Undone (Unknown Trilogy Book 3), page 1
Copyright © 2017 Wendy Higgins
All rights reserved.
Published by Wendy Higgins
No part of this book may be used, changed, or reproduced in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission of the author except where permitted by law.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Design by:
Image license © ktsimage / iStockphoto.com
“Sunset behind wall”
© soleg / iStockphoto.com
“Young couple at sunset on sky background, love concept”
Interior Design & Formatting by:
Christine Borgford of Type A Formatting
YA titles from HarperTeen:
The Great Hunt
The Great Pursuit
Kiss Collector (coming December 2018)
Unknown (book 1)
Unrest (book 2)
Undone (book 3)
Books by Wendy Higgins
About the Author
For Ann Kulakowski,
My personal cheerleader
I’d never prayed so hard in my life as I did the day I was captured with Tater and Linette by beautiful aliens.
Beautiful aliens. Ha. I nearly laughed out loud in the back of the van where I sat on the cold, metal floor with my wrists and ankles burning from tight rope bindings. At first glance they were beautiful. But it was like meeting a hot guy—at first you’re just dazzled by the attraction—and then he makes a distasteful joke and the spell is broken—suddenly what was beautiful reveals itself to be ugly.
I glanced at Tater, but his eyes kind of scared me. Lately he’d been mentally and emotionally fragile. After watching our parents bombed, then killing a man who held his sister at gunpoint, he hadn’t been right. Being captured and having to pretend we were on the side of the aliens, it could break him. That scared me more than anything in the world right now. Tater was all I had left. Amber and the others who left the underground bunker to go God-knows-where, had no way of knowing we were alive. I tried to make eye contact with Tater, to infuse some of my wavering hope and strength into him, but it was useless. Jacob Tate’s eyes were lost.
In contrast, I caught the fiery look in Linette’s eyes, and it jolted me with a shiver. She was trying to communicate silently, and her fierce calculation freaked me out. It’s because of her quick thinking that we were still alive, but now we would have to live a double life. She’d so easily spouted the story to the Bael aliens about us being rebels, pro-change, and being prisoners of the U.S. military. I never would’ve thought of something like that. But she was an officer, and a strategist. I was a college biology major who wanted to teach middle school. That was a past life, though, and seemed ages away. As optimistic as I’d always been, even I knew there was no going back.
Linette began to wiggle, rubbing her shoulder against her gag, and moving her chin back and forth. Within a minute, the gag was down just enough for her to be able to speak. My heart gave a jump of fear that we’d be caught, and I searched the dark van with my eyes. Tater scooted closer.
“There’s no technology back here that I can see,” Linette whispered. “But I’m not taking the chance of talking too long, so listen up. They’re going to question us, so we need to have our stories straight.”
Tater and I both nodded and listened attentively. When Linette was finished, she shouldered her gag back over her mouth, and we moved apart again.
The van hit a bump that made me bounce and land hard on my tailbone. I cringed against the pain that shot through various parts of my body. My stupid ankle was still swollen and my head still throbbing from where I’d fallen in the greenhouse and knocked myself out when the alarms sounded. It was my clumsy fault that the three of us were here, in this van, instead of on those planes to safety with the others.
My eyes burned and I swallowed back the guilt. It would be so easy to give myself over to despondency. Too easy. Instead, I shut my eyes and prayed again. It was all I had left.
I used to find airplanes fun and relaxing. The hum of an engine had always put me at ease. But today . . . this shitty day . . . nothing on Earth could comfort me. In one fell swoop, I’d lost everyone. My brother and best friend never made it to the plane. Why? What the hell happened to Remy and Tater? I wanted to rage and scream. They’d been right there. We’d practiced the raid drills. They knew what to do. It should have been simple.
And then there was Rylen. My brave, stubborn Ry who jumped on a fighter jet to make it safe for us passenger planes to take off. Now there was no sign of him. A dry sob made my chest hiccup, earning me dire looks of pity from Devon and Shavontae in the seats beside me. I turned closer to the window to hide from those looks.
The past twenty minutes since we’d been in the air were the worst moments of my life. Losing Tater, Remy, and Rylen was an even worse sensation than losing Mom, Dad, and Abuela the day of the bombing in Nevada. After our parents were killed, we’d clung to each other. Relied on each other. Those you bond with during times of tragedy become part of you. Now they were all gone.
At the front of the plane in the jumpseat, First Sergeant’s chin raised and his eyebrows furrowed at a shout from the back of the plane. More voices rose now, louder. I turned in the seat, my stomach a pit of nerves. Everyone was looking out the windows.
