Vengeful, p.38

Vengeful, page 38

 

Vengeful
 



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  He looked up, and noted a pair of security cameras mounted high overhead.

  He felt in the pockets of the stolen coat, and was relieved to find a cell phone. He dialed Mitch’s number, hoping for once the man hadn’t obeyed his orders.

  It rang two times, three, and then Mitch picked up. “The courthouse is coming down! What the hell’s going on?”

  “Where are you?” asked Victor.

  A moment’s hesitation. “About two blocks away.”

  He was relieved to hear it.

  “I still haven’t gotten ahold of Syd.”

  “Well, since you’re still here,” said Victor, looking up at the security cameras, “I need you to hack something.”

  * * *

  STELL ground his teeth as Holtz and Briggs helped pry his leg free from the wreckage.

  He’d broken something, he knew, but he’d gotten lucky. Samson’s body was buried somewhere at the bottom of the wreckage, swallowed up along with more than half of the courthouse floor. The rest of the building didn’t look very stable.

  “Another ambulance is on its way,” said Briggs over the noise of the approaching sirens.

  Holtz had kept the crowds at bay, done everything he could to minimize civilian exposure during the incident. But now emergency crews were rapidly arriving, and the crowd outside was too curious, too used to getting their way, demanding answers, explanations, casualty reports.

  Stell’s mind spun, but he only had a few minutes to contain the scene here.

  Marcella Morgan’s body lay draped atop the broken marble far below, a testament to her own destructive power.

  Heaped at the farthest edge of the ruined floor was the second EO—Jonathan—one hand hanging like a rag doll over the chasm’s edge.

  There was no sign of June.

  Or Victor.

  Or Eli.

  “Pull up the trackers.”

  “I already did,” said Briggs, grimly.

  She offered Stell Eli’s coat in one hand. In the other, she held out five small tracking devices.

  Stell’s stomach dropped.

  “It gets worse,” said Holtz, producing the rusted remains of Eli’s collar, broken, useless.

  Stell swept the shards from Holtz’s hand, and they rained down onto the ruined floor.

  “Call in everyone we have,” he ordered. “And find Cardale.”

  XX

  THE LAST NIGHT

  LOCATION UNCERTAIN

  THE first thing Eli noticed was the smell.

  The antiseptic odor of a lab, but beneath that, something sickly sweet. Like rot. Or chloroform. His other senses caught up, registered a too-bright light. Dull steel. His head was cotton, his thoughts syrup. Eli didn’t remember what it felt like to be drunk—it had been so long since anything affected him—but he thought it must have been more pleasant. This—the dry-mouthed, head-pounding longing to retch—was not.

  He tried to sit up.

  Couldn’t.

  He was lying on a plastic sheet on top of a crate, his wrists zip-tied to the wood slats beneath. A strap ran across his mouth, holding his head down against the crate. Eli’s fingers felt for something, anything, found only plastic.

  “Not as fancy as my old lab, I know,” said Haverty, swimming into focus. “But it will have to do. Needs must, and all.” The doctor dipped out of Eli’s sight, but never stopped talking. “I still have friends in EON, you know, and when they told me you were being released, well—I don’t know if you believe in fate, Mr. Cardale”—he heard tools being shifted on a metal tray—“but surely you can see the poetry in our reunion. You are, after all, the reason for my breakthrough. It’s only right that you’re now going to be my first true test subject.”

  Haverty reappeared, holding a syringe in Eli’s line of sight. That same electric blue liquid danced inside.

  “This,” he said, “is, as you might have guessed, a power suppressant.”

  Haverty brought the blade to Eli’s chest and pressed down. The skin parted, blood welled, but as Haverty withdrew the knife, Eli kept bleeding. The pain continued too, a dull throb, until slowly, Eli felt the wound drag itself back together.

  “Ah, I see,” mused Haverty. “I erred on the side of a low dose, to start. I gave the last subject too much too fast and he just kind of . . . came apart. But, see, that’s why you’re the perfect candidate for this kind of trial.” Haverty took up the syringe. “You always have been.” He plunged the needle into Eli’s neck.

