Vengeful, p.34

Vengeful, page 34

 

Vengeful
 



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  Syd looked down at the cocoa and shook her head. “What am I going to do now?”

  “We,” said June, “are going to think of something. We’ll get through this, you and me. We just have to lie low until it’s over, and then—”

  “Until what is over?” demanded Syd. “I can’t just stay here when Victor and Mitch are in trouble.”

  June leaned forward, resting a hand on Syd’s boot. “They’re not the only ones who can protect you.”

  “It’s not about protection,” said Syd, pulling away. “They’re my family.”

  June stiffened, but Sydney was already on her feet, abandoning the half-empty mug beside the bed.

  June could have grabbed her, but she didn’t. She simply watched her go.

  Sydney was almost to the door, reaching for the handle, when it seemed to drift out of reach. The floor had tilted, too. And suddenly, it was all Syd could do to keep from falling over.

  She squeezed her eyes shut, but that only made things worse.

  When Sydney opened them again, June was there, reaching out to steady her. “It’s okay,” she said, her accent soft, melodic. “It’s okay.”

  But it wasn’t.

  Syd tried to ask what was going on, but her tongue felt leaden, and when she tried to pull away, she stumbled, head spinning.

  “You’ll understand,” June was saying. “When this is all over, you will . . .”

  Sydney’s vision blurred, and June’s arms closed around her as she fell.

  * * *

  THE road jostled under Eli’s feet as the transport made its way toward Merit.

  Five minutes into the drive, the hood had come off, trading the dark, woven interior of the fabric for the dark, windowless interior of the van itself. Not a vast improvement, but certainly a step.

  The brown-eyed soldier sat on the bench to Eli’s right. The other two sat across from him. They rode in silence, Eli attempting to track the distance with one part of his mind, while the rest traced over the details of the plan he’d been given, pondered the problem of Marcella and her chosen compatriots.

  He felt Brown Eyes staring at him.

  “Something on your mind?” asked Eli.

  “I’m trying to figure out how a guy like you kills thirty-nine people.”

  Eli raised a brow. “You can’t kill what’s already dead. You can only dispose of it.”

  “Does that apply to you, too?”

  Eli considered. For so long, Eli had thought himself the exception, not the rule. Now he knew better. And yet Eli had been given this specific power. A memory flashed through his mind—kneeling on the floor, slicing open his wrists over and over and over to see how many times it would take before God let him die.

  “I would bury myself if I could.”

  “Must be nice,” said Green Eyes. “To be unkillable.”

  A second memory—of lying on that lab table, his heart in Haverty’s hands.

  Eli said nothing.

  A few minutes later, the van came to a stop on a busy street—Eli could hear the noise even before the back door swung open and Stell himself climbed in. “Briggs,” he said, nodding at the woman. “Samson. Holtz. Any trouble here?”

  “No sir,” they said in unison.

  “Where have you been?” demanded Eli.

  “Believe it or not,” said Stell, “you weren’t the highest priority.”

  He’d meant it as a jab, but Eli saw only its truth, written in the lines of the director’s face.

  Victor.

  The van drove on for a few more blocks before pulling into an alley, where the three soldiers climbed out—but not Stell. He turned his attention to Eli. “They are going ahead to secure the room. In a minute, you and I are going to leave this van and go inside. You make a scene, and that collar will be only the first of your problems.”

  Eli held out his cuffed wrists. “If you want to keep a low profile, these should probably come off.”

  Stell leaned forward, but simply tossed a coat over Eli’s outstretched hands, hiding them from view. Eli sighed, and followed the director out of the van. He looked up at the stretch of blue sky, and breathed in fresh air for the first time in five years.

  Stell brought a hand to Eli’s shoulder, kept it there as they wove through the cars in front of the hotel.

  “Remember your instructions,” warned Stell as they stepped through the doors and crossed the lobby to the bank of elevators.

  The soldiers were waiting on the fifth floor.

  Two in the hall, one still clearing the room.