My God . . . this is it. If the alien’s fighter jets had taken down Rylen and found our trai
A strange sound flitted its way through the cabin—a sound that did not at all fit our circumstances. Laughter. Shouts that were not full of fear. What was wrong with them? Devon and Shavontae shared a confused look with me as cheers sounded from the back of the plane. Soldiers were pushing toward the windows.
“Oh, my God,” I whispered shakily as I sank back into my seat and spun, pressing my face to the window, my heart in my throat.
Through the haze of clouds, a pointed, metal jet nose came into view. The fighter jet hovered beside us as close as it could get, so close I could make out the pilot’s white helmet. My whole body jumped like I’d been prodded by a live wire.
It was Rylen.
A manic laugh tumbled out from deep inside me, my voice mixing with the cacophony of cheers that filled the cabin. Devon grabbed my shoulder and let out a yell of praise. The entire plane was yelling, jumping, punching the air.
“That’s right, Fite! Hell, yeah!” Devon shouted.
I pressed a hand against the window as tears streamed down and I watched the silhouette of my man flying beside us, whole and alive.
“Settle down!” First Sergeant called out to the cabin, but he was smiling. “You’ll take the damn plane down with all that ruckus.”
But I couldn’t be quiet. I buried my face in my hands and bent over, spent, bawling tears of joy with my elbows on my knees. I felt someone in front of me, squatting, rubbing my back, and heard Shavontae’s sweet voice saying, “Let it out, girl, he’s safe.” I reached out and we embraced each other. She held me tight, and I was so thankful.
So damned thankful.
I didn’t know how I fell asleep when I’d been so full of fear. Overwhelmed. My body must have shut down. When the van began to slow, I scrambled back up to a sitting position, confused and panicky, my body stiff, my injuries sore. Dim light seeped in through the small windows. Linette and Tater had bags of exhaustion under their eyes.
All three of us pushed to our knees to peer out the windows. The landscape looked familiar, dry with patches of scraggly bushes, like Nevada. High fences with barbed wire stretched as far as I could see. Squat, ugly buildings sat in clusters. Tater mumbled something through the knot of scarf in his mouth that sounded like “Ellis,” and Linette nodded.
Ah . . . Nellis. The Air Force base. A small thrill shot through me at the knowledge that we were so close to home. Or, what used to be home. A pang of resounding loss hit me like a kick to my abdomen, and I sat again, closing my eyes as the van turned and drove a while longer before stopping. My heart picked up rhythm as Tater and Linette shuffled to get back into their sitting positions, knees up, eyes meek as a Disaster Relief Initiative soldier in black opened the back doors, letting in a gust of dust. I raised an arm to shield my eyes, and the man—alien—grabbed my elbow, nearly toppling me out. I landed on my feet with a grunt, quickly shifting my weight to my uninjured ankle.
I turned to see a look of hatred in Tater’s eyes as he glared at the soldier. I gave my head a tiny, quick shake, and Tater seemed to sink into himself, forcing his façade back into place. I heaved out a breath as the other two were pulled out. God help us if Tater lost his temper and gave us away.
Six soldiers surrounded us, walking somewhat robotically with their ungraceful movements. It was so strange. The “DRI” aliens who’d been running the show during the takeover must have had major training to act like humans and fit in, though they couldn’t fake the lack of personalities. These others were just freaky, like robots in human shells.
When we rounded the van, Tater and Linette both gave a surprised, upward jerk of their heads and I followed suit, looking up at a building in the center of it all that did not match its surroundings. First of all, it was huge, like a palace. This was new, beautiful architecture.
While the other military buildings were squat, square, and dull, this looked like a mix of Romanian castle with Victorian rounded edges of stone, brick, and woodwork. Three stories. A mansion in the works. This couldn’t have been on base months ago when the war began. They’d erected this thing in a hot minute, fit for a king. The three of us gawked as we were led through the cold air into a blast of warmth inside.
To be among this kind of luxury felt bizarre after being underground in Utah for so long. Deep red rugs. Elegantly framed mirrors. Metalwork designs adorning the walls and hand-painted vases on pillars. Everything smelled new, like leather, fresh wood, and paint. My mother would be drooling at this interior design work.
A hard nudge from behind forced me to put aside the wave of sickening nostalgia at the reminder that I’d never see her again. She’d never help another person stage their home to put on the market. I couldn’t get used to the idea of them gone.
We were pushed into a room with a fancy sofa and two armchairs.
