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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.15

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 15

 

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)
 


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He glanced at Natasha. She shrugged and went back to showing Dominic the proper way to hold a gun—an unloaded one. He turned his attention back to Juli, moving to quickly close the distance between them.

  “What’s going on?” he asked, squinting under the glare of the sun. She wasn’t injured, she wasn’t screaming, so it couldn’t be anything too worrisome.

  “Just—come with me! All of you too,” she called to the UDs training, not even pausing to see if they were following as she took off back toward the most heavily wooded part of the forest they were temporarily calling home.

  His footsteps slowed as he took in the scene. At least a hundred of what could only be UDKs were gathered around the UD camp. Christian gazed from one guarded face to the next, bemused to find unknown UDs smattered in with the supposed enemy. Trees wove around them, splashes of brown and green against their dirtied clothing and haggard stances. They looked tired, resigned, disillusioned. They looked like they’d just found out everything they’d ever been told was a lie—and maybe they had been.

  “What is this?” he asked as he glanced at Juli.

  “It appears UDKs and UDs are forming an alliance, in the name of Christian Turner. They’ve heard about you, about us. Small as we are, we apparently have some influence.

  “Things are bad, Christian," she said, lowering her voice. “Things are really bad. Even some of the UDKs are seeing it now. They want to help us train; they want to fight with us against August and anyone who follows him.”

  He wished it was that easy. He wished he could believe their intentions were pure, but he couldn’t afford to. Their group was compromised now. How had they even found them? If he allowed them to stay, he would be suspicious of their real goal, constantly on guard, waiting for a betrayal that was sure to come. Of course, that wouldn’t be much of a change from how things already were. He trusted few and the ones he trusted he didn’t trust much. But did he have a choice? No. UDKs outnumbered them and were better than them, at least in combat. And they needed them and their knowledge, though he was loath to admit it.

  “Why would we trust you? You could just as soon kill us as fight beside us,” he called out.

  “But we haven’t,” a stocky boy with black hair and glasses responded, moving toward the front of the UDKs. “You need an army if you’re going to succeed against August and his minions. We’re the first to sign up and there will be others. Even now masses of UDKs and UDs are making their way to you.”

  “Who are you?”

  “I’m James.”

  “I know him.”

  Christian glanced down.

  Natasha stared at the new arrivals with distrust etched into her elfin features. “He was at the UD facility at the same time Honor was. Smart kid, kind of nerdy, harmless.”

  “Thanks for the compliment.”

  Natasha scowled at James. “Which one was supposed to be a compliment?”

  James ignored that, looking at Christian. “May we stay?”

  “Are you in charge?”

  He hesitated, and then shook his dark head, briefly looking down. “No.”

  “Then who is? Because that’s who I want to talk to before anything is decided.”

  “Isaac Nealon. I was hoping he was here, with you.” Features pulled down with apprehension, James waited for him to answer.

  Christian took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Innumerable eyes were locked on him, watching. He looked at Juli, who looked away. Natasha did the opposite; she wordlessly stared at him. He didn’t know how to say it. There was no way to ease the blow of what he was about to tell him.

  He swallowed and met James’s gaze. “He’s dead.” The tone was flat, undeniable.

  No one moved. The whole forest seemed to go silent, still.

  James blinked. “He…how?” He swallowed. “You’re sure?”

  A short burst of laughter, brittle and harsh, left him. “Yeah. He was shot by August. I tried to help, but I wasn’t fast enough. We didn’t get there in time. He held on for as long as he could, but…he’s gone.”

  It had been close to suicide, blasting into the underground of the facility like they had, but it had been necessary. They’d lost three of their number; a remorseful occurrence, but even that wasn’t enough to make Christian regret doing it. He’d had to take a chance. He’d known Honor was there via a reliable source and he’d wanted her.

