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Unremarkable anything bu.., p.5

Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2), page 5


Unremarkable (Anything But Series Book 2)

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  “Honor?” She jumped at the voice and knock on the door, a moment spent searching for recognition raising alarm within her. “You okay in there?”

  “Yeah,” she lied, moving to stand.

  The clothes were loose and long on her, but she wasn’t going to be picky. Clothes were clothes, and anything was better than white shirts and pants. She’d worn enough of those in recent months. Honor wondered at the person the clothes belonged to. Who was she? Where was she? What was she to Nealon? That thought and why she was thinking it didn’t give her a good feeling, so she quickly shoved it away as she went to the mirror.

  Talley’s voice caused her to jump again when he asked, “Need anything?”

  “No.” She swiped a hand across the fogged up mirror and stared at her reflection. She’d aged six months while she’d slept. How was that even possible? Honor’s body should have atrophied. She should be weak, skeletal.

  When she felt Talley hovering beyond the barrier of the door, she said, “I’ll be right out.” It was a long moment before he finally walked away, his tread methodic and precise.

  Honor leaned in close to her image, searching for the inward changes to somehow show through into her exterior features. The face looking back at her was the same; the only change she could see was more definition to her features, as though her face had somehow slimmed down. She leaned closer, frowning, angling her head in different directions. It almost looked like her eyes were reflective when the light caught them just right, a ring of silver around the blue. She backed away from the mirror and her eyes were simply blue again.

  Unsatisfied with the normalness of the reflection looking back at her, she lifted up the shirt and felt the smooth skin of her stomach. It was taut, unblemished. It wasn’t right and that bothered her, made her fearful. Honor took a deep breath, letting the fabric drop down to cover her abdomen, and left the bathroom. She wouldn’t be finding any answers hanging out in a restroom and she was not one to cower and chew off fingernails in worriment.

  She hadn’t even taken a step when Talley careened around the corner and rushed at her, his eyes bulging. “Hide. Now. Hide.”

  “What? What’s going on? What are you talking about?” She winced as he squeezed her arm and dragged her toward the bedroom, stumbling behind him.

  “They’re here. Outside the door. Don’t hide. Shit. Take my gun. Take it. I have another. Go out the window.”

  Talley grabbed her face so she had no choice but to meet his gaze. His expression was tight-lipped, his eyes fierce. “You run, Honor. You understand me? You run like you’ve never run before. There are tunnels under the town, going into other towns. Down by the old rock quarry, there’s an opening into them. Do you know where that is?”

  Honor nodded roughly. The unused rock quarry was two miles outside of town. She used to run to it and back almost every day.

  “Go there. It’ll be harder for them to find you underground. But be careful. They all lead to UD facilities. Go. Now. Go out the window and you run.” His fingers dug into the flesh of her skin.

  She wordlessly nodded, shaken and scared, but not for herself, for Talley. “I will. I’ll run,” she promised in a whisper.

  His grip slackened on her face just as the front door banged open. Talley shoved her behind him, reaching for his gun. “Run.”

  Honor wanted to tell him to take care of himself, but there was no time. So she ran, through the hall, jumping from the open window of the bedroom and down two stories to the hard ground, the jolt of impact barely registering in her mind. Shouts rang out behind her, the firing of a weapon momentarily freezing her, and then she sprinted—her mind set and focused on the quarry and nothing else.

  Trees and houses faded away, the earth around her became silent. Run, Honor. Just run. The fact that she was wearing flip-flops was a deterrent for speed so she kicked them off, the rocks and gravel of the road digging into the soles of her feet nonsensical.

  It was strange—her strides were longer, faster, and the usual burn was nonexistent. Her lungs easily accepted and released air, her arms pumping to speed her up even more. It took half the time it used to take her to reach the quarry. Thirst didn’t hit her, weariness stayed away. Honor felt more like a machine than a human.

  She swallowed, shaking her head as she searched for an opening that led to underground. She didn’t want to think about what she was. The gun remained cool in her grip, no sweat making it slippery. Honor looked at the firearm made out of dark metal, unaware of what kind or caliber it was. She hadn’t really had a lot of training on weaponry before everything went from bad to worse.

  The mountain of pale orange rock and sand loomed above her, tall and unapologetic. She almost missed the opening. It was behind an area of jutting rock, undetectable to anyone not looking for it. Sliding around it, Honor kept the weapon raised. She knew where the safety was and she knew it was on, she knew how to aim and fire; that would have to be enough. Her arm scraped against the rough rock wall and she winced, staring as the cut immediately healed. Honor’s breaths became shaky.

  Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

  Instant darkness formed around her as she entered the cavern. Water dripped down the walls in gentle pings, the temperature cooling immensely without the heat of the sun. She shivered out of habit since the cold air didn’t bother her anymore.

  Almost immediately, the ground beneath her changed, became slippery and smooth. Honor bent down, feeling the metal grate. With a deep breath, she lifted it up, surprised by how light it was.

  “Nowhere to go but down,” she muttered, keeping her grip on the grate as she slipped through the hole, careful to put it back in its place above her. She didn’t know what direction she should be moving, so Honor picked a tunnel on the right and began to walk.