  They’d taken off their helmets in an effort to blend in, revealing three young, good-looking soldiers. A woman in her early thirties, compact and strong and stoic. A young man, handsome and blond, thirty at most, who looked like he would have won Most Likable while in school. A second man, wide-jawed and smug, who reminded Eli of the frat boys he’d hated in college, the kind who would crush a beer can on their heads as if the feat were something to be proud of.

  Once inside, Stell finally removed Eli’s handcuffs.

  He rubbed his wrists—they weren’t stiff, or sore, but it was a hard habit to shake, that urge, and the small gestures that made people ordinary. Human. Eli surveyed the room. It was an elegant hotel suite, with a large bed and two tall windows. A garment bag hung on the back of the bathroom door, another had been cast onto the bed. A chair sat beneath one of the large windows, a low desk beneath the other, its surface adorned with a pad of paper and a pen.

  Eli started toward it.

  “Stay away from the windows, inmate.”

  Eli ignored him, resting his hand on the desk. “We’re here because of this window.” His fingers closed around the pen. “This view.”

  He leaned across the desk and looked out at the Old Courthouse across the street.

  What a perfect choice, thought Eli. After all, a courthouse was a place of judgment. Justice.

  He straightened, slipping the pen up his sleeve, and started for the bathroom.

  “Where do you think you’re going?” demanded Green Eyes.

  “To take a shower,” said Eli. “I need to be presentable.”

  The soldiers looked to Stell, who stared at Eli for a long moment before nodding. “Sweep it,” he ordered.

  Eli waited while the soldiers secured the bathroom, making sure there was no way out, removing anything that might be even vaguely construed as a weapon. As if Eli himself weren’t the weapon of choice today.

  When the soldiers were satisfied, he unhooked the garment bag from the bathroom door and stepped inside. He was pulling it shut when one of the soldiers caught the door. “Leave it open.”

  “Suit yourself,” said Eli.

  He left a foot of clearance, for modesty. Hung up the borrowed suit, and turned on the shower.

  With his back to the open door, Eli freed the stolen pen from the cuff of his EON-issued jacket and held it between his teeth as he stripped off the clothes, let them pool around his feet.

  He stepped into the shower, the frosted glass door falling shut behind him. He ran his fingers over the surface of the steel collar, searching for a weakness, a groove or clasp. But he found none. Eli hissed in annoyance.

  The collar, then, would have to wait.

  He removed the stolen pen from his mouth, and under the static of the water’s spray, snapped it in two.

  It was hardly ideal, but it was the closest thing to a knife he was likely to get.

  Eli closed his eyes, and summoned the pages from the black folder. He’d studied them thoroughly, memorized the photos and scans that had accompanied each of Haverty’s experiments.

  The record had been gruesome but revealing.

  The first time Eli had noticed the shadow on an image of his forearm, he’d taken it for a swatch, just one of those markers used to signal direction on an X-ray. But then it showed up again on an MRI. A small metal rectangle, the faint impression of a grid.

  And he knew exactly what it was.

  Eli found th
e same mark on a scan of his lower spine. At his left hip. The base of his skull. Between his ribs. Disgust had welled like blood as Eli realized—every time Haverty had cut or pried or pinned him open, the doctor had left a tracking device behind. Each one small enough so that Eli’s body, instead of rejecting the objects, simply healed around them.

  It was time they came out.

  Eli brought his makeshift scalpel to his forearm and pressed down. The skin split, blood rising instantly along the jagged edge, and an old voice in his head noted that the heat and moisture would act as anticoagulants, before he reminded that voice that his healing power rendered the fact irrelevant.

  He clenched his teeth as he drove the plastic deeper.

  Haverty had never bothered with shallow wounds. When he opened Eli up, he did it down to bone. The static of the spray would have provided a buffer, but Eli didn’t make a sound.

  Still, as his fingers slipped and slid, and blood ran down the drain, Eli felt a tremor of residual panic pass through him. The only kind of mark left by Haverty’s work. Invisible, but insidious.

