Zoe moved to the large window that overlooked the street below. “It still amazes me. The whole thing. Like how all the basic human rights can be stripped away, but because you have a bed, a room, and food on your plate, you don’t even realize you have no rights. And that was the truth. We were just subjects—experiments. None of us had any rights. We couldn’t leave if we wanted to. The older . . . subjects couldn’t have relationships with one another. Our Internet was monitored and restricted. We ate what was provided, even if we didn’t like the way it tasted. We woke up when they told us, and the same when it was time to go to bed.”
“God,” I whispered.
A winsome smile appeared. “We were property of the United States and didn’t even realize it. Not until the entire wall of the west wing blew the hell up.”
I jolted. “What?”
“Luc took down the entire wall . . . and nearly all of the staff. Just him, and he was only about eleven years old at the time.”
My mouth dropped open as I pictured an eleven-year-old Luc running around, blowing up a building with his magic fingers. “How in the world is that even possible?”
Zoe was staring out the window. “Luc is different.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” I muttered.
She faced me, her expression serious. “He isn’t like the rest of us—like most of us. I’ve heard . . . Well, I know there were others like him. Those kids? But Luc is—God, I hate saying this out loud, but he is the most powerful of all the Origins.”
My eyes widened. Most powerful? That was, well, kind of impressive and kind of scary. Especially since I’d threatened to hit him on multiple occasions.
Actually, I had hit him before.
“Anyway, Luc basically freed us. He helped set us up with Luxen who knew what we were. That’s how I met my uncle,” she said. “And the rest is history.”
I had a feeling there were huge parts of that history left out. “So your move to Columbia was coincidental?”
Her head tipped to the side. “Nothing about Luc is coincidental. He wanted me in Columbia, and I owed him a huge favor.”
“A lot of people seem to owe his favors.”
“A lot of people do, and Luc likes to collect on them.” Zoe inched closer. “I owed him my life, though. There was no favor he could’ve called that would’ve made up for that.”
“Seems like to me that owing a favor is a lot like having someone owning you.”
“You would think that, because you’ve never been owned.”
Flinching, I knew I couldn’t argue with that. I didn’t know what that felt like.
“I knew you before and I know that’s a weird thing for you to hear, but when Luc asked me to come here to keep an eye on you, because he couldn’t, I agreed. Not just because I owed him a favor, but because I’ve always liked you, and I was happy to do so.”
I thought about how, when Luc had told me he’d never truly left . . . left me, he hadn’t been lying. He’d had Zoe in his place. I still had no idea what to think about that.
“I didn’t pretend to be friends with you. I was a friend to you. I am a friend of yours.” A moment passed. “I am an Origin, but I’m still Zoe. I’m still the same person who’s obsessed with HGTV.”
My lips twitched as I glanced over at her. We both said, “Jonathan,” at the same time, referencing one of the Scott twins.
A hopeful look filled those odd, beautiful eyes that were so strange to see now. “My favorite food is still chicken tenders—extra crispy. I still think April is totally a test run for having a child who’s a constant disappointment.”
I laughed, but then I blurted out, “Can you have kids?” Immediately my face turned beet red. “I’m sorry. That’s kind of a rude question—”
“It would be if you didn’t know me.” She sat down next to me on the bed and nudged my foot with hers. “We can have kids . . . if we’re with another Origin. I don’t think we can with a normal human. At least, no one has as far as I know, but it’s not like most Origins have been out in the wild long enough for us to know.”
I glanced over at her. Zoe was . . . Well, she was Zoe. She looked the same. “I can’t believe I never noticed it. I’m super-unobservant.”
“Well . . .”
Rubbing wearily at my arms, I lifted my chin. Honestly, I had no idea what to think about that, about any of this. It was like my brain was short-circuiting, only processing everything that was happening in bits and pieces. I blew out a rough breath as my gaze drifted around the dim room.