Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 1
Anything But #2
Published 2014 by Lindy Zart
Copyright 2014 Lindy Zart
All rights reserved.
Cover Design Copyright © 2014 by Lindy Zart
Edited by Wendi Stitzer
Formatting by Inkstain Interior Book Designing
Author Photography by Kelley C. Hanson Photography
This book is a work of fiction.
Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
I’d like to thank Gina Howard—
for purchasing a character role to benefit a fundraiser.
Thank you to my author friend Juli Valenti—
for allowing me to use your name for a character role.
I kind of like Juli the UD.
Special thanks to Elisabeth Wheatley—
for the title suggestion.
This is for my dad. He likes to push me, but there's a reason for that.
He wants me to succeed. Thank you, Dad.
Consciousness slammed into her, her first thought incomprehensible and undeniable.
Ryder shot her.
Disbelief, rage, and something akin to disappointment fought within her. She was right about him. Honor should have been happy about that, but she couldn’t be. Don’t think about it. As she fought to keep her thoughts off the traitorous boy, the stillness of the room took over. The silence seemed odd and out of place. It felt like she was completely alone, in some kind of surreal atmosphere. Where were the beeping monitors; the presence of nurses and doctors? She’d been shot—wasn’t she in a hospital? Shouldn’t she be?
There was nothing in the room, nothing but her and the bed she was on. She knew the room, or rather, rooms like it. It was not a standard hospital room. It was a UD/UDK facility type of room. The fact that Honor didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing didn’t sit well with her. And really, the foreboding creeping through her was telling her it was a bad thing; way bad.
Eyes shifting, she tried to see as much as she could of the immediate vicinity, but there was a heavy pressure on her, making it impossible to move too freely.
When she tried to raise an arm, Honor was dismayed to find both of them strapped down with thick bands of material. Like the UDs. She was being treated like a UD. Why? Helplessness erupted in her, causing the panic to intensify and the need to escape grow. Shouldn’t she have pain in her abdomen? She’d taken a bullet to her guts—why didn’t she feel anything? Nothing made sense.
Where was Nealon? Honor felt the prick of tears and wasn’t sure why. Were they because she worried for his life or because she was afraid he’d abandoned her? Gritting her teeth, she willed them away. They came back when she thought of her mother and sister. What they must be thinking, fearing. Did they even know where she was or what had happened? What had happened? She remembered being shot, but after that, there was nothing except a hole for memories.
Air swooshed behind her, signaling the opening of a door, and Honor felt another presence in the room. She rapidly blinked her eyes to try to make the tears fade. It was already cold in the room, but this entity made it frigid.
“I see you’re awake. Faster than I’d expected.”
Honor froze, her sense of helplessness escalating. She was immobile, and she was next to a man who hated her; a man she was pretty sure gave Ryder the order to shoot her.
A leathery face framed by gray hair loomed above her, icy blue eyes studying her face. His not quite right smell permeated the room and Honor swallowed back a gag. “You should be dead,” Superior August stated, his expression revealing nothing on his thoughts that she clearly wasn’t.
“Sorry…to disappoint you,” she gasped out, her voice brittle and faint from disuse.
A smile appeared and vanished within the span of five seconds. “You are unusually cocky for one relying on the care of others to survive.”
She glared at him, willing him to do whatever he was going to do and get it over with.
As though knowing her thoughts, Superior August smirked and straightened. “You were shot in the stomach. The bullet destroyed most of your internal organs. Like I said, you should be dead. The fact that you are not has made you a very important girl. Only UDs could survive something like that and you are clearly not a UD.”
He paused, studying Honor’s face in a way that made her stomach clench. “So what are you?” he mused quietly, his eyebrows lowered.
Honor stared back, not speaking. Her mind, on the other hand, was in overdrive. Shot in the stomach…should be dead…not a UD or a UDK? What?
“I want to say it’s from the UD blood administered into your system to heal you faster, but I’ve never seen anyone adapt so easily to that either. Most UDKs reject the UD blood and die. Or they go insane. You didn’t. You’re completely healed.” He paused. “You should have been dead before you even got here, really.”
August tapped his fingers on the side of the metal bed as he gazed down at her, the sound aggravating to Honor. “Which is why I let you live, and the only reason I let you live. You, Honor Rochester, are an enigma. And I hate mysteries. I’m going to have fun experimenting on you.” He smiled then and her insides went numb. “Until next time.”
“Wait!” she called out, so afraid to be alone that she even preferred his presence to none. And questions, she had so many questions.
He came back into view, his eyebrow lifted quizzically.
“How long have I been here?”
“Six months, give or take.”
She tried to speak and couldn’t, her mouth silently opening and closing. Six months? Honor had lost over half a year of her life and hadn’t even known about it? A lot could happen in six months; a lot of terrible things.
“How could I be here so long? Asleep? And why am I completely healed? Shouldn’t there be some discomfort at least? I feel nothing.”