  The thoughts that kept her company as she journeyed were unwanted. Memories once happy now filled her with sorrow. The one that hit her the hardest was the last time her family had been whole. Why she was thinking of it now, when she’d been able to keep it buried for so long, irritated Honor. She didn’t want to remember the past because it was gone forever and she would never get it back. She would never see her dad again and she didn’t really know if she’d ever see her mom and sister again either.

  Realizing and accepting that hollowed out a part of her and filled it with despair. So many things had been kept from her, information she clearly would have benefited from knowing; like the knowledge of what she had the potential to be and had inevitably become.

  It hadn’t been anything significant—that last day spent together. They’d had a picnic at Junction Park. It was a warm day in August, a constant breeze adding a hint of fall to the air. The sun shone and nature, peaceful and plentiful, made it close to perfect. Scarlet, then ten, pushed Honor on the swings and later Honor braided her hair as her mother braided hers. Her father watched with a content smile on his face. He was going on a trip that night to an out-of-state tool convention. He said he wanted to do some remodeling at the barber shop and was told there would be good deals on do-it-yourself tools.

  Later, she remembered him turning at the door, his brown hair forever in disarray, suitcase in hand, and his gray eyes shining with love. “Love you, baby girl,” he said, winking.

  Honor was always the last to see him off when he went on trips, the bond between them strong. She missed her father the second he was gone and that time was no different.

  “Love you, Dad,” she whispered to a closed door.

  His airplane had crashed somewhere in Nevada. It was a private plane, flown by a local man her dad had known for years. She couldn’t remember his name or if she’d ever been told it. Honor had never met him. She now wondered if her mom ever had. Had he even really gotten into a plane? Had he ever really taken trips in the name of his business? Maybe it had all been a hoax, like almost everything else Honor had thought to be true. Her breathing quickened and a sick feeling swirled in her stomach. She pushed on through the dark and drafty
tunnels, trying not to think of all the things she didn’t know.

  She used to imagine she heard his voice in her head, telling her to be strong, to never give up. But Honor hadn’t heard his voice in a long time and now the silence of it was blaringly loud. Over two years had come and gone since she’d last seen her father. His death had changed her; it had woven a fissure that never healed through all of them.

  Honor lowered her head, the loss hitting her fiercely, taking her breath away. Usually she was okay, but today, now, with all that had come to pass recently, the barriers that kept her functional were removed and it was unbearable. The pain was in her head, her throat, her chest, and it was growing, tightening.

  Keep moving. Think about something else. Keep going. Although it was her own voice telling her that, Honor liked to imagine it was her father's. She couldn't remember the exact timbre of his voice, but she knew it sounded a lot like Nealon's and Honor was able to take strength from that to continue on. Nealon would find her. She knew that too. Somehow, he would.

  Hours passed and still she walked, not seeing or hearing anything but rodents scurrying around her and the sound of dripping water, her feet wading through inches of liquid she was thinking she probably didn’t want to know the details of. Periodically, light filtered down on her from an unknown source.

  She turned a corner and paused, straining her ears. Three pairs of footsteps came from the left, a good distance away yet. Honor caught certain words, such as “Ryder” and “UDs”. His name was like a punch to her chest and her breath left her in a painful gasp.

  Honor shoved the last image she remembered of him and his grief-stricken eyes from her mind. She had to think, to stay focused. Calm again, she determined it had to be UDKs.

  Instinctively knowing she would not receive a welcome reception from them, she hurried her pace, intent on putting as much space between her and them as quickly as she could. It didn’t matter that she used to be one; what mattered that whatever she was, Honor knew it was no longer a UDK. At least, that wasn’t all she was.

  She heard him, felt him, before she saw him. The air around her crackled with awareness, with the faint scent of cinnamon.

  Honor whirled around. It took a minute for her to realize who was staring at her so intently. He looked the same, but different in a way. His face was harder, his stance edgy. Ryder’s dark blond hair was shorter than she remembered him having it, his green eyes shining in the pale light. He seemed bulkier, his muscles carved and toned with more definition.

  Shock froze her in place and her stomach rolled over and over. Hatred should have been boiling through her veins and Honor couldn’t comprehend why it wasn’t. Maybe because the last time she’d seen his face, it had been filled with devastation, the pain in his eyes unbearable to look at.

  He inhaled sharply and whispered in a ragged, choked voice, “Are you a ghost?”

  The building was brown, large, and abandoned. None of the Hilltop businesses had deemed it worthy to occupy once the furniture store went out of business a few years back. Rumors boasted of ghosts, flickering lights, and strange noises surrounding the place. No one wanted to touch the property. It was perfect to run an undercover organization out of.

  Isaac parked his car two blocks down, careful to keep it on a back street, and walked briskly toward the rundown structure. Hilltop, Wisconsin was about a ten minute drive from Anderson Junction. It was a small farming community with a population somewhere around five thousand and a low crime rate.

