Vengeful, p.40

Vengeful, page 40

 

Vengeful
 



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  “I do,” said Victor, eyes flicking open right as Linden lunged at him, wrench in hand. But halfway there, the mechanic’s body slowed, as if caught in a sudden drag, and Victor swung the gun up and shot Linden in the head.

  The sound echoed through the garage, ricocheting off concrete and steel as the mechanic fell.

  How disappointing, thought Victor, as blood began to seep across the floor.

  He holstered the gun and turned to go, but only made it three steps before the first wave of pain hit, sudden and sharp. He staggered, bracing himself against the shell of a car as it tore through his chest.

  Five years ago, it would have been a simple matter of flipping that internal switch, killing power to the nerves, escaping any sensation.

  But these days, there was no escape.

  His nerves crackled, the pain ratcheting up like a dial. The air hummed with the energy, and the lights flickered overhead as Victor forced himself away from the body and back across the garage toward the wide metal doors. He tried to focus on the symptoms, reduce them to facts, statistics, measurable quantities and—

  The current arced through him, and he shuddered, pulling a black mouth guard from his coat and forcing it between his teeth just before one knee give way, his body buckling under the strain.

  Victor fought—he always fought—but seconds later he was on his back, his muscles seizing as the current peaked, and his heart lurched, lost lost rhythm—

  And he died.

  TURN THE PAGE

  FOR A BONUS STORY

  SET IN THE

  VILLAINS UNIVERSE

  COMMON GROUND

  4 YEARS AGO

  A CITY IN RUINS

  IT was a routine mission.

  Or as routine as missions got in the middle of a war zone, anyway.

  Rios adjusted her flak jacket, slid the bolt on her rifle as the rest of her team came through on the comm.

  “Fallon, in position.”

  “Mendez, in position.”

  “Jackson, in position.”

  Their voices sounded too loud, the night too quiet. The shelling had stopped a few hours before, and now her team was being sent in, not to clear civilians or track down retreating insurgents, but to raid one of the larger houses, a known site of terrorist activity, and get whatever they could. Weapons. Intel.

  “Rios,” she said, “in position.”

  Position, in this case, was the side entrance of the house.

  Three stories tall and still mostly intact, despite a week of heavy fire. Intact, but empty. A drone had picked up the insurgents’ evacuation earlier that day.

  The scope on her rifle cut through the dark as she nudged the door open, heard the mirroring steps of the other three soldiers cutting predetermined courses through the house.

  Rios took the first floor, went from room to room, the camera in her helmet recording the remnants of maps tacked to walls, papers on a low wood table. She’d nearly reached the end of the circuit when she heard the sound.

  A whistle.

  It split the air, getting louder, and louder. Rios knew what that noise meant, they all did.

  “Down!” she shouted, the instant before the shell hit.

  The world rocked, the force slamming Rios sideways, her ears ringing. She rolled onto her back—the explosion had sheared off the building’s top floor, sent pieces of the second crumbling down onto the first.

  Onto her.

  Rios was scrambling to her feet when the ceiling fell, stone and wood buckling. She threw herself under a table, felt the wood crack and then give, the weight of rock and rubble crushing her against the floor. For a long second, the world fell.

  And then it stopped.

  Rios tried to move, but she couldn’t. Her visor was cracked, her limbs pinned beneath the table, the table pinned beneath the wreckage. Her ribs strained against the pressure on her chest. Rios tried to drag in breath, but the air was dust and debris, and she ended up coughing, retching. Her lungs strained. She felt like she was drowning.

  Her ears stopped ringing, replaced by the white noise of static.

  “Fallon, come in!” she gasped.

  Nothing.

  “Jackson!”

  Nothing.

  “Mendez?”

  Nothing.

  The building groaned. Shuddered. She had to get out. Had to get free before the rest of the place came down. But she couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.

  Through her broken visor, she saw the rubble shift, the stones slipping as the building swayed around her. Rios squeezed her eyes shut and pushed—pushed against the table, against the rubble, against the rock, willing it to move, begging it to let her out. She tried, with the last of her air, the last of her strength. But it wasn’t enough. The rocks didn’t move. The table didn’t shift. Her lungs screamed, and then even that pain faded, and she felt herself slipping. Felt the darkness closing over her.

  And then—

  Rios was falling.

  Five feet, ten—she hit the ground hard enough to feel it, even through the shock and the haze.

  The floor must have finally given way beneath her. She threw her arms up, bracing for the rubble to fall, but nothing happened, and when Rios looked up, the ceiling overhead was solid. Then how was she here? Where was here? Rios twisted around, and realized she was in the basement.

  “Get up,” she told herself.

  She did, nearly toppled in pain, but she was on her feet now, she wasn’t going back down. Rios forced herself to the wooden stairs at the edge of the room, dragged herself up to the door at the top, and pushed.

  It moved an inch and then jammed, pinned shut by debris.

