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Ordinary anything but se.., p.7

Ordinary (Anything But Series Book 1), page 7

 

Ordinary (Anything But Series Book 1)
 


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  “A biochemical toxin was accidentally released over most of the United States in the early nineteen hundreds. There was an incident at a government lab that was kept concealed, but the effects were staggering. It was in the air and it traveled widely. They called it the UD virus. No one knew about it. It wasn’t talked about to the masses. People continued to live and work as they always did, unsuspecting of what was inside them.

  “It didn’t directly affect the people exposed to it, but it went into their DNA, became part of them. It adapted. Any of their offspring had a good chance of inheriting it. People moved to other countries, traveled, procreated, unknowingly spreading the virus. It’s everywhere now. All over the world.”

  Honor stood by the wall of a large room with a high ceiling. The amount of people in the room did not warrant the hushed tone of it. Except for the low murmuring of a question or command, there was no sound. They sat at desks, signing forms, having blood drawn, being fingerprinted. Pictures were taken of them holding a paper with numbers on it. They were young, too young. She stared at them, looking at their sad, accepting faces, and she hurt for them. They were being treated like criminals.

  “How great of a chance is it someone’s born with it?”

  Nealon paused. “When it first appeared, about one in two children was born with it. Sometimes it was neither, sometimes both, but generally one out of two had it.”

  She deflated against the wall. “Those are terrible odds. And now?”

  “The chances have lessened over time. It’s amazing what people’s bodies adapt to.” He pressed his lips together. “One generally shows signs of the UD virus between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. The UD virus affects people differently, in two ways actually.”

  When the agent went quiet, foreboding rushed over her. He had something monumental to tell her. She knew by the way he wasn’t talking. Honor also knew she didn’t want to know. She swallowed and straightened, watching as a young boy was escorted from the building through a side door that led outside. There was a glimpse of sunshine as the door opened and then closed with a loud click.

  “What will happen to him?”

  “He’ll either adapt or he’ll be killed.” He said it so matter-of-factly, like it was inconsequential or happened so often it had ceased to mean anything. Unfortunately, it probably had.

  Honor’s skin tingled and she rubbed her arms, suddenly very cold. “In what ways does the virus affect people differently?”

  Nealon studied her. “It can make the body completely shut down. It’s a painful process, excruciating even. Their insides basically crystalize, but somehow they’re still able to function. They breathe, they eat, drink, age. They age a little slower than an ordinary person and they are stronger, faster. They can go longer without food or drink than someone who doesn’t have the UD virus. They don’t get sick. Wounds heal much faster.”

  She thought of Christian and the horrible agony he must be in, right at that very moment. He was down there, being tortured by his own body. Her mouth went dry and she felt sick. Honor pressed a hand to her stomach, glad she hadn’t eaten any more than she had.

  “The other way it can affect you is by changing your eyesight, making you able to see things the average person cannot.”

  She glanced at him. “That’s it? One of the options is absolutely horrible and the other is…that?”

  “It’s all in how the body is set up, or what fate has chosen for one.”

  “What happens after the body shuts down?” she whispered.

  “They die.”

  Honor flinched. “So these people, they didn’t die?” She gestured to the boys and girls going through the necessary steps before they were released.

  If that many made it, there was a good chance Christian would too. Maybe he would still be okay. The thought of him dying…Honor couldn’t think about it. She didn’t understand that either. It wasn’t like they were close. Still…he’d always intrigued her, made her take notice of him. The thought of him no longer living was one she could not accept.

  “It’s science and yet it seems to be more, almost as if an otherworldly being intervened somewhere during the course of conception,” he murmured, ignoring her question.

  “What do you mean?”

  Nealon looked at her and the intensity of his gaze made her take a step back. “These kids are undead. Their bodies shut down, they died, yet they walk among us, live among us, and for the most part, are normal. No one knows what they are. No one knows the risk their very existence brings to everyone else’s safety.”

  Honor sucked in a noisy breath of air. Undead? No way. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. That whole ‘The Twilight Zone’ vibe came back and she braced herself for the theme song to start playing from loudspeakers. It didn’t happen.

  “Except for us,” he continued. Honor swallowed; feeling dizzy and shaky. What was he talking about? What was Nealon saying? “It’s all about balance. The problem—” He motioned to the kids. “—and the solution.” He stared at her.

  “I don’t…I don’t understand.” Honor put a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes.

  “Open your eyes. Look around. Tell me what you see.”

  She dropped her hand and forced her eyes open. “I see kids and adults.”

  “What do you notice about the adults?”

  They were older, gruff, and expressionless. All wore guns. Men and women of all shapes and sizes monitored the young adults. “They’re normal adults. Well, aside from their grumpy expressions and guns. Those must be side effects from being here.”

  Nealon ignored that. “And the kids?”

  A boy turned her way and Honor caught a flash of his silver gray eyes. They all had eyes like that. “They have weird eyes.”

  “What else?”

  “The grayness around them, they all have that as well.”

  “Only certain people can see those things, Honor. Us. At your school the other day, no one saw what you saw—no one but Natasha and Ryder. To everyone else, Christian appeared to be normal. No one else saw the start of his turning.”