  At last, the tracker came free, a sliver of dark metal clutched between stained fingers. Eli set it in the soap dish with a shaky breath.

  One down.

  Four to go.

  THE KINGSLEY

  MITCH rolled over, and spit a mouthful of blood onto the hardwood floor.

  One eye was swelling shut, and he couldn’t breathe through his broken nose, but he was alive. He could move. He could think.

  For now, that would have to be enough.

  The apartment was empty. The soldiers were gone.

  They’d left Mitch behind.

  Human.

  That one word—a judgment, a sentence—had saved his life. The EON soldiers lacked either the time or the energy to deal with someone so tangential to their pursuit.

  Mitch forced himself to his hands and knees with a groan. He had a muddled memory of movement, grasping at consciousness as the soldiers spoke.

  We’ve got him.

  It took a long time for the words to sink into Mitch’s bruised skull.

  Victor.

  He got, haltingly, to his feet and looked around, taking in the trashed apartment, the bloodstained floor, the dog lying on the floor nearby.

  “Sorry, boy,” he murmured, wishing he could do more for Dol. But only Sydney could have helped him now, and Mitch had no idea where she was. He stood there, amid the carnage, torn between the need to wait for her and the need to go find Victor, and for a second the two forces seemed to pull him physically, painfully apart.

  But Mitch couldn’t do both, and he knew it, so he asked himself, what would Victor do? What would Syd? And when the answers were the same, he knew.

  Mitch had to leave.

  The question was where to go.

  The soldiers had taken his laptop, and he had crushed his primary cell, but Mitch crouched—which turned out to hurt just as much as standing up—and felt under the lip of the sofa, dislodging the small black box and the burner smartphone that it was feeding into.

  His butler.

  In the old black-and-white movies he’d always loved, a good butler was neither seen nor heard, not until they were needed. And yet they were always there, tucked innocently into the background, and always seemed to know the comings and goings of the house.

  The concept behind Mitch’s device was the same.

  He booted the phone and watched as the data from the soldiers’ electronic tracking streamed in. Calls. Texts. Locations.

  Three phones. And they were all in one place.

  Got you.

  All his life, people had underestimated Mitch. They took one look at his size, his bulk, his tattooed arms and shaved head, and made a snap judgment: slow, stupid, useless.

  EON had underestimated him too.

  Mitch looked around, found the playing card Sydney had left behind. He scribbled a quick instruction on the back, and rested the playing card on the dog’s motionless side.

  “Sorry, boy,” he said again.

  And then Mitch grabbed his coat, and his keys, and went to save Victor.

  XIII

  THE LAST AFTERNOON

  EON

  VICTOR opened his eyes, and saw only himself staring back.

  His lean limbs, sallow skin, black clothes, reflected in the polished ceiling. He was lying on a narrow cot against the wall of a square space, quickly discernible as some type of cell.

  Panic slid like a needle beneath Victor’s skin. Four years he’d spent in a place like this—no, not quite like this, not as clever, not as advanced—but just as empty. He had been buried alive in that solitary confinement cell, and every day Victor had sworn that once he got out he would never let himself be trapped again.

  He brought a hand to his chest and felt the bruise between his ribs where the first dart had gone in, scraping bone. He sat up, paused for a moment to let the lingering nausea pass, then stood. There was no clock in here, no way to tell how long he’d been unconscious, aside from the constant hum of his power, its strength and volume growing with each passing minute.

  Victor looked around, and resisted the urge to call out, unnerved by the idea that no one would answer, that the only response he’d be greeted by was his own echo. Instead, he studied the surroundings. The walls, which he’d originally taken for rock, were actually plastic, or maybe fiberglass. He could feel a subtle charge coursing through it—a deterrent, no doubt, against escape.

  He looked up, scanning the ceiling for cameras, and was interrupted by a familiar voice filling the cell.

