Vengeful, p.39

Vengeful, page 39

 

Vengeful
 



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The liquid represented an extreme solution, but it also represented progress.

  He’d have to be mindful—each time Victor used the serum, he would be trading a death for a window of vulnerability, a period without powers—but he was already making notes—plans, really.

  Perhaps, with the right dosage, he could find a balance. And perhaps was more than Victor had had to work with in a very long time.

  His phone lit up—he had switched it to silent, but it still flashed brightly, a familiar number on the screen.

  Sydney.

  Victor didn’t answer.

  He watched the screen until it gave way again to darkness, then slipped the phone in his pocket as footsteps sounded beyond the door. A few seconds later, the rattle of a key in the lock, and Stell limped into view, one foot encased in a medical boot. He tossed his keys into a bowl, didn’t bother turning on the lights, just hobbled to the kitchen and poured himself a drink.

  The director of EON had the liquor halfway to his lips when he finally realized he wasn’t alone.

  He set the drink back down.

  “Victor.”

  To his credit, Stell didn’t hesitate, simply drew a gun and aimed it at Victor’s head. Or at least, he meant to. But Victor stilled the man’s hand.

  Stell grimaced, fighting the invisible weight around his fingers. But it was a battle of wills, and Victor’s would always be stronger.

  Victor lifted his own hand, turning it, and like a puppet, so did Stell, until his gun was resting against his own head.

  “It doesn’t have to end like this,” said Stell.

  “Twice you locked me in a cage,” said Victor. “I don’t intend to let it happen a third time.”

  “And what will killing me do?” snapped Stell. “It won’t stop the rise of EON. The initiative is bigger than me, and growing every day.”

  “I know,” said Victor, guiding Stell’s finger to the trigger.

  “God dammit, listen. If you kill me, you will make yourself EON’s number-one enemy, their primary target. They will never stop hunting you.”

  Victor smiled grimly.

  “I know.”

  He closed his hand into a fist.

  The gunshot split the room, and Victor’s hand fell back to his side as Stell’s body toppled to the floor.

  Victor took a deep breath, steadying himself.

  And then he pulled a slip of paper from his pocket. A page from the battered paperback, the lines blacked out except for five words.

  Catch me if you can.

  Victor left the door open behind him.

  As he stepped out into the dark, he drew his phone from his pocket.

  It was buzzing again, Sydney’s name a streak of white against the black backdrop. Victor switched the phone off, and let it slip from his fingers into the nearest trash can.

  And then he turned his collar up, and walked away.

  II

  AFTER

  OUTSIDE MERIT

  SYDNEY pressed the phone to her ear, listened as the ringing gave way to silence, the automated voicemail, the long beep.

  It was fifteen minutes after midnight, and there was no sign of Victor. The car idled in the darkness just beyond the sign—Merit—23 miles—Mitch tense in the driver’s seat, and Dol leaning out the back window.

  Sydney paced the grassy shoulder and tried to call Victor one last time.

  It went straight to voicemail.

  Sydney hung up, and found herself about to text June—before she remembered that she no longer had her own phone. Which meant that Sydney didn’t have June’s number anymore. And even if she did . . .

  Syd shoved the burner phone back in her pocket. She heard the car door open, Mitch’s heavy steps in the grass as he approached.

  “Hey, kid,” he said. His voice was so gentle, as if afraid of telling her the truth. But Syd already knew—Victor was gone. She stared at the distant skyline of Merit, shoved her hands in her coat, felt her sister’s bones in one pocket, the gun in the other.

  “It’s time to go,” she said, returning to the car.

  Mitch turned on the engine, pulled back onto the highway. The road stretched ahead, flat and even and endless, almost like the surface of a frozen lake at night.

  Sydney resisted the urge to look back again.

  Victor might be gone, but there was still that thread, tangling their lives. It had led Sydney to him once before, and it would lead her there again.

  No matter how long or far she had to look.

  Sooner or later, she would find him.

  If Sydney had anything, it was time.