  “But I didn’t see anything, not really,” she insisted.

  “You saw enough.”

  Her stomach lurched as she realized something. Natasha and Ryder, they were like her. She was like them—was one of them even. That’s why they were there, at the church. She’d punched Ryder in the face. She’d wanted to rip Natasha apart. She was the same as them. Honor took a deep breath. It was surreal, all of it. What Nealon was telling her, what’d she’d seen with her own eyes.

  “It’s a lot to take in.”

  She glanced at him. “That’s an understatement. Moving to a new school, making new friends—that’s a lot of take in. This is…this is unbelievable.” He didn’t argue. “How did you know about Christian? How did you know to be there waiting for him?”

  Nealon looked at the wall behind her. “He was being watched.” His eyes slid to her and away. “Just like you were being watched.”

  Honor frowned. “Why were we being watched?” As soon as the words left her mouth, she knew.

  There was only one reason why they would have been; their parents. One of Christian’s parents had the virus, and so did one of Honor’s. She should have figured that out about five minutes ago. Being told she could see things others couldn’t and actually realizing she had some UD virus in her hadn’t exactly clicked until then. That meant for the last two years people had been watching her, since she’d turned sixteen. Honor had never known, never suspected. Chills went up and down her whole body. One of her parents was able to see undead beings—how creepy was that. So can you. How creepy is that?

  She shifted her feet and demanded, “Which one?”

  He didn’t even pretend to misunderstand. “Your father.”

  Tears stung her eyes and Honor slumped against the wall. She choked out, “My father could see people like this?”

  “No. It can go either way, depending on the person’s genetic make
up.” She stared at him, uncomprehending. Nealon sighed. “Your father was one of these people.”

  Her ears rang and her vision blurred. Everything she’d known, everything she’d thought she’d known, was gone, just like that, just from a few sentences.

  “How is any of this possible?” Honor whispered. How could people die and yet not? How could people be able to see things others could not?

  “Balance. It’s all about balance. Good and bad, those with the virus, those without, those on one end of it, those on the other. Balance is necessary in all things in life, or unlife, if you want to get technical.”

  She stared at him. Nealon wasn’t being cruel or boastful. He was stating facts in an unbiased way. Her dad, her dad, had died between the ages of sixteen and eighteen? Yet he’d aged like any other person, only slower. She hadn’t even noticed, had never thought his appearance strange. Sure, he’d looked good for his age, but so did her mother. Honor shook her head, trying to dislodge the untruths that were true. Had her mother known? No way. Honor knew she couldn’t have.

  “I never…he was so normal.”

  “As I said, most are. Others…” He shrugged one shoulder.

  Honor straightened. She had to know, she had to know all of it, even if it hurt to know, even if she didn’t want to know, and she didn’t.

  “Others what?”

  Nealon gave her that blank look of his. “I need to show you some more things.”

  The church was a maze of reconstructed rooms and hallways. Honor could have easily gotten lost within it and would have if not for Nealon leading the way. They passed by kids dressed in the white clothes she had on and others in regular clothing. They turned their attention to Honor as she walked by. She didn’t look at them. She looked straight ahead and pretended she wasn’t being stared at. Her body was numb; if only her brain could be the same.

  “What’s with the white clothes?” she asked, pulling at her shirt.

  Nealon didn’t look back as he said, “Newbies are in white. You’ll get your clothes back after all testing and lab work is done.”

  Honor’s footsteps faltered. “What testing and lab work?”

  “Fingerprints, blood will be drawn, a physical exam is necessary. It’s required of all newbies.”

  “So if newbies are dressed like this and the…undead or whatever are too, couldn’t we somehow get mixed up? How do you know who is who? Other than the whole locked up thing. What if one of them got loose somehow?” It felt like she was talking about a rodent or something. Honor didn’t like that analogy.

  “Remember, Honor, glowing eyes and gray aura.”

  She’d forgotten. How could she have forgotten that? “Still, they could escape.”

  “The chances of that are slim.”

  “But not improbable.”

  He ignored that. “A GPS chip the size of a pencil eraser head is placed under the skin in their neck below the left ear. They are monitored at all times, always. A monitor bracelet is also on the right ankle of all UDs. An alarm is sounded if they go outside the designated perimeters.”

  “They have those forever?”

  “The GPS chips, yes. The monitor bracelets come off before they leave.”

  “How long are they here?”

  “Until the turning is complete and they are stabilized, usually one week to two.”

  “Couldn’t they just cut it out of their neck?”

  Nealon looked at her. “They are unconscious when it is placed. And if they do cut it out, they are eventually found and terminated. Always.”

  Honor turned her eyes from his unwavering gaze. He spoke of their deaths so unfeelingly. Nealon also made it sound like it happened from time to time. It chilled her, made her remember Agent Nealon was a dangerous man. Don’t forget it, Honor.

  “Any who violate the laws are disposed of. They know this.” He continued to stare at her until she gave a jerk of her head.

  She was silent as they walked down the seemingly endless hallway, finally asking, “How long am I going to be here?”

