his hand. "Why don't you demonstrate? That'll tell me if you're strong enough to join the irrigation crew with Galina."
Erin's face pales. A furtive glance to me, and then she eyes one of the water bottles. I hold my breath. I'll need to compensate for her. Hopefully, I can do enough to convince him that my power belongs to her. I sense for the water in the bottle, planning to have it rise into little blobs-
In the weirdest sensation, like pressure building at the back of my ears before popping from diving too deep, new water forms in the bottle next to the one I'm targeting.
Several globules hang midair, floating as if on invisible platforms. They feel different. As if they aren't even following the rules of gravity.
"See?" Erin twists her fingers. "Water."
David grunts as the globules of water collapse and fall. "A little weak, but that's probably a side effect of the adominogen grenade Galina mentioned. Any idea of your second power?"
I blink, doing my best to keep my expression blank.
He believed us?
I guess there's no reason he wouldn't, but still...
Erin shakes her head. "No idea." Neither Luuk, nor Nia, counter her. To be fair, I'm not sure if her secondary power is actually psychic tracking, like Luuk's brother told her, or if that's only what he said to keep the other agents from knowing she's a reality bender. They were trigger-happy once they figured out what she can do. I suspect that's the reason she's not so forthcoming right now.
"Unfortunate that you don't know your other powers, but I suppose it can't be helped," David murmurs.
"I can stay with her if you're worried about those powers," Nia blurts.
David waves her off. "That won't be necessary. Given that her primary power isn't strong right now, any secondary powers probably won't manifest. Now, if you'll wait a few minutes, I'll get someone from each of your teams to come get you." He slides the scanner back into the cabinet. "You'll have a chance to see where you'll be working. It's short notice, but I've found that the sooner you return to a normal routine, the better. No point dwelling on the past." He jabs his thumb in the general direction of the mountain tunnels.
A shudder works its way down my spine. Somewhere on the other side of that mountain is that terrible facility. The beasts. The hub. Will we be able to hear their howls once we're outside?
After David leaves, Luuk leans around Nia and over my lap. He lowers his voice. "Why are we hiding Erin's powers? We're safe here."
Erin shakes her head, her black hair slapping her chin. "I don't trust him. Even if I did, I don't want a job where I'm required to use that power. It's... It doesn't make me feel right. I'd rather stay shielded. Everything feels more real."
Nia props her elbow on the edge of the couch. "More real?"
"I don't know how to explain it. The closest I can explain is that when I'm not shielded or taking the pill, I'm walking through a dream, one where I can see things. Things that don't feel right. Like looking at a building, and realizing it's only the front of the store. That there's no building behind it. A facade. It was worse when I actively used the power."
Luke cringes. "Creepy."
"So we agree?" I ask. "We pretend her power is water?"
Given that water was hovering in the bottle, it could be her secondary power, but with her ability to bend reality, it wouldn't surprise me if she simply turned the air in the bottle into water.
Luuk sighs. "If David's being transparent about this place, shouldn't we be transparent about what we can do, too? Even if we don't plan to use those powers?"
"Are we sure he's being transparent?" I lean back into the couch. It's comfy enough, and I'm grateful to be outside of the facility, but it seems stupid to trust our new hosts without investigating them first. "We've been lied to once. I'd rather he earns our trust and proves everything is really what he says, and then we can tell him the other details."
Nia flexes her wrists, rotating the one Badia healed. "How will we know we can trust him?"
"I'm not sure," I admit. "But we'll figure out something. I'll start by seeing what I can find about my sister and making sure she's safe. And I'll find a way back to the Community. David said he had proof about the outside world; I want to see that proof for myself."
Luuk snatches a couple of dried apricot slices from the bowl. "Not a bad idea. I need to make sure I didn't accidentally reveal my brother. If David's forthcoming about that, it'll be a good sign. Plus, we can ask around, see how he treats the people here."
"All right." Nia pushes herself from the couch and straightens her new tunic. "Gather intel. I can go with that."
"Great." I turn to Erin. "Sound good?"
"Thanks." She smiles, but her gaze darts to the doors and windows.
"Then it's settled." I clap my fist into my open palm. "Operation Transparency begins!"
Luuk snorts. "Operation Transparency?"
"What's wrong with 'Operation Transparency?' " Nia protests. "I like it. Sounds like a secret Special Forces mission."
Luuk looks pointedly in the mountain's direction and then back at her. "You still like Special Forces?"
She punches his shoulder. "The ones we spoke to in the Community were nice. They only started being jerks out here. They can't all be evil."
She has a point, but I nudge her with my elbow as David returns. We can't let him catch onto our investigation until after we've made up our minds about him.
"Galina? Erin?" David steps aside from the door. "Let me introduce your supervisor, Jacques."
An older man with short blond hair and a weathered face smiles at us. "You're the water elementals?" Erin nods a little more enthusiastically than necessary. "Great. Head this way. I'll show you the restrooms, and then we can head to the fields." He motions over his shoulder for us to follow.
I give Luuk and Nia a worried grimace before chasing after Jacques and Erin. The fact that David is separating us isn't a good start to Operation Transparency, but at least we'll be able to cover more ground this way. Corroborate our evidence.
And figure out if David really is as transparent as a freshly cleaned pool, or if he's hiding a sharp rock in the darker depths of the deep end.
* * *
Thanks for reading! Come back next Monday for chapter five! :-D
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~ Part two of the Deceived series ~ Galina Maly escaped the terrible facility where students with powers were being turned into monsters. She arrives in a new Community, which promises security and transparency. A new home, where she can safely use...