Chapter 1

Six Months Later

Vince adjusted his backpack to put the weight on his other shoulder. Two months since the procedure had ended and he’d been put in recovery and still his body felt like it was aching and healing. He never remembered feeling like this beforehand, but in fairness, there were plenty of other things that hadn’t existed beforehand either.

Today was an excellent example of what going through the program had yielded him. He was walking across the beautiful, sprawling college campus of Lander University, passing other kids his age and blending in like a normal person. Well, almost anyway. His damn hair still made him stand out. One of his biggest hopes had been that a side effect of the procedures would be his hair becoming a normal color, but no such luck. It was still silver like it had always been. And not old man silver, either: silver like moonbeams glinting off steel. It wasn’t that it was unattractive; in fact, it accentuated Vince’s bright blue eyes quite nicely. No, the problem was that his hair marked him as different, and after all these years, Vince was yearning to be nothing more than a face in the crowd.

“At least we’re in California,” Vince mumbled under his breath as he quickened his steps. He was getting second glances from the other students, but not as many as he was used to. Aside from that, he passed a few people whose looks made him do double takes of his own. It was comforting, in a mutual freak sort of way. By the time Vince reached his dorm assignment, he was back on the positive side of things.

After all, this was what he had worked for during those two months of recovery, studying and being tutored so that he could get his GED and come to this college. It had been hell to concentrate, especially with his body still adjusting to everything, but he had put in the time and pulled it off. It was an opportunity he couldn’t let slip away. Besides, the nurses and technicians had told him the other people from the program would be given the option to come here, too.

The building Vince walked up to looked less like a dorm and more like a medium-sized house. He didn’t see how it was possible to fit many people in this one-story brick home, but he trusted that whoever was managing housing had that in hand.

Vince walked through the front door and shifted his backpack once more. It bounced and landed on his shoulder lightly, betraying that it was far from stuffed to the brim with Vince’s few articles of clothing and worldly possessions. One of the first things every wanderer lets go of is his unnecessary items. Travel light, move quick, stay alive. That was the code that kept Vince breathing and his abilities in check. But that was behind him.

In front of Vince was a cream-colored wall with a notice welcoming him to Melbrook Hall. There was another wall to his left and a hallway to his right. The notice had an arrow directing him to follow the foyer and then take a left. Vince did as he was told and found himself looking at a sturdy door with no window or discernible handle. There was only a small box jutting out with an oval-shaped green pad on top. Vince might not have been the most up-to-date with technology, but even he could figure this one out. He pressed his thumb to the oval, and after a minute the door opened with the sound of a small beep.

Vince stepped out of the foyer and into what looked to him more like a living room than anything else. There were several couches and chairs set up, a metal coffee table in the center of the room, and a large, flat-screen television on the wall directly across from him. It was decorated in white and red and smelled like an odd combination of flowers and chemicals, which Vince could only assume meant they were using an artificial air freshener. He walked around the room, taking in the scene.

On each wall perpendicular to the entrance was another metal door and scanner, these with signs above them. On the one to the left of the entrance was “Boys” while the one to right said, predictably, “Girls.” Vince went over to the television, only to notice that there were open doorways on either side of this wall that one could walk through. Vince did just that and found himself in a white-tiled kitchen. It had a large sink, a stove with multiple burners and a griddle, and all kind of cooking knickknacks that Vince had neither the knowledge nor the experience to make anything out of.

At the back of the kitchen on the right was a cupboard, which Vince opened to discover a fully-stocked pantry. On the left was another metal door. This one, however, had neither a sign above it nor a fingerprint scanner.

Vince walked out of the kitchen and back into the living room, then over to the boys’ door. As he walked, he carefully skirted away from wall outlets whenever possible. He hadn’t had an accident since the procedure, but that didn’t mean he was eager to test his luck. Pressing his thumb to the scanner, the door opened and Vince walked into what he could only assume was the common room.

There was another television on the far end, along with pool and Ping-Pong tables. The other end held a set of dart boards and a wooden door with the word “Bathroom” on it. Opposite of the entrance were three more metal doors. These had scanners clearly in place, but no signs, though they were numbered 1, 2, and 3. With a shrug and a heft of his pack, Vince walked over to the middle door. He pressed his thumb down and waited for the beep, but this time all that came out was a harsh buzzer. He tried twice more before giving up and trying the room on the left, which was room one. This time the door buzzed and opened, though Vince couldn’t help noticing a chime that followed the usual opening sounds. He wasn’t sure what that meant, and the sight before him left him little free brain space in which to contemplate it.

Saying his room was luxurious would be something of an overstatement, but it was definitely more opulent than a boy who was always on the run was accustomed to. There was a large bed in one corner with a desk and computer set up in the other. Between the two was a large window with sunlight streaming through the blue curtains. The floor was carpeted, and as Vince walked across it, he saw that opposite the desk there was a closet next to a chest of drawers. Slipping his pack off, Vince walked over and pulled open a drawer, trying to figure out if he had enough clothing to warrant any kind of organizational system.

He was shocked to see that the drawer he opened already contained many, many pairs of socks. Checking the next drawer, he found shorts, then T-shirts, then he went back to the top and found boxers. That drawer he slammed shut more quickly than the others. Synapses flying, Vince came to the only logical conclusion.

“Crud; this is someone else’s room.” It only made sense; this place was too nice and too well-furnished. Why had the door let him in, though? Vince brushed that thought out of his head quickly. It was faulty equipment, not his fault, but it wouldn’t make it less awkward if this room’s inhabitant came home to find an intruder. Vince turned on his heels, snatching up his backpack and bolting for the door.

All of which landed him face to face with a taller boy standing in the doorway, wearing sunglasses and running a comb through his sandy brown hair.