  “A week without leave. After that, you may go home, if you wish. You’ll still have to check in weekly and make a report. If there is any kind of disturbance, you will be expected to report sooner. There is also training three nights a week and all are required to attend.”

  “I can’t stay here a week! I have school and work and…my mom and sister.” She swallowed. What must they be thinking? They had to be freaking out.

  “The school has been notified. You’re sick. Ryder will pick up your schoolwork and bring it here.”

  “Who notified the school?”

  Nealon stopped before a door at the end of the hallway. “Your mother.”

  Honor went cold. He was lying. “My mother wouldn’t do that just because someone told her to. What gives?”

  Nealon glanced over his shoulder at her, pushing a button on the wall. The door clicked and unlatched. He pulled it open. “Your mother knows what’s going on, Honor. Why do you think she’s been so understanding?”

  She swayed on her feet, the hallway sinking in around her and turning dark for a moment. Everything, it was getting to be too much. Her mother knew? How had she been able to keep it a secret for so long? How had her father? Honor felt like she hadn’t known her father, she felt like she didn’t know her mother. The secret they’d kept, it was astronomical.

  Nealon stepped through the door and motioned for her to follow. “All with the UD virus are registered in a system. A waiver must be signed by any who procreate with a UD carrier. Your mother knew there was a chance you would be born with the UD virus. She is extremely grateful you are one of us and not them.”

  Us, them; they were all people. It didn’t seem right to separate them, categorize them, and put them into groups. None of them could help what they were; they had no control over it.

  She hesitated outside the door. “So you’re saying there’s this secret society running around that no one knows about, but actually they do? That makes sense,” she said sarcastically.

  “We do what we can to survive. With all secrets, there are those who know that one would never expect to know, or would even prefer didn’t know, but must. Necessary evils and all that. Come inside.”

  “You’re confusing me.”

  “It’s okay,” he said evenly, his expression saying he wasn’t surprised her feeble teenager mind wasn’t getting all the information he was supplying.

  She scowled at his back and entered the room.

  The room was large and white with brown carpet. Honor was thinking it was about the only room in the place with a carpeted floor. A dozen or so desks were set up in rows of two. Each table had a laptop computer on it. A handful of people sat at the desks, the clicking of their fingers on the keyboard the only sound. It made Honor think of swarms of insects.

  One wall was a map of the world with red dots spread out over it. Most of the dots were in the United States. Filing cabinets took up another wall and it smelled like stale coffee in the room. Another wall was monitors that flashed over different areas of the building. That explained the cameras she’d seen below. Honor watched the monitors, wondering if they were in the showers and bathrooms and the room she’d slept in. The thought made her stomach turn.

  “Pick a desk. Sit.”

  She grabbed the chair nearest to her and fell onto it with her hands clasped together in her lap. The chair was cold and hard and uncomfortable. Nealon pulled a chair over and sat beside her. She smelled his aftershave and longing trickled over her. It reminded her of the way her dad used to smell. Jeremy Rochester had even looked a little like him, but had been shorter and bulkier. Also, his eyes had been gray. Honor started. Of course they had been. She wondered if that had been natural or from the virus. Had her father’s eye color changed at some point?

  “My dad’s eyes were always gray. Were they really, or was that from the virus?”

  Nealon glanced at her. “People with gray eyes can be UDs, but not always. Sometimes pe
ople just have gray eyes. Only we can see the glow to them, the silver shine. To people unaffected by the virus their eyes are simply gray.”

  She nodded; her throat unusually thick. Her dad had been a barber, which Honor had always thought was way cool. Such a simple man, with an easy, happy life, and it had all been a façade.

  He’d owned a barbershop downtown and had even had the red and white swirly pole out front. When she was younger she used to hang out there while he worked, watching his fingers and scissors create hair magic. He’d loved to laugh, to smile, and she had been so very glad he was her dad. Her eyes stung and she drew in a deep breath through her nose. Honor felt betrayed somehow, even though she knew she wouldn’t have understood, couldn’t have.

  How could he have been so happy with such a terrifying, epic secret? She just wished…she wished he was around still to explain it all to her. Honor wished he was around—period.

  “Rochester.”

  She turned her head. Nealon’s expression didn’t change when he saw her face, but there was something in his eyes, briefly, that made her uncomfortable, something like empathy maybe. She didn’t want it from anyone. She didn’t want it from him. Honor thought of Christian and how he’d looked at her when she’d stared him down. Had that been why? Had he felt the same as she did now?

  He opened a laptop, his fingers merging with the other clicking going on in the room. He brought up a video and angled the laptop so she could see the screen better. “This is Robert Collins.”

  The video was old, grainy. There was no sound to it. It showed a tall, thin young man with long, straggly black hair. He wore holey jeans and a tee shirt. He paced in a room, similar in looks and size to the ones below. The gray aura was not visible and Honor wondered if that was because his image was on film. He was agitated, upset. His face lifted to the camera, his eyes glowing silver.

  Honor sat back, uneasy. It was like he was staring right at her, but that wasn’t possible.

  “This video is from the mid-nineteen nineties. Things were handled…differently then. His turning was only recently complete.”

  The man perched on a chair, his feet on the seat of it and his back against the wall. He appeared to be waiting for something.

 
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