  III

  AFTER

  EON

  HOLTZ shivered, not at the sight of the corpse on the steel table, but from the cold.

  The storage room was fucking freezing.

  “Not so tough now,” muttered Briggs, her breath a cloud of fog.

  And it was true.

  Lying there, under the cold white light, Eliot Cardale looked . . . young. All his age had been contained in those eyes, flat as a shark’s. But now they were closed, and Cardale looked less like a serial-killing EO and more like Holtz’s kid brother.

  Holtz had always wondered at the gap between body and corpse, the place where a person stopped being a he or a she or a they, and instead became an it. Eliot Cardale still looked like a person, despite the shockingly pale skin, the still-glistening bullet wounds—small, dark circles with serrated edges.

  Nobody knew how Haverty had been able to render Eli human—or at least mortal. Just like they didn’t know who had shot the EO, or who had killed the ex-EON scientist—though everyone seemed to assume it was Victor Vale.

  “Holtz,” snapped Briggs. “I’m freezing my ass off, and you’re making moony eyes at a corpse.”

  “Sorry,” said Holtz, his breath pluming. “Just thinking.”

  “Well, stop thinking,” she said, “and help me load this thing.”

  Together, they maneuvered Cardale’s corpse into cold storage, which was basically just a permanent stretch of deep drawers in the basement of the EON complex, dedicated to indefinitely housing the remains of deceased EOs.

  “One down,” she said, scribbling notes on her clipboard, “one to go.”

  Holtz’s eyes flicked to the other body that waited, patiently, on its own steel plank.

  Rusher.

  Holtz had avoided looking at his old friend as long as possible. Not just because of the gunshot wounds that stood out in livid marks against the old scars, but because he couldn’t believe his eyes—Dominic had survived so much. They’d served together for four years, and worked here, side by side, for another three.

  And all that time, Holtz had never known what Rusher was.

  Rios was always telling them not to make assumptions, that EOs weren’t ducks—they didn’t have to walk like one and talk like one and smell like one to be one.

  But still.

  “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” he murmured. “Makes you wonder how many are out there. And here. If I was an EO, you better believe this is the last place I’d be.”

  Briggs wasn’t listening.

  He couldn’t blame her.

  EON was in a state of emergency. They’d gotten the place back under lockdown pretty quickly, but they’d still lost four EOs in the process, a third of the soldiers were in medical—five had died. The gala mission had been a total disaster, EON’s first unkillable EO was dead, possibly from the efforts of their own ex-employee, and the director hadn’t even bothered to come to work today.

  Holtz needed a drink.

  Briggs sealed the doors to cold storage and they climbed back to the main levels.

  Holtz swiped through security and stepped outside, grateful that his shift was finally over.

  His car sat waiting on the employee side of the lot. It was a sleek yellow speedster, the kind that took on an animal grace—it didn’t just drive. It prowled and growled and rumbled and purred, and the other EON soldiers loved to give him shit for it, but H
oltz hadn’t craved many things since he’d gotten out of the army—just fast cars and pretty girls—and he was only willing to pay for one of them.

  He climbed behind the wheel, engine revving pleasantly as he jacked up the heat, still trying to shake off the chill of cold storage, the lingering shock of the last twenty-four hours. As he pulled through the gate, Holtz cranked up the radio, trying to drown out the sound of the gravel drive. He shook his head—EON, he assumed, could surely afford to have paved their private road, but apparently they didn’t want to encourage any traffic. So if you were a civilian, hitting gravel in this area was a sign you’d gone the wrong way.

  Though some people didn’t get the message—like this asshole, Holtz thought, looking down the road.

  A car had parked on the shoulder, a low, black coupe, its taillights glaring and its hood raised.

  Holtz slowed, wondering if he should call it in, but then he saw the girl. She’d had her head bent over the engine, but as he drew up beside her car, she straightened, scrubbing at her forehead.

  Blond hair. Red lips. Tight-fitting jeans.