“You’re healed. Why would there be any pain? You were drugged during the recovery process so that you didn’t slow or stop the healing by waking up and overreacting. The IVs were removed yesterday.” His lips twisted in a semblance of a smile, making it obvious he wasn’t telling her everything.
What were in the IVs? A thought she didn’t want to openly address, not yet. “Where is my mom and…and…my sister? Where’s Nealon?”
Where was Ryder? What happened to Christian? Her mom…Scarlet. Honor closed her eyes against a wave of pain in her mind and heart. Where was everyone? Were they okay?
“Ah, yes, your mother. Cassie. Nice lady. And…” He tilted his head. “Scarlet, was it? Sweet girl. Quiet. Don’t fret. They know you’re here.”
Dread grew at his casualness when he said their names. “What have you done to them?” she whispered. “Have you hurt them?”
He drew himself straighter. “Do you think me some kind of monster?”
Yes. I do. Not just some kind, but the worst kind.
“They’re fine. And as long as you cooperate with me, they will continue to be fine.”
“What do you mean? Where are they?”
August patted her head and Honor flinched, wishing she could pull away from his revolting touch. “They’re on vacation. Don’t make it a permanent one. Get some rest, Honor. You’re going to need it.”
“Vacation?” Her pulse tripped. “Where? Where are they? What did you do to them?”
“They are fine,” he replied evenly. “Don’t worry about them.
“What happened to Christian? And Nealon?” she whispered.
“The UD is dead.”
The sob she’d choked back down her throat at his words erupted as soon as the door swooshed shut. It burst out of her; her heart aching for all whose lives had been ripped and shredded by that man and his abominable UD and UDK society—a society that shouldn’t even exist.
Christian was dead? No. A flash of chiseled features, dark brown hair with a hint of red in it, and silvery eyes stabbed her consciousness. He was going to be a writer. She always enjoyed reading his articles for the school paper. They’d been smart, insightful, colorful. Sorrow washed over her at all he had wanted to be and now wouldn’t, because of something he had no control over.
Christian is dead. She closed her eyes, refusing to believe it. August was a liar, a manipulator. She couldn’t believe or trust anything he said.
Honor hadn’t even asked about Ryder. She assumed he was okay, being August’s replica-in-the-making and all. She didn’t even know if she would care if he wasn’t okay. The jerk shot her. She at least knew her family was okay—she had to believe that. But Nealon—he hadn’t answered her about him. Twice. Hot tears streamed down her face and Honor quietly wept.
She didn’t allow herself long to cry, only a minute or two, before she began to process the situation. The gunshot wound, her healing, her family, everyone and everything involved—it was too much. But the thing that bothered her the most, the thing that weighed heavy on her mind and being, was the fact that she was trapped, held captive, like some test subject, or animal. That’s what you are now. No. It wasn’t. She wasn’t.
Empathy for the UDs rose in her, overwhelming and dizzying. Honor understood how they felt. She’d thought she’d known, but she hadn’t, not really. It was a horrible feeling—your freedom being taken away, your humanity stripped down to nothing; kept locked up, treated like an afterthought, and a mistake as well.
Clenching her teeth, she shoved the fear away and tried to focus. Honor didn’t know how to give up, how to not fight, and she wasn’t going to allow herself to find out what it felt like now. She couldn’t do anything or help anyone tied to some metal bed like she was, so obviously she needed to figure out how to get untied from the bed.
He didn’t really miss her. Ryder was surprised by that. Shouldn’t he miss the woman who gave him life? In the last two and a half years, the woman he knew as his mother had disappeared, left him. He didn’t know the woman who vaguely resembled her—the woman with her ever-present wine in hand and vacant eyes who slept more hours than she didn’t. His mom was as good as dead, like his father. His dad he missed. Every day he missed the sound of his voice, his laughter that rumbled like a thunderstorm of mirth. His chest tightened and Ryder shook the pain away.
It was November in Orchardville, Iowa. The air was stifling hot and thick with humidity. It was said that there used to be snow on the ground at this time of the year in this part of the USA—now winters consisted of brief bouts of chilly weather and frost while the southern states were bombarded with snow and ice. Funny how everything changed with time; even the weather.
Each breath Ryder inhaled was choking, not anywhere near a reprieve like it should be. Sweat dampened his dark blond hair and trickled down his face and back, making the light tee shirt and jeans he wore uncomfortable. He assumed the proper stance and lined up his weapon with the target and let off a round, the power of the gun thrilling.
Each bullet had a name and the name was August.
His insides were hollowed out with guilt. Ryder had no one and nothing, nothing but this UDK taint and the burning need to prove to himself that he wasn’t bad, that he could somehow make a difference. To prove that he could avenge Honor and what had been done to her, even if it had been by his own hand. He had to redeem himself, and if that wasn’t possible, he had to at least try.
Working himself beyond his capabilities was how he was going about it. He trained hard, mentally and physically—a machine bent on vengeance was what he strove to be. That’s all he’d thought about for the last six months. The charade of sucking up to Superior August and the UDK society was wearing on him, but he had to keep doing it. Otherwise it was all for nothing.
