Unremarkable anything bu.., p.16
Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 16
Christian tore his eyes away from her when James elbowed him in the gut. With a grunt, he glared at the boy. “That is not part of the training.”
“Neither is staring at Natasha. You’re supposed to be teaching me how to throw effective punches, since you said I’m a disappointment in all things combative, not gazing off into the horizon at a girl. She is impressive to watch though,” he added, turning his dark head in her direction.
He nodded in silent agreement, though James wasn’t even looking at him.
“Maybe I should train with her,” James murmured grumpily.
Natasha was working with Jax and Dominic, gladly taking on both. Her expression showed she hungered for battle. Her moves were lethal, precisely executed; a jab to Jax’s nose; a sidekick to Dominic’s stomach. She whirled in a graceful circle of vengeance, her face a mask of concentration. The UDs should have been able to take her down time and again, but she remained elusive, her skills more honed than their natural instincts.
“Or try to stay away from fighting as much as possible.”
“As pathetic as this is going to sound, I actually agree with you.”
His shirt was dirty and hung on Natasha, and still she hadn’t removed it, instead washing it by hand in the small body of water near their encampment when it got too grungy. That small detail made his chest expand whenever he let his mind acknowledge it. He was always quick to direct his thoughts elsewhere when that happened.
He glanced at the UDK. “We’re done for now, James.”
Christian was already walking toward the dueling threesome when James began to argue. He ignored him.
“I think you need a more equal opponent,” he said when Natasha glanced his way.
“It’s not a competition,” she gasped out, blocking a jab from Dominic and retaliating by sweeping a leg behind his knees. He careened face forward to the ground, flipping onto his back and calling out his surrender.
“It’s not training either, not this way. You’re annihilating them.”
Natasha shrugged, brushing hair from her eyes. Her skin was flushed and her eyes were shining. Christian felt his heartbeat pick up in response and glanced away.
“That’s how they learn, right?” When he didn’t respond, she said, “Okay then. You asked for it. Let’s go, big guy.” She grinned, hunching down. “Are you sure you want to embarrass yourself in front of everyone?”
Christian glanced around them, noting the growing number of spectators. He looked at Natasha. “I think I can handle it.”
“It’s your ego.” The last word hadn’t even left her mouth when the punches started flying; a small fist clipping the side of Christian’s jaw. The smirk on her lips grew as she waited for his reaction. His jaw throbbed once as he shifted it back and forth.
He tuned out the eyes on them, the sounds of birds chirping, and farther away, that of a trickling stream, focusing only on Natasha. She was it. It was Christian and it was her and everything else disappeared. Their eyes locked, an awareness of her breaths, her body heat, settling over him.
Rolling his shoulders, he let a smile overtake his lips as her eyes slightly widened and her lips parted. He motioned her forward, loosening his knees and lifting his arms in preparation of blocking her advances.
The instant of wariness he’d witnessed vanished and Natasha was in full UDK mode, coming at him with her elbows, fists, and legs. He blocked her moves, not going on the offensive. His plan was to wear her out. Her frustration showed when a succession of kicks became sloppy, missing their mark. Christian grabbed her foot, halting her attack.
She bounced on one foot to remain upright, her eyes blazing at him, lips in a thin line.
“Do you give up?” he asked softly, his fingers brushing across the soft, firm skin of her calf once.
She shivered, stiffening. “Never.”
He dropped her foot, immediately lunging for her and gripping her small waist between his hands instead. Bowing his head, his lips grazed her temple as he whispered, “Good. Don’t.”
A tremor wracked her body and she stepped back, his hands falling from her. He clenched his fingers to keep from grabbing for her again. Natasha stared at him, her expression indefinable. He watched her, not speaking, his attention divided between all her unique facial features that made her Natasha. She drove him insane at the same time she centered him.
Wordlessly, she fisted the front of his shirt between her hands and yanked him to her, her lips melding to his. Whoops and whistles broke out around them; making him once again aware they had an audience. He didn’t care. Christian kissed her back, a peacefulness seeping through him. Who would have thought he could find that in the one person that exasperated him more than any other?
As the weeks passed, the number grew to the hundreds and something tangled through them all, weaving them together. It was hope. Hope was deadly, Christian knew, but it was also necessary. Talk of a new reality, one without rules or regulations, or any overruling organization, was frequent and lengthy. But all the information needed to go forth with that plan wasn’t within their grasp. It was all taking too long and he was losing patience.
Hands on the back of his head, Christian paced the length of a small stream, keeping his gaze averted from the blinding sun, the sound of gently rushing water anything but soothing.
“Do you know where the facilities are located, how many there are? How many high ranking officials there are? And the government—we were under the assumption they were in charge of the UD virus being unleashed, but maybe that is false. We don’t know enough. We need to know all this, James, days ago, and we don’t. We need a map, weapons.”
“You also need to relax.”
Christian paused to frown at the shorter, less muscular boy who didn’t appear to be afraid of too many people.
That look caused James to add, “I have a laptop with all the information you seek. Weapons are on the way. But it is dangerous traveling anywhere and it takes time, and caution. It could be weeks before they show up. We can use that time to go over strategies and strengthen the group.”