  Holtz rolled down the window. “This is private property,” he said. “I’m afraid you can’t stop here.”

  “I didn’t want to,” she said, “the stupid thing just up and died.”

  Holtz caught the edge of an accent, a melodic lilt. God, he loved accents.

  “And of course,” the girl went on, kicking a tire, “I don’t know shite about cars.”

  Holtz eyed the low black beast. “That’s quite a car for someone who doesn’t know shite.”

  She smiled at that, a dazzling, dimpled smile. “What can I say?” she said in that musical voice. “I have a weakness for nice things.” She pulled her hair up off her neck. “Think you can help?”

  Holtz didn’t know shite—shit—about cars either, but he wasn’t about to admit it. He got out and rolled up his sleeves, approaching the engine. It reminded him of the fake bombs he’d had to defuse in basic training.

  He toggled and poked and made low humming sounds as the girl stood at his shoulder, smelling of summer and sunshine. And then, miraculously, his fingers brushed over a hose and Holtz realized it had simply come free. He reconnected it.

  “Try starting it now,” he said, and a second later, the coupe’s engine rumbled to life. The girl let out a joyful sound.

  Holtz shut the hood, feeling triumphant.

  “My hero,” she said with mock sincerity but genuine affection. She dug through her wallet. “Here, let me pay you . . .”

  “You don’t have to do that,” he said.

  “You bailed me out,” she said. “There has to be something I can do.”

  Holtz hesitated. She was out of his league, but—fuck it.

  “You could let me buy you a drink.”

  He braced himself for the inevitable rejection, wasn’t surprised when the girl shook her head. “No,” she said, “that won’t do. But I’ll buy you one.”

  Holtz grinned like an idiot.

  He would have gone with her right then, left the black coupe on the side of the private road and driven her anywhere she wanted, but she apologized—she was running crazy late, thanks to the breakdown—and asked if he would take a rain check.

  Tomorrow night?

  He agreed.

  She held out her hand, palm up. “Got a phone?”

  He offered up his cell, flushing slightly when her fingers lingered on his, their touch feather light, but electric. She added her name and number to his contacts and passed it back.

  “Tomorrow, then?” she asked, turning toward her car.

  “Tomorrow, then . . .” Holtz looked down at the entry in his phone. “April.”

  She glanced back at him through thick lashes, and winked, and Holtz climbed into his yellow speedster and drove away, still watching April, haloed in the rearview mirror. He kept waiting for her to disappear, but she didn’t. Life was strange and wonderful sometimes.

  And tomorrow, he had a date.

  * * *

  JUNE watched the yellow car shrink into the distance.

  Idiot, she thought, starting up the road, this time on foot.

  By the time she reached the gates of EON, she looked for all intents and purposes like Benjamin Holtz, Observation and Containment, age twenty-seven. Loved his little brother and hated his stepdad and still had nightmares about the things he’d seen overseas.

  “What’s this?” asked the security guard, rising from the booth.

  “Stupid car broke down,” she muttered, doing her best to imitate Holtz’s northeastern accent.

  “Ha!” said the security guard. “That’s what you get for choosing style over substance.”

  “Yeah, yeah,” said June.

  “What you need is a good midlevel sedan—”

  “Just let me in so I can grab a van and some cables and get my shit back on the road.”

  The gates parted, and June stepped through. Easy as pie. She crossed the lot on foot and whistled at the sight of the front doors. It looked like someone had driven a car into them. Inside, a soldier looked up from some kind of scanning station.

  “Back so soon?” he asked, rising to his feet.

  “Left my wallet somewhere.”

  “Won’t get far without that.”

  “You’re telling me.”

  Small talk was an art form, one of those things that made people’s eyes gloss over. Go silent, and they might start wondering why. But keep them talking about nothing at all, and they wouldn’t even blink.

  “You know the drill,” said the soldier.

  June did not. This fell soundly in the realm of minutiae, something that rarely conveyed with a touch. Making a guess, she stepped into the scanner, and waited.