  Wherever she was, he had a feeling that side would win in the war to come. He also wanted to know what exactly she was. But then stupid Ryder had shown up, like he always managed to, to muck things up for Christian. He was honestly repentant that he hadn’t been able to help Nealon more. Agent Isaac Nealon had helped him once and Christian would have liked to have returned the gesture. He got him out of that cell, but that was all he did. He had told him it was enough, but he didn’t think so.

  Christian turned his attention to the unusually quiet boy. It was obvious he was grieving. James didn’t speak for a long time, his chest lifting and lowering as he struggled to breathe. He stood in a circle of people and yet he looked so alone. When he raised his head again, his eyes were rimmed with red, but his voice was even. He, Christian decided, was a fighter. Maybe not physically, but inside, where it mattered. Possibly it wouldn’t be so bad, having him on their side. The rest of them were debatable.

  “There are sympathizers in all the facilities. I get a lot of my information through them. I had heard he was shot, but I hoped he…was okay.” James’s voice broke and he cleared his throat, glancing away.

  “You may stay.” His head lifted and Christian grimaced at the hopeful look on his face. “You may stay, but if one single, even if insignificant, thing happens that I don’t like, you’re gone. All of you.” He scanned the many faces, meeting the eyes of men and women, taking in their nods of acquiescence. He stopped on James. “Come with me, James. We have much to discuss.”

  “But I’m not…I’m not in charge,” he stuttered, carefully making his way to Christian.

  “You are now.” He clapped him firmly on the shoulder, ignoring the boy’s wince, and ushered him away from the mass of people. He knew the UDs would hear him no matter where he went, but that didn’t mean the UDKs would be able to. “It would appear you brought me an army. Do you trust those with you?”

  James tripped over a rock, grabbing at the base of a tree to steady himself. He turned and slumped against it, shoulders heavy with weariness. “I don’t know. I trust them to fight against August, but anything else…I can’t guarantee. Some of them don’t want to have anything to do with…your kind…but they want vengeance more. He’s destroyed families and he is still is. What he is truly like is finally leaking out.”

  Christian crossed his arms, eyeing the boy. He chose to ignore the “your kind” reference. For now. They all had the same virus; it had just affected them in different ways.

  “How are people finding out this information? From you?”

  Running a hand through his curly hair, James shrugged. “Maybe. And others. I have bugs in a lot of the facilities, and like I said, there are UDKs like me, ones who wanted nothing to do with the organization and don’t agree with its policy. The number of rebel UDKs grows daily. I, uh, have been one of the sources of information to your group.”

  He studied him for a moment. “Huh. What is its policy anyway? I’ve always wondered.”

  “From what…Nealon…told me, it’s to act as a sentinel, to watch over the UDs, report any instabilities, and to make sure there is order and balance in our reality so that the rest of the world remains undisturbed and clueless about ours.”

  “Hmm.” He tapped a finger against his lower lip. “Do you think the UDKs have been doing that? Because from what I’ve seen, they don’t. From what I’ve seen, they do nothing but bad.”

  “Some. Not all. It’s like anything; you can’t clump multiple individuals into one group and pronounce them all as being one way. There’s always good and bad with anything.” James heaved a deep sigh and removed his gla
sses from his face. “It’s all gone to shit recently. I mean, worse than it used to be, even. August isn’t covering his tracks as well and UDKs are rebelling, UDs aren’t conforming so willingly.

  “And I’ve found out some things that I haven’t told a single soul. I was waiting to tell Nealon, but…” he trailed off, rubbing his eyes vigorously before setting his glasses back on his face. He wouldn’t look at Christian.

  “So you’ll tell me instead.”

  James met his steady gaze. “I suppose I will.”

  Christian nodded. “Good. I need the UDKs to train the UDs in combat, to get them prepared for the showdown. I want complete allegiance—”

  “To what, exactly? We’re here to help defeat August and the organization. Anything else, we’ll have to decline.”

  He took in James’s fierce expression and was reminded of Nealon. “I’ll take it. For now. Tell me what you know.”