“Where’s the laptop?”
“In safekeeping for now. Everything on it is already here.” He tapped the side of his head. “Of course the government is involved. They funded the virus testing all those years ago. The only thing we don’t know is if that lab was supposed to blow up, literally, or if that was by accident. As far as facilities, there are at least two in each state, some states have more. Of course, there could be some we don’t even know about, like the underground parts of them and the tunnels that connect them. Then there are the dungeons as well, where they keep their playthings. Most people are not privy to that information.”
“How did you figure it all out?”
“Bugs, spies, and I am also a technological genius.”
“To a fault.” They shared a grin, Christian’s grudging. “I also had Nealon helping me.” James cleared his throat and turned his attention to the creek.
Christian sighed, rubbing his face. He gave James a moment before continuing. “August isn’t the only one running the show. How many others are there?”
“At least five, maybe more. They are more low-key—conservative—than August. It’s hard to gauge nameless, faceless beings’ frames of minds, you know? But they have to have some idea what he’s doing and they’re allowing it.”
“Right. They need to go as well.”
“It really isn’t up for debate.” James stared at him, the intense gaze of his eyes disorienting to Christian. He looked away; sure the boy could see more than he wanted him to. “How old are you, James?”
He nodded, watching a fly zoom past his face. “And what do you hope the outcome of all of this will be?”
“I want it stopped.”
“No matter what?”
James swallowed. “No matter what.”
He began to walk toward the training field when James called his name. He turned back, one eyebrow lifted as he waited.
“You would tell me…if Nealon were alive…right?”
He schooled his features into blankness as he answered, “Absolutely.”
The boy’s face fell and he strode away, unable to look too closely at that kind of sadness.
The wall was gray, jagged scratches down the length of it and crisscrossing over it in a paler shade, tarnished with blood. It was cool in the cell and smelled like old blood and waste. She sat in the middle of the prison and stared at the wall, numb. Tortured beings cried and wailed around her, designated to their corners of the dungeon, separated from her by bars and walls. She wished they would shut up, but it didn’t bother her enough to react.
They were all dead.
Tears formed in her eyes and the lids slid shut against them, trying to lock the ache inside. Her throat was painfully tight and her chest had a hole in it too big to fill. It could never be filled. The loss of them could never be replaced. Arms wrapped around herself, she rocked from side to side, wanting it all gone. If only she could open her eyes and realize it was all a nightmare. Honor did so, but the same wall was before her as when she had closed them. She cried silently, all alone, so alone. She cried for her father, for her mother, for her sister, for Isaac, and for Ryder. She even cried for the life she had taken, though it had ended up being for nothing. She’d killed a man—a boy, really—and she’d still lost her family.
Anyone she had ever cared about was dead.
He’d left Ryder’s still body on the hard ground—left him there to rot, dragging her and her mother away. She hadn’t been able to talk to her, to even touch her, before she was wrenched away by UDK agents. Honor and her mother had been separated hours, days, she didn’t even know how long, ago. She knew they were dead. August had done nothing but lie to her. They had to be dead. She couldn’t afford to hope anymore. It hurt too much.
All the words Ryder had spoken to her; the look in his eyes; the fierce way he'd fought to protect her—it was agony remembering their final times together. Why hadn't she said more, done more? Why couldn't they have been honest with each other from the start? So much time had been lost and now she could never get it back. Honor could never get him back.
Her grief was tugged in so many varying directions, but what she was the most remorseful about; second only to the loss of Ryder, was not telling Isaac everything she should have when she’d had the chance—or any of the people she cared about. There was so much left unspoken and it would forever remain so. She should have told Isaac what she’d found in the apartment while she waited for the UDKs to come for her. She should have told him about the journal of Demi's she’d found under the floorboard of the bedroom closet.
She’d been bored, aimless, and had decided to investigate the apartment that had once housed a woman the agent had loved, even until his final day on earth. To anyone else the information would have been insignificant, but to him it would have been priceless. She’d denied him that.
Maybe it would have been too painful to read the words of love, of the devastating slide from happiness to incomprehension to depression, and then emptiness. Demi had loved Isaac. Even her last entry was proof that, amid all the confusion her life was at that time, her brain had tried to put into words her love for him. Would that have given him closure or only hurt him more? That was the prevalent thought she’d had as she sat across from him in that cell and listened to his confession, and so she’d remained close-lipped on the journal. But now…now she wished she would have told him. Not that it mattered anymore. He was dead.
And so she sat—waiting, hating, and somehow emotionless at the same time. She grabbed the revulsion she felt for August, for all of the UDKs, and she held on tight with both hands, and sculpted it, melded it, formed it into a ball, and wrapped her arms around it to let it grow, protected, within the cocoon of her embrace. It was all she thought about—revenge. But even as she focused on that emotion and honed it, she knew she would lose herself if she let it completely take her over. Which was what he wanted.
He was trying to break her.