  “Come on, Holtz,” said the soldier. “Don’t be a pain in my ass. Arms up.”

  She rolled her eyes, but spread her arms. It was like standing inside a copier, a beam of white light that moved from head to toe, followed by a short chime.

  “All clear,” said the soldier.

  June saluted him, a casual flick of her fingers as she started down the hall. She needed to find a computer. It should have been easy, a building as fancy as this one, but every hallway looked alike. Identical, even. And every identical hallway was studded with even more identical doors, almost none of them marked, and the farther into the maze June went, the farther she’d have to walk out. So she settled instead for simplicity, pointing herself toward the nearest door. Halfway there, it swung open. A female soldier stepped out, took one look at Holtz, and rolled her eyes.

  “Forget something?”

  “Always,” said June. She didn’t pick up her pace, but her fingers caught the door just before it closed. June slipped inside, and found a small room with four computer consoles. Only one of them was occupied.

  “Finally,” the soldier said, “I’ve had to piss for an hour . . .”

  He started to swivel toward June, but she was already there, one arm hooking around his throat. She pinned him against the chair, cutting off his ability to speak, to shout for help. His back arched as he fought her hold, throwing punches made clumsy by shock and the sudden lack of oxygen. But Benjamin Holtz was no weakling, and June had killed her fair share of men. The soldier did manage to get a pen and jam it back into June’s thigh, but of course, it wasn’t her thigh.

  Sorry, Ben, she thought, tightening her hold.

  Soon enough, the soldier stopped fighting. He went limp, and she let go, rolling his chair out of the way so she could get to his computer. June hummed as her fingers slid over the keyboard.

  She had to hand it to EON. They had a very user-friendly system, and half a minute later she’d found the file she needed. It had been labeled alias: june. She skimmed through, curious to see what they’d found—which wasn’t much. But still enough to merit the trip.

  “Good-bye,” she whispered, erasing the file—and herself—from the system.

  June went out the way she’d come in.
>
  Retraced her steps down the hall, past security and the gates, back to the waiting black coupe. June opened the car door, and by the time she climbed behind the wheel, she was herself again.

  Not the leggy brunette, or the thin teen, or any of the dozen faces she’d recently worn, but a spritely girl, with strawberry curls and a splash of freckles across her high cheeks.

  June let herself sit in that body for a moment, breathe with her own lungs, see with her own eyes. Just to remember what it felt like. And then she reached out and started the engine, sliding into something safer. The kind of person you wouldn’t look twice at. The kind who gets lost in the crowd.

  June glanced in the rearview mirror, checked her new face, and drove away.

  A MESSAGE FROM VICTOR VALE

  I

  A garage 10 miles outside Halloway.

  “I won’t ask you again,” said Victor Vale as the mechanic scrambled backward across the floor. Retreating—as if a few feet would make a difference. Victor followed slowly, steadily, watched as the man backed himself into a corner. Jack Linden was forty-three, with a five-o-clock shadow, grease under his nails, and the ability to fix things. “I already told you,” said Linden, jumping nervously as his back came up against a half-built engine. “I can’t do it—”

  “Don’t lie to me,” warned Victor.

  He flexed his fingers around the gun, and the air crackled with energy.

  Linden shuddered, biting back a scream. “I’m not!” yelped the mechanic. “I fix things. I put cars back together. Not people. Cars are easy. Nuts and bolts and fuel lines. People are too much more.”

  Victor didn’t believe that. Had never believed that. People were more intricate perhaps, more nuanced, but fundamentally machines. Things that worked, or didn’t, that broke down, and were repaired. Could be repaired.

  He closed his eyes, measuring the current inside of him. It was already in his muscles, already threading his bones, already filling his chest cavity. The sensation was unpleasant, but not nearly as unpleasant as what would happen when the current peaked.

  “I swear,” said Linden, “I’d help you if I could.” But Victor heard him shift. Heard a hand knocking against the tools strewn across the floor. “You have to believe me . . .” he said, fingers closing around something metal.

 
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