  He made a cursory glance of the buildings and trees around him, spotted nothing amiss, and released the steel door. He wasn’t naïve enough to think no one was spying on him, but as long as he wasn’t approached or attacked, he considered it a winning situation. The heavy door creaked upon opening, alerting those within that they were no longer alone. He didn’t see the guns trained on him, but he felt them. It was instinctual, the knowledge imbedded into his pores; he was being watched. The air crackled with tension as he slowly made his way into the grimy, empty room. Torn sheets covered the windows the length of the wall, broken furniture all that remained of the prior business. Though the sun shone outside, it was dark and gray inside the warehouse, dust flittering through the air in streams of soot.

  The open area gave the appearance of disuse and of being uninhabited. It was a ruse, of course. There were two stories to the building, the upper used for housing, the lower, in a back room not seen from the front, for mostly unknown operations. Isaac headed for the back, brushing cobwebs away as he walked. His footsteps echoed and uneasiness lodged itself between his shoulder blades like two ominous eyes.

  “Don’t come any closer.”

  Isaac stopped with his hands up, holding in a sigh.

  “Are you aware there is an unworkable tracking device on you?”

  “Yes. How do you know I have one?”

  “There is still activity associated with it that shows up on my radar—deactivated or not. Toss it over.” The voice came from around a corner, young and thick with bravado.

  “Is this necessary, James?”

  “Yes. I’m following protocol.”

  “The protocol I taught you?”

  James sighed. “Okay. Come on back.”

  Isaac fought to not roll his eyes as he turned the corner and entered a techno geek’s playroom. Electronics of varying sizes and shapes were set up on any desk, shelving, or space available—stacked upon one another, from the floor up. The blinking lights of red, blue, and yellow were a mockery of Christmas lights. Isaac got dizzy from staring at the display for too long. He averted his gaze, taking in the young UDK instead.

  “Any news?”

  James nodded his shaggy dark head, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up his nose with his index finger. “Oh yeah. Lots of news.”

  The kid was sixteen, his intelligence level close to genius, and his views full of morality wasted by circumstances and fate. His face hadn’t lost its baby fat yet and the eyes behind his spectacles were large, brown, and soulful. Every time Isaac looked at him, he felt his insides twist. None of this should even exist for James, not a kid of sixteen. He should be playing video games, watching movies, and looking at girly magazines.

  Isaac leaned against an inch of desk not taken up with gizmos and trained his gaze on James as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Spill.”

  With a sigh, the teenager sat on his swivel chair. “Can I have the chip?” Reaching into his back pocket, Isaac tossed the baggie at him.

  James fumbled to catch it, grace not one of his gifts. “I’ve been hearing all kinds of stuff about the carrier of this chip.” He looked down, and then raised his head to pierce him with his serious gaze. “Honor?”

  Isaac nodded brusquely, stoic and still, a faint tick in his jaw the only clue that the name Honor even registered in his brain.

  “She’s okay?”

  “For the moment.”

  James inhaled slowly, nodding to himself. “Okay. Let me take a look at it, figure out what all it does.”

  “Where’s the rest of the gang?”

  “Making rounds. They should be back any minute.”

  “I think they're back. I was being watched from the roof.”

  “That was Charlie. He's new. He doesn't do rounds, but he never misses a shot. We keep him on the roof.”

  Isaac acknowledged that with a nod. “What have you been hearing on the bugs?”

  “Well, it sounds like most of the facility didn’t even know she was there. The testing…that is undisclosed. I haven’t been able to find out what they’ve been doing to her, not all of it anyway. I did hear mention of a DNA strand.”

  Eyes narrowed, he demanded, “What about a DNA strand?”

  James removed his glasses and wearily rubbed his eyes before resituating them. “Different strands play different roles in our bodies, right?”

  He shrugged. “Sure.”

  “You know scientists mess around with strands, study them, and try to reproduce them, stuff lik
e that?”

  “Of course. Scientists like to screw with the proper order of things, alter them. They’re much too curious for their own good—arrogant. Some of them even think they’re gods.”

  “Right. Sort of. Anyway, I heard this DNA strand mentioned in a conversation between August and someone else. I didn’t catch much of it. He’s smart, suspicious. August doesn’t give any more info out than is necessary.”

  When James paused, Isaac motioned for him to hurry up and explain what he was taking his time getting at.

  “I don’t know for sure…but what if…what if this virus we’re carrying—what if it wasn’t some accident at a testing lab? What if it was planned? What if they purposely let it loose and then waited to see what it would do to people?”

  His body went cold, still, as he ingested James’s words. Isaac lived in a world where nothing surprised him anymore, not really, but that—that surprised him. And even as it surprised him, the truth of it couldn’t be ignored. It made sense, in a way.

  “I think it only affected certain people because of the way their bodies were made up, but I think it wasn’t by accident that it was let loose, and this strand, it’s called a Temene strand. I think they were thinking whoever showed signs of carrying it would be the ones chosen to go on, to be immortal.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “This Temene strand? It naturally begins to fade out when a human reaches the age of thirty-five, which is why humans start aging faster after that point.” James paused to let that sink in.

  He thought he had it figured out, but he had to hear it to make sure.

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