  The shorter boy began to pace before him. “The chip that was implanted in your neck? Speaking of which, anyone here has had theirs removed.” He paused. “And they all had one in the left side of their neck. Anyway, the GPS chip is not just a tracking device. It alters your perception, makes you see things or masks things, depending on who you are.”

  “Like?”

  “If UDs have it activated, they cannot sense one another. When it’s removed, they can see the glowy eyes and gray shadowing of one another. They can recognize their kind. When it’s activated in a UDK, they can see the eyes and shadows of a UD if a UD has the chip implanted as well, but if it isn’t and they don’t, a UD appears to be a normal person, albeit with gray eyes. I think the chip is implanted in babies and then it activates itself when a person reaches a certain maturity level, or hormonal level, generally between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. I can’t figure out how else the chips would unknowingly be implanted into so many people.”

  Mind racing, all Christian said when James paused was, “Go on.”

  Heaving a sigh, James sat on a fallen log and let his hands dangle over his knees. “The virus—whatever was unknowingly, accidentally unleashed—I don’t think it was an accident. I think it was planned. I don’t know by whom, only that it couldn’t have been an accident.

  “They, the UDKs or whoever’s really in charge, are messing with human DNA, altering it, trying to reproduce the part of a person’s genetics that begins to age faster once a person reaches the age of thirty-five or thereabouts. They want to have immortality. Why, I’m still not sure. Just because? Doubtful. But I also think…they’ve had success. Maybe not the kind they’d hoped for, but some kind at least.” He looked up, his sad, dark eyes locking on Christian.

  “With?”

  “Honor. When August got ahold of her, he infused her blood with a substantial dose of the virus, repeatedly, and she is some kind of hybrid being, not really a UD, or a UDK. Her blood is dangerous, to summarize. If he did that to her, he can use her blood to produce more like her. The last update I got was that he had and the results were unsuccessful.”

  “Unsuccessful?”

  “The boy went insane. It wasn’t good. That’s all I know. August is taking UDKs and putting this altered blood into them and turning them into monsters. So far Honor is the only one who hasn’t succumbed to insanity and mindless rage.”

  “So far. Meaning she still could. I wondered about her,” Christian mused, rubbing his chin. He dropped his hand and shrugged. “She has to die. It’s as simple as that.”

  James jumped to his feet. “It is not as simple as that! Do you know how many people have tried to protect her? She can’t just be killed. That can’t all be for nothing.”

  “And how many have died? How many are going to die, because of her?”

  Hands clenched, the boy stared him down. “You’re going to kill her for being like you? Where’s the sense in that?”

  “She isn’t like me. She’s worse.”

  “It isn’t her fault.”

  Christian growled in frustration. “It isn’t any of our faults! It doesn’t matter. What happens when he has more success? When the world is overrun with these creatures that are worse than UDs? She has to be stopped. She has to be killed so her blood can’t be used anymore. If it’s true about her altered mortality rate, then she is like an endless blood supply. She can’t continue to live, not if we want this stopped. And we do. This can’t go on. You know it. I know it.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand. “Everyone knows it.”

  James’s eyes shifted away. “There’s more.”

  He flung his hands in the air. “Of course there’s more!”

  “I think UDs are UDKs. I think this virus was unleashed, there was no reaction, until August and his cronies started messing around with DNA. I think he, they, created this, all of this. We would all be normal, just a little different on the inside, if they hadn’t messed it all up.”

  Christian looked at the boy, grim-faced. “You know, I think you’re probably right. August can’t be the only one doing this. He’s just the public face. We have to find all the members and we have to destroy them.”

  “And we can’t do that with an army.”

  He closed the distance between them and grabbed James’s shirt, bunching up the red material within his fingers. “The hell we can’t! That’s exactly what we’re doing. You agreed.”

  Dark eyes watched him, not looking the least bit worried by his outburst and grip on him.

  Christian released him with a curse. “What do you propose we do?” he asked through clenched teeth, his eyes on the UDKs and UDs milling about across the field of green.

  “We build our army, make it unstoppable. During that time, we infiltrate the organizations. It’s a risk, a huge risk, and any who agree have to be aware there’s a chance they’ll lose their life. We need more information. I have some, but not enough, and my sources are gone—either discovered or no longer able to help. We need back in. Armies are for brute force, when intellect no longer has a place. We aren’t quite there yet.”

  Christian eyed him, wondering if he should trust his words. “Then why are you here instead of where you were?”

  “My station got compromised. I had to flee. I’ve been underground since I was released from my two-week training. I never agreed with any of it, I never thought it was right. I didn’t understand the vastness of the corruption, but now I do. It has to be stopped, Christian.”

  “It will be stopped.”

  “Not all of the people that are here are UDs and UDKs.”

  He crossed the short space between them and loomed over the boy. “What…do you…mean?” he growled.

  “Which of your parents has the disease?”

  Face closed, he answered curtly, “My mother.”

  James nodded. “Right. Your mother has it, but your father knows about it. He had to sign a waiver when they married. Some of the people with us that want to help—they’re just normal, average people. There is a woman named Juli with you?”

  “What of her?” he asked suspiciously.

  “Her mother is here. Not her real one, but her adoptive one, who I suppose is actually her real one. Juli was born and she wasn’t wanted by her biological parents, she was supposed to be left to die. The nurse at the hospital where she was born wrapped her in a blanket and smuggled her home. She said she overheard hospital personnel later talking about the situation with government officials. She knew Juli was different, special. She just didn’t know how until recently. And I’m sure there are so many other stories like that that we have no idea about.

  “People know about us, about what’s going on. Of course the majority doesn’t, but enough do. They just don’t talk, but I think they might start now. It’s all going to blow up in the government’s face and I can’t wait for it to happen.”

  “Every day that goes by is one that the UDK society could be stopped. You know what we have to do, James.”

  “I do.” James opened his mouth, hesitated. “Just…if we find her, can we try to keep h
er alive? Please.”

  “No.”

  An image of a pig-tailed six-year old Honor shot through his mind, smiling shyly at him as she offered him a cookie. He shook his head and another took its place. When they were ten she helped him up after a bigger, meaner kid shoved him down on the playground, skinning his knees. And even recently, the day he changed, she had been concerned, looking for him in the hallways of the school and outside it. Then there was their encounter at the facility, and after, when she told him to run.

  Christian ran his fingers through his short dark hair and tugged. “We’ll try. And that’s all I’ll agree to.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Don’t thank me for allowing a monster to run loose.”

  He left him there to begin serious training; thoughts on anything else boxed up and shoved aside. They had an army to produce, and fast. It was the most important thing—it was the only thing.

  They trained relentlessly. UDs were more apt with physical combat than weaponry and easily honed their skills. Droves of UDKs and UDs alike found them, in the woods of upper Iowa. Even people who were neither but somehow knew about their world were there, though their number was small, offering their support and even their lives to the cause.

  Makeshift tents littered the grass and were scattered about the trees. It was a camp of renegade UDs and UDKs, meant to be enemies, but somehow learning to work together. Tension was high, but put toward their training as an outlet, they all excelled as they might not otherwise have. The common goal was to annihilate the UD facilities and all were in accordance with that plan.

  Juli worked with the Ns, as they called the “normal” people. She was compassionate and had more patience than Christian. Lee had silently proclaimed himself her partner, never keeping her from his eyesight unless there was no way around it. It would be nauseating to watch if Juli hadn’t accused him of the same thing with Natasha. It was completely untrue, but it still managed to chafe. He watched her train—so what? She was good. That was the only reason she held his attention so often.

  At once such training session, again and again his gaze was drawn down the hill to where she trained.

 
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