“Sit,” commanded one of the soldiers. “And don’t move.”
One soldier stood guard at the door while the others left us. Tater, Linette, and I shared brief glances, but we didn’t dare try to communicate. It’d be impossible anyway with our gags. The corners of my mouth were feeling raw, and I was so thirsty. Everything was sore, but the couch felt gloriously soft when I fell onto it. All three of us sighed through our noses at the comfort after being on a hard surface for the entire night.
The comfort only lasted a few minutes before the three of us all seemed to become alert and nervous at once. What was about to happen? What would they do with us? What if they asked questions that Linette didn’t cover when she debriefed us in the van during the night? What if I said something that didn’t match the others’ stories? So many things could go wrong.
My first impression of Alaska as we flew lower was that it had a lot of trees. Snowy, tall pines everywhere. Endless white forests under a pale morning sky. I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate the beauty of it if Rylen wasn’t alive, landing his jet right ahead of us. But as we passed over what looked like towns and a city, I saw the charred remains of bomb destruction, and worse . . . huge heaps of dirt in fields. When people started whispering to one another about burial mounds, I tasted the sour bile I’d come to know so well.
All of our planes were pulled into industrial garages at the end of a narrow road in the middle of a forest, miles from anything. When we all stared from the windows to First Sergeant, he assured us. “Convoys are coming. Don’t worry.”
I stood with the others and lined up to get off. None of us had anything to carry other than those who held guns. We’d left every single belonging behind in our rush to exit the bunker. I tried really hard not to be pushy, but when my feet hit the ground at the base of the rickety stairs, I bolted in the direction of the fighter jet. Rylen was on the ground, looking up at a place on the wing that looked like it’d been clipped by enemy fire.
He spun, getting his helmet off just in time to catch me in his arms as I collided into him, exhaling at the feel of his healthy body against mine. He laughed and held me up, kissing the side of my head.
“I was so scared,” I said, shaking at the memory of thinking he’d been lost.
“I’m right here, Pepper. We’re all safe.”
Not all . . .
He set me down, and I choked up, covering my mouth and shaking my head.
“Amber?” He lifted my chin, and when I saw the worry in his blue-gray eyes, I had to shut mine tight, tears squeezing out. “What is it?”
I took a shuddering breath, my chest heaving. “Remy and Tater didn’t make it.”
He went still and quiet. When I opened my eyes, he was staring at me in shock. Without a word, he let me go and ran to the other passenger plane, pushing his way through our people, yelling, “Tate!”
“Tater!” He stopped and spun amid the people, his face frantic until his eyes finally landed on mine again, and then he slumped. I knew his pain. His panic. “Wh—what happened?” His disbelief.
I shook my head. “He was with me, and then when we couldn’t find Remy, he ran back.” I swallowed down the moisture of emotion. “They never made it.”
Rylen’s hand was trembling as he ran it over his blond, cropped hair. He looked around once more before taking me in his arms tightly. I squeezed him back. It was just us now. We had new friends, who I was thankful for, but our families were gone.
“Fuck,” he whispered. “I don’t know if I should hope that they were killed or captured.”
Oh, my God. Captured? I didn’t think of that. I just imagined the aliens killing everyone on sight. I pulled away and looked at him. “Why would they capture them?”
His brow creased. “For information.”
Now my stomach was churning. “How can we find out?”
“I don’t know, Pep.” Rylen shook his head, then rubbed his face hard.
“Fite!” We both turned at the sound of New York Josh’s accent. “Nice flying, man.” The two of them clasped hands and pulled each other in, giving a slap on the back.
“Thanks. She got hit in a few places, but I think we can patch her up.”
They both glanced at the plane and nodded.
“Hey,” Josh said, turning to me. “Was Linette on your plane? She wasn’t on either chopper like she was supposed to be.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I didn’t see her.” There was no way Linette would miss the convoy out of the bunker. She was too hardcore to make a mistake that big. But Josh looked worried.
“All right. I’m gonna keep checking.” He jogged away, and I shared a glance with Rylen.
“She’s here somewhere,” he assured me.
Before I could respond, we were joined by a string of soldiers congratulating and thanking Rylen, including Top, our First Sergeant. They all wanted details of his flight, and how he’d shot the two jets down, but Rylen was too solemn to oblige yet. I knew, like me, he was thinking of Tater and Remy.
Other author's books:
- Flirting With MaybeSweet TemptationSweet EvilSweet PerilUnrestUndoneSee MeSweet Reckoning
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