  “Mr. Vale,” said Stell. “We’ve come a long way, only to find ourselves back where we started. The difference, of course, is that this time, you won’t be getting out.”

  “I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” said Victor, forcing his voice to hold its edge. “But I have to admit, this isn’t exactly sporting.”

  “That’s because this isn’t a game. You’re a murderer, and an escaped convict, and this is a prison.”

  “What happened to my trial?”

  “You forfeited it.”

  “And Eli?”

  “He serves another purpose.”

  “He’s playing you,” sneered Victor. “And by the time you figure out how, it will be too late.”

  Stell didn’t rise to the bait, leaving Victor in silence. He was running out of patience, and out of time. He looked up at the cameras. He may be in a cage, but Victor had prepared for the possibility. He had left himself a key.

  The question was—where was Dominic Rusher?

  * * *

  DOM tugged at the steel standard-issue handcuffs, but they were bolted to the table.

  Three years, and his only fear had been waking up in an EON cell. Instead, he’d woken up in an interrogation room.

  He was sitting in a metal chair, cuffed to a steel table, and he was alone, the only door clearly locked, the control panel on the wall marked by a solid red line.

  Panic flickered through him, and Dom had to remind himself that they didn’t know he was an EO.

  Not yet.

  And he needed to keep it that way as long as possible.

  Dom was truly trapped—he could slip out of time, but it wouldn’t do a damn bit of good, because even without time, he would still be chained to a fucking table. And he’d be even more screwed because the moment he crossed back into reality, the slip would show, the gap between where he’d been and where he was. Maybe it would just look like a stutter, a shutter, a glitch. But there were no glitches in a place like EON, and everyone watching him on camera would know what it meant. What he was.

  So Dom waited, counting time in his head, wondering where Eli was now, hoping Victor, at least, had gotten away.

  Finally, the keypad turned from red to green.

  The door unsealed, and two soldiers came in.

  Dom had been hoping for a friendly face, but instead he got Rios again, joined by a hard-edged, brutish soldier named Hancock. Dom
s attention hung on the sliver of shrinking freedom as the door behind Rios swung shut, and the codes went red again.

  Shit.

  Rios crossed to the table and set down a file. Dom’s file.

  He scanned the tops of the pages, searching for paperclips, staples, anything he might be able to use.

  “Agent Rusher,” said Rios. “You want to tell us what you were doing in the director’s office?”

  Dom had put his short time awake to good use. He was ready for this line of questioning. “I was trying to stop a murderer from escaping.”

  Rios raised a brow. “How do you figure that?”

  Dom sat forward. “Do you know about Eli Ever? Or Eliot Cardale, or whatever name he wants to go by? Do you know what he did?”

  “I’ve read his file,” she said. “And I’ve read yours.”

  “Then you know I was one of his targets. I still don’t know why—but I should be dead. Would have been, too, if Eli had gotten to me. So when I heard that Stell planned to have him transported off-site, I couldn’t let that happen, couldn’t have that maniac loose in Merit again.”

  “That wasn’t your call, soldier.”

  “So fire me,” said Dom.

  “That’s not my call,” said Rios. “You’ll be held here until the director returns to make a decision.”

  Rios was shuffling the file as she spoke, and Dom caught sight of a metal staple just before Hancock’s comm went off. The low static muffled the words, but one of them leapt out.

  Vale.

  Dom tried to hide the recognition on his face as Hancock lifted the comm to his ear.

  Vale . . . awake . . .

  “In the meantime,” continued Rios. “I suggest—”

  “How did you get into Stell’s office?” asked Dom, changing directions. She looked up, a shadow crossing her face. Dom pressed on. “There’s only one door, and I was facing it. But you showed up behind me.”

  Rios’s eyes narrowed. “Hancock,” she said. “Go call Stell. Ask him what he wants us to do next.”

  Dominic really did want to hear Rios’s explanation, but not as much as he needed to get out. He waited as Hancock swiped his keycard, waited as the line turned green and the door clicked open.

 

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