All the loss, all the pain, all the lies; it had to be for something.
“Good job, Delagrave. You hit the target each time.” His instructor, Agent Wallace, clapped him on the back. “Next time try to get it in the center of the target, your aim was a little high.”
He set down his earmuffs and gun, saying, “I wasn’t aiming for the center of the target.”
Wallace’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Ryder. He was in his mid-forties with black crew-cut hair and a thick, bulging neck. He glanced at the target and then back at Ryder with a frown on his face.
“I hit my mark.” He ambled away, a cocky grin on his lips. He’d hit his target every time—center of the forehead, right where he’d aimed.
As soon as he left the shooting range, the grin dissipated. Superior August was waiting for him. Squinting his eyes against the sun, Ryder warily approached the man he’d once thought a mentor and now viewed as an enemy.
“Nice shooting, son.” He clapped him on the back and Ryder fought not to recoil from his touch and his ‘son’ reference. Once he’d basked in the endearment; now it seemed like an unwanted brand, something that linked him and August as one. He no longer wanted that connection—any connection—to Superior August.
“Thank you, sir.” The ground was uneven and hilly, the trek back to the facility an especially long one under the fiery sky. Trees surrounded them on all sides, the smell of moist grass and dirt thick in the air. It would be a perfect haven, if not for the bulging monstrosity of a building in the middle of it all.
“You keep overachieving as you are and in no time you’ll be ranked Agent Delagrave.”
“That’s the plan.”
Superior August rubbed his square jaw as they walked, musing, “One would almost think you have an ulterior motive, pushing yourself as you are.”
Every part of Ryder chilled, a strange feeling with the sun beating down on him as it was. “Of course I do,” he said with a smirk. “I want to be Superior, like you.”
Head tipped back as he laughed, August said, “Keep pushing yourself like you are and you will, son, you will. You’ve got the makings to be a great Superior.”
Those words made him feel sick. It was an insult that anything about him could be portrayed as ‘great Superior’ material. But then, his previous, misguided actions had made it all possible. No one to blame but yourself.
“When can I transfer back to the Wisconsin facility?”
A bird swooped past as they began down the dirt trail that connected the wooded area to the training center. Ryder paused so August could go around him down the narrow path.
“You’re not. There’s no reason for you to. This is one of the best centers in the United States, much better than the Wisconsin one. You won’t get what you need there.”
Ryder swallowed, swiping a drop of sweat from his brow. He stared at August’s square-shaped head and imagined putting a bullet through it. At first the thought shocked him, but he quickly embraced it. It had to be done, eventually. He might as well adapt to the idea.
“There’s nothing for you there,” he continued.
He glanced over his shoulder. “Your mom is no good to you now, Ryder. You know that. Don’t beat yourself up over what you want, because what you want and what you need are two very different things. You want your mother, but you don’t need her. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize you don’t even really want her that much anymore either. She’s broken. We remove the broken pieces from our lives, son, so that they don’t break us along with them. You’ll learn. You’re already
Hands fisted at his sides, he struggled for the control he felt slipping away. Honor. He was talking about Honor. The sick feeling escalated until it was hard to breathe.
August paused, turning partially to look at him. “You did the right thing, shooting that UDK. She was damaged, broken. She wasn’t right for the cause. She was a sympathizer. Sympathizers are just as bad as UDs.”
Most days he tried to forget what he’d done, but as the days since he’d shot Honor Rochester had grown, so had his self-hatred. He’d shot and killed an innocent girl—a girl with more courage than he’d ever had. Bile rose in his throat and he choked it down. He felt so lost, like he was floundering in the middle of an ocean with no rescue in sight. The only thing that kept him going was what he had designated as his purpose—that was it.
Those ice blue eyes drilled into his green ones, trying to see inside his head, wanting to know his thoughts. “You don’t regret what you did, do you, son?”
With every breath I take.
“No. It had to be done,” he said in a toneless voice.
Superior August nodded brusquely. “That’s right. It did. Get some grub. We’ll talk later.”
It wasn’t until Ryder got to his room that he was able to let the pain out. He slammed his fist into the cement wall, again and again and again, until his knuckles cracked and were bleeding, until his breaths came out ragged, until his heart raced so fast he wondered if it would just stop, until he’d punished himself for taking someone’s, Honor’s, life. It wasn’t enough, would never be enough.
Chest heaving, he stood in the middle of the room, forcing his breaths to steady, his pulse to slow down to normal. Ryder closed his eyes, exhaling slowly. He grabbed a washcloth from the shelf near the sink and wet it with water from the faucet. Calmly, numbly, he wiped the wall clean of blood, but he knew he could never wipe clean the blood of a life taken by his hand from his soul. That was tattooed there, forever.
Honor’s mind was stuck on something August had said—about the UDKs rejecting UD blood. It wasn’t necessarily an alarming statement, but coming from him, it made waves of chills go through her. She didn’t know much about him—she didn’t even know enough to feel the way she did about him, not really.
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