  Rios snarled and threw herself against the door. Or at least she meant to. But instead of her wounded body hitting wood, she stumbled, ended up on her hands and knees in a shallow pile of rubble. At her back, the door stood, still jammed shut.

  “What the fu—”

  Shouts went up, and Rios straightened, hoping to see Jackson or Mendez or Fallon, but the voices were coming from beyond the building. She shouted back, her voice hoarse, her lungs aching with the effort.

  It took them two days to clear the rubble. Jackson and Mendez were dead. Fallon was alive but still unconscious. And Rios—Rios walked away. Battered, broken, but alive.

  The problem was, she didn’t know how.

  * * *

  WELL, she didn’t exactly walk away.

  Rios had a concussion. Five broken ribs. Seven stress fractures. It hurt to move, hurt to breathe, hurt to think too hard, so she did her best to avoid all three. Which was probably why it took her a few days to realize something was wrong. Not with herself—that much she’d figured out pretty quickly—but with the hospital.

  She’d been airlifted to an army hospital—at least she’d assumed that’s what it was. But as the strongest of the painkillers wore off, and her senses returned, she realized this place was obviously private. Too many doctors, too few patients.

  I should have lied, she thought.

  “You were on the first floor,” her sergeant had said. “How did you get out?”

  Rios had been delirious with pain and numb with shock, and despite it all, she’d considered lying, knew how crazy it would sound. But she’d always been a shit liar, and it didn’t matter if they believed her—she could show them.

  That was the idea, anyway.

  She didn’t actually know if it would work again, whatever it was, didn’t know how to turn it on and off, how to tell it when to make a surface solid and when to let her through—but in the end, she didn’t need to. Whatever it was—it just kind of knew.

  So she’d shown him, put her hand straight through the side of the nearest jeep, watched the sergeant’s eyes widen, his mouth go slack.

  She didn’t remember much after that.

  “Corporal Rios.”

  She looked up, saw a man standing in the doorway. He had salt-and-pepper hair, and tired eyes. “I’m the director of this facility,” he said.
“My name is Joseph Stell.”

  Rios struggled to sit up.

  They’d bound her ribs so tight it still felt like there was a building weighing down on her.

  “Please,” said Stell. “Don’t strain yourself.” He glanced around, but there were no visitors’ chairs, so he ended up hovering next to the bed. “You’re lucky to be alive, soldier.”

  “That’s what they keep saying.”

  He gave her a knowing glance. “You think it’s more than luck?”

  Rios didn’t answer. There was something weighted about the question. He wasn’t just making small talk. He knew. What she’d said to her superior, what she’d shown him.

  “Do you know where you are?” pressed Stell.

  “I know this isn’t a normal hospital,” said Rios. Stell didn’t deny it.

  He simply nodded, looked around. “This is a place for people like you.”

  “For soldiers?”

  “For EOs.”

  He said the word like it was supposed to mean something. It didn’t. Her confusion must have registered, because he went on.

  “Power is a weapon, Corporal. You know how dangerous those can be. It’s my job to make sure these kinds of weapons don’t hurt anyone.”

  Rios shook her head. “Look, I was just doing my job. I don’t know what happened back there—what happened to me—but I’m glad it did. It saved my life. It made me stronger. So send me back, and let me—”

  “I can’t do that,” cut in Stell.

  “Do you intend to keep me here?” she demanded.

  “I don’t know if we could,” he admitted. “More importantly, I don’t know if we need to. I’m hoping, Corporal Rios, that you and I can reach an agreement. This is rather uncharted territory. You see, you’re the first EO who’s ever turned themselves in.”

  “What was I supposed to do?”

  “Most people in your position choose to run.”

  “Why?” asked Rios. “I’m not a criminal.” She straightened, despite the pain. “I’ve spent my whole life running toward the fight. And now I’m just supposed to stop? To surrender? Because I survived? No. I don’t think so.”

  To her surprise, Stell smiled. “You’re right. Your talent makes you stronger. It makes you . . . equipped to face a different degree of danger. If you still want to serve your country—”

  “That’s all I’ve ever wanted,” cut in Rios.

  “Then perhaps,” said Stell, “there is a way you can.”

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  VICTORIA Schwab is the author of the Darker Shade of Magic series, whose first book was described as “a classic work of fantasy” by bestselling author Deborah Harkness. It was one of Waterstones’ Best Fantasy Books of 2015, The Guardian’s Best Science Fiction novels, also a Telegraph choice for the Best Young Adult Books of 2015, and Book of the Week for We Love This Book.

  She is also the author of Vicious, which was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2013, an Amazon Best Book of the Year (as well as Best Book of the month when it debuted in September), a semi-finalist in the Goodreads Choice 2013 Book Awards, and the ALA top pick for Fantasy for their 2014 reading list.

 


 

  V. E. Schwab, Vengeful

 


 

 
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