  It hurt, like cold water racing through his veins.

  But the strangest thing wasn’t the sensation of pain. It was the spark of memory—a bathtub filled with cracking ice. Pale fingers, trailing through the frigid water. Music on the radio.

  Victor Vale, leaning against the sink.

  You ready?

  “Now,” said Haverty, dragging Eli back to the present. “Let us try again.”

  XXI

  THE LAST NIGHT

  WAREHOUSE DISTRICT

  VICTOR paused outside the bland gray building. It was a storage facility. A two-story grid of climate-controlled, room-sized lockers where people abandoned furniture or art or boxes of old clothes. This was as far as Mitch’s camera work had gotten Victor. But it was far enough.

  There had been another man, according to Mitch. Glasses and a white coat. Eli, dragged behind him, unconscious.

  Those words made no sense. The night of Eli’s transformation, Victor had watched as Eli tried to drink himself into oblivion. But the liquor didn’t even touch him.

  After his death, nothing could.

  Victor made his way through the ground-floor grid, scanning the roll-up doors for one without a lock. His shoulder had stopped bleeding, but it still ached—he didn’t dampen the pain, needed every sense firing, especially with the charge building in his limbs, threatening to spill over.

  Victor heard a male voice—one he didn’t recognize—coming from a storage container on his left. He knelt, fingers curling around the base of the steel door as the voice carried on in a casual, conversational way. He inched the door up one foot, two, holding his breath as he braced for an inevitable rattle or clank. But the voice beyond didn’t stop talking, didn’t even seem to notice.

  Victor ducked under the rolling door, and straightened.

  Instantly he was hit by a stench, slightly noxious, and far too sweet. Chemical. But he soon forgot the smell as he registered the scene before him.

  A tray of hospital-grade tools, a man in a white coat, his back to Victor and his gloves slick with blood as he leaned over a makeshift table. And there, strapped to the surface, Eli.

  Blood spilled down his sides from a dozen shallow wounds.

  He wasn’t healing.

  Victor cleared his throat.

  The doctor didn’t jump, didn’t seem at all surprised by Victor’s arrival.

  He simply set the scalpel down and turned, revealing a thin face, deep-set eyes behind round glasses.

  “You must be Mr. Vale.”

  “And who the hell are you?”

  “My name,” said the man, “is Dr. Haverty. Come in, take a—” Victor’s hand closed into a fist. The doctor should have buckled, dropped to the floor screaming. He should have at least staggered, gasped in pain. But he didn’t do any of those things. The doctor simply smiled. “. . . seat,” he finished.

  Victor didn’t understand. Was the man another type of EO, someone whose own powers rendered him untouchable? But no—Victor had been able to feel June’s nerves, even if he’d had no effect on them. This was different. When he reached for the doctor’s body, Victor felt—nothing. He couldn’t sense the man’s nerves. And suddenly, Victor realized he couldn’t sense his own, either.

  Even the building episode, the terrible energy ready to spill over moments before, was now gone.

  His body felt . . . like a body.

  Dull weight. Clumsy muscle. Nothing more.

  “That would be the gas,” explained the doctor. “Remarkable, isn’t it? It
s not technically a gas, of course, just a compressed airborne version of the power-suppressant serum I’m currently testing on Mr. Cardale.”

  Victor registered motion over the doctor’s shoulder, but he kept his focus on Haverty. Had the doctor himself turned around, he would have noticed Eli’s fingers reaching out, feeling for the edge of the table—would have seen them find the scalpel Haverty had so foolishly set down. But Haverty’s attention hung on Victor, and so he failed to notice Eli slipping free.

  “I’ve read your file,” the doctor continued. “Heard all about your fascinating power. I’d love to witness it myself, but as you can see, I’m in the middle of another—”

  Haverty turned to gesture then, finally, at Eli on the table, but Eli was no longer there. He was on his feet now, scalpel flashing in the fluorescent light.

  Eli struck, the knife parting the air—and the doctor’s throat.

  Haverty staggered back, clutching at his neck, but Eli had always had a deft hand. The scalpel bit swift and deep, severing jugular and windpipe, and the doctor sank to his knees, mouth opening and closing like a fish as blood pooled on the concrete beneath him.

  “He never stopped talking,” said Eli curtly.

  Victor was very aware of the knife in Eli’s hands, the absence of any weapon in his own. His eyes went to the tray of tools, more scalpels, a bone saw, a clamp.

  Eli put a shoe up on Haverty’s back and pushed the doctor’s body over.

  “That man can burn in hell.” His dark eyes drifted up. “Victor.” A pause. “You were supposed to stay dead.”

  “It didn’t take.”

  A grim smile crossed Eli’s face. “I have to say, you don’t look well.” His fingers tightened on the scalpel. “But don’t worry, I’ll put you out of your—”

  Victor lunged for the tray of instruments, but Eli knocked it sideways.

  Tools scattered across the floor, but before Victor could reach any of them Eli caught him around the middle, and they went down hard, Eli’s scalpel driving down toward Victor’s injured shoulder. He knocked Eli’s arm off course at the last instant and the blade scraped against concrete, drawing sparks.

  With Eli unable to heal and Victor unable to hurt—they were finally on equal ground.

  Which wasn’t equal at all.

  Eli was still built like a twenty-two-year-old quarterback.

  Victor was a gaunt thirty-five, and dying.

  In the blink of an eye, Eli had forced his elbow up against Victor’s throat, and Victor had to throw all his strength into keeping one arm from stabbing him and the other from crushing his windpipe.

  “It always comes down to this, doesn’t it?” said Eli. “To us. To what we did—”

  Victor drove a knee up into Eli’s wounded stomach, and Eli reeled, rolling sideways. Victor staggered to his feet, shoes slipping in Haverty’s blood. He caught up one of the fallen instruments, a long thin knife, as Eli lunged at him again. Victor dodged back half a step, and kicked out Eli’s knee. His scalpel-holding hand hit the ground for balance and Victor brought his boot down, pinning hand and blade both to the floor as he swung his own knife toward Eli’s chest.

  But Eli got his arm up just in time, and the knife sank into his wrist, blade driving deep, and through. Victor let out a guttural scream, but when he tried to pull free, Eli caught his hand in a vise grip, and twisted. Victor lost his balance and went down, Eli on top of him, the blade now in his grip. He brought it down, and Victor threw his hands up and caught Eli’s wrists, the blood-slicked knife suspended between them.

  Eli loomed over him, leaning his weight on the blade. Victor’s arms trembled from the effort, but little by little, he lost ground until the tip of the knife parted the skin of his throat.

  * * *

  EVERY end may be a new beginning, but every beginning had to end.

  Eli Ever understood that, leaning over his old friend.

  Victor Vale, weary, bleeding, broken, belonged in the ground.

  It was a mercy to put him there.

  “My time will come,” he said, as the knifepoint sliced Victor’s skin. “But yours is now. And this time,” he said, “I’ll make sure you—”

  A sound tore through the steel room, sudden and deafening.

  Eli’s grip faltered as pain, molten hot, tore through his back—through skin and muscle and something deeper.

  Victor still lay beneath him, gasping, but alive, and Eli went to finish what he’d started, but the knife hung from his fingers. He couldn’t feel it. Couldn’t feel anything but the pain in his chest.

  He looked down, and saw a broad red stain blossoming across his skin.

  His breath hitched, copper filling his mouth, and then he was back on the floor of a darkened apartment at Lockland, sitting in a pool of blood, carving lines into his arms and asking God to tell him why, to take the power when he didn’t need it anymore.

  Now, as he looked up from the hole in his chest, he saw the girl, her white-blond hair and ice blue eyes, so familiar, beyond the barrel of the gun.

  Serena?

  But then Eli was falling—

  He never hit the ground.

  XXII

  THE LAST NIGHT

  SAFE

  SYDNEY stood at the mouth of the storage locker, still gripping the gun.

  Dol whined behind her, pacing nervously, but Sydney kept the weapon trained on Eli, waiting for him to get back up, to turn on her, to shake his head at her weapon, her futile attempt to stop him.

  Eli didn’t rise.

  But Victor did. He struggled to his feet, one hand to the shallow wound at his throat as he said, “He’s dead.”

  The words seemed wrong, impossible. Victor didn’t seem to believe them, and neither could Sydney.

  Eli was—forever. An immortal ghost, a monster who would follow Sydney through every nightmare, every year, plaguing her until there was no one left to hide behind, nowhere left to run.

  Eli Ever wouldn’t die.

  Couldn’t die.

  But there he was on the ground—lifeless. She fired two more shots into his back, just to be sure. And then Victor was there, guiding the gun from her white-knuckled grip, repeating himself in a slow, steady voice.

  “He’s dead.”

  Sydney dragged her eyes away from Eli’s body, and studied Victor. The ribbon of blood running from his throat. The hole in his shoulder. The arm he’d wrapped around his ribs.

  “You’re hurt.”

  “I am,” said Victor. “But I’m alive.”

  Car doors slammed nearby, and Victor tensed. “EON,” he muttered, putting himself in front of Sydney as footsteps pounded down the hall. But Dol only watched, and waited, and when the door rose the rest of the way, it wasn’t soldiers, but Mitch.

  He paled as he took in the storage locker, the makeshift operating table, the bodies on the floor, Victor’s injuries, and the gun in Sydney’s hand. “EON’s not far behind me,” he said. “We have to go. Now.”

  Sydney started forward, but Victor didn’t follow. She pulled on his arm, felt instantly guilty when she saw the pain cross his face, and realized how much of the blood in here must be his.

  “Can you walk?” she pleaded.

  “You go ahead,” he said tightly.

  “No,” said Sydney. “We’re not splitting up.”

  Victor turned and, cringing, knelt in front of her.

  “There’s something I have to do.” Sydney was already shaking her head, but Victor reached out and put a hand on her cheek, the gesture so strange, so gentle, it stopped her cold.

  “Syd,” he said, “look at me.”

  She met his eyes. Those eyes that after everything still felt like family, like safety, like home.

  “I have to do this. But I’ll meet you as soon as I’m done.”

  “Where?”

  “Where I first found you.”

  The location was burned into Syd’s memory. The stretch of interstate outside the city.

  The sign that read M
erit—23 miles.

  “I’ll meet you at midnight.”

  “Do you promise?”

  Victor held her gaze. “I promise.”

  Sydney knew he was lying.

  She always knew when he was lying.

  And she also knew she couldn’t stop him. Wouldn’t stop him. So she nodded, and followed Mitch out.

  * * *

  VICTOR didn’t have much time.

  He waited until Mitch and Syd were out of sight, and then returned to the storage unit. He fought to focus as he dragged his aching limbs across the room, stepping around Eli’s body.

  It was like a magnet, constantly drawing his eye, but Victor forced himself not to stop and look at it. Not to think about what it meant, that Eli Cardale was really, truly dead. The way the knowledge knocked Victor off-balance. A counterweight finally removed.

  An opposite but equal force erased.

  Instead, Victor turned his attention to Haverty’s tools, and got to work.

  EXODUS

  I

  AFTER

  STELL’S APARTMENT

  VICTOR ran his fingers over the surface of his phone.

  11:45 p.m.

  Fifteen minutes until midnight, and he was not on his way out of town.

  Victor settled back into the worn armchair, tuning the dials of his own nerves, to test their strength. Haverty’s serum had worn off a few hours before—it had been like a limb returning to feeling, nerves initially pins-and-needles sharp before finally settling back under control.

  But as Victor’s power returned, so had the humming in his head, the crackle of static. The beginnings of another episode. But only the beginnings. That was the strange thing—before stepping into the storage locker, his limbs had been buzzing, the current minutes from overtaking him. When Haverty’s serum suppressed his power, it had suppressed the episode, too. Reset something, deep inside Victor’s nervous system.

  He drew a vial from his coat pocket—one of six that he’d collected from Haverty’s storage locker. Its contents were an electric blue, even in the darkness of the empty apartment.

 

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