Her thoughts always went to those cut off fingers and she had to force herself to think of something, anything, else. Chills would overcome her and bile would rise in her throat each time she allowed her mind to drift. She could clearly picture her sister’s face, frozen in pain and horror, her mouth wide in a silent scream, and something like madness wanted to descend on her. So she shoved it away, shoved anything that mattered into a dark, inaccessible box. She couldn’t open that box or she’d go insane. Was she already crazy? Honor shook her head, dizziness hitting her. She didn't know.
Picking at the frayed hem of her shirt that had once belonged to a UDK turned UD turned dead; a flash of brown eyes paralyzed her and stole her breath. Isaac. It hurt to see him, even in her head. She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and began to count instead, anything to distract her. Ryder’s mocking smile and olive green eyes took over Isaac’s image and a choked sound left her.
Honor placed her hands over her eyes and pushed, wishing she could take the images from the inside of her head away, cut them out, something. She began to laugh. She tried to stop and only laughed harder, and when the mournful cries of whoever—whatever—was on the outside of her cell grew in volume, she laughed so hard her sides hurt and tears streamed down her face. The laughter broke off and sobs took its place.
She was losing her mind.
The clink of a door opening in the distance snuck through the chaos inside Honor’s brain. Boots clicked on the cement floor and stopped outside her cell.
“Let’s go, UD.”
Honor slowly raised her head. “I am not a UD,” she snarled, glaring at the agent.
The woman snorted. “And my name’s not Elaine.” Her features were blunt and unattractive, more manly than feminine. The short slicked-back hair didn’t help her exterior.
“Your presence is requested upstairs. You get to have blood work drawn. Aren’t you the lucky one?” She smiled thinly.
Agent Medina’s small eyes widened as her nostrils flared. “I’ll be happy to.”
Honor tensed as a code was put into the keypad outside the cell and it unlocked, swinging open. The agent approached; one hand ready on the hilt of her weapon. She could have told her not to bother. The woman was just to Honor when she grabbed the woman’s leg and pulled, a cry of surprise leaving her as she fell backward, her head cracking on the cement as she landed. That could have been the end of it, but it wasn’t enough. She burned to eradicate each and every single one of them. Honor removed the shiny knife from the agent’s boot and effortlessly slid it across her neck, turning away from the gurgling sound and walking from the cell.
She felt nothing.
She paused near the spot Ryder had lain, her chest twisting at the dark stain left on the floor. An ache wove around her heart and squeezed. She had the urge to bend down and touch the dried liquid that had once been a part of the boy who’d needed something to believe in and had unfortunately chosen her. She’d been wrong about him. So many times she’d thought the worst and she should have been thinking the best.
Honor blinked her eyes and moved onward, punching in the code to unlock the remaining cells as she passed. The code was four beeps, all different in pitch, and not hard to remember, not for Honor. One plus to being whatever she was, was her abnormally good hearing. Cries of terror and elation broke out around her, combining with the shrill ring of an alarm to pulse a steady beat of pain through Honor’s head. Bodies swarmed by her, instinctively knowing not to get too close to her. She caught glimpses of ragged clothing and dirty faces.
She grabbed the nearest arm and a girl with black hair flinched, trying to pull back. “Who are you, why are you here, and what are they doing to you?” she demande
“I’m—I’m Celeste,” she stuttered, fear enlarging her green eyes.
“You’re a UDK,” Honor said flatly, dropping her arm.
“Yes.” The girl nodded. “I was. But I was too scared to do the training and I got sent away, to here. I’ve been here for days, waiting—”
“Waiting for what?”
“I don’t know. I was told I would be made better. Sometimes they come and take my blood; other times they give me transfusions to make me stronger, only I don’t feel stronger. I feel…wrong.” Her almond-shaped eyes fixated on Honor. “Do you know how they are going to make me better?”
Honor didn’t answer her, shoving past her.
The tattered group of test-subject UDKs was met by a handful of armed agents near the elevators. The agents were killed before they could draw their weapons, their features forever frozen in disbelief. Without uneven breathing or guilty conscience, Honor unseeingly looked at the fallen men and women, it faintly registering in her mind that she was responsible for their lifelessness. She didn’t care, walking over them and into the awaiting elevator. She wasn’t even fully aware of how she had dispatched of them. They’d been a threat and then they hadn’t been anymore. The actions had been unthinking, instinctual, and produced a feeling of satisfaction within her.
The imprisoned UDKs stared at her in fear, watching her until the doors slid closed between them. An image looked back at her on the silvery-mirrored door, warped and disjointed. It was her. She tilted her head, widening her stance as the elevator moved up. She was covered in dirt and blood, her hair a tangled mess around her face, the clothes on her ripped and torn. Her features were a blur, giving her a sense of being without an identity, which was how she felt. Honor was gone. The girl she had been wouldn’t be coming back.
The door dinged and more agents waited, crouched low, guns aimed and cocked. Bullets fired and zinged past her, Honor bending and ducking around them. One hit her arm and she barely felt it. The agents unconsciously divided and made room for her to pass. Soon the ammunition was gone and guns hung useless at sides, astonished faces turned toward her. At the end of the throng was August.
by Lindy Zart have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes