Read Family Online

Authors: Robert J. Crane

Family (4 page)

BOOK: Family
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“That does seem to be the subtext, doesn’t it?” I mirrored his movement, putting my hands in the air, standing up. I left Zack at my feet, and Reed was lying on the ground next to where Scott stood.

They approached unspeaking, their guns trained on us. I spun around slowly, taking in all 360 degrees. We were well and truly surrounded, they had us covered from multiple approaches, and there was no escape in any direction. “You win, guys,” Scott said. “So what is it? Prisoners or dead?”

The leader didn’t respond, but his goggles were on his forehead and I could see his eyes. I didn’t love the look of them. I could hear the faint hum of something, and I suspected it was an earpiece tuned a little too loud. My senses became heightened, the smell of the men around me pungent in my nose – Scott, Reed and Zack were each wearing some sort of cologne, gunpowder was heavy in the air, and the men in black had it on them along with something else, something more potent – gun oils, and blood.

It wasn’t actually blood, but there was something in my head that was screaming, in the back, about blood. It was in their eyes, their posture, the way they moved. A faint voice was trying desperately to get out of a place I had locked him for a very long time.

Death, little doll, they mean you death…

They will kill you.
I heard the voice of Aleksandr Gavrikov within.
They will snuff you out the way they were always trained, like the dogs of war they are…

As amazing as it sounds, I saw Scott stiffen; he was looking at me and had noticed the change in my posture. “What?” he asked, sotto voce.

“The voices in my head say that they’re going to kill us.”

I saw the leader raise his submachine gun as if to answer me, and I could see his finger tightening on the trigger.


Chapter 4


Adrenaline raced through my veins, and the sound of the chopper blades overhead was deafening. I smelled the blood, even heavier now, and I realized it was on me, on my coat, and my shirt – Andromeda’s blood. I wanted to hurt them, even as I watched their fingers tighten on their triggers; they were going so quick, there was no way I could stop them in time. And then I heard something else.


I was already moving before it registered that I recognized the voice. I heard and felt a rush of wind behind me and realized that two of the gunmen at my back had just been snugged to the ground by nets of light, something familiar to me from having experienced it in training. I leapt as I saw Scott shoot a jet of pressurized water out of his hands in two directions at once, sending two more of our enemies flying.

I heard the impact of a landing behind me, the sound of some dumbass – one Clyde Clary, in point of fact – shaking the earth with the weight of his bulk. I had a suspicion that ol’ Clyde had transformed himself into either movable rock or metal before he hit the ground. He’d probably landed on one or two of those guys that had been pointing guns at us, judging by the wet splattering sound I heard as I flew through the air toward the leader of the squad.

I saw his eyes widen, but his gun began to adjust aim immediately and was already firing when I was just a foot away from him. I caught two rounds, but my momentum carried me through as I felt sharp pressure in my arm and shoulder from the impact of the bullets and in my head as I rammed it into his nose, breaking it.

I landed on my feet, woozy, but maintaining my balance. The man in black was not so lucky; I heard his head hit the ground and his body bounced at least twice before coming to rest about ten feet from me. The searing pain in my arm caught up to me and I sunk to my knees. It felt like someone was stabbing into my left bicep and shoulder, then twisting around in radial circles for kicks. I sank back, letting the pain overwhelm me.

Scott appeared at my side, the trees swaying above him, framing his head like some sort of bizarre nature picture. A blue-white sky provided the backdrop. “Damn, Sienna,” he said, and his fingers came up with blood on the tips from where he touched my arm. “Not good.”

“Took that bastard out, though,” I said, trying not to make the kind of noise that would suggest I was hurt in any way. I blew my breath out through my lips and felt the tension in my guts as I bottled up the urge to scream. “Some of us don’t have a ranged attack to deliver us from harm.”

“Oh, yeah, harm,” he said, sarcasm oozing out. “I was certainly never in any of that—”

“You two are bickering like kids.” I heard a familiar voice as someone else stepped into Scott’s lovely arboreal picture. Glen Parks, my instructor, appeared to Scott’s left, his shaggy gray hair and beard such a contrast to his dark eyes. There was red in the beard around his mouth and he caught me looking. “Not mine,” he said. “Got your sniper.” We’d all been his pupils in training, Scott, Kat and I – but I always had this suspicion, based on the way he talked to me, that I was his favorite. Probably because I could fight better than either of them. Or it might just have been that our personalities meshed well – he had an edge about him, and I walked around like I was covered in barbed wire, daring anyone to get close to me.

“How’s it look?” Scott asked, and his voice betrayed the tension.

“She’s been shot,” Parks said, as if to add,
you idiot
. “Twice. How do you think it looks?”

“Like a gunshot wound?” He paused. “Like two gunshot wounds?”

Parks didn’t answer. I felt his fingers poke at one of my wounds and I let out the slightest moan without realizing I was the one making the sound. I saw other faces behind them – one of them was Clyde Clary’s, his round face and blondish hair looking particularly long. I hadn’t seen him for a few days, I realized, and I hadn’t missed him. At all. “Clary,” I said, acknowledging him with a little bit of a hiss in my voice.

“What’s up, girl?” he asked, looking over the shoulders of Scott and Parks. “You wearing a tank top? Where’s your gloves?” He looked at me blankly for a minute, nodding, his lips turning into a smile that I suspected was knowing – by which I mean it was knowing nothing. “Oh, I get it – you was throwing some hurt on people, giving ‘em the ol’ soul suck.”

“Could you make that sound any dirtier?” Scott said, glaring at him over his shoulder.

“Sure,” Clary said. “She was—”

“Shut up,” Parks said, as another face appeared next to Clary’s, this one looking at me from upside down. I almost didn’t recognize it, because the long blond hair that had been there when I last saw her was gone, replaced with scorched skin that hadn’t healed yet. One of her eyes was blank, sightless, but the other was still there and cold blue.

“Eve?” I asked, and the woman nodded. “What happened to you?”

“Battle scars,” she said in her Germanic accent, “from my time in Kansas.” She focused back on Parks. “The two I caught in my nets killed themselves with cyanide capsules in hollow teeth. Same with the others.” Her scarred face didn’t show much, as though her nerves had been destroyed when she’d been burned.

“You’re telling me we took them all out and have no prisoners to show for it?” Parks stopped what he was doing and looked up at her. “What about the chopper?”

“Flew off,” she replied. “Roberto said they were headed southwest, but since we can’t track them on radar…”

“They got away,” Parks finished, and turned back to me. He took a small strip of fabric out of his beltpack and I felt him wrap it around my arm. “Dr. Perugini is gonna have to pull any bullets out that might be left inside you,” he said to me. “My skills as a field surgeon are at their limit.”

“Just do it,” I said. “Get a pair of tweezers and do it. You know as well as I do that if you get them out now, I’ll heal in the next few hours and be fine as a fiddle or whatever. You wait, and take me in that helicopter, and this flight is gonna suck for me.”

Parks had a smile hidden beneath his blood-soaked beard. “Kid, this flight is gonna suck for you no matter what. But you got it.” I heard the respect in the way he said it, and it meant something. At least for the five seconds it took for the agonizing pain to start. Clary turned metal and pushed me down, forcing my legs and arms into the dirt. I saw a flash of light, and I didn’t know whether it was Eve using a net to bind me to the ground to keep me from squirming, the sun overhead going nova, or just the pain overwhelming my other senses.

I could still smell blood, mine and that of others, mingled with the dirt, the sweat, and the other smells of the world around me. The steady thrum of the chopper landing in the field next to us was muted, as were the urgent, insistent conversations being held by my comrades. I struggled when the pain got worse, trying not to. I focused on Kat first, thinking of her, of where she might be; then thought of my mother, who had kidnapped Kat for some unknown reason. Then I thought about Zack, and turned my head to see that Eve was tending to both him and Reed, who seemed to be starting to come around.

Lastly, my thoughts turned to Andromeda. I had known her for only hours, and she had already saved my life twice. I slammed my head against the forest floor, trying to resist the pain, both physical and mental, and I pushed my hair against the dirt and leaves, grinding my skull against it, into it, feeling the sharp pressure of some rocks and sticks poking at me. As the pain got worse, surging up my arm, my thoughts were reduced to a staccato burst.

Kat gone. Mom back, then gone again. Andromeda, dead. I was eighteen years old, and she wasn’t the first person I had seen die, nor was she the first to die for me. Not even close. I pushed harder against the ground, and my right hand found a rock. I pushed it into my palm, felt the smooth contours, felt it give way and break under the pressure of my grip. I screamed, unintentionally. It felt like the stabbing pain was back, a million times worse, and when my eyes snapped open, the pretty blue-white background above was blood red. It suddenly felt far away, far, far away from me, the sky above just a pinprick of light that faded the smaller it got.


Chapter 5


I awoke hours later, in the medical unit at the Directorate. I remembered nothing of the chopper ride home, or of being wheeled in. The steady beeping of a monitor gave me the first clue of where I was as I opened my eyes. The second was the sight of a hospital bed next to mine, filled with the corpulent frame of Kurt Hannegan.

“Welcome back,” he said, his weathered skin looking especially bad in the overhead fluorescent light. “Next time, wait until I’m discharged before you wake up, will you?” Petulant. Lovely.

“If I waited for you to discharge,” I said, my throat feeling scratchy, “prematurely, and whatnot…connect the dots and make your own insult out of that, will you?” I waved my hand at him, the pulse-oxygen monitor hampering my ability to do it. I felt woozy and his face was distorted, as though someone were playing with a funhouse mirror in front of him.

“That the best you got?” He looked at me, unimpressed. The smooth metal walls of the medical unit and the hospital beds were running together.

“When it comes to you, Hannegan, do I really need any better?” I tried to shake off the wooziness, but I started to feel sick. “What the hell am I on?”

“Painkillers and chloridamide,” I heard a voice say. I turned, and it felt like I was moving underwater. Dr. Perugini was there, walking toward me from her office. “I didn’t want to give you both at the same time, but Scott said you were starting to hear the voices.”

“I was,” I said, “when we were in the woods. I hadn’t taken the chloridamide since…the night before last, I think.”

She was at my side then, her white lab coat falling to below her knees, the dress she wore underneath it something of a blur. It was blue, I thought – no, yellow. My vision was changing color like the lights in a disco. Which I had never actually seen, except on TV. But that’s what it looked like. “What color is your dress?” I asked her.

“It’s black,” she said, after staring at me pityingly for a moment. “You’ll be fine in the morning, and I think we’ll avoid giving you any more painkillers tonight.”

“Probably for the best,” I said. “Is Zack all right? And Reed? And—”

“Thanks for asking about me,” Kurt said.

“Both fine.” She waved her arm at the beds behind her. Zack was lying in the one nearest me, Reed in the one just past him. Neither appeared to be conscious. “Zack will need a few days to recover before he’ll be fully healed, but your other friend is fine; just sedated and resting right now.”

“Did they get Andromeda’s body out of the woods?” I felt a tug of sorrow that I wished I didn’t feel at all.

“Yes,” Perugini answered. I let the question rest, the haze surrounding my mind not permitting me to think deeper about it. Perugini excused herself a moment later, returning to her office where I saw her through the blinds, making a phone call. She hung up and glanced back out at me, then sat at her desk and began working on something.

I spent the next few minutes trying not to talk to Kurt, who seemed equally eager not to talk to me. I was in no condition to trade barbs with him anyway, feeling heavy of tongue and slow of mind. I was fairly certain he’d say that that was normal.

The doors to the medical unit slid open a few minutes later with a gentle whoosh. Ariadne came in first, her usual gray suit with skirt combo not doing any wonders for her pale complexion. Her red hair was light, and this time bundled over her shoulder in a ponytail, out of the way, an afterthought. I understood that, not liking to spend much time on my hair either, but I always thought she might be taking it to an extreme. She wore no makeup; or at least so little as to be unnoticeable, which meant her faded lips blended with her cheeks, and her eyelashes didn’t stand out at all.

Old Man Winter followed her, his nearly seven-foot tall frame barely fitting through the door. He didn’t even pretend to duck, and instead acted as though the top of the door frame would move out of the way for him. I couldn’t be sure, as I was much closer to the ground and looking up, but I suspected he only missed bumping the top of his head by centimeters.

BOOK: Family
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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