Never once had I seen it poke someone’s eye out, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a reasonable fear.
Even though I knew Zoe had her contacts in and it never hit on her before, my palms still felt sweaty as I thought about how every day at school she sat through this. Hidden just by a pair of contacts. And the others—the Luxen who couldn’t hide what they were? My stomach soured. Some thought the RAC drones were necessary. Part of me could even understand why they’d feel that way, but it was still an atrocious abuse of privacy. Even worse was that there was a percentage of the population who didn’t even consider that, since they didn’t think Luxen deserved the same basic rights.
The drone beeped, a sound I honestly didn’t think I’d ever heard it make. The little drone was on the third aisle, waiting beside Coop’s seat. His chin was dipped, and sweat had dampened the hair at the nape of his neck. He wasn’t looking up like he was supposed to.
“Coop,” Mr. Barker called out, a frown pulling at his mouth.
Coop didn’t respond.
The center of the drone spun, and it beeped again.
Mr. Barker frowned as he rested his textbook on the podium and stepped in front of it. “Coop.” He spoke louder, harder. “You’d better not be asleep.”
Coop wasn’t asleep. His knuckles were bleached white from how tightly he was gripping the edge of his desk. His large frame trembled.
I laid my pen down and shifted uneasily in my seat. Concern filled me. I didn’t know Coop all that well, but I didn’t want to see him get in trouble.
“I think he’s sick,” a girl named Kristen said. She was sitting next to Coop but was leaning away from him. “He really doesn’t look good at all. Does he have that flu that killed Ryan?”
Murmurs of worry rose throughout the class as Mr. Barker strode down the aisle. “Coop, what’s going on?”
Coop slowly lifted his head. I could only see his profile, and he was paler than he’d been when he’d entered the class. The drone locked into place, lining up with his eyes. The white light pulsed once and then twice.
The light flipped red.
A screech emanated from the drone, a low siren that increased until it sounded as if a police car were roaring through the classroom, and it was all that any of us could hear. I froze in my seat, eyes wide.
What was happening?
A tiny voice in the back of my head told me I knew what was going on even though I’d never seen it happen.
“Hell,” I heard Zoe say under her breath.
A great sense of foreboding took hold, sending an icy shiver spiraling down my spine.
The RAC drone had hit on Coop, picking up alien DNA.8Face pale and drawn, Mr. Barker started backing up as chairs screeched across the floor. “Everyone stay calm,” he said, not sounding very calm at all. “I need everyone to keep calm and stay in their seats.”
Zoe was already standing, but I was a statue in my chair, my heart pounding like a drum.
This was impossible.
The drone’s siren wailed as someone shouted over the noise, “Something’s wrong with it! Coop is a human!”
More shouts of protest joined the first, but the drone kept screeching. Did it make mistakes? I had no idea. I’d never heard of that happening, but it had to be, because Coop was human. He wasn’t a Luxen, a hybrid, or an Origin.
Unless he was like Zoe, hiding what he was?
But why wouldn’t Zoe have said anything if that was the case?
The drone inched back as Coop lumbered to his feet. He swayed as he let his head fall back. Sweat poured off his face, traveling down his neck in beads. A rosy flush mottled his once pale cheeks.
Coop opened his eyes, and the air punched out of my lungs as someone screamed. Blood seeped from the corners of Coop’s eyes, coursing down his cheeks and into the corners of his open mouth. His chest was heaving as if he couldn’t breathe.
No. No. No.
Mr. Barker stopped backing up, and his lips moved wordlessly. Or maybe he was saying the same thing I was, but the drone was drowning out the sound.
Coop doubled over, retching and gagging. Liquid the color of blood and black tar spewed from him, splattering off the floor and the legs of chairs.
Gasping in air, I pushed out of my seat and took a step back, bumping into Zoe. Her cool hand gripped my upper arm.
“Coop,” I whispered, heart pounding. “Oh my God, Coop—” I started toward him without thinking.
Zoe’s fingers dug into my arm. “Don’t. Something is so not right here.”
That was the understatement of the year.
Just then, Mr. Barker rushed toward Coop, concern replacing the confusion. He reached Coop, gripping the boy’s arm. “What’s wrong, Coop? Tell me what’s—”